Oxfordian Journal Chapter 2: When Prince Hamlet Became My Friend … My Soul Mate!

We put on Hamlet in my senior year of college.  I was cast as Laertes and began several weeks of practice with the fencing team, to prepare for the duel with Hamlet near the end of the play.  In fact it worked out well, with the two of us bounding up and down stairs, leaping off various parts of the set and clanging our swords (foils) according to a choreographed duel that we kept intensifying with each performance.

The 2nd Quarto of “Hamlet” (the first full, authorized version) was published soon after Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford died on June 24, 1604, and then no more authorized printings of yet-unpublished Shakespeare plays appeared for eighteen years.

Laertes, of course, is the brother of Hamlet’s bewildered young girlfriend, Ophelia, who is also his potential wife.  And of course the father of Laertes and Ophelia is Lord Polonius, chief minister to King Claudius.  And of course Claudius has murdered Hamlet’s father and married his mother, Queen Gertrude, thereby stealing the crown of Denmark from the prince – who, in England at least, would have been the automatic successor.

It would be a very long time until I heard anything about the eccentric and Hamlet-like nobleman Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England.  It would be many years before I learned how Lord Oxford had married the bewildered young Anne Cecil, whose father was William Cecil Lord Burghley, chief minister to Queen Elizabeth, and the man who, like Polonius, made spying and the enlistment of spies an integral part of life at the royal court (and everywhere else).

I am not sure whether any of that Elizabethan history would have interested me.  I was an actor, after all, and the world I was trying to inhabit was strictly the world of the play.  Nor did I have any interest in the identity and life of the author, Mr. William Shakespeare – “the play’s the thing,” as Hamlet himself put it, so why bother with anything outside it?  [Only much later did I realize that the prince is making that statement within a much different context than the one used by those who argue it doesn’t matter who wrote the play.]

Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) — portrait of the eccentric, Hamlet-like nobleman at 25 in 1575, when he toured all through Italy

Looking back, it’s ironical that later in my senior year we put on Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill, in which I played the older brother, Jamie, and it seemed quite natural to be keenly interested in that author’s life and how the play reflected it – especially in that particular masterwork, which is autobiographical inside-out.  I read all I could about O’Neill, including many of his other plays, but I had no such interest in learning about Mr. Shakespeare.

For reasons that never crossed my mind at the time, we had no inkling there might be a connection between the character of Hamlet and the character of the author who had created him and brought him to life with his pen.   On stage we were in the world of Denmark, not England, and in the world of Denmark we stayed.

Meanwhile I was becoming so fond of the prince that I listened to everything he said, not only when I was with him on stage but while standing in the wings as well.  I loved the guy – for his quick mind, his sharp sense of humor, his rebelliousness, his howls of pain.  I loved that he was hiding his true self from everyone except his pal Horatio, whom he trusted.  The other characters on stage had their different individual views of the prince (all of them wrong), but they were unaware that he was putting on an “antic disposition” to keep them off track.

James Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) — in “Rebel Without a Cause,” released on October 27, 1955, a month after Dean’s death in an auto crash

Not since I’d first seen James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (yelling to his parents, “You’re tearing me apart!”) had I come upon a character whose inner life seemed to connect with my own.  I was being drawn into Hamlet’s inner self.  He had become … my friend!  He was … my soul mate!”

I loved his soliloquies and was thrilled by them:

“O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew … O all you host of heaven!  O earth!  What else?  And shall I couple hell?  O, fie!  Hold, hold, my heart … O what a rogue and peasant slave am I! … To be or not to be, that is the question … How all occasions do inform against me, and spur my dull revenge!  What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? … “

I loved the language, too.  I grew to love the rhythm of the lines (like music) and how that rhythm helped to convey their meaning.  Surely my personal discovery of Hamlet was a central event for me.  And then one night during a performance I was standing in the wings, watching and listening, and heard the prince say something that gave me a jolt … a sudden feeling, a thought, that may have changed my life …

(To be continued)

Reason No. 19 to Believe Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”: The Families of Hamlet and Oxford as Mirror Reflections

One of the most obvious links in the chain of evidence that connects Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford to “Shakespeare” is the similarity of Hamlet’s and Oxford’s family relationships.  In fact this reason to believe that Oxford wrote the play Hamlet, as well as all the other Shakespeare works, is so clear that I’ve kept putting it aside as being too obvious or too easy.   Well, I might as well get it over with, so here’s Reason No. 19 in all its simple clarity…

Queen Gertrude as played by Glenn Close

Queen Gertrude in the play is the mother of Prince Hamlet, while Queen Elizabeth in real life was the official mother of Lord Oxford.  [At age twelve in 1562 he became the first of eight royal wards during her reign.]

Polonius as played by Eric Porter

Lord Chamberlain Polonius is the chief adviser to Queen Gertrude, while William Cecil Lord Treasurer Burghley was the chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth.  [He held the post from the Queen’s accession in November 1558 until his death in August 1598, when his second son, Principal Secretary Robert Cecil, officially took over his father’s unique role behind the throne.]

Hamlet is engaged to young Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, while in real life Oxford became engaged to fifteen-year-old Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley.   [Oxford and Anne were married in December 1571 when he was twenty-one and she had turned fifteen.]

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham Carter

Ophelia’s older brother Laertes goes off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress for his father, Polonius, who recites those “precepts” to him as guidance, while in real life Anne Cecil’s eldest brother Thomas Cecil went off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress for his father, Burghley, who wrote him long letters full of wise “precepts” as guidance.  [In the final act of the play, in my view, Laertes becomes the second son, Robert Cecil.]


THE LINE-UP (again):

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark – Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England

Gertrude, Queen of Denmark – Elizabeth, Queen of England

Polonius, Chief Minister to Queen Gertrude – Burghley, Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth

Ophelia, daughter of Polonius – Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley

Laertes, son of Polonius – Thomas and Robert Cecil, sons of Burghley

And, for example:

Horatio Vere (1565-1635), cousin of Edward de Vere; with his brother Francis they were "The Fighting Veres"

Horatio, favorite friend of Hamlet – Horatio Vere, favorite cousin of Oxford

Francisco, a soldier – Francis Vere, soldier and cousin of Oxford

[Oh, yes – and Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet’s father and married his mother the Queen, appears to reflect Queen Elizabeth’s lover Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom Oxford may have suspected of having caused the death of his own father.]

So in this most autobiographical of Shakespeare’s plays, we find the protagonist in virtually the same web of family relationships at Court as that in which Edward de Vere is to be found in the contemporary history.  Traditional scholars may ask rhetorically, “Well, now, you’re not claiming this as proof that Oxford wrote Hamlet, are you?”

“No, of course not,” I might reply, “but doesn’t this give you a little queasy feeling in the gut?  I mean, don’t you have the slightest tremor of doubt that Will of Stratford could have or would have written such a play?  And do you think this mirror image of family relationships can be mere coincidence?”

James Shapiro argues in Contested Will [p. 177] that “such claims about representing on the public stage some of the most powerful figures in the realm betray a shallow grasp of Elizabethan dramatic censorship.”  J. Thomas Looney, who in 1920 first suggested Oxford as Shakespeare, “didn’t understand that Edmund Tilney, the Master of the Revels, whose job it was to read and approve all dramatic scripts before they were publicly performed, would have lost his job – and most likely his nose and ears, if not his head, had he approved a play that so transparently ridiculed privy councilors past and present,” Shapiro adds.

Well, in the play itself the author may have supplied one answer to that argument, when Polonius at the top of Act 3, Scene 4, speaking of Hamlet, tells Queen Gertrude: “He will come straight.  Look you lay home to him.  Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with, and that your Grace hath screened and stood between much heat and him.”  (My emphasis)

In other words, Polonius-Burghley reminds Gertrude-Elizabeth that Hamlet-Oxford has taken too many liberties, unbearably so, but nonetheless the Queen has protected him from “much heat” and/or reprisals by government officials [such as Tilney] as well as by his enemies at court.

Shapiro is right, however, in one respect: the playwright surely would have lost his head … if he had really been Shakspere of Stratford!

Lilian Winstanley in Hamlet and the Scottish Succession (1921) writes on p. 122 about Polonius-Burghley and the use of spies:

“Intercepted letters and the employment of spies were, then, a quite conspicuous and notorious part of Cecil’s statecraft, and they are certainly made especially characteristic of Shakespeare’s Polonius. Polonius intercepts the letters from Hamlet to his daughter; he appropriates Hamlet’s most intimate correspondence, carries it to the king, and discusses it without a moment’s shame or hesitation: he and the king play the eaves­dropper during Hamlet’s interview with Ophelia: he himself spies upon Hamlet’s interview with his mother. It is impossible not to see that these things are made both futile and hateful in Polonius, and they were precisely the things that were detested in Cecil….”

Quite a couple of families, eh?

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