Some characteristics of the author “Shake-speare” revealed in the poems and plays, as adduced by J. Thomas Looney in “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, with a comparison of these characteristics to the matching characteristics of Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford.
Mature man of recognized genius. A lyric poet of recognized talent.
Edward de Vere was praised by the author of the Arte of English Poesie (1589) “for Comedy and Enterlude”: by William Webbe, A Discourse of English Poetry (1586): “…the right honourable Earl of Oxford may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest”; and by Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia (1598): “The best for comedy among us be Edward Earl of Oxford,…(and others)”
Of pronounced and known literary taste.
Edward de Vere was the most prominent patron of writers in the 16th century. Among those literary figures who dedicated works to the Earl are Spenser, Robert Greene, Anthony Munday, John Lyly, Thomas Nashe, Arthur Golding, and many others. Oxford arranged for the publication of books by Thomas Bedingfield and Bartholomew Clarke and contributed dedicatory prefaces to each.
An enthusiast in the world of drama.
Oxford is known to have written, produced and acted in plays and masques — none of which survive, at least under his own name. He was lease-holder of the BlackfriarsTheatr during its critical first phase of operation during the 1580s. He operated his own theatrical company, Oxford’s Boys, as well. In 1580 players from the Earl of Warwick’s company transferred to Lord Oxford’s service. John Lyly, at that time Oxford’s private secretary, was probably also appointed manager of the company.Henry Evans, who operated the Blackfriars when it re-opened in 1600, was another associate of Oxford’s in this early phase in the development of the English theatre. Evans is satirized as the Welsh parson in Merry Wives of Windsor. Circumstantial evidence also connects Oxford very closely with the flourishing Queen’s Men (1583-92)– in several records his secretary and close theatrical affiliate John Lyly occurs as payee for this influential company, which a growing number of scholars regard as the origin of a number of plays supposed to be Shakespearean juvenalia.In 1602 the Earls of Oxford and Worcester amalgamated their companies and were licensed to play at the Boar’s Head, which is described in extant documents as their accustomed theatrical venue. A tavern of this name is of course the hangout of Hal and Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.
Of superior education.
As a boy, De Vere was tutored in political philosophy by Sir Thomas Smith. Lawrence Nowell, the antiquarian scholar who then owned the sole existing manuscript copy of Beowulf, apparently tutored him in languages.Shakespeares’s knowledge of the English language is enlarged by this versatile command of both Latin and –arguably–Anglo-Saxon, a language he could not have learned without the assistant of a specialized tutor such as Nowell.De Vere was apparently tutored in Latin by his uncle Arthur Golding, the most talented Latin tutor in England, who dedicated three books to him. Golding’s translation of The Metamorphoses (1565, 1567) was done during the years the young Earl was perfecting his Latin. Sir Sidney Lee says that “the phraseology of Golding’s translation so frequently appears in Shakespeare’s page, especially by way of subsidiary illustration, as almost to compel conviction that Shakespeare knew much of Golding’s book by heart” (1909 119: emphasis added).Edward de Vere graduated from St. Johns College at Cambridge at age 14, and was created master of arts at Christ’s Church at Oxford at the age of 16. His masters degree project is unknown, but Queen Elizabeth visited both Universities in the years he matriculated, and was lavishly entertained with dramatic productions.The year after his Oxford education, de Vere was admitted to Gray’s Inn to study law. His extant letters display a precocious and sophisticated knowledge of law among other subjects– many of the six hundred legal terms which appear in the plays and poems of “Shakespeare” occur in his extant correspondence, as first documented by William Plumer Fowler.
An early account book (1569/70) shows Edward de Vere to be the possessor of a Geneva Bible, Amyot’s French Plutarch, and Chaucer. Another account describes his purchase of Plato and Cicero, and “paper and nibs” for writing (Ward 32-33). Plutarch, Chaucer and the Geneva Bible are three of the most important source works for Shakespeare; a fourth is Ovid’s Metamorphosis, translated by his uncle Arthur Golding.
Of probable Catholic leanings but touched with skepticism.
Contemporary documents kept by Catholic partisans describe Oxford as sympathetic to the Catholic faith. It seems likely that during his 1576 trip to Italy he was reconciled to the Church. However, in December 1580 he revealed the plot of his Catholic associates Henry Howard and Charles Arundel to murder Queen Elizabeth and establish Mary Queen of Scots to the throne.After this time Oxford apparently made his peace with the Anglican settlement; politically, he remained an Anglican. Such a loyalty to the Anglican cause would certainly be inferred fromthe persistent Anglican bias of the Shakespearearean history plays which Daniel Wright has recently documented in his Ball State PhD dissertation. Aesthetically and philosophically, de Vere remained under the influence of much Catholic doctrine and belief — just as Hamlet, although schooled at Wittenburg where Luther published his thesis on the Cathedral door in 1517 — is haunted by the splendor of a fading but romantic Catholic past.
A man with feudal connections, a member of the higher aristocracy, and connected with Lancastrian supporters.
Edward de Vere was an heir to one of the oldest earldoms in England’s history, originating in the Norman Conquest. The de Veres were strong supporters of the Lancastrian faction in the Wars of the Roses, and as every student of the plays knows, “Shakespeare” displays the same bias. Furthermore, as Daniel Wright has recently argued, the historical bias in the plays is actually more specific than this: in many peculiar instances the author displays an idiomatic bias in favor of certain aristocratic families, among them the houses of de Vere and Stanley.Peter Saccio, in his very fine book on the history plays, wonders why the author did not memorialize the successful Yorkist King Edward IV. The anwer may lie in fact that Edward IV preserved his power by executing two earls of Oxford.
An enthusiast for Italy.
Oxford travelled to Italy in the mid-1570s and even tried to make the trip surreptitiously when Queen Elizabeth intially denied him permission.He later became notorious as the most Italianate Englishman of his generation. Strong tradition records that he built a house in Venice to which he returned at intervals long after his well-documented 1576 journey.Six comedies and tragedies of Shakespeare are set in Italy; these display a minute and accurate knowledge of Italian topography, history and custom.
A follower of sport, including falconry.
Edward de Vere was quite accomplished in jousting and participated in tournaments. Some of his early verse has images drawn from falconry which is echoed in the Shakespearean plays and poems, as J.T. Looney initially observed.
Lover of music.
Composer John Farmer in his dedication of The First Set of English Madrigals (1599), says “that using this science [music] as a recreation your Lordship have overgone most of them that make it a profession.”The musical substratum of the plays is well known to scholars who have studied this question. It is impossible to think that the author of the Shakespearean canon was not a trained and skilled musician.
Improvident in money matters and contemptuous of thrift.
Oxford alienated many of his estates to his father-in-law, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, for which he has been criticized by historians. As J.T. Looney was the first to note, Oxford’s legendary improvidence, for which he earned the nickname “Pierce Penilesse” from Gabriel Harvey and Tom Nashe, is one of the strongest confirmations of his identity as Shakespeare, for in the Shakespearean plays “almost every reference to money and purses is of the loosest description and, by implication, teaches an improvidence what would seen involve any man’s financial affairs in complete chaos” (98). Roger Stritmatter’s study of the many marked verses in the de Vere Bible which record the annotator’s financial anxiety, and also show a powerful concurrence with Shakespeare Bible references on the same subject, has recently confirmed the validity of Looney’s analysis of this issue.