Part Two of Reason 91 that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”: The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots is Echoed at Queen Hermione’s Trial in “The Winter’s Tale”

In September 1586, after being arrested for sanctioning an attempted assassination of Elizabeth I of England, the long-held captive Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots was brought to Fortheringhay Castle, where this proud Catholic monarch would be put on trial for high treason. At 9 a.m. on October 15th, Mary entered the room directly above the Great Hall — left alone to defend herself before a tribunal of thirty-six noblemen, each of whom was expected to vote guilty and then vote to sentence her to death.

Contemporary Sketch  Mary Stuart Trial (Click for Larger View)

Contemporary Sketch
Mary Stuart Trial
(Click for Larger View)

At the head of the row of peers was Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England. Now in his thirty-seventh year, he had arrived at a front-row seat for the most dramatic and emotionally wrenching treason trial of the Elizabethan reign. [Transcripts of State Trials.] And once Oxford is viewed as writing an early version of The Winter’s Tale soon afterward, the scene of Queen Hermione’s treason trial becomes his own daring cry of compassion for Mary Stuart — not to mention his equally dangerous protest against governmental authority in the form of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, his father-in-law, who was determined to destroy the Queen of Scots and be rid of the continual plots centered around her.

The similarities of the historical and fictional trials are striking; and one, in particular, would seems to comprise convincing evidence that Edward de Vere wrote the “Shakespeare” play. This resemblance involves the use of the phrase “great grief,” which Oxford heard spoken by the Lord Chancellor as he opened the proceedings against Mary: “The most high and mighty Queen Elizabeth, being not without great grief of mind, being advertised that you have conspired the Destruction of her and of England…”

And at the top of Act Three Scene Two of The Winter’s Tale, when King Leontes opens the treason trial of his wife Hermione, he uses the same phrase: “This sessions, to our great grief we pronounce, even pushes ‘gainst our heart…”

Mary Stuart 1542 - 1587

Mary Stuart
1542 – 1587

The phrase “great grief” by itself would have gained Oxford’s attention – not just for its alliteration, but also because he himself seemed personally fond of “grief” (or “griefs”), having employed the word in several of his verses in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, first printed a decade earlier: “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground (ending each of three stanzas) … Uncomely love, which now lurks in my breast,/ Should cease my grief … Bewray thy grief, thou woeful heart with speed … I, Hannibal, that smile for grief … ”

Secondly it would seem no accident that “great grief” is used at the very opening of Mary Stuart’s trial and also at the opening of Hermione’s trial, both uttered in the same emotionally charged atmosphere and within the same context. And when “great grief” is heard ten days later in the historical episode, it’s used unforgettably by the Queen of England herself. With her second cousin Mary Stuart having been pronounced guilty and sentenced to die, Elizabeth addressed the peers (including Oxford) in the Star Chamber at Westminster, telling them they “have brought me to a narrow strait, that I must give order for her death, a princess most nearly allied unto me in blood, and whose practices against me have stricken me into so great grief …”

Most speakers uttering “great grief” will automatically lay stress upon those two words; and in both instances of the phrase spoken during Mary Stuart’s ordeal, Oxford most certainly heard it ringing in his ears – so its utterance by King Leontes at the opening of Hermoine’s trial in The Winter’s Tale becomes a small but potentially potent piece of evidence that Edward de Vere was the author. But there are other strong similarities (of tone or attitude, as well as arguments) between the speeches at the historical and fictional treason trials, such as the following examples:

Trial of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots

Trial of Mary Stuart
Queen of Scots

“I am an absolute queen, and will do nothing which may prejudice either mine own royal majesty, or other princes of my place and rank, or my son … I am a queen by right of birth and have been consort of a king of France; my place should be there, under the dias … I am the daughter of James V, King of Scotland, and grand-daughter of Henry VII …”

“She answered that she was no subject, and rather would she die a thousand deaths than acknowledge herself a subject, considering, that by such an acknowledgment she should both prejudice the height of regal majesty, and withal confess herself to be bound by all the laws of England, even in the matter of religion.”

For behold me,
A fellow of the royal bed, which owe
A moiety of the throne, a great king’s daughter,
The mother to a hopeful prince, here standing
To prate and talk for life and honor ‘fore
Who please to come and hear.

“Alas! Here are many counselors, but not one for me! … I am destitute of counselors, and who shall be my peers I am utterly ignorant!”

“Nevertheless she was ready to answer to all things in a free and full parliament, for that she knew not whether this meeting and assembly were appointed against her, being already condemned by fore-judging, to give some show and color of a just and legal proceeding.”

[This] is more than history can pattern, though devised
And played to take spectators…

“She warned them therefore to look to their consciences …”

I appeal
To your own conscience …

Mary Stuart Portrait

Mary Stuart Portrait

“My Papers and Notes are taken from me, and no man dareth step forth to be my advocate … To the judgment of mine adversaries, amongst whom I know all defense of mine innocence will be barred flatly, I will not submit myself.”

Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ‘Not guilty.’ Mine integrity,
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
Be so received. But thus, if powers divine
Behold our human actions (as they do),
I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush, and tyranny
Tremble at patience…

“For we princes are set as it were upon stages, in the sight and view of all the world … It behooves us therefore to be careful that our proceedings be just and honorable.”

Let us be cleared
Of being tyrannous, since we so openly
Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,
Even to the guilt or the purgation.

Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed.
But yet hear this: mistake me not: no life,
I prize it not a straw, but for mine honor,
Which I would free: if I shall be condemned
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
‘Tis rigor and not law…

The Emperor of Russia was my father:
O that he were alive, and here beholding
His daughter’s trial! That he did but see
The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge!

Oxford’s sympathetic portrait of Mary Stuart may well have prevented any public performance of The Winter’s Tale until after Elizabeth’s death and the succession of Mary’s son, James Stuart, King of Scotland, as James I of England. On the other hand, Michael Delahoyde notes Isaac Asimov’s suggestion that “the original audience might have experienced a sense of ‘familiarity’ with the trial scene,” in that Henry VIII tried Anne Boleyn after flying into an irrational fit of jealousy the way King Leontes loses all rationality in the play. If so, Oxford could have covered himself by telling Elizabeth he was really writing about the unfair trial of her own mother…

When academia begins to take the Shakespeare authorship question more seriously, comparisons between life and art will be studied in much greater depth. For students of the near and distant future, there’s much work to be done!

(To be continued — and concluded — with Part Three)

Reason No. 21 to Believe Oxford = “Shakespeare” – All That Suspicion and Jealousy!

When first learning about Edward de Vere and his relationship to “Shakespeare,” I was startled to see a letter written by his wife Anne Cecil in December 1581.  Oxford had flown into a rage over Court gossip in 1576 that he was not the father of the baby girl (Elizabeth Vere) to whom she had given birth the previous year when he was in Italy.  Besieged by doubts, and furious that the scandal had become “the fable of the world,” he separated from her and refused to acknowledge the child.

Othello and Desdemona

Now, five years later, they had begun to communicate again; and Anne wrote to him from the Westminster home of her father William Cecil Lord Burghley, pleading:

“My Lord – In what misery I may account myself to be, that neither can see any end thereof nor yet any hope to diminish it – and now of late having had some hope in my own conceit that your Lordship would have renewed some part of your favor that you began to show me this summer…”

I paused and wondered:  What does this remind me of?  Where did I hear something like this before?

“Now after long silence of hearing anything from you, at the length I am informed – but how truly I know not, and yet how uncomfortably I do not seek it – that your Lordship is entered into misliking of me without any cause in deed or thought.” 

The first quarto of "Othello" - 1622, one year before the First Folio of plays appeared

Well, yes, of course … Desdemona, wife of Othello…

“And therefore, my good Lord, I beseech you in the name of God, which knoweth all my thoughts and love towards you, let me know the truth of your meaning towards me, upon what cause you are moved to continue me in this misery, and what you would have me do in my power to recover your constant favor, so as your Lordship may not be led still to detain me in calamity without some probable cause, whereof, I appeal to God, I am utterly innocent.”

I had played the part of Cassio way back in college, but now the final scenes came back to me with sudden vividness … the way Desdemona was so baffled by Othello’s suspicions and accusations … how she begged him to reveal the torturous contents of his mind … how she was so helpless, in the face of his blind rage … how she was left to merely plead her innocence… plaintively telling Iago, the very manipulator who had roused Othello’s jealousy in the first place:

“Alas, Iago, what shall I do to win my lord again?  Good friend, go to him; for, by this light of heaven, I know not how I lost him.  Here I kneel: If e’er my will did trespass ‘gainst his love either in discourse of thought or actual deed … comfort forswear me!  Unkindness may do much, and his unkindness may defeat my life, but never taint my love.”

Yes, I thought … Anne Cecil could have been saying the same words…

If Oxford was Shakespeare, I mused, then Anne’s statement “I am utterly innocent” from the depths of her heart echoes in the play when, after Othello strangles Desdemona to death, Iago’s wife Emilia shouts at him: “Nay, lay thee down and roar, for thou hast killed the sweetest innocent that e’er did lift up eye!”  And later, when Iago stabs Emilia, she cries to  Othello again before dying: “Moor, she was chaste!  She loved thee, cruel Moor!”

Suspicion and jealousy run through other Shakespearean plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter’s Tale.  Hamlet turns on his fiancé Ophelia, distrusting her and complaining that “the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness.”  The prince is coming unglued, with young Ophelia crying out, “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!”

“Good my Lord,” Anne Cecil wrote to Edward de Vere again in December 1581, “assure yourself it is you whom only I love and fear, and so am desirous above all the world to please you…”

She died less than seven years later, at the much-too-young age of thirty-one, having suffered emotional strains that we can only imagine.  Oxford had had his complaints about Anne acting too much on her father’s side, much as Hamlet reacts to Ophelia’s spying on him for her father; but on the other side of the coin, he may well have blamed himself for his wife’s early death.  Once the earl is viewed at the great author, he may be seen drawing upon these upheavals in his own life, including his remorse, for his portrayals of Desdemona’s plight and Ophelia’s madness followed by her apparent suicide.

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham-Carter in the Franco Zeffirelli film of "Hamlet" in 1990

When Hamlet sees her brother Laertes leap into her grave, he holds nothing back:  “What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis?  Whose phrase of sorrow conjures the wand’ring stars and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers?  This is I, Hamlet the Dane!”  He leaps into the grave with Laertes; and after they nearly fight: “I loved Ophelia!  Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum!”

The prince’s grief and anger, his mixture of rage and guilt, are all palpable as he challenges Laertes: “What wilt thou do for her? … Woo’t weep?  Woo’t fight?  Woo’t fast?  Woo’t tear thyself?  Woo’t drink up eisell?  Eat a crocodile?  I’ll do’t!  Dost thou come here to whine?  To outface me with leaping in her grave? … Nay … I’ll rant as well as thou!”

During the final scene of that long-ago college production of Othello, I never failed to experience a wave of gut-wrenching emotion as the Moor begs for any crumbs of sympathy or empathy before taking his own life:

“Soft you; a word or two before you go.  I have done the state some service, and they know’t – no more of that,” he says, and we might well hear Oxford himself, speaking of his own service to the state as a playwright and patron of writers as well as acting companies that performed around the countryside to rouse national unity against the coming Spanish invasion by armada – which England survived in the summer of 1588, just a few months after Anne Cecil’s death.

“I pray you,” Othello continues, “in your letters, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.  Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well; of one not easily jealous but, being wrought, perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand, like the base Indian, threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood*, drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees their medicinable gum…”

I believe we are listening to Edward de Vere expressing his own measureless sorrow over the wreckages of his past – another reason to believe he was the man “Shakespeare” who had written The Tragedy of Othello printed for the first time in 1622.

 * “One whose subdued eyes, unused to the melting mood” is echoed when Oxford speaks personally in Sonnet 30:  “Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow…”

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