Recently I had the privilege of telling some bits of this story to a team creating a feature length documentary on the authorship question under the direction of two long time friends. I didn’t know what they would ask, so I wasn’t able to prepare. I wanted to do something, so I decided as a warmup to interview myself. As it turned out, the real interview was terrific fun. Hopefully my dear readers will get to see me in action. In the meantime I put myself on the spot.
ME: What first got you involved with the Authorship Question?
SHH: Ogburn’s book, the questions he left unanswered, my lifetime of reading the biographies of artists, my move to Boston and to working in the Public Relations Department of Boston University with access to their first class academic library.
ME: What do you consider your most significant areas of reseach?
SHH: Uncovering and publishing the facts behind his childhood, chiefly his education with Sir Thomas Smith and Smith’s own story, almost as interesting as Shakespeare’s. One of the major arguments for Oxford as Shakespeare is that his tutor’s major interests are those areas where Shakespeare’s knowledge is almost infallible.
ME: What areas are those?
SHH: Smith was steeped in English and Roman history. He had been the Greek orator at Cambridge in his early days, where, under Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, he soon became the first Chair of Civil law, which the Reformation wanted to see replace Church Canon Law. Smith was fascinated with astronomy/astrology and had a library of books on the subject. He was a passionate gardener, largely due to his interest in medicine, for which he had labs where he and an assistant distilled Paracelsian curatives. He enjoyed hunting and falconry and, of course, reading his favorite works of Greek and Roman literature, among them Homer, Plutarch and Ovid. Of all these things Shakespeare shows an intimate knowledge.
ME: What else have you discovered?
SHH: I believe it was Ogburn who mentioned the possibility that the answer to why we have no Shakespeare juvenilia is that Oxford published his early work under other names, so while I was working for BU I began examining the works of Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge, George Peele and the other University Wits in the standard accepted editions. At one point it became clear that some of the Wits, two being his secretaries, were Oxford fronts in the 1580s, most notably Robert Greene.
ME: What point was that?
SHH: When I realized that Greene supposedly died in September 1592 and Shakespeare’s name first appeared on a published work nine months later. It’s this kind of connection, made through dates and locations, that make it possible to recreate the Shakespeare story, the real story.
ME: Why? Orthodox Shakespeare scholars see no need to recreate the story.
SHH: That’s because they don’t understand what makes an artist tick. The Stratford version makes no sense in terms of the life of one of the greatest artists who ever lived. An artist on Shakespeare’s level would never begin by adopting the work of lesser writers or end by leaving the London Stage in the middle of a booming theatrical career to return to a hometown off in the sticks where he passes the time suing his neighbors over petty debts.
At a certain point you realize that there must have been a mighty effort on someone’s part to cover the author’s tracks. Sure, this author wanted privacy (most writers do), and his patrons wanted his identity kept a secret for their own reasons, but beyond these there seems to have been a movement to completely extinguish all evidence, not only of his career but also of the people he worked with. This is the main reason why we find it so hard to uncover the real story, not only about him but also about Marlowe, Peele and others, records that are strangely missing just where we would expect to find evidence. This is true in too many areas for it to be purely coincidental.
ME: What do you think happened?
SHH: William Cecil Lord Burghly was a record-keeper. Half or more of the records on which our knowledge of the Elizabethan era is based come from his years of collecting documents. When he died in 1598, his son Robert inherited the collection along with his passion for collecting, and also, no doubt, for the control that came with them over what would become the history of the Elizabethan era.
Burghley would have had a cache of papers on his ward and son-in-law that he knew he would probably destroy at some point, keeping them until he was sure which ones he might want to save. If, as I believe, Robert Cecil hated Oxford (with good reason, if he was aware that Shakespeare’s Richard III was believed by many to be a portrait of himself), he also had reason to destroy everything that connected him and his family to Oxford’s works, and probably, if he could, the works as well. The Cecils have retained control of these papers ever since, where they still reside at Hatfield House, Robert Cecil’s home base. As I write, no history of the time of any importance gets written without access to them.
In 1601, Cecil became the Chancellor of Cambridge University, giving him access to university records, including the buttery books where records of the presence or absence of Christopher Marlowe in the spring of 1586 are strangely missing. There are also records missing for George Peele at Oxford that could shed light on his career with the Wits. Nevertheless, I believe that despite this holocaust of the records, there is enough circumstantial evidence to claim that, largely due to his hatred of Oxford, Cecil also hated his team of writers and secretaries, known to us as the University Wits, and was determined to shut them up permanently. The only two he didn’t dare to touch, at least not in person, were his relatives, his first cousin, Francis Bacon and his brother-in-law, the Earl of Oxford.
ME: What is the connection between Oxford and Bacon?
SHH: As adults they were colleagues within the Elizabethan writing establishment, but they had known each other since childhood. Their maternal care-givers, Burghley’s wife and Bacon’s mother, were sisters, members of the female intellectual elite known as the Cooke sisters. Bacon was 11 years younger than Oxford. During Oxford’s years at Cecil House, a stone’s throw from York House where Bacon was born and spent his childhood years, he would have seen little Francis grow from toddler to child prodigy. When at 18 Bacon returned from Paris in 1578, he found Oxford already working to create a vernacular literary English. Both dedicated to the goal of English literary excellence, they worked more or less together for the rest of their lives to create the English literary establishment, writing and publishing both their own works and those of others, often at some risk. Bacon wasn’t Shakespeare, but he was the pen behind two of the most important names in Elizabethan literature.
ME: What names are those?
SHH: Edmund Spenser and Thomas Nashe.
ME: That’s pretty radical. Why them?
SHH: Neither one has a decent writer’s biography. So somebody had to write the works published under their names and clearly it wasn’t the same mind or pen that wrote the Shakespeare canon. The styles may differ, but when you examine certain factors, their timing, their attitudes and the purpose for which they were written, they fit Bacon to a T. And they also fill in what he was doing during the years while he was waiting to get a genuine job at Court.
ME: How did Oxford come to use the name Shakespeare?
SHH: When Henry VIII left the neighborhood of Blackfriars in the 1520s, he turned the old monastery over to his revels master. From then on the western range was used for rehearsals and storage of revels equipment and costumes. This would have been where Oxford rehearsed with the Children of the Chapell when he got involved in holiday entertainments at Court in his late teens and early twenties. When he returned from Italy in 1576, he helped start the children’s theater there, near the dance and fencing academies and a few hundred feet from Richard Field’s print shop, where he had some of the works he sponsored published.
In 1593, when he turned to Field to publish Venus and Adonis and was lacking an author name for the title page, Field suggested a man he knew in his hometown up north whose family was scuffling. Oxford could probably have found another front, but William’s name could be spelled so that it made a pun, “will shake spear.” That’s what his plays were about, shaking a spear (meaning his pen) at the evil-doers and fools in his community in the ancient tradition of the Court jester. This way he had a solid cover, but buried within it was a pun, a clue that the name was a front. The name Robert Greene held similar clues. Robert was the traditional name for a robber, as in Robin Hood (Robert of Lockesley), while Greene suggested the greenwood, ancient location of holiday pranks and merry-making. Also, serendipitously, Greene in French is Vere.
ME: How many people knew the truth about the authorship?
SHH: The only people who would have known for certain were members of the Court community, and not all of them would have been in on everything he did. The Queen and the Privy Council knew about most of his plays (though almost certainly not all). He’d been writing for the Crown since the 1570s, in the ’80s for the Queen’s Men, then in the ’90s for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. So his identity as author of plays for the Crown companies was something of a state secret.
For the actor-sharers of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men it was a business secret. As the primary reason for their financial success, their playwright’s identity was something they would sooner die than reveal. It was also a family secret. Several of the most popular Shakespearean characters were based on members of Oxford’s family and other important figures at Court. Of course there may have been a greater number who found out, but were wise enough to keep it to themselves. And even more who suspected, but again, thought better of any urge to share their suspicions, except among close and close-mouthed friends.
ME: Is this the reason why the coverup continued after his death?
SHH: Absolutely. If Shakespeare’s Richard III was Robert Cecil, to Oxford’s daughters, it was a portrait of their uncle, their mother’s brother. Polonius, that doddering old sycophant, was their grandfather. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, was the still highly revered Queen Elizabeth while her longtime favorite, the Earl of Leicester, patriarch of the Sidney family and uncle of William Pembroke, Oxford’s patron during his final years and publisher of the First Folio, was the original for the murderous King Claudius.
We can only make these connections through scholarship today, but in those days, knowing that it was the Earl of Oxford who created these characters would have suggested the originals to too many for their identity to remain private for very long. There was a lot of dirty family linen mixed in with the wonders of the Shakespeare canon that had to be either washed or eliminated before his plays could be put forth to a public audience.
ME: Is this why it took so long to get the First Folio out?
SHH: Anyone who’s ever had to dicker with the inheritors of a great writer’s estate in order to publish their collected works will understand how very hard it must have been.
ME: Many believe that Ben Jonson edited the First Folio. Do you agree with that?
Pembroke would have given Jonson the task of preparing the front material that was intended to solidify the authorship with the front man, but his most logical choice for editor was his mother, Mary Sidney. I believe that after her death, the editing was finished by Bacon, who had just lost his Court position and so had the time. The Countess and the former Lord Chancellor were the only individuals that Pembroke could trust because only those who had known the originals were aware of the delicate issue of covering the identities of their caricatures. Jonson was simply too young. The front material was the means for creating the cover story, and in later editions, for making it stick. It was also the means for telling his readers that Oxford had finally been buried in the Abbey, and that this was when it got the name Poet’s Corner.
ME: I understand that you don’t believe he died in 1604, why is that?
It’s a long story, but basically because there’s nothing in any of the letters being sent within his family circle at that time that addresses his recent death. Yes, there are legal documents, but most unusually, nothing personal. Also suspicious is the fact that his death supposedly occurred on one of the major turning points of the year, Midsummer’s Day, also celebrated since time immemorial as the Feast of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the Freemasons, who were famous for their ability to disappear when confronted with enemies. Oxford had been angling for years for the stewardship of the Forest of Waltham, something the Queen denied him but that King James, probably with the encouragement of the Pembrokes, signed over to him in 1603, where he could live at peace and in safety from his enemies, polishing his favorite plays.
ME: What do you consider the most important points you’d like to make regarding the authorship?
SHH: That the question has got to go beyond Shakespeare. There are at least two other Court writers who used fronts to get published, Francis Bacon and Mary Sidney, and there may have been others. Some of Spenser sounds a lot like Raleigh.
The major point is that there was not one gifted writer at the Court of Elizabeth, but at least five: Oxford, Bacon, Philip Sidney, his sister Mary, and Sir Walter Raleigh. These plus the commoner, Marlowe, were the force that singly and together, created the English Literary Renaissance. Why did they hide? For starters, we should note that the one writer who didn’t hide, Marlowe, got murdered. I would say that’s a pretty good reason.
34 thoughts on “I interview myself”
I merely want to suggest Susan de Vere (a “lording’s daughter” and “fairest” of three) as an alternative to Mary Sidney as the “editor”, or as co-editor.
As Oxford’s daughter, Susan Vere must have been involved in some way with the creation of the First Folio, but it’s unlikely she would take precedence in the editing over someone like Mary Sidney Pembroke, who was not only a great poet and playwright herself, but had the experience of editing the collected edition of her brother Philip’s work published in 1598. No doubt Susan wrote the occasional poem, everyone did at that time, but she simply wasn’t qualified to edit the great Shakespeare, even if he was her father.
My problem as a Baconian is that you have expropriated Baconian research and applied it to De Vere. This is not entirely unreasonable because they were related and moved in similar circles as you indicate
But Bacon’s case doesn’t need a tutor who knew what Shakespeare knew! From contemporary sources and his writings we know he was a genius who had read every book available and was probably the greatest polymath the world has known.
We know he wanted to give England a “new learning” from an early age and that his father was so disposed. His Great Instauration is ample evidence of the massive philanthropic task he had set himself and of which the Shakespeare plays were but a part.
The Manes Verulamani, elegies written after his death, refer to him variously as Apollo, Pallas Athena and the 10th muse, and authenticate other evidence that he was a concealed poet of the highest regard
Your man De Vere is great only if he is proven to be the writer of the Shakespeare plays. There is no contemporaneous evidence of his high mindedness or his genius as far as I am aware.
You need to do more reading.
I realize that this is your “scenario”, something that you might – or did – say to an interviewer. But even still, I expect your views must have a solid documentary basis, or you wouldn’t be offering them to a documentary film-maker. I’m wondering if you could fill in the blanks on the basis for some of your claims, such as where you say:
“…the Earl of Leicester, patriarch of the Sidney family and uncle of William Pembroke, Oxford’s patron during his final years and publisher of the First Folio, was the original for the murderous King Claudius.”
How was Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, the patriarch of the Sidney family? Wouldn’t that have been Sidney’s father, Sir Henry Sidney, who married Mary Dudley, (Robert’s sister) in 1551 and was alive right up to 1586, two years before Leicester’s death? I’m not aware that Robert Dudley had any Sidney blood in him, though I grant you, he did take his role as uncle to the Sidney children quite seriously, especially his nephew Philip, who had great expectations as his next male heir. As Mary Sidney’s uncle, Leicester of course would have been William Herbert’s great-uncle. I’m thinking that to call him “patriarch” might be misleading.
On the other hand, I’m very curious as to your evidence that William Herbert was Oxford’s patron. That’s something I’ve never heard before.
Also, you state as if it were an accepted fact that William Herbert was the publisher of the First Folio. Wouldn’t that be grand, if we could prove it?! This topic has just come under fire on elizaforum, however, as an unsupported supposition. What’s your evidence?
Thanks for sharing your self-interview. Do you know when the film will be a reality, as in “now playing at a theater near you”? We’ll all have to gather in Boston to celebrate!
Marie ….. this is Stephanie’s blog, which means she’s not answerable to you or anyone else. If she feels like creating a posting that consists almost entirely of unsupported conjecture, you just have to sigh profoundly and move on. Of course Leicester wasn’t the “patriarch”, but Stephanie was being a bit free with her terminology.
One of several anomalies that stands out in her scenario is that Mary Sidney Herbert should have been so concerned (allegedly) about her uncle being portrayed in Claudius when he was widely excoriated by his contemporaries in any case. Yet she evidently (in Stephanie’s version) permitted her beloved brother and national hero Philip to be roundly abused by Shakespeare in such characters as Boyet, Slender and Aguecheek (among others) — and allowed that material to be published.
Mike, if you don’t like my scenario, let’s see yours. I don’t agree that Boyet represented Philip. As for Aguecheek and Slender, the challenge for the editors of the First Folio was to save it as literature while eliminating the more obvious connections between the author and the Court community. Would Mary have been true to her role as editor had she done anything radical to alter Shakespeare’s satires on her brother? Consider the result: 400 years of complete ignorance of these connections. I’d say it worked.
Marie, I thought I made it clear that this is me interviewing myself in preparation for the real interview, which took a very different tack. As soon as I hear when there’s a preview date I’ll let everyone know. Of course, I may not make it past the editing process, but even so this documentary on the authorship question will be of great interest to all authorship questioners.
As long as Leicester was alive, the Sidney family had a protector at Court. Mary and Philip’s mother, Henry Sidney’s wife, was Leicester’s sister, which is why, before Leicester’s marriage to Lettice Knollys, Philip Sidney was regarded as his uncle’s heir. Because Mary and Philip’s parents both died shortly before Philip himself died in 1586, Leicester’s death two years later left Mary and her younger brother Robert, who was stuck on the Continent as the governor of Flushing, without a representative at Court. With no one else to do it for her, Mary took up the challenge herself, appearing at Court in full regalia for the November 1588 festivities celebrating the defeat of the Armada. We see clues to her involvement in both publishing and theater in London until about 1595 or ’96, when politics and her husband’s poor health sent her back to Wales. There’s reason to think that Mary herself was bitter towards Leicester, but to allow the world to know that he was the model for Claudius would be against everything she stood for. Facts supporting this scenario are to be found in her biography by Margaret Hannay, Philip’s Phoenix.
As for your question about Pembroke as Oxford’s patron, in looking for what I’ve already posted I see that I haven’t really dealt with this on the blog in anything but a few passing comments, so I’ll respond as soon as I can in more detail, either in a new page or on the question panel.
As for proof that William and Philip Herbert were the publishers of the First Folio, how much evidence do we need? Who else could have produced it? Who else had the money or the power?
I agree with Michael on the problems with your scenario of Philip’s sister Mary as editor of Edward de Vere’s plays. First of all, where’s the documentary proof to support your hunch? Second, one of the strongest arguments for Oxford as Shakespeare are those topical and highly personal allusions that clearly point to people in the earl’s life, with Philip coming in for some scurrilous mockery. After his untimely death, I cannot believe that his grieving sister Mary would have easily forgiven such insults to her brother’s memory. Also, Oxford’s ribald comedies were anathema to the sort of literature that she patronized.
In response to my request for evidence of her sons’ involvement in publishing the Folio, you wrote:
“As for proof that William and Philip Herbert were the publishers of the First Folio, how much evidence do we need? Who else could have produced it? Who else had the money or the power?”
These rhetorical questions leave the impression that you haven’t got an answer to my query. How much evidence do we need? For me, I’d surely need something more than your demand that I tell you who else had the money or power to do so.
In any case, I imagine what you mean is that the pair of brethren might have been the sponsors of the Folio, rather than its publishers. William Jaggard, along with his son Isaac and Ed. Blount were, of course, the actual printers and publishers of the First Folio.
I agree with Michael on the problems with your scenario of Philip’s sister Mary as editor of Edward de Vere’s plays. First of all, where’s the documentary proof to support your hunch?
I’ve given my reason: who else had the money or the power? Now it’s up to you to explain who else that might have been or why this reason is without force. Who might have had the kind of money (it was an immensely expensive project)? Who had the kind of power that, had the Pembrokes decided they didn’t want it published, could have superceded them at a time when Pembroke was the Lord Chamberlain with oversight over the Stage, the King’s Men, and everything that got published? Over and over during this era we see the publisher cited as the dedicatee. Throughout this period the publisher and the patron were often the same.
Second, one of the strongest arguments for Oxford as Shakespeare are those topical and highly personal allusions that clearly point to people in the earl’s life, with Philip coming in for some scurrilous mockery. After his untimely death, I cannot believe that his grieving sister Mary would have easily forgiven such insults to her brother’s memory.
By the time the Folio was published Philip had been dead for almost 40 years and Oxford for 20, while Shakespeare’s spoofs had been part of the English experience since the mid ’90s. If I’m correct that she was the real author of A Woman’s Prize or The Tamer Tamed, she took her revenge on Oxford while he was still alive and where it belonged, on the stage. By the 1620s she was an old woman whose duties lay with the English Literary Renaissance and with posterity, not with family quarrels.
Also, Oxford’s ribald comedies were anathema to the sort of literature that she patronized.
I guess you haven’t read my work on Mary as the author of the Webster canon. Just because Mary, like Oxford and Bacon, had a public face that she maintained for the sake of her peace of mind and her family, doesn’t mean that she didn’t fall on the floor laughing at something funny, or that she frowned on seeing them published. Human nature needs no evidence.
In response to my request for evidence of her sons’ involvement in publishing the Folio, you wrote: “As for proof that William and Philip Herbert were the publishers of the First Folio, how much evidence do we need? Who else could have produced it? Who else had the money or the power?” These rhetorical questions leave the impression that you haven’t got an answer to my query. How much evidence do we need? For me, I’d surely need something more than your demand that I tell you who else had the money or power to do so.
Don’t tell me I’m avoiding your question. I gave you the reason: they are the only ones with the money and the power to get it done. Period. If you either don’t like my answer or haven’t done enough reading to understand it, okay, but don’t tell me I’m avoiding it. If I wanted to avoid it I would simply ignore it.
In any case, I imagine what you mean is that the pair of brethren might have been the sponsors of the Folio, rather than its publishers. William Jaggard, along with his son Isaac and Ed. Blount were, of course, the actual printers and publishers of the First Folio.
Jaggard and Blount were the printers but that they were the publishers of such an important book is most unlikely. Sometimes printers acted as their own publishers, but much of the time they were simply doing the printing for someone else, i.e. the one who put up the money for the paper and labor. Whatever it says on the title page, such a one is ipso facto the publisher. In this case, where the publishing had not only implications at the highest levels of government and power but for sensitive family matters as well, there can be no doubt that the Earl of Pembroke, and his brother and sister-in-law, had to be involved.
Over and over we see in the Stationers’ Register phrases like “printed by John Jones for Peter Smith to be sold at his bookstore . . . ” What else does this mean? Some of these publishers were booksellers, and some were patrons who wanted a particular work in print for personal reasons. The history of the period shows that only someone on Pembroke’s level could have gotten this book published, yet again and again we see the facts interpreted by literary historians of this period in ways that leave out the patrons, largely because the patrons often (always?) hid their involvement in publishing works of the imagination.
The truth is that nothing got published or produced then on the level we are discussing without the help of a wealthy and usually politically powerful patron. The book in question came from the playbook of the Royal acting company. This company was overseen by William Pembroke, Ld Chamberlain of the Household, son of Mary Sidney and brother-in-law of Oxford’s daughter.
I happen to think this in an important discussion, and, while leaning toward Stephanie, I think the push-back is important. So I want to push back a bit more with respect to the role of Susan. One can hardly dispute the plausibility (if not probability) of the involvement of either or both (Susan de Vere-Herbert and Mary Sidney-Herbert). All of this was certainly “in the family”. My sense, however, is that Susan’s role was greater than Stephanie has allowed. As Evidence: Passionate Pilgrim poems XII and XV. In the latter, “a lording’s daughter, the fairest one of three” who turns away a suitor for the “gift of learning” from her father (as I read it). Also, the relationship of Prospero to his daughter invites the image of young favored daughter (again Susan, as the Passionate Pilgrim). Clearly we have Susan as a model for Cordelia (Lear), so it seems to me that Oxford was representing Susan in his work. There are, for my taste, certain passages in The Tempest that suggest a much less mature and feminine hand. Finally, A Lover’s Compliant, hardly seems like mature Shakespeare, and has me wondering if that wasn’t a work that Susan and Mary worked on together, after Oxford’s passing.
Steve, your evidence is good for revealing Susan as the model for some of the daughters in Shakespeare, but there’s nothing to suggest that she was either a writer or an editor. A “gift for learning” says nothing of a gift for writing. Mary Sidney was both, and she was of an age to know the people that Oxford had “boyed” on stage and to know how to finesse their appearance in the plays to maintain their anonymity. Someone Susan’s age would not have had this kind of knowledge, so important to removing the connections with real people while still keeping the integrity of the play.
Surely Susan is Cordelia. However, as seems likely ( based on a mass of references) The Tempest was the play performed in 1595 for the wedding of Elizabeth Vere to William Stanley, brother of Ferdinando Stanley (whose name in the play represents the actual husband of Oxford’s daughter), Miranda was meant to represent Elizabeth Vere, not Susan.
Susan clearly played a very important role in the latter half of the Shakespeare story, but no way can she be seen as collaborating with Mary Sidney. Even if we knew that she was a writer, which we don’t, the idea of one genuine writer collaborating with another is about as likely as Picasso collaborating with Matisse on a painting. The closest we come to such a collaboration is the strong likelihood that Oxford wrote the gloss for The Shepherd’s Calender.
The woman who was in fact Susan’s close friend was Mary’s niece, Mary Wroth, a genuine poet and novelist. They were close in age and lived near each other, and there are other ties that slip my mind at the moment.
Finally, I’ve gone to lengths (nor am I alone) in trying to explain in some detail how the plays often ended up with a mixture of early and late language. Early versions were revised at least once for the LCMen, often more than once, and in many cases, traces of the early version remain until the end. Two cases in point, The Tempest and Love’s Labour’s Lost, plays that continued to speak directly to the Court community, both show traces of a number of revisions over the years. While the Court welcomed the return at the holidays of one of their old favorites, they also expected to see in it something new, a new character perhaps, plus satires on a current situation or two.
Also, doubtless you intended no insult, nor do I by pointing out that the equation of “less mature” with “feminine” is offensive. Such language is a habit, passed down through the generations, so that even women will sometimes hear themselves making similar statements. Would we tolerate the equation of “crude” or “less sensitive” with “masculine”? As for women writing in a certain way, no one’s writing was tougher or more “masculine” than Mary Sidney’s.
The truth of the matter is that for genuine writers, what you might call “born writers,” writing––fiction writing in particular––is often a means to being someone they cannot let themselves be in the community that surrounds them. For a woman who was writing under a man’s name to speak freely in a male voice would have been a thrill back then, as it was a thrill for Francis Bacon, constrained by circumstance and his repressive mater, to let out his wild and crazy self by writing as Thomas Nashe.
I am proceding on intuition, for whatever that’s worth, but, as for Susan having left no attributed writings of her own, it seems to me that that would have been consistent with what she inherited (spritually), and the intent not to create something else pointing to Oxford as Shakespeare. It seems to me that, Susan can be assumed to have had a relationship with her mother-in-law who was, so far as we can tell, something like her father.
Stephanie, you wrote:
>> As for proof that William and Philip Herbert were the publishers of the First Folio, how much evidence do we need? Who else could have produced it? Who else had the money or the power? <<
There is a very simple answer to your question: Derby. He was immensely rich, and had as much power as was required, especially if (as Derbyites suppose) he was the True Bard all along.
As you will know, both J. Thomas Looney and William Plumer Fowler were convinced that Derby played an important role in producing the canon, not least in revising and preparing texts for the First Folio.
Here is just one of the (many) problems facing both Stratfordians and Oxfordians concerning the FF, which neither group has satisfactorily answered.
Othello was first published in quarto in 1622. According to Ernst Honigmann (The Texts of Othello and Shakespearian Revision, 1996), a copy of the quarto was then revised, with hundreds of words changed, and an extra 160 lines added, some a single line inserted in the middle of a speech, but several in the form of quite long additional speeches, many for Emilia. The heavily annotated quarto copy, with ms insertions etc, was then passed on to Ralph Crane, who made a fair copy (at a cost of Lb.2-3), which then became the copy-text for the First Folio. (Seven or eight fair copies by Crane were employed in the FF at a total cost of say Lb.15-20, roughly a year's salary for a professional man, and probably more than Blount and Jaggard could afford to outlay on their own.)
The first problem for Stratfordians and Oxfordians is: who revised Othello in 1622-23?
Honigmann's answer is that at his death the Stratford man left two copies of eight or nine plays, the revisions remaining in ms and unpublished, while the inferior earlier versions were the ones printed in quarto. In the case of Othello, the quarto was then updated by reference to the later (still pre-1616) revision. But as Honigmann admits, with admirable honesty, even this explanation is not completely satisfactory: there are some things for which he can offer no explanation. The Stratfordian explanation is inadequate, even according to the man who has spent longest working on it.
The Oxfordian explanation (I believe; almost no one writes about it) is that Derby in 1622 took Oxford's quarto of Othello, and wrote all the revisions and additional 160 lines off his own bat, presumably for the sheer love of improving his father-in-law's work. (What hubris, to tinker with what was already a masterpiece of dramatic art!) And he did the same for several other plays as well, notably Richard III: 193 lines added to the 1622 quarto, and around 2000 other emendations (Reed).
The Derbyite explanation is very simple. Here is the original author having second thoughts about his own compositions, spending the years leading up to 1623 in revising and enlarging his own original works, turning them in some cases into pieces meant as much for private reading as for the public stage (Erne).
Bear in mind also that four or five plays other than Othello were printed in the FF from revisions of quartos published post 1616, a further problem for Stratfordians. If Oxfordians believe that Derby carried out all these revisions, one might wonder why he would choose to do so. In the real world it is authors who revise their own works, not sons-in-law many years later.
Bear in mind as well that when Derby made over most of his estates and property to his son James in 1626, the trustees appointed were William and Philip Herbert, his brothers-in-law, dedicatees of the FF – not forgetting that Derby bore the canopy over James I at his anointing (or was the reserve), the only authorship candidate ever to get anywhere near carrying the canopy.
Thanks for the information on Othello/Crane, etc., John. I hadn’t read this, or if I did, too early to recall it. I agree with Honigmann in part. (Funny how smart people can get at least part of the story right, just from the few clues we have.) You ask “If Oxfordians believe that Derby carried out all these revisions, one might wonder why he would choose to do so.” That’s easy. We, or at least I, think this is impossible. Whatever Derby may have been to the patrons (Ld Hunsdon, the Ld Admiral, etc.) while Oxford was alive, once he was gone, why bother with Derby any more?
And why would he bother to dabble with the Stage once he’d been put on the Privy Council and made Ld Chamberlain of Chester, roles for which he was suited, it being obvious he was no writer, for, had he been, we would have some indication of it in his letters, as we do with Oxford.
George Carey, who was Ld Chamberlain during the late 90s, would have been Derby’s partner in managing the Court Stage had he been what some claim, once called him a “niddicock,” that is, a nincompoop. Sorry, but I simply can’t take anyone seriously as one of the great geniuses of all time a man whose close associate called him a nincompoop.
I’ve got a couple of pages about him that I haven’t posted that go into more detail. I’ll do that soon.
Stephanie – if you abandon Derby, you are then left with answering the problem of who revised Othello and Richard III AFTER 1622, and also with offering an explanation of WHY they would have done so.
This is a problem which Stratfordians find difficult to answer, while Oxfordians simply ignore it. Peter Dickson is the only person I know of who has appreciated its importance, and his solution is Derby.
What is yours?
And by the way, Oxford was called much worse things than nidicock by people who knew him very well indeed. Remember that Elizabeth made Derby KG, an honour she never bestowed on Oxford.She obviously thought more highly of Derby than Oxford.
John – I’m not “abandoning” Derby. He played a part in this story, just not that of author or editor. Had he had that kind of talent we would see it reflected somewhere. Despite all the claims, we haven’t seen a trace. Ergo, he was not a gifted writer! No one ever complimented him on his writing in his own time as they did other courtiers: Oxford, Sidney, Buckhurst, Mary Sidney. Show me something he wrote and we can discuss how good it is. ‘Til then . . . ?
Foremost among my complaints about Shakespeare scholarship is the appalling ignorance of what makes an artist tick. Sadly most Oxfordians aren’t much better. You and Steve Steinburg and so many others assume that writing well is something that only takes learning how to hold a pen. Here we’re not only talking about people who wrote well, they were also artists, the kind who can create stories with real people. Hamlet has been called a real person who somehow got himself into a story. To think that a man whose fellow aristocrat called him a niddicock could possibly have created Hamlet, well, what can I say?
As for the Queen’s offices, where is it written that artists give a damn about any hierarchy but their own, an attitude that tends to get them left out when Authority is passing out kudoes. What did he care whether or not he got elected to the Garter Knights and be forced to stand for hours listening to the kind of tiresome establishment pablum that he must have abhored (he called himself a “hater of ceremonies” in a 1601 letter to Cecil). As for the Queen, he was born a higher rank than she was. The only things he ever asked of her (with any hope of success) was a military command and later the stewardship of Waltham Forest, both for very personal reasons, and she didn’t give them to him, not because she didn’t care as much for him as she did for Derby (good grief, give the woman some credit!) but also for very personal reasons: the first, she wanted him alive; for the second, she didn’t want to see him disappear permanently into the forest, which he probably did as soon as he got the chance. Elizabeth was an extremely astute judge of character. If she wouldn’t give Oxford an office, surely it’s because she wanted him to keep on doing what he’d been doing for years, entertaining her and her community. Had he been given the presidency of Wales he would have had no time to write. What’s more, it’s most unlikely that he even wanted the Presidency of Wales, but was only asking for it to please his ambitious wife.
Unlike Oxford, Derby obviously did care about his title, his status and his estates; he cared a lot. And for that very reason it should also be obvious that he couldn’t possibly be a creator on the level of a St. Francis, a Pico della mirandolla, or a Toulous Lautrec, who all abandoned their roles as aristocrats for what they saw as a higher calling, or at least one that interested them more. Like the woman who refused to allow King Solomon to cut the baby in half, thus proving that she was its mother, the likelihood that Oxford used up his princely inheritance to create the modern London Stage is almost all the argument I would ever need to convince me that he was the true author. Like Newton who created calculus so he could better explain the orbital motions of the planets, Oxford/Shakespeare created the London Stage so he could better produce his plays. This is what works. Nothing works for Derby.
As I’ve said over and over, because this author did not write for money or fame, every play requires a purpose, a setting, a reason why he wrote it as he did and when. The same thing applies to its fate vis a vis the First Folio. For instance it should be obvious why publishing Pericles would have been a problem for the Cecil heirs.
As for the rewrites after 1622, what evidence is there that they had to have been done at that time and not earlier? From what you’ve explained, what seems most likely, based on the added lines for Emilia, is that this was a copy of the play that Oxford had given to his Emilia, Emilia Bassano, the Dark Lady of his Sonnets. I’ve long thought this about the Folio version of Antony and Cleopatra, so clearly based on their relationship, but it could as easily be true of Othello. By then, what else did he have to give her? Minus marriage or income, he had nothing else to give that meant anything. With him gone, to such a woman, the manuscript would have meant everything.
If we’re looking for story––the true engine of human behavior––the publication of an inferior version of Othello in 1622 may have been a ruse by the Pembrokes to force Emilia to hand it over. With the threat of a lesser version made obvious, her jealous heart (more lines for her namesake in a book that would keep her name alive for decades, maybe centuries) won out over possessiveness. There’s a wonderful scene in Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth where Sara, the aging model whose beauty had inspired painter Gully Jimson’s most valuable works, pulls a fast one on him when he wants it back. He only wants it because he’s broke and knows he can sell it, but for her it’s what gives her life meaning, what makes her different from all the other ladies of easy virtue. Unlike most literary historians, Cary knows what makes an artist tick. I guess it takes one to know one.
As for Richard III, surely the fact that a large portion of the audience from the 1590s and well beyond his death in 1612 saw Shakespeare’s revision of his earlier True Tragedy as a portrait of Robert Cecil must have made getting that play published in its strongest form extremely tricky. All these things show why it took so long to get the First Folio published.
Where is it written that the canopy in Sonnet 125 was one carried over a monarch? If we pay attention to the rest of the sonnet, it all, including the canopy, sounds way too much like a reference to a Masonic ceremony to be anything else.
In your response to Marie above you state:
“I’ve given my reason: who else had the money or the power? Now it’s up to you to explain who else that might have been or why this reason is without force. Who might have had the kind of money (it was an immensely expensive project)? Who had the kind of power that, had the Pembrokes decided they didn’t want it published, could have superceded (sic) them at a time when Pembroke was the Lord Chamberlain with oversight over the Stage, the King’s Men, and everything that got published? Over and over during this era we see the publisher cited as the dedicatee. Throughout this period the publisher and the patron were often the same.”
The Colophon of the First Folio is printed at the end of Cymbeline. It states that the Folio was “Printed at the Charges of W. Iaggard, Ed. Blount, I. Smithweeke, and W. Aspley.” This is your answer: these are the people who had the money to publish the work.
You also state that “the patron and the publisher were often the same.” Can you identify any instances where the dedicatee of a volume can be shown by evidence to have also underwritten the publication of the volume?
No, for the very good reason that there was no such thing as a publisher then. That is, not as we have it today, as a money making industry. The publisher was, and still is, the company, or individual, that paid/pays for the paper, labor, and advertising that puts a book before the public. In early days, for a good three centuries or more after the invention of print, it’s assumed that this was the printer. However, only in a few cases, almanacs primarily, or sure winners like books by Erasmus, were costs absorbed by the printer. In most cases books were paid for by individuals, or, as in the case of religious books, by the Church, or in the case of legal works, by the government, but unlike today, when the publisher is noted on the title page, these were not named. A great many works were paid for by individuals who were not named on the title page as publisher, though sometimes as patron, which is true of the two books that we regard as having been published by Oxford, as on Bedingfield’s translation of Cardan, “by the commandment of the Earl of Oxford.” Thus the readers of the First Folio would have understood that the Pembrokes were the true publishers of that very expensive book, no matter what the title page claimed for the individuals who were given the credit (perhaps because each could claim ownership of some part of the contents), because the First Folio simply could not have been published without the permission of the “Grand Possessors.”
That’s a fascinating suggestion. But on the contrary, the book trade and publishing was very much a money making industry throughout the period when Shakespeare’s works were being produced and published. Publishers (generally members of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers) were at the zenith of their power over publishing after 1557, with Elizabeth’s Royal Charter. The Stationers gained a monopoly on printing, centralizing all printing in England in London, where it was within the easy control of the government. Only Oxford and Cambridge were allowed their own printing presses.
The Royal Charter was almost literally a license to print money. After a stationer set up a printshop and started acquiring source texts (by fair means or foul), their income from that capital investment depends on their producing as much printed material as possible. A stationer able to set up a print shop but unable to afford paper and ink without the financial assistance of a noble patron makes as much sense as a baker who builds a bakery but requires assistance from a noble patron to buy flour.
The Stationers’ Register confirms that this process of acquiring rights to a marketable text, funding the production of the book, and offering it for sale was the standard publishing process. A good discussion of this process can be found in W.W. Greg, The Shakespeare First Folio, starting on page 55.
Further evidence of the actual publishers of the First Folio is found in the entry in the Stationers’ Register for Shakespeare’s First Folio, reproduced on page 59 of Greg’s book. Here the works are referred to as “Mr. William Shakspeers Comedyes Histories, & Tragedyes.” The listing (inaccurately) states that the plays listed were copies “as are not formerly entred to other men,” securing the rights to sixteen plays to Mr. Blount and Mr. Jaggard.
There simply is no evidence that the plays were ever in the possession of either the Lord Chamberlain or his brother. All the extant evidence supports that William Shakespeare, John Heminge and Henry Condell’s fellow and partner for two decades, was the author if the works, and that they were owned by the Kings Men playing company.
Ay me, caught flat-footed! Of course you are right. Philip. I must have been thinking of the 1570s and 80s when publishing in England was restricted to a handful of booksellers who stuck to the things that were guaranteed to make money, the ABC book, the Catechism, the Book of Common Prayer, each assigned by the Stationers to their privileged members, which was when Oxford made his first efforts to get published, long before anyone ever heard of Shakespeare.
By the time the First Folio was produced publishing certainly had become an industry, and you are doubtless correct that, despite its expensive format, the syndicate that published the First Folio could well afford it, and due to Shakespeare’s popularity, would have been certain of sales despite its expense. What the Earls of Pembroke had was their control over what got published. As Lords Chamberlain, they had acquired control over not just what got performed at Court, but what got performed on the public stage and also what got published. The 14-year hiatus from 1609 to 1623 that seems to have prevented almost half of Shakespeare’s works from ever being published in quarto can only be ascribed to this control. We can conjecture why they would have done this; one guess would be to give themselves time to get the rights to as many of the plays as they could, and not least, make sure that they were properly edited.
So far as patrons acting as publishers, the only other example that comes to mind is Bedingfield’s 1573 translation of Cardanus Comforte, published “by commandment” of the Earl of Oxford, and printed by Thomas Marshe. But now that you’ve asked the question, I will consider whether I ever had any more examples that might justify such a sweeping statement. If not, my apologies.
As for the fact that “there is no evidence” that anything other than what is offered as the truth about the publication of the First Folio, well, of course not. If the true author was the Earl of Oxford, Montgomery’s father-in-law, and as Lord Great Chamberlain at Elizabeth’s Court, key to so many of the Court personalities portrayed in the plays, of course there would be no evidence within the Folio itself. This is where common sense takes over.
Seems odd William Herbert had an opportunity to marry de Vere’s daughter, Bridget, but instead refused to marry her because he wanted an annuity (as proposed by Cecil which would begin upon Cecil’s death) up-front and was denied such.
So why does the man who disses de Vere’s daughter over a bit of money wind up taking control of de Vere’s plays (assuming he’s the ‘true author’)? Curious why William is now spending money to honor his one-time potential father-in-law when a lack of money caused him to ditch marrying into that family.
Pembroke refused Bridget for several reasons. First, it was not Oxford who was in control of her dowery (he was penniless by then), but her uncle Robert Cecil, and Pembroke was wise enough to steer clear of any unnecessary obligations to the manipulative Secretary of State. Second, there were problems with Bridget, what we don’t know, but the evidence is clear since she was never admitted at Court, but remained in various dowager households, ultimately with her more socially and financially successful older sister. Most pressing however was Pembroke’s need to use marriage to secure his financial and social future, which he did by marrying Mary Talbot, daughter of the wealthy Earl of Shrewsbury, a dynastic connection in which he was imitating other members of his family who had married Talbots, but by whom he had no offspring. Known as a womanizer, Pembroke had two illegitimate children by his cousin Mary Sidney Wroth, daughter of his younger brother Robert, whose novel, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, scandalously portrayed their relationship. The Countess of Montgomery, clearly a close friend of Wroth’s, was Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere.
The authority over publication was actually in the hands of the Master of Revels, not the Lord Chancellor [Lord Chamberlain? The Lord Chancellor had nothing to do with censorship]. There is some evidence that the authority was not consistently required, or that the approval of the MoR required to perform a work also served as approval for publication. The function of the authority was, after all, to protect public morals and prevent politically controversial plays from coming before the public — not to give arbitrary authority to stop publication for personal reasons.
The more important constraint on publication applied by the Lord Chamberlain was his letter of 3 May 1619 (see Chambers I, 136) to the Stationers, directing that none of the King’s Men’s plays be printed without “some of their consents.” This is evidence that the plays were the possessions of the playing company, not the Lord Chamberlain, and that the players were the ones who had an interest in preventing publication of Shakespeare’s works as they assembled what would become the First Folio. That explanation is entirely consistent with the prefatory material in the Folio as well.
Is it just a coincidence that Herbert’s letter to the Stationers came less than eight weeks after the death of Richard Burbage? Within weeks if not days of the letter to the Stationers, Burbage [Pembroke?] expressed his sadness over the passing of Burbage — being “tender hearted,” he could not attend a play performed by the King’s Men “so soon after the loss of my old acquaintance Burbage.” Might such a man, whose relationship to members of the company might have dated back to his childhood when some members of the King’s Men performed Shakespeare’s works as Pembroke’s Men for his father.
There’s the problem: the connection between the players and the brothers (particularly William) is much clearer than any supposed relationship between the Herberts and Edward de Vere. De Vere was dead before Susan married Philip Herbert or even announced their intentions; Susan grew up in the household of the Cecils, her mother’s family. She had title enough to marry an Earl, but the dowry was supplemented by a generous gift by the King resulting from his affection for Philip and his tendency to hand out loot to relatives of his chief Minister, Robert Cecil.
So I agree with you in part — “one guess would be to give themselves time to get the rights to as many of the plays as they could, and not least, make sure that they were properly edited.” But it was the players and fellows of Shakespeare in the King’s Men who were given the time, by the authority of their employer. To supplant the dominant paradigm, you have to better account for the known evidence. Speculation and assumptions aren’t sufficient.
When forced to create a workable scenario, we can’t allow ourselves to be so rigidly constrained by the rules and legalities of the time. Over and over again we find Court officials acting in other capacities than the ones they were assigned by appointment or inheritance. The reality is always far more complicated than the one bequeathed us by pop or condensed history. It always involves the nature of a man’s (or monarch’s) personality and weaknesses, plus the political or religious issues in play at the time.
The history of the London Stage as the academics would have it almost totally ignores the factor of its highly placed patrons, and why? Because that’s how the patrons, and the historians that they supported, wanted it seen. This was truest of all where the Stage was involved, for the Stage then was seen as on the level of bordellos and gaming houses, things that courtiers engaged in, but that no one wanted to be seen as protecting. When this is understood, a great deal about the period comes clear, including the behavior of the Queen.
Again and again academics make the mistake of assuming that Elizabethan Court officials and others followed the rules. In fact, they were extremely adept at avoiding the rules, and at placing responsibility a degree or two below their own while they remain unsullied by its ramifications. Such was certainly as true of the Pembrokes as of anyone else. Just research the various surrogates to whom they gave such responsibility, and how often these were members of their own family or support system.
Of course the Lord Chamberlain (Pembroke) directed the Stationers to bow to the actors, since by law the plays belonged to them, but it was Pembroke’s will that was at play here, not the actors, or at least, not the actors alone, for the actors performed at the will of the Lord Chamberlain, not the Revels Master. Scholars have commented that the publication of plays should have been seen by the actors as counter to their benefit, since it allowed other companies to perform and profit from them, particularly in rural areas where London companies rarely appeared.
The authority over publication may technically have been in the hands of the Master of the Revels, and probably was most of the time, but when it came to politics, then the Master of the Revels would act in concordence with the wishes of his own master, the patron who gave him the job in the first place, or who saw to it that he kept it, such as the Lord Chamberlain, who of course, acted largely at the behest of his own master, or rather mistress, Her Majesty. Thus Lord Burghley continued to have oversight over any number of matters that he had long since passed on to others officially.
As for de Vere being dead after 1604 when his daughter married Montgomery, that too requires examination. Dead to the world perhaps, but probably not actually dead. Consider the ramifications of the performance of Measure for Measure (which lacks the any suggestion that it might have been a revision of an earlier play) the very evening that Susan Vere married Philip Herbert. Consider the plot of that play, and that so many of the plays can be assigned to particular historical events (and to events in the life of the Earl of Oxford).
It’s a delight to see such diligence to this important matter. One can only hope that you will come to see how much clearer everything becomes once Oxford’s biography has been added to the mix.
Let’s break your response down.
You state: “As for de Vere being dead after 1604 when his daughter married Montgomery, that too requires examination. Dead to the world perhaps, but probably not actually dead. Consider the ramifications of the performance of Measure for Measure (which lacks the any suggestion that it might have been a revision of an earlier play) the very evening that Susan Vere married Philip Herbert. Consider the plot of that play, and that so many of the plays can be assigned to particular historical events (and to events in the life of the Earl of Oxford).”
As for the performance of Measure for Measure — sorry, you’re wrong. Measure for Measure was performed on Dec. 26 (Saint Stephens) by the King’s Men. The marriage of Philip and Susan was the following day — Saint John’s day — and was celebrated with a masque put on by the Earl of Pembroke (Philip’s brother) and several knights — its text is not recorded but it was known to refer to Juno and Hymenaeus. A lot of what is known about it is in this article on the Lost Plays Database: https://www.lostplays.org/index.php?title=Wedding_Masque_for_Sir_Philip_Herbert_(Juno_and_Hymenaeus)
Why was Measure for Measure played during the holiday season? The most obvious answer is that it was a play written by William Shakespeare, who was a principal player in the King’s Men, and it was a relatively new play, possibly written earlier that year. We know that the King’s Men were trying to perform new plays because of a letter from Walter Cope to Robert Cecil, Lord Cranbourne, only a couple weeks after the marriage of Philip Herbert and Susan Vere. Cope told Cranbourne that “burbage ys come & sayes ther ys no neue playe that the queene hath not seene but they haue Revyved an olde one Cawled Loves Labore Lost which for wytt & mirthe he sayes will please her exceedingly And Thys ys apointed to be played to Morowe night . . . ”
LLL was played between New Years and Twelfth Night (Jan. 5). So even before Twelfth Night (the highlight of the Yule season, crowned by the incredibly elaborate and expensive Masque of Blackness by Ben Jonson), the King’s Men had exhausted their list of new plays to perform before the Queen and her brother (James, bored of theater by this time, had gone hunting).
The evidence that de Vere was not just merely dead but really most sincerely dead is overwhelming. His death is well-documented — even Oxfordians like Mark Anderson acknowledge it (SBAN 357).
The notion that he somehow faked his death is not borne out by any evidence, and would be entirely illogical at that point:
— The transition from Elizabeth to James had gone far better than de Vere had any reason to expect. He got involved in an abortive attempt to place someone else on the throne, not knowing of the secret correspondence between his brother-in-law Robert Cecil and King James. Many politically astute courtiers of the day anticipated James as the likeliest candidate, but Oxford seems to have missed the political boat.
— But luckily for him, his brother-in-law engineered the peaceful transition of dynasties (when had that happened last??) and made himself indispensable to James. James was disposed to approve all of Robert’s suggestions, which included ladling honors and riches on Cecil’s family — including Oxford.
— For instance, the new King agreed to continue the £1000 annuity Elizabeth had granted Oxford. Notably, when Oxford died, the annuity did not continue in the same amount for his widow and son-and-heir. The very annuity that you suggest was the incentive to hire a front for his plays, extended by the intercession of his brother-in-law, tossed away only a few months after the new King graciously agreed to provide it? Further, again with Cecil’s help, Oxford regained possession of Waltham Forest. De Vere’s financial fortunes were better than they had been in years.
— Faking his own death would have turned him into a nonentity. Would the author of King Lear have not recognized the danger of casting aside his birthright and title based only on assurances by his son, eager to wear the coronet? Either de Vere really died in 1604, or he couldn’t possibly have been the author of Lear. I think it’s both.
— It is not clear that Oxford knew that his daughter Susan was the object of Philip Herbert’s desires, but suppose he was aware that that was the case. His daughter was then on course to marry the King’s favorite. Robert Cecil was still serving as the guardian of Oxford’s daughter, of course, and provided for her dowry; Cecil knew that the King intended to give Philip honors and wealth. When Herbert asked for Susan’s hand, Cecil went to the King and the dowry was supplemented from the royal treasury. Had he not been dead, here would have at last been his opportunity to be back at court, the favored father of Susan, by all accounts a lovely and gracious lady.
* * *
As we examine the record, the only logical story is the conventional one: Shakespeare, Burbage and the rest were a professional theater troupe who purchased plays from others and had their own in-house playwright (Shakespeare). They gained fame playing in their own purpose-built theaters, and before Elizabeth, and later before James and Anne. There was no conspiracy to hide the identity of the playwright, though there was certainly an effort to protect the plays from being published without the leave of the players, an effort supported by the company’s patron, William Herbert, Lord Chamberlain. There’s no evidence that Oxford wrote anything more elaborate than short court comic interludes. There is no evidence that Oxford ever saw a play by Shakespeare or his company, let alone wrote any of them.
The key to understanding this period is understanding basic historical analysis, and avoiding any effort that is based on applying the analysts’ biases in trying to figure out what the playwright was trying to say about contemporary people or situations. We will never know that — we simply have too little personal information about what Shakespeare’s personal believes were.
My version is based on the fact that William of Stratford lacks all biographical evidence that he was capable of writing his name, much less a literary masterpiece such as Measure for Measure. With William eliminated, the question of who from that time best fits the profile of someone as highly educated as was the author of the plays. Since Oxford’s biography fits the bill in every respect, even providing the necessary explanation for why his authorship had to be hidden, everything from the ground up must be interpreted in that light, including the scenario surrounding the marriage of Susan Vere to Pembroke’s brother (does it really matter on exactly which night Measure for Measure was performed?). Since you have not done the necessary research to see the truth of this, of course you cannot see the scenario as I do, and as do so many who have done the necessary research. Nor is there any ground on which we can have a fruitful argument.
Wouldn’t the way we could have a fruitful argument be for you to identify evidence that counters the evidence I’ve provided? I’d be delighted to discuss the Yuletide of 1604-05, which is rather well documented.
“Does it really matter on exactly which night Measure for Measure was performed?” It seemed you thought it did when you told me to “Consider the ramifications of the performance of Measure for Measure . . . the very evening that Susan Vere married Philip Herbert.” Since it didn’t happen on the date you mentioned, there were no ramifications. Without the play being performed on the actual wedding day, there is no connection between the play and the wedding. As I said, the King’s Men performed the play because the Queen had not seen it before; as you acknowledge, there is no indication it was a revision of any earlier work, and most scholars date it to earlier in 1604.
That you find a contemporary meaning in the work is not surprising: Shakespeare’s works are rich in meaning. And the connection between this work and the marriage could be claimed for many other Shakespeare plays: Twelfth Night, Love’s Labors Lost, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing — all might have been played the night before the wedding and be counted as a comment on the nuptials. This is the danger of imagining connections between events and the plays — it’s far too easy to find such connections.
For example — the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC is completing a run of the play Charles III, that imagines Prince Charles at long last ascending to the throne of England, and inserting himself into British politics. The play has already run in London and New York, and was selected for this year’s season probably toward the end of 2015, and announced as part of this year’s season over a year ago. Nonetheless, watching a play in February 2017 about a person suddenly granted a high executive office (the King’s power to sign, or not sign, an act of Parliament) with no experience and questionable judgement inevitably is seen through the lens of contemporary events. If centuries from now, all that is known of the production is that its first performance in Washington DC was 18 days after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President, might it be read as a comment on contemporary events, rather than a play written years before?
“Since you have not done the necessary research to see the truth of this, of course you cannot see the scenario as I do, and as do so many who have done the necessary research.” This seems beneath you as an argument. I’m pleased to match my knowledge of the evidence — for Shakespeare of Stratford and that offered for Oxford — against that of any Oxfordian. Your arguments are an opportunity for me to research and learn about topics of interest in this period. If your claim is that you’re an expert and I’m not, I’m happy to give you the opportunity to make a fool of me.
A noted Oxfordian recently wrote, “not unlike the academics, we tend to see only what we want to see, ignoring everything else. We read a book that awakens us to the Authorship Question by promoting one or another of the Shakespeare candidates––Bacon, Derby, Oxford, Marlowe, Raleigh, Philip Sidney––and from then on our interest settles only on facts that support him (or her: Mary Sidney and the Queen have also been nominated). Here we tend remain, gathering in conferences and online groups, writing articles for newsletters, journals and blogs dedicated to examining our particular candidate while studiously ignoring the others.”
It seems to me that engaging in discussions with people who disagree with you is the best way to test and sharpen your arguments. I’ve certainly learned about Oxford reading your blog, and I appreciate your willingness to engage. But if the goal is to change the paradigm, your arguments cannot be aimed only at people who already agree with you. Coordinating the efforts of the proponents of Bacon, Derby, Oxford, Marlowe, Raleigh, and Philip Sidney doesn’t change the fundamental dynamic or refute any of the documentary and physical evidence for Shakespeare of Stratford. I also think that avoiding discussions with people whose views differ from your own is part of the very echo chamber you complain of. Oxfordians claim to relish the opportunity to debate their claims and bring them before the public. But when it comes down to it, they really shy away from having to contend with anyone who is familiar with the evidence.
“Wouldn’t the way we could have a fruitful argument be for you to identify evidence that counters the evidence I’ve provided? I’d be delighted to discuss the Yuletide of 1604-05, which is rather well documented.”
Fruitful for you, perhaps, but hardly fruitful for me. I would have to spend time and energy on a reply, time better spent on continuing my work, since my experience has invariably been that such efforts are wasted. I don’t need to test and sharpen my arguments, which, if you were at all acute in your reading you would realize is the precise point of my entire blog, namely that we of the authorship community are wasting our time with such arguments and that we need to concentrate on building a case for the truth that extends beyond the limited evidence that the Cecils have allowed to remain (did you bother to follow the link to “Missing Evidence“?. You argue apples and I argue oranges and the result is simply fruit salad.
Most authorship scholars are fully aware of “the evidence,” such as it is; you’ve no need to instruct us. Why bother with details such as exactly which night during the marriage celebrations was Measure for Measure performed when this marriage was the highlight of that holiday season, something that you would know were you as knowledgable about that moment in English history as you claim. All the plays but one or two of the nine plays performed that season came from the same pen. Whose pen? The pen of the man whose daughter was getting married, a marriage that promised to support him and prevent the destruction of his literary heritage by the increasing power of Robert Cecil. There’s a real story in that, the kind of narrative that lies at the heart of all genuine history, and that is so obviously missing from the history of the creation of the London Stage and the English Literary Renaissance.
I appreciate this continued dialogue, and I think there is much to discuss.
For instance, you ask: “Why bother with details such as exactly which night during the marriage celebrations was Measure for Measure performed when this marriage was the highlight of that holiday season, something that you would know were you as knowledgeable about that moment in English history as you claim.”
No, not really. The wedding was a lovely and memorable moment to be sure, celebrated with the full court, a masque, and the King joining the bride and groom in the wedding bed. But the high point of the Yuletide was the climax of the season on twelfth night, January 5.
The celebrations that day were profoundly personal to the King and Queen. Their sickly younger son, Charles, had been so weak that he had not made the trip south from Edinburgh when his father became King in 1603. James and Anne may have been resigned to the likelihood that their son would not survive childhood, and that they would never see him again as they embarked on the way to London.
Remarkably, Charles recovered, and by summer of 1604 could walk the length of the great hall at Dunfermline Palace without assistance. His health judged sound, he set off to rejoin his parents in London in July, 1604. Though we have no extant description of the reunion of a boy of less than four years with his parents after a separation of a year, can you doubt that it was a joyful occasion?
The ceremonies of Twelfth Night capped the season and that happy reunion, when Charles was created Duke of York. It must have seemed like a miracle — their son saved from the brink of death to being in line for the crown of the nascent United Kingdom. By comparison, the marriage of the King’s hunting buddy, Herbert, was a pleasant diversion, but nothing more than that.
The theatrical high point of the season also occurred on Twelfth Night, with the performance of Ben Jonson’s Masque of Blackness. The cost of the masque was beyond imagination: £3000 for a single night’s entertainment. Elaborate and costly costumes and an elaborate set designed by Inigo Jones consumed as much of the treasury as three years of the late Earl of Oxford’s royal allowance.
The newly married Susan Vere was in the production, one of nearly a dozen ladies-in-waiting accompanying Queen Anne — apparently all in fabulous costumes and wearing black make-up to depict the “daughters of Niger.” Like all masques at court, the poetry was spoken by professional actors, while the nobles pantomimed their parts.
“All the plays but one or two of the nine plays performed that season came from the same pen.” I’d certainly agree that most of the plays of the season were by one author.
The account of the Master of Revels for that period, running from All Souls day, Nov. 1 1604, through Shrove Tuesday on 10 Feb. 1605, records fifteen plays or masques performed. Eight of those were by Shakespeare, three by Ben Jonson, one each by Heywood and Chapman, and two with unknown authors. One of the Shakespeare plays was performed twice by order of the King — otherwise there would have been seven.
The King’s Men performed eleven of the plays (including the double performance of Merchant of Venice). Those included two Jonson plays and one by an unknown author.
Most of the plays performed during the season were written by one person — principal actor in the King’s Men, in-house playwright, sharer, and Householder William Shakespeare. How do I know that? William Honnyng, clerk of the Revels, helpfully added a column to the account book noting the name of the author of plays performed: for several he wrote “Shaxberd,” in his idiosyncratic spelling. You think it’s a pseudonym? Where’s your evidence?
Finally, concerning missing evidence. Historians are aware of the fact that the historical record is incomplete. There are some fairly obvious and mundane reasons for that in the case of the records related to the plays of Shakespeare: fire consumed the Globe theatre, and the great fire of 1666 wiped out most of the area (around Blackfriars) where the company’s offices seemed to be. The Puritans’ ban on plays likely took a toll as well. Like many businesses when they close, the records are scattered among the former owners, and lost to succeeding generations. Only legal papers maintained in archives survive, and then only if the archive itself isn’t destroyed by fire or some other disaster, including the disaster of some clerk deciding to toss old files.
I can imagine it’s tempting to believe that the complete lack of evidence that Oxford wrote anything more than court interludes and comedies is the result of Robert Cecil’s brilliant efforts to keep Oxford’s name off the works. But a conspiracy like the one you describe requires many participants. Cecil died in 1612, before Shakespeare. Far from being an enemy of the Earl of Oxford, Cecil was probably one of his greatest benefactors (most likely out of sentiment for his three nieces who had grown up in his household.)
The real reason that you don’t find any evidence isn’t that the relevant papers have all been destroyed by super-efficient agents of Cecil; it’s because there was never any evidence that Oxford wrote anything more than some average poetry in his twenties. It’s likely that whatever plays he contributed to were mostly penned by the two professional playwrights he employed.
Philip: There can be no “discussion” where each is operating from a different set of ground rules. Because you have not yet had, and probably never will have, the Damascus moment where you see the Stratford biography in its true light as, if not exactly a joke, then a desperate effort to place the authorship on someone who couldn’t so much as write his own name. Because my interest is focused on the true history of the creation of the London Stage and periodical press, something that is effectively missing from the record as we have it, of course it focuses on the leading candidate for the great author who stands at the center of that phenomenon.
Of course there were many other things happening around the time Susan Vere married Philip Herbert, as there were many things happening in the world when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. But just as an historian of World War II pays no attention to those other things, so I have no interest here in the other things that were happening at the Court at that time that were not related to the marriage of Susan and Philip. Had you any interest in the history of the Veres, or the Herberts, or their common interest in the Stage and the plays, you would know that the King was heavily invested in that marriage, and that he did whatever he could to bring it about in the teeth of Robert Cecil’s efforts to prevent it.
Your effort to assign the missing evidence relating to the creation of the London Stage is laughable, both because of how closely these gaps in the record match important moments in that development and your lack of understanding of Cecil’s power as Secretary of State, which was enormous and gave him access to any record he had a mind to examine. You apparently have no awareness at all of how intensely Cecil was feared following his victory over the Essex faction, or how bitterly he was hated during the first decade under James by everyone but his toadies.
You’ve spent time and energy here that might have been better spent researching Oxford, the Pembrokes, the history of the publication of the plays etc., on which my comments are based. Until you show some knowledge of these matters I’m through publishing your comments. Come back when you’ve done some more reading.
“Of course there were many other things happening around the time Susan Vere married Philip Herbert, as there were many things happening in the world when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. But just as an historian of World War II pays no attention to those other things, so I have no interest here in the other things that were happening at the Court at that time that were not related to the marriage of Susan and Philip. Had you any interest in the history of the Veres, or the Herberts, or their common interest in the Stage and the plays, you would know that the King was heavily invested in that marriage, and that he did whatever he could to bring it about in the teeth of Robert Cecil’s efforts to prevent it.”
Giving this paragraph another look and pondering its implications.
So your contention is that the marriage of Susan and Philip close to the beginning of the yuletide period was the real focus of the season, rather than the ostentatious Masque of Blackness? I’m certainly interested in the contemporaneous evidence supporting this claim.
Twelfth night is the traditional climax of the yuletide season, yet the wedding took place a week and a half before. Besides its traditional importance as the end of a period of revelry, it would have a remarkable connection to Susan’s father’s purported literary legacy, presuming that Oxford wrote Twelfth Night. If the intent was to make the marriage the highlight of the season, why did they miss the best possible day for it to happen? Or was it only the highlight for the Herberts?
I certainly appreciate your recommendation. There is plenty of research to do on those questions. My interest is really in good historical practice and reasoning, beyond any one topic or period of history. I like to look beyond any secondary narrative to focus on extant primary sources.
This applies both to Oxfordian and Stratfordian versions — I’m just as concerned by Stratfordian speculation and imprecision as I am with Oxfordian. I’m not looking for a moment of revelation. And though you may not think it’s to any purpose, following up on your extensive and detailed work here and seeking to find the source that you base it on leads me to some fascinating insights.
Though we have some fundamental disagreements, I actually think of the people who are fascinated with this period of English history and the history of literature — on all sides — as one community. Though you and I disagree on the highlight of the yule season at court in 1604-05, we’re both part of a small number of people in the world who are aware of the events of those brief months 412 years ago. Thanks for your willingness to share this forum and engage on these questions.
This is an and/and not an either/or situation. The number of plays and other entertainments performed over the 1604-05 holiday season are evidence of the splash that James was intent on creating for the first holiday of his reign. The 9 plays by “Shaxberd” are evidence of Oxford’s pleasure in his daughter’s marriage to a patron who someday, along with his brother, will publish his completed works, and to his own willingness to provide entertainment for the monarch who finally returned to him his inherited right to live in the Forest of Waltham where he could feel protected from the evil intentions of his brother-in-law, Robert Cecil, now Secretary of State.
This may sound like wild imaginings to those who do not see the creation of the London Media as having been created by one of the greatest geniuses of all time, not just the willy nilly thing as described by academics. If you truly would like to understand this and any number of other “unsupported” claims, I suggest you take the time to read why we are so certain that William could not possibly have written the Shakespeare canon. Only then can you see how nothing based on what evidence the Cecils left untouched simply makes no sense.