Much of the overwhelming evidence for Oxford as Shakespeare can be found in the eight years he spent with his tutor, Sir Thomas Smith, from age 4 to 12. Not only did Smith own most of the important works that scholars tell us were Shakespeare’s sources, but his personal interests, the passions that drove him, appear in Shakespeare in depth, astonishing knowledge for a poet and playwright, whatever his class, knowledge he throws about with abandon in allusions, similes and metaphors. This is an approach to a subject that can only be taken by one who’s been steeped in a subject from earliest days so that it permeates all his thinking.
Smith’s interests form the major part of Shakespeare’s arsenal of metaphors, but there are five areas in particular that are worth noting, because they’ve often been singled out for comment by scholars.
Entire books have been written in efforts to prove that in two of these subjects: the Law and Medicine, Shakespeare was so deeply versed that he must have been a professional! The same thing would be true of astrology cum astronomy (the two were the same back then), it being as much of a profession then as the first two, for he reveals his knowledge of this arcane science through metaphors and the use of esoteric terminology just as he does with law and medicine. Smith had been named by Henry VIII the first Regius Professor of Civil Law at Cambridge when he was still in his twenties, and was a dedicated practitioner of Paracelsian medicine his entire life. He was sufficiently schooled in astrology to draw up horoscopes, something that required a fair amount of mathematics then, plus all the necessary ephemerides, which he also had.
As for gardening and horticulture, these Oxford would certainly have learned from eight years of living with Smith, whose enthusiasm for gardening is revealed in his letters and also in the fact that wherever he lived (at Ankerwycke and Hill Hall), or taught (at Eton and Queens’ College), he planted gardens. As Caroline Spurgeon shows in her book Shakespeare’s Imagery, the author had the kind of knowledge of gardening that could only have been acquired through living with it for years. (I’ll make a page on the gardening connections soon.) And the same is true of hawking, in fact, in one of his treatises Smith himself uses Shakespeare’s favorite hawking metaphor, comparing a haggard, or badly trained hawk, to a wayward woman.
If still thirsty for more information on the Smith-Oxford-Shakespeare connection, check out the page on how Shakespeare immortalized Smith in his plays.
And so we hammer on. How many nails is it going to take?