Re-Posting Reason No. 3: Oxford Sponsored “The Courtier” — A Primary Inspiration for Prince Hamlet

“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form…”
— Ophelia speaking of Prince Hamlet

When Shakespeare created his greatest and most self-revealing character with the words and actiions of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, he drew upon his own intimate knowledge and obvious love for Baldesar Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano, that is, The Book of the Courtier, one of the great volumes of the High Renaissance.

Castiglione’s & The Book of the Courtier

Portrayed in the book is a group of real-life thinkers, politicians, soldiers, clerics, diplomats and wits who gathered together at the Palace of Urbino in 1507 to play a game, over four evenings, to try to piece together a portrait of the perfect courtier.

Their conversations about courtliness ranged “from chivalry to humanist debates about language, literature, painting and sculpture,” John Lotherington writes in his introduction to a 2005 edition from Barnes & Noble Books, “to the art of conversation and the telling of jokes, the role and dignity of women, the delicate job of guiding willful princes, and finally to love and its transcendent form in pure spirit.”

The Courtier, published in 1528, attempts “to refashion the medieval ideal of the chivalrous knight and to fuse it with the Renaissance virtues of learning and grace,” James Oscar Campbell writes in The Reader’s Encylopedia of Shakespeare (1966), adding that Shakespeare “may have derived the ‘merry war’ of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing from a similar battle in The Courtier.”

The Ducal Palace at Urbino

“Shakespeare may have read Castiglione in Italian,” Charles Boyce writes in Shakespeare A to Z (1990) — a fairly amazing statement from one who supposedly believes the author was William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon, who was unlikely to have been able to read works in Italian.

Translated into English in 1561 by Thomas Hoby, The Courtier exerted a strong influence on the courtly ideals of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.

The Courtier in English as translated by Thomas Hoby in 1561

A little more than a decade later, in January 1572, having just come of age as a courtier, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford made possible the publication of a new Latin translation of Castiglione’s work by one of his former tutors, Bartholomew Clerke.  To give it the biggest send-off possible, Oxford even wrote an eloquent introduction, also in Latin, which Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984) called “a remarkably finished piece of work for a 21-year-old writing in a classical language.”

Oxford’s first biographer B. M. Ward wrote in 1928 that becoming a leader in war had been Edward de Vere’s goal, “if only because that was the normal expectation for any young nobleman seeking to fulfill his destiny,” but having been denied military service it was “only natural” that the young earl then turned to literature.

The Latin translation of The Courtier by Bartholomew Clerke in 1571, published from the Royal Court with Oxford’s blessing

But Ward also noted that most likely Edward de Vere had been captivated by literature from boyhood.  He had taken degress at Cambridge and Oxford universities at ages fourteen and sixteen; before age twenty his library had included works of Chaucer, Plutarch, Cicero and Plato, not to mention the Geneva Bible and “other books and papers.”

In 1571, the year before he issued his former tutor’s Latin translation of The Courtier, his uncle Arthur Golding noted in print that that he knew from personal experience how Oxford had taken a keen interest in “the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding.”

Oxford in January 1572 was receiving the highest royal favor at Court.  The intimacy of his relationship with Queen Elizabeth was the subject of much scandalous gossip; the year before, he had married the Ophelia-like daughter of William Cecil Lord Burghley, the Polonius-like chief minister to the Queen.  Although he had grown up in the household and custody of Burghley, the architect of the Protestant reformation, Oxford leaned away from the Puritan movement and instead fell in love with classical languages and the old feudal values of knighthood and chivalry.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

In his early twenties, he was the latest descendant of noble earls stretching back 500 years to William the Conqueror and, in every way, the man whom Walt Whitman would describe as one of the ‘wolfish earls’ who must have written the Shakespeare plays:

“Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism – personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the ‘wolfish earls’ so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendent and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded history.”

When our modern world realizes sooner than later that Edward de Vere wrote the Shakespearean works, students will find more and more ways in which those works reflect his devotion to the ideas and ideals set forth by Castiglione, of whom the young earl wrote enthusiastically in his preface:

“For who has spoken of Princes with greater gravity?  Who has discoursed of illustrious women with a more ample dignity?  No one has written of military affairs more eloquently, more aptly about horse-racing, and more clearly and admirably about encounters under arms on the field of battle.  I will say nothing of the fitness and the excellence with which he has depicted the beauty of chivalry in the noblest persons.”

Drayton Henderson wrote a book in 1934 with a title that directly declared its theme:  Hamlet as a Castiglionean Courtier.  He also wrote introductory notes for the Everyman edition of The Courtier, stating that “without Castiglione we should not have Hamlet.  The ideal of the courtier, scholar, soldier developed first in Italy, and perfected in the narrative of Il Cortegiano, was Castiglione’s gift to the world,” adding, “Hamlet is the high exemplar of it in our literature.  But it is not only Shakespeare’s Hamlet that seems to follow Castiglione.  Shakespeare himself does.”

Hamlet the character is drawn in large part from Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier … Shakespeare created Hamlet as a special work of self-delineation … and it turns out that the leading candidate for the real author, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, strove to embody the “perfect courtier” as recorded by Castiglione in The Courtier — which, in turn, as a young man newly arrived at Court, he had read over and over and then caused to be published.

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword…

In the spring of 1570 the 20-year-old courtier Edward de Vere had been a soldier while accompanying the Earl of Sussex near the end of the Northern Rebellion, witnessing some battles of that English civil war; he was already known as a brilliant scholar;  he was famous for his sharp tongue and was the new champion jouster of the Whitehall tilt yard …

So that’s my Reason No. 3 why Oxford was author of the “Shakespeare” works.  The next installment, No. 4, will focus on the actual contents of the wonderful 1,100-word preface Oxford wrote for his former tutor’s Latin translation of The Book of the Courtier — a piece of writing that one day will be the basis of an essential chapter in the biography of the man who wrote the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

O Horatio what a wounded name!
Things standing thus unknown shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity a while
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story…

(Note: This post became Reason 7 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford by Hank Whittemore)


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)

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.

“Julia and Paul” – My Lunch With Julia Child and her husband Paul

JULIA AND PAUL — That was the title of a story I wrote for PARADE magazine in 1982, back in the days when I was blissfully unaware of any question about the authorship of the Shakespeare works.   I was sent by editor Walter Anderson to interview Julia as she was about to become food editor of the magazine; and to my surprise I was invited into her home in Santa Barbara, CA, to have lunch with her and her husband Paul.   What a treat!

I was busily writing books, articles and TV documentaries, never thinking that five years later my life would undergo a sea change as a result of being introduced to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), whose life seemed too similar to that of Prince Hamlet to be coincidental.   Ah, but enough of that for now.  The beautiful new movie Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams (and Stanley Tucci as Paul) has inspired me to recover a copy of the story from my musty files…

I hope you like my one-page portrait, which I’ve reproduced below in addition to including an image of it:

PARADE - Feb 28, 1982

PARADE - Feb 28, 1982

Julia Child stands in her kitchen in Santa Barbara, CA, a dish towel hooked around her apron string, vigorously chopping vegetables and grinding herbs as her husband, Paul, looks on fondly. A Sunday-afternoon meal of soupe au pistou becomes a celebration of their life together — a love story that would be difficult to make more perfect.

They and their guests move out to the dining room table by a window overlooking the ocean.  The Mediterranean vegetable soup is served with hot French bread and white wine.  Glasses are held by the stems so that when they are clinked together in a toast, they sound like musical chimes.

“Le carillon de l’amitié,” Julia exclaims.

“The bells of friendship,” Paul echoes.

There is warmth and camaraderie and exuberance in the air. It comes from Julia’s spontaneous merriment, from Paul’s quiet appreciation, from their shared passion for fine food and for each other. On this day, Paul is moved to express his deep feelings about the famous woman to whom he has been married for 35 years.

“We met in Ceylon during World War II,” he begins, explaining that they both had been sent to the China-Burma-India theater as members of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services.  He was a painter making maps for the OSS.  A confirmed bachelor of 41, he had lived in Paris during the expatriate era of the 1920s, learning to love the French language and cuisine.

“I wasn’t going to marry anybody.” Paul says, “but when we met, I liked her right away.”

At that time,  she was Julia McWilliams, 31, originally from Pasadena, CA.  She had joined the OSS hoping to become a spy, winding up instead as a tile clerk. At Smith College, she had majored in history and earned a reputation as a prankster.  Now she was an aspiring novelist who had made her living as a public-relations writer. And so far, she had never tasted French food or done any serious cooking.

“She had certain qualities that appealed to me very much,” Paul continues.

“Brains, that’s one. And crazy humor, a lot of it. Guts. Ability. And she was interested in food, as I was.”

“Food didn’t bring us together,” Julia interrupts with a laugh. “I liked you.”

“I loved to look at her. I thought she was beautiful.”

“Eye of the beholder,” Julia quips.

“I liked the way she talks, and—”

“We thought the same way—”

“—and the sound of her voice. I liked that she was tough and worked like mad and never gave upon things. And I was automatically drawn to her outgoingness and sympathy for human beings. I could live in a cave, but she likes people, and I respond to that.”

“I wasn’t ready to marry anyone until I met Paul,” says Julia. “He brought out my nesting instincts. He was interested in food and—”

“She’s a wolf, by nature. Always hungry.”

“—and he was sophisticated. I wouldn’t have done nuttin’ without him.”

“It was a kind of human chemistry.” Paul continues. “We met and started a new fizzz going off. When we were sent to China, we told each other:  ‘If we can get through this war and survive, we must get married. And then we must do everything together that we possibly can.’”

Julia nods at him across the table.  “That’s the nice thing about a good marriage,” she says.

“And we’ve done it.”

A few years after their marriage in 1946, Paul was assigned to the American Embassy in Paris. With her first taste of French food, Julia was hooked. It was an “intoxicating revelation,” which made her plunge with fervor into the art of French cooking. And she has never looked back.

As a coauthor of the two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child helped to create the most thorough teaching books on the subject in English and her television appearances have done much to make French cooking a part of our culture.

Paul, who calls her “Julie” once in a while, says that the public and private “Julies” are the same. “She speaks the truth,” he says. “She’s not showing off. No phoniness.  She’s just her self.  And this is so when she’s writing or talking. Julie is always Julia.”

“It’s a great deal of fun as a career,” she says, adding that the “profession of
gastronomy” should not be disparaged.  “I think a country is only really civilized when it can take food as an art form. A meal doesn’t have to be like a painting by Raphael, but it should be a serious and beautiful thing, no matter how simple. And it’s a wonderful time to talk, the way we are now. What nicer way for a family to get together and communicate?

Which is what life is all about, really.”

Paul and Julia Child have been breaking bread together for a long time, and yet their enthusiasm for that communication has never dwindled. After Paul resigned from foreign service in 1961, they settled in Cambridge, MA.  A third home is in the south of France.

While his wife has continued to expand her involvement in cooking and teaching, he has produced exquisite works as a painter, sculptor, photographer and cabinet-maker.

“We both need long, quiet, agonizing periods by ourselves,” Julia says, “so it works out very nicely. We always have something to do. So I think we are very fortunate in having interests that coincided. If we’d had children, we wouldn’t have had the life we have. They just never came. By now, we’d be grandparents, and that would be nice, but we’re not unfulfilled.”

Paul gazes at her and smiles. No more words are needed.

By Hank Whittemore

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