Candidates for Shakespeare

Edward de Vere

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (b.1550) d. 1604 aged 54. He has for some time presented a most interesting and challenging case to be the hidden Shakespeare. His case is put by the ‘Oxfordians’ with great power, depth and persuasiveness.

It is seen as a strong claim, that de Vere was the secret Shakespeare. “There are two principal claims for Oxford: first the impressive cumulative effect of the parallels between Oxford’s life and Shakespeare’s Works; second, the extent and specificity of the direct references to Oxford’s life and concerns throughout the poems and plays.”

As with Bacon’s case to be the alternative Shakespeare, there have been so many incidents, aspects, references, coincidences and parallels discovered by scholars under research which point up a very strong connection Oxford-to-Shakespeare.

Oxford was a high aristocrat and classically educated; he moved among the educated noble families. He was cultivated and of pronounced literary tastes, and a notable lyrical poet. He was well travelled and always fashionably dressed (not for nothing was he known as the Italian Earl after his return from the Continent). He was also a lover of music and falconry, and had many other interests; he was also a patron to many.

Oxford is claimed to have mastered the majority of the accomplishments in knowledge and understanding, innate and gained from experience, that Shakespeare’s Works display. Nashe (not exactly friendly to Shakspere) said de Vere had “one of the best, cleverest of wits in England”.

If you read a little of the poems accorded Oxford, there is a similarity with Shakespeare’s flow. However, a discerning poet has said that “the emotional range, intensity and intellectual toughness” of the best of Shakespeare’s Sonnets “are not in evidence”.

However, for Oxford’s poetry there was, some say, praise for more than thirty years. He was so versatile in exploring and developing many different metrical and stanzaic forms. Oxford’s initials were found on many anthologies of poetry during Elizabeth’s long reign.

But, perhaps more to the point, he was status-conscious, proud, sought recognition for his successes, determined to have his way, intolerant of upstarts, and would surely never have allowed another to gain credit of HIS plays – or his poetry. That would have been a personal affront.

Thus, the dedication to Southampton, fronting Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis surely would not have been penned by de Vere as Shakespeare: to dedicate to a relative, a mere youngster... it could not have been considered!

One author gathered this description: The Earl of Oxford was “short in stature, ever ready to feel slighted, he was moody, rebellious, quarrelsome and dissolute.”

Oxford “was a puzzle to his generation”. Creative yes, and eccentric but, argue his supporters, the poet in him would encompass and display “varied moods, fierce passions, subtle movements in mind and heart”, his words sometimes seeming extraordinary and inexplicable, “of knowledge and insight and understanding of which he may not speak?” (Looney, pronounced Lowney, 1920). “The poetic genius has more or less always been a man apart.”

Maybe true, but, reflecting on his Oxford’s works, few if any specialists will agree that they suggest mysterious depths of conscious knowledge (as with the four levels of knowledge and understanding that those, of mystical philosophic and advancement in higher consciousness, see in the Works of “Shakespeare”).

That is a rather mysterious and provocative comment, these “four levels of knowledge”, and not one likely to be given much consideration by today’s theatre audiences just thoroughly
enjoying their Shakespearean treat !

AND YET... as a modern, scholastic research enthusiast published on the web, recently, “I have found de Vere’s candidacy difficult to drop, he turns up at every juncture in the investigation.”

Why is Oxford’s personality and temperament important? Perhaps because there is no sign that while suffering from his many ‘defects’ that he ever transcended them.

The author “Shakespeare” abounds with universal qualities, which interpenetrate and underpin the life within the plays of Shakespeare... the quality of mercy... being non-judgemental... showing a constant forgiveness...

Late in his life, Oxford fell out with several friends, who accused him publicly of many ‘crimes’ under the heading of broad, undesirable behaviour; one remembers this was a Golden Age of literary endeavours but rampant with rivalries, disputes, a heightened sense of false personal ’honour’, very powerful jealousies and unforgiving hatreds.

Though de Vere possessed infelicitous characteristics (even Shakspere/ Shakespeare has been evidenced negatively from few ‘facts’ as being “snobbish, penny-pinching, neglectful of family, rude and unpopular”), there is no reason why inherent genius prevented the Earl of Oxford from “the writing of immortal dramas”.

However, Oxfordians on the whole still see de Vere as the “ideal candidate”. His story, in all its variety, and all that is known of his literary prowess, “conforms to the mind and capacity and character of Shakespeare”.

His generosity, though questioned as overabundant, funded patronage to projects literary, religious, philosophic; to science, medicine and music. And that patronage, together with poor even inept management and fiscal judgement of his estates, both led to financial humiliation.

So the cracks in the authorship edifice are there, to be seen. They can be summed up – as with all the candidates - in terms of lack of incontrovertible evidence, and the fact he, de Vere, died in 1604, nine or ten plays before Shakspere’s apparent retirement.

Oxford, in the earlier decades, was patron to not one but possibly two troupes of players, and he held the lease of the Blackfriars Theatre, London, for a while from 1584. He and Lyly are envisaged as staging performances there of both their plays, and before the royal Court, using both his Companies, Men’s and Boys. His own playwriting cannot be examined, however, as none have survived.

If he wanted anonymity in his own playwriting activities, he could easily have ‘hidden’ such activities under the name of one of his own players or Lyly. Why write as Shakespeare using the man Shakspere?

It is difficult to accept that many major plays by ‘Shakespeare’, performed or published AFTER that date, 1604, had in fact been written in the years before, yet not known or performed, just ‘stored away’ for future usage.

Oxfordians say they, the later plays, were in fact written well before de Vere’s death, and were “brought up to performance standard” and published by his followers in theatre.

Supporting the ‘group of writers’ theory – in which Oxford was accorded leader and chief playmaker and his son-in-law Derby a contributor – is the mysterious annual allowance of £1,000 a year granted Oxford by Elizabeth. It was paid out a special government fund and continued until he died, James 1 continuing it after Elizabeth was buried.

Some say it was to help Oxford organise and administer a “department of propaganda” to maintain and raise the populace’s patriotic sentiments and goodwill to the Crown.

Some say that, because of his financial disasters and losses, this huge gift was to help him maintain a style according to his ancient family’s high visibility and respect in Court and country.

There is no evidence that there was such a specific department, or group writings under the name “Shakespeare”, or the bolstering up of the Oxford name.

Additional notable points

  • The 17th Earl’s family history dates back to 1066 and so he represents “the social-elitist stratum” for theorists about the true identity of Shakespeare
  • Oxford’s Men performed in Stratford in 1583, when Shakspere was 19
  • A conspiracy of silence, over his ‘authorship’, is claimed ( ie de Vere as Shakespeare, as with Bacon as Shakespeare). It is explained in that “gradually with each succeeding generation, the secret was simply forgotten”
  • de Vere, it is said, built puns on his name, and the family motto, in the plays: he used every word he could find “that would tell his name” to the discerning
  • In several references de Vere is described as the best of the poets at Court in the early period of Elizabeth’s reign
  • Yet his poems, 25 of which survive in his name, “do not equate to the great inventive harmonies of Shakespeare’s Sonnets”, say specialists
  • Inference drawn from Sonnet 125 is that de Vere (Shakespeare) helped to bear and support the Queen’s Canopy in the Armada victory celebration
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnets 62, 73 and 138 give inference that an older man was author; Shakspere was mid-late twenties when the Sonnets, conventionally dated, were believed written
  • When Shakspere was but 14, writer Gabriel Harvey praised de Vere’s prowess in tournaments/ the family coat of arms with “Thy countenance shakes a spear”
  • Oxford’s Geneva Bible, like Bacon’s Promus, contains hundreds of phrases and verses highlighted, marked off – 29 of which are used as Biblical allusions in the Shakespeare plays (which had 66 in all)
  • ‘Hamlet’ offers so many parallels to Oxford’s life and family history. ‘Polonius’ in Hamlet is comparable to Oxford’s (live) guardian, Elizabeth’s prime’ minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley. In that play, the character as did the live statesman (both) issued good advice or maxims which are incredibly similar: Polonius to son Laertes and Burghley to son Thomas
  • Both Hamlet and Oxford killed a man; and a terse summing up of other facts of Oxford’s life is similar to that which one writer sees, and sums up, as the life of ‘Bertram’ as depicted in ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’
  • However, would de Vere, even if facing illuminating truth about his own character, have acknowledged, and written about himself as Bertram, as once “a caddish, immature young nobleman”, with few saving graces, as one literary figure phrased it recently?
  • The Earl of Oxford married and ‘wandered’ from his marriage bed; and there is rumour of at least one homosexual affair; one of his troupes was “Oxford’s Boys”; as with Bacon, sexuality is mentioned arising out of the Sonnets
  • de Vere died possibly of plague, in 1604, at his palace in Hackney, and was buried in either the local churchyard, OR, suggests a later writer, in Westminster Abbey
  • When Oxford’s wife died, nine years after her husband, it is reported that King James ordered that more than 10 Shakespeare plays be performed at Court; this is not explained.

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© Brian Jarvis 2003-2011. All rights reserved


See also She Died Twice
A dramatisation of the story of the death of the Quaker Mary Dyer in 1660


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