After the Rebellion: “Shakespeare’s” Final Tragedy and His Triumphant Rebirth

[Following is my talk at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) conference at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on 24 November 2019. The text has been adjusted for print and slightly expanded for greater clarity.]

Some years ago, I was on a train heading down to New York City and found myself sitting next to a distinguished looking gentleman who turned out to be an architect who also loved literature and drama. We began talking and he asked me about myself and, at some point, I mentioned I’m one of those folks looking for the “real” Shakespeare. He turned and looked at me with intensity and put up his finger, and I flinched. Who knows what this topic is going to bring out in people!

“Look,” he said, “there are two things you have to know about Shakespeare, whoever he was. One, he uses words to stimulate the muscle of your visual cortex, so it throws images on the screen of your mind.” He mentioned some examples, such as Horatio in Hamlet describing the dawn as a knight in rusted armour, climbing up “o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.”

“The second thing you need to know,” he said, “is that Shakespeare is a storyteller. And his greatest stories are tragic. Therefore, just identifying the real author will not be good enough. What you need to do is find that tragic story.”

We talked a lot more … the authorship question was new for him and he thought the whole idea of this mystery must be deeply sad and tragic. He was thinking about how this great author’s identity could have been obliterated. He considered it would have been a form of murder, or suicide, in the face of some powerful force against him.

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

Well, as many of you know, I’m convinced the true voice of the author is that of Edward de Vere, Lord Oxford, and that he provided the unifying vision of the individual artist that we know as “Shakespeare.” And, too, that it’s in the Sonnets where we find his most directly personal voice.

Oxford’s death or disappearance in June 1604 was followed soon upon by publication of the full-length second quarto of Hamlet; and in that great tragedy, the protagonist, the most autobiographical of all Shakespearean characters, cries out to his friend: “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name!  Things standing thus unknown shall I leave behind me!” Then he begs Horatio to “tell my story” — his tragic story that remains unknown to the world; and that sounds like what my friend on the train was talking about.

Well, the focus of our gathering here at Shakespeare’s Globe is the failed Essex Rebellion led by the earls of Essex and Southampton – an event which, I submit, is the inciting incident of the tragic story of the Shakespearean author’s posthumous loss of identity. In this view the rebellion is not the end of the story, but, rather, the beginning of de Vere’s final evaporation behind the pen name; and this perspective sheds light on a crucial legal story that I want to share with you.

I also hope to show that Oxford countered this loss of identity with a super-human effort to create, in the Sonnets, his final masterwork – to preserve his final story and prevail in death, thereby creating his own resurrection and ultimate triumph.

This final story takes place during the two years and two months following the failure of the so-called rebellion — a period which, I suggest, is the true historical time frame and all-important context for Oxford’s posthumous disappearance as the author. This was a dark time when Southampton languished in the Tower as a convicted traitor; when the condemned Earl of Essex wrote a long poem to Queen Elizabeth from his prison room, during the four days before his execution; and when Southampton also wrote a long poem to her Majesty from his Tower room, begging for mercy – a poem discovered less than a decade ago. (“Was Southampton a Poet? A Verse Letter to Queen Elizabeth” by Lara M. Crowley, English Literary Renaissance, 2011.)

I agree with Ms. Crowley that these poems by the earls are more accurately called “verse letters” of communication with the queen; and clearly the Sonnets are verse letters as well.

First the prologue: the Shakespeare pseudonym making its grand entrance just eight years before the rebellion, in 1593, when things are heating up to determine control of succession to Elizabeth – who, by refusing to name anyone, is putting the country in danger of civil war around the throne when she dies. The Essex faction is up against the entrenched power of William Cecil Lord Burghley and his rapidly rising son Robert Cecil, the cunning hunchback seething with resentment toward those nobles whom he views as so unfairly fortunate by their birth alone. The goal of the Essex faction is to prevent the Cecils from continuing their power into the next reign; but I don’t need to tell you that Robert Cecil is going to win this game. He is going to outwit and outmaneuver those spoiled, arrogant noblemen.

(Consider this strikingly blunt comment about Robert Cecil from the Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900: “Life was to him a game which he was playing for high stakes, and men and women were only pieces upon the board, set there to be swept off by one side or the other or allowed to stand so long only as the risk of letting them remain there was not too great.”)

Now in 1593 the previously unknown author William Shakespeare (without any prior history of written work) suddenly appears on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Southampton. “Shakespeare” is on the side of those same young lords heading toward their tragic end game, which is also the end game to determine the future course of England.

A year later, in the 1594 dedication of Lucrece to Southampton, the same author confirms where he stands with an extraordinary public promise: “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.” This from a great author with a vast storehouse of 25,000 words from which he can choose, who never needs to repeat any word twice, much less three times in a single sentence.

It’s a pen name, saying, in effect: “All the writings I have done so far (i.e., the two narrative poems), and all the writings I am going to do in the future, published under this name, are for you and in your support. These written works are, and will be, yours … yours … yours.”

Once Burghley dies in 1598 and Principal Secretary Cecil takes over, the gloves come off with the first issuance of plays under the pseudonym, among them Richard III with “Shake-speare” hyphenated as if to emphasize the image of a writer “shaking the spear” of his pen. This play of royal history contains a mirror image of the hunchbacked Cecil, an allegorical portrait of him as an evil monster, and a shockingly obvious attack on him that the secretary cannot, will not, ever forgive. He will bide his time, keeping a steady course, until he gets revenge.

In the next year, 1599, it appears that “Shakespeare” in the chorus of Henry V is publicly cheering for Essex’s success on the Irish military campaign, in which Southampton is also a leader. The playwright predicts that “the general of our gracious Empress” will return with “rebellion broached on his sword,” but the effort to crush the revolt is doomed – in no small part because Cecil has prevented the earls from receiving the needed assistance.

That fall back in London, Essex is in deep trouble with the queen and her council, under Cecil’s pressure against him. Meanwhile Southampton spends much of his time attending politically instructive plays at the Curtain such as Julius Caesar by “Shakespeare,” who, for the public audience, is creating an allegorical road map toward avoiding civil war and achieving a peaceful royal succession.

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

Events are moving fast, tensions are building, as the aging queen falls increasingly under Cecil’s influence. In January 1601 Southampton is attacked in the street by Lord Gray and his party on behalf of Cecil and Raleigh; the earl draws his sword and fights them off with the help of his houseboy, who joins in the fray and has one of his hands lopped off. As far as Essex and Southampton are concerned, they are in mortal danger and can no longer delay taking action.

In the first week of February, Southampton takes charge of planning to finally gain access to the queen at Whitehall. They plot to hold Cecil captive so Essex and Southampton can be in her Majesty’s presence and convince her to call a Parliament on succession – to finally name someone, even give up her crown, avoid civil war, and remove Cecil in the bargain.

Preparing for this confrontation with the queen, the conspirators on Sunday 7 February 1601 attend a special performance of Richard II with a deposition scene of the king handing over his crown. In this newly revised play, Oxford demonstrates to the Essex faction how it might be possible to confront Elizabeth with rational arguments and persuade her to do the same – without, most importantly, violating the laws of God or man.

Of course, the play is viewed allegorically, making it easy for Cecil to incite the queen’s fear and anger; and Elizabeth well understood, as she later exclaimed: “I am Richard Second, know ye not that!”

More immediately, however, the cunning Cecil uses this special performance to summon Essex to the palace that night for questioning; and his calculated move predictably causes the earl to panic. The next morning, at Essex House, his followers are clamoring in the courtyard amid an atmosphere of chaos. The subsequent events predictably end in disaster; that night, both Essex and Southampton surrender up their swords and are taken through Traitors Gate into the Tower of London, facing charges of high treason against the crown and virtually certain execution.

Eleven days later, at their joint trial in Westminster Hall, are two of the future leading candidates for the authorship of the “Shakespeare” works:  Sir Francis Bacon, viciously prosecuting; and Lord Oxford, having come out of retirement to sit as highest ranking earl on the tribunal of peers sitting in judgment. The accused earls will both be found guilty and sentenced to death; Essex will be executed six days later, but Southampton will find himself in perpetual confinement.

Now all authorized publications of as-yet-unprinted Shakespeare plays have abruptly ceased; aside from the full Hamlet in 1604, there will be no more newly printed authorized plays for nearly two decades; but my theme here is that the rebellion is not the end of author’s tragic story, it’s the beginning.

Southampton in the Tower: 8 February 1601 – 10 April 1603

In the normal telling it’s the conclusion: Southampton remains in the Tower while Cecil, under terrible tension, works desperately and even treasonously to communicate in secret with King James in Scotland. In that traditional history, Shakespeare writes few if any sonnets to Southampton all during the twenty-six months of his imprisonment. Then, upon Henry Wriothesley’s release from the Tower by King James on 10 April 1603, the author suddenly exclaims in Sonnet 107 that “my true love” had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” but is now free; and, therefore, “my love looks fresh” – once again, offering the young earl his endless love, devotion and commitment.

Was Shakespeare a hypocrite?  His true love in the prison and he writes maybe a few private sonnets to or about him, or none at all, only to jump back on the bandwagon when Southampton is liberated? Well, I don’t think he could have been hypocritical.

Thinking about my friend on the train describing Shakespeare as a masterful storyteller, I recall the diagram of the most basic structure of a story, the way my English teacher drew it on the blackboard. In that light, if Sonnet 107 at the climax celebrates Southampton getting out of the Tower, in 1603, how could we care about that event unless the author has already established when he was put in the Tower two years earlier, back in 1601? In the framework of such a story, certainly Southampton’s entrance into the prison fortress is the inciting incident that finally reaches the climactic turning point later, in 1603.

Why would we care about Southampton getting out of the Tower if we didn’t know, in the first place, that he was in there?  Well, if we climb back down the consecutively numbered sonnets, we can see that the usual view is wrong. A journey “back down the ladder” of sonnets takes us through a long series of darkness, despair, prison, trial, legal words related to crime, guilt, death – all the way back down to where this great wave of darkness and suffering first appears; and then it becomes clear that literally dozens and dozens of sonnets have been leading up to the climax.

The author did not abandon Southampton; he never stopped writing to or about him; and in this context – the context of the prison years – those legal words are no longer metaphorical; rather, they are real, and carefully accurate: real words applied to real life, when the author is steeling himself against the worst outcome for the young earl.

Now I hope you’ll to indulge me for less than ninety seconds, as we take a quick “fly-over” to view these words from the high point of Sonnet 107 back downward; and this is just a sampling of those dark and legal words as we climb back down to where they begin at Sonnet 27:

(Sonnets 106-96): Confined doom, Wasted time, weak, mournful, despair, death, dark days, decease, fault;

(Sonnets 92-87): Term of life, thy revolt, sorrow, woe, fault, offence, night, attainted, misprision, judgment;

(Sonnets 86-77): Tomb, dead, confine, immured, attaint, decayed, waste, graves; (74-66): Fell arrest, bail, death, buried, blamed, suspect, died, dead, for restful death I cry;  

(Sonnets 65-57): Plea, gates of steel, drained his blood, shadows, for thee watch I, imprisoned, pardon, crime, watch the clock for you;

(Sonnets 55-51): Death, judgment, die, deaths, shadows, shadow, up-locked, imprisoned, offence, excuse;

(Sonnets 50-46): Heavy, bloody, grief, lawful reasons, allege, bars, locked up, thyself away, defendant, plea deny, verdict;

(Sonnets 43-38): Shadow, grief, waiting, blame, forgive, grief, absence, torment, pain;

(Sonnets 37-33): Shadow, confess, guilt, trespass, fault, lawful plea, offender’s sorrow, ransom, basest clouds;

(Sonnets 32-27): If thou survive, dead, grieve, buried, death’s dateless night, disgrace, outcast, hung in ghastly night…

That’s just a sampling of the “dark” words and legal terminology in the eighty sonnets from the climax of Sonnet 107 all the way back down to number 27, in which the author tries to sleep that night in the darkness, but his mind travels instead to Southampton in the Tower. He can imagine the earl up there in a window, like “a jewel hung in ghastly night.” In the dictionary “ghastly” is “frightful, dreadful, horrible,” as in “a ghastly murder” – or, we can be sure, like the ghastly torture of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

SONNET 27 on the night of the failed Rebellion on the Eighth of February 1601, where the story begins:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travail tired.

But then begins a journey in my head,

To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired.

For then my thoughts (from far where I abide),

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,

Looking on darkness, which the blind do see.

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,

For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Southampton entering the Tower as a prisoner is the first of many recorded, factual events. The overall circumstance is that he’s accused of a crime; and sure enough, in this diary of verse letters, Oxford calls it by name:

“To you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

“How much I suffered in your crime.” – Sonnet 120

In this case, the crime is that of treason, the most serious offence Southampton could have committed. It would almost cost him his life and cause the author of the Sonnets to descend into darkness and despair and finally to disappear. So, now, from Sonnet 27 forward, we have what might be called the “foundational tracks” of his personal story. These tracks during Southampton’s more than two years in prison are on the record; Oxford knows they are events that will be indelibly stamped upon English history.

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford served as highest-ranking nobleman on the tribunal at the February 19, 1601 treason trial of Essex and Southampton — as indicated by a contemporary notice of the event

FEBRUARY 11, 1601: The twenty-five peers, Oxford among them, are “summoned” to serve on the tribunal at the “sessions” or treason trial; and in Sonnet 30 the author writes: “When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought, I summon up remembrance of things past.” Yes, it’s poetry, but I suggest there’s a “second intention,” which is actually the primary context – and, as you have probably noticed, that’s the most important word of this talk: context.

FEBRUARY 19, 1601: The trial of Essex and Southampton is held on this day at Westminster Hall. Bacon prosecutes; Oxford sits with the peers, who come to a foregone unanimous conclusion: both earls are found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed.

Oxford, reacting to the tragedy, addresses Southampton in Sonnet 38 and wonders in sorrow: “How can my Muse want subject to invent/ While thou dost breathe? … The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.” In Sonnet 46 he glances back at the recent trial: “And by their verdict is determined…”

FEBRUARY 25, 1601: Essex is executed on the Tower Green by beheading; and the poet writes in Sonnet 44, referring to Southampton and himself, about their “heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.”

MARCH 5, 1601: The treason trial of five conspirators; all convicted and condemned to death; and Oxford writes to Southampton in Sonnet 57: “I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you.”

MARCH 13, 1601: Gelly Merrick & Henry Cuffe are hanged, drawn and quartered. “For thee watch I,” Oxford writes to Southampton in Sonnet 61; and in Sonnet 63 he sets down his fears that Wriothesley will face the executioner’s axe – using a double image that combines both universal time/age and specific words such as “knife” and “cut” and “life” related to beheading:

For such a time do I now fortify

Against confounding Age’s cruel knife,

That he shall never cut from memory

My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.

MARCH 18, 1601: Charles Danvers & Christopher Blount are publicly beheaded, leaving Southampton as the only one with the death sentence hanging over him; and the author writes Sonnet 66 as a virtual suicide note, listing reasons he wishes to die:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry …

Tired with all these, from these I would be gone,

Save that to die, I leave my love alone.

He would prefer to kill himself, but will not commit suicide while Southampton remains alive and “alone” in the Tower. In that same virtual suicide note, he complains about “strength by limping sway disabled,” and John Dover Wilson (in his Cambridge edition of the Sonnets in 1969) finds it “tempting to suspect a glance at the control of the state by the limping Robert Cecil.” Well, as my friend on the train might say, it’s not only tempting, it “stimulates the muscle of our visual cortex” to create an image of Cecil swaying and limping toward his “disabling” or destruction of the earls.

“And captive good attending Captain Ill,” Oxford adds. Southampton, the captive prisoner, is at the mercy of Captain Ill, echoing Cecil, the captain in command of the situation.

Early the next morning, crowds wait on Tower Hill for the spectacle of Southampton being executed, but they’re disappointed because, without official explanation, the scaffold is taken down. The earl’s life has been spared. His sentence is quietly reduced to perpetual confinement. He becomes a nobody, stripped of all lands and titles, and is now “Mr. Henry Wriothesley,” a commoner, and even “the late earl” – a dead man in the eyes of the law; and therefore, in Sonnet 67:  “Ah, wherefore with infection should he live … Why should he live …?” And in Sonnet 69: “Thou dost common grow…”

Is Cecil is holding him hostage in the Tower? If so, the key must be Oxford himself and Cecil’s need to remove all future trace of him as the author calling himself Shakespeare, the poet-dramatist who devoted his work to Southampton, and, too, who had depicted Cecil as the monstrous ruler Richard the Third.

In number 87 of this diary of verse letters, Oxford supplies the legal mechanism by which Southampton’s life was spared:

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,

Comes home again, on better judgment making

“Misprision of Treason” is literally a “better judgment” or verdict, a reduction of the crime of treason. This special judgment is a kind of plea bargain, used by Tudor monarchs to gain information in exchange for a lesser verdict. It means Southampton was supposedly ignorant of the law; he knew about the plot but didn’t really participate and failed to report it; he expresses true sorrow or repentance; and it gives him the possibility of future liberation and even a royal pardon, so he cannot be retried for the same offence.

Oxford supplies a crucial account of how this better legal judgment for Southampton was obtained. Soon after Sonnet 27 on the night of the failed rebellion, anticipating the trial, he promises Southampton in Sonnet 35 that “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,” or as editor Katherine Duncan-Jones reads the line: “Your legal opponent is also your legal defender.”

Oxford has no choice but to join the other peers on the tribunal, in effect acting as Southampton’s “adverse party,” forced to vote with them to condemn him to death; but he also vows to work (privately, behind the scenes) as the earl’s “Advocate” or defense attorney, trying to save his life.

He must make a deal with Cecil, his former brother-in-law; and as he records in the Sonnets, there is a kind of prisoner exchange, that is, Oxford offers his life in exchange for Southampton’s reprieve from execution and possible future liberation. The younger earl is in fact spared from execution, without any official word, but he must remain in confinement until the monarch decides to release him and perhaps grant him a pardon.

Oxford instructs him on the law (and the plea deal), adding in Sonnet 58, “To you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime,” that is, “Your life is in your own hands, young man.”

The monarch who may give him a pardon, however, will not be Elizabeth, who is much too angry and fearful. Cecil must succeed in bringing James to the English throne; only then will Cecil can he continue in his position of power, and only then might Southampton get out alive. Therefore, to save Southampton, Oxford must agree to help Cecil make James the King of England. (And to that end, perhaps Edward de Vere is the unidentified “40” in the Secretary’s secret correspondence with the Scottish king).

Also in Sonnet 35, Oxford blames himself for “authorizing” the crime as author of Richard II and depicting Elizabeth “with compare” as that historical king; as Duncan-Jones explains, “authorizing” is “used here in a legal sense for sanctioning or justifying, with a further play on ‘author’ as composer or writer.”

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authorizing thy trespass with compare…

Oxford is guilty not only for writing Richard II with its deposition scene, but, also, for allowing the Chamberlain’s Men to give the special performance of his play that Cecil then used to trigger the whole debacle. The actors are called in for questioning, but not the author, even though he had played a crucial role in the crime. In fact, he himself could possibly be charged with Treason by Words, if the queen chose to believe that Richard II depicts her as a tyrant. Oxford, too, could be executed.

More important to Cecil, however, was being able to ensure that Oxford, his former brother-in-law, could not be linked to the portrait of him in Richard Third (or, for example, that Oxford could not be linked to portraits of Burghley in the quartos of Hamlet). Instead of Oxford himself being physically executed, his identity could be obliterated beyond his death — forever — behind the Shakespeare pen name. Oxford could agree to that (and to ensuring that no one who know the truth will ever reveal it), if it means saving Southampton; and therefore, an essential part of the plea deal is his self-sacrifice.

In Sonnet 35 he records his acceptance of posthumous disappearance: “And ‘gainst myself a lawful plea commence” – a legal plea bargain, directed against himself. At the same time, Southampton must agree to his own guilt and confess that he never meant to commit treason; and so, for example, he writes to the Privy Council from his prison room: “My soul is heavy and troubled for my offences … My heart was free from any pre-meditate treason against my sovereign….”

Oxford refers in Sonnet 34 to the younger earl’s need to repent, while he himself must take on a Christlike role:

Though thou repent yet I have still the loss,

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence’s cross …

In his poem to the queen, Southampton begs for mercy:

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,

For my tears have already worn these stones.

His tears of repentance are “riches” to be paid, the way other noble prisoners are able to use actual money to purchase their freedom. Oxford reminds him in Sonnet 34 that his tears of repentance are a form of “ransom” for his life and possible liberty:

Ah but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds (sheds),

And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

The price also includes total separation from each other – in life, on the record, in future history. Oxford had linked Southampton to the pen name; the earl and the famous pseudonym went together; therefore, now Oxford must agree to de-link himself from not only “Shakespeare,” but, also, from Southampton. The two of them must be “twain” or apart, one from the other, as Oxford tells Southampton in Sonnet 36:

Let me confess that we two must be twain …

I may not ever-more acknowledge thee…

The author, a legal expert, finds in Sonnet 49 another way to phrase the same legal bargain behind the scenes:

And this my hand against myself uprear,

To guard the lawful reasons on thy part.

To leave poor me, thou hast the strength of laws…

The dark time continues, no one knowing the outcome.

FEBRUARY 8, 1602: First anniversary of the failed Rebellion: Southampton has spent one full year in prison, as Oxford records in Sonnet 97:

How like a winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

“Fleeting” is a deliberate play on the Fleet Prison to emphasize Southampton’s continuing confinement.

FEBRUARY 8, 1603: Second anniversary, marking two years or “three winters cold” in the Tower as indicated in Sonnet 104, covering the three Februaries of 1601, 1602 and 1603.

MARCH 24, 1603: Queen Elizabeth, the “mortal Moon,” dies in her sleep and those “sad Augurs” who predicted civil war are proved wrong. Cecil quickly proclaims King James of Scotland as James I of England, and the new monarch, who uses “Olives” to symbolize peace, quickly sends ahead the order for Southampton’s release. On April 10, 1603, after all the uncertainties are crowned with assurance, and after Southampton was “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” he walks out of the Tower as a free man and Oxford records this amazing climax of his recorded story in Sonnet 107:

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul

Of the wide world dreaming on things to come

Can yet the lease of my true love control,

Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom!

The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured,

And the sad Augurs mock their own presage,

Incertainties now crown themselves assured,

And peace proclaims Olives of endless age.

Now with the drops of this most balmy time,

My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,

Since ‘spite of him I’ll live in this poor rhyme,

While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes.

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

How very confident de Vere is that these “verse letters” are going to comprise a “monument” for Southampton that will outlive the crests of tyrants and the brass tombs of kings! As Oxford promised him in Sonnet 81:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read…

And now, proceeding from the climax of number 107, the story’s resolution unfolds in nineteen days covered by exactly nineteen sonnets, advancing with increasing power and grandeur to the funeral procession bearing the coffin and effigy of Elizabeth under a canopy, on April 28, 1603, marked by Sonnet 125, the official end of the Tudor dynasty, followed immediately by the author’s envoy of farewell to “Oh thou my lovely Boy.”

The result is a self-contained series of the 80 prison sonnets plus the 20 sonnets of resolution, exactly 100 sonnets or a “century” of them – mirroring Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love (1582), the 100 consecutively numbered sonnets attributed to Thomas Watson and dedicated to Oxford. The “century” within SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS is the central sequence of his monument for Southampton.

The younger earl will live on, but the author will disappear. Oxford consistently expresses this sacrifice of one life for the other — the exchange of his life or identity as “Shakespeare” for Southampton’s life as a free man:

When I, perhaps compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse. (Sonnet 71)

(When I am dead, you will continue without acknowledging me.)

My name be buried where my body is

And live no more to shame nor me nor you. (Sonnet 72)

(My identity will disappear, leaving you to flourish)

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

Though I, once gone, to all the world must die. (Sonnet 81)

(You are forever tied to “Shakespeare,” while I must disappear.)

In effect, these lines of the Sonnets comprise Edward de Vere’s own version of Hamlet’s cry for his wounded name. It’s a tragic story, but also the basic answer to the Shakespeare Authorship Question, delivered to posterity by the author himself — as he talks about his “poor name” or “name” to be “buried” and stating that he himself must die – not just in the physical sense, of course, but to “all the world.” He disconnects himself from “Shakespeare” and, therefore, from Southampton, ensuring that his own identity will disappear … but not forever!

In fact, Oxford is counting on these very sonnets to “tell my story,” as Hamlet begs his friend Horatio.  Back in Sonnet 55, when Southampton’s fate was by no means certain, Oxford vowed to create “the living record of your memory,” adding:

’Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth! Your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

In this way he will triumph over Time and defeat the false “registers” or “records” upon which the future writers of history will rely. He himself will prevail in these sonnets, which will be printed in 1609 only to be quickly suppressed and driven underground, until the quarto’s reappearance more than a full century later. And so he defeats Time and Cecil and even Death, as expressed in Sonnet 107: “I’ll live in this poor rhyme.”

He draws his breath in pain, to tell his story.  The “monument” of the Sonnets is his ultimate triumph, as expressed in Sonnet 123:

No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!

Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange:

They are but dressings of a former sight.

Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire

What thou dost foist upon us that is old,

And rather make them borne to our desire

Than think that we before have heard them told.

Thy registers and thee I both defy –

Not wond’ring at the present, nor the past,

For thy records and what we see doth lie,

Made more or less by thy continual haste.

This I do vow, and this shall ever be:

I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

 

/////

 

 

 

 

The Launch of the “Shakespeare” Pen Name (Who Knew What & When?) and Its Aftermath

Following is a talk I gave to the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Conference on 17 October 2019 at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT:

Part One

Samuel Clemens drew upon a wealth of personal experience in his work; and in his later years, he made the remark: “I could never tell a lie that anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.” Imagine old Sam on his porch out there and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, laughing along with him. And Oxford reminding him what Touchstone said in As You Like It: “The truest poetry is the most feigning” – in other words, pretending — telling truth by allegory and a “second intention.” Both men knew that more truth can be told and believed when dressed as fiction, whether it’s Huckleberry Finn or Hamlet. And, of course, both men wrote under pen names.

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

I want to talk first about the launch of the pen name “Shakespeare” in 1593, on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, asking, “Who Knew What and When?” – or – “What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?”  The question is posed in relation to five individuals.

Queen Elizabeth – Did her Majesty see the letter to her from early reader William Reynolds, saying she was the subject of a crude parody in the character of Venus? Did she know who had written this scandalous, instant bestseller?  If she did know, when did she know it?

William Cecil Lord Burghley – Reynolds also wrote to the chief minister, saying he was offended by this portrait of Elizabeth as a “lusty old” queen. Meanwhile, Burghley was Southampton’s legal guardian and still pressuring him to marry his granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere (who may or may not have been the natural daughter of Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford). Therefore anything involving Southampton would be of great interest to Burghley and his rapidly rising son Robert Cecil.

After the death in 1590 of Francis Walsingham, head of the secret service, William and Robert Cecil had taken over the crown’s network of spies and informants. They made it their business to know everything; and now they were gearing up for the inevitable power struggle to control the succession upon Elizabeth’s death.

The queen refused to name her successor, even though she was turning sixty and could die any moment. The Cecils were preparing for the fight with Robert Devereuex, second Earl of Essex, with whom Southampton was closely allied. Could they allow this “Shakespeare” to dedicate to Southampton such a popular, scandalous work and not know the author?  What did Burghley know and when did he know it?

Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton, nineteen, whom we can imagine arriving at the royal court, where folks had their copies of Venus and Adonis with its dedication to him. Might they be curious about “William Shakespeare”? And about his relationship to Southampton? What did the earl know and when did he know it?

John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, who issued the publishing license in his own hand. He had a large staff for that purpose and normally delegated readings of manuscripts and signings-off on licenses, but now he took it upon himself. This strict archbishop was in charge of all government censorship. Why would he give his personal approval of such salacious poetry? Why would he allow this possibly dangerous political allegory into the market? Would he have done so without prior authorization from the queen and Burghley?

Whitgift had been appointed archbishop in 1583 and had gained her Majesty’s full trust and admiration. In 1586 he was given the authority to peruse and license all manuscripts and the power to destroy the press of any printer. He suppressed the Puritans so harshly that in 1588 they began to publish pamphlets against him, led by a writer using the pen name “Martin Marprelate” (who was “marring the prelates”). The archbishop responded with a ruthless campaign of retaliation, using pamphlets turned out by members of Oxford’s writing circle such as Tom Nashe and John Lyly.  Apparently, the earl himself wrote against “Marprelate” under the pen name “Pasquil Cavaliero.” (One pen name battling another!)

At the end of the 1590s, the archbishop will issue a decree ordering the burning of a long list of books, among them several based on works of Ovid. The condemned books will be publicly burned in the infamous Bishops’ Bonfire of 1599, but none will include works attributed to “Shakespeare” — not even Venus and Adonis or Lucrece, both based on Ovid.  (“Shakespeare” never got into trouble for his writing.) Now in 1593, Whitgift personally authorizes Venus and Adonis for publication by Field.

Richard Field, Publisher-Printer, who entered Venus and Adonis at the Stationer’s Register in April 1593.

“The Arte of English Poesie” – 1589

Field will print Love’s Martyr in 1601 with The Phoenix and Turtle as by “William Shake-speare” — hyphenated, as if to confirm that it’s a pen name. (Presumably he was the son of Henry Field, a tanner in Stratford-upon-Avon; but modern researchers are finding it difficult to verify that presumption.) Regardless of his background, by age seventeen in 1579 he was in London. He apprenticed for several years under the esteemed printer and French refugee Thomas Vautrollier, who died in 1587. A year later Field married Vautrollier’s widow and, at twenty-six, he took over the publishing business.

He was a dedicated Protestant, committed to the policies of Queen Elizabeth.  It’s been said Field was “Burghley’s publisher.” Later he would issue Protestant books in Spanish, for sale in Catholic Spain, under “Ricardo del Campo” – another pen name.

In 1589 Field published The Arte of English Poesie, by a deeply knowledgeable writer choosing not to identify himself. Along with Richard Waugaman and others, I hold the view that The Arte was written (wholly or in part) by Oxford, whose own verse is cited for description and instruction, not to mention that he himself is fulsomely praised as chief poet of the Elizabethan court.

The anonymous author of The Arte addresses his entire tract to Elizabeth – with distinct echoes of Oxford’s own praise of the queen in his elegant Courtier preface of 1572. The invisible author also uses the kind of alliteration Oxford so enjoyed; for example, he tells her Majesty:

“You, Madam, my most Honored and Gracious, if I should seem to offer you this my desire for a discipline and not a delight … By your princely purse, favours and countenance, making in manner what ye list, the poor man rich, the lewd well learned, the coward courageous, and the vile both noble and valiant: then for imitation no less, your person as a most cunning counterfeit lively representing Venus…”

(Here is Richard Field, who will publish Venus and Adonis four years later, issuing an anonymous book in which the author likens Queen Elizabeth to Venus.)

“Venus and Adonis” by Titian, the painting that “Shakespeare” must have seen in Venice (showing Adonis wearing his bonnet)

There is strong evidence that Oxford wrote the first version of Venus and Adonis in the latter 1570s after returning from Italy, where he had made his home base in Venice. For example, the poem contains a lifelike portrait-in-words of Venus trying to seduce young Adonis, who, significantly, is wearing his bonnet. Without question this section of the narrative poem is a vivid description of the painting in Venice at Titian’s own house, which Oxford must have visited (as most traveling nobles did) – because in that house was Titian’s only painting of Venus and Adonis (among his many others of the same subject) in which the young god is wearing his bonnet.

It may also be that Oxford was creating an allegory of his own experience as a young man pursued by Elizabeth. Adonis is killed by the spear of a wild boar — perhaps the same boar of Oxford’s earldom, as though his own identity is officially killed by the spear of “Shakespeare,” his new pen name. From the blood of Adonis, a purple flower springs up, and Venus tells it: “Thou art next of blood and ‘tis thy right.” Then the lustful goddess flies off to Paphus, the city in Cyprus sacred to Venus, to hide from the world. Her silver doves are mounted through the empty skies, pulling her light chariot and “holding their course to Paphus, where their Queen means to immure herself and not be seen.”

Oxford had an extensive personal history of publicly likening Queen Elizabeth to Venus. In Euphues and his England, the novel of 1580 dedicated to the earl, she is portrayed as both the Queen of Love and Beauty and the Queen of Chastity: “Oh, fortunate England that hath such a Queen! … adorned with singular beauty and chastity, excelling in the one Venus, in the other Vesta ….”  — the sexual goddess and the virginal goddess, both at once.

In the Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), the scholar Steven May writes, Oxford definitely likens Elizabeth to Venus: “But who can leave to look on Venus’ face?” the poet asks, referring to “her alone, who yet on th’earth doth reign.”

In the final chapter of Arte, the author apologizes to the queen for this “tedious trifle” and fears she will think of him as “the Philosopher in Plato who failed to occupy his brain in matters of more consequence than poetry,” adding, “But when I consider how everything hath his estimation by opportunity, and that it was but the study of my younger years in which vanity reigned…”

(“When I consider how everything” will be echoed in sonnet 15, which begins, “When I consider everything…”)

The anonymous author tells Elizabeth that “experience” has taught him that “many times idleness is less harmful than profitable occupation.” He refers sarcastically, sounding like Hamlet, to “these great aspiring minds and ambitious heads of the world seriously searching to deal in matters of state” who become “so busy and earnest that they were better be occupied and peradventure altogether idle.”

(Who else would dare to write that description to her Majesty about members of her own government? Oxford had written similar thoughts in his own poetry such as, “Than never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.” At the same time, he pledges his “service” to her, according to his “loyal and good intent always endeavoring to do your Majesty the best and greatest of those services I can.” Oxford always talks about serving the queen, as he wrote to Burghley, “I serve her Majesty, and I am that I am.”)

Richard Field publishes this work of 1589, written by an anonymous author sounding much like Oxford, and containing some of the earl’s own work, praising him to the skies – and then Field dedicates it to Burghley. “This book,” he tells the most powerful man in England, “coming to my hands with his bare title, without any Author’s name or any other ordinary address, I doubted how well it might become me to make you a present thereof.”

He was surprised and mystified to see this manuscript just flying over the transom into his hands; however, seeing that the book is written to “our Sovereign lady the Queen, for her recreation and service,” Field publishes the work and even dedicates it to Burghley. In his dedication, he also sounds as if Oxford helped him, as when he writes alliteratively of “your Lordship being learned and a lover of learning … and myself a printer always ready and desirous to be at your Honorable commandment.”

Four years later Field publishes Venus and Adonis dedicated to Southampton, whom Burghley, with the queen’s blessing, hopes to gather into his own family. Even orthodox commentators recognize that the high quality of the printing suggests Shakespeare’s direct involvement, as Frank Halliday writes in A Shakespeare Companion: “The two early poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, both carefully printed by Field, are probably the only works the publication of which Shakespeare personally supervised.” (Imagine the Earl of Oxford working side by side with Richard Field at his shop in Blackfriars, to fine-tune the printing!) Now the manuscript goes to Whitgift, chief censor for everything published in England, and he signs off in his own hand – a fact that Field quickly advertises in the Stationers Register.

The question is posed in relation to Publisher Richard Field, Archbishop John Whitgift, Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burghley and the Earl of Southampton: Who knew what and when? What did they know and when did they know it?

My answer is that they all knew about the launch of Oxford’s new pen name and knew it before this work was published. They each knew who “Shakespeare” was and they allowed the earl to publish it and dedicate it to Southampton. The very individuals who were most closely involved, with the most at stake, and could make such decisions, must have worked directly, or indirectly, with each other – and with the author himself – to launch the famous pen name.

Part Two 

There is another dimension to the pseudonym that I would like to describe. It begins back in 1583, when Protestant England and Catholic Spain were definitely at war; and gearing up to defend against this mighty enemy was the queen’s great Puritan spymaster, Francis Walsingham, who quickly organized a new company of players. The Puritans generally hated the public theater, but Walsingham knew its value in terms of propaganda.

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

The new company, approved by Burghley and patronized by Elizabeth, was called the Queen’s Men. It was comprised of two separate troupes touring the country to rouse patriotic fervor and unity. All existing companies – including Oxford’s — contributed their best actors – and de Vere collected his expanding group of writers at a mansion in London (nicknamed Fisher’s Folly) for scribes such as Nashe, Lyly, Watson, Greene, Munday, Churchyard, Lodge and many others.

(Imagine Michelangelo’s studio filled with artists working together under a single guiding hand.)

In the 1580s these writers turned out dozens, even hundreds of history plays. Among them were Oxford’s own early versions of Shakespeare histories, anonymous plays such as The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard Third, The True Chronicle History of King Leir and The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, the latter containing the entire framework for Henry Fourth Parts One and Two and Henry the Fifth as by Shakespeare.

Their weapons were not swords or guns or ships, but words, giving birth to an inspiring new English language and vision of national identity – a powerful weapon that de Vere was creating and guiding as well as helping to finance. And in 1586 the queen rewarded him with an extraordinary annual allowance of a thousand pounds, paid according to the same formula used to finance Walsingham for his wartime secret service. When the Spanish invasion by Armada arrived in 1588, volunteers from all parts of England responded – Protestants, Puritans, Catholics, speaking different dialects and often needing to be translated, all joining in the face of a common enemy.

Once the Great Enterprise of King Philip had been turned back, however, that same government had no more use for the writers. Having harnessed their talent and work to touch the minds and hearts of the queen’s subjects, the government now became wary of them, perhaps afraid of their freedom of expression and power to influence her Majesty’s subjects.

After defeating the enemy without, the government now focused upon its real or potential enemies within. The end game of internal power struggles was just beginning. Who would gain control of the inevitable succession to Elizabeth? Oxford had been the central sun from which the writers had drawn their light, and around which they had revolved; but now he was deliberately squeezed with old debts and could no longer support them, so they began to fly out of orbit and disappear.

By 1590, the year Walsingham died, Oxford’s secretary and stage manager John Lyly was out of a job; in 1591, Thomas Lodge escaped poverty by sailing to South America; in September 1592, Thomas Watson died and so did Robert Greene (if, in fact, Greene was a real person and not another pen name); on 30 May 1593, Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death; later that year, Thomas Kyd was tortured on the rack, leading to his death.

Lyly, Lodge, Watson, Greene, Marlowe, Kyd: all gone. They disappeared in a kind of bloodbath, into a metaphorical graveyard of writers; and Oxford himself disappeared. He withdrew from court and vanished from London. He remarried (his first wife, Anne Cecil, had died in 1588) and became something of a recluse at Hackney – undoubtedly revising his previous plays.

As far as the general public knew, Oxford no longer existed; some people even thought he was dead; but in the spring of 1593, just when Marlowe was being murdered, something else was afoot. From below the graveyard of writers, without any paper trail or personal history, the heretofore unknown “William Shakespeare” – a disembodied pen name — suddenly rose in defiance, shaking the spear of his pen and asserting his power in the Latin epigraph from Ovid on the title page of Venus and Adonis, translated as: “Let the mob admire base things! May Golden Apollo serve me full goblets from the Castilian Spring!” Who is this Shakespeare?  And which side is he on?

The sudden appearance of this name was not on the title page, but, rather, inside the book, and linked (directly, and uniquely) to nineteen-year-old Southampton. And in the very next year, 1594, the poet made himself even clearer, dedicating Lucrece to Southampton: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being all I have, devoted yours.” All that the pen name has is a multitude of written works to be published under that name – the two poems, plus any other writings that will use “Shakespeare” in the future.

The 1594 dedication of “Lucrece” to Southampton — by “Shakespeare” 

A metamorphosis has taken place. In this second dedication, the pen name is speaking for itself and not, in the first place, for the Earl of Oxford, who has disappeared; the pen name is saying to young Lord Southampton: “ALL I HAVE – ANYTHING WRITTEN UNDER THIS NAME — IS NOW AND FOREVER DEVOTED TO YOU. THEY ARE YOURS, TO DO WITH WHAT YOU WILL.” It is all “YOURS … YOURS … YOURS.”

The disembodied pen name has declared itself on the side of the young nobility, in favor of the Essex faction of which Southampton is a prominent member. Soon that young earl firmly and finally rejects Burghley’s marriage plans for him. Essex has been in secret communication with James in Scotland – pledging his support for the King, in return for the promise of James’ help against Burghley and his son Robert Cecil.

So long as Elizabeth remains alive, she can still name her successor; meanwhile, a main goal of Essex and Southampton is to keep the Cecils from assuming even more power after she dies. We are now in the very short period spanning 1595 to 1600 – six years – in which the great issuance of Shakespeare plays occurs: earlier plays that are now revised for the printing press and the public playhouse.

Robert Cecil becomes Principle Secretary in 1596; in the following year, he tries to have all public playhouses shut down and nearly succeeds; in fact, he does succeed in destroying the Swan Playhouse as a venue for plays.

And upon the death of his father, Burghley, in August 1598, Secretary Cecil begins to gain the full trust of Her Majesty and the power to control her mind, emotions and decisions. Now the gloves come off and “Shakespeare” suddenly – for the first time — makes its appearance on printed plays. Over the next three years comes the historic rush of quartos. In 1598 and 1599, four plays are printed with “Shake-speare” hyphenated, emphasizing it’s a pen name: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Richard III, Richard II and 1 Henry IV. The playwright had “newly corrected” two of these plays, quite obviously having written them their first versions much earlier.

Four more plays are published in 1600, all using the pen name without any hyphen: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2 Henry IV, The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing. And three others also appear in that time frame, but still anonymous: Romeo and Juliet, 3 Henry VI, and Henry V.  Many of these plays – especially the histories – deal with issues of kingship, of what kind of monarch should or should not rule, the right and wrong ways to choose a successor, the consequences of deposing a rightful king. These issues are swirling on and off the stage, in allegory and in real life, all around the aging queen, who refuses to make a choice while she still has the strength to do so.

Edward, Earl of Oxford was summoned as a judge to the 1601 trial of Essex and Southampton — the same Southampton to whom “Shakespeare” had pledged his “love … without end.”

Southampton takes charge of planning an assault on Whitehall Palace, aiming to remove Cecil and confront Elizabeth without interference. If they gain entrance to her presence, they will beg the queen to fulfill her responsibility by choosing a successor.

Members of the Essex faction meet with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, paying the actors to give a special performance of Richard II at their own playhouse, the Globe, on Sunday 7 February 1601. Southampton is in charge of the Shakespeare plays and, most likely, he himself pays for the performance – with its deposition scene of King Richard handing over his crown to Bolinbroke, who becomes Henry IV.

(The play is instructional. It’s also a cautionary tale: Richard is murdered in prison by Pierce of Exton, who mistakenly believes he’s carrying out the king’s wishes.)

Cecil uses this performance to summon Essex that night and trigger the chaotic events of the following day. By midnight of the Eighth of February, Essex and Southampton are both arrested and taken by river through Traitors Gate into the Tower, facing charges of high treason and almost certain execution. Of course, this play of royal history is another allegory, and Elizabeth will famously cry out six months later, “I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?”

So long as Southampton is in the prison, there will be no authorized printings of new Shakespeare plays. In effect, the pen name goes silent. The actors of Shakespeare’s company are summoned for questioning, but never the author … but why not? Well, he can’t be summoned, can he?  He has no flesh and blood, because “Shakespeare” — after all – is but a pen name.

Postscript

While Southampton languishes in prison, another metamorphosis takes place, as recorded by Oxford in the Sonnets. First, his disappearance: “My name be buried where my body is” (72); and “I, once gone, to all the world must die” (81). Then his sacrifice to the pen name, in a sequence that traditional critics call the Rival Poet series. The true “rival,” however, is not a flesh-and-blood person; rather, it is Oxford’s own pseudonym on the printed page.

Oxford understood that “Shakespeare” would remain attached to Southampton, even as he himself, the true author, faded from the world’s view. The Sonnets would be suppressed upon their publication in 1609, and the quarto would remain underground for more than a century until it reappeared in 1711, like a message in a bottle, carrying Oxford’s true account for posterity.  The story — of how Oxford sacrificed himself to save Southampton’s life and gain his freedom — remains within the “monument” of the Sonnets:

“Your monument shall be my gentle verse,/ Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read” (81); “And thou in this shalt find thy monument,/ When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent” (107).

 

 

 

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Wins “Dark Lady” Debate

The Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1575 – National Portrait Gallery, London

On Sunday (October 14), during its annual conference convened this year in Oakland, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship held a three-way debate about the identity of the so-called Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Each of us agreed in advance that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is the author and that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton is the so-called Fair Youth, leaving the identity of the woman open for debate. John Hamill argued for Penelope Rich; Katherine Chiljan made her case for Anne Vavasour; and I supported Queen Elizabeth, who won by a secret-ballot vote of the membership in the audience. Each of the others made a formidable case, in his or her 20-minute opening presentation, making for an afternoon session of special excitement. Here, in full, is the overview I gave at the outset:

Making sense of the Sonnets can begin with the realization that these intensely personal lines were set down by the highest-ranking earl at the royal court – and that the beloved younger man is also a member of the court. But finding the story in the sonnets becomes possible only by also identifying the right woman.

Even if we knew nothing of the author, it’s clear this woman is someone of incredible importance to him, and wields enormous power over him – a woman with whom he’s been involved in a long, complicated relationship – whom he’s believed in and defended, even when she has failed to live up to his belief in her – a woman for whom, in the end, he has sacrificed the truth and betrayed himself.

I’d like to present evidence that the powerful, dominating woman we call the Dark Lady can only be the same powerful, dominating woman who pervades the lives of both those earls, and who pervades so much of Oxford’s writing – from his own early Shakespearean sonnet professing his devotion to Queen Elizabeth to his portraits of Venus and the Phoenix, Cleopatra, Titania, Olivia, Portia, Silvia, Queen Gertrude, and more. His final words to this powerful, deceitful, inscrutable woman sum up their long relationship that has now, in the end, drained his soul and left him in bitter disillusionment:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost;/ For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,/ Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,/And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,/ Or made them swear against the thing they see./For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,/To swear against the truth so foul a lie.”

Has there ever been a more wretched confession of shattered illusion and self-betrayal?

Three themes about Queen Elizabeth as Dark Lady:

First, context: Identifying the queen allows us to locate the time frame and historical circumstances for these sonnets – a context every true story must have.

Second, metaphor: The darkness of the woman is not literal but metaphorical; and the metaphor is inseparable from Elizabeth and her imperial frown.

Third, language: Oxford employs the same words to and about the Dark Lady that he’s already used to and about the queen, and used exclusively for her.

Context: The overall context is that Oxford desperately wanted the Sonnets not only published and eventually read, but also, hopefully, understood – by readers in the future. The Sonnets are for “all posterity” and “eyes not yet created,” even when “tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.” So there must be an important story here, for us. He’s playing the long game, which means the story must transcend all strictly personal issues, no matter how deeply felt. It must involve some major situation to be recorded by English history. Given all we know about Shakespeare, the story must also involve some great issue of his own time; and the most pressing issue was the urgent need for an uncontested – and, therefore, peaceful – royal succession.

The vital publishing life of Oxford’s Shakespeare plays coincides with this growing alarm: What will happen if the queen dies before naming her successor? The great issuance of Oxford’s plays under the Shakespeare name occurred in the final years of her life, up to her death. The man was still trying to guide and protect her and his country.

And the contents of his revised history plays reflect this intensifying crisis. The British author Peter Lake aptly titles his recent book “How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays.” His recurring theme is that Shakespeare was using history to raise awareness of the current crisis and ways of dealing with it. Elizabeth’s urgent responsibility was to put a successor in place, to avoid civil war and even possible takeover by a foreign power. But she could not – or would not – carry out this responsibility, and finally the tension boiled over in the Essex Rebellion of early 1601.

The rebels began by paying for a special performance of Oxford’s play Richard II, which Elizabeth knew was about her and the possibility of her being deposed, even killed. The earls were hoping to prevent Robert Cecil from further manipulating the queen to ensure his own survival. Oxford had portrayed Cecil as the hunchbacked tyrant Richard III; and now the secretary was terrorizing Elizabeth (“They were planning to kill you!”) and keeping her under his firm control. For Oxford, after a lifetime of service to queen and country, it was all crashing down with his cunning former brother-in-law maintaining total command of England. As James of Scotland put it, Cecil had made himself “king there, in effect.”

Now the context begins to reveal itself. Our goal, in my view, has always been to read these autobiographical sonnets to and about the Dark Lady (nos. 127-152) in conjunction with events that must comprise the framework and foundation of Oxford’s story. And once we see Elizabeth as this woman, it becomes clear that the story unfolds between the two most important events: the failed rebellion of 1601 and the queen’s death two years later in 1603. These moments, destined to be marked by history, are the two bookends. Then, from one to the other, the sonnets and events begin to illuminate each other and to bring the story to life.

It begins with Sonnet 127 on that tragic night when most young nobles of Elizabeth’s court have been jailed on charges of having plotted against her life. The age of “Gloriana” has come to an end. It’s over – and “therefore” the eyes of their sovereign mistress have turned “Raven black.” The ravens had become dread symbols of executions on the Tower Green. When Anne Boleyn was decapitated, it was said that “even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements, gazing eerily at the strange scene: a queen about to die!”

Now two former favorites, Essex and Southampton, are both set to die on that same Tower Green, so it’s no wonder the aging queen is in “mourning” as at a funeral. After the head of Essex is cut off, the beloved Fair Youth is next, and now his fate is also up to Elizabeth.

Imagine Oxford’s emotional turmoil over this tragic situation! He might even blame himself. All three of them – Southampton, Oxford, Elizabeth – are suffering. And so Oxford addresses the queen in words echoing those of Christ on the cross: “Of him, my self, and thee, I am forsaken, a torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.” What other kind of situation would compel this proud nobleman and great author, who hated hyperbole, to liken his own suffering to that of Christ?

Back in 1911, the legal expert Edward White declared that Sonnets 133 and 134 “clearly refer to the confinement of Southampton in the Tower” and “express the poet’s desire to go his bail by substituting his person for that of his friend, in jail.” It’s Elizabeth who has Southampton in her prison, so Oxford begs her: “Prison my heart … but then let my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail. Who ere keeps me, let my heart be his guard; thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.” In other words: “I will not let you execute him in my prison!”

White also declared: “The poet proffers to forfeit himself as security for Southampton.” Oxford tells the queen: “So now I have confessed that he is thine, and I my self am mortgaged to thy will. My self I’ll forfeit so that other mine thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.”

Now he begs her Majesty to relieve his suffering by executing him instead: “O call me not to justify the wrong that thy unkindness lays upon my heart … Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.” An old saying was that “monarchs have killing looks.” They kill, literally, with their eyes.

Waiting in the Tower, Southampton writes a lengthy poem to the queen, trying to save his life – the only poem by him that we know of. (Before Essex was executed, he, too, had written a poem to her Majesty while in the Tower. So clearly poetry was an important means of communicating with the queen – which makes three earls and former royal wards, each writing verse for Queen Elizabeth in relation to the very same dire circumstances.) In Southampton’s poem, discovered just several years ago, the earl reminds Elizabeth: “Only mercy is the prince’s own.” Only the monarch can deliver mercy; and when she does spare his life, a relieved Oxford responds in Sonnet 145: “Straight in her heart did mercy come.”

But time to settle the succession is running out; nor does Elizabeth seem to care about the ultimate fate of Southampton, who might be left to die in the Tower as a condemned traitor in perpetual confinement. So Oxford wails in amazing lines such as these in Sonnet 147: “Past cure I am, now reason is past care,/ And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.” His continued loyalty to the queen stands at complete odds with her failure to name a successor and protect England from chaos and bloodshed.

James of Scotland has a blood claim, but with complications. He’s a foreign king, born on foreign soil, technically not qualified, and even more deeply unqualified in his character, not to mention that he’s also the willing pawn of Robert Cecil. For all that, however, he does have a claim; but still Elizabeth refuses to name him.

In the end Oxford delivers those final bitter words to the dying female monarch who has always been the most important person in his life: “And all my honest faith in thee is lost.” And now we can see the metaphor of the queen’s darkness.

Oxford established the metaphor in Sonnet 25: “Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread/ But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,/ And in themselves their pride lies buried,/ For at a frown they in their glory die.” Elizabeth’s favorite courtiers behave like her flower, the marigold, all opening to the warm light of “the sun’s eye” – her sovereign eye; but with just a frown casting her shadow of royal displeasure, their glory dies in darkness. That’s the metaphor, set forth by Oxford himself, and it’s inseparable from Elizabeth.

Of the twenty-six sonnets in this series, only five involve her darkness, and each time it’s a variation of that same metaphor:

In the opening sonnet (127), after eight lines, he reports: “Therefore” – “Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,” – the raven, harbinger of death – “her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem” – the eyes of mourners at a funeral. It’s a metaphor. In 130, “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Back in those lines about the marigold, the queen’s eye was the sun; now, because of her imperial frown and negative view, the sunlight has disappeared. All is dark.

How the queen looks at someone or something is also what she does; and in 131 he tells her: “In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds.” In 132 her eyes have “put on” black, again in mourning; but if her eyes are already black, why would she have to put it on? Finally, in 147, she’s “as black as hell, as dark as night.” And that’s it for the darkness, all metaphor, all tied to the power of the queen’s negative view that turns day into night.

And now the language, to and about the queen:

For example, in 134: “I my self am mortgaged to thy will.” In a letter to Cecil about the queen, he promised not to “contradict her will.” A common saying was, “Others debate, but the king wills.”

In 140 she has “tongue-tied” or silenced him, the same as when his art is “tongue-tied by authority.” Well, the queen is authority; and she’s the only one who can tongue-tie or officially silence him.

He writes to her in 149 about being in “thy service.” He had told Burghley, “”I have engaged myself so far in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light.” What other woman has he ever served? Also in 149 he’s “commanded by the motion of thine eyes.” In a private memo he urged the queen to give her “commandment.” And in King John he wrote about “the motion of a kingly eye.”

In his early sonnet about the queen, Oxford had blared forth his “love” and “constant truth” on her behalf. He was loyal and consistently honest. Now, as she nears death, he writes about her side of that commitment: about “thy” love, “thy” truth, “thy” constancy – the same three words; but in the end, she has had no love or truth or constancy. She has betrayed him and England itself; and therefore he has sworn falsely, all his life, by supporting and praising her.

Recall him telling how he has engaged himself in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light; but now all his honest faith in her is lost. He admits he has had to “swear against the truth so foul a lie.” What other woman could force this strong-willed man of high rank, for whom truth was the most sacred value, to swear against it for her sake?

Soon after Oxford died the following year, 1604, came the printed full Hamlet. He must have labored to revise and expand this magnum opus right up to his last breath. In the final scene, Fortinbras comes down from the north to rule Denmark amid its royal wreckage, just as Cecil triumphantly brought James down from the north to rule England its crippled royal court. Hamlet bemoans his “wounded name” and implores Horatio to “tell my story.”

Five years later, 1609, the Sonnets are published for posterity; and I have no doubt they contain the story Horatio promised to tell the “yet unknowing world” about “how these things came about.” Here is Edward de Vere’s most personal voice – his own story – and the most direct revelation of his authorship.

Here is Oxford’s cry that his own wounded name “be buried where my body is.” Here is the truth of the great author at the royal court of England; his devotion to Southampton; his long, conflicted relationship with the queen; his fury and despair over her failure to protect his beloved isle, not to mention her unwillingness to liberate Southampton. Here is his confession of misguided loyalty and self-betrayal for her sake; and his swift disappearance within the black hole of official anonymity: “I, once gone, to all the world must die.”

Only when Queen Elizabeth is recognized as the powerful “dark lady” will the context, metaphor and language of the Sonnets enable Oxford’s untold story to finally come into focus – for posterity, for history, for us.

Medical Knowlege: Re-posting No. 39 of 100 Reasons “Shake-speare” was the Earl of Oxford

In his edition of the Shakespeare sonnets, the Stratfordian scholar Stephen Booth includes the title page of The Newe Jewell of Health, wherein is contained the most excellent Secrets of Physic and Philosophy, divided into four Books by the surgeon George Baker, published in 1576.

Booth presents an illustration of the doctor’s important book in connection with Sonnet 119, which builds upon metaphors and analogies from alchemy and medicine:

What potions have I drunk of siren tears,

Distilled from limbecks foul as hell within…

“Shakespeare” knew all about the “distillations” of waters, oils and balms as set forth by Dr. Baker, whose book has been long considered a key source for the Bard’s interest in alchemy as well as the full range of medical knowledge at the time. It happens that Baker, who would become surgeon to Queen Elizabeth, was the personal physician of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and dedicated The New Jewel of Health to the earl’s wife Anne Cecil. Baker had dedicated his first book, Olenum Magistrale (1574) to de Vere himself, and in 1599 dedicated his Practice of the New and Old Physic to the earl as well. Baker was part of the household of de Vere, whose patronage helped to make it possible for this medical pioneer to write his books in the first place.

This is one example of how “Shakespeare’s” remarkable knowledge of medicine is mirrored by Oxford’s own connection to the leading medical experts and advances of his time, not only in England but also on the Continent. If Baker had just once treated Shakspere for a cut finger, upholders of the Stratford faith would have devoted entire books to that medical incident and its influences upon Shakespeare’s writings. On the other hand, Booth uses a full page to illustrate The Newe Jewell of Health in connection with Shakespeare’s sonnets, but never indicates that Baker dedicated that very book to the wife of the leading candidate to replace the Stratford man, nor does he mention that the doctor dedicated two other books to the earl of Oxford himself!

Scholars often try to “dumb down” Shakespeare’s works to avoid having to explain how he could have acquired such amazing knowledge. They tell us things like, “Well, see, he really didn’t know that much.  He wrote about stuff that anyone in England could have picked up, in the tavern or on the street, and of course he made mistakes…”  If something is too large to be filled by the Stratford man’s pitifully small biography, it must be cut down to fit, even while “the miracle” of his “genius” is further inflated, to explain the inexplicable.

Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577)

De Vere requires no such adjustments. to explain the knowledge displayed by “Shakespeare” in his works. As for exposure to medical knowledge, he was tutored during childhood by Sir Thomas Smith, known for his interest in diseases, alchemy and therapeutic botanicals. Then he had access to Cecil’s library with some 200 books on alchemy and medical topics. In his twenties Oxford lived next door to Bedlam Hospital, a source of firsthand knowledge about patients suffering from mental illness.

Oxford’s life forms a picture that deepens our perceptions of the great plays and poems.  And because of the Oxfordian authorship theory, researchers are continually finding new evidence that “Shakespeare” was even more brilliant than we have been able to know and appreciate.

Dr. Earl Showerman

Earl Showerman, M.D., points out that the Shakespeare plays contain “over 700 medical references to practically all the diseases and drugs” that were known by the year1600, along with “knowledge of anatomy, physiology, surgery, obstetrics, public health, aging, forensics, neurology and mental disorders,” not to mention “detailed knowledge of syphilis.” Dr. Showerman quotes from Shakespeare and Medicine (1962) by R.R. Simpson, who reports that the poet-dramtist demonstrates “not only an astute knowledge of medical affairs, but also a keen sense of the correct use of that knowledge” – a sign that he was well acquainted with the medical literature of his day.  Another work is The Medical Mind of Shakespeare (1986) by Aubrey Kail, who writes that the Bard’s plays “bear witness to profound knowledge of contemporary physiology and psychology” and that he “employed medical terms in a manner which would have been beyond the powers of any ordinary playwright or physician.”

“The Medical Mind of Shakespeare” by Aubrey Kail (1986)

Another Oxfordian researcher, Frank M. Davis, M.D., writes that in Shakespeare’s time “true medical literature, like medicine itself, was still in its infancy,” so he could not have absorbed much from reading what was available in English: “The vast majority of medical works were published in Latin or Greek.”

Davis finds it “remarkable” that Shakespeare refers in three plays to the pia mater, the inner lining of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. “Knowledge of this relatively obscure part of anatomy could only mean that Shakespeare had either studied anatomy or read medical literature … Even more striking to me as a neurosurgeon is his acquaintance with the relationship of the third ventricle with memory,” he adds, noting a possible source was Thomas Vicary’s Anatomy of the Body of Man (1548), which refers to the third ventricle as the ‘ventricle of memory’” – a phrase used in Love’s Labour’s Lost, when the pedant Holfernes states that his various gifts of the mind “are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of the pia mater…” (4.2.70-71)

“The Anatomie of the Bodie of Man” by Thomas Vicary (1490-1561)

William Harvey (1578-1657)

While the discovery of the circulation of blood has been assigned to William Harvey, who announced it in 1616, “Shakespeare” was likely aware of it long before then.  There are “at least nine significant references to the circulation or flowing of blood in Shakespeare’s plays,” Davis writes.

England was far behind the advances in medical technology taking place on the Continent. Most of the great doctors and teachers were based at the University of Padua, then the center for medical learning; others studied there before returning to their hometowns to practice medicine.

University of Padua

Oxford, touring the cities of Europe during 1575 at age twenty-five, visited Padua at least once, probably twice.  “With the background in pharmacology gained from his years with Sir Thomas Smith,” writes Davis, “it seems unlikely that Oxford would visit Padua without attempting to discover the latest developments in ‘physic.’”

Fabricius (1537-1619)

In the previous year, the Renaissance doctor Fabricius had discovered “the valves in veins responsible for keeping the blood flowing in one direction toward the heart,” Davis notes, adding that Fabricius was “the first to bring this important discovery to light.” Even if Oxford had never met Fabricius in person, it is “easy to imagine” that the great teacher’s 1574 discovery of those valves, along with other topics related to the circulation of the blood, “would have been an ongoing staple of conversation among the students and faculty at the time of Oxford’s visit the following year.”

[This is an updated version of the original blog, the way it now appears as No. 59 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016),reflecting the work of editor Alex McNeil, with other editorial help from Brian Bechtold. (Published by Forever Press.]

Edward de Vere: The Fabric of His Life in the Sonnets: Reposting No. 29 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was Shake-speare

Edward de Vere was in the best position of anyone in England to be the author of the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered sonnets published in 1609 as Shake-speares Sonnets. The known facts about Oxford’s childhood, upbringing, education, and family all interconnect with the sonnets’ language and imagery.

Oxford was nephew to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), who, with Sir Thomas Wyatt, wrote the first English sonnets in the form to be used later by Shakespeare. Oxford himself wrote an early sonnet in that form; entitled Love Thy Choice, it expressed his devotion to Queen Elizabeth with the same themes of “constancy” and “truth” that “Shakespeare” would express in the same words:

“In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – Oxford’s sonnet to Queen Elizabeth

“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Sonnet 152 to the “Dark Lady”

The Shakespeare sonnets are plainly autobiographical, the author using the personal pronoun “I” to refer to himself, telling his own story in his own voice; so it’s only natural that he expresses himself with references to the life he experienced since childhood.   Much of that experience is captured in Sonnet 91:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their Hawks and Hounds, some in their Horse…

Oxford was born into England’s highest-ranking earldom, inheriting vast wealth in the form of many estates.  He was a skilled horseman and champion of two great jousting tournaments at the Whitehall tiltyard.  He was the “Italianate Englishman” who wore new-fangled clothing from the Continent.  An expert falconer, he wrote poetry comparing women to hawks “that fly from man to man.”

And every humor hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest,
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me …

Only someone who already had high birth, and was willing to give it up, could make such a declaration to another nobleman of high birth and make it meaningful; if written to the Earl of Southampton by a man who was not high-born, the statement would be an insulting joke.

Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than Hawks or Hounds be,
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast.
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.

Woodcut of Elizabethan astronomy or astrology

Oxford also left his footprints throughout:

(2) “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow” – He was forty in 1590, when most commentators feel the opening sonnets were written.

(8) “Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly … Mark how one string, sweet husband to another” – He was an accomplished musician, writing for the lute, and patronized the composer John Farmer, who dedicated two songbooks to him, praising his musical knowledge and skill.

(14) “And yet methinks I have astronomy” – He was well acquainted with the “astronomy,” or astrology, of Dr. John Dee and was praised for his knowledge of the subject.

(23) “As an imperfect actor on the stage” – He patronized two acting companies, performed in “enterludes” at court and was well known for his “comedies” or stage plays.

(33) “Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy” – He studied with Dee, who experimented with alchemy, and both men invested in the Frobisher voyages.

Elizabeth woodcut of distillation by “alchemy” to find the imagined “elixir” to prolong life”

(49) “To guard the lawful reasons on thy part” – He studied law at Gray’s Inn and served as a judge at the treason trials of Norfolk and Mary Stuart and later at the treason trial of Essex and Southampton; his personal letters are filled with intimate knowledge of the law.

(59) “O that record could with a backward look,/ Even of five hundred courses of the Sunne”  – His earldom extended back 500 years to the time of William the Conqueror.

(72) “My name be buried where my body is” – In his early poetry he wrote, “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground.”

(89) “Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt” – He was lamed by a sword during a street fight in 1582.

Queen Elizabeth – the Armada Portrait, 1588 – she loved those jewels!

(96) “As on the finger of a a throned Queen, / The basest Jewel will be well esteemed” – He gave the Queen “a fair jewel of gold” with diamonds in 1580.

(98) “Of different flowers in odor and in hue” – He was raised amid the great gardens of William Cecil, who imported flowers never seen in England, something that accounts for Shakespeare’s vast knowledge of plants.

(107) “And thou in this shalt find thy monument” – He wrote to Thomas Bedingfield in 1573 that “I shall erect you such a monument…”

(109) “Myself bring water for my stain” – He was “water-bearer to the monarch” at the coronation of James on 25 July 1603, in his capacity as Lord Great Chamberlain.

Title page of The New Jewell of Health (1576) by Dr. George Baker, dedicated to Oxford’s wife Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford

(111) “Potions of Eisel ‘gainst my strong infection” – His surgeon was Dr. George Baker, who dedicated three books to the earl or his wife.

(114) “And to his palate doth prepare the cup” – His ceremonial role as Lord Great Chamberlain included bringing the “tasting cup” to the monarch.

(116) “O no, it is an ever-fixed mark/ That looks on tempests and his never shaken … If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ nor no man ever loved” – He wrote: “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?  Vere.” (Emphasis added)

(121) “No, I am that I am…” –  He wrote to Burghley using the same words in the same tone (the words of God to Moses in the Bible) to protest his spying on him.

(125) “Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy” – He was reported to have been one of the six nobles bearing a “golden canopy” over the queen in the procession on 24 November 1588 celebrating England’s recent victory over the Spanish Armada. (But Sonnet 125, I believe, refers to the canopy held over Elizabeth’s effigy and coffin in the funeral procession on 28 April 1603.)

(128) “Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds”– He was an intimate favorite of the queen, who frequently played music on the virginals.

Courtiers of Queen Elizabeth – entertaining her with lute

(153) “I sick withal the help of bath desired” – He accompanied Elizabeth and her court during her three-day visit in August 1574 to the City of Bath, the only royal visit to that city; and “Shakespeare” is said to write about this visit in the so-called Bath Sonnets 153-154.

The Sonnets of Shakespeare amount to the autobiographical diary of de Vere. The allusions to his life as a high-born nobleman and courtier, appearing throughout the sequence, come forth naturally and spontaneously. In effect, he left his signature for all to see.

[This post, with significant help from editor Alex McNeil, is now Reason 52 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

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

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

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

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

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

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

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

Southampton at 22 in 1595

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

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

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

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

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

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

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

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

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

“One Whose Power Floweth Far”: Re-Posting No. 26 of 100 Reasons why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

A thick volume printed for the Roxburghe Club of London in 1882 featured an Elizabethan book of two narrative poems, Cephalus and Procris and Narcissus, translated from Ovid by the otherwise unknown Thomas Edwards.  It was registered in 1593 and printed in 1595, just after the “Shakespeare” name had made its debut on the dedications of Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594 to the Earl of Southampton.

Attached to Narcissus was an “envoy” or postscript in several stanzas of verse, identifying major poets by characters in their works: “Collyn Clout” for Spenser; “Rosamond” for Daniel; “Leander” for Marlowe; and “Adon”  for Shakespeare.

This was followed immediately by reference to a poet “in purple robes distained … whose power floweth far” with his “bewitching pen” and “golden art” that should make him “the only object and the star” of England’s writers.

Who was this poet, said to be the best of all?

In the Roxburghe appendix, one scholar identifiedthe star” as Edward de Vere while another said it must be a description of Shakespeare! If those two scholars of the late nineteenth century had been in the same room at the same time, one identifying Oxford and the other pointing to Shakespeare, might it have occurred to them that maybe they were both talking about the same man?  If so, they would have solved the authorship question then and there.

Here, in modernized English, is the stanza praising Shakespeare as “Adon,” followed by those praising the poet who “should have been … the only object and the star”:

Adon deafly masking through 

Stately troupes rich conceited,

Showed he well deserved to,

Love’s delight on him to gaze,

And had not love herself entreated,

Other nymphs had sent him bays.

Eke in purple robes distained,

Amidst the Center of this clime,

I have heard say doth remain

One whose power floweth far,

That should have been of our rhyme

The only object and the star.

 

Blackfriars Playhouse

Well could his bewitching pen

Done the Muses’ objects to us;

Although he differs much from men

Tilting under Frieries,

Yet his golden art might woo us

To have honored him with bays. [Emphases added.]

[Note that the first stanza about Adon, and the second of the next two stanzas about “one whose power floweth far,” conclude with “bays” – perhaps intended as a way for readers to link all three stanzas in their praise of a single poet.]

Roxburghe Club editor W.E. Buckley reported how one scholar identified Oxford and the other pointed to Shakespeare:

Edward Dowden (1843-1913)

“If ‘purple robes’ may mean a Nobleman’s robes, it gives some colour to the conjecture of Professor [Edward] Dowden, that Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have been intended, ‘as his reputation stood high as a Poet and Patron of Poets’ … Dr. B. Nicholson is of opinion that these two stanza must be connected with the preceding one in which Adon — that is, Shakspere — is described.”

Buckley noted that The Arte of English Poesie (1589) had named Oxford “first among the crew of courtly makers” and that Edmund Spenser had written a dedicatory sonnet to the earl in The Faire Queen of 1590 “in which he speaks of ‘the love that thou didst bear To th’Heliconian Nymphs, and they to thee.’  His ‘power flowed far’ as he was Lord High Chamberlain of England.  He had contributed to The Paradise of Dainty Devices, signing E.O. or E. Ox. [1576] and to The Phoenix Nest in 1593.  One of his poems is a vision of a Fair Maid (‘clad all in color of a Nun and covered with a Vail’) who complains of love and gets Echo answers of ‘Vere.’  In another, Oxford represents himself as ‘wearing black and tawny’ and [having] ‘no bays’ …”

Prior to John Thomas Looney’s identification of de Vere in 1920, orthodox scholars could mention him in a positive light without worrying about giving any ground in the authorship debate. Buckley also referred to a statement made by the literary antiquary Thomas Coxeter (1689-1747): Oxford was said by Coxeter to have translated Ovid, which would connect him with Narcissus, but no one has ever seen his Ovid.”

The street fighting in “Romeo and Juliet” is a mirror image of the “tilting” at Blackfriars involving Oxford’s men

An important contribution to work on the Narcissus L’Envoy was done by Dr. Roger Stritmatter, who introduced new evidence allowing “definitive identification of the phrase ‘tilting under Frieries’ as referring to a notorious series of Blackfriars street fights (1582-85) involving Oxford’s retainers.”  The fighting, in which Oxford was wounded and lamed for life, “left an indelible impression in the popular imagination of the era,” he writes, citing a series of documents (transcribed by Alan Nelson  for his Oxford biography Monstrous Adversary) confirming that the earl’s men were “tilting under frieries” in spring 1582 at Blackfriars. Stritmatter further observes:

“The significance of this finding, identifying Oxford as the poet with the ‘bewitching pen’ who ‘should have been’ – but cannot be – the ‘only object and the star’ of the chorus of the Elizabethan poets, should not be underestimated. Without doubt, the 1582-83 Oxford-Knyvet affair at Blackfriars was the most striking instance of ’tilting under Frieries’ during the thirty-seven years of Elizabeth’s reign that informed the imagery and diction of Edwardes’ enigmatic poem.  Before the fray had ended, a literary peer of the realm had been lamed for life, and followers of both factions wounded or killed.  The concealed poet of ‘bewitching pen’ and ‘golden art’ – whose men were in 1582 notoriously ’tilting under frieries’ – is none other than the still controversial Edward de Vere.”

The “Envoy to Narcissus” is an example of how, soon after publication of Venus and Adonis and the first appearance of the “Shakespeare” name in print, writers were already dropping hints about the presence of an author – in fact the “star” among them – who had chosen to withhold his identity. The chatter was growing from the start.

[This reason, with tremendous help from Editor Alex McNeil, as well as Brian Bechtold, is now no. 31 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford).

 

Re-Posting No. 23 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: Those “Haggards” that “Fly from Man to Man”

When John Thomas Looney was still searching for the true author in the early 1900s, he opened an anthology of sixteenth-century verse and looked for poems in the stanza form that Shakespeare employed for Venus and Adonis. Looney thought it likely that “Shakespeare,” whoever he was, had previously written poetry in that form, with six lines, each of ten syllables, using the rhyme scheme of a quatrain followed by a couplet [ababcc].

Poems in that form were “much fewer than I had anticipated,” Looney recalled; he found just two that could have come from the same hand that wrote the Shakespearean verse.  One was anonymous; the other was a poem about “Women” by Edward de Vere, with this opening stanza:

If women would be fair and yet not fond, [a]

Or that their love were firm not fickle still, [b]

I would not marvel that they make men bond, [a]

By service long to purchase their good will: [b]

But when I see how frail these creatures are, [c]

I muse that men forget themselves so far.  [c]

Oxford’s verse stood out, conveying “a sense of its harmony with Shakespeare’s work,” in terms of “diction, succinctness, cohesion and unity.”

What then caught Looney’s attention was the earl’s use of “haggard” – a wild or imperfectly trained hawk or falcon — as a metaphor for “fickle” women in the second stanza:

Queen Elizabeth and her attendants out hawking — Her Majesty is riding side-saddle; the man at left has just released his hawk, while above a hawk is bringing down a bird

To mark the choice they make and how they change,

How oft from Phoebus do they cleave to Pan,

Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,

These gentle birds that fly from man to man:

Who would not scorn and shake them from his fist

And let them fly (fair fools) which way they list?

In the several places where Shakespeare uses “haggards” (or the singular form) he almost always employs it as a figure of speech referring to wild, untamed, fickle women.  In Oxford’s poem the word refers to women who “fly from man to man,” a sentiment identical to Shakespeare’s use of the word in Othello:

“If I do prove her haggard, though that her jesses were my dear heart strings, I’d whistle her off and let her down the wind to prey at fortune.”  [3.3.263]

As Ren Draya and Richard F. Whalen report in their edition of Othello from an Oxfordian perspective, the Moor’s speech is “an extended metaphor from falconry, the sport of aristocrats.”

[Haggard = a female hawk captured after getting its adult plumage, hence still wild, untamed; Jesses = leather straps tied to the legs of a hawk and attached to a leash; “Whistle her off … down the wind” = send her off the way a hawk is turned loose when not performing well and sent downwind.]

Further striking parallels in Shakespeare are to be found in the third and final stanza of Oxford’s poem, which refers to the “lure” or decoy bird:

Yet for disport we fawn and flatter both,

To pass the time when nothing else can please,

And train them to our lure with subtle oath,

Till, weary of their wiles, ourselves we ease;

And then we say, when we their fancy try,

To play with fools, O what a fool was I!

A falconer in the sixteenth century

The same idea is expressed in The Taming of the Shrew when Petruchio speaks of himself as a falconer training his wife, Kate, as a falcon who needs to be kept hungry (or less than “fullgorged”), so she’ll continue to follow his lure:

“My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, and till she stoop she must not be full-gorged, for then she never looks upon her lure.  Another way I have to man my haggard, to make her come and know her keeper’s call, that is, to watch her, as we watch these kites that bate and beat and will not be obedient.” [4.1.176]

[Kites = birds of prey, such as the falcon; bate = beat down and weaken a female bird who still won’t obey.]

Just as Oxford writes of men who use a “subtle oath” as a lure or bait to “train” women to their wills, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing speaks of “the false sweet bait that we lay” for Beatrice, of whom she says, “I know her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock.” [3.1.32-36]

Coming back full-circle, in Venus and Adonis the poet writes of the Goddess of Love and Beauty: “As falcons to the lure, away she flies…” [1027]

“What we have in this instance, as a matter of fact,” Looney writes, “is a complete accordance at all points in the use of an unusual word and figure of speech.  Indeed if we make a piece of patchwork of all the passages in Shakespeare in which the word ‘haggard’ occurs we can reconstruct De Vere’s single poem on ‘Women.’

“Such an agreement not only supports us in seeking to establish the general harmony of De Vere’s work with Shakespeare’s, but carries us beyond the immediate needs of our argument – for it constrains us to claim that either both sets of expression are actually from the same pen, or ‘Shakespeare’ pressed that license to borrow (which was prevalent in his day) far beyond its legitimate limits.  In our days we should not hesitate to describe such passages as glaring plagiarism, unless they happen to come from the same pen.”

Sonnet 91 speaks of hawks, hounds and horses; and if the Sonnets are autobiographical, as they appear to be, then we are hearing the voice of a nobleman spontaneously referring to various aspects of his everyday world:

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,

Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,

Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,

Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse…

Prince Hamlet exclaims to the players, “Masters, you are all welcome,” adding spontaneously, “We’ll e’en to’t like French falconers, fly at anything we see!” [2.2]

Juliet calls out: “Hst! Romeo, hist! O for a falconer’s voice to lure this tassel-gentle back again!” [2.2]

A falcon swooping down…

A terrifying stanza in The Rape of Lucrece portrays the rapist Tarquin as a falcon circling above his helpless prey:

This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,

Which, like a falcon towering in the skies,

Coucheth the  fowl below with his wings’ shade,

Whose crooked beak threats if he mount he dies;

So under his insulting falchion lies

Harmless Lucretia, marking what he tells

With trembling fear, as fowl hear falcons’ bells. [505-511]

(Coucheth the fowl = causing the bird to hug the ground; Falchion = sword; marking = listening to; Falcons’ bells = bells were attached to the hawks or falcons.)

Oxford was an expert falconer; so, too, was the author known as Shakespeare.

This post is now number 23 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), edited by Alex McNeil (with other editorial help by Brian Bechtold)

Sonnets 107 to 125: Southampton’s Liberation on April 10, 1603 to Elizabeth’s Funeral on April 28: Nineteen Sonnets = Nineteen Days

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent. (Sonnet 107)

“The particular sonnet [107] which, according to Sir Sidney Lee and other authorities, welcomed Southampton’s liberation from prison in 1603 [April 10], is one of the last of the series … and makes references to events that took place in 1603 – to Queen Elizabeth’s death and the accession of James I.” — J.T. Looney, “‘Shakespeare’ Identified”, 1920, p. 430 [page 365 in the edition by Ruth Loyd Miller]

“In another connection we have had to point out that Shakespeare’s sonnet 125 seems to be pointing to De Vere’s officiating at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral [April 28, 1603]. This may be taken as his last sonnet; for 126 is really … a parting message to his young friend.” – Looney, pp. 395-96 [page 335 in Miller’s edition]

Looney agreed 107 marks Southampton’s liberation on April 10.

He believed that 125 marks Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28.

The nineteen sonnets from 107 to 125 cover one-for-one the nineteen days from April 10 to April 28.

Is this a coincidence? Or is it deliberate?

Sonnet 126, the envoy*, completes the sequence of twenty.

These follow the eighty from 27 to 106 (Southampton’s time in the Tower).

Eighty plus twenty = One Hundred or a Century.

* Sonnets 26 and 126 are both envoys, creating the 100-sonnet center.

1——-26 27——————————–126 127————152

  (26)                         (100)                             (26)

Re-Posting No. 16 of “100 Reasons” why the Earl of Oxford = “Shakespeare”: Bertram in “All’s Well That Ends Well”

The leading male character in All’s Well That Ends Well is Bertram, Count of Rousillon, a young French nobleman whose callous self-absorption leads to bad behavior toward his wife. In many respects, Bertram is a representation of a young English nobleman, Edward, Earl of Oxford, whose callous self-absorption led to bad behavior toward his wife.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), author of the “Decameron, On Famous Women”

The play is based on a tale by the great Florentine author -poet Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) in The Decameron, a collection of one hundred novellas that became the model of Italian prose for writers in the sixteenth century.

Illustration of the “Decameron”

A now-lost stage work entitled The Historie of the Rape of the Second Helene, recorded as performed at Richmond Palace on 6 January 1579, might have been an early version of All’s Well, which did not appear in print until the 1623 First Folio.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” in the First Folio of 1623

If the play performed at Richmond was in fact an early draft of All’s Well, observes William Farina in De Vere as Shakespeare, “then perhaps the play reflects de Vere coming to grips with his own bad behavior toward his wife, in which case Bertram would represent Shakespeare’s own unvarnished and unflattering self-portrait of the artist as a young man.”

The early version would have been written solely for Queen Elizabeth and members of her royal court, who would have quickly understood its contemporary allusions and inside jests.

A revised version for the public playhouse in the 1590s may have been the “unknown” Shakespeare comedy to which Francis Meres refers in Palladis Tamia (1598) as Love labours Wonne.

[There is no record of a All’s Well being performed until 1741.]

Following are some of the ways in which Bertram appears to reflect Oxford:

ROYAL WARD

When Oxford’s father died he was summoned to London as a ward in subjection to her Majesty the Queen of England. All’s Well begins when, upon his father’s death, young Bertram has been summoned to Paris as a royal ward of the King of France:

Countess: In delivering my son from me I bury a second husband.

Bertram: And I in going, madam, weep o’er my father’s death anew; but I must attend his Majesty’s command, to whom I am evermore in subjection.

A Scene from “All’s Well That Ends Well”

MARRIAGE

When Vere came of age in 1571 a marriage was arranged between him and his guardian William Cecil’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne, a commoner.  Bertram is leaving behind the young Helena, a commoner’s daughter who had fallen in love with him:

“I am undone.  There is no living, none, if Bertram be away.  ‘Twere all one that I should love a bright particular star and think to wed it, he is so above me.  In his bright radiance and collateral light must I be comforted, not in his sphere.”

The King promises to elevate Helena’s family to the nobility so she and Bertram can marry.  In real life, Elizabeth raised up her chief minister from commoner status to become Lord Burghley, so that Anne, who had grown up with Oxford in the same household and undoubtedly loved him, would be of the nobility and able to marry him.

MILITARY SERVICE

Oxford, who had served in the 1570 campaign against the rebelling Catholic earls of the north, nonetheless hungered for more military service but had been kept behind for being too young.  In the fall of 1572, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre [of Protestants] in France, he begged Burghley to allow him to serve on a ship or abroad “where yet some honor were to be got,” adding he was also “most willing to be employed on the sea coasts, to be in readiness with my countrymen against any invasion.”  He was continually blocked, however, and his complaints are echoed by the Count in the play:

“I am commanded here and kept a coil with ‘Too young’ and ‘The next year’ and ‘’Tis too early’… I shall stay here the forehorse to a smock [a woman’s lead horse], creaking my shoes on the plain masonry [palace floors, instead of rough battlefield], till honor be bought up [exhausted], and no sword worn but one to dance with.  By heaven, I’ll steal away!”

Oxford did “steal away” from England without authorization, in the summer of 1574, but he was forced to return three weeks later.

“The Decameron” by Boccaccio — a hundred stores narrated by seven women and three men during the Plague of 1348

PROMISE

Oxford finally received permission to travel abroad in early 1575 and spent more than fifteen months in France, Germany and Italy, with his home base in Venice.  Back in England, when the earl’s wife revealed she was pregnant, Elizabeth “sprung up from the cushions” and said, “I protest to God that next to them that have interest in it, there is nobody can be more joyous of it than I am!”   A bit later, however, she repeated the promise Oxford had given her “openly in the presence chamber that if she [Anne] were with child, it was not his!” (This is in a letter from Dr. Richard Master, court physician, written to Lord Burghley on March 7, 1575, while Oxford was at the French  court in Paris.)

De Vere had promised the queen that he would not sleep with his wife, just as we find the count saying the same in relation to his wife, Helena:

“Although before the solemn priest I have sworn, I will not bed her … O my Parolles, they have married me!  I’ll go to the Tuscan wars and never bed her … I have wedded, not bedded her, and sworn to make the ‘not’ eternal.”  And writing to Helena: “When thou canst … show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a ‘then’ I write a ‘never.’”

BED TRICK

Bertram fathers a son by means of a “bed trick,” a scheme hatched by Helena whereby another woman goes to bed with him and then, in the dark, Helena trades places with her.  In The Histories of Essex (1836) gossip of similar details is recorded about Oxford, Anne and her father:

“[Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, [but] the father of Lady Anne by stratagem contrived that her husband should unknowingly sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.” [Anne gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in 1575.]

Also the Master of the Horse to Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery [who married Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan], refers in a memoir to “the last great Earl of Oxford, whose lady was brought to his bed under the notion of his mistress, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan] is said to proceed.”  [Again, the child was Elizabeth Vere.]

The bed trick also appears in Measure for Measure.

All’s Well includes a backdrop of the wars in the Netherlands between Spain and the Dutch in the 1570s, along with what Farina describes as “enormous amounts of esoteric knowledge regarding the history and geography of France and Italy, as well as Renaissance literature and courtly social customs” — a further link in the chain of evidence pointing to Oxford as the author.

Another source of the play is William Painter’s English translation of Decameron, published in 1566, when de Vere was sixteen and graduating from Oxford University. The earl knew Italian and undoubtedly also read Decameron in its original language, which “Shakespeare” appears to have done — although traditional scholars have been unable to explain how the Stratford man could have read the Italian version.

[This post is No. 73 in 100 Reasons Shakes-peare was the Earl of Oxford]

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