For a host of persuasive but commonly disregarded reasons, the Earl of Oxford has quietly become by far the most compelling man to be found behind the mask of Shake-speare. As Orson Welles put it in 1954, I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don”t agree, there are some awful funny coincidences incidences to explain away. Some of these coincidences are obscure, others are hard to overlook. A 1578 Latin encomium to Oxford, for example, contains some highly suggestive praise: Pallas lies concealed in thy right hand, it says. Thine eyes flash fire; Thy countenance shakes spears.
Elizabethans knew that Pallas Athena was known by the sobriquet the spear-shaker. The hyphen in Shake-speare”s name also was a tip-off: other Elizabethan pseudonyms include Cutbert Curry-knave, Simon Smell-knave, and Adam Fouleweather student in asse-tronomy. FN*. The case for Oxford”s authorship hardly rests on hidden clues and allusions, however. One of the most important new pieces of Oxfordian evidence centers around a 1570 English Bible, in the Geneva translation, once owned and annotated by the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.Order now
In an eight-year study of the de Vere Bible, a University of Massachusetts doctoral student named Roger Stritmatter has found that the 430-year-old book is essentially, as he puts it, Shake-speare”s Bible with the Earl of Oxford”s coat of arms on the cover. Stritmatter discovered that more than a quarter of the 1,066 annotations and marked passages in the de Vere Bible appear in Shake-speare. The parallels range from the thematic–sharing a motif, idea, or trope–to the verbal–using names, phrases, or wordings that suggest a specific biblical passage.
In his research, Stritmatter pioneered a stylistic-fingerprinting technique that involves isolating an author”s most prominent biblical allusions–those that appear four or more times in the author”s canon. After compiling a list of such diagnostic verses for the writings of Shake-speare and three of his most celebrated literary contemporaries–Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edmund Spenser–Stritmatter undertook a comparative study to discern how meaningful the de Vere Bible evidence was.
He found that each author”s favorite biblical allusions composed a unique and idiosyncratic set and could thus be marshaled to distinguish one author from another. Stritmatter then compared each set of diagnostics to the marked passages in the de Vere Bible. The results were, from any perspective but the most dogmatically orthodox, a stunning confirmation of the Oxfordian theory. Stritmatter found that very few of the marked verses in the de Vere Bible appeared in Spenser”s, Marlowe”s, or Bacon”s diagnostic verses. On the other hand, the Shake-speare canon brims with de Vere Bible verses.
Twenty-nine of Shake-speare”s top sixty-six biblical allusions are marked in the de Vere Bible. Furthermore, three of Shake-speare”s diagnostic verses show up in Oxford”s extant letters. All in all, the correlation between Shake-speare”s favorite biblical verses and Edward de Vere”s Bible is very high: . 439 compared with . 054, . 068, and . 020 for Spenser, Marlowe, and Bacon. Was Shake-speare the pen name for Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, or must we formulate ever more elaborate hypotheses that preserve the old byline but ignore the appeal of common sense and new evidence?
One favorite rejoinder to the Oxfordian argument is that the author”s identity doesn”t really matter; only the works do. The play”s the thing has become the shibboleth of indifference-claiming doubters. These four words, however, typify Shake-speare”s attitude toward the theater about as well as the first six words of A Tale of Two Cities express Charles Dickens”s opinion of the French Revolution: It was the best of times. In both cases, the fragment suggests an authorial perspective very different from the original context.
The play”s the thing, Hamlet says, referring to his masque The Mouse-trap, wherein I”ll catch the conscience of the king. Hardly a prÃ©cis for advocating the death of the author, Hamlet”s observation reports that drama”s function comes closer to espionage than to mere entertainment. Hamlet”s full quote is, in fact, a fair summary of the Oxfordian reading of the entire cannon. If pressed, Shake-speare, like Hamlet, would probably deny a play”s topical relevance.
But, as an ambitious courtier, he would have valued his dramaturgical ability to comment on, lampoon, vilify, and praise people and events at Queen Elizabeth”s court. It is hard to deny that Hamlet is the closest Shake-speare comes to a picture of the dramatist at work. Nowadays, assertions that one can recover the author”s perspective from his own dramatic self-portraits are often ridiculed as naive or simplistic. Yet the converse–that Shake-speare somehow evaded the realities and particulars of his own life in creating his most enduring, profound, and nuanced characters–is absurd on its face.
Of course, the infinite recesses of the imagination make an appealing refuge to the savvy debater. Shake-speare was a creative genius a claim no one would dare dispute; ergo, he could and did make it all up. Following the same reasoning, though, Hamlet”s own masque holds no political purpose either. Rather than seeing it as a ploy to catch the conscience of the king, a strictly Stratfordian reading of The Mouse-trap would be compelled to see it as little more than a fanciful Italian fable divorced of its obvious allegory to the foul deeds committed at the court of Elsinore.
The fact that, just like Hamlet, The Mouse-trap stages a king”s poisoning and a queen”s hasty remarriage becomes just another awful funny coincidence. In the history of the Shake-speare authorship controversy, every claimant to the laurels has queued up offering the promise of mouth-watering connections to the canon. Justifiably, skeptics have countered that if you squint your eyes hard enough, any scrap or biographical datum can be made to resemble something from Shake-speare. With Oxford, however, everything seems to have found its way into Shake-speare.
Gone are the days when heretics would storm the ramparts whenever some thread was discovered between the character Rosencrantz and Francis Bacon”s grandpa. Today it”s more alarming when a Shake-speare play or poem does not overflow with Oxfordian connotations and connections. The problem for any Oxfordian is the perhaps enviable task of selecting which handful of gems should be brought out from the treasure chest. In what follows, then, I will touch on five Shake-spearean characters–Hamlet, Helena, Falstaff, King Lear, and Prospero–and will briefly point out a few parallels with Oxford.
Hamlet. More than a mere authorial specter, the Prince enacts entire portions of Oxford”s life story. Oxford”s two military cousins, Horace and Francis Vere, appear as Hamlet”s comrade-at-arms Horatio and the soldier Francisco. Oxford satirizes his guardian and father-in-law, the officious, bumbling, royal adviser Lord Burghley nicknamed Polus, as the officious, bumbling royal adviser Polonius. The parallels between Burghley and Polonius are so vast and detailed that even the staunch Stratfordian A. L.
Rowse admitted that there is nothing original anymore in asserting this widely recognized connection. Furthermore, like Polonius, Burghley had a daughter. At age twenty-one, Oxford was married to Anne Cecil, and their nuptial affairs were anything but blissful. The tragically unstable triangle of Hamlet-Ophelia-Polonius found its living parallel in Oxford-Anne-Polus. In short, from the profound Oxford”s mother quickly remarried upon the untimely death of her husband to the picayune Oxford was abducted by pirates on a sea voyage, Hamlet”s Mouse-trap captures the identity of its author.
Helena. Just as details of Oxford”s life story appear throughout each of the Shake-speare plays and poems, Anne Cecil”s tragic tale is reflected in many Shake-spearean heroines, including Ophelia, Desdemona, Isabella, Hero, Hermione, and Helena. In All”s Well That Ends Well, Helena seeks out and eventually wins the hand of the fatherless Bertram, who is being raised as a ward of the court–precisely the situation Oxford found himself in when Anne was thrust upon him by his guardian and soon-to-be father-in-law.
Like Helena, Anne was rejected by her headstrong new husband, who fled to Italy rather than remain at home with her. Both Oxford and Bertram refused to consummate their vows–and both eventually impregnated their wives by virtue of a bed trick the strange and almost unbelievable stratagem wherein the husband thinks he is sleeping with another woman but is in fact sleeping with his own wife. Falstaff. The comic conscience of the Henry IV plays, Falstaff can be read as an authorial self-parody embodying two of Oxford”s more notorious qualities: a razor wit and a wastrel”s worldview.
In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff also provokes Master Ford”s jealousy, lampooning the author”s own hypocrisy in flying into a jealous rage at his wife when he suspected her of infidelity. And the romantic subplot involving the daughter of the other merry wife–Anne Page–so specifically skewers the marriage negotiations between Oxford, Anne Cecil, and her onetime prospective husband, Sir Philip Sidney, that the dowries and pensions mentioned in the play match precisely those of the play”s historical counterparts.
In the same play, Falstaff brags to Master Ford that he fear s not Goliath with a weaver”s beam. This odd expression is in fact shorthand for the biblical Goliath”s spear as it is detailed in II Samuel 21:19: Goliath the Gittite: the staff of whose spear was like a weaver”s beam. Not only did Oxford mark the verse in his Bible; he even underlined the words weaver”s beam.. King Lear. In a play whose dramatic engine is the family dynamics of two tragically flawed patriarchs Lear and the Earl of Gloucester, Shake-speare stages the exact familial relationships that Oxford faced in his twilight years.
His first marriage to Anne Cecil left him a widower, like Lear, with three daughters, of whom the elder two were married. His second marriage produced only one son, whose patrilineal claims could conceivably be challenged by Oxford”s bastard son–a mirror of the gullible Earl of Gloucester”s situation. As if highlighting one of the thematic underpinnings of King Lear, in his Bible, Oxford marked Hosea 9:7 The prophet is a fool; the spiritual man is mad, which Lear”s daughter Goneril inverts in her venomous remark that Jesters do oft prove prophets.. Prospero.
The Tempest”s exiled nobleman, cast-away hermit, and scholarly shaman provides the author”s grand farewell to a world that he recognizes will bury his name, even when his book is exalted to the ends of the earth. Oxfordians, in general, agree with scholarly tradition that The Tempest was probably Shake-speare”s final play–and many concur with the German Stratfordian critic Karl Elze that all external arguments and indications are in favor of the play being written in the year 1604. Before he takes his final bow, Prospero makes one last plea to his eternal audience.
Drawing from a contiguous set of Oxford”s marked verses at Ecclesiasticus 28:1-5 concerning the need for reciprocal mercy as the precondition of human freedom, Prospero delivers his farewell speech with the hopes that someone will take him at his word:. R elease me from my bands With the help of your good hands! Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill or else my project fails, Which was to please. Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, And my ending is despair, Unless I be reliev”d by prayer, Which pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon”d be, Let your indulgence set me free. Like Hamlet, The Tempest”s aristocrat cum magus begs those around him to hear his story and, in so doing, to free him from his temporary chains. The rest, as the academic ghost-chase for the cipher from Stratford has ably demonstrated, is silence. At the end of The Tempest, Prospero uses the metaphors of shipwrecks and stormy weather to deliver his closing salvo against the desolate island he called home.
During the final year of his life, the Earl of Oxford clearly had such imagery on his mind, as can be seen in his eloquent April 1603 letter to his former brother-in-law, Robert Cecil, on the death of Queen Elizabeth: In this common shipwreck, mine is above all the rest, who least regarded, though often comforted, of all her followers, she hath left to try my fortune among the alterations of time and chance, either without sail whereby to take the advantage of any prosperous gale, or with anchor to ride till the storm be overpast.
The alterations of time and chance have been cruel to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. But the last five years of discoveries and developments have made two things increasingly clear: the tempest has broken, and Prospero”s indulgence is finally upon us. Added material. FOOTNOTE* Another intriguing reference comes from the satirist Thomas Nashe, who included a dedication to a Gentle Master William in his 1593 book Strange News, describing him as the most copious poet in England. He alludes to the blue boar, Oxford”s heraldic emblem, and roasts William with the Latin phrase Apis lapis, which translates as sacred ox..
I am a sort of haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patient world. The more I turn him round and round the more he so affects me. But that is all–I am not pretending to treat the question or to carry it any further. It bristles with difficulties, and I can only express my general sense by saying that I find it almost as impossible to conceive that Bacon wrote the plays as to conceive that the man from Stratford, as we know the man from Stratford, did.