“Our Pleasant Willy”: Re-posting No. 46 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford

Edmund Spenser published the first books of The Fairie Queene in 1590; in the following year came the Complaints, which contained his poem The Teares of the Muses.  In the latter, nine goddesses bemoan the current state of the arts, despite the fact that a great renaissance of English literature and drama had been taking place, just in time for England’s defeat of Spain’s attempted invasion in 1588.  Now, at the start of a new decade, Spenser was warning that the renaissance had ended.

The English government, having used the wartime services of writers working under de Vere’s patronage, promptly forgot them. Burghley began to pressure the earl financially. As a result, many of the writers who depended upon him fell to the wayside. Lyly, his private secretary, was out of a job; Kyd was tortured to death on the rack; Watson died in 1590; Greene died in 1592; Marlowe was murdered in 1593; Lodge left England. Future scholars would conclude that “Shakespeare,” arriving onto the printed page in 1593, “had the field all to himself.”

One of Spenser’s laments in Teares is delivered by the goddess Thalia, Muse of Comedy, who wails over the public withdrawal of a particular poet-dramatist who, while being “learning’s treasure,” has been delivering “comic sock” to audiences with his plays:

Where be the sweete delights of Learning’s treasure,       
That wont with comick sock to beautefie
The painted theaters, and fill with pleasure
The listners eyes, and eares with melodie,
In which I late was wont to raine as queene,
And maske in mirth with graces well beseene?           

O, all is gone! and all that goodly glee,
Which wont to be the glorie of gay wits,
Is layd abed, and no where now to see;
And in her roome unseemly Sorrow sits,
With hollow browes and greisly countenaunce               
Marring my joyous gentle dalliance.

Spenser certainly knew in 1590 that de Vere had abruptly withdrawn from public life; in that sense, as well as financially, the earl was “dead of late.” Continuing her lament in Spenser’s poem, Thalia declares:

And he, the man whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter* under mimick shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all ioy and iolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.*

Instead thereof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scornfull Follie with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in rymes of shameles ribaldry
Without regard, or due decorum kept;
Each idle wit at will presumes to make*,
And doth the learneds taske upon him take.

[*”Counter” = counterfeit, imitate; “drent” = drowned; “make” = write poetry.]

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streames of honnie and sweete nectar flowe,
Scorning the boldnes of such base-borne men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himselfe to mockerie to sell.

Only one man in Elizabethan England held the mirror up to Nature with such scathingly accurate imitations of truth that his audiences roared with laughter and swooned with delight. “We should be convinced that by ‘our pleasant Willy,’ Spenser meant William Shakespeare,” Nicholas Rowe writes in his Some Account of the Life of the bard (1709), the first attempt at Stratfordian biography, explaining that “such a character as he gives could belong to no other dramatist of the time.”

But Spenser’s description has presented an insurmountable problem, as Shakspere of Stratford had barely begun his alleged career in 1591.  In no way could he have withdrawn from writing for the stage, nor could he have been “dead of late” or “sitting in idle cell.” But such was precisely the case with forty-year-old de Vere, who had become a virtual recluse by 1591; in the Oxfordian view, he had begun revising his previous stage works to be published under the “Shakespeare” pen name.  In that view he was “idle” only in the sense that he was no longer writing many original works for the public; otherwise he was hard at work, alone, transmuting much of his prior work into literary and dramatic masterpieces that would live for all time.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that, as a much younger man in 1576, Oxford had published a signed poem in The Paradise of Dainty Devices concluding he was “never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.”

And what to make of Spenser’s statement about “our pleasant Willy” that he was “Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,” reflecting the attitude of a high-born nobleman who looks down with scorn upon commoners?  At a time when class distinctions were rigid, how could the commoner Shakspere have fit that description unless he was scorning the boldness of such men as himself? Otherwise it expresses exactly the view of proud de Vere, the highest-ranking earl of Queen Elizabeth’s realm.

“The Faire Queene” by Spenser (1590) and his Dedication to Queen Elizabeth

One of Spenser’s seventeen dedicatory verses to noble individuals in The Fairie Queen of 1590 was to Oxford, whom he praised directly and personally as a poet, in language that called attention to “the love which thou dost bear to th’Heliconian imps [Muses] and they to thee, they unto thee, and thou to them, most dear.” Writing publicly to de Vere, using his real name and calling him the poet most beloved of the Muses, Spenser added:

Dear as thou art unto thyself, so love

That loves and honors thee; as doth behoove.

Ogburn Jr. translates those lines as Spenser telling Oxford: “As dear as you are to yourself, so are you to me, who loves and honors you, as it behooves me to.”

The bafflement over the identity of “our pleasant Willy” disappears once the “experts” realize that Spenser was referring to the great author who was not, after all, Shakspere of Stratford, but that same earl of Oxford who was “most dear” to the Muses and would soon adopt the pen name “William Shakespeare.”

[This blog post, with editing by Alex McNeil, now appears as No. 30 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), published by Forever Press.]

The Echo: Re-Posting No. 45 of 100 Reasons to Conclude that “Shake-speare” was the Earl of Oxford

 A Lover’s Complaint by “William Shake-speare” (the name is hyphenated on the title page) appeared in print at the end of the first and only quarto of the Sonnets in 1609; the “Echo” poem “Sitting Alone Upon My Thought”  in Verses Made by the Earl of Oxforde was written circa 1581.  The similarities between the two works are unmistakable. If Oxford wrote the Complaint attributed to “Shake-speare,” he must have written it about the same time he wrote the “Echo” poem, nearly three decades earlier than 1609.  Here is how they both begin: A Lover’s Complaint by Shake-speare (1609) From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded A plaintful story from a sistering vale, My spirits to attend this double voice accorded, And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale; Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale, Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain, Storming her world with sorrow’s wind and rain. Upon her head a platted hive of straw, Which fortified her visage from the sun, Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw The carcass of beauty spent and done… “Sitting Alone Upon My Thought” – (before 1581) Sitting alone upon my thought in melancholy mood, In sight of sea, and at my back an ancient hoary wood, I saw a fair young lady come, her secret fears to wail, Clad all in color of a nun, and covered with a veil; Yet (for the day was calm and clear) I might discern her face, Three times, with her soft hand, full hard on her left side she knocks, And sigh’d so sore as might have mov’d some pity in the rocks; From sighs and shedding amber tears into sweet song she brake, When thus the echo answered her to every word she spake… As one might see a damask rose hid under crystal glass. Here, too, are lines from Ruins of Time attributed to Spenser (1591), also with remarkable similarities: It chaunced me one day beside the Shore Of silver streaming Thamesis to be, Nigh where the goodly Verlame stood of yore, Of which there now remains no Memory, Nor any little Monument to see; By which the Traveller, that fares that way, This once was she, may warned be to say. There, on the other side, I did behold A Woman sitting sorrowfully wailing, Rending her yellow Locks, like wiry Gold, About her Shoulders carelesly down trailing, And Streams of Tears from her fair Eyes forth railing: In her right Hand a broken Rod she held, Which towards Haven she seem’d on high to weld. Each of the poems centers upon a mysterious maiden sitting alone and weeping. The Stratfordian model dictates that “Shake-speare” must have seen Ruins of Time before writing his Complaint; but Oxford had already written his Echo poem far earlier than 1591, so the likelihood is quite the reverse, i.e., that Spenser borrowed from him.  And if Oxford had also written A Lover’s Complaint much earlier, then Spenser might have borrowed from that poem as well! (This blog post is updated with editing by Alex McNeil and now appears as no. 82 in 100 Reasons Shake-Speare was the Earl of Oxford.)  

Henry Peacham’s Loud Silence in “The Compleat Gentleman” of 1622 — No. 38 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford = “Shakespeare”

In 1612, Henry Peacham (1578-c. 1644) apparently suggested in Minerva Britanna (1612) that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) had been a playwright of hidden identity.  A decade later, in 1622, he published his most popular work The Compleat Gentlemanin which he stated:

Title Page of The Compleat Gentleman

“In the time of our late Queene Elizabeth, which was truly a golden age (for such a world of refined wits, and excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be hoped for, in any succeeding age) above others, who honoured Poesie with their pennes and practice (to omit her Majestie, who had a singular gift herein) were Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others: whom (together with those admirable wits, yet living, and so well knowne) not out of Envie, but to avoid tediousnesse I overpasse.  Thus much of Poetrie.”

Eva Turner Clark (1871-1947)

The first Oxfordian to report on this passage was Eva Turner Clark in The Man Who Was Shakespeare (1937).  In that work Clark acknowledges that Peacham was following others (in the 1580’s and 1590’s) who had cited Oxford for his poetry and for his (officially “lost”) writings (“comedies”) for the stage; and “significantly,” she adds, Peacham “does not mention Shakespeare, a name he knew to be the nom de plume of Oxford.”

Louis P. Benezet (1876-1961)

Picking up on Clark’s observation, Louis P. Benezet, Chairman of the Department of Education at Dartmouth College, wrote in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly of October 1945 that Peacham’s statement in The Complete Gentleman is “one of the best keys to the solution of the Shakespeare Mystery.”  And he continued:

“We recall the statement of Sir Sidney Lee [1898], that the Earl of Oxford was the best of the court poets in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, and Webbe’s comment [1586] that ‘in the rare devices of poetry he (Oxford) may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest.’

“Also we remember that The Arte of English Poesie [1589] after confessing that ‘as well Poets as Poesie are despised, and the name become of honourable infamous’ so that many noblemen and gentlemen ‘are loath to be known of their skill’ and that many who have written commendably have suppressed it, or suffered it to be published ‘without their names,’ goes on to state that in Elizabeth’s time have sprung up a new group of ‘courtly writers, who have written excellently well, if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman, Edward, Earl of Oxford.’

“Now comes Henry Peacham, confirming all that has been said by others,” Benezet writes, noting the date of 1622, when the likes of George Chapman and Ben Jonson were “yet living, and so well knowne,” while William Shakspere of Stratford had been dead for six years and, by all rights, should have been on the list – unless, of course, the real “Shakespeare” was in fact heading the list under his real name, Edward de Vere, who had died in 1604.

Peacham  “was in a position to know the truth,” Dr. Benezet continues.  “He had been for several years the tutor of the three sons of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, Oxford’s cousin.  Living in the family circle, he knew the secret behind the pseudonym under which were published Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, those poems which, with The Fairie Queene [by the late Edmund Spenser, whom Peacham mentions], provide the high water mark of Elizabethan rhyming.”

Sir George Greenwood in The Shakespeare Problem Restated (1908) had noted that the theatrical manager Philip Henslowe had never entered Shakespeare’s name in his diary, Dr. Benezet recalls, adding that “still more compelling is the silence of Henry Peacham, for not only does he ignore the Stratford man, but, at the head of his list of the great poets of ‘the Golden Age,’ where the name of the Bard of Avon should be expected, we encounter instead that of one who is not even mentioned in any of the histories of English literature consulted as ‘authority’ by my colleagues of the Departments of English, the greatest of the world’s unknown great, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.”

Back in the mid-1590’s, as a seventeen-year-old Cambridge graduate, Peacham had created a sketch apparently depicting the rehearsal or performance of a scene from Titus Andronicus,which was first published anonymously in a 1594 quarto.  Given that four years later Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia of 1598 listed Titus as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies on the public stage, we can be sure, if Henry Peacham had thought “Shakespeare” and “Edward de Vere” were separate individuals, he would have included both names on his list of the greatest no-longer-living authors of Elizabeth’s time.  Instead he knew the two names designated one and the same man.

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