Thomas Watson, Poet: He’s a Link of Many Facets between Edward de Vere and “Shakespeare” – Part One of Reason No. 35 to believe Oxford became the Bard


“In our conclusion that these Sonnets were addressed to Southampton, we have the full support of the great majority of authorities on the subject.” –  J. Thomas Looney, 1920

The lyrical poet Thomas Watson (1556?-1592) has the honor of being “one of the direct forerunners of Shakespeare (in Venus and Adonis and in the Sonnets) and of being the leader in the long procession of Elizabethan sonnet-cycle writers.”  [NNDB] And Watson is linked to “Shakespeare” through Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) in some startling ways:

Watson's Sequence of 100 Sonnets Dedicated to Edward de Vere (1582) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

In 1582, Watson published his most celebrated work The Hekotompathia or Passionate Century of Love, a sequence of 100 or a “century” of numbered eighteen-line sonnets [“passions”], with “prose headers” demonstrating his knowledge of works by some fifty classical or renaissance authors in their original languages; and he dedicated it to Edward de Vere, testifying that the earl “had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”

[We may not be wrong in suggesting that Oxford himself contributed the “prose headers” accompanying each Watson sonnet, commenting on their contents and sources.]

In 1589, the year after Oxford sold his London mansion Fisher’s Folly to William Cornwallis (whose daughter Anne apparently found some verses written by De Vere and others, including a poem to appear in 1599 as by Shakespeare), Watson became employed in the Cornwallis household.  [That September, when playwright Christopher Marlowe was attacked by an innkeeper’s son named William Bradley for failure to pay a debt, Watson came to his aid and killed Bradley, for which he spent six months in prison – See Marlowe Society.]

Francis Walsingham, the spymaster (1530?-1590)

(Marlowe acted as a spy for the English government and it seems that Watson did, too.  His association with Francis Walsingham, head of the growing secret service during wartime buildup in the 1580’s, brings him into probable contact with Oxford from this direction as well.   On June 21, 1586, William Cecil Lord Burghley urged Walsingham to confront the Queen about financial assistance to Oxford; and on June 26 Elizabeth awarded Oxford his annual grant of 1,000 pounds that would be continued even by King James in 1603 until Oxford’s death in 1604.)

In 1590, Watson published Italian Madrigals –most of them composed by Luca Marenzio, while Marenzio was staying in Mantua with the Gonzaga family from 1568 to 1574 – which Watson put into English and composer William Byrd set to music. Yet Watson had never traveled to Italy, while Oxford had apparently stayed with the Gonzaga family while visiting Mantua in 1575!  [See the work of Dr. Michael Delahoyde of Washington State University, discussing “Oxford and Music” – a topic to be reserved for another “reason” in this series.]

In 1593, the year after Watson died, his collection of sixty numbered fourteen-line sonnets [in the later-known “Shakespearean” form] was published as The Tears of Fancie, or Love Disdained (but with no name on the title page and only “Finis T.W.” after the final sonnet, No. 60, which was a slightly different version of Oxford’s early sonnet Love Thy Choice, which he had written back in the 1570’s [if not earlier] to express his devotion to Queen Elizabeth.)

In 1609, when the sequence of numbered verses SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS was printed, one sonnet in the Dark Lady series (no. 130) was quite clearly a takeoff, satiric or otherwise, on one of the sonnets printed under Watson’s name (no. 7) in the Hekatompathia or Passionate Century of Love of 1582.  [For example, whereas Watson’s sonnet had “Her lips more red than any Coral stone,” Shakespeare wrote, “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red,” and so on.]

Also in Shakespeare’s sonnets there is a string of 100 verses or a “century” of them (nos. 27 to 126) between two equal segments of twenty-six sonnets apiece (nos. 1-26 and 127-152); and this central Shakespeare sequence is divided into two parts, of eighty and twenty sonnets, exactly as the Watson’s century had been divided.  [I’ll treat this link between Watson and Edward de Vere separately, as part two of “Reason No. 35” to believe Oxford was “Shakespeare.”]

And those who like acrostics or hidden messages (on which I take no position), here are six lines (5 to 10) in the exact center of Sonnet 76, which itself is the key to unlocking the entire sequence:

Why write I still all one, ever the same,

And keep invention in a noted weed,

That every word doth almost tell my name,

Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?

O know sweet love I always write of you,

ANd you and love are still my argument

Well, I know … it would be better to find an “N” as the last letter of “WATSON,” but I just figured to pass on what came from the Marlovian researcher John Baker and later from Oxfordian researchers Dr. Eric Altschuler and Dr. William Jansen, who suspect that “Thomas Watson” may have been “the primary pseudonym [of Edward de Vere] immediately preceding the use of ‘Shakespeare’ [in 1593].”

[My take would be that Oxford would have used Watson’s name in order to publish certain works.  Watson’s death was recorded as September 26, 1592; his Tears of Fancy was published the following year, 1593, when the name “Shakespeare” made its first appearance in print [on Venus and Adonis].

Here is the Watson dedication to Oxford in Hekatompathia or Passionate Century of Love in 1582:

To the Right Honorable my
very good Lord Edward de Vere, Earle
of Oxenford, Viscount Bulbecke, Lord
of Escales, and Badlesmere, and Lord High
Chamberlain of England, all

Alexander the Great, passing on a time by the workshop of Apelles, curiously surveyed some of his doings, whose long stay in viewing them brought all the people into so great a good liking of the painter’s workmanship, that immediately after they bought up all his pictures, what price soever he set them at.  And the like good hap (Right Honorable) befell unto me lately concerning these my Love Passions, which then chanced to Apelles for his Portraits.  For since the world hath understood (I know not how) that your Honor had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand, many have oftentimes and earnestly called upon me to put it to the press, that for their money they might but see what your Lordship with some liking had already perused.

And therewithal some of them said (either to yield your Honor his due praise, for soundness of judgment; or to please me, of whom long since they had conceived well) that Alexander would like of no lines, but such as were drawn by the cunning hand, and with the curious pencil, of Apelles.  Which I set not down here to that end, that I would confer my Poems with Apelle’s Portraits for worthiness; albeit I fitly compare your Honor’s person with Alexander’s for excellence.  But how bold soever I have been in turning out this my petty poor flock upon the open Common of the wide world, where every man may behold their nakedness, I humbly make request that if any storm fall unlooked-for (by the fault of malicious high foreheads or the poison of evil-edged tongues) these my little ones may shroud themselves under the broad-leafed Platane [plant] of your Honor’s patronage.

And thus at this present, I humbly take my leave; but first wishing the continual increase of your Lordship’s honor, with abundance of true Friends, reconciliation of all Foes, and what good soever tendeth unto perfect happiness.

Your Lordship’s humbly at command

Thomas VVatson

Here is Watson’s Sonnet No. 7:

Hark you that list to hear what saint I serve:
Her yellow locks exceed the beaten gold;
Her sparkling eyes in heav’n a place deserve;
Her forehead high and fair of comely mold;
Her words are music all of silver sound;
Her wit so sharp as like can scarce be found;
Each eyebrow hangs like Iris in the skies;
Her Eagle’s nose is straight of stately frame;
On either cheek a Rose and Lily lies;
Her breath is sweet perfume, or holy flame;
Her lips more red than any Coral stone;
Her neck more white than aged Swans that moan;
Her breast transparent is, like Crystal rock;
Her fingers long, fit for Apollo’s Lute;
Her slipper such as Momus dare not mock;
Her virtues all so great as make me mute:
What other parts she hath I need not say,
Whose face alone is cause of my decay.

And here is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, (satirizing?) the lines above:

My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sunne;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen Roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such Roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my Mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My Mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Here is Oxford’s sonnet Love Thy Choice (circa early 1570’s):

Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart ?
Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint ?
Who filled your eyes with tears of bitter smart ?
Who gave thee grief and made thy joys to faint ?
Who first did paint with colours pale thy face ?
Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest ?
Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace ?
Who made thee strive in honour to be best ?
In constant truth to bide so firm and sure,
To scorn the world regarding but thy friends ?
With patient mind each passion to endure,
In one desire to settle to the end ?
Love then thy choice wherein such choice thou bind,
As nought but death may ever change thy mind.

And here is No. 60 of Tears of Fancy attributed to Watson, 1593:

Who taught thee first to sigh Alasse sweet heart? love
Who taught thy tongue to marshall words of plaint? love
Who fild thine eies with teares of bitter smart? love
Who gave thee griefe and made thy joyes so faint? love
Who first did paint with coullers pale thy face? love
Who first did breake thy sleepes of quiet rest? love
Who forst thee unto wanton love give place? love
Who thrald thy thoughts in fancie so distrest? love
Who made thee bide both constant firme and sure? love
Who made thee scorne the world and love thy friend? love
Who made thy minde with patience paines indure? love
Who made thee settle stedfast to the end? love
Then love thy choice though love be never gained,
Still live in love, dispaire not though disdained.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Reason No. 35 — How Oxford borrowed the Watson “century” structure for the “century” within the Shakespeare sonnets.

The Earl of Oxford Disappears on the Continent: “He must be restrained as soon as possible!”

“Suffer not thy sons to pass the Alps, for they shall learn nothing there but pride, blasphemy, and atheism.” – Chief Minister William Cecil Lord Burghley to his son Robert Cecil

William Cecil Lord Burghley (1520-1598)

“But, sir, such wanton, wild and usual slips as are companions noted and most known to youth and liberty … drinking, fencing, swearing, quarreling, drabbing” — Chief Minister Polonius in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (with “drabbing” = associating with prostitutes)

Here’s an Elizabethan letter that offers a glimpse into the character of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford as a hot-blooded young man in search of adventure, learning and freedom from his conservative English society, particularly freedom from the puritanical gaze of Lord Burghley, his former guardian and current father-in-law.  The writer, William Lewin, acting as Oxford’s servant but reporting to Burghley, tells how the earl is quickly “taken by a surfeit” of sensual pleasures and “delights [in] his ability to hide.”  It also shows how someone writing to the Queen’s powerful chief minister feels constrained when discussing those sinful doings in Europe, especially on the other side of the Alps in Italy.

Edward de Vere at 25 in 1575

(The letter is translated from Latin into English by Dana F. Sutton of the University of California at Irvine for Nina Green, who has made it available [here] at The Oxford Authorship Site.)

Lewin wrote to the Lord Treasurer from Strasbourg, Germany on July 4, 1575 after Oxford had met with Johannes (Jean) Sturm, 68, the great humanist educator (who favored a “non-dogmatic” Christianity) and supporter of the Protestant Reformation.  Lewin had been directed by Burghley to keep him informed of Oxford’s doings on his Continental tour, which had begun in early February and had already included a successful visit to the French royal court.  Lewin had accompanied his 25-year-old “master” from Paris to Strasbourg, but then Oxford managed to slip away from him and disappear.

Johannes Sturm (1507-1589)

“Lord Burghley apparently engaged in this practice of obtaining information about Oxford through Oxford’s servants for many years,” Nina Green writes, and this letter “indicates that although Lewin was Oxford’s servant, his primary loyalty was to Lord Burghley.”  It seems likely, she adds, that “even if [Oxford] had no proof that Lewin was in correspondence with Lord Burghley, he strongly suspected it, and acted accordingly.”

Lewin reports his opinion that Burghley is more concerned about Oxford’s “security and safety” than the earl himself.  Clearly he’s frantically trying to learn Oxford’s whereabouts and, perhaps more importantly, worrying about the chief minister’s reaction to this bad news.  As we shall see, he even attempts to turn the crisis from a negative situation into a positive one.

“Although I daily wait to discover whether my master has in truth departed for Greece or is still remaining in Italy, no definite news is brought to us,” he tells Burghley.  “I have very diligently entreated Parrett and Cooke [paid informers?] that they would inform me where he is staying, which neither of them has done so far … I am certainly induced to believe that, while traveling to Augsburg [Germany], he has turned aside into Poland, since it was once his plan to visit the Polish court, and then to proceed overland to Constantinople [which had fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1453; the city is the present-day Istanbul]…

Constantinople - sixteenth century

“I think he has either not tarried long in Italy, lest, should there be any mention of his trip to Constantinople, he be recalled by the Prince [Queen Elizabeth], or, if he is in Italy, he wants his Italian sojourn to be as concealed from all people as possible, either for the same reason, or he delights in this very thing, his ability to hide.  For as soon as he had come to Stasbourg, he adopted the scheme, with the result that at first I could not dare write this to your Lordship…”

Lewin has launched a frantic search.  He has written to one man who “might inform us where my master is, how long he will remain, and when and whither he will depart, if he can discover this from what others are saying as occasion offers.”  He promises Burghley, “When I discover that which I imagine your Lordship desires to know, I shall write as soon as possible, in order to relieve you of your anxiety as best I can …

“I am aware that your Lordship disapproves of a journey to Constantinople, and are even greatly concerned about an Italian sojourn, in both cases very prudently,” Lewin continues before launching into his philosophical solution – the idea that if Oxford indulges in guilty pleasures excessively enough, he will be cured of wanting to indulge in more!

“As much as I can make out from those who have completed a significant part of it,” he writes, “that journey to Greece makes those who had previously been eager to be pilgrims zealous for staying in their homeland.  It makes those who love foreign things love their own, and those who disdain their own to scorn the foreign. This I certainly gather on the basis of our French journey, and suspect it on that of our German one,” he assures Burghley — telling him what he wants to hear, true or not.

[Telling Burghely what he wants to hear may be why Oxford himself will write to him a few months later, from Venice: “For my liking of Italy, my Lord, I am glad I have seen it, and I care not ever to see it any more, unless it be to serve my prince or country” — plainly, in light of much other information, not at all what he really feels.]

The Theater of Dionysus in Athens, on the south side of the Acropolis, where plays of Sophocles, Euripedes and Aeschylus were performed: Did Oxford make his way to Greece ... and here?

“I pray great, merciful God,” Lewin continues, “that, if my master sets out for Constantinople, He might guide him and bring him back, not only safe, but very well endowed in all ways … I pray the same should he remain in Italy.  But I certainly pray he does not head for Greece, because when he was at Paris I observed that he was enticed by a certain petty glory attached to that journey…

“For your Lordship is not ignorant how quickly he is taken by a surfeit of these or similar things.  But, you will say, Italy abounds with a variety of all the pleasures.  Certainly it is rife with all manner of sensual pleasures, but these are not the most solid or the longest-lasting ones, but rather those from which those of the greatest good taste are most quickly estranged.

“This which I write might strike some as a paradox … It is a philosopher’s problem, arisen from usage and experience, that in all things, dislike is a near neighbor to all things that please the senses … that the things which give the greatest delight are the quickest to disgust us with their surfeit.”

The famous Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco (1546-1591); another courtesan, Virginia Padoana, was said by an English traveler to "honoreth all our nation for my lord of Oxford's sake."

All such pleasures “may be found in Italy,” Lewin writes, “not to a small degree, but in abundance.  One does not have to seek them out, they are offered to him.  As assuredly they purvey disgust and offense, particularly concerning those things which entail a certain natural surfeit.  So what is to be done?  This is primarily for you to decide,” he tells Burghley.  “I do not know what I should do beyond using my letters to place before his eyes the richer pleasures of refined learning as a contrast to those Italian ones.

“If these enter into his mind and lodge themselves there, perhaps we shall recall him to his former enthusiasms more quickly, and the efforts we suggest will give him more pleasure than the delights of his everyday perceptions.  It is likewise possible that Sturm’s delightfulness and elegance will grip him with the greatest desire, for from this he originally appeared to derive incredible pleasure.”

And now one of my favorite parts of the letter:

I think the ears of our Ulysses need to be plugged and blocked, lest they be moved by those Siren-songs, and that he must be restrained as soon a possible, so that there is no need to wait for him to be alienated by disgust…”

On the other hand:

“In some way I fail to understand, whether it is located in the thing itself or in our nature, but we are fired by being forbidden.  By being held back we grow hot for things which, were we unrestrained and free to enjoy, we ourselves would often reject, and, as Ovid writes, ‘We always strive for the forbidden, and desire that which is denied us.’”

If only Lewin knew he was trying to catch up with the young man who would go on to write Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice and other great plays with Italian settings … if only he knew his elusive “master,” upon whom he’d been told to spy, would become “William Shakespeare”.

Announcing the Release of “Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare,” the Collected Columns about Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford for “Shakespeare Matters” by Hank Whittemore

Today I’m pleased to announce a new collection of my “A Year in the Life” columns for Shakespeare Matters, the newsletter of the Shakespeare Fellowship, now available on

The columns were written from 2001 to 2005 under the editorial guidance of William Boyle, who also edited the new book and supplied its introduction.  Now they are collected in chronological order as Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare – that is, a dozen years in the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, in relation to the works attributed to Shakespeare.

Because some years in Oxford’s life required more than one column, the collection has seventeen chapters plus a postscript.  I found the columns extremely rewarding to write, in terms of doing the research and gathering information within the specific time periods:  1564, 1572, 1577, 1580, 1581, 1586, 1589, 1593, 1597, 1601, 1603 and 1604. Often the process seemed like that of a detective – bringing together different pieces of the puzzle to form a new or clearer picture.

Part of the Drawing for the Title Page of John Dee's "Perfect Art of Navigation" (1577) - Without the Fourth Figure

On the cover is part of the title page of General and Rare Memorials Pertaining to the Perfect Art of Navigation (1577), a limited-edition book for the royal court by John Dee – a drawing that shows Queen Elizabeth at the helm of the Ship of State, with three others on board – presumably William Cecil Lord Burghley, her Majesty’s chief minister; Sir Francis Walsingham, in charge of England’s new secret service; and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, formerly the queen’s lover and still her friend.

(You can click on any of these images and view larger – and clearer – versions of them.)

In the draft drawing, reprinted for "Oxford's Revenge" (1989), the fourth figure ("the young courtier") appears to the left of the other three

A draft version of the same drawing was used by Stephanie Caruana and Elisabeth (Betty) Sears for the cover of their privately printed 99-page pamphlet Oxford’s Revenge : “Shakespeare’s” Dramatic Development from Agamemnon to Hamlet (1989; currently out of print); and on that drawing was a fourth figure on board the Ship of State – a young courtier, with a feather in his cap, looking very much like the young courtier Edward de Vere, who was twenty-seven in 1577.  How curious that when the Dee book was published the fourth figure in the draft drawing had disappeared!

I’ll be posting more information about the book in these coming days.

In the meantime, any editor or reviewer or commentator who would like to have a “review copy” sent to her or him, please contact me at

“Timon of Athens” – Reason No. 31 of 100 to Believe that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Timon of Athens was initially published in the First Folio of plays by William Shakespeare in 1623 as The Life of Tymon of Athens.  There’s no agreement about when it was written, but scholars studying the mood and style have focused on 1605 to 1609, while others have pushed the date back to 1601-1602.  In the view of those who think Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was the author, however, those time frames are about a quarter-century too late.

Engraving by John Boydell, 1771: Timon in the wilderness, sitting with a spade at left and turning away with expression of disgust as he tosses coins towards two prostitutes, one catching them in her skirts, a soldier at right watching the scene with concern, others gathered in the background

Oxford was twenty-six in the spring of 1576 upon his return to England after fifteen months on the Continent, traveling most of all through Italy with Venice as home base; and it may well be that a non-extant play recorded as The Historie of the Solitarie Knight, performed on February 17, 1577 (less than a year after Oxford’s return) for Queen Elizabeth and her Court at Whitehall Palace, was an early version of Timon of Athens.

Timon is a young nobleman so renowned for his liberality and good nature that poets, painters and tradesmen flock to his home seeking his patronage.  He’s generous and trusting.  He  joyously entertains his guests, lavishing them with rich gifts and handing out cash even to the servants.  His seemingly endless wealth means little or nothing to him: “I gave it freely ever, and there’s none can truly say he gives if he receives … Pray sit, more welcome are ye to my fortune than my fortunes to me!”  (1.2.10-11, 19-20)

Oxford, too, had inherited great wealth in the form of vast estates; he, too, was a generous friend (as when he gave money to the scholar Gabriel Harvey, at Cambridge in the 1560’s) and an actively involved patron of actors, writers, musicians and others in different fields.   Like Timon, he was a trend-setter.  And he was accustomed to what the Poet in the play calls “the infinite flatteries that follow youth and money.”

The western approach to the Acropolis, showing the Propylaia, Temple of Athena Nike, and the Parthenon.

Soon, however, Timon discovers he’s run out of money and fallen deeply into debt, with creditors accosting him for payments owed to their masters – exactly what Oxford had learned about his financial situation while still in Italy.  Shocked and distressed by the news of his sudden lack of funds, he wrote from Siena in January 1576 to his father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley:

“My Lord, I am sorry to hear how hard my fortune is in England … I have determined that whereas I understand the greatness of my debt and greediness of my creditors grows so dishonorable to me and troublesome unto your Lordship, that that land of mine which in Cornwall I have appointed to be sold [for travel expenses] be gone through withal.  And to stop my creditors’ exclamations (or rather defamations, I may call them), I shall desire your Lordship by the virtue of this letter which doth not err as I take it from any former purpose, which was that always upon my letter to authorize your Lordship to sell any portion of my land) that you will sell one hundred pound a year  more of my land where your Lordship shall think fittest, to disburden me of my debts to Her Majesty, my sister, or elsewhere I am exclaimed upon … ” [Emphases added]

A Timon puts it: “How goes the world, that I am thus encountered with clamorous demands of debt, broken bonds and the detention of long such due debts against my honor?”   (2.2.36-39)

He questions Flavius, his steward, the way Oxford must have demanded of Burghley to explain how this “dishonorable” situation could have happened without warning:  “You make me marvel wherefore ere this time had you not fully laid my state before me, that I might so have rated my expense as I had leave of means…”

Flavius defends himself as Burghley would have done:  “O my good lord, at many times I brought in my accounts, laid them before you; [but] you would throw them off!  I did endure not seldom, nor no slight cheques, when I have prompted you in the ebb of your estate and your great flow of debts.  My loved lord, though you hear now, too late … the greatest of your having lacks a half to pay your present debts.”

Timon: “Let all my land be sold!”

Flavius: “‘Tis all engaged, some forfeit and gone, and what remains will hardly stop the mouth of present dues.”  (2.2.124-145)

Oxford’s surprise that land of mine in Cornwall” that he had “appointed to be sold was “already gone through withal” can be heard here:

Timon: “To Lacedaemon did my land extend!”

Flavius: “O my good Lord, the world is but a world: Were it all yours to give it in a breath.  How quickly it were gone!”  (2.2.151-4)

William Cecil, Baron Burghley: circa 1570

Oxford gave Burghley more instructions, adding, “In doing these things your Lordship shall greatly pleasure me, in not doing them you shall as much hinder me, for although to depart with land your Lordship hath advised the contrary, and that your Lordship for the good affection you bear unto me could wish it otherwise, yet you see I have none other remedy.  I have no help but of mine own, and mine is made to serve me and myself, not mine.”

The same thought and virtually the same words are used in the play when one of the usurers instructs his servant:  “Get on your cloak, and haste you to Lord Timon.  Importune him for my moneys … Tell him my uses cry to me; I must serve my turn out of mine own … Immediate are my needs, and my relief must not be tossed and turned to me in words, but find supply immediate.”

After all his former friends refuse to loan him any money, Timon leaves Athens and goes to the depths of the woods, where he finds a cave and begins to live as a solitary hermit – perhaps why the play performed in  1577 was called The Solitary Knight.

Timon expects to find “the unkindest beast more kinder than mankind” – words that will find an echo when Oxford writes to Robert Cecil in May 1601 (after the Secretary had helped to gain Southampton’s reprieve from execution): “I do assure you that you shall have no faster friend and well-wisher unto you than myself, either in kindness, which I find beyond mine expectation in you, or in kindred,” signing off “in all kindness and kindred, Edward Oxenford.”

Timon is “a lover of truth,” writes Harold Goddard in The Meaning of Shakespeare, and the play “seems to say that such a man, though buried in the wilderness, is a better begetter of peace than all the instrumentalities of law in the hands of men who love neither truth nor justice.”

"The Life of Tymon of Athens" in the First Folio of Shakespeare Plays - 1623

When Oxford was still a royal ward at Cecil House in 1569-70, enrolled at Gray’s Inn to study law, one of his book orders included “Plutarch’s works in French” – and as O.J. Campbell notes in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare, the great author “clearly knew the digression on Timon in Plutarch.”

“He may also have read Lucian’s amusing dialogue Timon Misanthropus, “Campbell adds, “if not in Greek, then in either a Latin or a French translation.”  Aside from being fluent in both Latin and French, the Earl of Oxford had been raised in the household of Thomas Smith, a Greek scholar, who had tutored him.  Both Smith and Burghley had copies of Lucian, as did the library at Cecil House; and Burghley’s wife was also a Greek expert.   It’s a given that Edward de Vere had access to all the Shakespearean sources at a young age.

Re-reading the play, I was struck by Timon’s “ceremony” speech in the second scene:  “Nay, my lords, ceremony was but devised at first to set a gloss on faint deeds, hollow welcomes, recanting goodness, sorry ere ‘tis shown; but where there is true friendship, there needs none.”  (1.2.15-18) Timon’s attitude calls to mind Oxford’s letter to Robert Cecil on May 11, 1601, in which he describes himself as “a hater of ceremonies.”

Many researchers have contributed evidence and insight regarding Edward de Vere in relation to Timon of Athens.  Here’s some of their commentary:

Eva Turner Clark (who first linked The Historie of the Solitaire Knight to Timon of Athens):

“The play depicts Timon as being just as solitary in the midst of his grandeur as he later became in his cave in the woods … Not even Timon could have lived a life of greater luxury and grandeur than the young Earl of Oxford throughout his youth.  Is it to be wondered at that Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, grew up without the slightest idea of the value of money? …

“Young Oxford’s mind had been filled by his elders with a love of art and scholarship, of excellence in tournament and the field of war, and there was no room in it for the humdrum, workaday world, with its counting of pounds, shillings and pence.  Nevertheless, as he pursued the objects for which he had been trained, he was made to feel the sting of financial demands continuously from the time he came of age.  It was when he reached a crisis in his affairs, economically and socially, that he wrote the cynical drama of The Solitary Knight, or Timon of Athens

“Doubtless it was because of this experience that Oxford adopted the idea of exposing his fellow courtiers by satire and burlesque, by the suggestion of warning and threat, which is to be found is many of his plays.  In other words, revenge animated him, and, while revenge is not one of the finer impulses, it is a very human instinct to demand satisfaction for an injury done.”

But Clark adds that later, as Oxford grew mentally and spiritually, his personal revenge motive widened and matured into an effort to “show up disloyalty of subjects and dishonesty of politicians, for the benefit of his Queen and for the good of his beloved country.”

[Hidden Alusions in Shakespeare’s Plays, 1931; new edition with extra notes by Ruth Miller, 1974]

Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn:

“One of the hereditary offices of the Earls of Oxford as Lords Great Chamberlain was that of the Ewry, or Water-Bearer to the Monarch.  It was purely honorary, a formal gesture of presenting water on state occasions when the Monarch sat at meat.  There is a direct reference to this [in Timon]: ‘One of Lord Timon’s men!  A gift, I warrant.  Why, this hits right; I dreamt of a silver basin and ewer tonight.’  It is recorded that in 1579 ‘the Queen’s New Year’s gift to th’earle of Oxfourde [was] a bason and ewer of our store..’  Timon’s bitter jest of serving his false friends and flatterers with covered dishes containing only warm water is thus particularly ironical, expressing, as it does, the scorn of the impoverished Lord Great Chamberlain.”

[This Star of England, 1952]

Charlton Ogburn, Jr:

“I rather think, though, that Timon of Athens as we know it owes more to the manifold adversities that overtook its author in the early 1580’s, when the sale of thirty tracts of land in five years left him stripped near as bare as Timon.”

[The Mysterious William Shakespeare, 1984]

William Farina:

“Reading de Vere’s personal connections to the story of Timon, it is not an overstatement to say that Shakespeare’s play tells the story of de Vere’s life.  As the late Anglo-Oxfordian critic Edward Holmes succinctly put it, ‘The play is closest to autobiography [of all the plays] … Timon is too raw, too real for comfort.  It was begun too close to the catastrophe which prompted it.  That must be why it was left artistically undigested, incomplete.’  Under this scenario, Shakespeare the writer (de Vere) was writing Timon because he had to emotionally and certainly not for commercial gain.  According to the Oxfordian view, this was a driven author who perhaps could not finish what he started.”

De Vere as Shakespeare: An Oxfordian Reading of the Canon, 2006

Finally I’d like to suggest that interested readers take a look at a fascinating essay Timon of Athens: Shakespeare’s Sophoclean Tragedy (in The Oxfordian, 2009) by Earl Showerman, current president of The Shakespeare Fellowship. [And please see his comment on this blog.]

Part Three of Reason No. 30 to Believe Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: His 1576 Letter from Siena etc…

Siena, Italy

Edward de Vere Lord Oxford wrote to William Cecil Lord Burghley from Siena, Italy on January 3, 1576, despondently observing he had “made an end to all hope to help myself by her Majesty’s service, considering that my youth is objected unto me, and for every step of mine a block is found to be laid in my way,” continuing several lines later:

“I am to content myself according to the English proverb that it is my hap to starve like the horse while the grass doth grow.”

The proverb – “While the grass grows the horse starves” – had been published in 1546 and again in 1562, the year Oxford turned twelve and, upon his father’s death, became a royal ward of the Queen in Burghley’s custody.  Composing his letter at nearly twenty-six in 1576, he recalled the proverb as though he had known it ever since his boyhood.

In the play of Hamlet, when Rosencrantz reminds the prince that “you have the voice of the king himself for your succession [on the throne] in Denmark,” he replies:

“Ay, sir, but while the grass grows – The proverb is something musty.”

The grass-horse proverb certainly would have been “musty” or outdated by the time Hamlet was written.  In any case, the references to it by the earl and the prince both occur automatically and spontaneously.  The two references to the proverb might as well have been identical reflex responses by the same man – the author, Oxford, in his letter to Burghley and in the voice of his most autobiographical creation.

(“Shakespeare” also uses the proverb in The Comedy of Errors, which may have been “The historie of Error” recorded as performed for the Queen by the Paul’s Boys – forerunner of Oxford’s Boys — at Hampton Court on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1577, just a year after Edward de Vere’s reference to the saying in his Siena letter.  Dromio of Syracuse speaks of Luciana, who has mistaken him for his twin brother: “She rides me, and I long for grass.”)

A street in Siena

In the same letter Oxford tells the Queen’s chief minister he is sorry to hear how hard my fortune is in England” – a plaint, William Plumer Fowler writes, that is “echoed over and over again in the Shakespeare works,” such as:

“It is my wretched fortune” – Othello, 4.2.128

“The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” – Hamlet, 3.1.57

“So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite” – Sonnet 37

And in the same sentence he tells Burghley he knows “how vain a thing it is to linger a necessary mischief – a thought, Fowler notes, “that is twice impressively echoed by Shakespeare, even to the inclusion of Oxford’s identical verb ‘linger’”:

“And linger not our sure destructions on!” – Troilus and Cressida, 5.10.9

“To linger out a purposed overthrow” – Sonnet 90

A view of Siena

“Thus I leave your Lordship to the protection of almighty God,” Oxford begins his conclusion of the Siena letter, “whom I beseech to send you long and happy life and better fortune to define your felicity in these your aged years…”

Oxford’s “striking” phrase “to define your felicity,” Fowler writes, “is noteworthy, first, for his use of the distinctive verb ‘define’ – one found but five times in Shakespeare, though quite similarly in reference to an abstract personal quality:

“Mad I call it; for to define true madness, what is’t but to be nothing else but mad?” – Polonius in Hamlet (2.2.92),using “define” in the infinitive, as Oxford does [though expressing a directly opposite thought].

“And for myself mine own worth do define” – Sonnet 62

To cite just one other example from an Oxford letter of May 18, 1591, the earl writes of having been “intercepted by these unlooked-for troubles,” using the “very distinctive” verb “intercepted,” Fowler notes, adding that Shakespeare uses it four times – as he does “rather similarly” in Titus Adronicus (2.3.80) when Lavinia, after coming upon Queen Tamora in her woodland tryst with Aaron, refers to her as “being intercepted in your sport.”

And Oxford’s use of “unlooked-for troubles” gives expression to a phrase and thought often voiced by Shakespeare – almost identically so in his outburst against Tarquin in The Rape of Lucrece: “Oh, unlooked-for evil, when virtue is profaned by such a devil!”

Shakespeare employs the “unlooked-for” compound participle nine times, as he does in Richard II (1.3.155): “A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege, and all unlooked-for from your Highness’ mouth”; and in his antithetical phraseology in Sonnet 25: “Whilst I, whom fortune from such triumph bars,/ Unlooked-for, joy in that I honor most.”

Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters by Fowler comprises some 900 pages containing similar correspondences with remarkably similar thoughts, words and phrases in Shakespeare; but we must err on the side of caution and warn none of the correspondences should be mistaken for proof – rather, they add up to further evidence.

In answer to a question from Ken Kaplan in the Comments section:

Fowler applies the same inductive analysis to five letters of William Stanley, Sixth Earl of Derby (1561-1642), Oxford’s son-in-law [husband of Elizabeth Vere], and concludes that Derby “had without question some share” in the writing of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Love’s Labour’s Lost, Measure for Measure, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well and Cymbeline – plays for which the French writers Abel Lefranc and George Lambin had given Derby sole credit.

The five letters that Fowler examined “afford definite evidence of collaboration between Oxford and Derby in certain plays, and/or of Derby’s editorial touch as one of the ‘Grand Possessors’ of the Shakespearean dramatic productions, during the nineteen years between the date of Oxford’s death in 1604 and the publication of the Folio in 1623.”

(Derby himself lived another nineteen years; at his death in 1642, he was eighty-one years old.)

Part Two of Reason No. 30 to Conclude that Oxford was “Shakespeare” — His Reaction in Words to the St. Bartholomew’s Day 1572 Massacre of Huguenots in France

The nearly fifty surviving letters Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford wrote to William Cecil Lord Treasurer  Burghley and his son, Principal Secretary Robert Cecil, are mostly about business matters, but in every line he spontaneously revealed himself as the most likely author of Shakespeare’s poems, plays and sonnets.

The contemporary artist Francois Dubois (b. 1529) painted this Huguenot view of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572

Take, for example, his letter written in September 1572, after the Elizabethan Court received shocking and frightening news of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris a few weeks earlier:  Admiral Coligny of France and thousands of his fellow Huguenots (French Protestants) had been slain; and Lord Oxford, 22, wrote an emotional letter to Lord Burghley, architect of the still-fragile Protestant Reformation in England:

“I would to God your Lordship would let me understand some of your news which here doth ring dolefully in the ears of every man, of the murder of the Admiral of France, and a great number of noble men and worthy gentlemen, and such as greatly in their lifetimes honoured the Queen’s majesty our mistress, on whose tragedies we have an number of French Aeneases in this city, that tell of their own overthrows with tears falling from their eyes, a piteous thing to hear but a cruel and far more grievous thing we must deem it them to see.  All rumours here are but confused, of those troops that are escaped from Paris, and Rouen, where Monsieur [the Ducke of Alencon] hath also been; and like a vesper Sicilianus, as they say, that cruelty spreads all over France …

Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard De Coligny (1519-1572), slain by an assassin

“And since the world is so full of treasons and vile instruments, daily to attempt new and unlooked-for things, good my Lord, I shall affectionately and heartily desire your Lordship to be careful both of yourself and of her Majesty…

“And think if the Admiral in France was a eyesore or beam in the eyes of the papists, that the Lord Treasurer of England is a block and a crossbar in their way, whose remove they will never stick to attempt, seeing they have prevailed so well in others.  This estate hath depended on you a great while as all the world doth judge, and now  all men’s eyes, not being occupied any more on those lost lords, are as it were on a sudden bent and fixed on you, as a singular hope and pillar whereto the religion hath to lean.”

The above passages, spilled from Edward de Vere’s pen in the heat of the moment, is “Shakespearean” in dozens of ways.  In the Comments section for Part One of this post, for example, Ken Kaplan points out Oxford’s use of “hendiadys” [hen-dee-ah-dis] when he refers to the Lord Treasurer as the “hope and pillar” of the state; and in fact Shakespeare uses literally hundreds of hendiadys such as when Prince Hamlet, in his “to be or not to be” soliloquy, refers to the “whips and scorns” of time.

[“Hendiadys” — a figure of speech in which a complex idea is expressed by two words connected by a conjunction.   Modern examples would be “nice and warm” or “good and loud.”  Each pair represents a single concept, but often the second noun or adjective unpacks the meaning of the first — the way Oxford’s second word (“pillar”) expands on his first word (“hope”).]

Painting focused on the killing of Admiral Coligny by Franz Hogenberg (c. 1540- c. 1590)

A brilliantly cogent essay on Oxford-Shakespeare poetry and prose styles is “Appendix N” of Roger Stritmatter’s 2001 University of Massachusetts PhD dissertation on Edward de Vere’s 1568-70 Geneva bible and its handwritten annotations pointing to themes and passages in the Shakespeare works.  Dr. Stritmatter notes that in Oxford’s account of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre there are many hendiadys (or similar kinds of conjunctions) such as “noble men and worthy gentlemen” … “a cruel and far more grievous thing” … “treasons and vile instruments” … “new and unlooked-for things” … “a eyesore or a beam” … “a block or a crossbar” … “bent and fixed” … “hope and pillar” — and more.

Oxford’s letter “reads like a sketch for a Shakespeare history play,” Dr. Stritmatter writes. “Envisioning the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre as a contemporary tragedy, shadowed by the allegorical precedent of Aeneas’ tragic exile from burning Troy, it paints a picture of the mise en scene in which the tragedy unfolds.  Appealing in alternating schema to senses of both sight and sound, it supplies a potent witness to Oxford’s powers of demonstratio, the literary figure by which ‘we apprehend [things] as though before our eyes.’  The iterated appeal to sight, and the organs of sight, could not be more ‘Shakespearean’: like the audience listening to Ophelia’s superlative portrait of the mad Hamlet (2.1.85-99), we are made to see ‘French Aeneases that tell of their overthrows with tears falling from their eyes.’  De Vere’s technique is precisely the same as that of ‘Shakespeare’…”

This is great stuff!  Can you feel the enthusiasm beneath Dr. Stritmatter’s measured statements?  I believe it’s because he still marvels at the power of Oxford’s (and Shakespeare’s) ability to create with words.

William Plumer Fowler observes in Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters that the earl “slips into his tragic Shakespearean metaphor” of “French Aeneases” with remarkable ease, adding that “Aeneas, the hero of Vergil’s great epic, is mentioned as many as twenty-eight times by Shakespeare.”  Moreover his mention of the cruelty that “like a vesper Sicilianus … spreads all over France” refers to the murder of eight thousand French in Sicily three centuries earlier, a massacre that also had started during a pageant.  “It is noteworthy that Shakespeare too shows the same familiarity as Oxford’s with the vesper Sicilianus and its pageant,” Fowler writes, citing Antony’s warning in Antony and Cleopatra (4.13.3) that “Thou has seen these signs; they are black [ominous] vesper’s pageants.”

When Oxford laments that “the world is so full of treasons and vile instruments,” he appears to coin a phrase that “Shakespeare” will use later in Cymbeline (3.4.72) when Pisanio cries out, “Hence, vile instrument!”

His characterization of Admiral Coligny as “an eyesore or beam in the eyes of the papists” [his Catholic slayers] will be echoed in The Taming of the Shrew (3.2.101) when Baptista refers to “an eye-sore to our solemn festival” and when Tarquin in The Rape of Lucrece (205) says, “Yea, though I die, the scandal will survive, and be an eye-sore in my golden coat.”  And, for example, Gloucester in 1 Henry VI (1.1.10) will echo Oxford’s words when he says, “His brandish’d sword did blind men with his beams.”

“This most interesting early specimen” of Oxford’s letters, Fowler writes, “with “its multiplicity of parallelisms” and “such distinctive metaphors as ‘eye-sore,’ ‘beam,’ ‘block,’ and ‘crossbar'” serves to corroborate “that the Earl of Oxford, rather than the man from Stratford, was the true ‘Shakespeare,’ and that these letters of Oxford are really ‘Shakespeare’s,’ the name by which the talented dramatist will always be known.  Coincidence in the use of common phrases of speech can explain some parallelisms, but not any such tidal wave of them.”

We’ll take another look at Oxford’s letters in part three, wrapping up this reason to believe he was Shakespeare.

[Background Image: “The Two Henries” – Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford; and Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton – circa 1619]

No. 30 of 100 Reasons why Oxford was “Shakespeare” — His Letters Contain Thousands of Correspondences to Thoughts and Phrases in the Poems and Plays Part One

William Plumer Fowler was president of the solidly orthodox Shakespeare Club of Boston in 1960 when it “came as a shock to me, after over half a century spent in the mistaken traditional belief, to at last realize that the true author was not the Stratfordian William Shakespeare, but someone else.”

After assuming the presidency of the Club for the second time in 1972, he spent an additional year of investigation before finally becoming “convinced beyond any doubt” that Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford had written the great works.

Another dozen years later, on Christmas eve of 1984 at his home in New Hampshire, he completed the preface for his 900-page masterwork Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters.   Fowler had chosen thirty-seven of some fifty letters, written by the earl between 1563 and 1603, to demonstrate how they contain “consistent correspondences (averaging over two to a line) in nearly every phrase to the thought and phraseology of Shakespeare’s plays and poems.”

Part of an autograph letter from Oxford to Robert Cecil (his "Brother" or former brother-in-law) in July 1600

“The letters “speak for themselves,” Fowler writes, adding they “offer convincing documentary evidence of their being those of the true poet Shakespeare, as distinct from the Stratford William Shaksper of similar name.  They are far more than just Oxford’s letters,” he concluded. “They are Shakespeare’s.”

Among the thousands of correspondences is a statement from Oxford to William Cecil Lord Burghley in July 1581, after his release from the Tower following some dramatic events: after accusing his Catholic cousins Henry Howard and Charles Arundel of engaging in treasonable correspondence with Spain, they retaliated with vicious counter-charges.  They also revealed his affair with Anne Vavasour, a Queen’s Maid of Honor, who gave birth to his illegitimate infant son (Edward Vere).  She and the baby, as well as Oxford, were summarily committed to the Tower for two months.

“But the world is so cunning,” he wrote to Burghley, “as of a shadow they can make a substance, and of a likelihood a truth.”

Plato's Cave - where shadows, projected on a wall, are mistaken for substance and truth

“This shadow-substance antithesis harks back to Plato’s Socratic dialogue in the Seventh book of The Republic,” Fowler writes, “about the shadows cast by a candle in a cave, and is a favorite of Shakespeare’s, unfolded again and again, in the repeated portrayal of what Dr. Herbert R. Coursen Jr. terms ‘Shakespeare’s great theme – the discrepancy between appearance and reality’.”

In Richard II, for example, Bushy tries to calm the Queen’s anxiety over Richard’s departure for Ireland: “Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows, which show like grief itself, but are not so … So your sweet Majesty, looking awry upon your lord’s departure, finds shapes of grief more than himself to wail, which, look’d on as it is, is naught but shadows of what it is not.” (2.2.14-23)

The metaphor is intensified after Richard surrenders his crown to Bolingbroke:

Bolingbroke: “The shadow of your sorrow hath destroyed the shadow of your face.”
King Richard: “Say that again. The shadow of my sorrow! Ha! Let’s see. ‘Tis very true, my grief lies all within. And these external manners of laments are merely shadows to the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul. There lies the substance…

“So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised/ Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give,” the author writes in Sonnet 37, and he begins number 53: “What is your substance, whereof are you made,/ That millions of strange shadows on you tend?”

Oxford’s statement that “the world is so cunning as of a shadow they can make a substance and of a likelihood a truth” appears in reverse order in The Merchant of Venice when Bassanio talks about “the seeming truth which cunning times put on to entrap the wisest” (3.2.100) — and in The Phoenix and Turtle, simply put: “Truth may seem, but cannot be.”

Oxford wrote to Robert Cecil on May 7, 1603, some six weeks after the death of Queen Elizabeth, and at one point he echoed his motto Vero Nihil Verius (“Nothing Truer than Truth”) in this striking passage:  “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription, for truth is truth though never so old, and time cannot make that false which was once true.

These ringing words “are mirrored many times by the dramatist Shakespeare,” Fowler writes, “most notably in Measure for Measure (5.1.45) where the entire thought is duplicated by Isabella: “For truth is truth to the end of reckoning.” And in Troilus and Cressida (3.2.106), to name just one other example: “What truth can speak truest, not truer than Troilus.”

He wrote in that same letter to Cecil, “Nothing adorns a king more than Justice, nor in anything doth a king more resemble God than in justice,” and Fowler observes: “Here we have a fine variant of Portia’s immortal words in The Merchant of Venice (4.1.188-196) but with the emphasis placed on ‘Justice’ itself,” rather than on Mercy, of which Portia states: ‘It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,/ It is an attribute to God himself,/ And earthly power doth then show likest God’s/ When mercy seasons justice.'”

Oxford's father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England, on his mule

Edward de Vere was only twenty-two in 1572 when the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in France shocked the Elizabethan Court as tens of thousands of Huguenots (Protestants) were slain.  In an emotional letter he told Burghley:

“This estate hath depended on you a great while as all the world doth judge” – a statement, Fowler notes, “anticipating with arresting closeness both Shakespeare’s words and thought” in two scenes of Hamlet:

(1) Laertes, warning his sister Ophelia against getting too involved with Prince Hamlet because of his high position, tells her: “He may not, as unvalued persons do, carve for himself, for on his choice depends the safety and health of this whole state.” (1.3.20)

(2) King Claudius gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern their commission to escort Hamlet to England, telling them, “The terms of our estate may not endure hazard so near us,” and Rosencrantz remarks: “The single and peculiar life is bound … to keep itself from noyance; but much more that spirit upon whose weal depends and rests and lives of many.”

We’ll continue later with Part Two of Reason No. 30…

The Fabric of His Life Woven through the Sonnets – Reason No. 29 of 100 Why Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Edward de Vere was in the best position of anyone in England to have written the Shakespeare sonnet sequence.  The known facts about the Earl of Oxford’s childhood, upbringing, education, and family all interconnect with their language and imagery.  Reason No. 29 of 100 to believe he was “Shakespeare” is the evidence in the Sonnets.

Oxford was nephew to the late 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.  And he himself wrote an early sonnet of the Elizabethan reign in that same 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 early sonnet to Queen Elizabeth

“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy – Shakespeare’s sonnet 152 to “the Dark Lady” [Elizabeth]

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 reference points from the life he experienced from childhood (at Castle Hedingham in Essex) onward.   Much of that life-experience is captured in a single sonnet:

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 the 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 who 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 possessed no high birth in the first place, 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 left his footprints throughout the 154-sonnet sequence:

(2) “When forty winters shall beseige 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 he 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. 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 astrologer Dr. John 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” – Oxford studied law at Gray’s Inn and served as a judge at the treason trials of Norfolk and Mary Stuart as well as the trial of Essex and Southampton; his personal letters are filled with evidence of his 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 during a street fight with swords 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, whose gardner imported flowers never seen in England — accounting for Shakespeare’s vast knowledge of flowers.

(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 King James on July 25, 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” – Oxford’s surgeon was Dr. George Baker, who dedicated three books to either the earl or his wife Anne Cecil.

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

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

(128) “Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds– Oxford was an intimate favorite of the Queen, who frequently played 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 of the reign; and “Shakespeare” is said to write about this visit in the so-called Bath Sonnets 153-54.

The items above amount to superficial stuff compared to extraordinary story Oxford recorded and preserved within his “monument” of verse for posterity. While writing these deeply personal sonnets, however, he could not help but draw instinctively and spontaneously upon the externals of his life as he had lived it.

Oh, I almost forgot — here in the Sonnets, as elsewhere, the author used “ever” (and “never”) as signature words:

(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” – In one of his early poems he wrote: “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?  Vere.”

Reason No. 28 of 100 to Believe that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: the Crucial Role Played by Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, Dedicatee of Shakespeare’s Poetry and Fair Youth of his Sonnets

One of the most important reasons to believe Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” – number 28 on this list – is the central role played by Henry Wriothesley the 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 as “the first heir of my invention,”  followed a year later by the dedication to him of Lucrece in 1594, with an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the 20-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 Southampton to “Shakespeare” from then to now.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that “Shakespeare,” in the first seventeen of the 154 consecutively numbered sonnets printed in 1609, was privately 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.”

[As most readers of this blog are aware, I believe the language, tone and statements in the Sonnets make clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the elder poet, Oxford, was writing to Southampton as father to son – and, too, as father to a royal son who deserved to succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth, on the throne as King Henry IX of England.  For the purposes of this post, however, all we need show is that Oxford is the most likely man who publicly pledged his devotion to Southampton.]

The trouble for traditional scholars is that there’s not a scrap of documentary evidence that “Shakespeare” and Henry Wriothesley had even met each other, much less that they might have had any kind of personal relationship allowing the author to command a high-ranking peer of the realm to “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 The Mysterious William Shakespeare [1584], “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

  • Edward de Vere became the first royal ward of Elizabeth at age twelve 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 such child of state as a boy in 1581, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted unusual pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Burghley’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter (of record), making him in fact the prospective father-in-law; and scholars generally agree that in the “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare sounds very much like a prospective father-in-law (or father) urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him.

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

At the outset, therefore, Edward de Vere and Henry Wriothesley were brought together by this particular marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England with the full blessing of his sovereign mistress.  And regardless of how either Oxford or Southampton truly felt about it, they both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome.

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.”

If Oxford was writing the private sonnets to Southampton, and I have no doubt of it, then we should not expect to find the two of them publicly spending much time together or even any time at all.  Oxford tells Southampton in Sonnet 36, for example, “I may not evermore acknowledge thee;” in Sonnet 71 he instructs him, “Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;” and in Sonnet 89 he vows: “I will acquaintance strangle and look strange, Be absent from thy walks, and in my tongue Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell…”

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

[Once Southampton came to Court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford removed himself from active attendance.  The two shared an important secret, a hidden story, that tied them together; and they evidently needed to stay apart, at least in public.]

Some of the historical facts are:

  •    As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother, in addition to serving her as loyal subjects.
  •    Oxford in the early 1590’s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.
  •    After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford came forth to sit 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; but 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.”
  • Southampton in the Tower (Feb 8, 1601 - April 10, 1603)

  • On the night of Oxford’s reported death on June 24, 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 de Vere, 18th earl of Oxford, and Henry Wriothesley, 3rd earl of Southampton - circa 1619

  • Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton and Henry de Vere, the eighteenth Earl of Oxford+ became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.”  They were Parliament men who often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for it.

(Henry de Vere was born to Edward de Vere and his second wife Elizabeth Trentham in February 1593)

And there are other kinds of evidence for us to mull:

Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590’s 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.

On the eve of the Essex Rebellion led by the Earls of Essex and Southampton, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s play Richard II at the Globe; and a number of historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself got permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its (as yet unpublished) scene of the deposing of the king.

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

After Southampton was released on April 10, 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 “doom” or sentence of imprisonment for life.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

When Oxford reportedly died in June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published; and then all such authorized publications again ceased for the next nineteen years until the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.

For 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 with seven performances of the Bard’s plays running into January 1605.  [If Edward de Vere had been the real author, and again I have no doubt that he was, the royal performances were a memorial tribute to him.] One of the festival’s stagings for King James and Queen Anne, with the Court, was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

Part One of a New Educational Documentary “The Real Edward de Vere”

Here from The Shakespeare Channel is Part One of The Real Edward de Vere, described as “an amateur documentary about the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, made for educational purposes.

The first part, running 11 and 1/2 minutes, is “Childhood and Youth” — written by Mark Garcia and edited by Brian Lake — filmed in various locations in England, including  Oxford’s childhood home of Castle Hedingham in Essex, with plenty of interesting images.

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