Edward de Vere as Shakespeare

by Alexander Waugh

In the following year (1609) a quarto edition of Troilus and Cressida was published as ‘written by William Shakespeare’. Some Oxfordians, following Clark (1974) believe this play to have originated in the lost play Agamemnon and Ulysses performed by Oxford’s Boys at Court in 1584, to which comic interludes about Pandarus and the two lovers were added in the 1590s. Troilus (or some version of it) was performed by the Chamberlain’s Men sometime before February 1603; prior to this it appears to have been ‘stayed’ by ‘grand possessors’, but a MS copy evidently escaped the censors. A prefatory epistle printed (but subsequently withdrawn from the 1609 quarto) can be dated to some time before the play was first publicly performed. It is addressed to ‘the Eternal reader’ and entitled ‘A never writer, to an ever reader’ (‘An E. Vere writer to an E. Vere reader’?), suggesting that Oxford wrote the epistle himself (c.1595-1602), addressing it to future readers who might find the MS performed in the future when the ban is lifted

Also in 1609 appeared for the first time in a print a book entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS. Again it has been unanimously accepted by scholars that this error-strewn text was not overseen by the author. The description of ‘Shake-speare’ in the dedication to this book as ‘our ever living poet’ has led many to suppose that he was (like Oxford) dead by 1609, while the mysterious and syntactically obscure dedication is constructed of three upside-down text-triangles of respectively 6, 2 and 4 lines in length, mirroring the 6-2-4 letter-lengths of the name ‘Edward de Vere’. Oxford, as Lord High Chamberlain of England, stood fourth in order of precedence in England. Rollet (2004) established that by reading the words of the Sonnets’ dedication demarcated by stops using this key (6-2-4), reveals ‘ALL THESE SONNETS BY EVER THE FORTH’ with ‘EVER’ standing as an anagram for ‘Vere’ or E. Ver.

One of Oxford’s duties as Great High Chamberlain of England was to attend to the security and comfort of the Queen on her visits to Westminster Hall. Even today the Chamberlain of England greets and escorts the Queen into the Hall at state openings of Parliament. In Oxford’s day Elizabeth alighted from her boat on the Thames and it was his duty as Great High Chamberlain to escort her under an elaborate canopy carried on poles by men of honour and high dignity. When Shake-speare writes (Sonnet 125) ‘Were it ought to me I bore the canopy / With my extern and outward honouring’, authorship enquiry inevitably points away from Stratford-Shakspere and towards Oxford who was uniquely responsible for the bearing of the canopy on these occasions and he was almost certainly one of the six earls who carried the canopy over her coffin at her funeral. Not only does the ‘Shake-speare’ of the sonnets write as a learned, sophisticated 40-year-old nobleman, but he describes himself three times as ‘lame’ (Sonnets 37 and 89), just as Oxford decries his own lameness three times in letters to Burghley and Cecil. Moore (2009) shows that the three epithets that Shakespeare applies to himself in Sonnet 37 (‘poor’, ‘lame’ and ‘despised’) all reflect the documentary record for Oxford at a time when Stratford-Shakspere was prospering with no hint of poverty, lameness or scandal.

Fowler (2004) shows that Shake-speare’s 155 Sonnets are constructed upon a triangular pattern based on the number 17 – a number of considerable significance to Oxford. In many of these sonnets Shake-speare bewails his tainted reputation, expressing his belief that his name will be obliterated from the record, so that only his work will live on: ‘If you read this line, remember not the hand that writ it’ (71); ‘In me each part will be forgotten … your monument shall be my gentle verse’ (81); ‘My name be buried where my body is and live no more to shame nor me nor you’ (72); ‘After my death … forget me quite’(72); ‘no longer mourn me when I am dead … do not so much as my poor name rehearse [for] I once gone to all the world must die’ (71); ‘I’ll live in this poor rhyme … and thou in this shall find thy monument’ (107); ‘not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme’ (55).

Oxford was buried in the church of St Augustine, Hackney, without a tomb. In her will his widow, Elizabeth (née Trentham) expressed her desire to be buried ‘as neare unto the bodie of my said late deare and noble lorde and husband as maye bee, and that it be done as privatelie and with as little pompe and Ceremonie as possible may bee. Onelie I will that there be in the said Church erected for us a tombe fitting our degree.’ An uncarved and uninscribed tomb of grey marble was destroyed when the church was demolished in the 1790s but its image has survived. Sometime after March 1616 and before November 1623 William Basse, who, according to Sidney Lee, may have been secretary to Oxford’s son-in-law, Lord Norreys, wrote a poem campaigning for Shakespeare to be removed from his ‘uncarved marble’ tomb and placed in Westminster Abbey next to the remains of Beaumont, Chaucer and Spenser. But, wrote Basse, if social ‘precedence’, even in death, prohibits his burial next to these commoners, then he must occupy his own tomb as ‘Lord’ not as ‘tenant’ of his grave. There is no sign that Oxford’s uncarved marble tomb was ever upgraded with his name, titles and achievements of honour carved upon it, but his first cousin, Percival Golding wrote (c.1619):

Of him [Oxford] I will only speak what all mens voices confirme: He was a man in minde and body absolutely accomplished with honourable endowments. He died at his house at Hackney in the monthe of Junne Anno 1604 and lieth buryed at Westminster.

A cryptic Jonsonian riddle on the Stratford Monument epitaph (see below) reveals that ‘Shakespeare’ is buried at Westminster and not at Stratford: ‘READ IF THOV CANST, WHOM ENVIOVS DEATH HATH PLAST WITH IN THIS MONVMENT SHAKSPEARE’ or, in plain English: ‘With whom is Shakespeare buried? – read it in this monument if you can’. Above this riddle stands a Latin couplet ‘TERRA TEGIT …’ (‘the earth covers Pylius with his judgement, Socrates with his genius and Maro with his art’). These three names serve as respective allusions to Beaumont, Chaucer and Spenser, who are buried together, in precisely that order, at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Stay passenger why goest thou so fast

Shakespeare’s burial within the Abbey is noted by distinguished 17th century persons such as Sir John Denham and Samuel Speed and there is significant evidence that the disgraced poet was quietly reinterred in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, beneath the very spot upon which the famous Shakespeare monument was raised in 1740 (see ‘Where is Shakespeare Really Buried’ Parts 1-5, YouTube).

Within four months of Oxford’s death his daughter, Susan, was engaged to Philip Herbert (later to be one of the dedicatees of the Shakespeare Folio of 1623). Their wedding revels were lavish and the court was entertained with performances of eight different Shakespearean plays, seemingly in the playwright’s honour. Stratford-Shakspere is not known have attended any of them.

a A book of mysterious emblems and anagrams published by the Shakepeare fan, Henry Peacham in 1612, was entitled Minerva Britanna (‘The British Minerva’) and depicted on its title page the hand of a concealed author emerging from behind an Elizabethan theatre curtain. The hand is seen to have written the words MENTE.VIDEBOR (‘with the mind I shall be seen’). ‘I’ serves as a homophone for the letter ‘i’ – thus ‘with the mind’ an ‘i’ is seen formed by the quill nib and the dot it is drawing (see below). Seeing this ‘i’ with the mind gives the message ‘MENTE. VIDEBORI’, a nonsense in Latin, but as Turner Clark (1937) discovered, a perfect anagram of ‘TIBI NOM. DE VERE’ (‘Your name is de Vere’).

The prefatory pages of Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) may provide a source of modern Stratfordianism but they are not altogether helpful to the cause, as Ben Jonson, who assembled them, creates a mire of ambiguity around everything that is said about Shakespeare, allowing the perceptive reader to notice a multitude of deftly placed clues that hint at the real identity of the author billed as ‘William Shakespeare.’ The Heminges-Condell letters (masterfully proved to be from the pen of Ben Jonson by Steevens in the 1790s) may allude to Stratford-Shakspere’s play-broking, but not to his authorship. In the epigram ‘To the Reader’ set as a caption to Droeshout’s engraving of an egg-headed, left-handed, sartorially-challenged clown, Jonson embeds the message ‘Ver had his wit, Ver writ his Booke’ unlocked by the key suggested by the subscribed initials ‘B.I.’

In the ensuing encomium, ‘To the memory of my beloved, THE AUTHOR Mr WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’ Jonson spends sixteen lines explaining why the words ‘THE AUTHOR’ are printed in a font twice the size of that used for ‘Mr WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’. Or (more precisely) why he will not praise the author’s name: for those of ‘silliest ignorance’ will, in their deafness, mistake an echo for a true sound, and those of ‘blind affection’ will, in their blindness, grope in darkness for the truth, and those of ‘craftie malice’ will ‘pretend’ to praise, but ‘thinke to ruine, where it seem’d to raise.’ Having dispensed with his reasons for refusing to praise Shakespeare’s name Jonson begins his encomium to ‘my beloved, THE AUTHOR’ on line 17 (used by contemporaries to designate Oxford): ‘I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age! The applause! delight! the wonder of our Stage! My Shakespeare, rise.’ Jonson continues praising ‘his Shakespeare’ as the ‘sweet Swan of Avon’, using ‘Avon’ (the name of many rivers in England) to pun on ‘Avon’ the old name for Hampton Court, thus depicting ‘gentle’ (i.e. noble) Shakespeare as a courtier-poet. Jonson further describes his ‘Shakespeare’ as one who ‘outshone’ his contemporary peers, naming Kyd, Lyly and Marlowe, three playwright contemporaries of Oxford in the 1580s, none of whom wrote a single play after 1593 when the name ‘Shakespeare’ made its first appearance on the literary scene with Venus and Adonis.

The last decade of Oxford’s life was spent in relative poverty and isolation from court. Oxford was bereft of servants. Nashe, Lyly, Mundy and Churchyard had moved to other patrons, Marlowe, Watson, Kyd and Greene were all dead by 1594. Oxford may have spent his last decade revising and rewriting the plays that he and his band of scholars and playwriting associates had assembled for court and public performance from the late 1570s to the early 1590s. The individual voice that resonates through most of the Shakespearean canon is that of a lofty courtier-poet who writes in pursuit of an Ovidian ideal, one who is an outsider, one who repents his life through works and, in true Ovidian spirit, one who ultimately obliterates his own identity as he effectively metamorphoses into his art. From his earliest years Oxford had sought ‘neither external wealth nor the praise of poetry’; like Shake-speare he appears to have accepted that his name would be buried where his body is.

Stratfordianism did not begin in 1623 with the publication of the Shakespeare Folio. Records from 1623-1635 indicate that Jonson’s ambiguous nods and winks created no Stratfordian mindset among the educated classes. This would evolve gradually during the second half of the 17th century, after a generation in which theatre was banned and the new Caroline Restoration brought with it ‘the Shakespeare mythos’ (to use E. K. Chambers’ term). The first unequivocally Stratfordian commentators of the 1680s and 90s (Fuller, Langbaine and Winstanley) may have drawn their conclusions from literal readings of the prefatory pages of the four Shakespeare folios, but their predecessor, Endymion Porter, accused Jonson and Randolph (editor the Second Folio in 1632) of contriving to ‘rape’ Shakespeare’s fame. Many commentators continued long after 1623 to employ ingenious devises to share among their learned contemporaries their knowledge that ‘Shakespeare’ was the pseudonym of a courtier. William Davenant, in 1637, warned poets that their eyes would be ‘mocked’ if they looked to Stratford-upon-Avon ‘in remembrance of Master William Shakespeare’ and, in a verse that shares Oxford’s known pleasure in identifying his own name in words like ‘ever’, ‘fever’, ‘quiver’, ‘deliver’, etc., Davenant hid ‘our Vere’ in the thrice-named ‘River’ that he challenged his readers to ‘spie’, while audaciously ridiculing the shallow poetry of his former master Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, whose home, at Warwick Castle, was situated upon the banks of the Warwickshire Avon, close to Stratford:

Beware (delighted Poets!) when you sing
To welcome Nature in the early Spring;
Your num’rous Feet not tread
The Banks of Avon […]

The piteous River wept it selfe away
Long since (Alas!) to such a swift decay;
That reach the Map; and looke
If you a River there can spie;
And for a River your mock’d Eie,
Will finde a shallow Brooke.

Jonson’s servant and friend, the playwright Richard Brome, left a description of Shakespeare as ‘that English Earle, that lov’d a Play and a Player so well’ in his play Antipodes (1638), while John Warren (1640) stated that the ‘learned’ or those of ‘true judgment’ would be astonished to learn that the glory for ‘lofty’ Shakespeare’s ‘high-tun’d straine’ had been usurped by a reborn identity (Stratford-Shakspere), who had made no contribution to the works yet continued to accept the praise for them:

What, lofty Shakespeare, art again reviv’d?
And Virbius like now show’st thy self twise liv’d,
‘Tis love that thus to thee is shown,
The labours his, the glory still thine owne.

While the documentary record proves that Oxford was revered by his contemporaries as a first-rate poet, playwright and scholar who operated at the hidden heart of English literary life, modern orthodoxy insists that all his dramatic works are lost while the only complete canon of thirty-six first-rate plays to have survived from this period – one that is intimately concerned with monarchs, courts, the nobility, dynastic squabbling, Italy, language, scholarship and so on – be assigned to Stratford-Shakspere, a figure who made no claim to be a playwright or scholar, who has no educational record and who is entirely absent from the literary record of his lifetime. ‘These facts alone,’ wrote J. T. Looney, ‘each in its own way so amazingly strange and wholly unique, being contemporary and complementary, would justify, without further proof, a very strong belief that the Shakespeare plays are the lost plays of the Earl of Oxford’.