by Joseph Sobran
In his neglected book Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters, the late William Plumer Fowler performed the heroic task of finding hundreds of verbal parallels between the works of Shakespeare and the letters of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. All Oxfordians are in Fowler’s debt, and nobody more than myself.
To my mind such parallels are the best possible evidence of Oxford’s authorship of the Shakespeare works. They are the literary equivalent of the fingerprints or DNA evidence that may connect a suspect with a crime beyond any reasonable doubt.
For the past ten years, I’ve been trying to find conclusive proof of Oxford’s authorship. I’ve always felt that if I looked closely at Oxford’s own acknowledged words, in verse or prose, the proof would eventually present itself. If he was the author of those great works, the proof must be there – particularly where Oxford neither intended to reveal himself nor was conscious of doing so. The trick is to discern it.
And I believe I have found it.
Curiously, few Oxfordians have thought to look for the evidence where we might expect it to await us: in Oxford’s Poems. Those who have looked there, from John Thomas Looney on, have noticed a few telling parallels between those poems and Shakespeare; I think particularly of the work of Ruth Loyd Miller, to which we are also deeply indebted. But many more parallels remain to be discovered. And I’ve made it my mission to discover them. I have not sought merely verbal parallels, but similarities of word and phrase expressing similar thoughts.
My search has been more fully rewarded than I imagined possible. I’ve found literally hundreds of similarities between Oxford’s phrases, images, and associations and Shakespeare’s. Allow me to share a few of them with you. (I’ll present a fuller account in my book-length treatment of the authorship question.)
I should say at the beginning that similarities between any two poets are inevitable. After all, one can find a few images shared by Shakespeare and Homer; so it stands to reason that there will be even more affinities between Shakespeare and any poet of his own age. No writer, however great, can entirely avoid the conventions and even cliches of his time. We have, by the reckoning of Professor Steven May of Georgetown College, about twenty poems that may be ascribed to Oxford. Professor May, though an authority on Oxford, is by no means an Oxfordian. So my use of his canon won’t prejudice the issue. If anything, it makes for a more rigorous test for Oxford.
Whether or not Oxford and Shakespeare are the same writer, they lived at the same time, and we may expect a certain number of parallels between their writings for that reason alone. How many? Considering that we have only a small body of Oxford’s acknowledged poetry, I think we might reasonably expect to find a dozen or so. And we may arbitrarily posit an upper limit of, say, three dozen. Much more than that would be beyond the possibility of coincidence.
Of course much depends on the nature of each parallel. Not all of them are of the same order. Some may be obvious, trivial, or trite; others may be highly distinctive and idiosyncratic. In some cases we may even disagree as to whether two phrases or images are really parallel. But I think in general we can agree. And I submit that hundreds of seeming parallels to Shakespeare in twenty short poems can’t reasonably be assigned to chance, convention, or imitation.
Let us start with Oxford’s poem beginning, “The labouring man who tills the fertile soil.” Consider the phrase “labouring man.” Shakespeare also uses the phrase “labouring men.” We can probably agree that this is a weak parallel, and is practically valueless for the purpose of proving that the two writers were one. Likewise the phrase “tills the fertile soil.” Shakespeare also has “fertile England’s soil” and “soil’s fertility.” Again, the parallel is weak, though not quite as weak, I think, as “labouring man.” Such phrases might occur to anyone. On the other hand, the way they are used might offer a clue.
But now consider another phrase: Oxford’s “reaps the harvest fruit.” It certainly wouldn’t take a genius to think of this one. yet we notice that Shakespeare is fond of it; he uses some version of “reaping a harvest” at least five times. “After the man That the main harvest reaps.” “And reap the harvest which that rascal sowed.” “We are to reap the harvest of his son.” “To reap the harvest of perpetual peace.” “My poor lips, which should that harvest reap.” And we may note that Oxford and Shakespeare both use the words “harvest” and “toil” in close proximity. This is not strong proof, but it is not exactly nothing.
In the same poem, Oxford writes: “He pulls the flowers, he plucks but weeds. “Shakespeare writes: “They bid thee crop a weed, thou pluck’st a flower.” And: “Which I have sworn to weed and pluck away.” And: “He weeds the corn, and still lets grow the weeding.” Here we see similarities not only of were and image, but of syntax and rhythm. One such proves little. A few dozen would be another matter.
Now we come to what I regard as a very strong and suggestive parallel. Oxford writes of “The mason poor that builds the lordly halls,” and, soon afterward, adds that “The idle drone that labours not at all Sucks up the sweet of honey from the bee.” Shakespeare is especially given to moralizing about idle drones and to similes of sucking honey. “Not to eat honey like a drone from others’ labours.” “Drones suck not eagles’ blood, but rob beehives.” “Death, that hath suck’d the honey of thy breath.” “That suck’d the honey of his music vows.” “And suck’d the honey which thy chaste bee kept.” These are definitely Shakespearean images. Which is not to rule out other poets’ using them too.
But note a more peculiar parallel here. In Henry V, the Archbishop makes an extended comparison between a kingdom and a beehive. “For so work the honey-bees … The singing mason building roofs of gold … The lazy yawning drone.” Now the touch I find most telling here is the association, in both Oxford and Shakespeare, between bees and “masons” who “build.” The images of working bees, lazy drones, and sucking honey might be called “natural” images. Being “natural,” they may be either universal or conventional. But the individualizing touches – the touches that argue common authorship of the two passages – are the words “mason” and “build.”
Here is a clue that Oxford and Shakespeare are one. It may be mere coincidence, but we would not be inclined to ascribe very many such parallels to accident. This one at least strongly suggests the identity in question.
Again, Oxford give us: “And from the sour the sweet by skill doth choose.” Though it is another “natural” contrast, Shakespeare is also fond of pitting “sour” and “sweet” against each other: “Speak sweetly, man, although thy looks be sour.” “How sour sweet music is When time is broke.” “Sweetest nut hath sourest rind.” “That thy sour leisure gave sweet leave.” “The sweets we wish for turn to loathed sours.” “Touch you the sourest points with sweetest terms.”
Oxford concludes: “For he that beats the bush the bird not gets, But who sits still and holdeth fast the nets.” Shakespeare too uses several images of birds, bushes,nets, and other traps. “Poor bird, thou’dst never fear the net nor lime.” “Look how a bird lies tangled in a net.” “Birds never lim’d no secret bushes fear.”
Another of Oxford’s poems begins with the couplet:
Ev’n as the wax both melt, or dew consume away
Before the sun, so I behold, through careful thoughts decay.
Shakespeare abounds in images of the morning sun melting the’.e dew, and also of melting wax. I won’t recite them here. But one passage in Lucrece commands our attention:
as soon decay’d and done
As is the morning’s silver melting dew
Against the golden splendor of the sun.
Here again Oxford and Shakespeare share not only the “natural” imagery, but the individualizing word: “decay.”
Oxford’s phrase “consume away,” in the same poem, is also used twice by Shakespeare. Oxford’s “that hath myself in hate” answers to several lines in Shakespeare: “My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself.” “He scowls and hates himself for his offense.” “Whose deed hath made herself herself detest.”
Oxford writes: “So I the pleasant grape have pulled from the vine.” In Shakespeare we read: “For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?” Oxford’s metaphor “I wove the web of woe” has its cousin in Venus: “Now she unweaves the web that she hath wrought.” Oxford: “The more I would weed out my cares, the more they seem’d to grow.” Shakespeare: “To weed my vice and let his grow.”
Oxford and Shakespeare have many pet images in common: fertility and harvest, the lazy drone that robs the laboring bees of their honey, the sad scene that moves pity even in rocks, weeping lovers (whose tears, however, may be “feigned”), panting and sighing, wailing and moaning, drowning floods of tears, birds in bushes trapped with nets, the lark as herald of morning, the morning sun melting the dew, the game of tennis (with rackets, courts, and chases), pale and rosy cheeks, salve for sores,worms feeding on the dead, eyes “feeding” on beauty, desire borne by wings, echoing caves, women as haggard hawks, baths of blood, hounds and horns, the wounded deer, the fleeing hare. They use similar. classical emblems: the commanding Caesar, Hannibal and Pompey, the oracle of Apollo, the nine Muses, royal Juno, bashful Daphne, Priam as the archetypal father, the beds of goddesses, Cynthia’s silver light, Venus’ beauty, her coarse blacksmith husband, blind Cupid with his bow and brand, Argus with his hundred eyes.
If time permitted, I might dwell on the classical myths both Oxford and Shakespeare refer to in similar phrases. Oxford speaks of Daphne as “Apollo’s wishful prey.” Shakespeare uses the myth with ironic reversal: “Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase.”
Shakespeare refers often to Cupid; so does Oxford, and in the same terms. Both refer to him as “the blind boy” and describe him as “wanton.” Both speak of his “bow,” his “quiver,” his “toys,” his “brand.” Shakespeare speaks of “his love-kindling fire”; Oxford says Cupid’s dart “kindleth soft sweet fire.”
Oxford also writes that Cupid “sat all in blood, bebathed to the ears.” Shakespeare uses a similar image several times: “Bath’d in maiden blood.” “And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood.” “Or bathe my dying honor in the blood.” “The mailed Mars shall on his altar sit up to the ears in blood.”
A notable habit Oxford and Shakespeare share is the use of “contraries”: paradox, antithesis, contrast for effect. In these poems of Oxford we find Shakespeare-like juxtapositions of “sour” and “sweet,” “rich” and “poor,” “loss” and “gain,” “joy and “woe,” “ebb” and “flow,” “flowers” and “weeds,” “worldly” and “heavenly,” “heaven” and “hell,” “mirth” and “sad,” “love” and “foe,” “please” and “pain.”
Oxford’s “Bragging of heaven, yet feeling pains of hell” suggests these Shakespearean lines: “If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.” “To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.” “If not in heaven, you’ll surely sup in hell.”
Oxford’s “Sith comfort ebbs, and cares do daily Row” has Shakespearean parallels too: “Thus ebbs and flows the current of her sorrow.” “Ebb and flow with tears.” “And sorrow ebbs, being blown with wind of tears.” “Packs and sects of great ones, That ebb and flow by th’ moon.”
Consider a few more examples. First Oxford: “The more I follow’d one, the more she fled away.” Shakespeare: “The more I hate, the more he follows me.” And: “I follow’d fast, but faster he did fly.”
Are we not hearing the same voice? Again, Oxford: “The more my plaints I do resound, the less she pities me; The more I sought, the less I found,” etc. Shakespeare often contrasts “more” and “less” in the same rhythm: “And so by hoping more they have but less.” “More than I seem, and less than I was born to.” “That moves in him more rage and lesser pity.” “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.” “A little more than kin, and less than kind.”
The epigrammatic opposition of “more” and “less,” “least” and “most,” is equally typical of both Oxford and Shakespeare. Oxford gives us: “Enjoying least when I do covet most.” Shakespeare: “With what I most enjoy contented least.” Could the resemblance be closer? Can you say which of the following lines is from which poet? “With least abode where best I feel content.” “Then least alone when most I seem to lurk.” “When most impeach’d stands least in thy control.” “Seeming to be most which we indeed least are.” “In least speak most.” (The first two of these are Oxford’s, the rest Shakespeare’s.) Oxford’s “Drown me with trickling tears” summons up at least ten examples of tears drowning people in Shakespearean hyperbole. “We drown our gains in tears.” “Tears shall drown the wind.” “Drown the stage with tears.” “But floods of tears will drown my oratory.” Etc.
Many of the most telling Oxford-Shakespeare parallels are too intricate for brief presentation. I regret having to pass over them here. For now I will stick to examples that are both brief and relatively strong –the more peculiar, the better.
Oxford: “To wail with me this loss of mine.” Shakespeare: “Wailing our losses, whiles the foe doth rage.” “Wise men ne’er sit and wail their loss.”
Oxford: “Help echo that in air doth flee, shrill voices to resound.” Shakespeare: “And fetch shrill echoes from the hollow earth.” “As is the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound.” “What shrill-voic’d suppliant makes this eager cry?”
Oxford: “I am not as I seem to be, Nor when I smile I am not glad.” Shakespeare: “I am not what I am.” “I am not merry; but I do beguile The thing I amby seeming otherwise.”
Oxford: “Most in mirth, most pensive sad.” Shakespeare: “I show more mirth than I am mistress of.” “With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage.” “So mingled as if mirth did make him sad.” “Sad tales doth tell To pencill’d pensiveness.”
Oxford: “But I in vain do breathe my wind.” Shakespeare: “You breathe in vain.” “No wind of blame shall breathe.”
In one short poem, Oxford uses the words “mirth,” “sad,” “flood of tears,” “annoy” (as a noun), “grief,” and “tears suffice.” Shakespeare uses virtually all the same words, expressing a similar thought, in two stanzas:
For mirth doth search the bottom of annoy;
Sad souls are slain in merry company;
Grief best is pleas’d with grief’s society.
True sorrow then in feelingly suffic’d
When with like semblance it is sympathiz’d.
‘Dear lord, thy sorrow to my sorrow lendeth
Another power; no flood by raining slaketh.
My woe too sensible thy passion maketh,
More feeling-painful. Let it then suffice
To drown one woe, one pair of weeping eyes.’
Oxford: “If care or skill could conquer vain desire, or Reason’s reins my strong affection stay.” Shakespeare: “For now I give my sensual race the rein.” “What rein can hold licentious wickedness?” “Curb his heat, or rein his rash desire.”
Oxford: “Lurks in my breast.” Shakespeare: “Or tyrant folly lurk in gentle breasts.”
Oxford: “What worldly might can hope for heavenly hire?” Shakespeare: “My vow was earthly, thou a heavenly love.” “A heavenly effect in an earthly actor.” “Between this heavenly and this earthly sun.” “Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthy faces.”
Oxford: “Roll the restless stone.” Shakespeare: “The rolling restless stone.”
Oxford: “What wonders love hath wrought.” Shakespeare: “Love wrought these miracles.”
Oxford: “The lively lark stretched forth her wing, The messenger of Morning bright” Shakespeare: “Lo here the gentle lark, weary of rest, From his moist cabinet mounts up on high, And wakes the morning.” “The morning lark.” “The lark, the herald of the morn.” “And then my state (Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate.” “Hark! Hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings, And Phoebus ‘gins arise.”
Oxford’s poem beginning “If women could be fair and yet not fond,” and ending “To play with fools, O what a fool was I!” has so many subtle echoes in Othello that they are hard to enumerate. Iago’s bantering doggerel about women, early in the play, uses similar diction, contrast, and rhythm:
She never yet was foolish that was fair . . .
She that was ever fair and never proud,
Had tongue at will and yet was never loud . . .
To suckle fools and chronicle small beer
…and also uses the word “frail,” as Oxford does. Both Oxford and Othello liken women to “haggards,” wild hawks that may resist taming and be set loose to fly away.
Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,
These gentle birds that fly from man to man;
Who would not scorn and shake them from the fist
And let them fly, fair fools, which way they list.
Othello, fearing Desdemona’s betrayal of him, resorts to the very same word and image:
If I do prone her haggard,
Though that her Messes were my dear heart-strings,
I’d whistle her off and let her down the wind
To prey at fortune.
But when I see how frail those creatures are,
I muse that men forget themselves so far.
O curse of marriage!
That we can call these delicate creatures ours,
And not their appetites.
“To mark the choice they make, and how they change” writes Oxford; Iago says cynically of Desdemona that “She must change for youth: when she is sated with [Othello's] body, she will find the error of her choice. She must have change, she must.” Even Oxford’s “disport” has its echoes in Othello’s “disports,” and in Iago’s leering word, “sport.” (Iago’s wife Emilia also speaks of “frailty” and “sport” – and, as if to remove doubt of her parentage, of “palates both for sweet and sour”!)
Oxford combines heterogeneous images in the lines
An anchor’s life to lead, with nails to scratch my grave,
Where earthly worms on me shall feed, is all the joys I crave.
Hamlet affords one obvious echo of this odd wish:
An anchor’s cheer in prison be my scope!
Though “worms” and “graves” is hardly a combination unique to Shakespeare, the juxtaposition of “worms” with ” joy” is surely a little unusual; the clown who smuggles the fatal asp to Cleopatra gives us the macabre line: “I wish you all joy of the worm. “The association of scratch, grave, worms, and feed, moreover, foreshadows Mercutio’s dying words: “A scratch, a scratch…. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man…. They have made worms’ meat of me.”
Oxford’s “Echo” poem, nominally by his mistress Ann Vavasor but clearly written by him around 1580, concerns a lovesick young woman who sings of her love near some caves, which echo her words (and even pun on Oxford’s surname, Vere). Her face is likened to “a damask rose hid under crystal glass,” another image Shakespeare is fond of: “As sweet as damask roses.” “I have seen roses damask’d, red and white.” “Who glaz’d with crystal gate the glowing roses.”
The young woman’s appeal “O hollow caves tell true!” brings to mind a pair of lines from Shakespeare: “Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies.” “And fetch shrill echoes from the hollow earth.”
The same poem uses the phrase “As true as Phoebus’ oracle” – recalling Apollo’s oracle (Shakespeare at different times refers to the god by both names) in The Winter’s Tale, Oxford’s “amber tears” summons Hamlet’s description of old men with “eyes purging thick amber”; Oxford’s “the echo answer’d her” points to “Echo replies” and “the choir of echoes answers” in Venus.
The line “[She] sigh’d so sore as might have mov’d some pity in the rocks” is eminently Shakespearean; the idea of people, and even fierce beasts and inanimate things like rocks and stones, being “mov’d to pity” occurs often in Shakespeare, and in many versions and permutations. It finds comic expression in Launce’s complaint of his dog Crab: “He is a stone, a very pebble stone, and has no more pity in him than a dog.” Titus Andronicus speaks of “the lion, mov’d with pity.” In Richard III we read: “No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity”; Richard himself warns his hired murderers not to listen to his brother Clarence’s pleas, because, being “well-spoken,”he “may move your hearts to pity if you mark him.” Sonnet 94 praises those who “moving others are themselves as stone.” Antony tells the mob that if only he had Brutus’ eloquence, he should “move The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.” Hamlet says of his father’s ghost that:
His form and cause conjoin’d, preaching to stones,
Would make them capable,
then begs the ghost to desist from its “piteous” appeal. Similarly, rocks and stones are Shakespeare’s favorite images of pitilessness: “thy rocky bosom”; “rocky heart”; “thy rocky and wrack-threatening heart”; “O pity, . . . flint- hearted boy”; “flint bosom”; “O.you are men of stones!”; “harden’d hearts, harder than stones”; “Pity, you ancient stones, those tender babes”; “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things”; “a stony adversary”; “thy stony heart”; and of course we think of Othello:”No, my heart is turned to stone; I strike it, and it hurts my hand…. But yet the pity of it, Iago! O Iago, the pity of it, Iago!”
I might go on indefinitely. All in all, I have found about two hundred phrases and images in Oxford’s poems corresponding to about five hundred in Shakespeare.
In a poem likening love to a game of tennis, Oxford uses nearly every term Shakespeare uses in his ten scattered mentions of tennis: tennis, balls, courts, rackets,strike, bandy, chace. In addition, both poets use all these terms figuratively. Oxford’s poem also refers to “Sir Argus’ hundred eyes, wherewith to watch and pry.” Compare Shakespeare: “Watch me like Argus.” “Purblind Argus, all eyes and no sight.” Finally, consider Oxford’s shortest poem:
Were I a king I might command content;
Were I obscure unknown would be my cares,
And were I dead no thoughts should me torment,
Nor words, nor wrongs, nor love, nor hate, nor fears;
A doubtful choice of these things which to crave,
A kingdom or a cottage or a grave.
These few lines have many Shakespearean echoes, particularly in the history plays, where kings so often reflect on their discontent and “cares.” Many instances will occur to you without my citing them. Richard II: “The king shall be contented…. I’ll give …My gorgeous palace for a hermitage, … And my large kingdom for a little grave, A little little grave, an obscure grave.” Henry VI: “Was ever king that joy’d an earthly throne, And could command no more content than I?” The conceit of “command[ing] content” has a close relation in Henry V’s soliloquy on “greatness”:
Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knees
Command the health of it?
Think also of Macbeth, his mind “full of scorpions,” contrasting “the torture of the mind” with the peace Duncan enjoys “in his grave.”
Oxford: “Weigh my cause with equal weights.” Shakespeare: “You weigh equally” “I have in equal balance justly weigh’d.” “Commit my cause in balance to beweigh’d.” “Equalities are so weighed.” “In equal scale weighing delight and dole.” “Acquainted with a weighty cause.”
Oxford: “She is my salve, she is my wounded sore.” Shakespeare: “The humble salve which wounded bosoms fits.” “To see the salve doth make the wound ache more.” “Such a salve can speak That heals the wound.” “A salve for any sore that may betide.” “My pity hath been balm to heal their wounds.” “Your majesty may salve The long-grown wounds of my intemperance.”
And let her feel the power of all your might,
And let her have her most desire with speed,
And let her pine away both day anal night
And let her moan, and none lament her need;
And let all those that shall her see
Despise her state and pity me.
‘Let him have time to tear his curled hair,
Let him have time against himself to rave,
Let him have time of time’s help to despair,
Let him have time to live a loathed slave,
Let him have time a beggar’s orts to crave,
And time to see one that by alms doth live
Disdain to him disdained scraps to give.’
Oxford: “What feedeth most thy sight? To gaze on beauty still.” Shakespeare:”With gazing fed.” “I have fed mine eyes on thee.” “Her eye must be fed.” “But when his glutton eye so full hath fed.” “He fed them with his sight.” “That makes me see,and cannot feed mine eye?” “I feed Most hungerly on your sight.” “Fold in the object that did feed her sight.” “Starves the ears she feeds.”
Oxford: “Wing’d with desire, I seek to mount on high.” Shakespeare: “Whose haughty spirit, winged with desire.” “Borne by the trustless wings of false desire.””The gentle lark, weary of rest, From his moist cabinet mounts up on high.” “That mounts no higher than a bird can soar.”
Oxford: “With patient mind each passion to endure.” Shakespeare: “Have patience and endure.” “Endure the toothache patiently.” “God of his mercy give You patience to endure.” “I must have patience to endure the load.” “I must have patience to endure all this.” “I have the patience to endure it now.”
Oxford: “Lo, thus I triumph like a king, content with that my mind doth bring.” Shakespeare; “Poor and content is rich, and rich enough; But riches fine less is as poor as winter to him that ever fears he shall be poor.” “For ’tis the mind that make the body rich.”
Oxford: “Some have too much yet still do crave, I little have and seek no more;They are but poor, though much they have, and I am rich with little store. They poor, I rich.” Shakespeare: “If thou art rich, thou’rt poor.” “Wise things seem foolish and rich things but poor.” “Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich being poor.” “Rich gifts wax poor.” “Poorly rich.” “My riches are these poor habiliments.” Compare this stanza from Lucrece 134-40:
Those that much covet are with gain so fond
That what they have not, that which thee possess,
They scatter and unloose it from their bond,
And so, by hoping more, they have but less;
Or, gaining more, this profit of excess
Is but to surfeit, and such griefs sustain
That they prove bankrupt in this poor-rich gain.
Oxford: “I laugh not at another’s loss, I grudge not at another’s gain.” Shakespeare: “Laugh’d at my losses, mock’d at my gains.” “I earn that I eat, get that Iwear, owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness, glad of other men’s good, content with my harm.”
Oxford: “No worldly waves my mind can toss.” Shakespeare: “By waves from coast to coast is toss’d.” “Your mind is tossing on the ocean.” Oxford: “And little boys with pipes of Corn sit keeping beasts in field.” Shakespeare: “And in the shape of Corin sat all day, Playing on pipes of corn.” “When shepherds pipe on oaten straws.”
These examples make up only a small fraction of the hundreds of Shakespearean parallels to be found in Oxford’s twenty known poems – only twenty short poems, it should be stressed. I could easily have given a longer list of totally different examples. And I’ve restricted myself to almost mechanical enumeration here; a more careful analysis would make the case even stronger.
Taken all in all, these parallels disclose the working of a single mind. They can be reasonably explained only as the work of the same poet at different periods of his development. We can rule out alternative explanations – coincidence, convention, or imitation – as untenable.
I challenge anyone to find so many close parallels of phrase, image, rhythm,and thought between any two poets in all literature.
Let me put it another way. I doubt that so many parallels could be found between The Iliad and The Odyssey, even counting stock phrases like “the wine-dark sea” and “rosy-fingered dawn.” We have here far stronger proof that Oxford and Shakespeare were the same man than that “Homer” was a single poet.
Oxford’s poetry should be placed beside his letters, so thoroughly examined by Fowler, and his biblical annotations, brilliantly compiled by Roger Stritmatter, as crowning evidence of his authorship of the Shakespeare works. At least one more source of internal evidence remains to be studied: Oxford’s 1573 prefatory letter to Thomas Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comfort. This short letter bears amazing resemblances – in diction, image, theme, and argument – to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, as I will show at length in my forthcoming book.
The objection may be still made that for all these parallels, Oxford’s poetry remains far inferior to Shakespeare’s. But even granting the point for the sake of argument, ascribing authorship on the basis of quality is an uncertain business. Early in this century some scholars sought to exclude such plays as Titus Andronicus and one or two parts of Henry VI on grounds that they were unworthy of Shakespeare. Today their place is secure. It is acknowledged that these plays, “unworthy” or not, bear too much evidence of Shakespeare’s style to be dismissed from the canon. The poet who wrote King Lear was at one time capable of writing Titus Andronicus.
In the same way, Oxford’s known poems seem to date from his youth. Professor May says that the latest possible date for any of them is 1593 (which happens to be the year “Shakespeare” made his debut in print with Venus and Adonis). One of them, “The Labouring Man,” was published in 1573; another, “Were I a King,” drew a reply from Sir Philip Sidney, who died in 1586, which fixes its latest possible date. The rest can’t be dated with precision, but were probably written in Oxford’s youth, long before he became “Shakespeare.”
It’s no great stretch to say that the author of these poems was capable of writing Titus. And if he could write Titus, he could eventually write Lear.
We may think of Oxford’s youthful poetry as an early “layer” of Shakespeare, with John Thomas Looney as the Schliemann of Shakespeare studies. If Oxford is our author, these poems, it should go without saying, constitute a truly priceless addition to our knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare and his development.
And yet even Oxford’s partisans have generally failed to see either their value or their many similarities to Shakespeare’s work – a lamentable blind spot. Had these poems received the attention they deserve, Oxford’s authorship might have been established long ago.
The usual orthodox response to evidence for Oxford’s authorship is to belittle it indiscriminately. Oxford’s poems put that tactic to its severest test. If all these parallels can be explained away as coincidental, we are pretty much forced to conclude that internal evidence can never prove anything.
In short, I believe that the case for Oxford’s authorship of the Shakespeare works is now proved beyond any reasonable doubt.