In writing about the education of the nobility in Oxford’s time, American historian H.J. Hexter quotes Sir Thomas Elyot on the reasons for educating the nobility, “which is to have authority in a public weal,” adding, “Sir Humphrey Gilbert has a scheme whereby gentlemen’s sons will be crammed like Strasbourg geese with knowledge and skills, the better to serve in Parliament, in council, in commission and other offices of the Commonwealth” (1979, 63-4). That this was Sir Thomas Smith’s aim in educating the future Earl of Oxford seems beyond dispute. It should be added that Gilbert was one of Smith’s closest friends.
When I first began my study of the authorship issues many years ago, one of the first questions that I sought to answer was, what was Oxford doing before he was placed with William Cecil? Back then, nothing that had yet been published dealt with Oxford’s early childhood. I began putting it together from bits and pieces gleaned from a variety of sources: things said in passing by Smith’s biographers, a note in one of Smith’s household inventories, and, as always, by comparing the recorded timing of events, chiefly those surrounding his Cambridge stay at eight and his departure for Cecil House at twelve. Since then much more has accrued that contributes to this scenario, with nothing so far to contradict it.
Now that his childhood with Smith has been revealed, our view of Oxford as creator of the Shakespeare canon has taken on new weight. Revealed are: 1) the fact that those areas in which Shakespeare shows an unusual level of expertise are all areas in which his tutor was deeply interested; 2) Smith’s library contains most of the books that Shakespeare relied on as source material, often in the inexact way that we do when recalling early memories; 3) in his treatises, Smith often used dialogues so he could explore arguments on both sides of an issue, a form often found in the inner debates of Shakespeare’s soliloquies as well as the general form of all drama; and 4) Smith’s “lukewarm” attitude towards religion are echoed by Shakespeare’s seeming lack of adherence to a particular branch of Christianity.
For some weeks now I’ve been preparing essays on his education based on the information I’ve been collecting over the past fifteen years or so (much of it due to Dan Wright and the 40 or so Oxfordians who contributed to the fruitful six weeks I was able to spend researching in England in 2004). These essays are up now as pages under OXFORD, and once I get some more up on Shakespeare’s sources, you should find it interesting to compare them in some detail. The conjecture that Oxford may have attended several semesters at Christ Church College Oxford is something that hasn’t been discussed before. There are several other new pages as well. Their titles should appear on your screens in color.