Part Three of Reason 91 Why Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: The Stubborn Bear of Authority in “The Winter’s Tale”

When twenty-six-year-old Edward de Vere returned to England from his Continental journey in April 1576, he angrily separated from his wife Anne Cecil, believing she had been unfaithful to him. Less than a year before, while he was in Italy, the young Countess of Oxford had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, but the earl refused to acknowledge his paternity and remained apart from both his wife and the child for the ensuing five years.

During this separation, Catherine (Kate) Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk wrote in December 1577 to Oxford’s father-in-law William Cecil, Lord Burghley, about a scheme she had hatched with the earl’s sister, Mary Vere, who was engaged to her son Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby. The plan was to trick Oxford into finally laying eyes on his little daughter. Reporting on their conversation, the Duchess wrote to Cecil that Mary told her Oxford “would very fain (gladly) see the child [but] is loath to send for her.”

Kate Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk  1519 - 1580

Kate Willoughby
Duchess of Suffolk
1519 – 1580

“Then,” the Duchess told Mary, “you will keep my counsel [and] we will have some sport with him. I will see if I can get the child hither to me, when you shall come hither, and whilst my Lord your brother is with you I will bring in the child as though it were some other of my friends’, and we shall see how Nature will work in him to like it, and tell him it is his own after.’”

There’s no record of whether Catherine’s scheme was put into effect, but The Winter’s Tale contains a scene that’s a veritable carbon copy of this otherwise private episode. The plot centers on the extreme jealousy of Leontes, King of Sicilia, who is convinced that Queen Hermione has been unfaithful to him, and he has her arrested. While in prison she gives birth to a daughter, but Leontes refuses to accept paternity, believing the father to be his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia.

Enter the Lady Paulina, who, in reflection of what the Duchess of Suffolk did, schemes to bring the infant girl to the King in the belief that the sight of the innocent babe will bring him to his senses. At the prison she addresses Emilia, attending Queen Hermione:

Pray you, Emilia,
Commend my best obedience to the Queen:
If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I’ll show it to the King, and undertake to be
Her advocate to the loudest. We do not know
How he may soften at the sight of the child:
The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades, when speaking fails.

Execution of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots  February 8, 1587

Execution of Mary Stuart
Queen of Scots
February 8, 1587

When Edward de Vere is viewed as the author, there can be little doubt that he was castigating himself for having accused his own wife of infidelity – portraying, through Leontes, his own irrational jealousy and hurtful behavior. Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn express their belief in This Star of England (1952), however, that Oxford began to write The Winter’s Tale during or after the trial of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots in October 1586, when he sat at the head of the tribunal that found her guilty of treason and sentenced her to death. They feel this event profoundly affected him, not only “exciting his compassion but also tormenting his conscience” over having to cast his vote along with the others – regardless of whether or not he thought she was guilty.

Oxford had fought to save his cousin Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was convicted in January 1572 of participating with Philip II of Spain (in the Ridolfi plot) to put Mary on the throne in place of Elizabeth and restore Catholicism in England. The execution of Norfolk on June 2, 1572 at Tower Hill represented Burghley’s triumph over the old feudal nobility as well as his tightening hold over the Queen. Now some fourteen years later Oxford was forced to join the peers in once again carrying out Cecil’s designs, this time sealing the destruction of Mary Stuart.

“In the performance of his duty – his prime duty to his sovereign, to which honor and the oath of allegiance compelled him – he had been obliged to violate the dictates of his heart, as well as a still deeper code of humanity and of manhood,” the Ogburns write, “whereupon he turned upon himself in a savage mood and created the preposterous Leontes in what he conceived to be his own image. For Leontes, while also a symbol of entrenched if not tyrannical power, is of course largely Oxford again, but Oxford in a moment of revulsion, scorning himself for his own iniquities.”

As the Ogburns see it, Oxford was “willing to pillory himself” and have it seem he was simply portraying his own former jealousy and personal tyranny, when in fact Leontes also represents English authority in the person of Burghley and the English peers (including himself) who participated in the legalistic formality of a unanimous verdict that was a foregone conclusion. So in the play Leontes accuses Hermoine not only of adultery but also of conspiring with Polixenes to murder him – reflecting the accusation by Elizabeth (and Burghley) that Mary Stuart was plotting to kill her.

Leontes declares his own baby girl a bastard and orders Paulina’s husband Antigonous to take the child “to some remote and desert place” and leave it there at the mercy of the elements. After Hermione is presumed dead, Antigonous names his tiny charge Perdita and abandons her on the stormy coast of Bohemia with his own “character” or written account of what happened. In other words, Antigonous is a writer who has set down the truth and left it for posterity; but in the next moment he sees some hideous beast coming toward him and yells to himself that he must get back to the ship.

exit pursued by a bear

“This is the chase! I am gone for ever!” he cries, running off, and the playwright adds his famous stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

A Shepherd arrives, then a Clown, who tells him how the bear caught up to the man and “tore out his shoulder-bone.” The man “cried to me for help and said his name was Antigonous, a nobleman.” So this truth-telling nobleman-writer has been torn apart by the bear. He “roared and the bear mocked him,” the Clown says, adding the beast has “half dined” on him and is still “at it now.” Later the Clown reveals that “authority be a stubborn bear” – that is, the bear is allegorically the figure of authority or officialdom, which has silenced the nobleman-writer.

Edward de Vere can be seen now as depicting himself briefly as the truth-telling nobleman who refers to himself in Antigonous’s exit line: “I am gone for ever!” – the way Oxford alluded to his own name, E. Ver, in earlier verses with lines such as, “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?” and the echo’s response: “Vere.”

Why write I still all one, ever the same…
That every word doth almost tell my name? – Sonnet 76

If Oxford uses Antigonous here to stand for himself, the nobleman-author, might it be that the baby Perdita in this scene represents the earl’s plays? Has “authority” directed Oxford to abandon any claim to his writings? “Weep I cannot, but my heart bleeds,” Antigonous cries as he sets down “this poor wretch” in the wilderness, adding that “most accursed am I to be by oath enjoined to this.”

Has officialdom or the stubborn bear of authority, in the form of Queen Elizabeth and Lord Burghley, imposed an oath of secrecy upon Oxford?

If so, he would have taken such an oath when, on June 25, 1586, four months before Mary Stuart’s treason trial, Elizabeth had signed a Privy Seal Warrant for a grant to Oxford of one thousand pounds, an extraordinary sum to be paid to him annually by the Exchequer. [My own belief is that Oxford had been selling his land and spending his own money on his play companies and to support the writers under his patronage, so that now he was being repaid.] The warrant gave no hint of the reason for the grant and expressly stated, in the Queen’s own words, that the earl was exempt from accounting for its expenditure.

But in return, was Oxford now being mauled and slowly devoured by authority, the stubborn bear?

And art made tongue-tied by authority – Sonnet 66

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed by beheading on February 8, 1587.

Oxford had returned to Anne by Christmas, 1581; she died on June 8, 1588, having given birth to three surviving children, all daughters.

The Spanish armada arrived later in the summer of 1588, but failed to land on English soil much less to conquer England.

In the next five years most of the writers under Oxford’s patronage would be gone — Lyly out of a job; Kyd dying after being tortured on the rack; Marlowe killed; Greene dying; Watson dying; Lodge leaving England, and so on.

By 1590 Oxford had retired from the royal court, becoming a virtual recluse; he remarried by early 1592 and his second wife, the Maid of Honor Elizabeth Trentham, gave birth to a son in Feburary 1593, naming him Henry de Vere, the future eighteenth Earl of Oxford – the first Henry of the more than 500-year-old Vere lineage.

“Shakespeare” abruptly appeared in print for the first time later in 1593, on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothseley, third Earl of Southampton.

On May 22, 1594, Edward White registered a play entitled A Winter’s Night Pastime for publication, which the editor Edmund Malone understood to be The Winter’s Tale . In November of 1611 came a notation in the Revels Accounts of a performance of The Winter Night’s Tale at the James court. Clearly the earliest version of The Winter’s Tale as by “Shakespeare,” first printed in the Folio of 1623, had been written much earlier.

Number 91 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford Wrote the Poems, Plays and Sonnets of William Shakespeare — “The Winter’s Tale” – Part One

Traditional Shakespeare scholarship offers many examples of what happens when a literary or dramatic work is viewed with the wrong author in mind. Using an incorrect biography as a guide is equivalent to following the wrong road map. As Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. has reminded us with a different metaphor: “A skier starting off from the top of the mountain in a slightly different direction ends up at a very different place at the bottom.” And a scholar starting off with a faulty authorship premise inevitably runs into an ever-expanding muddle of speculations.

winter's tale 1890

In the case of The Winter’s Tale, printed initially in the First Folio of 1623, viewing the play as by William Shaksper of Stratford has led many scholars to conclude it was written in 1611. Edmund Malone (1741-1812) believed that an otherwise unknown play A Winter Night’s Pastime, registered in 1594, represents an earlier attempt to print the Shakespeare play; but the later date of composition is usually cited.

An example of following the wrong road map is Stephen Greenblatt’s suggestion at the end of Will in the World (2004) that Shakspere decided by 1610 or so to “enact a final, fantastic theatrical experiment” — which had nothing to do with acting or writing, but, rather, with taking on “the everyday life of a country gentleman.” He would “return to the place from which he had come,” perhaps drawn home by a motive that “seems to lie in plain sight” within what are assumed to be among his final plays.

This motive involved a woman twenty years younger than he, the woman “who most intensely appealed to Shakespeare” during his entire lifetime — none other than his daughter Susanna!

Perdita Daughter of King Leontes & Queen Hermoine (Henrietta L. Palmer, 1859)

Daughter of King Leontes & Queen Hermoine
(Henrietta L. Palmer, 1859)

“It cannot be an accident,” Greenblatt writes, “that three of his last plays – Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest – are centered on the father-daughter relationship and are so deeply anxious about incestuous desires.” What the author really wanted was “the pleasure of living near his daughter and her husband and their child,” even though this pleasure had “a strange, slightly melancholy dimension, a joy intimately braided together with renunciation.”

So here is a leading orthodox scholar trying to link up the author’s work with his life (an implicit acknowledgment that literary biography is useful), but doing so by using pure invention. Well, yes, Shaksper did spend his final years in Stratford, but was he really obsessed with gnawing “incestuous desires” toward his daughter? And does this really help us understand those three plays? I’d say we’re following the wrong road in the wrong territory and about to drive off the proverbial cliff…

On the other hand, another reason to conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” is that his authorship places the initial writing of The Winter’s Tale all the way back (by a quarter century) to 1584-1586 and opens up a wealth of far more plausible motives and connections, based on key circumstances or events such as:

• His jealous rage at his wife Anne Cecil and rejection of the girl Elizabeth Vere, who was born in 1575 while the earl was on the Continent – mirrored in the play by the jealous rage of King Leontes against his wife Hermoine, plus his order that her newborn infant girl, Perdita, be burned alive.

Elizabeth de Vere, Daughter of Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil, born in 1575  (Countess of Derby as of 1595)

Elizabeth de Vere, Daughter of Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil, born in 1575
(Countess of Derby as of 1595)

• The Duchess of Suffolk’s scheme in 1577 to trick Oxford into seeing two-year-old Elizabeth Vere without revealing the girl’s identity at first – as Lady Paulina tries to trick Leontes.

• The rise at Court of Sir Walter Raleigh and his expeditions in the 1580s to the New World, including the colonization of Virginia, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth – as indicated by repeated allusions in the play to Raleigh and his affairs.

• The treason trial of Mary, Queen of Scots in October 1586, when Oxford sat at the head of the row of peers on the tribunal — as mirrored by the treason trial of Hermione.

Then, too, viewing Oxford as the playwright lends personal links to the sources, for example:

Statue of Hermoine William Hamilton, R. A. Robert Thew, Engraving

Statue of Hermoine
William Hamilton, R. A.
Robert Thew, Engraving

• The miracle of a statue coming to life in The Winter’s Tale is to be found in the story of Pygmalion and Galatea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses – leading us back to the 1567 translation used by “Shakespeare” and credited to Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding, but more likely translated by the young earl himself (starting when he became a royal ward in the 1560s, living under the same roof with Golding at Cecil House).


• The source of the main plot of The Winter’s Tale is commonly regarded as the novel Pandosto, or the Triumph of Time by Robert Greene, first printed in 1588; but once again we are led straight to Edward de Vere, who had been that writer’s patron from at least 1580 and so had firsthand knowledge of the novel well before its publication. (Some researchers believe Oxford had used “Robert Greene” as a pen name and had written Pandosto himself.)

• The traditional author’s biography has made it impossible for “Shakespeare” to read Greek dramas in their original language, but Oxford had the ability to read them — for example, Euripedes’ Alcestis, which, as Earl Showerman has shown, provides much more emotional depth of the kind created in The Winter’s Tale.

The entrance of Edward de Vere as author has also overturned some oft-repeated misstatements about the “ignorance” of Shakespeare and his “mistakes,” such as:

• Near the end of The Winter’s Tale the statue of Hermione is described as “a piece many years in doing and now newly performed by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape: he so near to Hermoine hath done Hermione, that they say one would speak to her and stand in hope of answer.”

Titian Portrait of Guilio Romano, c/ 1536

Titian Portrait of Guilio Romano, c/ 1536

For a long time scholars believed that Romano was a painter, not also a sculptor, but Oxford had traveled through northern Italy and could not have avoided seeing Romano’s work in Mantua. The earl would have known that Romano was famed for statues that he constructed out of powdered marble and painted to be extraordinarily lifelike. (The Wikipedia page for Guilio Romano still asserts that he was not a sculptor.)

• Act Three, Scene Three opens with Antigonous saying to a mariner, “Thou art perfect, then, our ship hath touched upon the deserts of Bohemia?” Although Ben Jonson and subsequent critics accused Shakespeare of being unaware that Bohemia was landlocked, Oxford spent several months in Venice and, eager to learn the history of the region, would have found out that in the thirteenth century the King of Bohemia had ruled territories stretching to the Adriatic Sea – making it possible, in fact, for someone to sail from Sicily to Bohemia.

Part Two of Reason No. 91 will take a closer look at links between Oxford’s life and The Winter’s Tale.

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