The Launch of the “Shakespeare” Pen Name (Who Knew What & When?) and Its Aftermath

Following is a talk I gave to the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Conference on 17 October 2019 at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT:

Part One

Samuel Clemens drew upon a wealth of personal experience in his work; and in his later years, he made the remark: “I could never tell a lie that anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.” Imagine old Sam on his porch out there and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, laughing along with him. And Oxford reminding him what Touchstone said in As You Like It: “The truest poetry is the most feigning” – in other words, pretending — telling truth by allegory and a “second intention.” Both men knew that more truth can be told and believed when dressed as fiction, whether it’s Huckleberry Finn or Hamlet. And, of course, both men wrote under pen names.

(Dedication of “Venus and Adonis” in 1593 to Southampton with first printing of the Shakespeare name)

I want to talk first about the launch of the pen name “Shakespeare” in 1593, on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, asking, “Who Knew What and When?” – or – “What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?”  The question is posed in relation to five individuals.

Queen Elizabeth – Did her Majesty see the letter to her from early reader William Reynolds, saying she was the subject of a crude parody in the character of Venus? Did she know who had written this scandalous, instant bestseller?  If she did know, when did she know it?

William Cecil Lord Burghley – Reynolds also wrote to the chief minister, saying he was offended by this portrait of Elizabeth as a “lusty old” queen. Meanwhile, Burghley was Southampton’s legal guardian and still pressuring him to marry his granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere (who may or may not have been the natural daughter of Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford). Therefore anything involving Southampton would be of great interest to Burghley and his rapidly rising son Robert Cecil.

After the death in 1590 of Francis Walsingham, head of the secret service, William and Robert Cecil had taken over the crown’s network of spies and informants. They made it their business to know everything; and now they were gearing up for the inevitable power struggle to control the succession upon Elizabeth’s death.

The queen refused to name her successor, even though she was turning sixty and could die any moment. The Cecils were preparing for the fight with Robert Devereuex, second Earl of Essex, with whom Southampton was closely allied. Could they allow this “Shakespeare” to dedicate to Southampton such a popular, scandalous work and not know the author?  What did Burghley know and when did he know it?

Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton, nineteen, whom we can imagine arriving at the royal court, where folks had their copies of Venus and Adonis with its dedication to him. Might they be curious about “William Shakespeare”? And about his relationship to Southampton? What did the earl know and when did he know it?

John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, who issued the publishing license in his own hand. He had a large staff for that purpose and normally delegated readings of manuscripts and signings-off on licenses, but now he took it upon himself. This strict archbishop was in charge of all government censorship. Why would he give his personal approval of such salacious poetry? Why would he allow this possibly dangerous political allegory into the market? Would he have done so without prior authorization from the queen and Burghley?

Whitgift had been appointed archbishop in 1583 and had gained her Majesty’s full trust and admiration. In 1586 he was given the authority to peruse and license all manuscripts and the power to destroy the press of any printer. He suppressed the Puritans so harshly that in 1588 they began to publish pamphlets against him, led by a writer using the pen name “Martin Marprelate” (who was “marring the prelates”). The archbishop responded with a ruthless campaign of retaliation, using pamphlets turned out by members of Oxford’s writing circle such as Tom Nashe and John Lyly.  Apparently, the earl himself wrote against “Marprelate” under the pen name “Pasquil Cavaliero.” (One pen name battling another!)

At the end of the 1590s, the archbishop will issue a decree ordering the burning of a long list of books, among them several based on works of Ovid. The condemned books will be publicly burned in the infamous Bishops’ Bonfire of 1599, but none will include works attributed to “Shakespeare” — not even Venus and Adonis or Lucrece, both based on Ovid.  (“Shakespeare” never got into trouble for his writing.) Now in 1593, Whitgift personally authorizes Venus and Adonis for publication by Field.

Richard Field, Publisher-Printer, who entered Venus and Adonis at the Stationer’s Register in April 1593.

“The Arte of English Poesie” – 1589

Field will print Love’s Martyr in 1601 with The Phoenix and Turtle as by “William Shake-speare” — hyphenated, as if to confirm that it’s a pen name. (Presumably he was the son of Henry Field, a tanner in Stratford-upon-Avon; but modern researchers are finding it difficult to verify that presumption.) Regardless of his background, by age seventeen in 1579 he was in London. He apprenticed for several years under the esteemed printer and French refugee Thomas Vautrollier, who died in 1587. A year later Field married Vautrollier’s widow and, at twenty-six, he took over the publishing business.

He was a dedicated Protestant, committed to the policies of Queen Elizabeth.  It’s been said Field was “Burghley’s publisher.” Later he would issue Protestant books in Spanish, for sale in Catholic Spain, under “Ricardo del Campo” – another pen name.

In 1589 Field published The Arte of English Poesie, by a deeply knowledgeable writer choosing not to identify himself. Along with Richard Waugaman and others, I hold the view that The Arte was written (wholly or in part) by Oxford, whose own verse is cited for description and instruction, not to mention that he himself is fulsomely praised as chief poet of the Elizabethan court.

The anonymous author of The Arte addresses his entire tract to Elizabeth – with distinct echoes of Oxford’s own praise of the queen in his elegant Courtier preface of 1572. The invisible author also uses the kind of alliteration Oxford so enjoyed; for example, he tells her Majesty:

“You, Madam, my most Honored and Gracious, if I should seem to offer you this my desire for a discipline and not a delight … By your princely purse, favours and countenance, making in manner what ye list, the poor man rich, the lewd well learned, the coward courageous, and the vile both noble and valiant: then for imitation no less, your person as a most cunning counterfeit lively representing Venus…”

(Here is Richard Field, who will publish Venus and Adonis four years later, issuing an anonymous book in which the author likens Queen Elizabeth to Venus.)

“Venus and Adonis” by Titian, the painting that “Shakespeare” must have seen in Venice (showing Adonis wearing his bonnet)

There is strong evidence that Oxford wrote the first version of Venus and Adonis in the latter 1570s after returning from Italy, where he had made his home base in Venice. For example, the poem contains a lifelike portrait-in-words of Venus trying to seduce young Adonis, who, significantly, is wearing his bonnet. Without question this section of the narrative poem is a vivid description of the painting in Venice at Titian’s own house, which Oxford must have visited (as most traveling nobles did) – because in that house was Titian’s only painting of Venus and Adonis (among his many others of the same subject) in which the young god is wearing his bonnet.

It may also be that Oxford was creating an allegory of his own experience as a young man pursued by Elizabeth. Adonis is killed by the spear of a wild boar — perhaps the same boar of Oxford’s earldom, as though his own identity is officially killed by the spear of “Shakespeare,” his new pen name. From the blood of Adonis, a purple flower springs up, and Venus tells it: “Thou art next of blood and ‘tis thy right.” Then the lustful goddess flies off to Paphus, the city in Cyprus sacred to Venus, to hide from the world. Her silver doves are mounted through the empty skies, pulling her light chariot and “holding their course to Paphus, where their Queen means to immure herself and not be seen.”

Oxford had an extensive personal history of publicly likening Queen Elizabeth to Venus. In Euphues and his England, the novel of 1580 dedicated to the earl, she is portrayed as both the Queen of Love and Beauty and the Queen of Chastity: “Oh, fortunate England that hath such a Queen! … adorned with singular beauty and chastity, excelling in the one Venus, in the other Vesta ….”  — the sexual goddess and the virginal goddess, both at once.

In the Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), the scholar Steven May writes, Oxford definitely likens Elizabeth to Venus: “But who can leave to look on Venus’ face?” the poet asks, referring to “her alone, who yet on th’earth doth reign.”

In the final chapter of Arte, the author apologizes to the queen for this “tedious trifle” and fears she will think of him as “the Philosopher in Plato who failed to occupy his brain in matters of more consequence than poetry,” adding, “But when I consider how everything hath his estimation by opportunity, and that it was but the study of my younger years in which vanity reigned…”

(“When I consider how everything” will be echoed in sonnet 15, which begins, “When I consider everything…”)

The anonymous author tells Elizabeth that “experience” has taught him that “many times idleness is less harmful than profitable occupation.” He refers sarcastically, sounding like Hamlet, to “these great aspiring minds and ambitious heads of the world seriously searching to deal in matters of state” who become “so busy and earnest that they were better be occupied and peradventure altogether idle.”

(Who else would dare to write that description to her Majesty about members of her own government? Oxford had written similar thoughts in his own poetry such as, “Than never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.” At the same time, he pledges his “service” to her, according to his “loyal and good intent always endeavoring to do your Majesty the best and greatest of those services I can.” Oxford always talks about serving the queen, as he wrote to Burghley, “I serve her Majesty, and I am that I am.”)

Richard Field publishes this work of 1589, written by an anonymous author sounding much like Oxford, and containing some of the earl’s own work, praising him to the skies – and then Field dedicates it to Burghley. “This book,” he tells the most powerful man in England, “coming to my hands with his bare title, without any Author’s name or any other ordinary address, I doubted how well it might become me to make you a present thereof.”

He was surprised and mystified to see this manuscript just flying over the transom into his hands; however, seeing that the book is written to “our Sovereign lady the Queen, for her recreation and service,” Field publishes the work and even dedicates it to Burghley. In his dedication, he also sounds as if Oxford helped him, as when he writes alliteratively of “your Lordship being learned and a lover of learning … and myself a printer always ready and desirous to be at your Honorable commandment.”

Four years later Field publishes Venus and Adonis dedicated to Southampton, whom Burghley, with the queen’s blessing, hopes to gather into his own family. Even orthodox commentators recognize that the high quality of the printing suggests Shakespeare’s direct involvement, as Frank Halliday writes in A Shakespeare Companion: “The two early poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, both carefully printed by Field, are probably the only works the publication of which Shakespeare personally supervised.” (Imagine the Earl of Oxford working side by side with Richard Field at his shop in Blackfriars, to fine-tune the printing!) Now the manuscript goes to Whitgift, chief censor for everything published in England, and he signs off in his own hand – a fact that Field quickly advertises in the Stationers Register.

The question is posed in relation to Publisher Richard Field, Archbishop John Whitgift, Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burghley and the Earl of Southampton: Who knew what and when? What did they know and when did they know it?

My answer is that they all knew about the launch of Oxford’s new pen name and knew it before this work was published. They each knew who “Shakespeare” was and they allowed the earl to publish it and dedicate it to Southampton. The very individuals who were most closely involved, with the most at stake, and could make such decisions, must have worked directly, or indirectly, with each other – and with the author himself – to launch the famous pen name.

Part Two 

There is another dimension to the pseudonym that I would like to describe. It begins back in 1583, when Protestant England and Catholic Spain were definitely at war; and gearing up to defend against this mighty enemy was the queen’s great Puritan spymaster, Francis Walsingham, who quickly organized a new company of players. The Puritans generally hated the public theater, but Walsingham knew its value in terms of propaganda.

Early version of Shakespeare’s play of King John, performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580s

The new company, approved by Burghley and patronized by Elizabeth, was called the Queen’s Men. It was comprised of two separate troupes touring the country to rouse patriotic fervor and unity. All existing companies – including Oxford’s — contributed their best actors – and de Vere collected his expanding group of writers at a mansion in London (nicknamed Fisher’s Folly) for scribes such as Nashe, Lyly, Watson, Greene, Munday, Churchyard, Lodge and many others.

(Imagine Michelangelo’s studio filled with artists working together under a single guiding hand.)

In the 1580s these writers turned out dozens, even hundreds of history plays. Among them were Oxford’s own early versions of Shakespeare histories, anonymous plays such as The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard Third, The True Chronicle History of King Leir and The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, the latter containing the entire framework for Henry Fourth Parts One and Two and Henry the Fifth as by Shakespeare.

Their weapons were not swords or guns or ships, but words, giving birth to an inspiring new English language and vision of national identity – a powerful weapon that de Vere was creating and guiding as well as helping to finance. And in 1586 the queen rewarded him with an extraordinary annual allowance of a thousand pounds, paid according to the same formula used to finance Walsingham for his wartime secret service. When the Spanish invasion by Armada arrived in 1588, volunteers from all parts of England responded – Protestants, Puritans, Catholics, speaking different dialects and often needing to be translated, all joining in the face of a common enemy.

Once the Great Enterprise of King Philip had been turned back, however, that same government had no more use for the writers. Having harnessed their talent and work to touch the minds and hearts of the queen’s subjects, the government now became wary of them, perhaps afraid of their freedom of expression and power to influence her Majesty’s subjects.

After defeating the enemy without, the government now focused upon its real or potential enemies within. The end game of internal power struggles was just beginning. Who would gain control of the inevitable succession to Elizabeth? Oxford had been the central sun from which the writers had drawn their light, and around which they had revolved; but now he was deliberately squeezed with old debts and could no longer support them, so they began to fly out of orbit and disappear.

By 1590, the year Walsingham died, Oxford’s secretary and stage manager John Lyly was out of a job; in 1591, Thomas Lodge escaped poverty by sailing to South America; in September 1592, Thomas Watson died and so did Robert Greene (if, in fact, Greene was a real person and not another pen name); on 30 May 1593, Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death; later that year, Thomas Kyd was tortured on the rack, leading to his death.

Lyly, Lodge, Watson, Greene, Marlowe, Kyd: all gone. They disappeared in a kind of bloodbath, into a metaphorical graveyard of writers; and Oxford himself disappeared. He withdrew from court and vanished from London. He remarried (his first wife, Anne Cecil, had died in 1588) and became something of a recluse at Hackney – undoubtedly revising his previous plays.

As far as the general public knew, Oxford no longer existed; some people even thought he was dead; but in the spring of 1593, just when Marlowe was being murdered, something else was afoot. From below the graveyard of writers, without any paper trail or personal history, the heretofore unknown “William Shakespeare” – a disembodied pen name — suddenly rose in defiance, shaking the spear of his pen and asserting his power in the Latin epigraph from Ovid on the title page of Venus and Adonis, translated as: “Let the mob admire base things! May Golden Apollo serve me full goblets from the Castilian Spring!” Who is this Shakespeare?  And which side is he on?

The sudden appearance of this name was not on the title page, but, rather, inside the book, and linked (directly, and uniquely) to nineteen-year-old Southampton. And in the very next year, 1594, the poet made himself even clearer, dedicating Lucrece to Southampton: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being all I have, devoted yours.” All that the pen name has is a multitude of written works to be published under that name – the two poems, plus any other writings that will use “Shakespeare” in the future.

The 1594 dedication of “Lucrece” to Southampton — by “Shakespeare” 

A metamorphosis has taken place. In this second dedication, the pen name is speaking for itself and not, in the first place, for the Earl of Oxford, who has disappeared; the pen name is saying to young Lord Southampton: “ALL I HAVE – ANYTHING WRITTEN UNDER THIS NAME — IS NOW AND FOREVER DEVOTED TO YOU. THEY ARE YOURS, TO DO WITH WHAT YOU WILL.” It is all “YOURS … YOURS … YOURS.”

The disembodied pen name has declared itself on the side of the young nobility, in favor of the Essex faction of which Southampton is a prominent member. Soon that young earl firmly and finally rejects Burghley’s marriage plans for him. Essex has been in secret communication with James in Scotland – pledging his support for the King, in return for the promise of James’ help against Burghley and his son Robert Cecil.

So long as Elizabeth remains alive, she can still name her successor; meanwhile, a main goal of Essex and Southampton is to keep the Cecils from assuming even more power after she dies. We are now in the very short period spanning 1595 to 1600 – six years – in which the great issuance of Shakespeare plays occurs: earlier plays that are now revised for the printing press and the public playhouse.

Robert Cecil becomes Principle Secretary in 1596; in the following year, he tries to have all public playhouses shut down and nearly succeeds; in fact, he does succeed in destroying the Swan Playhouse as a venue for plays.

And upon the death of his father, Burghley, in August 1598, Secretary Cecil begins to gain the full trust of Her Majesty and the power to control her mind, emotions and decisions. Now the gloves come off and “Shakespeare” suddenly – for the first time — makes its appearance on printed plays. Over the next three years comes the historic rush of quartos. In 1598 and 1599, four plays are printed with “Shake-speare” hyphenated, emphasizing it’s a pen name: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Richard III, Richard II and 1 Henry IV. The playwright had “newly corrected” two of these plays, quite obviously having written them their first versions much earlier.

Four more plays are published in 1600, all using the pen name without any hyphen: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2 Henry IV, The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing. And three others also appear in that time frame, but still anonymous: Romeo and Juliet, 3 Henry VI, and Henry V.  Many of these plays – especially the histories – deal with issues of kingship, of what kind of monarch should or should not rule, the right and wrong ways to choose a successor, the consequences of deposing a rightful king. These issues are swirling on and off the stage, in allegory and in real life, all around the aging queen, who refuses to make a choice while she still has the strength to do so.

Edward, Earl of Oxford was summoned as a judge to the 1601 trial of Essex and Southampton — the same Southampton to whom “Shakespeare” had pledged his “love … without end.”

Southampton takes charge of planning an assault on Whitehall Palace, aiming to remove Cecil and confront Elizabeth without interference. If they gain entrance to her presence, they will beg the queen to fulfill her responsibility by choosing a successor.

Members of the Essex faction meet with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, paying the actors to give a special performance of Richard II at their own playhouse, the Globe, on Sunday 7 February 1601. Southampton is in charge of the Shakespeare plays and, most likely, he himself pays for the performance – with its deposition scene of King Richard handing over his crown to Bolinbroke, who becomes Henry IV.

(The play is instructional. It’s also a cautionary tale: Richard is murdered in prison by Pierce of Exton, who mistakenly believes he’s carrying out the king’s wishes.)

Cecil uses this performance to summon Essex that night and trigger the chaotic events of the following day. By midnight of the Eighth of February, Essex and Southampton are both arrested and taken by river through Traitors Gate into the Tower, facing charges of high treason and almost certain execution. Of course, this play of royal history is another allegory, and Elizabeth will famously cry out six months later, “I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?”

So long as Southampton is in the prison, there will be no authorized printings of new Shakespeare plays. In effect, the pen name goes silent. The actors of Shakespeare’s company are summoned for questioning, but never the author … but why not? Well, he can’t be summoned, can he?  He has no flesh and blood, because “Shakespeare” — after all – is but a pen name.

Postscript

While Southampton languishes in prison, another metamorphosis takes place, as recorded by Oxford in the Sonnets. First, his disappearance: “My name be buried where my body is” (72); and “I, once gone, to all the world must die” (81). Then his sacrifice to the pen name, in a sequence that traditional critics call the Rival Poet series. The true “rival,” however, is not a flesh-and-blood person; rather, it is Oxford’s own pseudonym on the printed page.

Oxford understood that “Shakespeare” would remain attached to Southampton, even as he himself, the true author, faded from the world’s view. The Sonnets would be suppressed upon their publication in 1609, and the quarto would remain underground for more than a century until it reappeared in 1711, like a message in a bottle, carrying Oxford’s true account for posterity.  The story — of how Oxford sacrificed himself to save Southampton’s life and gain his freedom — remains within the “monument” of the Sonnets:

“Your monument shall be my gentle verse,/ Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read” (81); “And thou in this shalt find thy monument,/ When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent” (107).

 

 

 

“Performance in the Tiltyard” — Re-Posting No. 52 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shake-speare”

Whitehall Palace, 22 January 1581:

The Old Whitehall Palace by Hendrick Dankerts, 17th century. Before it was destroyed by fire in 1698, Whitehall was the largest palace in Europe, with more than 1,500 rooms.

An overflow crowd at the Whitehall Tiltyard watches thirty-year-old Edward de Vere as he once again proves himself a master showman. The spectators gasp as he emerges from his magnificent tent, appearing as the Knight of the Tree of the Sunne. His boy-page approaches Queen Elizabeth and, facing her, delivers a “Sweet Speech” (written, no doubt, by the earl himself). Now, after an exchange with his delighted queen, Oxford mounts his horse and rides to defend his title against the challenger. At the end he is still champion of the tilt; and members of the cheering, frenzied crowd race to tear the tent and the tree into pieces.

This dramatic episode of the Elizabethan reign will be described eleven years later, in 1592, in a book published by Cuthbert Burby ( who will also issue three quartos of the “Shakespeare” plays,  including  Romeo and Juliet in 1599 as “newly corrected, augmented and amended” by the author himself).  The description of Oxford’s 1581 production (rendered in more modern English) in the tiltyard (without the page’s Sweet Speech) follows:

“By the tilt stood a stately Tent of Orange tawny Taffeta, curiously embroidered with Silver & pendants on the Pinnacles very slightly to behold.  From forth this Tent came the noble Earl of Oxenford in rich gilt Armor, and sat down under a great high Bay-tree, the whole stock, branches and leaves whereof were all gilded over, that nothing but Gold could be discerned.

A Bay-Tree, this one with a spiral stem. Bay-trees can grow much larger.

“By the Tree stood twelve tilting staves, all which likewise were gilded clean over.  After a solemn sound of most sweet Music, he mounted on his Courser, very richly caparisoned, when his page ascending the stairs where her Highness stood in the window, delivered to her by speech this Oration:

“[A SWEET SPEECH SPOKEN AT THE TRYUMPH BEFORE THE QUEEN’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTIE, BY THE PAGE TO THE RIGHT NOBLE CHAMPION, THE EARL OF OXENFORD]

“The speech being ended, with great honor he ran, and valiantly broke all the twelve staves. 

And after the finishing of the sports: both the rich Bay-tree, and the beautiful Tent, were by the standers-by torn and rent in more pieces than can be numbered.”

When J. Thomas Looney identified Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, he was probably unaware of this “show” that the earl produced, directed and starred in.  But let us imagine Looney making observations and gathering evidence, which would come together as an initial theory of Shakespearean authorship, and then coming upon the above account of an event in Oxford’s life.  Isn’t it just the kind of thing he might have expected and hoped to find?

There is a clear link between Oxford’s appearance in 1581 before Queen Elizabeth as “the Knight of the Tree of the Sunne” and the allegorical elegy The Phoenix and Turtle, published in 1601 as by “William Shake-speare” in a compilation of verses called Love’s Martyr or Rosalins Complaint. In his 1581 tiltyard performance Oxford had depicted Elizabeth as the Phoenix, the mythical bird that consumes itself in flames ignited by the sun and is reborn from its own ashes; even earlier, the queen herself had used the Phoenix as a symbol of her chastity and of the rebirth (through succession to the throne) of her Tudor dynasty.

Oxford depicted himself as the queen’s loyal knight devoted to protecting “the Tree of the Sunne” — the single (or sole) Arabian tree in which the Phoenix had her nest, symbolic of the English throne and Elizabeth’s dynastic seat. The earl’s page delivered an oration to the queen describing how the earl had made “a solemn vow to incorporate his heart into that Tree,” adding that “as there is but one Sun to shine over it, one root to give life unto it, one top to maintain Majesty, so there should be but one Knight, either to live or die for the defense thereof.” Oxford was symbolically merging with Elizabeth, as if they were a single entity, and pledging to protect the queen and her dynasty with his “constant loyalty” as well as with his life.

(This post is now No. 4 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

 

(Thanks to editor Alex McNeil for his expert help; and to Brian Bechtold for his editorial assistance)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oxford’s Military Knowledge: Re-Posting Reason 51 Why he was “Shake-speare”

“Warfare is everywhere in Shakespeare, and the military action in many of Shakespeare’s plays, and the military imagery in all his plays and poems show that he possessed an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of warfare, both ancient and modern.” – Charles Edelman, “Shakespeare’s Military Language” (2000)

The Elizabethan army in Ireland

Edelman’s book provides “a comprehensive account of Shakespeare’s portrayal of military life, tactics and technology and explores how the plays comment upon military incidents and personalities of the Elizabethan era.”

How do orthodox biographers imagine Shakspere of Stratford accumulating such “extraordinarily detailed knowledge” of warfare and military matters? Is it through  automatic assimilation, by which all intricacies are miraculously absorbed into the very fiber of his being and translated into the dialogue of characters in his plays?

“Shakespeare expresses the courtier-soldier’s point of view too clearly and naturally and displays far too familiar a grasp of military methods, objectives and colloquialisms not to have acquired this knowledge through serious study – plus firsthand experience – of the arts of war,” Charles Barrell writes. “No such study and experience can be documented in the career of the Stratford native.”

At issue is “information” as opposed to innate genius – the former term defined (by my dictionary) as knowledge “communicated or received concerning particular facts or circumstances,” or otherwise “gained through study, research, instruction, experience.”   The great author’s information about military life was not genetically inherited; it was acquired. He draws upon his wealth of information not in any calculated way but, rather, spontaneously, during the white heat of composition, and employs it for various purposes the way an artist will mix paints on his canvas.

On and on come the military terms in the plays, as in 2 Henry IV,  for example, with words such as alarum, ancient, archer, beacon, beaver, besonian, blank, bounce, bullet, Caesar’s thrasonical brag, caliver, captain, chamber, charge, cavalier, chivalry, coat, corporal.

“In every outstanding instance of specialized knowledge,” Barrell notes, “Oxford’s personal familiarity with the subject can be categorically documented; and this is particularly true in respect to ‘Shakespeare’s’ fund of military information.” The earl unquestionably acquired information about “military life, tactics and technology” in ways such as these:

Horatio Vere
(1565-1635)

*  Oxford’s cousins Horatio and Francis Vere, known as the “Fighting Veres” for their exploits as soldiers, may have been the models for the soldiers Horatio and Francisco in Hamlet.

Francis Vere (1560-1609)

* Oxford’s brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby, devoted his life to the political and military service of Queen Elizabeth.

*  When the Northern Rebellion of powerful Catholic earls began in November 1569, Oxford at nineteen requested military service, which was granted in the spring of 1570, when he served under Sussex. The chief action he would have seen was the siege of Hume Castle, whose defenders surrendered to avoid any further bombardment – an episode that calls to mind the siege of Harfleur by Henry the Fifth.

Hume Castle

*  Oxford was champion of his first tournament at the Whitehall Tiltyard, in May 1571, performing “far above expectation of the world” in front of Queen Elizabeth and the royal court.  He blazed his way “with fiery energy,” contemporary Giles Fletcher wrote, summoning “a mimicry of war” as he “controls his foaming steed with a light rein, and armed with a long spear rides to the encounter … Bravo, valiant youth!  ‘Tis thus that martial spirits pass through their apprenticeship in war … The country sees in thee both a leader pre-eminent in war, and a skillful man-at-arms…” A decade later, in January 1581, Oxford prevailed as champion of his second and final such tournament.

*  In August 1572 he played the starring role in the staged military battle at Warwick Castle, leading 200 armed soldiers of one fortified position against those of another; and the contemporary account of this extravagant and realistic entertainment supplied the kind of military terms to appear later in the “Shakespeare” plays:  “battering pieces … chambers … mortar pieces … assaults … calivers … arquebuses …”

The Defense of Militaire Profession was published in 1579, “wherein is eloquently shewed the due commendation of Martiall prowess, and plainly proved how necessary the exercise of Armes is for this our age.” It  was dedicated by its author, Geffrey Gates, “To the Right honorable Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford.”  The publisher, John Harrison, would later issue Venus and Adonis in 1593 and Lucrece in 1594, introducing “William Shakespeare” by way of the dedications to Southampton, with both narrative poems having been personally overseen by the poet.

*  On June 25, 1585, Oxford wrote to Burghley asking for a loan to help in his suit for a military command in the Netherlands in England’s impending war with Spain. In this letter he launched into a Shakespearean string of military metaphors, writing, “For, being now almost at a point to taste that good which her Majesty shall determine, yet am I as one that hath long besieged a fort and not able to compass the end or reap the fruit of his travail, being forced to levy his siege for want of munition.”

(“Munition” was not a common word at the time, but “Shakespeare” used it more than once, as when Gloucester in 1 Henry VI declares, “I’ll to the Tower with all the haste I can/ To view the artillery and munition” [1.1])

*  Later that summer, Oxford (at age thirty-five) was commissioned to command a company of horse in the Low Countries.  “Five or six thousand English soldiers have arrived in Flanders with the Earl of Oxford and Colonel Norris,” came one report in September.  A month later, however, the queen commanded Oxford to return home and sent Leicester, who, having maneuvered his way into replacing Oxford, would proceed to disgrace himself by his behavior in Holland.

*  Oxford was reported among the many “honorable personages” in the summer of 1588 who “were suddenly embarked, committing themselves unto the present chance of war” when the Spanish Armada arrived on its mission to crush England.  Apparently Oxford’s ship was disabled, because he went directly home for his armor, and even his enemy Leicester reported that “he seems most willing to hazard his life in this quarrel.”

How did “Shakespeare” acquire his military knowledge?  The life of Oxford provides the most plausible answer. Immediately inside the cover page of The Defense of Militarie Profession is the coat of arms usually used by Oxford, with his earldom motto VERO NIHIL VERIUS (“Nothing Truer than Truth”) displayed along the bottom.

On the first righthand page begins the dedication “TO THE RIGHT honorable, Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford, vicount Bulbecke, Lord of Escales and Baldesmere, and Lord great Chamberlaine of England.” It continues: “It hath been an old controversy in the opinion of the English nation what profession of life is most honorable in worldly states…”

 

De Vere not only acted as the writer’s patron, but also financed the publication; beyond that, he took great interest in this work and likely contributed a great deal to it behind the scenes.

Back in November 1569, when the Northern Rebellion had begun, Oxford wrote to Cecil asking for military service against the powerful Catholic earls of the north.  To the nineteen-year-old earl, such service was the most honorable course.  He told his guardian that at this time I am bold to desire your favour and friendship that you will suffer me to be employed by your means and help in this service that now is in hand.”

He reminded Cecil that “heretofore you have given me your good word to have me see the wars and services in strange and foreign places … Now you will do me so much honour as that by your purchase of my License I may be called to the service of my prince and country …”

In September 1572, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacrre of Protestants in France, Oxford wrote to Burghley saying he would be eager to serve the Queen on the Continent: “I had rather serve there than at home where yet some honor were to be got; if there be any setting forth to sea, to which service I bear most affection, I shall desire your Lordship to give me and get me that favour and credit, that I might make one.  Which if there be no such intention, then I shall be most willing to be employed on the sea coasts, to be in a readiness with my countrymen against any invasion.”

Oxford never lost his eagerness to serve as a military man, always connecting that activity with honor.  It is easy to imagine him composing Hamlet and having Ophelia cry out,

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!

Edward Earl of Oxford was all that and much more.

(Note: This post is now No. 59 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

“Queen Elizabeth in the Plays”: Re-Posting No. 48 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

What are the chances of the Stratford man Shakspere creating allegorical portraits of Elizabeth I of England?  What are the chances he dared to depict this vain female ruler, an absolute monarch intensely protective of her public image, in accurate and often harshly negative detail? And if he had dared to be so bold, how could he have gotten away with it?

Edward de Vere had known Her Majesty from at least 1561, when he was eleven and she was twenty-eight.  The following year she became his legal mother. He reached his majority in 1571, entering the House of Lords, and quickly gained her highest favor at court.  He had a front-row seat for one of the most sensational tragicomedies in world history, the Golden Age of Elizabeth.

As Oxford was also a poet and dramatist, what are the chances of him creating allegorical portraits of the great Virgin Queen? Scholars of the traditional “Shakespeare” have fleetingly glimpsed such portraits of Elizabeth in the plays, but for them the full picture remains out of focus. Viewing the plays with the wrong author in mind, the images are blurry; on the other hand, knowledge of the true author creates a new lens through which vital aspects of the works emerge as wondrously clear. Much of what was obscure becomes obvious; through that new lens, the Shakespeare plays contain quite a few female characters that appear to reflect Elizabeth.

Once Oxford is viewed as the author, it appears he was actually obsessed with his sovereign Mistress and was constantly grappling with the extremes of her personality. Here are eight of his female characters that appear to represent her:

Cleopatra ………………… Antony and Cleopatra

Cressida ………………….. Troilus and Cressida

Gertrude …………………. Hamlet

Olivia ………………………. Twelfth Night

Portia ………………………. The Merchant of Venice

Rosalind …………………… Romeo and Juliet

Silvia ………………………… The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Titania ……………………… A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, is the character most often cited in connection with Elizabeth, mainly because Oberon describes Cupid’s vain attempt to ensnare “a fair vestal throned by the west” (2.1). Many other aspects of Titania reflect Elizabeth, but the point of this “reason” is the sheer quantity of such characters. Taken together they reveal many sides of that extraordinary woman who ruled England for four and a half decades; some of the portraits could have been drawn only by an artist who had experienced those aspects of the queen “up close and personal.”

An image of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt on an ancient coin

For an accurate view of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the biographical and historical framework of the earliest versions must be moved back in time from the mid-1590’s to the early 1580’s.  In that perspective, it’s possible to see the love affair between Queen Titania and Bottom as depicting the courtship of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon.

Other instances where Queen Elizabeth is being depicted include:

*  In Twelfth Night, the portrait of Elizabeth as Olivia stands beside Malvolio as a caricature of Sir Christopher Haton, Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard.

* Elizabeth banished Oxford from court after discovering his affair with Anne Vavasour, who gave birth to his illegitimate child, Edward Vere; we can hear, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Oxford speaking of his queen as Silvia in Valentine’s words:

And why not death rather than living torment?
To die is to be banish’d from myself;
And Silvia is myself: banish’d from her
Is self from self: a deadly banishment! (3.1)

*  The vows of constancy made by Troilus to Cressida reflect those Oxford had to make to the queen when his court banishment ended in 1583 and old Roger Manners reported, “The Earl of Oxford came into her the queen’s] presence, and after some bitter words and speeches, in the end all sins are forgiven.”

Elizabeth I of England, a potrait

* To the Elizabethans it would have been obvious that “Shakespeare” modeled Cleopatra on Elizabeth, who sometimes appeared to be modeling herself on the Queen of Egypt.

In the Shakespeare poems and sonnets are more aspects of Elizabeth through the Oxfordian lens.  She was the Queen of Love and Beauty, like Venus; she was the “chaste” queen, like Lucrece; she was the Phoenix; and, in my view, the Dark Lady of The Sonnets.

  1. Venus ………………………….. Venus and Adonis
  2. Lucrece ………………………… The Rape of Lucrece
  3. Phoenix ……………………….. The Phoenix and the Turtle
  4. Woman ………………………… A Lover’s Complaint
  5. Mistress (Dark Lady) …….. Shake-speares Sonnets

 

This post, with improvements made by editor Alex McNeil, is No. 51 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Wins “Dark Lady” Debate

The Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1575 – National Portrait Gallery, London

On Sunday (October 14), during its annual conference convened this year in Oakland, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship held a three-way debate about the identity of the so-called Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Each of us agreed in advance that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is the author and that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton is the so-called Fair Youth, leaving the identity of the woman open for debate. John Hamill argued for Penelope Rich; Katherine Chiljan made her case for Anne Vavasour; and I supported Queen Elizabeth, who won by a secret-ballot vote of the membership in the audience. Each of the others made a formidable case, in his or her 20-minute opening presentation, making for an afternoon session of special excitement. Here, in full, is the overview I gave at the outset:

Making sense of the Sonnets can begin with the realization that these intensely personal lines were set down by the highest-ranking earl at the royal court – and that the beloved younger man is also a member of the court. But finding the story in the sonnets becomes possible only by also identifying the right woman.

Even if we knew nothing of the author, it’s clear this woman is someone of incredible importance to him, and wields enormous power over him – a woman with whom he’s been involved in a long, complicated relationship – whom he’s believed in and defended, even when she has failed to live up to his belief in her – a woman for whom, in the end, he has sacrificed the truth and betrayed himself.

I’d like to present evidence that the powerful, dominating woman we call the Dark Lady can only be the same powerful, dominating woman who pervades the lives of both those earls, and who pervades so much of Oxford’s writing – from his own early Shakespearean sonnet professing his devotion to Queen Elizabeth to his portraits of Venus and the Phoenix, Cleopatra, Titania, Olivia, Portia, Silvia, Queen Gertrude, and more. His final words to this powerful, deceitful, inscrutable woman sum up their long relationship that has now, in the end, drained his soul and left him in bitter disillusionment:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost;/ For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,/ Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,/And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,/ Or made them swear against the thing they see./For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,/To swear against the truth so foul a lie.”

Has there ever been a more wretched confession of shattered illusion and self-betrayal?

Three themes about Queen Elizabeth as Dark Lady:

First, context: Identifying the queen allows us to locate the time frame and historical circumstances for these sonnets – a context every true story must have.

Second, metaphor: The darkness of the woman is not literal but metaphorical; and the metaphor is inseparable from Elizabeth and her imperial frown.

Third, language: Oxford employs the same words to and about the Dark Lady that he’s already used to and about the queen, and used exclusively for her.

Context: The overall context is that Oxford desperately wanted the Sonnets not only published and eventually read, but also, hopefully, understood – by readers in the future. The Sonnets are for “all posterity” and “eyes not yet created,” even when “tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.” So there must be an important story here, for us. He’s playing the long game, which means the story must transcend all strictly personal issues, no matter how deeply felt. It must involve some major situation to be recorded by English history. Given all we know about Shakespeare, the story must also involve some great issue of his own time; and the most pressing issue was the urgent need for an uncontested – and, therefore, peaceful – royal succession.

The vital publishing life of Oxford’s Shakespeare plays coincides with this growing alarm: What will happen if the queen dies before naming her successor? The great issuance of Oxford’s plays under the Shakespeare name occurred in the final years of her life, up to her death. The man was still trying to guide and protect her and his country.

And the contents of his revised history plays reflect this intensifying crisis. The British author Peter Lake aptly titles his recent book “How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays.” His recurring theme is that Shakespeare was using history to raise awareness of the current crisis and ways of dealing with it. Elizabeth’s urgent responsibility was to put a successor in place, to avoid civil war and even possible takeover by a foreign power. But she could not – or would not – carry out this responsibility, and finally the tension boiled over in the Essex Rebellion of early 1601.

The rebels began by paying for a special performance of Oxford’s play Richard II, which Elizabeth knew was about her and the possibility of her being deposed, even killed. The earls were hoping to prevent Robert Cecil from further manipulating the queen to ensure his own survival. Oxford had portrayed Cecil as the hunchbacked tyrant Richard III; and now the secretary was terrorizing Elizabeth (“They were planning to kill you!”) and keeping her under his firm control. For Oxford, after a lifetime of service to queen and country, it was all crashing down with his cunning former brother-in-law maintaining total command of England. As James of Scotland put it, Cecil had made himself “king there, in effect.”

Now the context begins to reveal itself. Our goal, in my view, has always been to read these autobiographical sonnets to and about the Dark Lady (nos. 127-152) in conjunction with events that must comprise the framework and foundation of Oxford’s story. And once we see Elizabeth as this woman, it becomes clear that the story unfolds between the two most important events: the failed rebellion of 1601 and the queen’s death two years later in 1603. These moments, destined to be marked by history, are the two bookends. Then, from one to the other, the sonnets and events begin to illuminate each other and to bring the story to life.

It begins with Sonnet 127 on that tragic night when most young nobles of Elizabeth’s court have been jailed on charges of having plotted against her life. The age of “Gloriana” has come to an end. It’s over – and “therefore” the eyes of their sovereign mistress have turned “Raven black.” The ravens had become dread symbols of executions on the Tower Green. When Anne Boleyn was decapitated, it was said that “even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements, gazing eerily at the strange scene: a queen about to die!”

Now two former favorites, Essex and Southampton, are both set to die on that same Tower Green, so it’s no wonder the aging queen is in “mourning” as at a funeral. After the head of Essex is cut off, the beloved Fair Youth is next, and now his fate is also up to Elizabeth.

Imagine Oxford’s emotional turmoil over this tragic situation! He might even blame himself. All three of them – Southampton, Oxford, Elizabeth – are suffering. And so Oxford addresses the queen in words echoing those of Christ on the cross: “Of him, my self, and thee, I am forsaken, a torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.” What other kind of situation would compel this proud nobleman and great author, who hated hyperbole, to liken his own suffering to that of Christ?

Back in 1911, the legal expert Edward White declared that Sonnets 133 and 134 “clearly refer to the confinement of Southampton in the Tower” and “express the poet’s desire to go his bail by substituting his person for that of his friend, in jail.” It’s Elizabeth who has Southampton in her prison, so Oxford begs her: “Prison my heart … but then let my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail. Who ere keeps me, let my heart be his guard; thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.” In other words: “I will not let you execute him in my prison!”

White also declared: “The poet proffers to forfeit himself as security for Southampton.” Oxford tells the queen: “So now I have confessed that he is thine, and I my self am mortgaged to thy will. My self I’ll forfeit so that other mine thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.”

Now he begs her Majesty to relieve his suffering by executing him instead: “O call me not to justify the wrong that thy unkindness lays upon my heart … Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.” An old saying was that “monarchs have killing looks.” They kill, literally, with their eyes.

Waiting in the Tower, Southampton writes a lengthy poem to the queen, trying to save his life – the only poem by him that we know of. (Before Essex was executed, he, too, had written a poem to her Majesty while in the Tower. So clearly poetry was an important means of communicating with the queen – which makes three earls and former royal wards, each writing verse for Queen Elizabeth in relation to the very same dire circumstances.) In Southampton’s poem, discovered just several years ago, the earl reminds Elizabeth: “Only mercy is the prince’s own.” Only the monarch can deliver mercy; and when she does spare his life, a relieved Oxford responds in Sonnet 145: “Straight in her heart did mercy come.”

But time to settle the succession is running out; nor does Elizabeth seem to care about the ultimate fate of Southampton, who might be left to die in the Tower as a condemned traitor in perpetual confinement. So Oxford wails in amazing lines such as these in Sonnet 147: “Past cure I am, now reason is past care,/ And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.” His continued loyalty to the queen stands at complete odds with her failure to name a successor and protect England from chaos and bloodshed.

James of Scotland has a blood claim, but with complications. He’s a foreign king, born on foreign soil, technically not qualified, and even more deeply unqualified in his character, not to mention that he’s also the willing pawn of Robert Cecil. For all that, however, he does have a claim; but still Elizabeth refuses to name him.

In the end Oxford delivers those final bitter words to the dying female monarch who has always been the most important person in his life: “And all my honest faith in thee is lost.” And now we can see the metaphor of the queen’s darkness.

Oxford established the metaphor in Sonnet 25: “Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread/ But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,/ And in themselves their pride lies buried,/ For at a frown they in their glory die.” Elizabeth’s favorite courtiers behave like her flower, the marigold, all opening to the warm light of “the sun’s eye” – her sovereign eye; but with just a frown casting her shadow of royal displeasure, their glory dies in darkness. That’s the metaphor, set forth by Oxford himself, and it’s inseparable from Elizabeth.

Of the twenty-six sonnets in this series, only five involve her darkness, and each time it’s a variation of that same metaphor:

In the opening sonnet (127), after eight lines, he reports: “Therefore” – “Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,” – the raven, harbinger of death – “her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem” – the eyes of mourners at a funeral. It’s a metaphor. In 130, “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Back in those lines about the marigold, the queen’s eye was the sun; now, because of her imperial frown and negative view, the sunlight has disappeared. All is dark.

How the queen looks at someone or something is also what she does; and in 131 he tells her: “In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds.” In 132 her eyes have “put on” black, again in mourning; but if her eyes are already black, why would she have to put it on? Finally, in 147, she’s “as black as hell, as dark as night.” And that’s it for the darkness, all metaphor, all tied to the power of the queen’s negative view that turns day into night.

And now the language, to and about the queen:

For example, in 134: “I my self am mortgaged to thy will.” In a letter to Cecil about the queen, he promised not to “contradict her will.” A common saying was, “Others debate, but the king wills.”

In 140 she has “tongue-tied” or silenced him, the same as when his art is “tongue-tied by authority.” Well, the queen is authority; and she’s the only one who can tongue-tie or officially silence him.

He writes to her in 149 about being in “thy service.” He had told Burghley, “”I have engaged myself so far in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light.” What other woman has he ever served? Also in 149 he’s “commanded by the motion of thine eyes.” In a private memo he urged the queen to give her “commandment.” And in King John he wrote about “the motion of a kingly eye.”

In his early sonnet about the queen, Oxford had blared forth his “love” and “constant truth” on her behalf. He was loyal and consistently honest. Now, as she nears death, he writes about her side of that commitment: about “thy” love, “thy” truth, “thy” constancy – the same three words; but in the end, she has had no love or truth or constancy. She has betrayed him and England itself; and therefore he has sworn falsely, all his life, by supporting and praising her.

Recall him telling how he has engaged himself in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light; but now all his honest faith in her is lost. He admits he has had to “swear against the truth so foul a lie.” What other woman could force this strong-willed man of high rank, for whom truth was the most sacred value, to swear against it for her sake?

Soon after Oxford died the following year, 1604, came the printed full Hamlet. He must have labored to revise and expand this magnum opus right up to his last breath. In the final scene, Fortinbras comes down from the north to rule Denmark amid its royal wreckage, just as Cecil triumphantly brought James down from the north to rule England its crippled royal court. Hamlet bemoans his “wounded name” and implores Horatio to “tell my story.”

Five years later, 1609, the Sonnets are published for posterity; and I have no doubt they contain the story Horatio promised to tell the “yet unknowing world” about “how these things came about.” Here is Edward de Vere’s most personal voice – his own story – and the most direct revelation of his authorship.

Here is Oxford’s cry that his own wounded name “be buried where my body is.” Here is the truth of the great author at the royal court of England; his devotion to Southampton; his long, conflicted relationship with the queen; his fury and despair over her failure to protect his beloved isle, not to mention her unwillingness to liberate Southampton. Here is his confession of misguided loyalty and self-betrayal for her sake; and his swift disappearance within the black hole of official anonymity: “I, once gone, to all the world must die.”

Only when Queen Elizabeth is recognized as the powerful “dark lady” will the context, metaphor and language of the Sonnets enable Oxford’s untold story to finally come into focus – for posterity, for history, for us.

Medical Knowlege: Re-posting No. 39 of 100 Reasons “Shake-speare” was the Earl of Oxford

In his edition of the Shakespeare sonnets, the Stratfordian scholar Stephen Booth includes the title page of The Newe Jewell of Health, wherein is contained the most excellent Secrets of Physic and Philosophy, divided into four Books by the surgeon George Baker, published in 1576.

Booth presents an illustration of the doctor’s important book in connection with Sonnet 119, which builds upon metaphors and analogies from alchemy and medicine:

What potions have I drunk of siren tears,

Distilled from limbecks foul as hell within…

“Shakespeare” knew all about the “distillations” of waters, oils and balms as set forth by Dr. Baker, whose book has been long considered a key source for the Bard’s interest in alchemy as well as the full range of medical knowledge at the time. It happens that Baker, who would become surgeon to Queen Elizabeth, was the personal physician of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and dedicated The New Jewel of Health to the earl’s wife Anne Cecil. Baker had dedicated his first book, Olenum Magistrale (1574) to de Vere himself, and in 1599 dedicated his Practice of the New and Old Physic to the earl as well. Baker was part of the household of de Vere, whose patronage helped to make it possible for this medical pioneer to write his books in the first place.

This is one example of how “Shakespeare’s” remarkable knowledge of medicine is mirrored by Oxford’s own connection to the leading medical experts and advances of his time, not only in England but also on the Continent. If Baker had just once treated Shakspere for a cut finger, upholders of the Stratford faith would have devoted entire books to that medical incident and its influences upon Shakespeare’s writings. On the other hand, Booth uses a full page to illustrate The Newe Jewell of Health in connection with Shakespeare’s sonnets, but never indicates that Baker dedicated that very book to the wife of the leading candidate to replace the Stratford man, nor does he mention that the doctor dedicated two other books to the earl of Oxford himself!

Scholars often try to “dumb down” Shakespeare’s works to avoid having to explain how he could have acquired such amazing knowledge. They tell us things like, “Well, see, he really didn’t know that much.  He wrote about stuff that anyone in England could have picked up, in the tavern or on the street, and of course he made mistakes…”  If something is too large to be filled by the Stratford man’s pitifully small biography, it must be cut down to fit, even while “the miracle” of his “genius” is further inflated, to explain the inexplicable.

Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577)

De Vere requires no such adjustments. to explain the knowledge displayed by “Shakespeare” in his works. As for exposure to medical knowledge, he was tutored during childhood by Sir Thomas Smith, known for his interest in diseases, alchemy and therapeutic botanicals. Then he had access to Cecil’s library with some 200 books on alchemy and medical topics. In his twenties Oxford lived next door to Bedlam Hospital, a source of firsthand knowledge about patients suffering from mental illness.

Oxford’s life forms a picture that deepens our perceptions of the great plays and poems.  And because of the Oxfordian authorship theory, researchers are continually finding new evidence that “Shakespeare” was even more brilliant than we have been able to know and appreciate.

Dr. Earl Showerman

Earl Showerman, M.D., points out that the Shakespeare plays contain “over 700 medical references to practically all the diseases and drugs” that were known by the year1600, along with “knowledge of anatomy, physiology, surgery, obstetrics, public health, aging, forensics, neurology and mental disorders,” not to mention “detailed knowledge of syphilis.” Dr. Showerman quotes from Shakespeare and Medicine (1962) by R.R. Simpson, who reports that the poet-dramtist demonstrates “not only an astute knowledge of medical affairs, but also a keen sense of the correct use of that knowledge” – a sign that he was well acquainted with the medical literature of his day.  Another work is The Medical Mind of Shakespeare (1986) by Aubrey Kail, who writes that the Bard’s plays “bear witness to profound knowledge of contemporary physiology and psychology” and that he “employed medical terms in a manner which would have been beyond the powers of any ordinary playwright or physician.”

“The Medical Mind of Shakespeare” by Aubrey Kail (1986)

Another Oxfordian researcher, Frank M. Davis, M.D., writes that in Shakespeare’s time “true medical literature, like medicine itself, was still in its infancy,” so he could not have absorbed much from reading what was available in English: “The vast majority of medical works were published in Latin or Greek.”

Davis finds it “remarkable” that Shakespeare refers in three plays to the pia mater, the inner lining of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. “Knowledge of this relatively obscure part of anatomy could only mean that Shakespeare had either studied anatomy or read medical literature … Even more striking to me as a neurosurgeon is his acquaintance with the relationship of the third ventricle with memory,” he adds, noting a possible source was Thomas Vicary’s Anatomy of the Body of Man (1548), which refers to the third ventricle as the ‘ventricle of memory’” – a phrase used in Love’s Labour’s Lost, when the pedant Holfernes states that his various gifts of the mind “are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of the pia mater…” (4.2.70-71)

“The Anatomie of the Bodie of Man” by Thomas Vicary (1490-1561)

William Harvey (1578-1657)

While the discovery of the circulation of blood has been assigned to William Harvey, who announced it in 1616, “Shakespeare” was likely aware of it long before then.  There are “at least nine significant references to the circulation or flowing of blood in Shakespeare’s plays,” Davis writes.

England was far behind the advances in medical technology taking place on the Continent. Most of the great doctors and teachers were based at the University of Padua, then the center for medical learning; others studied there before returning to their hometowns to practice medicine.

University of Padua

Oxford, touring the cities of Europe during 1575 at age twenty-five, visited Padua at least once, probably twice.  “With the background in pharmacology gained from his years with Sir Thomas Smith,” writes Davis, “it seems unlikely that Oxford would visit Padua without attempting to discover the latest developments in ‘physic.’”

Fabricius (1537-1619)

In the previous year, the Renaissance doctor Fabricius had discovered “the valves in veins responsible for keeping the blood flowing in one direction toward the heart,” Davis notes, adding that Fabricius was “the first to bring this important discovery to light.” Even if Oxford had never met Fabricius in person, it is “easy to imagine” that the great teacher’s 1574 discovery of those valves, along with other topics related to the circulation of the blood, “would have been an ongoing staple of conversation among the students and faculty at the time of Oxford’s visit the following year.”

[This is an updated version of the original blog, the way it now appears as No. 59 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016),reflecting the work of editor Alex McNeil, with other editorial help from Brian Bechtold. (Published by Forever Press.]

The “Bed-Trick”: Re-Posting No. 36 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“[Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, but the father of the lady Anne, by stratagem, contrived that her husband should, unknowingly, sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.” – Thomas Wright, The History and Topography of Essex, 1836, discussing Oxford in relation to his wife Anne Cecil and her father, Lord Burghley.

Measure“[T]he last great Earle of Oxford, whose lady [Anne Cecil] was brought to his Bed under the notion of his Mistris, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan Vere, Countess of Montgomery, Oxford’s third daughter, but probably meaning to identify his first daughter, Elizabeth Vere] is said to proceed.” – Francis Osborne, Esq.,Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth & King James,1658.

These two reports, while differing in their particulars, both assert that de Vere was the victim of a “bed-trick” perpetrated by his wife Anne at the bidding of her father, Burghley – the same situation “Shakespeare” immortalized in no less than four of his plays – All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Hampton Court Palace

The “bed-trick” was a popular stage convention by the end of the sixteenth century, but the evidence is that “Shakespeare” employed it earlier than any playwright of the English renaissance; when Oxford is viewed as the author, the dates of composition go back even earlier.

Whether the incident actually happened or Oxford merely thought so, the story as told separately by Wright and Osborne probably stems from the royal visit to Hampton Court Palace in October 1574. When the schedule for the queen and her entourage became available, Anne, Countess of Oxford, requested additional lodgings she might entice her husband to join her. She wrote to Sussex, Lord Chamberlain of the Household:

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (1526-1583)

“My good Lord, because I think it long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging; that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third chamber next to it … for the more commodious my lodging is, the willinger I hope my Lord my husband will be to come hither.”

Oxford was in Italy the following September when he received a letter from Burghley telling him Anne had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in July; later, upon learning of court gossip that he had been cuckolded, he came to doubt he was the father and separated from his wife for five years.  Had he really been deceived in a bed-trick according to the “stratagem” devised by his father-in-law? In that case, the girl was his natural child; the other possibility is that Burghley concocted and spread the bed-trick story to cover up the fact that, at his bidding, Anne had become pregnant by some other man, a radical explanation put forth by Ogburn Jr. in 1984:

“I strongly incline [to the explanation] that her father was determined as far as humanly possible to ensure the continuation of the marriage and the status of his descendants as Earls of Oxford.  Three years had passed since Anne’s and Edward’s wedding and still there was no sign of issue, while it had now become impossible any longer to deny his son-in-law a Continental trip from which, given the hazards of travel, he might not return.  Thus, exploiting his daughter’s uncommon filial submissiveness and the argument that a child would be the surest means of binding her husband to her, he overcame her compunctions and resistance and brought her to accept service by another male and one of proved fertility …”

[Note: Oxford may have given voice to the idea of Burghley’s involvement in Anne’s pregnancy and deception by means of Hamlet’s remark to Polonius: “Conception is a blessing, but [not] as your daughter may conceive — friend, look to’t.” (2.2) — Curiously, the Folio version of Hamlet includes the word “not,” while the 1604 version omits it.]

Cover of Wright’s History of Essex – 1836

In Shakespeare” Identified, J. Thomas Looney saw Bertram in All’s Well as virtually a self-portrait of de Vere – but it was only after his 1920 book was in manuscript that he discovered Wright’s claim that Oxford himself had been deceived by a bed-trick. The excitement he feels is palpable when introducing “what has been the most remarkable piece of evidence met with in the whole course of our investigations: a discovery made a considerable time after this work had been virtually completed.” He continues:

“This evidence is concerned with the play, All’s Well; the striking parallelism between the principal personage in the drama and the Earl of Oxford having led us to adopt it as the chief support of our argument at the particular stage with which we are now occupied … [Chapter X: “Early Manhood of Edward de Vere”]. What we have now to state was not discovered until some months later:

“In tracing the parallelism between Bertram and Oxford we confined our attention to the incidentals of the play, in the belief that the central idea of the plot — the entrapping of Bertram into marital relationships with his own wife, in order that she might bear him a child unknown to himself — was wholly derived from Boccaccio’s story of Bertram. The discovery, therefore, of the following passage in Wright’s History of Essex furnishes a piece of evidence so totally unexpected, and forms so sensational a climax to an already surprising resemblance that, on first noticing it, we had some difficulty in trusting our own eyes.

“We would willingly be spared the penning of such matter: its importance as evidence does not, however, permit of this,” Looney added, with what Ogburn describes as “quaint Victorian delicacy” in the face of scandalous matters.  After citing the passage from Wright’s History quoted above, he continued:

“Thus even in the most extraordinary feature of this play; a feature which hardly one person in a million would for a moment have suspected of being anything else but an extravagant invention, the records of Oxford are at one with the representation of Bertram. It is not necessary that we should believe the story to be true, for no authority for it is vouchsafed … In any case, the connection between the two is now as complete as accumulated evidence can make it.”

Marliss C. Desens writes in The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama (1994) that this plot device appears in at least forty-four plays of the period, but also that “an examination of English Renaissance dramas shows that bed-tricks were not being used on stage prior to the late 1590’s” and, more specifically, that the bed-trick “begins appearing in plays starting around 1598.”

So, if Oxford was “Shakespeare,” we can say with virtual certainty that in the Elizabethan reign he was the first to incorporate it, and, too, that he did so after being a victim of it in real life, or believing he was.  Oxfordians date the original versions of the plays far earlier than the orthodox dates dictated by the life of Shakspere; in the case of the four plays with bed tricks, here are the differences:

All’s Well That Ends Well – Traditionally to circa 1604; Oxfordians to 1579-80

Measure for Measure – Traditionally to 1603-05; Oxfordians to 1581-85

Cymbeline – Traditionally to 1610; Oxfordians to 1578-82

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Traditionally to 1612-13; Oxfordians to 1566, revision in 1594

Here is another example of how the Oxfordian context stands previous scholarship on its head. The view of “Shakespeare’s” creative process, and its journey over time, is transformed. It’s no wonder the academic world has such built-in resistance to seeing, much less accepting, the change of paradigm.

[This reason is now No. 75 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

Edward de Vere: The Fabric of His Life in the Sonnets: Reposting No. 29 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was Shake-speare

Edward de Vere was in the best position of anyone in England to be the author of the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered sonnets published in 1609 as Shake-speares Sonnets. The known facts about Oxford’s childhood, upbringing, education, and family all interconnect with the sonnets’ language and imagery.

Oxford was nephew to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), who, with Sir Thomas Wyatt, wrote the first English sonnets in the form to be used later by Shakespeare. Oxford himself wrote an early sonnet in that form; entitled Love Thy Choice, it expressed his devotion to Queen Elizabeth with the same themes of “constancy” and “truth” that “Shakespeare” would express in the same words:

“In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – Oxford’s sonnet to Queen Elizabeth

“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Sonnet 152 to the “Dark Lady”

The Shakespeare sonnets are plainly autobiographical, the author using the personal pronoun “I” to refer to himself, telling his own story in his own voice; so it’s only natural that he expresses himself with references to the life he experienced since childhood.   Much of that experience is captured in Sonnet 91:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their Hawks and Hounds, some in their Horse…

Oxford was born into England’s highest-ranking earldom, inheriting vast wealth in the form of many estates.  He was a skilled horseman and champion of two great jousting tournaments at the Whitehall tiltyard.  He was the “Italianate Englishman” who wore new-fangled clothing from the Continent.  An expert falconer, he wrote poetry comparing women to hawks “that fly from man to man.”

And every humor hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest,
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me …

Only someone who already had high birth, and was willing to give it up, could make such a declaration to another nobleman of high birth and make it meaningful; if written to the Earl of Southampton by a man who was not high-born, the statement would be an insulting joke.

Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than Hawks or Hounds be,
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast.
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.

Woodcut of Elizabethan astronomy or astrology

Oxford also left his footprints throughout:

(2) “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow” – He was forty in 1590, when most commentators feel the opening sonnets were written.

(8) “Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly … Mark how one string, sweet husband to another” – He was an accomplished musician, writing for the lute, and patronized the composer John Farmer, who dedicated two songbooks to him, praising his musical knowledge and skill.

(14) “And yet methinks I have astronomy” – He was well acquainted with the “astronomy,” or astrology, of Dr. John Dee and was praised for his knowledge of the subject.

(23) “As an imperfect actor on the stage” – He patronized two acting companies, performed in “enterludes” at court and was well known for his “comedies” or stage plays.

(33) “Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy” – He studied with Dee, who experimented with alchemy, and both men invested in the Frobisher voyages.

Elizabeth woodcut of distillation by “alchemy” to find the imagined “elixir” to prolong life”

(49) “To guard the lawful reasons on thy part” – He studied law at Gray’s Inn and served as a judge at the treason trials of Norfolk and Mary Stuart and later at the treason trial of Essex and Southampton; his personal letters are filled with intimate knowledge of the law.

(59) “O that record could with a backward look,/ Even of five hundred courses of the Sunne”  – His earldom extended back 500 years to the time of William the Conqueror.

(72) “My name be buried where my body is” – In his early poetry he wrote, “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground.”

(89) “Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt” – He was lamed by a sword during a street fight in 1582.

Queen Elizabeth – the Armada Portrait, 1588 – she loved those jewels!

(96) “As on the finger of a a throned Queen, / The basest Jewel will be well esteemed” – He gave the Queen “a fair jewel of gold” with diamonds in 1580.

(98) “Of different flowers in odor and in hue” – He was raised amid the great gardens of William Cecil, who imported flowers never seen in England, something that accounts for Shakespeare’s vast knowledge of plants.

(107) “And thou in this shalt find thy monument” – He wrote to Thomas Bedingfield in 1573 that “I shall erect you such a monument…”

(109) “Myself bring water for my stain” – He was “water-bearer to the monarch” at the coronation of James on 25 July 1603, in his capacity as Lord Great Chamberlain.

Title page of The New Jewell of Health (1576) by Dr. George Baker, dedicated to Oxford’s wife Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford

(111) “Potions of Eisel ‘gainst my strong infection” – His surgeon was Dr. George Baker, who dedicated three books to the earl or his wife.

(114) “And to his palate doth prepare the cup” – His ceremonial role as Lord Great Chamberlain included bringing the “tasting cup” to the monarch.

(116) “O no, it is an ever-fixed mark/ That looks on tempests and his never shaken … If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ nor no man ever loved” – He wrote: “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?  Vere.” (Emphasis added)

(121) “No, I am that I am…” –  He wrote to Burghley using the same words in the same tone (the words of God to Moses in the Bible) to protest his spying on him.

(125) “Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy” – He was reported to have been one of the six nobles bearing a “golden canopy” over the queen in the procession on 24 November 1588 celebrating England’s recent victory over the Spanish Armada. (But Sonnet 125, I believe, refers to the canopy held over Elizabeth’s effigy and coffin in the funeral procession on 28 April 1603.)

(128) “Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds”– He was an intimate favorite of the queen, who frequently played music on the virginals.

Courtiers of Queen Elizabeth – entertaining her with lute

(153) “I sick withal the help of bath desired” – He accompanied Elizabeth and her court during her three-day visit in August 1574 to the City of Bath, the only royal visit to that city; and “Shakespeare” is said to write about this visit in the so-called Bath Sonnets 153-154.

The Sonnets of Shakespeare amount to the autobiographical diary of de Vere. The allusions to his life as a high-born nobleman and courtier, appearing throughout the sequence, come forth naturally and spontaneously. In effect, he left his signature for all to see.

[This post, with significant help from editor Alex McNeil, is now Reason 52 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

The Earl of Southampton: Re-posting No. 28 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

One of the most compelling reasons to believe Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is the central role in the Shakespeare story played by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593, as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis, a 1200-line poem that the poet called “the first heir of my invention” in his dedication. The second appearance of “William Shakespeare” in print came a year later, with the publication of an 1800-line poem, Lucrece, again dedicated to Southampton.

The Lucrece dedication was an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the twenty-year-old earl:

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked himself to Southampton for all time.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that the Fair Youth of Shake-speares Sonnets, the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered poems printed in 1609, is also Southampton, even though he is not identified by name. Most further agree that, in the first seventeen sonnets, the poet is urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”

“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in 1984, “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer [1922] spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”

“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

  • De Vere became the first royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in 1562, under the guardianship of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), and in 1571 he entered into an arranged marriage with the chief minister’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil.
  • Henry Wriothesley became the eighth and last child of state as a boy in 1581-82, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted intense pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Cecil’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter, making the elder earl, in fact, the prospective father-in-law. Scholars generally agree that in the seventeen “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare’s tone sounds much like that of a prospective father-in-law or father urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him, although the poet never identifies or describes any specific young woman.

Lady Elizabeth Vere, who married William Stanley Earl of Derby in 1595

J. Dover Wilson writes in 1964: “What man in the whole world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married?”

Obviously, de Vere and Wriothesley both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome of this marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England, who must have had the full blessing of his sovereign Mistress.

Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”

The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”

A Notice of the Essex-Southampton Trial of Feb. 19, 1600 (1601) with Edward de Vere given prominence as a judge on the tribunal

By the time Southampton came to court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford had removed himself from active attendance. It seems that the two shared some kind of hidden story that tied them together:

= As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother. Even though their respective biological mothers were alive when their fathers died, under English law they became wards of the state, and the queen became their mother in a legal sense.

= Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.

= Oxford in the early 1590s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.

= After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford sat as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal for the treason trial of Essex and Southampton.

= The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict; there is evidence that Oxford then worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual liberation, as in Sonnet 35: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate.”

= On the night of Oxford’s recorded death on 24 June 1604, agents of the Crown arrested Southampton and returned him to the Tower, where he was interrogated all night until his release the following day.

= Henry Wriothesley and Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford (born in February 1593 to Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham) became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.” As members of the House of Lords, they often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for doing so.

On the eve of the failed rebellion led by Essex and Southampton in 1601, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s royal history play Richard II at the Globe; many historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself secured permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its scene of the deposing of the king. On the other hand, it is possible that Robert Cecil himself arranged for it, so he could then summon Essex to court and trigger the rebellion, which had actually been scheduled for a week later.

Once the rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of 8 February 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased for several years.

After Southampton was released on 10 April 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

Upon Oxford’s death in virtual obscurity, recorded as occurring on 24 June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published.

As part of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations surrounding the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival. In the days before and after the wedding, seven performances of the Bard’s plays were given. (The royal performances appear to be a memorial tribute to the playwright, rather than a tribute to a living author.) One performance was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, for King James and Queen Anne, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

After Hamlet in 1604 all publications again ceased, for four years. (King Lear was printed in 1608; Troilus and Cressida was issued in two editions during 1608-09; and Pericles appeared in 1609.) Then the silence resumed, for thirteen more years, until a quarto of Othello appeared in 1622; and finally the First Folio of thirty-six Shakespeare plays was published in 1623. Fully half of these stage works were printed for the first time; the folio included none of the Shakespeare poetry, nor any mention of Southampton or the Sonnets.

The connections between Oxford and Southampton are numerous and significant; the link between the two earls is crucial for the quest to determine the real Shakespeare.

[This post is now Reason 53 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with editorial assistance from Brian Bechtold.]

Oxford’s Thousand-Pound Grant: Re-posting No. 25 of 100 Reasons He Was “Shakespeare”

“But if Her Majesty, in regard of my youth, time, and fortune spent in her Court, and her favors and promises which drew me on without any mistrust, the more to presume in mine own expenses…” – Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford to Robert Ceil, 2 February 1601, describing how he had gone bankrupt in financing his activities (which were not specified) for Queen Elizabeth and the English government.

On June 26, 1586, when England was two years into the official war with Spain and bracing for King Philip’s invasion, the queen signed a warrant granting Oxford an extraordinary allowance of 1,000 pounds per year (roughly equivalent to about $400,000 today; also, in Elizabethan times a pound could buy much more than now). The grant was to be paid to him by the Exchequer, by the same formula for payments to Francis Walsingham and his wartime secret service: in quarterly installments with no accounting required.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

At this time the English government desperately needed all available cash for military defense; moreover, Walsingham required a constant flow of cash to pay foreign and domestic spies. Back in 1582 the Queen had given him 750 pounds; in 1586 she raised it to 2,000 pounds, but that would be the limit for her spymaster, even during the crucial year 1588.

Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-1590)

Why would Elizabeth, known for being a parsimonious (some would say miserly) monarch, choose to support a “spendthrift” nobleman who had “wasted” the vast bulk of his great inheritance?  Why would she do so at this most perilous moment for the nation?

De Vere’s grant went unnoticed by historians until two years after John Thomas Looney published his work on Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920.  Inspired to conduct further research, B. M. Ward discovered Elizabeth’s signature on the Privy Seal Warrant and then looked at surviving records for all other salaries and annuities paid from the Exchequer during her reign.  Aside from sums paid to King James VI of Scotland for political reasons, Ward found that the grant to Oxford was larger than any other except for the award to Walsingham and an annual 1,200-pound grant to the Master of the Posts for the ongoing expenses of that office.

As Ward noted, there is no hint as to the purpose of the grant except that it was “to be continued unto him during Our pleasure, or until such time as he shall be by us otherwise provided for to be in some manner relieved, at what time our pleasure is that this payment of one thousand pounds yearly to our said cousin in manner above specified shall cease.”

Blackfriars Playhouse – In the 1580’s Oxford gave the lease of it to John Lyly

By 1586, the thirty-six-year-old de Vere was, in fact, broke; he surely did need “to be in some manner relieved,” but the circumstantial evidence clearly suggests he had been working with Walsingham (and William Cecil Lord Burghley) to serve the government’s interests.  The evidence points to him playing a multifaceted role behind the scenes that included, but was not limited to, the issuance of his own “comedies” for the stage.

Oxford actively patronized two acting companies performing at the private Blackfriars Playhouse and at the royal court.  He patronized and/or employed many literary men for whom he provided working space, inspiration, guidance and freedom from the wartime suppression of written words and speech.  Some of the writers in his service, such as Anthony Munday and Thomas Watson, operated as secret service agents (as did Christopher Marlowe) while using their artistic activities as public cover. Others working under his wing included Robert Greene, John Lyly and Thomas Lodge.

The anonymous play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth was performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s

“The formation of the Queen’s Men in 1583 should be regarded particularly in connection with the intelligence system,” Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean write in The Queen’s Men and Their Plays (1998). “The point is not that the Queen’s Men were spies, but that traveling players wearing the Queen’s livery would have been useful to Walsingham – perhaps for occasionally bearing messages to the right persons, more obviously for showing that the central government was attending to the nation through its licensed travelers.”

With two companies on tour (except during the winter season, when they played at court), the Queen’s Men performed plays that would rouse patriotic fervor and encourage unity among Protestants and Catholics in the face of the coming Spanish invasion.  To call this “propaganda” would be true, but not the whole of it. Oxford had spent much of his fortune on helping to bring the European Renaissance to England – a result of his travels in 1575-1576 through France, Germany and Italy, and his employment of various artists who would create the great surge of English literature and drama in the 1580s, leading to the emergence of “Shakespeare” in the following decade.

The writers in Oxford’s orbit were creating a new English language, culture and national identity; these were weapons as important as ships and guns in building England’s ability and will to withstand attack. We cannot expect, however, to find these matters written down in the Queen’s Privy Seal Warrant authorizing his grant.

In the early 1660s, the Rev. John Ward, vicar of Stratford Parish in Warwickshire, recorded local rumors in his diary that “Shakespeare” had “supplied the stage with two plays every year and for that had an allowance so large that he spent at the rate of a thousand pounds a year.”

The Armada Battle

In fact, Oxford received his annual 1,000 pounds during the rest of the Anglo-Spanish War, from 1586 through the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the succession of James, until his own death in 1604.  That amounts to eighteen years, and, of course, two plays per year equals thirty-six, the number of works published in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.  There is no record that Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon ever received any allowance from the government or from anyone else.

It looks as though Rev. Ward had come into some accurate information about England’s greatest writer, even though, by that time, the author’s identity had been paved over and sealed by official history.

(Note: This post now appears as No. 43 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

%d bloggers like this: