Christopher Marlowe – Part Three of Reason 95 to Conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”

“Christopher Marlowe became a scholar of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. in 1584, and M.A. in 1587. As Tamburlaine was acted in that year, it appears that Marlowe’s academic and his literary life overlapped. Little is certainly known of his later life, apart from the production of his plays and poems. He belonged to a circle of which Sir Walter Raleigh was the center, and which contained men like the Earl of Oxford …” The Chief Elizabethan Dramatists edited by William Allan Neilson, Ph.D., Professor of English, Harvard, 1911

Queen Elizabeth, flanked by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham

Queen Elizabeth, flanked by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham

Elizabeth I’s chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley wrote on June 21, 1586 to spymaster Secretary Francis Walsingham asking if he had spoken with Queen Elizabeth in support of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Five days later her Majesty signed a Privy Seal Warrant authorizing an annual grant to Oxford of a thousand pounds – an extraordinary figure, especially since England was at war with Spain and desperately needed funds. The warrant, to be paid each year in quarterly installments, expressly stated that the earl was not to be called on by the Exchequer to render any account as to its expenditure – a clause which, B.M. Ward wrote in his 1928 biography of Oxford, was “the usual formula made use of in the case of secret service money.”

Oxford was playing an important but unpublicized role for Elizabeth, Burghley and Walsingham during these dangerous times when the mighty Spanish armada was about to appear on the horizon at any moment. The earl had made extensive sales of land between 1580 and 1585, indicating he had been personally financing writers and play companies, so now the otherwise frugal and even stingy Queen was compensating him for past as well as future expenses.

Walsingham caused the Queen's Men to be created in 1583

Walsingham caused the Queen’s Men to be created in 1583

Such was also the case with Walsingham himself, who had spent a decade financing England’s first official secret service all on his own, paying informants and going broke in the process. In the summer of 1582, however, the Queen, finally realizing she should invest regular sums of public money on intelligence, signed a warrant under the Privy Seal granting the Secretary a sum of 750 pounds per annum in quarterly installments – another formula to be followed exactly in Oxford’s case. In 1583 Walsingham caused the Queen’s Men acting company to be formed to promote patriotic unity during wartime, with two troupes performing around the countryside. In 1585, upon the outbreak of war with Spain in the Netherlands, annual payments to Walsingham rose to two thousand pounds; and it is “at this stage of increased funding and activity,” Charles Nicholl writes in The Reckoning, “that Marlowe enters the lower ranks of the intelligence world.”

Oxfordian researcher Eva Turner Clark writes in Hidden Allusions (1931) that the group of writers known as the University Wits went into high gear of activity during 1586 and 1587. These younger men have been viewed as those who “paved the way” for Shakespeare in the 1590s, but Clark argues that Oxford himself was the great author who, later, would revise his own plays under the “Shakespeare” pen name. The younger men in the 1580s, following Oxford’s example, were “his pupils and imitators.”


“Play after play flowed from their pens,” Clark writes. “These were chronicle plays, revenge plays, Senecan plays – mostly plays calculated to keep people at a high pitch of excitement during war time. Gathering this group of writers together, directing their work, and producing their plays on the stage was the function of the secret service office that Lord Oxford filled and upon which he spent the money that had been granted to him … In order to keep a heavy program going, he [and Burghley] appealed to recent graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, and even to those on the point of graduation, who gave promise of dramatic ability, to assist in this important work of stage propaganda.”

“Lord Oxford, as a prolific writer and scholar, an eclectic, devotee of the theatre, generous patron of literary men and musicians, drew into his orbit the best writers and wits of the day,” write Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn in This Star of England (1952). “He was the center and prime inspiration of the University Wits: such men as Lyly, Watson, Kyd and Munday – all of whom he employed – Greene, Peele, Marston, Dekker, Lodge, Nashe, Marlowe.

“Somewhat older than most of them [fourteen years Marlowe’s senior], infinitely greater than any, he attracted these intellectuals as a magnet attracts steel chips; and … he supported, encouraged, and directed these men, broadening their classics-bound culture through his knowledge of Italian, German, and French literature, as well as of feudal customs and the ways of court-life, while devoting his abundant creative energies to the production of dramas which not only entertained and stimulated the elect but also delighted and edified the intelligent though unschooled.”

Philip II of Spain  1527-1598

Philip II of Spain

Oxford had purchased the London mansion known as Fisher’s Folly to provide writing space for the younger men (Nashe referred to a “college of writers”), who apparently had been turning out anti-Spanish plays for at least several months before the Queen authorized the earl’s annual grant. On July 20, 1586 the Venetian ambassador in Spain (Hieronimo Lippomano) wrote to the Doge and Senate that King Philip had been furious over reports about plays being performed at the Elizabethan court: “But what has enraged him more than all else, and has caused him to show a resentment such as he has never displayed in all his life, is the account of the masquerades and comedies which the Queen of England orders to be acted at his expense.”

During the second half of 1586, after Walsingham had foiled the Babington plot to put the captive Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne, Oxford sat on the tribunal at her trial in October 1586, when she was found guilty of treason. Mary Stuart, mother of twenty-year-old King James of Scotland, was beheaded on February 8, 1587 at Fortheringay Castle. This virtually ensured that King Philip, with the blessings of the Pope, would send his armada to conquer England.

Portrait of Elizabeth in the 1580s

Portrait of Elizabeth in the 1580s

On June 29, 1587 the Privy Council sent orders (signed by Burghley and Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury) to Cambridge authorities that Marlowe should receive his Master’s degree, despite frequent absences from the campus amid rumors he was a Catholic traitor – which is what he seems to have pretended to be, as part of secret service work, during visits to the English College at Rheims in Northern France, a key seminary for Catholic defectors. The Council certified that Marlowe had “behaved himself orderly and discreetly whereby he had done her Majesty good service, and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealings … because it was not her Majesty’s pleasure that anyone employed as he had been in matters touching the benefit of his Country should be defamed by those that are ignorant in the affairs he went about.” In a letter to Burghley on October 2, 1587, Marlowe was named as a courier in dispatches to Secretary Walsingham from Utrecht in Holland – indicating that after leaving Cambridge his travels for intelligence work were continuing apace.

The traditional story of Marlowe as a playwright is that he came down to London in the latter months of 1587 and quickly became the most distinguished English dramatist, even though he was never credited in print as an author until after his death little more than five years later.


“Since Marlowe was born in 1564,” Warren Dickinson writes in The Wonderful Shakespeare Mystery (2001), “his initial box office hit, Tamburlaine I, was first played when he was only twenty-three years old. While this testifies to Marlowe’s genius, it also indicates that he did not act alone. A young man cannot ride into London and have a hit play within a year unless he has a patron and a mentor. In fact, Marlowe went to work in Edward de Vere’s ‘play factory’ in 1586 and received the guidance and support which he needed. Since Edward de Vere was already a highly successful playwright-poet [at thirty-seven], it was natural for Marlowe to use him as a model in his writing. He may also have been influenced by the fact that de Vere was paying his salary.”

My feeling is that Oxford was giving Marlowe a kind of “cover” in London, according to the needs of Burghley and Walsingham, by taking him under his wing as a writer. To what degree Marlowe actually wrote the works for which he is credited is still, for me, a matter of conjecture – although some notable Oxfordians have already declared outright that it was Oxford who wrote those works.

World War Two Propaganda to Inspire Unity of Management and Labor

World War Two Propaganda to Inspire Unity of Management and Labor

In any case the phenomenon of “Shakespeare” was forged out of the fires of wartime. Behind the rise of the mighty warrior shaking the spear of his pen was a domestic army of literary men and artists of various kinds, all inspired and guided by their leader, Edward de Vere. Finally young men from different parts of the country — Protestants and Catholics alike, speaking different dialects that needed to be translated — descended upon London in the summer of 1588, volunteering to join together in the face of a common enemy.

The great director Frank Capra during WWII

The great director Frank Capra during WWII

[Such a “public relations” effort would be used by the United States government’s media operations during World War Two, providing work for many writers, photographers and filmmakers, enabling them to sharpen their talents and skills.]

But England’s defeat of the Spanish armada was followed by a shameful episode that might be called a “bloodbath” of those same writers. To put it simply, the government — having utilized their services, in helping England survive — suddenly (a) no longer felt the same need of them and (b) became afraid of their freedom to express themselves along with their power to influence the public. After defeating the enemy without, the government focused on enemies within.

Screenwriters, actors and directors were blacklisted and even jailed for being under suspicion as enemies of the U.S.

Screenwriters, actors and directors were blacklisted for being under suspicion as enemies of the U.S.

[Again a comparison with U.S. history in the twentieth century appears to be in order –- the blacklisting of writers and filmmakers after WWII, during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.]

The fourth and final part of Reason 95 to conclude that Oxford was “Shakespeare” will continue the story from 1589 through the high point of the “bloodbath” — the political assassination of Marlowe on May 30, 1593, followed by the first appearance of “William Shakespeare” shortly afterward in June.

Part Two of Reason 91 that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”: The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots is Echoed at Queen Hermione’s Trial in “The Winter’s Tale”

In September 1586, after being arrested for sanctioning an attempted assassination of Elizabeth I of England, the long-held captive Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots was brought to Fortheringhay Castle, where this proud Catholic monarch would be put on trial for high treason. At 9 a.m. on October 15th, Mary entered the room directly above the Great Hall — left alone to defend herself before a tribunal of thirty-six noblemen, each of whom was expected to vote guilty and then vote to sentence her to death.

Contemporary Sketch  Mary Stuart Trial (Click for Larger View)

Contemporary Sketch
Mary Stuart Trial
(Click for Larger View)

At the head of the row of peers was Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England. Now in his thirty-seventh year, he had arrived at a front-row seat for the most dramatic and emotionally wrenching treason trial of the Elizabethan reign. [Transcripts of State Trials.] And once Oxford is viewed as writing an early version of The Winter’s Tale soon afterward, the scene of Queen Hermione’s treason trial becomes his own daring cry of compassion for Mary Stuart — not to mention his equally dangerous protest against governmental authority in the form of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, his father-in-law, who was determined to destroy the Queen of Scots and be rid of the continual plots centered around her.

The similarities of the historical and fictional trials are striking; and one, in particular, would seems to comprise convincing evidence that Edward de Vere wrote the “Shakespeare” play. This resemblance involves the use of the phrase “great grief,” which Oxford heard spoken by the Lord Chancellor as he opened the proceedings against Mary: “The most high and mighty Queen Elizabeth, being not without great grief of mind, being advertised that you have conspired the Destruction of her and of England…”

And at the top of Act Three Scene Two of The Winter’s Tale, when King Leontes opens the treason trial of his wife Hermione, he uses the same phrase: “This sessions, to our great grief we pronounce, even pushes ‘gainst our heart…”

Mary Stuart 1542 - 1587

Mary Stuart
1542 – 1587

The phrase “great grief” by itself would have gained Oxford’s attention – not just for its alliteration, but also because he himself seemed personally fond of “grief” (or “griefs”), having employed the word in several of his verses in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, first printed a decade earlier: “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground (ending each of three stanzas) … Uncomely love, which now lurks in my breast,/ Should cease my grief … Bewray thy grief, thou woeful heart with speed … I, Hannibal, that smile for grief … ”

Secondly it would seem no accident that “great grief” is used at the very opening of Mary Stuart’s trial and also at the opening of Hermione’s trial, both uttered in the same emotionally charged atmosphere and within the same context. And when “great grief” is heard ten days later in the historical episode, it’s used unforgettably by the Queen of England herself. With her second cousin Mary Stuart having been pronounced guilty and sentenced to die, Elizabeth addressed the peers (including Oxford) in the Star Chamber at Westminster, telling them they “have brought me to a narrow strait, that I must give order for her death, a princess most nearly allied unto me in blood, and whose practices against me have stricken me into so great grief …”

Most speakers uttering “great grief” will automatically lay stress upon those two words; and in both instances of the phrase spoken during Mary Stuart’s ordeal, Oxford most certainly heard it ringing in his ears – so its utterance by King Leontes at the opening of Hermoine’s trial in The Winter’s Tale becomes a small but potentially potent piece of evidence that Edward de Vere was the author. But there are other strong similarities (of tone or attitude, as well as arguments) between the speeches at the historical and fictional treason trials, such as the following examples:

Trial of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots

Trial of Mary Stuart
Queen of Scots

“I am an absolute queen, and will do nothing which may prejudice either mine own royal majesty, or other princes of my place and rank, or my son … I am a queen by right of birth and have been consort of a king of France; my place should be there, under the dias … I am the daughter of James V, King of Scotland, and grand-daughter of Henry VII …”

“She answered that she was no subject, and rather would she die a thousand deaths than acknowledge herself a subject, considering, that by such an acknowledgment she should both prejudice the height of regal majesty, and withal confess herself to be bound by all the laws of England, even in the matter of religion.”

For behold me,
A fellow of the royal bed, which owe
A moiety of the throne, a great king’s daughter,
The mother to a hopeful prince, here standing
To prate and talk for life and honor ‘fore
Who please to come and hear.

“Alas! Here are many counselors, but not one for me! … I am destitute of counselors, and who shall be my peers I am utterly ignorant!”

“Nevertheless she was ready to answer to all things in a free and full parliament, for that she knew not whether this meeting and assembly were appointed against her, being already condemned by fore-judging, to give some show and color of a just and legal proceeding.”

[This] is more than history can pattern, though devised
And played to take spectators…

“She warned them therefore to look to their consciences …”

I appeal
To your own conscience …

Mary Stuart Portrait

Mary Stuart Portrait

“My Papers and Notes are taken from me, and no man dareth step forth to be my advocate … To the judgment of mine adversaries, amongst whom I know all defense of mine innocence will be barred flatly, I will not submit myself.”

Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ‘Not guilty.’ Mine integrity,
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
Be so received. But thus, if powers divine
Behold our human actions (as they do),
I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush, and tyranny
Tremble at patience…

“For we princes are set as it were upon stages, in the sight and view of all the world … It behooves us therefore to be careful that our proceedings be just and honorable.”

Let us be cleared
Of being tyrannous, since we so openly
Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,
Even to the guilt or the purgation.

Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed.
But yet hear this: mistake me not: no life,
I prize it not a straw, but for mine honor,
Which I would free: if I shall be condemned
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
‘Tis rigor and not law…

The Emperor of Russia was my father:
O that he were alive, and here beholding
His daughter’s trial! That he did but see
The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge!

Oxford’s sympathetic portrait of Mary Stuart may well have prevented any public performance of The Winter’s Tale until after Elizabeth’s death and the succession of Mary’s son, James Stuart, King of Scotland, as James I of England. On the other hand, Michael Delahoyde notes Isaac Asimov’s suggestion that “the original audience might have experienced a sense of ‘familiarity’ with the trial scene,” in that Henry VIII tried Anne Boleyn after flying into an irrational fit of jealousy the way King Leontes loses all rationality in the play. If so, Oxford could have covered himself by telling Elizabeth he was really writing about the unfair trial of her own mother…

When academia begins to take the Shakespeare authorship question more seriously, comparisons between life and art will be studied in much greater depth. For students of the near and distant future, there’s much work to be done!

(To be continued — and concluded — with Part Three)

The Prince Tudor Aspect of “Famous Victories”: Part Two of Reason No. 60 to Believe Oxford = “Shakespeare”

Another aspect of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth is the way it fits into the Southampton Prince Tudor (PT) theory that Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton was the natural son of Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford and Elizabeth I of England.  In the view of this theory from here, Southampton would have been born in May or June 1574.

"The Case for Shakespeare's Authorship of 'The Famous Victories' by S.M. Pitcher, 1961

“The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of ‘The Famous Victories'” by Pitcher, 1961

And in that context, if in fact Famous Victories was presented before the Queen during the Christmas season of 1574, some major aspects of the play are both explained and transformed.

This context immediately explains the prominence in Famous Victories of the Eleventh Earl of Oxford (1385-1487), while it also explains the constant and repetitive and even obsessive references to Hal, the future King Henry V of England, as “the young prince.”

The Prince Tudor theory (as developed in the 1950s, principally by Dorothy Ogburn in This Star of England) holds that almost immediately after Elizabeth gave birth to a son in May or June 1574, she had him hidden away (eventually to be raised in the Southampton household):

Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine

With all triumphant splendor on my brow,

But out alack, he was but one hour mine,

The region cloud hath masked him from me now.  (Sonnet 33)

And what if Oxford wrote the play to remind Elizabeth that she had a royal child, an heir of her blood to succeed her, and to warn her not to abandon this unacknowledged young prince?  What if he wanted to lessen her fears, while reminding her that very possibly her son would grow into a great monarch like Henry the Fifth?  If so, he might well have created Famous Victories for the Queen in 1574, when he was twenty-four.

Kenneth Branaugh as Henry the Fifth

Kenneth Branaugh as Henry the Fifth

The play (printed first in 1598 but written decades earlier) presents King Henry IV as the sitting monarch, with whom Queen Elizabeth would identify.  Also she would view the king’s son, Prince Hal, as her own son, the future third Earl of Southampton.  And, of course, she would see the Earl of Oxford as Edward de Vere himself.

Oxford: If it please your Grace, here is my lord your son that cometh to speak with you.  He saith he must, and will, speak with you.

King: Who?  My son Harry?

Oxford: Ay, if it please your Majesty…

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, knowing of Elizabeth’s fear that any natural heir would pose a threat to her, depicts Prince Hal coming upon the King with a dagger in his hand, intending to kill him.  When the King sees this, he is overcome with fear and grief:

King: Come, my son; come on, in God’s name!  I know wherefore thy coming is.  Oh, my son, my son!  What cause hath ever been that thou shouldst forsake me … Oh, my son, thou knowest that these doings will end thy father’s days … I tell thee, my son, that there is never a needle in thy cloak but it is a prick to my heart, and never an eyelet-hole but it is a hole to my soul; and wherefore thou bringest that dagger in thy hand I know not, but by conjecture.

But then young Prince Hal undergoes an instant turnaround:

Prince: [Aside] My conscience accuseth me.  [To the King] Most sovereign lord, and well-beloved father, to answer first to the last point, that is, whereas you conjecture that this hand and this dagger shall be armed against your life, no!  Know, my beloved father, far be the thoughts of your son – “son,” said I?  An unworthy son for so good a father! But far be the thoughts of any such pretended mischief.  And I most humbly render it [Giving him the dagger, kneeling] to your Majesty’s hand.  And live, my lord and sovereign, for ever! … “

This speech goes on and on in the same vein, with the Prince begging over and over for the King’s mercy and pardon, while pledging his loyalty even above his life.  If this is indeed intended for Elizabeth, we can imagine her now leaning forward to hear the King’s response, which is what Oxford hopes would be her response as well:

King: Stand up, my son; and do not think thy father but at the request of thee, my son, I will pardon thee.  And God bless thee, and make thee his servant.

Prince: Thanks, good my lord.  And no doubt but this day, even this day, I am born new again.

Oxford has symbolically presented the Queen’s own son on the stage, making him “born new again” as if replaying the birth of Elizabeth’s own son several months earlier.

But when the King falls asleep, Prince Hal believes that he’s dead; and assuming that he is now the new monarch, he removes the crown from his father’s head and exits.  Here, right on the stage in front of her, is Queen Elizabeth’s worst nightmare!  And when the King wakes up and feels his head, he blurts out, “The crown taken away!  Good my Lord of Oxford, go see who hath done this deed!”

In other words, Edward de Vere is telling Elizabeth that he’s the one upon whom she can rely, to make sure the crown is not taken from her (by their son) before she dies.  And sure enough, Lord Oxford returns with Hal, saying, “Here, if it please your Grace, is my lord the young Prince with the crown.”

If the Queen had given birth to Oxford’s own son, her argument would have been precisely that she should never acknowledge him, because he would try to take her crown before she died – perhaps while she was old and dying.  And if she had made that argument to Oxford, well, then, here was his answer in return, in Famous Victories – “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you!”

An extraordinary aspect of this play is that the King, representing Elizabeth, actually goes on to hand over the crown to the young Prince:  “But come near, my son, and let me put thee in possession whilst I live, that none deprive thee of it after my death.”  And the Prince, taking the crown, replies:  “Well may I take it at your Majesty’s hands – but it shall never touch my head so long as you live.” 

In this way Oxford has used the stage hoping to “catch the conscience” of the Queen, even to the point of showing that she could acknowledge their own son without fear.  And the monarch of the play tells the Earl of Oxford that “my son will be as warlike and victorious a prince as ever reigned in England.”

And indeed the Queen will now watch the youthful Prince Hal growing into the mature King Henry the Fifth who leads his English nation to glory.

When it comes time for Oxford to expand Famous Victories into 1 & 2 Henry IV and Henry V as by Shakespeare, he will no longer represent himself in the character of his ancestor the eleventh Earl of Oxford (who disappears completely).  Instead, Oxford will create the full fictional character of Sir John Falstaff to represent himself on stage, so that it’s Falstaff [Oxford] who becomes the “father” of Hal [Southampton]; and in 1 Henry IV they play-act by reversing the father-son roles:

PRINCE   Dost thou speak like a king? Do thou stand for me, and   I’ll play my father.
FALSTAFF   Depose me? If thou dost it half so gravely, so majestically,   both in word and matter, hang me up by the heels for a rabbit-sucker or a   poulter’s hare.
PRINCE   Well, here I am set.
FALSTAFF   And here I stand: judge, my masters.
PRINCE   Now, Harry, whence come you?
FALSTAFF   My noble lord, from Eastcheap.
PRINCE   The complaints I hear of thee are grievous.
FALSTAFF   ‘Sblood, my lord, they are false…
PRINCE   Swearest thou, ungracious boy? Henceforth ne’er look on   me.

The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth is transformed when viewed as Oxford’s allegorical plea to Queen Elizabeth to recognize their son so she will have an heir of her blood to succeed her.  If such was the case, it would be difficult to find any greater personal motivation to write not only the early play but, later, the Henry IV and Henry V trilogy as well.

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.

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