TO THE READER
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604)
To the Reader
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other
is to refuse to believe what is true.
He made suggestions. We have acted on them.
Such an epitaph would honor us all.
In Anonymous SHAKE-SPEARE. The Man Behind (2011), I tasked myself with establishing a solid argument as to why Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) should be viewed as the author of the works of “William Shakespeare”. This website pursues the same purpose but with a new approach. Using annotated historical source materials, I will paint a comprehensive picture of the “missing author” Edward de Vere in just ten steps. The website covers (or is due to cover) : The history behind the pseudonym WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE. - Annotated key texts by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, which recognise or identify the Earl of Oxford as William Shake-speare. - The first contemporary treatise on WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE from 1593. - All works by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, which could reasonably be ascribed to him as: The Early Works of Shake-speare. - A biography of Edward de Vere as well as documents pertaining to his trip to Italy in 1575/76. - A list of all written sources used by Shake-speare – that is to say a inventory of Oxford's library. Through this work we aim to encourage our readers to form their own ideas about WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE and to continue their endeavours in carrying out research on the man in question.
Gabriel Harvey and Thomas Nashe, two Elizabethan authors addressed the Earl of Oxford as William Shakespeare. These references were later being given confirmation by Shakespeare, in a humorous manner, in Love's Labours Lost. (See 3.1.-3.1.10.) With that, the debate about the authorship of the Shakespearian works is over. Even if there are people who still want to scatter dead flowers onto an empty grave.
Would the Earl of Oxford have been pleased to see his pseudonym made public?
While he was still alive, he could only publish his works under a pseudonym; such was the unwritten law of the aristocratic behavioural codex. It was also important for an author to protect himself from malicious gossip. He did, however, want to be published. We know this from the fact that he introduced himself to the readers of Cardanus Comforte and that he went to so much trouble over the publication of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and the good quartos of the dramas.
In the echo poem for Anne Vavasour, he plays with his own name: “Who was the first that bred in me this fever? Vere.” He names himself “the lustie Ver” (= merry spring) or he laments his sorrows – as “E. O.” – over the “loss of his good name”. Later on, in sonnet 81, he regrets not being able to reveal his real name: “Your name from hence immortal life shall have, / Though I (once gone) to all the world must die”.
The confusion caused by the similarity between his pseudonym and the name of an unimportant actor has nothing to do with the Earl. He would have been vehemently opposed to any plan to use a marionette to obliterate his own name, or dilute his pseudonym. Oxford would have been infuriated and disgusted over various people’s peculiar behaviour after his death, how they erected a monument to the wrong man and how they queued up to scatter flowers over the wrong grave. Surely he would have wanted the matter to be handled truthfully (Vero nihil Verius) – to acknowledge the author and to reinstate his name.
It’s not a question of knowing who wrote the Shakespearian works and then sitting back comfortably, patting oneself on the back (perhaps taking time to poke fun at those who clung on so obstinately, for so long, to the wrong man.)
The consequences that one can take from this knowledge are important; they enable us to read the plays from a different point of view. Now it’s possible to understand the many subtle innuendos that are made with regard to the contemporary background. For the first time in history, we have the opportunity to sort the works in chronological order. Only now can the works that Shakespeare did not write, be removed from the canon. Only now it's possible to analyse a character with regard to the real-life person on whom he is modelled, and to compare a situation in a play with similar situations in the author’s life. The Shakespearian works can be observed in their entirety, enriched with a novel written by the twenty-three years old Shakespeare, not only a wonderful literary work but also an insight into the author’s personality.
To Bill Bryson, who in his short biography of Shakespeare firmly advocates the case of the man of Stratford, who is, as Bryson observes himself, for “being nowhere and everywhere”, the literary equivalent of an electron, we owe a summary of the reasons why, according to the orthodox view, Oxford cannot be Shakespeare. What do I have to argue against it?
1. “Oxford”, so Bryson reports the orthodox viewpoint, “was arrogant, petulant and spoiled, irresponsible with money, sexually dissolute, widely disliked and given to outbursts of deeply unsettling violence. At the age of seventeen he murdered a household servant in a fury (but escaped punishment after a pliant jury was persuaded to rule that the servant had run onto his sword). Nothing in his behaviour, at any point in his life indicated the least gift for compassion, empathy or generosity of spirit – nor indeed the commitment to hard work that would have allowed him to write more than three dozen plays anonymously, in addition to the work under his own name, while remaining actively engaged at court.”
Oxford’s contemporaries, it should be underscored, have contradicted this assessment in every point. The Earl was one of the most generous Maecenases of his time. His extant letters show him to have been sympathetic and very well able of compassion. That the seventeen years old youth lethally hit Thomas Brincknell by accident, posterity cannot judge objectively. And to which arduous labour Oxford was able is shown through the publication of the dramatic novel The Adventures of Master F. I. (with an appendix of fifty poems) at the age of twenty-three. The report, propagated for over three hundred years, about his moral and sexual abjectness, springs from his irascible foe Lord Henry Howard, whom the Encyclopedia Britannica calls “one of the most unscrupulous and traitorous characters of his time.”
2. “Looney (1920) never produced evidence to explain why Oxford – a man of boundless vanity – would seek to hide his identity. Why would he be happy to give the world some unremembered plays and middling poems under his own name, but then retreat into anonymity as he developed, in middle age, a fantastic genius?”
The learned aristocrat had to conceal his identity because, as the great scholar John Selden still in the middle of the seventeenth century held, it was “ridiculous” for a lord to put his verses into print during his lifetime. Still less the courtly aristocratic behavioural codex did allow the Lord Great Chamberlain to publish his dramatical work. Young Oxford chose as his first pseudonym “Meritum petere grave”. He also chose the pseudonyms: “Fortunatus Infoelix”, “My lucke is losse”, “Ignoto” and “Phaeton”. As for the eight printed poetical lamentations signed “E.O.” in 1576, the poet intended them as self-legitimations. Oxford’s “unremembered plays” are Shakespeare plays. And, finally, his early poems are not, as his detractors are wont to rehash, of inferior quality, but are, on the contrary, poetical and intellectual jewels, among them compositions such as “My mind to me a kingdom is”, “A crown of bays” and “If women could be fair”, which reveal Oxford as a stylistic perfectionist only equaled by one other contemporary poet, to wit Shakespeare.
3. “The problems with Oxford don’t end quite there. There is the matter of the dedications to his two narrative poems. At the time of Venus and Adonis, Oxford was forty-four years old and a senior Earl to Southampton, who was till a downy youth. The sycophantic tone of the dedication, with its apology for choosing ‘so strong a prop for so weak a burden’ and its promise to ‘take advantage of all idle hours till I have honoured you with some graver labour’, is hardly the voice one would expect to find from a senior aristocrat to a junior one, particularly one as proud as Oxford.”
Bill Bryson proves himself ignorant of the courtly phraseology of the sixteenth century. The display of modesty is the hallmark of the courtier, a straight application of the rule prescribed by Baldassare Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier: “To make no mistake at all, the courtier should, on the contrary, when he knows the praises he receives are deserved, not assent to them too openly nor let them pass without some protest. Rather he should tend to disclaim them modestly...” A rule so wonderfully pithily epitomized and ironized by the singer Balthasar (perhaps an allusion to Castiglione’s Christian name) in Much Ado About Nothing: “Note this before my notes; / There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.” (II/3) A tinge of irony also shines through Shakespeare’s dedication. Another trope of a courtier’s rhetoric with regard to his own artistic production is found in the dedication: that it was exclusively reserved to “idle hours”. Evidently, Ben Jonson, Chapman and other non-aristocratic authors living of their pen never used it. The dedication of The Rape of Lucrece also points to an aristocratic author; such a dedication, if written by a commoner, would have been presumptuous and foolish: “The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety.”
4. “There is also the unanswered question of why Oxford, patron of his own acting company, the Earl of Oxford’s Men, would write his best work for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a competing troupe.”
Simply because after 1586 Oxford’s company of players became insignificant or was partly transferred to other companies as in the case of the Dutton brothers, who moved to the Queen’s Men.
5. “Then, too, there is the problem of explaining away the many textual references that point to William Shakespeare’s [Shaksper’s] authorship – the pun on Anne Hathaway’s name in the sonnets, for example.”
The lines in sonnet 145 read:
“Those lips that Love’s own hand did make, / Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’ / ... But when she saw my woeful state, / Straight in her heart did mercy come, / Chiding that tongue that ever sweet, / Was used in giving gentle doom: / And taught it thus anew to greet: / ... ‘I hate’, from hate away she threw, / And saved my life saying ‘not you’.”
To make Anne Hathaway, even if she had been bequeathed the second-best bed, into Miss Hate Away does not correspond to Shakespeare’s style. And, then, would Sir Philip Sidney, too, in the ninth song in Astrophel and Stella (c. 1583) have punned on the name Hathaway: “No, she hates me, well-away, / Faining love, somewhat to please me.”
6. “But easily the most troubling weakness of the Oxford argument is that Edward de Vere incontestably died in 1604, when many of Shakespeare’s plays had not yet appeared – indeed in some cases could not have been written, as they were influenced by later events. The Tempest, notably, was inspired by an account of a shipwreck on Bermuda written by one William Strachey in 1609. Macbeth likewise was clearly cognizant of the Gunpowder Plot (1605), an event Oxford did not live to see.”
The Tempest contains no verbatim echoes of Stracheys’s report (written about 1610 but not published until 1625). Shakespeare knew the descriptions of a storm from Ovid, Virgil, and Ariosto, though his own decription is mainly based on Erasmus’ Naufragium (1518) and Richard Eden’s Decades of the New World (1577). The description of the St. Elmo’s fire is not for the first time found in Strachey but almost identically in Erasmus and the third volume of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries (1600). (And why has it never been noted by orthodox scholars that Marston-Chapman-Jonson in Eastward Ho! (1605) not only parody Hamlet but also The Tempest?)
And another thing: There is no connection between Macbeth and the Gunpowder Plot (1605). There is, however , a connection between Macbeth and Henry Garnet’s doctrine of “equivocation”. (Macbeth II/3: “PORTER. Faith, here's an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.”)
But A Treatise of Equivocation was written during Robert Southwell's lifetime, between 1593 and 1595. It is clear that Garnet made some corrections in the time of Queen Elizabeth. The priest declares in his examination that “his correction was made in Queen Elizabeth's time, soon after Mr. Southwell's death .” Six or seven years later the Treatise was printed. “And here,” says the authorized Report of the Proceedings , “was shewed a booke written not long before the Queene's death, at what time Thomas Winter was employed into Spaine , intituled A Treatise of Equivocation , which booke being seene and allowed by Garnet, the Superior of the Jesuits, and Blackwell, the Archpriest of England”. (See Sir E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, vol. I, p. 474 (Oxford 1930): “No doubt the Jesuit doctrine of equivocation had been familiar, at least since the trial of Robert Southwell in 1595.”) - Criticised for his use of equivocation, which Coke called "open and broad lying and forswearing", and attacked for not warning the authorities of what Catesby planned, Henry Garnet was sentenced to death in 1606.
7. “Altogether more than fifty candidates have been suggested as possible alternative Shakespeares.”
If after a murder more than fifty persons are suspected, it does not follow, that none of the suspects is guilty and that no murder has occurred. And the poor chap of Stratford has been waiting too long for his well-deserved acquittal.
Ever since the author Mark Twain pointed out that Will Shaksper never claimed to have written anything and that he didn't even own anything that indicated the writing profession, there have been some fanciful conspiracy theories that draw their motivation from the desire to harm the British establishment, or merely to demonstrate their intellectual powers. The common denominator of the conspiracy theories is that the propagators all had some sort of agenda other than a love of the works and a love of the author. It is ironic that the conspiracy theory that combined the terrorist elements with the crackpots (namely the stupid Tudor theory) should be the one to be filmed by top director, Roland Emmerich, with all the bells and whistles.
The Stratfordians haven't really been much help in explaining the authorship question either. We can't really blame them for this tactic. Every insult thrown at the statue of Will Shaksper in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford has turned out to be a boomerang.
However the body of evidence against Shaksper's authorship of the Shakespearian works has grown so large that it's no longer possible to uphold the hoax. The apple cart has been upset and not even the oafish rantings of a sports reporter can put it straight again.
Baconism can't be saved, it fried in its own fat. Marlow can only be regarded as a candidate if we declare his immortality. As of when are the Marlowians prepared to accept his death, while he was alive his poetry was second rate, is he still knocking out wooden poetry, hidden in the loft of a London Synagogue? Or has he turned into a vampire and gone to stagger about on the pier at Tanger?
The problem won't go away however much we wish to ignore it. The problem being: Scholars and actors can't refer back to the author of the plays to answer questions of interpretation if nobody tells them who the author is. - I wish to assist discerning scholars, librarians, and archivists with their research and further, help open minded students and teachers to understand the material that is at hand. Where did the Earl of Oxford's private library vanish to? Are there further records of his journeys through England, France and Italy that shed light on his activities? Is there any more of his private correspondence still in existence?
I wish to reach out to the people who read Shakespeare and most importantly to those who act. I want to help you to get to the performance that you want to deliver. These are the goals of this website.
But -- the only people with whom I am able to discuss the matter are those whose love for the artist and for his works is greater than their love for their own opinions. In this case I like facts and dislike opinions. (Was it not Oxford-believers who postulated that the Earl of Oxford also wrote the works of Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, Marprelate and Anti-Marprelate?) Or better, I want to laugh with Mark Twain about all “the Supposers, the Perhapsers, the Might-Have-Beeners, the Could-Have-Beeners, the Must-Have-Beeners, the Without-a-Shadow-of-Doubters, the We-are-Warranted-in-Believingers, and all that funny crop of solemn architects.”
Stop. Martin Peake writes:
I like it, however, at the same time I feel that it's under potential. It's a very important passage, possibly the most important passage of the whole project. We want to show the reader that we are providing an important service for the future understanding and interpretation of Shakespeare, and that we are not here to knock the establishment just for the sake of knocking it.
Questions : Whom am I attacking; the Stratfordians or the Oxfordianss who postulated badly thought through sloppy theories? Have I got to throw down any gauntlet at all? Can we offer any sort of compromise to the Stratfords? Can we turn the tables? What about the idea that the Stratfordianss are robbing the English speaking world of the true father of the Shakespearian works by sticking to a silly hoax that any sensible person could see through? What about the idea that the secretary to the Royal commission of the British Museum (John Payne Collier) must have noticed that the actor from Stratford could not have been the author of the Shakespearian works (that's what motivated him to perpetrate his famous forgeries)?
There might have been hot heads in the past who wanted to pull down the statues of William Shakespeare, just as there will be hot heads in the future who want to pull down the statues of Walt Disney when they're told that he didn't write “The Pirates of the Caribbean”. What of it? There will always be hot heads and they will always spout hot air. They do no harm, in fact, they're entertaining at times.
The new Shakespearian societies have no axe to grind with the Royal Shakespearian Society, on the contrary, we admire the excellent work that they have done over the years and will continue to do in the future. We merely wish to give theatre directors and actors a further, important tool for the interpretation of Shakespeare's works. Referring back to the life of the author can make difficult interpretational problems refreshingly easy.
I would like to acknowledge the work of John Thomas Looney, the pioneer of the Oxfordian research, whose book Shakespeare Identified (1920) was a break through. One of the first persons who supported his theory was Sigmund Freud, ‘the gullible Jew’. Although certain understandable mistakes were made, I would like to acknowledge the work of: Bernard M. Ward, Eva Turner Clark, Charles W. Barrell, Ruth Miller, the Ogburns, Roger Stritmatter, Mark Anderson, Peter R. Moore, Robert Brazil and Robert Detobel.
I would like to thank Karen Schmidt-Paas for her selfless support of our work. I have to thank Hanno Wember (Neue Shake-speare Gesellschaft) for his active cooperation.
Most of all I would like to thank Martin Peake, research assistant and translator, without whom this website would not have been possible.
Fortunatus Infoelix. Die Aventiuren des Master F. I. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt/Main 2006
Der Mann, der Shakesperare erfand [The Man who invented Shakespeare]. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt/M. 2009
Lieder und Gedichte aus Shakespeares Stücken. Insel-Verlag 2011
Der zarte Faden, den die Schönheit spinnt. [The thriftless thread which pamper’d beauty spins.] One Hundred Poems, English and German. Rediscovered, translated and annotated by KK. Insel-Verlag 2013