Was William Shakespeare, the actor, the Earl of Oxford? – Howard Schumann

Schumann:  Is it possible in your opinion that William Shakespeare, the actor for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and The King’s Men and joint owner of the Globe Theater, could have actually been Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford? – Howard Schumann

Hughes:  At the risk of overly precise wording, the answer is no, simply because there was no such person as “William Shakespeare, actor and theater-owner.”  He exists only on paper.

There was William Shakspere (or Sakspeer, or Shagespyeer), the prudent family man of a provincial market town two day’s ride by horse from London who benefitted by the need of a great poet-playwright to keep his identity a secret; and there was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, poet and playwright, who could not risk the world of trouble it would cause, both to himself and his family and to the Company he wrote for, were the word to get out that he was the one creating the characters on the London Stage who so resembled national leaders who were also members of his own family.  The only thing that these two ever shared was the use of William’s name.

The information that William was an actor and a share-holder comes solely from the inner circle of the acting company, the Lord Chamberlain/King’s Men, who benefitted most directly from the “Shakespeare” plays that were creating their considerable fortunes.  That this is so is proven by the fact that there are no theater shares in William’s detailed three-page will, and no mention of the fate of any shares in his name in the involved litigation over shares in the Globe and the King’s Men that has given us most of what we know about the business dealings of Shakespeare’s company.  They dubbed their paper playwright an actor and a share-holder to make his presence believable.  That William did receive compensation for the use of his name is seen by the fact that he was able to buy the biggest house in Stratford shortly after the LCMen began using it.

Although Oxford certainly was a poet and a playwright, there’s solid evidence for that, and though he may well have taken parts in the plays he wrote for the Court in his youth, it’s highly unlikely that he would ever have appeared onstage with the professional actors in any of the companies that he provided with plays over the years, and equally unlikely that he received any sort of payment for the plays he wrote.  Playwrights got around 6 to 10 pounds for a play.  For a peer of the realm, whose lifestyles were said to require at the very least around £1000 per year, £6 was chump change.

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