One Hundred Reasons Why Oxford Was “Shakespeare” – Starting with No. 1

Dear Reader: From time to time I’ll be re-posting the original blogs (in their original order) that were transformed into the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. Ultimately the blog posts were newly organized and then immensely improved — first with editorial help from Brian Bechtold and then from the primary editor, Alex McNeil, who guided the project to its end.  Today we begin with the first post, the way it originally appeared in early 2011:

There must be at least a hundred reasons for my conclusion that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford wrote the Shakespeare works.  And I figure it would be fun to make a list of such reasons by posting one each day on this blog site, until we get up to the first one-hundred mark.  Where to start?

REASON NO. 1:  Oxford, like Hamlet, was involved with Plays and Play Companies at the Royal Court

The great turning point of the play Hamlet occurs when the Prince contributes some lines for the players in their performance at Court in order that he might “catch the conscience of the king.”  In 1583 the earl of Oxford, in his early thirties, acquired the sublease of the Blackfriars Playhouse in a former monastery.  His children’s group Oxford’s Boys joined up with the Paul’s Boys to form a composite company; then the earl transferred the lease of Blackfriars to his private secretary John Lyly, whose plays were performed by the children for Queen Elizabeth.   A bit earlier Oxford’s own company of boys had given a performance for the Queen of Agamemnon and Ulysses (possibly an early version of Troilus and Cressida).

Hamlet and the Players – “Tales from Shakespeare” by Charles and Mary Lamb, 1901

We can feel the authorial voice in Hamlet’s speeches; his soliloquies sound like echoes of the private and personal sonnets.  The Prince greets the players with that special mixture of affection and condescension that seems to come so naturally to one of such high rank — and so naturally to the author himself.  Such would have been Oxford’s own attitude toward the actors.

But how likely is it that William of Stratford, if he really was an actor, would give his most authorial voice to a prince rather than to one of the players like himself?  How much more likely was it that Lord Oxford, an extraordinarily involved patron of play companies and writers, as well as an acknowledged playwright, used those scenes in Hamlet to depict his own relationship to the players under his patronage at Court?

If William of Stratford had been part of the Court and had brought play companies to perform before the monarch, who would doubt that he created Shakespeare’s great character of Hamlet?  Who would doubt that he captured those wonderful interactions between the prince and the actors?  But it was Oxford who was the highest-ranking nobleman at the Elizabethan Court, and it was he who was in much the same relation to the players as Hamlet — and not the least of Oxford’s motives was to “catch the conscience” of the Queen herself.

So that’s my reason No. 1.

And just 99 to go…

2011 – The Big Year for Edward de Vere?

Happy New Year!  Many of my friends and colleagues (I include myself) in the “Oxfordian” world are starting to feel that this is going to be the “big year” for us — that is, for those of us who have concluded that Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) was the true author of the works printed under the name — the pen name, that is — of William Shakespeare.

Why has this ridiculously optimistic feeling come over us?  Well, let’s see…

First and foremost is that producer-director Roland Emmerich’s feature film Anonymous is set to open in theaters this fall — on Friday, September 23, 2011.  Here’s the idea of Oxford as “Shakespeare” finally on the big screen — for the first time in the ninety-one years since the earl was “identified” in 1920 (by British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney) as the greatest writer of the English language.

Film director Roland Emmerich on the set of "Anonymous," due in theaters in September

Whatever any critic will say about this film, or however any individual viewer reacts to it, or to what extent it does or does not come close to the true history, is beside the point — which is simply that the Shakespeare Authorship Question itself will finally be brought out of hiding … out of the dark cave of censorship and suppression … into the daylight where everybody can see it and evaluate the subject for themselves.

You think this might be a bit of hyperbole?  A little over the top?  Well, when my friend Charles Boyle introduced me to the topic in 1987, I was stunned to hear about it.  Even though I’d gone through the University of Notre Dame in the Theater Department and the Great Books Program, no one had ever even mentioned that there might be a Shakespeare problem, much less that there had been a real-life eccentric, mysterious individual at the Court of Elizabeth the First who could have served as the model for Prince Hamlet.

Mark Rylance as Hamlet

How could not one of my professors or play directors have ever mentioned this to me?  Even if they thought the whole subject was nonsense, why wouldn’t they bring it up?  I ran to the public library (in Portland, Maine, where I lived at the time) and discovered to my shock that right there were at least a dozen books questioning the traditional attribution of Shakespearean authorship — and some fascinating books putting forth the theory that Edward de Vere was the true poet and playwright.

How could I not have known this before?  Over the ensuing years I would discover that many others had experienced the same wonderment — intelligent, educated, well-read men and women who had gone through more than half their lives without an inkling that William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon (1564-1616) might not have been the writer known as William Shakespeare.

I recalled having played the part of Laertes in our production of Hamlet at Notre Dame, and how I’d stood in the wings watching and listening to the late great actor Richard Kavanaugh playing the lead role — and I remembered a specific moment when I heard these lines spoken by the Prince to his young girlfriend Ophelia:

“I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.  I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.  What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?”

Right then it struck me that this was very candid stuff, and very modern in terms of the protagonist of a play, the so-called hero, being so self-critical.  More than that, within those words or behind them seemed to be the voice of the author himself, this great dramatist about whose identity and life I had never given any thought whatsoever!

And a few minutes later, during a break in rehearsals, I walked onto the stage and asked co-director Fred Syberg, “What do we know about Shakespeare?”

“Well,” Fred replied, “he was a guy who went to London and became an actor and started writing plays.  That’s about it.”

Uh-hunh, I thought.  Okay.  Sureand then pushed that little kernel of curiosity back into its cave, back into that darkness where it continued to be hidden from most of the world….

I’ll be back here soon, to continue the subject of why many Oxfordians feel that 2011 is going to be “the big one” for the Shakespeare Authorship Question … a year different from all the other years.  As Bette Davis tells the folks as Margo Channing at the party in All About Eve:  “Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night!”

The Asbourne Portrait of "Shakespeare"

The so-called Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare (note the skull, as in the picture of Hamlet above) “was first brought to light by Clement Usill Kingston in 1847. The painting bore the date 1611 and purported to show William Shakespeare at the age of 47. Subsequently, it was widely reproduced during the 19th century, having entered the canon of Shakespeare portraits.  The identity of the artist is unknown.  It was subsequently altered to cater to
public demand for more pictures of the bard, and conform to 19th century ideas of Shakespeare.  In 1940, Charles Wisner Barrell made a searching investigation of the portrait using modern technologies and concluded the painting was a retouched portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Art historian William Pressly, who catalogued the Folger’s paintings, and directed the 1988 restoration of the work, states that the controversy surrounding the sitter’s identity was resolved in 1979, when restorative work on the painting revealed conclusively that it had been begun as a portrait of Sir Hugh Hamersley.  [Well, now … “conclusively”? – Hmmm– H.W.] The Folger Library dates the painting to 1612, and while stating that most researchers identify the painting’s subject as Sir Hugh Hamersley, notes that some Oxfordians contend it depicts Edward de Vere. It currently hangs in the Folger Shakespeare Library.”  (From Wikipedia – emphases added)

Myth vs. Reality: What do William Shakespeare and Tiger Woods Have in Common?

Frank Rich

An observation by Frank Rich in today’s New York Times (Sunday December 20, 2009) made me think of why most of the world has had such a tough time considering the possibility that Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon was not, after all, the author of the works attributed to the printed name “William Shakespeare.”

Even when we know somewhere deep in our bones that some magnificent myth simply cannot stand up to scrutiny, we go right on tolerating and even mightily defending it.  We go right on, seemingly oblivious to the great gap between a beloved popular belief and what must be the quite different reality behind it.  Such is the case, I believe with the gap between our traditional image of Shakespeare the man and the real person who became the world’s greatest writer.

In his essay in the Sunday Opinion page, Rich had occasion to bring up the Tiger Woods saga:

“What makes the golfing superstar’s tale compelling, after all, is not that he’s another celebrity in trouble or another fallen athletic “role model” in a decade lousy with them.  His scandal has nothing to tell us about race, and nothing new to say about hypocrisy.  The conflict between Tiger’s picture-perfect family life and his marathon womanizing is the oldest of morality tales.

“What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led.  What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it. People wanted to believe what they wanted to believe…”

And this certainly has been true of the virtually universal belief in the myth of the Stratford man as “Shakespeare,” with English and Drama scholars of the academic establishment (instead of the American establishment and news media) actively helping to sustain and enhance it.

I admit that if I’d had the occasion to bet on Tiger’s reality, I’d have taken the side of the “role model” image that we now know was a false one.  The image that “Shakespeare” attended only grammar school at best, that he never traveled to Italy, that he wrote strictly for the box office, that his detailed knowledge and seemingly firsthand experience (which fills entire walls of library shelves) had been acquired by some miracle — at one time in my life, I would have bet on the side of that image, too.  (Too bad Will of Stratford left no voice mail messages behind!)

Now, about that popular myth of the Virgin Queen…

Published in: Uncategorized on December 20, 2009 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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