Peregrine Bertie and Mary Vere = Petruchio and Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew” (and drunken arguments at the manor house)

In 1931 the Oxfordian researcher Eva Turner Clark suggested that a play performed at Richmond Palace on January 1, 1579 was an early version of The Taming of the Shrew by Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, containing the farcical war of words between Katharina and Petruchio to caricature the marriage of his sister, Lady Mary Vere, and Peregrine Bertie, son of Richard Bertie and Catherine Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk.  The play was recorded as A Morrall of the marryage of Mynde and Measure, which may refer to the “measures” by which Petruchio plans to tame the “mind” of Kate, his willful bride.

(Grandma's Graphics) - Click on Image to Enlarge the View

(Grandma’s Graphics) – Click on Image to Enlarge the View

Ms. Clark cited a letter from Thomas Cecil in September 1578 to his father, William Cecil Lord Burghley, reporting that an “unkindness” had grown between the young bride and groom ever since the wedding in December 1577, adding his prediction that Lady Mary “will be beaten with that rod which heretofore she prepared for others.”  That is, Peregrine Bertie was going to “tame” his “shrew” of a wife with her own sharp-tongued medicine.

Peregrine would later become known as “brave Lord Willoughby” as well as Oxford’s good friend.  (In 1582 he would visit the royal Court of Denmark and bring back reports which, it appears, were available to the author of Hamlet.)  In any case, as Ms. Clark suggests, Oxford found the verbal battles between his sister and brother-in-law to be ready-made fodder for his comedy:

“Lord Oxford was far from being mindful of the feelings of others; and if his characterizations of Katharina the Shrew were recognized at Court as a portrait of Mary de Vere, Lady Willoughby, this would have greatly added to the enjoyment of the play.”

my lady suffolk

That’s pretty much what I recalled about this matter until recently re-reading My Lady Suffolk (1963), a portrait of the Duchess by Evelyn Read, wife of Conyers Read, best known for his two-volume biography of William Cecil Lord Burghley.  Ms. Read includes details which, in my view, make it virtually certain that Oxford drew upon the unhappy marriage of his sister and Peregrine Bertie for what would become The Taming of the Shrew as by Shakespeare:  the new bride and groom, finding themselves alone together in a home out in the countryside, were so fond of wine that they got into wild drunken arguments while making a mess of the place.  Ms. Read describes it in more delicate language:

“After their marriage, Peregrine and his bride went to live at Grimsthorpe [the great Lincolnshire manor], while Catherine and Richard Bertie stayed in London.  They moved into a house in Hampstead, which at that time was not part of the city but was country, and somewhat rolling country at that … In spite, however, of the beautiful surroundings in which they started their life together, Peregrine’s marriage to Lady Mary did not begin auspiciously.  The bride’s temper was a hot one, and perhaps Peregrine himself was none too patient.  Also, it appears that they took no pains at all in the upkeep of Grimsthorpe.”

Grimsthorpe  (North Front)

(North Front)

On March 12, 1578, the Duchess wrote to Burghley about her fears that the young couple will “so govern” the mansion “as my husband and I shall have small comfort of it and less gain,” adding that she and her husband would have to pay “for what disorders they make … That my Lady loves wine,” the Duchess went on, asking rhetorically, “Who knows her knows not that?”  [In other words, Mary’s love for wine was no secret; and neither, for that matter, was that of her brother Edward.]  “And my son hates it not,” she continued, by way of sarcastic understatement; but then, in a strange twist of logic, she requested Burghley to allow the couple to import two more barrels or casks of wine, adding her prediction “that it shall be all drunken quickly in their house than orderly or well spent.”

Catherine Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk 1519-1580

Catherine Willoughby
Duchess of Suffolk

Ms. Read continues: “Catherine went on to ask Burghley to do this as promptly as he could, in order that the young people would stay longer in the country, ‘if they outrage not too much so as we shall not be able to bide it.’  This letter is revealing of Catherine’s concern about the way her son and his wife were living, and of the fact that apparently she felt that they were drinking more than was good for them.  It seems surprising that she asked Burghley to make the wine available to them, since obviously she did not approve of the way they would drink it; but perhaps she had faced the fact that they were going to do it anyway, and felt that on the whole it was better for them to stay in the country than to come back to town, which they might well do if they could not get what they wanted at Grimsthorpe.”

Six months later Thomas Cecil wrote to Burghley that he and his wife were traveling and stopped to see Peregrine and Mary at Grimsthorpe, where they found “such disagreements as have fallen out there.”  He added that  “more particularly as yet I cannot write at this time,” except for his prediction that “Lady Mary will be beaten with that rod which heretofore she prepared for others.”

The Duchess of Suffolk continued to be heartbroken over her son’s marriage up to her death on September 19, 1580, at sixty-one.  In March of that year, she had written to the Earl of Leicester about “the evil hap of my dear son’s marriage” and pleaded with him to reassure Queen Elizabeth that she was not in danger of “losing my head.”  As long as Catherine Willoughby lived, Ms. Read notes, she could not help her son: “Obviously Lady Mary was behaving very badly, and obviously part of her bad behavior was directed at Peregrine’s mother” – but exactly why Mary railed so bitterly against the Duchess is apparently lost to history.

The troubled marriage of Oxford’s sister must have been gossip whispered throughout the royal court.  When Petruchio declares that he is “born to tame you, Kate, and bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate comfortable as other household Kates,” most members of that select audience would have roared with knowing laughter.

P.S. — I’ll have more about the outspoken, formidable Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, in the near future.


Part Two: No. 99 of 100 Reasons to Believe Oxford was “Shakespeare” — The Tale of Two Shrews

This conclusion to Reason No. 99 begins by recommending a superb paper by Ramon Jimenez, in Volume XIV of The Oxfordian for 2012: The Playwright’s Progress: Edward de Vere and the Two ‘Shrew’ Plays. Mr. Jiminez has been making important contributions to the authorship case for the Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare” with his essays focusing on anonymous plays, which, he demonstrates, comprise Oxford’s early versions of works attributed to Shakespeare – the “apprenticeship” plays upon which the master built his masterpieces.

Richard Burton and  Elizabeth Taylor - 1966 Petruchio & Kate

Richard Burton and
Elizabeth Taylor – 1966
Petruchio & Kate

Here are some excerpts about the relationship between A Shrew (1594) and The Shrew (1623):

“An objective review of the evidence … confirms that the two plays were written in the order in which they appear in the record, The Shrew being a major revision of the earlier play, A Shrew. They were by the same author – Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, whose poetry and plays appeared under the pseudonym ‘William Shakespeare’ during the last decade of his life [1593-1604]. Events in Oxford’s sixteenth year and his travels in the 1570s support composition dates before 1580 for both plays.”

Even for seasoned Oxfordians the latter statement may be startling. Can it be that two plays published for the first time in 1594 and 1623, respectively, had both been written before 1580, when the true author was thirty? Well … yes.

“These conclusions also reveal a unique and hitherto unremarked example of the playwright’s progress and development,” Jiminez continues, “from a teenager learning to write for the stage to a journeyman dramatist in his twenties. De Vere’s exposure to the intricacies and language of the law, and his extended tour of France and Italy [in 1575-76], as well as his maturation as a poet, caused him to rewrite his earlier effort and produce a comedy that continues to entertain centuries later.”


Given current discussions of “How Genius Happens” (The Atlantic, July/August 2014) and “The Creative Process Made Simple” (Scientific American, July/August 2014), these findings about the Shrew plays serve as reminders that works of “genius” often require hard work and motivation over long intervals of time.

[The author’s motivation may come to be recognized as more crucial to understanding his work than previously emphasized. Why, for example, does this particular dramatist write King Lear? Is it only because he thinks it’s good for the box office? Is it merely because he thinks it’s time for a new tragedy?]

What follows is my version of the history, with help from the work of Jiminez and many others:

Twelve-year-old Edward de Vere rode to London from the funeral of his father in September 1562, in the company of twenty-seven-year-old George Gascoigne, the soldier-poet. Young Oxford, about to become the first royal ward of Elizabeth I, was heading for the home of his guardian, William Cecil, of whom Gascoigne was a cousin-in-law.

Edward received honorary degrees from the universities, at fourteen and sixteen, before enrolling by 1567 at Gray’s Inn, where The Supposes, translated from the Italian of Ariosto’s I Suppositi (1509) and attributed to Gascoigne, was being performed by law students. Years later it would be hailed as the first English prose comedy and, too, acknowledged as a crucial source used by Shakespeare for The Taming of the Shrew.

George Gascoigne  1539 - 1577

George Gascoigne
1539 – 1577

[Stephanie Caruana and Elisabeth Sears argue in Oxford’s Revenge (1989) that Edward de Vere himself wrote The Supposes as performed at Gray’s Inn. The translation is “unlikely” to have been done by Gascoigne, they write, citing a statement of his biographer Ronald Johnson that it contains “a form of euphuistic dialogue that is remarkable in its grasp of the techniques perfected over a decade later by Lyly” – that is, John Lyly, who became Oxford’s secretary by the latter 1570s.]

The fact that A Shrew is devoid of legal terms suggests to Jiminez that Oxford wrote it before, or soon after, his studies at Gray’s Inn began in 1567. But The Shrew attributed to Shakespeare contains frequent legal terms, suggesting that Oxford rewrote the play as a whole after studying the law. It also appears that he wrote the more mature version after returning from his Italian travels in 1576. The shorter and less mature work is set in Athens, while the revised and longer play (to be attributed to “Shakespeare”) is set in Padua, the center of learning and the arts that Oxford visited with relish. Lucentio seems to voice Oxford’s own thoughts upon his arrival:

Tranio, since for the great desire I had
To see fair Padua, nursery of arts…
Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies…

Engraving of Padua University in 1600

Engraving of Padua University in 1600

Tell me thy mind, for I have Pisa left
And am to Padua come, as he that leaves
A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep
And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst!

Less than three years after Oxford returned to England, on the first of January 1579, the Paul’s Boys performed a play at Richmond Palace recorded as A Moral of the Marriage of Mind and Measure. Eva Turner Clark suggested in 1931 that this recorded title describes The Taming of the Shrew, caricaturizing the marriage of his sister Lady Mary Vere and Peregrine Bertie [Lord Willoughby] the previous year.

Apparently Mary Vere was considered a shrew, that is, a woman of violent temper and speech. Thomas Cecil, in a letter to his father Lord Burghley in September 1578, several months after the wedding, told him there was now an “unkindness” between the young couple, adding his prediction that Mary Vere “will be beaten with that rod [by her husband] which heretofore she prepared for others.” If Oxford was having sport with Petruchio as his new brother-in-law and Katharina as Mary Vere (much to the amusement of members of the court, given that Mary had been a Maid of Honor), it appears he was depicting how better “measures” might be used to tame the “mind” of his wilful sister:

Say that she rail; why, then I’ll tell her plain
She sings sweetly as a nightingale:
Say that she frown; I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew:
Say she be mute, and will not speak a word;
Then I’ll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing elogquence…

Kate’s father in The Shrew, one of the wealthiest men in Padua, is Baptista Minola. Oxford, writing to Burghley before his arrival at Padua in November 1575, mentioned he had “taken up of Mr. Baptisto Nigrone 500 crowns.” Burghley had arranged, through an Italian merchant in London named Benedetto Spinola, for some 4,000 pounds to be advanced to Oxford during his trip.

Could it be just coincidental that Baptista Minola echoes a combination of Baptisto and Spinola?

Meryl Streep as Kate the Shrew in the Outdoor Delacourte Theatre - Central Park, NY - 1978

Meryl Streep as Kate the Shrew in the Outdoor Delacourte Theatre – Central Park, NY – 1978

Moreover, Kate’s father is quite willing to use her for his own personal gain – shades of Polonius, father of Hamlet’s fiancé Ophelia; and, too, shades of Lord Burghley, the manipulative father of Oxford’s wife Anne Cecil.

So this play opens up a rare view into the long creative process of “Shakespeare” – in this case starting with what was perhaps his earliest comedy, written sometime after The Supposes in 1567, when he was seventeen, its action set in Greece; and then moving on to an expanded version, set in Italy and written (mostly?) by 1579, when he was twenty-nine.

Think of the mind-twisting efforts this will require of scholars who have been teaching that “Shakespeare” began his playwriting career no earlier than 1590-1592! Think of the unraveling of prior assumptions required to comprehend The Taming of a Shrew, printed anonymously in 1594, and The Taming of the Shrew, printed in the Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623!

J. Thomas Looney wrote in Shakespeare Pictorial of December 1935 (his article is reprinted in Volume 2 of Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare, edited by Altrocchi and Whittemore, 2009):

“The two stages in dramatic composition were, then, a result of marked division in the career of the dramatist: in the first period concentrating his powers upon invention, and in the second upon development and literary elaboration …

“Taking the first Shrew as representative of Oxford’s early comedies, and comparing it with pre-Oxfordian drama, some estimate may be formed of his great achievement as a pioneer in dramatic construction quite apart from any contribution to living literature. By a creative effort, the magnitude of which we cannot now measure, he called into existence the very instrument which made the Shakespeare literature possible.

“The full costliness of ‘first steps’ is seldom realized in the presence of later developments, but it is safe to say that as much inventive genius and mental concentration would be required to create the first Shrew as to transform it into the second a decade or more later…

“This conception of a twofold elaboration, first dramatic and then literary, is as essential to a right understanding of Shakespeare as it is to sound judgment about authorship. Both studies are inextricably mixed and show how irrational is the supposition that the authorship problem may be set aside while serious literary study continues. It is the peculiar glory of the Oxford hypothesis that for the first time it unites the two harmoniously.”

Postscript: The quarto title page of A Shrew in 1594 advertises the text “as it was sundry times acted by the Right honorable the Earl of Pembroke his servants,” and in fact four of the play’s characters carry names of actors or sharers in that company – Sly, Simon, Sander and Tom. The names “were clearly added to the manuscript of A Shrew at the time that the company performed the play,” Jiminez writes, “and remained in the text when it was printed in 1594.” It is also likely, he continues, that phrases and lines from plays attributed to Marlowe were also inserted in the early 1590s.

Second Postscript: When were the scenes of the 1594 “Sly Frame” written? When were they revised or rewritten for the “Sly Induction” printed in 1623? Is Sly intended to invoke William of Stratford, in the act of taking Oxford’s place as author of the “Shakespeare” works? My suggestion is that Oxford wrote it early on, based on an old folk tale, but then continued to revise it even after 1594, for the longer and more mature version to be printed in the Folio of 1623. We can imagine, then, the producers of the latter work cutting all the Sly scenes after the opening induction – to eliminate even the memory of the tinker’s conception of himself as “Don Christo Vary” or Lord Oxford, Edward de Vere.

Number 99 of 100 Reasons Why Oxford was “Shakespeare” (Part One): The “Taming” Plays — “A Shrew” + “The Shrew” = the Author’s Method & Identity Revealed

A Pleasant Conceited History called The Taming of a Shrew was printed for the first time in 1594 without any author’s name on the title page. The comedy is actually two plays, one within the other. The main story takes place within a “frame” of scenes. Two of these scenes appear at the outset, before the play-within-the-play begins; several of the framing scenes also occur throughout, at intervals; and finally, after the end of the “Taming” play, a single scene completes the full surrounding structure of the frame.


The frame is set in the Elizabethan present, outside an English country pub, where a drunken tinker (mender of pots or jack of all trades) named Sly falls asleep. In comes a nobleman with his men fresh from hunting with horses, hawks and hounds. Seeing the drunken, sleeping Sly, this Lord with a ready sense of humor decides to play a trick on him. He instructs his servants to pick up Sly “and bear him to my house,” where he will be treated as a great lord with all the trappings of his own wealth and high rank:

And in my fairest chamber make a fire,
And set a sumptuous banquet on the board,
And put my richest garments on his back…
Let heavenly music play about him still…

The Lord also has a company of players, with whom he has an easy relationship much as Prince Hamlet with the players in Denmark, and they wish to perform a comedy called The Taming of a Shrew. Delighted, he tells them:

Go see that you make you ready straight,
For you must play before a lord tonight.
Say you are his men and I your fellow…

The two opening scenes of the frame continue until Sly, awake and believing himself to be a wealthy nobleman with horses and hounds as well as a company of players, turns to attend the “taming” farce that the Elizabethan audience itself is about to attend.

Sly wakes up to find himself a Lord...

Sly wakes up to find himself a Lord…

But who was the anonymous writer of this ingenious farce? When it was performed for the Queen, court members might well have suspected it was Edward de Vere, Lord Oxford, the only nobleman among them who matched the “Lord” in every way. (Also, reinforcing the identification is the setting of the frame scenes in present-day Elizabethan England — an anomaly. Did the dramatist “Shakespeare” ever use a present-day English setting anywhere else?) In the 1580s, Oxford had patronized two companies of actors while leasing one of the earliest private Elizabethan theaters, the Blackfriars. He was well-known for his love of horses, hawks, hounds, banquets, costly apparel and music; he was a prankster, a teller of tall tales, acknowledged as among the best of the courtier poets and, too, as one of the few members of the nobility who wrote plays, especially comedies, and even, for his own amusement, acted on the stage.

“The Earls of Oxford had their players as far back as 1492,” writes E.K. Chambers in his great four-volume work The Elizabethan Stage (1923), noting that John de Vere, the sixteenth earl, had a company of players up to his death in 1562 – when his son Edward, then twelve, rode to London with George Gascoigne, author of The Supposes (1566), his English translation of an Italian comedy and a crucial source of The Taming of a Shrew. Chambers notes that Edward Lord Oxford “was clearly interested in things dramatic,” adding, “He took part [acted] in a Shrovetide device at Court in 1579, and is recorded to have been himself a playwright and one of ‘the best for comedy amongst us.’”

Queen Elizabeth attends a play at court (She never appeared at a public playhouse)

Queen Elizabeth attends a play at court
(She never appeared at a public playhouse)

Describing the earl’s theatrical activities, Chambers also notes that in 1580 his father-in-law, William Cecil Lord Burghley, as well as Lord Chamberlain Sussex [responsible for the play productions at Court], wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University and urged “that Oxford’s Men should be allowed to ‘show their cunning in several plays already practiced by them before the Queen’s majesty.’”

So when members of the elite audience at the royal Court saw the Elizabethan Lord on stage with his players, they must have roared with laughter during one of the framing scenes in which Sly, reacting to characters in the play as if they are individuals in the real-life world, suddenly shouts that he wants none of them to be sent to prison.

“My Lord,” the Lord tells Sly, indeed sounding like Hamlet, “this is but the play, they’re but in jest.”

But Sly, insisting that his command as a Lord be obeyed, exclaims: “AM NOT I DON CHRISTO VARY?”

“Don” is a Spanish title used by a nobleman and “Christo” represents Christ – the Lord. And, too, given that “Vere” was pronounced “Vair” (as in “Fair”), clearly Sly has come to believe that he himself is “Don Christ-O” — the Lord Oxford — Edward de “Vary” or Vere. And the court audience would also know that the nobleman whose place Sly has taken must be that same merry-madcap earl, who is sportively giving them a “sly” portrait of himself on stage.

“A close study” of the opening frame “shows that the Lord of the comedy is pure Oxford,” John Thomas Looney wrote in Shakespeare Pictorial (November 1935). The Lord in the play is “a nobleman, with his own company of play-actors, directing their performances and even participating in them; a poet and musician of pronounced esthetic tastes, delighting in objects of art, fine apparel and delicate perfumes; withal a keen sportsman, taking pleasure in various forms of outdoor exercises. Everything fits to the letter, which, taken along with Sly’s farcical appropriation of his family name, establishes for good his identity.”

[Whenever A Shrew was staged prior to its printing in 1594 (as far back as 1567), there was no dramatist “William Shakespeare” to take credit — and therefore no “Shakespeare authorship question” to interfere with the obvious evidence that Oxford wrote the play. Many scholars even today, operating within the restrictive assumptions of Stratfordian biography, have decided that Shakespeare himself could not have written A Shrew – making it quite possible, one would think, for them to accept it as one of Oxford’s “lost” comedies! Oh, the irony!]

"The Taming of the Shrew" in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623

“The Taming of the Shrew” in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623

Nearly three decades after 1594, in 1623, a much longer and more mature version of the same comedy will make its initial appearance in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays. Now A Shrew will become The Shrew – with Sly named Christophero or Christopher Sly – attributed for the first time to William Shakespeare. The producers of the Folio will print the beginning of the frame, with Sly and the Lord, but will they NOT include the rest of the frame, in which Sly cries out that he is “Don Christo Vary”.

No, they will not print the rest of it. Instead they will drop all the other framing scenes, even the final one – being intent upon further concealing Oxford’s authorship at all cost. The Folio project in 1623 is where the tilt toward Stratford upon Avon will begin. (There is no other link to Warwickshire till then.) And they will sacrifice the integrity of The Taming of the Shrew by cutting out all of the frame except the opening two scenes, which will be known in the future as “The Induction”.

(Many directors of The Shrew wisely restore the framing scenes from A Shrew for their productions! After all, the full frame not only makes sense, it makes for a better play!)

Part Two will conclude this “reason” with other aspects of both Taming plays. The bottom line is that the traditional attribution of authorship has led the Academy away from the instinctive, logical view that A Shrew and The Shrew represent two different stages, perhaps far apart in time, within the career of a single author. The result of this failure to acknowledge the obvious is an inability to comprehend how the greatest writer of the English language actually worked – not in a single, feverish whirl of magical genius, but, rather, by laboring over a long periods of time, in separate stages of his own experience and growth, to achieve his final masterpieces of drama and dramatic literature.


Here are some remarks in 2008 from David Scott Kastan, editor of the Barnes & Noble Shakespeare series, about The Taming of the Shrew:

“Shakespeare conceived these introductory scenes about Christopher Sly and the trick played to convince him that he is a great lord with an apt comic touch that is almost always successful on stage, but in the First Folio text Sly disappears from the play after Act One, scene one. Considering Shakespeare’s usual care in resolving all the plots of his plays … some scholars speculate that the text we have is corrupt.

“Beginning with Alexander Pope in 1723, editors have often added to Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew scenes taken from another, anonymous comedy printed in 1594 called The Taming of a Shrew — a practice sometimes adopted in the theater as well. Because of its similarity to Shakespeare’s play in plot and structure, scholars have debated whether Shakespeare had any hand in the writing of A Shrew.

“Whatever the truth, the presence of Christopher Sly onstage, commenting on the action throughout The Taming of a Shrew, makes for a more satisfactory development and resolution of this plot than that found in Shakespeare’s play.”


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