Was Edward de Vere the real Shakespeare?
by Michael R. Burch with information gleaned from various public websites
Was William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon a front for some other writer, or
writers? Ironically, there seems to be no evidence that the man widely considered to
be the greatest poet of all time ever owned a book, wrote a letter, or did more,
in terms of penmanship, than sign his name using
a mark or a ragged scrawl.
Why have Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Sigmund Freud,
Sir John Gielgud and other astute critics suggested that the identity of the
"real" Shakespeare remains a mystery?
Did Edward de Vere, the highly literate Earl of Oxford, create many of the plays and poems commonly
attributed to William Shakespeare? It has been suggested that Oxford was the
"Deep Throat" of Queen Elizabeth's court, and that plays like Hamlet
were his subversive (pardon the pun) portrayals of powerful figures of his
day. If so, it would have made sense for Oxford to conceal his authorship. After
all, his head may have been on the line, and he did end up in the Tower of
London for a spell ...
It has been proposed by Oxfordians that Hamlet is autobiography: Queen
Gertrude (meaning "spear maiden") is Queen Elizabeth; Claudius (meaning "lame")
is Robert Dudley; Polonius (meaning "of Poland," or Pollack) is William Cecil; Ophelia (meaning "love"
as in the Greek phileo, and perhaps also
punning on "oh, feel ya!") is Anne Cecil; Laertes (meaning "Avenger") is Robert
Cecil; Hamlet (meaning a small village without a church, and thus suggesting an atheist
or skeptic; but also being the diminutive of "ham," a term for an overactive
actor) is Edward de Vere himself. Horatio was Hamlet's best friend; Horatio Vere
was Oxford's best friend. And so on. While such things are probably impossible to prove, here are a
number of interesting "synchronicities" between the writer we think of as
William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere:
• The poetic form we now call the Shakespearean
sonnet was actually invented by Oxford's famous uncle, Henry Howard, Earl of
• Shakespeare's plays were written predominately in
blank verse, which was first used by Surrey in his translation of Virgil's
• Surrey was the first cousin of Anne Boleyn; like
her he lost favor with Henry VIII and eventually lost his head.
• Such a family history—having
one's most famous relatives beheaded—might explain why Oxford chose to protect
his identity, if that's what he did.
• Was Edward de Vere the son of Queen Elizabeth? Here is one theory, however
Catherine Parr, the last queen of Henry VIII, remarried after his death. Her new
husband was Lord High Admiral Thomas Seymour, the highly ambitious brother of
Jane Seymour. When Catherine became pregnant unexpectedly at age 35, Seymour may
have started "coming on" to her stepdaughter, Princess Elizabeth Tudor, then 14.
There were reports that he visited her bedchamber, taking liberties with her
clothing and body. For instance, Kate Ashley, Elizabeth's governess, and Thomas
Parry, a household servant, gave depositions that Seymour acted with unseemly familiarity, such
as slapping Elizabeth on the buttocks. In May 1548, Elizabeth was sent to Cheshunt,
where she remained until late September 1548 under the protection of Sir Anthony
(It was Denny who arrested Ashley and Parry after interviewing Elizabeth.
Because he was a trusted family friend of the Tudors and, by all accounts that I
have been able to find, of unimpeached character, it seems reasonable to
conclude that something untoward had actually happened. And if Elizabeth was
visibly pregnant, Denny would have known sex had actually taken place.)
According to Oxford biographer Paul Streitz, although I am unsure of his source,
a midwife reported that she was
taken blindfolded to attend a young fair-haired woman, who gave birth by
candlelight to a boy on July 21, 1548. A few days later, on August 1, 1548,
John de Vere, the sixteenth Earl of Oxford, unexpectedly married a woman he had never met before,
Margery Golding, even though the banns had been read twice for him to marry
another woman, Dorothy Fosser. (Oxford paid her ten pounds per annum for
breach of contract.) Margery was the sister of Arthur Golding, who was employed by
William Cecil, a confidant of Catherine Parr. Elizabeth did not visit her
stepmother, who gave birth on August 3, 1548 and died
on September 15, 1548, even though Elizabeth was very close to her and called
her “mother.” Were they both pregnant at the same time, by the same man? Thomas
Seymour was found guilty of high treason and beheaded on March 20, 1549.
Increasing the intrigue, Denny died on September 10, 1549, after "lying sick."
Was he perhaps poisoned because of what he learned in his investigations?
Obviously there is only circumstantial evidence here, and a good deal of
speculation, but if Elizabeth had an illegitimate child, that might explain the
deaths of people so close to her in such quick succession. And it might also
explain why people like William Cecil and John de Vere, who came to her aid,
were richly rewarded when she became queen.
• Arthur Golding was the translator of Ovid's
Metamorphoses. He is considered by many scholars to have been
a primary influence on the writer known as William Shakespeare. John de Vere was
the patron of a major acting company called Oxford's Men. And so, whoever's son
he was, Edward de Vere grew up surrounded by poetry, plays and actors.
• In 1558, John de Vere, England's Lord Great Chamberlain, officiated at the coronation
of Queen Elizabeth.
• In 1562, John de Vere died, and Edward became the first royal ward of William Cecil, now
the queen's secretary of state and chief
adviser. Edward de Vere would also become Lord Great Chamberlain, one of the six
great officers of state in England, and the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. He was
educated in Cecil House, which had the best library in England, and one of the
best in all Europe. One scholar called Cecil House "the best school for
statesmen in Elizabethan England, perhaps in all Europe." Oxford's mother (or
perhaps foster-mother) remarried soon after his father (or
foster-father) died. Did this inspire parts of Hamlet?
• In 1564 and 1566, Oxford received Master of Art degrees from Oxford and
Cambridge. Queen Elizabeth attended his graduation ceremonies; there were rumors
that he was her son by Thomas Seymour. In 1567, Oxford studied law at Gray's Inn.
William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon was a toddler, the child of illiterate
parents who signed documents with marks.
• In 1571, Oxford composed the first Shakespearean sonnet of the Elizabethan
reign, in her honor. He was a court favorite, receiving chief honors at a
three-day jousting event, despite not winning. He also took a seat in the House
of Lords. William Shakspere was seven.
• The same year, Oxford married Anne Cecil, the daughter of William Cecil.
Queen Elizabeth attended the wedding. The Oxfords
had three daughters (like King Lear). And those three daughters either married or were
proposed for marriage to the only three men to whom the poems and plays of
Shakespeare were publicly dedicated: the earls of Southampton, Montgomery and Pembroke.
• Also in 1571, Parliament passed an Act of Treason in which heirs to the throne
were redefined from “laufully begotten” to “the naturall yssue of her Ma’j
body.” There was no need for such language unless Elizabeth had illegitimate
children. If at age 38 she had stopped menstruating or had firmly decided not to marry,
such an act would have been vitally important if she had illegitimate children
and was considering making one of them her legal heir.
• In 1575, Oxford traveled widely on the continent, visiting parts of Italy that
would later appear in plays attributed to Shakespeare, with which he seemed
to be intimately familiar. But there is no evidence that William Shakspere ever left
When Oxford was in Venice, he borrowed 500 crowns from a Baptista
Nigrone. When in Padua, he borrowed money from a Pasquino Spinola.
In Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, Kate's father is described as a man "rich
in crowns." Where does this character in Shakespeare's play live? Padua. What is
his name? Baptista Minola—a conflation of Baptista Nigrone and Pasquino Spinola.
• In 1576, Oxford stopped signing his poems. While sailing back to England he was
attacked and held by pirates, then released unharmed: another parallel to
Hamlet? The French ambassador reported that Oxford was "left naked,
stripped to his shirt, treated miserably." Hamlet wrote to King Claudius: "High
and Mighty, you shall know I am set naked on your kingdom." Was the use of
"naked" merely coincidental?
• In 1578, Oxford was praised by Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey as a hero
whose "countenance shakes speares." Harvey may have been punning on spheres and
spears, as in addition to being a sphere-shaking poet, Oxford was also a knight
and champion jouster who won three tournaments during Elizabeth's reign. Harvey
called him the English Achilles. William Shakspere was fourteen.
• In 1579, Edmund Spenser in The Shepeards Calender parodied "Willie"
and "Perigot," believed to be Oxford and Sir Philip Sidney, respectively.
Spenser had "Willie" saying things like "Hey, ho, holiday!" that sound very much
like Shakespeare's "Hey, ho, the wind and the rain." Oxford was a leading poet
of his day, William Shakspere an unknown rural schoolboy, if he had any
schooling. The incident that inspired Spenser's parody was probably a tennis
match between Oxford and Sidney that nearly ended in a duel after Oxford called
Sidney a "puppy." Queen Elizabeth interceded to prevent things from escalating,
as reported by Sidney's friend Fulke Greville.
• A letter written by Dr. John Hatcher in 1580 reveals that Oxford's players
were performing before the queen. Like Hamlet, Oxford was a royal ward who
brought plays and players to court. William Shakspere was sixteen at the
time. His earliest plays, if they were written by him, did not start turning up
in London Stationers' Register until 1594, more than a decade later.
• In 1581, a gentlewoman of the Queen’s bedchamber, Anne Vavasour, gave birth to
a son allegedly fathered by Oxford. A disapproving Queen jailed both parents
briefly, and de Vere was absent from Court for the next two years. Several
street fights took place between Vavasour’s relatives and de Vere’s men; in one
of de Vere suffered a severe leg wound that caused him to limp thereafter. These
incidents may have inspired parts of Romeo and Juliet.
• In 1585, Oxford sat at the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots. Shakespeare's
intimate knowledge of English law and courts has been noted by astute critics
such as Mark Twain, who pointed out that William Shakspere was unlikely to have
known such things. But Oxford
studied law and sat through major trials.
• In 1586, William Webbe (A Discourse of English Poetrie) described
Oxford as the "most excellent" among courtier poets.
• In 1589, George Puttenham (The Arte of English Poetrie) said that
Oxford would be ranked first among courtier poets “if their doings could be
• In 1590, Edmund Spenser in his major work The Fairie Queen called
Oxford "most dear" to the Muses.
• In 1593, Venus and Adonis was dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, a
rising young star, with the first appearance in England of the name William
Shakespeare. But if one reads the first seventeen sonnets carefully, it seems
that Shakespeare was trying to persuade Southampton to marry and have children
with ... Oxford's daughter, Elizabeth Vere!
• Also in 1593, Oxford’s second wife Elizabeth Trentham gave birth to a son,
Henry. Soon thereafter, the first play attributed to "Shake-Speare" appeared:
• So who was the original sphere-shaking poet and playwright?
• In 1604, Oxford died. According to one account, he was buried in the Church of
St. Augustine, Hackney. But according to the account of his cousin Percival
Golding, Oxford ended up where he rightfully belonged, in Westminster Abbey.
• In 1616, William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon died. His death seemed to go
unnoticed, not only in literary circles, but even in Stratford. His will
mentioned the dispersion of a bowl, plates, and even his second-best bed, but
not a word about his literary estate, or even a single book, play or poem. It
was the will of a prosaic businessman, not a great poet and playwright. After
seven years had passed, people like Ben Jonson began to praise the author of the
celebrated poems and plays. But the identity of the author himself remains murky
... is that, perhaps, because Edward de Vere chose to play things close to the
Charles Dickens: "It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so
little is known concerning the poet. The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery,
and I tremble every day lest something should turn up."
Comparisons of Edward de Vere to William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon:
Walt Whitman: "Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European
feudalism, personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its
towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, its own peculiar air and
arrogance (no mere imitation) one of the wolfish earls so plenteous in the plays
themselves, or some born descendent and knower, might seem to be the true author
of those amazing works ... I am firm against Shaksper. I mean the Avon man, the
Mark Twain: "Shall I set down the rest of the Conjectures which constitute the
giant Biography of William Shakespeare? It would strain the Unabridged
Dictionary to hold them. He is a Brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels
of plaster of paris … Am I trying to convince anybody that Shaksper did not
write Shakespeare's Works? Ah now, what do you take me for?"
Henry James: "I am ... haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the
biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world."
Sigmund Freud: "I no longer believe that William Shakespeare, the actor from
Stratford was the author of the works which have so long been attributed to him.
Since the publication of … Shakespeare Identified, I am almost
convinced that in fact Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is concealed behind this
• William Shakspere had no discernible reason to
spend the first seventeen of his famous sonnets urging the Fair Young Lord to
marry and have children.
• But if the Fair Young Lord was Henry Wriothesley, third
Earl of Southampton, the marriage being proposed was to Edward de Vere's eldest
daughter, Elizabeth, and the children being discussed would have been his future
grandchildren. And perhaps the number seventeen is no accident, since
Southampton was seventeen at the time. Shakespeare eternally connected his name to
Southampton by publicly dedicating not only two of his major poems to him, but
also his love and affection. Southampton and Oxford were both royal wards raised and educated by
William Cecil in Cecil
House. Southampton was encouraged by Cecil to marry
Oxford's daughter. While it makes little sense for an uninvolved commoner, William
Shakspere, to put pressure on a young royal to marry and have children, it makes
quite a bit of sense for a father who wants the best possible match for his
daughter to present a strong case ... even more so if he really loved and
admired the potential bridegroom.
• We have no letters written by William Shakspere to his
literary colleagues, or to anyone else for that matter. That seems quite unusual
when we are discussing one of the most literate men who ever lived.
• Seventy-seven of Edward de Vere's letters survive him.
• No writer of the Elizabethan age dedicated anything to William Shakspere
during his lifetime.
• We know of 33 works that were dedicated to de Vere. Authors dedicating works
to him include Edmund Spenser, Arthur Golding, Robert Greene, John Hester, John
Brooke, John Lyly, Anthony Munday, and Thomas Churchyard.
• William Shakspere was born to illiterate parents
who signed their names with marks, in a
rural backwater village that was nearly barren of books.
• Edward de Vere was born to a mother with
highly regarded literary connections and a father with an
acting company, the Earl of Oxford's Men, which he inherited. De Vere's father was
also an important patron of the theater;
one of his beneficiaries was John Bale, an early writer of history plays, the genre
in which Shakespeare is generally considered to have launched his
career as a playwright.
• As Mark Twain pointed out in his essay "Is Shakespeare
Dead?" there is no
evidence that William Shakspere ever owned a single book. In his will, written
shortly before his death in 1616, he dictated the inheritance of his
plates, a bowl, and even his second-best bed. But there is no mention of his
literary works, his library, or even a single book, play or poem. Not one of his
immortal compositions was more important to him than the disposition of his
second-best bed ... that strikes me as very odd, if he wrote the poems and plays
that bear his name today.
• Edward de Vere lived and was tutored in Cecil House, which contained one of the finest libraries in Europe.
• If William Shakspere received an education, it was a
rural elementary education.
• Edward de Vere attended Queen's College, Cambridge, and was awarded Master of
Arts degrees by Oxford and Cambridge universities. He also studied law at Gray's
• William Shakspere's father John Shakspere was a
glover (a maker of gloves).
• Edward de Vere's ancestors included poets. As a matter of
fact, the poetic form now known as the "Shakespearean sonnet"
invented by de Vere's famous uncle: Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey.
Joseph Sobran and J. Thomas Looney have noted similarities in form
between de Vere’s work and Shakespeare’s.
• When John Shakspere applied for a coat of arms in
1570, his request was denied.
• Edward de Vere was the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, and
being Lord Great Chamberlain was one of the six great officers of state in
• William Shakspere was buried without a gravestone.
• Edward de Vere was a favorite at court, especially in his younger years.
• Ben Jonson said that Shakespeare had "small Latin" and
• For all his advanced learning, Edward de Vere made mistakes in Latin and may
have been an indifferent scholar of Latin.
• As Mark Twain pointed out, it is unlikely that the rural commoner William Shakspere would
have known the ways of royals, politicians, courts and lawyers.
Shakespeare's intimate knowledge of statecraft, politics and law has long amazed
scholars. He has been called his age's
"best tutor on the inside workings of political power." Edward de Vere was a
England's chief politician and statesman, William Cecil, and was raised in Cecil House,
one of the most political houses in England. After earning master degrees from Cambridge and Oxford,
studied law, he served on the Privy Council under King James.
• As Mark Twain also pointed out, it seems unlikely that William Shakspere would
have had in-depth knowledge of marine and military affairs which Twain described
• De Vere, however, was given military commands in 1585 in Holland and in 1588
during the Spanish Armada.
• Edward de Vere's personal copy of the Geneva Bible contains
marginalia and other notations that correspond to passages found in the
works of Shakespeare.
• William Shakspere's mother came from a
"conspicuously Catholic" family. Archdeacon Richard Davies, a 17th century
Anglican cleric, wrote that Shakespeare "dyed a Papyst." But in any case, there
is no evidence that Shakespeare owned any Bible, whether Protestant or Catholic, or any
• Shakespeare's history plays cast a very favorable
light on the de Veres.
• Why would someone not related to the de Veres go out of
his way to make them look good? (Well, perhaps for patronage.)
• Phillip Henslowe, who kept records of
the Elizabethan theatre in his diaries, made no mention of William Shakspere.
Edward de Vere owned the lease to the Blackfriars' Theatre and was an
acknowledged poet, playwright, patron and producer. He wrote plays of such
quality as to be cited by Francis Meres (Palladis Tamia, 1598) as "the
best among us for comedy." He won accolades from other highly-regarded poets of
his day, including Edmund Spenser and George Chapman. Both William Webbe (A
Discourse of English Poetrie, 1586) and George Puttenham (The Arte of
English Poetrie, 1589) ranked him first among Elizabeth's courtier poets.
Later, Henry Peacham (The Complete Gentleman, 1622) ranked de Vere
first among the poets of the Elizabethan period. But according to Puttenham, he
was known as a courtier who concealed the authorship of the works he wrote,
which may explain why his name was not affixed to the works of Shakespeare, if
he wrote them.
Facts of Interest
Scholars regard Arthur Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses to
have been a primary influence on Shakespeare, second only to the Bible. Arthur Golding was
Edward de Vere's uncle; Edward lived with him as a teen.
There is an undeniable link, because in the dedication of one of his works,
Golding saluted his nephew's acumen.
Scholars regard John Lyly and Anthony Munday as writers who
influenced Shakespeare. Both worked for Edward de
Vere. Munday was Oxford's secretary and a member of Oxford's Men. Lyly was also a secretary to Oxford,
with whom he
George Baker's medical book The Newe Jewell of Health (1576) is
generally considered to have influenced Shakespeare. George Baker was
Edward de Vere's physician and his book was dedicated to the Countess of Oxford.
Baldesar Castiglione's The Courtier was a rather obvious
influence on the writer who created Hamlet. Oxford wrote a
preface to Clerke's translation of The Courtier.
Cardan's Comforte was another probable influence on the writer who
created Hamlet. The English translation of this book was dedicated to Oxford.
Thomas Nashe's preface to Greene's Menaphon indicates that Hamlet was
being performed as early as 1589. But according to many
William of Stratford had only recently settled in London at that time. Are we to
believe that in the space of a year or so, a rural lad, lacking any
launched his career by writing what today is generally
regarded as the greatest play ever written?
Many orthodox scholars have acknowledged that the character Polonius is based on William Cecil, Lord
Burghley, whose family motto, cor unam via una (one heart, one way) is parodied
in the earliest version of Hamlet (Corambis, the original name given to
Polonius, means "double-hearted" or
"two-faced"). The same scholars also acknowledge that Burghley's daughter, Anne, the wife of Edward de Vere, was the basis for Ophelia, Polonius's daughter.
Oxford obviously knew them intimately, but there is no evidence
that William Shakspere, a commoner, knew them.
Scientists have observed that Shakespeare's record of astronomical knowledge
acquired during the Elizabethan Age (such as the discovery of Mars' retrograde
orbit) and the record of major celestial events (such as the supernova of 1572)
cease with the occurrence of astronomical events and discoveries that had been
made by mid-1604. William of Stratford, however, lived until 23 April 1616—long
enough, if he were Shakespeare, to continue to record in the Shakespeare plays
the discovery of sunspots, the invention of the telescope, the discovery of
Jupiter's moons, and other significant celestial phenomena and developments in
astronomical science that occurred between 1604 and 1616. But the Shakespeare
plays, while abundantly referential to such discoveries prior to 1604, are
silent on those astronomical discoveries and celestial phenomena that were made
or observed between 1604 and 1616. Edward de Vere died on 24 June 1604.
Shakespeare's intimate knowledge of Italy has perplexed scholars, especially as
there is no evidence that William Shakspere traveled farther from Stratford-upon-Avon than
London. Oxford's travels, however, took him to practically all of the locations
in Shakespeare's Italian plays, including Milan, Padua, Verona, Venice (where he
built a home), Mantua, Sicily and a host of other Italian cities and sites. Italian Professor Ernesto Grillo
that Shakespeare's familiarity with his native land indicates that
Shakespeare had to have traveled extensively in Italy: "When we
consider that in the north of Italy he reveals a more 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."
In May 1573, in a letter to William Cecil, two of Oxford's former employees
accused three of Oxford's friends of attacking them on "the highway from
Gravesend to Rochester." In Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV, Falstaff and three roguish
friends of Prince Hal also waylay unwary travelers—on the highway from Gravesend
Such singular events in the plays as the Gad's Hill robbery in 1 Henry IV, the
attack on and release of Hamlet by pirates at sea, and the bed trick of All's
Well That Ends Well—any one of which would constitute a highly unusual event in
any man's experience—are all documented events in Oxford's life.
The three dedicatees of Shakespeare's works (the earls of Southampton,
Montgomery and Pembroke) were each proposed as husbands for the three daughters
of Edward de Vere. (Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were dedicated to
Southampton and the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays was dedicated to
Montgomery and Pembroke.) Southampton declined the hand of Elizabeth Vere to
marry Elizabeth Vernon (Elizabeth Vere later married William Stanley, the 6th
earl of Derby, himself a man of the theatre); Montgomery married Oxford's
daughter, Susan, in 1604; and Bridget Vere, proposed by her prospective
father-in-law, the earl of Pembroke, as a bride for his son, married Lord Norris
after her father's death. There is no record, anywhere, that any of these
powerful aristocrats, exclusively connected with the works of Shakespeare,
even knew Will Shakspere.
Following the death of his father, the 18th earl of Oxford, Henry de Vere,
participated in the formation of a Protestant resistance to a proposed English
alliance with Catholic Spain. Who were Henry de Vere's leading compatriots in
this resistance? The earls of Southampton, Montgomery and Pembroke—the three
dedicatees of the poems and plays of Shakespeare.
Researchers have discovered that words frequently credited by the Oxford English
Dictionary and other sources as having had their first usage in Shakespeare
actually have shown up earlier in Edward de Vere's personal letters. For
"I am that I am" is peculiar to Shakespeare as an appropriation from Scripture
(Exodus 3: 14)—but it shows up, in the same form, in a letter from Edward de
Vere to Lord Burghley.
In 1589, in order to raise much-needed funds, Edward de Vere hurriedly sold his
London residence, Fisher's Folly, to William Cornwallis who, with his young
daughter, Anne, took up residence in the earl's former home. In 1852,
Shakespeare biographer J. O. Halliwell-Phillips discovered Anne Cornwallis's
copybook from her days at Fisher's Folly in which she had transcribed verses
from Edward de Vere, presumably from manuscripts left behind when the residence
changed hands. Interestingly, however, Halliwell-Phillips observed that Anne's
copybook included not only then-unpublished poetry by Edward de Vere but two
unpublished sonnets that later would be attributed to Shakespeare. Anne's
copybook, moreover, included another poem scholars later would attribute to
Shakespeare that was printed by William Jaggard in 1599 in his miscellanies of
Elizabethan poetry, The Passionate Pilgrim. Halliwell-Phillips estimated that
Anne Cornwallis made her transcriptions of these then-unpublished verses in
1590, the year after she and her father took up residence at Fisher's Folly. How Anne Cornwallis, in 1590, would have acquired unpublished poems by
Shakespeare in the former home of Edward de Vere no one in orthodox circles ever
has been able to persuasively explain.
On 22 July 1598, the Stationers' Register records: "Entred for his copie under
the handes of bothe the wardens, a booke of the Merchaunt of Venyce or otherwise
called the Iewe of Venice. / Provided that yt bee not printed by the said Iames
Robertes [the printer who presented the work for registration]; or anye other
whatsoever without lycence first had from the Right honorable the lord
Chamberlen." As (1) no such license was ever extended by the Stationers' Office
to anyone other than an author of a registered work, and as (2) no Lord
Chamberlain of the Royal Household ever licensed (or possessed the authority to
license) the publication of another's work, and as (3) numerous examples exist
of Oxford and others referencing Oxford as Lord Chamberlain (rather than Lord
Great Chamberlain— the title that formally distinguished him from the Lord
Chamberlain of the Royal Household), one can reach no other conclusion than that
the Stationers' Register entry of 22 July 1598 indicates Oxford to be the author
of The Merchant of Venice and, accordingly, the only person with the legal
authority to oversee and authorise its publication. The attendant
conclusion, based on all the evidence, is unmistakable: if Oxford is the author
of The Merchant of Venice, Oxford is Shakespeare.
Henry Peacham, in The Compleat Gentleman , praised Oxford above all other
writers among the Golden Age writers during the reign of Queen Elizabeth — and
his list makes no mention of any William Shakespeare.
Oxford received the kinds of literary accolades worthy of (and that one would
expect would go to) Shakespeare. William of Stratford, however, never had
anything dedicated to him, from anyone, in the whole of his life. Yet, despite
the accolades accorded Oxford by his contemporaries, no traditional scholar has
yet identified what plays of the era that were so highly praised of Oxford might
be Oxford's; if his works are not those of the great Elizabethan spear-shaker,
where are they? Is it credible to assert that every single one of his plays was
Gabriel Harvey saluted (in English translation from the Latin) the 17th Earl of
Oxford in Gratulationes Valdinenses, libri quatuor (1578): "English poetical
measures have been sung thee long enough. Let that Courtly Epistle—more polished
even 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 . . . . Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear . . . ."
William Webbe in A Discourse on English Poetry (1586) wrote: "I may not omit
the deserved commendations of many honourable and noble Lords and Gentlemen in
Her Majesty's Court, which, in the rare devices of poetry, have been and yet are
most skilful; among whom the right honourable Earl of Oxford may challenge to
himself the title of most excellent among the rest."
George Puttenham in The Arte of English Poesie (1589) wrote that
among the "crew of Courtly makers,
Noblemen and Gentlemen of Her Majesty's own servants" who wrote "excellently well"
if their "doings could be found out and made
public" the first was "the noble gentleman Edward Earl
John Marston in Scourge of Villanie (1598) hailed a great, unacknowledged
writer with a "silent name" bounded by "one letter" who one day would achieve
the recognition he was due when pretenders to his greatness would be exposed:
"Far fly thy fame, / Most, most of me beloved, whose silent name [Edward de
Vere?] / One letter [e?] bounds . . . . [T]hy unvalu'd worth / Shall mount fair
place when Apes are turned forth."
Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia (1598) declared of the era's playwrights: "The
best for comedy amongst us be Edward Earl of Oxford."
Edmund Spenser in his dedication to Oxford in Fairie Queene (1590) wrote of
Edward de Vere's favour with the nation's literary elite: "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...."
John Soowthern in Pandora (1584) wrote: "De Vere, that hath given him in part:
/ The love, the war, honour and art, / And with them an eternal fame. / Among
our well-renowned men, / De Vere merits a silver pen / Eternally to write his
honour. / A man so honoured as thee, / And both of the Muses and me."
In The Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois, George Chapman recalled: "I over-tooke, coming
from Italie / a great and famous Earle / Of England . . . / He was beside of
spirit passing great, / Valiant, and learn'd, and liberall as the Sunne, / Spoke
and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects, / Or of the discipline of publike
weals; / And 'twas the Earle of Oxford . . . ."
When Shakespeare's Sonnets were published in 1609, the work's dedication
(composed, unlike Shakespear's earlier dedications, not by the poet but by the
editor, Thomas Thorpe) memorialized the writer as "our ever-living
poet"—an acclamation not used for a living person and a clear indication,
thereby, that Shakespeare was dead. In 1609, Edward de Vere was dead;
William Shakspere lived until 1616.
The Sonnets were not the only works of Shakespeare to appear with an enigmatic
prefatory note in 1609. When Troilus and Cressida was published in 1609 (the
first publication of a new Shakespeare play since 1604, the year Edward de Vere
died), a cryptic preface on the title page of the play (suppressed when
Shakespeare's plays were published in folio in 1623), enigmatically declared
that the play was from "A never writer to an ever reader" (an E. Vere writer to
an E. Vere reader?). The preface declared, as well, that the manuscript had not
come to the printer from the playwright; rather, the unnamed writer of the
preface invites the reader of the play to "thanke fortune for the scape it hath
made" from a group which the writer of the preface refers to as "the grand
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, has expressed astonishment at
Shakespeare's intimate understanding of royalty: "When I re-read
[Henry V] nearly twenty years after performing it at school, I found myself
wondering in amazement at Shakespeare's insight into the mind of someone born
into this kind of position."