After posting some basic facts about Shakespeare's life for MEASURE FOR MEASURE a week ago, we wound up being a part of a little Twitter conversation about the ongoing authorship debate. For the uninformed, there are some who believe that the works attributed to William Shakespeare were, indeed, written by someone else. Theories abound, and we're going to share some of them with you, written by their enthusiasts. The first is a contribution by Hank Whittemore, arguing in favour of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
Shakespeare was... Edward de Vere
by Hank Whittemore
In my view just one overall reason is required to conclude that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) wrote the works attributed to “William Shakespeare” – the documentary record compiled in 1928 by B.M. Ward, who never argued the case for Oxford’s authorship because, I suggest, he didn’t need to. The easily visible arc of the earl’s life up to age 43 in 1593 presents the path of personal and artistic development leading to the first appearance of “Shakespeare” that year. How did the greatest writer of the English language acquire the deep knowledge of so many fields of endeavor and reach such soaring heights of literary and dramatic accomplishment? The life of Edward de Vere is both a map and a guide to this “long foreground” of education, experience and growth which has been missing from all biographies of the Stratfordian tradition.
Oxford’s uncle, Surrey, invented the Shakespearean sonnet form. Oxford was in his teens when his Uncle Golding created the Ovid translation that became Shakespeare’s favorite source. Early on he had the best tutors including access to the vast libraries of Thomas Smith and William Cecil. He received honorary degrees from Cambridge and Oxford, then enrolled in Gray’s Inn for law, before joining the military campaign against the Northern Rebellion of Catholic earls at age 20 in 1570. In the next few years he commanded into print two crucial Hamlet sources – The Courtier and Cardanus Comforte – while providing highly polished prefaces filled with Shakespearean ideas and words. In 1575 he set forth to France, Germany and Italy, making his home base in Venice while visiting and exploring virtually all the settings for Shakespeare’s “Italian” plays. His early poetry (full of Shakespearean overtones) appeared in 1576, after which he no longer signed his name.
In the 1580s the earl was hailed in print as “best for comedy” – his plays produced at court, all of which are presumed to be “lost” although the records suggest they were early versions to be revised much later as Shakespeare’s plays. Oxford saved the private Blackfriars Theater from being closed, handing over the lease to his secretary John Lyly, whose plays would be credited with having much influence upon Shakespeare’s writing. In that decade Oxford gathered together a “college” of writers, for whom he provided an entire building in London while financing, inspiring and guiding these “University Wits” who would become known as Shakespeare’s “immediate predecessors” – Munday, Greene, Day, Nashe, Peele, Lodge, Watson and others, not to mention experts in music, medicine and so on.
During the 1580s the Queen’s Men presented many plays of royal history, several of which are now regarded as virtual templates for several Shakespeare’s histories – though there is no record of the Stratfordian’s involvement. These plays contributed to the war effort that culminated in England’s victory over the Spanish armada in 1588. In the process, the outpouring from the writers in Oxford’s orbit created the English renaissance of literature and drama that finally produced the Shakespeare works. Oxford himself retired from court after 1589, becoming a virtual recluse, but four years later came the long narrative poem Venus and Adonis, a full-blown masterpiece of sophistication by a brand new poet, William Shakespeare, who had no history as an author. I suggest the obvious answer is that Oxford had decided to use a pen name evoking a warrior shaking the spear of his pen.