Reason No. 6 why Oxford was “Shakespeare”: John Lyly

Let us begin with a brief episode in the imagination of Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare:
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“At some moment in the late 1580’s, Shakespeare walked into a room — most likely, an inn in Shoreditch, Southwark, or the Bankside — and quite possibly found many of the leading writers drinking and eating together: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Watson, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Thomas Nashe, and Robert Greene.  Other playwrights might have been there as well — Thomas Kyd, for example, or John Lyly…”
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Shakespeare & His Writing Pals at the Mermaid Tavern (and if you believe that one...)

That is the entire presence in Will in the World of John Lyly, the principal Court dramatist in the 1580’s and a pivotal figure of the English renaissance.  Professor Greenblatt makes no  mention of Lyly’s twelve-year literary apprenticeship under the guidance of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, paving the way for the Court comedies of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s.  Not a word more about this individual who is crucial to the story of “how Shakespeare became Shakespeare.”
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John Lyly is offered here as reason no. 6 — another link in the chain of evidence — that Edward de Vere (1550-1604) was the greatest writer of the English language.
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The Anatomy of Wit, 1579, at the dawn of the English novel. Lyly may have held the pen, but Oxford was standing right over him...

Lyly’s extravagant novels and courtly comedies of the 1580’s are viewed as a major influence on Shakespeare’s early plays. He was employed as Oxford’s private secretary and theatrical manager until 1590, when the earl withdrew from public life, and then in 1593 the name “Shakespeare” appeared in print [on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton].
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Lyly is credited with writing the first English novels, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit in 1579 and Euphues & His England in 1580, both featuring an Italianized Englishman.  He had been recruited in 1577 by William Cecil Lord Burghley, who introduced him to his Italianized son-in-law, Edward de Vere, to whom Lyly dedicated Euphues & His England with strong hints that Oxford had taken an active part in its writing.
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Oxford was leader of England’s new literary movement and the young writers under his wing, later dubbed the University Wits, all dedicated their “euphuistic” works to him.
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The writers included Anthony Munday, who wrote to the earl about “the day when as conquerors we may peacefully resume our delightful literary discussions.” They included Robert Greene, who wrote to Oxford:  “And your Honor, being a worthy favorer and fosterer of learning, hath forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first-fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.” Among them was also Thomas Watson, who thanked Oxford for having “willingly vouchsafed the acceptance” of his work “and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”
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Edward de Vere was deeply involved with these writers and their works, which contained a wealth of metaphor and creative jugglings of words and sentences — all handled with flawless ease by “Shakespeare” in Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1590’s for aristocratic audiences and Elizabeth at Court.
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Traditional biography requires that young Will of Stratford had to somehow absorb, master and even surpass the “euphuistic” outpourings of the University Wits within just a few years.  The glover’s son, newly arrived in London, had to quickly become the foremost dramatist of courtly love and genteel romance, a peerless practitioner of elaborate puns, repetitions, alliterations, high-flown rhetorical digressions and fanciful references to classical mythology and natural history.
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Love’s Labour’s Lost is said by orthodox scholars to have been written circa 1592; it  was  first published in 1598.  For that ultra-sophisticated court comedy “Shakespeare” had to know about a visit in 1578 by Catherine de Medici and her daughter Marquerite de Valois, wife of King Henry of Navarre, to Nerac; he needed intimate knowledge of the philosophical debating societies or academes establishd in France and Italy; and he had to know the characters and plots of commedia dell’arte, the comedy form that had become popular in Italy.
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Love's Labour's Lost was first printed in 1598, but the title page indicates that an earlier version has been revised

When Oxford was in his mid-twenties in 1575 he spent several weeks in Paris, where he was entertained at the French court by Henry III, Catherine de Medici and Marguerite de Valois.  He then spent a year traveling in Italy, where he attended performances of commedia dell ‘arte, and in fact an eyewitness account reported that he joined a hilarious skit that involved jousting with a woman and falling from his horse and rolling on the ground.
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Shakespeare’s other comedies of the 1590’s, all viewed as indebted to writings attributed to Lyly, included The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night.
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In his three-volume Complete Works of John Lyly in 1902, R. W. Bond wrote that Lyly was “the first regular English dramatist, the true inventor and introducer of dramatic style, conduct and dialogue. There is no play before Lyly. He wrote eight; and immediately thereafter England produced some hundreds — produced that marvel and pride of the greatest literature in the world, the Elizabethan Drama.”
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Bond wrote of “the immense superiority” of Lyly’s work “to anything that preceded it” and cited “his prime importance as Shakespeare’s chief master and exemplar. In comedy Lyly is Shakespeare’s only model.  The evidence of Shakespeare’s study and imitation of him is abundant, and Lyly’s influence is of a far more permanent nature than any exercised on the great poet by other writers.”
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The Life and Complete Works of Lyly by Bond - 1902

Bond speculated that Lyly “first received the dramatic impulse” from his master Lord Oxford; but the extent of Oxford’s role was virtually unknown until 1912, when a professor at the University of Nebraska published a remarkable discovery.  Charles William Wallace, PhD reported in The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare that he had found records showing that Edward de Vere had contributed far more to that “evolution” than scholars had realized.
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Wallace focused on the private Blackfriars theatre, where plays were rehearsed in front of aristocrats before being brought to the royal court.  Blackfriars Playhouse faced deep legal and financial troubles in 1583, but then a nobleman intervened behind the scenes:
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“The Earl of Oxford, himself celebrated in his day as a dramatist, came to the rescue.  Noted alike as swaggerer, roisterer,brawler, coxcomb, musician, poet, Maecenas, the earl was also the devoted patron of John Lyly, whose ‘Euphues’ had made a stir in all England during the past three years.  He believed in Lyly’s literary ability.  so he bought the Blackfriars lease [and] made a present of it to Lyly … Thereafter we hear of John Lyly as presenting two plays at Court in the winter of 1583-84 with the Earl of Oxford’s servants, and also [a year later] … the same Earl of Oxford’s Boys at Court.”
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During the Christmas season of 1584, Wallace noted, Oxford’s boy actors performed the anonymous Agamemnon and Ulysees before Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace; and he speculated that Oxford himself could have written the play.  Meanwhile Endymion, The Man in the Moon, another play attributed [much later] to Lyly and performed for her Majesty, was unmistakably about Oxford-in relation to the Queen, frequently called the Goddess of the Moon.
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A Play for the Queen with Oxford portrayed as Endymion, the Lead Charater

When J. Thomas Looney published his identification of Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, he noted Bond’s statements about Lyly having probably “first received the dramatic impulse” from the earl, along with the passage in The Arte of English Poesie of 1589 wherein Oxford was cited as “deserving the highest praise for comedy and interlude” [although, mysteriously, none of his comedies were known to have survived]; and he concluded:
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“The work of Oxford in drama is therefore recognized as having furnished the generative impulse which produced Lyly’s work in this particular domain.  Therefore we feel quite entitled to say that it was the plays of Edward de Vere that furnished Lyly’s dramatic education, while contact with his master is a recognized force in his personal education.  The dramas of Edward de Vere form the source from which sprang Lyly’s dramatic conceptions and enterprises, and Lyly’s dramas appear as the chief model, in comedy the ‘only’ model, upon which ‘Shakespeare’ worked. We are therefore entitled to claim that the highest orthodox authorities, in the particular department of literature with which we are dealing, support the view that the dramatic activities of Edward de Vere stand in almost immediate productive or causal relationship of a most distinctive character with the dramatic work of ‘Shakespeare.'”
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Lyly was identified in 1632 as the author of those Court Comedies of the 1580's, but all his writing was produced when working with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Oxford had been the sun from which  Lyly had drawn his light.
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The only work for which Lyly is credited was produced during the years he worked for Oxford.
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After Oxford withdrew from public life in 1590, no more writing attributed to Lyly came forth.
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Isn’t it far more logical that “Shakespeare” never had draw his light from Lyly, but, rather, that Edward de Vere continued as the same great source of light in 1n the 1590’s, as he develped even more dramatic power under the “Shakespeare” pen name?
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Campaspe, 1584 (One of my favorite plays - HW)

An honest account of what led to “Shakespeare” would find Edward de Vere standing in the wings.
It would not require an imagined scene in a tavern with all of Oxford’s proteges talking and drinking around a table … all part of orthodoxy’s necessary trivialization of the knowledge, experience and artistic growth of the true Shakespeare.

A Sharply Critical Review of Stephen Greenblatt’s New Book by William Niederkorn

I’d like to recommend a review by William S. Niederkorn, formerly of the New York Times, in the current Brooklyn Rail – Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics, and Culture.

William Niederkorn

He reviews Shakespeare’s Freedom (a series of lectures) the latest book from Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt, whom he calls “The Bard’s Evangelist.”

Greenblatt’s biographical fantasy Will in the World (2004) was a bestseller despite the fact that it demonstrated (yet again) the lack of evidence that William of Stratford could even write, much less create plays such as Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Richard III, Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, etc., etc.

My only question is whether, deep down, Professor Greenblatt actually believes the things he conjectures about the man who was Shakespeare.

"Shakespeare's Freedom" by Stephen Greenblatt

For example, in the “biography” mentioned above he turns to the question of how in blazes the newly arrived actor from Warwickshire came to write seventeen private sonnets urging the seventeen-year-old Earl of Southampton to hurry up and marry and have a child to continue his bloodline … not to mention how the actor-poet could have had the courage (and sheer madness) to lecture and even scold the earl for refusing to obey — “Murderous shame! … Profitless usurer!” — and finally to beg him to beget a child in the most personal way:  “Make thee another self for love of me.”

The circumstance in the early 1590’s was that Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister William Cecil Lord Burghley was pressuring Southampton, a royal ward in his custody, to marry his own granddaughter, the fifteen-year-old Lady Elizabeth Vere, daughter [of record] of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford … who, according to the ever-growing evidence, was the true “Shakespeare.”

Stephen Greenblatt

It is possible,” Greenblatt wrote, in effect warning us he was about to take a wild and totally unsupported guess, “that some one, either in the circle of Burghley or in the circle of Southampton’s mother, had taken note of the fact that the young earl was excited by the talents or by the person of an actor who was also a promising poet.”

How could the professor write such stuff?

“Whoever noticed this excitement – and a wealthy nobleman’s slightest inclinations would have been carefully watched – might well have had the clever idea of commissioning the poet to try his hand at persuading the narcissistic, effeminate young earl to marry.  Such a commission would help to account for the first seventeen of the extraordinary sequence of 154 sonnets…”

Sir George Greenwood

Let’s call upon Sir George Greenwood, whose 1908 book The Shakespeare Problem Restated still stands as a classic in the anti-Stratfordian world.  Oh, how I’d love to see a debate between Greenblatt and Greenwood on the authorship question; I have no doubt that the latter would win hands down.

“The idea that Will Shakspere, the young provincial actor,” Sir George wrote,  “was writing a succession of impassioned odes to the young Earl of Southampton, urging him to marry at once and become a father ‘for love of me’ appears to me, in the absence of anything like cogent evidence to that effect, simply preposterous.”

He was right.  And if he’d heard Greenblatt’s suggestion that Shakspere of Stratford might have been “commissioned” to write the sonnets urging Southampton to marry and procreate, he would have thought it even more preposterous!

“In Shakespeare’s Freedom,” Niederkorn writes, “Greenblatt is careful to avoid authorship issues and the sticky problems that he and a considerable majority of Shakespeare professors refuse to face as they ridicule the subject and preclude it from academic study.”

Among those problems, he notes, is the “vexing question” of how Shakespeare escaped punishment for his play Richard II, which the Queen herself knew had been used as propaganda for the Essex Rebellion of February 8, 1601, whose leaders (Essex and Southampton) were accused and found guilty of high treason.

Niederkorn’s final lines in the review amount to a direct hit against the “scholarship” of Professor Greenblatt, who, he reminds us, has equated doubts about the authorship to “claims that the Holocaust did not occur.”

I won’t steal Niederkorn’s thunder by repeating his final lines, but I will take this opportunity to commend him for having the courage to raise his voice amid the crowd and to speak the truth that’s finally coming to light — the truth that “Shakespeare” was not, after all, the man named William Shakspere of Stratford.

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