Richard Edwards and Edward de Vere: Re-posting No. 56 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

“For Tragedy, Lord Buckhurst and Master Edward Ferrys do deserve the highest praise: the Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty’s Chapel, for Comedy and Enterlude.” The Arte of English Poesie, 1589

Elizabethan musician and poet Richard Edwards was thirty-eight in 1561 when he became Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, the director of the choirboys who entertained the queen with plays and concerts. In the following year, Edward de Vere arrived in London as the first of Elizabeth’s royal wards. During the rest of his life he would actively patronize the Chapel Children and the Children of St. Paul’s (later known in the countryside as Oxford’s Boys), and an adult acting company as well.

Although “Damon and Pithias” was written and performed for Queen Elizabeth in the Christmas season of 1564, it was first printed in 1571 and attributed to Richard Edwards, who had died in 1566.

In the Christmas season of 1564-65 a play attributed to Edwards was performed by the Chapel Children for Elizabeth and the court at Whitehall. The play, Damon and Pithias, was the first “tragicomedy” in England and the high water mark of English drama up to then. It was set in the royal Greek court of Dionysius, but its closing songs expressed loyalty to the queen by name, revealing that the royal court of Elizabeth had been intended all along – an early example of what would become Shakespeare’s habit of using foreign settings to reflect England itself.

The prologue of Damon and Pithias (printed in 1571), referring to its author, stated that “to some he seemed too much in young desires to range.” Then it switched to the plural “Authors” of the play, adding, “I speak for our defense.”  Did de Vere collaborate on Damon and Pithias with Master Edwards, as the The Arte of English Poesie suggests?  Or was he the sole author of this youthful, highly spirited play?

The closing song evoked Oxford’s motto Nothing Truer than Truth:

True friends talk truly, they gloss for no gain…

True friends for their true prince refuseth not their death.

The Lord grant her such friends, most noble Queen Elizabeth!

Decades later Sonnet 82 by “Shake-speare” would echo those lines:

Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized

In true plain words by thy true-telling friend

Christ Church Hall – yes, used in a scene for Harry Potter…

In August 1566 the Queen visited Oxford University and presented de Vere with an honorary Master of Arts degree. [The young earl studied mainly with private tutors.]  During her Majesty’s historic visit she arrived at Christ Church Hall for the student performance of Palamon and Arcyte, a new play attributed to Edwards, dramatizing Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale; and this performance on two separate nights became a major event of campus lore.

Word of mouth from rehearsals and previews had served to build up tremendous excitement and anticipation. After Elizabeth and her court were seated, the incoming crowd swelled to the point that a wall beside the stairs ripped away, crushing three persons to death and injuring five others. Elizabeth sent for her own doctors to help; after all the hurt or dead had been carried off, the show went on as scheduled.

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” as by Fletcher and Shakespeare, printed in 1634, was probably based on surviving parts of the “lost” play “Palamon and Arcyte” by sixteen-year-old Edward de Vere in 1566

Palamon and Arcyte is now a “lost” play, but is often cited as a source of The Two Noble Kinsman, printed nearly seventy years later in 1634 as by (according to the title page) “the memorable Worthies of their times, Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. William Shakespeare, both cited as “Gent.” Scholars have identified the “Shakespearean” sections as well as the “lesser” contributions by Fletcher; but they are baffled as to why the Bard, near the end of his illustrious career, would decide to collaborate with an inferior writer.

The logical answer is that he did nothing of the sort — on the contrary, the “young Shakespeare” wrote Palamon and Arcyte by age sixteen in 1566, with some of his text surviving into the next century, when Fletcher filled in the missing parts, with his own inferior writing, to create the play known as The Two Noble Kinsmen.

During the 1566 performance, with Oxford in attendance, the queen was thrilled by the staging of a “cry of hounds” for Theseus, Duke of Athens. Reacting to the realism of the scene, students began “hallooing” and Elizabeth is reported to have shouted, “O excellent!  Those boys are ready to leap out at windows to follow the hounds!”

Perhaps the author of Hamlet recalled Her Majesty’s delight at the naturalness of it all when he wrote the prince’s statement that “the purpose of playing” is “to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature…”

“Hounds at Full Cry” – the oil painting by Thomas Blinks

In the future, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by “Shakespeare” would also present Theseus, Duke of Athens, who says: “My love shall hear the music of my hounds … My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind … A cry more tuneable was never holloo’d to nor cheered with horn.”  When the queen attended the latter play at court, did she recall the earlier play from 1566? Did she realize that Oxford must have inserted the hounds as a private, shared recollection of those earlier hounds at the university?

The alleged playwriting career of Richard Edwards lasted just two years. His death on 31 October 1566 occurred only weeks after Palamon and Arcyte had been staged for the queen at Oxford. A decade later in 1576 came publication of The Paradise of Dainty Devices, a collection of ninety-nine poems (and/or song lyrics) that Edwards had compiled “for his private use” before he died, according to the printer Henry Disle. Ten of the verses were attributed to “M. Edwardes,” with eight signed “E.O.” for Edward Oxenford, as he often signed his name.

If in fact Edwards had compiled the poems ten years earlier, Oxford would have composed his contributions by age sixteen; but if the earl himself had done the compiling for the 1576 edition, he might have written his own poems at any time up to then. Of the nine contributors whose names or initials appear on the title page, only Oxford and Lord Vaux were noblemen, and the latter was deceased.

There are many unanswered questions about The Paradise, not least of which is how many other verses in the volume might have come from Oxford’s pen. Alexander B. Grosart in Fuller Worthies’ Library of 1872 identified twenty-two poems by de Vere, remarking that “an unlifted shadow lies across his memory.”

“Shakespeare” would later use part of a song, attributed in The Paradise to Edwards, entitled In Commendation of Music (“Where griping grief the heart would wound,” etc.).  The excerpt appears in Romeo and Juliet:

When griping grief the heart doth wound,

And doleful dumps the mind oppress,

Then mustic with her silver sound…(4.5)

Hyder Rollins in his edition of 1927 reports that The Paradise was “the most popular miscellany printed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth” and that by 1606 it had “reached at least a tenth edition.”  Additional poems were included with many of the new printings.

So we find the teenage de Vere and the Master of the Chapel Children with intensely shared interests in music, lyrics, poetry, players and plays, strands of which are all intertwined with, and connected to, the future “Shakespeare” works.

(This reason is now No. 18 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. Many thanks to editor Alex McNeil for his invaluable expertise and help.)

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