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

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

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Wins “Dark Lady” Debate

The Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1575 – National Portrait Gallery, London

On Sunday (October 14), during its annual conference convened this year in Oakland, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship held a three-way debate about the identity of the so-called Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Each of us agreed in advance that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is the author and that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton is the so-called Fair Youth, leaving the identity of the woman open for debate. John Hamill argued for Penelope Rich; Katherine Chiljan made her case for Anne Vavasour; and I supported Queen Elizabeth, who won by a secret-ballot vote of the membership in the audience. Each of the others made a formidable case, in his or her 20-minute opening presentation, making for an afternoon session of special excitement. Here, in full, is the overview I gave at the outset:

Making sense of the Sonnets can begin with the realization that these intensely personal lines were set down by the highest-ranking earl at the royal court – and that the beloved younger man is also a member of the court. But finding the story in the sonnets becomes possible only by also identifying the right woman.

Even if we knew nothing of the author, it’s clear this woman is someone of incredible importance to him, and wields enormous power over him – a woman with whom he’s been involved in a long, complicated relationship – whom he’s believed in and defended, even when she has failed to live up to his belief in her – a woman for whom, in the end, he has sacrificed the truth and betrayed himself.

I’d like to present evidence that the powerful, dominating woman we call the Dark Lady can only be the same powerful, dominating woman who pervades the lives of both those earls, and who pervades so much of Oxford’s writing – from his own early Shakespearean sonnet professing his devotion to Queen Elizabeth to his portraits of Venus and the Phoenix, Cleopatra, Titania, Olivia, Portia, Silvia, Queen Gertrude, and more. His final words to this powerful, deceitful, inscrutable woman sum up their long relationship that has now, in the end, drained his soul and left him in bitter disillusionment:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost;/ For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,/ Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,/And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,/ Or made them swear against the thing they see./For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,/To swear against the truth so foul a lie.”

Has there ever been a more wretched confession of shattered illusion and self-betrayal?

Three themes about Queen Elizabeth as Dark Lady:

First, context: Identifying the queen allows us to locate the time frame and historical circumstances for these sonnets – a context every true story must have.

Second, metaphor: The darkness of the woman is not literal but metaphorical; and the metaphor is inseparable from Elizabeth and her imperial frown.

Third, language: Oxford employs the same words to and about the Dark Lady that he’s already used to and about the queen, and used exclusively for her.

Context: The overall context is that Oxford desperately wanted the Sonnets not only published and eventually read, but also, hopefully, understood – by readers in the future. The Sonnets are for “all posterity” and “eyes not yet created,” even when “tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.” So there must be an important story here, for us. He’s playing the long game, which means the story must transcend all strictly personal issues, no matter how deeply felt. It must involve some major situation to be recorded by English history. Given all we know about Shakespeare, the story must also involve some great issue of his own time; and the most pressing issue was the urgent need for an uncontested – and, therefore, peaceful – royal succession.

The vital publishing life of Oxford’s Shakespeare plays coincides with this growing alarm: What will happen if the queen dies before naming her successor? The great issuance of Oxford’s plays under the Shakespeare name occurred in the final years of her life, up to her death. The man was still trying to guide and protect her and his country.

And the contents of his revised history plays reflect this intensifying crisis. The British author Peter Lake aptly titles his recent book “How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays.” His recurring theme is that Shakespeare was using history to raise awareness of the current crisis and ways of dealing with it. Elizabeth’s urgent responsibility was to put a successor in place, to avoid civil war and even possible takeover by a foreign power. But she could not – or would not – carry out this responsibility, and finally the tension boiled over in the Essex Rebellion of early 1601.

The rebels began by paying for a special performance of Oxford’s play Richard II, which Elizabeth knew was about her and the possibility of her being deposed, even killed. The earls were hoping to prevent Robert Cecil from further manipulating the queen to ensure his own survival. Oxford had portrayed Cecil as the hunchbacked tyrant Richard III; and now the secretary was terrorizing Elizabeth (“They were planning to kill you!”) and keeping her under his firm control. For Oxford, after a lifetime of service to queen and country, it was all crashing down with his cunning former brother-in-law maintaining total command of England. As James of Scotland put it, Cecil had made himself “king there, in effect.”

Now the context begins to reveal itself. Our goal, in my view, has always been to read these autobiographical sonnets to and about the Dark Lady (nos. 127-152) in conjunction with events that must comprise the framework and foundation of Oxford’s story. And once we see Elizabeth as this woman, it becomes clear that the story unfolds between the two most important events: the failed rebellion of 1601 and the queen’s death two years later in 1603. These moments, destined to be marked by history, are the two bookends. Then, from one to the other, the sonnets and events begin to illuminate each other and to bring the story to life.

It begins with Sonnet 127 on that tragic night when most young nobles of Elizabeth’s court have been jailed on charges of having plotted against her life. The age of “Gloriana” has come to an end. It’s over – and “therefore” the eyes of their sovereign mistress have turned “Raven black.” The ravens had become dread symbols of executions on the Tower Green. When Anne Boleyn was decapitated, it was said that “even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements, gazing eerily at the strange scene: a queen about to die!”

Now two former favorites, Essex and Southampton, are both set to die on that same Tower Green, so it’s no wonder the aging queen is in “mourning” as at a funeral. After the head of Essex is cut off, the beloved Fair Youth is next, and now his fate is also up to Elizabeth.

Imagine Oxford’s emotional turmoil over this tragic situation! He might even blame himself. All three of them – Southampton, Oxford, Elizabeth – are suffering. And so Oxford addresses the queen in words echoing those of Christ on the cross: “Of him, my self, and thee, I am forsaken, a torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.” What other kind of situation would compel this proud nobleman and great author, who hated hyperbole, to liken his own suffering to that of Christ?

Back in 1911, the legal expert Edward White declared that Sonnets 133 and 134 “clearly refer to the confinement of Southampton in the Tower” and “express the poet’s desire to go his bail by substituting his person for that of his friend, in jail.” It’s Elizabeth who has Southampton in her prison, so Oxford begs her: “Prison my heart … but then let my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail. Who ere keeps me, let my heart be his guard; thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.” In other words: “I will not let you execute him in my prison!”

White also declared: “The poet proffers to forfeit himself as security for Southampton.” Oxford tells the queen: “So now I have confessed that he is thine, and I my self am mortgaged to thy will. My self I’ll forfeit so that other mine thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.”

Now he begs her Majesty to relieve his suffering by executing him instead: “O call me not to justify the wrong that thy unkindness lays upon my heart … Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.” An old saying was that “monarchs have killing looks.” They kill, literally, with their eyes.

Waiting in the Tower, Southampton writes a lengthy poem to the queen, trying to save his life – the only poem by him that we know of. (Before Essex was executed, he, too, had written a poem to her Majesty while in the Tower. So clearly poetry was an important means of communicating with the queen – which makes three earls and former royal wards, each writing verse for Queen Elizabeth in relation to the very same dire circumstances.) In Southampton’s poem, discovered just several years ago, the earl reminds Elizabeth: “Only mercy is the prince’s own.” Only the monarch can deliver mercy; and when she does spare his life, a relieved Oxford responds in Sonnet 145: “Straight in her heart did mercy come.”

But time to settle the succession is running out; nor does Elizabeth seem to care about the ultimate fate of Southampton, who might be left to die in the Tower as a condemned traitor in perpetual confinement. So Oxford wails in amazing lines such as these in Sonnet 147: “Past cure I am, now reason is past care,/ And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.” His continued loyalty to the queen stands at complete odds with her failure to name a successor and protect England from chaos and bloodshed.

James of Scotland has a blood claim, but with complications. He’s a foreign king, born on foreign soil, technically not qualified, and even more deeply unqualified in his character, not to mention that he’s also the willing pawn of Robert Cecil. For all that, however, he does have a claim; but still Elizabeth refuses to name him.

In the end Oxford delivers those final bitter words to the dying female monarch who has always been the most important person in his life: “And all my honest faith in thee is lost.” And now we can see the metaphor of the queen’s darkness.

Oxford established the metaphor in Sonnet 25: “Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread/ But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,/ And in themselves their pride lies buried,/ For at a frown they in their glory die.” Elizabeth’s favorite courtiers behave like her flower, the marigold, all opening to the warm light of “the sun’s eye” – her sovereign eye; but with just a frown casting her shadow of royal displeasure, their glory dies in darkness. That’s the metaphor, set forth by Oxford himself, and it’s inseparable from Elizabeth.

Of the twenty-six sonnets in this series, only five involve her darkness, and each time it’s a variation of that same metaphor:

In the opening sonnet (127), after eight lines, he reports: “Therefore” – “Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,” – the raven, harbinger of death – “her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem” – the eyes of mourners at a funeral. It’s a metaphor. In 130, “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Back in those lines about the marigold, the queen’s eye was the sun; now, because of her imperial frown and negative view, the sunlight has disappeared. All is dark.

How the queen looks at someone or something is also what she does; and in 131 he tells her: “In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds.” In 132 her eyes have “put on” black, again in mourning; but if her eyes are already black, why would she have to put it on? Finally, in 147, she’s “as black as hell, as dark as night.” And that’s it for the darkness, all metaphor, all tied to the power of the queen’s negative view that turns day into night.

And now the language, to and about the queen:

For example, in 134: “I my self am mortgaged to thy will.” In a letter to Cecil about the queen, he promised not to “contradict her will.” A common saying was, “Others debate, but the king wills.”

In 140 she has “tongue-tied” or silenced him, the same as when his art is “tongue-tied by authority.” Well, the queen is authority; and she’s the only one who can tongue-tie or officially silence him.

He writes to her in 149 about being in “thy service.” He had told Burghley, “”I have engaged myself so far in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light.” What other woman has he ever served? Also in 149 he’s “commanded by the motion of thine eyes.” In a private memo he urged the queen to give her “commandment.” And in King John he wrote about “the motion of a kingly eye.”

In his early sonnet about the queen, Oxford had blared forth his “love” and “constant truth” on her behalf. He was loyal and consistently honest. Now, as she nears death, he writes about her side of that commitment: about “thy” love, “thy” truth, “thy” constancy – the same three words; but in the end, she has had no love or truth or constancy. She has betrayed him and England itself; and therefore he has sworn falsely, all his life, by supporting and praising her.

Recall him telling how he has engaged himself in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light; but now all his honest faith in her is lost. He admits he has had to “swear against the truth so foul a lie.” What other woman could force this strong-willed man of high rank, for whom truth was the most sacred value, to swear against it for her sake?

Soon after Oxford died the following year, 1604, came the printed full Hamlet. He must have labored to revise and expand this magnum opus right up to his last breath. In the final scene, Fortinbras comes down from the north to rule Denmark amid its royal wreckage, just as Cecil triumphantly brought James down from the north to rule England its crippled royal court. Hamlet bemoans his “wounded name” and implores Horatio to “tell my story.”

Five years later, 1609, the Sonnets are published for posterity; and I have no doubt they contain the story Horatio promised to tell the “yet unknowing world” about “how these things came about.” Here is Edward de Vere’s most personal voice – his own story – and the most direct revelation of his authorship.

Here is Oxford’s cry that his own wounded name “be buried where my body is.” Here is the truth of the great author at the royal court of England; his devotion to Southampton; his long, conflicted relationship with the queen; his fury and despair over her failure to protect his beloved isle, not to mention her unwillingness to liberate Southampton. Here is his confession of misguided loyalty and self-betrayal for her sake; and his swift disappearance within the black hole of official anonymity: “I, once gone, to all the world must die.”

Only when Queen Elizabeth is recognized as the powerful “dark lady” will the context, metaphor and language of the Sonnets enable Oxford’s untold story to finally come into focus – for posterity, for history, for us.

The Legal Mind of “Shakespeare”: Re-posting No. 43 of 100 Reasons Why the Great Author was the Earl of Oxford

“In Shakespeare’s multiple personalities, there is none in which he appears more naturally and to better advantage than in the role of the lawyer. If true that all dramatic writing is but a form of autobiography, then the immortal Shakespeare must, at some time in his life, have studied law.” – Commentaries on the Law in Shakespeare, 1911, Edward J. White

There’s not a shred of evidence that Shakspere of Stratford ever went beyond grammar school (if he attended at all), much less to a university or law school.

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

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was seventeen in 1567 when he entered Gray’s Inn to study law. He was steeped in legal matters involving his earldom and the royal court; he sat on the juries at the treason trials of the duke of Norfolk (1572), Mary Queen of Scots (1586) and the earls of Essex and Southampton (1601).

A recent book, Shakespeare’s Legal Language (2000), contains a detailed discussion of Shakespeare’s legal terms and concepts. Authors B.J. Sokol and Mary Sokol point out that twenty-five of thirty-seven Shakespeare plays refer to a trial and that thirty-five contain the words “judge” and “justice.”

“Nothing adorns a king more than justice,” Oxford wrote to Robert Cecil in May 1603, referring to the newly proclaimed King James, “nor in anything doth a king more resemble God than in justice.”

Traditional scholars usually assert that Shakespeare didn’t really demonstrate an exceptional knowledge of the law, at the same time struggling to explain how he could have become so “law-obsessed,” as Sokol & Sokol put it.

Back in 1869, for example, Lord Penzance spoke of Shakespeare’s “perfect familiarity with not only the principles, axioms, and maxims, but the technicalities of English law, a knowledge so perfect and intimate that he was never incorrect and never at fault … At every turn and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile, or illustration, his mind ever turned first to the law.  He seems almost to have thought in legal phrases…”

“Any intelligent writer can acquire knowledge of a subject and serve it up as required,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. writes in The Mysterious William Shakespeare, adding it is “something else to have been so immersed in a subject and to have assimilated it so thoroughly that it has become part of one’s nature, shaping one’s view of the world, coming forward spontaneously to prompt or complete a thought, supply and image or analogy.”

Oxford served on the jury at the trial of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle in October 1586 (drawing by Edouard Berveiller)

Mark Twain wrote in reference to Shakspere of Stratford that he “couldn’t have written Shakespeare’s works, for the reason that the man who wrote them was limitlessly familiar with the laws, and the law-courts, and law-proceedings, and lawyer-talk, and lawyer-ways—and if Shakespeare was possessed of the infinitely-divided star-dust that constituted this vast wealth, how did he get it, and where, and when? . . . A man can’t handle glibly and easily and comfortably and successfully the argot of a trade at which he has not personally served. He will make mistakes; he will not, and cannot, get the trade-phrasings precisely and exactly right; and the moment he departs, by even a shade, from a common trade-form, the reader who has served that trade will know the writer hasn’t.”

Following is a small sample of excerpts from Oxford’s letters showing his familiarity with the law and legal matters:

“But now the ground whereon I lay my suit being so just and reasonable … to conceive of the just desire I make of this suit … so by-fold that justice could not dispense any farther … The matter after it had received many crosses, many inventions of delay, yet at length hath been heard before all the Judgesjudges I say both unlawful, and lawful … For counsel, I have such lawyers, and the best that I can get as are to be had in London, who have advised me for my best course …  [to Queen Elizabeth]: And because your Majesty upon a bare information could not be so well satisfied of every particular as by lawful testimony & examination of credible witnesses upon oath … So that now, having lawfully proved unto your Majesty … “

Oxford attended at the House of Lords on forty-four days during the nine sessions held 1571 to 1601.  In the sessions from 1585 onward he was appointed one of the “receivers and triers of petitions from Gascony and other lands beyond the seas and from the islands.” In November 1586 he was part of a committee appointed to address Elizabeth on the sentencing of Mary Queen of Scots.

In Sonnet 46, the poet describes a trial by jury:

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war

How to divide the conquest of thy sight;

Mine eye, my heart thy picture’s sight would bar

My heart, mine eye the freedom of that right;

My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie

(A closet never pierced with crystal eyes),

But the defendant doth that plea deny,

And says in him thy fair appearance lies.

To cide this title is impanelled

A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,

And by their verdict is determined

The clear eyes’ moiety, and thy dear heart’s part:

As thus, mine eyes’ due is thy outward part,

And my heart’s right, their inward love of heart.

Scholars of the Stratfordian tradition have often speculated that “Shakespeare” must have been a lawyer. The fact that Oxford himself was a lawyer does not prove that he was the great author, but it is an important piece of the accumulated evidence in his favor.

[Above is the version edited by Alex McNeil and now no. 56 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

“Truth’s Authentic Author”: Re-Posting No. 42 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

“Shakespeare” was obsessed with truth.  In his works he used the word “truth” at least 309 times and “true” no less than 766 times, with “truer” and “truest” and “truths” about three dozen times – well over a thousand usages of those five word forms. Equally obsessed with truth was Edward de Vere, starting with his earldom motto VERO NIHIL VERIUS or Nothing Truer than Truth.  So similar are “Shakespeare” and Oxford in this respect that “truth” is another reason to believe they were one and the same.

Pallas Athena, a.k.a. the Goddess of Truth

The similarity is not just in terms of quantity but also in regard to how “truth” is used by “Shakespeare” and by Oxford in writings under his own name.  For example, in the Shakespearean plays the phrase “truth is truth” appears three times: King John (1.1); Love’s Labour’s Lost (4.1); and in Measure for Measure (5.1), when Isabella says: “It is not truer he is Angelo than this is all as true as it is strange:  Nay, it is ten times true; for truth is truth to the end of reckoning.”

Oxford wrote to Robert Cecil on 7 May 1603, several weeks after the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King James:  “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription, for truth is truth though never so old, and time cannot make that false which was once true.”

In my view, Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s Sonnet 123 during the same period, just a few days before Elizabeth’s funeral on 28 April 1603, expressing the same theme: “NO! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change … Thy registers and thee I both defy … For thy records, and what we see, doth lie … This I do vow, and this shall ever be: I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.”

Given such a similarity between the words in Oxford’s letter and those of Shakespeare’s sonnet, how can we fail to consider that both might have been written by the same man? “Shakespeare” believed that even though the winners of political power struggles would write the history for future generations, the truth will eventually come out. Certainly that was his overall objective for the sonnet sequence. His intention was to create a “monument … which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read.” (Sonnet 81)

The Merchant of Venice (2.2): “Give me your blessing; truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at length truth will out.”

The Rape of Lucrece (stanza 135): “Time’s glory is to calm contending kings, to unmask falsehood and bring truth to light.”

Oxford to Robert Cecil in January 1602, in eerily similar words: “But now time and truth have unmasked all difficulties.”

Sonnet 82: “Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized in true plain words by thy true-telling friend.”

In the Shakespeare play, Troilus echoes Oxford’s motto Nothing Truer than Truth:

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.

(Troilus and Cressida, 3.2, emphasis added)

[This post is the version edited by Alex McNeil and now appearing as No. 85 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016)]

Henry Peacham’s Loud Silence: Re-posting No. 38 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

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

Title Page of The Compleat Gentleman

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

Eva Turner Clark in The Man Who Was Shakespeare (1937) was the first Oxfordian to report on this passage. “Significantly,” she writes, “Peacham does not mention Shakespeare, a name he knew to be the nom de plume of Oxford.” Louis P. Benezet of Dartmouth writes in 1945 that Peacham’s testimony is “one of the best keys to the solution of the Shakespeare Mystery…. We recall the statement of Sir Sidney Lee [1898], that the Earl of Oxford was the best of the court poets in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, and Webbe’s comment [1586] that ‘in the rare devices of poetry he (Oxford) may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest.’ Also we remember that The Arte of English Poesie [1589] after confessing that ‘as well Poets as Poesie are despised, and the name become of honourable infamous’ so that many noblemen and gentlemen ‘are loath to be known of their skill’ and that many who have written commendably have suppressed it, or suffered it to be published ‘without their names,’ goes on to state that in Elizabeth’s time have sprung up a new group of ‘courtly writers, who have written excellently well, if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman, Edward, Earl of Oxford.’

”Now comes Henry Peacham, confirming all that has been said by others,” Benezet continues, noting the date of 1622, when the likes of George Chapman and Ben Jonson were “yet living, and so well known,” while Shakspere had been dead for six years and therefore should have been on the list – unless “Shakespeare” already headed the list under his real name, Edward de Vere. Peacham  “was in a position to know the truth,” Benezet writes. “He had been for several years the tutor of the three sons of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, Oxford’s cousin.  Living in the family circle, he knew the secret behind the pseudonym under which were published Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, those poems which, with The Fairie Queene [by the late Spenser, whom Peacham does mention], provide the high water mark of Elizabethan rhyming.”

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

In the mid-1590’s, as a seventeen-year-old Cambridge graduate, Peacham had created a sketch apparently depicting the rehearsal or performance of a scene from Titus Andronicus. As Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia of 1598 listed Titus as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies on the public stage, we can be sure, if Peacham had thought the Bard of Avon and Edward de Vere were two different persons, he would have included “Shakespeare” on his list of the greatest authors of Elizabeth’s time who were no longer living. But Peacham knew differently.

Subsequent editiions of The Compleat Gentleman in 1627 and 1634 also omitted Shakespeare from the list, proving that Peacham, who died in 1643, did not accidentally “forget” to mention him.

[This post is an updated version of the original blog entry, reflecting the invaluable work of editor Alex McNeil and other editorial help from Brian Bechtold, as it now appears in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

The “Bed-Trick”: Re-Posting No. 36 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“[Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, but the father of the 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.” – Thomas Wright, The History and Topography of Essex, 1836, discussing Oxford in relation to his wife Anne Cecil and her father, Lord Burghley.

Measure“[T]he last great Earle of Oxford, whose lady [Anne Cecil] was brought to his Bed under the notion of his Mistris, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan Vere, Countess of Montgomery, Oxford’s third daughter, but probably meaning to identify his first daughter, Elizabeth Vere] is said to proceed.” – Francis Osborne, Esq.,Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth & King James,1658.

These two reports, while differing in their particulars, both assert that de Vere was the victim of a “bed-trick” perpetrated by his wife Anne at the bidding of her father, Burghley – the same situation “Shakespeare” immortalized in no less than four of his plays – All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Hampton Court Palace

The “bed-trick” was a popular stage convention by the end of the sixteenth century, but the evidence is that “Shakespeare” employed it earlier than any playwright of the English renaissance; when Oxford is viewed as the author, the dates of composition go back even earlier.

Whether the incident actually happened or Oxford merely thought so, the story as told separately by Wright and Osborne probably stems from the royal visit to Hampton Court Palace in October 1574. When the schedule for the queen and her entourage became available, Anne, Countess of Oxford, requested additional lodgings she might entice her husband to join her. She wrote to Sussex, Lord Chamberlain of the Household:

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (1526-1583)

“My good Lord, because I think it long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging; that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third chamber next to it … for the more commodious my lodging is, the willinger I hope my Lord my husband will be to come hither.”

Oxford was in Italy the following September when he received a letter from Burghley telling him Anne had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in July; later, upon learning of court gossip that he had been cuckolded, he came to doubt he was the father and separated from his wife for five years.  Had he really been deceived in a bed-trick according to the “stratagem” devised by his father-in-law? In that case, the girl was his natural child; the other possibility is that Burghley concocted and spread the bed-trick story to cover up the fact that, at his bidding, Anne had become pregnant by some other man, a radical explanation put forth by Ogburn Jr. in 1984:

“I strongly incline [to the explanation] that her father was determined as far as humanly possible to ensure the continuation of the marriage and the status of his descendants as Earls of Oxford.  Three years had passed since Anne’s and Edward’s wedding and still there was no sign of issue, while it had now become impossible any longer to deny his son-in-law a Continental trip from which, given the hazards of travel, he might not return.  Thus, exploiting his daughter’s uncommon filial submissiveness and the argument that a child would be the surest means of binding her husband to her, he overcame her compunctions and resistance and brought her to accept service by another male and one of proved fertility …”

[Note: Oxford may have given voice to the idea of Burghley’s involvement in Anne’s pregnancy and deception by means of Hamlet’s remark to Polonius: “Conception is a blessing, but [not] as your daughter may conceive — friend, look to’t.” (2.2) — Curiously, the Folio version of Hamlet includes the word “not,” while the 1604 version omits it.]

Cover of Wright’s History of Essex – 1836

In Shakespeare” Identified, J. Thomas Looney saw Bertram in All’s Well as virtually a self-portrait of de Vere – but it was only after his 1920 book was in manuscript that he discovered Wright’s claim that Oxford himself had been deceived by a bed-trick. The excitement he feels is palpable when introducing “what has been the most remarkable piece of evidence met with in the whole course of our investigations: a discovery made a considerable time after this work had been virtually completed.” He continues:

“This evidence is concerned with the play, All’s Well; the striking parallelism between the principal personage in the drama and the Earl of Oxford having led us to adopt it as the chief support of our argument at the particular stage with which we are now occupied … [Chapter X: “Early Manhood of Edward de Vere”]. What we have now to state was not discovered until some months later:

“In tracing the parallelism between Bertram and Oxford we confined our attention to the incidentals of the play, in the belief that the central idea of the plot — the entrapping of Bertram into marital relationships with his own wife, in order that she might bear him a child unknown to himself — was wholly derived from Boccaccio’s story of Bertram. The discovery, therefore, of the following passage in Wright’s History of Essex furnishes a piece of evidence so totally unexpected, and forms so sensational a climax to an already surprising resemblance that, on first noticing it, we had some difficulty in trusting our own eyes.

“We would willingly be spared the penning of such matter: its importance as evidence does not, however, permit of this,” Looney added, with what Ogburn describes as “quaint Victorian delicacy” in the face of scandalous matters.  After citing the passage from Wright’s History quoted above, he continued:

“Thus even in the most extraordinary feature of this play; a feature which hardly one person in a million would for a moment have suspected of being anything else but an extravagant invention, the records of Oxford are at one with the representation of Bertram. It is not necessary that we should believe the story to be true, for no authority for it is vouchsafed … In any case, the connection between the two is now as complete as accumulated evidence can make it.”

Marliss C. Desens writes in The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama (1994) that this plot device appears in at least forty-four plays of the period, but also that “an examination of English Renaissance dramas shows that bed-tricks were not being used on stage prior to the late 1590’s” and, more specifically, that the bed-trick “begins appearing in plays starting around 1598.”

So, if Oxford was “Shakespeare,” we can say with virtual certainty that in the Elizabethan reign he was the first to incorporate it, and, too, that he did so after being a victim of it in real life, or believing he was.  Oxfordians date the original versions of the plays far earlier than the orthodox dates dictated by the life of Shakspere; in the case of the four plays with bed tricks, here are the differences:

All’s Well That Ends Well – Traditionally to circa 1604; Oxfordians to 1579-80

Measure for Measure – Traditionally to 1603-05; Oxfordians to 1581-85

Cymbeline – Traditionally to 1610; Oxfordians to 1578-82

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Traditionally to 1612-13; Oxfordians to 1566, revision in 1594

Here is another example of how the Oxfordian context stands previous scholarship on its head. The view of “Shakespeare’s” creative process, and its journey over time, is transformed. It’s no wonder the academic world has such built-in resistance to seeing, much less accepting, the change of paradigm.

[This reason is now No. 75 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

Thomas Watson, De Vere and “Shakespeare”: Re-posting No. 35 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford

The poet Thomas Watson is a direct forerunner of the poet of Venus and Adonis and the Sonnets. A leader in the long procession of Elizabethan sonnet-cycle writers, he is linked to “Shakespeare” through Edward de Vere in some startling ways.

Watson’s Sequence of 100 Sonnets Dedicated to Edward de Vere (1582) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

In 1582, Watson published Hekotompathia or The Passionate Century of Love, a sequence of 100, or a “century,” of numbered eighteen-line sonnets or “passions”, with “prose headers” demonstrating his knowledge of works by some fifty classical or renaissance authors in their original languages. He dedicated it to Oxford, testifying that the earl “had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”

It appears likely the “prose headers” were also written by Oxford, who may well have written all of this poetical sequence.

In 1589, the year after de Vere sold his London mansion Fisher’s Folly to William Cornwallis, Watson became employed in the Cornwallis household.  That September, when Christopher Marlowe was attacked by an innkeeper’s son, William Bradley, for failure to pay a debt, Watson came to his friend’s aid and killed Bradley – an act for which he spent six months in prison.

Francis Walsingham, the spymaster (1530?-1590)

Marlowe served as a spy for the English government and it would seem that Watson did, too.  His association with Francis Walsingham, head of the secret service, brings him into probable contact with Oxford from this direction as well. On 21 June 1586, Burghley urged Walsingham to confront the queen about financial assistance to Oxford; five days later Elizabeth awarded de Vere his annual grant of 1,000 pounds, which would be continued by King James in 1603 until the earl’s death a year later.

The fact that Burgley appealed to Walsingham on Oxford’s behalf indicates that the latter’s grant was somehow connected to intelligence activities at the highest level, perhaps involving Catholics among the English nobility as well as diplomatic contact with foreign rulers and courts.

Watson’s Italian Madrigals was published in 1593, the year after his death. Most of its contents had been composed originally by Luca Marenzio while Marenzio was in Mantua living with the Gonzaga family from 1568 to 1574. Watson had never traveled to Italy, but Oxford had apparently stayed with the Gonzaga family while visiting Mantua in 1575.

Also in 1593, Watson’s posthumous sequence of sixty numbered sonnets (in the later-known “Shakespearean” form of fourteen lines) appeared in print as The Tears of Fancie, or Love Disdained (with no author’s name on the title page and only “Finis T.W.” after the final sonnet, which was clearly a version of Oxford’s early sonnet Love Thy Choice, written in the 1570s to express his devotion to the queen.)

When SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS was printed in 1609, one verse in the so-called Dark Lady series (no. 130) was clearly a takeoff on one of the sonnets printed under Watson’s name (no. 7) in the Hekatompathia of 1582. For example, Watson wrote,“Her lips more red than any Coral stone,” and Shakespeare turned it inside-out: “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red.”

Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love attributed to Watson is often cited as paving the way for the Shakespearean sonnet sequence published twenty-seven years later; the two are related through Oxford himself. In the SHAKE-SPEARE volume there is also a series of exactly 100 verses or a “century” (nos. 27 to 126) between two equal segments of twenty-six sonnets apiece (nos. 1-26 and 127-152); this central 100-sonnet sequence contains two sections, of eighty and twenty sonnets, respectively, exactly as Watson’s earlier century had been “divided into two parts” (as indicated on the title page) in an eighty-twenty format.  Watson’s dedication begins:

“To the Right Honorable my very good Lord Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford…

“Alexander the Great, passing on a time by the workshop of Apelles, curiously surveyed some of his doings, whose long stay in viewing them brought all the people into so great a good liking of the painter’s workmanship, that immediately after they bought up all his pictures, what price soever he set them at.  And the like good hap (Right Honorable) befell unto me lately concerning these my Love Passions, which then chanced to Apelles for his Portraits.  For since the world hath understood (I know not how) that your Honor had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand, many have oftentimes and earnestly called upon me to put it to the press, that for their money they might but see what your Lordship with some liking had already perused…”

(This updated post, reflecting the help of editor Alex McNeil and other editorial work by Brian Bechtold, has become no. 36 of the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

“The College of Writers”: Re-posting No. 34 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

“I lurk in no corners but converse in a house of credit, as well governed as any college, where there be more rare qualified men and selected good Scholars than in any Nobleman’s house that I know in England.” – Thomas Nashe, “Strange News,” 1592

De Vere was thirty In 1580 when he bought a mansion in Bishopsgate, even though he was virtually broke and already owned Vere House by London Stone, where he lived. The extravagant second house was nicknamed Fisher’s Folly after its builder, Jasper Fisher, fell into debt because of its too-costly construction.

As Charles Barrell suggests, it appears Oxford acquired the mansion “as headquarters for the school of poets and dramatists who openly acknowledged his patronage and leadership.”

A Caricature of Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

Shakespeare would not, and could not, have developed without other creative artists.  Logically, the Bard would have had an ongoing “college” in a building with many rooms and desks for writers, just as the painter Raphael had a workshop of fifty pupils and assistants, many of whom became significant artists in their own right. Orthodox biographers take it for granted that the author of the Shakespearean plays drew upon the work of several immediate predecessors (who were all connected to Oxford); but once the earl is identified as the author, we can see that these other writers had drawn from his guidance and support. When Oxford was driven into poverty in 1589-90, the same writers began to fall on hard times and suffered misfortune or death.

De Vere owned the Folly through the late 1580’s, as England prepared for the Spanish invasion. This was a time when many “history” plays (including several with the same plots and scenes as “Shakespeare’s” stage histories in the next decade) were originally written and performed. This same period saw the great renaissance of English literature and drama by the so-called University Wits, working under Oxford’s patronage and guidance – Nashe, Lyly, Watson, Greene, Munday, Churchyard, Lodge and others — leading to the first appearance of the Shakespeare name in 1593.

Caricature of Gabriel Harvey (1551-1630) with Nashe

In December 1588,, not long after the victory over King Philip’s Armada, Oxford sold Fisher’s Folly to William Cornwallis, a descendant of the 11th Earl of Oxford. In 1852 the scholar J.O. Halliwell-Philipps revealed his discovery of a small book in the handwriting of Cornwallis’ daughter Anne, who had transcribed the work of various Elizabethan poets including Verses Made by the Earl of Oxford as well as an anonymous poem that would appear in the poetry volume The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), its verses attributed to Shakespeare.

When Anne and her family moved into the house in early 1589, did she wander through its many rooms and find these verses in some corner of Oxford’s library?  Were they tucked away in a desk that one of the University Wits had used?

Halliwell-Phillipps estimated that Anne had transcribed the poems no later than 1590; but since that date was probably too early for Shakspere of Stratford to have written them, he later changed his estimate to 1595.  Barrell countered with reasons why the earlier date is more likely. He also showed that the poem Anne had transcribed is textually superior to the one printed later in 1599. Her version is apparently the only surviving handwritten copy of a poem attributed to Shakespeare dating from the sixteenth century.

An Elizabethan oak chest of the kind where Oxford might have stashed a manuscript

So we start with the theory that Oxford may have written the works attributed to Shakespeare; then we see that he buys a London mansion, which he uses from 1580 to 1588, and that a woman who moves into the place in 1589 transcribes some verses made by Oxford and other poets, including lines that will appear a decade later under the Shakespeare name!

Final Stanza of Poem No. XVIII of Passionate Pilgrim 1599:

But soft, enough – too much, I fear –

Lest that my mistress hear my song;

She will not stick to round me I’ the ear,

To teach my tongue to be so long.

Yet will she blush, here be it said,

To hear her secrets so bewray’d.

Final Stanza of the Anonymous Poem Transcribed in Anne Cornwallis’ Little Book:

Now hoe, enough, too much I fear;

For if my lady hear this song,

She will not stick to ring my ear,

To teach my tongue to be so long;

Yet would she blush, here be it said,

To hear her secrets thus bewray’d.

[Note: This reason is now No. 39 of “100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.” The reposting above is the result of invaluable work by editor Alex McNeil and other editorial assistance by Brian Bechtold.]

The French Connection: Re-posting No. 33 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

No less than five Shakespeare plays are set at least partly in France: King John, Henry V, Henry VI, Pt. 1, All’s Well That Ends Well and Love’s Labour’s Lost.  Would most playwrights deliberately set a play in France if they had never been there?

In Henry V the entirety of Act 3, scene 4, is set within the French king’s palace and consists of French dialogue between Princess Katherine and Alice, the lady attending on her. Some of it is “vulgar” French.

Young Oxford would have learned all about the Vere family and its French origin (the name apparently derived from Ver, near Bayeux) as well as about its founder, Aubrey de Vere, who had come into England with William the Conqueror in 1066, five centuries earlier.  Edward would have learned to read, write and speak French at a very early age, perhaps in the household of Sir Thomas Smith, where he apparently was sent at age four.

Following are fragments of recorded information:

The letter in French written by 13-year-old Edward de Vere to Sir William Cecil, master of the royal wards, in August 1563. (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW)

— When de Vere had entered Cecil House, the printed “Orders for the Earl of Oxford’s Exercises” prescribed a daily routine that included two hours of French studies, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  In a letter dated 23 August 1563, the thirteen-year-old boy wrote a letter to Cecil entirely in French; six years later, Oxford ordered books that included “Plutarch’s works in French” as well as works in Italian and English.

Henry III of France (1551-1589)

— The earl was twenty-four in February 1575 when he and his retinue arrived in Paris, where he was entertained at the French court by the royal family: Henry III, Catherine de Medici (the Queen Mother) and Marguerite de Valois. The English ambassador in Paris, Valentine Dale, wrote Burghley on 7 March of having “presented my Lord of Oxford unto the French King and Queen, who used him honorably.” He added that “amongst other talk the King asked whether he was married.  I said he had a fair lady.  ‘Il y a donce ce,’ dit-il [he says], ‘un beau couple.’

— After Oxford had left Paris for Strasburg, the ambassador again wrote to Burghley: “I will assure your Lordship unfeignedly my Lord of Oxford used himself as orderly and moderately as might be desired, and with great commendation, neither is there any appearance of the likelihood of any other.”  So we have Oxford as a young man at the French royal court, speaking fluent French with the royal family; and in fact his entire life as a nobleman was involved with matters related to France, such as the tumultuous marriage negotiations during the 1570s and early 1580s, when Elizabeth carried on the public fiction that she would wed Alencon.

Map of Paris – 1575

— At the end of Sonnet 73, which proceeds from autumn to winter in the poet’s life, the final couplet reads (with my emphasis):

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

The phrase “leave ere” in the last line is the exact sound of l’hiver, French for “winter,” and simultaneously it plays upon Oxford’s own name, Ver — the way  The Winter’s Tale, translated into French, is L’Compte de l’hiver, the account or “tale” of Winter, or Vere. In addition, the similar-sounding French work “Comte” denotes the rank of Count in France, which is the equivalent of the English rank of Earl.

[NOTE: This reason is now number 54 of 100 Reasons Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford (2016). As re-posted here, it reflects the invaluable work of editor Alex McNeil and the editorial help of Brian Bechtold.]

Here is Act 3, scene four of Henry V:

KATHARINE Alice, tu as ete en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.
ALICE Un peu, madame.
KATHARINE Je te prie, m’enseignez: il faut que j’apprenne a parler. Comment appelez-vous la main en Anglois?
ALICE La main? elle est appelee de hand.
KATHARINE De hand. Et les doigts?
ALICE Les doigts? ma foi, j’oublie les doigts; mais je me
souviendrai. Les doigts? je pense qu’ils sont
appeles de fingres; oui, de fingres.
KATHARINE La main, de hand; les doigts, de fingres. Je pense
que je suis le bon ecolier; j’ai gagne deux mots
d’Anglois vitement. Comment appelez-vous les ongles?
ALICE Les ongles? nous les appelons de nails.
KATHARINE De nails. Ecoutez; dites-moi, si je parle bien: de
hand, de fingres, et de nails.
ALICE C’est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon Anglois.
KATHARINE Dites-moi l’Anglois pour le bras.
ALICE De arm, madame.
KATHARINE Et le coude?
ALICE De elbow.
KATHARINE De elbow. Je m’en fais la repetition de tous les
mots que vous m’avez appris des a present.
ALICE Il est trop difficile, madame, comme je pense.
KATHARINE Excusez-moi, Alice; ecoutez: de hand, de fingres,
de nails, de arma, de bilbow.
ALICE De elbow, madame.
KATHARINE O Seigneur Dieu, je m’en oublie! de elbow. Comment
appelez-vous le col?
ALICE De neck, madame.
KATHARINE De nick. Et le menton?
ALICE De chin.
KATHARINE De sin. Le col, de nick; de menton, de sin.
ALICE Oui. Sauf votre honneur, en verite, vous prononcez
les mots aussi droit que les natifs d’Angleterre.
KATHARINE Je ne doute point d’apprendre, par la grace de Dieu,
et en peu de temps.
ALICE N’avez vous pas deja oublie ce que je vous ai enseigne?
KATHARINE Non, je reciterai a vous promptement: de hand, de
fingres, de mails–
ALICE De nails, madame.
KATHARINE De nails, de arm, de ilbow.
ALICE Sauf votre honneur, de elbow.
KATHARINE Ainsi dis-je; de elbow, de nick, et de sin. Comment
appelez-vous le pied et la robe?
ALICE De foot, madame; et de coun.
KATHARINE De foot et de coun! O Seigneur Dieu! ce sont mots
de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et
non pour les dames d’honneur d’user: je ne voudrais
prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France
pour tout le monde. Foh! le foot et le coun!
Neanmoins, je reciterai une autre fois ma lecon
ensemble: de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arm, de
elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.
ALICE Excellent, madame!
KATHARINE C’est assez pour une fois: allons-nous a diner.
[Exeunt]

“The Quality of Mercy”: Re-Posting No. 32 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

The works of “Shakespeare” contain the author’s own meditations on justice and mercy, emphasizing the need for kings to carry out lawful remedies and punishments with compassion and forbearance.  In Portia’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice about “the quality of mercy” being “not strained” (not constrained), she declares that mercy is “mightiest in the mightiest” and “becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.”  Mercy is above such trappings and is “enthroned in the hearts of kings,” she says, adding:

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice (4.1)

On 7 May 1603, six weeks after Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland was proclaimed James I of England, fifty-three-year-old Edward de Vere wrote a business letter to Secretary Robert Cecil and, in passing, made this comment (printed below in the form of a speech in a Shakespeare play):

Nothing adorns a King more than justice,

Nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice,

Which is the head of all virtue,

And he that is endued therewith hath all the rest.

There is a remarkable similarity of thinking between Oxford and “Shakespeare” as well as a similarity of words; for example, Portia’s statement that when a king combines justice with mercy his “earthly power doth then show likest God’s” is reflected in Oxford’s remark that “nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice” – by which he clearly meant a kind of justice that contains the “virtue” of mercy, or the capacity for forgiveness.

It’s easy to imagine Oxford giving Isabella these words about monarchs in Measure for Measure:

Not the King’s Crown nor the deputed sword,

The Marshall’s Truncheon nor the Judge’s Robe,

Become them with one half so good a grace

As mercy does.  (2.2)

In his dissertation on the “marginalia” of de Vere’s Geneva bible, which the earl had purchased in 1569-70 before age twenty, Roger Stritmatter reports Oxford had marked a series of verses in Ecclesiasticus on the theme of mercy.The question of mercy “is central to the unfolding action of The Tempest,” he notes.  “In this fable Prospero, like Hamlet, learns to abandon the lust to punish his enemies and realizes that ‘the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.’ (5.1). In that statement, ‘virtue’ is a metaphor for ‘mercy.’ ” Stritmatter also points out that previous students of Shakespeare and the Bible failed to notice that Prospero’s epilogue — “as you from crimes would pardoned be — derives “direct, unequivocal inspiration” from Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, which Oxford had marked in his Geneva bible.

Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, as marked by Edward de Vere in his Geneva Bible

Ellen Terry as Portia in 1885

 

“The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle” painted by Edouard Berveiller (1843-1910)

“There can be little doubt as to which side Oxford’s sympathies would lean” during the treason trial of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in October 1586,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920, introducing the Oxford theory of Shakespearean authorship. In other words, the earl, who sat as one of the commissioners at the trial, would have been on Mary’s side, and “as we read of her wonderfully brave and dignified bearing, and of her capable and unaided conduct of her own defense, we can quite believe that if the dramatist who wrote The Merchant of Venice was present at the trial of the Scottish Queen … he had before him a worthy model for the fair Portia…”

Looney quoted Martin Hume: “Mary defended herself with consummate ability before a tribunal almost entirely prejudiced against her. She was deprived of legal aid, without her papers and in ill health. In her argument with [William Cecil Lord Burghley] she reached a point of touching eloquence which might have moved the hearts, though it did not convince the intellects, of her august judges.”

Drawing of the Trial of Mary Queen of Scots as part of the official record made by Robert Beale (1541-1601)

Hume himself quotes a letter in which Burghley says of Mary, “Her intention was to move pity by long, artificial speeches.” Looney writes, “With this remark of Burghley’s in mind, let the reader weigh carefully the terms, of Portia’s speech on ‘Mercy,’ all turning upon conceptions of royal power, with its symbols the crown and the scepter … Now let any one judge whether this speech is not vastly more appropriate to Mary Queen of Scots pleading her own cause before Burleigh, Walsingham, and indirectly the English Queen, than to an Italian lady pleading to an old Jew for the life of a merchant she had never seen before.  Who, then, could have been better qualified for giving an idealized and poetical rendering of Mary’s speeches than Oxford, touted as ‘the best of the courtier poets,’ who was a sympathetic listener to her pathetic and dignified appeals?”

Oxford may have written the first version of The Merchant several years prior to the trial of Mary Stuart – that is, by the early 1580’s, having returned in 1576 from fifteen months on the Continent with Venice as his home base.

Portia’s speech in 4.1 of The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much

To mitigate the justice of thy plea;

Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

Prospero’s farewell at the end of The Tempest:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,

I must be here confined by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.


 

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