The Earl of Southampton: Re-posting No. 28 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

One of the most compelling reasons to believe Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is the central role in the Shakespeare story played by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593, as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis, a 1200-line poem that the poet called “the first heir of my invention” in his dedication. The second appearance of “William Shakespeare” in print came a year later, with the publication of an 1800-line poem, Lucrece, again dedicated to Southampton.

The Lucrece dedication was an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the twenty-year-old earl:

“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 … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked himself to Southampton for all time.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that the Fair Youth of Shake-speares Sonnets, the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered poems printed in 1609, is also Southampton, even though he is not identified by name. Most further agree that, in the first seventeen sonnets, the poet is urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”

“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in 1984, “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer [1922] spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”

“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

  • De Vere became the first royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in 1562, under the guardianship of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), and in 1571 he entered into an arranged marriage with the chief minister’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil.
  • Henry Wriothesley became the eighth and last child of state as a boy in 1581-82, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted intense pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Cecil’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter, making the elder earl, in fact, the prospective father-in-law. Scholars generally agree that in the seventeen “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare’s tone sounds much like that of a prospective father-in-law or father urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him, although the poet never identifies or describes any specific young woman.

Lady Elizabeth Vere, who married William Stanley Earl of Derby in 1595

J. Dover Wilson writes in 1964: “What man in the whole world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married?”

Obviously, de Vere and Wriothesley both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome of this marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England, who must have had the full blessing of his sovereign Mistress.

Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”

The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”

A Notice of the Essex-Southampton Trial of Feb. 19, 1600 (1601) with Edward de Vere given prominence as a judge on the tribunal

By the time Southampton came to court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford had removed himself from active attendance. It seems that the two shared some kind of hidden story that tied them together:

= As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother. Even though their respective biological mothers were alive when their fathers died, under English law they became wards of the state, and the queen became their mother in a legal sense.

= Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.

= Oxford in the early 1590s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.

= After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford sat as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal for the treason trial of Essex and Southampton.

= The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict; there is evidence that Oxford then worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual liberation, as in Sonnet 35: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate.”

= On the night of Oxford’s reported death on 24 June 1604, agents of the Crown arrested Southampton and returned him to the Tower, where he was interrogated all night until his release the following day.

= Henry Wriothesley and Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford (born in February 1593 to Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham) became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.” As members of the House of Lords, they often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for doing so.

On the eve of the failed rebellion led by Essex and Southampton in 1601, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s royal history play Richard II at the Globe; many historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself secured permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its scene of the deposing of the king. On the other hand, it is possible that Robert Cecil himself arranged for it, so he could then summon Essex to court and trigger the rebellion, which had actually been scheduled for a week later.

Once the rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of 8 February 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased for several years.

After Southampton was released on 10 April 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

When Oxford reportedly died on 24 June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published.

As part of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations surrounding the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival. In the days before and after the wedding, seven performances of the Bard’s plays were given. (The royal performances appear to be a memorial tribute to the playwright, rather than a tribute to a living author.) One performance was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, for King James and Queen Anne, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

After Hamlet in 1604 all publications again ceased, for four years. (King Lear was printed in 1608; Troilus and Cressida was issued in two editions during 1608-09; and Pericles appeared in 1609.) Then the silence resumed, for thirteen more years, until a quarto of Othello appeared in 1622; and finally the First Folio of thirty-six Shakespeare plays was published in 1623. Fully half of these stage works were printed for the first time; the folio included none of the Shakespeare poetry, nor any mention of Southampton or the Sonnets.

The connections between Oxford and Southampton are numerous and significant; the link between the two earls is crucial for the quest to determine the real Shakespeare.

[This post is now Reason 53 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with editorial assistance from Brian Bechtold.]

“One Whose Power Floweth Far”: Re-Posting No. 26 of 100 Reasons why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

A thick volume printed for the Roxburghe Club of London in 1882 featured an Elizabethan book of two narrative poems, Cephalus and Procris and Narcissus, translated from Ovid by the otherwise unknown Thomas Edwards.  It was registered in 1593 and printed in 1595, just after the “Shakespeare” name had made its debut on the dedications of Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594 to the Earl of Southampton.

Attached to Narcissus was an “envoy” or postscript in several stanzas of verse, identifying major poets by characters in their works: “Collyn Clout” for Spenser; “Rosamond” for Daniel; “Leander” for Marlowe; and “Adon”  for Shakespeare.

This was followed immediately by reference to a poet “in purple robes distained … whose power floweth far” with his “bewitching pen” and “golden art” that should make him “the only object and the star” of England’s writers.

Who was this poet, said to be the best of all?

In the Roxburghe appendix, one scholar identifiedthe star” as Edward de Vere while another said it must be a description of Shakespeare! If those two scholars of the late nineteenth century had been in the same room at the same time, one identifying Oxford and the other pointing to Shakespeare, might it have occurred to them that maybe they were both talking about the same man?  If so, they would have solved the authorship question then and there.

Here, in modernized English, is the stanza praising Shakespeare as “Adon,” followed by those praising the poet who “should have been … the only object and the star”:

Adon deafly masking through 

Stately troupes rich conceited,

Showed he well deserved to,

Love’s delight on him to gaze,

And had not love herself entreated,

Other nymphs had sent him bays.

Eke in purple robes distained,

Amidst the Center of this clime,

I have heard say doth remain

One whose power floweth far,

That should have been of our rhyme

The only object and the star.


Blackfriars Playhouse

Well could his bewitching pen

Done the Muses’ objects to us;

Although he differs much from men

Tilting under Frieries,

Yet his golden art might woo us

To have honored him with bays. [Emphases added.]

[Note that the first stanza about Adon, and the second of the next two stanzas about “one whose power floweth far,” conclude with “bays” – perhaps intended as a way for readers to link all three stanzas in their praise of a single poet.]

Roxburghe Club editor W.E. Buckley reported how one scholar identified Oxford and the other pointed to Shakespeare:

Edward Dowden (1843-1913)

“If ‘purple robes’ may mean a Nobleman’s robes, it gives some colour to the conjecture of Professor [Edward] Dowden, that Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have been intended, ‘as his reputation stood high as a Poet and Patron of Poets’ … Dr. B. Nicholson is of opinion that these two stanza must be connected with the preceding one in which Adon — that is, Shakspere — is described.”

Buckley noted that The Arte of English Poesie (1589) had named Oxford “first among the crew of courtly makers” and that Edmund Spenser had written a dedicatory sonnet to the earl in The Faire Queen of 1590 “in which he speaks of ‘the love that thou didst bear To th’Heliconian Nymphs, and they to thee.’  His ‘power flowed far’ as he was Lord High Chamberlain of England.  He had contributed to The Paradise of Dainty Devices, signing E.O. or E. Ox. [1576] and to The Phoenix Nest in 1593.  One of his poems is a vision of a Fair Maid (‘clad all in color of a Nun and covered with a Vail’) who complains of love and gets Echo answers of ‘Vere.’  In another, Oxford represents himself as ‘wearing black and tawny’ and [having] ‘no bays’ …”

Prior to John Thomas Looney’s identification of de Vere in 1920, orthodox scholars could mention him in a positive light without worrying about giving any ground in the authorship debate. Buckley also referred to a statement made by the literary antiquary Thomas Coxeter (1689-1747): Oxford was said by Coxeter to have translated Ovid, which would connect him with Narcissus, but no one has ever seen his Ovid.”

The street fighting in “Romeo and Juliet” is a mirror image of the “tilting” at Blackfriars involving Oxford’s men

An important contribution to work on the Narcissus L’Envoy was done by Dr. Roger Stritmatter, who introduced new evidence allowing “definitive identification of the phrase ‘tilting under Frieries’ as referring to a notorious series of Blackfriars street fights (1582-85) involving Oxford’s retainers.”  The fighting, in which Oxford was wounded and lamed for life, “left an indelible impression in the popular imagination of the era,” he writes, citing a series of documents (transcribed by Alan Nelson  for his Oxford biography Monstrous Adversary) confirming that the earl’s men were “tilting under frieries” in spring 1582 at Blackfriars. Stritmatter further observes:

“The significance of this finding, identifying Oxford as the poet with the ‘bewitching pen’ who ‘should have been’ – but cannot be – the ‘only object and the star’ of the chorus of the Elizabethan poets, should not be underestimated. Without doubt, the 1582-83 Oxford-Knyvet affair at Blackfriars was the most striking instance of ’tilting under Frieries’ during the thirty-seven years of Elizabeth’s reign that informed the imagery and diction of Edwardes’ enigmatic poem.  Before the fray had ended, a literary peer of the realm had been lamed for life, and followers of both factions wounded or killed.  The concealed poet of ‘bewitching pen’ and ‘golden art’ – whose men were in 1582 notoriously ’tilting under frieries’ – is none other than the still controversial Edward de Vere.”

The “Envoy to Narcissus” is an example of how, soon after publication of Venus and Adonis and the first appearance of the “Shakespeare” name in print, writers were already dropping hints about the presence of an author – in fact the “star” among them – who had chosen to withhold his identity. The chatter was growing from the start.

[This reason, with tremendous help from Editor Alex McNeil, as well as Brian Bechtold, is now no. 31 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford).


Re-Posting No. 21 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: “Suspicion and Jealousy”

When first learning about Edward de Vere and his relationship to “Shakespeare,” I was startled to see a letter written by his wife Anne Cecil in December 1581.  Oxford had flown into a rage in 1576 over court gossip that he was not the father of the baby girl (Elizabeth Vere) to whom she had given birth the previous year, when he was in Italy.  Besieged by doubts, and furious that the scandal had become “the fable of the world,” as he wrote angrily to Ann’s father Lord Burghley, he separated from her and refused to acknowledge the child.

Othello and Desdemona

Now, five years later, husband and wife had begun to communicate again, and Anne wrote to him from the Westminster home of her father, pleading:

“My Lord – In what misery I may account myself to be, that neither can see any end thereof nor yet any hope to diminish it – and now of late having had some hope in my own conceit that your Lordship would have renewed some part of your favor that you began to show me this summer…”

What did this remind me of?  Where had I heard this before? She continued:

“Now after long silence of hearing anything from you, at the length I am informed – but how truly I know not, and yet how uncomfortably I do not seek it – that your Lordship is entered into misliking of me without any cause in deed or thought.”

The first quarto of “Othello” – 1622, one year before the First Folio of plays appeared

Of course: Desdemona, the suffering wife of Othello. Anne’s letter continues:

“And therefore, my good Lord, I beseech you in the name of God, which knoweth all my thoughts and love towards you, let me know the truth of your meaning towards me, upon what cause you are moved to continue me in this misery, and what you would have me do in my power to recover your constant favor, so as your Lordship may not be led still to detain me in calamity without some probable cause, whereof, I appeal to God, I am utterly innocent.”

I had played the part of Cassio in college, but now the final scenes came back to me with sudden vividness: the way Desdemona was so baffled by Othello’s suspicions and accusations; how she begged him to reveal the torturous contents of his mind; how she was so helpless in the face of his blind rage; how she was left to merely plead her innocence, plaintively telling Iago, the very manipulator who had roused Othello’s jealousy in the first place:

“O good Iago, what shall I do to win my lord again?  Good friend, go to him; for, by this light of heaven, I know not how I lost him.  Here I kneel: If e’er my will did trespass ‘gainst his love either in discourse of thought or actual deed … comfort forswear me!  Unkindness may do much, and his unkindness may defeat my life, but never taint my love.” (4.2)

Yes, I thought, Anne could have been saying the same words. If Oxford was Shakespeare, I mused, then Anne’s statement “I am utterly innocent” from the depths of her heart echoes in the play when, after Othello strangles Desdemona to death, Iago’s wife Emilia shouts at him: “Nay, lay thee down and roar, for thou hast killed the sweetest innocent that e’er did lift up eye!”  When Iago stabs Emilia, she cries to  Othello again before dying: “Moor, she was chaste!  She loved thee, cruel Moor!” (5.2)

Suspicion and jealousy run through other Shakespearean plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter’s Tale.  Hamlet turns on his fiancé Ophelia, distrusting her and complaining that “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness.”  The prince is coming unglued, with young Ophelia crying out, “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” (3.1) Anne wrote to her husband again in December 1581:

“Good my Lord, assure yourself it is you whom only I love and fear, and so am desirous above all the world to please you…”

She died less than seven years later, at thirty-one, having suffered emotional strains we can only imagine.  Oxford had had his complaints about Anne siding too much with her father, much as Hamlet reacts to Ophelia’s spying on him for her father, but he may well have blamed himself for his wife’s early death.  Once the earl is understood as the author, he may be seen drawing upon these upheavals in his own life, including his remorse, for portrayals of Desdemona’s plight and, too, Ophelia’s madness and apparent suicide. When Hamlet sees her brother Laertes leap into her grave, he holds nothing back: 

“What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis?  Whose phrase of sorrow conjures the wand’ring stars and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers?  This is I, Hamlet the Dane!”  [He leaps into the grave with Laertes; after they nearly fight] “I loved Ophelia!  Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum!” (5.1)

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham-Carter in the Franco Zeffirelli film of “Hamlet” in 1990

The prince’s grief, anger, rage and guilt are all palpable as he challenges Laertes:

“What wilt thou do for her? … Woo’t weep?  Woo’t fight?  Woo’t fast?  Woo’t tear thyself?  Woo’t drink up eisell?  Eat a crocodile?  I’ll do’t!  Dost thou come here to whine?  To outface me with leaping in her grave? … Nay … I’ll rant as well as thou!” (5.1)

During the final scene of Othello, I never failed to experience a wave of gutwrenching emotion as the Moor begs for any crumbs of sympathy or empathy before taking his own life: “Soft you; a word or two before you go.  I have done the state some service, and they know’t – no more of that…” (5.2)

We might well hear Oxford speaking of his own service to the state — as a playwright and patron of writers and acting companies performing around the countryside, rousing national unity against the coming Spanish invasion, which England survived in the summer of 1588, just a few months after Anne’s death. The power of the stage was apparent when young men of widely different dialects, religious views and social status came to London to join in common defense of their country. Othello continues:

“I pray you, in your letters, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.  Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand, like the base Indian, threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood, drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees their medicinable gum…” (5.2)

I believe we are listening to Oxford’s own grief over the wreckages of his past – another reason to believe he wrote Othello, which was printed for the first time in 1622, a year before publication of the First Folio of thirty-six plays.

(This post is now No. 74 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)


Sonnets 107 to 125: Southampton’s Liberation on April 10, 1603 to Elizabeth’s Funeral on April 28: Nineteen Sonnets = Nineteen Days

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

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

“The particular sonnet [107] which, according to Sir Sidney Lee and other authorities, welcomed Southampton’s liberation from prison in 1603 [April 10], is one of the last of the series … and makes references to events that took place in 1603 – to Queen Elizabeth’s death and the accession of James I.” — J.T. Looney, “‘Shakespeare’ Identified”, 1920, p. 430 [page 365 in the edition by Ruth Loyd Miller]

“In another connection we have had to point out that Shakespeare’s sonnet 125 seems to be pointing to De Vere’s officiating at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral [April 28, 1603]. This may be taken as his last sonnet; for 126 is really … a parting message to his young friend.” – Looney, pp. 395-96 [page 335 in Miller’s edition]

Looney agreed 107 marks Southampton’s liberation on April 10.

He believed that 125 marks Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28.

The nineteen sonnets from 107 to 125 cover one-for-one the nineteen days from April 10 to April 28.

Is this a coincidence? Or is it deliberate?

Sonnet 126, the envoy*, completes the sequence of twenty.

These follow the eighty from 27 to 106 (Southampton’s time in the Tower).

Eighty plus twenty = One Hundred or a Century.

* Sonnets 26 and 126 are both envoys, creating the 100-sonnet center.

1——-26 27——————————–126 127————152

  (26)                         (100)                             (26)

Re-posting Part Two of Reason 20 Why Shake-spreare was Oxford: The Depth of the Dedications to the Earl

The public dedications to Edward de Vere indicate the scope of his personal relationships with other writers.  The person who eventually created the “Shakespeare” works did not develop in a vacuum; on the contrary, he had to be part of a community of fellow authors, poets and playwrights. Oxford was not only part of such a community; the tributes make clear he was their leader.

"The Histories of Trogus Pompeius" by Golding, dedicated to 14-year-old Edward de Vere in 1564

(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Arthur Golding (Histories of Trogus Pompeius) wrote to him in 1564: “It is not unknown to others, and I have had experiences thereof myself, how earnest a desire your Honor hath naturally grafted in you to read, peruse, and communicate with others as well the histories of ancient times, and things done long ago, as also of the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding.”

Thomas Underdowne (AEthiopian History) told him in 1569 that “matters of learning” were good for a nobleman, but then warned the earl that “to be too much addicted that way, I think it is not good.”

In that same year the 19-year-old Oxford ordered “a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers” as well as “Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books.”  Sounds indeed like a young man “addicted” to learning!

When Thomas Bedingfield dedicated his translation of Cardanus’ Comforte to Oxford in 1573, he told him that “I do present the book your Lordship so long desired,” confirming that the Earl had been personally involved in this publication, to which he contributed both a Letter to the Reader and a poem.   He reminds Oxford of “the encouragement of your Lordship, who (as you well remember), unawares to me, found some part of this work and willed me in any wise to proceed therein.”

Elizabeth & Courtiers

The distinguished physician Thomas Twyne (Breviary of Britain) referred to him in 1573 as being “in your flower and tender age” before inviting him to bestow  upon his work “such regard as you are accustomed to do on books of Geography, Histories, and other good learning, wherein I am privy your honour taketh singular delight.”

When Anthony Munday (Mirror of Mutability), told Oxford in 1579 that he looked forward to “the day when as conquerors we may peacefully resume our delightful literary discussions,” he was apparently referring to the rivalry between the Euphuists under Oxford and the Romanticists, who included Philip Sidney and Gabriel Harvey.  His reference to “our delightful literary discussions” offers a glimpse of Oxford personally engaged with other writers who were developing a new English literature and drama leading to “Shakespeare.” The works created by members of this circle would become known as “contemporary sources” upon which the great author drew.

Thomas Watson (Hekatompathia, or The Passionate Century of Love) reminded Oxford in 1580 that he had “willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”  He cited de Vere as a literary trendsetter whose approval would draw many readers; because of this influence, the earl’s acceptance of the work in manuscript meant that “many have oftentimes and earnestly called upon me to put it to the press.”

Angel Day (The English Secretary) wrote to him in 1586 to Oxford about “the learned view and insight of your Lordship, whose infancy from the beginning was ever sacred to the Muses.”

Robert Greene (Card of Fancy) wrote publicly to Oxford in 1584 that he was “a worthy  favorer and fosterer of learning [who] hath forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first-fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.”

Dedication of “Defense of the Military Profession” by Gates to Oxford, 1579 (Click on Image to Enlarge)

In 1591 the composer John Farmer, who apparently lived in Oxford’s household, dedicated his first songbook (Plain-Song) to the earl, saying he was “emboldened” because of “your Lordship’s great affection to this noble science” (music) – which, of course, must be said also of Shakespeare.  In his second dedication (First Set of English Madrigals, 1599), Farmer told Oxford that “using this science as a recreation, your Lordship have over-gone most of them that make it a profession.”

In other words, Oxford encouraged young writers with their very first works, guiding them to the press.

Unlike the majority of dedications to patrons, the comments to Oxford are genuine and heartfelt. The earl may have had many faults of character, such as a tendency to be jealous and vengeful (as a number of Shakespearean characters are), but among his fellow writers and other artists he was uniquely spirited and generous.

In his Oxford biography Monstrous Adversary (2003), the Stratfordian scholar Alan Nelson concedes that Edward de Vere “attracts the attention of theologians, poets, distillers, and a musician, who have translated works from the Continent, or composed original works in English.” Citing the Index of dedications prior to 1641 by Franklin B. Williams (1962), he notes that only Queen Elizabeth and a few more powerful nobles had more dedications: Leicester (114); Burghley (85); Walsingham (47); and Charles Howard, the Admiral and hero of England’s victory over the Spanish Armada (46).

“CARDANUS Comforte, translated And Published by commaundement of the right Honourable the Earle of Oxenforde.” (1576 edition; click on image to enlarge)

In her Master of Arts in English thesis of 1999 at the University of Texas, focusing on Oxford’s patronage, Jonni Koonce Dunn notes that nearly forty percent of it was “expended on fiction with an Italian flavor.” The result, she adds, is that the Earl “provided the late sixteenth century with a body of source works to which the literature of the English Renaissance is sorely indebted.” Even from a young age, he preferred “literary work over the devotional or practical,” and such works “lent themselves to being models for adaptation for the forerunners of the novel as well as being instrumental in the development of English drama.”

His introduction as a young man to works such as The Courtier and Cardanus’ Comforte, she adds, “suggests his desire to be instrumental in shaping what was read by the university student and the courtier, thus in a roundabout way to transform the Elizabethan court into the cultured society depicted at Urbino in Castiglione’s work … It would eventually come to pass that William Shakespeare would benefit from the works de Vere patronized, for his plays came to make use of practically every one of the literary number in some fashion.” Without such patronage, many of the sources used by Shakespeare “might not have been available to him for inspiration,” and therefore this critical contribution “should ensure Edward de Vere the gratitude of every student of literature.”

[This post is now No. 38 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016)]

Re-Posting No. 20 (part one) of 100 Reasons why Oxford was “Shakespeare” – The Many Dedications to Him

As far as I can determine, at least twenty-eight publications can be verified as dedicated (wholly or in part) to Edward de Vere by name during his lifetime. To that list we might add three more items: in 1592 Thomas Nashe apparently dedicates Strange News to Oxford, using another name for him; in 1603 Francis Davison includes him in a curious political broadsheet or circular; and in 1619 Anthony Munday dedicates a book to Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, with warm posthumous praise for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, his father, this bringing a tentative total to thirty-one.

Spenser’s dedicatory sonnet to Oxford referred to “the love which thou dost bear/ To th’Heliconian ymps [offspring from Helicon, the Greek abode of Apollo and the Muses), and they to thee,/ They unto thee, and thou to them most dear”

These dedications appear in works that range from Greek history to English literature, geography, military matters, music, medicine, astrology, translations from Italian and French, the Psalms, and so on — mirroring the wide range of subjects that Shakespeare was interested in from the European renaissance; they were very much part of the new age of English literature of which Edward de Vere was a central — perhaps the central — moving force prior to Shakespeare’s entrance in 1593.

The dedications to Oxford were not merely public bids for patronage; they were not the usual stuff of obsequious praise. On the contrary, they came from writers who worked with Oxford in developing common political and artistic goals.  Over and over they thanked him personally for taking time to read their works and give his advice.  He was not some lofty noble keeping his distance; instead, he rolled up his sleeves and became involved — personally, artistically and financially — in their varied works that covered so many subjects and forms of literary expression.

Here is a list of authors and their books with dedications to Oxford:

1/ 1564: Arthur Golding, Histories of Trogus Pompeius (Translation)

2/ 1569: Thomas Underdowne, An AEthiopian History Written in Greek by Helidorus (Translation)

3/ 1570: Edmund Elviden, Pesistratus and Catanea (Poetry)

4/ 1571: Arthur Golding, Psalms of David (Translation)

5/ 1573: Thomas Bedingfield, Cardanus’ Comforte (Translation)

6/ 1573: Thomas Twyne, Breviary of Britain … (Translation) [“Containing a Learned Discourse of the Variable State and Alteration thereof, under Divers as well as Natural, as Foreign Princes and Conquerors, together with the Geographical Description of the same…”]

“The New Jewell of Health” (1576) by Dr. George Baker, who dedicated two other books to Oxford

7/ 1574: George Baker:  Oleum Magistrale (medical; translation of Aparico de Zubia’s pamphlet) [“The Composition or Making of the Most Excellent and Precious Oil called Oleum Magistrale …” (Baker was surgeon to Oxford)]

8/ 1577: John Brooke, The Staff of Christian Faith, [translation of Guido’s French work into English) [“…profitable to all Christians … Gathered out of the Works of the Ancient Doctors of the Church…”]

9/1578: Gabriel Harvey, Gratulationum Valdenis (a book in Latin) [Celebrating the queen’s visit that year to Audley End; includes dedications in the first three parts to Elizabeth, Leicester and Burghley; and in part four to Oxford, Hatton and Sidney]

10/ 1578 (?): Anthony Munday, Galien of France (a book, now lost, that Oxford’s servant Munday, in The Mirror of Mutability, says he had dedicated to Oxford)

11/ 1579: Anthony Munday, The Mirror of Mutability (verses) [to serve as a religious companion to “The Mirror of Magistrates” – presenting a series of metrical tragedies “selected out of the sacred Scriptures,” illustrating the Seven Deadly Sins with biblical stories.]

12/ 1579: Geoffrey Gates, The Defense of Military Profession (a book in English) [An argument for the acceptance of the military man, and the military profession, as an essential and reputable member of society.]

13/ 1580: Anthony Munday, Zelauto, the Fountain of Fame (prose fiction) [This is the fifth or sixth Elizabethan novel, three of which are associated with Oxford: The Adventures of Master F.I., anonymous, part of A Hundredth Sundry Flowres, 1573; Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit (Lyly), 1578, and Euphues and his England (Lyly), 1580 (next on this list)].

Click on Image to Enlarge

14/ 1580: John Lyly, Euphues and His England (novel) [His first novel, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) was dedicated to Sir William West; the connection between them is not known.]

15/ 1580: John Hester, A Short Discourse … Upon Chirurgerie (Surgery) (translation) [Italian medical work by Leonardo Phioravanti (Fioravanti) Bolognese, rendered in English]

16/ 1581: Thomas Stocker, Diverse Sermons of Calvin (translation)

17/ 1582: Thomas Watson, Hekatompathia, or The Passionate Century of Love (100 sonnets, in English)

18/ 1584: John Southern, Pandora (compilation of verses) [Contains four epitaphs attributed to Oxford’s wife, Anne Cecil, written upon the death of their infant son; also one by Queen Elizabeth.]

19/ 1584: Robert Greene, Gwydonius: The Card of Fancy (“wherein the Folly of those carpet Knights is deciphered”) [Romance novel in English]

Title Page of “The English Secretary,” first edition, 1586, with a dedication to Oxford referring to his “exceeding bounty” or generosity

20/ 1586: Angel DayThe English Secretary (“wherein is contained a Perfect Method for the inditing of all manner of Epistles and familiar letters”) [Instructions on how a particular type of letter should be written, followed by sample letters.]

21/ 1588: Anthony MundayPalmerin d’Olivia Pt. 1 – The Mirror of Nobility, (translation of a Spanish chivalric romance)

22/ 1588: Anthony MundayPalmerin d’Olivia Pt. 2 (translation) [More of his “romances of chivalry” from the Spanish]

23/ 1590: Edmund SpenserThe Faerie Queen (book-length narrative poem) [One of the seventeen dedicatory sonnets is to Oxford, with reference to him as a poet.]

24/ 1591: John FarmerPlainsong Diverse & Sundry (songbook) [Full title is “Divers and Sundry Waies of Two Parts in One to the Number of Fortie upon One Playn Song.” A collection of forty canonic pieces written by him, plus one poem.]

1592 (Not part of list): Thomas NasheStrange News (polemical pamphlet) [In response to Gabriel Harvey’s attack on Greene, dedicated to a prolific poet he calls by the pseudonym “Gentle Master William, Apis Lapis,” saying to him, “Verily, verily, all poor scholars acknowledge your as their patron” — with “verily, verily” as an apparent play on Oxford’s name “Vere” and describing his unique role as a patron of poets, writers and scholars needing his support.]

25/ 1597: Henry LokThe Book of Ecclesiastes (book of verse) [Published by Richard Field, who had published Venus and Adonis in 1593 as by “William Shakespeare”; in this work, Lok addresses a dedicatory sonnet to Oxford — perhaps originally written in manuscript in a gift copy of the book for the Earl.]

26/ 1599: John FarmerThe First Set of English Madrigals (songbook)

27/ 1599: Angel Day, The English Secretary (new edition, revised)

28/ 1599: George Baker,The Practice of the New and Old Physic (medical book) [Originally printed in 1576 under the title New Jewel of Health, then dedicated to Oxford’s wife, Anne Cecil, who died in 1588; now Baker is one of the Queen’s physicians; the dedication to the Countess of Oxford is slightly altered to suit the Earl.]

In addition, these explicit mentions of him:

1603: Francis Davison, Anagrammata (broadsheet) [With curious writings in Latin to/about Oxford and Southampton and other nobles, with political overtones, some apparently related to the Essex rebellion of 1601.]

1619: Anthony Munday: Primaleon of Greece (translation) [“Describing the knightly deeds of armes, as also the memorable adventures of Prince Edward of England. And continuiong the former historie of Palmendos, brother to the fortunate Primaleon” — dedicated to Henry de Vere, the 18th Earl of Oxford, who was Edward’s son by Elizabeth Trentham, with warm praise from Munday for the father.]

These authors, and their books dedicated to the Earl of Oxford, have been cited as specific “sources” upon which “Shakespeare” drew. Yet we know of no book or literary work of any kind that was dedicated to Shakespeare.

[This post is now Reason 37 in the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

[Once again thanks to editor Alex McNeil; also to Brian Bechtold with editorial help; and to Jonni Koonce Dunn for her Master of Arts thesis of 1999 at the University of Texas.]

Re-Posting No. 19 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford: The Polonius-Hamlet Family

An obvious link in the chain of evidence connecting Edward de Vere to “Shakespeare” is the similarity of his and Hamlet’s family relationships:

Queen Gertrude as played by Glenn Close

Gertrude is the mother of Hamlet, while Elizabeth was the legal mother of Oxford, when he was her ward.

Polonius as played by Eric Porter

Polonius is chief adviser to Gertrude, while Burghley (William Cecil) was chief adviser to Elizabeth.

Hamlet is engaged to young Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, while Oxford became engaged to young Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley.

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham Carter

Ophelia’s older brother, Laertes, goes off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress to his father, who recites the famous “precepts” to him as guidance. Anne’s eldest brother, Thomas Cecil, went off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress to his father, Burghley, who wrote him long letters full of wise “precepts” as guidance. Later he would also write his famous precepts to son Robert Cecil.

Claudius, who fatally poisons Hamlet’s father and marries the prince’s mother the queen, thereby becoming king, reflects Elizabeth’s lover Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was suspected of many poisonings. Oxford may have concluded that Leicester had caused the death by poisoning of his own father, John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford.

In Hamlet, the Shakespeare play carrying the most autobiographical tone of them all, we find the main character in virtually the same web of family relationships at court as Edward de Vere.  Traditional scholars may ask rhetorically, Well, now, you’re not claiming this as proof that Oxford wrote Hamlet, are you?” We might reply, “No, of course not, but doesn’t this give you a little queasy feeling in the gut?  Don’t you have the slightest tremor of doubt that Will of Stratford could have, or would have, written such a play?  Do you think this mirror image of family relationships can be mere coincidence?”

James Shapiro of Columbia University argues in Contested Will that “such claims about representing on the public stage some of the most powerful figures in the realm betray a shallow grasp of Elizabethan dramatic censorship.”  He adds that Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, “whose job it was to read and approve all dramatic scripts before they were publicly performed, would have lost his job – and most likely his nose and ears, if not his head, had he approved a play that so transparently ridiculed privy councilors past and present.”

Perhaps it is Shapiro himself who betrays a shallow grasp of what is really happening on the public stage. The author himself supplies a further clue to this when an exasperated Polonius, speaking of Hamlet, tells Gertrude: “He will come straight.  Look you lay home to him.  Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with, and that your Grace hath screened and stood between much heat and him.” Hamlet-Oxford has taken too many liberties, unbearably so, but nonetheless the queen has protected him from “much heat” and/or reprisals by government officials [such as Tilney] and his enemies at court.

Otherwise, Shapiro is right: not only Tilney but also the playwright surely would have lost his head … if he had been Shakspere of Stratford!

(This post, with great help from editor Alex McNeil, is now No. 9 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford)


Re-Posting No. 18 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was Edward, Earl of Oxford: “Minerva Britanna” by Henry Peacham: “By the Mind I shall be Seen”

“Minerva Britanna” by Henry Peacham, Master of Arts (1612) – “Or a Garden of Heroical Devices, furnished, and adorned with Emblems and Impresa’s of sundry natures, Newly devised, moralized, and published.”

If there’s a single Elizabethan or Jacobean picture that cries out “Secret author,” it appears on the title page of Minerva Britanna by Henry Peacham, a book of original emblems (accompanied by his own verses) published in London in 1612. Shown on the front is the proscenium arch of a theater, with the curtain drawn back so we can see the right hand and arm of a writer using a quill pen to complete a Latin inscription:

MENTE.VIDEBORI (“By the Mind I shall be Seen”): The suggestion is that the author, who is behind the curtain, must remain hidden.

In 1937, Eva Turner Clark argued that the phrase MENTE.VIDEBORI is a Latin anagram of TIBI NOM. DE VERE or “The Identity of this Author is  De Vere.”

A closer look reveals that the “dot” in the inscription has been placed directly between the “E” and the “V” to create E.V., the initials of Edward Vere.

Oxford’s death date is recorded as 24 June 1604, the same year the authorized, full-length version of Hamlet was first published, after which no new “authorized” Shakespeare plays were printed for nineteen years.

In 1622, just one year before the publication of the First Folio, Peacham published a treatise entitled The Compleat Gentleman, in which he looks back at the Elizabethan reign as a “golden age” that produced poets “whose like are hardly to be hoped for in any succeeding age.”  He lists those “who honored Poesie [poetry] with their pens and practice” in this order:

“Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spenser, Master Samuel Daniel, with sundry others…” Curiously, he does not list “Shakespeare.”

Peacham (1576?-1644?), a graduate of Cambridge, had been interested in the theatrical world early on; a surviving sketch of a scene of Titus Andronicus, thought to have been made in 1595, was signed “Henricus Peacham.” He would have been a teenager when he drew the sketch.  In the scene, Queen Tamora is pleading for the lives of her two sons while Aaron the Moor gestures with his sword.

A sketch of a scene of “Titus Andronicus” in 1595, apparently by Peacham when he was seventeen 

Oxford’s arms with the blue boar on top

At age twenty-five in 1603, Peacham became a schoolmaster at Kimbolton Grammar School; his Minerva (“Or a Garden of Heroical Devises, furnished and adorned with Emblems and Impresa of sundry natures”) contains 206 emblems, each accompanied by a pair of six-line stanzas. Roger Stritmatter reports that it “has long been considered the most sophisticated exemplar of the emblem book tradition ever published in England.”

One of the emblems in Minerva shows a boar, which plays a crucial role in Ovid’s story of Venus and Adonis as well as in the one by “Shakespeare” published in 1593. The boar was also Oxford’s heraldic symbol. Below the emblem, Peacham writes:

One of the Emblems of “Minerva Britanna” — about “Venus and Adonis” featuring the Boar

I much did muse why Venus could not brook

The savage Boar and Lion cruel fierce,

Since Kings and Princes have such pleasure took

In hunting: ‘cause a Boar did pierce

Her Adon fair, who better liked the sport,

Then spends his days in wanton pleasure’s court.

Which fiction though devised by Poet’s brain,

It signifies unto the Reader this:

Such exercise Love will not entertain,

Who liketh best, to live in Idleness:

The foe to virtue, Canker of the Wit,

That brings a thousand miseries with it.

The line “Who liketh best to live in Idleness” is a direct reflection of what Oxford had written in 1576:

That never am less idle lo, than when I am alone *

Clearly Peacham was well aware, even in 1612, of an authorship mystery involving the poet of Venus and Adonis. With his emblem containing the boar symbol of the Vere earldom and those lines underneath it, he brought together “Shakespeare” and Oxford on the same page, providing the solution for all to see.

  • In The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576

(This blog post, with the invaluable help of editor Alex McNeil, has become No. 95 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

Re-Posting No. 16 of “100 Reasons” why the Earl of Oxford = “Shakespeare”: Bertram in “All’s Well That Ends Well”

The leading male character in All’s Well That Ends Well is Bertram, Count of Rousillon, a young French nobleman whose callous self-absorption leads to bad behavior toward his wife. In many respects, Bertram is a representation of a young English nobleman, Edward, Earl of Oxford, whose callous self-absorption led to bad behavior toward his wife.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), author of the “Decameron, On Famous Women”

The play is based on a tale by the great Florentine author -poet Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) in The Decameron, a collection of one hundred novellas that became the model of Italian prose for writers in the sixteenth century.

Illustration of the “Decameron”

A now-lost stage work entitled The Historie of the Rape of the Second Helene, recorded as performed at Richmond Palace on 6 January 1579, might have been an early version of All’s Well, which did not appear in print until the 1623 First Folio.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” in the First Folio of 1623

If the play performed at Richmond was in fact an early draft of All’s Well, observes William Farina in De Vere as Shakespeare, “then perhaps the play reflects de Vere coming to grips with his own bad behavior toward his wife, in which case Bertram would represent Shakespeare’s own unvarnished and unflattering self-portrait of the artist as a young man.”

The early version would have been written solely for Queen Elizabeth and members of her royal court, who would have quickly understood its contemporary allusions and inside jests.

A revised version for the public playhouse in the 1590s may have been the “unknown” Shakespeare comedy to which Francis Meres refers in Palladis Tamia (1598) as Love labours Wonne.

[There is no record of a All’s Well being performed until 1741.]

Following are some of the ways in which Bertram appears to reflect Oxford:


When Oxford’s father died he was summoned to London as a ward in subjection to her Majesty the Queen of England. All’s Well begins when, upon his father’s death, young Bertram has been summoned to Paris as a royal ward of the King of France:

Countess: In delivering my son from me I bury a second husband.

Bertram: And I in going, madam, weep o’er my father’s death anew; but I must attend his Majesty’s command, to whom I am evermore in subjection.

A Scene from “All’s Well That Ends Well”


When Vere came of age in 1571 a marriage was arranged between him and his guardian William Cecil’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne, a commoner.  Bertram is leaving behind the young Helena, a commoner’s daughter who had fallen in love with him:

“I am undone.  There is no living, none, if Bertram be away.  ‘Twere all one that I should love a bright particular star and think to wed it, he is so above me.  In his bright radiance and collateral light must I be comforted, not in his sphere.”

The King promises to elevate Helena’s family to the nobility so she and Bertram can marry.  In real life, Elizabeth raised up her chief minister from commoner status to become Lord Burghley, so that Anne, who had grown up with Oxford in the same household and undoubtedly loved him, would be of the nobility and able to marry him.


Oxford, who had served in the 1570 campaign against the rebelling Catholic earls of the north, nonetheless hungered for more military service but had been kept behind for being too young.  In the fall of 1572, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre [of Protestants] in France, he begged Burghley to allow him to serve on a ship or abroad “where yet some honor were to be got,” adding he was also “most willing to be employed on the sea coasts, to be in readiness with my countrymen against any invasion.”  He was continually blocked, however, and his complaints are echoed by the Count in the play:

“I am commanded here and kept a coil with ‘Too young’ and ‘The next year’ and ‘’Tis too early’… I shall stay here the forehorse to a smock [a woman’s lead horse], creaking my shoes on the plain masonry [palace floors, instead of rough battlefield], till honor be bought up [exhausted], and no sword worn but one to dance with.  By heaven, I’ll steal away!”

Oxford did “steal away” from England without authorization, in the summer of 1574, but he was forced to return three weeks later.

“The Decameron” by Boccaccio — a hundred stores narrated by seven women and three men during the Plague of 1348


Oxford finally received permission to travel abroad in early 1575 and spent more than fifteen months in France, Germany and Italy, with his home base in Venice.  Back in England, when the earl’s wife revealed she was pregnant, Elizabeth “sprung up from the cushions” and said, “I protest to God that next to them that have interest in it, there is nobody can be more joyous of it than I am!”   A bit later, however, she repeated the promise Oxford had given her “openly in the presence chamber that if she [Anne] were with child, it was not his!” (This is in a letter from Dr. Richard Master, court physician, written to Lord Burghley on March 7, 1575, while Oxford was at the French  court in Paris.)

De Vere had promised the queen that he would not sleep with his wife, just as we find the count saying the same in relation to his wife, Helena:

“Although before the solemn priest I have sworn, I will not bed her … O my Parolles, they have married me!  I’ll go to the Tuscan wars and never bed her … I have wedded, not bedded her, and sworn to make the ‘not’ eternal.”  And writing to Helena: “When thou canst … show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a ‘then’ I write a ‘never.’”


Bertram fathers a son by means of a “bed trick,” a scheme hatched by Helena whereby another woman goes to bed with him and then, in the dark, Helena trades places with her.  In The Histories of Essex (1836) gossip of similar details is recorded about Oxford, Anne and her father:

“[Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, [but] the father of Lady Anne by stratagem contrived that her husband should unknowingly sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.” [Anne gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in 1575.]

Also the Master of the Horse to Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery [who married Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan], refers in a memoir to “the last great Earl of Oxford, whose lady was brought to his bed under the notion of his mistress, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan] is said to proceed.”  [Again, the child was Elizabeth Vere.]

The bed trick also appears in Measure for Measure.

All’s Well includes a backdrop of the wars in the Netherlands between Spain and the Dutch in the 1570s, along with what Farina describes as “enormous amounts of esoteric knowledge regarding the history and geography of France and Italy, as well as Renaissance literature and courtly social customs” — a further link in the chain of evidence pointing to Oxford as the author.

Another source of the play is William Painter’s English translation of Decameron, published in 1566, when de Vere was sixteen and graduating from Oxford University. The earl knew Italian and undoubtedly also read Decameron in its original language, which “Shakespeare” appears to have done — although traditional scholars have been unable to explain how the Stratford man could have read the Italian version.

[This post is No. 73 in 100 Reasons Shakes-peare was the Earl of Oxford]

The Art of English Poetry: Re-Posting Reason 15 Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere received a prominent place in an anonymous work The Arte of English Poesie (1589), regarded as the central text of Elizabethan courtly politics. His position in the world of letters had already been stated unequivocally in 1586, when William Webbe declared in A Discourse of English Poetry:

“The Arte of English Poesie” – 1589

“I may not omit the deserved commendations of many honourable and noble Lords and Gentlemen in Her Majesty’s Court, which, in the rare devices of poetry have been, and yet are, most skillful; among whom the Right Honourable Earl of Oxford may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest.”

Now, three years later in 1589, another overview (this one by an unnamed author) is published by Richard Field, formerly of Stratford-upon-Avon and a Protestant printer close to William Cecil Lord Burghley. Field will issue Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594, both dedicated by “William Shakespeare” to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Modern scholars have attributed The Arte to George Puttenham, but others believe the author was Oxford’s friend Lord John Lumley; Richard M. Waugaman has set forth a case for Oxford’s own authorship.  [See Brief Chronicles, the online journal of the Shakespeare Fellowship, and Waugaman’s own online site The Oxfreudian.]

Partly the book may represent Oxford’s “eloquent pleading for the Queen’s commission for his writing the pro-Tudor ‘Shakespeare’ history plays,” Waugaman suggests, noting it “champions the persuasive power of poesy historical, while emphasizing that it [poetry or drama] is all the more instructive if it is not slavishly factual.”

The Arte is dedicated to Burghley, Oxford’s father-in-law and former guardian, but it’s actually addressed to Elizabeth herself. It emphasizes the importance of deception, disguise and anonymity.  The unnamed author says that many members of the nobility or gentry “have no courage to write & if they have, yet are they loath to be a known of their skill.  So as I know very many notable Gentlemen in the Court that have written commendably, and suppressed it again, or else suffered it to be published without their own names to it: as if it were a discredit for a Gentleman to seem learned and to show himself amorous of any good Art.”

A page from “The Arte” showing the Elizabethans’ interest in structure, form, shape, architectural form and so on

He proceeds to name names: “And in her Majesty’s time that now is are sprung up another crew of Courtly makers, Noble men and Gentlemen of her Majesty’s own servants, who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford, Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Master Edward Dyer, Master Fulke Greville, Gascoigne, Britton, Turberville and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for envy, but to avoid tediousness, and who have deserved no little commendation.”

The author of Arte knew he was putting a spotlight on Oxford and his literary work. Moreover, on the very next page the anonymous author of The Arte names just a few playwrights: “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.”

[Edwards had been in charge of the Children of the Chapel from 1561 until he died in 1566, a period when Oxford {age eleven to sixteen} was studying with private tutors and receiving honorary degrees from Cambridge and Oxford.  Edwards is credited with writing two plays:  Damon and Pithias, the first English “tragical comedy,” set in the court of Dionysius and performed for Elizabeth’s court in 1565; and Palamon and Arcyte, a “lost” play based on Chaucer’s A Knight’s Tale — and regarded as a possible source for The Two Noble Kinsman attributed to Shakespeare and Fletcher — performed for the Queen at Oxford in 1566.

[A decade later several poems by Oxford appeared in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, an anthology that claims Edwards had compiled it before his death in 1566 – in which case, if true, it’s possible that Oxford’s poems were written no later than his sixteenth year; although he could have added to them any time up to 1576, since he himself probably caused the anthology to be published].

An excerpt of one of Oxford’s poems from Paradise was reprinted in Arte of 1589, wherein the anonymous author wrote: “Edward, Earl of Oxford, a most noble and learned gentleman, made in this figure of response an emblem of Desire, otherwise called Cupid, which for excellency and wit I set down some of the verses” — using the following example of an Oxford poem, in the form of a dialogue:

When wert thou born desire?

In pomp and prime of May,

By whom sweet boy wert thou begot?

By good conceit men say,

Tell me who was thy nurse?

Fresh youth in sugared joy.

What was thy meat and daily food?

Sad sighs with great annoy.

What hadst thou then to drink?

Unfeigned lovers tears.

What cradle wert thou rocked in?

In hope devoid of fears.

Arte speaks of a poet as a “dissembler” motivated by “a secret intent not appearing by the words.” The author offers the example of four lines referring to Queen Elizabeth – not by name, but in words that “any simple judgment might easily perceive” to be referring to her:

Elizabeth I of England

When Princes serve, and Realms obey,

And greatest of Britain kings begot:

She came abroad even yesterday,

When such as saw her knew her not.

It was common practice to write on two levels at once:

“And the rest followeth, meaning her Majesty’s person, which we would seem to hide leaving her name unspoken, to the intent the reader should guess at it: nevertheless upon the matter did so manifestly disclose it, as any simple judgment might easily perceive by whom it was meant, that is by Lady Elizabeth, Queen of England and daughter to King Henry the Eighth, and therein resteth the dissimulation.”

In this same year of 1589 Richard Field would also publish the second edition of the English translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, credited in 1567 to Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding. Here at the end of the tumultuous decade of the 1580s, Oxford was about to leave public life and become something of a recluse. Was he using Field’s press to make a final appearance as an identified poet?  Was he withdrawing from the world while preparing to use the same publisher-printer under the “Shakespeare” just four years later?

[This post has become No. 29 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford]

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