Re-Posting No. 21 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: “Suspicion and Jealousy”

When first learning about Edward de Vere and his relationship to “Shakespeare,” I was startled to see a letter written by his wife Anne Cecil in December 1581.  Oxford had flown into a rage in 1576 over court gossip that he was not the father of the baby girl (Elizabeth Vere) to whom she had given birth the previous year, when he was in Italy.  Besieged by doubts, and furious that the scandal had become “the fable of the world,” as he wrote angrily to Ann’s father Lord Burghley, he separated from her and refused to acknowledge the child.

Othello and Desdemona

Now, five years later, husband and wife had begun to communicate again, and Anne wrote to him from the Westminster home of her father, pleading:

“My Lord – In what misery I may account myself to be, that neither can see any end thereof nor yet any hope to diminish it – and now of late having had some hope in my own conceit that your Lordship would have renewed some part of your favor that you began to show me this summer…”

What did this remind me of?  Where had I heard this before? She continued:

“Now after long silence of hearing anything from you, at the length I am informed – but how truly I know not, and yet how uncomfortably I do not seek it – that your Lordship is entered into misliking of me without any cause in deed or thought.”

The first quarto of “Othello” – 1622, one year before the First Folio of plays appeared

Of course: Desdemona, the suffering wife of Othello. Anne’s letter continues:

“And therefore, my good Lord, I beseech you in the name of God, which knoweth all my thoughts and love towards you, let me know the truth of your meaning towards me, upon what cause you are moved to continue me in this misery, and what you would have me do in my power to recover your constant favor, so as your Lordship may not be led still to detain me in calamity without some probable cause, whereof, I appeal to God, I am utterly innocent.”

I had played the part of Cassio in college, but now the final scenes came back to me with sudden vividness: the way Desdemona was so baffled by Othello’s suspicions and accusations; how she begged him to reveal the torturous contents of his mind; how she was so helpless in the face of his blind rage; how she was left to merely plead her innocence, plaintively telling Iago, the very manipulator who had roused Othello’s jealousy in the first place:

“O good Iago, what shall I do to win my lord again?  Good friend, go to him; for, by this light of heaven, I know not how I lost him.  Here I kneel: If e’er my will did trespass ‘gainst his love either in discourse of thought or actual deed … comfort forswear me!  Unkindness may do much, and his unkindness may defeat my life, but never taint my love.” (4.2)

Yes, I thought, Anne could have been saying the same words. If Oxford was Shakespeare, I mused, then Anne’s statement “I am utterly innocent” from the depths of her heart echoes in the play when, after Othello strangles Desdemona to death, Iago’s wife Emilia shouts at him: “Nay, lay thee down and roar, for thou hast killed the sweetest innocent that e’er did lift up eye!”  When Iago stabs Emilia, she cries to  Othello again before dying: “Moor, she was chaste!  She loved thee, cruel Moor!” (5.2)

Suspicion and jealousy run through other Shakespearean plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter’s Tale.  Hamlet turns on his fiancé Ophelia, distrusting her and complaining that “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness.”  The prince is coming unglued, with young Ophelia crying out, “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” (3.1) Anne wrote to her husband again in December 1581:

“Good my Lord, assure yourself it is you whom only I love and fear, and so am desirous above all the world to please you…”

She died less than seven years later, at thirty-one, having suffered emotional strains we can only imagine.  Oxford had had his complaints about Anne siding too much with her father, much as Hamlet reacts to Ophelia’s spying on him for her father, but he may well have blamed himself for his wife’s early death.  Once the earl is understood as the author, he may be seen drawing upon these upheavals in his own life, including his remorse, for portrayals of Desdemona’s plight and, too, Ophelia’s madness and apparent suicide. When Hamlet sees her brother Laertes leap into her grave, he holds nothing back: 

“What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis?  Whose phrase of sorrow conjures the wand’ring stars and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers?  This is I, Hamlet the Dane!”  [He leaps into the grave with Laertes; after they nearly fight] “I loved Ophelia!  Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum!” (5.1)

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham-Carter in the Franco Zeffirelli film of “Hamlet” in 1990

The prince’s grief, anger, rage and guilt are all palpable as he challenges Laertes:

“What wilt thou do for her? … Woo’t weep?  Woo’t fight?  Woo’t fast?  Woo’t tear thyself?  Woo’t drink up eisell?  Eat a crocodile?  I’ll do’t!  Dost thou come here to whine?  To outface me with leaping in her grave? … Nay … I’ll rant as well as thou!” (5.1)

During the final scene of Othello, I never failed to experience a wave of gutwrenching emotion as the Moor begs for any crumbs of sympathy or empathy before taking his own life: “Soft you; a word or two before you go.  I have done the state some service, and they know’t – no more of that…” (5.2)

We might well hear Oxford speaking of his own service to the state — as a playwright and patron of writers and acting companies performing around the countryside, rousing national unity against the coming Spanish invasion, which England survived in the summer of 1588, just a few months after Anne’s death. The power of the stage was apparent when young men of widely different dialects, religious views and social status came to London to join in common defense of their country. Othello continues:

“I pray you, in your letters, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.  Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand, like the base Indian, threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood, drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees their medicinable gum…” (5.2)

I believe we are listening to Oxford’s own grief over the wreckages of his past – another reason to believe he wrote Othello, which was printed for the first time in 1622, a year before publication of the First Folio of thirty-six plays.

(This post is now No. 74 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

 

Oxfordian Journal Chapter 1: In College, Acting in “Othello” and Having No Clue about an Authorship Question

When I was in college no one ever mentioned that there might be any question about Shakespeare’s identity.  It was as if the whole history of that subject matter, from the nineteenth-century advocates of Francis Bacon to the Oxfordians of the twentieth century, never existed.

In college we put on productions of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and Othello, the Moor of Venice, both unquestionably, I was sure, penned some four centuries earlier by Mr. William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon.

The first play we put on was Othello, during my sophomore year, and I had the role of Cassio, who gets to speak that great speech:  “Reputation, reputation, reputation!  O, I have lost my reputation!  I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.  My reputation, Iago!  My reputation!”

(As far as I or anyone else was concerned, this was probably not a reflection of anything the author himself had experienced.  I mean, the last thing in the world that Mr. Shakespeare might have lost was his reputation.  He was a superstar!  I’d never heard about Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who really had lost his reputation – big time.  If that earl were alive today, why, he’d be scorned up and down; the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust would have him hung by his toenails off the Tower Bridge, or they’d tie him to a raft on the Thames and float him out to a pack of hungry sharks.)

I must have practiced that “reputation” speech a thousand times in as many ways, never really feeling I’d nailed it.  [I should attend the play whenever possible to see how various actors deliver it.]

During our rehearsals and performances I grew to love that play.  Without expecting it I found parts of the first act hysterically funny, mainly because the guy playing Brabantio, a Venetian Senator and the father of Desdemona, seemed to go way too far with his anger, spitting saliva all over the others on stage, as he shouted: “O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter?”

[It felt somehow wrong to be laughing during a tragic play, but I could not have known, back then in college, that the author had actually used stock characters from the Italian form of comedy called Commedia dell’Arte, performances of which he had witnessed in Venice!]

I was deeply moved at the end of the play – amazed, too, that in just a few hours the great Mr. Shakespeare had taken Othello from the heights of graceful, powerful, mature manhood to the ravages of unhinged jealousy and finally to the depths of despair, horror, tragedy.  How had he performed this feat?  How could he have made it all so seamless, one scene flowing from the other in a string of actions that appeared to be inevitable?

[Of course I also didn’t know then that the Earl of Oxford, himself a poet and playwright, had been an active patron of play companies and other writers, or that in his own life he had gone through a period of terrible jealousy, accusing his wife of infidelity and causing her enormous pain and suffering.]

A couple of times during the play came the sudden sound of a trumpet from a guy playing it just offstage; we would hear it and the actor playing Iago would yell out: “The Moor!  I know his trumpet!”  In one performance, however, the actor playing Iago failed to wait for the sound and instead yelled out:  “The Moor!  I know his trumpet!”  This was followed by utter silence, which seemed to go on and on, until finally came the blare of the trumpet from the wings:  “Dat-Dat Dah-Daaaa!”

Those of us onstage and members of the audience cracked up.  And I was unlucky enough to have the very next line, in reference to the trumpet being Othello’s signature military call:  “’Tis truly so!”  Before saying it, however, I had to wait for the laughter to die down.  Then I had to speak the line, which was almost impossible to do without cracking up again; and once those three words came out of my mouth, the roars bounced off every wall of the auditorium before we could forge on.

That was my first taste of Shakespeare.  And then in senior year came Hamlet…

(To be continued)

Published in: Uncategorized on July 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Reason No. 41 Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: The Frequent and Deep Influence of Italy’s “Commedia Dell’Arte”

Scholars identify at least a dozen Shakespeare plays influenced by the Italian dramatic art form known as commedia dell’arte, with its stock characters and improvised skits that were often bawdy and satiric – Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing, to name a few.

The same scholars, however, have a difficult time explaining how “Shakespeare” could have become so familiar with this “comedy of art” performed in the sixteenth century by troupes of traveling players in Italy, since it was virtually unknown in England when he was supposedly writing the plays.  And, of course, the traditional author from Stratford upon Avon had never set foot in Italy, while Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford had made his home base in Venice during 1575 and 1576, when he was in his mid-twenties and the commedia dell’arte in Venice was at the peak of its popularity.

The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Library of St. Mark’s) – a Renaissance building in Venice and one of the earliest surviving public manuscript depositories

After 1920, when Oxford was first “identified” as the great author, supporters of his authorship predicted they would find evidence that the earl attended commedia dell’arte performances in Venice during his several months there.  It took a while … until in 1956, when the poet and author Julia Cooley Altrocchi (1893-1972) was researching at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice and discovered a “clincher” for that long-held prediction.

Ms. Altrocchi came upon a book by Andrea Perruci, published in 1699, called Dell’Arte Rappresentativa Premeditata ed all’Improviso or Dramatic Art by Rote and Extemporaneous Performance.  And subsequently she reported:

“A long section is devoted to the stock character of Graziano, the talkative Bolognese ‘doctor’ who tells long tales and never stops for breath.  With little schooling and without a medical degree, he blabs endlessly, often in Latin, impressing everyone until he is always shown to be a quack.  One of his famous recitals is the so-called ‘Tirade of the Tournament’ (Tirata della Giostra) in which the actor rattles off the names of twenty or thirty knights and ladies, their titles and countries of origin, the color and trappings of their horses, the color and devices of their garments and shields, and the events that befell each one on the field of tourney.  Even the ladies took part in this hypothetical tournament.”

The Doctor who gave the tirade…

The book in Ms. Altrocchi’s hands at the Biblioteca contained an example of a long and hilarious “tirade” by the garrulous Graziano:

“I found myself ambassador of my illustrious country of Bologna at the court of the Emperor Polidor of Trebizond, and attending the great tournament celebrating his marriage to Irene, Empress of Constantinople.  Present were many great worthies: Basil, King of Zelconda; Doralba, Princess of Dacia; Arcont, vaivode of Moldavia; Arileus, heir of Denmark; Isuf, Pasha of Aleppo; Fatima, Sultan of Persia; Elmond, Milord of Oxfort…”

Here, in a book published in Naples at the end of the seventeenth century, was the name of Edward de Vere, who had been in Venice at age twenty-five, mentioned by his earldom title as “My Lord of Oxford,” within the speech of a stock character in the commedia dell’arte!  And Ms. Altrocchi wrote:

“With his outgoing nature, his innate acting ability which would later manifest itself so impressively before the Queen, with at least one play [The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth] already under his belt, wouldn’t he have consorted in friendly fashion with the finest improvisators in the world?  Otherwise, why was he given a place in the doctor’s exuberant oration?  Wouldn’t it have been known that he was a tournament champion in 1571 in England at the young age of twenty-one?  Wasn’t Graziano paying him a form of personal tribute as an honored guest?”

The Doctor – an illustration of his costume

The doctor in his tirade says that “Milord of Oxford” rode a faun-colored horse named Oltramarin – “Beyond the Sea”.  The earl, Graziano goes on, wore a violet-colored costume and carried a large sword.  Oxford’s heraldic device was a falcon with a motto from the ancient Roman playwright Terence:  Tendit in ardua vitus or “Valor proceeds to arduous undertakings.”

[Ironically John Davies of Hereford would write a 1610 poem entitled To Our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare.]

“In this Tirata,” Ms. Altrocchi reported, “Milord of Oxford, amusingly enough, tilted against Alvilda, Countess of Edemburg, who was mounted on a dapple-gray, was armed with a Frankish lance, and was robed in lemon color.  In the end, Edward and Alvilda, alas, threw one another simultaneously off their horses, both landing face down in the dust!”

In other words Oxford was “well and very companionably known” at presentations of the commedia dell’arte while he was a visitor to Venice for many weeks during his trip in 1575″ and “recognized as being a good sport as a well as a good sportsman,” not to mention having “so resilient a sense of humor that he could be introduced into a skit and, with impunity, be described as meeting a woman in tilt and being unhorsed and rolled to the ground with her in the encounter!”

Oxford must have witnessed any number of commedia skits.  He must have watched the skit in which the actor playing Doctor Graziano, aware of the earl in the audience, suddenly paid him a public tribute by improvising a “tirade” that included him by name!  And how fitting it was for such a compliment to be made, directly and openly, to the great playwright and comic genius who, nearly two decades later in 1593, would adopt the pen name “Shakespeare” as the author of at least a dozen plays bursting with influences from that same commedia dell’arte!

Ms. Altrocchi’s article Edward de Vere and the Commedia dell’Arte appeared in the Shakespearean Authorship Review, No. 2, Autumn, 1959, which is reprinted in Volume 5 (“So Richly Spun”) of Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare (2009), edited by her son Dr. Paul Hemenway Altrocchi and yours truly.

I also recommend Othello, the Moor of Venice, Fully Annotated from an Oxfordian Perspective, edited by Ren Draya and Richard F. Whalen, in which the editors comment on what, to me, is the surprising evidence that even the tragedy of Othello is strongly influenced by the Italian commedia dell’arte!   They indicate, for example, how the opening of act one “could be played for laughs and probably should be” with Iago (the scheming Zanni of the commedia skits) and Roderigo (the witless, rejected suitor) waking up Brabantio (the foolish, old Pantalone) to taunt him with lewd suggestions that his daughter, Desdemona (the innocent), is having sex with Othello in a bestial way after they eloped.  Raucous, obscene comedy to open a tragic drama of jealousy and rage! 

Reason No. 21 to Believe Oxford = “Shakespeare” – All That Suspicion and Jealousy!

When first learning about Edward de Vere and his relationship to “Shakespeare,” I was startled to see a letter written by his wife Anne Cecil in December 1581.  Oxford had flown into a rage over Court gossip in 1576 that he was not the father of the baby girl (Elizabeth Vere) to whom she had given birth the previous year when he was in Italy.  Besieged by doubts, and furious that the scandal had become “the fable of the world,” he separated from her and refused to acknowledge the child.

Othello and Desdemona

Now, five years later, they had begun to communicate again; and Anne wrote to him from the Westminster home of her father William Cecil Lord Burghley, pleading:

“My Lord – In what misery I may account myself to be, that neither can see any end thereof nor yet any hope to diminish it – and now of late having had some hope in my own conceit that your Lordship would have renewed some part of your favor that you began to show me this summer…”

I paused and wondered:  What does this remind me of?  Where did I hear something like this before?

“Now after long silence of hearing anything from you, at the length I am informed – but how truly I know not, and yet how uncomfortably I do not seek it – that your Lordship is entered into misliking of me without any cause in deed or thought.” 

The first quarto of "Othello" - 1622, one year before the First Folio of plays appeared

Well, yes, of course … Desdemona, wife of Othello…

“And therefore, my good Lord, I beseech you in the name of God, which knoweth all my thoughts and love towards you, let me know the truth of your meaning towards me, upon what cause you are moved to continue me in this misery, and what you would have me do in my power to recover your constant favor, so as your Lordship may not be led still to detain me in calamity without some probable cause, whereof, I appeal to God, I am utterly innocent.”

I had played the part of Cassio way back in college, but now the final scenes came back to me with sudden vividness … the way Desdemona was so baffled by Othello’s suspicions and accusations … how she begged him to reveal the torturous contents of his mind … how she was so helpless, in the face of his blind rage … how she was left to merely plead her innocence… plaintively telling Iago, the very manipulator who had roused Othello’s jealousy in the first place:

“Alas, Iago, what shall I do to win my lord again?  Good friend, go to him; for, by this light of heaven, I know not how I lost him.  Here I kneel: If e’er my will did trespass ‘gainst his love either in discourse of thought or actual deed … comfort forswear me!  Unkindness may do much, and his unkindness may defeat my life, but never taint my love.”

Yes, I thought … Anne Cecil could have been saying the same words…

If Oxford was Shakespeare, I mused, then Anne’s statement “I am utterly innocent” from the depths of her heart echoes in the play when, after Othello strangles Desdemona to death, Iago’s wife Emilia shouts at him: “Nay, lay thee down and roar, for thou hast killed the sweetest innocent that e’er did lift up eye!”  And later, when Iago stabs Emilia, she cries to  Othello again before dying: “Moor, she was chaste!  She loved thee, cruel Moor!”

Suspicion and jealousy run through other Shakespearean plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter’s Tale.  Hamlet turns on his fiancé Ophelia, distrusting her and complaining that “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness.”  The prince is coming unglued, with young Ophelia crying out, “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!”

“Good my Lord,” Anne Cecil wrote to Edward de Vere again in December 1581, “assure yourself it is you whom only I love and fear, and so am desirous above all the world to please you…”

She died less than seven years later, at the much-too-young age of thirty-one, having suffered emotional strains that we can only imagine.  Oxford had had his complaints about Anne acting too much on her father’s side, much as Hamlet reacts to Ophelia’s spying on him for her father; but on the other side of the coin, he may well have blamed himself for his wife’s early death.  Once the earl is viewed at the great author, he may be seen drawing upon these upheavals in his own life, including his remorse, for his portrayals of Desdemona’s plight and Ophelia’s madness followed by her apparent suicide.

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham-Carter in the Franco Zeffirelli film of "Hamlet" in 1990

When Hamlet sees her brother Laertes leap into her grave, he holds nothing back:  “What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis?  Whose phrase of sorrow conjures the wand’ring stars and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers?  This is I, Hamlet the Dane!”  He leaps into the grave with Laertes; and after they nearly fight: “I loved Ophelia!  Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum!”

The prince’s grief and anger, his mixture of rage and guilt, are all palpable as he challenges Laertes: “What wilt thou do for her? … Woo’t weep?  Woo’t fight?  Woo’t fast?  Woo’t tear thyself?  Woo’t drink up eisell?  Eat a crocodile?  I’ll do’t!  Dost thou come here to whine?  To outface me with leaping in her grave? … Nay … I’ll rant as well as thou!”

During the final scene of that long-ago college production of Othello, I never failed to experience a wave of gut-wrenching emotion as the Moor begs for any crumbs of sympathy or empathy before taking his own life:

“Soft you; a word or two before you go.  I have done the state some service, and they know’t – no more of that,” he says, and we might well hear Oxford himself, speaking of his own service to the state as a playwright and patron of writers as well as acting companies that performed around the countryside to rouse national unity against the coming Spanish invasion by armada – which England survived in the summer of 1588, just a few months after Anne Cecil’s death.

“I pray you,” Othello continues, “in your letters, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.  Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand, like the base Indian, threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood*, drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees their medicinable gum…”

I believe we are listening to Edward de Vere expressing his own measureless sorrow over the wreckages of his past – another reason to believe he was the man “Shakespeare” who had written The Tragedy of Othello printed for the first time in 1622.

 * “One whose subdued eyes, unused to the melting mood” is echoed when Oxford speaks personally in Sonnet 30:  “Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow…”

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