“Romeus and Juliet” of 1562: Reason No. 83 why Edward de Vere = “Shakespeare”

“Arthur Brooke’s sole claim to fame is his long poem ‘The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet’ (1562), a metrical version of a story in Boaistuau’s ‘Histories Tragiques’ (1559) and the main source of Shakespeare’s tragedy of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ … Brooke adds a number of features not in the French version, which Shakespeare adopted, including the comic garrulity of the nurse and the notion of Fortune as the controller of the lovers’ fates.” – The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare, edited by Oscar James Campbell

Arthur Brooke died at nineteen in the wreck of the Queen’s ship The Greyhound in March 1563, just months after the narrative poem attributed to him had been published. Researcher Nina Green has shown that Brooke had been a close relative of William Brooke Lord Cobham (1527-1597) and that in December 1561 he had been admitted to the Middle Temple for the study of law.

Top half of the Title Page of "Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet" in 1562

Title Page of “Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet” in 1562

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In 1562, when the 3,000-line Romeus and Juliet was published, twelve-year-old Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford became a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in the custody of William Cecil Lord Burghley. And since Burghley and Cobham were close friends, Ms. Green writes, “it seems likely that Lord Cobham would have been a visitor at Cecil House in the Strand” where Oxford was living; and, because of other connections, “The likelihood is strong that Oxford was personally acquainted with Arthur Brooke.”

Also, given young Oxford’s demonstrable interest in literature, he was surely familiar with Romeus and Juliet, the acknowledged principal source of one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Just as the earl was personally linked to Shakespeare’s favorite classical source, the Metamorphoses of Ovid as translated in the 1560’s by his Uncle Arthur Golding, here in the case of Arthur Brooke we find him personally close to the source material that inspired Shakespeare in the creation of his works.


At this point we have good enough cause to suggest Brooke’s long poem as one more “reason” to conclude that young De Vere grew up to become “Shakespeare”. After all, imagine the fuss that orthodox scholars would make if Will of Stratford had been connected even remotely to Shakespeare’s main source for Romeo and Juliet! But there’s also the rather obvious possibility that Oxford himself had composed Romeus and Juliet by the age of twelve, causing it to be published under “Ar. Br.” – an abbreviated form of “Arthur Brooke”.

In This Star of England (1952) the Oxfordian authors Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn quote from a 1944 essay by Professor Ned P. Allen, who cites “parallels between the old poem and the play, passage for passage, demonstrating that, in many respects, the play Romeo and Juliet is a highly finished, more mature version of the poem.” The Ogburns, aware that Oxford had written fluent French at thirteen and that many of his poems (or song lyrics) in The Paradise of Dainty Devices had been written before he was sixteen, concluded that Romeus and Juliet could be his earliest printed poem.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. agreed with his parents in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1584), writing of the work attributed to Brooke: “If the narrator seems childish, he does so, I submit, for the best possible reason: he was little more than a child. If ‘Shakespeare’ was not put off by its childish clumsiness … and if he would accept a story wholeheartedly from such a source … the only reasonable explanation I can think of is that he had written it himself in his boyhood and, probably touched by it, regarded it with parental indulgence.”

And, Ogburn added, the mature author would have turned “the awkward effort into the undying drama of the star-crossed lovers as we know it” by way of “repaying a debt to the earnest, striving boy” he had been in 1562.

a book of romeus and juliet

More recently, however, Oxfordian scholar Paul Hemenway Altrocchi has made the most convincing case that Edward de Vere had written the main source of Romeo and Juliet in his childhood. In a paper reprinted in his collection Malice Aforethought: The Killing of a Unique Genius (2010), he reminds us that in 1563 was published The Agreement of Sondry Places of Scripture by the same Arthur Brooke who died at nineteen that year. This second book is a series of translations from French of contradictory biblical quotations such as “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” (Exodus) versus “If any man strike thee on the right cheek give him the other also” (Matthew).

Title Page of the Second Quarto of "Romeo and Juliet" -- in 1599, but still with no author name attached...

Title Page of the Second Quarto of “Romeo and Juliet” — in 1599, but still with no author name attached…

“Brooke’s remarkably dreary, verbatim translation of Sundry Places must raise a strong suspicion that he was not the author of the clever, imaginative Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet,” Altrocchi writes, adding, “The marked stylistic discrepancy between the two works is striking and compels further investigation, not mere submissive acceptance of Brooke’s authorship of both because his name is on both title pages.” By contrast he quotes various lines from Romeus and Juliet, for example:

But when she should have slept, as wont she was, in bed,
Not half a wink of quiet sleep could harbor in her head.
For lo, an hugy heap of divers thoughts arise,
That rest have banished from her heart, and slumber from her eyes.
And now from side to side she tosseth and she turns,
And now for fear she shivereth, and now for love she burns.
And now she likes her choice, and now her choice she blames,
And now each hour within her head a thousand fancies frames.

“Who can deny that these lovely verses remind one of Shakespeare, albeit a youth Shakespeare?” Altrocchi comments, offering a sample of Brooke’s translational style in Sondry Places for comparison, beginning with this line: “When the apostle to that Debra sayeth that the first ordinance ceased signifying that the law and the office of Priesthood were at an end because this law was weak and unprofitable, he showeth evidently that he speaketh in respect of ceremonies forasmuch as he addeth threreunto the office of sacrificing.”

"Agreement of Sondry Places" by Arthur Brooke, 1563

“Agreement of Sondry Places” by Arthur Brooke, 1563

The writing in Sondry Places “bears not a scintilla of similarity to the imaginative, verbal beauty” of Romeus and Juliet, writes Altrocchi. “On linguistic evidence alone, especially since the two works were written in consecutive years, logic suggests that Brooke should be expunged from any serious consideration as the author of the captivating Tragicall Historye” of 1562.

Moreover the author of the popular play Romeo and Juliet followed the story line of Romeus and Juliet so closely, using similar passages and word-clusters, Altrocchi writes, “that Shakespeare would have been an outright plagiarist were he not the author of both works … The idea that the Western World’s greatest literary genius was guilty of plagiarizing a teen-aged poet named Arthur Brooke, or anyone else, is discordantly jarring.”

So he poses this rhetorical question: “What writing genius in England was alive and could have written both the narrative poem Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet in 1561-1562 and the great play Romeo and Juliet ?”

And he concludes: “If the 1562 edition of Tragicall Historye is indeed an early publication of William Shakespeare, this makes it impossible for Shaksper of Stratford-upon-Avon to be the great playwright and poet, since Shaksper was not born until two years later, in 1564.”

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