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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True friends talk truly, they gloss for no gain…

True friends for their true prince refuseth not their death.

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

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

Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized

In true plain words by thy true-telling friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When griping grief the heart doth wound,

And doleful dumps the mind oppress,

Then mustic with her silver sound…(4.5)

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

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

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

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.]

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