Oxford in “Shakespeare Quarterly”: The Dutton Brothers & The Queen’s Men

In the throes of a pandemic comes the Spring 2019 issue of the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Quarterly, delayed by problems in manufacturing; but no matter: a quick look at the contents page indicates that one of its articles undoubtedly mentions Edward de Vere.

Matthew Steggle, a Professor of Early Modern English Literature at the University of Bristol, UK, offers a well-researched piece titled “John and Laurence Dutton, Leaders of the Queen’s Men,” unwittingly supplying more evidence that mainstream scholars are inexorably moving “Shakespeare” and the Earl of Oxford closer together. How long will it be before they realize that the two were one and the same?

In addition to supplying new information about the Dutton brothers, Steggle includes the known history that in 1580 they moved with the rest of Warwick’s actors to Oxford’s company; and that “it was as one of Oxford’s Men that Laurence became involved in a brawl at the Theatre in April of that year.” Then in 1583, John Dutton was moved from Oxford’s Men to the newly formed Queen’s Men as one of the company’s founding players

The Queen’s Men soon dominated performances at Elizabeth’s court and began relentlessly touring the country. Steggle reports that the Duttons performed both at court and on tour for the company during that decade; and “between 1588 and 1593 they were co-leaders of the Queen’s Men, the most significant theatre company of its era.” It appears the brothers “were in charge of that company when it produced many of the best-known of its nine surviving plays. And if as is widely thought, Shakespeare was involved with the Queen’s Men in some way in his early career, then he would have had to work with the Duttons.”

I have placed that last sentence in italics to highlight how this conjecture (that Will Shakspere may have spent his “lost years” with the Queen’s Men) is now “widely thought” by current scholars to be true. If past practices are followed, it will not be long before the conjecture is offered to the world as fact.

We have seen this coming ever since Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean published their seminal work The Queen’s Men and Their Plays in 1998, stating: “The plots of no fewer than six of Shakespeare’s known plays are closely related to the plots of plays performed by the Queen’s Men.” They suggest, therefore, that the great author may have acted in those histories in the 1580s and memorized their lines, enabling him to plagiarize them for his own versions in the 1590s!  The young man from Stratford-upon-Avon also may have collaborated on those early plays for the Queen’s Men! After all, how else could he come up with the same plots with similar scenes and even dialogue?

ln his 1928 documentary biography of Oxford, B.M. Ward called attention to the earl’s association with the Dutton brothers. In 1583, when John Dutton was moved into the Queen’s Men, the company made its first court appearance in that Christmas season.  “On January 1st a performance was given by Oxford’s Men,” Ward writes, “and as John Lyly [the earl’s secretary] appears in the Chamber Accounts as payee for the company on that date, there is every reason to believe, with Edmund Chambers, that the play acted was Lyly’s Campaspe. On March 3rd both Oxford’s and the Queen’s men performed; once again Lyly was payee for Oxford’s, and Sir Edmund confidently conjectures that the play acted was Sapho and Phao.”

“It seems unreasonable to suppose that two plays were presented on this day,” Ward continues (with my emphasis). “The most likely solution, therefore, would be that the two companies were amalgamated and rehearsed by Lord Oxford’s private secretary John Lyly, the author of the play. No other adult companies besides these two appeared at Court during this season.”

Ward suggests that Oxford “loaned” Lyly as stage manager and coach for Elizabeth’s new company. Lyly continued in Oxford’s service through the 1580s while also maintaining some “unofficial capacity” with the Queen’s Men. All of this brings Oxford into contact with that same company and its early versions of Shakespeare’s history plays.

Added to this picture is Elizabeth’s grant to Oxford, in 1586, at the height of wartime preparations for the Spanish Armada. The grant consisted of one thousand pounds per year, paid according to the same formula used to provide funds for Secretary Francis Walsingham and his secret service. Among Walsingham’s activities was use of the Queen’s Men for patriotic propaganda and the enlistment of its actors as informants, reporting on what they saw and heard around the English countryside while on tour.

As the Shakespeare scholars make their way down the biographical timeline of Will Shakspere, back down into the 1580s, they keep bumping into Edward de Vere and his associates such as Anthony Munday and Thomas Watson, among other writers including those working with the earl at Fisher’s Folly; and they also keep bumping into those early versions of the Shakespearean history plays. Dare they suggest he collaborated on, say, The Troublesome Reign of King John or The True Tragedy of Richard III?  Once out on a long limb, there is little choice but to keep crawling farther out until it breaks; and when it does, they will fall straight down to where Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the true author of those plays (both early and later versions) has been waiting.

/////

Note: Here is what our mainstream brethren might read to see the latest scholarship on this issue from a point of view other than their own: the splendid work of Ramon Jimenez published in 2018:

.

 

“After the Rebellion” — Hank Whittemore at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) conference at Shakespeare’s Globe – November 2019

After the Rebellion: “Shakespeare’s” Final Tragedy and His Triumphant Rebirth

[Following is my talk at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) conference at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on 24 November 2019. The text has been adjusted for print and slightly expanded for greater clarity.]

Some years ago, I was on a train heading down to New York City and found myself sitting next to a distinguished looking gentleman who turned out to be an architect who also loved literature and drama. We began talking and he asked me about myself and, at some point, I mentioned I’m one of those folks looking for the “real” Shakespeare. He turned and looked at me with intensity and put up his finger, and I flinched. Who knows what this topic is going to bring out in people!

“Look,” he said, “there are two things you have to know about Shakespeare, whoever he was. One, he uses words to stimulate the muscle of your visual cortex, so it throws images on the screen of your mind.” He mentioned some examples, such as Horatio in Hamlet describing the dawn as a knight in rusted armour, climbing up “o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.”

“The second thing you need to know,” he said, “is that Shakespeare is a storyteller. And his greatest stories are tragic. Therefore, just identifying the real author will not be good enough. What you need to do is find that tragic story.”

We talked a lot more … the authorship question was new for him and he thought the whole idea of this mystery must be deeply sad and tragic. He was thinking about how this great author’s identity could have been obliterated. He considered it would have been a form of murder, or suicide, in the face of some powerful force against him.

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

Well, as many of you know, I’m convinced the true voice of the author is that of Edward de Vere, Lord Oxford, and that he provided the unifying vision of the individual artist that we know as “Shakespeare.” And, too, that it’s in the Sonnets where we find his most directly personal voice.

Oxford’s death or disappearance in June 1604 was followed soon upon by publication of the full-length second quarto of Hamlet; and in that great tragedy, the protagonist, the most autobiographical of all Shakespearean characters, cries out to his friend: “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name!  Things standing thus unknown shall I leave behind me!” Then he begs Horatio to “tell my story” — his tragic story that remains unknown to the world; and that sounds like what my friend on the train was talking about.

Well, the focus of our gathering here at Shakespeare’s Globe is the failed Essex Rebellion led by the earls of Essex and Southampton – an event which, I submit, is the inciting incident of the tragic story of the Shakespearean author’s posthumous loss of identity. In this view the rebellion is not the end of the story, but, rather, the beginning of de Vere’s final evaporation behind the pen name; and this perspective sheds light on a crucial legal story that I want to share with you.

I also hope to show that Oxford countered this loss of identity with a super-human effort to create, in the Sonnets, his final masterwork – to preserve his final story and prevail in death, thereby creating his own resurrection and ultimate triumph.

This final story takes place during the two years and two months following the failure of the so-called rebellion — a period which, I suggest, is the true historical time frame and all-important context for Oxford’s posthumous disappearance as the author. This was a dark time when Southampton languished in the Tower as a convicted traitor; when the condemned Earl of Essex wrote a long poem to Queen Elizabeth from his prison room, during the four days before his execution; and when Southampton also wrote a long poem to her Majesty from his Tower room, begging for mercy – a poem discovered less than a decade ago. (“Was Southampton a Poet? A Verse Letter to Queen Elizabeth” by Lara M. Crowley, English Literary Renaissance, 2011.)

I agree with Ms. Crowley that these poems by the earls are more accurately called “verse letters” of communication with the queen; and clearly the Sonnets are verse letters as well.

First the prologue: the Shakespeare pseudonym making its grand entrance just eight years before the rebellion, in 1593, when things are heating up to determine control of succession to Elizabeth – who, by refusing to name anyone, is putting the country in danger of civil war around the throne when she dies. The Essex faction is up against the entrenched power of William Cecil Lord Burghley and his rapidly rising son Robert Cecil, the cunning hunchback seething with resentment toward those nobles whom he views as so unfairly fortunate by their birth alone. The goal of the Essex faction is to prevent the Cecils from continuing their power into the next reign; but I don’t need to tell you that Robert Cecil is going to win this game. He is going to outwit and outmaneuver those spoiled, arrogant noblemen.

(Consider this strikingly blunt comment about Robert Cecil from the Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900: “Life was to him a game which he was playing for high stakes, and men and women were only pieces upon the board, set there to be swept off by one side or the other or allowed to stand so long only as the risk of letting them remain there was not too great.”)

Now in 1593 the previously unknown author William Shakespeare (without any prior history of written work) suddenly appears on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Southampton. “Shakespeare” is on the side of those same young lords heading toward their tragic end game, which is also the end game to determine the future course of England.

A year later, in the 1594 dedication of Lucrece to Southampton, the same author confirms where he stands with an extraordinary public promise: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end …What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.” This from a great author with a vast storehouse of 25,000 words from which he can choose, who never needs to repeat any word twice, much less three times in a single sentence.

It’s a pen name, saying, in effect: “All the writings I have done so far (i.e., the two narrative poems), and all the writings I am going to do in the future, published under this name, are for you and in your support. These written works are, and will be, yours … yours … yours.”

Once Burghley dies in 1598 and Principal Secretary Cecil takes over, the gloves come off with the first issuance of plays under the pseudonym, among them Richard III with “Shake-speare” hyphenated as if to emphasize the image of a writer “shaking the spear” of his pen. This play of royal history contains a mirror image of the hunchbacked Cecil, an allegorical portrait of him as an evil monster, and a shockingly obvious attack on him that the secretary cannot, will not, ever forgive. He will bide his time, keeping a steady course, until he gets revenge.

In the next year, 1599, it appears that “Shakespeare” in the chorus of Henry V is publicly cheering for Essex’s success on the Irish military campaign, in which Southampton is also a leader. The playwright predicts that “the general of our gracious Empress” will return with “rebellion broached on his sword,” but the effort to crush the revolt is doomed – in no small part because Cecil has prevented the earls from receiving the needed assistance.

That fall back in London, Essex is in deep trouble with the queen and her council, under Cecil’s pressure against him. Meanwhile Southampton spends much of his time attending politically instructive plays at the Curtain such as Julius Caesar by “Shakespeare,” who, for the public audience, is creating an allegorical road map toward avoiding civil war and achieving a peaceful royal succession.

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

Events are moving fast, tensions are building, as the aging queen falls increasingly under Cecil’s influence. In January 1601 Southampton is attacked in the street by Lord Gray and his party on behalf of Cecil and Raleigh; the earl draws his sword and fights them off with the help of his houseboy, who joins in the fray and has one of his hands lopped off. As far as Essex and Southampton are concerned, they are in mortal danger and can no longer delay taking action.

In the first week of February, Southampton takes charge of planning to finally gain access to the queen at Whitehall. They plot to hold Cecil captive so Essex and Southampton can be in her Majesty’s presence and convince her to call a Parliament on succession – to finally name someone, even give up her crown, avoid civil war, and remove Cecil in the bargain.

Preparing for this confrontation with the queen, the conspirators on Sunday 7 February 1601 attend a special performance of Richard II with a deposition scene of the king handing over his crown. In this newly revised play, Oxford demonstrates to the Essex faction how it might be possible to confront Elizabeth with rational arguments and persuade her to do the same – without, most importantly, violating the laws of God or man.

Of course, the play is viewed allegorically, making it easy for Cecil to incite the queen’s fear and anger; and Elizabeth well understood, as she later exclaimed: “I am Richard Second, know ye not that!”

More immediately, however, the cunning Cecil uses this special performance to summon Essex to the palace that night for questioning; and his calculated move predictably causes the earl to panic. The next morning, at Essex House, his followers are clamoring in the courtyard amid an atmosphere of chaos. The subsequent events predictably end in disaster; that night, both Essex and Southampton surrender up their swords and are taken through Traitors Gate into the Tower of London, facing charges of high treason against the crown and virtually certain execution.

Eleven days later, at their joint trial in Westminster Hall, are two of the future leading candidates for the authorship of the “Shakespeare” works:  Sir Francis Bacon, viciously prosecuting; and Lord Oxford, having come out of retirement to sit as highest ranking earl on the tribunal of peers sitting in judgment. The accused earls will both be found guilty and sentenced to death; Essex will be executed six days later, but Southampton will find himself in perpetual confinement.

Now all authorized publications of as-yet-unprinted Shakespeare plays have abruptly ceased; aside from the full Hamlet in 1604, there will be no more newly printed authorized plays for nearly two decades; but my theme here is that the rebellion is not the end of author’s tragic story, it’s the beginning.

Southampton in the Tower: 8 February 1601 – 10 April 1603

In the normal telling it’s the conclusion: Southampton remains in the Tower while Cecil, under terrible tension, works desperately and even treasonously to communicate in secret with King James in Scotland. In that traditional history, Shakespeare writes few if any sonnets to Southampton all during the twenty-six months of his imprisonment. Then, upon Henry Wriothesley’s release from the Tower by King James on 10 April 1603, the author suddenly exclaims in Sonnet 107 that “my true love” had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” but is now free; and, therefore, “my love looks fresh” – once again, offering the young earl his endless love, devotion and commitment.

Was Shakespeare a hypocrite?  His true love in the prison and he writes maybe a few private sonnets to or about him, or none at all, only to jump back on the bandwagon when Southampton is liberated? Well, I don’t think he could have been hypocritical.

Thinking about my friend on the train describing Shakespeare as a masterful storyteller, I recall the diagram of the most basic structure of a story, the way my English teacher drew it on the blackboard. In that light, if Sonnet 107 at the climax celebrates Southampton getting out of the Tower, in 1603, how could we care about that event unless the author has already established when he was put in the Tower two years earlier, back in 1601? In the framework of such a story, certainly Southampton’s entrance into the prison fortress is the inciting incident that finally reaches the climactic turning point later, in 1603.

Why would we care about Southampton getting out of the Tower if we didn’t know, in the first place, that he was in there?  Well, if we climb back down the consecutively numbered sonnets, we can see that the usual view is wrong. A journey “back down the ladder” of sonnets takes us through a long series of darkness, despair, prison, trial, legal words related to crime, guilt, death – all the way back down to where this great wave of darkness and suffering first appears; and then it becomes clear that literally dozens and dozens of sonnets have been leading up to the climax.

The author did not abandon Southampton; he never stopped writing to or about him; and in this context – the context of the prison years – those legal words are no longer metaphorical; rather, they are real, and carefully accurate: real words applied to real life, when the author is steeling himself against the worst outcome for the young earl.

Now I hope you’ll to indulge me for less than ninety seconds, as we take a quick “fly-over” to view these words from the high point of Sonnet 107 back downward; and this is just a sampling of those dark and legal words as we climb back down to where they begin at Sonnet 27:

(Sonnets 106-96): Confined doom, Wasted time, weak, mournful, despair, death, dark days, decease, fault;

(Sonnets 92-87): Term of life, thy revolt, sorrow, woe, fault, offence, night, attainted, misprision, judgment;

(Sonnets 86-77): Tomb, dead, confine, immured, attaint, decayed, waste, graves; (74-66): Fell arrest, bail, death, buried, blamed, suspect, died, dead, for restful death I cry;  

(Sonnets 65-57): Plea, gates of steel, drained his blood, shadows, for thee watch I, imprisoned, pardon, crime, watch the clock for you;

(Sonnets 55-51): Death, judgment, die, deaths, shadows, shadow, up-locked, imprisoned, offence, excuse;

(Sonnets 50-46): Heavy, bloody, grief, lawful reasons, allege, bars, locked up, thyself away, defendant, plea deny, verdict;

(Sonnets 43-38): Shadow, grief, waiting, blame, forgive, grief, absence, torment, pain;

(Sonnets 37-33): Shadow, confess, guilt, trespass, fault, lawful plea, offender’s sorrow, ransom, basest clouds;

(Sonnets 32-27): If thou survive, dead, grieve, buried, death’s dateless night, disgrace, outcast, hung in ghastly night…

That’s just a sampling of the “dark” words and legal terminology in the eighty sonnets from the climax of Sonnet 107 all the way back down to number 27, in which the author tries to sleep that night in the darkness, but his mind travels instead to Southampton in the Tower. He can imagine the earl up there in a window, like “a jewel hung in ghastly night.” In the dictionary “ghastly” is “frightful, dreadful, horrible,” as in “a ghastly murder” – or, we can be sure, like the ghastly torture of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

SONNET 27 on the night of the failed Rebellion on the Eighth of February 1601, where the story begins:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travail tired.

But then begins a journey in my head,

To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired.

For then my thoughts (from far where I abide),

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,

Looking on darkness, which the blind do see.

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,

For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Southampton entering the Tower as a prisoner is the first of many recorded, factual events. The overall circumstance is that he’s accused of a crime; and sure enough, in this diary of verse letters, Oxford calls it by name:

“To you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

“How much I suffered in your crime.” – Sonnet 120

In this case, the crime is that of treason, the most serious offence Southampton could have committed. It would almost cost him his life and cause the author of the Sonnets to descend into darkness and despair and finally to disappear. So, now, from Sonnet 27 forward, we have what might be called the “foundational tracks” of his personal story. These tracks during Southampton’s more than two years in prison are on the record; Oxford knows they are events that will be indelibly stamped upon English history.

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford served as highest-ranking nobleman on the tribunal at the February 19, 1601 treason trial of Essex and Southampton — as indicated by a contemporary notice of the event

FEBRUARY 11, 1601: The twenty-five peers, Oxford among them, are “summoned” to serve on the tribunal at the “sessions” or treason trial; and in Sonnet 30 the author writes: “When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought, I summon up remembrance of things past.” Yes, it’s poetry, but I suggest there’s a “second intention,” which is actually the primary context – and, as you have probably noticed, that’s the most important word of this talk: context.

FEBRUARY 19, 1601: The trial of Essex and Southampton is held on this day at Westminster Hall. Bacon prosecutes; Oxford sits with the peers, who come to a foregone unanimous conclusion: both earls are found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed.

Oxford, reacting to the tragedy, addresses Southampton in Sonnet 38 and wonders in sorrow: “How can my Muse want subject to invent/ While thou dost breathe? … The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.” In Sonnet 46 he glances back at the recent trial: “And by their verdict is determined…”

FEBRUARY 25, 1601: Essex is executed on the Tower Green by beheading; and the poet writes in Sonnet 44, referring to Southampton and himself, about their “heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.”

MARCH 5, 1601: The treason trial of five conspirators; all convicted and condemned to death; and Oxford writes to Southampton in Sonnet 57: “I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you.”

MARCH 13, 1601: Gelly Merrick & Henry Cuffe are hanged, drawn and quartered. “For thee watch I,” Oxford writes to Southampton in Sonnet 61; and in Sonnet 63 he sets down his fears that Wriothesley will face the executioner’s axe – using a double image that combines both universal time/age and specific words such as “knife” and “cut” and “life” related to beheading:

For such a time do I now fortify

Against confounding Age’s cruel knife,

That he shall never cut from memory

My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.

MARCH 18, 1601: Charles Danvers & Christopher Blount are publicly beheaded, leaving Southampton as the only one with the death sentence hanging over him; and the author writes Sonnet 66 as a virtual suicide note, listing reasons he wishes to die:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry …

Tired with all these, from these I would be gone,

Save that to die, I leave my love alone.

He would prefer to kill himself, but will not commit suicide while Southampton remains alive and “alone” in the Tower. In that same virtual suicide note, he complains about “strength by limping sway disabled,” and John Dover Wilson (in his Cambridge edition of the Sonnets in 1969) finds it “tempting to suspect a glance at the control of the state by the limping Robert Cecil.” Well, as my friend on the train might say, it’s not only tempting, it “stimulates the muscle of our visual cortex” to create an image of Cecil swaying and limping toward his “disabling” or destruction of the earls.

“And captive good attending Captain Ill,” Oxford adds. Southampton, the captive prisoner, is at the mercy of Captain Ill, echoing Cecil, the captain in command of the situation.

Early the next morning, crowds wait on Tower Hill for the spectacle of Southampton being executed, but they’re disappointed because, without official explanation, the scaffold is taken down. The earl’s life has been spared. His sentence is quietly reduced to perpetual confinement. He becomes a nobody, stripped of all lands and titles, and is now “Mr. Henry Wriothesley,” a commoner, and even “the late earl” – a dead man in the eyes of the law; and therefore, in Sonnet 67:  “Ah, wherefore with infection should he live … Why should he live …?” And in Sonnet 69: “Thou dost common grow…”

Is Cecil is holding him hostage in the Tower? If so, the key must be Oxford himself and Cecil’s need to remove all future trace of him as the author calling himself Shakespeare, the poet-dramatist who devoted his work to Southampton, and, too, who had depicted Cecil as the monstrous ruler Richard the Third.

In number 87 of this diary of verse letters, Oxford supplies the legal mechanism by which Southampton’s life was spared:

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,

Comes home again, on better judgment making

“Misprision of Treason” is literally a “better judgment” or verdict, a reduction of the crime of treason. This special judgment is a kind of plea bargain, used by Tudor monarchs to gain information in exchange for a lesser verdict. It means Southampton was supposedly ignorant of the law; he knew about the plot but didn’t really participate and failed to report it; he expresses true sorrow or repentance; and it gives him the possibility of future liberation and even a royal pardon, so he cannot be retried for the same offence.

Oxford supplies a crucial account of how this better legal judgment for Southampton was obtained. Soon after Sonnet 27 on the night of the failed rebellion, anticipating the trial, he promises Southampton in Sonnet 35 that “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,” or as editor Katherine Duncan-Jones reads the line: “Your legal opponent is also your legal defender.”

Oxford has no choice but to join the other peers on the tribunal, in effect acting as Southampton’s “adverse party,” forced to vote with them to condemn him to death; but he also vows to work (privately, behind the scenes) as the earl’s “Advocate” or defense attorney, trying to save his life.

He must make a deal with Cecil, his former brother-in-law; and as he records in the Sonnets, there is a kind of prisoner exchange, that is, Oxford offers his life in exchange for Southampton’s reprieve from execution and possible future liberation. The younger earl is in fact spared from execution, without any official word, but he must remain in confinement until the monarch decides to release him and perhaps grant him a pardon.

Oxford instructs him on the law (and the plea deal), adding in Sonnet 58, “To you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime,” that is, “Your life is in your own hands, young man.”

The monarch who may give him a pardon, however, will not be Elizabeth, who is much too angry and fearful. Cecil must succeed in bringing James to the English throne; only then will Cecil can he continue in his position of power, and only then might Southampton get out alive. Therefore, to save Southampton, Oxford must agree to help Cecil make James the King of England. (And to that end, perhaps Edward de Vere is the unidentified “40” in the Secretary’s secret correspondence with the Scottish king).

Also in Sonnet 35, Oxford blames himself for “authorizing” the crime as author of Richard II and depicting Elizabeth “with compare” as that historical king; as Duncan-Jones explains, “authorizing” is “used here in a legal sense for sanctioning or justifying, with a further play on ‘author’ as composer or writer.”

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authorizing thy trespass with compare…

Oxford is guilty not only for writing Richard II with its deposition scene, but, also, for allowing the Chamberlain’s Men to give the special performance of his play that Cecil then used to trigger the whole debacle. The actors are called in for questioning, but not the author, even though he had played a crucial role in the crime. In fact, he himself could possibly be charged with Treason by Words, if the queen chose to believe that Richard II depicts her as a tyrant. Oxford, too, could be executed.

More important to Cecil, however, was being able to ensure that Oxford, his former brother-in-law, could not be linked to the portrait of him in Richard Third (or, for example, that Oxford could not be linked to portraits of Burghley in the quartos of Hamlet). Instead of Oxford himself being physically executed, his identity could be obliterated beyond his death — forever — behind the Shakespeare pen name. Oxford could agree to that (and to ensuring that no one who know the truth will ever reveal it), if it means saving Southampton; and therefore, an essential part of the plea deal is his self-sacrifice.

In Sonnet 35 he records his acceptance of posthumous disappearance: “And ‘gainst myself a lawful plea commence” – a legal plea bargain, directed against himself. At the same time, Southampton must agree to his own guilt and confess that he never meant to commit treason; and so, for example, he writes to the Privy Council from his prison room: “My soul is heavy and troubled for my offences … My heart was free from any pre-meditate treason against my sovereign….”

Oxford refers in Sonnet 34 to the younger earl’s need to repent, while he himself must take on a Christlike role:

Though thou repent yet I have still the loss,

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence’s cross …

In his poem to the queen, Southampton begs for mercy:

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,

For my tears have already worn these stones.

His tears of repentance are “riches” to be paid, the way other noble prisoners are able to use actual money to purchase their freedom. Oxford reminds him in Sonnet 34 that his tears of repentance are a form of “ransom” for his life and possible liberty:

Ah but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds (sheds),

And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

The price also includes total separation from each other – in life, on the record, in future history. Oxford had linked Southampton to the pen name; the earl and the famous pseudonym went together; therefore, now Oxford must agree to de-link himself from not only “Shakespeare,” but, also, from Southampton. The two of them must be “twain” or apart, one from the other, as Oxford tells Southampton in Sonnet 36:

Let me confess that we two must be twain …

I may not ever-more acknowledge thee…

The author, a legal expert, finds in Sonnet 49 another way to phrase the same legal bargain behind the scenes:

And this my hand against myself uprear,

To guard the lawful reasons on thy part.

To leave poor me, thou hast the strength of laws…

The dark time continues, no one knowing the outcome.

FEBRUARY 8, 1602: First anniversary of the failed Rebellion: Southampton has spent one full year in prison, as Oxford records in Sonnet 97:

How like a winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

“Fleeting” is a deliberate play on the Fleet Prison to emphasize Southampton’s continuing confinement.

FEBRUARY 8, 1603: Second anniversary, marking two years or “three winters cold” in the Tower as indicated in Sonnet 104, covering the three Februaries of 1601, 1602 and 1603.

MARCH 24, 1603: Queen Elizabeth, the “mortal Moon,” dies in her sleep and those “sad Augurs” who predicted civil war are proved wrong. Cecil quickly proclaims King James of Scotland as James I of England, and the new monarch, who uses “Olives” to symbolize peace, quickly sends ahead the order for Southampton’s release. On April 10, 1603, after all the uncertainties are crowned with assurance, and after Southampton was “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” he walks out of the Tower as a free man and Oxford records this amazing climax of his recorded story in Sonnet 107:

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul

Of the wide world dreaming on things to come

Can yet the lease of my true love control,

Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom!

The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured,

And the sad Augurs mock their own presage,

Incertainties now crown themselves assured,

And peace proclaims Olives of endless age.

Now with the drops of this most balmy time,

My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,

Since ‘spite of him I’ll live in this poor rhyme,

While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes.

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

How very confident de Vere is that these “verse letters” are going to comprise a “monument” for Southampton that will outlive the crests of tyrants and the brass tombs of kings! As Oxford promised him in Sonnet 81:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read…

And now, proceeding from the climax of number 107, the story’s resolution unfolds in nineteen days covered by exactly nineteen sonnets, advancing with increasing power and grandeur to the funeral procession bearing the coffin and effigy of Elizabeth under a canopy, on April 28, 1603, marked by Sonnet 125, the official end of the Tudor dynasty, followed immediately by the author’s envoy of farewell to “Oh thou my lovely Boy.”

The result is a self-contained series of the 80 prison sonnets plus the 20 sonnets of resolution, exactly 100 sonnets or a “century” of them – mirroring Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love (1582), the 100 consecutively numbered sonnets attributed to Thomas Watson and dedicated to Oxford. The “century” within SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS is the central sequence of his monument for Southampton.

The younger earl will live on, but the author will disappear. Oxford consistently expresses this sacrifice of one life for the other — the exchange of his life or identity as “Shakespeare” for Southampton’s life as a free man:

When I, perhaps compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse. (Sonnet 71)

(When I am dead, you will continue without acknowledging me.)

My name be buried where my body is

And live no more to shame nor me nor you. (Sonnet 72)

(My identity will disappear, leaving you to flourish)

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

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

(You are forever tied to “Shakespeare,” while I must disappear.)

In effect, these lines of the Sonnets comprise Edward de Vere’s own version of Hamlet’s cry for his wounded name. It’s a tragic story, but also the basic answer to the Shakespeare Authorship Question, delivered to posterity by the author himself — as he talks about his “poor name” or “name” to be “buried” and stating that he himself must die – not just in the physical sense, of course, but to “all the world.” He disconnects himself from “Shakespeare” and, therefore, from Southampton, ensuring that his own identity will disappear … but not forever!

In fact, Oxford is counting on these very sonnets to “tell my story,” as Hamlet begs his friend Horatio.  Back in Sonnet 55, when Southampton’s fate was by no means certain, Oxford vowed to create “the living record of your memory,” adding:

’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.

In this way he will triumph over Time and defeat the false “registers” or “records” upon which the future writers of history will rely. He himself will prevail in these sonnets, which will be printed in 1609 only to be quickly suppressed and driven underground, until the quarto’s reappearance more than a full century later. And so he defeats Time and Cecil and even Death, as expressed in Sonnet 107: “I’ll live in this poor rhyme.”

He draws his breath in pain, to tell his story.  The “monument” of the Sonnets is his ultimate triumph, as expressed in Sonnet 123:

No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!

Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange:

They are but dressings of a former sight.

Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire

What thou dost foist upon us that is old,

And rather make them borne to our desire

Than think that we before have heard them told.

Thy registers and thee I both defy –

Not wond’ring at the present, nor the past,

For thy records and what we see doth lie,

Made more or less by thy continual haste.

This I do vow, and this shall ever be:

I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

 

/////

 

 

 

 

The Launch of the “Shakespeare” Pen Name (Who Knew What & When?) and Its Aftermath

Following is a talk I gave to the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Conference on 17 October 2019 at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT:

Part One

Samuel Clemens drew upon a wealth of personal experience in his work; and in his later years, he made the remark: “I could never tell a lie that anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.” Imagine old Sam on his porch out there and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, laughing along with him. And Oxford reminding him what Touchstone said in As You Like It: “The truest poetry is the most feigning” – in other words, pretending — telling truth by allegory and a “second intention.” Both men knew that more truth can be told and believed when dressed as fiction, whether it’s Huckleberry Finn or Hamlet. And, of course, both men wrote under pen names.

(Dedication of “Venus and Adonis” in 1593 to Southampton with first printing of the Shakespeare name)

I want to talk first about the launch of the pen name “Shakespeare” in 1593, on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, asking, “Who Knew What and When?” – or – “What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?”  The question is posed in relation to five individuals.

Queen Elizabeth – Did her Majesty see the letter to her from early reader William Reynolds, saying she was the subject of a crude parody in the character of Venus? Did she know who had written this scandalous, instant bestseller?  If she did know, when did she know it?

William Cecil Lord Burghley – Reynolds also wrote to the chief minister, saying he was offended by this portrait of Elizabeth as a “lusty old” queen. Meanwhile, Burghley was Southampton’s legal guardian and still pressuring him to marry his granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere (who may or may not have been the natural daughter of Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford). Therefore anything involving Southampton would be of great interest to Burghley and his rapidly rising son Robert Cecil.

After the death in 1590 of Francis Walsingham, head of the secret service, William and Robert Cecil had taken over the crown’s network of spies and informants. They made it their business to know everything; and now they were gearing up for the inevitable power struggle to control the succession upon Elizabeth’s death.

The queen refused to name her successor, even though she was turning sixty and could die any moment. The Cecils were preparing for the fight with Robert Devereuex, second Earl of Essex, with whom Southampton was closely allied. Could they allow this “Shakespeare” to dedicate to Southampton such a popular, scandalous work and not know the author?  What did Burghley know and when did he know it?

Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton, nineteen, whom we can imagine arriving at the royal court, where folks had their copies of Venus and Adonis with its dedication to him. Might they be curious about “William Shakespeare”? And about his relationship to Southampton? What did the earl know and when did he know it?

John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, who issued the publishing license in his own hand. He had a large staff for that purpose and normally delegated readings of manuscripts and signings-off on licenses, but now he took it upon himself. This strict archbishop was in charge of all government censorship. Why would he give his personal approval of such salacious poetry? Why would he allow this possibly dangerous political allegory into the market? Would he have done so without prior authorization from the queen and Burghley?

Whitgift had been appointed archbishop in 1583 and had gained her Majesty’s full trust and admiration. In 1586 he was given the authority to peruse and license all manuscripts and the power to destroy the press of any printer. He suppressed the Puritans so harshly that in 1588 they began to publish pamphlets against him, led by a writer using the pen name “Martin Marprelate” (who was “marring the prelates”). The archbishop responded with a ruthless campaign of retaliation, using pamphlets turned out by members of Oxford’s writing circle such as Tom Nashe and John Lyly.  Apparently, the earl himself wrote against “Marprelate” under the pen name “Pasquil Cavaliero.” (One pen name battling another!)

At the end of the 1590s, the archbishop will issue a decree ordering the burning of a long list of books, among them several based on works of Ovid. The condemned books will be publicly burned in the infamous Bishops’ Bonfire of 1599, but none will include works attributed to “Shakespeare” — not even Venus and Adonis or Lucrece, both based on Ovid.  (“Shakespeare” never got into trouble for his writing.) Now in 1593, Whitgift personally authorizes Venus and Adonis for publication by Field.

Richard Field, Publisher-Printer, who entered Venus and Adonis at the Stationer’s Register in April 1593.

“The Arte of English Poesie” – 1589

Field will print Love’s Martyr in 1601 with The Phoenix and Turtle as by “William Shake-speare” — hyphenated, as if to confirm that it’s a pen name. (Presumably he was the son of Henry Field, a tanner in Stratford-upon-Avon; but modern researchers are finding it difficult to verify that presumption.) Regardless of his background, by age seventeen in 1579 he was in London. He apprenticed for several years under the esteemed printer and French refugee Thomas Vautrollier, who died in 1587. A year later Field married Vautrollier’s widow and, at twenty-six, he took over the publishing business.

He was a dedicated Protestant, committed to the policies of Queen Elizabeth.  It’s been said Field was “Burghley’s publisher.” Later he would issue Protestant books in Spanish, for sale in Catholic Spain, under “Ricardo del Campo” – another pen name.

In 1589 Field published The Arte of English Poesie, by a deeply knowledgeable writer choosing not to identify himself. Along with Richard Waugaman and others, I hold the view that The Arte was written (wholly or in part) by Oxford, whose own verse is cited for description and instruction, not to mention that he himself is fulsomely praised as chief poet of the Elizabethan court.

The anonymous author of The Arte addresses his entire tract to Elizabeth – with distinct echoes of Oxford’s own praise of the queen in his elegant Courtier preface of 1572. The invisible author also uses the kind of alliteration Oxford so enjoyed; for example, he tells her Majesty:

“You, Madam, my most Honored and Gracious, if I should seem to offer you this my desire for a discipline and not a delight … By your princely purse, favours and countenance, making in manner what ye list, the poor man rich, the lewd well learned, the coward courageous, and the vile both noble and valiant: then for imitation no less, your person as a most cunning counterfeit lively representing Venus…”

(Here is Richard Field, who will publish Venus and Adonis four years later, issuing an anonymous book in which the author likens Queen Elizabeth to Venus.)

“Venus and Adonis” by Titian, the painting that “Shakespeare” must have seen in Venice (showing Adonis wearing his bonnet)

There is strong evidence that Oxford wrote the first version of Venus and Adonis in the latter 1570s after returning from Italy, where he had made his home base in Venice. For example, the poem contains a lifelike portrait-in-words of Venus trying to seduce young Adonis, who, significantly, is wearing his bonnet. Without question this section of the narrative poem is a vivid description of the painting in Venice at Titian’s own house, which Oxford must have visited (as most traveling nobles did) – because in that house was Titian’s only painting of Venus and Adonis (among his many others of the same subject) in which the young god is wearing his bonnet.

It may also be that Oxford was creating an allegory of his own experience as a young man pursued by Elizabeth. Adonis is killed by the spear of a wild boar — perhaps the same boar of Oxford’s earldom, as though his own identity is officially killed by the spear of “Shakespeare,” his new pen name. From the blood of Adonis, a purple flower springs up, and Venus tells it: “Thou art next of blood and ‘tis thy right.” Then the lustful goddess flies off to Paphus, the city in Cyprus sacred to Venus, to hide from the world. Her silver doves are mounted through the empty skies, pulling her light chariot and “holding their course to Paphus, where their Queen means to immure herself and not be seen.”

Oxford had an extensive personal history of publicly likening Queen Elizabeth to Venus. In Euphues and his England, the novel of 1580 dedicated to the earl, she is portrayed as both the Queen of Love and Beauty and the Queen of Chastity: “Oh, fortunate England that hath such a Queen! … adorned with singular beauty and chastity, excelling in the one Venus, in the other Vesta ….”  — the sexual goddess and the virginal goddess, both at once.

In the Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), the scholar Steven May writes, Oxford definitely likens Elizabeth to Venus: “But who can leave to look on Venus’ face?” the poet asks, referring to “her alone, who yet on th’earth doth reign.”

In the final chapter of Arte, the author apologizes to the queen for this “tedious trifle” and fears she will think of him as “the Philosopher in Plato who failed to occupy his brain in matters of more consequence than poetry,” adding, “But when I consider how everything hath his estimation by opportunity, and that it was but the study of my younger years in which vanity reigned…”

(“When I consider how everything” will be echoed in sonnet 15, which begins, “When I consider everything…”)

The anonymous author tells Elizabeth that “experience” has taught him that “many times idleness is less harmful than profitable occupation.” He refers sarcastically, sounding like Hamlet, to “these great aspiring minds and ambitious heads of the world seriously searching to deal in matters of state” who become “so busy and earnest that they were better be occupied and peradventure altogether idle.”

(Who else would dare to write that description to her Majesty about members of her own government? Oxford had written similar thoughts in his own poetry such as, “Than never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.” At the same time, he pledges his “service” to her, according to his “loyal and good intent always endeavoring to do your Majesty the best and greatest of those services I can.” Oxford always talks about serving the queen, as he wrote to Burghley, “I serve her Majesty, and I am that I am.”)

Richard Field publishes this work of 1589, written by an anonymous author sounding much like Oxford, and containing some of the earl’s own work, praising him to the skies – and then Field dedicates it to Burghley. “This book,” he tells the most powerful man in England, “coming to my hands with his bare title, without any Author’s name or any other ordinary address, I doubted how well it might become me to make you a present thereof.”

He was surprised and mystified to see this manuscript just flying over the transom into his hands; however, seeing that the book is written to “our Sovereign lady the Queen, for her recreation and service,” Field publishes the work and even dedicates it to Burghley. In his dedication, he also sounds as if Oxford helped him, as when he writes alliteratively of “your Lordship being learned and a lover of learning … and myself a printer always ready and desirous to be at your Honorable commandment.”

Four years later Field publishes Venus and Adonis dedicated to Southampton, whom Burghley, with the queen’s blessing, hopes to gather into his own family. Even orthodox commentators recognize that the high quality of the printing suggests Shakespeare’s direct involvement, as Frank Halliday writes in A Shakespeare Companion: “The two early poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, both carefully printed by Field, are probably the only works the publication of which Shakespeare personally supervised.” (Imagine the Earl of Oxford working side by side with Richard Field at his shop in Blackfriars, to fine-tune the printing!) Now the manuscript goes to Whitgift, chief censor for everything published in England, and he signs off in his own hand – a fact that Field quickly advertises in the Stationers Register.

The question is posed in relation to Publisher Richard Field, Archbishop John Whitgift, Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burghley and the Earl of Southampton: Who knew what and when? What did they know and when did they know it?

My answer is that they all knew about the launch of Oxford’s new pen name and knew it before this work was published. They each knew who “Shakespeare” was and they allowed the earl to publish it and dedicate it to Southampton. The very individuals who were most closely involved, with the most at stake, and could make such decisions, must have worked directly, or indirectly, with each other – and with the author himself – to launch the famous pen name.

Part Two 

There is another dimension to the pseudonym that I would like to describe. It begins back in 1583, when Protestant England and Catholic Spain were definitely at war; and gearing up to defend against this mighty enemy was the queen’s great Puritan spymaster, Francis Walsingham, who quickly organized a new company of players. The Puritans generally hated the public theater, but Walsingham knew its value in terms of propaganda.

Early version of Shakespeare’s play of King John, performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580s

The new company, approved by Burghley and patronized by Elizabeth, was called the Queen’s Men. It was comprised of two separate troupes touring the country to rouse patriotic fervor and unity. All existing companies – including Oxford’s — contributed their best actors – and de Vere collected his expanding group of writers at a mansion in London (nicknamed Fisher’s Folly) for scribes such as Nashe, Lyly, Watson, Greene, Munday, Churchyard, Lodge and many others.

(Imagine Michelangelo’s studio filled with artists working together under a single guiding hand.)

In the 1580s these writers turned out dozens, even hundreds of history plays. Among them were Oxford’s own early versions of Shakespeare histories, anonymous plays such as The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard Third, The True Chronicle History of King Leir and The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, the latter containing the entire framework for Henry Fourth Parts One and Two and Henry the Fifth as by Shakespeare.

Their weapons were not swords or guns or ships, but words, giving birth to an inspiring new English language and vision of national identity – a powerful weapon that de Vere was creating and guiding as well as helping to finance. And in 1586 the queen rewarded him with an extraordinary annual allowance of a thousand pounds, paid according to the same formula used to finance Walsingham for his wartime secret service. When the Spanish invasion by Armada arrived in 1588, volunteers from all parts of England responded – Protestants, Puritans, Catholics, speaking different dialects and often needing to be translated, all joining in the face of a common enemy.

Once the Great Enterprise of King Philip had been turned back, however, that same government had no more use for the writers. Having harnessed their talent and work to touch the minds and hearts of the queen’s subjects, the government now became wary of them, perhaps afraid of their freedom of expression and power to influence her Majesty’s subjects.

After defeating the enemy without, the government now focused upon its real or potential enemies within. The end game of internal power struggles was just beginning. Who would gain control of the inevitable succession to Elizabeth? Oxford had been the central sun from which the writers had drawn their light, and around which they had revolved; but now he was deliberately squeezed with old debts and could no longer support them, so they began to fly out of orbit and disappear.

By 1590, the year Walsingham died, Oxford’s secretary and stage manager John Lyly was out of a job; in 1591, Thomas Lodge escaped poverty by sailing to South America; in September 1592, Thomas Watson died and so did Robert Greene (if, in fact, Greene was a real person and not another pen name); on 30 May 1593, Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death; later that year, Thomas Kyd was tortured on the rack, leading to his death.

Lyly, Lodge, Watson, Greene, Marlowe, Kyd: all gone. They disappeared in a kind of bloodbath, into a metaphorical graveyard of writers; and Oxford himself disappeared. He withdrew from court and vanished from London. He remarried (his first wife, Anne Cecil, had died in 1588) and became something of a recluse at Hackney – undoubtedly revising his previous plays.

As far as the general public knew, Oxford no longer existed; some people even thought he was dead; but in the spring of 1593, just when Marlowe was being murdered, something else was afoot. From below the graveyard of writers, without any paper trail or personal history, the heretofore unknown “William Shakespeare” – a disembodied pen name — suddenly rose in defiance, shaking the spear of his pen and asserting his power in the Latin epigraph from Ovid on the title page of Venus and Adonis, translated as: “Let the mob admire base things! May Golden Apollo serve me full goblets from the Castilian Spring!” Who is this Shakespeare?  And which side is he on?

The sudden appearance of this name was not on the title page, but, rather, inside the book, and linked (directly, and uniquely) to nineteen-year-old Southampton. And in the very next year, 1594, the poet made himself even clearer, dedicating Lucrece to Southampton: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being all I have, devoted yours.” All that the pen name has is a multitude of written works to be published under that name – the two poems, plus any other writings that will use “Shakespeare” in the future.

The 1594 dedication of “Lucrece” to Southampton — by “Shakespeare” 

A metamorphosis has taken place. In this second dedication, the pen name is speaking for itself and not, in the first place, for the Earl of Oxford, who has disappeared; the pen name is saying to young Lord Southampton: “ALL I HAVE – ANYTHING WRITTEN UNDER THIS NAME — IS NOW AND FOREVER DEVOTED TO YOU. THEY ARE YOURS, TO DO WITH WHAT YOU WILL.” It is all “YOURS … YOURS … YOURS.”

The disembodied pen name has declared itself on the side of the young nobility, in favor of the Essex faction of which Southampton is a prominent member. Soon that young earl firmly and finally rejects Burghley’s marriage plans for him. Essex has been in secret communication with James in Scotland – pledging his support for the King, in return for the promise of James’ help against Burghley and his son Robert Cecil.

So long as Elizabeth remains alive, she can still name her successor; meanwhile, a main goal of Essex and Southampton is to keep the Cecils from assuming even more power after she dies. We are now in the very short period spanning 1595 to 1600 – six years – in which the great issuance of Shakespeare plays occurs: earlier plays that are now revised for the printing press and the public playhouse.

Robert Cecil becomes Principle Secretary in 1596; in the following year, he tries to have all public playhouses shut down and nearly succeeds; in fact, he does succeed in destroying the Swan Playhouse as a venue for plays.

And upon the death of his father, Burghley, in August 1598, Secretary Cecil begins to gain the full trust of Her Majesty and the power to control her mind, emotions and decisions. Now the gloves come off and “Shakespeare” suddenly – for the first time — makes its appearance on printed plays. Over the next three years comes the historic rush of quartos. In 1598 and 1599, four plays are printed with “Shake-speare” hyphenated, emphasizing it’s a pen name: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Richard III, Richard II and 1 Henry IV. The playwright had “newly corrected” two of these plays, quite obviously having written them their first versions much earlier.

Four more plays are published in 1600, all using the pen name without any hyphen: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2 Henry IV, The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing. And three others also appear in that time frame, but still anonymous: Romeo and Juliet, 3 Henry VI, and Henry V.  Many of these plays – especially the histories – deal with issues of kingship, of what kind of monarch should or should not rule, the right and wrong ways to choose a successor, the consequences of deposing a rightful king. These issues are swirling on and off the stage, in allegory and in real life, all around the aging queen, who refuses to make a choice while she still has the strength to do so.

Edward, Earl of Oxford was summoned as a judge to the 1601 trial of Essex and Southampton — the same Southampton to whom “Shakespeare” had pledged his “love … without end.”

Southampton takes charge of planning an assault on Whitehall Palace, aiming to remove Cecil and confront Elizabeth without interference. If they gain entrance to her presence, they will beg the queen to fulfill her responsibility by choosing a successor.

Members of the Essex faction meet with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, paying the actors to give a special performance of Richard II at their own playhouse, the Globe, on Sunday 7 February 1601. Southampton is in charge of the Shakespeare plays and, most likely, he himself pays for the performance – with its deposition scene of King Richard handing over his crown to Bolinbroke, who becomes Henry IV.

(The play is instructional. It’s also a cautionary tale: Richard is murdered in prison by Pierce of Exton, who mistakenly believes he’s carrying out the king’s wishes.)

Cecil uses this performance to summon Essex that night and trigger the chaotic events of the following day. By midnight of the Eighth of February, Essex and Southampton are both arrested and taken by river through Traitors Gate into the Tower, facing charges of high treason and almost certain execution. Of course, this play of royal history is another allegory, and Elizabeth will famously cry out six months later, “I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?”

So long as Southampton is in the prison, there will be no authorized printings of new Shakespeare plays. In effect, the pen name goes silent. The actors of Shakespeare’s company are summoned for questioning, but never the author … but why not? Well, he can’t be summoned, can he?  He has no flesh and blood, because “Shakespeare” — after all – is but a pen name.

Postscript

While Southampton languishes in prison, another metamorphosis takes place, as recorded by Oxford in the Sonnets. First, his disappearance: “My name be buried where my body is” (72); and “I, once gone, to all the world must die” (81). Then his sacrifice to the pen name, in a sequence that traditional critics call the Rival Poet series. The true “rival,” however, is not a flesh-and-blood person; rather, it is Oxford’s own pseudonym on the printed page.

Oxford understood that “Shakespeare” would remain attached to Southampton, even as he himself, the true author, faded from the world’s view. The Sonnets would be suppressed upon their publication in 1609, and the quarto would remain underground for more than a century until it reappeared in 1711, like a message in a bottle, carrying Oxford’s true account for posterity.  The story — of how Oxford sacrificed himself to save Southampton’s life and gain his freedom — remains within the “monument” of the Sonnets:

“Your monument shall be my gentle verse,/ Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read” (81); “And thou in this shalt find thy monument,/ When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent” (107).

 

 

 

Richard Edwards and Edward de Vere: Re-posting No. 56 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

“For Tragedy, Lord Buckhurst and Master Edward Ferrys do deserve the highest praise: the Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty’s Chapel, for Comedy and Enterlude.” The Arte of English Poesie, 1589

Elizabethan musician and poet Richard Edwards was thirty-eight in 1561 when he became Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, the director of the choirboys who entertained the queen with plays and concerts. In the following year, Edward de Vere arrived in London as the first of Elizabeth’s royal wards. During the rest of his life he would actively patronize the Chapel Children and the Children of St. Paul’s (later known in the countryside as Oxford’s Boys), and an adult acting company as well.

Although “Damon and Pithias” was written and performed for Queen Elizabeth in the Christmas season of 1564, it was first printed in 1571 and attributed to Richard Edwards, who had died in 1566.

In the Christmas season of 1564-65 a play attributed to Edwards was performed by the Chapel Children for Elizabeth and the court at Whitehall. The play, Damon and Pithias, was the first “tragicomedy” in England and the high water mark of English drama up to then. It was set in the royal Greek court of Dionysius, but its closing songs expressed loyalty to the queen by name, revealing that the royal court of Elizabeth had been intended all along – an early example of what would become Shakespeare’s habit of using foreign settings to reflect England itself.

The prologue of Damon and Pithias (printed in 1571), referring to its author, stated that “to some he seemed too much in young desires to range.” Then it switched to the plural “Authors” of the play, adding, “I speak for our defense.”  Did de Vere collaborate on Damon and Pithias with Master Edwards, as the The Arte of English Poesie suggests?  Or was he the sole author of this youthful, highly spirited play?

The closing song evoked Oxford’s motto Nothing Truer than Truth:

True friends talk truly, they gloss for no gain…

True friends for their true prince refuseth not their death.

The Lord grant her such friends, most noble Queen Elizabeth!

Decades later Sonnet 82 by “Shake-speare” would echo those lines:

Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized

In true plain words by thy true-telling friend

Christ Church Hall – yes, used in a scene for Harry Potter…

In August 1566 the Queen visited Oxford University and presented de Vere with an honorary Master of Arts degree. [The young earl studied mainly with private tutors.]  During her Majesty’s historic visit she arrived at Christ Church Hall for the student performance of Palamon and Arcyte, a new play attributed to Edwards, dramatizing Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale; and this performance on two separate nights became a major event of campus lore.

Word of mouth from rehearsals and previews had served to build up tremendous excitement and anticipation. After Elizabeth and her court were seated, the incoming crowd swelled to the point that a wall beside the stairs ripped away, crushing three persons to death and injuring five others. Elizabeth sent for her own doctors to help; after all the hurt or dead had been carried off, the show went on as scheduled.

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” as by Fletcher and Shakespeare, printed in 1634, was probably based on surviving parts of the “lost” play “Palamon and Arcyte” by sixteen-year-old Edward de Vere in 1566

Palamon and Arcyte is now a “lost” play, but is often cited as a source of The Two Noble Kinsman, printed nearly seventy years later in 1634 as by (according to the title page) “the memorable Worthies of their times, Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. William Shakespeare, both cited as “Gent.” Scholars have identified the “Shakespearean” sections as well as the “lesser” contributions by Fletcher; but they are baffled as to why the Bard, near the end of his illustrious career, would decide to collaborate with an inferior writer.

The logical answer is that he did nothing of the sort — on the contrary, the “young Shakespeare” wrote Palamon and Arcyte by age sixteen in 1566, with some of his text surviving into the next century, when Fletcher filled in the missing parts, with his own inferior writing, to create the play known as The Two Noble Kinsmen.

During the 1566 performance, with Oxford in attendance, the queen was thrilled by the staging of a “cry of hounds” for Theseus, Duke of Athens. Reacting to the realism of the scene, students began “hallooing” and Elizabeth is reported to have shouted, “O excellent!  Those boys are ready to leap out at windows to follow the hounds!”

Perhaps the author of Hamlet recalled Her Majesty’s delight at the naturalness of it all when he wrote the prince’s statement that “the purpose of playing” is “to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature…”

“Hounds at Full Cry” – the oil painting by Thomas Blinks

In the future, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by “Shakespeare” would also present Theseus, Duke of Athens, who says: “My love shall hear the music of my hounds … My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind … A cry more tuneable was never holloo’d to nor cheered with horn.”  When the queen attended the latter play at court, did she recall the earlier play from 1566? Did she realize that Oxford must have inserted the hounds as a private, shared recollection of those earlier hounds at the university?

The alleged playwriting career of Richard Edwards lasted just two years. His death on 31 October 1566 occurred only weeks after Palamon and Arcyte had been staged for the queen at Oxford. A decade later in 1576 came publication of The Paradise of Dainty Devices, a collection of ninety-nine poems (and/or song lyrics) that Edwards had compiled “for his private use” before he died, according to the printer Henry Disle. Ten of the verses were attributed to “M. Edwardes,” with eight signed “E.O.” for Edward Oxenford, as he often signed his name.

If in fact Edwards had compiled the poems ten years earlier, Oxford would have composed his contributions by age sixteen; but if the earl himself had done the compiling for the 1576 edition, he might have written his own poems at any time up to then. Of the nine contributors whose names or initials appear on the title page, only Oxford and Lord Vaux were noblemen, and the latter was deceased.

There are many unanswered questions about The Paradise, not least of which is how many other verses in the volume might have come from Oxford’s pen. Alexander B. Grosart in Fuller Worthies’ Library of 1872 identified twenty-two poems by de Vere, remarking that “an unlifted shadow lies across his memory.”

“Shakespeare” would later use part of a song, attributed in The Paradise to Edwards, entitled In Commendation of Music (“Where griping grief the heart would wound,” etc.).  The excerpt appears in Romeo and Juliet:

When griping grief the heart doth wound,

And doleful dumps the mind oppress,

Then mustic with her silver sound…(4.5)

Hyder Rollins in his edition of 1927 reports that The Paradise was “the most popular miscellany printed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth” and that by 1606 it had “reached at least a tenth edition.”  Additional poems were included with many of the new printings.

So we find the teenage de Vere and the Master of the Chapel Children with intensely shared interests in music, lyrics, poetry, players and plays, strands of which are all intertwined with, and connected to, the future “Shakespeare” works.

(This reason is now No. 18 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. Many thanks to editor Alex McNeil for his invaluable expertise and help.)

“Performance in the Tiltyard” — Re-Posting No. 52 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shake-speare”

Whitehall Palace, 22 January 1581:

The Old Whitehall Palace by Hendrick Dankerts, 17th century. Before it was destroyed by fire in 1698, Whitehall was the largest palace in Europe, with more than 1,500 rooms.

An overflow crowd at the Whitehall Tiltyard watches thirty-year-old Edward de Vere as he once again proves himself a master showman. The spectators gasp as he emerges from his magnificent tent, appearing as the Knight of the Tree of the Sunne. His boy-page approaches Queen Elizabeth and, facing her, delivers a “Sweet Speech” (written, no doubt, by the earl himself). Now, after an exchange with his delighted queen, Oxford mounts his horse and rides to defend his title against the challenger. At the end he is still champion of the tilt; and members of the cheering, frenzied crowd race to tear the tent and the tree into pieces.

This dramatic episode of the Elizabethan reign will be described eleven years later, in 1592, in a book published by Cuthbert Burby ( who will also issue three quartos of the “Shakespeare” plays,  including  Romeo and Juliet in 1599 as “newly corrected, augmented and amended” by the author himself).  The description of Oxford’s 1581 production (rendered in more modern English) in the tiltyard (without the page’s Sweet Speech) follows:

“By the tilt stood a stately Tent of Orange tawny Taffeta, curiously embroidered with Silver & pendants on the Pinnacles very slightly to behold.  From forth this Tent came the noble Earl of Oxenford in rich gilt Armor, and sat down under a great high Bay-tree, the whole stock, branches and leaves whereof were all gilded over, that nothing but Gold could be discerned.

A Bay-Tree, this one with a spiral stem. Bay-trees can grow much larger.

“By the Tree stood twelve tilting staves, all which likewise were gilded clean over.  After a solemn sound of most sweet Music, he mounted on his Courser, very richly caparisoned, when his page ascending the stairs where her Highness stood in the window, delivered to her by speech this Oration:

“[A SWEET SPEECH SPOKEN AT THE TRYUMPH BEFORE THE QUEEN’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTIE, BY THE PAGE TO THE RIGHT NOBLE CHAMPION, THE EARL OF OXENFORD]

“The speech being ended, with great honor he ran, and valiantly broke all the twelve staves. 

And after the finishing of the sports: both the rich Bay-tree, and the beautiful Tent, were by the standers-by torn and rent in more pieces than can be numbered.”

When J. Thomas Looney identified Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, he was probably unaware of this “show” that the earl produced, directed and starred in.  But let us imagine Looney making observations and gathering evidence, which would come together as an initial theory of Shakespearean authorship, and then coming upon the above account of an event in Oxford’s life.  Isn’t it just the kind of thing he might have expected and hoped to find?

There is a clear link between Oxford’s appearance in 1581 before Queen Elizabeth as “the Knight of the Tree of the Sunne” and the allegorical elegy The Phoenix and Turtle, published in 1601 as by “William Shake-speare” in a compilation of verses called Love’s Martyr or Rosalins Complaint. In his 1581 tiltyard performance Oxford had depicted Elizabeth as the Phoenix, the mythical bird that consumes itself in flames ignited by the sun and is reborn from its own ashes; even earlier, the queen herself had used the Phoenix as a symbol of her chastity and of the rebirth (through succession to the throne) of her Tudor dynasty.

Oxford depicted himself as the queen’s loyal knight devoted to protecting “the Tree of the Sunne” — the single (or sole) Arabian tree in which the Phoenix had her nest, symbolic of the English throne and Elizabeth’s dynastic seat. The earl’s page delivered an oration to the queen describing how the earl had made “a solemn vow to incorporate his heart into that Tree,” adding that “as there is but one Sun to shine over it, one root to give life unto it, one top to maintain Majesty, so there should be but one Knight, either to live or die for the defense thereof.” Oxford was symbolically merging with Elizabeth, as if they were a single entity, and pledging to protect the queen and her dynasty with his “constant loyalty” as well as with his life.

(This post is now No. 4 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

 

(Thanks to editor Alex McNeil for his expert help; and to Brian Bechtold for his editorial assistance)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oxford’s Military Knowledge: Re-Posting Reason 51 Why he was “Shake-speare”

“Warfare is everywhere in Shakespeare, and the military action in many of Shakespeare’s plays, and the military imagery in all his plays and poems show that he possessed an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of warfare, both ancient and modern.” – Charles Edelman, “Shakespeare’s Military Language” (2000)

The Elizabethan army in Ireland

Edelman’s book provides “a comprehensive account of Shakespeare’s portrayal of military life, tactics and technology and explores how the plays comment upon military incidents and personalities of the Elizabethan era.”

How do orthodox biographers imagine Shakspere of Stratford accumulating such “extraordinarily detailed knowledge” of warfare and military matters? Is it through  automatic assimilation, by which all intricacies are miraculously absorbed into the very fiber of his being and translated into the dialogue of characters in his plays?

“Shakespeare expresses the courtier-soldier’s point of view too clearly and naturally and displays far too familiar a grasp of military methods, objectives and colloquialisms not to have acquired this knowledge through serious study – plus firsthand experience – of the arts of war,” Charles Barrell writes. “No such study and experience can be documented in the career of the Stratford native.”

At issue is “information” as opposed to innate genius – the former term defined (by my dictionary) as knowledge “communicated or received concerning particular facts or circumstances,” or otherwise “gained through study, research, instruction, experience.”   The great author’s information about military life was not genetically inherited; it was acquired. He draws upon his wealth of information not in any calculated way but, rather, spontaneously, during the white heat of composition, and employs it for various purposes the way an artist will mix paints on his canvas.

On and on come the military terms in the plays, as in 2 Henry IV,  for example, with words such as alarum, ancient, archer, beacon, beaver, besonian, blank, bounce, bullet, Caesar’s thrasonical brag, caliver, captain, chamber, charge, cavalier, chivalry, coat, corporal.

“In every outstanding instance of specialized knowledge,” Barrell notes, “Oxford’s personal familiarity with the subject can be categorically documented; and this is particularly true in respect to ‘Shakespeare’s’ fund of military information.” The earl unquestionably acquired information about “military life, tactics and technology” in ways such as these:

Horatio Vere
(1565-1635)

*  Oxford’s cousins Horatio and Francis Vere, known as the “Fighting Veres” for their exploits as soldiers, may have been the models for the soldiers Horatio and Francisco in Hamlet.

Francis Vere (1560-1609)

* Oxford’s brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby, devoted his life to the political and military service of Queen Elizabeth.

*  When the Northern Rebellion of powerful Catholic earls began in November 1569, Oxford at nineteen requested military service, which was granted in the spring of 1570, when he served under Sussex. The chief action he would have seen was the siege of Hume Castle, whose defenders surrendered to avoid any further bombardment – an episode that calls to mind the siege of Harfleur by Henry the Fifth.

Hume Castle

*  Oxford was champion of his first tournament at the Whitehall Tiltyard, in May 1571, performing “far above expectation of the world” in front of Queen Elizabeth and the royal court.  He blazed his way “with fiery energy,” contemporary Giles Fletcher wrote, summoning “a mimicry of war” as he “controls his foaming steed with a light rein, and armed with a long spear rides to the encounter … Bravo, valiant youth!  ‘Tis thus that martial spirits pass through their apprenticeship in war … The country sees in thee both a leader pre-eminent in war, and a skillful man-at-arms…” A decade later, in January 1581, Oxford prevailed as champion of his second and final such tournament.

*  In August 1572 he played the starring role in the staged military battle at Warwick Castle, leading 200 armed soldiers of one fortified position against those of another; and the contemporary account of this extravagant and realistic entertainment supplied the kind of military terms to appear later in the “Shakespeare” plays:  “battering pieces … chambers … mortar pieces … assaults … calivers … arquebuses …”

The Defense of Militaire Profession was published in 1579, “wherein is eloquently shewed the due commendation of Martiall prowess, and plainly proved how necessary the exercise of Armes is for this our age.” It  was dedicated by its author, Geffrey Gates, “To the Right honorable Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford.”  The publisher, John Harrison, would later issue Venus and Adonis in 1593 and Lucrece in 1594, introducing “William Shakespeare” by way of the dedications to Southampton, with both narrative poems having been personally overseen by the poet.

*  On June 25, 1585, Oxford wrote to Burghley asking for a loan to help in his suit for a military command in the Netherlands in England’s impending war with Spain. In this letter he launched into a Shakespearean string of military metaphors, writing, “For, being now almost at a point to taste that good which her Majesty shall determine, yet am I as one that hath long besieged a fort and not able to compass the end or reap the fruit of his travail, being forced to levy his siege for want of munition.”

(“Munition” was not a common word at the time, but “Shakespeare” used it more than once, as when Gloucester in 1 Henry VI declares, “I’ll to the Tower with all the haste I can/ To view the artillery and munition” [1.1])

*  Later that summer, Oxford (at age thirty-five) was commissioned to command a company of horse in the Low Countries.  “Five or six thousand English soldiers have arrived in Flanders with the Earl of Oxford and Colonel Norris,” came one report in September.  A month later, however, the queen commanded Oxford to return home and sent Leicester, who, having maneuvered his way into replacing Oxford, would proceed to disgrace himself by his behavior in Holland.

*  Oxford was reported among the many “honorable personages” in the summer of 1588 who “were suddenly embarked, committing themselves unto the present chance of war” when the Spanish Armada arrived on its mission to crush England.  Apparently Oxford’s ship was disabled, because he went directly home for his armor, and even his enemy Leicester reported that “he seems most willing to hazard his life in this quarrel.”

How did “Shakespeare” acquire his military knowledge?  The life of Oxford provides the most plausible answer. Immediately inside the cover page of The Defense of Militarie Profession is the coat of arms usually used by Oxford, with his earldom motto VERO NIHIL VERIUS (“Nothing Truer than Truth”) displayed along the bottom.

On the first righthand page begins the dedication “TO THE RIGHT honorable, Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford, vicount Bulbecke, Lord of Escales and Baldesmere, and Lord great Chamberlaine of England.” It continues: “It hath been an old controversy in the opinion of the English nation what profession of life is most honorable in worldly states…”

 

De Vere not only acted as the writer’s patron, but also financed the publication; beyond that, he took great interest in this work and likely contributed a great deal to it behind the scenes.

Back in November 1569, when the Northern Rebellion had begun, Oxford wrote to Cecil asking for military service against the powerful Catholic earls of the north.  To the nineteen-year-old earl, such service was the most honorable course.  He told his guardian that at this time I am bold to desire your favour and friendship that you will suffer me to be employed by your means and help in this service that now is in hand.”

He reminded Cecil that “heretofore you have given me your good word to have me see the wars and services in strange and foreign places … Now you will do me so much honour as that by your purchase of my License I may be called to the service of my prince and country …”

In September 1572, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacrre of Protestants in France, Oxford wrote to Burghley saying he would be eager to serve the Queen on the Continent: “I had rather serve there than at home where yet some honor were to be got; if there be any setting forth to sea, to which service I bear most affection, I shall desire your Lordship to give me and get me that favour and credit, that I might make one.  Which if there be no such intention, then I shall be most willing to be employed on the sea coasts, to be in a readiness with my countrymen against any invasion.”

Oxford never lost his eagerness to serve as a military man, always connecting that activity with honor.  It is easy to imagine him composing Hamlet and having Ophelia cry out,

O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,

The expectancy and rose of the fair state!

Edward Earl of Oxford was all that and much more.

(Note: This post is now No. 59 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

“The Director-Actor”: Re-posting No. 50 of 100 Reasons Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford

If “Shakespeare” lived in our own time, he would likely have been not only a poet, playwright and novelist, but also a screenwriter and director on a grand scale, similar to modern greats such as David Lean or Steven Spielberg. He would have seized the chance to make the most of advances in the technology and art of filmmaking.

Warwick Castle

When Oxford emerges from the shadows of history, the curtain will rise on not only the hidden genius who adopted the pen name “Shakespeare” at age forty-three in 1593, but also on the great impresario who, unknown to the public, was the primary force behind the extraordinary pageant of entertainments for Queen Elizabeth and her royal court.

In the summer of 1572 at Warwick Castle, an elaborate “show” was presented in the form of a mock military battle between two armies, one under Oxford’s command, according to a contemporary chronicler:

Cover of “The Queen’s Progress: An Elizabethan Alphabet” by Celeste Davidson Mannis

“Be it remembered that in the year of Our Lord 1572, and in the fourteenth year of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth, the twelfth day of August in the said year, it pleased our said Sovereign Lady to visit this borough of Warwick in person…”

On her royal progress with the court, she arrived in great splendor as all the chief citizens knelt outside the town to greet her: “Her Majesty in her coach, accompanied with the Lady of Warwick in the same coach … the Lord Burghley, lately made Lord Treasurer of England, the Earl of Sussex, lately made Lord Chamberlain to Her Majesty, the Lord Howard of Effingham, lately made Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Oxford Lord Great Chamberlain of England…”

By now Oxford’s close friends Sussex and Charles Howard, Earl of Effingham were in charge of ensuring that plays were brought to court, a duty they would carry out until Sussex’s death in 1583.

The queen spent a week in the Warwick area and on Sunday the 18th of August “it pleased her to have the country people resorting to see her dance in the Court of the Castle … which thing, as it pleased well the country people, so it seemed Her Majesty was much delighted and made very merry.”

In the evening after supper came the mock battle, which, among other things, was an exercise in theatrical realism.

Elizabeth and the court first saw a fort, commanded by Fulke Greville, “made of slender timber covered with canvas.”  Inside were “divers persons to serve the soldiers; and therefore so many harnesses as might be gotten within the town … wherewith men were armed and appointed to cast out fireworks, [such as] squibs and balls of fire.

Fulke Greville (1554-1628)

“Against that fort was another castle-wise prepared of like strength, whereof was governor the Earl of Oxford, a lusty gentleman, with a lusty band of gentlemen.

“Between these forts, or against them, were placed certain battering pieces, to the number of twelve or fourteen, brought from London, and twelve fair chambers, or mortar pieces, brought also from the Tower … These pieces and chambers were by trains fired, and so made a great noise, as though it had been a sore assault …

Arquebus or Harquebus

“The Earl of Oxford and his soldiers, to the number of two hundred, with calivers and arquebusses [muskets], likewise gave divers assaults; they in the fort shooting again, and casting out divers fires, terrible to those that have not been in like experiences, valiant to such as delighted therein, and indeed strange to them that understood it not.

“For the wild fire falling into the river Avon would for a time lie still, and then again rise and fly abroad, casting forth many flashes and flames, whereat the Queen’s Majesty took great pleasure…

“At the last, when it was appointed that the over-throwing of the fort should be, a dragon flying, casting out huge flames and squibs, lighted up the fort, and so set fire thereon, to the subversion thereof; but whether by negligence or otherwise, it happened that a ball of fire fell on a house at the end of the bridge…

An engraving of Warwick Castle, 1729

“And no small marvel it was that so little harm was done, for the fire balls and squibs cast up did fly quite over the Castle, and into the midst of the town; falling down some on the houses, some in courts … and some in the street … Four houses in the town and suburbs were on fire at once, whereof one had a ball come through both sides, and made a hole as big as a man’s head, and did no more harm.”

A man and his wife were sleeping in the house hit with the fireball, so Oxford and Greville ran over to help. After some difficulty, they rescued the couple; the next morning the queen and her courtiers gave the man more than 25 pounds to cover the damage.

Such high drama on a grand scale is exactly what we might expect to find “Shakespeare” creating as a young man, more than two decades before his adoption of that pen name.  We might well expect to find that, in addition to becoming the greatest writer of the English language, the poet-dramatist was also a master showman.

[The contemporary chronicle was in Black Book of Warwick, printed in Bibliotecha Topographica Britannica, vol. iv., and reprinte by B. M. Ward in his 1928 biography The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604, From Contemporary Documents.]

This blog post, appearing here as edited by Alex McNeil, is now number 3 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. 

Oxford in the Plays: re-posting no. 49 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

This reason focuses on the author’s pervasive presence in the plays. That does not prove that Oxford wrote them, but it does add to the overwhelming evidence that he did.   A continued gaze through an Oxfordian lens brings a completely different picture into focus, one that feels like truth.

Elizabeth attending a play at the royal court; click on image for slightly sharper version

In a debate in New York City a Stratfordian opponent complained that I was trying to “take away” his personal conception of Hamlet by suggesting the Prince is a mirror reflection of Oxford.  I replied that knowing who created Hamlet can only enhance our appreciation in every way and certainly can’t detract from it!

Of course the character of Hamlet is not strictly autobiographical. But the author did use various pieces of his own nature and life experiences, then grafted them onto various outside elements including classical sources, some of which served as templates.  The mirror image is not literal; after mixing all the elements, he breathed life into a new creature of his imagination. It’s no wonder Hamlet seems to be as alive, perhaps more so, as anyone in real life.

Aspects of Oxford’s own personality and life are depicted in play after play, by characters who reveal themselves as creations of the artist. In some cases he splits himself into two separate characters embodying opposite sides of his own nature, such as Valentine and Proteus in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Valentine is virtuous and endowed with noble qualities; Proteus is viewed as “perjured, false and disloyal,” according to Silvia, a character who represents Queen Elizabeth. In fact the queen held both views of Oxford, who, as a truth-teller, freely expresses the better and worse sides of himself.

Another such splitting can be seen in his portraits in Measure for Measure of the noble and kind Duke versus the less than virtuous Angelo. In As You Like It we can see Oxford expressing the melancholy side of his nature through Jacques, while Touchstone, the former courtier, is the poet who plays the fool with a scathing wit as well as a profound wisdom: “When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead that a great reckoning in a little room.” (3.3)

Here’s a partial list of characters that seem, in various ways, to closely reflect Edward de Vere:

  1. Angelo …………………………… Measure for Measure
  2. Antonio …………………………..The Merchant of Venice
  3. Benedick ……………………….. Much Ado About Nothing
  4. Berowne ………………………….Love’s Labours Lost 
  5. Bertram …………………………. All’s Well That Ends Well
  6. Duke ………………………………. Measure for Measure
  7. Philip the Bastard …………… King John
  8. Fenton …………………………….The Merry Wives of Windsor
  9. Feste the Clown ……………….Twelfth Night
  10. Hamlet ……………………………. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
  11. Jacques ……………………………As You Like It
  12. King Lear ………………………….King Lear
  13. Othello ……………………………. Othello
  14. Pericles …………………………….Pericles
  15. Posthumous ……………………. Cymbeline
  16. Prospero …………………………. The Tempest
  17. Proteus …………………………….The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  18. Romeo …………………………….. Romeo and Juliet
  19. Timon ……………………………….Timon of Athens
  20. Troilus ………………………………Troilus and Cressida
  21. Valentine ………………………….The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Philip the Bastard (Faulconbridge) in King John offers a fascinating view of Edward de Vere as a high-spirited young courtier, full of merry mischief and zeal for military combat and glory.  Although King John is classified as a history play, Philip is the author’s own creation.  Oxford, who had been called a bastard by his own half-sister when he was thirteen, would have relished the chance to let his Bastard dominate the play and even conclude it with nationalistic gusto:

This England never did, nor never shall,

Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,

But when it first did help to wound itself.

Now these her princes are come home again,

Come the three corners of the world in arms,

And we shall shock them.  Nought shall make us rue,

If England to itself do rest but true. (5.7)

That word “true” is often a tipoff that Oxford, whose motto was Nothing Truer than Truth, is representing some aspect of himself through a character. “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription,” he wrote to Robert Cecil, for truth is truth, though never so old.” Consider, for example, this speech by Troilus:

True swains in love shall in the world to come

Approve their truths by Troilus: when their rhymes,

Full of protest, of oath and big compare,

Want similes, truth tired with iteration,

As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,

As sun to day, as turtle to her mate,

As iron to adamant, as earth to the center,

Yet, after all comparisons of truth,

As truth’s authentic author to be cited,

“As true as Troilus” shall crown up the verse,

And sanctify the numbers. (3.2)

Bringing stage works to the royal court, Oxford played the jester from behind the scenes. Olivia [Elizabeth] in Twelfth Night calls Feste [Oxford] a clown or “fool” who is “allowed” (i.e., specifically permitted) to run off at the mouth and make sport of others: “There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail” (1.5) — the queen’s personal playwright can scold or rant all he wants.  So long as she shields him with the royal protection, no one dares to accuse him of slander. Imagine the ticket she gave him to use his powers, as a master of hilarious, merciless satire and truth-telling, to aim at those who deserved the roast!

In any case, a few characters resembling aspects of de Vere might be deemed a coincidence, but the sheer quantity of them indicates that much more is at work.

(This reason is now No. 50 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

Thanks to editor Alex McNeil and also to Brian Bechtold for his editorial contributions.

“Queen Elizabeth in the Plays”: Re-Posting No. 48 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

What are the chances of the Stratford man Shakspere creating allegorical portraits of Elizabeth I of England?  What are the chances he dared to depict this vain female ruler, an absolute monarch intensely protective of her public image, in accurate and often harshly negative detail? And if he had dared to be so bold, how could he have gotten away with it?

Edward de Vere had known Her Majesty from at least 1561, when he was eleven and she was twenty-eight.  The following year she became his legal mother. He reached his majority in 1571, entering the House of Lords, and quickly gained her highest favor at court.  He had a front-row seat for one of the most sensational tragicomedies in world history, the Golden Age of Elizabeth.

As Oxford was also a poet and dramatist, what are the chances of him creating allegorical portraits of the great Virgin Queen? Scholars of the traditional “Shakespeare” have fleetingly glimpsed such portraits of Elizabeth in the plays, but for them the full picture remains out of focus. Viewing the plays with the wrong author in mind, the images are blurry; on the other hand, knowledge of the true author creates a new lens through which vital aspects of the works emerge as wondrously clear. Much of what was obscure becomes obvious; through that new lens, the Shakespeare plays contain quite a few female characters that appear to reflect Elizabeth.

Once Oxford is viewed as the author, it appears he was actually obsessed with his sovereign Mistress and was constantly grappling with the extremes of her personality. Here are eight of his female characters that appear to represent her:

Cleopatra ………………… Antony and Cleopatra

Cressida ………………….. Troilus and Cressida

Gertrude …………………. Hamlet

Olivia ………………………. Twelfth Night

Portia ………………………. The Merchant of Venice

Rosalind …………………… Romeo and Juliet

Silvia ………………………… The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Titania ……………………… A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, is the character most often cited in connection with Elizabeth, mainly because Oberon describes Cupid’s vain attempt to ensnare “a fair vestal throned by the west” (2.1). Many other aspects of Titania reflect Elizabeth, but the point of this “reason” is the sheer quantity of such characters. Taken together they reveal many sides of that extraordinary woman who ruled England for four and a half decades; some of the portraits could have been drawn only by an artist who had experienced those aspects of the queen “up close and personal.”

An image of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt on an ancient coin

For an accurate view of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the biographical and historical framework of the earliest versions must be moved back in time from the mid-1590’s to the early 1580’s.  In that perspective, it’s possible to see the love affair between Queen Titania and Bottom as depicting the courtship of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon.

Other instances where Queen Elizabeth is being depicted include:

*  In Twelfth Night, the portrait of Elizabeth as Olivia stands beside Malvolio as a caricature of Sir Christopher Haton, Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard.

* Elizabeth banished Oxford from court after discovering his affair with Anne Vavasour, who gave birth to his illegitimate child, Edward Vere; we can hear, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Oxford speaking of his queen as Silvia in Valentine’s words:

And why not death rather than living torment?
To die is to be banish’d from myself;
And Silvia is myself: banish’d from her
Is self from self: a deadly banishment! (3.1)

*  The vows of constancy made by Troilus to Cressida reflect those Oxford had to make to the queen when his court banishment ended in 1583 and old Roger Manners reported, “The Earl of Oxford came into her the queen’s] presence, and after some bitter words and speeches, in the end all sins are forgiven.”

Elizabeth I of England, a potrait

* To the Elizabethans it would have been obvious that “Shakespeare” modeled Cleopatra on Elizabeth, who sometimes appeared to be modeling herself on the Queen of Egypt.

In the Shakespeare poems and sonnets are more aspects of Elizabeth through the Oxfordian lens.  She was the Queen of Love and Beauty, like Venus; she was the “chaste” queen, like Lucrece; she was the Phoenix; and, in my view, the Dark Lady of The Sonnets.

  1. Venus ………………………….. Venus and Adonis
  2. Lucrece ………………………… The Rape of Lucrece
  3. Phoenix ……………………….. The Phoenix and the Turtle
  4. Woman ………………………… A Lover’s Complaint
  5. Mistress (Dark Lady) …….. Shake-speares Sonnets

 

This post, with improvements made by editor Alex McNeil, is No. 51 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.

%d bloggers like this: