Who was Shakespeare?

9th annual global Authorship Conference in Toronto Oct. 17–20.

Sponsored by York and Guelph Universities, conference attracts renowned scholars and premieres two films

TORONTO, October 15, 2013 – As millions of students read Shakespeare plays and millions of tourists flock to his birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon each year, a growing number of respected theatre scholars are asking the question: “Could the name ‘Shakespeare’ be a pseudonym?”

Nearly 100 scholars from Germany, the UK, U.S. and Canada will arrive at the Metropolitan Hotel Toronto this week for the ninth annual global Shakespeare Authorship Conference, one of the largest gatherings of people who argue that the name William Shakespeare was a pseudonym and that the presumed identity of the world’s greatest writer should be reconsidered. The conference runs from Oct. 17 through 20.

Sponsored by the theatre and drama departments of York University and Guelph University, and under the auspices of the U.S.-based Shakespeare Oxford Society and the Shakespeare Fellowship, the Toronto conference will feature the Canadian premieres of two new authorship films from the U.S. and Germany, 21 hours of academic papers, and a visit to the Stratford Festival to see The Merchant of Venice.

In keeping with the theatre-related interests of the two Canadian universities, many of the papers focus on theatrical conditions in Shakespeare’s time, including discussions on who among the aristocracy was sponsoring Elizabethan theatre troupes.

“We are hoping that the conference will offer new understandings of these companies and these connections. The obvious thing is that the man who wrote under the name of Shakespeare had to have been a man of the theatre,” said Prof. Don Rubin, a York University theatre professor and organizer of the conference. “We know that William of Stratford had connections to the Globe Theatre in London where these plays were first performed, but few people know that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and one of the alternative candidates proposed as the Bard, also had significant theatre connections to both adult and children’s companies of the period. De Vere also travelled extensively in Italy, where nearly a third of the Bard’s plays are set.”

A growing number of scholars are questioning whether the presumed author—a businessman from the rural town of Stratford who clearly had trouble writing his own name on documents (his parents as well as his children were all functionally illiterate)—would have had the worldliness, much less the vocabulary or knowledge of numerous foreign languages and topics including the expensive aristocratic sport of falconry, to actually write the plays.

“Could he have been the front man for someone else? He never actually claimed to have written the plays,” said Prof. Rubin. “As well, more than a third of these works were set in Italy, a country he never visited. They also boast enormous knowledge of medicine and the law, subjects he never studied. Even a genius needs opportunities.”

Among the many early authorship doubters were Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Orson Welles, and even Sir Tyrone Guthrie, a founder of the Stratford Festival of Canada.

The Canadian premieres of the two new films to be shown during the conference are free. They will take place:

  • Thurs. Oct. 17, 4:30 pm – 6:30 pm: The Naked Shakespeare by Claus Bredenbrock. Introduction by German scholar Hanno Wember.
  • Sat. Oct 19, 4:30 pm – 6:30 pm: Last Will. & Testament by directors Lisa and Laura Wilson, who will be present for the Canadian premiere of this PBS film just released in the U.S. They will take questions following the viewing.

Keynote speakers will include American Mark Anderson, author of the groundbreaking biography, Shakespeare By Another Name, and John M. Shahan from California, chair of the The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, which leads The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt campaign that argues the authorship is still in dispute. The campaign now has thousands of signatures including English actor and stage director Sir Derek Jacobi, actor Mark Rylance (the first Artistic Director of the rebuilt Globe Theatre) and Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons.

To interview Don Rubin or other attending scholars, or to cover the conference, please contact:

Don Rubin, Professor
York University Theatre Department
905-960-9150
drubin@yorku.ca

Theresa Ebden, President
Joshua Tree Communications Inc.
416-988-8733
JoshuaTreeCommunications@rogers.com

About Don Rubin:

Professor Rubin is a founding member of York University’s Department of Theatre and Faculty of Fine Arts. He served as Chair of the department for three years and later was a founder and first Program Director of York’s Graduate Program in Theatre and Performance Studies (MA and PhD). Don’s areas of specialization today include Canadian Theatre, African Theatre, Criticism, Theatre Theory, and Modern Drama. A founder and editor of the quarterly journal Canadian Theatre Review for eight years and a working daily critic in print, radio and television for the Toronto Star and CBC Radio among others, he is the editor of the standard scholarly text Canadian Theatre History: Selected Readings (Playwrights Canada Press) and Routledge’s six-volume World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre. Prof. Rubin is a former president of the Canadian Centre of UNESCO’s International Theatre Institute, a founder and current President of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, a member of the International Executive Board of the International Association of Theatre Critics, and a member of the editorial board for the IATC web journal, Critical Stages (criticalstages.org). He serves on the Executive Board of the Shakespeare Fellowship and studied Elizabethan theatre (now called Early Modern Theatre by many scholars) at Hofstra University (with Bernard Beckerman, author of the groundbreaking Shakespeare At the Globe) and at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Bridgeport (connected to the Stratford, Connecticut Shakespeare Festival). Don has taught and lectured at major universities and theatre schools in South Africa, Nigeria, Russia, China, Japan, France, England, Sweden, Mexico, Egypt and at numerous universities across North America. In December, he will be a guest professor at Charles University in Prague, one of central Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities. In 2011-12, he taught a senior-level course at York in Shakespeare: The Authorship Question, a course which interrogated the mystery surrounding who really wrote the plays ascribed to “Shakespeare.” A trained actor, Don began his career at the famous High School of Performing Arts in New York City.

Notes Towards an Elizabethan Twelfth Night

 

Allowed Fools: Notes Towards An Elizabethan Twelfth Night

 

©1996 by Charles Boyle


David Bevington has written that Elizabethan courtiers were trained to read plays allegorically. Their Age was epoch-making and Shakespeare had a great feel for people and politics. Of course all court entertainment had a political intent, even if only to impress the mind of the Prince, but along with flattery could come some highly pointed comment, what the Elizabethans called wit. In the introduction to Troilus and Cressida it is claimed Shakespeare’s was so sharp that he, like Falstaff, could provoke wit in others. He was so funny he made you smarter just to get him. But the courtier had to “get the metaphor” to get the hidden meaning and the humor which, judging by his popularity, Shakespeare provided in abundance. His contemporaries must have roared. But why should they have all the fun?

One wonders not so much how his theater looked as how it felt. Certainly there were real-life forces that deeply shaped what was written and how it was delivered on the stage. The author as he wrote heard the tone of a line, a word. In the beginning there was a reality. Any attempt to recapture that original humor, the insights that made his first audience laugh, can only be gained by learning to think not only like an Elizabethan, but indeed like that most original of Elizabethans, Shakespeare.

In this regard the new historicism continues to make discoveries that inspire further research. In her new book, Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England, Donna Hamilton, “rejects the notion that the official censorship of the day prevented the stage from representing contemporary debates.” She believes the author positioned his writing politically in ways that had much in common with the Essex-Southampton-Pembroke group, representing the interests of those aristocrats who were liberal but Catholic-leaning, still upholding the virtues of chivalry and feudalism. Hamilton’s analysis of Twelfth Night offers much that illuminates an Elizabethan reading of this almost perfect comedy of manners.

It was played for the first time we know of on February 2, 1602 at Middle Temple, an inn of court, and as such “a place away from (the Royal) court that had a well-established and thus protected tradition of giving plays…that mocked government practices.” A safe haven for allowed fools. The plot of the play is organized “around a woman and her household – a woman whose reclusivity and passivity are among her chief characteristics. Appearing near the end of the reign of Elizabeth, a reign that had grown increasingly repressive, and appearing as well within the month of the first anniversary of the execution of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, Twelfth Night encompasses the anxieties of this later time.”

It is sufficient to suppose the author had some as yet undetected but intimate connection with the Essex/Southampton circle, for clearly his subject and his inspiration is—as in Sidney, Spenser and Lyly—Queen Elizabeth and her Court.

This idea can be used as the concept for an Elizabethan production of the text, affecting not only period costumes, music and dance, but an Elizabethan sensibility as well.

For instance, having identified Olivia with the Queen, Hamilton further observes a “distinguishing feature of the play’s language of suing and love is the way in which love conventions are shaped to emphasize Olivia’s (and Elizabeth’s) reclusiveness.” She adds that the suing of Olivia and the scapegoating of the puritan Malvolio as plots “interrogate the `household’ as a model for the state.”

It must be remembered that in this state the government literally was a household. Most of the people around Elizabeth were related to her by blood. The secretaries to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, her most powerful minister, were private servants of his household, not public officials. What officials there were conceived themselves as servants to the Queen, the Royal House of Tudor.

Ever since Henry VIII’s break with Rome the Tudor Dynasty had grown increasingly adamant about forcing the Anglican brand of Catholicism on the population. The situation for anyone who did not pledge allegiance to the state Church of England was very dangerous. Heresy and treason had come to mean the same thing. Yet many yearned for the old, true Church, still others for a Puritanism that dispensed altogether with obedience to any hierarchy or class-system, save that of the prosperous and the saved. Members of these Puritan churches even proposed to elect their own leaders. The Queen and her government, her household, closely allied to the Cecils, felt threatened on one side by those who might bow first to Rome and on the other by English believers who questioned the value of any earthly crown.

New men like Cecil and Leicester had risen on the spoils of the Tudor destruction of the monasteries. Perhaps more Puritan than Anglican in their actions, they were discovering in a national church and monarchy a marvelous mechanism for economic and political control of the county. The old aristocracy, for whom Shakespeare so often speaks, were mainly Catholic at heart, the faith of their forefathers, and the more spiritual among them abhorred both the religious and political absolutism of the new Tudor order and the naked materialism of its upstart adherents. These class tensions are present in Twelfth Night, particularly in the household reaction to Malvolio’s wooing of Olivia. If she is the Queen, who might he be?

This pompous steward can be identified as a caricature of Sir Christopher Hatton, who was Elizabeth’s steward and did, indeed, woo her. His manner was so fawning and obsequious – the Queen called him her “Sheep” or “Mutton” – that some courtiers found him both hypocritical and ridiculous. Having caught her Majesty’s eye by displaying a well-turned calf in a galliard, he was known forever after as the “Dancing Chancellor”. A leg of mutton is referred to slyly by Toby as he encourages Aguecheek to dance his way into Olivia’s heart (I. iii). Hatton’s poesy was identified by Gabriel Harvey as “Fortunatus infoelix”, which in English is “The Fortunate Unhappy.” So does Maria sign a letter intended to project Malvolio’s vain hopes onto Olivia. Apparently Tobey and Maria (and Shakespeare) found such a commoner truly a fool to believe his Mistress would ever stoop to marry him.

How intensely personal this all is to Elizabeth can be discovered by unraveling the most famous business of the show, the abhorred yellow stockings Malvolio sports to woo his fair Olivia. To get the full import of this little jest one must know some history. Lacey Baldwin Smith reports in Henry VIII, The Mask of Royalty:

“Word of Catherine of Aragon’s death was celebrated with a masque, banquet and ball where Henry, cross-gartered in yellow hose, danced the night away with Anne Boleyn.”

Later Elizabeth’s father had her mother Anne beheaded for adultery. Such was the lot of a King’s wife. After the execution the Court was in turmoil. Should they mourn or rejoice? No one knew. As always, they would take their cue from the King. That night, his new paramour on his arm, he appeared before them, dressed head to toe in resplendent canary yellow. Now the modern reader may wish to dismiss this as so much coincidence, but it is difficult to imagine Queen Elizabeth doing so. Nor any of her Court. The mockery is blatant:

You want to win this Mistress? Wear yellow. She loves a suitor in yellow hose, and cross-gartered, too. Brings back old memories.

For the actor—or reader—the practical effect of understanding these jokes is that it gives the characters more subtext, more reality. These insights can make a player believe more deeply in the world of the play. So often in productions of Shakespeare, both professional and amateur, one gets the feeling that the actors don’t quite believe they are playing real people. These scripts are mere fictions, we are sometimes told, written for money, dreamed out of airy nothing or revived from history—but never taken from the life at hand.

This vacuum at the core can make an actors search for motive, for the author’s intended point, needlessly uncertain. In the case of Twelfth Night it can make the spine of the show harder to find.

If, for instance, Olivia is the Queen and Malvolio Hatton, who is the nervy fool, Feste? R. G. Gervinus once observed, “No other of Shakespeare’s fools is so conscious of his superiority as this one…”

Now the clowns in Shakespeare may be stupid or sly but the Fools are fools for telling the truth. Yet they are often played as silly, ingratiating sorts, spinning round in a world of their own, orbiting the main action, almost peripheral. But a Shakespearean Fool should avoid that kind of thinking and see himself instead as more akin to Mercutio or Hamlet – who plays his own Fool in lonely Elsinore. Like Touchstone in As You Like It, this Fool is clearly a courtier and bohemian aristocrat who plays the fool only when it suits him.

This view has the theatrical affect of making him a far more pointed and dangerous character and explains why everyone, even his Mistress and the Duke, tolerates his cutting sarcasm. When Olivia is understood as Elizabeth it further sharpens the edge of her “allowed fool”.

For instance, Sir Andrew remarks during some late night carousing (II. iii) that the Fool was “in very gracious fooling last night, when thou spok’st of Pigrogromitus, of the Vapians passing the equinoctial of Queubus, ’twas very good…”

No one purports to know what these lines mean but the capitalized words are described in the Arden notes as “extravagant invented names, recalling Rabelais but not found in his writing. Since `the equinotical’ means the celestial equator, Queubus may be an alphabetical sequel to Phoebus, the sun.” The Q, then, could signify Queen. Phoebus is the king, Queubus the Queen. There is a contemporary portrait of Elizabeth in which she wears a map of the world as her gown. Remember also the ribald likening of a woman’s body to the earth that is the subject of extended punning in A Comedy of Errors (where Hamilton locates Elizabeth in Adriana, the suspicious wife, the church, the queen):

“In what part of her body stands Ireland?” “Marry, sir, in her buttocks, I found it out by the bogs.”

If one has a Rabelaisian sense of humor the image of Phoebus’ rays shooting below the Queen’s equator begins to emerge. It’s a daring jest and certainly not one to be made lightly. But the insiders at this table laugh, though one now suspects Aguecheek wouldn’t get the metaphor here any better than he will Olivia’s C’s, U’s and T’s. (Did Elizabeth laugh so hard at this she made one of her great P’s?)

More pertaining to her Majesty follows.

After Malvolio discharges his sanctimonious tirade at the revelers, Sir Toby asks:

Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

The Fool caps it with:

Yes, by Saint Anne, and ginger shall be hot i’ th’ mouth too!

Ginger, often used to spice ale, was then believed to be an aphrodisiac. “Hot in the mouth” has obvious connotations. But who is Saint Anne? She is invoked here and only once else in the canon, by lucky Christopher Sly.

Saint Anne was mother to the Madonna as Anne Boleyn was mother to the Virgin Queen. Anne’s cult, aimed at aiding maids find husbands, had been derided during the English Reformation. Anne Boleyn, who found herself Harry, was out of favor too.

Throughout the play the Fool seems to be having fun with the legend of her Majesty’s chastity, celebrated by all her court poets in the national myth of a Virgin Queen, the Anglican answer to Rome’s Mary. It is remarkable that in all of Shakespeare the word “madonna” is used only by this Fool and only when he is addressing Olivia. Such emphasis from such a character can only be intended as ironic.

So who is this Fool? Who would dare?

During the Howard-Arundel affair of 1581 Henry Howard, in a letter to the Queen, claimed Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford, had boasted that he had “abused and polluted almost all the noble women of account in England.” When the Queen commanded Howard provide her with a full explanation of this allegation, he wrote that Oxford’s “lavish and untamed tongue hath…vaunted of some favors from your Majesty which I dare take mine oath upon the sacred Testament were never yet imparted unto any man that lived on this earth…The particulars till this day never passed from my lips, nor never shall, I do protest, before I may deliver them unto that sacred ear…”

Howard would not commit to paper the “particulars” of his charge that Oxford had “vaunted” of sexual “favors” from the Queen. Had he done so it is unlikely the letter would have survived. Here he merely hints at what he would save for the singular hearing of the Queen’s sacred ear. For a “lavish and untamed tongue” is the tongue of a fool.

Oxford was known as a great wit, a poet and patron of players during the reign of Elizabeth. Shortly before these charges, according to one court observer, he had been “superlative in her favor”. Gabriel Harvey had once compared him to Phoebus in her presence, declaring the god had “cultivated thy mind in the arts.” Even the seemingly fantastic “Pigrogromitus” can be read as a pun on one of his nicknames around court, “the Boar”, or in this case, the great boar.

There is an amusing story in John Aubrey about Oxford which may be apocryphal but is still very telling. It seemed that one day, making his low obeisance before her Majesty, poor Oxford broke a blaring trumpet of wind. Mortified, he withdrew from Court and traveled on the Continent for seven years. Upon returning the Queen smiled in welcome and reassured him, “I have quite forgot the fart.”

Oxford did travel on the Continent, but not for seven years, and no doubt the Queen could never forget so memorable a breech in Court decorum. But knowing Oxford, one is tempted to read this passing of wind by the metaphor, as it were, for the wind of words, which can also cause a stink.

An allowed Fool must have his fun.

Yet through it all Oxford was always more or less protected by the Queen, barred from most responsibility but indulged with a grant of a thousand pounds a year and thrown in the Tower only briefly, and that for getting a child out of wedlock by one of her Maids of Honor. He got away with a lot. According to Elizabeth Jenkins in Elizabeth the Great he twice refused – without rebuke – a command from the Queen’s lips to dance for some French ambassadors. She compares his self-centeredness to Hamlet’s. Certainly the boast of having slept with her has been attributed to no other Elizabethan. And he was known to have had a rivalry with Hatton over the Queen’s favors.

So it would seem Oxford was, at least in part, Shakespeare’s model for the Fool.

This concept even answers technical questions as when the Fool exits in the carousing scene, which is not marked in the text. This Fool would not be one who hangs around to be included. He has other matters to attend to. With his innuendo on Saint Anne, thumbing his nose at Malvolio, he bids them all adieu.

And productions that conflate the characters of the Fool and Fabian only hurt the integrity of both. They are very different people. Fabian’s language has the habitual imagery of a sadistic bully, the perfect setup for his final nervous confession to his furious Mistress, where he starts out bravely and ends up fingering every one but himself. The Fool, on the other hand, is not intimidated by anyone, certainly not by his Mistress.

Pursuing the logic of these assumptions leads to the unspoken heart of Twelfth Night, the love, indeed the secret bond, existing between Olivia and her Fool. Once detected, this insight finds support throughout the play.

There is only one moment in Twelfth Night when Olivia and the Fool are alone on stage together. (I. v.) Malvolio has been sniping at the Fool in front of an amused and encouraging Olivia in what should now be a scene crackling with sexual energy. The Fool breezily gets the best of the suppressed, infuriated Puritan. But after Malvolio exits in a huff, Olivia turns on her Fool. “Now you see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and people dislike it!”

He snaps back:

Thou hast spoke for us, madonna, as if thy eldest son should be a fool: whose skull Jove cram with brain…

This moment, in which a family relationship is suddenly invoked, can be played with the abrupt, violent intensity of a domestic spat. There is no question of Olivia being coolly in charge here or the Fool smoothly agreeable. In an instant they are at each others throats…and on the entrance of a third party they are as instantly apart.

Though Olivia acts the ice princess in public, her veil is dropped in other private moments and we are allowed to see the lust-crazed being within. The mark of her majesty is how quickly she reverts to her regal role. “Will you be ruled by me?” she asks the bedazzled Sebastian, for these are her marriage terms.

This sort of analysis affects the tone of the play right down to individual line readings. When Viola, who is openly loved by Olivia, runs into the Fool (III, i) he delivers a series of sarcastic observations on the manners, morals and hypocrisies of their society.

“I warrant thou art a merry fellow, and car’st for nothing,” Viola remarks.

“Not so, sir,” he replies. “I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you: if that be to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible.”

Initially the actor playing the Fool might put the emphasis on “invisible”, which could work, making the meaning merely that he wished Viola would disappear, be gone. But that reading offers no explanation as to why the Fool, who can be very good-natured, is suddenly so insulting to Viola, one of the most sympathetic characters in the play. (Hamilton notes that “Viola and Sebastian can be read as types of the incarnate Christ…”) Is the Fool simply being a jerk? What’s his problem?

But put the emphasis on the “you” preceding “invisible” and there is a clear subtext, “I would that you were invisible, just as I am.” Now the actor has a motive for this Fool’s behavior that is consistent with an overall concept.

The problem of this impervious Virgin Queen and her enforcement of the Tudor state religion by the ruthless silencing of all discussion is present later in the play as well. In the Elizabethan Review Richard Desper has pointed out that the mock trial scene (IV, ii) works as a parody of the government persecution of Catholic martyrs.

“The playwright,” he writes, “demonstrates for us a world turned upside down, with clowns passing themselves off as men of learning, while men of learning such as Campion are pressed to deny what they believe to be true to serve political ends.”

Campion is the “old hermit of Prague” set before a “niece of King Gorboduc” i.e. a mythic king of England, as Elizabeth would have been to Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur, who died before becoming King Arthur. On trial for his life, without even pen and ink to defend himself, the hermit answers her demand for supremacy “very wittily” with the statement, “That that is is.”

This is connected to God’s declaration of his name to Moses, “I am that I am.” Shakespeare uses this exact phrase of himself in Sonnet 121, as does Oxford in a private letter declaring his independence from his prying father-in-law, Lord Burghley. These links between Oxford, Shakespeare and the Fool can also be made to Essex and Southampton and their struggle to win respect for individual conscience and the individual’s singular link with the one Creator.

The hermit, Desper continues, “is not the Creator, thus, he renders the phrase in the third person, declaring that God Is, because He Is; he owes his existence to no earthly agency, certainly to no King or Queen.”

Even Sir Walter Raleigh once protested a government bill that would exclude Brownists from orthodoxy. “What danger may grow to ourselves if this Law pass…” he asked, “For it is to be feared, that men not guilty, will be included in it.”

In his persecution of Malvolio the Fool is showing how these unfair legal tactics might be turned on anyone. In its biting satire it is really a plea for mercy and justice, as Hamilton argues:

“Shakespeare focuses not on Puritanism or on madness or on exorcism, but on the extent to which authority will fabricate in order to protect itself, thus laying bare the strategies of containment, suppression, demonizing, and scapegoating that the ecclesiastical officials had been using…by implication, against all nonconformists.”

Malvolio is a sort of Puritan as Shylock is a kind of Jew – and Shylock seems half Puritan really, reminiscent, like Hamlet’s Polonius, of Lord Burghley. These characters are fellows of the Cecil-Walsingham-Hatton faction, the new men who believed by their very faith in the principal of money making money.

The Fool, alive to some deep feudal sympathy, is ambivalent about schemes that so obviously work, yet by their very nature tend towards a materialism that would devour the core and soul of human relationships. Orlando, too, speaks to this fear with Adam in As You Like It. Another dispossessed outsider, he dreads some future age when society will be forced to worship the values of the marketplace above all else.

Yet in his generous heart Shakespeare knows Malvolio must be included, somehow, in the new order or civil war will tear the household apart.

But we never see that reconciliation. When the humiliated Puritan stalks off, vowing vengeance on the whole laughing pack of aristocrats, the author’s prophetic soul may well have been dreaming on the coming of Cromwell.

Many critics (and productions) have dismissed the song that closes Twelfth Night as practically irrelevant to the play. It is sung by the Fool alone on stage after all the happy couples have departed. The opening verse goes:

When that I was and a little tiny boy
With hey ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Leslie Hotson interpreted this as ribaldry directed to a moral end, noting that “thing” would have a phallic meaning in this context. For him the whole song served as a warning against loose living. The third verse is interesting:

But when I came, alas, to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Why should the Fool sing this song? A song the Fool in Lear will echo. What does it mean to him? Charles Knight called it “the most philosophical Clown’s song upon the record…and the conclusion is, that what is true of the individual is true of the species…”

The lyric describes a wife who broke her husband’s pride. In Lear the Fool asks why his King has bared his behind and handed the rod to his daughters. So often in Shakespeare a woman gains the upper hand. One can hear in the Fool’s incessant refrain a deliberate punning of “reign” on “rain”. Only a “reign” can “reign” every day. It is Elizabeth again. She who claimed the whole of England as her spouse.

But her last great favorite was Essex.

Essex, known to history as a great fool, also represented, according to Hamilton, an extreme of openness and tolerance that her authoritarian reign found intolerable. He and Southampton headed the last rebellion of the old aristocracy. They were abandoned and destroyed by the Queen. Both she and England would live to rue her victory.

As Patrick Collinson observed, “There can be little doubt that if Essex rather than Cecil had conducted the king into his English inheritance, the outlook for the puritan would have been somewhat brighter.”

Bright enough, perhaps, to avert a bloody civil war, among other miseries.

Shakespeare was with the young nobles in spirit and they were with him. A performance of Richard II (where even Elizabeth later declared, “Know ye not. I am Richard!”) was arranged by members of the Essex\Southampton faction on the eve of their ill- fated Rebellion.

In a world where every public act contained a political message it is significant to note that February second, the date of the Middle Temple performance of Twelfth Night, or What You Will, marked the first anniversary of the Queen’s beheading of Essex. February second is also Candlemas, the Feast Day of the Purification of Our Lady.

So the Fool that night might have the last word, but he would have it alone. In history fools count for nothing, might is all. Poets can be the invisible souls of their age, but those ages take their name from kings and queens.

This knowledge can open great depths of feeling in any actor who plays the Fool. The closing song, sung alone, can mean something individual and real to the abandoned singer, sharing his summing up with his eternal audience.

We listen, for the Fool knows why he sings.

Bibliography:

David Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics, Harvard University Press, 1968.
Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967,1992.
Richard Desper, The Elizabethan Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1995, p.37-47.
Donna Hamilton, Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England, University Press of Kentucky, 1992.
Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1958.
Lacey Baldwin Smith, Henry VIII, The Mask of Royalty, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971

The Problem of The Funeral Elegy

©by Joseph Sobran


News item: With the aid of computers, scholars are attributing a poem titled “A Funeral Elegy,” published in 1612 and signed “W.S.,” to William Shakespeare.

“Well, Holmes,” I said, laying down the morning paper, “have you seen the report of the newly discovered ‘Funeral Elegy’ by Shakespeare?”

“I have heard something about it,” Sherlock Holmes replied. “But I confess I have not given it my full attention. Perhaps, my dear Watson, you will be so kind as to enlighten me.”

“An American scholar named Donald Foster, who found the poem, has determined, with the aid of modern computer methods, that it closely matches the style of Shakespeare.” Here I am afraid I yielded to the temptation to gloat at my old companion’s expense. “If he is right, Holmes, it certainly explodes your strange notion that the Earl of Oxford was the real author.”

“Indeed?” he said with mild surprise, but without removing the pipe from his mouth.

“Oh, most certainly. You see, the poem was written in 1612. Having been dead for eight years, my lord of Oxford could hardly have written it.”

“My understanding is that the Elegy was published in 1612. That is a different matter. It may actually have been written many years earlier.”

I shook my head. “Impossible, Holmes. The subject of the Elegy is a young man named William Peter, who was murdered near Exeter in January of 1612. The poem was registered for publication three weeks later by Thomas Thorpe, who was also the publisher of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.”

“There is no chance of a mistake?”

“I am afraid not. The title page makes it quite clear that Peter is the deceased man, and the poem indirectly confirms the fact.”

“Indirectly?”

“It contains an oblique play on the name Peter, calling him ‘friendship’s rock.’ Peter, of course, is from the Greek word for ‘rock,’ petros.”

“Apart from the poem itself, what else has been learned of this Peter?”

“Professor Foster has ascertained that he was twenty-nine at the time of his murder, and had been married three years. He had been a student at Oxford, where he probably met Shakespeare. The professor points out that Shakespeare must have passed through Oxford frequently while travelling between London and Stratford.”

“Surely he does not suggest that Shakespeare matriculated at Oxford?”

“Certainly not. Even an American could hardly suppose such a thing.”

“I am relieved,” Holmes smiled, taking up his violin and sawing casually on it. He was silent for a few minutes. I resumed the attack.

“I must say, Holmes,” I gibed, “I have always wondered how you could adhere to the snobbish belief that the real author of Shakespeare’s works must have been an earl. The truth is common sense itself. There is no need to posit mystery or conspiracy. Shakespeare was neither an earl, nor Francis Bacon, nor Christopher Marlowe; Shakespeare was Shakespeare. We have the testimony of those who knew the man himself; the scholars are unanimous; and now modern science has confirmed what nobody should have questioned.”

“Quite so, Watson. No doubt you are perfectly right.”

He continued improvising melodies, allowing me to savor my victory. It was not every day that Sherlock Holmes admitted defeat. At length he laid the violin down and spoke again.

“You say that young Peter was murdered in January, 1612?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “On January 25.”

“He was married?”

“For three years.”

“Did he have children?”

“None are mentioned”

“And the Elegy was registered for publication shortly after his death?”

“Yes. Nineteen days afterward.”

“In Exeter?”

“In London, of course.”

“Oh dear,” said Holmes, with a faint hint of mock alarm.

“Why not? All Shakespeare’s works were published in London.”

“And to whom is the poem dedicated?”

“To Peter’s brother, John Peter.”

“So the poem was presented to him before it was published?”

“I don’t know. The newspapers say nothing about that.”

“But presumably an elegy about a friend would be presented to the family before it was sent to the publisher, especially if it was dedicated to a member of the family.”

“Perhaps. There seems to be no positive evidence on the point.”

“And where was Shakespeare in 1612? In London?”

“The scholars believe that he had retired to Stratford.”

“Ah.”

I felt a twinge of uneasiness. “What are you driving at, Holmes? Do you find something amiss? The story seems quite straight forward to me.”

“Tell me, Watson, were the trains reliable in Shakespeare’s day?”

“There were no trains in Shakespeare’s day. Don’t be silly.”

“But there must have been trains in Shakespeare’s day.”

“Really, Holmes! What is the point of this absurdity?”

“Absurdity, Watson? I should call it iron logic. We have already established that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the Elegy. From this it follows, by the simplest deduction, that he must have availed himself of modern means of transportation. How many times must I remind you, Watson,” he sighed, “that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

I was speechless.

“Young Peter, a gentleman of no great rank or renown, was killed on the night of January 25 in an obscure village near Exeter, over a hundred and fifty miles from both Stratford and London. Yet within three weeks, several events had occurred. Let us take them in order. The news reached the remote town in Warwickshire where Shakespeare lived. Shakespeare, shocked and grieved, hastily wrote an elegy of some length, which he took or, let us concede, sent to Peter’s family. He then sent a second copy of the poem to a publisher in London, some ninety miles from Stratford, who decided to publish it immediately. In order for all this to be achieved, the actors in this little drama must have been moving at extraordinary velocities. It could not have happened without modern vehicles. The alternative is to suppose that Exeter and Stratford were nearer to London in those days.”

“The sequence you describe,” I said stubbornly, “however improbable, was not physically impossible.”

“Even assuming you are right, what would be the hurry?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why would a publisher want to rush to the presses with a poem about a man nobody in London had ever heard of? It was rare for the writers of elegies and the reading public to take an interest in anyone below the rank of knight, as Professor Foster himself admits.”

“But the poem was by Shakespeare! He was extremely popular!”

“Then it is all the more extraordinary that the publisher neglected to put his name on the title-page. He was identified only by his initials, ‘W.S.’ Surely it is remarkable that the title-page should tell us so much about the victim, who was unknown, and so little about the author, who it seems was already celebrated. Why withhold that name which alone could ensure sales?” As I tried to think of a reply, Holmes went on: “Moreover, this same publisher, Thomas Thorpe, had only recently published Shakespeare’s Sonnets, evidently without his permission, thereby exposing the most intimate details of his love life to public view. Such, at any rate, is the account of the scholars by whom you set such store. But I put it to you: Is this piratical scoundrel Thorpe the man Shakespeare would rush to favor with his next long poem?”

“So you have been following this story! Holmes, you are devious!”

“Forgive me, Watson,” he smiled. “I could not resist hearing what you would make of it. You know I value your counsel. And I did not deceive you. I know less about the case than I would wish to.”

“Well, what else have you learned?”

“Professor Foster himself acknowledges some of the difficulties in his position. But others have escaped his notice entirely. For example, he admits that there is no evidence that Shakespeare actually met Peter except for the poem itself, such as it is. Yet he fails to see that the author of the poem could have known little or nothing about William Peter.” “Why not?”

“Because poor William Peter was murdered after only three years of marriage, as Professor Foster has found, and apparently died without issue. Yet the poem itself tells us plainly that its subject had been married for nine years and was a devoted father!”

“What do you conclude from that?”

“That the Elegy cannot have been written about William Peter.”

“Good heavens!”

Holmes smiled complacently.

“Then Professor Foster has misled the public?”

“He was misled himself, Watson. The sleights of Thomas Thorpe operate across the centuries.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested desperately, “Shakespeare was merely mistaken on the point of Peter’s family life.”

“I fear that is impossible, Watson. The poet, it is clear, knew the murdered man very well. We have only Thorpe’s word that this man was William Peter of Exeter.

“But none of this disproves Shakespeare’s authorship.”

“The suspicious circumstances of the Elegy itself create grave doubt as to its authorship, Watson. Thorpe tried to make it appear to be Shakespeare’s work without using Shakespeare’s name. Why should he be so roundabout? There is our mystery. And there, I confess, I am at a loss for the moment.”

“Perhaps there is no solution,” I suggested. “As with so many other problems surrounding Shakespeare, we may be doomed to ignorance.”

“Perhaps,” Holmes agreed. “But it is still too early to despair. We have, as it happens, a few clues.”

“Such as?”

“The name of the murdered man who is the subject of the poem was indeed Peter, or something similar. Whether this was his Christian name or his surname is impossible to tell.”

“If he wasn’t William Peter, how do you know his name?”

“The poem, as you say, refers to it indirectly. It plays upon the verse in St. Matthew in which our Saviour tells St. Peter that he is the rock upon whom he will build his church. This may also be an indication that the murdered man was of the Church of Rome, since the claims of the papacy are traditionally referred to that verse.”

“But if his name was Peter, the fact argues for Professor Foster’s thesis.”

“Not necessarily, Watson. The evidence I have already cited rules out William Peter of Exeter. Consider the possibility that on the night when he was stabbed to death, the Elegy was already in Thorpe’s hands.”

“What?!”

“The Elegy was written before the Sonnets _ long before. In the Sonnets the poet consistently describes himself as old or aging, with death imminent. In the Elegy he twice speaks of himself as being still in his youth.”

“But may he not be speaking figuratively?”

“So Professor Foster contends. He is not convincing, any more than the scholars are convincing in asserting that the author of the Sonnets exaggerates his years. The poet makes it clear in the Elegy that he and his dead friend were contemporaries. He says that in honoring his friend’s memory he is only doing what the friend had also pledged to do for him, in the event that he died first. Such a bargain argues against any great disparity in their ages. Furthermore, the style of the Elegy, though very fine, shows that the poet had not yet reached the full mastery of rhyming verse he would achieve in the Sonnets. It is even further from the irregular meter of the late plays.”

“Then how do you account for it?”

“Mr. Shakespeare of Stratford is not the author, Watson. The poet refers to himself in the Elegy _ a presumptuous gesture in a poem of mourning, unless the author was himself a man of some importance. Moreover, the poet complains of his treatment by his country. He has been traduced and forced to live in some undeserved shame.”

“What does that prove?”

“It proves nothing. But it suggests a great deal. It suggests a man of a certain stature and renown with a public reputation to uphold. It suggests a great grievance, a conviction that his name has been abused.”

“The Earl of Oxford?”

“Precisely. Oxford was extremely sensitive about his reputation. An early surviving poem of his laments ‘the loss of his good name.’ His fortunes and respectability declined so sharply that a contemporary, far inferior to him in rank, could later taunt him about his ‘decayed reputation.’ Bear in mind that the author of the Sonnets frequently bemoans his ‘shame,’ his ‘disgrace in fortune and men’s eyes,’ and the ‘vulgar scandal stamped upon his brow.’ There was no known reason for Mr. Shakespeare to feel that his faults, whatever they were, were, so to speak, a matter of public record. But there was every reason for Oxford to feel that way. He had lived licentiously, wasted his immense family fortune, and made many enemies.”

“Go on.”

“Yet the author of the Elegy still hopes to clear his reputation. The author of the Sonnets has despaired of doing so. He feels he must carry his wounded name to his grave. Everything points to the authorship of one man, and to the priority of the Elegy.”

“It seems to make sense,” I admitted.

“It is noteworthy that the author of the Elegy feels free to allude to his own disgrace. I think we may reasonably take it that he was addressing trusted friends, and was not bent on immediate publication. On the contrary. The Elegy was meant for private reading only. It was never meant for the general public.”

“Then how did it fall into Thorpe’s hands?”

“We may never know. But we do know that the Sonnets and ‘A Lover’s Complaint’ had fallen into his hands, because he published them. I surmise that he acquired these poems and the Elegy at the same time, between Oxford’s death in 1604 and the appearance of the Sonnets and the Complaint in 1609.”

“But why would he not publish the Elegy with the other poems?”

“Because it would embarrass and outrage Oxford’s family. Consider again that though the poet speaks of himself as in his ‘youth’ in this poem which makes its public debut in 1612, he has spoken mournfully of himself as old and aging in the Sonnets, which can be traced with some confidence to the early 1590s. What does that tell us?”

“As you say, that the Elegy was written before the Sonnets.”

“Not only before the Sonnets, but many years before. Surely at least a decade must be allowed. A man does not go overnight from thinking of himself as a hale youth to complaining of age, decrepitude, and imminent death. So profound a change must be gradual.”

“I fail to see where you are leading.”

“If the Elegy precedes the Sonnets by more than a decade, it must have been written while Mr. Shakespeare was still living in his home town. The scholars have him arriving in London around 1590 or shortly before. They can only conjecture as to the date because of the absence of records, but his wife bore him twins in February 1585. Even if he departed for London immediately after begetting them, without even waiting for their birth, he would have arrived in London no earlier than May 1584. That still leaves less than a decade before the composition of the Sonnets.”

“He could have written the Elegy during his youth in Stratford.”

Holmes smiled. “I hardly think so. At that point, assuming he was already capable of so polished a poem, he was far too obscure to complain of his ruined reputation. It is also unlikely that while still in Stratford he should have formed a close friendship with a married gentleman some years his senior. Besides, the name of Shakespeare does not appear in print at all until 1593. No, Watson, it is far more reasonable to suppose that Oxford wrote the Elegy; that he wrote it when he was still young but somewhat notorious, probably before 1580, but perhaps shortly afterward. He commenced the Sonnets many years later, during the campaign to persuade the young Earl of Southampton to marry. You will recall that the great Lord Burghley exerted all his influence to persuade Southampton to marry his young granddaughter. Burghley was Oxford’s father-in-law; the young lady was Oxford’s daughter. By then Oxford himself was past forty and his health was beginning to fail. In his letters of the period he describes himself as ‘lame’ _ the very word the author of the Sonnets uses repeatedly of himself. All the pieces fall into place.”

“It seems plausible, as far as it goes. But I still don’t understand Thorpe’s role in the business.”

“He had the Elegy, but he could do nothing with it _ until he chanced to hear of the murder of another man named Peter in 1612. He then altered the title and dedication of the poem to match what he knew of the new victim, and quickly presented it for sale. This supposition requires us to believe only that he heard of this murder within three weeks of its occurrence, as in fact he did. He was unaware of the discrepancies between this William Peter and the subject of the Elegy; but for his purposes, they hardly mattered. Nobody else in London was likely to know of them either.”

“Brilliant, Holmes! Bravo!”

“I must caution you, Watson, that this is only a hypothesis. But it surmounts the difficulties and impossibilities of Professor Foster’s theory.”

“But what about Foster’s computer?”

“His computer is quite right. It pronounces no judgment as to the identity of the author. It merely indicates that whoever wrote the works we call Shakespeare’s probably also wrote the Elegy. Professor Foster assumes this author to be Shakespeare; I have long since concluded that he was the Earl of Oxford.”

“I must say, I don’t find the Elegy worthy of Shakespeare.”

“Worthy of Shakespeare, perhaps,” Holmes smiled. “But I agree that it is not Oxford’s finest work. Here again,” he added seriously, “Professor Foster has gone astray. He thinks the poem is a late work. His theory requires him to believe that Shakespeare wrote it at the end of his career. But it is all too plainly a youthful work. It bears unmistakable mannerisms of the great poet we have erroneously called Shakespeare; all that is missing is greatness itself.”

“Is that not an argument against its authenticity?”

“Not at all, Watson. Even genius must have its infancy. The man who wrote the Elegy was still learning to write verse, and learning very well. Had he stopped there, however, he would have been forgotten. There is hardly a memorable line in the poem; whereas in his maturity, he could hardly write a dull phrase. Technically, the Elegy is more than competent. But if we measure it against Macbeth, The Tempest or even Venus and Adonis, it seems insipid stuff.”

“Well, Holmes, there must be something in what you say about Oxford after all. I have misjudged you. In any case, Professor Foster’s theory is certainly untenable.”

“Let us not be too harsh with him, Watson. He has made, however inadvertently, a new addition to the Shakespeare canon. That is far more than most scholars achieve in a lifetime.”

I returned to my newspaper, and Holmes put his violin back into its case. Suddenly he turned to me, struck by a new thought. “Watson,” he said, “has it ever occurred to you that Homer must have been a woman?”

Invalid Logic and The Slippery Stratfordian

 

The Use of Fallacies in the Shakespeare Authorship Question

© by Leonard Deming, 1995


This paper was first presented at the 17th Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society in November 1993. Important information about the Footnotes.


Introduction

A landmark of my education was the decision to fit a course in logic into my schedule at Michigan State University. A friend had advised me to do so no matter what. He assured me that I would never regret it and that it would help me in virtually everything I did, no matter what career path I might choose. He was right. It helped me no end in the rest of my schooling which included taking the LSAT, going to law school and learning the rules of evidence (sometimes based on logic, sometimes not) and in myriad other activities with which a human being finds himself or herself confronted from research to shopping. I take this opportunity to pass the same advice along to those who may read this.

It was with this background that I sat down one evening a few years ago to watch a public television presentation of the Frontline segment entitled The Shakespeare Mystery.

Now, I have always had an interest in literature and poetry and had heard, on one or two occasions, about the so-called “authorship issue.” I specifically recall an English teacher at Gabriel’s High School in Lansing, Michigan saying that there were those who thought that Francis Bacon might have written the Shakespeare works. But I had always assumed that the issue could not be too awesome since it did not receive much play in school. Still, I had always considered exploring why some people doubted the Stratford man’s authorship, if it ever became convenient to do so.

It became convenient that evening when the Frontline program aired. When it was over, I was dumbfounded. My reaction was not due to the credibly interesting case presented in favor of the Earl of Oxford as the author of the Shakespeare canon; rather, I was amazed at the lack of any meaningful case presented by those supporting the traditional Shakespeare and their resort, instead, to what, in logic, is referred to as the logical fallacy.

A “logical fallacy” may be defined as “an error of reasoning based on faulty use of evidence or incorrect inference.”

Such “errors of reasoning” riddle the arguments of those who argue the authorship question, particularly those who try to defend the “Shakespeare” of Stratford On Avon. Upon viewing the Frontline program again, I detected at least five fallacies which are typically calculated to avoid the issue being discussed. I discovered in subsequent research (I was sure the Stratfordians must have more ammunition than they discharged in the Frontline program and I had set out to find it) that those supporting the Stratford man commonly resort to numerous logical fallacies in order to avoid discussing the real issue of who wrote the works of Shakespeare.

Such fallacies are extremely effective. And if you, as listener, are unaware of how these work, then you are left with the uneasy sense that there is something wrong with the argument just made, but you are not quite sure what it is. Some of the most common fallacies are described here and I have provided examples of how they work, both generally, and specifically as they relate to the authorship issue. An understanding of logical fallacies, in my opinion, is essential to debunking the myth of the Stratford “genius” who, I am now convinced, did not write the works of Shakespeare.

Logical Reasoning – Inductive and Deductive Thinking

A logical argument is nothing more than a series of premises (assertions of purported fact) strung together to arrive at a conclusion, presumably correct since it is based on (presumably correct) fact. The two basic types of logic are classified as “inductive” and “deductive”.

“Inductive” arguments are essentially unordered assertions of fact which tend toward some conclusion as a probability. The greater the weight and/or number of assertions, the greater the probability that the conclusion is correct. For instance, if one observes that the robin, the oriole, the cardinal and the starling all have feathers, one may conclude that all birds have feathers.

“Deductive” arguments, on the other hand, involve ordered inter-related assertions of fact which lead inexorably to the conclusion. The simplest form of deductive argument is the syllogism, which has a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. Diagrammed, it looks like this:

Major premise
Minor premise
Conclusion

An example might be:

All birds have feathers
The robin is a bird
The robin has feathers

The difference between “inductive” and “deductive” arguments is that, with the former, correct premises do not necessarily lead to a correct conclusion while, with the latter, if the premises are true and proper logical structure has been observed, the conclusion must also be true.

Logical Reasoning – Validity and Soundness

Before launching into fallacies, it is important to understand the difference between the “valid” argument and the “sound” one. Simply put, a valid argument does not necessarily lead to a true conclusion while the sound argument, by definition, always does. A “sound” argument is always a valid one but a “valid” argument is not necessarily sound. An argument which is merely valid is one which, within its premises, works. But the premises may be false leading to a false conclusion. Hence:

All aardvarks have feathers
Peter is an aardvark
Peter has feathers

is a valid argument, but it is hardly sound. Assuming that Peter is a normal human being, the premises are false leading to a false conclusion. But be wary of the following:

All aardvarks study math
Peter is an aardvark
Peter studies math.

Peter may study math but this argument does not prove it since the premises are false. It is a valid but unsound argument. To make it sound, we might posit:

Mrs. Klein’s students study math
Peter is one of Mrs. Klein’s students
Peter studies math.

Within the orbit of the authorship question, numerous examples may be found in which those who have championed one candidate or another for Shakespearian authorship have literally put the ice cream on top of the cherry instead of the other way around. As one example, with others to follow:

The author of the Works of Shakespeare went to school
Shaksper wrote the Works of Shakespeare
Shaksper went to school

Logical Fallacies

We will now turn to the most common fallacies, or “errors of reasoning,” by which logical thinking may be sent astray and we will focus on those which most commonly arise in discussing the authorship question. They include:

Begging the Question
Ad Hominem Arguments
Straw Man Arguments(Arguing Beside the Point)
Appeals To Authority
Equivocation (Verbal Arguments)
Negative Fallacy
False Analogy
Non Sequitur
Fallacy of Division (Guilt by Association)
Fallacy of Neglected Aspect

Most of these are what are generally referred to as “informal fallacies.” While I will be identifying some formal fallacies in order to place them in a proper context, I will not be distinguishing “formal” and “informal” fallacies in this overview related to the authorship question. It is also important to realize that any classification of fallacies is subject to criticism for not being complete or for saying too much. This is because fallacies tend to overlap as the reader will see in this discussion. Each logician invariably creates his or her own classifications which rarely correspond exactly to another’s. As one writer has noted, when discussing fallacies with those unfamiliar with them, a tighter list is often required or at least desired:

Nor do the learned authorities always agree. For instance, some of them list a fallacy called non sequitur (it doesn’t follow) as part of the begging-the-question group, while others make it a kind of portmanteau, embracing all the fallacies.

With this caution, we will launch into a discussion of the use of logical fallacies by those championing the orthodox view of the authorship question.

Begging The Question

The fallacy of “begging the question” or “arguing in a circle” essentially occurs when a major premise is also the conclusion sought. A simple form might appear thus:

A. The Atlanta Braves are the best baseball team in the world.
B. Only the best baseball team in the world would have the best pitching and hitting.
C. The Atlanta Braves have the best hitting and pitching.
D. Since the Atlanta Braves have the best hitting and pitching, it stands to reason that they are the best baseball team in the world.

The first three or last three parts of the argument constitute a valid syllogism. But with the addition of the first or last premise above, the fallacy of circular argument or “begging the question” has occurred. It is not so simple to recognize question-begging in everyday life without some practice at looking out for it. The discussion may become so distended that the participant in the argument forgets the starting point. One logician, Robert Olson, offers a good example in trying to prove the existence of God:

Although most fallacies of begging the question are due to linguistic confusion, some, especially in extended discourse, must be attributed to faulty memory. By the time we get to the argument, for instance, the author may begin by assuming the existence of God, make a number of inferences for which the existence of God is a crucial premise, and then conclude by proving the existence of God on the basis of these inferences.

The comparison of this paradigm to the Stratfordian religion is almost perfect. It would be comforting to think that orthodox Shakespearians had simply forgotten their starting point in arriving at their conclusion which validates the Stratford man as the author and that, by backtracking, would realize that their seminal premise led them to all the other premises which resulted in a conclusion identical to their starting point. But those who have tried to get the cardinals of Shakespearean orthodoxy to look through the telescope of logic and common sense in order to discover the true center of our literary universe have instead found themselves banished and exiled (or ordered to recant if the heretic happened to be so bold as to seek a doctorate in letters).

In the Frontline segment, Rowse begs the question in asserting that the real point of the First Folio is that it “was a tremendous-big undertaking which shows you how much Heming and Condell valued their chief dramatist.” The real issue is identifying the chief dramatist, not changing the subject to how much he may have been valued. This approach can also be accused of creating a “straw man” of “the playwright’s value” (see below) but in the context of Austin’s inquiry, Rowse is begging the question.

When the great hunt for evidence of Shakespeare’s life began in earnest in the mid-eighteenth century, it focused on the Stratford man and his milieu. Except for a few faint protests, the literary world was sure that it had its man identified and the task at hand was to develop facts to construct his biography. He must have gone to school, must have associated with nobles and other playwrights, must have been a lawyer’s clerk or schoolteacher or some such other professional, must have written his plays and poems between such and such a date, and so on. Whatever uneasy feelings arose as it became clear that no facts supported what must have been were quickly stifled. “Scholars” still freely asserted supposition as fact since, logically, the writer of such works as those of Shakespeare must have such credentials. They felt free to assert that the Stratford man had done all of these things and more since they were already convinced that he had done the writing. Remember that initial premise? Anyone challenging the orthodox view was quickly met with “facts” of Shakespeare’s schooling, career and, most important of all, his genius (the single most important absolute “must” of all). These “facts” were detailed in the biographies of Shakespeare which poured forth what must be.

Probably the most insidious and complex of these “facts” is the dating of the works which constitutes a complicated rendering of when and how the poems and plays were written in order to fit them into the life of Shaksper. One of the best examples of how the dating is relied on to turn it into some sort of proof of Stratford’s authorship is one presented by Professor Thomas Pendleton of Iona College used to justify, as new editors of The Shakespeare Newsletter, the removal of the Oxford Page which had previously addressed the authorship question. He says:

He (Oxford) died in June of 1604, before about a dozen of the Shakespeare plays, by the generally accepted chronology, had been written. It is of course true that it is almost always impossible to document irrefutably when any of the plays was composed; but this is far from an authorization to ignore everything that has been presented as evidence for chronological placement by the study of sources, influences, contemporary allusion and relevance, and literary and theatrical history. (A brief look at the “Canon and Chronology” section of the Oxford Textual Companion will demonstrate how extensive these materials are.)
Even more important, simply relocating all the later plays back to about the time of Twelfth Night would in effect deny everything of coherent interrelation and artistic growth that generations of readers have discerned and appreciated in Shakespeare’s mastery of the tragedies from Othello on, and in his development of the new genre of tragicomic romance. (Emphasis added)

Note how neatly this is done to make the argument look credible. The “generally accepted chronology” to which Dr. Pendleton refers is that created by those who assumed that the Stratford man wrote the works. Knowing Shaxsper’s approximate birth date and, hence, the earliest date that he could have begun to write, Stratford’s chronology was created from that time forward. No other conclusive reasons exist for the chronology upon which Stratfordians rely. The topical allusions to which Dr. Pendleton and others of his ilk refer are pure assumption, eminently debatable, and Oxfordians can offer topical allusions which are far superior to virtually anything the Stratfordians can muster. And this overlooks the simple fact that topical allusions can be added later by others to make an older play more timely at the time it is presented. The further reference to “coherent interrelation and artistic growth that generations of readers (read “Stratfordian readers”) have discerned and appreciated” is more of the same. Any such discernment depends directly on the Stratford man having written the works. The real problem for the recalcitrant Stratfordians is that if Shaksper did not write the works, then all of their critical analysis, all of their “discernment”, is meaningless. They have much to lose if they find that they have been wrong all along. Hence, the entire Stratfordian canon is little more than an extended example of the fallacy of begging the question.

Additionally, the Stratfordian approach is riddled with more compact examples of this fallacy. A common one is the assertion that all references to “Shakespeare” are to Shaksper without any indication that the reference was to the Stratford man. Take, for instance, a comment made by Stratfordian Frank Ernest Hill when confronted by the numerous doubters of the orthodox Shakespeare. He says:

Together they (the anti-stratfordians) were convincing proof of a widespread and persistent doubt that William Shakespeare wrote the works standing under his name. (Emphasis added)

Actually, Mr. Hill presents one of the better attempts of orthodoxy to rebut anti-Stratford sentiment in general and the Oxford cause specifically but it is clear from the outset of his thesis that he refers to all contemporary mention of “Shakespeare” as meaning the Stratford man. He, like all the others, however, is unable to make any real connection and engages in question-begging tactics to assume that which is at issue. In an attempt to establish requirements which challengers to the orthodox Shakespeare must meet to be convincing, he includes the following:

The challengers must offer a theory of authorship which satisfactorily explains away the many appearances of plays and poems under Shakespeare’s name. ….We have work after work printed as Shakespeare’s. Unless there is proof that this credit was falsely given, it is strong evidence for the orthodox view of authorship.

Here, the very fact at issue regarding whether the Stratford man ever received any credit at all is settled by saying that the works appeared under his name and that he was given some direct credit. Unfortunately, Mr. Hill does not offer one piece of straw for the foundation. Similar to this is another criterion he imposes:

They must also explain away a long series of statements and acts which confirm Shakespeare’s authorship of his own works. We shall see later what these acts and statements are. (We never do.) They comprise even stronger proof of Shakespeare’s identity as a writer than the appearance of his name on a succession of title pages.

They had better since the appearance of the name on the title pages proves nothing. And the problem for Mr. Hill is that there are no such acts or statements proving the Stratford man was a writer either.

Another example of the use of this fallacy is to create a connection between some established fact of Shaksper’s life and his assumed career as a poet and dramatist. Witness the following statement by Stratfordian Maurice Charney:

Another material proof of Shakespeare’s attachment to his native town is the fact that he made investments in Stratford real estate during his lucrative theatrical career in London.

Note that Charney is here proving Shaksper’s attachment to Stratford and assuming the theatrical career. In law, this is known as “assuming a fact not in evidence.” Furthermore, to my knowledge, no one has ever seriously considered the issue of Shaksper’s attachment to his home town as being relevant at all and this approach, in addition to begging the question of whether he ever had a lucrative theatrical career as such, comes close to creating a “straw man” consisting of his attachment to his home town. (See below) Stratfordian writers love to throw around terms like “fact” and “proof” in order to persuade the unwary reader that everything about the Stratford man is settled and proved when the opposite is actually the case.

It is not necessary to look back twenty or thirty years or further to find continuing examples of this. When I first became involved with this question, I always approached newer biographies of Shakespeare with some sense of anxiousness and perhaps a secret hope that somehow my doubt of Shakespeare might be ill-founded and that the particular work I was newly considering would establish that. Peter Levi’s The Life and Times of William Shakespeare was such a book. On the cover of my copy was an acclamation by one Anthony Burgess stating, “If you want a life (of Shakespeare) (sic), Levi’s book is the one you must buy.” With this recommendation, I ventured forth to read early in Levi’s introduction,

It is an axiom of method that the facts of his life, including the dates of his plays and poems, must be established as firmly as possible and without wishful thinking, before those facts can be related to his writings.

All right, now. This is what I had been looking for. He continued:

One must not make up fantasies about the bank where the wild thyme grew.

Go, Peter, go!

Many inspiring and misleading writers about Shakespeare impart to his characters and passages of his plays an experience of life they merely imagine, building conjecture on conjecture and cobweb on cobweb. Between severe critics and enthusiastic and conjectural biographers there is now a great gulf fixed.

Right on! I felt as if I were on the edge of hearing an honest analysis by a Stratfordian writer of all that I had been exploring for the past several years. Then came the bottom line:

It is implicit in this book that Mr.(sic) William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote more or less the works normally attributed to him….His works were not written by Bacon or Lord Oxford or any other contender. His contemporaries knew him as poet and as dramatist; he was not an obscure rustic genius, though his sense of country realities is much sharper than that of any of his contemporaries. His circle of friends extended into the nobility and country gentry, and the more research that is done, the further that circle is discovered to extend. No doubt there is always something mysterious about a poet, particularly a great poet, of whose juvenilia we have almost nothing. If we had, it would probably not be recognizable as Shakespeare’s. There are special reasons for this which I shall discuss. But the argument for his genuine authorship of his own works is multiple and overwhelming, and every day’s work I have spent in preparing to write about him has confirmed it.

He should have added “Amen, Alleluia.” This witnessing of his faith in the Stratfordian religion served notice that his book would operate on the assumption that the Stratford man had performed the miracle and that the only difference in Levi’s approach would be to tell everyone what really must have happened. A sample of the commentary that follows in his book demonstrates the cobwebs Mr. Levi uses to support his thesis. For instance, in assuming Shaksper’s education at the Stratford grammar school, he states:

More is known about the Combes’ dates of death than of their dates of birth, but it is likely that Shakespeare encountered them as a schoolboy. The Elizabethan grammar school was an extremely important leveler and an easy instrument for those who were going to climb intellectually or socially in a society both intellectually and socially more mobile than ours. That was how Lord Burghley began to climb.

Let alone the fact that he cannot show that Shaksper went to school. Maybe he did; maybe he did not. Levi leaps the chasm of this issue, however, and begins to tell us what he did and those he “likely” met. Eventually, he gets to the point of saying that, “Young Shakespeare went to the free school at Stratford.” Why is this so? Levi tells us.

The new generation of English poets all went to grammar schools of this kind, though some of them went to universities as well from about the age of fifteen.

Since Shaksper was one of “the new generation of English poets,” he went to the “available grammar school of this kind.” A short time later, Levi explains Shaksper’s absence from university training as being due to lack of money and his father’s near disgrace. It is because of this situation that he makes the absolutely unsupported statement that, “We must thank God anyway that his hungry talents were not canalized by academic study at that level. He was admirably self-taught…” Unsupported assumption rules his book from this point on. Because Shaksper must have been Shakespeare, inference is unlimited. Take the following example:

I am sure, however, that Shakespeare knew Robert Dover…When Robert grew up he had many friends in common with Shakespeare including Drayton, Ben Jonson, Thomas Russell and Endymion Porter. Robert Dover must have known (country sports) in boyhood too, but we have no clinching proof that Shakespeare had met him before he was seventeen, by which time Shakespeare was in London….No one has ever understood what Falstaff was doing at Winchcombe, in Justice Shallow’s orchard; or, to transpose the question, what Shakespeare was doing there. The key that fits this closed door is Robert Dover. Shakespeare knew him as a boy from Barton on the Heath, and Dover…. What they had in common was the Cotswolds (games)….The local scale of the Cotswold Olympics is easy enough to imagine.

Why not? Everything else is. And Levi is but one example. All of the Stratfordian writers have much the same to offer when they are not engaging in outright prevarication. Consider the following from Ivor Brown:

If it be urged that things appear in his texts which are outside the experience and information of ‘a harlotry player,’ the answer is that the Shakespeare whom I have endeavored to picture, according to known facts and contemporary allusions, was certainly under patronage of the Earl of Southampton and seemingly a close friend of that nobleman too. In Southampton’s house and circle he would meet John Florio, translator of Mantaigne, and the wits who hovered round the brilliant Essex or the learned Bacon. With his quickness of ear and perception and strength of memory he would absorb and retain what was said without difficulty. The idea of the outcast and ignoramus actor can only be supported by ignoring the dedications to Southampton and by thinking of Tudor London as a huge modern capital among whose millions genius can easily wilt unrecognized. (Emphasis added.)

Here, Brown uses the very test of “experience” to prove the relationships which Shaksper must have experienced to be considered the author. He goes back to the text of the dedication in the poems to basically say, “How could he write this if he were not the writer?” Note also Brown’s use of the conditional. I agree with him. If Shaksper were in Southampton’s house, he probably would meet those people and if Shaxsper were a genius enough to write the works, he probably would have had the quickness of ear, etc. But that is the question at issue and his argument only begs it. Brown goes on with this approach:

The very reason why Southampton took him up must have been the uncanny promise and swift performance of this unique young man.

It certainly must have. How unfortunate for Brown and the Stratfordians that Southampton never, in any record extant, mentioned this brilliant young friend. Never. In his chapter entitled “The Hand of Glory,” Brown attempts to deal with the authorship question relying on the mysterious essence of genius, the most spurious of all Stratfordian defenses because it virtually requires no proof and ignores the true nature of genius. As Charlton Ogburn has said, they treat the fruits of genius as if they were the result of “spontaneous generation.”

Notice how the circle runs. He was the honest-to-God real Shakespeare of the sonnets and the plays. If this is the case, then he must have gone to school and the school he must have gone to was the Stratford school. And he met all of these people there who became his friends and they had all of these connections to other people and places referred to in the plays and sonnets. But he could not go on to the university (because even the Stratfordians cannot suppose him to have attended in the face of positive evidence to the contrary), so he taught himself the rest and probably better than the university could have because he was so intelligent and a genius to boot, and anyone so smart and self-taught like that is just the person you would expect to be, who else, Shakespeare!

Begging the question is one of the strongest weapons in the Stratfordian arsenal and there are many more examples. One need only read critically to find them.

Ad Hominem Arguments

There are at least two forms of arguments ad hominem, a Latin phrase which literally means “against the man.” This form of fallacy focuses on either the personal situation of the listener to elicit sympathy for the proponent’s position or attacks personal traits of the opponent in order to diminish the effect of the opposing argument, even though the personal trait has no relation to the argument.

For example, Rottenberg points out that if a person is a candidate for treasurer, it may be very relevant that the candidate is dishonest but accusing the same person of being a homosexual is completely irrelevant to his or her qualifications for treasurer. Yet, this perceived “defect” would readily be resorted to by some in order to “muddy the water” and deflect attention from the real issue. In this particular example, both forms of ad hominem argument can be seen. One is the attack on the candidate for an unrelated “shortcoming”; the other is the implied pitch to the voters that since most of them, presumably, are not homosexuals, and that they should think twice before making a homosexual their treasurer. This fallacy, in either form, can be found in abundance in the context of the authorship question.

Attacking the personal trait of the opponent is the most common. A.L. Rowse engages in an ad hominem argument against Enoch Powell when he attacks the man’s background but also when he snootily brings up the point that Powell “has lost his seat” in government. Apparently, Rowse desires to press upon the listener the idea that Powell’s argument should not be attended since he has lost his seat, but this obviously has nothing to do with whether Powell is correct in challenging Rowse’s hero.

Another instance occurs when John Savage in the 1992 Visnet broadcast on the authorship question attacks all those persons who have “a neurotic need to believe in conspiracy” as some sort of clear definition of the Oxfordian. The attack is against the “neurotic” Oxfordian, not the argument he or she makes. By way of hyperbolic example, Jack the Ripper could make a very good argument for keeping our cutting utensils sharp which has nothing to do with hacking up poor unfortunates, but the detractor would argue against sharp knives because Jack the Ripper favors them for his nefarious purpose.

A simple method of detecting such an “ad hominem” argument is to replace the proponent with another, and presumably unobjectionable, person. If the only difference is the person making the argument, the argument itself remaining intact, and the attack on the argument dissolves, then that attack was one which was only “ad hominem”, or, against the person. In the Jack the Ripper example, let us eliminate Jack as the proponent and substitute the Boy Scouts of America, who have long championed well-sharpened knives as being safer than dull ones because you might inadvertently lop off a digit with the latter sooner that you would the former. With this substitution, the first attack disintegrates as being ad hominem and, therefore, fallacious.

Consider Professor Samuel Schoenbaum’s authorship rebuttal found in Shakespeare’s Lives. With the exception of a few other fallacies thrown in and, at best, a couple of easily-demolished arguments, his effort largely consists of an attack on the anti-Stratfordians themselves. Consider the following:

(Looney) refused a nom de plume to forestall the hilarity of reviewers.

He tells how the Oxfordians “(gave) the Baconians a run for their madness.” He joins the clarion call of other orthodox respondents by noting,

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that snobbery led Looney, a gentle retiring soul, to seek a Shakespeare with blue blood in his veins.

Considering Looney’s work and its impact, he states that, “Despite its intellectual naivete, …(Looney) impressed the impressionable.” This is a unique double-slam against both the writer and his adherents.

In the space of relatively few pages, Schoenbaum describes Looney as a “pedagogue” twice and uses the word “heretic” or its root five times (twice on one page). He describes The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn “…as one of the seven wonders of anti-Stratfordianism, although I would be hard pressed to name the other six.” On the same page, he asserts that Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Name by Dorothy Ogburn and Charlton Ogburn, Jr. “…has at least the merit of comparative brevity.”

This is not argument or rebuttal; this is name-calling. And it has nothing to do with the validity of the arguments of those he labels. The “snobbery” argument is not unusual. It was employed by Rowse in the Frontline program and it pervades many Stratfordian responses to the issue when the Stratfordians respond at all. Consider the typical approach taken by Peter Levi:

Contrary theories (regarding the authorship) depend to various degrees on snobbery, perversity and the mania for decoding which is so often combined with touches of megalomaniac self-importance. Since I believe this to be the sober truth, I hope I may say it without offence.

A final example should suffice to complete the point and Professor Schoenbaum provides us with it. Note how this particular attack on Looney’s book and theory deals with the fool who would believe it, and not with whether the theory is foolish. He first notes that John Galsworthy called Looney’s book “the best detective story” he had ever read. Schoenbaum goes on:

Herein must lie much of the fundamental appeal of the work and of anti-Stratfordian demonstrations generally. Sober literary history is metamorphosed into a game of detection, in much the same manner as James Thurber’s American lady in the Lake Country transformed Macbeth into a Hercule Poirot thriller (‘”Oh Macduff did it all right,” said the murder specialist.’). To such a game the cultivated amateur can give his leisure hours in hopes of toppling the supreme literary idol and confounding the professionals.

The operative words are “sober” (Oxfordians must be drunk), “cultivated amateur”, “leisure” (as opposed to hard-working scholars), “hopes” (read “starry-eyed”), and “professionals” (Stratfordian scholars).Ad hominem attacks are effective and commonly resorted to by Stratfordians because they divert attention from the real issues and allow them to escape having to defend the indefensible.

The other form of this species of fallacy is the circumstantial ad hominem, which is an argument directing appeals to the interests of the listener rather than attacking the opponent. It is closely related to the fallacy of Wishful Thinking which “…occurs when we fail to give an argument due credit because we want its conclusion to be false or when we give an argument more credit than it deserves because we want its conclusion to be true.” It sometimes takes the form of an “appeal to pity” or some other emotion, or a “faulty emotional appeal.” For instance, a congregation of devout Catholics may approve very strongly of the arguments against abortion as being murder but may not be willing to hear with the same ears any issues about “choice”. The person who argues counting on and perhaps plumbing the listener’s predisposition utilizes the circumstantial ad hominem.

A type of this attack described by Albert Frye and Albert Levi is one which attempts to make the opponent look ridiculous in the eyes of the audience (“appeal to ridicule”), Professor Schoenbaum’s tactic when he focuses on Percy Allen’s seances instead of the credible work Percy Allen did to support his cause. In a similar way, he attacks those who “are drawn to conspiracy theories” in the Frontline program and sets himself apart by saying that he is not so inclined to subscribe to conspiracies. By doing so, he simply labels all anti-Stratfordians without ever considering the basis for their beliefs. Effective.

Probably the most telling use of the argument ad hominem is that which attacks anyone who, in the eyes of the attacker, is not sufficiently an expert or “authority” in the field to even express an opinion on the subject. As I have mentioned, fallacies mix and blend with each other so as to make it difficult at times to denote which fallacy is being utilized at any particular moment. I shall shortly discuss the heavily relied-upon “resort to authority”, but at this point I simply point out that clinging to the position that the speaker is not an appropriate “authority” is another example of the ad hominem argument which attacks the proponent and not the argument which is made.

Arguing Beside The Point (The Straw Man)

Arguing “beside the point” occurs, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, when two different issues become confused as being the same, and an argument in support of one issue is mistakenly assumed to be an argument in support of the other. This fallacy is an effective one which consists of attacking a view similar to, but not the same as, that held by your opponent.

A good example is one used by Richard Nixon in his famous “Checkers” Speech which is described by Rottenberg. Nixon, having been accused of having “appropriated $18,000 in campaign funds for his personal use”, responded as follows:

One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don’t they will probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election.
A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?
It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl, Tricia, the six-year-old, named it Checkers.
And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.”

Of course, Nixon knew that the issue was the $18,000, not the dog. Still, he deflected attention from the real issue and everybody remembers the dog and not the money.

This particular fallacy was beautifully implemented by A.L Rowse in the Frontline program. At a point when he is asked whether he thought it impossible or unlikely that the Earl of Oxford could have written the Shakespeare works, he responded with an attack on all the “silly people” who thought Shakespeare must have been a woman or that Queen Elizabeth must have been a man. Of course, he had not been asked whether he thought Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare had their sexes confused. And while we may assume what his answer would have been to the actual question, he got away with avoiding having to tell us why. Instead, he probably succeeded in persuading some listeners that some Oxfordians might even believe that the Queen was male and the writer female. As one authority on logic, Michael Scriven, has put it, the “‘straw-man’ fallacy involves ascribing a claim to somebody who doesn’t in fact make that claim.” It consists of creating an issue similar to the one being discussed but which is, in fact, not the issue. It is an issue “beside” the real issue, or “beside the point.” The “straw man” issue is one that is easier to knock down than the real issue, like a straw man instead of a real one. And it makes it look as though you have won your argument.

Fallacy Of Illegitimate Appeal To Authority

One of the strongest hooks upon which the Stratfordians hang their arguments is their resort to their own position of authority, or the position of those who agree with them. It is the “because I say so” argument. A.L Rowse put it succinctly in the Frontline program when, referring to Enoch Powell’s anti-Stratfordian position, Rowse sniffs at Powell’s classical education and sums it up by concluding, “He doesn’t qualify to have an opinion. We needn’t worry about what he says at all.” Indeed, Rowse is convinced that no one who takes such a position is qualified, referring to “all the rot…by people who should shut up”. He goes on to tell the interviewer, Al Austin, that people should read the books that tell the real truth—his books.

Resort to this particular method is not always so obvious. Gary Taylor, in an excellent analysis of Shakespeare’s impact on society and society’s impact on Shakespeare, makes reference to Looney’s Oxfordian thesis and concludes that “scholars” were not convinced. Actually, many scholars were convinced but they did not fit into the Taylor mold which implicitly contains the word “Stratfordian” in the definition. However, since “scholars” were not convinced, neither should anyone else be.

Logicians disagree with regard to the extent that resort to authority should be questioned. Probably as a result of the “Vietnam era” and bumper stickers which challenge us to “Question Authority”, people have become properly cynical of those who rely on the letters they are entitled to write after their name to prove their point. A friend of mine neatly called just such a bluff once when an antagonist referred to his master’s degree in order to shore up his flagging argument and my friend responded by saying, “Yes, it’s a pity how they hand those things out.”

One logician’s approach is as follows:

Not all appeals to authority are illegitimate. If the subject matter falls within an area for which expert opinion is available and if the competence of the authority can be demonstrated, an arguer’s appeal to authority is not illegitimate.

However, the same writer points out that just because nearly everyone believes that something is true, such widely-held opinion is not conclusive.

History amply demonstrates that popular beliefs are as often wrong as right. In the words of Socrates, the seeker after truth will completely disregard “the opinion of the many.”

All logicians are not so willing to concede the exercise of one’s reason to claims of authority. The practice of “ad verecundiam” (appeal to revered authority) is a lazy person’s effort. Instead of talking about the real issues and facts, resort is made to a name or letters behind the name, wielding it like a club to glean acceptance of or submission to the conclusion proposed. But, as one logician, Stuart Chase, has stated:

Quoting authorities is of course entirely legitimate, and only when pushed too far, when the Big Name freezes mental activity, does it become a fallacy. It is not so much that one thinks wrongly, as that one ceases to think at all.

He goes on to point out:

Most American investors looked up to those bankers and financial wizards who convinced us, just before the crash of 1929, that the stock market had entered a new and permanent level of values. We trusted these wise men, and did not stop to analyze the ever more fantastic ratio of earnings to market prices.

Another good example is provided by geologists prior to the discoveries of the late 1960′s who laughed at and decried plate tectonic theory. I remember a geography teacher who noted the similar patterns of the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa and how some simpletons actually thought that they might have broken apart eons ago. Those geologists of the past are the extinct dinosaurs of today.

Gary Taylor resorts to authority again when he lumps himself together with those who have patiently tried to explain why anti- Stratfordians are wrong and then wearily have to withstand a whole new barrage of attacks. He points out how technical each of the arguments are, in this case specifically referring to the use of the hyphen in Shakespeare’s name on the Visnet debate, and how after proving one minor point such as the use of the hyphen (which he never actually does), anti-Stratfordians come up with some new argument. Such “technical” subjects should be left to the “scholars.” It was meant to sound convincing and, perhaps to some, it was. But he never demonstrated anything except his premise that this technical subject is best left to the “scholars” and not to the uninitiated like Charlton Ogburn. Jr., Warren Hope, Paul Nitze, Dr. Deborah Bacon, Tom Bethel, Felicia Londre, Charles Burford, et. al. who do not have a right to an opinion. Taylor’s approach calls to mind the remark of F.C.S. Schiller that “nothing has a greater hold on the human mind than nonsense fortified with technicalities.”

In the same broadcast, Rebecca Flynn uses this tactic arguing the lame and long-abused notion that The Tempest makes reference to a certain shipwreck (demonstrating the extent of research performed by Ms. Flynn on the subject) by saying that it is “…generally agreed by reputable scholars…” that the play was written after Oxford died. Of course, her definition of “reputable scholars” corresponds to that of Professor Taylor’s. She attempts to carry the day by citing irrefutable authority without resorting to the underlying facts and is blown out of the water by Tom Bethel who points out that other shipwrecks occurred much earlier which could have been used as a model, if a model were needed at all.

Samuel Schoenbaum, in his effort to discredit the “heretics”, adequately describes some of the basic positions which anti- Stratfordians have taken, but he never succeeds in refuting them. Instead, he resorts to several fallacies to try to belittle those who may have the temerity to challenge orthodoxy. Resort to authority is one. He says:

The heretic’s selection of de Vere, courtly amateur rather than professional man of letters, confirms his identification with his idealized choice, for the Oxfordians are, almost to a man, dilettante scholars.

This is a perfect example of how the resort to authority is nothing more than a form of ad hominem argument. Do not get put into the position of having to deal with the argument or issue; attack the opponent personally.Professor Schoenbaum provides some ironic humor when he discusses the one Oxfordian whom he is unable to attack as a “non-scholar” and tries to find another way to discredit him. About Sigmund Freud, who he acknowledges began to read the works of Shakespeare at the age of eight and could readily quote Shakespeare, he says:

That the authorship controversy stirred his analytical curiosity need not surprise us. It is, however, both surprising and sad that the schismatics were able to claim Freud as one of their own.

Freud is a problem for Stratfordians because the father of modern psychiatry was the quintessential problem-solver who took an open-minded approach to discovering facts. And Freud did not slavishly adhere to the “facts” insisted upon by Stratfordians.But what is really hilarious is that Schoenbaum assumes the mantle of psychiatrist to analyze Dr. Freud’s motivations! He engages in several pages of psychological rumination and concludes:

In the rescue fantasy one sees again the operation of the Family Romance, dually functioning ‘to mask the hostile impulses and preserve the lost omnipotent object’. In such a way does psychoanalytic theory explain the unconscious origins of anti-Stratfordian polemics.

Schoenbaum no sooner finishes decrying “dilettante scholars” for tampering with his domain than he becomes an accomplished psychoanalyst getting to the bottom of the real psychological motives of anti-Stratfordians including the great Dr. Freud himself. One wonders if Dr. Schoenbaum would object to Oxfordians (or anyone else) questioning his authority to do so.In the end, accusing someone of not having the necessary credentials to discuss the issue or have an opinion is just another form of ad hominem argument. Appealing to authority discards the truism that rival authorities disagree (the basic requirement for any true controversy), and demands that the opponent cease thinking, or speaking, altogether.

Fallacy Of Equivocation (Verbal Arguments)

Equivocal or “verbal” arguments are those wherein a crucial term (i.e. a term which is critical to the soundness of the argument) has not been clearly defined and the term is used with different meanings, expressed or implied, in the argument. This unobtrusively turns the term into two different terms where the argument still demands a single term. If clear agreement is reached on the denotation and connotation of the term as having two different meanings, the argument evaporates because the term cannot be used consistently as a single term within the argument. An example offered by Olson follows:

1. Death is the end of life.
2. The end of a thing is its perfection.
3. Death is the perfection of life.

The meaning of the term “end” in the two places it appears is obviously different and the conclusion is therefore unsound.

A common Stratfordian equivocation is the assertion that :

More facts are known about William Shakespeare than about any other playwright of the period except Ben Jonson.

Aside from the “question-begging” use of the term “playwright”, the equivocal term used here is “facts.” The argument that really is being pressed here is the following, with the major premise implied:

1. The more facts that are known about a playwright’s life, the more likely it is that he was a notable playwright.
2. More facts are known about William Shakespeare than about any other playwright of the period except Ben Jonson.
3. William Shakespeare was a more notable playwright of the era than anyone except perhaps Ben Jonson.

There is no doubt that there are plenty of facts about the Stratford man but not the kind you would associate with the greatest writer who ever lived. Indeed, there is not one fact indicative of a writer. The writer of the previous quotation does not emphasize this and leaves the reader to assume that the facts to which he refers have to do with being a playwright. “Facts” in the major premise purportedly means “facts having to do with being a playwright” while the same word in the second premise really means “general facts”, or any facts at all.

An even more blatantly deceptive use of similar language is the following employed by Charney:

The enthusiastic efforts of researchers have uncovered more than a hundred relevant documents, including deeds to property, entries in parish registers, depositions in law suits, and other legal records.

Look closely at the term “relevant” and ask the question “relevant to what?” If we conclude that the appropriate application is to say “relevant to the legal matters of a man from Stratford” then the statement is probably correct. However, the writer wants the reader to presume relevance to Shakespeare’s alleged writing career the same way “facts” in the previous example proffered by Charney was intended to allude to activities as a playwright. However, Stratfordians have never demonstrated how any document yet discovered is clearly relevant to any supposed career as a playwright.

Negative Fallacy

It is impossible to prove that something is not by virtue of a lack of any evidence. For instance, I cannot prove that there are no extra-terrestrials due to the fact that we do not have any clear evidence of their existence.

This fallacy is the one committed by Oxfordians when they point out that no record exists of Shaksper having attended the Stratford school while, in truth, for the period, there is no evidence of anyone attending the school. The records, whatever they may have been, have long since been lost or destroyed. If there were records, but Shaksper was not recorded in them, then there would be affirmative evidence that he did not go to school. Or if someone said in a letter that young Shaksper was unable to attend school because he had to help his father butcher cattle, then we would have something. Instead, all we have is a deafening silence, which proves nothing.

What is humorous is how the Stratfordians turn this lack of evidence into proof that Shaksper went to the Stratford school. For example, in the introduction to the Signet paperback edition of Hamlet, the writer admits that no records are available but states that it is reasonable to assume that he went to school and received substantial Latin! (The Earl of Burford, in his national tour, has, tongue in cheek, identified this as a “positive” fallacy.) The problem for the Signet proponent is that, from the standpoint of proving anything, he or she has given up the ghost as soon as the negative premise (i.e. no records are available) is introduced. This is because, in syllogistic logic, an affirmative and a negative premise can only result in a negative conclusion. It is certainly possible to prove a negative but you must have a valid negative premise accompanied with an affirmative one. Replace the affirmative premise with a negative one so that all you are left with is negative premises, and no conclusion may be drawn at all! For instance, if you state the following:

No Basenji dogs can bark.
The Clarks own only Basenji dogs.

the only reasonable conclusion is:

No dogs owned by the Clarks can bark.

which is a negative conclusion. Substitute the affirmative minor premise with a negative one, such as

The Clarks own no Basenji dogs.

and you can prove precisely nothing. You certainly cannot surmise:

No dogs owned by the Clarks can bark.

Maybe they can; maybe they cannot. Maybe the Clarks own no dogs at all. But the two negative premises avail no deduction whatsoever.Therefore, to show that Shaksper received an education, Stratfordians may not look to deductive thinking at all. They must rely on inductive logic and this wholly fails them as well since there is no evidence anywhere (letters, diaries, journals, etc.) that Shaksper ever saw the inside of a classroom, let alone spent any time in one.

It is for this reason that a person should always be wary of the proponent of any theory who constantly relies on negative premises to make a point. And it is exactly here that the Stratfordians may be called to task. You do not have to read very far in an orthodox defense of the Stratford man to find negatives galore. Consider the following examples which Peter Levi gives us, thus:

There was a rumor later of another boy who was Shakespeare’s friend and just as brilliant as he was, who died very young. There is no reason why it should not be true.

And this when referring to anonymous verse from the era of Shaksper’s youth

:

It may be considered in addition that we are utterly lacking in any apprentice verses of Shakespeare. He emerges at twenty-seven years old as a perfect poet. These verses are traditional in style, theme and feeling, almost anyone could have written them, and there is no reason why this ‘anyone’ should not have been the young Shakespeare. They are talented, elegant, and almost a parody. I think he wrote them at about the age of seventeen.

This business of grabbing a negative and forcing someone to disprove is completely invalid. It has much to do with the burden of proof and is referred to as an argument ad ignorantiam. It is the attempt to turn an argument around so that the other side must prove a negative. An example employed by Chase is:

“The State Department is full of Reds!”
“Prove it.”
“I don’t have to, let’s see you disprove it.”

Another might go like this:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty.”
“I don’t believe he exists.”
“You can’t prove He doesn’t.”

A conclusion offered by a Stratfordian after wrestling with the authorship and knowing that he cannot prove Shaksper’s claim is as follows:

The argument for Shakespeare may well rest on this single impressive consideration. As we have seen, all the evidence that has been put forward to show that he could not have been the author of his works fails to prove him incapable, while in opposition to the facts supporting his position we have little more than daring conjectures. (Emphasis added)

Chase points out the effect of this approach.

Instead of proving your argument, you challenge your opponent to disprove it. If he can’t, then you triumphantly assert that you have won. You do no demonstrating at all—which I suppose is where the “ignorance” comes in.

When Peter Levi says, “There is no reason why it should not be true” or why “it should not be Shakespeare”, he is employing this approach. “Prove that it is not true.” But negatives used in this way are invalid and prove nothing on their own. Negatives simply eliminate possibilities; they prove nothing.

False Analogy

The fallacy of False Analogy occurs when someone tries to draw a comparison between some aspect of the issue being discussed and some other completely unrelated example as if it will provide some deep truth about the subject. The problem is that analogies offer no proof of anything if only because the conditions of each are probably quite different.

In examining the difficulty of creating a decent biography of Shaksper, Taylor resorts to an analogy first proffered by T.S. Eliot:

For Eliot poetry occurs “when a bit of finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide”; with the platinum present, the two gases combine to form “sulphurous acid.”
This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, passive, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.
Shakespeare, the passive catalyst, compounds images. How can you write the biography of a shred of platinum?

This is almost more metaphor than analogy. Still, it is used as an analogy for his inability to discover something solid about his subject.

Platinum is a metal. Poets are human. You cannot write biographies of gold, iron, or other inert objects. A better analogy would be that you cannot write the biography of a prehistoric cave man of whom there is no record. But that would not have suited Dr. Taylor’s purpose since it is uncomfortable for Stratfordians to acknowledge the lack of a meaningful or relevant record about their star at a time when people did know how to record history. So, instead, Professor Taylor decided to wax poetic about platinum.

Non Sequitur

The “Non Sequitur” fallacy is one which is based on the Latin phrase after which it is named which means, literally, “it does not follow”. In other words, the beginning of the argument has nothing to do, necessarily, with the conclusion which follows. It is a fallacy of irrelevance meaning that whatever proposition has been asserted as justification for the conclusion really has nothing to do with the conclusion, although, at first blush, it may seem to.

As one logician has noted, the mere fact that a book is popular or enjoys good sales does not make it good literature or scientifically respectable.

In the context of the authorship issue, there are many instances of this fallacy of which I will note only a few.

For instance, Mr. Charney notes Shaksper’s acquisition of New Place and its surrounding gardens and tries to attach it to how he came by the money to make the purchase. He says:

Along with the grant of arms, this impressive house and gardens marks Shakespeare’s extraordinary success in the business-artistic world of the London theaters.

Mr. Charney has no more proof of how the Stratford man got the money to make the purchase than I do. And it took money to buy the property, not necessarily success in the business-artistic world of the London theaters.

Another example of a common use of this fallacy against Oxford is one used by John Savage in the Visnet Broadcast in 1992. Mr. Savage warns those foolish enough to consider Oxford as the author of all of the “bad things” about de Vere, describing him as a “nasty piece of work.” He goes on to describe the negative attributes which Oxford had as a person, saying that he disobeyed the Queen and married without her permission (technically wrong, but beyond my point here), and that he generally had a bad attitude. Actually, Savage did not know the half of it but he could accuse Oxford of being a four-headed Gila Monster or cavorting with wolves and baying at the moon on Halloween in some satanic rite, but neither of these has anything to do with whether he could have written the works of Shakespeare. If an accusation is going to prove anything, it must be related in some way to the issue at hand. The point is that all of the accusations in the world, whether true or not, do not disprove Oxford’s authorship of the Shakespeare canon unless they have something to do with the issue, i.e. writing. Accusing him of being emotional certainly does not do it. Actually, it makes sense that only a person with Oxford’s passion, if recognized in the proper light, could have written these masterpieces. “It does not follow” that a person who did the things that Mr. Savage accuses him of could not have written the works. This approach also resembles, and in some ways typifies, the circumstantial ad hominem argument known as the “faulty emotional appeal.” After all, do you want your greatest literary hero of all time to be less than perfect?

Peter Levi provides another example. Referring to the likelihood that Shakespeare (read here “the writer of Shakespeare’s works”) saw the Mystery Plays, he provides as evidence:

He (Shaksper/Shakespeare) may well have seen the Mystery Plays…Willis…describes a Morality Play he saw at Gloucester as a little boy on his father’s shoulder. He was exactly Shakespeare’s age.

Well, now, there’s some evidence. Someone the same age as Shaksper saw a Morality Play. That must mean Shaksper saw it. Of course, it is just as possible that he was cleaning out the stable at that time since others of his age were probably cleaning out stables— and probably a few more than were watching morality plays. Sarcasm aside, however, it does not take a rocket scientist (or a PhD in literature) to realize that one does not lead to the other.

Fallacy Of Division (Guilt By Association)

This particular fallacy occurs when properties assigned to a group are set forth as automatically belonging to each member of the group. An example offered by one logician is as follows:

All nations ought to disarm.
The United States is a nation.
The United States ought to disarm.

The initial premise suggests that all nations collectively ought to disarm, not each nation individually. However, the invalid conclusion results in the unilateral assertion that the United States ought to disarm by itself.

A similarly related fallacy is that of the fallacy of composition where the properties of an individual are assigned to a group.

A corollary found in the law would be one identified as that known as “guilt by association” and at least one logician lists it as a common fallacy and describes it by saying, “It equates unlike entities on the basis of a single common trait.” For instance, anyone seeing a group including well-known criminals hanging about assumes that all of those in the group are criminals. More effectively implemented in a court of law (assuming such “evidence” survives a timely objection), if it is established that Mr. Jones is constantly seen in the presence of criminals, an assumption arises that he must be a criminal himself (despite the lack of any evidence that he ever committed a crime). Simply by virtue of those he is seen with, it is assumed that he is the same. “Birds of a feather flock together” and so on.

The problem with this approach is that it is simply not true. But the Stratfordians regularly use this approach to make Oxford look untenable. They constantly lump him with others proposed as the author (who are obviously not the author) in order to make him look as unlikely as the others they have listed.

From David Bevington benignly noting the suspicious nature of the sheer number of suspects (i.e. candidates for the authorship) to Hill’s assertion that since only one candidate can possibly be the author and since the whole group of potential alternatives is full of persons who are not the one, then probably no one is acceptable, provide the best examples. This tactic is resorted to every time the Stratfordians run off a list of “pretenders” noting something like,

“Those who doubt the authorship look to someone like Bacon, Derby, Oxford, Marlow, Queen Elizabeth, etc., etc.” Inevitably, Oxford is mixed somewhere in the middle, hoping to bury him with names.

Fallacy of Neglected Aspect

This fallacy describes itself. It takes place, “When an argument is believed to carry more weight than it actually does because we have overlooked factors relevant to the conclusion….” It is probably the most difficult to avoid simply because it is easy to miss things and it is the easiest to abuse when the arguer is able to convince the listener that he has thought of everything. It is closely related to, or probably just another form of what is called, the Hasty Generalization which is defined as drawing conclusions on the basis of insufficient evidence. Examples of the classic “hasty generalization” may be found in prejudices against certain ethnic groups based upon the characteristics of a few; superstitions such as black cats or spilled salt; and any notions maintained despite evidence to the contrary.

Hill proposes “neglected aspects” when reviewing the payment of a thousand pounds annually made by Queen Elizabeth to Oxford. He notes that the payment may have been to allow a premier earl to maintain appearances or because of a special relationship with the Queen which had nothing to do with the authorship of plays. He notes that the reason is not apparent. He then argues that paying Oxford as a propagandist for the queen is not tenable either because the plays did not accomplish the presumed purpose. He states, “Invariably she demanded full value for her money.”

Mr. Hill is correct in searching for “neglected aspects” in this fashion as a process of attempting to glean the full truth. However, he slips up by failing to pursue the same rigorous course of study when considering the “overpainting” of another visage discovered within a supposed Shakespeare portrait. He asserts that the “overpainters”, whoever they might be, would have had to understand or predict the coming of x-ray and infra-red technology in order for them to believe the overpainting would ever be discovered. What Hill fails to take into account is the possibility that the persons responsible never intended the overpainting to be discovered at all.

Schoenbaum neglects important aspects in the Frontline program when he discusses the nature of “genius” including the need to attend to bodily functions and the desire to procreate. He proclaims the great mystery “how could anyone have written these plays” as the essential with which Oxfordians cannot come to grip. But the fact is that the plays were written and the terms “genius” and “miracle” are not what, in logic, is referred to as a “tautology” (i.e. exactly the same thing). The genius is not created “Presto! Alakazam!” But Schoenbaum wants the listener to believe he has given as complete a description of “genius” as is necessary. He tries to convince the gullible that it is possible to sing and dance brilliantly without ever being introduced to the concept of “music.” Or, more aptly, lest I be accused of a false analogy, he wants people to believe that it is possible to write brilliantly and accurately in depth about history and customs to which the author was never exposed.

Post Hoc or Doubtful Cause

The title of this fallacy derives from the Latin post hoc, ergo propter hoc meaning “after this, therefore because of this.” The substance of this fallacy is that some event is the result of some other event which occurred earlier. For instance, a rooster crowing decides that his crowing causes the sun to rise since it does so when he crows. Or a dog chasing cars figures it is a good thing he chases them or the street would be full of cars. Such a line of thinking ignores more reasonable alternatives. As Rottenberg says,

The two events may be coincidental, or the first event may be only one, and an insignificant one, of many causes that have produced the second event. The reader or writer of causal arguments must determine whether another more plausible explanation exists and whether several causes have combined to produce the effect.

This brings us to an example of this fallacy in the context of the Shakespearian authorship in the form of Hill’s inane comment regarding the death of Shaksper and the publication of the First Folio. He says:

The very date of the Folio confirms the orthodox position as to authorship. It was brought out just seven years after Shakespeare’s death, and must have been in preparation several years earlier.

Note that Hill does not say that the date “suggests” the authorship or that it “supports” the authorship. He says the date “confirms” the authorship without a single supporting reason other than his subjective instinct that the timing is about right. Seven years is perfect; no later; no earlier. And, of course, he does not take into account political, economic and social factors, all of which may have played a part given other circumstances (i.e. if someone else wrote the plays and for a different reason.) And so, Mr. Hill is neglecting critical elements of the case which is characteristic of those who fall into selling or buying logical fallacies. Shaksper died seven years before the First Folio was published; therefore, he wrote it.

Conclusion

My purpose has been to give the reader an introduction to the manner in which invalid logic and logical fallacies have been used within the context of the authorship question, especially by Stratfordians, to avoid a genuine discussion of the evidence available to show who may have written the works of William Shakespeare. Fallacies are used to avoid real discussion and to perpetuate the mirage that the matter has been resolved.

In general, I have avoided the issue of “truth”, which is technically outside the present discussion except as it relates to premises and conclusions and how argument forms work. It is not an issue to be avoided, certainly; it is simply not the main focus of understanding why Stratfordians generally argue as they do because when they get to actual facts and truth, they lose. Hence, they avoid doing so.

This does not make them avoid making categorical statements of fact. They just do not defend or provide support for them. Witness the following by Peter Levi:

He (Shaksper) learned no French at school, but he did learn it….The one certain thing we know about Shakespeare’s youthful occupations is that he read a great deal—he was an omnivorous reader.

and his reference to:

…the substantial fact that Shakespeare was drawn to London by the theatre.

and

I doubt whether he knew his most interesting friends as a schoolboy except for Thomas Combe.

There is no evidence for any of these or a thousand other such assertions made by Levi and other Stratfordians and they evolve from sheer speculation and inferences drawn from the works founded upon the primal assumption that the Stratford man wrote them. So much for Levi’s firm footing in fact which, on the contrary, embraces the flimsy cobwebs he promised to avoid until he builds them into firm cables of uncontroverted fact. After all, you cannot prove that he is wrong.Stratfordians criticize the means employed by anti-Stratfordians but rarely examine their own methods. Schoenbaum, in attacking Oxford’s character and Looney’s method, says:

In any event, Looney does not include flatulence as another of his hero’s special attributes. Nor does he list cruelty, perversity, and profligacy as features of the author evident from a perusal of his work.

Of course, in this effort to poke fun at Oxfordians, Schoenbaum never considers that Shakespeare may have experienced gastric difficulty or that the plays never demonstrate the features he sets forth. Titus Andronicus perhaps should be referred to by Professor Schoenbaum. But he and other Stratfordians do not refer to elements in the Shakespeare canon which support Oxford’s authorship because they are not engaged in a search for truth. Rather, it seems that they often seek to obfuscate it.

Stratfordians will repeatedly say that they have long since disproved anti-Stratfordianism in general and are so weary of having to go through all of it again. The reader may well challenge them to cite any example of their having done so successfully. Paraphrasing the words of Lord Burford, they do not prove Shaksper wrote the canon and that no one else did because they cannot. If they could, they would, and that would be the end of it.

Stratfordians consistently avoid being put in the position of having to prove Shaksper wrote the works because they are unable to do so. Instead, they challenge the anti-Stratfordians to prove that their particular candidate for the authorship actually did the writing and to prove that Shaksper did not. In attacking the various theories put forth by anti-Stratfordians, Hill expresses frustration with one person who failed to offer an alternative candidate to attack:

Perhaps the most baffling anti-Shakespearian campaign was waged by Sir George Greenwood, a British Member of Parliament, who refused to name any “real” author, but merely argued that Shakespeare himself was not satisfactory, and that the problem of authorship needed further study.

What was baffling for Mr. Hill was the existence of an anti-Stratfordian whom he could not label as having some agenda or ulterior motive. For him and other Stratfordians, an open mind is a terrible thing to face.Not so for others. Frye and Levi directly address the authorship question in their work on logic as an issue perfectly exemplifying the “hypothetical syllogism.” They conclude that Oxford wrote the works but, unlike Stratfordians, leave their minds open to the use of logical methods to change the result.

They do so because, while logic is not necessarily dependent upon the truth except to work its principles, it is a tool to search for the truth: a tool Stratfordians consistently ignore or abuse.

In the end, however, to resolve a controversial issue effectively, “you must pay attention to both truth and to logic.”

Footnotes

There were nearly 100 footnotes that accompanied this article, but they were unfortunately lost in converting it to HTML for publishing on the Web. We will reconstruct the footnotes and add them in the very near future. Our apologies for any inconvenience.

A Little More than Kuhn, and Less than Kind

 

Examining the headlines with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in mind

 

By Mark Anderson


Oxfordians may have been surprised at the latest Shakespearean stories coming from the national media. Or at least a little embarrassed for the ever-declining state of Stratfordian scholarship. The recently rediscovered 1612 W.S. Funeral Elegy, for instance, may read like Cardenio-brand imitation Shakespeare and appear a closer relative to W.S.’s other printed work (the apocryphal plays Locrine (1595), The True Chronicle Histories of Thomas Lord Cromwell (1602) and The Puritaine (1607) than to The Winter’s Tale or Henry VIII. But to denizens of Stratford, this is Page One news.

However one feels about the 578-line poem—and some Oxfordians have argued for its canonization, albeit with rather elaborate chronological arguments— investigating why the Elegy or last November’s New Yorker article on Hamlet and Martin Luther are considered news can prove just as revealing as analyzing the stories themselves.

Fortunately, a comprehensive study of Stratfordian dogma in the twilight years has already been written. Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) might as well be titled The Structure of Shakespearean Revolutions for the author’s sagacity in illuminating the history of the authorship controversy. Quite a remarkable feat considering Kuhn never once mentions Shakespeare.

Now 76 years since J. Thomas Looney’s Shakespeare Identified first came into print, the revolution it set in motion—and the entrenched orthodoxy’s reaction to it—share many identifying traits with other intellectual revolutions in history (or what Kuhn terms “paradigm shifts”). Kuhn’s consideration of orthodox reactions to John Dalton’s atomic theory of chemistry or Nicolaus Copernicus’ heliocentric cosmology shows haunting relevance to the authorship debate and its reverberations in Shakespearean research today. Consider the 1612 W.S. Elegy. Since the Complete Works of W.S. constitute at least four printed texts—three of which remain apocryphal even to the most avid proponents of the Elegy— the first question to be broached is an obvious one: Why canonize one and leave three waiting at the doorstep? (It is a question, curiously enough, I have yet to see any article on the Elegy ask.) It certainly is convenient that a canonized Elegy would appear prima face to exclude Edward de Vere as the author, since he died in 1604 and the poem pays tribute to an individual who was killed in 1612.

Perhaps part of the reason a seven year-old story (Donald Foster’s book Elegy by W.S.: A Study in Attribution came out in 1989) now shares front-page column inches in the New York Times with Bosnia and the 1996 Presidential Campaign is the Elegy‘s utility in silencing the increasing number of heretics at the gate.

And that should come as no surprise to Oxfordians. The chronology has been and probably will continue to be the most visible site where the authorship controversy is staged.

The chronology, in fact, is what Kuhn would categorize as a rule. In Kuhn’s framework, rules restrict the number of solutions to puzzles encountered in one’s day-to-day research. Devise a solution that defies the chronology (i.e. the author stopped writing in 1604) and face hostility, censure or excommunication from the Stratfordian priesthood. Follow the rules for your professional advancement; defy the rules at your professional peril.

However, as Kuhn points out, rules are not fundamental to the discipline itself. They are merely guidelines established for the practitioners to conduct the problem-solving (“mopping-up operations” as he at times more cynically terms it) that constitutes nearly all research in any field.

Rather, if rules are the essence of a field, the paradigm is its quintessence. In the Copernican debate, the paradigm at stake involved the Earth’s station in the universe. In the present debate, the center of the literary universe is the thing. And who it is means more than just a face to put with a name. More abstractly, a paradigm might be defined, as Kuhn phrased it, as the “constellation of shared commitments” held within a particular field. (p. 181)

Considering scientific history within the context of paradigm shifts, then, Kuhn found common threads throughout the Western tradition. And that’s where the W.S. Elegy and rules like the chronology come in.

The importance of rules and rule-making, as Kuhn establishes, closely traces a paradigm’s approach to a crisis state: “Though almost nonexistent during periods of normal science, (debates over rules) recur regularly just before and during scientific revolutions, the periods when paradigms are first under attack and then subject to change… When scientists disagree about whether the fundamental problems of their field have been solved, the search for rules gains a function that it does not ordinarily possess.” (p. 48)

In addition, the prominence of Kuhnian rules like chronology may prove a useful barometer for gauging uncertainty in the Stratfordian camp. As Kuhn concludes, “Rules should therefore become important and the characteristic unconcern about them should vanish whenever paradigms or models are felt to be insecure.” (p. 47) Roughly translated, the more caulk you use, the closer you are to needing a whole new tub—and the touchier you are about the whole thing.

Of course, in the final stages of any theory, the patchwork of stopgap fixes and newfound rules makes quite a grotesquerie for observers outside the dominant paradigm. The Divine William, we are now told, wrote the Divine Elegy after he had finished The Tempest, his farewell to the stage. Perhaps in the same way in which he wrote Venus and Adonis to win friends and influence people, he composed the Elegy to establish his credentials at cranking out stilted, lifeless panegyrics. Or maybe he was just warming up for “Good Friend for Iesus SAKE forbeare To digg the dust encloased HERe…”

Curiously, Copernicus’ observations about the mishmash of theories propagated to keep the lumbering Ptolemaic ship afloat ring frighteningly true in the present context:

“It is as though an artist were to gather the hands, feet, head and other members for his images from diverse models, each part excellently drawn, but not related to a single body, and since they in no way match each other, the result would be monster rather than man. [Is he describing the Droeshout engraving here?—Ed.] So in the course of their exposition… we find that they have either omitted some indispensable detail or introduced something foreign and wholly irrelevant. This would of a surety not have been so had they followed fixed principles; for if their hypotheses were not misleading, all inferences based thereon might be surely verified.” (Thomas S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution, Harvard University Press (1966) p. 138.)

Stratfordians, it seems, have been cribbing like mad from the Ptolemaic prompt book.

When The New Yorker published David Remnick’s “Hamlet in Hollywood” feature last November 20, the theory it advanced—that the play was an allegorical biography of Martin Luther (cf. SOS Newsletter, autumn 1995, p. 3)—certainly gives Copernicus’ words new life. In fact, like an increased dependence on rules and methodology, the preponderance of seemingly arbitrary hypotheses within a paradigm also tends to foreshadow a crisis wherein the entire paradigm comes into question.

And the practitioners within the paradigm are rarely the ones doing the questioning. As Kuhn establishes, “By themselves they cannot and will not falsify (their) theory, for its defenders will do what we have already seen scientists doing when confronted by anomaly. They will devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict. Many of the relevant modifications and qualifications are, in fact, already in the literature.” (p. 78)

As if reading from Kuhn themselves, several New Yorker readers wrote in a month later to point out that the “new” theories covered in Remnick’s article were also advanced in a 1990 English Language Notes article and a 1973 Ph.D. thesis. Perhaps the most important aspect of the ad hoc modifications to a paradigm are their fleeting nature. While they may be vehemently defended during their fifteen minutes of fame, they also tend to be quickly dropped when the next big thing comes along. Kuhn observes, “The scientist in crisis will constantly try to generate speculative theories that, if successful, may disclose the road to a new paradigm and, if unsuccessful, can be surrendered with relative ease.” (p. 87)

Unfortunately, the solution is never as simple as sitting the two sides down at a bargaining table and hashing their differences out. The polemical nature of a debate between competing paradigms is as natural as the dogmatic claims made on both sides. Since a paradigmatic dispute is often about the most fundamental issues in a field, rarely can two parties find much if any common ground. Citing an example from the debate over what became Dalton’s atomic theory of chemistry, Kuhn spells out the inevitable nature of conflict in the paradigm game. “Neither side will grant all the non-empirical assumptions that the other side needs in order to make its case. Like Proust and Berthollet arguing about the composition of chemical compounds, they are bound party to talk through each other. Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing his science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proofs.” (p. 148)

Attempting to solve the controversy with documentary evidence alone would appear to be folly too, for even in the most seemingly objective of pursuits, analytical “proofs” at times have to take a back seat to more aesthetic judgments. Before or in the early phase of an established paradigm’s crisis state, progress is made more through intuition than any pat process. That is, “Something must make at least a few scientists feel that the new proposal is on the right track, and sometimes it is only personal and inarticulate aesthetic considerations that can do that.” (p. 158)

Peering into the crystal ball, then, a revolutionary phase—as the authorship controversy appears to be entering—is typically resolved through patience and a lot of perseverance. As Kuhn concludes:

“…supporters’ motives may be suspect. Nevertheless, if they are competent, they will improve it, explore its possibilities, and show what it would be like to belong to the community guided by it. And as that goes on, if the paradigm is one destined to win its fight, the number and strength of the persuasive arguments in its favor will increase. More scientists will then be converted, and the exploration of the new paradigm will go on. Gradually the number of experiments, instruments, articles and books based on the paradigm will multiply. Still more men (this was written in 1962, after all), convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness, will adopt the new mode of practicing normal science, until at last only a few elderly holdouts remain. And even they, we cannot say, are wrong. Though the historian can always find men… who were unreasonable to resist for as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific. At most he may wish to say that the man who continues to resist after his whole profession has been converted has ipso facto ceased to be a scientist.” (p. 159)

Meteors fighting the fixed stars of heaven may forerun the death or fall of kings. But a paradigm’s fall, fortunately, appears to be far more prosaic.

Shakespeare’s Use of Language

Of ‘Em’s ‘n Thems: Do these two words reveal an important clue in the Elegy debate?

©1996 by Stephanie Caruana


This article first appeared in the Summer 1996 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.


When I first became aware of the use of the word “‘em” (meaning “them”) in certain of the “Shakespeare” plays, I had a visceral reaction—as to the sound of a knife scraping across a plate. Had my literary hero, so precise in his poetry and prose structure, so abundant and flowing in his gorgeous vocabulary, really chosen to express himself in what seemed like gratuitous “up-to-the-minute” Jacobean slang? To me it felt like discovering “Hey, cool, man! Check it out! Bitchin’!” in the middle of a T.S. Eliot poem. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with these words and phrases. It’s just that they seem to belong to a different stratum of expression, even a different world view, or to reflect the language and usage of a different time—perhaps the world of TV sitcoms where writers often use words like “cool,” “smokin,” “bitchin’” or whatever to indicate that their characters are “with it.”

My first impression was that “‘em” was Jacobean slang which came into general or faddish use after 1604. However the OED states that “‘em” is an old form derived from the now obsolete pronoun “hem,” and more commonly used in north midland (i.e., S. Yorkshire) dialects. Could “‘em” and “them” have a “vector” quality? I explored the matter through the Harvard Shakespeare Concordance, and found a significant evolution in the usage of these two words in the Shakespeare plays and major poems.

In the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, Rape of Lucrece, and 15 of the 37 plays in the First Folio, the word “‘em” does not appear at all. The word “them” does—ranging in frequency from 17 to 70 occurrences. It seemed apparent that in his earlier works, “Shakespeare” was not in the habit of using the word “‘em” for “them” when writing poetry or dramatic dialogue. As the table shows, the incidence then slowly increases. As I looked at the plays with a small sprinkling of “‘em’s,” it seemed to me that the entity I like to think of as “Shakespeare” occasionally chose to use the contraction “‘em” rather than “them” when he was writing regional dialect or a song, the slang of a somewhat crude or common person, or for some other special use, being fully aware of the vastly different effect on the ear. But “‘em” is rarely or never used in the precisely written language which makes up most of the dialogue in most of the plays.

For this reason I therefore decided that up to 6 occurrences of “‘em” in a work was not especially significant. Using 6 occurrences as a cutoff point, there are then only 6 works that have a significant occurence of “‘em” in them. The following table, developed by counting the occurrence of the two words, gets interesting I believe at the bottom.

Play/Poem Them Em Ratio, them/em

Ratio of “Thems” to “Ems” in Shakespeare’s Works

Sonnets 17 0 -
Venus & Adonis 27 0 -
Rape of Lucrece 27 0 -
MND 27 0 -
R2 31 0 -
ERR 32 0 -
JN 37 0 -
LLL 39 0 -
MM 40 0 -
MV 42 0 -
TRO 43 0 -
OTH 45 0 -
2H4 50 0 -
ROM 52 0 -
ADO 53 0 -
3H6 60 0 -
R3 65 0 -
1H4 70 0 -
2H6 86 1 86:1
H5 81 1 81:1
HAM 71 1 71:1
PER 43 1 43:1
SHR 38 1 38:1
AYL 35 1 35:1
CYM 71 2 35:1
WIV 47 2 24:1
1H6 42 2 21:1
ANT 53 3 18:1
TGV 46 3 16:1
TN 25 4 6:1
MAC 50 5 10:1
AWW 50 5 10:1
WT 61 6 10:1
JC 58 6 10:1
LEAR 45 9 5:1
COR 217 15 14:1
TMP 43 17 2.5:1
TIM 66 21 3:1
TNK 31 55 1:1.6
H8 25 65 1:2.7

The most striking thing about this table is the clear increase in the incidence of “‘em’s” in the plays toward the bottom.

With regard to the last 6 plays, I think each should be looked at separately, because each may reflect a different history.

In Lear, for instance, we may be looking at an admixture of scenes, or rewrites, added at a later date by someone else to Oxford’s original play.

Coriolanus seems to stand out oddly because of its sheer number of “them’s”—2 1/2 times as many as the play with the second greatest number of “them’s”—together with its liberal sprinkling of “‘em’s.” This play is rarely performed, and rarely quoted. Nothing in its lines seems to have lodged as permanently in the minds of readers/hearers, as have quotes from R&J, Hamlet, Macbeth, etc. Perhaps this is another “ringer’—a non-Shakespearean play added to the Folio-written by ??? Timon‘s ratio of “them’s” to “‘em’s” (3:1) is distinctly different, and it could easily be a hybrid of some sort.

In Tempest, the them:’em ratio has shrunk to 2-1/2:1. I believe that the original version was written by Oxford (before 1604, and possibly as early as the 1580′s), and that the Folio version was substantially cut and rewritten by someone else in 1610–11, perhaps to make room for the Masque and add a few topical references to the 1609–10 Bermuda/Virginia shipwreck and colonial happenings. These updates would make the old play more interesting to King james and the rest of the audience when this version was presented in 1611. My tentative nominee for this rewrite job is Ben Jonson. Fortunately for us, whoever did the rewrite kept most of the original material. If it was Jonson, sheer pride may have caused him to place The Tempest in the #1 lead-off position in the Folio. Also I wonder whether Susan de Vere might not have been one of the Masquers in her father’s play.

With TNK, the “‘em’s” are more numerous than the “them’s” for the first time. The ratio is 1:1.6. Although this play is indexed in the Harvard Concordance as though it were established as a play by Shakespeare, I think it fails the”‘em-them” test because it was written by someone else altogether, Webster perhaps, who was a Shakespeare wannabee, but not a Shakespeare.

Speaking only for myself, I believe that most if not all of Henry VIII was not written by “Shakespeare.” There is a notable lack of “quotable” stuff in it.

“‘Em’s” now outnumber “them’s” by 2.7:1. It seems likely to me that this play was written by someone to whom “‘em” came more naturally to mind than “them” while writing basic dialogue, and that this someone was not “Shakespeare” (Oxford.) Why should it be Shakespeare? Old age has its problems, but I can’t think of any reason for a writer/poet to suddenly lose his gracefulness of expression and go from hummingbird to Goodyear blimp in this way. I have no idea who to nominate as author of this play.

To be more specific: I consulted the Concordance with regard to “‘em’s” vs. “them’s” in Henry VIII. In only 3 scenes, 1:01, 1:02 and 5:01, do the “them’s” have it. In 6 scenes (and the Epilogue), “‘em’s” prevail: 1:03, 1:04, 2:01, 3:01, 5:02, 5:13. The other scenes are either too close to call or do not have enough items to be meaningful.

I personally don’t care that much about Henry VIII, but it and TNK are routinely cited as representing “Shakespeare’s later style.” Right now they are providing Donald Foster and Richard Abrams with their primary ammunition in their determined efforts to have the dogsbody Funeral Elegy declared by professorial fiat to be “by Wm Shaksper.”

To quote Richard Abrams: “…W.S.’s rare-word vocabulary exactly matches what we should expect of a Shakespearian text written in 1611–12….of all Shakespearian dramatic texts, the Elegy (1612) finds its highest correlation with Shakespeare’s portion of Henry VIII (1612/13), followed by The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613). (TLS 2/9/96 p.26).

The editor who has declared himself willing to go out on this creaky limb is none other than Berkeley/Harvard’s Stephen Greenblatt! (The argument is currently raging-sedately enough-in the pages of the London TLS.) The presence of H8 and TNK in the Concordance certainly skews results of statistical analysis. Would they were gone!

An Update on the Controversy Surrounding A Funeral Elegy

 

The Funeral Elegy Poem: Is the emperor wearing any clothes?

 

By Stephanie Caruana

 


This article first appeared in the Spring 1996 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.


The battle over the A Funeral Elegy by W.S.(1613) rages on in the pages of the London Times Literary Supplement.

Professor Stanley Wells of the University of Birmingham began the round by rejecting the identification of W.S. as William Shakespeare (TLS 1/26/96,p.28). He pointed out that it would have been unlikely for Shakespeare to focus his attention on writing and publishing an elegy for William Peter since his own brother Gilbert died and was buried in Stratford only nine days after Peter’s death.

Wells’ other objections focus on the poor quality of the Elegy itself, which “seems not so much bad as tedious in a very un-Shakespearian way.” He noted the generalized, nonspecific praises heaped on the murdered man, and the mistakes W.S. made about details of Peter’s life. He questioned the value of Foster’s computerized measurements of word usage, and the way computer programs are currently touted as superior to human literary perception. He ended by saying he would “continue to harbor a suspicion that W.S. was…perhaps a curate with literary aspirations, who had little personal knowledge of William Peter but was commissioned by Peter’s family to memorialize him in an effort to minimize the unpleasant, if not disreputable circumstances of his death.”

Professor Richard Abrams of the University of Southern Maine, Donald Foster’s champion in the current drive to canonize the Elegy, sees the Elegy as a statistically unimpeachable example of “Shakespeare’s late style” (TLS,2/9/96,p.25–6). By this he means Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen—two plays which have traditionally been dogged with doubts and questions regarding their own authorship.

He responded to what many see as an inexplicable error with regard to the duration of William Peter’s marriage (three years in reality, as opposed to “nine of years…in his bed” (Elegy 511–2)) with an unsubstantiated tale of a nine-year affair with a mistress while Peter was a student at Oxford. He lauded W.S. for displaying “considerable daring in affording pride of place to the ‘other woman’ as the most deeply aggrieved of Peter’s mourners.” He concluded by attempting to connect Prospero’s abjuration of magic in The Tempest with W.S.’s “plain style.”

Brian Vickers, an editor of Shakespearean books, took up the cudgel (oops! baton) with “Whose Thumbprints?—A more plausible author for ‘A Funeral Elegy.’” (TLS,3/8/96,p.16–18). He argued against Foster’s “too great reliance on computerized stylometrics,” because “depending…on an atomistic notion of style,(use of computer programs) has produced bewilderingly conflicting results.”

Vickers delivered a crushing blow to the significance of Foster’s study of Jacobean poets whose initials were ‘W.S.’ He cited John Horden, to the effect that a pair of authorial initials may be false, or reversed, or may represent the last letters of a name, and supplied instances for each case. He brought up “the power of negative instances (it takes only one black swan to falsify the proposition that all swans are white.)”

He pointed out “the overt piety of several passages, quite unlike anything in Shakespeare.” Finally he proposed another candidate for author: Simon Wastell, who was headmaster of a school at Northampton. Foster had tentatively identified Wastell as the author of The Muses Thankfulness, A Funeral Elegy for Robert, Baron Spencer (1627), in which he “plagiarized a whole series of funeral elegies, including W.S.’s on William Peter, Samuel Daniel’s elegy for the Earl of Devonshire (1606), Tourneur’s for Lord Oxford (1609), and John Webster’s for Prince Henry (1613).”

The elegy to Spencer was 614 lines long, compared to Peter’s 578-line elegy. This similarity in length, combined with a curious sameness and flatness of content, and the speed with which the Peter elegy was ground out (nineteen days from Peter’s death to publisher’s registration) suggests to Vickers that both elegies “belong to the traditional genre of eulogistic or epidictic rhetoric…offered as…consolations for the surviving family and friends.”

After making a good case for Wastell, but perhaps inadvertently throwing the barn door wide open to rival claimants with any set of initials, Vickers concluded: “…no kudos attaches to identifying an obscure (headmaster) with the authorship of anything, while identifying Shakespeare’s hand would be the great prize. I regret that Foster’s well-considered avoidance of an absolute claim for Shakespeare’s authorship has been overwhelmed by Richard Abrams’s enthusiastic but indiscriminate advocacy.”

Richard Abrams’ response (3/22/96) seemed patterned after second-rate college debaters everywhere. He accused his opponent of “errors, misrepresentations and inconsistencies,” hurled a few insults, and claimed victory. He hinted darkly of new, still unrevealed, and “more compelling reasons to accept the Elegy as Shakespeare’s….Until the new evidence is before him, Vickers should probably try to keep his foot out of his mouth.”

Foster made his own short but vicious riposte (TLS,3/29/96, p.17). He accused Vickers of “advanc(ing) his case with an inattention to facts that would not be tolerated in an undergraduate student.” He then quoted lines from:

-an elegy by Michael Drayton
-a 1627 elegy by Wastell (?) stolen from Drayton’s elegy (and from all the other elegy writers on the block), and
-some lines from W.S’s elegy that are supposed to show W.S.’s vast superiority.

OK folks, here’s a snap quiz I have prepared (kind of like a Benezet test): I will quote lines from the three elegies Foster quotes above, but I won’t tell you which elegy they are from. You be the judge of their relative quality, and whether or not they come from the same collective elegy cookie-cutter:

Canst thou depart and be forgotten so,
As if thou hadst not been at all? O no,
But in despite of death the world shall see
That Muse which much graced was by thee.
Can black Oblivion utterly out-brave
And set thee up above thy silent grave?
When those weak houses of our brittle flesh
Shall ruin’d be by death, our grace and strength,
Youth, memory and shape that made us fresh
Cast down, and utterly decay’d at length;
When all shall turn to dust from whence we came
And we low-level’d in a narrow grave,
What can we leave behind us but a name?

Foster stated, “In its prosody, diction, syntax and thought, Wastell’s original work is as unlike A Funeral Elegy as can be.” Like Abrams, he referred to unrevealed “new evidence” which has shifted the balance of evidence decisively. He talked of “the recent groundswell of support for a Shakespearean attribution… (and) emerging consensus that Shakespeare wrote this strange and challenging poem.”

But like a harbinger of more grief to come, on the same page was a letter from Katherine Duncan-Jones, of Somerville College, Oxford, stating her belief that this “dreary poem” was probably written by some member of the Devonshire gentry. She proposed William Strode or one of Thomas Stukeley’s many brothers.

Brian Vickers returned for a final mop-up on 4/12/96. He commiserated with Foster and Abrams: “It is not surprising that they are upset, given that they have wagered their whole professional reputation on the claims for Shakespeare’s authorship, and stand to lose a lot once it is generally discredited.” But he added, “In fact they are guilty not only of arrogance but of pervasive dishonesty.” He detailed Foster’s methods of tiptoeing through the computer data, discarding any tests that disproved his thesis.

Then he addressed what is to me the crux of the problem: “Foster and Abrams…represent that recently emergent type of scholar who performs elaborate analyses of poetic language by using concordances and other electronic resources rather than by reading poems. But what do machines know about literary conventions, genre, rhetoric, or figurative language?….In all the thirteen years he has been working on this poem, Foster seems never to have noticed…that both the epistle, in which the author describes his inexperience in writing poetry, and the modesty topos, as used with such banality in the poem itself, would alone be enough to exclude Shakespeare from consideration, with a lifetime’s work of unequalled range and variety behind him….The parallels that I see between (the 1613 Peter Elegy and the 1627 Elegy for Baron Spencer), and the difference that many more people see between either of them and Shakespeare, are in fact so gross as to defeat computerized statistics; the scale is too large; it only needs a normal reader with some powers of judgment to tell the difference.”

He describes Foster’s odd dilemma: “Foster was doubtful about pressing the identification, since the poem’s language was not so figurative or filled with word-play as is characteristic of Shakespeare. Then emerged his Svengali, Richard Abrams, who said in an interview: ‘where I came in…was to notice that the poem avoids the language of the imagination because, in the poet’s mind, imagination is strangely implicated in the murder of his friend. Shakespeare was deliberately writing this way.’” In other words, Shakespeare arbitrarily decided to write a banal poem because he felt like it. That’s why it’s bad, folks; just take my word for it. How can anyone argue with such nonsense? Foster accepted Abrams’ rationale, and danced out on this treacherous limb. Stephen Greenblatt of the University of California plans to include the poem in his forthcoming edition of Shakespeare’s works.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to see how Foster and Abrams can summon up the chutzpah to return to the vaudeville stage of the TLS, where further literary brickbats and rotten tomatoes are sure to greet them.

Allusions to Edmund Campion in Twelfth Night

Allusions to Edmund Campion in Twelfth Night

Allusions to Edmund Campion in Twelfth Night

C. Richard Desper


This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1995 Elizabethan Review


The Elizabethan Age underwent a continuing crisis of religion that was marked by a deepening polarization of thought between the supporters of the recently established Protestant Church and the larger number of adherents to the Roman Catholic faith. Of these latter, Edmund Campion may be taken as the archetype. Well known as an Englishman who fled to the Continent for conscience’s sake, he returned to England as a Jesuit priest, was executed by the English government in 1581 and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1970.[1]

It has been observed that the author of the Shakespeare plays displays a considerable sympathy and familiarity with the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. The intent here is to show a link between this English Catholic leader and the writer of the drama, Twelfth Night , as revealed by allusions to Edmund Campion in Act IV, scene ii of that play.

A Brief Outline of Campion’s Life

Though Edmund Campion (1540–1581) was a scholar at Oxford University under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth I’s court favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Campion’s studies of theology, church history, and the church fathers led him away from the positions taken by the Church of England. From Campion’s point of view, to satisfy the new orthodoxy of the Church of England, a reconstructionist interpretation of church history was being set forth, one that he found difficult to reconcile with what he actually found in the writings of those fathers.[2] Had the veil been swept away? Were St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom really Anglicans rather than Roman Catholics? Or were the church authorities trimming their sails to the exigencies of temporal policy? Questions such as these dogged Campion, and eventually his position at Oxford became untenable since he could not make the appropriate gestures of adherence to the established church.[3] Instead, Campion retreated from Oxford to Dublin in 1569, where he drew less attention and enjoyed the protection of Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy for Ireland, and the patronage of Sir James Stanihurst, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, who planned to have Campion participate in the founding of what was to become Trinity College in Dublin.[4]

During this period a number of significant events took place. In 1568, the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, was driven from her realm into England, where she came under the protection and custody of the English Crown. Immediately after came the rebellion of the northern Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland in the winter of 1569, who sought to place Mary on the English throne. Then, in the spring of 1570, Pope Pius V issued a bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth and releasing her subjects from their obligation of obedience to her. After the death of Pius V, an inquiry to Rome regarding this bull elicited the response that “as long as the Queen (Elizabeth) remained de facto ruler, it was lawful for Catholics to obey her in civil matters and cooperate in all just things… that it was unlawful for any private person, not wearing uniform and authorized to do so as an act of war, to slay any tyrant whatsoever, unless the tyrant, for example, had invaded his country in arms” (Waugh, p. 94–95)

In short, English Catholics were rejoined to follow the path of Sir Thomas More, being the Crown’s loyal servant in all matters save religion. However, as Waugh concedes, “It was possible to deduce from this decision that the (English) Catholics were a body of potential rebels,who only waited for foreign invasion to declare themselves. This was the sense in which (William) Cecil (Lord Treasurer and the Queen’s most trusted councilor) read it, for he was reluctant to admit the possibility of anyone being both a patriotic Englishman and an opponent of his regime (Waugh p. 95). The English government then enacted laws more restrictive to English Catholics. In 1570, the year of the Papal Bull, it was made an act of high treason, punishable by death, to bring into the country “any bull, writing, or instrument obtained from the Bishop of Rome” or “to absolve or reconcile” any of the Queen’s subjects to the Bishop of Rome (Waugh p. 117). In this atmosphere even Dublin became dangerous for Campion. He fled Ireland for Belgium in June of 1572, arriving at the English College founded by exiled English Catholics in Douai. The next year he went on to Rome to join the Society of Jesus. After training in Vienna, he became Professor of Rhetoric at the new Jesuit University in Prague, where he was ordained a priest in the Society of Jesus in 1578 (Waugh p. 81–84). It was in Prague in 1580 that he received the call to return to England to minister to English Catholics (More p.72–73). During his ministry, which lasted from the summer of 1580 to the summer of 1581, Campion traveled from town to town in disguise, passing via an underground network of English Catholics, offering the Mass and other Church sacraments to Catholics. He was arrested in the town of Lyford by English authorities, with the assistance of a paid informant, in July 1581, and conveyed to the Tower of London.[5]

Since his ministry had attracted a great deal of public attention, the government initially made an effort to persuade Campion to abandon his faith. Failing that, it made a second effort to discredit him. Four times in September, Campion was brought from his dungeon in the Tower for public “conferences,” at which scholars and clergymen representing the Crown and the Church of England disputed with him in an effort to best him intellectually. William Cecil (Lord Burghley) and First Secretary Sir Francis Walsingham, Burghley’s spymaster, also sought to taint Campion with the brush of treason by maintaining that the primary goal of his mission was to incite the English to rebel against Queen Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. While Campion’s ministry was in itself, by English law, sufficient for the death penalty (in that he offered Mass and heard confessions), the government preferred to show that his ministry also involved stirring English Catholics to rebellion. Finally, on November 20th, a trial was held in which Campion and seven other Catholics taken with him were charged with treason. Suitable witnesses endeavored to make the label of traitor stick; the trial ended in a guilty verdict, and Campion was executed by hanging at Tyburn on December 1, 1581.[6][7]

Twelfth Night and Edmund Campion

The allusions to Campion are found in a single scene—Act four, Scene two in which Feste the Clown disguises himself as “Sir Topas the Curate” to harangue the unfortunate Malvolio, who has been shut up in a cellar as a lunatic as the result of pranks engineered by Feste, Sir Toby Belch and Maria. In the following speech by Feste to Maria and Sir Toby, the Campion allusions are highlighted in boldface.[8]

Clown: Bonos dies, Sir Toby: for, as the old hermit of Prague, that never saw pen and ink, very wittily said to a niece of King Gorboduc, “That that is is” ; so I, being master Parson, am master Parson; for, what is “that” but “that”; and “is” but “is”? (IV.ii.15–19).

The old hermit of Prague: Prague was Campion’s last assignment before his mission to England; indeed, nearly six of his less than nine years on the Continent were spent in Prague. He may be thought of as a hermit in either of two ways in that hermits were holy men who sought solitude in their quest for holiness, or that Campion’s stay in Prague was considered to be an exile not only from England but from Englishmen. Waugh notes that, while at Prague, “the only Englishmen with whom he appears to have had any contact (besides Father Ware, who was at the college with him), is Philip Sidney (son of the former Lord Deputy for Ireland), who arrived in 1576 as English Ambassador to congratulate the Emperor Rudolph on his succession” (Waugh p. 81–82).

Never saw pen and ink: This refers to an episode which occurred in the “conference” of September 24, 1581, the third of four such conferences, in which Campion was opposed by one Master Fulke:

“If you dare, let me show you Augustine and Chrysostom,” he (Campion) cried at one moment, “if you dare.”
Fulke: “Whatever you can bring, I have answered already in writing against others of your side. And yet if you think you can add anything, put it in writing and I will answer it.”
Campion: “Provide me with ink and paper and I will write.”
Fulke: “I am not to provide you ink and paper.”
Campion: “I mean, procure me that I may have liberty to write.”
Fulke: “I know not for what cause you are restrained of that liberty, and therefore I will not take upon me to procure it.”
Campion: “Sue to the Queen that I may have liberty to oppose. I have been now thrice opposed. It is reason that I should oppose once.”
Fulke: “I will not become a suitor for you.” (Allen 15)

In this exchange, we see that Campion, having been deprived of the means of preparing a defense, such as access to books containing the teachings of St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, seizes upon Fulke’s apparent offer of writing materials. Fulke immediately realizes that the has made a tactical error, for the government’s plan in no way involves providing Campion with the means to write, since much of Campion’s success lay in his writings. First there had been an exposition and explanation of his mission, written by Campion in the summer of 1580 immediately after arriving in England, which circulated throughout the country in handwritten copies, yet comes down in history under the ironic title of Campion’s Brag. In it, Campion disavows any political aspect to his ministry. Then a book bearing the name Ten Reasons was published by an underground Catholic press (Edwards p. 19). It first appeared at the Oxford University Commencement of June 27, 1581, having been surreptitiously placed on the benches of the church at which the exercises took place.

In the exchange quoted above, Campion plainly had bested Fulke in their battle of wits, for Fulke denies Campion the wherewithal to write even though he himself had challenged Campion to do so. Nonetheless, it may be said of Campion with good reason that he “Never saw pen and ink.”

Niece of King Gorboduc: Gorboduc was a mythical King of England and the subject of an early Elizabethan play by Norton and Sackville.[9] Since the play contains no role for a “niece,” the allusion is not to be found in the text. Let us look at the issue from another point of view: did Queen Elizabeth I have an uncle who can be identified as a “mythical King of England?” Arthur, Prince of Wales, was the first son of King Henry VII and older brother to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII. This prince would have become “King Arthur” except that he died before his father, who was succeeded instead by the younger brother, Henry. If you are seeking the niece of a mythical King of England, the niece of a potential King Arthur might do.

A second possible link between Elizabeth and the “niece to King Gorboduc” may be found through one of the dramatists, Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and later 1st Earl of Dorset. The father of Lord Buckhurst, Sir Richard Sackville, had been a first cousin to Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth’s mother.[10] Given the predilection of people of the time for imprecision in designating family relationships (cousin, uncle or niece was taken to mean almost any blood relationship), it is not farfetched to consider Queen Elizabeth I to be a “niece” of one of the authors of King Gorboduc.

“That that is is”: Spoken by the Hermit of Prague, this is taken as a religious affirmation, just as Campion’s mission to England was a religious affirmation. The reconstructed church history that Campion was expected to embrace at Oxford was, from the Catholic viewpoint, a denial of reality, and his mission was to affirm the truth in the face of official displeasure. On a deeper level, this could be an allusion to one of the most profound passages in the Old Testament, in which the Lord, speaking to Moses (who had asked what name he should give for the Lord) declares, “I am that I am.”[11] This may be interpreted as, “Because I exist, I exist,” which very neatly identifies the subject “I” in scholastic logic. In other words, all that exists owes its existence to a separate Creator, save one, the Creator of all, who is the source of all existence, even his own. The Hermit of Prague is not the Creator; thus, he renders the phrase in the third person, declaring that God Is, because He Is; he owes his existence to no earthly agency, certainly to no King or Queen. To such a Person, Campion owes a higher allegiance than his allegiance to the Crown. Thus, “That that is is” is the essence of Campion’s position vis-a-vis his God and his Queen.

Master Parson: Robert Persons was a fellow Jesuit who traveled with Campion from Rome to France; the two separated to enter England and, for reasons of security, pursued their ministries in England individually, meeting each other occasionally. Persons, sometimes referred to as Parsons and a former Oxford classmate of Campion’s, was in charge of the Jesuit mission to England, including the clandestine press that was used to set forth the Catholic position until its capture.[12] Persons continued his ministry within and without England for several decades after Campion’s death.

The allusions referred to here should not be thought of as topical in being timely references from which the theatrical audience would be expected to recognize and draw delight. Certainly, events during 1580–1581 would no longer be timely in 1602, the first production of Twelfth Night , as noted in Manningham’s diary. Moreover, considering the official attitude toward Campion and his fellow Jesuits, inserting sympathetic allusions to Campion into a play would have been quite risky during the 1580s, and would remain so well into the next century. Nonetheless, one would have needed specific background knowledge about the Campion situation to recognize the allusions, and by 1602, most of the principals in the capture, interrogation and trial of Campion—including Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Earl of Leceister—were deceased. Others, such as Anthony Munday, would not have been admitted to a private performance at the Middle Temple intended for members and their guests. Further, we should not expect that the Queen would be in attendance at an Inns of Court performance. (This is deduced from the historical record of the Gorboduc performances, in which the Inner Temple performance was followed by a second performance at court.) I think instead that the allusions were intended for posterity, and were written into the text in the hope that the play would some day appear in print.

It should also be recognized that the allusions to Edmund Campion have little bearing on characterizations and allusions outside their immediate context. Thus, Malvolio is identified as a Protestant, specifically as a Puritan, earlier in the play (II.iii.151–56), but in the Campion allusions, he figures as a Catholic priest. This is not a contradiction since the audience for the play was not expected to hear the Campion allusions. Indeed, it could have boded ill for the playwright had they done so. On one level, the dramatist may have been using the Malvolio character as a caricature of the courtier Christopher Hatton, as some have proposed. For one scene, however, the author has Malvolio imprisoned and sees the opportunity for inserting something he has been suppressing for decades: his bitterness over the trial and execution of one he saw as an innocent man. The average audience member was expected to take the allusions as theatrical nonsense and then to forget about them as the next speech was delivered.

Further Allusions to Campion in Act Four, Scene Two

Having established the allusions to St. Edmund Campion in the Clown’s opening speech (IV.ii.5–12), the tenor of the remainder of the scene, in the context of Campion’s imprisonment, becomes apparent. The Clown is seen assuming the role of the learned man to dispute with the prisoner, just as men of learning brought Campion to dispute at the aforementioned conferences. The dramatist’s attitude is revealed early on by Sir Toby, as the Clown, posing as Sir Topas the Curate, begins his encounter with the prisoner:

Sir Toby: The Knave counterfeits well, a good knave. (IV.ii.21–22)

Thus is established at the outset that the playwright regards the conference to be held, like the conferences Campion was brought to, as a sham, a counterfeit, with a knave posing as a learned man acting as the examiner. “Sir Topas” proceeds to deal with Malvolio as a man possessed and in need of exorcism, even though, as the Clown, he knows full well that Malvolio, whatever his faults might be, is neither insane nor possessed.

Clown: Out, hyperbolical fiend! How vesext thou this man! Talkest thou nothing but of ladies? (IV.ii.29–30)

The irony in the play now develops to match that of the Campion conferences, where Campion was called upon to assent to facts which, from his point of view as a scholar and a Catholic, were not facts at all.

Malvolio: Good Sir Topas, do not think I am mad. They have laid me here in hideous darkness.
Clown: Fie, thou dishonest Satan!… Say’st thou that house is dark?
Malvolio: As hell, Sir Topas.
Clown: Why, it hath bay windows transparent as barricadoes…
Malvolio: I am not mad, Sir Topas. I say to you, this house is dark.
Clown: Madman, thou errest. I say, there is no darkness but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzl’d than the Egyptians in their fog. (IV.ii.33–48)

Next the dramatist shows us the dishonesty of the situation from his own perspective. Malvolio asks for a test of his lucidity, and the Clown asks a question, to which Malvolio gives what would be, to any Christian scholar, the correct answer in terms of the teachings of their faith.

Malvolio: …Make the trial of it in any constant question.
Clown: What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?
Malvolio: That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.
Clown: What think’st thou of his opinion?
Malvolio: I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion.
Clown: Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness. Thou shalt hold th’ opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits… (IV.ii.52–63)

Thus, rather than maintaining the Christian teaching of the resurrection on the last day, the Clown chides Malvolio for not upholding the pagan teaching of Pythagoras concerning the transmigration of souls. Likewise, Campion, first during his days at Oxford and then at his conferences, was expected to provide answers which, by his view, were illogical and indefensible, but which accorded with the needs of the political powers of the day. The playwright thus demonstrates for us a world turned upside down, with clowns passing themselves off as men of learning, while men of learning such as Campion are pressed to deny what they believe to be true to serve political ends. I think the dramatist’s opinion about such proceedings is revealed early on in the scene, when the Clown dons an academic gown for his impersonation of Sir Topas:

Clown: Well, I’ll put it on, and I will dissemble my self in’t, and I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown (IV.ii.5–7)

Campion’s Innocence or Guilt

As noted earlier, the English government wanted to convict Campion not for his religion but for treason against the Crown; specifically, for plotting the assassination or overthrow of Queen Elizabeth I. Despite questioning scores of witnesses under duress, they were unable to show any treasonable aspect in Campion’s speech, writing or activities during his English ministry. The first indictment drawn up against Campion stated that he “did traitorously pretend to have power to absolve the subjects of the said Queen from their natural obedience to her majesty,” with a blank space left farther down the indictment for the name of a prosecution witness who had been absolved as stated (Waugh p. 206–207).

No suitable witness could be found to testify against Campion to this effect, however, and so this count of the indictment was dropped. Eventually, witnesses were obtained, the chief being Anthony Munday, a journeyman writer and traveler who had presented himself to exiled English Catholics as a co-religionist. He accused Campion of having formed a conspiracy in Rome and Rheims in 1580 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, to encourage a foreign Catholic invasion and also foment a rebellion of English Catholics. The evidence brought forth to support these charges has been found wanting by the Dictionary of National Biography and The Encyclopedia Britannica .[13] Campion’s own writings deny such a charge. In the previously mentioned Campion’s Brag he is “strictly forbidden… to deal in any respect with matter of State or Policy” (Waugh p. 236). Simpson reports that Campion “determined, therefore, as far as he might, to confine himself to the merely religious aspects of the controversy… and to refuse to make himself an umpire between two high contending parties so far above him as Pope and Queen” (Simpson p. 274).

Religious Attitudes in Twelfth Night

If the passage cited alludes to Edmund Campion, one must also ask in what spirit is the allusion to be taken: as tribute or jeer. To properly answer the question, we should examine the religious leanings of the author indicated elsewhere in the play as well as in the other Shakespeare plays. Mutschmann and Wentersdorf see that “Sir Topas,” the pose of the clown Feste in the scene, “is of the same stamp as other Protestant ministers in Shakespeare’s plays and was conceived with the deliberate intention of creating an undignified and ludicrous impression” (329). The steward Malvolio, protagonist of the play, is portrayed as a Puritan with “overweening” pride, and given to vanity and foppery—all in the most unflattering spirit. In contrast, the priest who secretly marries Sebastian and Olivia, while appearing only in scenes IV.iii and V.i with a single speech, is depicted as someone we can confide in with complete trust. Indeed, the entire drama is steeped in sympathy toward the Catholic faith.

The comic knight Sir John Falstaff is also cited (Mutschmann and Wentersdorf p. 345–349) as being a caricature of the Puritan type, leading a licentious life but counting himself among the saved. Significantly, the original name given to the character was Sir John Oldcastle, a 15th century Lollard who was executed during the reign of Henry V. The author was evidently compelled by authority, in response to objections by Oldcastle’s descendants, to change the character’s name to that of Falstaff. Interestingly, a rival play, Sir John Oldcastle, written by the same Anthony Munday who testified against Campion, was staged in 1599 and portrayed the historical figure of Oldcastle in a much more favorable light. Yet this same Munday is regarded as the author of the play, Sir Thomas More, which offers a highly favorable portrait of this Catholic martyr.[14] (In the play, More is condemned for refusing to lend his signature to certain unspecified articles; historically, these constituted King Henry’s Act of Supremacy, allowing them to assume supreme power over the Church in England.) Whether Munday wrote the play as author or copyist has been the subject of much debate.[15] One must conclude that Munday’s contribution to Sir Thomas More as author or copyist was made when Munday was an apparent Catholic, before his testimony against Edmund Campion Indeed, Munday’s later publications, including a pamphlet which detailed the execution of Edmund Campion and his companions, were aggressively anti-Catholic.

Campion and Gorboduc

The historical record offers other links between Gorboduc and the Campion allusions in Twelfth Night . There is the coincidence with the title of the latter play, for Gorboduc originally was intended for a single performance on Twelfth Night; that is, January 6, 1562.[16] A second performance was given at Whitehall at the command of the Queen, on January 12, 1562. (The original performance of Gorboduc took place in the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London) Remarkably, the only known performance of TN during its author’s lifetime was at another Inn, the Middle Temple, as reported by Manningham in his diary: “At our feast we had a play called Twelve Night, or What You Will ” (Neilson and Hill p. 279). Such a performance would have been a private one, limited to those connected with the Middle Temple or invited by its members.

Yet another coincidence relates to one of the dramatists of Gorboduc —Thomas Norton, listed in the original edition of 1565 as the author of Acts l–III (Cauthen p. xxix). Norton played a prominent role on the English government’s behalf in the suppression of Catholics, traveling in 1579 as far as Rome, where he sought out damaging information about English Catholics living in the city. In 1581, he was one of the commissioners at the trial of Edmund Campion. The following year he complained to Sir Francis Walsingham about the nickname, “Rackmaster General,” that was being applied to him for his part in torturing Catholics (Simpson p. 266; Cauthen p. 80).

Concluding Thoughts

During the Feast of the Epiphany in Elizabethan times, which took place on January 6 and was commonly known as Twelfth Day, gifts were exchanged in commemoration of the gifts of the Magi. It was a holiday of feasting, celebration and revelry. This is the tradition usually associated with the origin of the name of the play Twelfth Night . On the other hand, if the playwright had allusions to Edmund Campion in mind, then a covert meaning for the title could have been intended. In this regard, one should recall the spirit associated with these revelries: that nothing is what it seems; that meanings are turned inside out. To quote Feste: “Nothing that is so is so” (IV.ii.9). Perhaps this spirit explains the paradox of a play which, on the face of it, is a boisterous, rollicking comedy, yet also contains allusions to that fateful time of Campion’s mission, and so serving as the playwright’s Ave Atque Vale for this tragic figure of the period.

ENDNOTES

1. H. Mutschmann and K. Wentersdorf, Shakespeare and Catholicism . 1969. 16–21, 329–351. Roland M. Frye, Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine . 1963. Hugh R Williamson, The Day Shakespeare Died . London, 1962. 11–25.[back]

2. Henry More, The Elizabethan Jesuits: Historia Missionis Anglicanae Societatis Jesu (1660). Trans. Francis Edwards, SJ. London, 1981. 43.[back]

3. Evelyn Waugh,Edmund Campion . London, 1946.[back]

4. Dictionary of National Biography. Eds. Sir L. Stephen and Sir S. Lee. Oxford, 1921. III, 851.[back]

5. William Cardinal Allen, A Brief History of the Glorious Martyrdom of the 12 Reverend Priests: Fr. Edmund Campion and his Companions. 1584 . Ed. H. Pollen, SJ. London, 1908. 10.[back]

6. Francis Edwards, SJ, The Jesuits in England: from 1580 to the Present Day . Kent, 1985. 20.[back]

7. Richard Simpson, Edmund Campion . London, 1848. 279–313.[back]

8. All quotations of Shakespeare are taken from The Complete Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare . Eds. W A. Neilson and C.J. Hill. 1942. 279.[back]

9. Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton, Gorboduc, or Ferrex and Porrex. 1565 . Ed. Irby B. Cauthen Jr. Regents Renaissance Drama Series.1970. iii.[back]

10. DNB , XVII, 585–589.[back]

11. Exodus, III, 14 (King James). The phrase “I am that I am” also appears in Shakespeare’s sonnet 121, a particularly poignant verse about a good man unjustly perceived as an evil person. “Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed…”[back]

12. The name “Persons,” sometimes rendered as “Parsons” in writings of the day, was pronounced with something of an Irish lilt, the first syllable rhyming with “fair.” According to Simpson (387), “Pearsons” might well stand as a modern rendering of the name. Also see DNB, III, 851.[back]

13. DNB, III, 850–854; The Encyclopedia Britannica. 1973. 4, 721.[back]

14. The play Sir Thomas More survived as a manuscript written largely in a hand identifiable as that of Anthony Munday, surfacing in 1727 in the possession of one Alexander Murray and his patron, the 2nd Earl of Oxford (of the Harley creation).[back]

15. Sir Thomas More . Attributed to Anthony Munday. Eds. V. Gabrieli and G. Melchiori. 1990. 12–16.[back]

16. The Diary of Henry Machyn . 1565. Ed. J.G. Nichols. London, 1848.[back]

De Vere: Man of Independence

Before Looney, did anyone know Oxford was Shakespeare?
A Novel, a Song and a Portrait suggest so.

by Richard Whalen


This article was presented at the 19th Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society in 1995, and was published in the Autumn 1995 Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter.


Why has no mention of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the man behind the pseudonym Shakespeare been found in the centuries after his death and up to 1920, when J. Thomas Looney published Shakespeare Identified? Was Oxford completely forgotten? Or did knowledge of him as the true author go underground?

In the half-century after Oxford’s death in 1604, everybody who was anybody undoubtedly knew that Oxford was Shakespeare, but also knew that it was not to be broadcast, if anyone even cared. It was an open secret. By 1630 Oxford’s children were all dead, and his cousin Horatio de Vere died in 1635. So by the 1640s, memories of him were mostly second hand; and, of course, in 1641 the theaters were closed by the Puritans. Interest in dramatists went dormant. By 1660 when the theaters finally re-opened, it’s possible that memory of Oxford as Shakespeare had faded and disappeared. Or had it?

Perhaps some knowledge of Oxford’s authorship was passed on during the 250 years from the 1660s to 1920. Records and publications as yet unexamined may show that to be true. Also, it must be noted that the myth of the man from Stratford took hold in the early 1700s, and anti-Stratfordian heresy was not tolerated. The Rev. James Wilmot, who could find nothing supporting Will Shakspere as the author, had his papers burned for fear his Stratford neighbors would bitterly resent his doubts about their mythical hometown hero.

Three items have turned up recently that suggest-only suggest-that during those two and half centuries certain people may have connected Oxford to the author Shakespeare. Two are from the 18th century and one is from the 19th century. A fourth, wherein the Stratford monument and the Welbeck portrait of Oxford converge, may prove to fit the pattern.

A Novel Whose Hero is a De Vere

The 19th century item is a novel published in 1827 and having the title, De Vere, or the Man of Independence. [1] The novel was recently brought to light by Sam Cherubim of Northampton, Massachusetts, who came across it in a library, and passed the word to Roger Stritmatter (formerly) of UMass-Amherst. I am indebted to both of them for calling it to my attention.

De Vere, or the Man of Independence, appropriately enough was published anonymously. The author soon became known; he was Robert Plumer Ward (no known relation to the Oxfordian scholars William Plumer Fowler or Bernard M. Ward.)

Robert Plumer Ward was not your typical l9th century literary novelist. He was first of all a lawyer and successful career politician who held senior government positions. His novels were based on the contemporary political scene, which he knew well. They caused considerable sensation since his main characters were modeled on government leaders, including William Pitt, the prime minister. [2]

Robert Plumer Ward thus was a political insider writing anonymously about government affairs disguised as fiction—just as Oxford was writing pseudonymously about court affairs as Shakespeare. Moreover, a descendant of Oxford is the hero of Ward’s novel.

Nothing should be forced when looking for possible references to Oxford and Shakespeare in the works of other writers, but there are a number of striking correspondences in Ward’s novel. First of all, quotations from Shakespeare lead off the title page in 88 of the 93 chapters (5 are by Milton). And Shakespeare is quoted fairly often throughout the novel. Robert Plumer Ward knew his Shakespeare.

At the start of the novel, the author narrator, who is named Beauclerk, meets Mortimer de Vere, the novel’s hero, and discovers that they are related. Mortimer de Vere is a direct descendant of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and at his country house there is a column on a pedestal with an inscription:

Trust in thy own good sword,
Rather than Princes’ word.
Trust e’en in fortune sinister,
Rather than Princes’ minister.
Of either, trust the guile,
Rather than woman’s smile.
But most of all eschew,
To trust in Parvenu.

The only synonym for “parvenu” in Webster’s unabridged dictionary is “upstart”, as in “upstart crow”.

Mortimer de Vere, the hero of the novel, then explains that the verse was supposed to have been taken from Oxford’s study at Castle Hedingham. He’s not sure who the parvenu is. But here is a novelist in 1827 creating (?) a verse from Oxford’s study that seemingly warns the reader to shun an upstart like the “shake-scene” in Robert Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit (1592), who seems to stand for the man from Stratford. [3]
Mortimer mentions, too, Oxford’s quarrels with his father-in-law, Lord Burleigh, and other details of Oxford’s life. Writing in the early 19th century, Ward knows a lot about Oxford and Shakespeare.

The novel is a long tale of political intrigue and romance, ending with a dispute over a will. The hero, Mortimer de Vere, is brilliant, impetuous and uncommonly proud and upright, a man of so much integrity he has trouble succeeding in the world of politics. The book ends with a dramatic trial over an inheritance.

Several passages describing Mortimer de Vere sound like a description of Oxford:

His enthusiastic imagination, which often ran away with him, and falling upon a spirit hereditarily independent, influenced, as we shall see, the whole cast of his life. (p. 42)

Mortimer read deeply in law and history and he found that “Edward, earl of Oxford, in the days of Elizabeth, united in his single person, the character of her greatest noble, knight and poet.” (p. 61)

At one point Mortimer and the woman he eventually marries, known as the “queen” of her household and the “lady of the castle”, plan a theatrical performance, a masque. (p. 184) Mortimer de Vere says: “And what can I do for you my cousine?” She answers: “O! a great deal,—for while I am the manager of my theater, you must be the poet.” “I never wrote a verse in my life,” replies de Vere, despairingly, yet half laughing at the proposal.

The masque raises many questions among the audience: “What was the exact meaning of the masques? Who was the compiler?

Quickly, however, the word spreads that Mortimer de Vere wrote the masque and the allusions are to the “queen” of the household, the “lady of the castle”. Later, she says, “the bard wants to send me to London to reign over I know not what sort of people.”

In the audience is a parvenu, an upstart. He is the son of a manufacturer who converts his name from lower-class Bartholomew to upper-class Bertie and is notorious for insinuating himself into nobility. He buys himself a knighthood just as Will Shakspere, also a parvenu, bought himself a coat of arms.

These references and allusions linking Mortimer de Vere, a descendant of Oxford, to playwriting for the queen of the household, constitute a small part of a long novel. But they are striking, given the evidence that the author of the novel was well versed in his Shakespeare and well acquainted with the historical personage Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Did he know the truth? More research and analysis may turn up stronger connections and permit more telling interpretations.

Dibdin’s Song for the Shakespeare Jubilee

The second item of interest is a song by Charles Dibdin, a prolific composer and lyricist. He wrote the words and music for the Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford in 1769, produced and directed by its star, David Garrick. The songs were collected and published by Dibdin.

A page from one of Dibdin’s songbooks was on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1994. On the page was a ballad called “Sweet Willy. O.” [4]
The name “Willy” recalls Edmund Spenser’s “our pleasant Willy” in “The Teares of the Muses”, wherein Spenser is thought by many to refer to Shakespeare. [5] Willy combined with O followed by a period (Oxford’s initial, so to speak) may be seen as suggesting Shakespeare Oxford. In addition, the multiple uses of “ever” and its variations in the verses echoes E. Vere. In the first verse “e_ver” is split as shown. (Emphasis added).

The pride of all nature was sweet Willy. O.
The first of all swains,
He gladdened the plains,
None e ver was like to the sweet Willy O.

He sung it so rarely did sweet Willy O;
He melted each Maid,
So skillfull he play’d,
No Shepherd eter pip’d like the sweet Willy O.

All Nature obey’d him, the sweet Willy O;
Wherever he came,
What e’er had a name,
Whenever he sung follow’d sweet Willy O.

He would be a Soldier the sweet Willy O;
When arm’d in the field,
With sword and with shield,
The Laurel was won by the sweet Willy O.

He charmed them when living the sweet Willy O;
And when Willy dy’d,
‘Twas Nature that sighed
To part with her All in her sweet Willy O.

In twenty short lines, “ever” appears five times, that is, in twenty-five percent of the lines.

Dibdin was immensely prolific and published a five-volume opus entitled, The Professional Life of Mr. Dibdin, Written by Himself (1803). A scan of five hundred lines of similar ballads produced only three “never”s and two “whenever”s—no “ever”s or other word forms with “ever”. That’s one percent of the lines.

So, in his first ballad for the Shakespeare Jubilee called “Sweet Willy. O.” Dibdin used “ever” in some form twenty-five times more often than he did in his other lyrics.

As it happens, the last words of the Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford, words written by David Garrick, were: “Bravo Jubilee! Shakespeare for Ever!” [6]

Did Charles Dibdin and David Garrick know the truth? Garrick did schedule a single play by Shakespeare to be performed at his Jubilee in poet, dramatist’s supposed hometown, Stratford-on-Avon. More research may reveal what they knew.

Was Oxford’s Portrait Shakespeare’s?

About a decade after the Shakespeare Jubilee occurred a third indication that someone may have believed that Oxford was Shakespeare. This clue was in a portrait inventory that seemed to imply that a portrait of Oxford was thought to be that of Shakespeare.

Derran Charlton, an archival researcher of South Yorkshire, England, made the discovery at Wentworth Woodhouse and published his finding in the De Vere Society Newsletter last May 1995.

The inventory of portraits, dated 1782, lists all the heirloom portraits mentioned in the 1696 will of William, Earl of Wentworth—except one. Missing from the inventory list is a portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. Where did that portrait go?

Scanning the inventory, Derran Charlton also noted that a portrait of the same dimensions was described simply as “Shakespeare”. No portrait of Shakespeare was mentioned in the will, nor has any been found, nor has the inventory reference been linked to any of the other purported portraits of Shakespeare the Stratford man.

Furthermore, the listing of the Shakespeare portrait was alongside listings of portraits of Oxford’s cousin, Lord Horace Vere, and his grandson, James Stanley. Since Oxford’s portrait is omitted from the list and one called “Shakespeare” turns up among Oxford’s relatives, it seems quite possible that whoever drew up the inventory called the Oxford portrait “Shakespeare”. Otherwise the disappearance of the one and emergence of the other, as described by Derran Charlton, is quite unaccountable.

Finally, a convergence of pictures of “Shakspeare” and of Oxford in the 18th century may someday fit the pattern. At the point of convergence is Edward Harley, whose library became the Harleian Collection. In 1737 Harley took the engraver George Vertue with him to see Stratford and the monument in Trinity Church. Vertue sketched the monument but declined to show the face of the monument’s “Shakspeare” in his sketch. Instead, he substituted a likeness based on the so-called Chandos portrait of Shakespeare. [7] He also put Harley into his sketch, as a lone spectator of this bust with a substitute face.

As it happens, Harley was the 2nd earl of Oxford (second creation), while his wife had connections to the 17th earl of Oxford (first creation).

She was the great-great-granddaughter of Oxford’s favorite cousin, the famous Horace de Vere. Also, she had inherited the so-called Welbeck portrait of the 17th Earl of Oxford, now at the National Portrait Gallery.

Harley and Vertue are the subject of a paper by Andrew Hannas of Purdue University that he presented at the Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable last June. In it he raises intriguing questions about what Harley knew about “Shakspeare’s” likeness and identity and why Vertue shows Harley gazing at the Chandos head stuck like a mask on the face of “Shakspeare” in the Stratford monument.

A song from the Shakespeare Jubilee, an obscure portrait inventory and a 19th century novel all seem to suggest that the true identity of Shakespeare was suspected or known in the centuries between the deaths of Oxford’s immediate descendants and the publication of Looney’s landmark book. Only in recent years did these three clues turn up. There may be more in 17th, 18th and l9th century literature and records that would indicate that people knew that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

ENDNOTES

    1. De Vere; or the Man of Independence, by Robert Plumer Ward. Philadelphia: Carey, 1827. [back]

 

    1. The Dictionary of National Biography. See also Memoirs of the Political and Literary Life of Robert Plumer Ward, Esq., by Edmund Phipps. London: Murray, 1850. On page 106 Ward is called “a spectator of the game of politics.” On page 165 is a letter from Benjamin Disraeli to Ward praising his book. Ward himself energetically disclaims that real people are represented in the book. (xi) [back]

 

    1. Ward, p. 25. The hero, Mortimer, guesses that “parvenu” may refer to Burghley or an “insinuating, designing flatterer of a secretary”, but in the end cannot decide. [back]

 

    1. The Overture, Songs, Airs and Chorusses in the Jubilee of_Shakespeare’s Garland as Performed at Stratford upon Avon, and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to Which is Added a Cantata Called Queen Mab or Fairies Jubilee. Composed by Charles Dibdin. London: Johnston, ca. 1775. The Folger s copy is unbound. Earlier editions of Dibdin’s Jubilee works were published in 1769. [back]

 

    1. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality, by Charlton Ogburn, 719–720.[back]

 

    1. David Garrick: A Biography, by Alan Kendall. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985 (142). [back]

 

    1. The sketch is in William ShakesPeare: Records and Images, by S. Schoenbaum. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981 (163). See also his ShakesDeare’s Lives, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991 (124–5, 202–6), wherein Schoenbaum mentions Vertue’s sketch of Will Shakspere’s house from someone else’s memory, but not his eyewitness sketch of the Shakspeare monument with Harley in the foreground, which is the more historically significant of the two. Vertue’s sketch is also found in “New Place” by Frank Simpson in Shakespeare Survey No. 5 from Cambridge University Press in 1952. [back]

 

Joseph Sobran on Shakespeare’s Bible

Bible holds proof of Shakespeare’s identity

©1993 Joseph Sobran
Universal Press Columnist
July 1993


I keep trying to convince you heathen that the works of “William Shakespeare” were actually written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. So far my success has been limited. Well if you won’t believe me maybe you’ll believe the Bible. The Earl of Oxford’s Bible that is.

A young scholar has recently made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of the Shakespeare authorship controversy. Roger Stritmatter, a graduate Student of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has studied Oxford’s copy of the Bible and it strongly supports the view that Oxford was in fact the author we call “Shakespeare.”

Oxford owned the Geneva translation of the Bible, the version Shakespeare echoes more than any other. Moreover Oxford marked his copy heavily—and he marked hundreds of verses that scholars have already found echoed in the works of Shakespeare.

As far as we know the Stratford man usually thought to be Shakespeare didn’t even own a Bible. His will mentions no books or manuscripts at all. Ironically Oxford’s Bible has been in the great Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington since 1925. But Mr. Stritmatter is the first scholar to examine it closely.

It would be a near-miracle if two different readers had taken special note of so many of the same verses, mostly little-known verses, as Shakespeare and Oxford did. Space forbids a full summary here, so let me concentrate on one Shakespearean character: Sir John Falstaff.

Falstaff appears in three plays and is mentioned in a fourth. He also quotes the Bible constantly, to wonderfully comic effect. And he and his companions quote, echo or allude to at least nine of the verses marked by Oxford!

Even if you’ve read the Bible, do you remember Achitophel? Falstaff does. He calls one of his myriad creditors (children, cover your ears!) “a whoreson Achitophel.” Oxford has underlined the entire verse (11 Samuel 16:23) that identifies Achitophel as the counselor of David and Absalom.

Falstaff humorously likens his drunkard friend Bardolph’s brightnose to “an everlasting bonfire-light”, recalling the phrase “everlasting fire” in Matthew 25:41, a verse Oxford also marked. But for that nose says Falstaff Bardolph would be “the son of utter darkness,” a clear allusion to I Thessalonians 5:5: “You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, neither of darkness.” Yet again Oxford has marked the verse referred to by Falstaff.

When his friend Prince Hal becomes king, Falstaff, mistakenly thinking his own ship has come in, exults: “Blessed are they that have been my friends, and woe unto my lord chief justice!” This plainly echoes the beatitudes and admonitions of Jesus, and Oxford has marked one of the verses Falstaff’s cry suggests.

Of course the words of Jesus are so familiar that an allusion to them is unremarkable. But most of Falstaff’s biblical echoes are arcane. Consider one of the most striking of them, Falstaff’s boast: “I fear not Goliath with a weaver’s beam.” This can only refer to 11 Samuel 21:19, where Goliath’s spear is said to be like a weaver’ beam. Oxford has underlined those same words in his own Bible. This can hardly be accidental.

These are only a handful of many examples. Mr. Stritmatter’s discovery has reinforced the already powerful circumstantial case that the Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare, the man who gave us Falstaff. Neither Shakespeare nor Oxford has ever been thought of as very religious: yet both fasten on these same verses in the same translation of the Bible—because they were the same man.

Until now the Shakespeare authorship question has usually been considered a marginal issue, if not a crank idea. “What difference does it make who wrote the plays?” people ask. “The important thing is that we have the plays themselves.”

But the annotations in Oxford’s Bible are more than a solution to whodunit; they are a major addition to Shakespeare studies. They give us a truly priceless look into the creative process of our greatest poet. To read them is to witness the birth of Falstaff.

A Quintessence of Dust

An interim report on the marginalia of the Geneva Bible of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library.

©1992 by Roger Stritmatter


This article was first published in the spring 1993 (Vol. 29, no.2A) Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter.


The following report summarizes the results of a nine-month study of the underlined verses and marginal notations of the Geneva Bible (1570) of Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.. The Bible, first examined by the author in January 1992, was included in the Folger’s Collection of Fine Bindings from February through September 1992. First purchased by Henry Clay Folger in 1925, five years after the publication of John Thomas Looney’s path breaking study “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, the Bible has not been examined by any scholar prepared to evaluate the possible historical significance of the underlinings of more than one thousand verses by a sixteenth century annotator almost certain to have been the original owner, Edward de Vere.(1)

Note 1: This conclusion is offered on the basis of the following considerations: 1) The reliability of the Folger’s provenance information determining de Vere’s original ownership; 2) the principal investigator’s familiarity with de Vere’s holograph as attested in publications Amphlett (1955), Fowler (1986), and Miller (1988). Efforts to verify comparison of the holograph and ink composition through expert testimony, delayed due to the Fine Binding Exhibit, are currently being undertaken.)

Folger curators responsible for cataloging marginal notations of historic significance, unaware of the annotations until brought to their attention in January 1992, expressed surprise and great interest on learning of the nature of the annotations. (2)

(Note 2: Special collections curator Dr. Nati Krivatsky, who mounted the fine bindings exhibit and has subsequently retired from the Folger Staff, registered surprise and enthusiasm when shown several examples of the evidence included in the present report tying the annotations to Shakespeare. Dr. Laetitia Yeandle, curator of rare manuscripts, asked about the need to test the ink to pin down the date of the annotations, expressed her opinion that the inks used by the annotator were unlikely to be other than 16th century. Nevertheless, ink testing will undoubtedly be required.)

The present report draws on the more than two centuries of serious scholarly study of Shakespeare’s compositional technique—the means by which, as Greenwood puts it, “the great magician turns all that he touches into purest gold” (Greenwood, 1908, p.96)—and his Biblical knowledge. Particular emphasis is laid on the significance of Walter Whiter’s path breaking but rarely studied 1794 essay on Shakespeare’s mental associations as wells as on several more recent studies of Shakespeare’s biblical references: Richmond Noble’s classic, Shakespeare’s Biblical Knowledge (1935), which set the scholarly standard for organization, precision and classification; Peter Milward’s Biblical Influences in Shakespeare’s Great Tragedies (1987), a comprehensive study of Lear, Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet ; and two books by Naseeb Shaheen which, following Noble’s footsteps, carefully outline a large number—though, as we shall see, certainly not all—of the Biblical references in two genres of plays: Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Tragedies (1987) and Biblical References in Shakespeare’s History Plays (1989).

As this list makes apparent, much of the important work in studies of Shakespeare’s biblical references has taken place within the last five years and much remains to be discovered. Richmond Noble pessimistically described the status of research in 1935:

Mistakes in attribution have frequently occurred, sometimes with far-reaching results. Since Shakespeare is not available for examination we may ascribe to him allusions to books he had no intention of making, and also he may have utilized those selfsame books on occasions that have escaped our notice. Our inquiry in the nature of an Inquest of Documents, where the principal witness is not available for personal interrogation and where all the evidence is contained in existing documents to which it is impossible to add anything. (1935, p.24, italics added)

The study shows that of the one thousand verses marked and underlined in the Earl of Oxford’s Geneva Bible, as many as two-hundred, or one-fifth, demonstrate a definite, probable, or possible influence in the Shakespeare canon. Over eighty of these verses, as well as some sixteen psalms, are attributed as Shakespeare references to the Bible in the studies published by Noble, Milward and Shaheen. The remaining one-hundred and twenty verses, only a small portion of which (not more than 20x) fall into the category “possible”, are attributed to Shakespeare on the strength of the present study. This distribution of evidence is highly significant. The verses which are already evident in the literature anchor the present study in a tradition of scholarship which, proceeding on the assumptions of Noble, working in the absence of any documentary evidence, has succeeded in isolating and describing a large number of Shakespeare’s biblical references. The new verses added by the present study highlight the heuristic value of the Oxfordian thesis as well as providing an independent confirmation of the premise on which the study depends.


The principal investigator holds a masters degree with honors from the New School for Social Research (1988) and a PhD from the Departments of Comparative Literature and English at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Stritmatter’s dissertation focused on the marginalia of the Edward de Vere bible owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library. He currently an associate professor at Copin State University in MD.

Portions of the material included in this Report are featured in GTE’s 1992 Interactive Video Teleconference on Shakespearean authorship, Uncovering Shakespeare: An Update . The first public presentation of the material was made October 17, 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio, at the 16th Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society of America. The author addressed the Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable in Santa Monica, Ca. on January 16, 1993. Dr. Anne Pluto (PhD, English), Shakespeare professor at Leslie College in Boston, will co-author two articles based on the material supplied in the Report.

[A fuller presentation of these findings was also made at the 18th Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society of America in Carmel, CA, on October 1, 1994.]

Response to Smithsonian Magazine regarding Shakespeare’s Bible

Smithsonian magazine trips over Stratfordian disinformation

MAGAZINE GETS THE FACTS WRONG: STRITMATTER AND ANDERSON REPLY

As most Oxfordians recognize, a few of the anti-Oxfordians are playing fast and loose with the facts as they try to knock down the evidence for the 17th Earl of Oxford as the true author of the works of Shakespeare. Smithsonian Magazine perpetuated two sins of factual inaccuracy in its April 1995 issue. The occasion was an update of its article in 1987 that had given a fairly well balanced account of the case for Oxford. But the magazine apparently has now been influenced by Stratfordian disinformationists. The short item in the current issue summarizes in two sentences how Charlton Ogburn “provocatively explores parallels between Oxford’s personal life and travels (Padua, Venice, Verona) with settings and specific incidents in the plays.”

Then follow the offending sentences:

Anti-Oxfordians wryly note that Oxford died in 1604—when at least 11 of Shakespeare’s plays had yet to be written. So the debate continues. In 1993 a scholar found that Oxford’s Bible had a number of marked passages that Shakespeare used in the plays—but it proved a false alarm. Oxford, it appeared, had acquired the Bible with the notations already in it.

To set the record straight on the facts, letters were sent to the editor of the Smithsonian making the following points:

First, there is no documentary evidence whatsoever that any of Shakespeare’s plays were written after the 17th Earl of Oxford died in 1604. Post-1604 dates are given to a dozen plays because first mention of them only appears after 1604. But posthumous publication or performances of literary works is not at all unusual. All the plays could have been written before 1604. And Oxfordians have demonstrated why pre-1604 dating is more rational.

Three of the plays, in fact, were never mentioned until their publication seven years after the Stratford man died, thus fatally disqualifying him, too, as the author. The reasoning, of course, is specious in both cases. Secondly, the marginal notes and underlinings in Oxford’s Bible were almost certainly made by Oxford. The magazine was undoubtedly misled into calling these markings “a false alarm” by an erroneous report in a booklet written for an exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Folger owns Oxford’s Bible. The authors of the booklet got the date wrong for the Bible, using 1596. This enabled them to denigrate the findings of the scholar, Roger Stritmatter then at UMass-Amherst.

In fact, the dates on the Bible itself are 1569 and 1570. Oxford’s records show that it was purchased for him in 1569/70. There was no time for anyone else to mark the Bible. And several of the markings are on verses that are echoed in Shakespeare’s plays.

Roger Stritmatter and Mark Anderson critically scrutinized the Smithsonian and wrote the following rebuttal to the editors:

April 9, 1995
Smithsonian
900 Jefferson Drive
Washington D.C. 20560

To the Editors:

Your characterization of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible (Smithsonian Updates, April 1995, p. 40) as a “false alarm” in the Shakespeare controversy constitutes an alarming suspension of critical judgment and journalistic ethics. Revisiting a 1987 Smithsonian article on the authorship controversy, you dispute the significance of the 250 recently-discovered concurrences between Shakespeare’s Biblical citations and the notations found in the 1569–70 de Vere Bible on the spurious grounds that de Vere “had acquired the Bible with the notations already in it.”

This hypothesis, presumably borrowed from the Folger Library exhibit Catalog, Roasting the Swan of Avon, does not withstand critical scrutiny. Catalog editors assert that “among the twenty-eight instances in which the annotator has written something in the outer margins, the binder’s knife has cut away part of the inscription eighteen times. That would suggest that the annotations were made sometime before the Bible was bound for the Earl of Oxford.

Nonsense. It suggests only that the Bible was first annotated and then, sometime in the past four hundred years, it was cropped. The specificity of the Folger claim is spurious. To substantiate it, the Catalog omits, and sometimes misrepresents, vital information which confirms de Vere as the annotator.

For starters, the Catalog fails to report that while the Bible retains its original binding embossed with de Vere’s crest as the 17th Earl of Oxford, the original spine of the book has been replaced. It is standard bookbinding practice, as Folger curators should know, to crop rare books when replacing the spine. Further weakening the Catalog’s hypothesis is the State record—also conveniently suppressed in the exhibit Catalog—documenting de Vere’s purchase of a Geneva Bible in 1570.

For “Smithsonian Updates” to be correct, the hypothetical previous owner would need to have acquired, annotated and resold the Bible in under a year, after which de Vere would have purchased it, removed the original binding and bound the annotated pages with his own silver-engraved crest. But there is one further problem with the Smithsonian’s overhasty conclusion: why hasn’t it been confirmed by comparing the annotator’s handwriting to de Vere’s? Paleography should prove easily enough that the annotator is not de Vere. But no. The near-perfect match between the two samples would scotch this absurd scenario…once and for all. That Shakespearean orthodoxy is driven to such desperate, ultimately self-defeating, expedients to thwart the reception of new evidence does not inspire confidence in the reasoning upon which conventional views depend. Indeed, concluded former Folger Program Director Richmond Crinkley in his review of Charlton Ogburn’s 1984 book, in the Folger’s own Shakespeare Quarterly:

If the intellectual standards of Shakespeare scholarship quoted in such embarrassing abundance by Ogburn are representative, then it is not just authorship about which we have to be worried”.

Few chapters in the recent history of the authorship controversy illustrate Crinkley’s warning more aptly than your uncritical endorsement of Folger disinformation about the de Vere Bible.

Roger Stritmatter
rstritmatter@gmail.

Mark K. Anderson
mark.anderson85@verizon.net

Book Review One: Shakespeare IN FACT

Matus’s Cannonade Against Oxford Misfires

A chapter-by-chapter review of Shakespeare, IN FACT, by Irvin Matus. (New York: Continuum, 1994. 331 pages.)

©1995 by Richard F. Whalen


In his book, Shakespeare, IN FACT, Irvin Matus promises (p. 23) to challenge the evidence for the 17th Earl of Oxford as the true author of the works of Shakespeare.

While demonstrating extensive research into primary sources, the book fails to address the principal evidence against the Stratford man and for Oxford as the author Shakespeare. It tries to appear to be doing so, but in fact it does not. The prose style is meandering and sometimes snide. It is far from crisp and definitive. Often, an argument against Oxford is announced, but then, pages later, it fails to materialize. No point has been made. The book dwells on a multitude of miscellaneous details, most of them irrelevant to the main anti-Stratfordian and Oxfordian arguments. He simply sidesteps the basic anti-Stratfordian and Oxfordian arguments while chopping the air with his sword and pretending to skewer the Oxfordians.

Paradoxically, the book does not even make a good case for the Stratford man. It often misrepresents Oxfordian positions. Straw men are set up to be knocked down. Points of sometimes obscure Oxfordian scholarship are discussed at length in a critical way, sometimes even with sarcasm, but without any conclusions being reached.

He also poses what he calls “the central question of the authorship controversy: How did Shakespeare, in fact, stand in relation to his contemporaries, both as a man and as a man of the theater?” In answering this question, however, he assumes that Shakespeare was the Stratford man, which begs the question. His answers, therefore, do not address any “central question” and are ineffectual.

Chapter 9 reveals Matus’ flawed technique

This dodging of key issues is most evident in Chapter 9 where Matus trips himself in a way that destroys his credibility and, some might say, his authorial integrity.

Matus opens this chapter by recognizing that “Oxfordians think they have their most powerful case for Oxford’s authorship in those plays where they discern biographical details of the earl’s life.” (p. 233) True enough. So what does Matus do about it? Does he devote at least a chapter of the whole book to this “most powerful case” for Oxford? Does he critique the wealth of correspondences to Oxford’s life that Oxfordians find in many of the poems and plays. Not at all.

He devotes a mere seven paragraphs (p. 233–236) to just two plays, and much of even this is extraneous. Apparently, Matus was unable to find anything wrong with the “most powerful case” for Oxford. So he ignored it. Oxfordians will recognize the usual Stratfordian tactics: Ignore the fundamental Oxfordian arguments. Downgrade Shakespeare’s genius to fit the life of “mundane inconsequence” (Schoenbaum’s words) of the man from Stratford. Snipe around the edges of Oxfordian research. Use the trappings of arcane research to try to imply solid, scholarly judgment.

Claims for Oxford not addressed

In devoting only this one chapter out of ten to the “claims for Oxford”, he still fails to counter the two principal claims for Oxford: first, the impressive, cumulative effect of the parallels between Oxford’s life and Shakespeare’s works; second, the extent and specificity of the direct references to Oxford’s life and concerns throughout the poems and plays. This second claim is crucial, yet Matus does not even mention the extensive Oxfordian literature on the subject. Only two plays out of all Shakespeare’s works are cited and much of the evidence in those two is simply ignored.

All’s Well That End’s Well gets three sentences, which focus mainly on Boccaccio’s influence. Ignored are the many direct references to Oxford’s life, e.g., wardship plus betrothal to commoner/counselor’s daughter, flight to the Continent, and, especially, the bed trick.

Hamlet gets only six paragraphs, much if it on the coat of arms on quartos. Again Matus ignores the many parallels with Oxford’s life that have been identified by Oxfordians, e.g. betrothal to commoner/counselor’s daughter, mother remarrying beneath her, pirate attack at sea, the insider references to Burghley/Polonius, his cousin Horatio, et al.

The many references to Oxford in other plays are not mentioned at all, e.g. the Gad’s Hill incident in Henry IV Part 1, street fighting in Romeo and Juliet, Shylock and Michael Lok in The Merchant of Venice, parallels with Anne Cecil, Burghley and Yorke in Hamlet and Othello etc. (Of course, nothing remotely comparable to these correspondences has ever even been suggested for Will Shakspere by Stratfordian scholars.)

In short, in this chapter on “The Claim for the Earl of Oxford,” Matus dwells on peripheral and often irrelevant details and fails completely even to address the principal claims and evidence supporting those claims for Oxford as the true author.

Nowhere does he dispute the basic historical account of Oxford’s life, i.e., that he was a courtier, poet, playwright and patron of acting companies, a man who traveled extensively in France and Italy, a man whose life seems to fit the works of Shakespeare. He then attempts to downgrade the importance of these characteristics—but without denying their existence.

He begins the chapter by noting that any records of patronage by anybody for any writers are few, but he nevertheless acknowledges Oxford’s patronage of literature, playwrights and acting companies. He uses more than a dozen paragraphs to describe Oxford as a courtier who was not always in favor with the queen, but he confirms that Oxford was an important member of the queen’s court. He uses no less than 18 paragraphs to review what he acknowledges as evidence that Oxford had some military experience, considers it slight and draws no particular conclusion. He argues that Oxford was not a “scholar” (Oxfordians don’t generally characterize him as a “scholar” in the usual sense). Yet he then acknowledges that Oxford was manifestly well-educated, well-read and well-traveled.

He argues that Oxford’s verse was not especially accomplished. Oxfordians agree, noting that it was from his youth but adding that it was remarkably Shakespearean. He uses 13 paragraphs to question whether Oxford was the author of Lyly’s plays, which is not a central issue. He does recognize that Oxford had a reputation as an excellent playwright. He critiques Bernard M. Ward’s biography of Oxford and asserts that the annual payment of one thousand pounds by the queen was simply to relieve Oxford’s ruined estate. He presents this as his own idea, but it’s not. Ward specifically considered and rejected that as the sole explanation, with his reasons given. Here also Matus contradicts himself. He fails to reconcile his recognition of the queen’s extraordinary generosity to Oxford with his insistence that Oxford had been “eliminat[ed] from her good graces for once and all.”

Finally, he again tries to downgrade Oxford’s talent as a poet, which he bases on the small number of youthful poems. He thus misses, or chooses to ignore, the Oxfordian point that after Oxford’s youthful poetry his writings then appeared as “by William Shakespeare”. This is a major Oxfordian observation. Nothing in the chapter contradicts the Oxfordian claim that Oxford’s life fits the works of Shakespeare remarkably well.

In fact, Matus confirms much of the basic evidence while pretending to critique it by dwelling on minor points of scholarship that are mostly irrelevant.

The rest of Shakespeare, IN FACT – Chapter by Chapter

Chapter One

The book opens with a critique of Oxfordian interpretations of two references to Shakespeare: Davies’s poem “To our English Terence…” and references to Shakespeare/Shakspere in the Parnassus plays. This opening salvo, which in fact fizzles, must puzzle even informed readers. Neither one figures conspicuously in the literature. Stratfordians rarely cite either one despite their seemingly direct comment on Shakespeare. Oxfordians suggest that the reason they are ignored is that both cast doubt on Will Shakspere as the author. Matus, of course, finds reasons to disagree. Both allusions require interpretation; both can be read as strong anti-Stratfordian evidence. Neither is essential to the overall case for Oxford.

Chapter Two

In chapter 2 Matus takes up anti-Stratfordian arguments. He discusses the inconsistency of spelling of names in Elizabethan England, but does not contradict the Oxfordians’ main point, i.e. that in Stratford and in most legal documents the Stratford man’s name was spelled Shakspere or a close variant, not Shakespeare. In fact, he concludes with the suggestion—and no proof at all—that Will Shakspere used the “Shakespeare” spelling for his pseudonym in London, thus accepting in part the anti-Stratfordian analysis of variant spellings.

He finds exceptions to hyphenated names as pseudonyms. Oxfordians have never argued total consistency, only general practice. He does not cite any other playwrights whose names were hyphenated. He argues that illiteracy was nothing unusual in Stratford and that Ben Jonson didn’t get much education, thus ignoring his close relation with Camden. He does not dispute that Will Shakspere’s father and daughters were illiterate or that there are no records that he went to school, although he might have been expected to, given his father’s position. He raises questions about the Ostler lawsuit, questions that may require re-examination of the original Latin manuscript for commas. It has little bearing on the overall case against the Stratford man. He acknowledges that Will Shakspere’s signatures are questioned, discusses Hand D in the Sir Thomas More manuscript and comes to no particular conclusion.

Finally he notes that literary manuscripts rarely survived. Oxfordians agree. Nowhere in this chapter has he scored against those who reject the Stratford man as the author.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 opens with a defense of Will Shakspere as an actor. Oxfordians grant that possibility, adding that the evidence is meager. Matus thinks it’s not so meager. He reviews Groatsworth but adds nothing new. Any support from it for Will Shakspere as playwright is remote at best; as an actor, maybe. Matus sets up a straw man argument when he says Oxfordians “reject utterly” the idea that Will Shakspere, if the author, could not have saved his manuscripts. That’s not the point. Oxfordians agree that play scripts belonged first to the acting companies, and that most have not survived. Nothing in chapter 3 supports Will Shakspere as author.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 is a long chapter on the publication of Shakespeare’s plays. Matus discusses whether authors had any control over their works and suggests that Oxford could have controlled the publication of his plays if he’d wanted to. He adds that many plays were published without indications of permission yet their authors were not suspected of being noblemen. The logic is weak. A minor point in any case. Then follows a lengthy discussion of Sir George Buck’s role and whether Shakespeare’s (i.e. Oxford’s) plays were suppressed after 1604. Matus argues against that idea and also against the idea that Pembroke suppressed the Pavier quartos.

Thus, in his view it’s not true that Oxford’s survivors were controlling the publication of his plays. This is possibly so; more research on this matter is needed. The fact remains that the First Folio was dedicated to Oxford’s son-in-law and his son-in-law’s brother, not to anyone connected to Will Shakspere. Matus recognizes the false claims of Heminges and Condell in the First Folio but calls them common exaggerations. Then he contradicts himself by accepting as valid their claim that Shakespeare was their “fellow”.

In general in this chapter Matus argues that if Oxford were the author he and his family would have seen to it that the plays were published properly. The argument ignores the realities of Elizabethan and Jacobean politics. The plays commented on court affairs, satirizing Burghley and others. Oxford’s authorship was known, but probably could not be recognized with impunity. Besides, playwriting was déclassé. It’s possible that Oxford’s survivors were ambivalent about preserving the plays after his death. Or there may have been other, highly political reasons. Again, more research needs to be done.

Finally, Matus seems to think that Oxfordians believe that Will Shakspere, if the author, should have saved his manuscripts and had the plays printed correctly. He notes that only Ben Jonson did so. But Oxfordians agree that most playwrights seemed indifferent to publication or unable to secure proper publication. They only suggest that, unlike Jonson, Will Shakspere did not show any concern at all for Hamlet, Lear, etc., an incredible attitude for an ambitious businessman and retired landowner.

Chapter Five

Chapter 5 opens with 17 paragraphs on how Elizabethan dramatists wrote plays and whether the ur-Hamlet theory tells how Shakespeare worked. Matus comes to no particular conclusion, and switches to Leir/Lear. He then falls into circular reasoning that Will Shakspere, like others, plundered the plays of predecessors because he was Will Shakspere.

Next Matus disputes the Oxfordian idea that Shakespeare wrote literature, not just plays for pay. His reasoning: The plays were not excessively long for theater performances. This is a matter of opinion, but has little relevance to the authorship question. He disputes Oxfordian claims that many of the plays were written initially and primarily for performance at court and at the Inns of the Court, but with little evidence. And he discusses the publication of Troilus and Cressida, but without mention of its relevance to authorship. He takes pains to show that universities did not welcome acting companies; Oxfordians do not dispute that.

He concludes that the 16 quartos (1597–1622) place Shakespeare and the plays in the public theaters. Oxfordians only suggest that since the plays are all about royalty and nobility their performance for the court and nobility takes on special significance. Moreover, to the extent the plays are seen as not important in court and the Inns of the Court, Will Shakspere is deprived of the opportunity, relied on by Stratfordians, to learn about the law and the ways of kings, queens and nobility that he wrote about so well.

Chapter 5 offers no significant challenge to the case for Oxford.

Chapter Six

In chapter 6 Matus appears to come to grips with the dating issue, but his arguments do not refute the Oxfordian position. Matus simply accepts the traditional chronology of Stratfordian scholars without noting their own caveats: Evans (and Levin) says it is “beset with hazards and uncertainties”; Barnet calls it “highly uncertain” and “informed guesswork”. Matus ignores the unlikely phenomenon of no apprenticeship work and early retirement. He barely mentions a Stratfordian argument that Meres’s list forces too many plays into the six years before Oxford’s death. Perhaps he’s seen the error of that argument. He complains that Oxfordians have no chronology, completely ignoring the work of Eva Turner Clark and the Ogburns. Oxfordians today are generally judicious and perhaps overly cautious about the precise dating of the individual plays, while holding that Oxford’s lifespan fits the works of Shakespeare.

Matus begins with a long critique of Cairncross’s re-dating of five pre-1598 plays but never relates his analysis to the authorship question. Nothing prohibits the composition of the five plays well before Oxford died. Matus then examines three plays in particular:

    • He argues that The Winter’s Tale could not have been a re-write of a 1594 lost play with a similar name because plays were registered only once and this play was registered in 1623. But Antony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida were registered twice.

 

    • He argues that The Tempest must have been based on shipwreck accounts of 1609 but fails to recognize shipwreck and exploration accounts that pre-dated Oxford’s death and that are at least as similar to Shakespeare’s account. Muir studied the 1609 reports and judged the parallels to be exaggerated.

 

  • He argues that Henry VIII was called “new” in 1613 and dismisses theater references to a Henry VIII gown sometime in the 1590s. More research is needed in this area.

Whatever the dating, nothing precludes these plays or any others first heard of after 1604—from having been written before 1604. (Three plays were not heard of until the First Folio, years after Will Shakspere died.) He fails to wring any significant conclusions about authorship from the dating debate.

Chapter Seven

Chapter 7 examines Shakespeare’s reputation among his contemporaries, generally denigrating it. There is no discussion of authorship, except that Matus generally considers that Shakespeare/Shakspere was only one of several great dramatists of his time, surpassed in some cases by others; thus there’s no need to search for exceptional education, experience, or background.

Chapter Eight

Chapter 8 describes the beatification of Shakespeare in the 18th century and then shifts into an analysis of the Stratford bust. Matus makes the usual Stratfordian arguments: Dugdale made a mistake in showing a sack instead of a pillow and omitting the pen and paper, and no changes were made in the early 1700s. This argument rests on a denial that Dugdale sketched what he saw and approved of the engraving Hollar did for Dugdale’s own book.

Dugdale might get details wrong in his poor sketch. But he would not omit paper, pen and writing surface for the bust of “our poet Shakespeare” if pen and paper and writing surface had indeed been present in the bust he was looking at. Unaccountably, or perhaps tellingly, no illustration of the Dugdale/Hollar engraving is provided, although the Folger has it. Instead he features Vertue’s engraving (with pen and paper) of a century later and five other (all later) depictions of the bust. The Hollar engraving, damning to his thesis, is conspicuous by its absence.

Chapter 10 – Closing Arguments

In “Closing Arguments,” Matus takes up miscellaneous points not covered earlier. He finds other playwrights who had “lost years” and indulges in some speculation. Regarding the silence at Will Shakspere’s death, he finds that Fletcher, Massinger and King James did not have proper burials, but burial is not the point, silence is. He finds some educated men from Stratford, and he finds a commoner who knew what was going on at court. He says Shakespeare would have picked up falconry terms, etc. and legal lore by reading and listening to experts talk. Someone else may have written the French scenes in his plays. His knowledge of the classics is not all that great; he could have learned it in grammar school in Stratford. (Even logic and rhetoric?) His vocabulary (largest of any writer in English at any time) was not that impressive; he used words in different senses.

Most of his rebuttals here are simply conjectures or out-of-hand dismissals. The rebuttals can be challenged simply on the basis of common sense. His methodology, moreover, completely ignores the way the evidence accumulates to throw fatal doubts upon the belief in Will Shakspere as the author.

Next Matus accuses Oxfordians of calling Shakespeare’s genius for language “an isolated phenomenon”. This is an exaggerated accusation at best. His commentary on it is weak. Finally, Matus re-states his main thesis: Shakespeare was an actor who wrote plays for acting companies in the common playhouses; we should not raise him above his fellow dramatists. And someone like Oxford, he says, could not have acquired the requisite playwriting skills. But that ignores Oxford’s reputation, recognized at the time and by Matus, as an outstanding poet and playwright, and as patron of acting companies. Besides, most of the playwrights of genius down through history have not (except for Moliere and Noel Coward) been actors.

Irvin Matus, an independent researcher, says that he spent more than six years at the Folger Shakespeare Library researching the book, which does show evidence of extensive reading in primary and secondary sources. Not mentioned in footnotes or bibliography, however, are many standard Oxfordian works, including Clark, Ogburn and Ogburn, and Hope and Holston—serious omissions in a serious book that attacks the case for Oxford.

Book Review Two: Shakespeare, IN FACT


<style=”center”>Shakespeare, IN FACT

by Irvin Matus, 1994


Reviewed by Publius, a professor of Comparative Literature at an Ivy League University who prefers to remain incognito for reasons of professional safety.

This review first appeared in the spring/summer 1995 issue of The Elizabethan Review.


Whatever digressions the author makes in pursuit of his game, Irwin Matus has written Shakespeare, In Fact in response to two powerfully challenging and complex books “Shakespeare” Identified in the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (Looney, 1920) and The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality (Ogburn, 1984). Of course, Matus has trained his eyes on B.M. Ward’s 1928 biography of the Earl of Oxford, and perhaps he’s even acquainted himself with William Fowler’s 1986 study of Oxford’s correspondence. What’s disturbing about all Matus’s reading, however, is that what passes before the eye seems to register so dimly in the representation which comes forth from the pen. Matus does not disdain to actually argue with his intellectual opponents; he simply pauses over their strong points with a sneer before moving to another topic on which he finds it easy to make them appear ridiculous.

In so doing, Matus takes enormous liberties with the views of those he actually cites for the purposes of refutation. In fact, his compulsion to construct straw men seems beyond hope of clinical intervention. For instance, Matus makes it appear that Ward claimed that the Earl of Oxford had written plays attributed to John Lyly. As the most sophisticated Oxfordian scholar since J.T. Looney, Ward is someone Matus cannot afford to let escape unscathed from his tirade against Oxfordian scholarship. But in mauling Ward, Matus misreads, and misrepresents, him.

Ward conjectured not that Oxford had authored the Lyly plays, but that they resulted from a “collaborative” relationship (275) between Lyly and his employer during the period 1579-1590 –while Lyly was Oxford’s secretary. Ward offers this conjecture– and it is not, contrary to what Matus would have his readers believe, more than an aside from his major thesis– in pursuance of a more definite, important and ultimately decisive conclusion: there is an intimate association, documented in the researches of Albert Fueillerat, Warwick Bond and E.K. Chambers, between Oxford’s Men, John Lyly and the Queen’s Men during the 1580s. In 1593 the latter troupe was disbanded and reconfigured under the nominal patronage of Henry and then George Carey, as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This conclusion has profound, and still relatively unexplored, implications for a stage history which does credit to the Earl of Oxford’s vital role as the Hamlet-like patron to Elizabethan theater companies from 1576 until his death in 1604.

Ward’s purpose was never the narrow one which Matus falsely attributes to him, of claiming the Lyly plays as part of the Oxford canon. Ward wanted to document the circumstances which would lead any reasonable person to conclude for the likelihood of a literary collaboration between Oxford and his “fiddlestick” (to quote Gabriel Harvey), Lyly. One would think Ward’s quodlibet would be music to the ears of a critic like Matus, who has been hired to explain away the more or less explicit references by William Webbe (1586), Francis Meres (1598) and the author of The Arte of English Poesie (1589) to Oxford’s reputation as a pseudo-anonymous author of comic drama. If Matus were less obsessed with savaging Ward’s well-deserved reputation as one of the most thoughtful Elizabethan scholars in our century, this would have been just the place to position a strategic agreement. He might then have followed Ward in arguing that some of Oxford’s reputation as a comic writer resulted from the hypothesized collaboration between employer and secretary, which would seem to exonerate him from the accusation of having written Troilus and Cressida, among other works appearing in the Shakespeare quartos and folio.

But this would be a strategic concession which Matus cannot afford to make. To admit Ward’s sagacity would be a sin against the revisionist agenda which makes this book such a post-modern monument to Stratfordian babble. Instead of reading Ward through Matus’s near-sighted perspective, we might weigh his testimony, like that of others, in historical context. Thomas Nashe, for one, seems to have held a higher estimate of Oxford’s comic sensibility that Matus does: often regarded as the greatest satirist of the age, Nashe describes himself as one that “enjoy[s] but a mite of wit in comparison of his [Oxford's] talent” and hypothesizes that if Oxford was to take Harvey “in hand” again “there would more gentle readers dies of a merry mortality engendered in by his eternal jests he would maul thee with, then there have done of his last infection.” (Ward, 91)

Such contemporary testimony must be weighed against the revisionist claims of Matus that “it is impossible to imagine Lyly’s style owed anything to Oxford, whose style was old-fashioned to begin with…” The declaration fails to inspire confidence in Matus’s knowledge of the development of 16th century prose and also suggests a rather diminished lexicon of literary criticism; apparently, calling someone “old fashioned” becomes a convenient euphemism for a style most students would term euphuistic. Either Matus is completely ignorant of the subject on which he presumes to enlighten his readers, or he is too much of a shark for contemporary intellectual fashions to know the difference between what is impossible and what is merely probable.

In anatomizing such liberties with conscientious scholarship, we must not lose sight of the larger dynamics of Matus’s operating method: why would anyone devote almost three pages of a short chapter on the Earl of Oxford to “refuting” a non-existent and, in any case, irrelevant claim that he was the author of the Lyly corpus? A metaphor will serve. When a magician wants to pull a rabbit out of his hat, he distracts attention with linguistic patter. Good patter follows the structure of a periphrasis—the object is to spend so much time rhapsodizing that one is on the threshold of the promised land, that the audience never notices that they are still standing in the same dull room. Voila, a rabbit.

Of course, it would never do to mention that Ogburn and others have argued convincingly that the historical figure Matus pompously proclaims could not possibly have influenced John Lyly is the historical prototype for Euphues himself. Such a reality might have some bearing if one were to consider that Oxford exercised some influence over the historical style named after that “fictional” character. Matus’s purpose is to amuse and distract long enough to pluck the rabbit of his so-called refutation from the well-lined top hat of the Shakespeare Industry without getting any intelligent, troublesome methodological questions from his audience.

All in all, the fantasy of Stratfordian authorship is a little like the smile on the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland: first it has nine lives and then, after using all of them up in various blunders over the past two hundred years, we at last get to appreciate the company of a giant grin that just won’t disappear.

Why the Authorship of the Shakespeare Canon Matters

The Shakespeare Authorship Question: Why it matters

< ©1995 by Charles Vere


I want to start by asking a question: “Why is the authorship question coming to a resolution now as we approach the beginning of the 21st Century? The answer to the question is essentially a political one. Our society is now preoccupied with many of the central issues that concerned Elizabethan society at the end of the 16th Century, and since that was a society in which Shakespeare loomed large, it is vitally important for us to understand who he was and what it was he was trying to say.

The grand political and philosophical dynamic in Shakespeare’s plays is the conflict between feudalism and capitalism. And the question underpinning this dynamic is: “Should the main form of exchange between human beings be capital rather than spiritual?” Or to put it another way: “Should the spirit of opportunism override society’s commitment to spiritual growth?” This question is made manifest in King Lear through the contrasting mottoes of Edmund and Edgar, namely “Men are as the time is” [opportunism] versus “Ripeness is all” [spiritual growth]. As we have seen to our cost today, the philosophy of political opportunism, which is driven by an all-consuming sense of commercialism, leads to the exploitation both of human beings and the land. It was Oxford’s father-in-law, Lord Burghley, the real life Polonius, who exemplified this latter spirit.

For Oxford himself, on the other hand, it was through the spirit of feudalism that man could live a dignified and fulfilling life without exploiting others and without alienating himself from the land and from the natural hierarchies that underlie all human society. For it is Oxford who is speaking when Ulysses exclaims in Act I, scene iii, of Troilus & Cressida:

O, when degree is shak’d,
Which is the ladder of all high designs,
The enterprise is sick.

And later in the same speech:

Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows.
Each thing melts In mere oppugnancy
….

Oxford, then, is prophetic in his plays, because he understands that dog-eats-dog commercialism destroys the structure and cohesiveness of society, and leads to greed, envy, hatred, paranoia and an overwhelming sense of aimlessness.

Now, at the end of the 20th Century, when capitalism and commercialism rage unchecked at the expense of spiritual exchange, Shakespeare’s message is particularly important to us. We seem to be at a turning point; people are reassessing their fundamental political values. The flame of capitalism burns so brightly not because it has found more fuel, but because it sputters. We are turning towards a society which will, I believe, be neo-feudal in its outlook and spirit. It is a society which Shakespeare advocated at the end of the 16th Century; but he was not heeded. Men chose the mercenary route. Now once again we are confronted with the same choice, except this time the consequences of taking the wrong path will be irreparably catastrophic. This is why finally, after all these centuries, we must allow Shakespeare’s true message to be heard and understood. And in order to do that we must first recognize and come to terms with who this man was. For Shakespeare was not, as the academics maintain, all things to all men, a man in fact without opinions or beliefs, a mere cipher for his unimaginable talent. Rather he was one of the great spiritual teachers of mankind, and his individual voice is unmistakable in the plays. Understand the man, and you understand the message.

So the short answer to the question “Why is the authorship question being resolved now?” is: BECAUSE IT DESPERATELY NEEDS TO BE RESOLVED. Because of his universal appeal, Shakespeare can furnish mankind with the key to its future development. This sounds grandiose, but then Shakespeare’s work is grandiose, and, in the case of a play like King Lear, apocalyptic as well. Indeed Shakespeare is in no doubt of the magnitude of his work for mankind when he says through Hamlet:

The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right.” [I. v. 196–7]

It’s almost as if the Stratford myth has had the effect of putting the plays in a time-capsule for 400 years, so that Shakespeare’s true message can be revealed to us today, alongside the author’s identity, with the force of a revelation. Perhaps Nostradamus was referring to Shakespeare in The Centuries when he wrote:

For five hundred years no account shall be made
Of him who was the ornament of his time.
Then of a sudden he shall give so great a light,
That for that age he shall make them to be most contented.

Although Shakespeare is emotionally steeped in the feudal age, he is not advocating a simple return to the mediaeval system, but rather looks forward to a new society inspired by the ideals of feudalism. One can, see the recrudescence of the feudal spirit in modern society in, for instance, the various holistic movements. People are registering their desire for a greater sense of wholeness and community as well as a closer kinship with the land. There is a desire for politics to be rooted more in local, tangible issues; and there is a growing mistrust of life in a society in which human beings are merely political statistics or economic units, the playthings in fact of giant centralized governments or, indeed, of multinational corporations. Politics today has become a machine that weaves abstractions, and that dwarfs the people who work among its wheels, and the market place has become our ultimate source of values. We have lost a sense of the sanctity and meaning of all things, and are not entitled to say with Hamlet: “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” [V. ii. 215]

If we look at Shakespeare’s attitude towards the land, his political philosophy comes into clear focus. It is a curious and little noted fact that Hamlet himself and many of the other Hamlet-type characters in the plays (who are clearly based on the author himself) express their contempt for people who purchase land as a means of acquiring wealth, or who regard land as an economic entity alone. In the graveyard scene of Act V, scene i, Hamlet tells Horatio that those who believe they own the land because a legal document tells them they do are mere sheep, the ultimate implication being that you can’t own land, you can only act as its steward or guardian, and this guardianship is itself an act of sacred trust. For land, as Shakespeare reminds us, is as much mystical as economic. This idea is combined with that of the indiscriminate nature of political mercantilism in the following scene when Hamlet says of the social- climbing Osric: “He hath much land and fertile. Let a beast be lord of beasts and his crib shall stand at the king’s mess. ‘Tis a chuff, but, as I say, spacious in the possession of dirt.” [V. ii. 86-9] For Shakespeare, politics should not neglect the sacred.

The Earl of Oxford, like Timon, was compelled to dispose of all his ancestral lands, while the Stratford man, William Shakspere, spent his adult life acquiring land (even if it meant enclosing the village commons in Stratford) and using it solely for financial gain. Further, Oxford mourned the growing alienation from the land of the feudal aristocracy, of which he was a member. The sense of rupture and loss that such alienation engendered was a constant elegy in the lives of the wolfish earls of old. Shakspere, on the other hand, hitched his cart securely to the star of the new capitalist state. This begs a question: would Shakespeare really have portrayed himself as Osric rather than Hamlet in the play that is widely regarded as his most autobiographical?

One other political phenomenon of our times that I should mention because Shakespeare was the first to portray it is none other than political doublespeak (a branch of political correctness). It is a devious form of speech which is utterly opportunistic, in that it continually guards itself from the truth, preferring instead to rely on ambivalence to convey what is eventually a meaningless message. With political doublespeak, the message is not important, but rather the atmosphere created by the words. As such it is an underminer of values and conscience because it robs people of any absolute standards in society, such as truth. Hamlet is a man who believes that his society has been robbed of any meaningful standards of truth. He is surrounded by men who exploit both land and language. (Language and the land are intimately connected, and poetry and farming were sisters in ancient times. A kinship with the land helps us retain the fundamental meaning of words and to appreciate their cultural force. We root ourselves in our culture through land and language. The abuse of land is ultimately the abuse of language.)

Perhaps the greatest exponent of doublespeak in Shakespeare is Polonius, an amoral and opportunistic figure if there ever was one, and one who gives credence to Edmund’s statement that “men are as the time is.” Polonius and his ilk create a political environment in which the only form of service is self-service, and the only philosophy materialism. (Gone is the feudal dictum “it is more noble to serve than be served.”) Polonius despises the land. In Act II scene ii of Hamlet, in staking his reputation on his theory of the cause of Hamlet’s madness, he lets the King and Queen know that the greatest humiliation he could possibly suffer would be to “keep a farm and carters.” And, as “the father of good news”, he is clearly not interested in the truth; he is a propagandist. His young nemesis Hamlet, on the other hand, possesses enormous sensitivity to language and is, like Troilus, “truth’s authentic author.” This battle of truth versus propaganda which Hamlet [Oxford] fights against Polonius [Burghley] is being fought again today by the Earl of Oxford’s supporters in their conflict with the academic establishment.

So, as long as the Edmunds and Poloniuses of this world hold sway, power remains a purely pragmatic rather than a sacred force, and both man’s relationship with language and his relationship with the land cease to be organic, as does his own societal life among his fellow men. Degree, the universal law by which man strives for spiritual evolution, is forgotten and the connectedness and purpose of things obscured. All this deeply affects his feeling life, and the very concept of human society is imperiled. Let’s hope that Albany in King Lear was wrong in his vision of humanity preying on itself, like monsters of the deep.

One of the surest ways to forestall the realization of Albany’s appalling vision is to read Shakespeare’s truth, and understand it.

Shakespeare’s Good Book


This article was first printed in the 10 March 1994 Valley Advocate in Western Massachusetts.

©1994 Mark Anderson


In 1927 Sigmund Freud wrote, “I no longer believe that William Shakespeare the actor from Stratford was the author of the works that have been ascribed to him. Since reading Shakespeare Identified by J. T. Looney, I am almost convinced that the assumed name conceals the personality of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.”

Almost 70 years later, Freud’s quote probably provokes more nervous laughter than it does curious inquiry. But a University of Massachusetts scholar has discovered astonishing new evidence that may allow Freud to have the last laugh after all.

Graduate student Roger Stritmatter has spent the last five years researching the Shakespeare authorship question, in the process discovering that Edward de Vere’s hand-annotated copy of the bible contains more than a hundred verses marked by de Vere that are also recognized by scholars today as primary biblical references in Shakespeare’s works. In addition, more than a hundred other verses de Vere annotated point towards Shakespearean biblical citations that scholars had previously overlooked.

In the summer of 1993, PBS Adult Learning Service broadcast the satellite uplink program “Uncovering Shakespeare: An Update,” which examined the accumulating evidence that “Shakespeare” was actually the pen-name of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and it presented some of Stritmatter’s de Vere/Shakespeare biblical resonances. Within the past year the German, Italian and British press as well have begun to examine Stritmatter’s work, and Universal Press Syndicate columnist Joseph Sobran deemed the study “one of the greatest discoveries in the history of the Shakespeare authorship controversy.”

The broad scope of the Shakespeare authorship question—even the possibility that the author was not the man previous generations had thought he was—has caused friction between the orthodoxy and heretics for more than a century. To date, Oxfordians (so-called for their advocacy of de Vere, the Earl of Oxford) have been more successful in making discoveries and breakthroughs than in communicating them to the world at large. And they have faced more derision than acknowledgement from academics. “Anyone is a noodle who thinks De Vere wrote the plays traditionally attributed to Shakespeare,” argued Caltech Shakespeare Professor Jenijoy La Belle in the Los Angeles Times in April of 1994.

However, Stritmatter’s work has the potential to transport the entire debate to a larger public context, a context in which the larger questions can be asked and the other side of the story can start being told. After all, as Stritmatter says, “We now have Shakespeare’s Bible, and it has Edward de Vere’s coat of arms on the cover.”

Background on the authorship issue and Edward de Vere

So who was Edward de Vere? And how, 400 years after the name “Shakespeare” first appeared in print, can one even call into question our understanding about the life of the English language’s greatest writer?

A great deal is know about the life of William Shaksper—as he spelled it. Yet the records we do have from Shaksper’s life indicate that he was a businessman and actor who had financial ties to the theater. Nothing more. In a time when the plays and writings of Shakespeare were tremendously popular, and when authors and theater-goers left many references in their writings to the works themselves, not a single person in the age of Shakespeare directly addresses the actual identity of the author.

In an age of letters and letter-writing, nobody we know of ever corresponded with Shaksper, and in an age of books, no record—not even Shaksper’s will—ever points to his owning or using a single book. Nobody relates the gentleman from Stratford-on-Avon to the works of Shakespeare or even suggests he was a writer in any capacity. Literary history’s greatest manhunt, in fact, has netted only six examples of the man’s handwriting: all of them signatures on legal documents written by other people.

On the other hand, as a teenager, Edward de Vere was tutored by the Latin scholar whose English translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is the second most influential work for Shakespeare, next to the Bible. (The Latin scholar was also de Vere’s maternal uncle—or as the young boy in Titus Andronicus puts it, “‘Tis Ovid’s Metamorphoses. My mother gave it me.”)

By the age of twenty, de Vere had received two masters’ degrees and studied law for three years. In 1578 a prominent scholar gave a speech for Queen Elizabeth and her court, addressing de Vere in Latin with words that translate to, “Thine eyes flash fire, thy will shakes spears.” (Read those last three words again.) And a 1589 book of poetry and poets elliptically refers to certain men at court who have “suffered it to be published without their owne names to it” and goes on to mention Edward de Vere as the best of these courtier poets if only his “doings would be found out and made public with the rest.” (“Shakespeare” was indeed an ideal pen-name for a dramatist, since Pallas Athena, the classical goddess associated with the theater, was also known as hasti vibrans or the “spear-shaker.”)

Edward de Vere’s family connections to the Shakespeare canon add up to more than just coincidence as well. Another one of de Vere’s uncles introduced the poetic form we now know as the Shakespearean sonnet. During the period that one of Edward de Vere’s daughters was betrothed to marry the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s epic poems—Venus and Adonis and Lucrece—first appeared bearing almost familial dedications to the Earl of Southampton. According to many scholars, Midsummer Nights’ Dream first graced the stage at the wedding of another of de Vere’s daughters. And the famous 1623 Shakespeare First Folio was brought to fruition by two brothers, one of whom was Edward de Vere’s son-in-law.

The plots, references and characters in Shakespeare prove strikingly similar to people and events in Edward de Vere’s life. Consider Hamlet. What many regard as Shakespeare’s greatest work is essentially Edward de Vere’s autobiography.

As in Hamlet, Edward de Vere’s mother remarried in haste upon his father’s untimely death. Subsequently, like Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well, de Vere became a ward of the court—in de Vere’s case under William Cecil, Lord Treasurer of England and the man most 20th Century scholars have agreed was the inspiration for the character Polonius. Once he could wield power over de Vere as a legal guardian, Cecil broke off a previous marriage contract and instead betrothed the young Earl of Oxford—a peer whose family had held one of England’s most prestigious Earldoms for centuries—to a Cecil daughter or political advancement of the Cecil clan. (“Virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock, but we shall relish of it…” Hamlet rails at Polonius’ daughter Ophelia.)

Why would the author of Hamlet put the protagonist in Edward de Vere’s shoes and satirize de Vere’s guardian and father-in-law? This is simply not a valid question as far as the orthodoxy is concerned. However, considering that Elizabethan writers had about as must political free speech as, say, Iranian writers do today, slandering and then killing a caricature of one of the most powerful and ruthless men in England (“Dead for a ducat!” gloats Hamlet) was a dangerous dramatic ploy to write and “make public with the rest”—unless one could obscure Hamlet’s satirical edge or distance the author from his work.

The autobiographical elements and contemporaneous political satire run deep in the play, but Stritmatter finds the play within the play telling as well. “The master metaphor of Hamlet is the alienated prince who anonymously employs drama for political effect in the court. Not only are we made aware that the political topography of the play is identical with the biographical realities of Edward de Vere’s life, but the play in fact becomes an imaginative projection of exactly what de Vere would have done as the pseudonymous author of the Shakespeare corpus, which was to use his knowledge of the inner machinery of court life to try to expose its corruption.”

What the Bible shows

Within the context of Hamlet, Edward de Vere’s Bible presents some compelling evidence. For instance, in Act 3 Scene 3, as Hamlet happens upon a praying King Claudius, the prince notices that he can revenge his father’s murder. But Hamlet quickly realizes that Claudius’ soul will go to heaven if the king is killed at the altar. Hamlet contrasts this situation with that of his father’s murder: “He took my father grossly, full of bread.” The words “full of bread” have long been recognized by Shakespeare scholars of all persuasions as a reference to the Bible—specifically to Ezekiel chapter 16, verse 49. And over a span of more than 300 verses in the book of Ezekiel, Edward de Vere marks only one: Ezekiel 16:49.

The Shakespeare character Falstaff brings to light further curious examples of parallels between de Vere and his Bible. In King Henry IV, Part Two, Falstaff spits out the insult “whoreson Achitophel!”—a direct reference to II Samuel 16:23, which de Vere underlined. In The Merry Wives of Windsor Falstaff brags, “I fear not Golliath with a weaver’s beam.” Not only has de Vere underlined the scriptural source (II Samuel 21:19) for these words, but he even underlined “weaver’s beam” within the biblical verse itself.

Falstaff’s adventures parallel events from Edward de Vere’s life too. Most striking, Edward de Vere talked two friends and former employees into playing a prank robbery on his father-in-law’s associates at Gad’s Hill (located on the road between London and Canterbury). Likewise Prince Hal plays a prank robbery on Falstaff at Gad’s Hill in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part One. A similar robbery also takes place in Henry IV’s anonymous “source” play—which some scholars believe to be Shakespeare’s first draft. In fact, the “source” play’s robbery happens at both the same place and the same date as Edward de Vere’s prank.

An important dramatic centerpiece in The Merchant of Venice is a loan from the Jewish banker Shylock. Like any other character in Shakespeare, Shylock has no discernible real-life inspiration. Supposedly. Yet during his Italian travels, the young Edward de Vere came up short on money in Venice and had to borrow from a Jewish banker named Pasquino Spinola. De Vere wrote home to have his father-in-law sell off an estate to pay for his loan: “I understand the greatness of my debt and greediness of my creditors grows so dishonourable and troublesome…” Or in the words of the play’s debtor, “My creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low.” Later in Merchant Shylock finds the loan in default, and wants to exact his revenge. The Duke of Venice intervenes, and they debate each other by citing two contrasting biblical passages, both of which de Vere underlined in his Bible (and one of which Stritmatter was the first scholar to discover).

In Henry V one of the French noblemen asks of the Constable of France, “The armour that I see in your tent tonight, are those stars or suns upon it?” This Shakespearean non sequitur is actually a clever reference to another event fifty years after the time of Henry V. That is, a battle from the War of the Roses was lost in part because Lancastrian archers accidentally fired on an allied division under the command of the 13th Earl of Oxford—through the afternoon fog the star insignia borne by John de Vere’s troops was confused for the emblem of the enemy forces: a sun. (Whoever he was, Shakespeare certainly could toss off his share of de Vere family in-jokes.) Later in the play as the victorious King Henry V approaches, Exeter apostrophizes his monarch by referring to several apocryphal verses that de Vere underlined in his Bible.

Edward de Vere’s writings before he was “suffered to publishe without his owne name to it” also strike harmonies with the writings of Shakespeare. One study published last year finds that even obscure words from Shakespeare prove to be favorites of de Vere as well, and in general the vocabulary displayed in the letters and poems from Edward de Vere overlap with Shakespere by 98 percent. (Although he commanded the greatest vocabulary of any English writer, all the words Shakespeare ever used are still only six percent of the Oxford English Dictionary.) Finally, God’s words from the Burning Bush (“I am that I am”) have been found only twice in Elizabethan writings where the author had the audacity to speak of himself as if he were God—in a personal letter by Edward de Vere which upbraids his nosy father-in-law for spying and in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 121 which rails at “frailer spies” who have “adulterate eyes.”

Still, the above should not be taken seriously, because as Professor La Belle flatly states in her Los Angeles Times editorial, “There is not one shred of hard evidence against Shakespeare’s [i.e. Shaksper's] authorship.”

The examples here cited are only a few of the many curious links between Edward de Vere and the Shakespeare canon. Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare along with Shakespeare Identified by J.T. Looney spell out many of these arguments in depth.

The debate today, and future promise

A prevalent criticism leveled against the heretics is that their claims are born out of snobbery or out of a disbelief that anybody short of nobility could have written the works in question. However, as many Oxfordians are quick to caution, personal bias has no room in the equation. The issue at hand is about drawing conclusions from the historical record, not from beliefs, suppositions or for that matter scholarly traditions. As Stritmatter puts it, “The authorship question is not about asking who could have written Shakespeare. It’s about asking who did.”

The point most often raised against the Oxfordian theory is that Edward de Vere died in 1604 and therefore had shuffled off this mortal coil before many of the bard’s greatest works were written, according to the conventional chronology. Stritmatter, however, calls the conventional chronology into question. “What we have is circular reasoning. We have an assumption that the author died in 1616, a tradition of building the chronology of composition of plays around that assumption, and then we have a claim that because de Vere died in 1604 that makes it impossible that he could have written a play like Lear.”

He continues, “There is a substantial category of plays which everybody agrees were written before 1604 and yet were not published until 1623. So before we can have an intelligent conversation about whether or not the chronology defeats the thesis of de Vere’s authorship, we need to have some discussion about why it was that those plays were not published for twenty or thirty years after they were written. And there’s a very simple answer from the Oxfordian point of view. In one word: censorship.”

As Charles Dickens said, “It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known concerning the great poet. The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should turn up.” Henry James found himself “haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world.”

Perhaps so. But Stritmatter prefers to see the changing times in terms of promise rather than trepidation. “We are standing on the threshold of the most exciting period in the history of Shakespeare scholarship. What I have studied is the first of what I think will be a flood of books from de Vere’s library. The opportunities for making great contributions to the field, for reinterpretation of the works themselves, for some of the most powerful Shakespeare productions yet staged are all out there. It’s tremendously exciting.”

The Shakespeare Canon of Statutory Construction

The Shakespeare Canon of Statutory Construction


Abridged from “The Shakespeare Canon of Statutory Construction”
UNIVERSITY of PENNSYLVANIA LAW REVIEW (v.140: no. 4, April 1992)
by Justice John Paul Stevens


The Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III, begins his opening soliloquy with the famous line: “Now is the winter of our discontent.” The listener, who at first assumes that the word “now” refers to an unhappy winter, soon learns that war-torn England has been “made glorious by this son of York.” It is now summer not winter and “grim-visag’d War hath smooth’d his wrinkled” forehead. Words—even a simple word like *now*—may have a meaning that is not immediately apparent. Like the seasons, periods of war and peace come and go. As times change there is also a fluctuation in perceptions about the importance of studying humanistic values and their relation to rules of law. The plays and poems of William Shakespeare, sometimes collectively described as the “Shakespeare Canon,” are perhaps the most stimulating and exciting works in the English language. Canons of statutory construction, in contrast, are probably the dullest materials that law students study. For these reasons, this essay includes a mixture of comment on two apparently unrelated subjects: first, the unorthodox view that Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, is the true author of the Shakespeare Canon and, second, the utility of certain canons of statutory construction in the search for truth and justice.

Because Shakespeare’s plays are typically divided into five acts, I must, of course, discuss five canons of statutory construction.

ACT I

The first canon of statutory construction is obvious: “Read the statute.” The Supreme Court has reminded us over and over again that when federal judges are required to interpret acts of Congress, they must begin by reading the text of the statute. Although this proposition is universally accepted, debate often arises over the question of whether there is ambiguity in the text, and if so, how far behind that text the judge may go in the quest for the author’s intended meaning. The text of the First Folio, published in 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare’s death, unambiguously identifies him as the author of the Shakespeare Canon. Moreover, respected scholars are virtually unanimous in their conviction that the man from Stratford-on-Avon is the author of the masterpieces that are attributed to him. Nevertheless, questions that were raised by such skeptics as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Henry James, John Galsworthy, and Sigmund Freud still intrigue those mavericks who are persuaded that William Shakespeare is a pseudonym for an exceptionally well-educated person of noble birth who was close to the English throne.

Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, was such a person. If we could find an original draft of one of Shakespeare’s plays, or an excerpt in his own handwriting, or even a signed statement identifying himself as the author, we would have the kind of unambiguous evidence of authorship that would put an end to the matter. But the evidence of Shakespeare’s handwriting that we do have is of an entirely different character. It consists of six signatures on legal documents, each suggesting that merely writing his name was a difficult task and, remarkably, that his name was Shaksper rather than Shakespeare. Indeed, the references to the man from Stratford in legal documents usually spell the first syllable of his name with only four letters: Shak- or sometimes Shag- or Shax- whereas the dramatist’s name is consistently rendered with a long “a.” For that reason, the protagonists of the Earl of Oxford’s cause make a point of distinguishing between Shakesper and Shakespeare. In this respect, they are, in effect, relying on the first canon of statutory construction. In response, the Stratfordians point out that signatures, like statutes, should be read in their contemporary context, that incorrect spelling was common in Elizabethan England, and that we should always be conscious of the possibility of a scrivener’s error. This response, like the Oxfordian response to the text of the First Folio, indicates that this is a case in which we must go beyond the first canon.

ACT II

The second canon of statutory construction is much like the first: “Read the entire statute.” Courts often tell us that the meaning of a particular statutory provision cannot be divined without reading the entire statute. Similarly, the more of Shakespeare’s writing that we read, the more we learn about him. At least, that is the position that the Oxfordians advocate. As evidence of the author’s probable noble birth, they point out that all but one of his plays—The Merry Wives of Windsor—are about members of the nobility. Even more striking is Shakespeare’s repeated reference to nobility as the highest standard of excellence. The question that a lonely Hamlet asked himself was “whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.” In the first act of Macbeth, when Duncan proclaimed his succession, he noted that “signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine on all deservers.” When Mark Antony wanted to explain to Julius Caesar why there was no reason to fear Cassius, it was enough merely to state: “He is a noble Roman, and well given.” And after the conspirators had been defeated, Anthony gave Brutus the highest possible praise by referring to him as “the noblest Roman of them all.”

Shakespeare’s account of the events that took place on the Ides of March may also shed light on his views about the common man. When Julius Caesar walked though the streets of Rome, the crowds greeted him with unmixed enthusiasm—obviously in favor of offering him the crown. But when he was brutally murdered in full view of countless witnesses, a few well-chosen words from Brutus, the leader of the murderous gang, were sufficient to satisfy the crowd and earn their unquestioning support. Then a few minutes later, Mark Antony’s marvelous address to his “Friends, Romans, [and] countrymen” had the mob, once again, convinced that Caesar was their hero. Admittedly, it was a great speech, but how much respect for the common man does this sort of flip-flop-flip reveal? Perhaps the answer is found in Casca’s description of the crowd’s reaction when Caesar refused the crownfor the third time:

“As he refus’d it, the rabblement howted, and clapp’d their chopp’d hands, and threw up their sweaty night-caps, and utter’d such a deal of stinking breath because Caesar refus’d the crown, that it had, almost, chok’d Caesar, for he swounded, and fell down at; and for mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air.”

Of course, the author of such a comment need not be of noble birth, but it seems appropriate to pause to take note of the fact that Edward de Vere was not an ordinary nobleman. In her biography of Queen Elizabeth, Carolly Erickson, after relating contemporary gossip about the Queen’s relationship with the Earl of Leicester, had this to say about de Vere:

“Elizabeth too, it was said, was seducing handsome young men and keeping them under surveillance by her well-paid spies when they were not in amorous attendance on her. Prominent among these favorites was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a boyish, hazel-eyed young courtier whose expression combined poetic languor and aristocratic superciliousness. He was athletic and acquitted himself brilliantly in the tiltyard, dashing fearlessly, lance lowered, against any and all comers and retiring the victor despite his youth and slight build. He was an agile and energetic dancer, the ideal partner for the Queen, and he had a refined ear for music and was a dexterous performer on the virginals. His poetry was unusually accomplished, and his education had given him a cultivated mind, at home with the antique authors Elizabeth knew so well.” Erickson, The First Elizabeth, (1983) p. 267.

When Edward de Vere was twelve years old, his father died and he became a royal ward in Sir William Cecil’s household. Cecil, also known as Lord Burghley, was the Queen’s principal adviser and a master of intrigue who controlled an elaborate network of spies. In Hamlet, the character Polonius is unquestionably a caricature of Burghley. His position as advisor to the King, his physical appearance, his crafty use of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to try to ascertain the cause of Hamlet’s antic disposition, and his employment of Reynaldo to spy on his own son, Laertes, while away at school, are all characteristic of Burghley.*

NOTE *There is nothing original in pointing out that Polonius is clearly based on old Lord Burghley—merely in showing how close the resemblance is in detail. All the Essex faction detested the politic old man, who was irremovable until his death in 1598; after that it was safe to portray him as Polonius. Hamlet describes Polonius to his face: “old men have grey beards, their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum . . . together with most weak hams.” Those who are familiar with Burghley’s letters in his last years well know that they are full of his querulous complaints about his health, the weakness of his limbs, his gout, his running eyes. One clue to Burghley’s hold on power was his remarkable intelligence system. This is clearly rendered in Polonius’ interview with Reynaldo, setting him to spy on his son’s doings in Paris and report on them. Burghley’s elder son, Thomas, had had an unsatisfactory record in France and been similarly reported on.” A.L. Rowse, The Annotated Shakespeare (1988) 1725–26.

One who had lived in his house, as de Vere did, and therefore had first-hand knowledge of Burghley’s use of a spy to report on the activities of his oldest son, could well be responsible for the scene including Reynaldo, a scene that seems to have no purpose except to illuminate Polonius’s—or Burghley’s—character. The suspicion that there is an autobiographical element in Hamlet increases when one recognizes the parallel between Hamlet’s relationship with the fair Ophelia—the daughter of Polonius—and the fact that at the age of twenty-one de Vere married Anne Cecil, the daughter of Lord Burghley. These are, of course, only tiny fragments from the text of the Shakespeare Canon. They are sufficient, however, to lead us to the third canon of statutory construction.

ACT III

This canon is much like the first and second, but it adds the requirement that the text be read in its contemporary context. The third canon therefore tells us that we should direct our attention to the sixteenth century context that produced the genius who created the Shakespeare Canon. In those days relatively few people could read and write the English language, and those who were familiar with the leading works of Latin and Greek literature were even more scarce. Edward de Vere was such a person. In Lord Burghley’s home he received instruction from themost accomplished tutors in England and later received degrees at both Cambridge and Oxford and became a member of Gray’s Inn. On the other hand, we know little about the education of William Shaksper, the man from Stratford-on-Avon. His father and two daughters, one of whom was married to a physician, were apparently illiterate. William did not attend Oxford or Cambridge and, indeed, there is no record of his attendance at any school. Perhaps it was the assumption that Shaksper’s formal education was much too limited for him to have acquired the largest vocabulary of any author who ever lived that led other authors like Mark Twain and John Galsworthy to doubt his authorship of the Shakespeare Canon. Knowledge of the contemporary context provides these possible answers to this concern. The most telling contemporary argument, however, is found in Ben Jonson’s tribute to Shakespeare in the introduction to the First Folio. Because Jonson must have been well acquainted with his leading competitor as a successful dramatist, these works take on special significance:

“And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,

From thence to honour thee, I would not seek
For names; but call forth thundering Aeschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles . . .
To life again, to hear thy buskin tread,
And shake a Stage…”

The emphasis is, of course, on the words “though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek” as evidence that the author of the Shakespeare Canon was a man of limited formal education. The Oxfordians, however, are not without a contemporary reply. They argue that the words “though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek” were ambiguous because the word “though” sometimes conveyed the meaning “even if.” Thus, the use of this ambiguous term may have been a conspiratorial ploy to preserve the anonymity of the true author of the Canon. If you find this rejoinder a little hard to swallow, perhaps you should reflect on the ambiguity in another quite famous line by Jonson—”Drink to me, only, with thine eyes.” Is this a plea for his lover’s abstinence: asking her not to drink to him with anything but here yes? Or, more probably, is it a subtle invitation to drink only to Jonson—to save her inviting glances for him alone? Does the word “only” modify the noun “eyes” or the pronoun “me”?

ACT IV

Since ambiguity persists, we must turn to the fourth canon of statutory construction. If you are desperate, or even if you just believe it may shed some light on the issue, consult the legislative history.

The study of legislative history is itself a debatable and complex subject, including subtopics such as the respective importance of committee reports, debates on the floor of Congress, and the fact that Congress failed to enact a proposed bill that would have unambiguously resolved the point at issue. It also requires an ability to discount comments manufactured by staff members to appease lobbyists who were unable to persuade legislators to conform the statutory text to their clients’ interests…. The Court is sometimes skeptical about the meaning of a statute that appears to make a major change in the law when the legislative history reveals a deafening silence about any such intent. This concern directs our attention to three items of legislative history that arguably constitute significant silence. First, where is Shakespeare’s library? He must have been a voracious reader and, at least after he achieved success could certainly have afforded to have his own library. Of course, he may have had a large library that disappeared centuries ago, but it is nevertheless of interest that there is no mention of any library, or of any books at all, in his will, and no evidence that his house in Stratford ever contained a library. Second, his son-in-law’s detailed medical journals describing his treatment of numerous patients can be examined today at one of the museums in Stratford-on-Avon. Those journals contain no mention of the doctor’s illustrious father-in-law. Finally—and this is the fact that is most puzzling to me—there is the seven-year period of silence that followed Shakespeare’s death in 1616. Until the First Folio was published in 1623, there seems to have been no public comment in any part of England on the passing of the greatest literary genius in the country’s history

ACT V

The Fifth canon of statutory construction requires judges to use a little common sense. This canon is expressed in various ways. For example: An interpretation that would produce an absurd result is to be avoided because it is unreasonable to believe that a legislature intended such a result. Both the Oxfordians and the Stratfordians believe this canon provides the answer to the authorship question. The traditional scholars consider it absurd to assume that William Shakespeare, who is known to have made a fortune as an investor in the Elizabethan theater, if not also as an actor and playwright, was just a front for a gifted author who, for reasons unknown, elected to conceal his true identity from posterity. They point out that at least one of Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest, is generally considered to have been written several years after de Vere’s death in 1604, and that the explanations for his use of a pseudonym depend on highly improbable theories of conspiracy, for at least Ben Jonson and Lord Burghley would surely have known the true identity of the author of the Shakespeare Canon. Nothing short of a royal command could have induced the author to remain anonymous.

The Oxfordians respond to the argument that it is absurd to claim that de Vere authored a play that was first published several years after his death by pointing out that there is great uncertainty about the dates when the plays were actually written. They also suggest that the possibility of a royal command may not be so absurd after all because Queen Elizabeth made an extraordinary grant to de Vere. Using a formula that was characteristic of special payments to members of the Secret Service, on June 26, 1586, she signed a privy seal warrant granting de Vere an annuity of £1,000 per year for which no accounting was to be required. This was an unusually large amount at the time and the grant continued for the remaining eighteen years of de Vere’s life, it having been renewed by King James. The Queen, it appears, may have been a member of the imaginative conspiracy and for reasons of her own may have decided to patronize a gifted dramatist, who agreed to remain anonymous while he loyally rewrote much of the early history of Great Britain.

Whatever one may think of the fifth canon as a method of analyzing the authorship question, before I leave the subject I want to refer briefly to [two] cases that suggest that the fifth canon should tell us something about justice. In The Merchant of Venice, as security for a loan of three thousand ducats, Antonio promised that if he should default, Shylock could have “a pound of his fair flesh to be taken and cut off from whatever part of his body” might please Shylock. As might have been predicted, Antonio did default and Shylock demanded literal performance of the terms of the bargain. In the end, however, justice was served by Portia’s even more literal interpretation of the bond:

“Tarry a little, there is something else.
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
The words expressly are “a pound of flesh.”
Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh,
But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are by the laws of Venice confiscate
Unto the State of Venice.”

Although Portia’s ruling may seem somewhat technical, she was actually making a just application of the fifth canon of statutory construction.

In Measure for Measure, Claudio was sentenced to death for the crime of fornication. Since Julietta was pregnant and there was therefore no question about Claudio’s guilt, and since the text of the law was perfectly clear, Angelo (who had been left in charge of law enforcement by the Duke) had no choice but to insist on literal application of the statute. Otherwise, he would:

“Make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to [frighten] the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror

Nothing, of course, could be more damaging to the fabric of society than allowing the law against fornication to deteriorate into a mere scarecrow. Accordingly, it was imperative that the death penalty be administered without delay.

Fortunately, for Claudio, however, three Acts later, the all-powerful Duke reappeared and pardoned him in the nick of time. Unlike Portia in The Merchant of Venice, who served justice by using one literal reading of the bond to trump another, the Duke in Measure for Measure simply enforced the fifth canon, barely pausing to explain why any other result would have been unjust and absurd

The Stratford Monument: A monumental fraud

TODAY’S Stratford monument is the defining image of William Shakspere of Stratford- on-Avon as the alleged author of Shakespeare’s poems and plays. In the church where he’s buried, it shows a writer with pen, paper and writing surface (a cushion of all things). The plaque on it says it’s for “Shakspeare,” although without a first name. Thus, according to the Stratfordian story line, the monument was erected to honor the world’s greatest writer, namely the man from Stratford. But this monument is a fraud, a “monumental” fraud. It is not the original, nor does its effigy resemble the original. The cumulative power of the evidence against the authenticity of today’s monument is clear and convincing. The principal witnesses against its authenticity are a respected antiquarian who left an eyewitness description of the original monument, an eighteenth-century artist whose engraving is the first to depict a writer in it, and a famous painter who called it “a silly smiling thing.” The evidence includes the letters of a Stratford curate who protests far too much about how he “refurbished” it, his mention of a mysterious “Heath the carver” whose role has not heretofore been sufficiently recognized, and the records of those who at various times complained of the wear and tear on a monument that today looks like it has survived over four centuries untouched by time. Underlying the faulty rationale of orthodoxy is a mistaken standard of accuracy.

There are two fundamental issues: first, whether the antiquarian William Dugdale was accurate when, in 1634, he sketched the effigy in the monument as a dour man with a down-turned moustache clutching a large sack––not a writer with pen and paper, as in today’s monument––and if so, how the sack-holder became a writer. If Dugdale and his engraver, Wenceslaus Hollar, are to be believed, Oxfordians have a persuasive argument that William Shakspere of Stratford was not the great poet-dramatist, while Stratfordians and their biographers have a major problem. Although the controversy began in earnest around 1900, evidence and analysis acquired since then all tends to confirm that today’s monument is not the original, but the result of a long series of alterations. Most Stratfordian biographers avoid the issue, among them: Stephen Greenblatt (2004), and notably in his collected works of Shakespeare for Norton (1997), Michael Wood (2003), Park Honan (1998), and Stanley Wells (1995). None mentions Dugdale’s sketch or the engraving that Hollar made from it for Dugdale’s book, even though Dugdale’s sketch is the earliest eye-witness evidence of what the monument looked like. Dugdale was also the first to transcribe the abstruse epitaph on the monument. Stratfordian biographers, however, rarely try to explain what it means, even though it, too, is primary source evidence suggesting what contemporaries thought about the man for whom it was written and engraved. Evidently, they do not want to

Dugdale

Figure 1 (left): Dugdale’s sketch of the Stratford monument made in 1634 during his visit to Stratford. Courtesy of
Sir William Dugdale, a descendant. Photo courtesy of Gerald Downs.
Figure 2 (right): Hollar’s engraving of the monument in Dugdale, published in 1656, 1730 and 1765 editions.

confront what the effigy and the epitaph might reveal about his identity. A few Stratfordian scholars have recognized and struggled with the problem. The first was probably the antiquarian John Britton. In 1816, he summarily dismissed Hollar’s engraving in Dugdale’s book as “tasteless and inaccurate” (13). In 1853, J.O. Halliwell-Phillipps called it “evidentlytoo inaccurate to be of any authority” (Greenwood Problem 247 fn1).

Inaccurate compared to what?

Since those who allege inaccuracy have no hard evidence such as a photograph or explicit description of what the monument looked like in the early 1600s, their standard of accuracy, though unstated, can only be the effigy as per the 1800s figure, essentially the one we see today. That effigy, however, cannot be the standard of accuracy for something created two centuries earlier. Dugdale’s sketch, the earliest eye-witness evidence (Fig. 1, above left), and Hollar’s engraving, based on Dugdale’s sketch (Fig. 2, above right), are primary-source historical evidence depicting what the original effigy looked like, i.e. a man with a sack. No pen. No paper. No cushion. Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, a Stratfordian, was the first to analyze the evidence in detail.

The Case for Oxford Revisited

Ramon Jiménez


In his recent biography of William Shakespeare, the critic Jonathan Bate writes: “Gathering what we can from his plays and poems: that is how we will write a biography that is true to him’ (xix). This statement acknowledges a widely recognized truth—that a writer’s work reflects his milieu, his experiences, his thoughts, and his own personality. It was the remarkable gap between the known facts about Shakespeare of Stratford and the traits and characteristics of the author revealed in the Shakespeare canon that led an English schoolmaster to suppose that the real author was someone else, and to search for him in the backwaters of Elizabethan poetry.

This inquiry led him to conclude that ‘William Shakespeare’ was a nom de plume that concealed the identity of England’s greatest poet and dramatist, and that continued to hide it from readers, playgoers, and scholars for hundreds of years. In 1920, J. Thomas Looney published his unique work of investigative scholarship, demonstrating that the man behind the Shakespeare name and the Shakespeare canon was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604).[1] Since then, hundreds of books and articles have augmented the evidence that this unconventional nobleman and courtier not only wrote the plays and poems attributed to Shakespeare, but concealed the fact of his authorship throughout his life. It appears that after his death his descendants and those in their service deliberately substituted an alternative author and fabricated physical and literary evidence to perpetuate the fable.

The web of evidence associating Oxford with the Shakespeare canon is robust and far-reaching, and grows stronger and more complex every year. Although he was recognized by his contemporaries as an outstanding writer of poetry and plays, he is the only leading dramatist of the time whose name is not associated with a single play. This fact, alone, about any other person would be sufficient to stimulate intense interest and considerable research. Yet the Shakespearean academic community has not only failed to undertake this research itself, it has willfully and consistently refused to allow presentations or to publish research on the Authorship Question by anyone who disputes the Stratford theory. What Oxfordian research it does not ignore, it routinely dismisses, usually with scorn and sarcasm, as unworthy of serious consideration.

However, during the ninety years since Looney’s revelations, the continuing and comprehensive investigation of the biography of the putative author, William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, has failed to produce any evidence of his connection to the Shakespeare canon, other than several ambiguous phrases in the prefatory material to the First Folio, published seven years after his death (Price, ‘Unorthodox,’ 190–1). In addition, repeated examinations of the documents of the Elizabethan theater have unearthed nothing that supports the theory of the Stratford man’s authorship, and have revealed that no one who knew him associated him with literature of any kind.[2] On the other hand, Looney’s conclusions, drawn from the plays and poems themselves, about the playwright’s personality, his education, his selection of plots and characters, his familiarity with foreign countries and languages, his attitudes about women, money, public order, and the crown, all comport with what we have learned about Edward de Vere.

Attributes of the Playwright

Walt Whitman was one of the first to doubt the Stratford theory and to suggest that the author was an aristocrat—‘one of the ‘wolfish earls’ so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower . . .’ (II 404). It is a truism that Shakespeare almost always writes from an aristocratic point of view and tends to support the interests and reflect the attitudes of the aristocracy. His heroes and his villains are members of royal families, the nobility, or the wealthy, and all but one of the plays are set in their royal courts or their homes. A great number of the images and metaphors that Shakespeare uses come from the hobbies and diversions of Elizabethan aristocrats and wealthy people: falconry; hunting, especially with dogs; fencing and dueling; archery; horsemanship; bowls; and card games. Shakespeare reveals not only a precise and comprehensive knowledge of all these activities, but a facile and consistent use of language, imagery, simile and metaphor based upon them (Spurgeon 26–7, 30–2, 110–11). There is little argument that the canon reflects these characteristics. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper described Shakespeare as a ‘cultured, sophisticated aristocrat, fascinated alike by the comedy and tragedy of human life, but unquestioning in his social and religious conservatism’ (42).

Another distinctive characteristic of the playwright is his obvious interest and competence in music. ‘In no author are musical allusions more frequent than in Shakespeare’ (Squire 32). In the plays and poems there are hundreds of images, metaphors, and passages relating to music, as well as numerous ballads, love songs, folk songs, and drinking songs. The playwright demonstrates a clear technical knowledge of musical theory and practice, writing about the musicians, the instruments, and even the notes (Squire 32–49).

These attributes and characteristics comport precisely with those of the 17th Earl of Oxford—a courtier, aristocrat and Lord Great Chamberlain of England who was an intimate of both Queen Elizabeth and her Principal Secretary, William Cecil, whose daughter he married at his coming-of-age. Oxford was praised for his affection for and competence in music, and for his patronage of musicians and composers, notably John Farmer and William Byrd (Ward 203–4; Anderson 205). However, these are only the most obvious similarities between him and the playwright Shakespeare. The details of his education, his literary and theatrical activities, his personal experiences, his travels, and the people surrounding him all supply strong evidence that he is the author of the Shakespeare canon.

Oxford’s Early Environment and Education

Among Shakespeare scholars, there is general agreement that he was one of the best read and most broadly educated playwrights of the Renaissance. In the words of Emerson, ‘His mind is the horizon beyond which, at present, we do not see’ (254). He displays a wide-ranging familiarity with the literature of Elizabethan England and the continent, as well as with the classics of ancient Rome and Greece. Besides literature, he was also obviously interested in and familiar with a variety of scholarly subjects, such as botany, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy. Scholars have identified hundreds of plays, poems, novels, histories, etc. by dozens of authors that he referred to, quoted, or used as sources (Gillespie 521–8). His use of untranslated works in Latin and Greek, as well as his frequent use of words from, and creation of words derived from, those languages, attest to his competence in both (Theobald 14–15).


Oxford’s childhood and adolescence suggest an
environment and an upbringing that would have
been an ideal preparation for a poet and dramatist.

The facts and circumstances surrounding Oxford’s childhood and adolescence suggest an environment and an upbringing that would have been an ideal preparation for a poet and dramatist, especially one who would write about the characters and subjects that dominate the Shakespeare canon. The tradition of sponsoring playing companies by the de Vere family was in place no later than 1490, during the tenure of John, the 13th Earl (Lancashire 106, 407)—a tradition maintained by Oxford’s father and Edward himself. The author of one of the earliest English history plays, John Bale, wrote it for Oxford’s grandfather in the 1530s and subsequently revised it for a performance for Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Ipswich in 1561 (Harris 71). It is likely that Oxford was in attendance. As a young child he lived with, and was tutored by, Sir Thomas Smith, one of England’s greatest scholars, and the owner of an extensive library (Hughes 1, 9). His father’s sister Frances was the widow of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, a major poet who is credited with the first sonnets written in the distinctive Shakespearean form, a modification of the Petrarchan sonnet.

Oxford matriculated at Cambridge at age eight, and was later awarded Masters’ Degrees by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities (Ward 11, 22, 27). In his collection of studies of the Elizabethan drama, Frederick A. Boas refers to ‘the curious fact that Shakespeare shows familiarity with certain distinctively Cambridge terms’ (47–9).[3] In 1562 Oxford’s father died, and the twelve-year-old became a royal ward. He was sent to London to live in the home of William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, Principal Secretary to the Queen. A surviving schedule of Oxford’s rigorous daily schooling in Cecil’s household (Ward 19–20) confirms that he was a student in what G. P. V. Akrigg has called ‘the best school for boys to be found in Elizabethan England’ (25).


The early environment and education of Oxford prepared him to be the writer Shakespeare was, and led him to fill his dramas with the same kings and queens, aristocrats, clergymen, and courtiers he saw about him.

The early environment and education of Oxford prepared him to be the writer Shakespeare was, and led him to fill his dramas with the same kings and queens, aristocrats, clergymen, and courtiers he saw about him.

By his early teens, Oxford had already been recognized as a precocious student. In 1563 his tutor, the antiquary, Laurence Nowell, advised Cecil that his services would not much longer be needed (Ward 20). In a translation from the Latin that was dedicated to him in 1564, Oxford was praised for ‘a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding’ by his uncle, the classical translator Arthur Golding (Chiljan, ‘Dedications’ 4). As the heir to one of England’s oldest earldoms and a member of the Cecil household, Oxford was embedded in an environment that figured prominently in the Shakespeare canon—the royal court and the center of English culture, power, and wealth. ‘Cecil House was England’s nearest equivalent to a humanist salon… As a meeting place for the learned it had no parallel in early Elizabethan England’ (van Dorsten 195). Besides being the dedicatee of dozens of literary works, Cecil was also one of the premier book and manuscript collectors of the Elizabethan age, and modern scholars have described his extensive library (Jolly 6). There is clear documentation that Oxford purchased a Geneva Bible, and editions of Chaucer and Plutarch, all major sources of Shakespeare’s plays (Ward 33). When he was in his early teens, his uncle Arthur Golding translated Ovid’s Metamorphoses, probably Shakespeare’s most important source. Thus, the early environment and education of Oxford prepared him to be the writer Shakespeare was, and led him to fill his dramas with the same kings and queens, aristocrats, clergymen, and courtiers he saw about him.

Literary and Theatrical Activities

Evidence of Oxford’s literary activity and his association with the Elizabethan theater extends from his teen years to the end of his life. Beginning in 1564, he was the dedicatee of more than two dozen books, including a dozen works of translation and imaginative literature, produced by poets, playwrights, and translators, such as Thomas Watson, Robert Greene, and Arthur Golding. The interests of Shakespeare the playwright are reflected in several other books dedicated to the Earl of Oxford—on medicine, on music, and on the military.[4] The Earl was repeatedly cited as a generous patron and a keen reader of poetry and prose, foreign and English, both contemporary and classical.

Poems first appeared in print over the Earl of Oxford’s initials in a widely-read Elizabethan collection, The Paradise of Dainty Devices, published in 1576 and repeatedly reprinted for the rest of the century. These poems have been praised as experimental, innovative, and skilful. According to Stephen W. May, Oxford’s youthful poems in Paradise ‘create a dramatic break with everything known to have been written at the Elizabethan court up to that time’ (53). He describes poem 4, in which the author cries out against ‘this loss of my good name,’ as a ‘defiant lyric without precedent in English Renaissance verse’ (53). The charged subject of this eighteen-line cri de coeur has been associated with an accusation made by Oxford’s half-sister Katherine in 1563, when he was thirteen, that he was born of a bigamous marriage, and was therefore illegitimate (Anderson 24).

Oxford’s poems have been linked to Shakespeare by Joseph Sobran, who found some 250 phrases, lines, and images in 20 of his poems that are repeated one or more times in the Shakespeare canon, an average of about a dozen per poem (231–70). He found hundreds of similar echoes of the canon in Oxford’s letters (170–1).[5]

At the age of 21 the Earl of Oxford sponsored the translation into Latin of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano and wrote a prefatory note in Latin to the translator Bartholomew Clerke. The following year he commissioned and wrote an introductory letter to Thomas Bedingfield’s English translation of De Consolatione (Cardanus’s Comfort), a work recognized by orthodox scholars as ‘Hamlet’s book’ (Craig 17–37; Campbell 17, 133–4). He employed well-known literary men, such as John Lyly, Anthony Munday, and Abraham Fleming as his secretaries, the former two being playwrights (Anderson 482). For almost a decade he maintained an unconventional literary salon near the theater district that was a headquarters for impecunious poets and playwrights (Anderson 156–61).

In 1573 the Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey wrote that Oxford’s introduction to Cardanus’s Comfort was an example of ‘how greatly thou dost excel in letters,’ and praised him as the writer of ‘many Latin verses’ and ‘many more English verses’ (Anderson 139). He was cited by name in three different works of literary commentary as a leading poet and playwright. In A Discourse of English Poetry (1586) William Webbe praised the Earl of Oxford as the ‘most excellent’ of poets at court (Smith I, 243), and the anonymous author of The Arte of English Poesie (1589) asserted that he would be known as the best of the courtly poets ‘if their doings could be found out’ (Smith II, 65). This judgment is confirmed by more recent critics, such as A. B. Grosart, W. J. Courthope and Sidney Lee, who asserted that Oxford ‘wrote verse of much lyric beauty’ (Looney 124–5; Lee 228).

De Vere’s life-long association with the theater, with players, and with playwrights is unquestionable. During the 1580s, and as late as 1602, he sponsored his own playing companies, and in 1583 leased one of the earliest private Elizabethan theaters, the Blackfriars, for the use of his own troupe, the Earl of Oxford’s Boys (Anderson 187–8). In Palladis Tamia (1598), a commonplace book of similes, quotations, and observations on all manner of subjects, Francis Meres included him in a list of the best comic playwrights. However, no play bearing his name has survived, nor has his name ever been associated with any play.


Over a period of more than four decades, repeated opaque suggestions were made that there was an unknown writer behind the Shakespeare name who could not be revealed.

Over a period of more than four decades, repeated opaque suggestions were made that there was an unknown writer behind the Shakespeare name who could not be revealed. In the ‘L’envoy’ to his poem ‘Narcissus’ (1595), Thomas Edwards devoted fifteen stanzas to describing several contemporary poets, identifying each of them by a name from one of their poems. In the three stanzas describing the author of ‘Adon’ (referring to Venus and Adonis), he used such phrases as ‘in purple robes destain’d,’ ‘one whose power floweth far,’ ‘the only object and the star,’ and ‘he differs much from men / Tilting under Frieries.’ These and other phrases have been shown to point in general to a leading nobleman, and particularly to the Earl of Oxford (Stritmatter, ‘Tilting’ 1, 18–20).

In his pamphlet The Scourge of Folly (1610), the poet John Davies of Hereford addressed ‘Shake-speare’ [sic] as ‘our English Terence’ (II, 26), a comparison very likely referring to the tradition that the comedies of the former slave and Roman playwright Terence were actually written by the aristocrats Scipio Africanus and Gaius Laelius. The assertion was first made in 50 BCE by Cicero in a letter to his friend Atticus (271), and again in the next century by the rhetorician Quintilian (IV 57).

In The Schoolmaster (1570) Roger Ascham repeated the assertion (143–4), as did Montaigne, whose essays were translated by John Florio in 1603 (199). Similar suggestions about a concealed poet were made in 1598 by John Marston in Scourge of Villanie (Ogburn 401–2) and in 1612 by Henry Peacham in Minerva Britannia (Stritmatter, Minerva).

These examples do not exhaust the abundant evidence that Oxford was a significant literary figure throughout his lifetime, and that he was referred to as the concealed author behind the Shakespeare pseudonym.

Legal Training and Experience in the Military

Shakespeare’s familiarity with the law and his frequent use of legal language has long been a subject of intense interest. The most recent analysis of the legal terms, concepts, and procedures occurring in the Shakespeare canon conclusively demonstrates that he had an extensive and accurate knowledge of the law (Alexander 110–11). He used more than two hundred legal terms and legal concepts in numerous ways—as case references, as similes and metaphors, images, examples, and even puns—with an aptness and accuracy that can no longer be questioned. In 1567 Oxford matriculated at Gray’s Inn, one of the Elizabethan law colleges. He was a member of the House of Lords for more than thirty years, a juror in two of the most important treason trials of the period, and was involved in legal matters and court suits throughout his life.


Shakespeare used more than two hundred legal terms and legal concepts in numerous ways, with an aptness and accuracy that can no longer be questioned.

Shakespeare’s intimate knowledge of military affairs was noticed in the mid-nineteenth century, and has more recently been fully documented. According to the compiler of a dictionary of his military language, Shakespeare possessed ‘an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of warfare, both ancient and modern’ (Edelman 1). Nearly all the history plays, as well as Othello, Antony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida, are set in a place and time of armed conflict, and numerous obscure military analogies and references can be found throughout the canon. Several of Shakespeare’s most enduring characters are soldiers or ex-soldiers, including the faux soldier Sir John Falstaff. One of Oxford’s most fervent wishes as a young man was to serve his Queen in the military against her enemies. After missing a chance because of illness, he rode with an English army in the Scottish campaign in 1570 before he was 20, and later faced the Spanish in the Netherlands as Commander of the Horse in 1585 (Anderson 41–3, 204–206).

Shakespeare’s knowledge of the sea and ships is just as striking and comprehensive. According to naval officer A. F. Falconer, there is a ‘surprisingly extensive and exact use of the technical terms belonging to sailing, anchor work, sounding, ship construction, navigation, gunnery and swimming’ in the Shakespeare canon. He adds that ‘Shakespeare does not invent sea terms and never misuses them’ (vii). Again, Oxford had ample opportunity to become familiar with ships and the sea. The trip from the de Vere home in Essex to London was routinely made by ship from the seaside town of Wivenhoe at the mouth of the Colne River, where the de Veres had had an estate for over a century. Oxford made at least two Channel crossings during his 20s and traveled extensively by water in and around Italy during his visit in 1575–6. There is also evidence that he was aboard ship in the preliminary maneuvers against the Spanish Armada in the summer of 1588 (Anderson 223–25).

Thus, three distinctive characteristics that the author of the Shakespeare canon displayed—an authoritative knowledge of the law, the military, and ships and the sea, are readily explained by the record of Oxford’s activities. No other candidate for the authorship, including Shakespeare of Stratford, had these kinds of personal experiences.

France and Italy Prominent in the Canon

The concordance between Shakespeare’s detailed knowledge of the language, culture, and geography of Italy and France and the travels of Edward de Vere in those countries is one of the strongest indicators that they were one and the same person. It is well-known that Elizabethan imaginative literature, especially its drama, was heavily indebted to Italian sources and models, and made use of such devices from Italian drama as the chorus, the dumb show, and the play-within-the play (Grillo 65). To no other writer did this apply more than to Shakespeare. Fully a third of the plays in the canon take place in Italy, including ancient Italy, and another half dozen in France. In addition, more than a dozen are wholly or partially derived from Italian plays or novels.

Scholars have repeatedly documented Shakespeare’s unexplained familiarity with the geography, social life, and local details of many places in Italy, especially northern Italy.[6] ‘When we consider that in the north of Italy he reveals a… profound knowledge of Milan, Bergamo, Verona, Mantua, Padua and Venice, the very limitation of the poet’s notion of geography proves that he derived his information from an actual journey through Italy and not from books’ (Grillo 146). Italian scholar Noemi Magri has identified the locales and documented the accuracy of numerous details in Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice .[7]

Nor is Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italy limited to details of geography and local custom. It is clear that he directly observed and was profoundly affected by Italian painting and sculpture, and used several specific works—murals, sculptures, and paintings—as the bases for incidents, characters, and imagery in his plays and poems. For instance, the language and imagery in The Winter’s Tale, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece have been traced to the sculpture and murals of Giulio Romano in Mantua’s Ducal Palace and Palazzo Te, and elsewhere in the same city (Hamill, Ghosts 86–92). The original Italian paintings that inspired three of the ‘wanton pictures’ described in The Taming of the Shrew (Ind. 2.49–60) have been located and identified with a high degree of certainty.[8] During the 1570s they could be seen at three places on Oxford’s itinerary—Fontainebleau, Mantua, and Florence (Magri 4–12).

Among the most striking examples of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italy are the acute observations he makes about Italian attitudes and behavior. As de Vere biographer Mark Anderson points out (xxx), the dramatist ‘knew that Florence’s citizens were recognized for their arithmetic and bookkeeping’ (Othello 1.1.19–31); ‘he knew that Padua was the “nursery of arts,” and that Lombardy was ‘the pleasant garden of great Italy’ (The Taming of the Shrew I.i.1–4); and he knew that ‘a dish of baked doves was a time-honored northern Italian gift’ (The Merchant of Venice II.ii.135–6). Moreover, these observations are made in a natural and unobtrusive way and are entirely appropriate in their context. Critics have observed that in plays by some other dramatists, such as Jonson and Webster, such details are intrusive and unsubtle, as if they were taken from books (Furness 72–3; Elze 270–7).

After waiting several years for permission from the Queen to leave England, Oxford was allowed to travel to Paris and then to Italy via Strasbourg in February 1575. After leasing quarters in Venice, he toured Italy for more than a year, visiting nearly all the locations in Shakespeare’s Italian plays, including Milan, Padua, Verona, Florence, Mantua, and Palermo (Anderson 74–107). Significantly, the Italian cities and city-states that Oxford did not visit, such as Bergamo, Naples, Ravenna, etc., are not mentioned in the Shakespeare canon. Shakespeare’s Italy, it turns out, is the Italy that Oxford visited.

Why the Anonymity?

One of the central questions about the case for Oxford that has not been definitively answered is why he concealed his authorship of the canon and used a pseudonym. Of the several possible reasons for this, the most obvious is the so-called ‘stigma of print,’ the idea that the creative work of self-respecting aristocrats, including most courtiers, was merely a pastime, a leisure activity. Allowing it to appear in print over their own names suggested a crass seeking of publicity or even monetary compensation.[9] The stigma applied especially to playwriting. Even late into Elizabeth’s reign ‘the condemnation of public plays and the people concerned with them was fairly general’ (Bentley 43).

Another reason for anonymity was simple custom. Most of the plays performed during Elizabeth’s reign were never published, and most of those printed appeared without an author’s name (Maxwell 5–6). Plays now attributed to Lyly, Peele, Greene, Kyd, Marlowe, Heywood, Drayton, Shakespeare, and dozens of others were first printed anonymously. As Alfred Hart wrote about Elizabethan printed plays, ‘It is correct to state that anonymity was the rule rather than the exception’ (6). There is no evidence that the author of the Shakespeare canon had any interest or role in the publication of his plays or poems. Nor is there any record that he objected or intervened when corrupt or allegedly ‘pirated’ editions were published (Price ‘Unorthodox,’ 129–30, 170). But it is possible that he had a hand in the publication of his two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594), both of which appear to have been carefully edited.


Oxford may have imposed anonymity upon himself, or had it imposed by higher authorities, because of some aspect of his personal behavior.

A third reason for anonymity, one that appears to apply directly to the Earl of Oxford, has to do with his position as hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England who had a close association with Queen Elizabeth. Many prominent figures in the court and in the highest levels of government were the targets of satire in the Shakespeare plays, some of it extremely disparaging. Knowledge that the author was a genuine insider who had a personal acquaintance with the subjects of his satire would make them easier to identify and would lend credence to his mocking portraits. In this case, it might have been William Cecil, or even the Queen, who required that Oxford remain anonymous.

Finally, Oxford may have imposed anonymity upon himself, or had it imposed by higher authorities, because of some aspect of his personal behavior. Late in 1580, he confessed to the Queen that he and some others had been reconciled to the Catholic Church. This led to the arrest of two of his acquaintances, Henry Howard and Charles Arundel, who then unleashed a lengthy screed of invective against him that accused him of everything from treason to pederasty (Anderson 165–9).

In March of the next year, Anne Vavasour, a 19-year-old lady-in-waiting to the Queen, gave birth to Oxford’s son, the pregnancy being actually her second by him. The three of them were sent to the Tower, where Oxford remained until released by the Queen in June, but he was banned from the court for another two years (Anderson 172–3). At the time, Oxford had been living apart from his wife for five years because of his suspicion that she had betrayed him with another man. Although he reunited with her in 1582, these scrapes and scandals, and certain other indignities, may have led him to consider himself in disrepute and disgrace, which, along with regret and awareness of imminent death, are the themes of a dozen or more of his sonnets (Cossolotto 8–12).

It appears that Oxford assented to the publication of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, and wrote the very personal dedications to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, who is widely believed to be the Fair Youth of the Sonnets. It may have been that he was anxious that his relationship with him, whatever it was, not be known to the public, and for this reason caused the dedications to be signed with the pseudonym ‘William Shakespeare.’ The name recalls the Greek goddess Athena, who was said to have sprung from the brow of Zeus brandishing a spear. She was the protector of Athens, the birthplace of classical drama, and was widely perceived as both a patron goddess of poets and fearless warrior in battle.[10] As such, she was most likely the inspiration behind a common English name that concealed a nobleman and a dramatist who had martial aspirations.

How, when, and why the pseudonym came to be associated with the man from Stratford with the same name is unknown. What is clear is that it continued to be used after Oxford’s death in 1604. The perpetrators appear to have been his surviving relatives, who may have had the same motivation as he did. Their roles in the production of the First Folio are described below.

Oxford’s Life and Circumstances in the Plays

Every work in the Shakespeare canon contains allusions to circumstances, events, and people in Oxford’s life. Portraits of him, his family, and his contemporaries have been identified in most of them by both orthodox and Oxfordian scholars. These allusions and portraits are ‘too numerous, consistent, complex and intimate to be mere coincidences’ (Malim, Will). Of all the plays, Hamlet contains the most autobiographical material, including characters that appear to represent Oxford’s father-in-law William Cecil (Polonius), his wife Anne Cecil (Ophelia), Cecil’s son Robert (Laertes) and Oxford himself, whose circumstances, interests, and experiences are clearly depicted in the portrait of Prince Hamlet (Sobran 189–95). Oxford can also be identified as Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well (Ogburn 489–91) and Timon in Timon of Athens (Anderson 323–4). His street quarrel with the Knyvet family is echoed in Romeo and Juliet (Anderson 180–1).

Twelfth Night is perhaps the play that connects Oxford with the Shakespeare canon more strongly than any other, for two reasons. In the first place, the plot and the characters depict an episode in which Oxford had a strong interest—the courtship of Queen Elizabeth (Olivia) by the French Duc d’Alençon (Duke Orsino) in 1579. Also identifiable in the cast are Oxford’s sister Mary (Maria), his friend Peregrine Bertie (Sir Toby Belch), the poet Sir Philip Sidney (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Sir Christopher Hatton (Malvolio), and Oxford himself, whom the dramatist portrayed in Feste, the professed fool in Olivia’s court (Clark 220–232).[11]

Secondly, in 1732 the antiquarian Francis Peck described a manuscript that he proposed to publish as ‘a pleasant conceit of Vere, earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English court, circa 1580,’ a statement that particularly applies to Twelfth Night. Although this manuscript was never published and is probably lost, it was identified by Peck as belonging to the library of Abraham Fleming (c.1552–1607), a London translator, poet, historian, and clergyman who was a secretary to the Earl of Oxford, c.1580 (Anderson 486).

Oxford’s anger and despair at the infidelity of Anne, which he later came to doubt, is a recurring theme in at least four plays—Measure for Measure, Othello, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale, in all of which a husband is deceived by slanders against his innocent wife (Ogburn 566–71). The hot-tempered and blunt talking Welshman Fluellen in Henry V has been identified by Oxfordian and orthodox scholars alike as Sir Roger Williams, a follower of the Earl of Oxford (Barrell 59–62). A prank ambush of two of Lord Burghley’s servants by three of Oxford’s men at Gad’s Hill near Rochester in 1573 is recapitulated in 1 Henry IV (II.ii) by Falstaff and three of Prince Hal’s servants (Ogburn 529). The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, and others contain names, incidents, and situations that can be found in the biography of Edward de Vere (Anderson xxvii).

Shakespeare’s Sonnets are an especially rich source of associations with Oxford. They are filled with autobiographical details and references that are directly linked to what is known about his life: the author’s intention that his identity remain unknown—‘My name be buried where my body is’ (72); his lameness, his shame and his ‘outcast state’ (89, 129, 29); his preoccupation with the ravages of time, old age and his own imminent death (16, 62, 73). Several sonnets suggest that the writer is a nobleman (91, 125), and Sonnet 76 contains an unmistakable reference to ‘E. Vere’—‘That every word doth almost tell my name.’ Most scholars and editors agree that the Sonnets are in some way autobiographical, but beyond that opinions vary widely as to their actual meaning.


Shakespeare’s
Sonnets are an especially rich source
of associations with Oxford. They aref filled with
autobiographical details and references that are
directly linked to what is known about his life.

Some scholars have found evidence of homosexual love of the Fair Youth by the Sonnets author, and evidence of the same predisposition in several of the plays (Sobran 98–100, 198–201; Hamill, Sexuality 49–53). Others detect a father-son relationship between them (Ogburn 342–6; Whittemore, ‘Chronicles’). There are several significant connections between Oxford and Henry Wriothesley, the presumed subject of the Fair Youth sonnets, but the role of the young man, whether patron, son, lover, or merely dear friend, is still a much-debated question. Regardless of these uncertainties, however, the basic facts about the Sonnets supply further evidence that they were written by Edward de Vere.

Dating the Plays and Oxford’s Death in 1604

Orthodox scholars typically dismiss the Oxfordian argument with the claim that several of Shakespeare’s plays, as many as a dozen, were written after 1604, the year of Oxford’s death. But no definite post-1604 allusion or source has been shown to be essential to any Shakespeare play. In no play is there a reference to any natural phenomenon, scientific discovery, or topical event that occurred after 1604, nor is there a reference to anything published after 1604 (Whalen 75–6).

Despite intense research and analysis, scholars have been unable to establish an unambiguous date of composition for any Shakespeare play. Registration, publication, and performance dates have been obtained from various documents, but they can only indicate a terminus ante quem, a date before which the play must have been written. It is clear that several canonical plays were written many years before they were mentioned anywhere (Sobran 161). Eighteen plays that appeared in the First Folio in 1623 had never been printed before, and for three of them, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, and All’s Well That Ends Well, there is no surviving record of any kind before that date.

There is evidence, however, that the playwright ceased writing in 1604. Critics have noted Shakespeare’s frequent references to contemporary astronomical events and scientific discoveries, such as the supernova of 1572, remarked upon by Bernardo in Hamlet (I.i.36–8), William Gilbert’s theory of geomagnetism, which he published in 1600, referred to twice in Troilus and Cressida (II.ii.179 and IV.ii.104–5), and the lines in 1 Henry VI that allude to the uncertainty of the orbit of Mars (I.ii.1–2).[12] But similar events and discoveries that occurred after 1604 are absent from the canon. The discovery of Jupiter’s moons (by Galileo in 1610), the explanation of sunspots (also by Galileo, in 1612), and the invention of the working telescope (1608), for instance, go unmentioned in the plays supposedly written after 1604.

Another indication that the author wrote nothing after 1604 is the fact that of 43 major sources of Shakespeare’s plays, all but one, the so-called ‘Strachey Letter’ (discussed below), were published before Edward de Vere died, in 1604 (Sobran 156–7). In fact, a few orthodox scholars have even concluded that Shakespeare stopped writing in 1604.[13]

The most persistent argument for a post-1604 Shakespeare play is that for The Tempest, which was mentioned for the first time in a record of its performance at court in 1611. Its earliest appearance in print was in the First Folio. For many decades, orthodox critics have routinely claimed that the travel narratives of Sylvester Jourdain (1610) and William Strachey were the sources for the storm and shipwreck material in The Tempest. But recent research has demonstrated convincingly that the ‘Strachey Letter’ (which was not actually published until 1625) could not have been written and taken to London in time to be used as a source for the play. The precise details and language of the storm and shipwreck scenes appear to have as their sources the play Naufragium by Erasmus, published in 1518, and a collection of travel narratives, The Decades of the New Worlde, translated from the Latin by Richard Eden.[14] Significantly, Eden was a friend and former student of Sir Thomas Smith, with whom Oxford was living in 1555, the year that Decades was published (Hughes 9).

Oxford and The First Folio

The evidence that the author of the canon was actually the Earl of Oxford continued to accumulate after his death in 1604. The mysterious dedication to Shake-speare’s Sonnets, published in 1609, with its enigmatic phrase—’our ever-living poet,’ suggested that the author was dead (Price ‘Unorthodox,’ 145–6). An even more pointed message appeared in the cryptic epistle titled ‘A never writer, to an ever reader. News’ that was added to the second version of the Troilus and Cressida quarto published in the same year. The phrase is easily read as ‘an E. Vere writer to an E. Vere reader.’ Moreover, the epistle refers to the ‘scape’ of the manuscript from certain ‘grand possessors,’ suggesting that, Oxford being dead, someone other than the author was in control of his plays.

The collection of Shakespeare’s plays published in 1623, the First Folio, gives every appearance of being the fruit of twenty years of association among Ben Jonson, the three de Vere daughters, Elizabeth, Bridget, and Susan, and the Herbert brothers, William, 3rd Earl of Pembroke and Philip, 1st Earl of Montgomery. Both Oxford’s son, Henry Vere (b. 1593), and his friend and close ally Henry Wriothesley (b. 1573), 3rd Earl of Southampton and dedicatee of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, were also closely associated with the Herbert brothers.

In 1590, Elizabeth Vere, Oxford’s oldest daughter, was proposed by her grandfather William Cecil as the wife of Henry Wriothesley, who had entered Cecil’s household as a nine-year-old ward in 1582 (Akrigg 20–22). Wriothesley is generally regarded as the addressee of the first seventeen of Shakespeare’s sonnets—the marriage sonnets.

If this belief is correct, they failed to convince him, and he avoided the marriage. The parents of William Herbert, and Edward de Vere himself, favored the marriage of William to de Vere’s second daughter Bridget, but in 1598 she married someone else (Anderson 313–14). In 1604 the younger Herbert, Philip, married Oxford’s youngest daughter Susan. During the next few years, Susan, as well as other ladies of the court, performed in several of Jonson’s masques, and she was the subject of one of the epigrams that appeared in his Works (1616). The association of Jonson and William Herbert began about 1605, and a decade later Jonson dedicated to him the Epigrams section of his Folio (Riggs 179, 226). In 1615, after a determined campaign for the position, Herbert obtained the office of Lord Chamberlain of the Household, and gained control the Revels Office, as well as the playbooks of the King’s Men, who had performed many of the Shakespeare plays.

The orchestration and financing of the First Folio by the Herbert brothers, and editorial work by Ben Jonson are additional strong indications that Oxford was the author of the plays.

The names of two former King’s Men actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, appear under the dedication of the First Folio to the two Herbert Earls, who may have financed its publication. Although Heminges and Condell claim to have collected the plays, it is far more likely that this was done by the Folio’s publishers. And there is strong evidence that it was Ben Jonson who not only edited the plays but also wrote both the dedication and the subsequent epistle that also bore the two actors’ names (Price ‘Unorthodox’ 170–4).

The orchestration and financing of the First Folio by the Herbert brothers, and editorial work by Ben Jonson, who had a long-standing association with them and with Oxford’s daughter Susan, are additional strong indications that Oxford was the author of the plays. Furthermore, an extensive analysis of the prefatory material in the First Folio concludes that it is ‘littered with hints that the poet was a man of rank . . .’ (Price ‘Unorthodox’ 176). The deliberate concealment of the actual author and the allusions to Shakespeare of Stratford in the First Folio accord with the efforts made by Oxford during his lifetime to remain anonymous and, after 1593, to allow his work to be credited to a man whose name happened to be identical with his pseudonym.

It is only in, and not until, the First Folio of 1623 that the few ambiguous phrases appear that purport to connect the Shakespeare plays with the William Shakespeare of Stratford who died in 1616. There is substantial evidence that the only other connection—the putative monument to the author in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church—was originally a bust of John Shakespeare that was altered to represent his son (Kennedy). It is upon this scanty evidence that the entire case rests for the Stratford businessman’s authorship of the world’s most illustrious dramatic canon.

The Future of Oxford

Cases of mistaken or concealed identity of authors and the people they write about are relatively common in literature. But it is rare that a literary deception has had an impact as important and as widespread as the Shakespeare hoax. Emerson was one of the earliest to recognize its importance when he asserted, in 1854, that the Stratfordian narrative was improbable, and that the identity of the writer posed ‘the first of all literary problems’ (Deese 114). The accumulation of evidence for Oxford, here much condensed and summarized, is the most comprehensive and detailed solution to the ‘problem.’ It is hard to believe that it will not eventually result in the acceptance of Edward de Vere as the genuine Shakespeare.

When this occurs, all the biographies of the Stratford man, and at least one of Oxford, will become comical literary curiosities. Every Stratfordian analysis of every play and poem will have to be rewritten, and dozens of speculations about sources, meanings, characters, and allusions will prove to be incorrect. The canon will be expanded, and its beginning and ending dates corrected to coincide more closely with the reign of Elizabeth.

More than that, the history of Elizabethan drama and poetry will be drastically revised by the revelation that Sidney, Lyly, Watson, Daniel, Greene, Kyd, Lodge, and Marlowe, all younger and less talented than de Vere, did not influence, and were not precursors of, Shakespeare, but the reverse.[15] Most of the plays and poems will be redated at least fifteen years earlier, changing antecedents into derivations and lenders into borrowers. The map of Elizabethan creative literature will be turned upside-down or, more properly, right-side-up, and this extraordinary man will finally be accorded his rightful place in the history of drama, of poetry, and of the language itself.

Endnotes

  • Shakespeare’ Identified as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. 1920.
  • These facts are documented in Jiménez, ‘Eyewitnesses.’
  • Although Boas claims that Shakespeare was more familiar with Oxford than anywhere else in England, except Stratford and London, he is able to cite only two references to it in the canon, both general in nature, in Henry VIII and The Taming of the Shrew (46–7). Furthermore, the Welsh-hating Dr. Caius, who is a significant character in The Merry Wives of Windsor, was obviously based on Dr. John Caius, a scholar and physician who had a long association with Gonville College, Cambridge (ODNB). See also Gilvary, ‘Queens’ College Cambridge.
  • The Practice of New and Old Physic by George Baker (1599), Plainsong Diverse & sundry (1591) and English Madrigals (1599) by John Farmer, and Defense of the Military… (1579) by Geffrey Gates. See Chiljan, Dedications, pp. 41, 94, 98. John Harrison, the publisher of the Gates volume, also published Venus and Adonis and Lucrece.
  • The most comprehensive treatment of the subject is Fowler, 1986.
  • Among the earliest to write on the subject was Karl Elze in 1874.
  • Magri’s articles can be found in Great Oxford, Richard Malim ed., pp. 66–78 and pp. 91–106.
  • Quotations from Shakespeare are from The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed. G. Blakemore Evans, ed.S
  • The concept is explained more fully in Price, ‘Stigma.’ See also Sheavyn at 162–3, 168.
  • The Elizabethan association of Athena with spear-shaking and dramatic poetry is best explained in Paul, ‘Pallas-Minerva = Spear-Shaker.’
  • See also Farina at 82–7.
  • These are explained more fully in Altschuler, ‘Searching.’
  • Anderson cites several at 397–8 and 572.
  • See Stritmatter and Kositsky, ‘Voyagers.’
  • Among the revelations of Michael Egan’s The Tragedy of Richard II, Part One (2006) is that Marlowe’s Edward II follows rather than precedes Shakespeare’s treatment of the Richard II story.

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Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare, The Myth and The Reality. 2nd ed. McLean, VA: EPM Publications, 1992.

Paul, Christopher. ‘Pallas-Minerva = Spear-Shaker.’ Online:
www.shakespearefellowship.org/ubbthreads/showthreaded.php?Cat=0&Number=8549&page=&vc=1

Price, Diana. Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

——‘The Mythical ‘Myth’ Of The Stigma Of Print.’ Online: www.shakespeare-authorship.com/resources/stigma.asp

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Who Was Spencer’s EK: Was He the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford?

Nina Green


Scholars have never satisfactorily identified the mysterious individual known only as E.K. who collaborated with Spenser on The Shepheardes Calender of 1579 and was the author of a lost commentary on Spenser’s Dreames. The suggestion that E.K. was Edward Kirke (1553-1613), a Cambridge contemporary of Spenser’s, seems to go nowhere through lack of information (Oram 6). An alternative suggestion, that E.K. was Spenser’s friend, Gabriel Harvey, is incompatible with Harvey’s style, which is more ponderous and a good deal less effective than any of E.K.’s arguments or notes. A third theory, that E.K. is a Spenser persona, is ingeniously supported by the suggestion that the initials E.K. stand for “Edmundus Kedemon,” a translation of Spenser’s name into Greek (Oram 6). However, E.K.’s emphases suggest a textual presence distinct from Spenser’s (Hamilton 2805).

The question of E.K. ‘s identity is often discussed as though no evidence exists apart from the initials themselves and the information about E.K.’s academic and poetic pursuits revealed in the pages of The Shepheardes Calender. However, this assumption ignores Spenser’s own references to E.K. in two letters to Gabriel Harvey. The first of these letters was written on October 15th and 16th, 1579. Portions of four successive paragraphs are quoted below, illustrating the context in which Spenser’s reference to E.K. appears:

Your desire to heare of my late beeing with hir Majestie, muste dye in itselfe. As for the twoo worthy Gentlemen, Master Sidney and Master Dyer, they have me, I thanke them, in some use of familiarity: of whom, and to whome, what speache passeth for youre credite and estimation, I leave yourselfe to conceive. . . . Maister E.K. hartily desireth to be commended unto your Worshippe: of whome what accompte he maketh, your selfe shall hereafter perceive, by hys paynefull and dutifull verses of your selfe. Thus much was written at Westminster yesternight: but comming this morning, beeying the sixteenth of October, to Mystresse Kerkes, to have it delivered to the Carrier, I receyved youre letter, sente me the laste weeke: whereby I perceive you otherwhiles continue your old exercise of Versifying in English: whych glorie I had now thought shoulde have bene onely ours heere at London and the Court .. . I will impart yours [Harvey's verses} to Maister Sidney and Maister Dyer at my nexte going to the Courte.[italics indicate 16th-century quote] (Grosart 79)

The clues afforded by this letter are admittedly slender; however, they give rise to important inferences. The first two paragraphs, written at Westminster yesternight (ie., on October 15th), group together items of news from Court. Spenser mentions his audience with the Queen, his growing intimacy with Sidney and Dyer (who are residing at Court) and E.K.’s greetings to Gabriel Harvey. The third and fourth paragraphs, written on October 16th, after Spenser’s visit to Mystresse Kerke’s, show that Spenser expects to be at Court again in the near future, at which time he promises to show Harvey’s verses to Sidney and Dyer.

Two important inferences arise from these comments. In the first place, the fact that Spenser conveys commendations from E.K. to Harvey disposes unequivocally of the theories that E. K. was either Spenser himself or Gabriel Harvey. Secondly, it can be inferred from Spenser’s remarks that it was at Court that he met with E.K. Six months later, in a postscript to a letter written to Harvey from Westminster in April, 1580, Spenser again mentions E.K.:

I take best my Dreames shoulde come forth alone, being growen by meanes of the Glosse (running continually in maner of a Paraphrase) full as great as my Calendar. Therin be some things excellently, and many things wittily discoursed of E.K., and the pictures so singularly set forth, and purtrayed, as if Michael Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amende the beste, nor reprehende the worst. (Grosart 38, Hamilton 737)

Again, the clues to E.K.’s identity are slender. However, it can safely be inferred from the context of the letter that E.K. exercises considerable influence over the publication of Spenser’s works. Spenser tells us that E.K. has prepared a lengthy gloss for the printed edition of the Dreames; in addition, it is seemingly E.K. who has arranged for the pictures, the beauty of which seems to have come as a complete surprise to Spenser. These two letters of Spenser’s leave the reader with the impression that E.K. is a very singular individual. He is someone connected with the Court. He is also someone with the knowledge, the leisure, and the financial means to provide glosses and appropriate illustrations for Spenser’s published works. He is someone to whose critical judgment Spenser is prepared to yield in certain respects. Finally, and most curiously, he is someone who can only be mentioned—even in personal letters from Spenser to Gabriel Harvey—under the mask of the cryptic initials E.K. This singular individual, we believe, was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Before examining further evidence that supports the identification of Oxford as E.K., however, it is necessary to glance at the role played by E.K. in The Shepheardes Calender. In this regard, Johnson makes the interesting analogy that E.K.’s role is like that of the sly pilgrim Geoffrey in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Johnson also suggests that E.K.’s role included the important task of shielding Spenser from the consequences of his use of topical satire:

Spenser’s possible reasons for prefacing a serious poem with a comic prologue must remain as mysterious as E. K.’s actual identity, but we can guess at several reasons for the decision. First, E.K.’s jocular tone, pedantry, and carefree handling of Immerito’s own metaphors are disarming. It may well be that Spenser felt certain that the eclogues glanced too sharply at the persons and issues of the late 1570′s; if so, E.K.—half clown, half capable exegete—served to screen the author from political reprisals. (Johnson 26, 30; Hamilton 231)

Johnson’s comment seems particularly apposite with respect to the February and May eclogues. In the argument to the February eclogue, E.K. cautions that this eclogue is “rather morall and generall, then bent to any secrete or particular purpose,” thus forestalling the temptation to interpret the fable of the Oak and Briar in terms of current religious or political events (Oram 39). Similarly, in the argument to the May eclogue, E.K. states cavalierly that “under the persons of two shepheards, Piers and Palinode, be represented two formes of pastoures or Ministers, or the protestant and the Catholique,” whereas, in fact, the eclogue deals, not with the opposition of Protestant and Catholic views, but with the much more dangerous debate between reforming and conservative factions of the Anglican church (Oram 87; Cullen 41-49, 131). Thus, E.K.’s disingenuous interpretation throws dust in the eyes of those of his contemporaries who might be inclined to accuse Spenser of criticizing the church of which his sovereign was the head.

But E.K.’s role in The Shepheardes Calender is not limited to the task of protecting Spenser from the consequences of comment on dangerous political or religious issues. As Oram points out, only about half of The Shepheardes Calender is poems. In other words, fully half of the materials that make up the Calender-the dedicatory epistle and general argument, the brief argument that prefaces each eclogue, and the extensive gloss that follows it are the work of E. K., who skillfully directs this disparate material toward a much more comprehensive objective, that of launching a new poet. In the dedicatory epistle, for example, E.K. tries to deflect the adverse criticism that he foresees will result from Spenser’s experimental style. He devotes three pages to a defense of Spenser’s use of archaic language, granting these ancient words to be “something hard,” but justifying their use as an attempt to garnish and beautify the English language. He concludes by likening those who would criticize this linguistic experiment to dogs in the manger whose “currish kind, though [they] cannot be kept from barking, yet I conne them thanke that they refrain from biting” (14,7). E.K.’s fear that Spenser’s use of archaic language would be objected to was well,founded: even Philip Sidney, to whom Spenser dedicated the work, criticized this feature in his Defence of Poesy: “That same framing of his style to an old rustic language I dare not allow, since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazaro in Italian did affect it” (Shepherd 133).

To further assist in rendering Spenser intelligible to the reader, E.K. also thought well to take the pains upon himself of preparing a gloss to each of the eclogues. According to E.K., these glosses serve both for the exposition of old words and harder phrases and as a means of drawing attention to Spenser’s stylistic techniques (“forsomuch as I knew many excellent and proper devises both in words and matter would passe in the speedy course of reading, either as unknowen, or as not marked”) (Oram 19). In a further effort to smooth a path for the new poet, E.K. emphasizes that The Shepheardes Calender is Spenser’s first work, “the maydenhead of his Poetrie.” In an attractive simile, he points out that poets have traditionally written eclogues “at the first to trye their habilities: and as young birdes, that be newly crept out of the nest, by little first to prove theyr tender wyngs, before they make a greater flyght” (18). Thus, suggests E.K., allowances for Spenser’s poetic inexperience are to be made.

    To the right Honourable the Earle of
Oxenford, Lord high Chamberlayne
of England, &c


Receive most Noble Lord in gentle gree,
The unripe fruit of an unready wit:
Which by thy countenaunce doth crave to bee
Defended from foule Envies poisnous bit.
Which so to doe may thee right well befit,
Sith th’ antique glory of thine auncestry
Under a shady vele is therein writ,
And eke thine owne long living memory
Succeeding them in true nobility:
And also for the love, which thou doest beare
To th’ Heliconian ymps and they to thee,
They unto thee, and thou to them most deare:
Deare as thou art unto thy selfe, so love
That loves and honours thee, as doth behove.

E.K. also undertakes to explain to the reader the underlying structure of The Shepheardes Calender, stating that the twelve eclogues, “everywhere answering to the seasons of the twelve months, can be divided into three formes or ranckes, plaintive, recreative and moral” (223). As Cullen, Johnson and others have shown, E.K.’s deceptively simple statement affords a key to the unity and design of the entire work (120147j 37-44). Finally, in a disarming display of erudition, E.K. clears away one remaining obstacle to the Elizabethan readers’ appreciation of The Shepheardes Calender: Spenser has made January the starting-point of the calendar year (which, for most, began on March 25th), and E.K. provides arguments justifying Spenser’s unorthodox choice (Oram 235). From the foregoing, it is clear that E.K. was some’ one who understood exactly what Spenser was attempting to do, and who facilitated the introduction of Spenser’s fledgling work by serving as an interpreter between the poet and his readers. This is a task that very few of Spenser’s contemporaries were equipped to undertake, and a task that Spenser himself would have entrusted only to someone whose judgment he trusted implicitly. The question then becomes whether that person—the individual known as E.K.—was Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford.

Internal evidence in The Shepheardes Calender makes it clear that Spenser and his collaborator, E.K., enjoyed a friendship based on shared literary Interestingly, evidence of a friendship of precisely this sort is found in Spenser’s dedicatory sonnet to Oxford in the 1590 edition of The Faerie Queen (see below left: Greenlaw V3 191): If E.K. is Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, any surviving evidence of a friendship between Spenser and Oxford should contain the suggestion that it, too, was based on shared literary interests.

Spenser’s sonnet to Oxford is one of the original series of ten sonnets—dedicated to Hatton, Essex, Oxford, Northumberland, Ormond, Howard, Grey, Raleigh, Lady Carew, and the Ladies of the Court—that appeared in the first edition of The Faerie Queen. (Subsequently, the sonnets to Lady Carew and the Ladies of the Court were dropped, and seven new sonnets added, to make a total of fifteen. (Hamilton 259–292, 3)

Several of these dedicatory sonnets, including those dedicated to Essex, to Lady Carew, and to “the gratious and beautifull Ladies in the Court,” are merely exercises in graceful compliment. In others, however, Spenser singles out for praise specific achievements or qualities of the dedicatees. Thus, he draws attention to Lord Howard’s victory over the Spanish Armada, and to Sir Christopher Hatton’s counsel and policy. Similarly, the sonnets dedicated to the Earl of Ormond and to Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, acknowledge their patronage of literature (Greenlaw 190, 193–4). In only two of the original ten sonnets, however, does Spenser refer to the recipients as persons of literary accomplishment in their own right: Sir Walter Raleigh is “the sommers nightingale,” and the Earl of Oxford “bears love to the Heliconian ymps and is most de are to them” (Greenlaw 196).

According to Spenser, Raleigh is better qualified to write in praise of Queen Elizabeth than he; nonetheless, he begs his indulgence for his “rusticke Madrigale in faire Cinthias praise.” In his sonnet to Oxford, however, Spenser eschews comparisons and makes three points that establish a direct connection between Oxford and The Faerie Queen:

1. Spenser begins with the statement that he is relying on the Earl’s protection for his new work: “Which by thy countenaunce doth crave to bee/Defended from foule Envies poisnous bit.”

2. Spenser then points out two reasons why it right well befits Oxford to countenance and protect The Faerie Queen: first, the poem memorializes the de Veres and, more particularly, Oxford himself:

Which so to doe may thee right well befit,
Sith th’ antique glory of thine auncestry
Under a shady vele is therein writ,
And eke thine owne long living memory
Succeeding them in true nobility.

Second, it is fitting that Oxford should champion The Faerie Queen because of his love for the Muses, and theirs for him: “And also for the love, which thou doest beare/To th’ Heliconian ymps and they to thee.”

3. In the closing couplet, Spenser states that, as it behoves him to do, he loves and honours Oxford as dearly as Oxford loves himself. (The wording is admittedly elliptic and ambiguous, and ‘love’ perhaps refers to the Muses, rather than to Spenser; if so, then Spenser states that it “doth behove” the Muses to love Oxford as dearly as he loves himself.)” Deare as thou art unto thy selfe, so [he] love[s] That loves and honours thee, as doth behove.” Thus, the theme of this extraordinary sonnet is Spenser’s reliance on Oxford’s protection for The Faerie Queen because of its memorialization of the de Veres and because of Oxford’s love of literature.

Given the manner in which Spenser has personalized the relationship between Oxford and The Faerie Queen in this sonnet, it is not unreasonable to expect that Oxford would have reciprocated by writing a poem in praise of Spenser’s brilliant new work. If a poem of this sort has survived, it would seem logical to search for it among the commendatory verses printed in the first edition of The Faerie Queen.

Unfortunately, all seven commendatory poems in the first edition are signed with initials or pseudonyms, making identification of the authors problematic. However, one poem among the seven is signed with a pseudonym (Ignoto) first claimed for Oxford over 70 years ago. (see below left: Johnson 26, 30; Hamilton 231)

Ignoto’s verses in praise of Spenser and The Faerie Queen are remarkable for their graceful elegance and simplicity, and also for the rather marked absence of the extravagant praise of Queen Elizabeth that we see in a number of the other commendatory verses.

If the Ignoto poem was indeed written by Oxford, then Spenser’s dedicatory sonnet and Ignoto’s commendatory verses represent an exchange of sincere compliment of a very high order. Spenser claims that he has written of the antique glory of the de Veres and of Oxford himself in The Faerie Queen, and he praises Oxford as one beloved of the Muses. Oxford, in turn reciprocates with verses that pay Spenser and The Faerie Queen the ultimate compliment:

“I here pronounce this workmanship is such,
As that no pen can set it forth too much.”,


To looke upon a worke of rare devise
The which a workman setteth out to view,
And not to yield it the deserved prise
That unto such a worksmanship is dew,
Doth either prove the judgement to be naught,
Or els doth shew a mind with envy fraught.
To labour to commend a peece of work
Which no man goes about to discommend,
Would raise a jealous doubt that there did lurke,
Some secret doubt, whereto the prayse did tend.
For when men know the goodnes of the wyne,
‘Tis needlesse for the hoast to have a sygne.
Thus then to shew my judgement to be such
As can discerne of colours blacke, and white,
As alls to free my minde from envies tuch,
That never gives to any man his right,
I here pronounce this workmanship is such,
As that no pen can set it forth too much.
And thus I hang a garland at the dare,
Not for to shew the goodnes of the ware:
But such hath beene the custome heretofore,
And customes very hardly broken are
And when your tast shall tell you this is trew,
Then looke you give your hoast his utmost dew.

  Ignoto. (Oram 39)

Spenser’s dedicatory sonnet to Oxford in the 1590 edition of The Faerie Queen provides evidence of a literary connection between the two men, and support for the hypothesis that Oxford, as “E.K.,” was the author of the critical apparatus for Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender. However, the Calender was published a decade earlier than The Faerie Queen, and it is therefore necessary to show that Oxford and Spenser could have been acquainted as early as 1579. Although the actual circumstances under which the two men first met will probably never be known, a likely point of contact between them in the 1570′s was their mutual relationship with the Spencers of Althorpe.

According to a pedigree given in the Visitation of Warwickshire, Sir John Spencer of Althorpe (d. 1586) came from an ancient family that could trace its lineage to the time of William the Conqueror. Sir John’s branch of the family was said to be descended from a younger brother of Hugh le Despenser, Chief Justice of England, grandfather of another Hugh le Despenser (d. 1326), the ill-fated favorite of King Edward II (Harleian 282–5). The authenticity of this pedigree has been disputed in modern times, however, by claims that, in the earliest years of the sixteenth century, the Spencers were simple sheep farmers (Fogle 5).

Whatever may be said of the authenticity of the pedigree, there is no dispute about the fact that Sir John Spencer of Althorpe was a very wealthy man. He left great estates to his sons, and the prestige of the family was considerably enhanced by the marriages of his daughters. This was particularly true of Elizabeth, Anne, and Alice, who married into families that numbered themselves among the kindred of Queen Elizabeth: the Careys, the Stanleys and the Sackvilles. Elizabeth Spencer (1557–1618) married, in 1574, George Carey (1556?–1603), eldest son of Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Henry Carey, 1st Lord Hunsdon (1526–1596) (GEC V6 630). Anne Spencer’s first and third marriages connected her with the Stanleys and the Sackvilles: in 1575, Anne married William Stanley, 3rd Lord Monteagle (1529?–1581), and in 1592 she took, as her third husband, Robert Sackville, later 1st Earl of Dorset (1561–1609) (GEC V9 116, V4 423). Perhaps the best match of all was made by Sir John Spencer’s youngest daughter, Alice (1556?–1637), who in 1579 married Ferdinando Stanley, later 5th Earl of Derby (1559?–1594) (GEC V4 212).

These alliances with families related to the Queen introduced the Spencer sisters into an intimate court circle that included among its members Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, himself a cousin of the Queen and a courtier from his earliest youth. Years later, Oxford and the Spencers of Althorpe were brought into an even closer connection when Oxford’s eldest daughter Elizabeth became the sister-in-law of Alice Spencer through her marriage in 1595 to William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (1561–1642). But for the purposes of establishing the identity of Oxford as E.K., it may be sufficient to show that by 1579, when The Shepheards Calender was published, the three Spencer sisters had gained entree into the uppermost ranks of the Elizabethan nobility and would perforce have been well-known to Oxford, and he to them.

The significance of Oxford’s acquaintance with the Spencer sisters lies in the fact that the Spencers of Althorpe were related to the poet Edmund Spenser. The specific relationship between the two branches of the family has not been traced; however, Spenser himself seized a number of opportunities to make it abundantly clear in print that the relationship existed (Fogle 16–18; Collier VI xii–xiv). In his Complaints, published in 1591, he dedicated a separate long poem to each of the Spencer sisters: Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterfly to Elizabeth Spencer; Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberd’s Tale to Anne; and The Tears of the Muses to Alice (Oram 412, 334, 268). Spenser also dedicated one of the ten original dedicatory sonnets in The Faerie Queen to Elizabeth Spencer, Lady Carey (Hamilton 293). In addition, he sang the praises of all three sisters (as Phyllis, Charillis and sweet Amaryllis) in Colin Clout’s Come Home Again, published in 1595. In this poem, Spenser makes explicit reference to his relationship to the “sisters three” who are the “honor” of the “noble familie” of Spencer of Althorpe. He speaks of himself as the “meanest” of that family, and considers it an honor that “unto them I am so nie”:

No lesse praisworthie are the sisters three,
The honor of the noble familie:
Of which I meanest boast my selfe to be,
And most that unto them I am so nie.


Phyllis, Charillis, and sweet Amaryllis,
Phyllis the faire, is eldest of the three:
The next to her, is bountifull Charillis.
But th’ youngest is the highest in degree.
Phyllis the floure of rare perfection
Faire spreading forth her leaves with fresh delight,
That with their beauties amorous reflexion,
Bereave of sense each rash beholders sight.
But sweet Charillis is the Paragone
Of peerlesse price, and ornament of praise,
Admyrd of all, yet envied of none,
Through the myld temperance of her goodly raies.
Thrise happie do I hold thee noble swaine,
The which art of so rich a spoile possest,
And it embracing deare without disdaine,
Hast sole possession in so chaste a brest;
………………………..
But Amaryllis, whether fortunate
Or else unfortunate may I aread,
That freed is from Cupids yoke by fate,
Since which she doth new bands adventure dread.
Shepheard what ever thou has heard to be
In this or that praysd diversly apart,
In her thou maist them all assembled see,
And seald up in the threasure of her hart.

 (Oram 546–7)

Spencer then continues with a description of each of the three sisters (see below left) in which he refers to Anne Spencer’s marriage to Robert Sackville, and to the recent death of Alice’s husband, Ferdinando Stanley, Earl of Derby.

Thus, the Spencer sisters, as intimate members of the Court circle, formed a link between Oxford and Edmund Spenser. And, although it may not have been this link which original ly drew Oxford and Spenser together, the fact of its existence lends plausibility to the hypoth esis that it was Oxford, writing under the pseudonym “E.K. ” who gave Spenser a helping hand in launching The Shepheardes Calender in 1579.

E.K.’s friendship with Gabriel Harvey is a prominent feature of The Shepheardes Calender. If Oxford was E.K., he, too, must have been on friendly terms with Gabriel Harvey. It is thus necessary to examine in some detail the historical evidence of the relationship between the two men. The Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey (1550?–1631) and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, were both born in Essex in 1550. Although their situations in life were vastly different, they had in common a fascination with books and learning and a mutual friendship with Sir Thomas Smith (1513–1577). Sir Thomas Smith and Gabriel Harvey’s father, John, were neighbors in Saffron Walden: “The town centre is marked by a broad Common . . .. At the western side of the Common on what is known as ‘Common Hill’ stood the nearly adjacent mansions of Sir Thomas Smyth (later to become Principal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth) and of Mr. John Harvey, father of Gabriel” (Stern 3).

Besides being neighbours, the Harvey and Smith families were also kin. The exact nature of the familial relationship has not been established; however, in Foure Letters, published in 1592, Harvey states that he is a cousin of Sir Thomas Smith’s illegitimate (and only) son. Gabriel Harvey and Master Thomas Smith were friends as youths, and there is a record of their mutual reading of Harvey’s copy of Livy shortly after Harvey’s sixteenth birthday. Harvey was also a close friend of Sir Thomas Smith’s favorite nephew, John Wood (14). But Gabriel Harvey’s friendship with the Smiths was not confined to the younger members of the family. A close friendship also existed between Harvey and Sir Thomas Smith himself. Since Sir Thomas was largely absent from England after 1571, Stern deduces that this relationship ripened during the years 1566–1571, when Smith was living in Essex:

Harvey would have had the opportunity to become intimate with Smith between April 1566 and March 1571, when he was living almost continuously in Essex. Before and after this and during a very brief trip to France in 1567, Smith was out of England on government service; but for most of the five years after Sir Philip Hoby succeeded him as ambassador, Smith was living either at his country estate at Theydon Mount or at his town residence in the central square of Walden close to the Harveys’ home. (13, 26)

Gabriel Harvey’s father, John, was a stern and demanding parent, and it was perhaps because of a lack of sympathy between father and son that an almost paternal relationship developed during these years between Sir Thomas and his brilliant protege:

By 1573, the elder statesman had certainly become intellectual father to the gifted young scholar. Harvey’s letters to Sir Thomas refer to the advice he has given him, his guidance in studies, and his orienting Harvey toward a life of service to the state. He visited him at his country home at Theydon Mount, studied with him, sought his counsel, and corresponded regularly. In a 1573 letter Harvey writes of the special “frendship that I alwais hetherto sins mi first cumming to Cambridg have found at your hands as suerly I do, and must neds remember it often, having continually had so ful trial thereof.” He refers to Smith’s having aided him in attaining his fellowship at Pembroke “not past thre yers ago,” and he discusses whether or not he should take up the study of civil law: “I know wel both your wisdum to be sutch, that you can easly discern what is best for me, and I assure mi self your gud affection to be sutch, that you wil gladly counsel me for the best.” (13, 26)

After Smith’s death in August, 1577 following “a long and painful illness,” Harvey was chief mourner at the funeral, as Thomas Nashe noted with satirical malice two decades later in Have With You To Saffron Walden:

Onely hee [Harvey] tells a foolish twittle twattle boasting tale (amidst his impudent brazen fac’d defamation of Doctor Perne,) of the Funerall of his kinsman, Sir Thomas Smith, (which word kinsman I wonderd he causd not to be set in great capitall letters,) and how in those Obsequies he was a chiefe Mourner. (McKerrow 58)

As Nashe parenthetically remarks, the funeral was the occasion of an unpleasant incident between Harvey and Doctor Andrew Perne. To Doctor Perne’s chagrin, Lady Smith bestowed on Harvey some “rare manuscript books” belonging to Sir Thomas. Perne desired these manuscripts for himself and, according to Harvey’s account in Pierces Supererogation, expressed his annoyance by calling Harvey a “Foxe”:

[Perne] once in a scoldes pollicie called me Foxe between jest, and earnest: (it was at the funerall of the honorable Sir Thomas Smith, where he preached, and where it pleased my Lady Smith, and the coexecutours to bestow certaine rare manuscript bookes upon me, which he desired). (Stern 38)

Lady Smith’s bestowal of her husband’s rare manuscripts on Gabriel Harvey is proof of the regard in which Harvey was held by Sir Thomas Smith and his family. And Harvey’s respect and affection for Sir Thomas are evidenced by the fact that he began, immediately after the funeral, to write the Latin elegies in memory of his former friend, counsellor, and benefactor that were published in January, 15 78, as Smithus: Vel Musarum Lachrymae (39).

Given the extraordinarily close relationship between Sir Thomas Smith and Gabriel Harvey, it is significant that it was none other than Sir Thomas Smith who served as the catalyst for a friendship between Harvey and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Smith had been one of Oxford’s childhood tutors (probably during the years 1556–1558) (Ward 10–11). Thus, it was likely in deference to Sir Thomas that Oxford went out of his way to offer financial help to Harvey during the latter’s undergraduate years at Cambridge. In Foure Letters, Harvey specifically identifies his kinship with the Smith family as the motive for Oxford’s generosity toward him:

In the prime of his [Oxford's] gallantest youth, hee bestowed Angels upon mee in Christes Colledge in Cambridge, and otherwise voutsafed me many gratious favours at the affectionate commendation of my Cosen, M. Thomas Smith, the sonne of Sir Thomas. (65–6)

The reference to Christ’s College dates Oxford’s benefactions to the years 1566–1570, when Harvey was an undergraduate, and these Cambridge years provide evidence of yet another link between Oxford and Gabriel Harvey. Harvey’s tutor at the university was William Lewin (d. 1598), who had formerly served as tutor to Anne Cecil, Oxford’s wife, and the daughter of Lord Burghley, his guardian. Harvey’s friendship with Lewin continued for many years (he dedicated Ciceronianus to him in 1577), and a friendship must also have developed between Lewin and Oxford, since the former tutor, now a student of the civil law, accompanied Oxford on the first stage of his continental tour in 1575; as a companion, Lewin was said to be “a Raphael … both discreet and of good years, and one that my Lord [Oxford] doth respect” (10–11; DNB VII 1048–9). Thus, the few historical records that have survived from this period bear witness to a developing friendship between Oxford and Harvey during the latter’s student years, based on mutual friendships with Sir Thomas Smith and William Lewin, and on Oxford’s generosity toward Harvey.

The records for the next eight years are a blank, so far as the relationship between Oxford Tand Harvey is concerned. In July of 1578, however, the two men are momentarily highlighted against the colorful backdrop of Queen Elizabeth’s summer progress. On July 26th and 27th, the royal party was at Audley End, three miles from Saffron Walden, where Cambridge dignitaries and scholars presented gifts and entertained Elizabeth and her courtiers with speeches and disputations. Harvey himself participated in a three-hour disputation and offered as a gift of his own, four manuscripts of Latin verse written on large folio-sized sheets in his ornamental Italian hand. The four manuscripts were later printed, with additions, as Gabrielis Harveii Gratulationum Valdinensium Libri Quatuor and presented by Harvey to the Queen on September 15th at Hadham Hall, the Hertfordshire estate of Harvey’s friend, Arthur Capel (Stern 65). The printed volume was “comprised of four books of Latin verse: Book I addressed to Elizabeth, Book II to Leicester, Book III to Burghley, and Book IV to Oxford, Hatton, and Sidney” (39–41; Nichols V2 109–14, 222). Harvey’s Latin verses to Oxford in Book IV praise the Earl as a poet and—in extravagant terms—as a potential military leader. Translated into English prose, Harvey’s encomium to Oxford reads, in part, as follows:

O great-hearted one, strong in thy mind and thy fiery will, thou wilt conquer thyself, thou wilt conquer others; thy glory will spread out in all directions beyond the Arctic Ocean; and England will put thee to the test and prove thee to be a native .. bom Achilles. Do thou but go forward boldly and without hesitation. Mars will obey thee, Hermes will be thy messenger, Pallas striking her shield with her spear shaft will attend thee. For a long time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts. English poetical measures have been sung by thee long enough. Let that Courtly Epistle – more polished than the writings of Castiglione himself – witness how greatly thou dost excel in letters. I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the muses of France and Italy, but hast learned the manners of many men, and the arts of foreign countries. It was not for nothing that Sturmius himself was visited by thee; neither in France, Italy, nor Germany are any such cultivated and polished men. 0 thou hero worthy of renown, throw away the insignificant pen, throw away bloodless books, and writings that serve no useful purpose; now must the sword be brought into play, now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear and to handle great engines of war …. In thy breast is noble blood, Courage animates thy brow, Mars lives in thy tongue, Minerva strengthens thy right hand, Bellona reigns in thy body, within thee bums the fire of Mars. Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes spears; who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again? (Ogburn 596–7)

The entertainment at Audley End, and the favour shown to him by the Earl of Leicester for a brief time thereafter, marked the high point of Harvey’s career. At some time during this period, he seems to have served as Leicester’s secretary and was “bending every effort toward securing a niche for himself at Court” (Stern 46, 50, 68). However, after a brief trial, according to Nashe’s admittedly biased account, Leicester told Harvey he was “fitter for the Universitie than for the Court”:

He that most patronizd him, prying more searchingly into him, and finding that he was more meete to make sport with than anie way deeply to be employd, with faire words shooke him of, & told him he was fitter for the Universitie than for the Court or his tume, and so bad God prosper his studies, & sent for another Secretarie to Oxford. (Stern 46; McKerrow 79)

Any further hope of preferment that Harvey might have entertained was dashed in the summer of 1580 with the anonymous and unauthorized publication of a part of his correspondence with his friend Edmund Spenser in Three Proper and Wittie Familiar Letters. This volume, entered in the Stationers’ Register on June 30th, 1580, included a letter from Harvey to Spenser containing Latin hexameter verses that Harvey himself characterized as a “bolde Satyriall libell.” In the letter, Harvey indicated that these verses, entitled Speculum Tuscanismi, had been “lately devised” at the instigation of a gentleman in Hertfordshire (perhaps Harvey’s friend, Arthur Capel) (Stem 40, 65, 251, 254):

But seeing I must needes bewray my store, and set open my shoppe wyndowes, nowe I pray thee, and coniure thee by all thy amorous Regardes, and exorcismes of Love, call a Parliament of thy Sensible, & Intelligible powers together, & tell me, in Tom Trothes earnest, what II secondo, & famoso Poeta, Master Immerito, sayth to this bolde Satyriall Libell lately devised at the instaunce of a certayne worshipfull Hartefordshyre Gentleman, of myne olde acquayntaunce: in Gratiam quorundam Illustrium Angofrancitalorum, hic & ubique apud nos voli, tantium. Agedum vero, nosti homines, tanquam tuam ipsius cutem.

Speculum Tuscanismi.

Since Galateo came in, and Tuscanisme gan usurpe,
Vanitie above all: Villanie next her, Statelynes Empress.
No man, but Minion, Stowte, Lowte, Plaine, Swayne, quoth a Lording:
No wordes but valorous, no workes but woomanish onely.
For life Magnificoes, not a beck but glorious in shew,
In deede most frivolous, not a looke but Tuscanish alwayes.
His cringing side necke, Eyes glauncing, Fisnamie smirking,
With forefinger kisse, and brave embrace to the footewarde.
Largebellied Kodpeasd Dublet, unkodpeased halfe hose,
Strait to the dock, like a shirte, and close to the britch, like a diveling.
A little Apish Flatte, cowched fast to the pate, like an Oyster,
French Camarick Ruffes, deepe with a witnesse, starched to the purpose.


Every one A per se A, his termes, and braveries in Print,
Delicate in speach, queynte in araye: conceited in all poyntes:
In Courtly guyles, a passing singular odde man
For Gallantes a brave Myrrour, a Primerose of Honour,
A Diamond for nonce, a fellowe perelesse in England.
Not the like Discourser for Tongue, and head to be found out:
Not the like resolute Man, for great and serious affayres,
Not the like Lynx, to spie out secretes, and privities of States.


Eyed, like to Argus, Earde, like to Midas, Nosd, like to Naso,
Wingd, like to Mercury, fittst of a Thousand for to be employde,
This, nay more than this doth practise of Italy in one yeare.
None doe I name, but some doe I know, that a peece of a twelvemontth
Hath so perfitted outly, and inly, both body, both soule,
That none for sense, and senses, halfe matchable with them.
A Vulturs smelling, Apes tasting, sight of an Eagle,
A Spiders touching, Hartes hearing, might of a Lyon.
Compoundes of wisedome, witte, prowes, bountie, behaviour,
All gallant Vertues, all qualities of body and soule:
o thrice tenne hundreth thousand times blessed and happy,
Blessed and happy Travaile, travailer most blessed and happy.
Penatibus Hetruscis laribusque nostris Inquilinis.

Tell me in good sooth, doth it not too evidently appeare, that this English Poet wanted but a good patteme before his eyes, as it might be some delicate, and choyce elegant Poesie of good M. Sidneys, or M. Dyers (ouer very Castor & Pollux for such and many greater matters) when this trimme geere was in hatching. (Grosart VI 83–6)

Harvey’s reference to Sidney and Dyer hints discreetly that they might be a receptive audience for Speculum Tuscanismi, and in the closing paragraph of the letter, Harvey authorizes Spenser to “communicate” his letter to them:

You knowe my ordinarie Postscripte: you may communicate as much, or as little, as you list, of these Patcheries, and fragments, with the two Gentlemen [i.e., Sidney and Dyer]: but there a straw, and you love me: not with any else, friend or foe, one, or other: unlesse haply you have a special desire to imparte some parte hereof, to my good friend M. Daniel Rogers: whose curtesies are also registred in my Marble booke. You knowe my meaning. (Grosart 107)

Although Harvey’s letter containing the Speculum Tuscanismi verses is undated, its approximate date of composition can be fixed by the circumstances of its publication in Three Proper and Wittie Familiar Letters. The first of Harvey’s letters in this volume deals with the earthquake of April 6th, 1580 (Stem 54–5). His second letter, which contains Speculum Tuscanismi, dates from about the same time and cannot have been written later than the introductory epistle to Three Letters, that is dated June 19th, 1580 (Stem 54). Thus, Harvey must have written the poem Speculum Tuscanismi sometime between early April and mid-June, 1580.

Unfortunately for Harvey (and, probably, for Spenser), the publication of Three Letters caused a furor, and the matter came before the Privy Council (principally, it would seem, because of a remark of Harvey’s which was misinterpreted as an attack on Sir James Croft, Controller of the Household). Harvey himself admitted that “the sharpest part of those unlucky Letters was over-read at the Council Table” (Ogburn 631). And John Lyly, in Pap With A Hatchet, gleefully recalled in 1589 the punishment for libel which might have befallen Harvey:

And one will we conjure up, that writing a familiar Epistle about the naturall causes of an Earthquake, fell into the bowells of libelling, which made his eares quake for feare of clipping. (McKerrow V3 74)

The whole matter came back to haunt Harvey a decade and a half later in his famous quarrel with Nashe, whose ruthless exposition of the incident in Have With You To Saffron Walden clarifies much that would otherwise be obscure about the composition of Speculum Tuscanismi. In the first place, Nashe unambiguously imputes the composition of the poem to Harvey’s ambition (“his ambicious stratagem to aspire”) and his desire to ingratiate himself with the Earl of Leicester (“that Nobleman … for whome with his pen hee thus bladed”):

I had forgot to observe unto you, out of his first foure familiar Epistles, his ambicious stratagem to aspire, that whereas two great Pieres beeing at jarre, and their quarrell continued to bloudshed, he would needs, uncald and when it lay not in his way, steppe in on the one side, which indeede was the safer side (as the foole is crafty inough to sleepe in a whole skin) and hewe and slash with his Hexameters; but hewd and slasht he had beene as small as chippings, if he had not playd ducke Fryer and hid himselfe eight weeks in that N oblemans house for whome with his pen hee thus bladed. Yet neverthelesse Syr James a Croft, the olde Controwler, ferrited him out, and had him under hold in the Fleete a great while, taking that to be aimde & leveld against him, because he cald him his olde Controwler, which he had most venomously belched against Doctor Perne. Uppon his humble submission, and ample exposition of the ambiguous Text, and that his forementioned Mecenas mediation, matters were dispenst with and quallified, & some light countenance, like sunshine after a storme, it pleased him after this to let fall uppon him, and so dispatcht him to spurre Cut backe againe to Cambridge. (McKerrow V3 78)

Nashe’s account makes it clear that the composition of Speculum Tuscanismi was part of a larger quarrel (“two great Pieres beeing at jarre”), into which Harvey stepped, unasked, on the safer side (“uncald and when it lay not in his way, steppe in on the one side, which indeede was the safer side”). The “quarrel” to which Nashe alludes can be equated with the long-drawn-out conflict in 1579–80 over Queen Elizabeth’s proposed marriage to Francois, Duke of Alencon. The two peers who were “at jarre” were Leicester and Sussex; with Leicester, along with the Earl of Pembroke, Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Francis Walsingham, opposing the marriage, while Oxford and Burghley sided with Sussex, who favored it. In late August, 1579, animosity between the two sides flared up in the celebrated tennis court quarrel in which Oxford called Philip Sidney, Leicester’s nephew and heir apparent, a “puppy.” Sidney fiercely resented the insult (Duncan-Jones 164) . His friends—Harvey among them—doubtless did likewise, and it may have been partly to avenge this insult to the Leicester party that Harvey, in the early months of 1580, “bladed his pen” against Oxford (Stern 65).

In his exculpatory account in Foure Letters, written many years after the event, Harvey ascribed the writing of Speculum Tuscanismi to a combination of youthful indiscretion and the urging of friends who did not scruple to use him for their own purposes. At the time, he says, he was “yong in yeares, fresh in courage, greene in experience, and as the manner is, somewhat overweeninge in conceit.” He had been reading invectives and satires and had been exasperated by some “sharpe undeserved discourtesies” (Oxford’s insult to Sidney is perhaps referred to in line 3 of Speculum Tuscanismi). Moreover,

… some familiar friendes pricked me forward: and I neither fearing daunger, nor suspecting ill measure, (poore credulitie sone beguiled) was not unwilling to content them, to delight a few other, and to avenge, or satisfie my selfe, after the manner of shrewes, that cannot otherwise ease their curst hearts, but by their owne tongues, & their neighbours eares. (59)

He had not intended to publish the “infortunate Letters, which had fallen into the left handes of malicious enemies, or undiscreete friends: who adventured to imprint in earnest, that was scribbled in jest, for the moody fit was soone over.”

Understandably, Harvey also stoutly disputed the accusation that Speculum Tuscanismi was directed at Oxford:

[Lyly] would needs forsooth verye courtly perswade the Earle of Oxforde, that some thing in those Letters, and namely the Mirrour of Tuscanismo, was palpalby intended against him: whose noble Lordeship I protest, I never meante to dishonour with the least prejudicial word of my Tongue, or pen: but ever kept a mindefull reckoning of many bounden duties toward The-same: since in the prime of his gallantest youth, hee bestowed Angels upon mee in Christes Colledge in Cambridge, and otherwise voutsafed me many gratious favours at the affectionate commendation of my Cosen, M. Thomas Smith, the sonne of Sir Thomas, shortly after Colonel of the Ardes in Ireland. But the noble Earle, not disposed to trouble his Joviall mind with such Saturnine paltery, stil continued, like his magnificent selfe. (65–6)

Harvey’s assertion that he “never meante to dishonour” the Earl of Oxford with the “least prejudicial word of his tongue or pen” cannot be totally discounted; Speculum Tuscanismi takes some liberties with the Earl’s Italianate dress and mannerisms, but otherwise attributes many “remarkable gifts” to Oxford (Ogburn 630). However, Harvey’s own characterization of the verses as a “bolde Satyriall Libell,” taken in conjunction with some notes in his Letter-book, suggests that his intentions were “not altogether innocent”:

On folios 51 v and 52 v of Sloane MS.93 there is the draft of a discourse entitled a “dialogue in Cambridge between Master GH and his cumpanye at a midsumer Comencement, togither with certayne delicate sonnets and epigrammes in Inglish verse of his makinge.” One of the gentlemen in the company quotes the first twenty-three lines of the satirical poem which in 1580 was published as Speculum Tuscanismi. The discourse continues: “Nowe tell me … if this be not a noble verse and politique lesson … in effecte conteyning the argumente of his [Master GH's] curragious and warly[k]e apostrophe to my lorde of Oxenforde in his fourth booke of Gratulationum Valdinensium.(Stern 66)

Harvey’s account in Foure Letters conveys the impression that he regretted writing Speculum Tuscanismi. However, his evidence does not point to a permanent breach between himself and Oxford. In the first place, he states confidently that the Earl shrugged the matter off as beneath his notice (“the noble Earle, not disposed to trouble his Joviall mind with such Saturnine paltery, stil continued, like his magnificent selfe”). Secondly, he recalls, for the benefit of his readers, Oxford’s openhanded generosity towards him in his youth. Both these statements are incompatible with any long-lasting animosity between the two men. Moreover, when considering Oxford’s relationship with Harvey during the years 1579­80, it is necessary to keep the chronology of events clearly in focus. On April 10th, 1579, when E.K. signed and dated the dedicatory epistle to Harvey in The Shepheardes Calender, Speculum Tuscanismi was still a year in the future. There is, thus, every reason to believe that relations between Oxford and Harvey on April 10, 1579, were on the friendly basis that had obtained during the lifetime of their mutual friend, Sir Thomas Smith, and that E.K’s attitude toward Harvey in The Shepheardes Calender is entirely consistent with Oxford’s relationship with Harvey at that time.

At this point, it is necessary to consider the nature of E.K.’s friendship with Gabriel Harvey, as revealed in the dedicatory epistle and glosses in the Calender. In the first place, E.K. ‘s dedicatory epistle to Harvey is notably warm and courteous, and generous in its praise of Harvey’s abilities:

To the most excellent and learned both Orator and Poete, Mayster Gabriell Harvey, his Verie special and singular good frend E.K. commendeth the good lyking of this his labour, and the patronage of the new Poete. (Oram 13 )

The opening paragraph of the epistle is also remarkable for the informal manner in which E.K. draws Harvey, as it were, into a friendly discussion with the Reader:

Uncouthe unkiste, Sayde the olde famous Poete Chaucer. . . . Which proverbe, myne owne good friend Ma. Harvey, as in that good old Poete it served well Pandares purpose, for the bolstering of his baudy brocage, so very well taketh place in this our new Poete, who for that he is uncouthe as said Chaucer, is unkist, and unknown to most men, is regarded but of few. (13)

E.K. concludes the epistle by gracefully submitting his efforts to Harvey’s judgment and soliciting his protection for the work of the “new Poete.”

These my present paynes, if to any they be pleasurable or profitable, be you judge, mine own good Maister Harvey, to whom I have both in respect of your worthinesse generally, and otherwyse upon some particular and special considerations vowed this my labour, and the maydenhead of this our commen frends Poetrie, himselfe having already in the beginning dedicated it to the Noble and worthy Gentleman, the right worshipfull Ma. Phi. Sidney, a special favourer and maintainer of all kind of learning, Whose cause I pray you Sir, yf Envie shall stur up any wrongful accusasion, defend with your mighty Rhetorick and other your rare gifts of learning, as you can, and shield with your good wil, as you ought, against the malice and outrage of so many enemies, as I know wilbe set on fire with the sparks of his kindled glory. And thus recommending the Author unto you, as unto his most special good frend, and my selfe unto you both, as one making singuler account of two so very good and so choise frends, I bid you both most hartely farwel, and commit you and your most comendable studies to the tuicion of the greatest.(

Your owne assuredly to be commaunded E.K . (20)

This closing salutation is followed by a lengthy postscript urging Harvey to publish his own unpublished manuscripts (whether this postscript was written tongue,in,cheek by someone who had listened to Harvey’s extravagant praise of him at Audley End must be left to the judgment of the individual reader):

Now I trust M. Harvey, that upon sight of your speciall frends and fellow Poets doings, or els for envie of so many unworthy Quidams, which catch at the garlond, which to you alone is dewe, you will be perswaded to pluck out of the hateful darknesse, those so many excellent English poemes of yours, which lye hid, and bring them forth to eternall light. Trust me you doe both them great wrong, in depriving them of the desired sonne, and also your selfe, in smoothering your deserved prayses, and all men generally, in withholding from them so divine pleasures, which they might conceive of your gallant English verses, as they have already doen of your Latine Poemes, which in my opinion both for invention and Elocution are very deli .. cate, and superexcellent. And thus againe, I take my leave of my good Mayster Harvey from my lodging at London thys 10 of Aprill. 1579. (20–1)

The introductory epistle to The Shepheardes Calender thus suggests a friendship between E.K. and Gabriel Harvey that is generally consistent with what is known of the friendship between Harvey and Oxford in 1579. And E.K.’s glosses to the Calender take the identification between E.K. and Oxford a step further by linking E. K. with people and events which had mutual significance for both Oxford and Harvey.

In his gloss to the word “couthe” in the January eclogue, for example, E.K. mentions the very circumstance that gave rise to the friendship between Harvey and Oxford, namely Harvey’s kinship with Oxford’s old tutor, Sir Thomas Smith:

… couthe commeth of the verb Conne, that is, to know or to have skill. As well interpreteth the same the worthy Sir Tho. Smith in his booke of goverment: wherof I have a perfect copie in wryting, lent me by his kinseman, and my verye singular good freend, M. Gabriel Harvey: as also of some other his most grave and excellent wrytings. (33)

His gloss makes it clear that Sir Thomas Smith is a focal point of E.K.’s relationship with Gabriel Harvey. Moreover, E.K. has read not only Smith’s manuscript treatise on government, but also “other his most grave and excellent wrytings,” and his study of them has been so thorough as to enable him to recall Smith’s usage of a particular word: “couthe.” There may have been a number of reasons for E.K.’s interest in Smith’s works. If E.K. was Oxford, however, there is no mystery about the matter, and his interest in Smith’s published and unpublished works is readily accounted for by the fact that they came from the pen of his former tutor. Similarly, in a gloss to the September eclogue, E.K. mentions with approval Harvey’s elegiac verses on Sir Thomas Smith, Vel Musarum Lachrymae.

Even more significantly, E.K. refers in this gloss to the 1578 entertainment at Audley End in which Harvey and Oxford had played prominent parts. And E.K.’s reference to the entertainment is noteworthy for its completeness: not only does he mention the dedication of Gratulationum Valdinensium to the Queen at Audley End, but also Harvey’s subsequent presentation of a printed copy at “the worshipfull Maister Capells in Hertfordshire”:

Colin cloute: Nowe I thinke no man doubteth but by Colin is ever meante the Authour selfe, whose especiall good freend Hobbinoll sayth he is, or more rightly Mayster Gabriel Harvey: of whose speciall commendation, as well in Poetrye as Rhetorike and other choyce learning, we have lately had a sufficient tryall in diverse his workes, but specially in his Musarum Lachrymae, and his late Gratulationum Valdinensium which boke in the progresse at Audley in Essex, he dedicated in writing to her Majestie, afterward presenting the same in print unto her Highnesse at the worshipfull Maister Capells in Hertfordshire. Beside other his sundrye most rare and very notable writings, partly under unknown Tytles, and partly under counterfayt names, as his Tyrannomastix, his Ode Natalitia, his Rameidos, and esspecially that parte of Philomusus, his divine Anticosmopolita, and divers other of lyke importance. (163–4)

E.K.’s mention of Harvey’s presentation to Elizabeth of a printed copy of Gratulationum Valdinensium at Hadham Hall appears to be the sole historical reference to this event (Churchyard’s account of the 1578 progress merely records the royal party’s stop at “Mayster Kapel’s, where was excellent good cheere and entertaynement”) (Nichols V2 222). Moreover, Harvey’s presentation of his book to the Queen is likely to have been remarked upon only by an eyewitness to his minor triumph; in other words, someone within a small circle of courtiers, Cambridge officials, and personal friends of Gabriel Harvey. By his references to Gratulationum Valdinensium, E.K. necessarily includes himself in this limited group, suggesting once again that he and Oxford were one and the same individual. In summary, then, Oxford meets one of the most important tests for identification with E.K.: he was a friend of Gabriel Harvey in April, 1579. The friendship may have been weakened a year later by the publication of Three Letters, but at the time it was entirely consistent with the warm and generous attitude displayed toward Harvey by E.K. in The Shepheardes Calender.

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Hotwiring the Bard into Cyberspace: Insights into automated Forms of Stylistic Analysis Which Attempt to Address Elizabethan Authorship Questions

W. Ron Hess


There has long been controversy about who wrote what during the Elizabethan era because there was an extraordinary proclivity among Elizabethan authors to write anonymously or under pseudonyms, to collaborate, and to borrow (or to quote without attribution, what today we would call “to plagiarize”). Therefore, it is not surprising that this controversy has significantly touched on the works of that most beloved of all Elizabethans, William Shakespeare. As such, this topic is integral to our modern’ day approach to the Shakespeare authorship question. Given this labyrinth of possible multiple hands in works of disputed attribution throughout Elizabethan literature, how can we pick out, with reasonable assurance, who wrote what, and maybe even when? For most of the intervening centuries, stylistic discrimination had to depend exclusively on the arbitrary personal judgment of “experts.” The experts were often self-appointed scholars whose intensive studies of Shakespeare’s works somehow conferred upon them the ability to detect Shakespeare’s style and nuances, at least in their own minds. One example was Earnest A. Gerrard’s 1928 work (Elizabethan Drama and Dramatists 1583-1603) which unsatisfactorily claimed to be able to tell which parts of Shakespeare’s works were written by the various professional playwrights of the Elizabethan era. Another example more familiar to non-orthodox scholars was William Plumer Fowler’s massive 1986 book (Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters) that stylistically compared most of the 17th Earl of Oxford’s letters, plus five letters of his son-in-law, the 6th Earl of Derby, to Shakespeare’s works. Fowler concluded that both had a hand in writing the works. Though we may respect Fowler’s conclusions and methods more than Gerrard’s, whether either “expert” was right remains personal opinion, no matter how many “credentials” each may have held.

Going one step better than merely resorting to authority have been those stalwarts who for centuries have viewed Shakespeare’s works from a statistical or enumerative standpoint. Typically, they would attach to a concordance, or put in an Appendix, a list of the occurrences of some word, phrase, or anomaly, piecework often astounding in their demonstrations of thoroughness and dedication during an era before automated tools could assist in such laborious efforts. When we run across one of these brave efforts, we should ask whether the underlying theory itself was valid; whether the word, phrase, or anomaly really had verifiable meaning with regard to the authorship question at hand.

An instructive case in point was the statistical system touted in 1901 by Dr. Thomas Mendenhall, who claimed that “frequency of word lengths” was a meaningful discriminator, and that Christopher Marlowe’s works match Shakespeare’s in this one criterion, but Bacon’s do not (Michell 228–231). However, over the many decades since this claim was first made, no convincing support for this particular statistical approach has emerged. And, except for panning Bacon, no really good extensions of the system to other authorship comparisons seem to have been made. Criticism of Mendenhall’s methods by H. N. Gibson is additionally instructive:

As a mere scientist, Mendenhall did not understand the conditions of Elizabethan literature; how old copyists and modern editors have tinkered with the lengths and spellings of words; how authors collaborated to such an extent that it is impossible to be sure of selecting pure samples of anyone’s work; how often revisions were made by other hands. Mendenhall’s samples were not large enough to be significant, nor did he test enough authors to be sure that the Marlowe-Shakespeare correspondence was really unique. It is unfair to compare Bacon’s prose with Shakespeare’s verse. Finally, Mendenhall did not double-check his results, so he and his tired assistants probably made mistakes in their counting. This [however] ignores the virtue of Mendenhall’s method: that a writer’s word-length pattern is unconscious and does not significantly vary, whatever the subject or style adopted. Yet no system is perfect. When Mendenhall analyzed “A Christmas Carol” he found that the number of seven-letter words in it was unusually high for a Dickens sample. That was because of the repetition of the name, Scrooge.” (229–30)

Many of the criticisms of Mendenhall above might also be applied to more modern dabblers in automated stylistic analysis, as we shall see. We must attempt to overcome these weaknesses in any system that we may wish to construct ourselves. But, seeing no great support for this methodology except among supporters of Marlowe as the author of Shakespeare, one must conclude that Mendenhall’s system does no better than to set the opinions of a few “experts” against those of the rest of the world.

This has been a common problem for all non-automated approaches to date: the need to achieve to the greatest extent possible objectivity, perfection, unassailability, and to weed out the human element prone to error and bias. This, then, has been the “Holy Grail” of all who wish to automate stylistic discrimination. It remains to be seen whether such a dependable system will remain forever romantically elusive, or whether it is, in fact, a real possibility.

With the emergence of modern statistical methods and primitive electronic computing, the best that could initially be done was to try to formalize the experts’ rules sufficiently to allow them to be put into partially-automated statistical systems. Such was Prof. Warren Austin’s 1969 effort, which claimed to have identified significant similarities between the style of Henry Chettle and the style used in the 1592 pamphlet published by Chettle, called Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, Bought with a Million of Repentance, which pretends to be Robert Greene’s deathbed work. Austin’s conclusion was that Greene made little if any contribution to the pamphlet, and more than likely it was a forgery by Chettle. It is a testament to how unpersuasive Austin’s methodology was (notwithstanding his use of statistics and computers) that a deep division continues in all circles of scholarship, especially over the Internet, as to whether Greene, Chettle, Nashe, or someone else wrote that pamphlet. Austin’s conclusion has been dismissed by many orthodox scholars for many reasons, not the least of which was that if Greene did not write Groatsworth, they may have to forfeit one of their few snippets of putative Shakespearean “biography” (see discussion of this in Hess 1996). Austin’s plight can be summed up in his own words from 1992, when he reported that:

I have recently had produced a much more comprehensive concordance to Greene’s prose, including over 300,000 words of Greene’s text from all periods of his publishing career. This provides a data base that should make it possible to establish vis-a-vis the whole Chettle corpus, previously concorded, the particular verbal, syntactical, and other usages which so consistently differentiate the Greene and Chettle styles, and thus to determine decisively the true author of Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit.

Thus, after several decades, poor Prof. Austin still had not “decisively” reached a conclusion about a relatively simple issue such as Greene vs. Chettle, let alone Shakespeare vs. anyone else. It is safe to say that Austin’s system was not “perfect” or “unassailable.”

Another instructive case was the statistical system enhanced by computers which was developed by political science Prof. Ward Elliott and his “clinic” of undergraduate students. This system was reviewed by Peter Moore in The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter (Summer 1990), was defended by Elliott in an unpublished article (October 1990), and finally explained in Elliott’s published article in Notes & Queries (December 1991), giving some insights into his methodology, findings, and conclusions, some of which will be discussed in the second part of this article [to be published in the 1999 Oxfordian]. Elliott’s system attempted to evaluate Shakespeare’s “linguistic tendencies” and characteristics in a way that he hoped would uniformly generate results to be run against other authors of the same era.

However, Moore’s 1990 review asserted that many of the criteria used by Elliott’s system turned out to be purely editorial-based or punctuation-based, not really related to authorship, while Elliott’s choices of texts to evaluate often had serious flaws which should have been avoided. (Does this sound similar to criticisms of Mendenhall by Gibson?) We should recognize that the English language, spelling, punctuation, printing technology, editorial habits, and many other aspects were in great flux during the time of the publication of Shakespeare’s works and the King James Bible, both of which did much to set the standards for our language thereafter (McCrum 90106, 11015). The 1623 Shakespeare First Folio was punctuated quite differently from the modern Riverside Shakespeare chosen by Elliott, and 16th-century punctuation was relatively slight compared to that of later eras. For example, Elliott’s system used occurrences of exclamation marks, when in fact the exclamation mark was not adopted into the English language until the 1590s, some time after the publication of many of the works Elliott compared against, such as the 1570s poems of the Earl of Oxford (Moore 9). Not surprisingly, Oxford’s punctuation and exclamation-deficient poems were rated by Elliott’s system as poorly matching Shakespeare’s 1609 and 1623 works with their 20th-century editing and punctuation. Elliott acknowledged in his unpublished 1990 article that “exclamation marks may [be] a weak test” (5); something of an understatement.

Such foibles make it clear that Elliott’s system is no more “perfect” or “unassailable” than Austin’s; that it is open to improvement and could be better accepted by his colleagues. Elliott has explained his methodology in more comprehensive articles in 1996 and 1997, even though his Shakespeare Clinic “closed down” in 1994. He now claims Shakespeare was probably not the author of Titus Andronicus, Henry VI, Pt. 3, or A Lover’s Complaint.

Elliott, however, remains active in criticizing his successor as king of the automated hill, Prof. Donald Foster. Foster’s hypotheses and preliminary conclusions were originally stated in his 1989 book identifying Shakespeare as the author of a 1612 poem known as “Elegy by W.S.” Foster hypothesized that William Shakepeare wrote this elegy to mourn the brutal murder of one William Peter (variously spelled Peeter and Petre) of Whipton near Exeter and then somehow managed to get it published only days afterwards in London, though Foster did acknowledge that the verse was far from Shakespeare’s best. Oxfordian author Joe Sobran jumped on these improbabilities in his entertaining 1996 article, where he argued that Oxford wrote “Elegy” as a youthful effort, which was set aside in shame, only to emerge when it was stolen from his widow’s estate by a pirate publisher in 1609 and then saved until the 1612 murder provided a pretext for publishing the poem (because of the poem’s featuring of the name “Peter” in certain lines).

Foster’s system, dubbed Shaxicon in his 1995 article, works from similarities, such as the use of the words “who” and “whom” in reference to inanimate objects, to maintain that Shakespeare was the author of “Elegy.” However, in a 1997 article, his fellow orthodox scholar Prof. Elliott questioned whether Foster’s use of “rare words and quirks” constituted sufficient proof. Further, Elliott prefers to emphasize elements that exclude Shakespeare’s authorship, rather than Foster’s elements, which are inclusive of it. Clearly Foster’s system is not “unassailable.”

The debate over whether Austin’s, Elliott’s, or Foster’s systems are acceptable rages on, with many scholars, orthodox or not, left scratching their heads, while publicity and egos have frequently skewed the debate. Foster used Shaxicon in 1996 to evaluate the style in the book Primary Colors by Anonymous, identifiing Joe Klein as the real author at least six months before Klein’s public confession (a feat which others could have duplicated simply by examining what sorts of things Anonymous appeared to know about the internal workings of the Clinton ’92 campaign).

This raises a general concern for us: If a system’s creator knows something specific, even subliminally, about the subject being searched for, in many cases the creator can “tweak” the system to specifically look for that something. For instance, Joe Klein may have been known to use unusual word contractions or endings also used by Anonymous, which Shaxicon then could conceivably have been tweaked to search out, not necessarily as a normal exercise. This might make the creator look brilliant when the system magically finds the something, but, if presented as a scientific methodology, it may have no more validity than the horse trainer who caused his horse to count to 20 without realizing that the horse was following the unintentional nods of the trainer’s head with each hoofbeat, so that when the trainer stopped nodding, the horse stopping counting.

Might Shaxicon have been tweaked with regard to its Shakespeare vs. “Elegy” evaluation? It is hard to say without detailed examination of the inner workings of Foster’s system; but one should be skeptical, if only because we know that Foster initially published a proposal of his “Elegy” theory in a book, then later created “Shaxicon,” which then validated his theory. More than just accurate, a system must be demonstrably objective in order to be “perfect” or “unassailable.”

Since Foster is the authority du jour, it is worthwhile looking into reasonable non-computer oriented alternatives to his theory about the “Elegy by W.S.” We might prefer either of two Oxfordian solutions. The first is the suggestion by Richard Desper in an article in The Elizabethan Review that “Elegy” was a youthful product by the Earl of Oxford, written in 1581 as a memorial to the brilliant Jesuit martyr, Edmund Campion. Desper notes that Oxford has often been taken for a closet Catholic, and suggests that the use of the name “Peter” is actually a reference to the Catholic Church as the heir to St. Peter.

Desper makes a strong case, one which readers should judge for themselves. Among other things, his theory has the virtue of explaining things that Foster could not, such as the fact that William Peter had not been married for nine years, as is stated in the poem, whereas Campion had been “married” to the Church for exactly that number of years when he was executed in 1581. On the other hand, he fails to establish a strong historical relationship between Oxford and Campion (though not surprising if Oxford felt forced to hide his Catholic sympathies). Most problematic is the quality of “Elegy,” which many feel is not even up to the Earl of Oxford’s early standards of poetry, let alone Shakespeare’s.

A second theory has been posited by Richard Kennedy on the Oxfordian Internet group, Phaeton. Kennedy believes “Elegy” was written in 1612 by the leading elegist of that time, John Ford, a known friend of the Peter family. Notably, Kennedy has support from the principal expert on John Ford’s works, Prof. Leo Stock, also a Shakespeare scholar. Stock has stated in a letter to Kennedy that he would “unhesitatingly” ascribe the “Elegy” to Ford, and not to Shakespeare, who is not known to have been an elegist at all.

There might be some middle ground between the Desper and Kennedy positions if it can be established that Ford adapted his elegy about William Peter from an earlier lost or anonymous elegy about Campion.[1] A clue to this might be certain key passages that Desper highlights as relating to Campion; if those prove to be poor matches to Ford’s style, while the rest of the elegy otherwise is shown to be a good match to Ford’s style, the case for a missing precursor will be supported. Foster’s failure to use Shaxicon to compare the elegy against Ford’s style and that of other early 17th-century elegists, and his failure to adequately seek peer review from subject authorities such as Prof. Stock, might be viewed as an unfortunate lack of objectivity and dubious professionalism. A.K. Dewdney’s 1996 book amusingly chronicles slightly similar vainglorious excesses by proponents of “Cold Fusion” and other absurd departures from the scientific method.

At the moment, Foster’s Shaxicon has edged to the front in the overall challenge to unlock the secrets of authorship, but for him to claim the prize, he will have to deal with the questions and suggestions of other scholars that haven’t been dealt with, including those of Oxfordians such as Desper and Kennedy.

Perhaps the Holy Grail of systems will never be achieved, one that is “objective,” “perfect,” or “unassailable,” but there are ways to make these computer systems more objective, less biased by their creators’ prejudices and less subject to being tweaked to get results satisfying their creators’ pet theories. One approach might be to more rigorously adopt an Expert System approach, and it would not be giving away too much to point out that Austin’s, Elliott’s, and Foster’s systems can be characterized as nothing more than primitive, marginally successful examples of expert systems, though certainly they are brave pioneers!

Decision-paths and knowledge are required for a human expert to do something that we would normally associate with human intelligence. Included in these are applications requiring “interpretation, prediction, diagnosis, design, planning, monitoring, debugging, repair, instruction, or control” (Turban 92-93). Moreover, an expert system “employs human knowledge captured in a computer to solve problems that ordinarily require human expertise” and will “imitate the reasoning processes experts use to solve specific problems” (74).

Most chess programs are expert systems, with large databases of rules, strategies, stored positions, computational routines, all of which rely on raw computing power to “look” ahead many moves into the game in order to select the best moves. Notably, chess programs rarely have a “learning” capability, which means that if one defeats the program today by use of a particular strategic line, one will likely be able to do so indefinitely with the same line. The basic reason why World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov appeared to explode in an unsportsman-like way after his famous loss to “Deep Blue” in 1997, was that he felt that somehow the IBM team had tweaked Blue into the ability to exploit Kasparov’s personal weaknesses; that they had managed to cover up specific program flaws, but that overall the program was still weaker than was claimed. The refusal of the IBM team to consent to a rematch or to allow wider examination of their system, and the close consultancy with that team by Chess Grandmaster Joel Benjamin, have led some to wonder if Kasparov might have been right to be upset. But the machine-beats-man syndrome captured the public attention; again perhaps more than it should have.[2]

So, if it is reasonable to expect human expertise to be able to pick out so-called “weak endings” {sometimes referred to as “feminine endings”} from Shakespeare’s plays and to tally those, certainly we can set up an expert system to do just that, and more besides. That is because an expert system can do boring, error-prone operations far faster and more consistently than a human can, assuming it is programmed properly. But what if weak endings really aren’t normal expertise; what if they are counter-intuitive? What if they are contrived criteria amounting to no more than a tweaking of the system to find something its creator already has biases and preconceived conclusions about? What if our expert system is merely a reflection of its creator’s mind? We’d be using our expert system to do things faster and come to more conclusions in a given time frame, but would they be better conclusions or, once again, just “garbage-in-garbage-out”?

Clearly, one disadvantage of expert systems is that they will always reflect the lapses, biases, preferences, and mistakes of the “experts” who constructed them. And given the heated debates surrounding all aspects of the Shakespeare authorship question, there are biases aplenty. The best hope for expert systems is that their creators will be adaptive and reasonable in use of outside criteria to objectively evaluate their results, employ wide peer review of their methods, and make appropriate modifications to iteratively and progressively render their systems more “objective,” “perfect” and “unassailable.”

Neural networks may be a significant improvement over expert systems in years to come. Neural networks are pattern-recognition programs that can be “taught” by trial and error to pick out correct patterns. With each wrong answer the program gets adjusted in a systematic way that can lead eventually to nearly flawless performance. Note that “systematic adjustments” are different from what I’ve been calling “tweaking,” because the former has been built into the system as part of the rules, whereas tweaking, or adjusting for a particular task based on what’s known about it, is really no better than cheating.

This “teaching” process found in neural networks deliberately mimics the biological function of the human brain in learning (Turban 621, 624), such as when a child is trained by a reward and deprivation strategy to pick out various patterns in learning the alphabet. The child’s brain is full of neurons and neural pathways that enable it to use trial and error to eventually distinguish the pattern.

Current applications for neural network include stock market-trading predicting for Mutual Funds, diagnosing diseases, identifying types of cars and airplanes, classifying galaxies by shape, spotting fake antique furniture, and deciding which customers will be good credit risks, among a number of others (Ripley 1,2). The newest fad in database management systems is “Data Mining,” which has at its core one or more neural network applications, the purpose of which is to assist a company in discovering hidden uses for its stored data. If Deep Blue was all that has been claimed for it, then it is very likely that it had a neural network component to help it learn from its experiences.[3]

Typically, a neural network is taught by running it through 90% of a data sample and doing thousands of “corrections” to multiple layers of decision paths designed into the program. Then the neural network is “self-validated” by running it against the remaining 10% of the sample. One key distinction between a neural network and an expert system (and a human “expert” for that matter): the former can be self-validated in such a way that any objective observer would be able to accept that its remarkable results are unbiased, accurate, and reflective of reality, not some human’s prejudicial tweaking, whereas the latter is always subject to errors and biases.

Indeed, neural networks are already being used for “stylometrics” purposes, albeit with mixed results. Strides are being made by Bradley Kjell, through use of neural networks to nail down identifications in such well-established literary material as the “Federalist Papers.” Another pioneer is Thomas V. N. Merriam, who has authored and co-authored a number of articles listed in our ‘Bibliography’ section, dealing with use of neural networks for evaluating Shakespeare vs. Fletcher or Shakespeare vs. Marlowe, but notably no attempt has been yet made to have a more complex comparison, such as Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Marlowe vs. each other. Merriam claimed to have identified works that were collaborations between Shakespeare and others, or to which Shakespeare had contributed.

As always with neural networks, the crux of the exercise lies first in how to teach the program and second in how to interpret the results. For instance, Merriam seems to have used one set of criteria for evaluating Fletcher and another for Marlowe (might this be akin to tweaking?). Then there is the underlying matter of dating the works, and with that the feasibility of the alleged collaborations being assumed (this factor will be discussed in more detail in Part II, where it will be shown that use of stylometrics to assign dates to works, followed by using the relative timing of works to evaluate stylometrics is “circular reasoning” fraught with error!). For instance, if the current trend continues in orthodox circles to accept earlier dating of Shakespeare’s works than had been established by such pillars as E.K. Chambers, then it is no longer likely that Shakespeare and Fletcher were creative contemporaries, an assumption which underlies much of Merriam’s reasoning (Matthews, New Science 27).

We may also be of the opinion that Merriam’s long-term approach is flawed, since he seems bent on piecemeal analysis of peripheral issues (such as whether Shakespeare had a hand in Edward III) when he should be first consolidating the full potential of the self-verification capability of neural networks for the whole of 16th and early 17th century literature in noncontroversial identifications before proceeding to the fringe areas where identifications are hotly debated. In short, Merriam risks discrediting neural networks over these peripheral issues before their wider potential has been fundamentally established. For instance, as critic M.W.A. Smith is paraphrased as having said in the 1995 British Humanities Index item 5546, with regard to Merriam’s peripheral investigations: “For more than a decade Merriam has been trying to impress on sceptical scholars that his stylometry has revealed that the conventional ascription of ‘Sir Thomas More’ to Munday is wrong, and that most of the play is by Shakespeare. [Smith's] critical review “… indicates that much needs to be corrected and reworked before a serious literary reassessment would be warranted.”

The most important task, in this author’s view, is to evaluate the styles of a much wider mix of 16th, 17th century authors using neural network comparisons; beyond only Shakespeare vs. one-at-a-time, we should evaluate him against a much broader mix of his era. Once we have this broader base of comparison (Jonson vs. Nashe, Watson vs. Munday, Greene vs. Chettle, de Vere vs. Sidney, Raleigh vs. Spenser, Lyly vs. Shakespeare, and each in this list with each other) to add to the basic non-controversial Shakespeare comparisons, only then can we begin to press the envelope into the peripheral areas where the Shakespeare authorship question dwells.

Results of certain neural network applications may conceivably be made admissible in legal matters someday. One such application might be DNA analysis, in which case one can imagine exhaustive, lawyerly probes into how well “educated” the application was, and about interpretation of the results, which, again, revolves around the human element in the process and its varying degrees of reliability. But in court the results from the Neural Network process itself will probably remain “unassailable.”

Another key distinction is this: Just because a neural network solves a problem doesn’t mean that we can define with precision how it arrived at the solution. This is similar to human pattern recognition, too. As Ripley says: One characteristic of human pattern recognition is that it is mainly learnt. We cannot describe the rules we use to recognize a particular face, and will probably be unable to describe it well enough for anyone else to use the description for recognition. On the other hand, botanists can give the rules they use to identify flowering plants.

Similarly, when you are shown a paper with dots apparently randomly scattered on it, statisticians might try to fit a “regression analysis” linear function to the dots to attempt to come as close as possible to describing the distribution mathematically, but the straight line of a regression analysis is only an approximation of the real-life distribution of the dots, which may be much closer to a squiggly line. Astoundingly, after enough trials and errors the neural network can actually arrive “by accident” at a high-level function describing a complex curve that matches the distribution of the dots far more accurately than statistical regression analysis can. Yet the function of the curve will only be simulated, not defined in a precise mathematical way.

The most valuable aspect of neural networks may be the frequently unexpected nature of their results. A well-established neural network can actually work within the rules to yield results that its human “teachers” did not foresee; it may “think outside of the paradigm” in ways that might almost be seen as creative. In effect, it may teach the teachers, in the way that data mining can be used to show novel ways for a company to reconnect its data pathways and interpersonal communications. So, from a neural network we may expect to learn things we didn’t expect to know about Shakespeare’s stylistic patterns.

While neural networks may show more long-term promise, expert systems still have one useful characteristic, as mentioned above: They can perform repetitive, boring tasks rapidly with few human-style errors. Because of this, this article proposes that an expert system be used to assist in selecting a random but educated sample of lines and phrases from Shakespeare and other Elizabethan and early 17th century authors, and to build a database with which to teach an appropriately designed neural network (let’s call it Cyber-Bard). This process is not trivial and could be expensive. Moreover, even among orthodox scholars there remains great debate over exactly which plays and parts of plays Shakespeare wrote, and which were written by others with whom he may have collaborated or from whom he may have “stolen.” Still, in spite of the limitations of expert systems, if objectivity can be scrupulously maintained, they can be very useful in speeding up those things that can be automated, and they may also help to impose a discipline and deeper thinking onto the process than that would normally be required for alternative human-hands-only processes.

After Cyber-Bard has been taught with a high success rate to distinguish Shakespeare’s lines from other authors’ lines, and has been self-validated, then it can be used for purposes related to the Shakespeare authorship question. The first task would be to run Cyber-Bard against representative samples of authors whose works span from the 1570s to 1630s to determine which of the authors get the highest match-rate scores against the pattern(s) recognized for Shakespeare. In fact we might wish also to consider checking out even earlier authors in order not to overlook early Elizabethan poets and playwrights such as Sackville, Norton, or the Earl of Surrey, from whom Shakespeare conceivably could have borrowed. Then Cyber-Bard can be run against Shakespeare’s own works to determine which sections might better correspond to other authors’ match-rate scores. These might support any theories that those Shakespeare sections reflect the styles of other authors and give us clues to further research and applications.

Ultimately, Cyber-Bard could be run against the vast body of anonymous and pen-named literature that has come down to us from that era. In this way, works now entirely unattributed to any known author may be identified as probably by a given author who chose to remain anonymous, and good matches might be added to the Shakespeare canon as probable additional works by him.
Touching on this, did Shakespeare suddenly appear from rural Warwickshire in about 1590, with a distinctive Warwickshire dialect (see Miller, Vol. II, 285)? More than just an accent, a dialect involves altogether different sets of nouns, verbs, idioms, and syntax to an extent where often the speaker cannot be easily understood by someone from a neighboring district. And then, only three years later, did he start writing polished poetry in an upper-class London dialect that we identify as Shakespearean? Or is it more likely that there is a body of earlier works by Shakespeare, which we might term “immature Shakespeare,” works which are seen as anonymous or incorrectly attributed to a variety of other, lesser writers? Cyber-Bard may be able to help us answer exciting questions like these!

In criticizing neural networks, A.K. Dewdney, in his very entertaining and educational 1997 book, felt that there was too much hype surrounding them back in the 1970-80s and that their promise has come up short. Still, the memory-management and other architectural advancements needed to improve upon the original approaches to neural networks are actually advancing all the time, with decreasing costs as well, and are likely to improve for the foreseeable future. The probability is that the problems cited by Dewdney will simply evaporate in the light of micro-miniaturization, parallel architectures, and other developing concepts.

In fact, neural networks appear to be literally the wave of the future. Bauer’s 1998 article states that “neural networks are making a comeback,” and lists the following applications where we might find them in the near future, if not already here: medicine, banking, astronomy, enhanced Internet search engines, “fuzzy logic,” genetic algorithms, developing legal strategies, analyzing real estate markets, modeling power outages, developing models that predict the size of the catch for Atlantic fisheries, finance, insurance, target marketing, voice recognition, optical character recognition, digital control systems for factory automation, customer relationship management, and monitoring events on a transaction basis. He even mentioned “Jeff Zeanah, a consultant whose Atlanta, GA, based company, Z. Solutions LLC, offers a neural network boot camp.” So, can we all hope to send our teenagers off to camp to return as neural network gurus? Maybe yes, since Bauer concludes:

Montgomery [an earlier-quoted expert] points out that with today’s sophisticated neural network tools, “The user doesn’t have to have any knowledge of neural networks. Anybody that wants to can do advanced modeling.” Experts agree that this factor alone will contribute significantly to market growth for neural networks. What’s more, Montgomery believes that most technical professionals could pick up neural networking without much difficulty. “Give me a good software programmer or engineer, and I can teach them the modeling,” he said. However, he adds that to be successful, they also need functional knowledge of the business where the software is used, as well as some “statistical common sense.”

Let us venture to predict that within the next decade we will see the hardware and software required for something approximating Cyber-Bard and so may actually begin to see some solutions to the complex Shakespeare authorship question. Of course, that still says nothing about the accuracy of the assumptions with which the material is chosen for educating and validating the program; nor the validity of the interpretation of any results. Nevertheless, the hope remains strong that such problems can be worked through to the satisfaction of most reasonable scholars, with the hoped-for result that almost anyone will be able to rerun the program and verify the results without having to resort to “expert opinion.”

It’s exciting to think of what can be accomplished in stylistic discrimination by objective application of expert systems and neural networks. But shall we allow these emerging tools of the Shakespeare authorship question to be left exclusively in the hands of those whose careers, academic tenure, self-esteem, and funding depend upon linkage to orthodox precepts and results? Or shall we forthrightly establish our own paradigm and do it the way it should be done? Are there open-minded scholars or an organization willing to back such scholars with the means, the faith, and the motivation necessary to fund such a project? This will be the Oxfordian challenge for the new millennium![4]

[Author's Updates: July 2011]

  1. In 2002, Foster succumbed to his critics by agreeing that “Elegy” had not been written by Shakespeare and that he had erred in not considering Ford to have been its author. He said simply that he didn’t know why his Shaxicon system had identified it as a work of the Bard. But this 1998 article had predicted that he had not likely managed to divorce his preconceived notions from objective criterion for his system.
  2. Since the publication of this article in 1998, great advances have been made in “Expert System” Chess programs for personal computers. Grand Master level programs can be purchased for under $200, such as the “Fritz” product. Such products are routinely used for preparation and analysis by top players, and professional commentary on games are now often supplemented by notes like, “Fritz suggests …,” as if Fritz were another Grand Master of consummate skill. Of course the software has improved, but the greatest improvement has been in the hardware and memory improvements, allowing the computer to compute dozens of “plies” (or half-moves) deep in a matter of seconds, and do a much more accurate evaluation of who is winning in each possible position. Some players lament that “the Game of Kings” is essentially “dead” because computers have increasingly removed genius, intuition, and mystery. For most other players Chess is, after all, still “just a game!”
  3. Readers will have heard of the 2011 competition between IBM’s “Watson” system and 3 of the highest earning “Jeopardy” champions on TV. The “Watson” system is a neural networks application which learns from its errors and from a database of opponents’ right answers, plus a database of “facts” and web-searches relevant to the task of playing the game. It was most remarkable in its ability to understand spoken questions and to give human-like oral answers. As with Chess programs, this is a specialty application which has limited utility beyond its intended purpose—except that it illustrates very solidly what the power and potential of neural networks will be in the near future.
  4. In 2001 I was preparing an article on this subject in collaboration with Professor Lew Gilstrap, a pioneer in neural networks for military applications, who was a fellow adjunct professor with me at Johns Hopkins University Graduate School. In a proposal to set up the Cyber-Bard system described here, we applied for a $25,000 grant from Ambassador Nitze’s foundation, but got no reply, and the ambassador died a few years later. Unfortunately, I’ve now lost contact with Lew, believing him to be deceased.

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