Oxford’s tutors on Shakespeare’s stage

As a child, Oxford lived with Sir Thomas Smith for eight years.  During that time it seems that he was the only student the Smith had, in fact, the only child in the Smith household.  Lacking a son of his own, surely Smith regarded little Edward as though he were his own son, teaching him the things he himself cared most about.  As a result, Oxford was in large part the product of Smith’s upbringing.  Thus it is one of the more compelling arguments in this study how closely Shakespeare’s interests coincide with those of Oxford’s tutor.

The Shakespeare-Smith connection

Here are some of the qualities Mary Dewar and John Strype attribute to Sir Thomas Smith, some taken from quotes by important persons of his time.  According to them, Smith was:

  • commonly regarded as the greatest legal mind of his day;
  • regarded as a superb teacher;
  • a master of oratory and rhetoric;
  • a writer who frequently used dialogue as a device in his treatises;
  • one for whom hunting and hawking were favorite pastimes
  • “mercurial, rash, and impetuous”;
  • “subject to nervous prostration and melancholy”;
  • one who often wrote to relieve anxiety;
  • one who “read widely in the poets and had a tendency to break into . . . verse himself”;
  • secular;  though a committed Protestant, in practise more inclined to turn to philosophy than to religion for answers;
  • a great Platonist;
  • a dedicated gardener with a love of roses;
  • fascinated with making medicines by means of distilling the juices of plants;
  • interested in all medical techniques;
  • one who had a professional’s knowledge of astrology/astronomy;
  • author of the first English document promoting the colonization of “undeveloped” lands;
  • fluent in Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Hebrew;
  • owner of a personal library of 400 plus books
  • a “master of style and grace of language”;
  • “a brilliant and facile” writer; a “voluminous” writer;
  • one who wrote anonymously, to shape policy, not for personal fame.
  • one whose name became separated from his works.

Now to compare Smith’s qualities with what we know about Shakespeare:

  • Smith was “considered the greatest legal mind of his day”––lawyers have written at length about Shakespeare’s intimate knowledge of the law (Alexander).
  • Smith was “regarded as a superb teacher.”––our culture prizes Shakespeare as much for his wisdom as for his ability to entertain us.
  • Smith was “a master of oratory and rhetoric”––scholars have written about Shakespeare’s mastery of rhetorical techniques, most notably his use of metaphor.
  • Smith was “a writer who used dialogue as a device in his treatises.”––dialogue is, of course, the primary medium of Shakespeare’s works.
  • Smith was “mercurial, rash, and impetuous,” as are many of Shakespeare’s protagonists, particularly the early ones like Hotspur, Hal, Falconbridge, and Mercutio.  Smith was “subject to nervous prostration, melancholy,” like Hamlet, Lear and Macbeth.
  • Smith was “one who often wrote to relieve anxiety”––Shakespeare speaks frequently of the inability to sleep, while of his tendency to write poetry nothing need be said. The Sonnets reflect his turning to writing to “unpack” his heart.
  • Smith was one who “read widely in the poets and had a tendency to break into . . . verse himself”––Shakespeare was, well, enough said.
  • Smith was “a secular person; though a committed Protestant, in practise more inclined to turn to philosophy than to religion for answers”––scholars have argued at length over Shakespeare’s personal beliefs, but Shakespeare’s basic rationale is always the philosophy of the Greek stoics.
  • Smith was “a great Platonist”––Shakespeare’s debt to Plato is common knowledge.
  • Smith was “one who greatly enjoyed hunting and hawking”––imagery from hunting and most particularly of hawking fill the works of Shakespeare.
  • Smith was “a passionate gardener with a great love of roses”––Shakespeare seems to know as much about plants and horticulture as a professional gardener; his love of roses is revealed in almost everything he wrote;
  • Smith was “fascinated with making medicines by means of distilling the juices of plants”––images taken from the process of distilling are frequent in Shakespeare’s works.
  • Smith was “interested in advanced medical techniques”––books have been written about the fact that Shakespeare’s writing seems to reflect the highest levels of medical knowledge of his time (Davis 45-59);
  • Smith had “a professional’s knowledge of astrology”––Shakespeare’s knowledge of astronomy and astrology was never at fault.
  • Smith “wrote the first English document promoting the colonization of ‘undeveloped’ lands”––Shakespeare addressed the same issues (from a very different perspective) in The Tempest;
  • Smith was “fluent in Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Hebrew”––scholars unafraid of the truth have shown that Shakespeare was fluent in these first four languages;  others have claimed a knowledge of Hebrew as well.
  • Smith was considered “a master of ‘style and grace of language'”––the name Shakepeare should suffice.
  • Smith owned “a personal library of over 400 books that covered every possible topic”––Shakespeare had a tremendously broad and ecclectic fund of the kind of knowledge that can only come from books, knowledge that he drew on for everything he wrote, particularly when seeking a metaphor;
  • Smith was “a ‘brilliant and facile’ writer”––again, the name is enough.
  • Smith was “a ‘voluminous’ writer”––however brilliant, 38 plays and 200 poems is actually rather slim for a lifetime of work, but almost as many more works may well be added to the canon when we add the “apocryphal” works written in his style once the time constraints of the Stratford biography have been removed.
  • Smith was “one who wrote anonymously; who wrote, not for personal fame but to influence events and policy”––as did “Shakespeare” if, as we believe, he hid his true identity behind pen names and stand-ins.
  • Smith’s name became separated from his works, as did that of the author of the Shakespeare canon.


3 thoughts on “Oxford’s tutors on Shakespeare’s stage

  1. The relationships between the works and the sources seem so strong and obvious to the casual observer that it is highly perplexing that the orthodox world of Stratford believers does not question itself more openly. What do they know that others don’t know? How can they persist with a myth for so long? Why are there not more objective judges calling for a resolution to this charade? What is keeping it sub rosa aside from an industry in Stratford?

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