Hello again! After nine months of silence I’m ready to blog again. The effort that went into creating the final publishable version of THE BOOK I’ve been working on for years hasn’t allowed me the time or the energy for anything else.
Throughout the early 1990s, after being awakened to the authorship question via Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William, I plumbed the university libraries in Boston for more information on the University Wits, a study that eventually led to the creation of The Oxfordian under the auspices of the Shakespeare Oxford Society. For ten years it was my privilege to publish a number of important authorship scholars, after which I left to continue lecturing and to writing for other publications. Hoping to reach a wider audience I began blogging under politicworm.com in 2008. With daily hits reaching near or at 500, by 2014 it was apparent that the material on the blog would have to be organized into a narrative if it was ever to be seen as a coherent whole, chapters in a story with a beginning and an end, in other words, a book. Now to find a publisher willing, perhaps even eager, to challenge the universities. Wish me luck!
Tackling the “Shakespeare Problem”
In digging into the anomalies that have dogged the Shakespeare story from the start, whether associated with his persona, his body of work, or the stage that introduced him to the world, I discovered that every one can be traced to a single cause: the biography of William of Stratford. Remove that, reduce William’s role to that of well paid provider of the magical name, and all the anomalies vanish. The early quartos, impossible to assign to someone born as late as 1564, become the missing Shakespeare juvenilia. The magical voice, appearing here and there under a variety of names from the mid-1560s on, becomes the early voice of Shakespeare.
Who was writing for the Children’s companies that so delighted Elizabeth from her earliest days as Queen? Who was it who was so fascinated from first to last with themes of love, sex, friendship and truth? Who could have had such knowledge of ancient stories, of Roman history, Greek myths, Courtly manners? Story by story, event by event, one individual and only one, from earliest works to final collection, lived a life that so perfectly fits in terms of time, place, events and content, that there is no reason to continue to seek some other solution to Chambers’ “Shakespeare problem.”
As revealed in C.W Wallace’s 1912 account of the birth of the London Stage, that the public theaters appeared almost twenty years before the great Shakespeare was available to make use of them is one of the anomalies that’s made it so hard to give a rational account of how the London Stage actually got born. Few have remarked upon the interesting fact that both of the first two commercially successful purpose-built stages in England opened for business within weeks of Oxford’s return from his year in Venice, where the history of western theater begins, and those who did take note of it in passing drew no conclusions from it.
Consistently overlooked by academics and authorship scholars alike are the wealthy and powerful patrons whose unyielding support led to the creation of the London Stage and the preservation of Shakespeare’s works. The notion that something so powerful (and so politically dangerous) as the public stage, a cultural game-changer on the level of the printing press or today’s social media, could have been created almost single-handed by a part time actor and joiner, the lowliest of trades, has been swallowed whole by the Academy and its precursors for some 200 plus years. While it’s clear that the patrons themselves preferred to keep as private as possible their involvement in creating and promoting that dangerous innovation, the London Stage, there’s no denying their existence and their importance. Of course, where the obvious can’t be denied, it can be ignored. In truth without the patrons (among them Oxford himself) there would have been no London Stage, at least not under the Tudors.
That no one so far as I know has investigated what should be the rather obvious effort to provide a theater close enough to the West End that it could entertain, and potentially influence, the important men from around the nation who assembled there every few years for another convention of Parliament, is equally absurd. That this blindness to the politics of the period have allowed the Academy to continue to claim that there were never any political overtones to the plays is simply mind-boggling in its lack of understanding of the power and nature of the Stage throughout historical time.
True, the plays as they have come down to us from the editors of the First Folio do not dwell on obvious political themes, but as anyone who studies the period knows, both political and religious debates invariably based their messages on events from history and ancient folk and biblical literature. And even had they been aware, the 15-year displacement caused by the Stratford biography renders impossible the clear connection between the play’s origin and the events that inspired it.
Do those whose opinions matter never study the history of the theater through the ages? How can they continue to think that, unlike his near contemporaries Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson (Marston, Chapman, Dekker, Middleton), etc., all of whom were in constant trouble with the authorities for meddling in politics, only Shakespeare remained untouched? If it puzzles them that during Essex’s treason trial Shakespeare’s actors were questioned about performing the highly political Richard II the day before Essex’s attack on the Court yet the author himself was not only not questioned, he wasn’t even mentioned, it has not been enough to make them question the identity of this strangely protected author.
Of course the Elizabethan Stage was just as political as has been every other Stage in human history! Of course it was dominated at the beginning by the playwright whose comedies were safely aligned with Court interests. Attempts to portray it as somehow operating apart from the all-consuming issues of the day are absurd, and in fact, are themselves hard evidence of university politics, the kind that determines what is worth publishing and what isn’t.
Because Shakespeare is so central to the story of the London Stage, and because there is so little evidence on which to build a satisfying history of the Stage as it developed through the 1570s and ’80s, the Academy pretends that there was nothing of any interest before his plays began to be published (anonymously) in the mid-1590s. At the very end of the decade, when the name finally appears suddenly on the title pages of the second editions of two of his most political plays, the Academy, helpless to explain this amazing leap from zero to greatness, concerns itself with things like stylometics and feminine endings, things that only experts like themselves can understand. (Like the little girl in the old New Yorker cartoon, “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it!”)
In every effort to describe the events of the nineties with respect to the stage, academics refer to actions taken by the government against the theaters as coming from the Privy Council, never bothering to note how greatly the Privy Councils of the 1570s and ’80s differed from the Privy Council of the 1590s. To academics dealing with the Stage, the bloody showdown between the Cecils and the Essex faction is a little rumble offstage, barely audible. The political upheavals of the nineties that gripped the Court and the nation hardly cause a ripple in their comfortable accounts of the deaths of Marlowe, Lord Strange, Lord Hunsdon and James Burbage, and the loss to Shakespeare and his company of their great new Blackfriars Theater, shut down in 1596 by order of a Privy Council dominated by Robert Cecil as demanded by one of his aunts.
It was the truly incredible level of Shakespeare’s learning that finally raised a public demand in the 19th century for the truth about his identity––particularly his knowledge of the Law. Why continue to follow blindly Jonson’s “small Latin and less Greek” since 19th-century jurists like Lord Penzance made plain the author’s unaccountably broad and deep grasp of the Law as it developed under the Tudors. According to Jonson’s biographers, honest Ben, Shakespeare’s contemporary, was famous for his ability to equivocate, that is, to word something so that it could be taken to mean something else, even the opposite. Thus,”though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek” could be understood to mean, “IF thou hadst small Latin . . . .” (According to the OED, #4 under “though” provides quotations where though can be taken to mean if.)
How difficult would it have been after 1920, when Oxford was brought out of the shadows by Looney, to check out his education? How difficult would it have been to follow up on Sir Thomas Smith, clearly stated as not only his tutor, but the one who “brought him up,” as revealed in letters from Burghley to Smith, Burghley to Walsingham, and Smith to Burghley (Nelson Adversary 25)? Until the advent of online resources like Google, every library had a copy of Books in Print, which listed books by name and author. This was where I found Mary Dewar’s 1964 biography of Smith, which contains the crucial fact that Oxford was put with Smith in 1554. And although Dewar failed to give a sufficiently solid citation for her rather specific statement, when Smith’s library is compared with Shakespeare’s knowledge as displayed in his plays, why cling to doubt? Such a placement, particularly at a time of such political upheaval, is totally in line with long-standing aristocratic tradition.
Shakespeare and the “stigma of print”
Most of Oxford’s biographers attribute the hiding of his name to the so-called “stigma of print,” a tradition that tended to prevent members of the Court community from publishing, but they do not make it clear that what was considered verboten were works of the imagination, poetry, tales, and plays, or the fact that such works were damned by the Reformation authorities then in control of publishing as sinful tools of the Devil, pathways to eternal damnation––or that such works were also inclined to satirize those same authorities. While admitting that Polonius was (probably) a spoof of Lord Burghley, the Queen’s great minister of State, why do they neglect what should have been equally obvious, that all the characters in Hamlet were based on members of Elizabeth’s Court? Why so far but no farther?
In 1980, Prof. Steven May, quotable expert on the Elizabethan Court poets, felt called upon to add his bit to the effort to quash the authorship debate, declaiming in a highly publicized article in Renaissance Papers: “Tudor Aristocrats and the mythical stigma of print,” wherein he asserts that “no ‘stigma of print’ is discernible during the Tudor age.” Not until the end does he admit what he should have made clear from the start, that “it was poesy, not the printing press, which our ancestors viewed with suspicion,” so that “the ‘stigma of print’ should give place to the ‘stigma of verse.’” Which includes of course plays, since playwrights were called poets then, and most early plays were written in verse, Shakespeare’s included.
Why not be clear about that distinction from the start? Because to be sufficiently clear about this was simply not to the good professor’s purpose, just as it has nothing to do with the actual record, which shows that the Queen never gave an official position to any of the writers of imaginative literature at her Court, including her godson, John Harington Jr., and Burghley’s nephew, Francis Bacon, both extremely bitter about their lack of bankable recognition. Nor does it acknowledge Thomas Sackville’s explanation for why he, then the Court’s most highly praised poet, as soon as he inherited his title in 1566, gave up writing verse as he explains in his last poem, “Sackville’s Old Age.” As Lord Buckhurst he would climb the Court promotion ladder, ending his days as the wealthy and powerful Earl of Dorset and Lord Treasurer under King James.
Frustrated by the way he was prevented from what in an earlier age would have allowed him as a great peer a significant role in the governing and defense of his nation, it seems from plays like Alls Well that Oxford did not fully appreciate, at least not at first, the fact that by striving to create a living literary language he was doing something far more important and meaningful, or that, by writing for the stage, he was acquainting the illiterate public with the heroes and defining moments in the history of their nation. By the time he died, those who followed him, his patrons and what must have been by then a substantial reading audience (based on the many editions of his published works), who certainly understood the nature and importance of what he had done, as evidenced by the time and effort it took to produce the elegant First Folio, without which he and his plays might have been lost to posterity.
That Oxford suffered financially by the travels in Italy and throughout the Mediterranean that brought him subjects for so many of his best plays, is reflected in Rosalind’s comment from As You Like It: “A traveller! By my faith, you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s; then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands” (Act IV Scene 1). Aware that no hero was ever remembered by history unless a poet had praised him in memorable terms, as certain of his Sonnets suggest, he believed that they would make the Fair Youth famous someday. Someday that is, not right away, for doubtless, concerned for Southampton’s reputation, it was Oxford himself who must have prevented their publication until his death made it possible for others to profit by ushering them into print.
Given the peculiar absence of facts from this period, we can never hope to reach beyond our present stalemate with the Academy until we find other means to tell what is, in fact, a story just as compelling as any told by Shakespeare himself. Part of that story explains to the satisfaction of any reasonable mind, why at every critical juncture the paper trail vanishes. Why this is so is an important chapter in the story, not simply of how the plays came to be written, but beyond that, by what means and why their provenance came to be erased.
Let’s hear it for conjecture
It will doubtless be argued that because my account relies on educated guesswork to bridge these crucial blank spots that therefore it cannot be “true.” Unfortunately were we to continue to rely solely on what facts remain the truth would remain in the condition in which it has remained for the past 400 years. In the realms of history, in particular the history of literature, even more so of theatrical literature, is not conjecture equivalent to the role of the hypothesis in Science? Do not the “Laws” of Science rest upon an initiatory stage, that of the hypothetical, the pad from which is launched the second stage, the necessary and often prolonged period of experimentation by which the Laws of Science are ultimately revealed? Have not these first guessed-at then proven Laws resulted in the amazing advances in technology that has brought us the life we enjoy today? Where so much is missing, a History devoid of conjecture surely ranks with a Science devoid of hypothesis.
And so I rest my case.
28 thoughts on “I’m back!”
Glad to have you back!
I noticed a small but interesting item. Your mention of Mary Dewar’s biography of Smith put me on the trail of Mary Dewar. It was interesting to read a review of a newly (in 1969) edited Elizabethan book attributed to Smith, for which Mary Dewar was the editor. If I’m understanding reviewer Charles Wilson correctly, the original version of the book, A Discourse of the Commonweal of This Realm of England, was issued in 1581 and the authorship ascribed only to a mysterious “W.S.” Dewar argues, apparently in a convincing way, that “W.S.” would easily have been William Smith, Sir Thomas’s nephew. That is, perhaps William would have been one appropriate choice of stand-in if Sir Thomas, the true author, wished to deflect questions elsewhere. How interesting, in that another mysterious “W.S.” would appear before too very long, in a theater setting closely intertwined with running political commentary. (I believe as you do that the two fields are scarcely separable.) Could such an earlier William have influenced the choice of a subsequent “William,” largely brought up and superbly educated by Sir Thomas Smith? At any rate, here is the familiar pattern of a courtier evading accusations of tradesman-like publication through a pseudonymous set of initials.
Stable link to the review:
Tom, I understand the temptation to relate everything to the Shakespeare story, but there’s no doubt but this W.S. was William Smith, Sir Thomas Smith’s nephew. He had inherited Smith’s estate, including his uncle’s papers, and doubtless thought them grist for his own mill. The attitude towards the works of others was anything but reverent back then. Dewar did heroic work by identifying two of the previously anonymous but important tracts of the time as Smith’s.
What a fine stirring introduction to the great body of Oxfordian scholarship that you have teased out of the literary and political history of the time. You will be recognized and thanked in good time, dear lady.
Dear Stephanie, Welcome back! I am so glad to hear your voice again on this blog. I missed you.
I am reading “The Life Story of Edward DeVere as “William Shakespeare” by Percy Allen. Your recent post reflects the
wonderful cleverness of this book in a short blog. Well done.
As I read this book and your amazing website collection, I cannot imagine any other view than the Oxfordian one. The “evidence”, such as it is, in any court, would find in favor of Oxenford !!!!!
Welcome back! So happy to see this in my email inbox! E VER yours,
No, it’s not. Under the scientific method, a hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon, that must be testable. A scientist could not call open ended conjecture that is beyond the power of science to disprove a hypothesis. For example, many have theorized that prior to the “big bang,” an all-powerful god’s intentional act triggered the creation of the universe around us. Such untestable conjecture is the realm of faith or fiction, not science.
Another worthwhile analogy is alchemy. The alchemists were convinced that there was a touchstone that would transform base material into gold. The alchemists began with an incorrect conception of chemistry and physics, and then spent centuries in a futile effort to validate it. Though they were neither stupid nor careless, their initial premise doomed their venture to failure. Some alchemists actually did contribute to science — Hennig Brand, an alchemist working in 1669 seeking the philosopher’s stone, discovered phosphorus by distilling and concentrating urine. But though it was golden in color, it did not change base metals into gold. Brand was the first to discover a pure element that did not occur in nature, but his discovery did not advance his goal.
Of course, the historical method is somewhat different than the scientific method, mainly because there is a limited amount of extant evidence. One cannot experiment to prove a hypothesis for which there are no extant primary sources. But there is a well-developed historical method to identify reliable historical accounts (described here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_method). Careful application of this kind of analysis, rather than open ended conjecture, is the difference between history an historical fiction.
Well, Headlight, you couldn’t be more wrong. According to Wikipedia, “A working hypothesis is a provisionally accepted hypothesis proposed for further research, in a process beginning with an educated guess or thought.”
As I did my best to make clear, where evidence is not sufficient to explain something, whether in Science or History, the next best thing is a conjecture based on known components of adjacent events, such as, in Science, the appearance of the planet Pluto based on conjectures arising from anomalies in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, or in theatrical literature the heroism of Henry V in Shakespeare’s play and the terrifying threat of the approach of the Spanish Armada.
If properly labelled conjecture, it is not an explanation but a probability, which, if provided to complete a developing storyline, must do until more concrete evidence is available. However, if no confirming evidence ever appears, if the conjecture fits a developing narrative and the narrative in itself is sufficiently convincing, history will forget that it was ever provisional. In our case, the peculiar lack of evidence itself demands an explanation, adding another question to be hypothesized, namely that someone in a position to erase the record, did so, who that might have been and what was their reason?
No analysis can be “careful” enough to provide an answer where so many records are missing. In such a case, if we were to shun the task of telling the story of the past because of insufficient provable facts, we would end up with blank areas where there is no history at all, which is what has happened to the history of the creation of the English Media due to its connection to the missing history surrounding the historical black hole known as Shakespeare.
As for the reference to Alchemy, it seems you have fallen for one of the older tricks in the book. This definition of the search for the philosopher’s stone that could turn lead into gold had nothing to do with an actual transformation from one metal to another, but was instead a metaphor for the philosopher’s effort to discover the gold of metaphysical truths in the lead of published works. Why lead? Because in the age of burning heretics at the stake, only leaden words could pass censorship without causing the philosopher trouble. Why gold? Because gold is the only pure metal in that, unlike all other metals, and like the great philosophical truths, it does not tarnish. If this explanation ever actually led the ignorant to attempt the impossible on the material plane, it was not the fault of the philosopher, whose message was for those of a higher mind. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Lead and gold are both relatively heavy metals, with lead only slightly heavier than gold, which is a much more plausible reason that alchemists imagined that one could be transformed into the other. Lead was a commonly available metal, likely one of the first ever smelted, and was readily available since it was frequently found in ore that also contained silver.
It is certainly correct that alchemy included philosophical and metaphoric elements; that’s one of the reasons that alchemy was not science. But alchemy and the search for the Philosopher’s Stone was certainly a real, principal purpose of alchemists. Brand was not distilling urine to make some point about great philosophical truths. And it wasn’t because they were “ignorant;” Roger Bacon, Tycho Brahe, and Isaac Newton all practiced alchemy. Can you provide any evidence that any of them were in danger of being burned at the stake as heretics? Or was Newton ignorant in not recognizing that alchemy is really just a metaphor?
An argument like this fails because it fails to take into account the fact that at the time in question, terms like alchemy and astrology were undergoing the process that led to the birth of modern Science, with alchemy becoming chemistry and astrology becoming astronomy, the first due to the Arabs’ discovery of distilling, the second to their discovery of lens-crafting, both derived from techniques of creating different kinds and forms of glass from sand and fire.
Over the ages before the West learned these techniques from the Middle East, along with the math that went with them, alchemy was both philosophy and chemistry, and what we call astronomy today was simply another word for astrology, which covered both the philosophical or psychological aspects of studying the heavens and the actual mechanics of the movements of stars and planets.
Where the metallurgists went wrong was their (understandable) confusion between the philosophy of alchemy and the reality of turning one metal into another. They have never succeeded in turning lead into gold, although they have succeeded in creating diamonds.
This is an important point, and I appreciate your response.
In scientific terms, the anomalies in the orbits of planets are evidence. They led to a hypothesis that a previously unobserved object existed, and implied the orbit, mass etc. of that object. The hypothesis was testable; it led to a search for an object that accounted for that evidence, and the object was observed.
But the hypothesis, without the subsequent observation of Pluto, was one of many possible ideas to account for the observed anomalies. Any that did not predict an object of the size and orbit of Pluto was incorrect. Some of those theories could be complete nonsense if they did not reasonably follow from the evidence or they imagined the existence of some mysterious, unknown mechanism that accounted for the anomalous orbits.
For example, what would an observer in Shakespeare’s time have made of the anomalies? Prior to the acceptance of a heliocentric model, anomalous movement of planets was accounted for through epicycles, where the planets slowed or even reversed their direction in the skies. The epicycles were merely the observed data; there was no explanation for why the planets would move that way, but the geocentrism was assumed based on faith in the bible, preventing acceptance of any other explanation. The existence of epicycles was a hypothesis that explained the movement of the planets, one that survived for centuries, but that was never a correct explanation. Like alchemy or astrology, since the underlying assumptions were wrong, everything that was based on those assumptions was nonsense.
In the case of geocentrism, “the conjecture” [that planets moved in epicycles] “fit a developing narrative and the narrative in itself [was] sufficiently convincing, [as long as nobody thought too hard about how planetary movement changed speed and direction every so often.] Rather than history forgetting that the epicycles were a provisional explanation, they turned out to be a fatal flaw that took down the rest of the geocentric theory with them. There are many such dead ends in the history of science. And, for that matter, in literary history.
Exactly. As long as we conjecture that there was such a conspiracy, and we conjecture that all the references to Shakespeare were actually a pseudonym for someone other than William of Stratford, and conjecture that the conspiracy was so thorough that it eliminated all direct evidence of its own existence, we can forge ahead with other conjectures that assume all the other conjectures were correct. This web of conjectures is circular — the entire lack of direct evidence supporting Edward de Vere as a significant playwright for the common stage is itself proof that the conspiracy was controlled by “someone in a position to erase the record.”
Unfortunately, this also makes the argument untestable: there is no evidence that could ever be found that would disprove it, because such evidence would be considered to be evidence of the thoroughness of the mysterious person or group who sought to erase the record.
Yes. All of this is certainly true as far as it goes, or rather, as far as it has gone until now, because until now no one has pursued it through the history of the period sufficiently thoroughly to reveal the solid and inevitable conclusion that it took me almost 40 years to locate. Hopefully some publisher will find the argument interesting enough to make it available, at which time I’ll be delighted to respond to your reaction.
I sincerely look forward to reading it when it comes out.
I hope that your book will explore why Oxford’s Essex dialect did not become the “living literary language” of the kingdom. The orthography of his letters is quite consistent from 1569 to 1604: like his uncle Arthur Golding, like the rural folk around Hedingham as late as the 1950s, and completely unlike the author of Shakespeare’s works, Oxford would have said “leekwheeze” for “likewise” and “meece” for “mice.” He rhymes “greef” with “stryfe.” “Wales” and “walls” are homonyms for him. He also invariably writes “oft” for “ought,” a vulgarism. There is simply no trace of Oxford’s dialect in Shakespeare’s language, in its assonances, rhymes, and wordplay. If you want to make the radical claim that the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare,” you will need to explain why he used a less prestigious dialect to write letters to the Queen and King than to pen plays for the common stage.
So far there is no evidence that Oxford was raised in Essex. What evidence there is shows that like many juvenile aristocrats then he was placed in early childhood with a tutor who happened to be living in distant Berkshire. Although Smith himself was raised in Essex, the dialect Oxford heard from Smith’s neighbors and servants would have been local.
I use a very different language when I email friends and family than the language I use when I blog or write for fellow Oxfordians, something I imagine is pretty much true for everyone who writes.
William Plumer Fowler has made a good case for how Oxford’s letters reflect Shakespearean tropes. At least he wrote letters, something of which, as it should be clear after 400 years of delving, the illiterate William was obviously incapable. Arguments based on details like these become pointless when compared with the overarching impossibility that someone of William’s background could possibly have written the polished, educated works of Shakespeare. Until this obvious fact is accepted as the basic reality, comments like these are simply beside the point.
So far there is no evidence that Oxford was raised in Essex.
His dialect is strong evidence: like his maternal uncle, the Essex-born Arthur Golding, Oxford usually spelled and rhymed as if long “i” and long “e” were the same interchangeable vowel. In London and court English, “like” was pronounced [ləɪk], with exactly the diphthong that Groucho Marx uses in “circus.” For Golding and his nephew, it was [li:k], exactly like “leek.” Oxford writes “misleke” for “mislike”; Golding writes “byleeke” for “belike.” The younger man rhymes “grief” [gri:f] and “strife” [stri:f]; the elder, “aliue” [ali:v] and “cleave” [cli:v], among many other such pairs.
In his Logonomia Anglica (1619), Alexander Gil describes that [i:]-for-[əɪ] substitution as a primary characteristic of East Anglian dialect. As late as the 1950s, rural folk in a small area round about Hedingham were still saying “meece” for “mice.”
If someone usually spells “take” as “tike” and rhymes “cake” with “bike,” you might reasonable assume they were brought up by Cockneys. Likewise, Oxford’s spelling and his rhyme-words are evidence of how he spoke, and where he was brought up.
Either he was raised in Essex, or was surrounded in his childhood by people with East Anglian accents. Smith had lost his, as his writings on pronunciation show. It is reasonable to conclude that the Viscount spent his entire childhood (save for a few months at Cambridge) in Essex, at Hedingham Castle and later, Hill Hall.
What evidence there is shows that like many juvenile aristocrats then he was placed in early childhood with a tutor who happened to be living in distant Berkshire.
What evidence do you have, other than a conjecture based on a vaguely worded phrase in Dewar’s book? She also writes that Edward had succeeded his father as Earl some time before October 1559, and was by that time Cecil’s ward, “after leaving Smith’s household at the age of twelve.” In other words, Dewar thinks that Edward de Vere was born no later than 1547. Seven being the customary age for placing out children, she might simply have chosen 1547 + 7 = 1554 as a possible date for joining Smith’s household. In her alternative chronology, John de Vere dies some time before October 1559. Edward then leaves Smith’s household and becomes Cecil’s ward, in time to host the Duke of Finland.
Dewar has many strengths as a scholar, no doubt, but she made a real hash of the de Vere chronology. It would have taken her five minutes to consult the ODNB and get her years straight.
There are compelling political and religious reasons why the Earl of Oxford’s son would not be under the tutelage of a disgraced Protestant in Mary’s reign.
Not to pre-empt SSH’s answer– but Oxford was schooled from a young age by scholars of Cambridge ( Laurence Nowell, Christ Church, Oxford, M.A. in 1552) and Sir Thomas Smith, ( Queens’ College, Cambridge, Fellow in 1530; first Regius Professor of Civil Law: lecturer in Greek; graduate of Padua). And Oxford’s family, Earls of Oxford for 16 generations, were educated fluent speakers and readers of Latin, Greek, Norman French, Italian. Thus, their English was never an illiterate commoner’s English nor were their accents uninfluenced by the foreign tongues the family learned and practiced generation to generation.
It may grate on those who harbour today’s hyper-politically-correct sensibilities but the fact of the matter then was that the commoner, the field labourer, was most often illiterate and spoke a distinctly different kind of English from the nobility. Further, in Oxford’s youth and through his adulthood, dictionaries hadn’t yet become common ans so had not produced the uniformed world of correct spelling that some of us once knew.
Among the literate, spellings were quite varied and inconsistent–even by the same writer over the course of his or her lifetime. Vowel pronunciations also varied over time and what rhymed in 1340 or 1440 or 1540 can have changed subtly or strikingly.
Of course, we have no reason to believe that Oxford wrote anything in 1340, 1440, or 1540. His entire written output was between 1550 and 1604.
Your argument relies entirely on treating Oxford (and William Shakespeare) as members of social classes, rather than as individuals. But as Nemo Whilk’s writings show, there is plenty of specific evidence of Oxford as an individual to compare to the writings of Shakespeare.
But your point is still an important one: English pronunciation was changing during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, notably through the Great Vowel Shift. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift. During this period, the vowel sound in the word “mate” was shifting from /ɛː/ to the current /eɪ/; there were a number of variants. The long-a pronunciation in 1600 was more like a drawn-out version of a short-a. In a time when spelling was phonetic rather than standardized, these variants were preserved in written form.
Yes indeed, and this area, which I could only touch on briefly in the book, deserves a book of its own. The truth about Shakespeare is part and parcel of the way in which the Stage influenced the Middlesex dialect, spreading an increasingly modern style of speech in the same way that in 20th century America, the invention of the radio spread “radio English” to all parts of the nation. There are many equally important byways to this story that can only be fully comprehended when the truth about Shakespeare has been published and accepted.
Of course, that shifting pronunciation from /ɛː/ to the current /eɪ/ means that the difference between “Shakespeare” (as typically spelled in documents related to Shakespeare of Stratford written by compositors, clerks and scribes in London) and “Shakspere” (as it was frequently spelled in Stratford) was far less than it would appear from a modern pronunciation of the long-a.
The entire argument based on the spelling of Shakespeare’s name fails once we recognize that pronunciation (and therefore phonetic spelling) was in transition, and idiosyncratic.
Yes, it was in transition; yes, it was idiosyncratic; but that does not mean that it’s impossible to unscramble. As soon as we turn from attempts to fit everything into the 1590s, this and any number of other important subjects will yield as yet unimagined riches to scholars no longer tied to the deer poacher and horse-holder from Stratford.
Oxford was schooled from a young age by scholars of Cambridge …
You are confusing privilege with accomplishment. The quality of the teacher is not necessarily reflected in the pupil: for example, George W. Bush (now eclipsed in villainy) holds degrees from both Yale and Harvard, yet he is in no way brilliant. Tom Stoppard, perhaps the greatest living English playwright, dropped out of school at seventeen. Like Shakespeare, he’s an autodidact.
You can lead an Oxenford to water but you cannot make him think.
And Oxford’s family, Earls of Oxford for 16 generations, were educated fluent speakers and readers of Latin, Greek, Norman French, Italian.
Do you have evidence for this extraordinary claim? As a class, English noblemen were traditionally undereducated, so much so that Roger Ascham complained of it in 1570: “The fault is in your selves, ye noble men’s sonnes, that commonlie the meaner mens children cum to be the wisest councellors and greatest doers in the weightie affaires of this Realme. And why? …[B]icause ye will have it no otherwise, by your negligence.”
Thus, their English was never an illiterate commoner’s English nor were their accents uninfluenced by the foreign tongues the family learned and practiced generation to generation.
Unsupported invention. The 17th is the first Earl of Oxford to have left written evidence of his speech in his spelling. Throughout his life, he would have spoken in East Anglian dialect of his early childhood.
… the commoner, the field labourer, was most often illiterate and spoke a distinctly different kind of English from the nobility.
Is this meant to disparage William Shakespeare? He was born into the middle class, and ended as minor gentry. Like a great many boys of that class, he had a grammar-school education: not the two hours a day that Oxford devoted to Latin grammar and rhetoric, but eight or nine. He made the English we speak.
Further, in Oxford’s youth and through his adulthood, dictionaries hadn’t yet become common ans so had not produced the uniformed world of correct spelling that some of us once knew.
True. But even among Elizabethans, Oxford’s orthography is quite distinctive.
Among the literate, spellings were quite varied and inconsistent–even by the same writer over the course of his or her lifetime.
Many of Oxford’s most eccentric spellings, like “oft” for “ought” and “lek[e]” for “like” are invariant (or nearly so) throughout his lifetime.
Vowel pronunciations also varied over time and what rhymed in 1340 or 1440 or 1540 can have changed subtly or strikingly.
True enough, but Oxford was rhyming “grief” with “strife” in the 1570s, and he continued writing as if long “i” and long “e” were both pronounced “ee,” right up to the year of his death in 1604. This is incompatible with Shakespeare’s dialect, in which “like” was “loik.” He could pun on “fatal loins” and “fatal lines.” For Oxford, they would have been “fatal liens.”
All valid points, yet beside the great and overarching point that the author simply could not have been someone born as late as 1564, they fall by the wayside. A proper study of the evolution of Shakespeare’s language cannot be accomplished until it’s been accepted that this process actually began in the 1560s, not in the 1590s, as has been imposed on scholars by the Stratford biography. Replace the purported author with one born in 1550, and everything by and about the evolution of both Shakespeare and the London Stage falls into place.
Mary Dewar’s 1964 biography of Smith … contains the crucial fact that Oxford was put with Smith in 1554. And although Dewar failed to give a sufficiently solid citation for her rather specific statement, when Smith’s library is compared with Shakespeare’s knowledge as displayed in his plays, why cling to doubt? Such a placement, particularly at a time of such political upheaval, is totally in line with long-standing aristocratic tradition.
Let’s look at that passage from Dewar’s book:
“When John Taylor, Bishop of Lincoln, specially aroused Mary’s wrath and was evicted from his bishopric in March of 1554, Smith offered him a home at Ankerwicke where he died in December. At the same time Edward de Vere, only son of the Earl of Oxford, Mary’s Great Chamberlain, was placed in Smith’s household” (Dewar, 77).
“At the same time” is not “fact” or “rather specific,” but quite vague. Does she mean that week? That year? That decade? Dewar’s only source is a letter to William Cecil of 25 April 1576 in which Sir Thomas writes that Oxford “was brought vp in my howse.” That sojourn is undated.
Elsewhere on this blog, you write:
“As for the date, December 1554, although the letter she cites fails to support it, she is specific enough that we may consider it partial, if not definitive, evidence, perhaps based on information in a letter or other document that she failed to note at the time for later citation.”
More probably Dewar just screwed up. She can be shockingly sloppy. Just three pages later, she writes: “In October  Smith was appointed to assist the Earl of Oxford in receiving the Duke of Friesland [sic] who had come to offer the hand of his brother Eric of Sweden to Elizabeth.” This of course would have been John, the 16th Earl, then aged 43, who met with John, Duke of Finland. Yet Dewar writes that Smith “took the opportunity to praise the way in which the young Earl was entertaining the Duke and said that no one could have done it better.” Young Earl? Does she mean Edward, then aged nine? She does. “This was probably a source of satisfaction to both of them; for after leaving Smith’s household at the age of twelve the young Earl had become Cecil’s ward” (Dewar, 80). And she cites “Smith to Cecil, 1 Oct. 1559. 12/7/2.” This is mortifyingly bad scholarship: not only does she confuse the father and son, but writes as if Edward’s future were past, as if 1559 had happened after 1562. Did the boy have a Tardis?
So 1554 is unfounded speculation. Is it even likely?
In 1554, Sir Thomas Smith and John de Vere, then Earl of Oxford, belonged to opposing parties. As a staunch Protestant under Mary’s rule, Smith had been stripped of his offices—including the provostship of Eton, his sole reason for residing at Ankerwycke. John de Vere, an expedient Catholic, had defected to Mary’s camp, which got him his great chamberlainship back; he secured Ipswich for her—put down the Protestant resistance—and in 1555 “was instructed to assist with the burning of heretics at Colchester and Manningtree.” Of the Essex men and women brought before the Earl of Oxford to be charged by him with heresy, and thence conveyed to London for examination, at least sixteen were burnt: four in 1555, seven in 1556, and five in 1557. You may read of him in Actes and Monuments.
Smith could not, while Mary reigned, have fostered Oxford’s son. Could he, in all good conscience, raise the viscount as a Papist? In defiance of the earl, in safety, as a Anglican? No. For his part, Vere would not have chosen Smith. As a tactical Catholic and suspected shuffler, he could not have openly engaged a heretic to bring up his heir.
… why cling to doubt?
Why? Because the date 1554 is almost certainly a careless error, wishfully adopted. In the religious climate of Mary’s reign, it makes no sense at all.
In October 1558, Lord Bolbec entered Queens’ College in Cambridge; on 14 November, three days before Mary’s death, he matriculated. After the infamous bills in January and March 1559 for the repair of window-glass, his name disappears from the books. It makes sense that, having failed to settle down at Cambridge, he should then have been moved into a less distracting environment. And with Smith’s star rising under the Protestant Queen, it would make political sense to put the boy under his tutelage. “Long-standing aristocratic tradition” used the fostering of aristocratic children to gain advantage, not to hazard it.
You appear to believe that “when Smith’s library is compared with Shakespeare’s knowledge as displayed in his plays,” this somehow constitutes evidence that the viscount came to Smith’s household in 1554, which is somehow evidence of Oxford’s authorship of Shakespeare.
Can you bring us along with you from A to B to C?
Have you any evidence from Oxford’s own writings that he had read any of those books? Why do you think he had to have encountered them at 5 or 6 rather than at 9 or 10? Or indeed in his 20s, 30s, or 40s?
Or that William Shakespeare could not have read other copies of those books, or different books on the same subjects?
Smith’s library was kept at Hill Hall, along with all of his scientific equipment and his art collection. At Ankerwycke (where you believe the Viscount was educated), the inventories list exactly one book: a Bible. If the Viscount was indeed raised at Ankerwycke, what books did he study? Given that his Lordship’s room there is furnished like a servant’s (as befits a boy under tutelage), and that Smith’s bedroom there contains no bed at all (he seldom stayed there, and complained of the damp when he did), is it not reasonable to conjecture that the boy was sent there with his tutor and a box of textbooks to be out of Smith’s way?
And most importantly: why do you think that Oxford was a genius?
His letters are by a man of no remarkable intelligence (you could call him brightish), no great learning (he has a few stock Latin phrases, some of which he sadly mangles), and no real writerly gifts. His prose is lackluster and rambling, at times incoherent. If the man could write like Shakespeare, why did he go on, for decade after decade, writing like Oxford?
I’m not going to bother to respond to points based on a reading far too highly colored with invectives. As both Smith and Shakespeare noted by using a common metaphor of the time, “One nail drives out another”––without a driving nail, attempts to fill the vacuum created by the standard biography must continue to fail, as can be seen once again in the recent attempts by Shapiro and Greenblatt to bring him to life.
Equally, attempts to tarnish Dewar’s reputation fail when considering how she proved in two brilliant articles that two of the most important tracts of the period, previously considered anonymous or the work of someone else, were in fact policy papers written by Smith during his career as one of England’s leadings statesmen, an important adjustment to the record now accepted by all who get published on this subject. When a popular historian like Sir Geoffrey Elton shows the kind of “sloppy” thinking that tends to damage an entire generation’s understanding of history, Dewar’s misunderstanding about which Oxford met the Duke of Finland, pales by comparison. The concerted efforts by Elton’s intellectual offspring to discredit and ignore Dewar show how greatly the Academy fears her statement on when Oxford came to Smith. It’s high time the reasons for this ancient fear were brought to light and pulled up by the root.
As for why I believe that Oxford was a genius is simple enough, because I believe that he was Shakespeare. One of the worst results of the Academy’s defense of the Stratford authorship has been to diminish this towering genius to a mere byproduct of other men’s efforts. Forced by William’s dates, their Shakespeare arrives late on the scene, begins by revising other men’s plays (whose original plays of course they cannot say), then shares the authorship of other plays with lesser writers, and all kinds of additional nonsense that diminishes the overwhelming importance to English culture of the works themselves as they attempt to explain them in the dim light of the Stratford biography.
The Stratford biography is a lie that was born in 1598 when the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were forced by circumstances that the Academy would prefer to ignore to put a name on the plays that they had been publishing anonymously for four years, a lie that then, with the rise to fame of the Company, had to be supported by other lies, until it was cast in stone by Ben Jonson in 1623.
Winston Churchill, a representative of the British Imperial Establishment if there ever was one, is reported to have responded to the authorship question with “I don’t want my myths tampered with.” Let’s do some tampering. The truth is so much more interesting than the lie. The true story of how Oxford did what he did in the face of the same kind of resistance that keeps the lie alive, is just as compelling as any of the stories he told in his plays.
And that’s enough about the evils of Oxford and the notion that he was too awful or too stupid to have written the plays (from now on we won’t publish what belongs on Oxfraud), a reputation that he mourned in his final version of Hamlet, “O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!” If Horatio (Oxford’s cousin, Horatio Vere?) did not think it politically wise to “tell his story,” it’s time someone did.