The HyperTexts

Was Edward de Vere the real Shakespeare?

Was William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon the "real" Shakespeare, or was he possibly fronting for some other writer, or writers? Ironically, there seems to be no evidence that the man widely considered to be the greatest poet and playwright of all time ever owned a book, ever wrote a letter about "things literary," or ever did more, in terms of penmanship, than sign his name using a mark or ragged scrawl.

compiled by Michael R. Burch with information gleaned from various public websites

Why have Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, Sir John Gielgud and other astute critics suggested that the identity of the "real" Shakespeare remains a mystery? Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens once participated in a mock "trial" on the subject and later said that he would rule in favor of Edward de Vere as the "real" Shakespeare!

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 and King Lear were his subversive (please 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!

I will quickly give my top ten reasons to believe that the "real" Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. I will then delve more deeply into the mystery of Shakespeare's identity ...

• The poetic form we now call the Shakespearean sonnet was actually invented by Oxford's famous uncle, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey.
Shakespeare's plays were written predominately in blank verse, which was first used by Surrey in his translation of Virgil's Aeneid.
• Oxford owned an acting company (sometimes two) and put on plays and masques for the royal court, where he was a star and great favorite of Elizabeth's (except for a few "lapses").
• There are strong parallels between Shakespeare's plays and events in Oxford's life, as explained in detail later on this page. 
• In 1571, Oxford composed the first Shakespearean sonnet of the Elizabethan reign, in the queen's honor. Will Shakspere was seven.
• If one studies the first seventeen sonnets, it seems possible that Shakespeare was trying to persuade Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, to marry and have children with ... Oxford's daughter, Elizabeth Vere!
• 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, because 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. So Oxford's spear shook people, literally. At the time Will Shakspere was fourteen. Is it possible that the real Shakespeare, who loved puns, later met the young actor and chose him as a front man because his last name synchronized with his sobriquet? But in any case, Oxford was known as the man who "shakes speares" long before Will of Avon was known to anyone outside his rural village.
• There is no evidence that Shakespeare owned any books, had any literary correspondence, or wrote any other letters of note. All this is not true for any other major literary figure of his era. Literary people own books and write letters, but where are Shakespeare's? Daniel Wright, an English professor who directs the Shakespeare Authorship Research Center at Concordia University, explains that all known documents related to Shakespeare "speak to the activity of a man who is principally a businessman; a man who is delinquent in paying his taxes; who was cited for hoarding grain during a famine. We don't have anyone attesting to him as a playwright, as a poet. And he's the only presumed writer of his time for whom there is no contemporary evidence of a writing career. And many of us find that rather astonishing."
• Oxford's brother-in-law was an emissary to Denmark and he wrote private letters to de Vere about his experiences there, mentioning courtiers named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and drinking rituals that involved downing a shot then firing cannons. How would Will Shakspere of Stratford have known such obscure things (and these are just two of many examples)?
• Shakespeare's epitaph, carved on his gravestone, has been described as "rough doggerel." Can anyone possibly mistake this primitive hex for Shakespearean eloquence:


Is this how the real Shakespeare wanted to be remembered by the world? It seems unlikely to me. And why, for Christ's sake, isn't Shakespeare buried where he so obviously belongs—at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey? But perhaps he actually is! Edward de Vere died in 1604 and was buried in Hackney, east London, but his first cousin noted—in a manuscript now in the British Library—that he was later reburied in Westminster. According to scholar Alexander Waugh, when the famous monument to Shakespeare was erected by Alexander Pope and Lord Burlington (the latter a direct descendant of Oxford's sister Mary Vere), "It strongly implies that the people who put that statue there in 1740 knew damned well that he was buried right underneath it." Noting that the Church of St. Peter is Westminster Abbey's correct title and that Poets' Corner was known as the South Cross aisle until the 19th century, Waugh said that when the dedication to Shakespeare's sonnets is "rearranged like a crossword into a grid" it "reveals the message 'To the Westminster at South Cross Ile, St Peters, Edward de Vere Lies Here.'" Has the mystery already been solved?

Delving into the Details: Parallels and Synchronicities

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 the "busybody meddlesome spymaster" William Cecil; Ophelia (meaning "love" as in the Greek phileo and/or "help/succor/a source of gain" and perhaps even 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:

• Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey and Oxford's uncle, 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 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 improvable: 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 Denny. (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 without a doubt that there had been "hanky panky.") According to Oxford biographer Paul Streitz, although his source is unclear, 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. Meanwhile, little Will Shakspere of Stratford 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 the queen's 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. Will 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. Was King Lear thus autobiographical?
• 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 Will Shakspere ever left England.
• 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.
• Mark Anderson, author of Shakespeare By Another Name, points out: "Take a map of Italy and take out ten pushpins. And you put these pushpins in the following ten cities: Venice, Padua, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Florence, Sienna, Naples, Verona and Messina. That's essentially Shakespeare's Italy right there." Thus Shakespeare's Italy is Edward de Vere's Italy. From the Verona of Romeo and Juliet to The Merchant of Venice, half of Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies are set in Italy. It's a place where Will Shakspere apparently never went but where de Vere traveled extensively. According to Anderson: "Venice in particular is portrayed in The Merchant of Venice and Othello with such exquisite detail that it could only come from someone who knows that city from firsthand experience ... there's a character in The Merchant of Venice who presents this dish of baked doves ... it's just bizarre. Well, it turns out that in Venice at that time a dish of baked doves was actually an honorific gift that you gave to someone as a token of your respect."
• In 1576, Oxford stopped signing his poems. Was attaching his name becoming too dangerous, perhaps? Charles Beauclerk, a descendent and student of de Vere, has said that it would have been dangerous for Oxford to put his name on the plays because they contained exposes of some of the court's "most powerful, ruthless, and deadly people." While sailing back to England, Oxford 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, because 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. So his spear shook people, literally. At the time Will Shakspere was fourteen. Is it possible that the "real" Shakespeare, who loved puns, met the young actor and chose him as a front man because his last name synchronized with his sobriquet?
• 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, Will 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. Will 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 them 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 Will 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 found out.” Why couldn't their doings be found out? Did they publish anonymously and/or employ fronts?
• 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: Henry IV.
• So who was the original sphere-and-spear-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, along with Chaucer and other literary greats. 
• 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 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 vest?
• While the argument has been made that some plays attributed to Shakespeare appeared after de Vere's death, that doesn't prove anything, since de Vere could have written them previously. And we know Shakespeare collaborated with other playwrights from time to time, so the plays in question could have been finished by other writers if they were unfinished when de Vere died.

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."

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 actor."

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 pseudonym."

Comparisons of Edward de Vere to William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon:

• 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, the 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 Inn.

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" was actually 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 England.

• 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 "less Greek."
• 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 ward of 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, and having 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 as "extraordinary."
• 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 other books.

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 co-produced plays.

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 orthodox scholars, 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 theatrical experience, 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"). Like Polonius, Cecil was a "busybody meddlesome spymaster." 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 says 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 to Rochester.

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 instance, "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 [1622], 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 lost?

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 of Oxford."

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 possessors."

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."

Alternate Theories

There is a "Prince Tudor Theory" also known as the "Tudor Rose Theory" that Elizabeth I and Edward de Vere were lovers, and that Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, was their son. According to this theory, Queen Elizabeth I was the Dark Lady of the sonnets, and the Fair Youth was her son by Oxford.

A later version of this theory, known as the "Prince Tudor II Theory," says that Edward de Vere was himself a son of the queen, and thus the father of his own half-brother!

Bernard M. Ward came up with a related theory in which Elizabeth and Oxford had a son named William Hughes who became the actor William Shakespeare, adopting that last name because his father had been using it as a pen name for the plays he authored.

Paul Streitz has a theory that Oxford did not die in 1604, but was banished to the island of Mersea where he wrote The Tempest and finished the sonnets. Streitz also believes Oxford had a hand in the writing of the King James Bible and that he died in 1608.

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