Christopher Marlowe, Continued: the Fourth and Final Part of Reason 95 to Believe the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Queen Elizabeth with the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish armada arrived

Queen Elizabeth with the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish armada arrived

After England destroyed the Spanish armada in the summer of 1588, Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford played a prominent role in the celebratory procession to St. Paul’s Cathedral on the twenty-fourth of November. An observer reported in A Joyful Ballad of the Royal Entrance of Queen Elizabeth into the City of London:

The noble Earl of Oxford then High Chamberlain of England
Rode right before Her Majesty his bonnet in his hand…
And afterwards unto Paul’s cross she did directly pass,
There by the Bishop of Salisbury a sermon preached was;
The Earl of Oxford opening then the windows for her Grace,
The Children of the Hospital she saw before her face.

But this was the end of Oxford’s public life. He soon disappeared from court and public view, retiring to the countryside after selling Vere House and Fisher’s Folly, the latter mansion having provided a London home base for writers in his charge. His wife Anne Cecil had died in June of 1588 and her father, Lord Burghley, as Master of the Court of Wards, instituted procedures against him in early 1589 for his debts dating back at least two decades and amounting to a staggering total of some 22,000 pounds – rendering his annuity of a thousand pounds virtually useless.

William Cecil Lord Burghley

William Cecil
Lord Burghley

[Mostly likely Oxford went to the manor house of Stoke Newington. After that he may have gone to Billesley Hall in the Valley of the Avon, owned by the family of Elizabeth Trussel, the Maid of Honor who became his second wife in 1591. A local legend is that As You Like It was written by “Shakespeare” at Billesley Hall.]

Billesley Hall or Manor

Billesley Hall or Manor

Oxford was the central sun around which the writers revolved, so when he could no longer finance their labors they began to fly out of orbit. The result, directly or indirectly, was the loss of nearly all of them within a span of some five years; for example:

John Lyly, his main secretary and stage manager, lost his job in 1590;
Thomas Lodge escaped poverty by voyaging to South America in 1591;
Thomas Watson died in 1592;
Robert Greene died of dissipation and poverty in September 1592;
Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death on May 30, 1593;
Thomas Kyd, after being tortured on the rack in 1593, died in 1594.

Oxford’s company of child actors, called Paul’s Boys and/or Oxford’s Boys, was forced by the government to dissolve in 1590; and soon after, writes Eva Turner Clark, “the loud complaints of members of the group are heard; one member dies in poverty; another fails to receive promised preferment; another is killed in a tavern brawl; and others drag on in miserable existence. The goose that lay the Golden Eggs was dead.”

Outcries from the writers took various forms that only certain members of the royal court and the aristocracy might have understood. Thomas Nashe, for example, in his 1589 preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon entitled To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities, referred to Oxford as the “English Seneca” who had been forced to “die to our stage” or to abandon his commitment to theatre:

“Yet English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches. But oh grief! Tempus edax rerum: [‘Time, the consumer of all things”] what’s that will last always? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be dry, and Seneca, let blood line by line and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage.”

Many Oxfordians believe that Edward de Vere had written the first version of Hamlet by 1585, when he had Marcellus allude to “shipwrights” (builders of wooden vessels) in London who were helping to prepare for the Spanish invasion:

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week…

The spectacle of shipbuilding all week and even on Sundays, as the nation braced for war on the home front, would have resonated with an English audience before, but not after, the arrival of the armada in 1588. Meanwhile Nashe was also indirectly reporting that the author of the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark had been forced to “die to our stage.”

Then at the end of 1590 came registration of the poem Tears of the Muses, attributed to Edmund Spenser, also bemoaning the loss of the great author:

And he, the man whom nature self had made
To mock herself, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under mimic sdhade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! Is dead of late…

But that same gently spirit, from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
That so himself to mockery to sell.

It was Edward de Vere who (as Hamlet puts it) held the mirror up to “nature” and so “imitate” the “truth” in his work – an echo in passing of his motto Nothing Truer than Truth. Oxford was the great writer who had been “dead of late” and was now choosing to “sit in idle cell” rather than sell himself or his work. In one of his song-verses printed back in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, signed “E.O.” in 1576 and “E. Ox” in subsequent editions, he revealed that “never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone” – that is, he never worked harder than when he was by himself.

Meanwhile in September 1589 two of the writer-spies in Oxford’s circle got into trouble. Marlowe was fighting in the street with an innkeeper’s son, William Bradley, when Watson appeared and drew his sword. Marlowe stepped back, but Bradley leaped toward Watson and wounded him. Watson retreated, but Bradley charged again, so now Watson pierced him deep in the chest, killing him. Both writer-agents were tossed into the Newgate dungeon, but Marlowe was released without charge while a jury eventually ruled that Watson had acted in self-defense. He spent some months in the prison, awaiting “the grace of the Queen” until, on February 10, 1590, he received a pardon.

Queen Elizabeth The Armada Portrait

Queen Elizabeth
The Armada Portrait

The death of Secretary Francis Walsingham on April 6, 1590 sent the world of English espionage into a tailspin of competing factions. The strongest one was controlled by the powerful father-son team of William Cecil Lord Burghley and Robert Cecil. The latter, Oxford’s former brother-in-law, was determined to gain power over the intelligence-gathering apparatus and, too, over the public stage along with its playwrights, play companies and playhouses.

Upon the Secretary’s death some of his spy network fell into the hands of his cousin Thomas Walsingham, who began to lead a kind of rogue operation. Watson and Marlowe both entered Thomas Walsingham’s patronage; and Marlowe continued to travel abroad. As reported first by Nicholl in The Reckoning, in January 1592 Marlowe was lodging with two other English spies in Flushing, a Dutch seaport town ceded to England in return for support against Spanish invaders. On the twenty-sixth of that month, Marlowe was arrested in Flushing as a counterfeiter and deported – a bizarre episode that ended with him returning home as a prisoner to face Burghley in private and answer his questions.

Might it be reasonable to ask how Marlowe found time to write? It appears that whatever his literary and dramatic contributions may have been, they had ceased when Oxford gave up Fisher’s Folly in 1589 and could no longer support the University Wits. In The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1584), Charlton Ogburn Jr. supported the idea that it was Oxford who had discovered Marlowe’s dramatic ability and brought out Tamburlaine in 1587, to teach the people what might be expected of a ruthless conqueror like Philip of Spain; and he continued:

“The relationship between the two playwrights [Oxford and Marlowe] at this time may be taken to account for the similarities in Shakespeare’s early historical dramas to Edward the Second, printed in 1594 as Marlowe’s” – that is, printed with his name after he was murdered. “The supposition would be that the play was an early one of Oxford’s that the Earl turned over in draft to Marlowe to make what he would of it.”

[Ogburn’s mother Dorothy Ogburn had written of “evidence that Edward the Second is a direct forerunner of 2 and 3 Henry the Sixth and of Richard II and is by the same hand, created out of the same consciousness: it is not plagiarized from someone else. There are innumerable correspondences between Edward the Second and these dramas, not only in locutions, imagery and mannerisms, but also in point of view.”]

On April 18, 1593, the long, highly cultured and sophisticated narrative poem Venus and Adonis was entered at the Stationer’s Register in London, without any author’s name.

William Cecil Lord Burghley (l) and his son Robert Cecil (r)

William Cecil Lord Burghley (l) and his son Robert Cecil (r)

On May 30, 1593, Christopher Marlowe was killed in the company of three other spies. Among them was the most important government agent, Robert Poley, who was now working for Burghley and Robert Cecil – the latter being determined to prevent nobles such as Oxford, Essex and Southampton from choosing a successor to Elizabeth, now in her sixtieth year. The only way Robert Cecil could hope to retain power behind the throne, beyond the reign of Elizabeth, was to become the kingmaker.

It appears that Cecil had viewed Kit Marlowe as knowing too many secrets to be trusted, that is, as having been too dangerous to remain alive. In any case, Marlow had never been named as the author of any poem or play during his lifetime.

A few weeks later, in June 1593, Venus and Adonis went on sale. No author’s name appeared on the title page, but the printed signature for the dedication to Southampton carried, for the first time, the name of an otherwise unknown author – William Shakespeare, evoking the image of a warrior-poet shaking the spear of his pen.

Oxford had returned…

“English Seneca” … “Our Pleasant Willy” … was back.

Number 91 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford Wrote the Poems, Plays and Sonnets of William Shakespeare — “The Winter’s Tale” – Part One

Traditional Shakespeare scholarship offers many examples of what happens when a literary or dramatic work is viewed with the wrong author in mind. Using an incorrect biography as a guide is equivalent to following the wrong road map. As Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. has reminded us with a different metaphor: “A skier starting off from the top of the mountain in a slightly different direction ends up at a very different place at the bottom.” And a scholar starting off with a faulty authorship premise inevitably runs into an ever-expanding muddle of speculations.

winter's tale 1890

In the case of The Winter’s Tale, printed initially in the First Folio of 1623, viewing the play as by William Shaksper of Stratford has led many scholars to conclude it was written in 1611. Edmund Malone (1741-1812) believed that an otherwise unknown play A Winter Night’s Pastime, registered in 1594, represents an earlier attempt to print the Shakespeare play; but the later date of composition is usually cited.

An example of following the wrong road map is Stephen Greenblatt’s suggestion at the end of Will in the World (2004) that Shakspere decided by 1610 or so to “enact a final, fantastic theatrical experiment” — which had nothing to do with acting or writing, but, rather, with taking on “the everyday life of a country gentleman.” He would “return to the place from which he had come,” perhaps drawn home by a motive that “seems to lie in plain sight” within what are assumed to be among his final plays.

This motive involved a woman twenty years younger than he, the woman “who most intensely appealed to Shakespeare” during his entire lifetime — none other than his daughter Susanna!

Perdita Daughter of King Leontes & Queen Hermoine (Henrietta L. Palmer, 1859)

Daughter of King Leontes & Queen Hermoine
(Henrietta L. Palmer, 1859)

“It cannot be an accident,” Greenblatt writes, “that three of his last plays – Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest – are centered on the father-daughter relationship and are so deeply anxious about incestuous desires.” What the author really wanted was “the pleasure of living near his daughter and her husband and their child,” even though this pleasure had “a strange, slightly melancholy dimension, a joy intimately braided together with renunciation.”

So here is a leading orthodox scholar trying to link up the author’s work with his life (an implicit acknowledgment that literary biography is useful), but doing so by using pure invention. Well, yes, Shaksper did spend his final years in Stratford, but was he really obsessed with gnawing “incestuous desires” toward his daughter? And does this really help us understand those three plays? I’d say we’re following the wrong road in the wrong territory and about to drive off the proverbial cliff…

On the other hand, another reason to conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” is that his authorship places the initial writing of The Winter’s Tale all the way back (by a quarter century) to 1584-1586 and opens up a wealth of far more plausible motives and connections, based on key circumstances or events such as:

• His jealous rage at his wife Anne Cecil and rejection of the girl Elizabeth Vere, who was born in 1575 while the earl was on the Continent – mirrored in the play by the jealous rage of King Leontes against his wife Hermoine, plus his order that her newborn infant girl, Perdita, be burned alive.

Elizabeth de Vere, Daughter of Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil, born in 1575  (Countess of Derby as of 1595)

Elizabeth de Vere, Daughter of Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil, born in 1575
(Countess of Derby as of 1595)

• The Duchess of Suffolk’s scheme in 1577 to trick Oxford into seeing two-year-old Elizabeth Vere without revealing the girl’s identity at first – as Lady Paulina tries to trick Leontes.

• The rise at Court of Sir Walter Raleigh and his expeditions in the 1580s to the New World, including the colonization of Virginia, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth – as indicated by repeated allusions in the play to Raleigh and his affairs.

• The treason trial of Mary, Queen of Scots in October 1586, when Oxford sat at the head of the row of peers on the tribunal — as mirrored by the treason trial of Hermione.

Then, too, viewing Oxford as the playwright lends personal links to the sources, for example:

Statue of Hermoine William Hamilton, R. A. Robert Thew, Engraving

Statue of Hermoine
William Hamilton, R. A.
Robert Thew, Engraving

• The miracle of a statue coming to life in The Winter’s Tale is to be found in the story of Pygmalion and Galatea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses – leading us back to the 1567 translation used by “Shakespeare” and credited to Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding, but more likely translated by the young earl himself (starting when he became a royal ward in the 1560s, living under the same roof with Golding at Cecil House).


• The source of the main plot of The Winter’s Tale is commonly regarded as the novel Pandosto, or the Triumph of Time by Robert Greene, first printed in 1588; but once again we are led straight to Edward de Vere, who had been that writer’s patron from at least 1580 and so had firsthand knowledge of the novel well before its publication. (Some researchers believe Oxford had used “Robert Greene” as a pen name and had written Pandosto himself.)

• The traditional author’s biography has made it impossible for “Shakespeare” to read Greek dramas in their original language, but Oxford had the ability to read them — for example, Euripedes’ Alcestis, which, as Earl Showerman has shown, provides much more emotional depth of the kind created in The Winter’s Tale.

The entrance of Edward de Vere as author has also overturned some oft-repeated misstatements about the “ignorance” of Shakespeare and his “mistakes,” such as:

• Near the end of The Winter’s Tale the statue of Hermione is described as “a piece many years in doing and now newly performed by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape: he so near to Hermoine hath done Hermione, that they say one would speak to her and stand in hope of answer.”

Titian Portrait of Guilio Romano, c/ 1536

Titian Portrait of Guilio Romano, c/ 1536

For a long time scholars believed that Romano was a painter, not also a sculptor, but Oxford had traveled through northern Italy and could not have avoided seeing Romano’s work in Mantua. The earl would have known that Romano was famed for statues that he constructed out of powdered marble and painted to be extraordinarily lifelike. (The Wikipedia page for Guilio Romano still asserts that he was not a sculptor.)

• Act Three, Scene Three opens with Antigonous saying to a mariner, “Thou art perfect, then, our ship hath touched upon the deserts of Bohemia?” Although Ben Jonson and subsequent critics accused Shakespeare of being unaware that Bohemia was landlocked, Oxford spent several months in Venice and, eager to learn the history of the region, would have found out that in the thirteenth century the King of Bohemia had ruled territories stretching to the Adriatic Sea – making it possible, in fact, for someone to sail from Sicily to Bohemia.

Part Two of Reason No. 91 will take a closer look at links between Oxford’s life and The Winter’s Tale.

Part Two of Reason 20 — The Dedications Reveal Oxford’s Personal Relationships with Authors Whose Works Would Lead to “Shakespeare”

This part of Reason No. 20 includes several of the many public dedications to Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, to indicate the scope of his personal relationships with other writers.  The way I see it, anyone who would eventually create the works of “Shakespeare” could not have grown and developed as an artist in a vacuum; on the contrary, he must have been part of a group or even a “community” of fellow authors, poets and playwrights.

Oxford was not only part of such a community; their tributes make clear that he was their leader.  

Arthur Golding (Histories of Trogus Pompeius) wrote to him in 1564: “It is not unknown to others, and I have had experiences thereof myself, how earnest a desire your Honor hath naturally grafted in you to read, peruse, and communicate with others as well the histories of ancient times, and things done long ago, as also of the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding.”

Thomas Underdowne (Aethiopian History) told him in 1569 that “matters of learning” were good for a nobleman, but then warned the earl that “to be too much addicted that way, I think it is not good.”

(In that same year 19-year-old Oxford ordered “a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers” as well as “Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books.”  Sounds indeed like a young man “addicted” to learning!)

When Thomas Bedingfield dedicated his translation of Cardanus Comforte to Oxford in 1573, he told him that “I do present the book your Lordship so long desired,” confirming that the earl had been personally involved in this publication [for which he contributed both a Letter to the Reader and a poem].   He reminds Oxford of “the encouragement of your Lordship, who (as you well remember), unawares to me, found some part of this work and willed me in any wise to proceed therein.”

Also in 1573 the distinguished physician Thomas Twyne (Breviary of Britain) referred to Oxford as being “in your flower and tender age” before inviting him to bestow  upon his work “such regard as you are accustomed to do on books of Geography, Histories, and other good learning, wherein I am privy your honour taketh singular delight.”

One of Oxford’s secretaries, Anthony Munday (Mirror of Mutability), told the earl in 1579 that he looked forward to “the day when as conquerors we may peacefully resume our delightful literary discussions.”

Munday was apparently referring to the rivalry between the Euphuists under Oxford and the Romanticists who included Philip Sidney and Gabriel Harvey.  His reference to “our delightful literary discussions” offers a glimpse of Oxford personally engaged with other writers who were developing a new English literature and drama leading to “Shakespeare.”

And the works created by members of this circle (such as John Lyly, another of his secretaries) would later become known as “contemporary sources” upon which “Shakespeare” drew.

Thomas Watson (Hekatompathia, or The Passionate Century of Love) in 1580 reminded Oxford that he had “willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”  He cited Oxford as a kind of literary trend-setter, one whose approval would move others to approve as well; and because of this influence he had, his acceptance of Watson’s work in manuscript meant that “many have oftentimes and earnestly called upon me to put it to the press.”

Angel Day (The English Secretary) wrote in 1586 to Oxford about “the learned view and insight of your Lordship, whose infancy from the beginning was ever sacred to the Muses.”

Robert Greene (Card of Fancy) wrote publicly to Oxford in 1584 that he was “a worthy  favorer and fosterer of learning [who] hath forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first-fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.”

In other words, Oxford encouraged young writers who were working on their very first works to be be published, guiding them to the press.

In 1591 the composer John Farmer, who apparently lived in Oxford’s household, dedicated his first songbook (Plain-Song) to the earl, saying he was “emboldened” because of “your Lordship’s great affection to this noble science” (music) – which, of course, must be said also of Shakespeare.  In his second dedication (First Set of English Madrigals, 1599), Farmer told Oxford that “using this science as a recreation, your Lordship have over-gone most of them that make it a profession.”

So it’s not just the dedications, per se, that are impressive here; it’s also that the comments and praises appear to be absolutely genuine and heartfelt.   Oxford may have had many faults of character, such as a tendency to be jealous and vengeful, but among his fellow writers and other artists he must have been unusually spirited and generous.  Perhaps his relationship with them was akin to Prince Hamlet’s relationship with the players:

“You are welcome, masters!  Welcome, all!  I am glad to see thee well.  Welcome, good friends … Masters, you are all welcome.  We’ll e’en to it like French falconers, fly at anything we see.  We’ll have a speech straight.  Come, give us a taste of your quality.  Come, a passionate speech!”  

[All added emphases above are mine.]

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