That events in Oxford’s life so closely match the plots of Shakespeare’s plays is a chain of evidence that those who deny his authorship can only ignore, as the connections are so obvious that denial is impossible. It seems that everything he wrote, everything that’s lasted at least, grew out of a current social or political situation with which his audience was concerned, plus some event in history, literature or folk tale, plus some circumstance in his own life. By investing the protagonist with his own emotions, brought about by something in his personal life, whether earlier or ongoing, he invested the play with life.
Some of the evidence for this comes from additions he made to his source material, like Arthur in King John, the little prince who fears that Hubert, his tutor, will betray him, and who then dies in an attempt to escape, perhaps a reflection of his situation when Smith left him with Fowle at Cambridge for five months when he was eight years old, probably with no indication of where he’d be sent if Smith got what he was after, a place on Elizabeth’s Council.
Next he’s Romeo, the 15-year- old who yearns for 13-year-old Juliet, but is denied access to her by social barriers, as so many young people were then by the differences in their parents’ religions, and as Oxford at 15 was from Mary Browne, daughter of one of the most conservative members of Elizabeth’s Court, shortly before she was forced to marry the somewhat mad 2nd Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s County Paris. Then comes Palamon whose friendship with Arcite is stressed by their common desire for Emilia, as is Euphues with Philautus and Oxford with Rutland over their relationship with Ann Cecil .
Into his late teens and early twenties he’s Hal, the prince who spends too much time hanging out in bad company and playing pranks as he waits for something important to do. Having finally gotten his Grand Tour in Italy in 1575, he’s those cads, Bertram and Proteus, cruel to the good girl who loves him while chasing trollops around Europe. Arriving home to a pile of debts and angry creditors, he’s Timon, who, naive at first, goes ballistic when he realizes he’s been taken for a ride by sycophants he had thought were his friends, and who now refuse to help him in his time of need. Then, following his 1580 confession of having plotted treasonably with Howard and Arundel, he’s both Coriolanus, furious with his community and himself, and Brutus, who committed regicide for what he believed was the good of his people.
In his hotheaded thirties he’s valiant Hotspur and witty Mercutio, both dangerously quick to take offense. He’s both Benedick (Mercutio overtaken by love) and Claudio, another Bertram-like cad. As Oberon, he’s “King of Shadows,” the shaman in charge of the ancient holiday rituals that not all that long ago used to take place on May Day and Midsummer’s Eve in the sacred groves of the great Royal forest. In his mid-thirties he’s Hamlet, Prince of Thoughts. His world turned upside down by the cold realities of medieval power politics, he makes the Court Stage his personal Star Chamber. Heart-broken over the death of his mentor and patron, the Earl of Sussex, he accuses Elizabeth of being Gertrude, Leicester of being Claudius, and Burghley of being Polonius, whom he kills in effigy for spying on him. Deeply in debt, he writes The Merchant of Venice, in which he dramatizes the argument that the Chancery Court of Equity be given precedence over the Court of Common Pleas, where he was being screwed.
With the ’90s comes the attack on the Stage by Robert Cecil and the assassinations of Marlowe and Lord Strange. Forced to call a (temporary) halt to his play-making and publishing, his credit cut off by Lord Burghley, he spends his days writing sonnets to his new patron, the young son of Mary Browne. When Southampton turns from him to join up with the Earl of Essex, the sonnets become mournful, but in the process, a new and more powerful style develops. As Mark Antony, once again he loses the world for the love of a beautiful woman, one with curly black hair and dark eyes who represents all that he loves and misses about Italy and the Mediterranean culture. The intense feelings that he suffers over these relationships get poured into sonnets, where they develop a new, more powerful, and more modern style.
When troubles with the Cecils continue to increase with the appointment of Robert Cecil as Secretary of State, followed by the deaths of his patron Hunsdon and the manager of his company, James Burbage, along with the loss of both of Burbage’s theaters, he fight back by revising his Henry IV plays to include a nasty caricature of Robert Cecil’s inlaws, a character eventually named Falstaff, a play on the name Shakespeare. Now in his forties, weary of the struggle, for the marriage of his oldest daughter he revises The Tempest. With her as Miranda and himself as Prospero, king of the magical isle, banished from his true place at Court by wicked schemers, with the help of his Ariel he befuddles them with “rough magic,” which, he assures his royal audience, he intends to give up now that his daughter is safely married (though sadly not to the one he wanted).
Finally in his fifties, driven mad by the mistreatment of his two oldest daughters, he’s Lear, who, like Timon so long before, runs naked and raving into the wilderness. But then, cheered by the advent of King James, whose young favorites, the Pembrokes, have taken him under their wings, like the vanquished hero in the old mummer plays, he leaps back to life as Duke Vincenzio, escaping the burden of his inherited responsibilities by retiring to a safe haven in the forest where he’s the courtier Touchstone who having fled the wicked Court to live freely in the forest with other Court escapees, grieves that he must spend his days courting that “unpoetic slut,” the public audience.
All these are metaphors for Oxford’s life. As for being the real Shakespeare, those who knew, knew they had to keep the secret; those who didn’t know, didn’t need to know. Who would have wanted to exchange so many wonderful fictions for the sad reality, a lonely man, crazed with longing and remorse?
The authorship question is not whether Oxford, Bacon, Marlowe, etc. wrote the Shakespeare canon, it’s what each of them actually wrote! Oxford wrote all the works we know as Shakespeare, plus Lyly’s novels, Greene’s tales, and a lot of earlier works published under the names of his secretaries and friends. Bacon wrote most of the Spenser canon, the Lyly plays, and the Nashe canon, while Raleigh wrote that part of the Spenser canon that’s not by Bacon. Sidney’s canon is valuable because it was never published as anyone’s but his (although it’s likely his sister made some changes and additions so it could be made public). Marlowe’s plays are all his own, but not the translations published after his death, the true authors Oxford, Bacon or Raleigh (or Buckhurst), who made use of Marlowe’s vacant name and persona to get them published. Mary Sidney used her coachman’s name, John Webster; everything published as by Webster is by Mary Sidney. These are the great artists who, against all odds, created the English Literary Renaissance.
2 thoughts on “Oxford’s life reflected in Shakespeare’s plays”
A great overview or preface to all the essays on this site or the book we will someday (hopefully) see on Shake-Speare and the English Renaissance. Please keep up the good work.
Thanks, Francis. We’re (me, myself and I) chugging along.