No. 100 of 100 Reasons for the Earl of Oxford’s Authorship of the Shakespeare Works: How It Began by Searching for a Special Kind of Genius and Finding the Conditions Fulfilled

This one hundredth reason for Edward de Vere’s authorship of the Shakespeare works is by no means the end; on the contrary, it takes us back to the beginning – to the characteristics and conditions required even by the “genius” of that great author. It takes us back to the “long foreground” of earlier development that “Shakespeare” needed before he was able to complete his masterworks such as Hamlet and The Sonnets.

Oxford tan

“We venture to say that, whatever course the discussion may take, either now or in a distant future, one of the most serious hindrances to the formation of correct views will be the necessity of reversing judgments that have had a longstanding social sanction,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified (1920), wherein he revealed his finding of Edward, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) as the most likely author.

“We shall first have to dissociate from the writings the conception of such an author as the steady, complacent, business-like man-of-the-world suggested by the Stratford Shakspere. Then there will be the more arduous task of raising to a most exalted position the name and personality possibly of some obscure man hitherto regarded as quite unequal to the work with which he is at last to be credited. And this will further compel us to re-read our greatest national classics from a totally new personal standpoint.”

Looney book

His prediction continues to carry enormous implications for the authorship question in general and the Oxfordian movement in particular. The task of turning our perception of the works “inside-out” is even now still in its infancy, even with the centennial of the publication of Looney’s groundbreaking work due to arrive in 2020 — and even with the thirtieth anniversary this year of the publication in 1984 of The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn, Jr., which ignited interest in the authorship question among many who had never known it existed.

“The work in question being the highest literary product of the age,” he continued, “it cannot be otherwise than that the author, whoever he may have been, when he is discovered must seem in some measure below the requirements of the situation; unequal, that is, to the production of such work. We shall therefore be called upon in his case radically to modify and correct a judgment of three hundred [make that four hundred] years’ standing.”

But there is a “natural limit” to such inferiority in appearance, Looney noted. Given that the writings attributed to “Shakespeare” are masterpieces of English literature, and that all the world’s other literary masterpieces were produced by those who wrote of “matters in which they were keenly interested, and to whom writing (or the mental occupation of composing) has been a master passion, we are entitled to require – in the person put forward as the author – a body of credentials corresponding to the character of the work.

John Thomas Looney 1870 - 1944

John Thomas Looney
1870 – 1944

“That is to say, we are bound to assume that the writer was an Englishman with dominating literary tastes, to whom the classical literature of the world, the history of England during the period of the Lancastrians and Yorkists, and Italian literature, which form the staple materials of his work, were matters of absorbing interest, furnishing the milieu in which his mind habitually worked …

“Unless, then, we are to recast all our ideas of how the great things of literature have been achieved, we cannot think of him otherwise than as one who had been swept by the irresistible force of his own genius into the strong literary current of his times.” Even if he hid from the men of his day the fact that he was himself busy producing such works, it is “inconceivable that he should have hidden from them where his chief interest lay.”

Charlton Ogburn Jr.  1911 - 1998

Charlton Ogburn Jr.
1911 – 1998

When the British schoolmaster came upon a summary of Edward de Vere’s life by Shakespeare editor and biographer Sir Sidney Lee, in the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) for 1885-1900, he was amazed and gratified by what he found. Looney had been searching for someone who was (1) a matured man of recognized genius, (2) apparently eccentric and mysterious, (3) of intense sensibility – a man apart, (4) unconventional, (5) not adequately appreciated, (6) of pronounced and known literary tastes, (7) an enthusiast in the world of drama, (8) a lyric poet of recognized talent and (9) of superior education – classical – the habitual associate of educated people.

More specifically he had been looking for (1) a man with feudal connections, (2) a member of the higher aristocracy, (3) someone connected with Lancastrian supporters, (4) an enthusiast for Italy, (5) a follower of sport – including falconry, (7) a lover of music, (8) a man loose and improvident in money matters, (8) a man who was doubtful and somewhat conflicting in his attitude to women and (9) someone of probable Catholic leanings, but touched with skepticism.

Lee’s article on Oxford quickly mentioned that his uncle Arthur Golding (“the translator of Ovid,” Shakespeare’s favorite classical source) acted as his tutor and receiver of property while the young earl lived at Cecil House as the Queen’s first royal ward. Lee noted Oxford’s studies at Cambridge and that one of his tutors was Bartholomew Clerke (Latin translator of The Courtier, sponsored by Oxford in 1572 and a major source of Hamlet).

Mysterious William Shakespeare

“He was thoroughly grounded in French and Latin,” Lee wrote of Edward de Vere, “but at the same time learnt to dance, ride, and shoot. While manifesting a natural taste for music and literature, the youth developed a waywardness of temper which led him into every form of extravagance, and into violent quarrels with other members of his guardian’s [William Cecil’s] household…

“[Cecil, Lord Burghley] found his perverse humor a source of grave embarrassment” but “found in the earl ‘more understanding than any stranger to him would think’ … ‘My Lord of Oxford,’ wrote Gilbert Talbot to his father, the Earl of Shrewsbury, on 11 May 1573, ‘is lately grown into great credit, for the queen’s Majesty delighteth more in his personage, and his dancing and valiantness, than any other … If it were not for his fickle head, he would pass any of them shortly’ …

“In 1575 Oxford realized his ambition of foreign travel, and … made his way to Italy. In October he reached Venice by way of Milan. He returned home laden with luxurious articles of dress and of the toilet. To him is assigned the credit of first introducing from Italy into this country embroidered gloves, sweet-bags, perfumed leather jerkins, and costly washes or perfumes. He ingratiated himself with the queen by presenting her with a pair of perfumed gloves trimmed with tufts or roses of colored silk…

“Oxford’s eccentricities and irregularities of temper grew with his years … In September 1579 he grossly insulted Sir Philip Sidney in the tennis court at Whitehall by calling him a ‘puppy’ … In 1581 he received from the queen’s hand a prize for the prowess that he displayed in a grand tilt at court…


“In March 1581 his violence involved him in new difficulties … He engaged in a duel with Thomas Knyvet, a gentleman of the privy chamber. Both were wounded, the earl dangerously … In October 1586 he was appointed special commissioner for the trial of Mary Queen of Scots … In 1588 he joined, as a volunteer, the fleet which repelled the Spanish armada…

“During these years Oxford’s continued extravagance involved him in pecuniary difficulties … He had squandered some part of his fortune upon men of letters whose bohemian mode of life attracted him. He was patron of a company of players [actually two companies, along with a troupe of musicians] …

“Oxford, despite his violent temper and perverse temper, his eccentric taste in dress, and his reckless waste of his substance, evinced a genuine interest in music, and wrote verse of much lyric beauty. Puttenham and Meres reckon him among ‘the best for comedy’ in his day; but, although he was a patron of a company of players, no specimens of his dramatic productions survive.”

How could all his writings for the stage have disappeared? The answer from here is that his plays written during the 1570s and 1580s were never “lost” – instead he revised them for later release under new titles as written by “Shakespeare,” a pen name adopted in 1593. Those early plays are part of the “long foreground” that has always been missing from traditional Stratfordian biography; and they supply the answer to the objection that many of the plays were written after Oxford’s reported death in 1604 – a conclusion dictated by the need to give the traditional author more time to (supposedly) write the works, while Oxford would have composed the first versions way back when Shakspere was still a boy.

“A sufficient number of his poems is extant, however, to corroborate Webbe’s comment that he was the best of the courtier-poets in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, and that ‘in the rare devices of poetry, he may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest…

“Verses by Oxford ‘To the Reader,’ together with a prefatory letter from the earl’s pen to the translator, were prefixed to Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus’s Comfort, 1573, which was ‘published by commandment if the right honorable the Earl of Oxenford’ …

“Among men of letters who acknowledged Oxford’s patronage the chief were John Lyly, who dedicated to him Euphues and his England (1580), and Edmund Spenser, who addressed a sonnet to him in the opening pages of his Faerie Queen (1590). Of books of smaller account that were dedicated to him mention may be made of the translation of Justinus’s abridgment of Trogus Pompeius by his uncle, Arthur Golding (1564), Underdown’s rendering of Heliodorus (1569), Thomas Twine’s translation of Humphrey Lhuyd’s Breviary of Britain (1573), Anthony Munday’s Galien of France (1579? Lost), Zelauto (1580) and Palmerin d’Olivia (1588), Southern’s Diana (1584) and John Farmer’s song-books (1591, 1599).”

“I venture to say,” Looney wrote, “that if only such of those terms as are here used [in Lee’s article on Oxford] to describe the character and quality of his work were submitted without name or leading epithet, to people who only understood them to apply to some Elizabethan poet, it would be assumed immediately that Shakespeare was meant.”

scientific american

What scientists today are learning about “genius” applies to Oxford in the strongest possible ways; for example, here are statements in two current magazines focusing on the topic:

“Let us challenge the basic assumption that the individual creator is the only critical component of the creative process. Indeed, let us consider the possibility that groups play an essential role in creativity … We concluded that it is problematic and unhelpful to separate the creativity of individual minds from the communities in which they flourish.” – Scientific American, July/August 2014


“For centuries, the myth of the lone genius has towered over us, its shadow obscuring the way creative work really gets done. The Lennon-McCartney partnership reveals just how misleading that myth can be, because John and Paul were so obviously more creative as a pair than as individuals … The essence of their achievements, it turns out, was relational.” – The Atlantic, July/August 2014

Oxfordians agree that “Shakespeare” was a genius, but we also know he was bound by the natural laws of humankind. We know that any inherited capacity of intellect or talent, especially on the part of one who writes masterworks, is a seed that requires nurturing soil and other elements to ensure its life and growth to full maturity.

From birth onward Oxford found himself in circumstances and relationships that “Shakespeare,” whoever he was, needed in order to flourish as he did:
• He had access to enormous amounts of information and a vast array of sources;
• He was placed in extremely competitive situations;
• He was motivated by the vibrant female monarch who claimed him as her first royal ward and then as her highest-ranking earl;
• He built up resentments over hypocrisies and lies perpetrated by other members of the court, fueling his devotion to [indirectly] revealing the truth about them;
• Reflecting the conclusions of current scientific studies, he was stimulated by collaborative relationships with scholars and musicians, writers and actors, on and on…

No one emerges from the womb intimately familiar with Italy, music, botany, seamanship and medicine, not to mention Venetian law. Such knowledge cannot be “imagined” out of whole cloth; it must be absorbed by the artists before he or she can use it creatively. The author of Hamlet used his own vast storehouse of facts with consummate ease, spontaneously, even joyously, as it flowed out of his mind and heart in service of higher purpose.

And for Oxford that purpose was eventually driven by the knowledge that powerful forces were determined to eradicate him from the record. “My name be buried where my body is,” he forecast in Sonnet 72, writing now as an act of survival, if only for generations in the future. “Your name from hence immortal life shall have,” he told the younger Earl of Southampton in Sonnet 81, “though I, once gone, to all the world must die.”

Those personal predictions by the great author could never be made by the traditionally perceived author known as Shakespeare – a writer’s name that is surely among the most popular and enduring that the world has known. So hereby submitted are these first 100 reasons why the man behind that illustrious name was a proud, eccentric, unpredictable, misunderstood, complicated, Hamlet-like nobleman who died lamenting his “wounded name” and asking his trusted friend, Horatio, to “report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied.”

Which brings us back to the beginning, to Reason No. 1, posted on February 23, 2011, nearly three and a half years ago, under a headline proclaiming that “Oxford, like Hamlet, was involved with Plays and Play Companies at the Royal Court.”

Once again, let us begin …

What Winston Churchill Said About Questioning the Shakespeare Authorship

A favorite story among Oxfordians, which may or may not be apocryphal, is about what Sir Winston Churchill is said to have replied when it was suggested by someone – perhaps at the table during one of those talk-filled dinner parties, at which Churchill loved to hold forth – that he take a look at the 1920 book “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford by John Thomas Looney.  Churchill shook his head and retorted:  “I don’t like to have my myths tampered with!”

Sounds familiar!  Churchill was well aware of Shakespeare’s importance as a symbol of English national pride.  In A History of the English-Speaking Peoples he concludes his chapter on the Spanish armada with the stirring final words of the Bastard in King John:

Come the three corners of the world in arms,

And we shall shock them.  Nought shall make us rue

If England to itself do rest but true.

The photo of Churchill reprinted here was taken by Yousuf Karsh of Canada, whom I interviewed for PARADE magazine in 1978, when the great photographer was seventy.  Here’s a summary of what Karsh told me about how he had created this world-famous portrait, which became a symbol of Britain’s fighting spirit:

It was December 30, 1941, when an embattled Churchill gave a rousing speech to the Canadian Parliament and, afterward, marched into an anteroom where Karsh, then thirty-three, was waiting to take his picture.  The British prime minister glared at the camera.

“You may take one,” he growled, clamping a freshly lit cigar in the corner of his mouth.

“Sir, here is an ashtray,” the young photographer said.

Churchill dismissed the offer with a frown.  Moments passed.  Then suddenly Karsh snatched the cigar from the Great Man’s lips.  Scowling, Churchill thrust his head forward in anger and placed his hand on his hip as if in defiance.  At that moment, the photographer clicked his shutter.

The portrait was published on the cover of LIFE magazine and won Karsh international attention.   The real story is that this marvelous symbol of Britain’s fighting spirit, staring down his enemies, was actually the picture of a man who was angry at the theft of his cigar!

Reason No. 6 why Oxford was “Shakespeare”: John Lyly

Let us begin with a brief episode in the imagination of Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare:
“At some moment in the late 1580’s, Shakespeare walked into a room — most likely, an inn in Shoreditch, Southwark, or the Bankside — and quite possibly found many of the leading writers drinking and eating together: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Watson, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Thomas Nashe, and Robert Greene.  Other playwrights might have been there as well — Thomas Kyd, for example, or John Lyly…”

Shakespeare & His Writing Pals at the Mermaid Tavern (and if you believe that one...)

That is the entire presence in Will in the World of John Lyly, the principal Court dramatist in the 1580’s and a pivotal figure of the English renaissance.  Professor Greenblatt makes no  mention of Lyly’s twelve-year literary apprenticeship under the guidance of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, paving the way for the Court comedies of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s.  Not a word more about this individual who is crucial to the story of “how Shakespeare became Shakespeare.”
John Lyly is offered here as reason no. 6 — another link in the chain of evidence — that Edward de Vere (1550-1604) was the greatest writer of the English language.

The Anatomy of Wit, 1579, at the dawn of the English novel. Lyly may have held the pen, but Oxford was standing right over him...

Lyly’s extravagant novels and courtly comedies of the 1580’s are viewed as a major influence on Shakespeare’s early plays. He was employed as Oxford’s private secretary and theatrical manager until 1590, when the earl withdrew from public life, and then in 1593 the name “Shakespeare” appeared in print [on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton].
Lyly is credited with writing the first English novels, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit in 1579 and Euphues & His England in 1580, both featuring an Italianized Englishman.  He had been recruited in 1577 by William Cecil Lord Burghley, who introduced him to his Italianized son-in-law, Edward de Vere, to whom Lyly dedicated Euphues & His England with strong hints that Oxford had taken an active part in its writing.
Oxford was leader of England’s new literary movement and the young writers under his wing, later dubbed the University Wits, all dedicated their “euphuistic” works to him.
The writers included Anthony Munday, who wrote to the earl about “the day when as conquerors we may peacefully resume our delightful literary discussions.” They included Robert Greene, who wrote to Oxford:  “And your Honor, being a worthy favorer and fosterer of learning, hath forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first-fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.” Among them was also Thomas Watson, who thanked Oxford for having “willingly vouchsafed the acceptance” of his work “and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”
Edward de Vere was deeply involved with these writers and their works, which contained a wealth of metaphor and creative jugglings of words and sentences — all handled with flawless ease by “Shakespeare” in Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1590’s for aristocratic audiences and Elizabeth at Court.
Traditional biography requires that young Will of Stratford had to somehow absorb, master and even surpass the “euphuistic” outpourings of the University Wits within just a few years.  The glover’s son, newly arrived in London, had to quickly become the foremost dramatist of courtly love and genteel romance, a peerless practitioner of elaborate puns, repetitions, alliterations, high-flown rhetorical digressions and fanciful references to classical mythology and natural history.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is said by orthodox scholars to have been written circa 1592; it  was  first published in 1598.  For that ultra-sophisticated court comedy “Shakespeare” had to know about a visit in 1578 by Catherine de Medici and her daughter Marquerite de Valois, wife of King Henry of Navarre, to Nerac; he needed intimate knowledge of the philosophical debating societies or academes establishd in France and Italy; and he had to know the characters and plots of commedia dell’arte, the comedy form that had become popular in Italy.

Love's Labour's Lost was first printed in 1598, but the title page indicates that an earlier version has been revised

When Oxford was in his mid-twenties in 1575 he spent several weeks in Paris, where he was entertained at the French court by Henry III, Catherine de Medici and Marguerite de Valois.  He then spent a year traveling in Italy, where he attended performances of commedia dell ‘arte, and in fact an eyewitness account reported that he joined a hilarious skit that involved jousting with a woman and falling from his horse and rolling on the ground.
Shakespeare’s other comedies of the 1590’s, all viewed as indebted to writings attributed to Lyly, included The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night.
In his three-volume Complete Works of John Lyly in 1902, R. W. Bond wrote that Lyly was “the first regular English dramatist, the true inventor and introducer of dramatic style, conduct and dialogue. There is no play before Lyly. He wrote eight; and immediately thereafter England produced some hundreds — produced that marvel and pride of the greatest literature in the world, the Elizabethan Drama.”
Bond wrote of “the immense superiority” of Lyly’s work “to anything that preceded it” and cited “his prime importance as Shakespeare’s chief master and exemplar. In comedy Lyly is Shakespeare’s only model.  The evidence of Shakespeare’s study and imitation of him is abundant, and Lyly’s influence is of a far more permanent nature than any exercised on the great poet by other writers.”

The Life and Complete Works of Lyly by Bond - 1902

Bond speculated that Lyly “first received the dramatic impulse” from his master Lord Oxford; but the extent of Oxford’s role was virtually unknown until 1912, when a professor at the University of Nebraska published a remarkable discovery.  Charles William Wallace, PhD reported in The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare that he had found records showing that Edward de Vere had contributed far more to that “evolution” than scholars had realized.
Wallace focused on the private Blackfriars theatre, where plays were rehearsed in front of aristocrats before being brought to the royal court.  Blackfriars Playhouse faced deep legal and financial troubles in 1583, but then a nobleman intervened behind the scenes:
“The Earl of Oxford, himself celebrated in his day as a dramatist, came to the rescue.  Noted alike as swaggerer, roisterer,brawler, coxcomb, musician, poet, Maecenas, the earl was also the devoted patron of John Lyly, whose ‘Euphues’ had made a stir in all England during the past three years.  He believed in Lyly’s literary ability.  so he bought the Blackfriars lease [and] made a present of it to Lyly … Thereafter we hear of John Lyly as presenting two plays at Court in the winter of 1583-84 with the Earl of Oxford’s servants, and also [a year later] … the same Earl of Oxford’s Boys at Court.”
During the Christmas season of 1584, Wallace noted, Oxford’s boy actors performed the anonymous Agamemnon and Ulysees before Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace; and he speculated that Oxford himself could have written the play.  Meanwhile Endymion, The Man in the Moon, another play attributed [much later] to Lyly and performed for her Majesty, was unmistakably about Oxford-in relation to the Queen, frequently called the Goddess of the Moon.

A Play for the Queen with Oxford portrayed as Endymion, the Lead Charater

When J. Thomas Looney published his identification of Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, he noted Bond’s statements about Lyly having probably “first received the dramatic impulse” from the earl, along with the passage in The Arte of English Poesie of 1589 wherein Oxford was cited as “deserving the highest praise for comedy and interlude” [although, mysteriously, none of his comedies were known to have survived]; and he concluded:
“The work of Oxford in drama is therefore recognized as having furnished the generative impulse which produced Lyly’s work in this particular domain.  Therefore we feel quite entitled to say that it was the plays of Edward de Vere that furnished Lyly’s dramatic education, while contact with his master is a recognized force in his personal education.  The dramas of Edward de Vere form the source from which sprang Lyly’s dramatic conceptions and enterprises, and Lyly’s dramas appear as the chief model, in comedy the ‘only’ model, upon which ‘Shakespeare’ worked. We are therefore entitled to claim that the highest orthodox authorities, in the particular department of literature with which we are dealing, support the view that the dramatic activities of Edward de Vere stand in almost immediate productive or causal relationship of a most distinctive character with the dramatic work of ‘Shakespeare.'”

Lyly was identified in 1632 as the author of those Court Comedies of the 1580's, but all his writing was produced when working with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Oxford had been the sun from which  Lyly had drawn his light.
The only work for which Lyly is credited was produced during the years he worked for Oxford.
After Oxford withdrew from public life in 1590, no more writing attributed to Lyly came forth.
Isn’t it far more logical that “Shakespeare” never had draw his light from Lyly, but, rather, that Edward de Vere continued as the same great source of light in 1n the 1590’s, as he develped even more dramatic power under the “Shakespeare” pen name?

Campaspe, 1584 (One of my favorite plays - HW)

An honest account of what led to “Shakespeare” would find Edward de Vere standing in the wings.
It would not require an imagined scene in a tavern with all of Oxford’s proteges talking and drinking around a table … all part of orthodoxy’s necessary trivialization of the knowledge, experience and artistic growth of the true Shakespeare.
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