Why Oxford hid his identity

Perhaps the hardest question that Oxfordians have to answer is why the author hid his identity.  No answer will satisfy a modern reader, who understands, quite rightly, that for today’s author, getting one’s name known is essential to success.  Was his anonymity forced on him by his rank?  By his family?  By the need to escape his enemies?  By the Lord Chamberlain Men as a business decision?  I believe all of these are true, but beyond all of these I also believe that right from the start, de Vere was an extremely private person.  Had he not had a reclusive streak from the start, he would not have been so easily erased from history.

This doesn’t mean that he was a recluse!  He had both a public face and a gregarious nature that enjoyed time with friends and admirers, but there was a shadow side to his nature, a hidden side, and he worked all his life to keep this side free from interference of any kind, as a child from Smith, as a teenager from Cecil, as a youth from the Queen, as a husband from his wives, as a man from various enemies and lovers, as a writer from tiresome grammarians, and as a genius, from everyone but persons with whom he was (briefly) in love or who provoked his interest in some way.

Raised in solitude, he was used to the kind of privacy that few Elizabethans enjoyed, so that when he entered the mainstream of public life at age twelve, and lost it, he became desperate to get it back.  To go from the solitude of Hill Hall to the hullaballoo at Cecil House, where he was viewed by all as the Lord Great Chamberlain of England and where his every move was monitored by Cecil’s household spies, must have been a profound shock, particularly to a budding writer whose greatest need was time alone.  Why was Cecil so quick to cover up the stabbing of the undercook in 1567?  Could it be because Oxford had freaked out at being spied upon, and like a lot of teenage boys, unused to the dangers of a deadly weapon,  he lashed out at one of these household spies in sudden fury?

Throughout his life we can see that he did everything he could to keep and protect his privacy.  Like the deer, the hare, and the snail, for whom Shakespeare had unusual sympathy, hiding was his most basic, gut-level response to life.  We see it reflected in many of his protagonists, who either hide, like Romeo, Timon, Duke Vincenzio, old Belarius, Orlando and the others who hide in the forest in As You Like It, or who, like Prospero, have been hidden through exile.  It may be that our lack of documentation of Oxford’s childhood is due to his having been virtually hidden by the Protestant community when placed with Smith during the period when Queen Mary’s ministers were about to begin their reign of terror.  Surely, like little Arthur in King John, he would have been aware fairly early that there was some kind of threat hanging over him.

What is the secret of successful hiding?  Never let anyone know where you are or what you’re doing.  In Oxford’s case, since he already had a persona handed to him at birth, it meant never letting the public know that he was responsible for what they were watching or reading.  It also meant never letting the Court community know exactly what he was up to.  Many knew something about him and what he did, but few had his entire confidence, perhaps only one.  That would have been Edward Manners, Earl of Rutland: Damon to his Pythias, Arcite to his Palamon, Valentine to his Proteus, Horatio to his Hamlet.  Among the few who knew him best would have been his “cousin Bacon”: Francis the Drawer to his Hal, Puck to his Oberon, Ariel to his Prospero.  Bitterest of his enemies would have been the friend who proved false, his cousin Henry Howard, Iago to his Othello, Iachimo to his Proteus, Edricus to his Ironside, Ateukin to his James IV.

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2 responses to “Why Oxford hid his identity

  1. As regards Henry Howard, how about Pandarus to his Troilus as Charles Wisner Barrell argued? It is more than personal or autobiographical, however, in certain dramas when historical personalities are mockingly caricatured like Phillip Sidney as Aguecheek, the Duke of Alencon as Bottom, and Christopher Hatton as Ajax.

  2. Yes, Oxford seems to be saying that it was Henry Howard who introduced him to Ann Vavasor. I generally leave Troilus and Cressida out of the reckoning because I ‘m still not certain of the identities.

    I’m also not convinced that Bottom is Alencon, who was, after all, royalty, hardly comparable to the Queen of the Fairies besotted with a clownish weaver.

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