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

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

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

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

Illustration of the “Decameron”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROYAL WARD

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

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

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

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

MARRIAGE

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

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

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

MILITARY SERVICE

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

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

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

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

PROMISE

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

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

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

BED TRICK

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

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

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

The bed trick also appears in Measure for Measure.

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

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

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

The Bed Trick: Number 36 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“[Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, but the father of the lady Anne [Cecil], by stratagem, contrived that her husband should, unknowingly, sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.”The History and Topography of Essex by Thomas Wright, 1836 – discussing Oxford in relation to his wife Anne and her father William Cecil, Lord Burghley.

Measure“…the last great Earle of Oxford, whose lady [Anne Cecil] was brought to his Bed under the notion of his Mistris, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan Vere, Countess of Montgomery] is said to proceed.” Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth & King James by Francis Osborne, Esq., 1658.Although these two reports differ in the particulars, they both assert that Edward de Vere had been the victim of a “bed-trick” perpetrated by his wife Anne Cecil [at the bidding of her father, Lord Burghley] – the same situation that “William Shakespeare” immortalized in no less than four of his plays – All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Hampton Court Palace

The so-called “bed-trick” became a popular convention by the end of the sixteenth century, but the evidence shows that “Shakespeare” employed it earlier than any other playwright of the English renaissance; and when Oxford is viewed as the great poet-dramatist, the dates of composition go back even earlier.  Whether the incident actually happened or Oxford merely thought so, the story from Thomas Wright [and probably also from Francis Osborne] stems from the royal visit to Hampton Court Palace in October 1574, when Anne Cecil requested additional lodgings so that she might entice her husband to join her, as she wrote to the Earl of Sussex, Lord Chamberlain of the Household:

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (1526-1583)

“My good Lord, because I think it long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging; that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third chamber next to it … for the more commodious my lodging is, the willinger I hope my Lord my husband will be to come hither.”

Oxford was in Italy the following September when he received a letter from Burghley telling him that Anne had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in July; and later, upon learning of Court gossip that he had been cuckolded, he came to doubt that he was the father and separated from his wife for five years.  Had he really been deceived in a bed-trick according to the “stratagem” devised by his father-in-law, the most powerful man in England?  In that case, the girl Elizabeth Vere was in fact his natural child; but the other possibility is that Burghley concocted and spread the bed-trick story to cover up the fact that, at his bidding, Anne had become pregnant by some other man – a rather shocking explanation held by Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare of 1984:

“I strongly incline [to the explanation] that her father was determined as far as humanly possible to ensure the continuation of the marriage and the status of his descendants as Earls of Oxford.  Three years had passed since Anne’s and Edward’s wedding and still there was no sign of issue, while it had now become impossible any longer to deny his son-in-law a Continental trip from which, given the hazards of travel, he might not return.  Thus, exploiting his daughter’s uncommon filial submissiveness and the argument that a child would be the surest means of binding her husband to her, he overcame her compunctions and resistance and brought her to accept service by another male and one of proved fertility …”

Cover of Wright’s History of Essex – 1836

While working on his 1920 breakthrough book “Shakespeare” Identified [as Oxford], the British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney realized that Bertram in All’s Well is virtually a self-portrait of Edward de Vere – but only after completing his manuscript did he discover Wright’s claim that Oxford himself had been deceived by a bed-trick.  The excitement he feels is palpable when introducing “what has been the most remarkable piece of evidence met with in the whole course of our investigations: a discovery made a considerable time after this work had been virtually completed …

“This evidence is concerned with the play, All’s Well; the striking parallelism between the principal personage in the drama and the Earl of Oxford having led us to adopt it as the chief support of our argument at the particular stage [Chapter XVI: “Dramatic Self-Revelation”] with which we are now occupied … What we have now to state was not discovered until some months later. 

“In tracing the parallelism between Bertram and Oxford we confined our attention to the incidentals of the play, in the belief that the central idea of the plot — the entrapping of Bertram into marital relationships with his own wife, in order that she might bear him a child unknown to himself — was wholly derived from Boccaccio’s story of Bertram.  The discovery, therefore, of the following passage in Wright’s History of Essex furnishes a piece of evidence so totally unexpected, and forms so sensational a climax to an already surprising resemblance that, on first noticing it, we had some difficulty in trusting our own eyes.

“We would willingly be spared the penning of such matter: its importance as evidence does not, however, permit of this,” Looney added, with what Ogburn describes as “quaint Victorian delicacy” in the face of such scandalous matters.  After citing the passage from Wright’s History of Essex quoted above, he continued:

“Thus even in the most extraordinary feature of this play; a feature which hardly one person in a million would for a moment have suspected of being anything else but an extravagant invention, the records of Oxford are at one with the representation of Bertram. It is not necessary that we should believe the story to be true, for no authority for it is vouchsafed … In any case, the connection between the two is now as complete as accumulated evidence can make it.”

Marliss C. Desens, in her book The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama (1994), states that this plot device appears in at least forty-four plays of the period; but she also reports that “an examination of English Renaissance dramas shows that bed-tricks were not being used on stage prior to the late 1590’s” and, more specifically, that the bed-trick “begins appearing in plays starting around 1598.”  This means that if Oxford was “Shakespeare” we can say with certainty that during the Elizabethan reign he was the first to incorporate it; and, too, that he did so after being a victim of it in real life or believing it was so.  Oxfordians date the original versions of the plays far earlier than the orthodox dates dictated by the life of William of Stratford.  In the case of the four plays with bed tricks, here are the differences:

All’s Well That Ends Well – tradition is circa 1604, but Oxfordians say 1579 or 1580

Measure for Measure – tradition has 1603-1605, but Oxfordians say 1581-1585

Cymbeline – Orthodox date is 1610, while the Oxfordian date is 1578-1582

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Orthodox date is 1612-13, but Oxfordians say 1566, revised 1594

Reason No. 36 demonstrates yet again how replacing “Shakespeare” with Oxford stands previous scholarship on its head (or turns it inside-out).  The whole picture of “Shakespeare’s” creative process and its journey is transformed!  No wonder the academic world has such built-in resistance to seeing the change of paradigm!

“The Quality of Mercy” – Reason No. 32 to Conclude that the Earl of Oxford Wrote the “Shakespeare” Works

The works of “Shakespeare” contain the results of the author’s own meditations on justice and mercy, emphasizing the need for kings to carry out lawful remedies and punishments with compassion and kindly forbearance.  In Portia’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice about “the quality of mercy” being “not strained” (not constrained), she declares that mercy is “mightiest in the mightiest” and “becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.”  Mercy is above such trappings and is “enthroned in the hearts of kings,” she says, adding:

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice (4.1)

On May 7, 1603, six weeks after Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland was proclaimed James I of England, 53-year-old Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford wrote a business letter to Secretary Robert Cecil and, in passing, made this comment, which is printed below in the form of a speech in a Shakespeare play:

Nothing adorns a King more than justice,

Nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice,

Which is the head of all virtue,

And he that is endued therewith hath all the rest.

By no means am I the first to notice a remarkable similarity of thinking between Oxford and “Shakespeare” and of the words expressing it.  Portia’s statement that when a King combines justice with mercy his “earthly power doth then show likest God’s” is reflected in Oxford’s remark that “nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice” – by which he clearly means a justice that contains the “virtue” of mercy or the capacity for forgiveness.

Surely it’s not difficult to imagine Oxford giving Isabella these words about monarchs in Measure for Measure:

Not the King’s Crown nor the deputed sword,

The Marshall’s Truncheon nor the Judge’s Robe,

Become them with one half so good a grace

As mercy does.  (2.2)

In Chapter 30 of his 2001 dissertation on the “marginalia” of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible, which the earl had purchased in 1568-69 before the age of twenty, Roger Stritmatter reports that Oxford had marked a series of verses in Ecclesiasticus on the theme of mercy.

Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, as marked by Edward de Vere in his Geneva Bible

The question of mercy “is central to the unfolding action of The Tempest,” Dr. Stritmatter notes.  “In this fable Prospero, like Hamlet, learns to abandon the lust to punish his enemies and realizes that ‘the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.’ (5.1.27) — in which statement ‘virtue’ is a metaphor for ‘mercy.’ ”  He points out that previous students of Shakespeare and the Bible had failed to notice that Prospero’s epilogue “as you from crimes would pardoned be…” derives “direct, unequivocal inspiration” from Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, which Oxford had marked in his Geneva Bible.

Ellen Terry as Portia in 1885

I recommend an informative (and amusing) exchange on this subject between William J. Ray and Alan Nelson, author of Monstrous Adversary (2003), the anti-Oxfordian biography of Oxford.  The dialogue was initiated by Ray, who pointed out similarities between Oxford’s “remarkable sentence on the theme of justice” and Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy.

“Apparently De Vere studied kingship and justice from Old Testament teachings,” Ray observes in the course of the exchange, adding later, “I do not see your implacable opposition of justice and mercy as represented by the one quotation versus the other, since to my ear they both [Oxford and “Shakespere”] were speaking of the same virtue(s) … and with virtually the same cadence and language.”

"The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle" painted by Edouard Berveiller (1843-1910)

“There can be little doubt as to which side Oxford’s sympathies would lean” during the treason trial of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in October 1586,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920, introducing the Oxford theory of Shakespearean authorship – in other words the earl, who sat as one of the commissioners at the trial, would have been on Mary’s side; and “as we read of her wonderfully brave and dignified bearing, and of her capable and unaided conduct of her own defense, we can quite believe that if the dramatist who wrote The Merchant of Venice was present at the trial of the Scottish Queen … he had before him a worthy model for the fair Portia…”

Looney quoted Martin Hume on the trial: “Mary defended herself with consummate ability before a tribunal almost entirely prejudiced against her. She was deprived of legal aid, without her papers and in ill health. In her argument with [William Cecil Lord Burghley] she reached a point of touching eloquence which might have moved the hearts, though it did not convince the intellects, of her august judges.”

Drawing of the Trial of Mary Queen of Scots as part of the official record made by Robert Beale (1541-1601)

[Hume had quoted a letter in which Burghley says of Mary, “Her intention was to move pity by long, artificial speeches” – and Looney wrote, “With this remark of Burghley’s in mind, let the reader weigh carefully the terms, of Portia’s speech on ‘Mercy,’ all turning upon conceptions of royal power, with its symbols the crown and the scepter … Now let any one judge whether this speech is not vastly more appropriate to Mary Queen of Scots pleading her own cause before Burleigh, Walsingham, and indirectly the English Queen, than to an Italian lady pleading to an old Jew for the life of a merchant she had never seen before.  Who, then, could have been better qualified for giving an idealized and poetical rendering of Mary’s speeches than ‘the best of the courtier poets’ [Oxford], who was a sympathetic listener to her pathetic and dignified appeals?”

I include Looney’s remarks despite the fact that I share the view of many Oxfordians that Edward de Vere had written the first version of The Merchant of Venice several years prior to the trial of Mary Queen of Scots – that is, in the early 1580’s, four or five years after he had returned (in April 1576) from fifteen months on the Continent with Venice as his home base.

Portia’s speech in 4.1 of The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

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. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much

To mitigate the justice of thy plea;

Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

Prospero’s farewell at the end of The Tempest:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,

I must be here confined by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.


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