Tag Archives: Romeo and Juliet

Theatrical birth pangs: 1776 to 1584

Early in April 1576, following a year of exciting adventures on the Continent, the Earl of Oxford arrived back in England to a sea of troubles.  During his final days in Paris, someone from home had prepared him for the gossip he’d encounter on his return.  Rumor had it that his daughter, born during his time away, was another man’s child.  Worse, it was even rumored that that other man was his wife’s own father, Lord Burghley, who, concerned that after five years of marriage there was still no Cecil heir to the Oxford earldom, had taken matters into his own hands.

This of course was nothing more than foulest, cruelest rumor, and Oxford would have cause to work different versions of the dreadful story into six plays over the years, but in his hot youth, when touched where he was most vulnerable, he was all too easily roused to unthinking fury.  Brooding on this and other worries, his mood was hardly improved when the ship that carried him accross the Channel was boarded by pirates and all he had with him was lost.  Ignoring his well-intntioned brother-in-law, Thomas Cecil, who had come to meet him at Dover, he returned to London with one of the “lewd friends” that Burghley so disliked.  Refusing to have anything to do with either his wife or her father, he rented rooms at the Savoy and turned his attention to plans already in progress to create the suburban theaters that he and Sussex and Burbage agreed were the only way to accommodate the burgeoning London theater audience in a way that would stop the constant interference by the Mayor and other London officials.

Once Oxford calmed down, the truth about his daughter must have been obvious, but by then he also realized how important it was that he break off as completely as he could with Burghley, whose habit of prying into everything he did or said was driving him mad.  He was not in love with Anne, never had been, and although he was sorry for her, stuck as she was between her husband and her father, he had his life to live.  If Burghley wouldn’t let her go, then let him keep her, “for there, “ he wrote, “as your daughter or her mother’s, more than my wife, you may take comfort of her, and I rid of the cumber thereby.”  The future Shakespeare was never one to mince words when he was sore.

Within days of his return a huge new theater began taking shape in the outskirts of northeast London.  Based on temporary stages he had seen in Siena built by Palladio and on plans for theaters in the ancient Latin tract on architecture he borrowed from his tutor, the innovative yearround theater, the first of its kind in England (and possibly in all of Europe) was built to hold somewhere between two and  three thousand paying customers at a time.  Meanwhile plans were in progress to turn one of the apartments in the Revels section of the Blackfriars compound on the Thames into a school for the Queen’s boy choristers, where the little stage meant for their rehearsals could be used from time to time to entertain the audience that meant the most to Sussex and his vice Chamberlains, the lawyers, scribes, and parliamentarians of Westminster.

The summer of 1576 saw audiences flock to the big round public theater in the East End, where herds of apprentices and tradesmen and their wives and sweethearts were eager to pay their pennies to see plays they were told had been performed for the Queen.  Burbage and his crew grew bold as they collected the money that had always escaped them at the theater inns, where they could only pass the hat at intermission.  That winter those residents of the West End who could afford it were charmed by the boys at the little stage at Blackfriars where they paid a substantial fee to see, by candlelight, richly furnished early versions of A Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus, and Timon of Athens.

The residents surrounding the new theaters were not so thrilled by the litter, the noisy crowds and late hours––but with powerful privy councillors like the Earl of Sussex and Lord Hunsdon as patrons (Hunsdon now living next door to the little theater), and the Earl of Rutland, whose City manor stood a few yards from Burbage’s stage on land that until recently had been his family’s heritage, and where he still held rights––there was little the neighbors could do, at least, not right away.

For six years, all went relatively smoothly for the newborn London Stage and its patrons. Then in 1581 Oxford got himself bounced from Court for impregnating a Queen’s Maid of Honor.  Furious at how he was being treated by the Queen and the Court; fearful for his life and the life of his retainers at the hands of his mistress’s angry relatives; bitter at his mistress for what he saw as her willingness to drop him for a better prospect––he refused to continue to write for the Court and began turning out plays filled with personal passion and aimed at the West End audience.  This probably meant using the little theater at the Blackfriars school, probably with adult actors from Burbage’s and Worcester’s Men, and probably fairly late into the night.

These were not the kind of plays that he could have written for the Court.  Angry at Ann Vavasor for what he believed was her perfidy in taking up with another man, he rewrote one he’d written earlier about the Trojan war, lavishing it with irony, and pouring all his pain over his mistress into the plot and characters in Troilus and Cressida.  Furious at his cousins for accusing him publicly of treason, he dramatized the assassination of Julius Caesar, with Brutus in a situation similar to his own, and Cassius, whose “lean and hungry look” identified him as his cousin Henry Howard.  Frightened by the determination of his mistress’s male relatives to kill him, he wrote another in which he portrayed himself as already dead, observing from above as an imaginary father takes bloody revenge on his killers by means of a play within a play (The Spanish Tragedy).  Then, with the discovery that his mistress still loved him, he poured his lonely heart into a blazing new version of Romeo and Juliet.  Finally, as his patron and surrogate father, the Earl of Sussex, sickened and died, he accused the Earl of Leicester of poisoning him by drawing parallels between him and King Claudius and between Elizabeth and Queen Gertrude in a first version of Hamlet.

Since the Blackfriars theater was cheek by jowl with the City manors of Lady Russell, Mildred Burghley’s termigant younger sister, and of Sir William Brooke Ld Cobham, longtime supporter of Ld Burghley and Robert Cecil’s future father-in-law, that it wasn’t long before they became aware of what sort of plays were now taking place next door should go without saying, as should the probable fact that this was the real reason why the Blackfriars landlord, Sir William More, began petitioning the privy council to shut down the school, for Sir William, determined to rise at Court, would never have taken on councillors as powerful as Sussex and Hunsdon had he not had some hefty backing of his own.

The War with Spain and the rise of the Stage

As the threat of attack from Spain took center stage at Whitehall, Secretary of State Francis Walsingham moved quietly ahead of Burghley, Sussex, and Leicester as Privy Councillor with the most important duties.  Then, as Lord Chamberlain Sussex’s health began to fail, Walsingham moved, again quietly, to take his place as major patron of the Court Stage.  Although not in his job description, the Secretary, whose shoulders bore the responsibility of preparing for the inevitable attack from Catholic Spain, had a vision whereby a Crown company made up of the leading actors from Burbage’s and other companies could bring the kind of plays that Oxford was capable of writing to the hinterlands, plays that mixed entertainment with English history and anti-Spanish propaganda.

Himself a student of history, Walsingham understood that nothing binds a people together like a shared past.  What past was being shared then by his largely uneducated countrymen were stories from the middle east, told in the Bible.  Rouse their emotions with English stories, whether proud or bitter, and they’d be British first, Catholics second.  That this was clearly the mandate for the creation of the Queen’s Men can be seen by their travel itineraries for the years 1582 through 1588.  These show that the company spent more road time than anywhere else in towns along the southeastern and western coasts where the Spanish were most likely to attack (McMillin 175-78).

It should be clear that plays like The Famous Victories of Henry V and Edmond Ironside were written for the same reason that, during WWII, when little was being filmed in England due to the stringent economies forced on the British by the war, the government made it possible for Laurence Olivier’s Henry V to be lavishly costumed and filmed in expensive color.  During the war the American military did the same thing, enrolling director Frank Capra and others to produce propaganda films, while giving movie stars like Humphrey Bogart and Paul Heinreid deferments so they could continue to play roles in anti-Nazi films like Casablanca.

As a close friend and colleague of Oxford’s tutor, the former Secretary of State, Sir Thomas Smith, Walsingham understood that Smith’s former student badly needed something useful to do, something to keep him from continuing to cause trouble for the Court.  Writing for the Queen’s Men would keep him busy in a worthy cause.  It also made use of his knowledge of English history, knowledge stored in the papers and manuscripts he inherited from his father, passed down from one earl of Oxford to the next, papers that he kept closely guarded, allowing only those closest to him to know what they were.  No one was in a better position to turn the story of England’s past into exciting drama, an argument that helped him get the majority of the Privy Council behind the Queen’s Men, and finally, to get the Queen to fund Oxford’s crew at Fisher’s Folly, as neither he nor the improvident earl could continue to fund the stage on their own for much longer, now that Sussex and his wealth were gone.

For the adult actors this was a major step forward.  In previous years they had to share the Court stage with the children’s companies.  More recently they suffered from the heavy competition from the other companies that were springing up like mushrooms to meet the public demand for more plays.  So although they couldn’t have been pleased by the prospect of so much travelling, the fact that they were guaranteed first place at Court with fees, props and costumes supplied, was a terrific boost.  Also, when in London, no longer to be confined to the little school stage at Blackfriars, but as the Queen’s own company, to be guaranteed the Belle Sauvage Inn as their primary winter venue meant they were guaranteed London’s best holiday audience, the gentlemen of the Inns of Court.

Since Francis Bacon, too, was without a job, and since he too was a gifted writer who was already successfully entertaining the Court with installments of his Faerie Queene, Walsingham put him to work writing the holiday comedies for the choristers that Oxford no longer cared to bother with.  These had to be written by a courtier steeped in Court gossip, one who knew how to amuse without offending the great ones in the audience, how to tease without wounding their equally great and touchy egos.   It was this last factor that Walsingham failed to consider well enough when he brought young Christopher Marlowe on board as an apprentice to Oxford and Bacon.  Talented he certainly was, and a quick learner, but, to everyone’s grief, including his own, Marlowe turned out to have a very different agenda than what Walsingham and Oxford had in mind for him.

Shortly before the beginning of this turbulent period (December 1580), Richard Farrant, the school master in charge of the children’s school at Blackfriars, died, leaving his wife with the boys to care for, and nowhere near enough money for them or her own family.  As More continued to press for the power to close down the Blackfriars theater through 1581, ’82, and ’83, its lease got passed around, from Farrant’s widow to Henry Evans, assistant master in charge of the boys; then from Evans to Oxford, who by then was back at Court; from Oxford to his secretary, John Lyly; and from Lyly to Lord Hunsdon, who joined with Walsingham to keep the school, or the theater at least, from going under.

Officially the school came to an end in April 1584 when the court decided in favor of the landlord, though proxy data suggests that the little stage may have been allowed to operate as a private theater until Hunsdon’s leases were up in 1590.   It’s hard to believe that this important space, which for most of its existence over the past fifty years had been used to rehearse or store props for Court revels, would have continued to stand silent and empty for the first six of the ten most important years in the birth of the London Stage: from 1584 to 1590, most particularly from November 1584 to March 1585, when the West End was crammed with important men from all over England, gathered for Elizabeth’s fifth Parliament.  Oxford, Hunsdun, Charles Howard, Rutland, Bacon, Beale, and Raleigh, were all present and took part, as is shown by the journals of the houses of Lords and Commons in the records online. (Comes Oxon. Magnus Camererius, means Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain.)

Parliament’s holiday break that year lasted from Dec 21 to Feb 4.  This would have been the ideal time for plays aimed at the visiting members to receive their greatest attendance.  The Revels accounts show that the Queen’s Men produced four plays at Court that winter, so we would assume that these were performed later at the Belle Sauvage.  Oxford’s name is unusually prominent in the Revels account for this holiday season,  along with the traditonal “activities” (acrobatics), he’s listed as patron for two plays, one by his “servants,” the other by his “boys,” who produced, on St. John’s Day, December 27th, a play titled The History of Agamemnon and Ulysses, which E.T. Clarke suggests was probably an early version of Troilus and Cressida.

These, or others not appropriate for the Court, would, like the plays performed by the Queen’s men, have been performed somewhere handy to the West End during the same time period.  That “somewhere” would either have been the little stage at Blackfriars, or in a hall in one of the waterfront mansions on the Thames, the most likely being Somerset House.  Then the primary London residence of Lord Hunsdon, it was located directly across the Strand from Cecil House.

Oxford’s three audiences

Modern readers of Shakespeare come to the plays through the First Folio, the versions of the 36 plays published in 1623 by the patrons of his company, known by then as the King’s Men.  Publication then, and ever since, has performed a cleansing process on the plays, providing texts without any of the baggage, attitudes or complications that history attaches to important works of the past.

In Shakespeare’s case, partly because they were written so long ago (though, as it turns out, not entirely) it’s been next to impossible to place the plays in history in any meaningful way.  Roughly half had previous publication in quarto format, the other half were never published until the First Folio.  Some were registered with the stationers, others not.  Some were mentioned in letters or publications by contemporaries, most were not.

Although we have a few holographs (handwritten versions) of other plays from around that time, none are by Shakespeare.  Unlike their sister company, the Lord Admiral’s Men (later Prince Henry’s Men) documented by the diary of theater owner Philip Henslowe and other papers retained at Dulwich College by his stage manager Edward Alleyn, if anyone in Shakespeare’s company ever kept any records, they didn’t survive.  The only records to survive are mid-17th century court cases over ownership of the by then lucrative company shares.  Whoever or whatever we mean by Shakespeare, he or it created one of the most successful businesses of the period, at least for those who ran it in London.

One result of this has been that even those who should know better tend to approach the plays as though they were more or less all written under the same impulse, to make money for both the writer and his actors, and for the same public audience––the only issue being when.  Because the Stratford biography forces them all into a decades late 15-year time-frame, efforts to see genuine connections to current issues and events have failed, creating a Shakespeare who plucked his subjects more or less out of thin air, and all for the same audience, an amazingly well-read  public, with the Court little more than an adjunct, as it is today.

With Oxford as author, all of this changes; the process becomes at once much more complicated and also much more interesting.  The unspoken assumption that everything that Shakespeare wrote could have been seen by anyone in his time who came to London or who had a penny to spare falls by the wayside.  The fact is that different audiences saw very different kinds of plays, even in some cases, different versions of the same play.  The illusion given by the First Folio, that all the plays share a sort of equality of presence, fails as well.  As with the works of every other great artist, each play has a history of its own, and all are closely connected to events in the life of the author and of the communities, the nation, and the world in which he lived alongside his fellows.

With a solid historical framework in place, it shouldn’t be nearly so difficult to place each play within a relatively narrow and realistic time-frame, even in some cases down almost to the very day.  In attempting to set dates for a particular play, it helps to determine for which of his three audiences did he write it originally:  the Court, the Inns of Court, or the public?  Eventually all of his plays ended up as public entertainment, but few (if any) were written originally with only the public in mind.

His Court audience

As a member of the Court from probably around age 17 until he was banished at 31, Oxford’s energies were chiefly directed towards entertaining his own community.  He was not unique in this, or rather, he was unique only in the quality of his work, for all of the upwards of 40 or 50 individuals who formed the core of the permanent Court community, those who had suites of rooms at Court where they lived yearround, were expected to contribute their particular skills for the support and/or pleasure of the group.  As the crème de la crème of English society, they were expected to sight read music notation, to sing complicated vocal arrangements, play the lute or the virginals, and perform the latest dances.

Oxford’s dancing was obviously admired by the Queen; of the handful of his poems that come down to us, many, perhaps most, are song lyrics (madrigal lyrics often sound like complicated poems), while in later years he was praised by a fellow composer as being as accomplished musically as any professional.  So we can assume, based on what evidence remains, that he quickly rose in the Court’s estimation for his contributions to musical and dramatic events.

His writing for the Court may have begun with interludes, witty dialogues exchanged by two or three of the boy choristers, interspersed with musical offerings by the boys, the Court’s permanent staff of musicians, or courtiers with pretentions to expertise.  These interludes soon expanded into full length plays like Love’s Labor’s Lost, that were made up of a series of comic or romantic interludes interspersed with songs and sometimes dances, even, as in The Tempest, with the company taking time in the middle of the show for a feast served by the cast.  E.T. Clark has identified several of these from their early listings in the Revels records.

Most of the plays termed comedies in the First Folio began as entertainments for the Court community.  Over time, some of these became standard entertainments, revised every few years by adding new topical material and characters, or revising old material to fit new situations.  In this way a character like Armado in Love’s Labours Lost represented a different Court figure when the play was first written than he does in the 1623 version, in which he represents Antonio Perez, whose presence at Court can be easily assigned to a few years in the mid-90s.  This has confused scholars who would otherwise place the play as early as the late 1570s when Elizabeth was contemplating marriage to the duc d’Alençon.   It may be that the play was originally very early, but once it became a favorite at Court, he would update it every few years for the winter holidays.  How many versions survived, and what dicing and splicing the First Folio editors may have done with them we can only guess.

When writing for the Court Oxford was of course always aware that the core of his audience were the Queen and her entourage of ladies, the wives and daughters of leading Court officials.  In writing to please them he learned early that what entertains men is not always appreciated by women, particularly the sort of well-bred, educated women who were welcomed by Elizabeth into her private circle.  That this was Oxford’s primary Court audience can be seen from his early published works (attributed to Petti, Lyly or Greene) that were specifically targeted toward female readers.

Although there’s much to suggest that Oxford preferred to write for the West End, he never ceased to entertain his home community, providing plays for Court weddings until his final days.  Among his final revisions were those produced for the 1604 wedding of his youngest daughter, Susan Vere, to the Earl of Montgomery.  The Folio version of The Tempest comes largely from the 1595 version he wrote for the marriage of his oldest daughter, Elizabeth, to the Earl of Derby, which he further revised as The Spanish Maze for Susan’s wedding.  The Folio version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written for the wedding of his old flame, Mary Browne, Countess of Southampton, to Sir Thomas Heneage in 1594.  Taming of the Shrew was written originally as a wedding roast for the 1579 marriage of Lord Strange to Alice Spencer.

His West End audience

Outraged at his banishment from Court and by the way he and his men were being threatened by his lover’s relatives as Elizabeth sat by and did nothing, Oxford wrote nothing for the Court for the two years that he was ostracized (1581-’83), turning instead to his favorite audience, the “gentlemen of the Inns of Court.”  For them he could unfurl the full power of his rhetoric on the kind of issues that would never have passed the Court censors.  The West End (more accurately the city of Westminster) was where the legal colleges, the Inns of Court, were located.  Further west, between the Strand and the Thames, stood the great City mansions where the most prestigious courtiers and government officials lived.

For Oxford and his patrons, this was the most important audience in London, particularly during the relatively infrequent moments when Parliament gathered to vote on a subsidy for the Queen.  Once we can begin to focus on details, it will be helpful to use these times as moments when he was most intent on reaching this audience with plays relevant to current issues, for it was then that the most influential men in England gathered together at one time and in one place.  Plays that deal with national issues, like treason (Julius Caesar), colonization (The Tempest), or the Law (Merchant of Venice) are most likely to have been first written for this audience, and the only possible stage where they would have produced these plays was at the little stage in the chorister’s school at Blackfriars.   The big public theaters were located in suburbs far from Westminster, while the Blackfriars stage was a mere hop and a skip to the west along Fleet Street, or, if coming by water from one of the mansions on the Strand, just footsteps from the elegant old Blackfriars watergate.

Happy finally to be writing for adult actors (no more little eyeases!) I believe that it was for this audience that he produced the first version of  Timon of Athens, the first version of Troilus and Cressida (written before he discovered that Ann Vavasor was not the Cressida he had so unkindly assumed), of Romeo and Juliet (after discovering that she still loved him), of Julius Caesar and Coriolanus (written to explain his urge to desert England and fight for Spain), and of The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet (written out of anguish at the death of his patron, the Earl of Sussex, and suspicion that he’d been poisoned by his enemy, the Earl of Leicester).  The only one of these that we have today in anywhere near the original version is The Spanish Tragedy (attributed to Thomas Kyd); all the others were rewritten for the Lord Chamberlain’s/King’s Men during Oxford’s final Shakespeare period (1593-1608).

The public plays

Last, and in many ways least, at least so far as his personal interest was concerned, there was the public audience that, through their far greater numbers would make his works “popular” as neither the Court nor the Inns of Court ever could, something that gave a great deal of power to the company that produced them.  When Oxford first began producing plays at Court in the late 1560s and early ’70s, the various children’s companies that performed them were allowed to supplement their sparce Court stipends by performing the plays they’d rehearsed for the Court a few times at the little theater at Paul’s Cathedral school for choristers.  These early comedies migrated rapidly to both the public and private theaters.  Because their subjects were popular and easily understood and no deep knowledge of history or philosophy was required to enjoy them, they pleased the public, and because any satires of known Court personalities would be lost on a public audience, there was no reason for the Privy Council to get in the way.

By 1583, with the creation of the Crown company known as the Queen’s Men, Oxford found himself writing for the provincial audiences that, as McMillin and Maclean show, were the new company’s primary focus.  It’s possible to see in these early plays, most of them termed as “apocryphal,” his attempts to deal with local or at least popular issues as in Arden of Faversham, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, The Birth of Merlin, James IV and Edmond Ironside.  Responding to Walsingham’s desire to teach the provincials something about their history, he also wrote the early versions of what, as Shakespeare, he would turn into the great history plays: The Famous Victiories turning into Henry V, the Contention between York and Lancaster into the Henry VI series, and so forth.

Early in James’s reign, towards the end of the Shakespeare period, perhaps in exchange for stewardship of the Forest of Waltham, Oxford consented as his share of the bargain to provide updated versions of what early Court plays remained for the now royally established King’s Men, versions that would make them one of the most successful commercial enterprises of the Stuart period.  It seems he was embarrassed about this.  Feeling called upon to explain to his community why he was turning plays that they regarded as theirs into public works,  he produced at a great welcoming get-together for King James at Wilton or Salisbury the summer of  1603 a new version of As You Like It in which, as Touchstone, he explains his need to marry the provincial and unpoetic public audience he personalizes as Audrey (audire, Latin for to listen).  A man must marry and a playwright must have an audience.

Of course many plays migrated across these boundaries and although not everyone could see a play at Court nor could a poor apprentice afford one of the expensive indoor private theaters, members of the first two audiences could always see a play at one of the public theaters should they wish, and probably did quite often––all but the Queen, that is. It’s so unlikely as to be impossible that she ever ventured outside her Court confines for any purpose; every venture from one arena to another was in the nature of a state occasion.  Her dignity could not be impeached by being seen in anything less, and her person had to be protected from the lunatics and drunks that were constantly threatening to do her in.  In Tudor and Stuart times, the theater came to the monarch, not the monarch to the theater.

This of course was a boon for Oxford and his patrons, for they could trust that some of the material would never reach her ears.  We know what happened a few times when that occurred.  She would never come to them, and no one in his or her right mind would tell her things that might stir her anger enough to allow the theater’s many and determined enemies to “pluck it down.”  It also made it easy for him to hide from her how much of what came from his literary circle came directly from him.  Those darn secretaries, always publishing things behind his back!

Review: “The Shakespeare Guide to Italy”

Review of The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels, by Richard Paul Roe.

Friends, those of you who love Shakespeare and who also know, or would like to know, Italy, do not miss this opportunity for one of the great literary adventures of all time!  Travel with my dear friend Richard Roe as he voyages through 20th-century Italy in search of the truth about the Italian plays.  One at a time, on trip after trip, he tracks down the places where things happened in Shakespeare: the window where Juliet called to Romeo (no balcony, folks; Shakespeare said “window”); the penthouse in Venice where Shylock lived, Portia’s Belmont, the forest where Proteus and Valentine are united in the final act of Two Gents, and the very place where Peter Quince and friends meet to rehearse their hilarious version of Pyramis and Thisbe.  Those of us who were lucky enough to hear Dick Roe’s lectures at conferences at Concordia University in the ’90s will rejoice with me at the publication, finally, of the book we’ve waited for for so long.

Much of the book is devoted to how Shakespeare got from one place to another.  Based on the locations of the plays, this is fairly easy to trace on the many maps from the period that Roe provides.  Specific names suggested to him that Shakespeare had particular locations in mind when he created his characters and their adventures.  Often these will be repeated twice or more, suggesting to Roe that Shakespeare was giving clues to readers in his educated and well-travelled inner circle who knew Italy, so they could visualize the action.

Orthodox Shakespeare scholars, aware of how unlikely it is that William of Stratford could possibly have seen these places and therefore assuming that he made them up, either ignored these specific descriptions or dismissed them as the products of ignorance.  Most amusing to the experts have been his suggestions that his characters travelled between inland cities by water, to them the fantasies of an ignorant man.  But, as Roe shows with this as with every other clue, Shakespeare knew what he was talking about.  A true forensics scholar, Roe travelled far and often, dug long and deep in libraries and archives, to locate what bits are left today of the extensive network of canals and waterways that connected these towns in the sixteenth century and what information he could find about those parts that are gone.

Written as a travel journal, Roe’s book takes us with him on this exciting adventure.  From town to town, insight to insight, revelation to revelation, we keep him company, fascinating to lovers of Shakespeare, doubly, triply, fascinating to those who also know Italy.   As a way of promoting what I believe to be an extremely important piece of literary forensics, and also show some of his photographs in a larger format, I’ve created a preview where you can get a taste of what’s in store for those who buy this book.  I hope he wouldn’t mind that I couldn’t resist adding some thoughts of my own, and where it seemed helpful, links to online sources, something that a book with all its virtues can’t provide.

Do get this book for yourself, and for those friends and family members who might be willing to take seriously a genuinely well-written and compelling argument for Oxford as Shakespeare.  It’s far and away the best book on the authorship question published since 2009 when Verlag Uwe Laugwitz of Germany provided us with Peter Moore’s The Lame Storyteller, Poor and Despised, and the most important in terms of new information and insights into the authorship question since Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography (2000) laid out the argument against William of Stratford.  You couldn’t find a better holiday gift for that demanding friend or relative you’ve long hoped to convince, but never yet found the right book.  This is it, I assure you. (Also available for Kindle.)

Sadly Richard Roe is no longer with us.  He died a few months ago, just as his book was being published.  But he will continue to live in the pages of this important and entertaining work as long as scholars and readers continue to debate the authorship question.  Should it ever be resolved in favor of genuine history and good old-fashioned common sense, this legal brief and travel journal will hold a high place among those arguments that helped decide the case in favor of our noble plaintiff.

QUESTION: Royal changeling, yes or no?

QUESTION:  Joe Eldredge of Martha’s Vineyard asks: “In developing your flow of facts and events of Oxford’s last years, how have you dealt with the tempting possibility of Southampton (3rd) as a royal “changeling”?  Is it: 1) of interest?;  2) a challenge to be dealt with?  3) Significant and/or necessary to explain much of the identity aspects of authorship?  4) at the very least a delightful threat to the names of two of our eastern states?   Time: Thursday June 25, 2009 at 12:01 am

Thanks for asking, Joe.  To #1, yes, if only because I began researching the authorship question in Boston in the 1990s where the Prince Tudor theory reigned supreme: #2, yes, it was “a challenge to be met,” along with many other theories, blanks and anomalies; #3, no, I never found it significant or necessary to explain the identity aspects of authorship, most of which, in my view, originated from Oxford’s need for privacy and later by the business policies of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. I’m not sure what you mean by #4.

The “royal changeling” (or “Prince Tudor,” or “Royal Bastard”) scenario, that has Elizabeth giving birth to the illegitimate child of Oxford (or Seymour, or Leicester), was not particularly “tempting” to me at the start because my personal experience as a woman functioning in a man’s arena made it seem unlikely, from the little that I knew about Elizabeth, that a woman in her position would have dared to develop a sexual relationship with any of her courtiers.

Working in Manhattan in my younger years with a team of other young designers, photographers, studio managers and salesmen, all men, some attractive, to have gotten sexually involved with one of them would have meant a permanent loss of place as a member of a creative and competitive team.   Had I become “his” to one of them, the rest would no longer regard me as a colleague.   The team spirit would be disrupted, and this would be blamed on me, not on him, so while he ( as one of “the guys”) would remain part of the team, I would lose my independent standing.  Even a little flirting with an outside salesman caused ripples.  Women I’ve talked to about this with a similar work experience, have verified this view.  If you let it happen, suddenly it’s all about your sex, not your ability.  So the question I sought to answer was, could Elizabeth’s situation have been different in some way from my own?

Years of research have left me where I began.  Everything in her history, and the history of the period, reveals the Queen quite clearly as, in private, a rather sad figure whose normal female “urge to merge” had been disrupted in such brutally traumatic ways that there can be no possibility, tightly wound and neurasthenic as she was, that she could ever have overcome her fears, even had her position or her community allowed her to, which they did not.  It’s amazing to me that, in the face of so much evidence, theories that set her up as some sort of Messalina continue to thrive.

To cut to the chase

By the time Oxford showed up, Elizabeth was the survivor of at least three traumas that left her incapable of a normal sexual response: her mother’s execution, her “first love” experience with Thomas Seymour that ended in his execution, and her attraction to Robert Dudley that ended with their highly publicized implication in the murder of his wife.  These experiences, compounded, rendered her incapable of enjoying any aspect of sex but the preliminaries, which  explains her continual indulgence in florid but unconsumated public flirtations and her obsession with preventing sex from taking place, not only for herself but for any courtier whose life she had any control over––and when they went ahead and did it anyway, reacting with hysterical cruelty.

The fact is that Queen Elizabeth simply could not have had a child, not because of a “membrana” as Ben Jonson put it, but because she could not and would not have allowed a man to “have her.”  Hitchcock’s Marnie is a good example of a woman whose behavior can be traced to a similar trauma.  Only for Elizabeth there could have be no Sean Connery to heal her with patient understanding.  Elizabeth’s position wouldn’t allow it, nor would the Reformation of which she was the leading female example.

Although Elizabeth didn’t murder her mother’s lover (as did Marnie), she would have felt guilt for her mother’s fate in that had she been born a boy her mother would not have been condemned as a whore and executed, and for Seymour’s, in that, however innocently, she was to some degree the bait that tempted him to perdition.  Where irrational self-blame is in control, innocense is no defense.

Thus any scenario that relies on Queen Elizabeth giving birth to one or more notable artists, scientists, or political figures are simply outside the realm of possibility, however “tempting.”  That other factors compounded her problem, such as the devastating political ramifications of becoming pregnant, or even of marrying, her lack of any family support, the utter lack of privacy at Court, the fact that every other queen she knew of (but Marie de Medici) was done in by her sexuality, her probable fear that she inherited syphilis from her father, all add to a psychology too racked with guilt and fear to ever allow herself to be backed into a situation where she might have to yield herself sexually.

Elizabeth was a survivor, a person who found ways to make lemonade out of the lemons she was handed by life, so, with the help of her portrait artists and poets she turned her incapacity into a selling point.  Privately, however, it made her crazy with frustration.  This is obvious from her more fact-oriented biographies.  Based on the kind of documentary evidence that’s available only to a biographer, in every incident, in every character trait, Queen Elizabeth demonstrates the kind of hysterical emotional rigidity that, back in the 1950s, Kinsey diagnosed as frigidity caused by a stringent moral code that sees sex as sinful and dirty.

Although this kind of moralistic attitude towards sex has not been completely dispelled from our culture today, it has been diminished (largely due to the efforts of Freud’s protégé, Wilhelm Reich, who paid dearly for his pioneering stand).  Most intelligent people today see a certain amount of sex as healthy, but this was hardly the case in Elizabeth’s time, or indeed for centuries until the 1960s when the pill freed unmarried women from the threat of pregnancy.  During the Middle Ages, when a large percentage of the population, both male and female, more or less voluntarily signed on for a lifetime of abstinence as nuns, monks, priests, or friars, nobody regarded such a life as unhealthy.  In later centuries, unmarried men and women were expected to remain celibate, and many  did, particularly women.

In a way it’s unfair to one of England’s greatest leaders to refuse to see her as she truly was, a woman in a man’s world, wrestling heroically, if not always kindly or logically, with one excruciating dilemma after another.  That one of those dilemmas was the unrelenting pressure from her councillors, her parliament, and her people to marry and give birth to an heir to the throne hardly fits with the notion that she would risk everything by having unprotected sex with one of her ambitious courtiers.  That she stayed the course for 40 years, maintaining the kind of stability that gave England time to build the strength among the nations of the West, was, if you look objectively at the background to her reign, largely due to her success in remaining single.

As for Oxford

Theories based on Oxford’s having sex with Elizabeth are unfair to him as well. If Oxford was Shakespeare he was one of the most romantic souls who ever lived.  As a teenager, raised in isolation from children his own age, the impulse that gave rise to stories like Romeus and Juliet was a romantic yearning for intimacy with a beautiful girl his own age.  True love was what he wanted, from one for whom he was the one and only, not from a tough-minded dominatrix, 17 years his senior.

As contemporary evidence makes clear, Elizabeth was attracted to Oxford in his youth.  She was intelligent and liked to laugh.  He was a witty fellow, and witty fellows like to make others laugh.  They both liked to dance.  But that they ever did any more than dance and exchange witty ripostes is so unlikely as to be impossible.

Oxford had a rather distant relationship with his own mother, due to the policies of the time which placed young peers out of the parental home shortly after birth, and it’s unlikely, given the background of his life with Sir Thomas Smith, that Smith’s wife saw him as anything but a rival for her husband’s attention.  In other words, he was lacking a mother figure in his life.

Elizabeth was just old enough to be his mother (they were 17 years apart in age).  She exerted the kind of control over his every move that only a wealthy and powerful mother could have exerted over someone of his rank and status.  In every respect, Elizabeth filled the role of mother towards him.  But only in an external sense because Elizabeth was not motherly towards Oxford at all.

In fact, she was cruel to him, not allowing him the use of his own estates, using the power given her by the Court of Wards to allow her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, to use them to his advantage during the 9 years that Oxford was an underage ward of the Court.  Oxford would have known that Leicester was unkind towards his mother during this time, while she was  continuing to live in one of the Oxford estates after the death of his father.  Oxford would have hated both Leicester and Elizabeth for that, and for any number of other things.

If it’s unthinkable that Elizabeth would have had sex with any of her courtiers, it is even less thinkable that the romantic young Oxford would have had the slightest desire to have sex with her.   To have a sexual relationship with someone who has such power over every aspect of one’s life suggests passivity, even masochism.  Nothing in Oxford’s history suggests such traits.  Everything indicates the opposite.

We know that in his teens and early twenties he was writing romantic poetry to girls and women at Elizabeth’s Court.  I think it very likely that some of it was written to please the Queen herself, because he knew, as did everyone at Court, how she yearned to believe that she was surrounded by adoring suitors.  But that it ever went any  further than some contrived Petrarchan verses is to make bread out of air.

Those who wish to draw parallels between Venus and Adonis and the relationship between Oxford and the Queen should take a closer look at the plot.  Venus lusts after Adonis, but he turns away, not because he’s repelled by her, but because as he explains, he’s not ready yet. Like so much of what Oxford wrote, the poem carried a message to his friends and patrons, who may have wondered about their early relationship, just as some do today: “the Queen was hot, but I was not.”  And as he was so adept at doing, there was a message in it for Elizabeth too: “You were hot, but I was too young,” a message that, from a man in his early 40s to a woman who was turning 60, would have been a much appreciated compliment.

Point being: nothing happened! Which is really what Elizabeth wanted all along, of course.  All she ever wanted, all she was capable of wanting, at least by the time Oxford got to Court, was to be desired, not just by him, but by everyone.  Desired by everyone, touched by no one, like the Moon.

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For a profile of Elizabeth, read Queen Elizabeth.
For details on the causes of Elizabeth’s fears, read This Queen hates marriage.
For more on Elizabeth’s sexuality, read The Marriage Card.
For more on Elizabeth’s pose as the Great Goddess, read The Politics of Frustration.
Please read these before commenting.