Everyone knows of William Shakespeare, the author of thirty-seven full length plays and 154 sonnets. Romeo and Juliet is one of the most popular stories as it is read in most high school English classes. There is not a theatre goer anywhere who has not heard of, or seen, Hamlet. Anyone involved in the theatre, on a regular basis, will tell you that they never say Macbeth in any space they call a theatre. What if it was all a lie? What if Shakespeare was not the great Shakespeare? What if someone else wrote “his” works?
There are many books and theories in the world today about the true authorship of Shakespeare’s works. Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon a philosopher and writer, and Christopher Marlowe a Playwright are among the top suspected authors of these works. It is important to know that there is a debate over the true identity of the author, and there are many theories. This paper will discuss Edward de Vere as the possible William Shakespeare. To be or not to be; that is the question.
Since the early 1700’s scholars have been asking themselves the question of Shakespeare’s identity. The great William Shakespeare, who was known throughout history to have existed and to have written the greatest literary works of all time, is being questioned over and over again. Did the William Shakespeare that is on record actually write Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, etc.? This debate has suggested many names as the possible Shakespearian author. However, none have had so much evidence to support his case than the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.
As Oxfordians that has done extensive research and wrote numerous books on the subject cannot prove there point either way, there is no possible way that this paper could be presumptuous enough to prove it either. Instead this paper is going to discuss the evidence of the de Vere being William Shakespeare. The William Shaksper (of Stratford is spelled different) on record was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23rd in 1564. He was then baptized on April 26th, 1564 at Holy Trinity Church. His father was John Shakespeare who was a glover and leather merchant, and his mother, Mary Arden was a landed local heiress.
Scholars believe Young William attended the free grammar school in Stratford; however there is no hard evidence to support this claim. He never went on to university. William married Anne Hathaway on November 28th 1582 when he was 18 and she was 26 and pregnant. They had three children together though one died at age eleven. William disappeared for a while after the birth of his twins. This is what many call the lost years. He didn’t turn back up again until he comes back to London in or around 1588. Scholars believe that this is when he started to act as well as practice playwriting.
By 1594 he was acting and writing for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (which is called the King’s Men after James I takes the thrown in 1603), and was also a managing partner. He retired to Stratford and wrote his will in 1611. Supposedly he died on his birthday, which is probably a myth, however it is the only date entered (“Shakespeare Resource Center”). 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere was born at Castle Hedingham in Essex on April 12th, 1550 by the old calendar but April 23rd by the new calendar. Is it a coincidence that Shaksper’s birthday is that same day?
He lived there until he was twelve and then he was sent to London to be a Royal Ward when his father died. The Queen made Sir William Cecil his guardian. He had a love of the theatre and letters right away. He underwent an extremely strict education. His first tutor was his mother’s brother Arthur Golding. He received an A. B. degree from St. John’s College, Cambridge when he was fourteen and a half. When he was sixteen he received an M. A. from Christ’s Church College, Oxford. He also spent three years as a student of law at Gray’s Inn. By his early twenties he showed great promise as a poet.
He married Anne at twenty-one however it was a most unsatisfactory marriage. Charlton Ogburn author of Shake-Speare: The man behind the Name states that “Recorded fragments of information and Oxford’s own singed writings, leave little room for doubt that the relationship between the young Oxford and the Queen was very intimate” (Ogburn, and Ogburn 14). Many say that he used the pseudonym William Shakespeare because some of the sonnets and parts of plays can be interpreted to point out the Queen and his relationship (Ogburn, and Ogburn16).
Was the Earl the real Shakespeare? All the evidence gathered suggests that Edward de Vere was far more a possible candidate than William Shaksper of Stratford. The argument is that Oxford was far more educated than Shaksper of Stratford. There is no evidence suggesting that Shaksper of Stratford even went to school. He was barely able to write his name and the signatures had blots. In Ogburn’s Shake-Speare he states the six different ways that he wrote them: Willm Shaksp, William Shakspe, Wm Shakspeare, William Shakspere, Willm Shakspere, and William Shakspeare.
There is no record that Shaksper of Stratford ever even referred to himself as Shakespeare; with the two words of Shake and Speare. In fact the others who knew him that wrote his name often wrote Shagsper, Shaxper, Shaxbere, etc. Oxford had an extensive education and “his letters show him to have written in the cursive Italian script with ease and fluency, and evidently without blots” (Ogburn, and Ogburn 31). “The argument, in so far as it concerns the author’s station, is not that genius is a function of social status or that a humble cottager is less worthy than an earl.
It is simply that, as Bismarck pointed out, the familiarity with the world of the court displayed by Shakespeare could not have been acquired by one to whom that world was barred, whatever his powers of intellect” (Ogburn, and Ogburn l8). This is an interesting argument. Maybe in today’s society it would be easier for the lower-class to write about the upper-class, but in those times there was no way the lower-class could know specifically what goes at court. Shakespeare had written way too easily the formalities of court life.
“In all the plays of Shakespeare there is not a single fully-realized, three-dimensional character taken from the stratum of society to which Shaksper belonged” (Ogburn, and Ogburn 18). The point is that Shaksper would have had to been at least somewhat knowledgeable. The topics he wrote about suggested that he understood: the law and legal terms, contemporary and historical; the manners of the royal court, the aristocratic mind, and ways of language; sports of the nobility, hunting and falconry; philosophy, classical and esoteric; statecraft and statesmanship, biblical scholarship;
English and European history; classical literature and languages; French, Italian, and Spanish languages; Italian geography and travel; France and the court of Navarre; Danish terms and customs; horticulture and the designing of gardens; Wales and the Welsh; music and musical terms; painting and sculpture; mathematics; astronomy and astrology; natural history; angling; medicine and psychology; military life; heraldry; exploration and the New World; navigation and seamanship; printing; folklore, fairy mythology, the supernatural; theatrical management and the habits of players; Cambridge University jargon; Freemasonry; cryptography and the secret service (Michell, 18).
This is quite an extensive knowledge base for a man whose education is limited to grammar school if he even was afforded that. Another comparison is how either candidate was regarded by others. As Ogburn says “the author of the greatest literary works of the time (and most popular plays) would have been held in high regard-certainly as high a regard as Marlowe, Jonson, Spencer, Chapman, et al. – by those who knew who he was” (Ogburn, and Ogburn 31). “If Shaksper wrote the plays, the fact would have been generally known.
Yet, while special, if peculiarly sporadic, praise was given to the dramatist Shakespeare as a name, Shaksper the corporeal man was never, so far as is known, treated by his contemporaries as in any way distinguished” (Ogburn, and Ogburn 31). There is no evidence that states that Shakspere of Stratford wrote any of the plays or sonnets. His name is on none of them. Oxford, on the other hand, was held with high regard by the Queen and many other writers of the day such as Arthur Golding, Thomas Churchyard, and many others.
However, no one when referring to Oxford mentioned the name “Shakespeare” or even Shaksper. “The first time the dramatist “Shakespeare” was associated with Stratford was seven years after Shaksper’s death when it was stated in the First Folio, ambiguously, “When…Time dissolves thy Stratford monument” (Ogburn, and Ogburn 35). It is interesting that this is when the case for Shaksper is most evident and it comes so long after Shaksper’s death. Shaksper had nothing to gain by changing his name to Shakespeare. He would actually been better off if he had written them under his own name.
It would have boosted his reputation and he would have made so much more money in his lifetime. For him not to put his name on his writing, had he actually written anything, would be insanely stupid. It would certainly go against any title of genius as everyone wanted to change their class. This certainly would have changed his class. On the other hand, Oxford had every reason to take on a pseudonym. He was a wealthy Earl who wrote things that would have called attention to his affair with Queen Elizabeth. There are many things in his plays that poke fun of the royal courts.
“Attributed to a nobleman close to the Queen, the plays would have been scrutinized – and very fruitfully, it would seem – for revelations of personalities and affairs at court” (Ogburn, and Ogburn 29). Also he had a reputation preceding the writings of the Shakespeare plays, and Ogburn says “something happened in connection with his writing. Whatever it was, it prevented his putting his name to another poem after the age of twenty-six or to any of the plays which he is known to have written” (Ogburn, and Ogburn 13).
Also it is believed that the name Shakespeare comes from the family crest of Oxford in which a lion looks as if he is shaking a spear. Another interesting fact is that Oxfords mother remarried within a few months. This story is told through the story of Hamlet. Gwynneth Bowen, a Shakespearean researcher says in Charles Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & the Reality, “Oxfordians have always maintained that Hamlet is very largely autobiographical – with Oxford in the title-role…the ‘o’re hasty marriage’ of Oxford’s mother – has been given due weight…” (Ogburn 434).
Another interesting piece of evidence comes from Ralph L. Tweedale in his book Wasn’t Shakespeare Someone Else? Tweedale writes about the cryptography that lies within the lines and words of William Shakespeare’s works. Throughout all of his plays and sonnets lies a cryptic message, a code that points to the name Vere. Tweedale uses the following as evidence of the cryptography in Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays. He says that when Juliet’s mother tries to interest her in Paris as a husband, she compares him to a book. “Read ore the volume of young Paris face.
And find delight, writ there with Beauties pen, (Read over the volume and find delight. ) Examine every severall liniament (Look at every single line. ) And see how one another lends content (See how each lends content to the next. ) And what obscured in this faire volume lies Find written in the margent of his eyes. ” (The obscure messages are found by looking in the margin (Tweedale 187). There are so many other similarities between Edward de Vere that it would take an entire book in order to discuss them, and there have been many of them.
Obviously there was no way a college research paper can cover all the bases of this argument. Edward de Vere has the strongest evidence to support his claim. There is not enough evidence to proof that and one would not be able to come to any conclusions on the matter, but it does inform the reader of the closest candidate for the name of William Shakespeare and raises doubt of Shaksper of Stratford. Who is the real Shakespeare? Well no one really knows. Maybe one day scholars will find the one piece of hard evidence that will support without a doubt either case and prove one of them to be William Shakespeare.
Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare:The Myth & The Reality. 2nd. McLean, Virginia: EPM Publications, INC, 1984. 434. Print. Ogburn, Dorothy, and Charlton Ogburn. Shake-Speare:The Man Behind The Name. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1962. 14-35. Print. Michell, John. Who Wrote Shakespeare?. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1996. 18. Print. “Shakespeare’s Biography. ” Shakespeare Resource Center. J. M Pressley and the Shakespeare Resource Center, 2011. Web. Sept 16 2011. <www. bardweb. net/man. html>.