Philip Sidney: Re-posting No. 47 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Edmund Spenser’s first mention of someone named “Willie” appeared in The Shepherd’s Calendar attributed to “Immerito,” a pen name, in 1579. At that time Oxford was twenty-nine and a recognized poet (but had stopped signing his poems three years earlier), whereas Shakspere of Stratford was just fifteen years old.

Spenser depicted a “rhyming match” between two poets “Willie” and “Perigot.” It was a thinly disguised spoof on the current rivalry between the leaders of England’s two literary factions: Oxford, head of the Euphuists, and Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), a de facto leader of a faction that thought to “standardize” English versifying. The two men were also on opposite sides politically; in general, Oxford was more liberal while Sidney leaned to the Puritan camp.

That year they also became embroiled in an infamous “quarrel,” or shouting match, on the Greenwich Palace tennis court, where members of the visiting French delegation had front-row seats, watching from the windows of their private galleries. The delegation had come to England to negotiate the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon, which Sidney opposed and Oxford publicly championed, though Oxford apparently knew, along with Burghley, that the French match was a big charade on her Majesty’s part.

Oxford held Sidney in contempt for his plagiarism of other writers’ works; for that reason he hated the contemporary praise Sidney received but didn’t deserve. On the royal tennis court, the earl scornfully glared at Sidney and shouted: “Puppy!” to which Sidney retorted: “In respect, all the world knows that puppies are gotten by dogs, and children by men!” 

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) – from the Miniature by Isaac Oliver at Windsor Castle

Oxford stood silent, allowing Sidney’s words to resound within the courtyard. The unintended implication was that Sidney, a puppy, was begotten by a dog (a son of a bitch, we might say). Then after some further sharp words, Sir Philip “led the way abruptly out of the Tennis-Court,” as Fulke Greville recorded in his adoring homage Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney (written in 1610-14 but not published until 1652).

Sidney and other Romanticists aimed to “reform” English poetry by instituting “certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse,” as Spenser wrote to Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey. Their objective, B. M. Ward writes, was to “reclothe the old stories of knighthood and chivalry as to render them more vivid and applicable to their own times.”

Oxford and his Euphuists viewed laws and rules of literature as made to be broken (a view “Shakespeare” would share). Their aim was to refine and enrich the English language; as Ward writes, “It was the magic of words and the imagery of sentences that appealed to them.”

Ward also observes that, regardless of how much Sidney irked Oxford, “There is nothing essentially antagonistic in these two points of view; neither can live without the other.”  These men were literary “pioneers,” with Oxford and Sidney mutually providing each other with “the necessary stimulus without which no human achievement can be attained.”

Philip Sidney would die in the Battle of Zutphen in September 1586 at age thirty-one, adding to his popular image as a heroic courtier and soldier

Probably the most notable example of the Oxford-Sidney literary rivalry is their pair of epigrams, Oxford’s beginning with “Were I a king I might command content” and Sidney’s verse, in reply, beginning with “Wert thou a king, yet not command content.”

Spenser opens the contest in his Shepherd’s Calendar this way:

WILLIE (Oxford): Tell me, Perigot, what shall be the game,

Wherefore with mine thou dare thy music match?

Or been thy bagpipes run far out of frame?

Or hath the cramp thy joints benumbed with ache?

PERIGOT (Sidney):  Ah!  Willie, when the heart is ill assayed,

How can bagpipe or joints be well a-apaid?

The exchange continues through a succession of stanzas and grows into a wild volley of contrapuntal rhyming, such as:

PERIGOT (Sidney): It fell upon a holy eve,

WILLIE (Oxfod): Hey, ho, holiday!

PERIGOT (Sidney): When holy fathers were wont to shrieve.

WILLIE (Oxford): Now ‘ginneth the roundelay!

PERIGOT (Sidney): Sitting upon a hill so high,

WILLIE (Oxford): Hey, ho, the high hill!

PERIGOT (Sidney): The while my flock did feed thereby.

WILLIE (Oxford): The while the shepherd self did spill!

Here, I submit, we have Spenser describing a significant chapter in the development of the great author who would call himself “Shakespeare” some fourteen years later. The lines Spenser assigned to “Willie” can be described as “pre-Shakespearean,” that is, foreshadowing the scene in Twelfth Night when Feste the Clown (representing Oxford) sings with the same “hey, ho” and back-and-forth rhyming:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But this reason also involves the crucial issue of dating, with the example of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a “pleasant conceited comedie” first published in 1598, its title page advertising it as newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere.” Orthodox scholars (given the Stratford man’s chronology) need to have it written circa 1592-1596, but the evidence suggests a much earlier date.

In January 1579, several months before Spenser introduced “Willie” and “Perigot,” the Elizabethan court was entertained by the double bill of A Maske of Amazones and A Maske of Knights, which Oxfordians view as the first version of Love’s Labour’s Lost, an extremely sophisticated court comedy in which Berowne is an unmistakable self-portrait of de Vere and Boyet is unmistakably Sidney.

Love’s Labours Lost is full of the same contrapuntal jousting in which Oxford and Sidney were engaged in the late 1570s.  It appears to be all in fun, but finally the author moves in for the attack upon Boyet/Sidney, accusing him of stealing from the works of others:

This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons peas,

And utters it again when God doth please … (5.2)

Three centuries later Sir Sidney Lee would point out that “the majority of Sidney’s efforts” had been inspired by Petrarch, Ronsard and Desportes, from whose works in French he grabbed “almost verbatim translations” as if they were his own.

One day, lovers of Shakespeare will be much richer for their ability to learn the true story of Oxford and Sidney within and beneath the lines.

Sidney died in the Battle of Zutphen in the Netherlands, fighting for the Protestant cause against Spanish forces. Shot in the thigh, he suffered from gangrene for twenty-six days until his death on 17 October 1586, after which he became a national hero.

(The above text now appears as No. 71 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil.)

Reason 47 to Realize that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: Spenser’s Rhyming Match Between “Willie” (Oxford) and “Perigot” (Sidney) in 1579 and Its Connection to “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

This reason why Edward, Earl of Oxford must have been “Shakespeare” is related to the previous one, concerning Edmund Spenser’s description of “our pleasant Willy” in 1591.

A page of “The Shepherd’s Calendar” by Edmund Spenser, 1579, written in honor of Queen Elizabeth

Now we glance back in time to his first mention of “Willie” the poet, which occurred in The Shepherd’s Calendar of 1579, when Oxford was twenty-nine and a recognized poet (but had stopped signing his poems in 1576), whereas William Shakspere of Stratford was just fifteen.

Sir Philip Sidney and his younger brother Sir Robert Sidney, from a painting by Mark Garrard at the Sidney ancestrial home of Penshurst Palace, Kent

Spenser depicted a “rhyming match” between two poets “Willie” and “Perigot” – a thinly disguised spoof on the rivalry in 1579 between the leaders of England’s two literary factions — Lord Oxford, head of the Euphuists, and Sir Philip Sidney, head of the Areopagus.  The two men were also on opposite political sides; in general, Oxford was more liberal while Sidney leaned to the Puritan camp; and they became embroiled that year in an infamous “quarrel” (shouting match) on the Greenwich Palace tennis court, while members of the visiting French delegation had a front-row seat, watching from their private-gallery windows.

(The delegation had come to England to negotiate the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon, which Sidney opposed and Oxford publicly championed — though Oxford apparently knew, along with Lord Burghley, that the French match was a big charade on her Majesty’s part.)

Oxford held Sidney in contempt for his plagiarism of other writer’s work; and for that reason he hated the contemporary praise that Sidney received but didn’t deserve.  On the royal tennis court, the earl scornfully glared at Sidney and shouted: “Puppy!”  

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) – from the Miniature by Isaac Oliver at Windsor Castle

“In respect,” Sidney retorted, “all the world knows that puppies are gotten by dogs, and children by men!” 

Oxford stood silent, allowing the unintended implication to resound within the courtyard of the palace – the implication that Sidney, a puppy, was begotten by a dog!  Then after some further sharp words, Sir Philip “led the way abruptly out of the Tennis-Court,” as Fulke Greville recorded in his adoring homage Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney, written during 1610-14 but not published until 1652.

Sidney’s Areopagus (Romanticists) aimed to “reform” English poetry by instituting “certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse,” as Spenser wrote to Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey.  Their objective, B. M. Ward wrote in his documentary biography of Oxford in 1928, was to “reclothe the old stories of knighthood and chivalry as to render them more vivid and applicable to their own times.”

Oxford and his Euphuists viewed laws and rules of literature as made to be broken (a view that “Shakespeare” would share, adding to the evidence they were one and the same); and their aim was to refine and enrich the English language — as Ward wrote, “It was the magic of words and the imagery of sentences that appealed to them.”

(Ward also observed that, regardless of how much Sidney irked Oxford, “There is nothing essentially antagonistic in these two points of view; neither can live without the other.”  These men were “pioneers,” with Oxford and Sidney mutually providing each other with “the necessary stimulus without which no human achievement can be attained.”)

Philip Sidney would die in the Battle of Zutphen in September 1586 at age thirty-one, adding to his popular image as a heroic courtier and soldier

Probably the most notable example of the Oxford-Sidney literary rivalry is their pair of epigrams, Oxford’s beginning with “Were I a king I might command content” and Sidney’s verse, in reply, beginning with “Wert thou a king, yet not command content.”  (See full texts below within Looney’s remarks.)

Spenser in his Shepherd’s Calendar of 1579 opens the contest this way:

WILLIE (Oxford): Tell me, Perigot, what shall be the game,

Wherefore with mine thou dare thy music match?

Or been thy bagpipes run far out of frame?

Or hath the cramp thy joints benumbed with ache?

PERIGOT (Sidney):  Ah!  Willie, when the heart is ill assayed,

How can bagpipe or joints be well a-apaid?

The exchange continues through a succession of stanzas and grows into a wild volley of contrapuntal rhyming, such as:

PERIGOT (Sidney): It fell upon a holy eve,

WILLIE (Oxfod): Hey, ho, holiday!

PERIGOT (Sidney): When holy fathers were wont to shrieve.

WILLIE (Oxford): Now ‘ginneth the roundelay!

And, for example:

PERIGOT (Sidney): Sitting upon a hill so high,

WILLIE (Oxford): Hey, ho, the high hill!

PERIGOT (Sidney): The while my flock did feed thereby.

WILLIE (Oxford): The while the shepherd self did spill!

Here, I submit, we have Edmund Spenser describing a significant chapter in the development of the great author who would call himself “Shakespeare” some fourteen years later in 1593.  And the lines he assigned to “Willie” can be described as “Shakespearean” (even though this was 1579, when Shakspere of Stratford was fifteen), as when Feste the Clown in Twelfth Night sings with the same “hey, ho” and back-and-forth rhyming:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But this reason also involves the crucial issue of dating, with the example of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a “pleasant conceited comedie” first published in 1598, with a title page advertising it as “newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere.” Orthodox scholars (given the Stratford man’s chronology) need to have it written circa 1592-1596, but the evidence suggests a much earlier date, that is, by some fifteen years.

In January 1579, several months before Spenser introduced “Willie” and “Perigot,” the Court of Elizabeth was entertained by the double bill of A Maske of Amazones and A Maske of Knights, which Oxfordians view as the first version of Love’s Labour’s Lost – an extremely sophisticated court comedy in which Berowne is an unmistakable self-portrait of Edward de Vere and Boyet (“little boy,” echoing “puppy”) is an unmistakable portrait of Philip Sidney.

Love’s Labour is full of the same contrapuntal jousting in which Oxford and Sidney were engaged during the late 1570’s.  It appears to be all in fun, but finally the author moves in for the attack upon Boyet/Sidney, accusing him of stealing from the works of others:

This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons peas,

And utters it again when God doth please.

Imagine this accusation coming from the stage in front of the entire royal court, with Sidney himself in that privileged audience!

[Three centuries later Sidney Lee would point out that “the majority of Sidney’s efforts” had been inspired by Petrarch, Ronsard and Desportes, while he passed off “almost verbatim translations from the French” as if they were his own.]

In my view this is all wonderful history of which students have been deprived for generation after generation during the past two or three centuries.  Wearing the blinders of traditional mythology, orthodox scholars do not (and dare not) even look at it.  One day, however, those blinders will come off, and the world will be much richer for its ability to learn the true story.

The above material owes much to the work of past Oxfordians such as Eva Turner Clark, Ruth Miller, Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn, and Charlton Ogburn Jr.  But let me share with you some of the same stuff as put forth originally by John Thomas Looney in his breakthrough book “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, in 1920:

The quarrel with Sidney, in which he [Oxford] stung his adversary with the single word “puppy,” is one of the few details recorded of his life about the court in the early years of this period. The story of the quarrel is variously told, differing in so much as this, that one account speaks of Sidney playing tennis when Oxford intruded, whilst another records that Oxford was playing when Sidney strolled in. In whichever way the story is told it must needs be so as to reflect discredit upon Oxford and credit upon his antagonist. The chief contemporary authority for the details, however, appears to be Fulke Greville, and when it is remembered that Greville was the life-long friend of Sidney, and that when he died, as Lord Brooke, he left instructions that this friendship should be recorded upon his tombstone, we can hardly regard him as an impartial authority.

One particular of this antagonism is, however, relevant to our present enquiry and must be narrated. Oxford had written some lines (again the familiar six-lined stanza) which are spoken of by two writers as specially “melancholy.”  They may be so, but they are certainly not more melancholy than many passages in “Shakespeare’s,” sonnets, and are quite in harmony with that substratum of melancholy which has been traced in the Shakespeare plays.

Oxford’s stanza:

“Were I a king I might command content,
Were I obscure unknown would be my cares,
And were I dead no thoughts should me torment,
Nor words, nor wrongs, nor love, nor hate, nor fears.
A doubtful choice of three things one to crave,
A kingdom or a cottage or a grave.”

Melancholy or not, the Shakespeare student will have no difficulty in recognizing in this single stanza several marks of the master craftsman.  To this Sidney had replied… 

“Wert thou a king, yet not command content,
Since empire none thy mind could yet suffice,
Wert thou obscure, still cares would thee torment;
But wert thou dead all care and sorrow dies.
An easy choice of three things one to crave,
No kingdom nor a cottage but a grave.”

… It will be observed that the “sensible reply” contains no really inventive composition. It is a mere schoolboy parody, formed by twisting the words and phrases of the original stanza into an affront.  Had it been an inventive composition it would have contained more matter than Sidney ever compressed into an equal space. Between two intimate friends it might have been tolerated as a harmless piece of banter.  Between two antagonists it lacked even the justification of original wit.  And if, as one writer suggests, this matter led up to the tennis-court quarrel, considering the whole of the circumstances, including age and personal relationships, Oxford’s retort of “puppy” was possibly less outrageous, and certainly more original than Sidney’s verse had been.  Sidney’s uncle, Leicester, upon whose influence at court the young man (then twenty-four years old) largely depended, admits having to “bear a hand over him as a forward young man,” so that one less interested in him might be expected to express the same idea more emphatically. The personal attack, it must be observed, had, in this instance at any rate, come first from Sidney. As in other cases one gets the impression of Oxford not being a man given to initiating quarrels, but capable of being roused, and when attacked, striking back with unmistakable vigor.

The story of the tennis-court quarrel is one of the few particulars about Oxford that have become current. Indeed, one very interesting history of English literature mentions the incident, and ignores the fact that the earl was at all concerned with literature. Now, considering the prominence given to this story, it almost appears as if “Shakespeare,” in “Hamlet,” had intended to furnish a clue to his identity when he represents Polonius dragging in a reference to young men “falling out at tennis.”

If our identification of Oxford and Harvey with Berowne and Holofernes be accepted, an interesting point for future investigation will be the identification of other contemporaries with other characters in the play; and in view of Oxford’s relationship with Sidney we shall probably be justified in regarding Boyet as a satirized representation of Philip Sidney; not, of course, the Philip Sidney that tradition has preserved, but Sidney as Oxford saw him. For, compared with the genius of Shakespeare, no competent judge would hesitate to pronounce Sidney a mediocrity. If to this we add Dean Church’s admission that “Sidney was not without his full share of that affectation which was then thought refinement,” it is not difficult to connect him with Boyet, the ladies’ man, whom Berowne satirizes in Act V, Scene 2:

“Why this is he
That kiss’d away his hand in courtesy;
This is the ape of form, monsieur the nice,
That, when he plays at tables, chides the dice
In honourable terms; nay, he can sing
A mean most meanly; and, in ushering,
Mend him who can: the ladies call him sweet.
The stairs as he treads on them kiss his feet.
This is the flower that smiles on every one,
To show his teeth as white as whale’s bone;
And consciences that will not die in debt,
Pay him the, due of honey-tongued Boyet.”

The last two lines are somewhat puzzling apart from any special application. Applied to Sidney, however, they become very pointed from the fact that he died so deeply in debt as to delay his public funeral; his creditors being unwilling to accept the arrangements proposed to them. The difficulties were only overcome by his father-in-law Walsingham, who had a special political interest in the public funeral, advancing £6,000…

[Looney gives examples of Sidney copying from De Vere, such as:

De Vere (Dialogue on Desire): 
What fruits have lovers, for their pains?
Their ladies, if they true remain,
A good reward for true desire.
What was thy meat and daily food?
What hadst thou then to drink?
Unfeigned lover’s tears.

Sidney (Shepherd’s Dialogue):
What wages mayest thou have?
Her heavenly looks which more and more
Do give me cause to crave.
What food is that she gives?
Tear’s drink, sorrow’s meat.

…When, moreover, we find Sidney presenting at a pastoral show at Wilton a dialogue, which is obvious plagiarism from Spenser and De Vere, we can understand Berowne saying of Boyet, in the lines immediately preceding those quoted:

“This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons pease,
And utters it again when God doth please.”

…A certain degree of rivalry between artists, in any department of art, may be quite consistent with mutual respect. But when one happens to be “a forward young man” guilty of petty pilfering from his rival, one can understand the rival’s point of view when he protests:

“He is wit’s pedlar, and retails his wares
At wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs,
And we that sell by gross, the Lord doth know
Have not the grace to grace it with such show.”
(L. L. L. Act V, Scene 2.)

The above lines, from the great author known as “Shakespeare,” had their roots in the real life and experience of Edward de Vere; it is that life, and that experience, which we find vibrating within his poems and plays.

More Answers to a Reader:

Continuing with the final three points made by Jim, a reader:

Two: Regardless of the authorship question, not even the makers of “Anonymous” can say the film is entirely truthful. The director, Roland Emmerich, admits in interviews that details like the writing of “Midsummer” when de Vere is 9 and de Vere’s later affair with Queen Elizabeth are false, part of creating a cinematic mood rather than documenting history.

Roland Emmerich, director, and John Orloff, screenwriter, of "Anonymous"

(If memory serves, screenwriter John Orloff DOES claim the whole script to be factual.) Historical films usually take some liberties with fact — this is to be expected — but in this case the liberties are rather large, and for a film that already faces a good deal of automatic skepticism, the decision not to hew closer to history is perplexing.

Some of my colleagues have expressed the same or similar feelings.  But I believe John Orloff may have made some confusing statements before clarifying.  For example, here’s a link to his recent article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Why I Played with Shakespeare’s Story” — which sort of speaks for itself.

Evidence indicates that Oxford and Elizabeth may well have had a sexual affair; but no, it’s not certain.  I would refer you to my book The Monument for evidence in the Sonnets that Oxford regarded Southampton as his son by the Queen and, therefore, as her rightful successor.

Three: For every dubious clue that the sonnets contain indicating concealed authorship, they contain several straightforward clues indicating Shakespearean authorship. Puns on “will” are commonplace in the sonnets. Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, is referenced once or twice. Did de Vere insert these references to make the Shakespearean ruse more convincing? It seems unlikely, because…

Well, now, those uses of will and Will are interesting, but I’d say that more likely they refer to (1) the Queen’s will or command as a monarch, and (2) the pen name William Shakespeare.  If the author’s real name happened to be William or Will, in my view he’d never use it that way – too obvious, too direct, especially for Shakespeare.

The line in Sonnet 145 is “I hate, from hate away she threw,” – and forgive me, but I’d say it’s an absurd stretch, a desperate stretch, to find a deliberate reference to Anne Hathaway … really … more of a stretch than most of what you find Oxfordians doing.

Four: If de Vere wrote the sonnets, there was no reason for him to hide it. Playwriting MAY have been inappropriate for a noble of his stature (though I am not sure of this — some of the Earl’s peers wrote court masques for Queen Elizabeth), but the writing of poetry certainly was not. Sir Philip Sidney is an excellent example of a high-ranking courtier whose poetry was accepted and influential. Coincidentally, Sidney also wrote at least one court masque.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)

I believe Sidney’s poetry was published under his own name only after his death, as expected.  But in my view the sonnets were private poems by Oxford, who did not write them to be published in his own lifetime.  And also in my view, they recorded Southampton’s royal status and the story of how Oxford made a deal with Robert Cecil to spare Southampton’s life and gain the promise of his eventual liberation by James.  In that context this was a hot book, claiming that James had stolen the throne from a rightful English heir.

Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton (circa 1595)

By contrast, those who got the Folio published managed to depict the author as a theater man, an actor and a playwright, while wiping away any mention of the poetry dedicated to Southampton or the sonnets written to and about him.

To summarize, I don’t see a strong motive for de Vere to conceal his authorship, and without that motive, evidence such as the name references in the sonnets and the traditionally accepted dates for the plays persuasively indicate Shakespeare as author.

Again, I’m not trying to troll or be rude — just to have a conversation!

Again, thanks.  Next I’ll put up my take on Sonnet 145 as set forth in The Monument.

No, Jim, You Can’t Take Away Those Pirates! – Reason No. 5 of 100 Why I Believe Oxford was “Shakespeare”

When James Shapiro came to the Epilogue of his book Contested Will, written to try to block the inevitable tide of doubt about the traditional identification of “Shakespeare,” he described his experience at a performance I gave of my one-man show Shake-speare’s Treason (based on my book The Monument) at the Globe playhouse  in London.  “It was a spellbinding performance,” he wrote, adding that he “found it all both impressive and demoralizing” — because, of course, he wants you to think that any account of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as the author of Shake-speare’s Sonnets must be pure fiction.  And he went on:

“I left the Globe wondering what mainstream biographers might say in response to Oxfordians who insist that Edward de Vere had a stronger claim to have written Hamlet and King Lear, since — unlike the glover’s son from Stratford — he had been captured by pirates and had three daughters.”

Okay, wait a minute, hold on, Jim!  What exactly are you trying to say here?

A Warship of the 16th Century

A Warship of the 16th Century

No, no, you can’t take away those pirates, just as you can’t erase the fact that the earl, like King Lear, had three daughters!

Let me put it this way.  If the glover’s son from Stratford had been stopped by pirates in real life, by now we’d have whole shelves filled with books with titles such as:

Trauma on the High Seas: How The Bard’s Capture by Pirates Affected His Writing Life & His Play about Hamlet …

Shakespeare’s Fateful Encounter With the Pirates: A Profound Turning Point in His Psyche and Work …

Shakespeare’s Pirate Complex: The Cause of His Tragic Phase?

Shakespeare & The Pirates: A Love-Hate Relationship?

Edward de Vere as Lord Great Chamberlain, carrying the Sword of State before Queen Elizabeth I of England

Although this was just one event among many in Edward de Vere’s life that correspond in some way with what we find in the “Shakespeare” plays, Oxfordians have done little more than mention, in passing, its similarity to Hamlet’s experience.  It’s just one more example of something in Oxford’s life resembling what can be found in the plays.

Does Shapiro think Oxford’s capture and release by Dutch pirates in the English Channel should be a liability, in terms of evidence that he wrote Hamlet?  Does the professor want to twist it all around, turning a positive into a negative?

The episode in Hamlet comes from “Shakespeare” himself, as a writer, not from any of the play’s recognized sources, Mark Anderson reports in his terrific Oxford biography “Shakespeare” By Another Name.  The pirates intercepted and boarded Oxford’s ship in 1576, as he was returning to England from his sixteen-month tour of France, Germany and (primarily) Italy.  They stripped the ship clean.

“De Vere’s luggage was ransacked, and the pirates even took the clothes from the earl’s back,” Anderson writes.  The French ambassador reported that Oxford was “left naked, stripped to his shirt, treated miserably” and he might have lost his life “if he hadn’t been recognized by a Scotsman.”

Model of an Elizabethan Galleon

A member of Oxford’s entourage, Nathaniel Baxter, recalled the pirate episode in a poem published in 1606, writing:

Naked we landed out of Italy/ Enthralled by pirates, men of no regard/ Horror and death assailed nobility” — and Hamlet writes to King Claudius about the encounter: “High and Mighty, you shall know I am set naked on your kingdom.”  (My emphases)

I suppose that same use of naked is just “coincidental”…

There’s an interesting debate over whether Hamlet had previously arranged his own brush with the pirates, so he could escape being murdered by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as per the king’s orders.  In any case, the prince writes to Horatio:

“Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase.  Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled valor, and in the grapple I boarded them.  On the instant they got clear of our ship, so I alone became their prisoner.  They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy, but they knew what they did; I am to do a good turn for them.”

 

The prince, like Oxford, had been bound for England; now he turns back to Denmark while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “hold their course for England,” where, because Hamlet has craftily switched the written orders, they will be killed instead of him.

Professor Shapiro argues against any attempt to turn the Shakespeare plays into works of autobiography, but that’s a straw man he’s setting up in order to knock it down.  Of course Hamlet is not strict autobiography; no one ever claimed such a thing.  The real point, which Shapiro wants his readers to miss, is that the best novelists and dramatists tend to draw upon their personal experiences and then to transmute them, through imagination and skill, into fictional art forms.  It’s not a matter of having to choose between reality and invention; all great art is a blend of both.

Shapiro concedes that “we know almost nothing about [Shakspere’s] personal experiences” and, therefore, “those moments in his work which build upon what he may have felt remain invisible to us.”  And given this vacuum within the documented Stratfordian biography, he boldly [and recklessly] declares that all attempts to link the life of “Shakespeare” with his works should hereby cease!  He means not only such attempts by Oxfordians but also by Stratfordians — especially the latter, since these efforts have always failed and will fail even more glaringly in the future, as the authorship question is brought increasingly into the open.

Oh – I almost forgot: Oxford was targeted by pirates in the Channel not once but twice, i.e., not only in 1576 but also in 1585, when he returned from Holland and his brief command [with Colonel John Norris] of 4,000 foot soldiers and 400 horse.  But after receiving a letter from Burghley that he’d been placed in command of the Horse, he was summoned back home [to be replaced by Philip Sidney, who would die on the battlefield a year later]; and according to one report a ship carrying Oxford’s “money, apparel, wine and venison” was “captured off Dunkirk by the Spaniards.”

Among Oxford’s belongings captured by the Spaniards, according to the report, was the letter from Burghley telling him of the Horse command; and as Anderson notes, “Hamlet contains not only an encounter with pirates but also an analogous plot twist involving suborned letters at sea.”

So, professor, the pirates are here to stay.  They certainly aren’t proof that Oxford wrote the play, but I put them here as my No. 5 of 100 reasons why I believe the earl was “Shakespeare” — and as just another piece of evidence that “authorship” really does matter.

Emmerich and “Shake-speare” and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Earlier this month Kellvin Chavez at LATINO REVIEW asked filmmaker Roland Emmerich to discuss his movie project ANONYMOUS (formerly SOUL OF THE AGE) about Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as “William Shakespeare” and he replied:

“Well, for me there was an incredible script that I bought eight years ago.  It was called ‘Soul of the Age,’ which pretty much is the heart of the movie still.  It’s three characters. It’s like Ben Jonson, who was a playwright then.  William Shakespeare who was an actor.  It’s like the 17th Earl of Oxford who is the true author of all these plays.  We see how, through these three people, it happens that all of these plays get credited to Shakespeare.  I kind of found it as too much like ‘Amadeus’ to me.  It was about jealousy, about genius against end (sic?), so I proposed to make this a movie about political things, which is about succession.  Succession, the monarchy, was absolute monarchy, and the most important political thing was who would be the next King.  Then we incorporated that idea into that story line.  It has all the elements of a Shakespeare play.  It’s about Kings, Queens, and Princes.  It’s about illegitimate children, it’s about incest, it’s about all of these elements which Shakespeare plays have.  And it’s overall a tragedy.  That was the way and I’m really excited to make this movie.”

Last I heard, the cameras are expected to roll next March in Germany.  Oh, Roland, you may have been controversial before, but just wait!  As they say, you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet!  What will the Folger do?  How will the Stratford tourism industry react?  The Birthplace Trust!  How will teachers and professors handle the upcoming generation and its students who will be eager to investigate one of the great stories of history yet to be told?

I predict that once those floodgates open, there will be more material about this subject matter over the coming years, in print and on video or film, than on virtually any other topic.  Why?  Because much of the history of the modern world over the past four centuries will have to be re-written!  Just think, for example, of all the biographies of other figures — such as Ben Jonson or Philip Sidney  — that will have to be drastically revised to make room for the Earl of Oxford as the single greatest force behind the evolution of English literature and drama, not to mention the English language itself.

In the end, it’s not just the Literature and Drama departments that will need to change; even moreso, the History Department will be where the action is.

Onward with those floodgates!

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