During the period of most intense education of the nobility, possibly since Alexander was tutored by Aristotle, the first gush of the burst of energy in fields of scholarship, education, and scientific questioning brought by the English Reformation, a great university scholar and teacher spent eight years tutoring a single student, the overly sheltered little scion of one of the last of a dying race, the medieval English nobility. That tutor was the great Sir Thomas Smith, known to his students as the flower of Cambridge University. That student was Edward de Vere, heir to the Oxford earldom.
Apart from the knowledge of ancient Greek and Latin philosophy, history, and literature, that Smith necessarily taught little Edward are five interests, one might call them passions, that lie outside the standard curriculum. That Shakespeare should be so steeped in these five areas is one of the leading arguments for Oxford as Shakespeare. These five areas of interest are the Law, astronomy/astrology, the garden, medicine (or physic), and hawking.
While living at Smith’s manor of Ankerwycke, Edward had little to do but follow his tutor around from the study to the garden, from the garden to the kitchen, from the kitchen back to the study. When Smith was gone on business, or locked away to work on some tract he felt called upon to write, naturally Edward would hang out with the falconer, the stable hands, the beekeeper, the gardeners, the dairy maids, the field hands, the cooks and the housekeepers.
Lacking a sibling for company, it was from these men and women of the household and outdoor staff that he learned the languages of the humble household crafts so prominent in Shakespeare, as noted by Caroline Spurgeon. They were in fact his surrogate family. They may have addressed him as “your Lordship” in company, but when tramping through the fields, falcon on fist, or brushing down a horse in the stable, or dipping a biscuit in a foaming mug of freshly espressed milk at the big table in the kitchen, there was nothing but the sort of comfortable camaraderie that will always spring to life among ordinary human beings.
There can be no doubt that Oxford got the kind of book learning from Smith that backs his claim (or ours for him) as author of Shakespeare, his knowledge of Homer, Plutarch, Ovid, and dozens of other sources. What these five extracurricular interests show is that Oxford learned more than just Homer and Plutarch from Smith, he was steeped as well in his tutor’s extracurricular interests. Let’s take a look at these five areas, at what we know of Smith’s interest in them, and what we’ve seen reflected in Shakespeare. Then let us consider how on earth any other candidate could possibly show this kind of connection to Shakespeare.
Shakespeare, Smith, and the Law
Shakespeare, Smith and medicine
Shakespeare, Smith and the garden
Shakespeare, Smith and astrology
Shakespeare, Smith and hawking
2 thoughts on “Shakespeare and Sir Thomas Smith”
The warmest of thanks for your excellent Forum. Sir Thomas Smith was a new gestalt I met here – to study more about. I pray for your good health. Please, go on writing.
Your words are celebrated here: