Why Some Believe Oxford Was Shakespeare.
Assuming “Will Shake-speare” to be a pseudonym, English schoolmaster J Thomas Looney set out to find early works written in the same style as the Bard, and was elated to discovered a poem called Women’s Changeableness, which was written with the same meter and imagery as found in the Shakespeare works. Learning that it was written by a young Edward de Vere, he discovered that the nobleman possessed all of the characteristics one would expect of the Shakespeare writer as revealed by the plays and poems: a superior education, a maturity, a recognized genius, an intense sensitivity, a talent for lyric poetry, an apparent eccentricity, an enthusiasm for the theatre, an aristocratic background, doubts about women, improvidence in money matters, an enthusiasm for Italy, music, and sport, a knowledge of Latin, Greek, Italian, French, astronomy, physics, anatomy, law, literature, and mythology.
Looney then learned that de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, was a patron of many writers and actors, and had the extraordinary number of 33 works dedicated to him. Oxford was also highly praised in contemporary publications. In the 1586 William Webbe book A Discourse of English Poetry, Oxford was listed as “the most excellent among the rest” of lords and gentlemen with poetic skills in the queen's court. In Frances Mere's Pallas Tamia, published in 1598, Oxford's name is FIRST in a list of playwrights "best for comedy."
He's called the greatest writer of comedies, most excellent among the rest, and yet it would appear that no plays of his have survived! How is this possible? Then Mr. Looney discovered how. He read in the 1589 The Arte of English Poesy that some courtiers write well but suppress it "or else suffered it to be published without their own names to it, as it were a discredit for a gentleman to seem learnéd and to show himself amorous of any good art…" and some noblemen "have written excellently well, as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman Edward, earl of Oxford.”
So noblemen used pseudonyms for the sake of honor. Many members on the top rungs of the Tudor aristocracy wrote poems, and some wrote plays. But none of them published their creative works under their own names. The earl of Surrey, baron Lord Vaux, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edward Dyer, and Sir Fulke Greville also earned reputations as writers. But none of them published their own works. Greville recorded his reluctance to see any of his plays published, even posthumously.
And Edward de Vere, the earl of Oxford, was no ordinary nobleman. He was the premiere earl of the realm. First a ward and then son-in-law to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's most powerful minister. In growing up at Cecil House, he would have had access to what was known as one of the finest libraries in Europe. De Vere was reputedly one of the Queen's lovers. Gabriel Harvey even published a Latin address praising Lord Oxford’s writing skills, which concluded, “Your eyes flash fire, your WILL SHAKES SPEARS!”
John Marston, who spent more than a year pseudonymously implying that the writer of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece had masked his identity, hailed the great, unacknowledged writer in his 1598 Scourge of Villainy: “Far fly thy fame/ Most, most of me beloved! Whose silent name/ One letter bounds... and, if my love beguile/ Not much my hopes, then thy unvalued worth/ Shall mount fair place, when apes are turnéd forth.” Note that, in addition to Marston telling us that the writer of the Shakespeare works was of unvalued worth, perhaps because he lived unrecognized, he also gave us the clue that the secret writer’s silent name is bound by one letter: like the “e” for example, in “Edward VerE.”
And in Sonnet 76, Shakespeare himself tells us that “every word doth almost tell my name,”... “every word” being (but for one letter) an anagram for “Edwor ver.”
Unlike the Stratford man, Oxford did find time for school. He attended Cambridge University at the age of 8! He then went to Oxford University. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree at 14 and his Master’s at 16. He was tutored by the best scholars and intellectuals of Europe, and studied law at the Inns of Court, which was most known for its theatricals. He was an accomplished athlete and won all three jousting tournaments at Court – so he was an expert spear-shaker!
His uncle was Arthur Golding, whose translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is considered to be Shake-speare’s greatest influence. Another uncle, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, actually invented the sonnet form used and popularized by Shake-speare. Like his father before him, Edward de Vere was a patron of his own acting companies. In fact, he supported two of them. The acting company considered to be Shake-speare’s was called the “Chamberlain’s Men.” Oxford held the title of “Lord Great Chamberlain of England.”
In addition to generously supporting many writers financially, Edward de Vere led a new literary movement made up of poets called the “Euphuists,” who contributed greatly to a reform of the English language by coining new words with Latin, Italian and French roots; using classical mythology and allusion, mostly from Ovid, and sprinkling their works with ingenious wordiness - in other words, employing elements often found in Shakespeare’s own canon.
John Lyly and Anthony Munday were two writers who are said to have prominently influenced Shakespeare’s works. Both were Oxford’s personal secretaries.
George Baker’s medical book The Newe Jewell of Health is thought to be a major influence on Shakespeare. Baker was Oxford’s household physician, and the book in question was dedicated to Oxford’s wife Anne.
Baldesar Castiglione’s book The Courtier was a major influence on the author of Hamlet. A 21-year old Edward de Vere wrote the Latin preface to the English translation of this book.
Cardanus Comforte is thought by many to be the book Hamlet pours over in the play, as it is a key source text for the tragedy, and in particular, for the pivotal “To be or not to be” speech. A 23-year old Edward de Vere personally financed the first English translation of this book, which was dedicated to him, and in which he contributed the lengthy introduction and a prefatory poem, both filled with Shakespearean turns of phrase.
Mark Anderson’s book Shake-speare by Another Name details the life of Edward de Vere, whose father died when young Edward was only 12. He was then raised in Queen Elizabeth’s court by William Cecil, Lord Treasurer of England, Master of the Court of Wards and well-known keeper of spies, the man recognized by traditional scholars as the historical prototype for Polonius (Hamlet).
Later, in a troubled marriage with Cecil’s daughter Anne, after rumors of her infidelity, the couple separated for 5 years (Othello, Winter’s Tale, Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline). Gossip was later spread that de Vere’s wife had tricked him into sleeping with her, rather than with his mistress – the famous bed-trick, which supposedly begot their first child (All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure).
At 40, de Vere faced financial ruin, and was forced to divide his ancestral lands among his 3 daughters, facing King Lear’s future of landless destitution. His sister was a wild fireball who met her match in a brash swashbuckler, who wooed and wed her, a courtship spoofed in The Taming of the Shrew.
De Vere’s own courtship was precisely mirrored, down to the dowry amounts and the terms of the marriage contract, in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Young Oxford lived in Venice during his 20s, visiting the cities in Italy and France that would become the setting for over a dozen Shakespeare plays.
His brother-in-law, the shrew-tamer, visited the Danish court at Elsinore. A memo at the British Library reveals details of a banquet he attended with Danish courtiers named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet appears to be the most autobiographical play. At 26, Edward de Vere was off on his travels through Europe. Before leaving England, he left his dearest cousin in charge of his estates. A man named Horatio. While traveling through France, de Vere witnessed a Teutonic prince parading his troops before him. Soon after, he boarded a ship and was taken by pirates, stripped naked, and left on the English shore. In Act 4 of Hamlet, in no known source text for the play, Hamlet witnesses invading Prince Fortinbrass’s troops, and then boards a ship, which is taken by pirates, leaving Prince Hamlet stripped naked on the Danish shore.
Shakespeare writes of being made “lame by fortune’s dearest spite” (Sonnet 37), having his “strength by limping sway disabléd” (Sonnet 66), and continues in his poetry to “speak of my lameness,” (Sonnet 89). Edward de Vere was left lame after a cousin of his mistress wounded him in a street battle between the two families, reminiscent of Elizabethan Montagues & Capulets.
But it is Shakespeare’s use of metaphor that, perhaps subconsciously, most betrays his high class station in life. Of the many examples, take A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Helena recalls her friendship with Hermia “like coats in heraldry.” The bard often describes catching a lover by using terms employed in the aristocratic sport of falconry. Walt Whitman noticed how the works reflect a mindset more fitting of a “wolfish earl” than a mere commoner. The plays are concerned with those on the highest rungs of the Elizabethan ladder, with kings and queens and princes. When the lower ranks are portrayed, it is often as clowns or buffoons. Charlie Chaplin noticed that, “in the works of the greatest geniuses, humble beginnings will reveal themselves somewhere, but one cannot trace the slightest sign of them in Shake-speare… Whoever wrote them had an aristocratic attitude."
In 1612, a man in the know, Henry Peachum, praised the writers at Queen Elizabeth’s court by naming Edward de Vere above all others, while making no mention of a William Shakespeare. He published Minerva Britanna, a book of puzzling emblems and anagrams in honor of the great people of the Elizabethan and Jacobean times. The title refers to one who is Britain’s Minerva or Athena, its god of poetry and wisdom, who was born shaking a spear, whose helmet bestowed
invisibility upon the wearer. Who was the Minerva of England? Britain’s spear-shaker? The cover depicts a man hidden behind a curtain, writing on a scroll. But if you rearrange what appears to be a Latin anagram, it reads: “Tibi nom de vere,” or “Thy name is de Vere.”
Like Hamlet, Oxford was a patron of actors, and at one time owned the lease on the Blackfriars Theatre, where Shakespeare’s troupe performed. He supported at least two acting companies. One was Oxford’s Boys, and the other was based at the Boar’s Head Inn, which was, coincidentally, Falstaff’s favorite drinking establishment.
There is a painting housed at the Folger Shakespeare Library that for years had been called the “Shakespeare” portrait, but X-rays of the painting show that it has been painted over to disguise its original subject, who was apparently wearing a large and elaborate nobleman’s collar, a thumb ring depicting a boar’s head (a heraldic device of Oxford’s), and sporting more hair: all indications that the original sitter of the portrait called “Shakespeare” was most likely the earl of Oxford, of whom we know that the artist, Cornelius Ketel, had painted a portrait, which has since vanished.
Another convincing argument for Oxford’s authorship of the Shakespeare canon is that researchers have discovered that words frequently credited by the Oxford English Dictionary and other sources as having had their first usage in Shakespeare have actually shown up earlier in Edward de Vere's personal letters and published poems. Researcher Mark Alexander cites words like “bifold, despairing, disgraced, and restoration” as having first been used by de Vere well before they appear in the Shakespeare works.
Edward de Vere also had a personal connection to the three noblemen with whom, based upon the intimate dedications to the poems and Folio, Shakespeare would have been familiar. All three men, Southampton, Montgomery and Pembroke, were each proposed as husbands for the three daughters of Edward de Vere. The Montgomery suit was successful, and he did marry Oxford’s daughter Susan. And so it appears that it was Oxford’s own family that took upon them the enormous task of printing for the first time and preserving for all eternity the collected works of William Shake-speare.
German scholar Robert Detobel has noted that the July 22, 1598, Stationers’ Register records that The Merchant of Venice could not be printed without “lycence first had from the Right honorable the lord Chamberlen.” But this office never extended such a license to anyone other than the author of a work. There were two lord chamberlains, one being a member of the Queen’s household, and the other being Edward de Vere, the Great Lord Chamberlain of England. No lord chamberlain of the Queen’s household ever possessed the authority to license a play. None ever wrote a play. In fact, the household’s lord chamberlain, a man by the name of George Carey, was so hostile to the theatre that he signed a petition to block the establishment of a public theatre at Blackfriars, where Shakespeare’s own company played (and where Oxford held a lease). So the natural conclusion to be reached is that the Stationers’ Office recognized Lord Oxford as the author of The Merchant of Venice.
And while the First Folio contains no biographical information about the writer Shakespeare, he is called the “sweet swan of Avon” who has a “Stratford moniment.” The earl of Oxford lived in a part of East London called Hackney, bordering the London suburb of “Stratford.” And down the road from Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, he owned Bilton Hall, with the Avon River on one side, and the Forest of Arden on the other. Nearby still stands an ancestral estate, Billesley Manor, where local legend has it As You Like It was penned in its “Shakespeare Room.” And so it appears that Edward de Vere was connected to both “Avon” and “Stratford.”
On this topic, writer Alexander Waugh has made a significant discovery, as revealed in his e-book Shakespeare in Court. Ben Jonson, master of duplicitous ambiguity, in his “sweet swan of Avon” remark was cleverly pointing not to the Avon River at all, especially since the entire quote is:
Sweet Swan of Avon! What a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of
That so did take Eliza and our James!
Jonson is referring instead to Hampton Court Palace, which is the only place where Queen Elizabeth and King James would have delighted in seeing Shakespeare’s “flights upon the banks of Thames,” i.e., his plays. Waugh discovered that Hampton Court Palace was nicknamed “Avon” (shortened from “Avondune” - meaning fort by the river). And every educated person would have known this, since it was referred to in works by John Leland in 1543 and 1545, Raphael Hollished in 1586, William Lambarde in 1590, Lawrence Nowell in 1591, William Camden (Ben Jonson’s mentor) in 1607, Henry Peacham in 1612, and John Weever in 1631.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets was published in 1609, and refers to the author as “our ever-living poet,” which sounds as though he is already dead. Edward de Vere was dead by that year, while the Stratford man lived until 1616.
And while one would expect that England’s greatest writer would have been buried under a great monument at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, rather than under a nameless doggerel-covered stone in Warwickshire, there is no grave at Westminster bearing his name. The earl of Oxford was originally buried at a church in Hackney. But since the church is no longer there, his final resting place remains a mystery. However, his cousin Percival Golding wrote, only twenty years after his death, that the great earl “lyeth buried at Westminster.” But there is no official record of his grave there.