Why did Oxford have to hide his identity behind real people?––Chris Kaiser

Kaiser:  Do you think de Vere had any concern about linking his false identity with a real Robert Greene?  And do you think de Vere had any concern with linking his pseudo identity of Shakespeare with Shakspere?  From what I’ve read, I don’t get the sense that he cared about linking himself with a real Robert Greene for cover. Perhaps things changed as he adopted the pseudonym of Shakespeare and he needed to better protect his identity.  But it still seems ludicrous to me that he needed to hide behind William of Stratford. The secrecy on everyone’s part regarding the Earl’s literary output is stunningly amazing. And the government was swift to chop off hands and heads at the slightest whiff of discomfort.  I would think the threat of death or dismemberment was enough to protect de Vere from outing. Given all this, I’m not convinced that he had to pay William of Stratford as a cover, nor that he had to pay any Robert Green.  It just doesn’t seem logical.

Hughes:  I agree that, seen from our perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that these writers (not only Oxford, but several others as well) hid behind real persons rather than pseudonyms.  Part of the reason I believe is that’s how it began and so that’s how it continued.  Oxford began by using the names of other members of the Cecil House coterie (George Gascoigne, Arthur Brooke, and Arthur Golding) to hide his authorship from Cecil, something he could not have done had he used a made up name.  Once on his own, he used his secretaries’ names (Anthony Munday, John Lyly), but with both of these so much a part of the London scene, there was the danger that one would spill the truth, which may in fact have happened.  That probably was what drove him further afield, in search of a standin who was more difficult to locate.  I believe you’re right in thinking that as time went by and his writing (as Greene) became more widely known beyond Court circles, there was ever more concern, not only on his part, but on that of his patrons and family, that his identity be made more secure.

The six writers who did most of the writing that started the English Literary Renaissance had to hide their identities as authors for a number of reasons (see Hide Fox, Stage vs Devil, Power of Poetry, Why the conspiracy?, Why dishonorable?).  All but Marlowe were courtiers, so they were not in the kind of jeopardy that cost Marlowe his life, although it certainly cost them in other ways.  I believe that after Oxford used William as a cover for Venus and Adonis, it was the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, not Oxford himself, who arranged for William’s permanent position as cover and who saw to it that he got paid a regular stipend until his death, and his widow after him.  You’ll have to admit that the trick worked, and that it has continued to work for over 400 years.


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