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

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

playbill hamilton

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

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

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

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

With mine own tears I wash away my balm,

With mine own hands I give away my crown,

With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,

With mine own breath release all duteous oaths (4.1)

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

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

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

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

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

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day”

And he continues:

I trust you’ll understand the reference to

Another Scottish tragedy without my having

To name the play. 

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

The full soliloquy, never spoken, is relevant:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

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

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

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing. (5.5)

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

History obliterates. 

In every picture it paints,

It paints me with all my mistakes…

I survived, but I paid for it.

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

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

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

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

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

Horatio, I am dead:

Thou livest; report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied…

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,

Things standing thus unknown shall I leave behind me! 

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity awhile

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story. (5.2)

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

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

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

“Macbeth” is No. 86 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

The official record states that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford died in 1604. Was the play “Macbeth” inspired by the Gunpowder Plot against James I and Parliament in 1605 and the subsequent treason-and-equivocation trial of Jesuit priest Henry Garnet in 1606, thereby ruling out Oxford as the author? The answer, in a word, is …. No!

An enormous amount of work on “Macbeth” – all pointing away from that oft-repeated dating of the play – has been done by traditional scholars and Oxfordian researchers alike. Among the latter, Richard Whalen has compiled powerful arguments in both a paper published in the 2003 issue of “The Oxfordian” (available online) and in the second edition of “Macbeth” (under his editorship) as part of the Oxfordian Shakespeare Series.

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth (Kate Fleetwood and Patrick Stewart, 2007)

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth
(Kate Fleetwood and Patrick Stewart, 2007)

No. 86 of these 100 reasons to conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” is the evidence, as Whalen writes, “that it was Oxford who wrote and rewrote Macbeth many years before James became King of England.”

1567: The Murder of Darnley
In February 1567, when Oxford was not yet seventeen, the Elizabethan court learned that Henry Stewart Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots and King Consort of Scotland, had been assassinated. Darnley’s death at Kirk o’ Field was preceded by gunpowder explosions beneath the room where he slept; he and his valet escaped the blasts only to be strangled to death; and later their bodies were found in the orchard, mysteriously surrounded by a cloak, a dagger, a chair and a coat.

Oxford, enrolled at Gray’s Inn for law, was still a royal ward in the custody of William Cecil, whose informants in Scotland were sending streams of updated intelligence. Young De Vere had a ringside seat as the gruesome details became urgent topics at court and Cecil House. Cecil’s vision for military security called for a peaceful Scotland sympathetic to England, but now that country was on the brink of civil war.

Contemporary Sketch of the Darnley murder with  "floating dagger" at top right corner

Contemporary Sketch of the Darnley murder with “floating dagger” at top right corner

Darnley’s assassination reportedly had been engineered by Mary’s chief advisor and lover, the ambitious Earl of Bothwell. Other intelligence held that she was the responsible party, having lured her husband into a vulnerable position on the pretext that the “wholesome air” would be good for his health – a notable detail of Macbeth. Cecil’s agents sent a sketch of the crime scene, circulated in Scotland, showing a gate and Darnley’s body and a “floating dagger” – key features of the Shakespearean play.

Agents reported that Mary had been so traumatized by fear and horror that she had fallen into a trance – not unlike that of Lady Macbeth in the Shakespeare play. Then came news she had married Bothwell, the murderer, and that many assumed they had planned it together – ready models for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who plan the murder of King Duncan. Soon enough Mary was forced to abdicate and her baby son by Darnley, born in 1566, was crowned James VI of Scotland.

Plays of Seneca such as Agamemnon and Medea had recently been translated at Cambridge, where De Vere had received an honorary degree. “Most of the Elizabethan writers of tragedy are purely Senecan in their use of rhetoric, of violent action, and of horror,” writes Eric C. Baade, editor of Seneca’s Tragedies (Classics of Greece and Rome series, 1969), “and even the works of Shakespeare, which transcend all influences, show strong Senecan elements.”

1568: “The Tragedy of the King of Scots”
On March 3, 1568 an anonymous stage work The Tragedy of the King of Scots [now lost] was performed for Queen Elizabeth by the Children of Her Majesty’s Chapel – a boys’ company of which Oxford would become the patron. The murdered monarch might have been the ancient Macbeth or “any other King of Scotland,” Charlotte Stopes writes in Shakespeare’s Industry (1916), indicating the play could have been an early source of Shakespeare’s play. “It might even have represented the death of Darnley,” she adds.

Given that Oxford had been privy to new translations of Seneca’s bloody tragedies, and now to the real-life Senecan horrors in Scotland, wasn’t he as likely as anyone to write such a topical play for the Queen?

1577: Raphael Holinshed and his “Chronicles”
The main source for Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the 1577 edition of Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland by Raphael Holinshed, dedicated to Cecil, who had become Lord Burghley and Oxford’s father-in-law in 1571. Back in July 1567, when Oxford had killed an under-cook while practicing his fencing, Cecil had called upon “Randolph” Holinshed to serve on the jury that ruled the victim had run upon the point of Oxford’s sword, committing suicide. Alan Nelson, De Vere’s Stratfordian biographer (Monstrous Adversary, 2003), has no doubt it was Holinshed the chronicler (whom he calls Cecil’s “protégé”) on the jury.

Holinshed's "Chronicles" 1577

Holinshed’s “Chronicles”

Oxford and Raphael Holinshed were both connected to Burghley and would have known each other early on; and the young earl’s interest in history would have made him extremely curious about the chronicler’s work-in-progress. [Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding had written to him in 1564 about “how earnest a desire your honor hath naturally grafted in you to read, peruse, and communicate with others as well the histories of ancient times…”] So it stands to reason that he was privy to the Scottish history for Macbeth in Holinshed’s Chronicles while Holinshed himself was writing it!

The historical Macbeth, who died in 1057, led a rebellion against King Duncan and defeated him at Dunsinane. He ruled Scotland for the next seventeen years until he was defeated and killed by Malcolm’s rebel forces. Holinshed’s work was by no means the original source; he derived Macbeth’s story from Hector Boece’s History of Scotland, a Latin chronicle published in 1526 and translated into the Scottish vernacular in 1535 by William Stewart, who embellished it with details drawn upon directly by the author of Macbeth.

1570: Personal Experience in Scotland
The author of Macbeth knows so much about Scotland that he must be drawing from personal experience. “I must consider the strong evidence of Shakespeare’s acquaintance with the scenes he described,” Stopes writes. “No Englishman who had not visited Inverness, and experienced the unexpected mildness of its northern climate, would have thought of describing it as pleasant, delicate, or of noting the martins and their nests…

“Nor would he have changed ‘the green lawn’ of Holinshed and ‘the pleasant wood’ of other writers into the blasted heath near Forres, as the spot where the witches appeared, unless he had seen some such moors lying gaunt and terrible, as witnesses of past winter storms. I can hardly imagine an Englishman who had not visited Scotland dreaming of using the peculiarly Scottish idiom ‘How far is it called to Forres ?’ It is possible, and even probable that Shakespeare visited Scotland…”

Edward de Vere spent several months in Scotland during 1570, serving under the Earl of Sussex in the military campaign against the Northern Rebellion of powerful Catholic earls, who had planned to bring their armies down to London — in order to overthrow Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, who had become a captive in England after fleeing Scotland in 1568.

1572: Assassination and Massacre in France
Critics have compared Lady Macbeth with Catherine de’ Medici, who plotted with Catholic noblemen in France to murder her wedding guests in August 1572, triggering the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestant Huguenots and their leader, Admiral Coligny, as noted by the University of California:

“It is quite likely that details of the murders by Shakespeare’s Macbeth were taken from accounts of this massacre. Like Lady Macbeth, Catherine de Medici was the driving force behind the King of France, her son, when he approved Coligny’s assassination, as Lady Macbeth forced Macbeth to kill Duncan … Catherine de Medici used a church bell as the signal to kill Coligny. In the play, Macbeth has Lady Macbeth ring a bell as a signal to kill Duncan … The neurotic reactions of King Charles IX after the Massacre resemble Macbeth’s neuroses …”

Oxford was on progress with Elizabeth when, in September, they learned the full details of the massacre. He wrote to Lord Treasurer Burghley, “I would to God your Lordship would let me understand some of your news, which here doth ring doubtfully in the ears of every man, of the murder of the Admiral of France,” continuing in a highly emotional state about the tragedy and pledging his complete support.

Edward de Vere was learning about the assassination and massacre in detail when this very possible contemporary source of Macbeth was sending shock waves through the English court. In his letter he compared Burghley to the slain Coligny: “And think, if the Admiral in France was an eyesore or beam in the eyes of the Papists, then the Lord Treasurer of England is a block and a crossbar in their way.”

1574: Supper with Lady Lennox
Lord Darnley was the eldest surviving son of Mathew Stuart, fourth Earl of Lennox and Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox. When Darnley was assassinated, Lennox was the most ardent pursuant of justice against Bothwell and other lords who had conspired in the murder.

Although Lord and Lady Lennox are never mentioned by Holinshed, both appear in Macbeth [Lady Lennox is in the First Folio text, but editors have removed her as insignificant]. And just as the contemporary Lennox demanded justice for the murder of his son, Lennox in the Shakespeare play is a pivotal character who gradually questions Macbeth’s tyrannical rule. Giving voice to the anger felt by other Scottish nobles, he prays that “a swift blessing may soon return to this our suffering country under a hand accursed!”

Darnley’s father Lord Lennox was killed in Scotland in 1571, possibly also the victim of assassination. In his diary Burghley recorded that on September 19 and 20, 1574, he held supper parties at his Theobalds estate attended by Oxford and Lady Lennox, who would have had much to say about her son’s assassination.

1575: The French Royal Court
Oxford spent most of March 1575 in France, where he was presented to King Henry III, the fourth son of Catherine de’ Medici. Three years earlier, Henry was involved in the plot for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Once again Oxford was brought into personal contact with individuals linked to an event perceived as Shakespeare’s contemporary source for Macbeth.

1588-89: Assassinations in France
Henry III of France, whom Oxford had met in 1575, assassinated the Duke of Guise, on December 23, 1588. The weak son of Catherine de’ Medici had lured the popular Guise to his Chateau of Blois, while his mother was inside – and once inside he was murdered by the royal guard. [The King himself was the victim of an assassination on August 1, 1589, naming Henry of Navarre his successor before he died.]

Catherine de' Medici  1519 - 1589  (Portrait by Francois Clouet, 1515 - 1572)

Catherine de’ Medici
1519 – 1589
(Portrait by Francois Clouet, 1515 – 1572)

Oxfordian scholar Eva Turner Clark, in Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays (1931), observed “many points in common” between the Killing of Duncan by Macbeth and the murder of Guise by Henry III, leading her to believe the play was written in 1589, shortly after the King himself was murdered. She cites “the power and influence” of Catherine De’ Medici, who was inside the Chateau of Blois in France when the murder took place, just as Lady Macbeth is in Macbeth’s Castle in Scotland during the murder of Duncan.

The fact that “Macbeth” was never printed until the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623 may be a sign it was never written to flatter King James at any time, especially after he became King of England in 1603. For one thing, given that his father had been strangled to death in 1567 and his captive mother Mary Stuart had been beheaded in 1587, James was understandably terrified of assassination or any kind of violent death, and probably would have fled from the theater!

Also, the orthodox idea that the play was based on the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 becomes absurd under examination. As Richard Whalen writes, that event allegedly involved a plan “by a gang of Roman Catholic radicals – none of whom was in any position to take power – to massacre the whole government of Great Britain, including King James, in a gigantic explosion of gunpowder under Parliament during a ceremonial meeting in broad daylight. Thousands might have been killed. In contrast, Macbeth, ambitious to gain the throne, stabs his guest, King Duncan, in the night while he sleeps alone in his bed. The two regicides could hardly have been more different.”

What about the charges of “equivocation” – dissembling under oath, to avoid the sin of lying – against Father Garnet in 1606 and the appearance of that term in “Macbeth”? “Although equivocation and witchcraft certainly influenced the playwright,” Whalen writes, “neither was specific to the early 1600s. Equivocation had been notorious for years. A decade earlier, it was a principal accusation in the trial of Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest … Similarly, witchcraft and witch hunts were notorious long before James became King of England.”

Moreover, Whalen observes that it “strains belief to suggest that an English actor/playwright would celebrate the new Scottish king of England by writing a gloomy, violent, bloody tragedy depicting the assassination of a Scottish king that is instigated by witches. That’s not the way playwrights, especially commoners, celebrate their monarchs. Nor is it credible that the king’s own acting company would dare to perform it. There is no documentary evidence that James ever saw the play, read it or even heard about it, much less felt celebrated.”


Some Answers to a Reader’s Response: When did the author Write those plays?

A reader (named Jim, I believe) commented on my replies to Professor James Shapiro, regarding his criticism of the movie Anonymous.  It seems worthwhile to continue the discussion here, on the main page.  Jim brought up four separate topics, and I’ll try to take up one or two at a time.

"The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth" was played by the Queen's Men in 1583 and serves as the foundation for "Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2" and "Henry V" by "Shakespeare"

“I don’t mean to be rude,” he begins, “but I hold with those who believe that Shakespeare is Shakespeare and I would like to reply to a few of your points.”

You’re not being rude; and thanks for the chance to respond.

First I should mention the Oxfordian view that saying “Shakespeare is Shakespeare” would be akin to saying “Mark Twain is Mark Twain.”  True enough, but we know that “Mark Twain” is a pen name used by Samuel Clemens.  So when we say “Shakespeare” we mean the printed name, referring to an otherwise unidentified poet-playwright; and we believe it’s a pen name, or pseudonym, as opposed to the name “William Shakspere” referring to the real individual who lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire.

[Of course, orthodox scholars and general commentators regularly start from the assumption that Shakespeare and Shakspere are one and the same, thereby from the outset blocking any further discussion.]

Orson Welles as Macbeth - 1948

“Most datings of the plays put them much later than you do,” Jim writes.  “For a variety of reasons, including pieces of text that seem to refer to current events (cf. ‘Macbeth’ and the Gunpowder Plot) many of them have been specifically placed after the death of Edward de Vere. I understand that the standard Oxfordian riposte to this is that de Vere actually wrote all the plays, and some were released after his death, edited to appear current. I don’t find that persuasive because I can think of no motive for it.

“Whatever the case, citing unorthodox information on the dates of the plays from a specifically pro-Oxford text is surely not fair play.”

The generally accepted dating for each play is based primarily on the biography of an author (Shakspere) who came to London in the late 1580’s or early 1590’s.  He would have begun writing the thirty-seven or more plays assigned to Shakespeare soon after; if he wrote two per year, it would take him eighteen-plus years up to 1610 or so.  So the assumption of Shakspere’s authorship is the reason why the writing of the plays is traditionally dated within that spectrum; the single premise of him as the great dramatist makes it “impossible” for the writing to happen during an earlier period.

When Oxford’s life is used as a guide, however, we can start way back when he was a teenager in the 1560’s; we can view him writing all during the 1560’s, 1570’s and 1580’s – three decades – prior to the 1590’s and the first appearance of “Shakespeare” the poet and/or playwright.

Moreover Oxford played a part in establishing the Queen’s Men  (Queen Elizabeth’s Men) in 1583; in that decade this major company performed no less than six plays of royal history that “Shakespeare” is said to have “rewritten” later to create his own plays – The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard III, King Leir, The Famous Victories of Henry V and so on – with many of the same scenes that “Shakespeare” uses.

"The True Tragedy of Richard the Third" - By Anonymous - Played by the Queen's Men in the 1580's - Was it Early Shakespeare?

Oxford was cited in 1589 (The Arte of English Poesie) as first among courtier poets “who have written excellently well, as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public.”  Richard Whalen, who edited a new Oxfordian printing of Macbeth, suggests Edward de Vere may have written the first version back in 1567, at seventeen!  (An anonymous play about the assassination of Lord Darnley, the King of the Scots, was performed in 1568 at the Court of Elizabeth.)

There’s no evidence that Macbeth was performed during the reign of King James [1603-1625].  The account allegedly written by Simon Forman, describing a performance he supposedly witnessed in 1611, was discovered by the notorious nineteenth-century forger John Payne Collier – so we can’t count on that!  Otherwise the play was never printed, nor does any record mention it, before the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.

The dating of play composition is tricky and requires much research.  I again recommend Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence, edited by Kevin Gilvary.

A fascinating Oxfordian study was made in the 1930’s by Eva Turner Clark in her book Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays.  Clark cites evidence that Oxford had written all the plays, at least their original versions, by 1590.  He could have made many revisions up to his death in 1604; other writers, so-called collaborators, could have made revisions and additions over the next nineteen years until the Folio; and that might account for some of the apparently post-1604 references.  On the other hand, Oxfordian researchers such as Kositsky and Stritmatter are producing new evidence to show that ALL such references could have come from earlier events and sources.

We’ll continue soon with the other issues …

(Meanwhile, I might observe that reviewers of Anonymous who cannot view the Shakespeare Authorship Question with an open mind are relying on traditional assumptions, which, if presented right now for the very first time, would cause the same reviewers to laugh with scorn.  Why?  Because those traditional assumptions have absolutely no biographical or historical foundations.  Without the flimsy “evidence” to be found in the First Folio and the church in Stratford, along with mention in the 1640 Poems by Will Shakespeare, Gent.  of the Stratford man’s death in April 1616, there would be no trail leading to Warwickshire — none.  Even with those allusions, there’s no biographical or historical trail.]

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