Reason No. 64 Why the Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare: The Pivotal Year for Play Publications is also the Year of His Recorded Death — 1604

The official record indicates that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford died at fifty-four on June 24, 1604, and it just so happens that within the span of three decades (1594-1623) when first-time “Shakespeare” play publications occurred, 1604 is the pivotal year.

Hamlet 2ndQuartoCover2

Given the hypothesis that Oxford was the true author, a logical prediction is that upon his death in 1604 we should see some significant changes or events in the history of the play printings, and in fact that is precisely what we find; such as:

*  The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke comes off the press in 1604 in its most nearly full version, evidently from the author’s own manuscript.

*  After that printing the great issuance of authoritative Shakespeare plays abruptly ends, leaving eighteen plays unpublished for nearly twenty years.

*  In the Christmas season of 1604-05, the Court of King James holds an unprecedented festival of seven Shakespeare plays celebrating the marriage of Oxford’s daughter Susan de Vere.

*  In 1604 the King’s Men, formerly the Chamberlain’s Men (“Shakespeare’s company”), having gone without problems since its inception in 1594, suddenly has trouble with the authorities.

*  The businessman William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon lodges in 1604 with Mountjoy, a maker of women’s headdresses — the last indication of him as living in London.

*  Traditional biographies conjecture Shakespeare’s acting career ends in 1604, when he returns home to Stratford.

Thirteen Shakespearean plays were printed during 1594-1600.  The six published during 1594-97 were anonymous; the name first appeared in 1598, when the great issuance of dramatic works truly began, but after 1600 the floodgates swung shut — a temporarily hiatus, for perhaps three years.  The reason, J. T. Looney offers in Shakespeare Identified of 1920, was that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, dedicatee of the 1593-94 poems, was imprisoned in early 1601 for his role in the failed Essex Rebellion. 

“All publication of proper literary versions of the plays stopped immediately,” Looney noted, adding it seems that although “the complete issue of the plays had been decided upon and begun,” Southampton’s entrance into the Tower “interfered with the plans.” 

(Added Looney:  “There is much to support the view that Henry Wriothesley acted as intermediary between the Earl of Oxford and those who were staging and publishing the dramas.”)

After Southampton’s liberation in April 1603, the corrupt Hamlet Q1 was published; then upon Oxford’s death in 1604 came Hamlet Q2, twice as long.  [In 1608-09 a brief flurry of printings included King Lear, Pericles and Troilus and Cressida, but these were not from the author’s manuscripts.]  With Hamlet Q2 in 1604, all authoritative printings of yet-unpublished plays ceased for eighteen years until Othello (1622) and, finally, the First Folio (1623) with exactly half of its thirty-six plays published for the first time.

 “We have a flood of Shakespearean plays being published authentically right up to the death of Edward de Vere,” Looney wrote, referring to Hamlet Q2 of 1604, “then a sudden stop, and nothing more published with any appearance of proper authorization for nearly twenty years, although the reputed author was alive and active during twelve of these years.”

In November 1604, less than five months after Oxford’s death, the unprecedented Court festival of plays began with Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  The wedding of Oxford’s daughter and Philip Herbert took place on December 27, with Measure for Measure performed the day before and The Comedy of Errors the day after.  The Shakespearean productions at the Royal Court continued in January with Love’s Labour’s Lost (hosted by Southampton) and Henry V, followed in February by two performances of The Merchant of Venice.

From an Oxfordian viewpoint this Shakespearean festival surrounding the marriage of Susan de Vere is a silent tribute to her father, the recently departed dramatist!

Meanwhile traditional Shakespeare biographies presume that, just at the moment of Oxford’s death, the author’s conjectured acting career came to an end.  “We suppose Shakespeare to have ceased to act in the summer of 1604,” reports the 1913 Irving edition of the Complete Works, following a statement by the National Encyclopedia in the nineteenth century that “there is no doubt he never meant to return to London, except for business visits, after 1604.”

Remarkably enough the Irving edition goes on to report a crisis in the affairs of Shakespeare’s acting troupe after 1604:  “No sooner had our great dramatist ceased to take part in public performances of the King’s players, than the company appears to have thrown off the restraint by which it had been unusually controlled ever since its formation, and to have produced plays which were objectionable to the Court … Shakespeare, from his abilities, station, and experience, must have possessed great influence with the body at large, and due deference, we may readily believe, was shown to his knowledge and judgment in the selection and acceptance of plays.”  (My emphasis)

(I believe the Irving editors are correct, but with only one possible explanation — that it was Edward de Vere who had the “abilities, station and experience” to guide the Shakespeare company in its choice of plays and, as well, to protect it from the authorities.)    

So the great outpouring of Shakespeare publications in quarto culminated in 1604, the year of Oxford’s death, with the authentic version of Hamlet, the tragedy viewed generally as the author’s supreme dramatic achievement; and as Looney concluded:  “The last words of Hamlet may almost be accepted as Oxford’s dying words”–

Horatio, I am dead;

Thou livest; report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied…

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity awhile,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story…

The rest is silence.

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