Re-Posting No. 61 of One Hundred Reasons “Shakespeare” was the Earl of Oxford: The Sea & Seamanship

Lt. Commander Alexander Falconer, a naval officer during World War II and a professional sailor steeped in the history of seamanship and navigation, published two books that were largely ignored at the time: Shakespeare and the Sea (1964) and A Glossary of Shakespeare’s Sea and Naval Terms including Gunnery (1965). Falconer brings firsthand knowledge and experience to an investigation of Shakespeare’s use of seafaring terms and situations involving the sea.  He concludes that the poet-dramatist possessed detailed, accurate knowledge of naval matters and was well informed about storms, shipwrecks, pirates, voyages of exploration, and navigation:

Falconer notes that in the opening scene of The Tempest, when the ship is wrecked in a storm, Shakespeare took care for details. He “worked out a series of maneuvers” and “made exact use of the professional language of seamanship.”

When the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a “shipwreck trilogy” of Shakespeare plays (The Tempest, Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors), Charles Spencer of The Telegraph observed that “although there were books on navigation in Shakespeare’s time, nothing on seamanship was published until later.”  Indeed, Falconer believed the Bard’s knowledge in this area could not have come from books alone.

“Most current scholarship fails to note the sophistication of Shakespeare’s maritime imagination,” writes Dan Brayton in Shakespeare’s Ocean (2012), noting “the extraordinary degree [in the poems and plays] to which human lives are connected with the sea, or the remarkable specificity of his descriptions of marine phenomena.”

The author’s exact use of naval and maritime language, along with his intimate knowledge of the sea and seamanship, cannot be explained by anything in the documented life of the man from Stratford.  It is sheer fantasy to think he might have been a sailor during his “lost” years, and the same goes for supposing he was a schoolteacher or a law clerk. Meanwhile scholars generally fail to notice the Bard’s experience at sea because they know the Stratford man never once left dry land. When one assumes that it’s impossible for something to exist, it becomes quite easy — even necessary — to ignore it.

“Closed minds automatically blockade new information which conflicts with their own beliefs, preventing highly persuasive evidence from entering their brains for evaluation,” writes Paul Altrocchi, adding, “Oxfordians believe with conviction that Stratfordianism represents a classic example of the common human tendency to stick tenaciously with conventional wisdom, preventing much more logical and coherent newer theories and facts from being given a fair hearing.”

When we turn to the life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, however, there is no need to “imagine” his experience with the sea and, importantly, there is no longer any reason to ignore the vast knowledge of the sea to be found in the poems and plays.

Oxford was twenty-two in September 1572 when he wrote to Burghley, in reaction to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in France, offering to help defend England in any way he could.  “If there be any setting forth to sea, to which service I bear most affection,” he wrote, “I shall desire your Lordship to give me and get me that favor…”

Eventually the earl traveled extensively by ship or boat.  He crossed the Channel to France in 1575 and took many trips on canals and other waterways between Italian cities, with Venice as his home base.

In the autumn of 1575 it was reported that Oxford had hurt his knee in a Venetian galley. While returning to England in April 1576, he was captured by pirates in the Channel and nearly killed.

Martin Frobisher (1536/9-1594)

Martin Frobisher

In 1585 he crossed by ship over to the Netherlands on a military mission; this time pirates stopped the vessel that was returning his belongings to England and apparently stole everything on board.  Earlier the earl had invested (disastrously) in Martin Frobisher’s voyages to discover the Northwest Passage to China, which involved varied and challenging aspects of navigation.  He was well acquainted with Dr. John Dee, who was intimately involved in developing Frobisher’s navigational routes.

In June 1588, with the Spanish Armada on its way, Oxford was one of many nobles who sought to rent or hire a ship to enter the fight.

In the following year, a poem, apparently by Oxford’s secretary Lyly, envisioned the earl standing on the hatch-cover of a ship, literally breathing fire instilled within him by Pallas, the spear-shaker:

De Vere … like warlike Mars upon the hatches stands.

His tusked Boar ‘gan foam for inward ire

While Pallas filled his breast with fire.

Shakespeare and the Sea was reviewed in the autumn 1965 edition of the Shakesperean Authorship Review by I.L.M. McGeoch, who writes: “Professor Falconer points out that whereas many educated Elizabethans understood the art of navigation – in those happy days art was science, and science was art – only those who actually served at sea could acquire a profound knowledge of the practice of seamanship and the correct meaning and use of the terms proper to the working of ships.  That Shakespeare possessed such a profound knowledge is instanced many times.”

As an excellent example of “inspired accuracy of allusion seasoned with wit,” he offers a line from King John (4.2): “And like a shifted wind unto a sail, it makes the course of thoughts to fetch about,” and further observes:

“Tacking is to bring a ship’s head to lie the other way,” McGeoch noted.  “True.  And ‘to fetch about’ is synonymous with ‘to tack’; but subtler still is the reference to ‘course,’ which is not only the direction in which a ship is heading, but also the name given to the principal sail on any mast of a square-rigged ship.  The essence of tacking, therefore, is to bring the wind onto the other side of the sail, or ‘course,’ and the necessary re-trimming of the sail is assisted by the wind blowing upon it from the side appropriate to the new tack.”

“Not knowing that Edward de Vere wrote the great plays of Shakespeare makes it impossible to understand many of the allusions and subtleties within every play,” Dr. Altrocchi writes, adding that this impossibility “deprives the audience of much of a play’s texture.”

[This reason is now Number 60 in the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil, to whom I am always grateful, and given additional editorial assistance from Brian Bechtold.]

“Fraught with Hazard” — The Heroic Saga of Shipwrecked Armada Survivors in Ireland

Fraught with Hazard by Paul Altrocchi and his late mother Julia Cooley Altrocchi is a wonderful novel based on the true personal account of Francisco Cuellar of the Spanish Armada, who managed to survive after the English victory in 1588 and his ship rounded Scotland only to be wrecked on the rocky coast of Ireland. Following his many escapes from deadly peril, Captain Cuellar found his way to the Low Countries and, from his lodgings at Antwerp, wrote down the details of his adventures in a letter to Philip II of Spain – an amazing document that was discovered in Madrid in 1885, where it was published in Spanish.  An English translation followed in 1897, fully describing the tragedy of the Armada through Cuellar’s eyes.

In 1962 Ms. Altrocchi completed the version of her novelization but couldn’t get it published.  Paul Altrocchi inherited the manuscript and, after a fifty-year delay, he spent three years meticulously editing the work, changing the beginning and end, adding new chapters, cutting out others, and blending the writing styles of the two authors.  Alexander Waugh recently described Fraught With Hazard as “historical writing at its brightest, liveliest and very best.”

Paul’s version of this stunning and little-known factual saga is 255 pages long and you will find it difficult to put down.  The basic story and incidents remain true to the original chronicle of 1589.  “Through his bravery, resilience and ultimate deliverance,” the Altrocchis write, “Captain Cuellar deserves to take his place among the dragon-slayers and magnificent wanderers of history.”

Fraught With Hazard is available through Books.  I’ll read it all over again, but, please, Hollywood, make the movie!

“Romeus and Juliet” of 1562: Reason No. 83 why Edward de Vere = “Shakespeare”

“Arthur Brooke’s sole claim to fame is his long poem ‘The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet’ (1562), a metrical version of a story in Boaistuau’s ‘Histories Tragiques’ (1559) and the main source of Shakespeare’s tragedy of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ … Brooke adds a number of features not in the French version, which Shakespeare adopted, including the comic garrulity of the nurse and the notion of Fortune as the controller of the lovers’ fates.” – The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare, edited by Oscar James Campbell

Arthur Brooke died at nineteen in the wreck of the Queen’s ship The Greyhound in March 1563, just months after the narrative poem attributed to him had been published. Researcher Nina Green has shown that Brooke had been a close relative of William Brooke Lord Cobham (1527-1597) and that in December 1561 he had been admitted to the Middle Temple for the study of law.

Top half of the Title Page of "Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet" in 1562

Title Page of “Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet” in 1562

[Click on images for larger views…]

In 1562, when the 3,000-line Romeus and Juliet was published, twelve-year-old Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford became a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in the custody of William Cecil Lord Burghley. And since Burghley and Cobham were close friends, Ms. Green writes, “it seems likely that Lord Cobham would have been a visitor at Cecil House in the Strand” where Oxford was living; and, because of other connections, “The likelihood is strong that Oxford was personally acquainted with Arthur Brooke.”

Also, given young Oxford’s demonstrable interest in literature, he was surely familiar with Romeus and Juliet, the acknowledged principal source of one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Just as the earl was personally linked to Shakespeare’s favorite classical source, the Metamorphoses of Ovid as translated in the 1560’s by his Uncle Arthur Golding, here in the case of Arthur Brooke we find him personally close to the source material that inspired Shakespeare in the creation of his works.


At this point we have good enough cause to suggest Brooke’s long poem as one more “reason” to conclude that young De Vere grew up to become “Shakespeare”. After all, imagine the fuss that orthodox scholars would make if Will of Stratford had been connected even remotely to Shakespeare’s main source for Romeo and Juliet! But there’s also the rather obvious possibility that Oxford himself had composed Romeus and Juliet by the age of twelve, causing it to be published under “Ar. Br.” – an abbreviated form of “Arthur Brooke”.

In This Star of England (1952) the Oxfordian authors Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn quote from a 1944 essay by Professor Ned P. Allen, who cites “parallels between the old poem and the play, passage for passage, demonstrating that, in many respects, the play Romeo and Juliet is a highly finished, more mature version of the poem.” The Ogburns, aware that Oxford had written fluent French at thirteen and that many of his poems (or song lyrics) in The Paradise of Dainty Devices had been written before he was sixteen, concluded that Romeus and Juliet could be his earliest printed poem.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. agreed with his parents in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1584), writing of the work attributed to Brooke: “If the narrator seems childish, he does so, I submit, for the best possible reason: he was little more than a child. If ‘Shakespeare’ was not put off by its childish clumsiness … and if he would accept a story wholeheartedly from such a source … the only reasonable explanation I can think of is that he had written it himself in his boyhood and, probably touched by it, regarded it with parental indulgence.”

And, Ogburn added, the mature author would have turned “the awkward effort into the undying drama of the star-crossed lovers as we know it” by way of “repaying a debt to the earnest, striving boy” he had been in 1562.

a book of romeus and juliet

More recently, however, Oxfordian scholar Paul Hemenway Altrocchi has made the most convincing case that Edward de Vere had written the main source of Romeo and Juliet in his childhood. In a paper reprinted in his collection Malice Aforethought: The Killing of a Unique Genius (2010), he reminds us that in 1563 was published The Agreement of Sondry Places of Scripture by the same Arthur Brooke who died at nineteen that year. This second book is a series of translations from French of contradictory biblical quotations such as “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” (Exodus) versus “If any man strike thee on the right cheek give him the other also” (Matthew).

Title Page of the Second Quarto of "Romeo and Juliet" -- in 1599, but still with no author name attached...

Title Page of the Second Quarto of “Romeo and Juliet” — in 1599, but still with no author name attached…

“Brooke’s remarkably dreary, verbatim translation of Sundry Places must raise a strong suspicion that he was not the author of the clever, imaginative Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet,” Altrocchi writes, adding, “The marked stylistic discrepancy between the two works is striking and compels further investigation, not mere submissive acceptance of Brooke’s authorship of both because his name is on both title pages.” By contrast he quotes various lines from Romeus and Juliet, for example:

But when she should have slept, as wont she was, in bed,
Not half a wink of quiet sleep could harbor in her head.
For lo, an hugy heap of divers thoughts arise,
That rest have banished from her heart, and slumber from her eyes.
And now from side to side she tosseth and she turns,
And now for fear she shivereth, and now for love she burns.
And now she likes her choice, and now her choice she blames,
And now each hour within her head a thousand fancies frames.

“Who can deny that these lovely verses remind one of Shakespeare, albeit a youth Shakespeare?” Altrocchi comments, offering a sample of Brooke’s translational style in Sondry Places for comparison, beginning with this line: “When the apostle to that Debra sayeth that the first ordinance ceased signifying that the law and the office of Priesthood were at an end because this law was weak and unprofitable, he showeth evidently that he speaketh in respect of ceremonies forasmuch as he addeth threreunto the office of sacrificing.”

"Agreement of Sondry Places" by Arthur Brooke, 1563

“Agreement of Sondry Places” by Arthur Brooke, 1563

The writing in Sondry Places “bears not a scintilla of similarity to the imaginative, verbal beauty” of Romeus and Juliet, writes Altrocchi. “On linguistic evidence alone, especially since the two works were written in consecutive years, logic suggests that Brooke should be expunged from any serious consideration as the author of the captivating Tragicall Historye” of 1562.

Moreover the author of the popular play Romeo and Juliet followed the story line of Romeus and Juliet so closely, using similar passages and word-clusters, Altrocchi writes, “that Shakespeare would have been an outright plagiarist were he not the author of both works … The idea that the Western World’s greatest literary genius was guilty of plagiarizing a teen-aged poet named Arthur Brooke, or anyone else, is discordantly jarring.”

So he poses this rhetorical question: “What writing genius in England was alive and could have written both the narrative poem Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet in 1561-1562 and the great play Romeo and Juliet ?”

And he concludes: “If the 1562 edition of Tragicall Historye is indeed an early publication of William Shakespeare, this makes it impossible for Shaksper of Stratford-upon-Avon to be the great playwright and poet, since Shaksper was not born until two years later, in 1564.”

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