More on the Portrait Evoking “Shakespeare” on “The Herball” of 1597 — A Perceptive Comment from a Reader

The following comment comes from a reader in response to a recent post on this blog site that began, “There is a delicious irony in the discovery, claimed this week by British botanist and historian Mark Griffiths, that an engraving on the inside title page of the 1597 book The Herball, or General History of Plants by horticulturist John Gerard (1545-1612) contains a portrait of ‘William Shakespeare.’  Based on the evidence so far, Griffiths is probably correct!  And it all points not only to ‘Shakespeare’ but, equally, to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.”

Click for Larger View

Click for Larger View

One of the major points is that the portrait in question, showing a “fourth man” dressed as a Roman and meant to signify the poet who wrote Venus and Adonis (1593) by “William Shakespeare,” does not (necessarily) resemble the physical appearance of any real person.  Instead the portrait points symbolically to “Shakespeare” while other evidence, biographical and historical, connects it to Edward de Vere.  Here is the relevant part of the comment from Joanne Mary Gray at the Marketing and Communications Department of the University of Toledo:

“I agree with Mark Griffiths that the lower right hand drawing on the Gerard’s Herball title-page is that of the author ‘Shakespeare’ theatrically portraying a character.  I also believe this drawing is based on the real Shakespeare, Edward de Vere.

“The bays around his head indicate he is a poet. The flower in his right hand (to our left) is a ‘snakes’ head fritillary’ and it does point to the author Shakespeare and his first signed poem of Venus and Adonis.  [From the blood of Adonis on the ground, ‘A purple flower sprung up, checkered with white’ (1168), to whom Venus says, ‘Here was thy father’s bed, here in my breast;/ Thou art the next of blood, and ’tis thy right.’ (1183-84)]  Mr. Griffiths is correct.  I think that the other figures are also shown as ‘theatrical’ character portrayals—such as Lord Burghley as King Solomon.

“Some people have voiced concern/confusion as to why the fourth man in the far right corner, believed to be the author, would be holding an ear of corn in his other hand.  The corn actually clinches the identity of the fourth-man portrayal as Adonis, because Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book X) has King Cinyras and his daughter Myrrha in an incestuous encounter during the festival of Ceres, the Corn Goddess, and that encounter resulted in her giving birth to Adonis.

(C)Guy Ackermans 2005 "The corn clinches the identity as Adonis, conceived during the Festival of the Corn Goddess."

(C)Guy Ackermans 2005
“The corn clinches the identity as Adonis, conceived during the Festival of the Corn Goddess.”

“I felt a bit sorry for Mr. Mark Griffiths, who as a loyal Stratfordian honestly had no idea how the other half (anti-Stratfordians) are treated on a regular basis whenever they find or point out something that in any way threatens or questions the orthodox faith.  Oxfordians were as unamazed as Mr. Griffiths was amazed by the immediate snap-back from the orthodox side when he rolled out his new Shakespeare find.

Ceres - Goddess and Mother of Corn

Ceres – Goddess and Mother of Corn

“It might be interesting to write an alternative-universe story about what would have happened if he had vetted it first through the Stratford Birthplace Trust.  I have to think that had he done that, there would have been a far different roll-out that would have only taken place once he had a supposition that could hold a bridge (no matter how meager) to Lord Burghley — because there is no way they wouldn’t have seen all the blinking red lights screaming ‘danger’ at the close proximity between the fourth man as ‘Shakespeare’ and Lord Burghley across each other on the same page!”

[Of course, Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford and William Cecil Lord Burghley are directly tied to each other.  Oxford was a royal ward in Cecil’s custody — living at Cecil House during the 1560s, when his uncle Arthur Golding would have been translating Ovid’s Metamorphoses! — and then marrying his daughter Anne Cecil.]

“Griffiths had naively believed that when he presented what he had honestly discovered, his fellow Shakespearean brethren would embrace him; instead he found himself immediately attacked by the Stratford orthodoxy, and found his only allies among the infidels outside the Stratford temple.

“No Oxfordian was surprised to see on May 22nd an updated article on the Country Life online site, in which Mr. Griffiths gave his full-throated self-defense and no-holds-barred damnation of the Oxfordians and Edward de Vere.  The heat came from his sincere bid to regain entrance among the faithful. He made his case:

“‘It is impossible that the Fourth Man standing gloriously opposite Burghley on the 1597 title page of The Herball is his hated and estranged son-in-law, the Earl of Oxford. In any case, this realistically portrayed figure doesn’t resemble the known portraits of Oxford, and he certainly doesn’t look like a hard-living 47-year-old, which the Earl was in 1597.’”

“It appears that after finding himself somewhere he never imagined, his panic led him to forget that his premise was that the figures were theatrically portraying characters. The character that Shakespeare was portraying was Adonis—the eternally handsome youth. [And the ‘father’ of the purple-and-white checkered flower.] It didn’t matter the age of the real model—be he ‘a hard-living 47-year-old” [Oxford] or a 33-year-old businessman [Shakspere] from Stratford!

“Griffiths also made the unfortunate remark about the ‘realistically portrayed figure’ — an obvious exaggeration that came, no doubt, because of his shock and the belief that he needed to push back forcefully. The drawings are no more realistic than Lord Burghley’s is.  And the last part of his comment, that he (de Vere) ‘doesn’t resemble the known portraits of Oxford,’ is a bit embarrassing for him, because the Stratford side says that both the Droeshout (an obvious caricature) and the present last iteration of the Stratford monument effigy are the only ‘authentic’ portrayals of the author.  I’ll put de Vere’s portraits up against those two ‘portraits’ any day to stand in comparison to the Herball title-page drawing.

“So the artist would not have portrayed Edward de Vere as the 47-year-old, but as the more youthful man he was, as Adonis; and no Oxfordian will be surprised to learn that in the final and longest denunciation in this updated May 22nd article — after dealing with the two lesser candidates that people had brought up for the fourth man, Raleigh and Drake — Griffiths saved the longest (60 lines) and harshest (to put it mildly) ending to the piece (building to a crescendo of truly biblical denunciation, to prove his bona fides as true member of the Stratford church) for Oxford — sealing it with: ‘Far from proving the theory that the Earl wrote Shakespeare’s canon, my discoveries kill it once and for all.’

[ ]

“He is pleading to be readmitted to the temple because he will manage to accomplish what all before him have failed to achieve. He will kill, once and for all, that cursed Oxford heresy and all its pesky and persistent heretics and their unworthy candidate.”

Thanks to Joanne Gray for these lively and insightful remarks.  Stay tuned for more on this one!

Bulletin! Discovery of New Portrait of “Shakespeare”! And the Evidence of His Identity Points to the Earl of Oxford!

There is a delicious irony in the discovery, claimed this week by British botanist and historian Mark Griffiths, that an engraving on the inside title page of the 1597 book The Herbal, or General History of Plants by horticulturist John Gerard (1545-1612), contains a portrait of “William Shakespeare.”

Based on the evidence so far, Griffiths is probably correct!  And it all points not only to “Shakespeare” but, equally, to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Part of the engraving that appeared in the 1597 book "Herbal" by John Gerard -- depicting Shakespeare? (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Part of the engraving that appeared in the 1597 book “Herbal” by John Gerard — depicting Shakespeare?
(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

So it may take a centuries-old book about plants, along with an announcement in Country Life magazine (of all places), to guide mainstream scholars to correctly answer the Shakespeare authorship question.  No wonder the eminent Stanley Wells, Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, has already scoffed at it – joining Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, who told The Guardian: “I can’t imagine any reason why Shakespeare would be in a botany textbook.”

Professor Wells may already know the danger that this “literary discovery of the century,” as Country Life editor Mark Hedges calls it, holds for the traditional Stratfordian view.

The engraving shows Gerard, author of Herbal, along with Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens, William Cecil Lord Burghley (Gerard’s own patron) and a fourth man “dressed as a Roman, wearing laurels and meant to make us think of Apollo and poetry,” says Griffiths, who cites visual clues identifying him as the poet who wrote Venus and Adonis (1593).

[For example, the fourth man in the engraving holds a “snake’s head fritillary,” a flower discovered in France in 1578 and whose use in British gardens was pioneered by Gerard; and “Shakespeare” in Venus and Adonis is the only Elizabethan poet who refers to this extraordinary new flower.]

The question, of course, is why “Shakespeare” would be pictured in 1597 along with Burghley, Gerard and Dodoens.  The answer, Griffiths says, is that the poet had been involved in the writing of this breakthrough book on plants!

The full engraving in Gerard's book, on the inside cover... Click on the image to enlarge it

The full engraving in Gerard’s book, on the inside cover… Click on the image to enlarge it

[It is quite likely that Oxford would have helped in the writing; and just as professionals in diverse fields such as medicine and music dedicated their works to the Earl, so Gerard appears to have done so by means of the engraving.]

Mark Brown writes in The Guardian:  “Griffiths believes Shakespeare was given his literary start by Burghley, the most powerful man in the country, and that he became almost a political propagandist for him.”

[Edward de Vere helped the government by patronizing writers and guiding them to create patriotic plays of English royal history.  Additional evidence indicates that in the 1580s he himself was writing early versions of such plays to be published later under the Shakespeare name.]

If Griffiths is correct, Brown continues, “then Shakespeare would have moved in the same circles as Gerard, as both men had Burghley to thank for their careers.”

[Oxford grew up at Cecil House, where Burghley imported the rarest and most exotic flowers and plants to be seen in England.  Oxford married Cecil’s daughter and continued to visit Cecil House as well as Theobalds, which also had an enormous garden that Gerard — for two decades, from 1577 to 1598 — apparently also tended to.   The famous gardener was five years older than Oxford and the two must have known each other quite well.]

“Griffiths said his theory is that Shakespeare helped Gerard with Greek and Latin translations in the book and acted as a kind of script doctor.  So the four men [in the engraving] are the writer himself [John Gerard], his patron [Burghley], his inspiration [Dodoens] and his literary advisor [Shakespeare].”

De Vere entered Cecil House on the Strand at age twelve in 1562, becoming the first royal ward of the Queen in the custody of Cecil, Master of the Wards.  Here is part of a description of the place by B.M. Ward, first biographer of Oxford, in 1928:

“Let us pause for a moment and picture the dwelling in which Lord Oxford was destined to spend the remainder of his minority [1562 to 1571] … One of the chief features of Cecil House was its garden.  The grounds in which the house stood must have covered many acres, and were more extensive than those of any of the other private houses in Westminster.

A page of Gerard' book

A page of Gerard’ book

“John Gerard, well known as the author of Herbal, or General History of Plants (1597), was for twenty years Sir William Cecil’s gardener; and Sir William himself evidently took a great pride in his garden … Indeed, it is not unlikely that he deliberately chose an inland site without a water-gate, because the congestion of existing houses along the river bank only allowed of comparatively small and narrow strips of garden.”

Ward adds that Burghley “imbued his sons and the royal wards under his charge with his own keenness in horticulture.”  He notes that William Cecil’s second son, Robert, as Earl of Salisbury under King James, placed his splendid garden at Hatfield under the care of John Tradescant, the first of a noted family of horticulturists.  And Lord Zouch, another royal ward in Cecil’s charge [1569-1577], later filled his garden at Hackney with plants he had collected in Austria, Italy and Spain.

We may be sure that Cecil imbued the young Edward de Vere with that same love and knowledge of plants and flowers – a passion and store of information displayed throughout the Shakespeare works.  So it appears we now have a discovery that John Gerard commissioned an engraving in 1597 that included an image of a Roman Poet meant to indicate the author of Venus and Adonis, the new English Ovid, whom he knew to be Edward de Vere.

[Gerard would have loved Oxford’s reference in Venus and Adonis to the snake’s head fritillary.]

“This is the only known verifiable portrait of the world’s greatest writer made in his lifetime,” editor Hedges says.  “It is an absolutely extraordinary discovery.”

It may be even more extraordinary than he knows….

Stay tuned for more developments!

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