The Latest Stratfordian Assault on the Integrity of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Sequence: Part Two

Waiting for the arrival of my copy of the new Edmondson-Wells book about Shakespeare’s sonnets, I already know what to expect.

All the Sonnets of Shakespeare will further spread the falsity that SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS, the one hundred and fifty-four consecutively numbered sonnets printed in 1609, can be manipulated at will. It will present the carefully constructed sequence as an ever-expanding dreamscape of Stratfordian faith, much like the mythological Hydra that grows two heads for each one lost.

Stanley Wells & Paul Edmondson

Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson will also offer the mistaken notion that the Sonnets are only love poems, even though the heart of the sequence contains dozens of references to law, politics, government, state power, trials, prison, crime, revolt and death.

The Shakespearean sonnets may be filled with romantic and sexually erotic words or phrases, but those other, far more important terms are also right there on the printed page; for example: “Sessions, summon, ransom, fault, trespass, adverse party, advocate, liberty, offenders, defendant, plea deny, verdict, locked up, lawful reasons, guard, allege, bloody, offense, up-locked, imprisoned, absence of your liberty, pardon, crime, gates of steel, suspect, fell arrest, bail, dead, knife, attaint, confine, releasing, misprision, judgment, attainted, defense, purposed overthrow, term of life, revolt…”

Those words, too, are on the surface, but our gentlemen scholars of unbounded fancy must view them as “metaphors” when, in fact, they can be related to recorded events from the Essex Rebellion of 1601 to the end of the Tudor Dynasty in 1603.  The hundred sonnets between nos. 27 and 126 can be placed as stencils over the lives of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton and Queen Elizabeth of England during that period, resulting in a true story or “living record” of the younger earl preserved for posterity:

When wasteful war shall Statues overturn,

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.     (55, 5-8)

Here are two samples of what appears to be sexually charged writing in the sonnets that can be looked at from more than one perspective:

(1) Sonnets 151 and 152 to the Dark Lady

During a recent interview with Wells, preserved on You Tube, the former president of the Birthplace Trust mentions lines of Sonnet 151:

For thou betraying me, I do betray

My nobler parts to my gross body’s treason;

My soul doth tell my body that he may

Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,

But rising at thy name doth point out thee,

As his triumphant prize; proud of this pride,

He is contented thy poor drudge to be,

To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.

No want of conscience hold it that I call

Her love, for whose dear love I rise and fall.

Without any subtext, these lines are graphically sexual. They occur near the end of the Dark Lady series, which Wells and Edmondson have tossed to the wayside; nonetheless, those two gentlemen are correct to see them as filled with blatant sexual imagery. For example, the word “pride” – indicating the author’s penis, rising and falling before the beloved, who has betrayed him. Oxfordians can agree with this obvious expression of “triumph” and betrayal in the myriad ways of love and physical attraction. Given such happy harmony between Stratfordians and Oxfordians, the authorship question is almost forgotten.

In this case, however, if an Elizabethan courtier is writing the above couplet, he cannot help but also think of lines written by Edmund Spenser in Mother Hubbard’s Tale:

Save that which common is, and known to all,

That Courtiers as the tide do rise and fall.     (614)

Courtiers of Elizabeth undoubtedly joked that way about themselves. Seeking the patronage of their Sovereign Mistress, that radiant, sexually flirtatious female monarch, they approached her as [literally] servants rising and falling in supplication. They must have joked ruefully about their virtual helplessness as they waited upon her absolute royal power to raise or lower them with a flick of her long, slender finger.

Such was also the case with Edward de Vere in relation to his Queen in Sonnet 151, and, too, as he concludes the Dark Lady series in Sonnet 152, telling her:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost.

For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,

Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,

And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,

Or made them swear against the thing they see.

For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,

To swear against the truth so foul a lie.         (152, 7-14)

I look forward to seeing how Wells and Edmondson deal with those lines in terms of the Stratfordian imagination, but it seems clear the Poet (Oxford) is expressing a deeply heartbreaking and bitter loss of “faith” in this woman for whom he has sworn falsely, perjuring himself and betraying his own knowledge of the “truth” by lying for her.

This is a far cry from the spirited, idealistic young courtier, writing as “Earle of Oxenforde” in his early “Shakespearean” sonnet about the Queen, asking himself:

Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?

Who made thee strive in honor to be best?

In constant truth to bide so firm and sure,

To scorn the world regarding but thy friends?

With patient mind each passion to endure,

In one desire to settle to the end?

Elizabeth was the one who made him “strive in honor to be best.” She was the only woman “above the rest in Court” who could have compelled him to serve her with “constant truth,” regardless of the consequences. In the early 1570s, when that sonnet was written, did Oxford have a sexual relationship with the Queen? If so, was he still suffering the consequences as expressed decades later in Sonnet 152?

(2) Sonnet 52 to the Fair Youth

This verse to the Earl of Southampton can be viewed entirely in terms of its possible sexual imagery, leading up to “pride” again, for penis, followed by the image of him being “had” by the Poet (with some words emphasized, for reasons to become clear):

So am I as the rich, whose blessed key

Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,

The which he will not every hour survey,

For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.

Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,

Since seldom coming in the long year set,

Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,

Or captain jewels in the carcanet.

So is the time that keeps you as my chest,

Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,

To make some special instant special blest

By new unfolding his imprisoned pride.

Blessed are you, whose worthiness gives scope,

Being had, to triumph, being lacked, to hope.

We can readily interpret the imagery as sexual. Now, also, let’s look at part of a speech by the King in 1 Henry IV, addressing his son Harry, or Prince Hal, the future Henry V. In this case, certain words or forms of words – keep, robe, seldom, feast, rareness, solemnity – are used within an entirely different context, that is, in this history play the father is speaking to his royal son, explaining how he gained his subjects’ adoration by limiting his public appearances:

Thus did I keep my person fresh and new,

My presence, like a robe pontifical,

Ne’er seen but wondered at; and so my state,

Seldom but sumptuous, showed like a feast,

And won by rareness such solemnity.   (3.2.53-59)

Those words of Henry IV need no other context than that of this play of royal history; the same words within the sonnet, however, are delivered without any such frame of reference. The sexual context may appear obvious, but Wells and Edmondson want us to believe it’s the only context.

Might Edward de Vere have written the entire numerical sequence of the Sonnets within another, much more important  framework as well? One worthy to outlive “marble” and “the gilded monument(s) of Princes”? If he also wrote those lines to record the historical circumstances and events of political power and danger that both he and Henry Wriothesley faced, the Oxfordian case will prevail just as soon as readers are able to see it — regardless of any and all Stratfordian fantasies.

A New Stratfordian Attempt to Destroy the Integrity (and Testimony) of the Sonnets


Most believers in William Shakspere of Stratford as the author known as “Shakespeare,” along with those who conclude he was Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, understand that the poems, plays and sonnets are filled with sexual innuendo, that is, double entendres or language with two meanings. Members of both camps agree that “Shakespeare” the man was probably bisexual, although the term was then unknown.

In addition, Shakespeare lovers generally recognize that the Sonnets as printed in 1609 come closest to revealing the author’s person and why, as he confesses, “My name be buried where my body is, and live no more to shame nor me nor you” (72). Many Oxfordians realize that once we discover how the Sonnets use the language of romantic and erotic love to preserve a more important story, the Stratfordian myth will automatically be shattered.

When J. Thomas Looney presented evidence in 1920 that “Shakespeare” was the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, close to the absolute monarch and her powerful chief minister, he stood the traditional image of the author on its head. In a single breath he identified the poet-dramatist as the antithesis of a commoner and confirmed that the “authorship question” is inextricably bound up with Elizabethan court politics and royal government.

Whatever the circumstances that caused Oxford to agree with the posthumous burial of his identity, they are alive within this very same sonnet sequence, which seeks to ensure the eternal fame of Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton:

‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom. (55)

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.  (81)

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tryants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.  (107)

In that couplet of Sonnet 107 he is glancing at the recently deceased Queen, whose body is set to be borne on 28 April 1603 to Westminster Abbey, where her coffin will rest in the shadow of the great brass tomb of her grandfather, Henry VII of England. And yes, Oxford is saying that Elizabeth Tudor was a tyrant.

“If we suppose that ‘Shakespeare,’ whoever he may have been, retained in 1603 the feelings he had expressed for Southampton in 1593 and 1594,” Looney argues, “it is impossible to think of him writing panegyrics on Queen Elizabeth whilst his friend was being kept in prison … Oxford’s experience as a whole [would] indispose him to join in any chorus of lamentation or of praise.”

Looney agrees that 107 celebrates Southampton’s release from the Tower by King James on 10 April, following the Queen’s death on 24 March and the unexpectedly peaceful succession. He also proposes that 125 is “the Earl of Oxford’s expression of his private feelings relative to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral” and “may be taken as his last sonnet” (given that 126 is the envoi of the series). In other words, the schoolmaster recognized that 107 and 125 each express Oxford’s glaringly opposite attitudes toward Southampton and Elizabeth. He refers, for example, to these lines of 125:

Have I not seen dwellers on form and favor

Lose all and more by paying too much rent

For compound sweet forgoing simple savor,

Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?   (125)

This sentiment is “strongly suggestive of an allusion to royalty,” Looney writes, “and is exactly descriptive of what Oxford represents Elizabeth’s treatment of himself to have been.”

No such links to the royal court trouble Stratfordian leaders, however; only one thing frightens them, consciously or otherwise: the prospect of Oxfordians demonstrating that the sonnet sequence of 1609 contains a story that is both cohesive and based on specific events in the life of Edward de Vere, Henry Wriothesley and the Queen of England.

Over the past century since “Shakespeare” Identified was published, however, they have been confident (again, knowingly or not) that no such demonstration will appear. They have no problem with Looney’s statement that the Sonnets “reflect at once the soul and the circumstances” of the Earl of Oxford – no problem, just so long as such reflections appear to remain free of any overall coherent narrative linked to the contemporary history.

The goal of this Stratfordian game is to be able to keep on playing it.

Nor are they bothered that Oxford undoubtedly led a lusty sexual life, with both male and female partners, while trying to pull England out of the Dark Ages into the bright freedoms of the waning European renaissance. Most Oxfordians agree the Sonnets are drenched in the language of eroticism and bisexuality; but even that is no cause for Stratfordians to worry, so long as no true story within the 1609 sonnet sequence – one based on the record of actual persons, situations and events – comes to the surface.

If Oxford was bisexual, which the evidence suggests he was, Stratfordians can say the same about their champion – because, after all, the biographical fantasy of William Shakspere as “Shakespeare” allows for anything. So long as neither side discerns a coherent narrative in those deeply personal sonnets, it’s a draw; and the title, according to custom and convention, stays with the reigning champ.

The chieftains of tradition will continue to prevail, despite overwhelming evidence of Oxford’s authorship, so long as the 1609 sequence remains an unfathomable free-for-all. They will prevail because the 154 consecutively numbered sonnets – so profoundly autobiographical, so obviously arranged in order with careful connectivity – are still viewed (by Stratfordians and possibly by most Oxfordians) as loosely related little poems that can be rearranged at will and, therefore, remain supposedly ripe for any interpretation at all.

The unspoken Stratfordian fear of a real-life Oxfordian story within the Sonnets, one supported by a genuine historical context, nonetheless persists; and the latest demonstration of this underlying dread is now upon us, in the form of a new book by Sir Stanley Wells and Dr. Paul Edmondson. This latest blast from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust represents what may be the most direct assault on the cohesion of the Sonnets ever launched. Here, finally, is a frontal attempt to completely shatter the integrity of the numerical sequence and, thereby, remove any possible semblance of a recorded story.

Welcome to All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, which includes additional poetry from the plays, adding up to 182 verses arranged according to the chronological order in which the authors believe they were written. “We’ve removed the story which has plagued the sonnets for centuries about the so-called Fair Youth and the Dark Lady,” Edmondson told BBC Radio, “because it was never there. It was an eighteenth-century invention.” This new arrangement of the sonnets “in their probable order of composition” now “exposes them as free poems laden with Shakespeare’s personality.”

Free poems!

Stephen Greenblatt, who has admitted that his Will in the World was not a genuine “life” of Shakespeare but, rather, a historical novel, praises Wells and Edmondson for “jettisoning the order in which the sonnets appeared in print” because the result is “radical and unsettling.” The creators of this newly invented arrangement may imagine they have finally removed the specter of an Oxfordian story from the 1609 sequence; as the blurb from Greenblatt suggests, they will be applauding themselves for appearing to have slain that lurking dragon.

But Oxford’s more important true story is not going anywhere. It continues to exist right there, forever embedded within the familiar costume of the romantic and erotic poetical language, and one day it will be widely recognized as “the living record” (55) of Southampton preserved within a “monument” (81, 107) of verse for posterity – that is, for us.

(PART TWO will be posted next week.)

Bulletin! Discovery of New Portrait of “Shakespeare”! And the Evidence of His Identity Points to the Earl of Oxford!

There is a delicious irony in the discovery, claimed this week by British botanist and historian Mark Griffiths, that an engraving on the inside title page of the 1597 book The Herbal, or General History of Plants by horticulturist John Gerard (1545-1612), contains a portrait of “William Shakespeare.”

Based on the evidence so far, Griffiths is probably correct!  And it all points not only to “Shakespeare” but, equally, to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Part of the engraving that appeared in the 1597 book "Herbal" by John Gerard -- depicting Shakespeare? (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Part of the engraving that appeared in the 1597 book “Herbal” by John Gerard — depicting Shakespeare?
(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

So it may take a centuries-old book about plants, along with an announcement in Country Life magazine (of all places), to guide mainstream scholars to correctly answer the Shakespeare authorship question.  No wonder the eminent Stanley Wells, Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, has already scoffed at it – joining Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, who told The Guardian: “I can’t imagine any reason why Shakespeare would be in a botany textbook.”

Professor Wells may already know the danger that this “literary discovery of the century,” as Country Life editor Mark Hedges calls it, holds for the traditional Stratfordian view.

The engraving shows Gerard, author of Herbal, along with Flemish botanist Rembert Dodoens, William Cecil Lord Burghley (Gerard’s own patron) and a fourth man “dressed as a Roman, wearing laurels and meant to make us think of Apollo and poetry,” says Griffiths, who cites visual clues identifying him as the poet who wrote Venus and Adonis (1593).

[For example, the fourth man in the engraving holds a “snake’s head fritillary,” a flower discovered in France in 1578 and whose use in British gardens was pioneered by Gerard; and “Shakespeare” in Venus and Adonis is the only Elizabethan poet who refers to this extraordinary new flower.]

The question, of course, is why “Shakespeare” would be pictured in 1597 along with Burghley, Gerard and Dodoens.  The answer, Griffiths says, is that the poet had been involved in the writing of this breakthrough book on plants!

The full engraving in Gerard's book, on the inside cover... Click on the image to enlarge it

The full engraving in Gerard’s book, on the inside cover… Click on the image to enlarge it

[It is quite likely that Oxford would have helped in the writing; and just as professionals in diverse fields such as medicine and music dedicated their works to the Earl, so Gerard appears to have done so by means of the engraving.]

Mark Brown writes in The Guardian:  “Griffiths believes Shakespeare was given his literary start by Burghley, the most powerful man in the country, and that he became almost a political propagandist for him.”

[Edward de Vere helped the government by patronizing writers and guiding them to create patriotic plays of English royal history.  Additional evidence indicates that in the 1580s he himself was writing early versions of such plays to be published later under the Shakespeare name.]

If Griffiths is correct, Brown continues, “then Shakespeare would have moved in the same circles as Gerard, as both men had Burghley to thank for their careers.”

[Oxford grew up at Cecil House, where Burghley imported the rarest and most exotic flowers and plants to be seen in England.  Oxford married Cecil’s daughter and continued to visit Cecil House as well as Theobalds, which also had an enormous garden that Gerard — for two decades, from 1577 to 1598 — apparently also tended to.   The famous gardener was five years older than Oxford and the two must have known each other quite well.]

“Griffiths said his theory is that Shakespeare helped Gerard with Greek and Latin translations in the book and acted as a kind of script doctor.  So the four men [in the engraving] are the writer himself [John Gerard], his patron [Burghley], his inspiration [Dodoens] and his literary advisor [Shakespeare].”

De Vere entered Cecil House on the Strand at age twelve in 1562, becoming the first royal ward of the Queen in the custody of Cecil, Master of the Wards.  Here is part of a description of the place by B.M. Ward, first biographer of Oxford, in 1928:

“Let us pause for a moment and picture the dwelling in which Lord Oxford was destined to spend the remainder of his minority [1562 to 1571] … One of the chief features of Cecil House was its garden.  The grounds in which the house stood must have covered many acres, and were more extensive than those of any of the other private houses in Westminster.

A page of Gerard' book

A page of Gerard’ book

“John Gerard, well known as the author of Herbal, or General History of Plants (1597), was for twenty years Sir William Cecil’s gardener; and Sir William himself evidently took a great pride in his garden … Indeed, it is not unlikely that he deliberately chose an inland site without a water-gate, because the congestion of existing houses along the river bank only allowed of comparatively small and narrow strips of garden.”

Ward adds that Burghley “imbued his sons and the royal wards under his charge with his own keenness in horticulture.”  He notes that William Cecil’s second son, Robert, as Earl of Salisbury under King James, placed his splendid garden at Hatfield under the care of John Tradescant, the first of a noted family of horticulturists.  And Lord Zouch, another royal ward in Cecil’s charge [1569-1577], later filled his garden at Hackney with plants he had collected in Austria, Italy and Spain.

We may be sure that Cecil imbued the young Edward de Vere with that same love and knowledge of plants and flowers – a passion and store of information displayed throughout the Shakespeare works.  So it appears we now have a discovery that John Gerard commissioned an engraving in 1597 that included an image of a Roman Poet meant to indicate the author of Venus and Adonis, the new English Ovid, whom he knew to be Edward de Vere.

[Gerard would have loved Oxford’s reference in Venus and Adonis to the snake’s head fritillary.]

“This is the only known verifiable portrait of the world’s greatest writer made in his lifetime,” editor Hedges says.  “It is an absolutely extraordinary discovery.”

It may be even more extraordinary than he knows….

Stay tuned for more developments!

The Shakespeare Fellowship Responds to “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt”

Below is an initial response by the Shakespeare Fellowship, one of the two major Oxfordian organizations in the U.S., to the publication next month of a new book, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  (The same link to this response is among other links on this blog site.)

But first, I’d like to say to the holders of the traditional Stratfordian fantasy: “BEYOND DOUBT?  ARE YOU KIDDING!!??” and then shout out the window to the wind, “&%$@**&#*@!&&!!!!!” and then, finally, and calmly, recall a famous quote from Arthur Schopenhauer:

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed.  Second, it is  violently opposed.  Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

We have now arrived at the second stage … with just one more to go!

beyond doubt


The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust recently released its book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt in an attempt to prove that there is “no doubt” that William Shakspere of Stratford wrote the works of “William Shakespeare.” But while over 70 documents exist about the Stratford man that were created during his life, not one of them identifies him as a writer of any kind. A businessman, yes, an occasional money lender, part owner of a theatre company who may have acted some small parts, yes, but not a writer. No manuscript of a poem or play in his hand survives, not even a letter! There is no evidence that William Shakspere, the man from Stratford, ever owned a book, was ever paid for writing, or was referred to as a writer by anyone during his life or immediately after his death. The First Folio, which was published seven years after his death, was the first document to attempt to connect “William Shakespeare” with Mr. Shakspere.

The monument as sketched in 1634

The monument as sketched in 1634

The monument to Shakespeare in the Trinity Church in Stratford now shows a writer with a quill pen in his hand; but it does not look the same as the one erected in the early 1600s. A sketch by a reputable artist in 1634 shows a man with a drooping moustache holding a wool or grain sack, but no pen, no paper, no writing surface. In short, the “authorship” of the man from Stratford has all the earmarks of a hoax designed to hide the real author’s identity.

But why would the real author have hidden his identity? Because it was dangerous to write under one’s own name in those days. One could be imprisoned or tortured, or worse, if his writings displeased the authorities. Pen names and anonymity were common. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt fails to produce any new evidence in favor of the Stratford man or to answer the many weaknesses in the Stratfordian theory. For more on the doubts about Shakspere, see the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt or read Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography or the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition’s rebuttal to the SBT: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Exposing an Industry in Denial, due to be published May 31, 2013.

The grain sack is now a writing pillow and lo, he's a writer

The grain sack is now a writing pillow and lo, he’s a writer

The Shakespeare Fellowship believes that there is a large body of circumstantial evidence indicating that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the real author of the plays. Oxford used the “pen name” William Shakespeare because it was not considered appropriate for a nobleman to write plays for the public stage. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, in a chapter by Professor Alan Nelson, tries unsuccessfully to rebut the Oxfordian thesis. Nelson’s chapter is deviously one-sided. What he leaves out is as important as what he leaves in. Nelson tries to paint Oxford as an irascible, erratic character, but what does this have to do with whether he was the writer known as “Shakespeare”? Oxfordians claim that Oxford was a great writer—not a saint—and admit that he had an artist’s temperamental, mercurial personality.

Indeed, the character flaws that Nelson alleges are actually evidence of Oxford’s connections to the works of “Shakespeare.” Nelson comes dangerously close to admitting this: he claims at one point that Oxford was “apparently” homosexual (or bisexual) and later links this to the homoerotic overtones of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, many of which were written to a fair young man, thought to be the Earl of Southampton. Traditional scholars are stumped when trying to explain how William of Stratford, a commoner, could have had the gall to write such intimate poetry to a nobleman, but an older nobleman might have easily gotten away with it.

Nelson points out that Oxford, when he was a young man, killed a cook and escaped a murder charge on the finding that the cook “committed suicide” by deliberately running on the young earl’s sword. Oxford would eventually use this as self-parody in Hamlet, where one of the Gravediggers attempts to talk about a person committing suicide in self-defense. Brutus in Julius Caesar also commits suicide by running on a sword.

Nelson criticizes Oxford for his extravagant lifestyle, but Nelson doesn’t mention that this behavior is mirrored in the plot of Timon of Athens. Oxford was also, admittedly, estranged from his wife for some time, thinking she had been unfaithful to him. This became fodder for Hamlet’s estrangement from Ophelia and Othello’s distrust toward Desdemona.  Oxford’s wife was rumored to have gotten him back by using a “bed trick”—that is, making him think he was being led into the dark bedchamber of another woman, when actually it was his own wife’s room. Such “bed tricks” are used in two Shakespeare plays—Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well.

Edward de Vere Motto Nothing truer than Truth

Edward de Vere Motto
Nothing truer than Truth

Nelson tells us that Meres and Bodenham listed Oxford and Shakespeare as separate people, but if Oxford was hiding his identity behind the pen name “Shakespeare,” why should we think that Meres and Bodenham would know that they were the same person? Nelson doesn’t mention that George Puttenham wrote in 1589 that “Noblemen . . . have written excellently well as it would appear 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.”

Nelson asserts that the Queen gave Oxford an annuity of £1,000 “in exchange for his good behaviour,” but it is entirely speculation on Nelson’s part that this was the reason for the generous annuity. Could it have been a reward for his writing plays that supported the Tudor claim to the throne?

Nelson argues that Oxford couldn’t have written The Tempest because Oxford died in 1604 and the play refers to the 1609 wreck of the Sea-Venture off the coast of Bermuda. Some scholars believe, based on imagery and word choices in the The Tempest, that it was influenced by William Strachey’s account of that 1609 shipwreck. But shipwrecks near Bermuda, an island surrounded by reefs, were common. In fact, one occurred in 1595, when Oxford was still alive. Furthermore, scholars who have carefully studied the imagery in The Tempest have found much earlier sources than Strachey’s account that Shakespeare might have drawn on. See Dating the Tempest on this website. Thus, there is no reason to believe that the author of The Tempest had to have read Strachey’s account. In fact, Strachey’s account was not actually published until 1625, long after the Stratford man was dead, so Stratfordians are left to speculate, based on no supporting evidence, that Shakspere somehow had access to Strachey’s manuscript.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, 1575, at 25

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, 1575, at 25

Nelson claims that Oxfordians “fantasize” that Oxford left drafts of plays that were published after his death. But anyone who believes that William of Stratford was the real Shakespeare must also indulge in such “fantasies.” About half of Shakespeare’s plays were never published or performed until the First Folio appeared—seven years after the Stratford man died. If he indeed made his living as a playwright, why would he have withheld half of his output from publication or performance during his lifetime? Such a practice seems more consistent with a nobleman who wrote for his own purposes and couldn’t allow his name to be connected to his writings.

Both Stratfordians and Oxfordians have long noted that Polonius in Hamlet appears to be a satire on Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s power-behind-the-throne. Oxford knew Burghley well. Burghley became Oxford’s guardian when Oxford’s father died. Later, Oxford married Burghley’s daughter, Anne Cecil. Lord Burghley wrote out a set of rules for his household that includes maxims such as, “Towards thy superiors be humble yet generous; with thine equals familiar yet respective.” As Polonius says to Laertes, “Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.” Burghley’s rules were not published until 1618, long after Hamlet was published. The scene in which Polonius sends Reynaldo to spy on his son Laertes increases the similarity to Burghley, who maintained a network of spies. The name “Polonius” may have come from two of Burghley’s nicknames, “Polus” and “Pondus.” In the first edition of Hamlet, the character’s name was “Corambis”—perhaps a pun on Burghley’s Latin motto, “Cor unum, via una,” which means “One heart, one way.”

Just as Hamlet was captured by pirates and left naked on the shore of Denmark, Oxford was captured by pirates and left naked on the shore of England. In 1573, Oxford, who was a patron of the arts, wrote a preface to an English translation of Cardanus Comfort, a book of consoling advice that likely influenced Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

Nelson, however, makes a tortured attempt to dissociate Hamlet from the facts of Oxford’s life: Oxford was twelve when his father died, whereas Hamlet was an adult when he lost his father; Oxford married Burghley’s daughter, whereas Hamlet rejected Ophelia and consigned her to a nunnery. One half-expects Nelson to add that Oxford didn’t stab Lord Burghley while he was hiding behind an arras. Nelson’s analysis insults the reader’s intelligence. While writers often use real-life people and situations as raw material for their creations, they always transform their materials into something new, mixing fiction with real life to create a higher reality. For example, while we know that Charles Dickens was writing somewhat autobiographically in David Copperfield, the novel does not follow Dickens’s life in all respects. Any college English major understands this. It is surprising that Nelson, an English professor, doesn’t.

Finally, Nelson insists that Oxford couldn’t have been Shakespeare because Oxford, as owner of his own theatre troupe, would never have let the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a “rival” theatre company, perform his plays. Nelson’s theory rests on the unfounded assumption that noblemen’s companies competed jealously against each other, like commercial companies, and never shared their works. Yet this assumption is refuted by the title page of the 1594 First Quarto edition of Titus Andronicus. (Like all “Shakespeare” plays published before 1598, it is anonymous, i.e., no author is named on the title page.) The title page states that the play is “as it was played” by the servants of the Earls of Derby, Pembroke, and Sussex. This shows that various noblemen might have worked together and shared plays rather than jealously guarding them. Incidentally, the Earl of Derby was Oxford’s son-in-law. The Earl of Pembroke was the brother of another of Oxford’s sons-in-law. And the Earl of Sussex’s family had close political ties to Oxford. If the Earl of Oxford was indeed the author of Titus Andronicus, why wouldn’t he have shared his play with other noblemen, especially his family and friends?

This short response to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt barely scratches the surface of the Oxford theory. For more, read The Case for Oxford Revisited; Mark Anderson’s Shakespeare by Another Name; Richard Whalen’s Shakespeare: Who Was He?; or Joseph Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare

%d bloggers like this: