I pay attention to the blogs that mention the authorship question. Those that rail against or make fun of it have two points they make consistently (and only two, repeating, like parrots, what they’ve heard from others), that Oxford died before “some of Shakespeare’s plays were written,” and that we’re snobs to think that only a nobleman could have the education. Well, the first isn’t true, if they’d bother to do some easy research (like read this blog), and the second is true, as they would know if any of them knew anything at all about 16th-century England or the facts, the genuine facts, about William of Stratford.
Shakespeare is so much a part of our lives, only those who spend a lot of time reading or hearing his words realize how often the words and phrases in newspaper headlines, television interviews, and ordinary conversation are his. Reach for a phrase to express the highest thought, and it will usually be his. He was the great flower of the English Renaissance, and our language and thinking is still permeated with the perfume of his poetic thought. Steeped in the aphorisms of the Greeks and Romans, he turned them into English, beautiful English, the kind only a poet can craft, and made them accessible to those who speak English for as long as English is spoken.
This kind of immersion in the literature of ancient wisdom and the beauties of poetry and rhetoric can’t be picked up in books along the way, even today. It arises out of high level dinner table conversation with adults steeped in the subject, out of continual application to books that are ready to hand, by stimulating conversation with others who know and love poetry, by hearing beautiful prose and poetry read aloud, and it has to begin early. In Shakespeare’s case it began with the removal of little Edward de Vere to the home of the great Greek scholar and statesman, Sir Thomas Smith, in 1554, with whom he would study Greek and Latin literature and history and English history for 8 years.
Smith didn’t care for music, so it wasn’t until de Vere came to live with William Cecil in London and was involved in Court activities that he heard live music by professional musicians on a regular basis and acquired training in and keyboard and stringed instruments himself. Since later he was acclaimed as having enough musical skill to be considered a professional, it may be that Shakepeare’s poetry was the product of one who was at heart a musician, who, as a child was not yet able to make music with instruments, so made it instead replacing the sounds of music with the sound of words, through rhymes, alliteration, and meter.
In his dedication to Shakespeare’s Collected Works, Ben Jonson compared Shakespeare to a smith who must sweat to work the metal at white heat, hammering it into shape. Those who take the craft of writing seriously know that it takes hours of thought to create prose that’s pleasing to both mind and ear, and although great poetry is sometimes born all of a piece (as was Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening or Coleridge’s Kubla Khan), it can only come from a mind continually steeped in poetic thought.
If there’s one thing that unites the Stratfordians who call us snobs (besides their ignorance), it’s their prejudice against aristocrats. If it turned out that Shakespeare was a black African, would they call us anti-white? Do they have some image of Bertie Wooster in mind, helpless without Jeeves? What about the great aristocrats? Henry V? Or Oxford’s own ancestor, the 13th Earl, patron of the arts, the indefatigable warrior who survived an ignominious defeat, the execution of his heir, and imprisonment for ten years to defeat Richard III in battle, handing over the English throne to the Tudors? What about Lord Byron, the immensely popular poet who sacrificed his life for the cause of Greek freedom? What about Alexander the Great, son of King Philip of Macedon, who brought Greek civilization to half the world? What about the painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec? What about Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha?
Oxford was only half aristocrat, anyway. Although it’s true that his father was the direct descendant of a Norman aristocrat dubbed Earl by William the Conqueror, his mother was simple entry, while Smith, his surrogate father, was the son of a local farmer. As an artist, Oxford was, in many ways, an outcast from his own tribe who preferred the company of other artists to members of his own class. There are more reasons than one why his identity as Shakespeare was hidden, but surely the major reason was the way he portayed his aristocratic friends and relatives as characters in his plays, some with cruel satire. He could satirize them because he knew them! And because they knew it, they would not, could not, allow his identity to be revealed. Did this “torture” him, as some Oxfordians have held? It may have caused him moments of frustration, but given the choice between continuing to write, or not, he chose to continue writing.
There was another potentially great poet, one from Oxford’s own class (though on a lower level) who, seeing what it meant to get a reputation as a poet, did choose to stop writing, or at least, to stop using his own name: Thomas Sackville, Ld Buckhurst. His was the first voice that had anything like the sound that would later transform the language. He wrote several of the scenes in the first modern play, Gorboduc, produced at Court in 1561, a year before de Vere came to London. Had Sackville continued, it might have been he who won the glories reserved for Shakespeare (the Poet), but Sackville retired from the poetry arena early, explaining in a poem, Sackville’s Old Age, that such toys were not for him. Did this have anything to do with Elizabeth’s willingness to promote him, lavishing him with promotions and perquisites that ended by raising him, as the Earl of Dorset, to Oxford’s level, allowing (some might say forcing) Oxford to slide into bankruptcy, giving him almost nothing he ever asked for?
Did the Lord Chamberlain’s Men choose to hide their playwright’s identity behind someone else’s name have anything to do with the fact that only months earlier the only other playwright close to his level, Christopher Marlowe, had been assassinated by government agents?
What do you think?