“The Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty’s Chapel, for Comedy and Enterlude” – No. 56 of 100 Reasons Why Oxford Was “Shakespeare”

“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

Richard Edwards, the Elizabethan musician and poet, 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 the seventeenth Earl of Oxford arrived in London at age twelve as the first of Elizabeth’s royal wards.  The young earl’s father had maintained his own acting troupe, which had performed at the family home of Castle Hedingham in Essex, and Oxford’s childhood love of plays and theatrical productions never left him.  During the rest of his life he would actively patronize the Chapel Children and the Children of St. Paul’s (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 Richard Edwards was performed by the Chapel Children for Elizabeth and the Royal Court at Whitehall Palace.  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 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 Shakespeare’s habit of using foreign settings to reflect England itself.

The prologue of Damon and Pithias, 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 Edward de Vere collaborate on Damon and Pithias with Master Edwards, as the The Arte of English Poesie suggests?  Or, in fact, was the teen-age royal ward 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 Edward de Vere, now sixteen, with his honorary MA 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.

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, so that once Elizabeth and her Court were seated, the incoming crowd swelled to the point that a wall by the stairs ripped away, crushing three individuals to death and injuring five others.  Elizabeth sent for her own doctors to help and, 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 it’s often cited as a source of The Two Noble Kinsman, printed nearly seventy years later in 1634 as by John Fletcher (1579-1625) & William Shakespeare.  Scholars have identified the “Shakespearean” sections as well as lesser stuff by Fletcher; but they are baffled as to why the Bard, near the very 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, at sixteen in 1566 – and some of his text survived over the ensuing decades, into the next century, when Fletcher filled in the missing parts (with his own inferior writing) to create The Two Noble Kinsmen.

During the 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 Dream at Court, did she suddenly realize that Oxford must have inserted the hounds as a private, shared recollection of those earlier hounds?

The alleged playwriting career of Richard Edwards lasted just two years.  His death on October 31, 1566 occurred only weeks after Palamon and Arcyte had been staged for the Queen at Oxford.  Then, however, a decade later in 1576 came publication of The Paradise of Dainty Devices, a collection of ninety-nine poems (and/or song lyrics) that Master 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 the Earl of Oxford.

If in fact Edwards had compiled the poems ten years earlier, Oxford would have composed his contributions by age sixteen; but if the earl had done the compiling, he might have written his own poems at any time up to when he was twenty-six in 1576.  Of the nine contributors with their names or initials 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 the Fuller Worthies’ Library of 1872 identified twenty-two Elizabethan poems by Edward de Vere, remarking that “an unlifted shadow lies across his memory.”)

“Shakespeare” would later use part of a song, attributed in The Paradise to Master Edwards, entitled In Commendation of Music (“Where griping grief the heart would wound,” etc.).  The excerpt appears in Romeo and Juliet (4.5):

When griping grief the heart doth wound,

And doleful dumps the mind oppress,

Then mustic with her silver sound…

Hyder Rollins, in his edition of 1927 for Harvard University Press, reports that The Paradise of Dainty Devices 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 poetry was included with many of the new printings.

As stated before in this series of blogs, none of the above material is suggested as “proof” that Edward de Vere Lord Oxford was the writer of the works attributed to “Shakespeare.”  What we have been collecting, instead, is a growing body of circumstantial evidence so overwhelming that it might compel a jury to “convict” Oxford of having written those works.

Richard Edwards, who is No. 56 of 100 Reasons why Oxford was the great author, comprises a striking example of such evidence.  Rather than the traditional Bard of Stratford having to get acces to these sources and digest them for his creative use, we find the teenage Edward de Vere in relationship to the Master of the Chapel Children in terms of an intensely shared interest in music, lyrics, poetry, players and plays – strands of which are all intertwined with, and connected to, the future “Shakespeare” works.

Once the Stratfordian paradigm is dismissed, and the Oxfordian perspective adopted in its place, the pieces immediately start fitting together and making perfect sense.  Here is the stuff of genuine biography, as opposed to the heavily padded but empty life-story the Stratfordians are doomed to keep dishing out — until enough people, undoubtedly students of a new generation, see that the traditional assumptions contradict each other and will not ever work.  Then, once the world realizes where the true treasure is buried in plain sight, the amount of riches to come forth will be blinding.

Important sources for this blog post include:

Dictionary of National Biography on Richard Edwards (1523?-1566)

Frederick Boas: University Drama in the Tudor Age, 1914 (see online link p. 89 +)

Hyder Rollins, The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1927

Katherine Chiljan, “Oxford and Palamon and Arcite,” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Spring 1999

Nina Green in her “Edward de Vere Newsletter” No. 18, August 1990, February 2001

The Bed Trick: Number 36 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“[Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, but the father of the lady Anne [Cecil], 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.”The History and Topography of Essex by Thomas Wright, 1836 – discussing Oxford in relation to his wife Anne and her father William Cecil, Lord Burghley.

Measure“…the 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] is said to proceed.” Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth & King James by Francis Osborne, Esq., 1658.Although these two reports differ in the particulars, they both assert that Edward de Vere had been the victim of a “bed-trick” perpetrated by his wife Anne Cecil [at the bidding of her father, Lord Burghley] – the same situation that “William 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 so-called “bed-trick” became a popular convention by the end of the sixteenth century, but the evidence shows that “Shakespeare” employed it earlier than any other playwright of the English renaissance; and when Oxford is viewed as the great poet-dramatist, the dates of composition go back even earlier.  Whether the incident actually happened or Oxford merely thought so, the story from Thomas Wright [and probably also from Francis Osborne] stems from the royal visit to Hampton Court Palace in October 1574, when Anne Cecil requested additional lodgings so that she might entice her husband to join her, as she wrote to the Earl of 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 that Anne had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in July; and later, upon learning of Court gossip that he had been cuckolded, he came to doubt that 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, the most powerful man in England?  In that case, the girl Elizabeth Vere was in fact his natural child; but 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 rather shocking explanation held by Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare of 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 …”

Cover of Wright’s History of Essex – 1836

While working on his 1920 breakthrough book “Shakespeare” Identified [as Oxford], the British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney realized that Bertram in All’s Well is virtually a self-portrait of Edward de Vere – but only after completing his manuscript did he discover 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 …

“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 [Chapter XVI: “Dramatic Self-Revelation”] with which we are now occupied … 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 such scandalous matters.  After citing the passage from Wright’s History of Essex 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, in her book The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama (1994), states that this plot device appears in at least forty-four plays of the period; but she also reports 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.”  This means that if Oxford was “Shakespeare” we can say with certainty that during 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 it was so.  Oxfordians date the original versions of the plays far earlier than the orthodox dates dictated by the life of William of Stratford.  In the case of the four plays with bed tricks, here are the differences:

All’s Well That Ends Well – tradition is circa 1604, but Oxfordians say 1579 or 1580

Measure for Measure – tradition has 1603-1605, but Oxfordians say 1581-1585

Cymbeline – Orthodox date is 1610, while the Oxfordian date is 1578-1582

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Orthodox date is 1612-13, but Oxfordians say 1566, revised 1594

Reason No. 36 demonstrates yet again how replacing “Shakespeare” with Oxford stands previous scholarship on its head (or turns it inside-out).  The whole picture of “Shakespeare’s” creative process and its journey is transformed!  No wonder the academic world has such built-in resistance to seeing the change of paradigm!

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