SHAKESPEARE’S NAME ON OXFORD’S PLAYS
By Charles Graves
The proposition that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the person who wrote ‘Shakespeare’ requires a considerable amount of proof. And those who provide such proof need to retain a high amount of objectivity Such has been the case with most ‘Oxfordians’ and it remains a necessity for any new ‘Oxfordian’ of which I consider myself a member. In studying my own genealogy I found a direct connection to the de Vere family in one of my ancestors who was Robert de Vere, younger brother of the first Earl of Oxford, Aubrey de Vere, both being sons of Alberic de Vere, grand chamberlain to Empress Maud, queen of England. My descent from this Robert de Vere of Twywell, Northants. passes through the Isham and Freeman lines of Northamptonshire and Massachusetts.
Does such descent impair my objectivity vis à vis Edward de Vere? I have researched some of the de Vere ancestry in scholarly fashion and found that this ancestry may assist us in revealing the authorship of several anonymous writings of the late 16th century, in one case of the Troublesome Reign of John, King of England (1591) (see my article in De Vere Society Newsletter Vol. 23, no. 4, October 2016 which explains the relation of the de Fauconberg Northants. family - probably related to Edward de Vere’s paternal grandmother Elizabeth Trussel and certainly related to Richard I ‘Lion Heart’s illegitimate son called Fauconberg). Also the anonymous play Edward I may have been penned by Edward, considering the fact that he was descended from this king (through the de Courtenay line). I am descended from Edward I’s first cousin Richard of Cornwall (natural son of King John’s second son Richard Earl of Cornwall). This is through the Blount family of Kinlet (Shropshire).
My studies of Edward de Vere family’s history links the 17th Earl of Oxford to his distant cousin William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon, both being descended from the Trussel family – Edward from his paternal grandmother Elizabeth Trussel of Northants. and William from his maternal grandmother Ann Trussel of Billesley, Warwicks. Billesley was the original home of both lines (see my article in de Vere Society Newsletter, Vol. 25, no, 1, January 2018). This connection, in my belief, explains Edward’s use of William as his front-man author of ‘Shakespeare’s’ writings. The year Edward’s Players visited Stratford (1583) was the year William Shakespeare began his career as an actor. No doubt Mary Arden, his mother, asked her distant cousin the Earl of Oxford to find him a place as actor and provide a career for him. In an unpublished article I show how later Edward provided ‘New Place’ in Stratford for William, who after acting for a few years, returned to his birthplace, receiving a fine dwelling and a gentleman’s title (see my article in www.iverpublications.ch on this).
In such a context I should like to consider the problem of ‘Shakespeare authorship’ and why the person we consider was the real author allowed his literary production to appear under the name of his protegé. The reason for this, I believe lies with Edward’s concepts of love and death. In particular we are speaking of the best revelation of these concepts, which is in the Sonnets (attributed, they also, to William Shakespeare). The obvious references in these poems to a male person beloved of the author, refers, we believe, to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
My reading of the sonnets and the propositions elucidated within them leads me to propose the following: one of Edward de Vere’s major preoccupations in life was to prove to himself the idea that he was ‘someone important’. Although he was, by tradition, the Grand Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth in his capacity as the Earl of Oxford, as an individual or ‘person’ in his intimate self, Edward was struggling with a certain inferiority vis à vis his role at court and in society. This problematic appears in some of the sonnets and, of course, includes some indirect reference to the fact that circa. 1580 he had an illegitimate child (Edward Vere) with Anne Vavasour. This had angered the Queen and she had sent him to the Tower of London in prison for a few months. But there were also other challenges to Edward’s self-confidence, namely that the Queen considered him more a scholar-writer than a manly military leader, in contrast to many other courtiers who surrounded the Queen in the years of the ‘Spanish Armada’ invasions. Moreover, as a writer, Edward’s friends were persons like himself and not great ‘movers and shakers’ of the realm as were the Dudleys, for example.
But, in such a context, did the Earl of Oxford have any particular self-recognized talent of which he could be proud? Several sonnets indicate that one’s importance in this life can continue after one’s death, and so we can believe that this concept was also held by Edward. However, he allowed his writings to be considered and remembered as Shakespeare’s. Why was that?
The answer, in our opinion, lies in the Sonnets, and their interpretation. It is evident from many sonnets that one aspect of Edward’s literary efforts would certainly exist after Edward’s demise, namely that of his love for Henry Wriothesley (the male person ‘beloved’ by the author). It is evident in many sonnets that such ‘meaning to life’ represented by his love for Henry, would be lost
if Edward continued his heterosexual love relation with the ‘dark lady’.* These sonnets about the dark lady prove Edward’s heterosexuality but this relation was considered by him as impediments to his love for his ‘beloved’ (a man). In a certain sense, at his demise, Edward would be released from his ‘attraction to the eyes’ of his mistress, from his relation to her, and what would last after his death would be his love for Henry, as exemplified by the fact that Henry had become his ‘muse’. By this ‘muse’ Edward had been able to pen his writings. So, even if later the writings were attributed to William Shakespeare, this may not have concerned Edward. What, apparently, really concerned him was that he was ‘something valuable’ vis à vis Henry. His love for Henry was his ‘raison d’être’.
Moreover, several sonnets tell us something about Edward’s relation to Queen Elizabeth. Such was not devoid of sexuality – Edward was quite concerned about what this grand personage thought of him. She had known his father and visited his castle at Headingham. She became very interested in the boy Edward, and appreciated his musical and dancing talents at court. She was quite fond of Edward and was angry when he got Anne Vavasour with child circa. 1580. But she soon returned to showing appreciation and love for Edward as shown in some sonnets. So, vis à vis the Queen, Edward certainly demonstrated the type of heterosexuality valued by the queen in persons such as Robert Dudley.
In fact, Edward’s relation to the Queen was as a beloved, wayward ‘son’, or as a ‘court lover’. When we combine Edward’s love for Henry (his ‘muse’) and that for the queen, we cannot avoid the opinion that Edward’s ‘female side’ (anima) was very active while at the same time his heterosexual aspect was being demonstrated vis à vis the queen as well as towards the ‘dark lady’. Of course we remember that Edward was married twice and with Ann Cecil he had several children (three girls lived) and with Elizabeth Trentham he fathered Henry de Vere (contested by Alex Waugh in De Vere Society Newsletter…) This ambiguity of Edward’s sexuality (following concepts of the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung) may explain the popularity of ‘Shakespeare’ for both men and women.
But with such a personality complication affecting one’s private and public life, Edward was obliged to live out both aspects of it. This presented many problems in male-centered Elizabethan society, especially when England, and its queen, were under attack from the European Catholic powers abroad and Roman Catholic sympathizers in the homeland.
As a solution to his identity problem, Edward the Earl of Oxford elevated his love for his younger contemporary Henry Wriothesley to become his raison d’être that
would be relevant to his self-chosen career as a writer. The apparently ‘non-inspired’ (according to a sonnet) writings were the Histories - probably commanded by the Queen because she believed Edward’s scholarly research talents could glorify her family tradition (he would allocated 1000£ yearly for this task).
But why should Edward not have insisted that he be considered publicly as the author of his plays? Apparently it did matter to him that Shakespeare was being considered as their author. We see this in As You Like It with Touchstone’s criticism of Farmer William’s love for Audrey or in the prologue and epilogue of Taming of the Shrew treatment of Christopher Sly (William Shakespeare and a William Sly had been actors together performing in plays in London: see my article in www.iverpublications.ch.)
But all in all, in Elizabethan society, Edward’s position was weak vis à vis the Court, and his name did not appear on book publications of his own conceived plays. The Herberts, the Dudleys, the Hastings, the Stanleys – these families were dominating society whereas Edward de Vere was socializing with the John Lylys, the Thomas Lodges, the Robert Greenes and the Anthony Mundays at ‘Fisher’s Folly’ where questionable plays were being produced for the population. None of the great families of the day, including the Cecils, were really supporting the Earl of Oxford in his efforts.
Edward was apparently leaving the authorship question unanswered (either through negligence or purposely) and was concentrating upon his ‘muse’ and his play-writing, inspired by his love for the Earl of Southampton. Edward was a ‘noble’ personality not so much concerned by some ‘place in society’ but with a ‘place in history or eternity’
It is possible Edward de Vere believed he had plenty of time to solve the authorship problem but, in fact, his life was cut short at age fifty-four by sickness he had not seen coming, and after his death the persons related to Edward’s descendants did not want his name attached to his plays or writings. Realistic concerns about what society would believe about the authorship question did not count as heavily in Edward’s concepts as it should have. In fact. Edward was not all-powerful at court . His title did not count as much as it had in Norman or Plantagenet history. Persons such as his father-in-law William Cecil, of lower origin, were Elizabethan persons of power. The old feudal order was breaking down and perhaps Edward, a ‘Renaissance man’, did not consider himself an integral part of aggressive politics at the end of the 16th century. One of the charms of ’Shakespeare’s’ plays was their anti-capitalist Renaissance spirit. But by 1620 London had become a center of Calvinistic capitalism with ’undertakers’ financing projects such as the ‘Mayflower’ desiring to profit from newly discovered lands. To place Edward’s plays and writings under the already-used name of William Shakespeare, an Englishman, perhaps better fit the spirit of the times.
And this leads us to Edward’s essential religious beliefs. Here we must take examples from the Sonnets, vis à vis Edward’s views upon death. These evolve gradually for us as we peruse the sonnets in the order in which they were printed.**
In spite of being out of tune with new emerging Elizabethan Great Britain, Edward had created his own poetic future – his reason for existing would be seen in his fidelity to his ‘muse’ (given him by Henry Wriothesley).
(2)One’s literary productions would ‘live after’ one’s death (esp. nos. 60,
63, 65, 81, 101)
(3)Edward might be glad to die except for the fact that in so doing, Henry
would be left alone (66)
(4) When Edward dies his name ‘will be buried with his body’ and this will make cease any shame either to himself or to his beloved (72).
(5) After death, Henry will be ‘only a ruin’ but he will, nevertheless, have the love Edward has shown to him (74).
(6) Edward would be happy to die, having experienced Henry’s love (88).
(7) Edward’s muse (inspired by Henry) will make Henry ‘much outlive a gilden tomb’’ and ‘be praised of ages yet to be’ (101).
Edward wishes that the Queen would not fret so much about clothing, dress or meals, but ‘feed on death that feeds on her’ (146).
What might be a summary of this, vis à vis Edward de Vere’s concept of his (or others’) death? Edward had a keen sense of the tragic inevitability of death for each and every human – certainly a Renaissance concept. But he had a certain reflection about the results of these deaths. For himself, he will carry with him his love for Henry, and his literary productions will ‘live after’. (There is no indication in any sonnet about Shakespeare receiving the credit for these). His own death will even put an end to any shame he feels in society about his relation to his beloved. As regarding Henry’s death, Edward certainly hoped Henry would be a father, and leave behind a progeny. Henry could also ‘live’ in the love Edward had shown him. But Edward regretted, with his own death, his beloved Henry would be ‘alone’.
As for death as a concept, one of his sonnets, apparently addressed to the Queen, infers that during one’s life one could ‘feed on death’. The simile includes the opposing proposition that ‘death feeds on us’. This seems to be a Renaissance corollary to the concept of the beauty of life, but also to its evanescence. Edward apparently believed that Queen Elizabeth, whom he loved in a certain fashion, should become less worldly in her tastes. Perhaps he could even teach her a bit about these matters.
What might involve the ‘feeding upon death, which feeds upon men’? This is a dantesque idea certainly. But as Dante showed us with Beatrice, human love (as well as divine love) can overcome death (which feeds glutton-like upon us!). So what may Edward be implying vis à vis the queen’s inner life? Sensuality is implied – the love of life’s pleasures. Although we feed upon these pleasures, we should, in contrast, ‘feed upon death’. This may mean we should draw sustenance from the afterworld’ and try to live according to its pleasures.
Apparently such pleasures did not necessarily include remembrances of historical, earthly fame or renown. If so, Edward would have penned something about this in the sonnets. The Sonnets, in my opinion, have no references to William Shakespeare. Hence, up to the time of his early death in 1604 at age fifty-four, Edward was not preparing eternal fame for himself. There is no mention that he is the ‘real author’ and not his distant cousin from Stratford. So it appears that, in general after his demise, Edward would see himself content with what he had done with his ‘muse’ and that the plays and literature produced on the basis of this muse would have their own impersonal glory. Of course, if we believe he had a Masonic affiliation, we should ask ourselves if in such a context, Edward lost interest in his own eternal fame.
So it appears that although, in his death, Edward de Vere may have believed he had little place in the expanding English empire-building, at least he had Henry’s love and a ‘raison d’être’. It would continue across the centuries, as we see that it has in ‘Shakespeare’s’ works.
*It is not known if the ‘dark lady’ of the Sonnets refers to Anne Vavasour as discussed above. She was Edward’s mistress circa. 1580. But at that date Henry Wriothesley was only seven years old, and living at Cecil’s house on the Strand, whereas the Earl of Oxford was 30 years old. In 1590 Henry was seventeen years old and it was proposed he would marry Edward’s daughter Elizbeth (she married William Stanley instead). Thus, if the dark lady was Anne Vavasour and, as in the sonnets, Edward regretted that his relations with this ‘dark lady’ were impeding his love for Henry, then Edward must have known Henry as a child of seven at Cecil’s house, and fell in love with him then. But what kind of relation could Edward have had with Henry? If Edward were a bi-sexual, it might be possible that love for a male child by an adult male could remain ‘platonic’ and continue so throughout one’s adult life. This seems to have been the case, where Henry became an ‘ideal’ (a ‘muse’) for Edward, as well as a ‘love object’ as expressed in many sonnets.
Another alternative was that the ‘dark lady’ was not Anne Vavasour, and that his relations with this ‘dark lady’ came after Henry was past seventeen years of age becoming the object of sonnets 1-17, the author suggesting that he marry and have progeny.
** We should accept the fact that no sonnets may have been written in the last years of Edward’s life.
2 November 2018
Photograph: Hedingham Castle, Essex, by Derek Voller