For a host of persuasive but commonly disregarded reasons, the Earl ofOxford has quietly become by far the most compelling man to be foundbehind the mask of Shake-speare.
As Orson Welles put it in 1954, Ithink Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t agree, there are someawful funny coincidences incidences to explain away. Some of thesecoincidences are obscure, others are hard to overlook. A 1578 Latinencomium to Oxford, for example, contains some highly suggestivepraise: Pallas lies concealed in thy right hand, it says.
Thine eyesflash fire; Thy countenance shakes spears. Elizabethans knew thatPallas Athena was known by the sobriquet the spear-shaker. The hyphenin Shake-speare’s name also was a tip-off: other Elizabethan pseudonymsinclude Cutbert Curry-knave, Simon Smell-knave, and AdamFouleweather (student in asse-tronomy).(FN*).
The case for Oxford’s authorship hardly rests on hidden clues andallusions, however. One of the most important new pieces of Oxfordianevidence centers around a 1570 English Bible, in the Genevatranslation, once owned and annotated by the Earl of Oxford, Edward deVere. In an eight-year study of the de Vere Bible, a University ofMassachusetts doctoral student named Roger Stritmatter has found thatthe 430-year-old book is essentially, as he puts it, Shake-speare’sBible with the Earl of Oxford’s coat of arms on the cover. Stritmatterdiscovered that more than a quarter of the 1,066 annotations and markedpassages in the de Vere Bible appear in Shake-speare. The parallelsrange from the thematic–sharing a motif, idea, or trope–to theverbal–using names, phrases, or wordings that suggest a specificbiblical passage.In his research, Stritmatter pioneered a stylistic-fingerprintingtechnique that involves isolating an author’s most prominent biblicalallusions–those that appear four or more times in the author’s canon.
After compiling a list of such diagnostic verses for the writings ofShake-speare and three of his most celebrated literarycontemporaries–Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and EdmundSpenser–Stritmatter undertook a comparative study to discern howmeaningful the de Vere Bible evidence was. He found that each author’sfavorite biblical allusions composed a unique and idiosyncratic set andcould thus be marshaled to distinguish one author from another.Stritmatter then compared each set of diagnostics to the markedpassages in the de Vere Bible. The results were, from any perspectivebut the most dogmatically orthodox, a stunning confirmation of theOxfordian theory.Stritmatter found that very few of the marked verses in the de VereBible appeared in Spenser’s, Marlowe’s, or Bacon’s diagnostic verses.On the other hand, the Shake-speare canon brims with de Vere Bibleverses.
Twenty-nine of Shake-speare’s top sixty-six biblical allusionsare marked in the de Vere Bible. Furthermore, three of Shake-speare’sdiagnostic verses show up in Oxford’s extant letters. All in all, thecorrelation between Shake-speare’s favorite biblical verses and Edwardde Vere’s Bible is very high: .
439 compared with .054, .068, and .020for Spenser, Marlowe, and Bacon.
Was Shake-speare the pen name forEdward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, or must we formulate ever moreelaborate hypotheses that preserve the old byline but ignore the appealof common sense and new evidence?One favorite rejoinder to the Oxfordian argument is that the author’sidentity doesn’t really matter; only the works do. The play’s thething has become the shibboleth of indifference-claiming doubters.These four words, however, typify Shake-speare’s attitude toward thetheater about as well as the first six words of A Tale of Two Citiesexpress Charles Dickens’s opinion of the French Revolution: It was thebest of times. In both cases, the fragment suggests an authorialperspective very different from the original context.
The play’s the thing, Hamlet says, referring to his masque TheMouse-trap, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. Hardly aprcis for advocating the death of the author, Hamlet’s observationreports that drama’s function comes closer to espionage than to mereentertainment. Hamlet’s full quote is, in fact, a fair summary of theOxfordian reading of the entire cannon.
If pressed, Shake-speare, likeHamlet, would probably deny a play’s topical relevance. But, as anambitious courtier, he would have valued his dramaturgical ability tocomment on, lampoon, vilify, and praise people and events at QueenElizabeth’s court. It is hard to deny that Hamlet is the closestShake-speare comes to a picture of the dramatist at work.Nowadays, assertions that one can recover the author’s perspective fromhis own dramatic self-portraits are often ridiculed as naive orsimplistic. Yet the converse–that Shake-speare somehow evaded therealities and particulars of his own life in creating his mostenduring, profound, and nuanced characters–is absurd on its face. Ofcourse, the infinite recesses of the imagination make an appealingrefuge to the savvy debater.
Shake-speare was a creative genius (aclaim no one would dare dispute); ergo, he could and did make it allup. Following the same reasoning, though, Hamlet’s own masque holds nopolitical purpose either. Rather than seeing it as a ploy to catch theconscience of the king, a strictly Stratfordian reading of TheMouse-trap would be compelled to see it as little more than a fancifulItalian fable divorced of its obvious allegory to the foul deedscommitted at the court of Elsinore. The fact that, just like Hamlet,The Mouse-trap stages a king’s poisoning and a queen’s hastyremarriage becomes just another awful funny coincidence.In the history of the Shake-speare authorship controversy, everyclaimant to the laurels has queued up offering the promise ofmouth-watering connections to the canon. Justifiably, skeptics havecountered that if you squint your eyes hard enough, any scrap orbiographical datum can be made to resemble something from Shake-speare.
With Oxford, however, everything seems to have found its way intoShake-speare. Gone are the days when heretics would storm the rampartswhenever some thread was discovered between the character Rosencrantzand Francis Bacon’s grandpa. Today it’s more alarming when aShake-speare play or poem does not overflow with Oxfordian connotationsand connections. The problem for any Oxfordian is the perhaps enviabletask of selecting which handful of gems should be brought out from thetreasure chest.
In what follows, then, I will touch on fiveShake-spearean characters–Hamlet, Helena, Falstaff, King Lear, andProspero–and will briefly point out a few parallels with Oxford.Hamlet. More than a mere authorial specter, the Prince enacts entireportions of Oxford’s life story. Oxford’s two military cousins, Horaceand Francis Vere, appear as Hamlet’s comrade-at-arms Horatio and thesoldier Francisco. Oxford satirizes his guardian and father-in-law, theofficious, bumbling, royal adviser Lord Burghley (nicknamed Polus),as the officious, bumbling royal adviser Polonius. The parallelsbetween Burghley and Polonius are so vast and detailed that even thestaunch Stratfordian A.
L. Rowse admitted that there is nothingoriginal anymore in asserting this widely recognized connection.Furthermore, like Polonius, Burghley had a daughter. At age twenty-one,Oxford was married to Anne Cecil, and their nuptial affairs wereanything but blissful.
The tragically unstable triangle ofHamlet-Ophelia-Polonius found its living parallel inOxford-Anne-Polus. In short, from the profound (Oxford’s motherquickly remarried upon the untimely death of her husband) to thepicayune (Oxford was abducted by pirates on a sea voyage), Hamlet’sMouse-trap captures the identity of its author.Helena. Just as details of Oxford’s life story appear throughout eachof the Shake-speare plays and poems, Anne Cecil’s tragic tale isreflected in many Shake-spearean heroines, including Ophelia,Desdemona, Isabella, Hero, Hermione, and Helena. In All’s Well ThatEnds Well, Helena seeks out and eventually wins the hand of thefatherless Bertram, who is being raised as a ward of thecourt–precisely the situation Oxford found himself in when Anne wasthrust upon him by his guardian and soon-to-be father-in-law. LikeHelena, Anne was rejected by her headstrong new husband, who fled toItaly rather than remain at home with her. Both Oxford and Bertramrefused to consummate their vows–and both eventually impregnated theirwives by virtue of a bed trick (the strange and almost unbelievablestratagem wherein the husband thinks he is sleeping with another womanbut is in fact sleeping with his own wife).
Falstaff. The comic conscience of the Henry IV plays, Falstaff can beread as an authorial self-parody embodying two of Oxford’s morenotorious qualities: a razor wit and a wastrel’s worldview. In TheMerry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff also provokes Master Ford’s jealousy,lampooning the author’s own hypocrisy in flying into a jealous rage athis wife when he suspected her of infidelity. And the romantic subplotinvolving the daughter of the other merry wife–Anne Page–sospecifically skewers the marriage negotiations between Oxford, AnneCecil, and her onetime prospective husband, Sir Philip Sidney, that thedowries and pensions mentioned in the play match precisely those of theplay’s historical counterparts. In the same play, Falstaff brags toMaster Ford that he fear s not Goliath with a weaver’s beam.
This oddexpression is in fact shorthand for the biblical Goliath’s spear as itis detailed in II Samuel 21:19: Goliath the Gittite: the staff ofwhose spear was like a weaver’s beam. Not only did Oxford mark theverse in his Bible; he even underlined the words weaver’s beam..King Lear. In a play whose dramatic engine is the family dynamics oftwo tragically flawed patriarchs (Lear and the Earl of Gloucester),Shake-speare stages the exact familial relationships that Oxford facedin his twilight years. His first marriage to Anne Cecil left him awidower, like Lear, with three daughters, of whom the elder two weremarried.
His second marriage produced only one son, whose patrilinealclaims could conceivably be challenged by Oxford’s bastard son–amirror of the gullible Earl of Gloucester’s situation. As ifhighlighting one of the thematic underpinnings of King Lear, in hisBible, Oxford marked Hosea 9:7 (The prophet is a fool; the spiritualman is mad), which Lear’s daughter Goneril inverts in her venomousremark that Jesters do oft prove prophets..Prospero. The Tempest’s exiled nobleman, cast-away hermit, andscholarly shaman provides the author’s grand farewell to a world thathe recognizes will bury his name, even when his book is exalted to theends of the earth.
Oxfordians, in general, agree with scholarlytradition that The Tempest was probably Shake-speare’s final play–andmany concur with the German Stratfordian critic Karl Elze that allexternal arguments and indications are in favor of the play beingwritten in the year 1604. Before he takes his final bow, Prosperomakes one last plea to his eternal audience. Drawing from a contiguousset of Oxford’s marked verses at Ecclesiasticus 28:1-5 concerning theneed for reciprocal mercy as the precondition of human freedom,Prospero delivers his farewell speech with the hopes that someone willtake him at his word:.R elease me from my bands With the help of your good hands! Gentlebreath of yours my sails Must fill or else my project fails, Which wasto please.
Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, And my endingis despair, Unless I be reliev’d by prayer, Which pierces so that itassaults Mercy itself and frees all faults. As you from crimes wouldpardon’d be, Let your indulgence set me free.Like Hamlet, The Tempest’s aristocrat cum magus begs those around himto hear his story and, in so doing, to free him from his temporarychains. The rest, as the academic ghost-chase for the cipher fromStratford has ably demonstrated, is silence.At the end of The Tempest, Prospero uses the metaphors of shipwrecksand stormy weather to deliver his closing salvo against the desolateisland he called home. During the final year of his life, the Earl ofOxford clearly had such imagery on his mind, as can be seen in hiseloquent April 1603 letter to his former brother-in-law, Robert Cecil,on the death of Queen Elizabeth: In this common shipwreck, mine isabove all the rest, who least regarded, though often comforted, of allher followers, she hath left to try my fortune among the alterations oftime and chance, either without sail whereby to take the advantage ofany prosperous gale, or with anchor to ride till the storm beoverpast.
The alterations of time and chance have been cruel to Edwardde Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. But the last five years of discoveriesand developments have made two things increasingly clear: the tempesthas broken, and Prospero’s indulgence is finally upon us.Added material.FOOTNOTE* Another intriguing reference comes from the satirist ThomasNashe, who included a dedication to a Gentle Master William in his1593 book Strange News, describing him as the most copious poet inEngland. He alludes to the blue boar, Oxford’s heraldic emblem, androasts William with the Latin phrase Apis lapis, which translates assacred ox.
.I am a sort of haunted by the conviction that the divine William isthe biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patientworld. The more I turn him round and round the more he so affects me.But that is all–I am not pretending to treat the question or to carryit any further. It bristles with difficulties, and I can only expressmy general sense by saying that I find it almost as impossible toconceive that Bacon wrote the plays as to conceive that the man fromStratford, as we know the man from Stratford, did.Bibliographywww.shakespeare.comwww.baconauthorship.comShakespeare Essays