THE PECULIAR RELATION BETWEEN THE 17th EARL OF OXFORD (EDWARD DE VERE) AND WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
By Charles Graves
To call this relationship peculiar does not infer something primarily of a sexual nature – there was no such relation between the two. But we begin with the proposition that they were cousins to the 8th degree in the Trussell family line (1) and that, apart from that, Edward de Vere was perhaps a bi-sexual. The relation between the Earl of Oxford and William Shakespeare was simply that the former (who owned some troupes of actors) brought the latter once to London as an actor and subsequently used William’s name as his own pseudonym for publications.
As Dick Schwab has surprisingly claimed in his book (2) bi-sexuality begins in the womb and is indelibly etched in the genes (so that heterosexuality and bi-sexuality but not homophobia have real support in scientific fact). A bi-sexual is that way – he/she cannot change this reality no matter how much it is denied, nor can others change it.
We believe this reality is what explains the writing career of Edward de Vere, the ‘real’ author of Shakespeare’s works.
Because of Henry VIII and his actions the England of the 16th century was under attack from Catholic powers, an Englishman should be willing to fight for his country. The ideal for this was Henry Wriothesley (3rd Earl of Southampton) and Henry de Vere who were defending English interests in Protestant Netherlands in the 17th century.
How can we describe Edward de Vere in this context? What was his youth up to age 20 (1550-1570)? His father (the 16th Earl of Oxford, John de Vere) was known as a womanizer. Edward’s mother (Marjorie Golding) was not too helpful in the boy’s upbringing, leaving him as a virtual orphan after his father died, and marrying Charles Tyrrell. Before this, however, Edward was sent to Queens’ College, Cambridge as a young scholar at age nine to study the classics. This was an all-male atmosphere with older boys. Certainly in such a situation, if not perpetually accompanied by an older person, he might, like other boys in boy’s private schools, have sexual experiences, although this is not a confirmed conclusion. At age 12 after his father’s death, he was ‘adopted’ by William Cecil, the Queen’s treasurer, and went to live at Cecil’s house on the Strand in London. He lived there 1562-1571. It is known that there he conflicted with another boy- Thomas Brincknell - and by accident killed him in a child’s duel. In circa. 1580 Henry Wriothesley, age seven, was taken into Cecil’s household also, and probably it was there Edward de Vere (age 30 in 1580) met this boy who became his ‘muse’.
The year 1580 was the year of Edward’s ‘affair’ with Anne Vavasour, the Queen’s maid, and for which Edward suffered several months in the Tower of London due to the Queen’s anger. This affair, which produced the illegitimate child Edward Vere, may be the one described in the Sonnets (3) where the author describes his treason vis à vis his real love i.e. Henry Wriothesley, and his attraction to the ‘dark woman’ (Anne). If this is the context of the treason and attraction sonnets, then Edward must have known Henry as early as 1580 when the latter was taken under Cecil’s wing at age 7. Later, at the age of 17, Henry was considered as a husband for Edward’s eldest daughter Elizabeth (but Henry desisted on this). Around that same year (1590) Edward’s first major poems – Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece - were published under the name of William Shakespeare and dedicated to the same Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
For the above reasons, we consider that the ‘beloved one’ in the Sonnets was Henry Wriothesley. But was he beloved since 1580, when Henry was only seven years old (year of Edward’s affair with Anne Vavasour)? Was Edward a crypto-paedophile? For this question there is no information as an answer. But apparently his relation to Henry was the only one which might deserve this denomination. On the other hand, certain gossip circulated that Edward wore rather ‘feminine style’ clothes (but it is clear that English people might have believed all Italian style clothing for gentlemen was ‘feminine’).
The Euphuists, to which group Edward de Vere belonged together with his private secretary John Lyly (who wrote the ‘Euphuistic’ literature) (4), had particular views on women. Their model was Euphues himself who separated himself from his colleague Philautus over the question of how to view English women (5). Euphuists tended to underscore a neutral view of women rather that a typically ‘masculine’ or macho view. Euphuist views would be coherent with bi-sexuality or homosexuality views although they were not such in any definition.
Did Edward de Vere struggle against homophobia? There was some force against him stated in various places. He did not believe that women should be looked upon (in accord with Euphuist points of view) as sex objects alone. This is shown in my article on his treatment of women in various plays (6).
How would such attitudes be reflected in a literary profession?
Producing great literature might compensate for, or replace, any sentiments of inferiority or lack of worth vis à vis opinions of courtiers believing themselves typical males. Edward could surround himself, as at ‘Fisher’s Folly’ (his house in the region of St. Botolf’s Aldgate)(7) where he was together with like-minded writers who appreciated his worth –Greene, Lyly, Lodge, Munday etc. There persons were also considered somewhat odd vis à vis the London male population.
The Queen’s view: She recognized Edward’s talent as a specialist in history and no doubt she was the person who commissioned the History Plays of ‘Shakespeare’. She did not expect Edward to serve as a soldier. She herself had been under the ban of ‘bastardy’ so she had been obliged to struggle to preserve her reputation - she no doubt understood other people who had to do the same. She knew Edward was called ‘Will’ (a person standing behind Will Shakespeare) and she respected Edward’s desire for anonymity.
Edward possessed a troupe of actors (inherited from his father), including boys. Pedophilia was a crime, especially persecuted by Protestant-leaning English, but there is no indication that Edward was accused of this. But as we said above, Henry Wriothesley was only 7 years old (1580) when Edward had his affair with Anne Vavasour (probably ‘the dark lady’ of the Sonnets). These sonnets indicate love for a younger male. Perhaps it was in 1580. In that year Henry was at William Cecil’s house and Edward was married to Cecil’s daughter. Perhaps the love relation began then. In any case, Edward was considered as being cuckolded by Anne when he had gone to Italy in 1572-3 (gossip promoted probably by the servant Rowland York).
In the Sonnets, Edward’s affair with ‘the dark lady’ was seen by the author as treason towards his true beloved (i.e. Henry – as child or teenager). Here are symptoms of bi-sexuality, the expression of two opposing types of attractions.
Edward claimed in his sonnets that he was using his love for his beloved (a male) as a ‘Muse’ for his writing career (8). Edward used the muse to pen stories along with like-minded persons such as Lodge, Greene and Lyly.
The Italian Renaissance had promoted the flourishment of writing inspired by particular love objects, as Dante had used ‘Beatrice’. This was not done, necessarily, in order to succeed professionally or socially. If one had the means to survive economically, the writing itself was sufficient reward, penned through idealistic love. And the writer did not feel obliged to tell anyone about this muse - the source of his/her literature. Of course, to notice the enthusiastic reaction of the public when the play was performed would have produced pleasure, but Edward de Vere grew up in a family that was accustomed to having troupes of actors, so the staging and popular response was not anything new for him. Apparently the main objective was to pen something following the muse of love and to receive the applause of his writer colleagues.
What Edward wrote for the Queen was different – it was a service rendered to society and particularly to meet his expenses since much of his inheritance in lands was being sold off to provide for his unproductive (as William Cecil believed) ‘way of life’. In these histories Falstaff was introduced with other strange, comic characters alongside historical persons taken often from Holinshed’s Chronicles. This involved his Fisher’s Folly colleagues making the plays palatable for the public. Probably comic scenes could be written by some of the ‘team’ if Edward was indisposed to do so. John Fastolf was an historical, knightly person who achieved a certain fame in the French wars of the Plantagenet rulers of England, and besides, his family had owned property together with the de Veres at Oxenton, Gloucestershire (9) and had been acquaintances of the de Veres. There was also the Paston family in Norfolk (10), known to the de Veres which provided models for Slender etc. in plays Henry IV, Henry V, Merry Wives etc.
With Falstaff Edward could demonstrate a humorous contempt for a certain type of male, lecherous knight, who was not at all like Euphues’s ideal Englishman who respected women.
Which characters seem to us to be bi-sexual, perhaps representing Edward himself? We consider Rosalynd / Ganymede or Touchstone in As You Like It
or Albedure in the Wisdom of Dr. Doddypoll, an anonymous play of 1600 no doubt from the pen of Edward (11). Albedure was in love with Hyanth, quite obviously a representation of Hyacinthus one of those boys loved by male gods in Greek classics.
Rosalynd of Thomas Lodge was in the form of the young man Ganymede the Greek hero beloved of Zeus the king. So here Edward’s muse could transfer Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynd into a Greek object of his own muse and carry that character along to the climax of the story. Not only that, but he took a phrase from Euphues and concocted ‘Touchstone’ whose characterization is closest to a self-portrait along with Jaques as in any play (12). Hamlet’s Ophelia is no doubt modeled after Opheltes, a boy. What happened to Opheltes strangely resembles Ophelia’s fate: Lycurgas was king of Nemea and his son and successor was Opheltes. Opheltes’ nurse was Hypsiplye (who was in fact a Lemnian princess). When Hypsiplye guided the Argive army to a drinking pool in Nemea territory, a serpent writhed around the limbs of the unintended boy Opheltes and bit him whereby Opheltes died. Adrastus (of the Argive army) and his men returned from the spring too late to do no more than kill the serpent and bury the boy. Adrastus’ brother-in-law Amphiarus warned the army that this was an ominous sign, and so they instituted the Nemean games in the young boy’s honour. Opheles was called ‘the beginning of doom’. Ever since, the judges at the Nemean games wear dark robes in mourning for Opheltes, and the victor’s wreath is plaited with luckless parsley (leaves) (13). The tragic flavor of this story is repeated in the material on Ophelia in Hamlet, and her effect on the déroulement of the plot. With Opheltes / Ophelia, Edward introduces a boy-girl as personage predicting tragedy.
Jacques’ distaste for a society which ‘wounded a deer’ and let him die alone is perhaps the way Edward considered his own disparagement by Elizabethan society. But Touchstone, a more active character, contests a typical rural farmer, i.e. ‘farmer William’, because he, Touchstone, can claim to be a heterosexual like everyone else. In his speech, however, he infers he would rather Audrey was a man (14).
The character of the philosopher Jaques may represent Edward de Vere as a member of a proto-Masonic ‘lodge’. One of the early French Masonic-type groups was known as ‘Sons of Maître Jacques’. cf. Alexander Waugh’s articles on the proto-Masonic influences upon Edward de Vere in de Vere Society Newsletter. Waugh considers an affiliation of Edward to a Masonic-type lodge as the origin of his reluctance to claim credit for his writings. (15)
The farmer William, as representing William Shakespeare, Edward’s distant cousin (16), cannot claim bi-sexuality as does Touchstone. He wants Audrey as a man wishes for a wife (woman). Perhaps in this trio Touchstone, Audrey, William, the author treats his bi-sexuality in a constructive way and that, through literature, he finds solutions to his unusual status. In fact, As You Like It ends with four normal man-woman marriages (as does The Wisdom of Dr. Doddypoll). Moreover this play is the clearest indication that William Shakespeare was claiming credit for the works written by his patron Edward de Vere. In As You Like It 5.1.37 ff. Edward sets it straight:
Touchstone to William the farmer: Art thou learned?
William: No, sir.
Touchstone: Then learn this of me: to have is to have. For it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other. For all your writers do consent that ipse is he. Now you are not ipse, for I am he.
William: Which he, sir?
Touchstone: He, sir, that must marry this woman.
The Latin term ipse indicates ‘making a contrast between the thing spoken of and someone or something else’ and the author’s use of the term indicates that the ‘writers of the day’ know that Edward is the real author of the corpus and William Shakespeare is not.
The most autobiographical play supposedly by Edward de Vere is the anonymous Wisdom of Dr. Doddypoll (1600). Albedure (a reflection of Edward’s Domesday Book time ancestor Alberic (de Vere) is one of the main characters in this anonymous work. He is a nobleman whose parentage in the play perfectly fits the de Vere family lineage at the time of Charlemagne’s granddaughter – one of his ancestors (17). Albedure is in love with Hyanth, a woman representing the Greek mythological male personality Hyanthincus, beloved of the Greek god (males), thus representing homosexuality(18). Albedure’s love is a man. Hyanth, a woman, has been taken by Albedure’s father as a mistress and this reflects Edward de Vere’s own childhood situation vis à vis the 16th Earl of Oxford, his father, who was known to have several mistresses alongside his wives. Although Doddypoll, in the end, sees successful marriages of four couples (all heterosexual) the poor Albedure goes through a sort of initiation of madness caused by Dr. Doddypoll’s drug, administered to him surreptitiously to make him love the Bruges jeweller’s daughter Cordelia.
This reminds us of a sonnet where Edward speaks about some herbal ‘remedies’ to help him in his sufferings (19). Albedure, in his crazy trances in the forest, mixes up the sex of those he meets and shows us something of the different tendencies Edward had which complicated his accepting his own sexuality. In the end, however, he is able to marry Hyanth and his father marries the Countess (these latter representing the de Vere Carolingian heritage).
De Vere Tragedy
What is the essence of de Vere tragedy and how might it be seen as a product of the ‘muse’ inspired by Henry Wriothesley? These are all ‘family’ tragedies: Macbeth and Othello involve the married couple; Hamlet and Lear involve parents and children; Romeo and Juliet involves Juliet’s family and Romeo the outsider. Strangely enough, Romeo is a Montague, the family with the same name as Henry Wriothesley’s mother’s family (Montague-Browne). Not only was Holinshed’s Chronicles in the background to these histories but also the perplexed poet Edward de Vere. The poet needed to rework stories and lead them to conclusions relevant to his ‘muse’. In his tragedies the principal characters are ’losers’. This was fertile ground for the self-confessed loser as Edward sometimes believed himself to be. Hence, in writing tragedy he ‘had nothing to lose’. He could identify with the characters up to the end of their tragedies without changing himself.
In several plays such as Timon of Athens, or Pericles, he repeated elements of his own life history.
Let us look more deeply upon how Edward treats the characters and plot in his tragedies. Characters: tragedy strikes the innocent women’s side with Ophelia, Desdemona, Lear’s daughter Cordelia and Juliet. Or, it strikes guilty women such as Macbeth’s wife or Hamlet’s mother.
How are men affected? Their lot is not caused necessarily by what they do but perhaps by ‘fate’ as in Hamlet, Lear or with Romeo. Othello and Macbeth are only a complement to others who are the main actors.
Thus the men may be the center of the action in the tragedies but the main themes are provided by the women. This is in accord with Edward’s ‘muse’ who is considered as a woman although in reality it is a boy-man (Henry Wriothesley).
Plot: how does the muse affect plot? The plot is mostly given by the historical source literature. The essentials are given. But the working over of the plot in the context of Edward’s ’muse’? What is happening is in the main male character’s mind. This identifies the author as a male. Hamlet learns to take revenge, to secure his family, to promote his inheritance. Macbeth learns to follow his wife’s ambitions, because he is secretly ambitious at any cost; Lear takes his children’s love for granted and does not, at first, evaluate it correctly; Romeo finds the ‘woman of his life’ but does not consider the inter-family complications.
Some of this is in the original literature, but these male concepts or lack of concepts are exaggerated or underlined in order to create the de Vere plot. The failures in the male perspective or the success (Hamlet) lead to the tragedy. The déroulement of the play leads us along the line of the outworking of the main decisions. Other male deciders are also involved, Laertes in Hamlet. Cassio in Othello, Gloucester’s children in Lear; Juliet’s family, etc.
How does Edward de Vere’s ‘philosophy of life’ determine the outworking of these plots which end in tragedy? What ‘imprint’ does he place upon these plays which makes them unique and also popular across the ages? Are we certain that it is Edward de Vere who authored these exceptional literary works? Can it be that bi-sexuality carries within itself the seeds of a certain tragic outlook?
First of all, these plays involve, basically, men-women relations. Even Hamlet has an element of this in Hamlet’s relation with his mother and the revenge-taking of his father’s ghost concerning what his mother did (marry Hamlet’s uncle).
What is it in the main (male) character that is at stake in the outworking of the plots? Why is ‘Shakespeare’ famous for this? If we find something very important to explain this in Edward’s personal philosophy, do we also see an example of it in his known public or family life in late 16th century England?
Fate in ‘Shakespeare’? This is usually considered as an element in tragedy-. A person’s individual characteristics propel him to do certain acts which end in tragedy. Is this the case of Edward de Vere in English society of the day? Edward was, like Hamlet, Othello, Lear and Macbeth, in an elevated social position because of his birth (even Othello was a Venetian general because of his military talent), Such a position meant that others would be watching what he did or did not do. In Edward de Vere’s case, the fate of being High Chamberlain to the Queen was combined with a certain lack in what it meant to be in such a high position. Edward would rather study Greek classics and write poetry than support his monarch with military attributers. Thus ‘fated’ to be elevated in society, Edward de Vere was, by nature, unable to fulfill the role in society which he was expected him to do. On the other hand, because society wanted him to fulfill it, or would be unhappy to see him fail in it, he was in a ‘tragic situation’ vis à vis Elizabeth’s England.
Edward’s personal situation thus contributed to the way he wrote tragedies. The question for him was: how can a character who has been placed by fate in an impossible situation, react and how can he change his fate? If he fails to place his imprint on history, he will succumb to his ‘fated’, inferior position. Perhaps Edward de Vere, appreciating fully his so-to-speak ‘failure’ to live up to social expectations, tried nevertheless to show, in his literature, his personal problematic, and in this way, overcome his limitations.
From what we know of other putative ‘authors of Shakespeare’ none had such an elevated position in society as did the Earl of Oxford. Although certain of these had poetic talents, such as William Stanley, Earl of Derby, none had such political responsibility as did Edward in his role as High Chamberlain at the court. Edward de Vere was in a unique position to delineate characters in plays who, with political power, misuse it or fall victim to it (cf. Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Macbeth).
Perhaps these features of the life of the de Veres had as much influence on the plots of ‘Shakespeare’s’ tragedies as did Edward’s sexuality. High station in life was as determinative of his literature as romantic love directed to both women and men.
Other features in the tragedies which demonstrate Edward de Vere as the real author: One of these might be the universality of appeal of these plays across levels of society and down the ages. Was he not simply a product of the Norman and Plantagenet tradition which would give way to newer, modern beliefs and interests? Apparently the author of ‘Shakespeare’ not only had an appeal in the era 1580-1600 but also in the 17th and later centuries – a continuing appeal. His writing stirs us today. Why? Certainly a Stratford yeoman’s life of the 16th century should not appeal to a 20th century ‘millenial’. What was the unique appeal of Edward de Vere’s ‘muse’ and its products? If neuroscientists are correct that bi-sexuality begins in the womb, and if all humans possess certain masculine and feminine characteristics in their personalities in varying degrees, then what Edward expressed with a putative, hidden bi-sexuality, would of course strike chords in all of us. Was he a ‘universal man’ appealing to all humanity across the centuries?
This appears to be so. He managed, in an age where homosexuality was considered to be an aberration, to unveil a certain amount of unconscious sexuality propensity in his literature, so that humans in general can believe he is speaking to them when they read him or see his plays.
This ‘sexual material’ probably came out because Edward, as we see in the Sonnets, was somewhat bi-sexual and because he made it possible through his elevated status in society and his personal problematic working together, to pen stories (with the help of his ‘muse’) to appeal to both sides of his audience’s sexuality (male and female).
This was done not directly, as in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, but indirectly through play-writing. But the latter is felt and accepted as consequently as the treatments of the former devises.
Although William Shakespeare might be a typical Englishman, he certainly did not show in his life any of the qualities noted above. His only real claim to fame would be that he became a symbol of an Anglo-Saxon man of limited means who might succeed if he promotes himself sufficiently. But this was not the case with Edward de Vere, who did not need ‘success’ but needed only to express his literary talents, Apparently aware of what Anglo-Saxon society might venerate, however, Edward believed it necessary to hide his talent under the pseudonym of a moderate English male actor. He chose William Shakespeare, descendant of the English before the Conquest (in the Arderne / Arden family). This is shown in the Prologue to Taming of the Shrew when the author introduces Christopher Sly the tinker who is lodging at a Warwickshire inn. The ‘play within the play’ is the main part, based upon a comedia dell’arte adaptation of the taming of Katerina by Petruccio. The Prologue (to Taming) elevates Christopher Sly to the status of a ‘gentleman’ (just as William Shakespeare elevated his own Warwickshire family in 1597-8. Those who give him this elevation, in the play Taming, are some passing nobility (as Edward de Vere who had a troupe of players himself) who wish to show Christopher ‘how to tame a shrew’. In the context of Edward de Vere and his distant cousin William Shakespeare, Taming is a parody on the ambitions of William Shakespeare. In the end the ‘tinker’ becomes elevated and learns how to tame his shrewish wife (he watches the comedia dell’arte played out before him). The wife is no doubt Anne Hathaway Shakespeare. He who the nobility would place in Christopher Sly’s bed at the inn was Bartholomew (name of Anne Hathaways brother!) pretending (to Sly) that it was a woman.
There was an actor called William Sly who played in Jonson’s Sejanus and his colleague in that drama was named Will. Shake-Speare. The latter did not appear listed as an actor in Jonson’s Everyman out of his Humour (1599), however. Hence, those watching Taming may have realized that the tinker represented, in fact, a tinker / actor. The revelation of Christopher’s Sly’s personality was brought out by the troupe of actors which performed at the Warwickshire inn. These parallels indicate that Taming had to do with William Shakespeare and acting.
The ‘shrew’ becomes a symbol of what Shakespeare meant for Edward de Vere, namely an annoyance. Yet it had been Edward who had chosen William as his own pseudonym. Shakespeare was an element in Edward de Vere’s personal tragedy. Like ‘farmer William’ in As You Like It, who would take Audrey away from Touchstone, William Shakespeare ‘took away’ Edward’s fame as a great writer. English society preferred a Warwickshire Anglo-Saxon to a Norman aristocrat as its greatest writer, and this continues up until today. But nothing in William’s biography show any ability to write great tragedy. Such a difficulty doesn’t matter to ‘Stratfordians’ (20) – they seem to assert that William must have had (what we might consider as an) other-worldly gift from above and this lay behind his writing.
Is it because of homophobia that England rejects the possibility that Edward de Vere is the ‘real Shakespeare’? If so, we should simply listen to the neuroscientists – homosexuality and bi-sexuality are created indelibly in the womb and cannot be effaced. Because of his ‘Muse’ (related to his love for Henry Wriothesley, his beloved) this aspect of human nature was revealed perhaps prematurely in 16th century English literature.
Taming shows in its comedia dell’arte aspects how a man may manipulate a woman’s masculine qualities in order to bring forth her feminine qualities. But the Prologue (and the often deleted Epilogue) no doubt concerned how William Shakespeare could tame Anne his wife (a woman demanding for her husband and family a certain elevated status in Stratford) and finally provide what she was hoping for and complaining about. The true theme of Taming relates to Edward’s ‘muse’ which inspires him to show the true dichotomy of female and male aspects of our personalities and how this related to his own literature and its characters.
With Edward de Vere, everything seems to end up with his choice of William Shakespeare as his pseudonym. Did Shakespeare try to blackmail his patron about his bi-sexuality and by this achieve his status as house owner in Stratford and as ‘gentleman? In what context could Shakespeare blackmail Edward (or any of his colleagues at Fisher’s Folly)? Of sodomy or homosexuality? William Shakespeare lived for part of his London experience in Shoreditch (near to Fisher’s Folly).
From what we learn from Taming there were noblemen / gentlemen using Bartholomew to be sent ‘as a woman’ into Christopher Sly’s bed and therefore Sly (Shakespeare) would be compromised. Moreover, the implication was that not only might a ‘gentleman’ have a loose woman in his bed but also a boy. Was this a characteristic of the ‘gentlemen’ of the day? Such material in Taming might be a literary summary of how William Shakespeare appeared to the Fisher’s Folly group. We note that the Epilogue to Taming was usually deleted from Shakespeare’s works (21). The Epilogue notes Sly’s statements after he saw the ‘play within the play’: that he could return to his home and that now he knew ‘how to tame a shrew’
‘Someone’, said Robert Greene in a famous and controversial quotation, ‘wants to be clothed in our feathers’ (22) i.e. wants to be known as a playwright. William was perhaps the person indicated. Was he jealous of the group at Fisher’s Folly who were providing many plays? Evidently William was interested in the theatre as an investment – he owned a few shares in ‘the Globe’. Did he earn money for this as an actor, or was it given him? Who provided it? He who said: ‘He is clothed with our feathers’ obviously knew about the patron(s) of William, and how William obtained his funds. In the end, before he returned to Stratford, William had enough to buy New Place house and to attain ‘gentleman’s’ status. All this could not be achieved through taking a loan, or acting bit parts.
Taming may certainly give the clue to the attainment of ‘gentleman’ status – Christopher Sly obtained it because the noblemen who had a theatre group gave him the status. Thus, it was not his savings from acting, but other resources obtained from the nobility with travelling actors groups, who provided the success.
Taming thus may indicate the source of William Shakespeare’s wealth and status.
Perhaps by 1604 at Edward’s death gossip about him and his friends had spread widely enough to prevent the revelation of the true author of ‘Shakespeare’s works’, simply because Edward’s morality was considered to be questionable. Certainly the Protestants (including king James I) would accentuate condemnation of irregular sexuality. It would come under Biblical condemnation based upon certain passages in the text.
Nowadays, with growing tolerance towards gays and bisexuals we might once again perhaps open the Oxfordian-Stratfordian debate from a new angle i.e. openly discuss the sexual orientation of the main personalities involved. If Anne Hathaway shrewishly asked her William to become a ‘gentleman’’ and show some positive economic results of his stay in London with his noble distant cousin Edward de Vere, William could have used mild blackmail against fellow-play producers to gain some financial means to satisfy the shrew.
We should once again look at the Euphuistic movement in British literature. John Lyly was leading it, but his ideas were echoed in ‘Shakespeare’s’ works. Euphues, upon his entrance to English society, wished to treat English women differently from the average male. Like Dante, who placed Beatrice on an upper level, so Euphuists followed a new ‘Renaissance’ tendency in re-evaluating the old man-woman relational possibilities. But English society, with its new anti-Catholicism, was generally not in accord with the Euphuistic approach. Edward de Vere was a major supporter of it, probably because he had developed divergent opinions on women’s role in society (23). His views found an echo in Queen Elizabeth, who called him ‘Will’ (i.e. the author of what came out under William Shakespeare’s name).
Bi-sexuality needed to be recognized as one of the human aspects of sexuality. If we accept bi-sexuality in Edward de Vere, we have a new approach which may facilitate promotion of the Oxfordian point of view. The contrary might seem to be true, but let us see if it helps our Oxfordian view.
One ‘Stratfordian’ scenario might be that William of Stratford was able to buy stocks related to the Globe Theatre because he was a successful author who had saved some of his royalty earnings. Also, his purchase of a rather imposing house in Stratford was due to his writing career. He could retire from a writing career and do business in Stratford because he had been successful in London.
But no record about how he achieved success and fortune has been found. Has it been destroyed? If so, why? No banker or financial officer who would secure his royalties has been discovered. This is most strange since many plays had been published under his name before and after he removed back to Stratford.
The implication is that he obtained the funds from acting and then invested them out of his earnings. But such an actor as he (some small roles have been recorded) could certainly not afford to purchase New Place in Stratford. There is not much available correspondence about this purchase nor about any of his literary success which might explain the purchase. Most famous writers or actors living temps. Elizabeth I have left some written correspondence or at least there would be some commentary by friends, well-wishers or even enemies. However, one possibility exists to explain the purchase of New Place, and the gentleman’s title (given to William’s father John Shakespeare) which went along with it. The previous owner of what was re-named by Shakespeare New Place, was Joyce Clopton who had married Sir George Carew (Wikipedia). Sir George was a very close friend of the Cecils and especially of Robert Cecil, Anne Cecil’s brother. Sir George was for a short time an ambassador at the court of Henry IV in Paris and Robert Cecil went with him (Wikipedia). Thus it could be possible for Edward de Vere, in a conversation with the Carews at the Cecil house on the Strand (where Edward had grown up), to convince Ms. Joyce Carew to give the house to William Shakespeare, and thus rid London of a nuisance since Shakespeare was apparently going around claiming to be the author of Edward’s works. Although 60£ was the price, the Cecils or Edward could have provided the funds (24)
Thus the source of William’s funds remains ambiguous. Other than the fact that his name was on the publications, no other information is available about his relation to these plays. He was known as an actor by young William Davenant whose parents owned the Crown Inn in Oxford on Cornmarket Street, where William Shakespeare often stayed. Teenage Davenant wrote a poem about William Shakespeare (who had befriended him as a child) and the poem regrets Shakespeare’s death - it appeared to the boy as the drying up of the river Avon (25).
Was Shakespeare known only to a few tradesmen whom he met in London or travelling to his home in Stratford? Which other testimonies about his life in London could we point to? Almost none.
William Shakespeare was a ‘businessman’ when he returned to Stratford upon Avon after an acting career. He was occupied with various business ventures, some quite illegal such as his importing of malt. Therefore, a business element remained in his personality even after a career on the stage. His relations with Edward de Vere his cousin would therefore undoubtedly be ‘businesslike’.
In Taming (Prologue and Epilogue) Christopher Sly is told by the noblemen that he is also a gentleman and that he will receive good service from the Inn as well as a beautiful woman in his bed because of his elevated station in life. The choice for a woman is the young boy Bartholomew (name of Anne Hathaway’s brother). As a ‘gentleman’ thus, Sly will experience homosexual love. The Prologue and Epilogue to Taming shows us a particular facet of the relations between Edward de Vere and his play-writing friends, and William Shakespeare. If Shakespeare wished to use that type of taunt to malign Edward and his friends, he might have found persons with a ‘law and order’ perspective who might cause trouble for the Fisher’s Folly group and Edward at its head. But the cause of William’s enrichment may be quite other as explained above. The implication behind the prologue and epilogue to Taming may have been simply to show how William Shakespeare might leave London and become comfortable in Stratford with a ‘tamed’ wife.
Hence a payment to William that he leave the London scene and the life of an actor (not a very successful one at that). Anne, Bartholomew and Shakespeare’s children would be content with their new house and a (future) title besides.
It must be admitted that much of what has been written in this article is hypothetical, including our concept put forward that Edward de Vere was bi-sexual. Yet other essays on how William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere were related do not, ordinarily, take the element of sexuality into consideration. We have proposed that element as a rather new explanation about the authorship issue.
Of course, we could interpret the bi-sexuality demonstrated in the Sonnets differently, the love for a male being simply ‘Platonic’ as one example. But today that term is considered as including sexual elements for example about the sexuality of Plato himself. Why not directly claim that the 17th Earl of Oxford was bi-sexual and see where that takes us in the authorship issue? This is what we have done. Probably some people could have classified Edward as such. But Shakespeare wanted a gentleman’s title, and in order to keep him quiet about the authorship, and perhaps about other things, Edward provided the money to buy New Place (cf. reference to the Cloptons above).
On the other hand, Edward may have provided the house to William Shakespeare because of Edward’s relation (through the Trussell family) to Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother. Together they had wanted William to get some credit for his years in London, and perhaps because of some promise to Mary Arden, the house was provided. The 60£ cost - although not a huge amount - probably did not result from William’s play acting since in 1598 William was not really in any way successful. Moreover, perhaps in renouncing any theory that Shakespeare ‘blackmailed’ Edward de Vere because of the latter’s ‘way of life’ we could assert that, as Ivor Brown states, William led a rather straight-laced life in London, and was in no way associated with ‘debauched’ people (as some of Edward’s ‘Fisher’s Folly’ friends were known to be). William had lived in Shoreditch near Fisher’s Folly in his early years in London, but moved out of there soon.
So, certainly William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere had a very ‘peculiar’ relationship. We have tried to understand it and have introduced all the possible scenarios. These are based on the few indications in Edward’s literature published under Shakespeare’s name. But one conclusion seems inevitable: it was necessary to contribute to William’s welfare and by this, William was provided funds for a new life in Stratford, satisfying his family.
(1) cf. de Vere Society Newsletter, vol. 25, no. 1, January 2018, pp. 3-4. Also Charles Graves Twenty Seven Essays on Edward de Vere and William Shakespeare IVER Publications 2014 pp.267 ff. (Amazon.com)
(2) cf. Dick Swaab, We Are Our Brains. From the Womb to Alzheimer’s. Penguin Books 2015, p. 63.
(3) Shake-speares Sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint.. The Folio Society, London 1989. What the Sonnets tell us about Edward’s bi-sexuality may be summarized as follows:
Sonnets Nos. 76-85; 100-102 speak about Edward’s ’Muse’, i.e. that the continuing inspiration for his writings is a male. The muse in several sonnets is inspiring because the author ‘loves him’. This love is the foundation of the muse and its use.
Sonnets Nos. 118-129 show us that Edward had a passionate sexual relation with a woman, but this relation was considered as treasonous vis à vis his love for a male figure (whose ‘muse’ inspired Edward).
Sonnets Nos. 20, 144 show that Edward loved both a woman and a man (boy). Edward was, in one set of words, a male vis à vis his beloved and in the same sonnet in another set of words, a female vis à vis his beloved.
Sonnets No. 108-109 show Edward’s passionate love for a young man.
Thus it is difficult not to conclude that Edward de Vere was oriented sexually toward both a man and a woman. The only indication that Edward was homosexual is sonnet no. 109 which perhaps indicates a sexual encounter with his beloved male (if a boy then a ‘pedophile’ relation is indicated).
We might go further and establish the various stages in Edward de Vere’s understanding of his own bi-sexuality and its expression (through his ‘Muse’) in his literature:
(a)In the Tempest which we believe may have been written while Edward was in the Tower (1580) because of his affair with Anne Vavasour and the birth of his bastard Edward Vere. Here Edward denied his relation to the boy Henry Wriothesley (only 7 years old and living at Cecil’s house in London), The portion of the Tempest where this denial is made concerns ‘Dusky Dis’ It is in the section where Prospero speaks of Iris (rainbow) / Ceres (Demeter) / Dusky Dis’ and Venus / Cupid. It appears here that Edward is trying to uplift heterosexuality – in the marriage between Fernando and Miranda – and deny bi-sexuality, as he dismisses the work of ‘Dusky Dis’ (son or grandson of Ceres (Demeter)). He will not let the ‘arrows’ of that boy influence him, and hopes that the boy ‘will go off and play with sparrows’. Is this a reflection of some experience with Henry Wriothesley age 7 at Cecil’s House?
(b)A different self-analysis of his bi-sexuality is shown 10 years later in 1590 in the Poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece dedicated to Henry Wriothesley and written by ‘William Shakespeare’: Venus is trying to seduce Adonis, who refuses and eventually is gored by a boar and dies. Here the ‘predator’ is Venus and the object of her love is the beautiful boy Adonis (viz. Henry). As Edward had almost lost his father by a boar’s fangs, so Edward warns Henry that it is better to love Venus than to hunt. In The Rape of Lucrece A Roman woman is raped and eventually commits suicide because she sees no other way to restore her purity. Here the author is telling Henry that purity of women is important (Edward representing the woman in this parallel). Thus Henry should avoid raping in general and respect his lover Edward in particular. The poem had to be placed under the name of William Shakespeare because the subject-matter was very sensitive - at least to Edward, But these two poems are written from the point of view of a woman.
(c) During the period when the Sonnets were written (1578-1604?) as mentioned above, the bi-sexual orientation of the author is quite well expressed and there seems to be both the heterosexual side and homosexual side illustrated. This indicates that, at least in his privacy, the author has accepted his sexual orientation (although very little physical homosexuality is mentioned). Physical heterosexuality with ‘the dark lady’ is quite well elucidated.
(d) In As You Like It the character Touchstone is unashamedly portrayed as bi-sexual (vis à vis his relation with Audrey) and in The Wisdom of Dr. Doddypoll (anonymous play of 1600 where Albedure, representing the youngest in the line of de Veres, in this case Edward de Vere, loves Hyanth). She is a feminization of Hyacinthus - a male, loved by the (male) gods.
Thus, in his literary productions, using his love for Henry Wriothesley as his ‘muse’, Edward learned to accept his sexual orientation and use it creatively in his career as a writer.
(4) cf. John Lyly, Euphues. The Anatomy of Wit. Editio Princeps 1579. Euphues and His England. Edition Princeps 1580. Collated with Early Subsequent Editions. Edited by Edward Arber (‘English Reprints, vol. 3, Birmingham 1868)
(5) ibid, Euphues and his England, pp. 328 ff. Also in this section we have what could be considered the origin in Edward’s mind of the term Touchstone (a character representing Edward in As You Like It ). The author, speaking positively about English women, says ‘so he that by sinister reports, seemeth to pare the credite of his friend, may make him lighter among the common fort, who by weight often-times are deceiued with counterfaites, but nothing empayreth his good name with the wife, who trye all gold by the touch-stone’. In the same book by Lyly we have the statement (p.250) ‘thus for the space of an eight weekes Euphues and Philautus sailed on ye seas, from their first shipping, between whome diuers speaches were uttered, which to recite were nothing necessary in this place, and weighing the circumstances, scarce experienced, what tempests they endured, what straunge fights in ye element, what monstrous fishes were seen, how often they were in danger of drowning, in fear of boarding, how weerie, howe sick, how angry, it were tedious to write….and those that in the like journey have spent their time from Naples to England….’ It may be that this other citation from Lyly’s pen (1580) was the origin of the title of de Vere’s play The Tempest.
(5) As far as the relation of Edward to the Euphuists was concerned, he apparently shared their view of women which could be considered as special, i.e. in general women should not be the prey of men’s desire alone but should be a dignified sex.
(6) cf. my article ‘Euphuistic Tradition in Edward de Vere’s Innocent Women Characters’ (7 pp.) in www.iverpublications.ch
(7) cf. Jan Cole ‘Location, Location, Location! Oxford’s 1580 purchase of land and property ‘east of Aldgate’ In de Vere Society Newsletter vol. 23, no. 1, January 2016, pp. 3-22. This was the location of ‘Fisher’s Folly’, in St. Botolf Aldgate. William Shakespeare, on the other hand, although he lived in Shoreditch for a while, did not live nearby Fisher’s Folly but in the parish of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate.
(8) cf. note 3.
(9) Oxenton is treated in the Victoria County History for Gloucestershire, Vol. VIII, pp. 220 ff. See further on John Fastolf in Graves, op.cit. pp. 91 ff.
(10) cf. Graves, op. cit., pp. 231 ff.
(11) Cf. my article on The Wisdom of Doctor Doddypoll in de Vere Society Newsletter vol. 24, no. 3 July 2017, pp. 21-25.
(12) cf. note 4.
(13) (cf. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths,. vol. II, pp. 350 ff.).
(14) As You Like It 2.4.43-52. ‘I remember the wooing of a peascod instead of her, from whom I took two cods, and giving her them again, said with weeping tears, ‘wear these for my sake’’. We that are true lovers run into strange capers. But as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.’ Here Touchstone wishes his female companion have two peas of the pod (testicles). A take-off on codpiece is indicated.
(15) De Vere Society Newsletters of April 2017, October 2017. Cf. also article by Charles Graves “Jaques of As You Like It as a proto-Masonic character” (following Alexander Waugh)(www.iverpublictions,ch ). That ‘Jaques’ in As You Like It appears alongside ‘Touchstone’ – both representing the author – indicates that Edward de Vere understood that his proto-Masonic belonging impacted upon his sexuality.
(16) Cf. note 1
(17) The main characters Alphonse, Kathryn and Albedure in Doddypoll replicate three of Edward de Vere’s most distant known ancestors: Alphonse de Vere, a Norman, who married Kathryn of West Flanders, gaining the title of ‘de Vere’ and their son Alberic, who was a companion of William the Conqueror in 1066. The ‘cup of the enchanter’ given to Duchess Kathryn in the play may resemble the ‘Holy Grail’ of medieval lore, perhaps referring to the fact that Kathryn of Flanders, wife of the historical Alphonse de Vere, was given Walcheren Island (where the town Veere is located) by the Holy Roman Emperor.
(18) Smaller Classical Dictionary, edited by E.H. Blakeney, MA, London / Toronto, Dent 1934, pp. 272-3
(19) cf. note 3. The sonnets on ‘herbal remedies’ (for sexual orientation?) are nos. 147, 152-3
(20) Stratfordians is a term designating the persons who claim William Shakespeare of Stratford Upon Avon is the author of the works attributed to him. Oxfordians include those who believe Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford was the real author of ‘Shakespeare’ works. The debate between the two groups began in the 1920s after Thomas Looney published The Poems of Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, London: Francis Clark. The Gower Bookshop 1921, and Shakespeare Identified (reprinted New York: Duell 1948).
(21) William Shakespeare. The Complete Plays. Early Comedies. Edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. London: The Folio Society. 1997. The Taming of the Shrew, Additional Passages, pp. 169-171
(22) cf. Charles Graves op. cit. p. 131 ff. Greene’s statement was as follows, according to Thomas Looney as directed against William Shakespeare; ‘ Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his ‘Tyger’s heart wrapt in a Players hyde’ supposes he is well able to bombast out blanke verse as the best of you, and being an absolute ‘Johannes factotem’ is in his owne conceit the only Skake-scene in a country’ (quoted in Percy Allen, The Life Story of Edward de Vere as William Shakespeare. London: Cecil Palmer 1932, p. 277)
(23) cf. note 4
(24) There is yet another connection between Edward and the Carews. Joan de Courtenay of Hascombe, Devon, was grandmother of the 15th Earl of Oxford John de Vere (who married Elizabeth Trussel). Joan’s first husband was Sir Nicholas Carew (same Devonshire family as Sir George Carew who married Joyce Clopton of Warwicks.). This connection to Edward may seem rather too distant but it may be important: Joan de Courtenay was granddaughter of Edward de Courtenay of Godrington who died 1372 who was noted in Richard III as an opponent of Richard III together with the bishop of Exeter. Edward de Courtenay was great-grandson of king Edward I, and it is thought that perhaps Edward de Vere obtained his Christian name through this descent from a Plantagenet king.
(25) Cf. Ivor Brown, Shakespeare, London: Reprint Society 1949 p. 168-9, 309-10, 321-23 on William Davenant: A Shakespeare biographer, Nicholas Rowe, claimed that Davenant spread the story that the Earl of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley) gave Shakespeare £1000 to buy New Place in Stratford. Ivor Brown demurs and notes that such a gift would have been a colossal one those days, and New Place only cost 60 pounds. Brown tells us that in 1596 William’s father John Shakespeare was raised to the status of gentleman with a coat of arms, and in 1597 William Shakespeare paid William Underhill 60£ for New Place, the principal house in Stratford. Apparently William Underhill (see note above) was an intermediary for purchase of New Place from Joyce Clopton Carew.
3 May 2018
Photograph: Hedingham Castle, Essex, by Derek Voller