Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Was de Vere Da Bard?

July 6

This is a post I accidentally deleted when I was having problems with the technicalities of the blog. I want it out there, so I’m re-posting.

I’ve finished reading "Shakespeare" By Another Name, the biography of Edward de Vere. Even though no one who reads this blog seems to care much about either the book or the controversy about the works of Shakespeare -- and it’s unlikely I'll have any converts -- I’m going to write a review.

Edward de Vere lived a life worth reading about. An aristocrat in Elizabethan England, he was a child prodigy, a poet courtier, an adventurer, and an all-around son of a bitch who made a ton of mistakes in his life. He was profligate with money, a great drinker and storyteller, a juror in such trials as that of Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Devereaux, the earl of Essex; and Philip Howard, who was found guilty of treason in plotting the victory of the Spanish Armada against England in 1589.

As a child, de Vere was the ward of William Cecil, principal advisor to Queen Elizabeth. He was tutored by the best educators in England of that day, having the following curriculum:

7-7:30 Dancing
7:30-8 Breakfast
8-9:00 French
9-10 Latin
10-10:30 Writing and Drawing
1-2:00 Cosmography
2-3:00 Latin
3-4:00 French
4-4:30 Exercises with his Pen

A rather impressive course of study for a boy, isn’t it? What is “cosmography,” you might well ask. As a matter of fact it was geography, history, physical science, astronomy, sociology, English, comparative literature, linguistics, and more. Basically it was everything known in the Elizabethan world. And de Vere had the finest teachers in England as his private tutors. On holy days (holidays) he was expected to “read before dinner the Epistle and Gospel in his own tongue and the other tongue [Greek] after dinner. All the rest of the day to be spent in riding, shooting, dancing, walking, and other commendable exercises, saving the time for prayer."

His intense education included the reading of Beowulf and Ovid’s Metamorphoses and detailed study of the Bible, as noted. That he was surrounded by the greatest personal libraries in England was a boon to him all his life, as he was a voracious reader and could write beautiful prose and poetry. He read the law and received a Master of Arts degree from St. John’s College at Cambridge.

De Vere grew up from a prodigy to be a brilliant if contentious and conflicted man. He was expert at squandering the funds and lands he’d inherited, and he was never entirely comfortable with William Cecil, his guardian. Cecil was an eminent Elizabethan favored as a trusted advisor to the Queen herself.

In one of the few missteps of his life, William Cecil arranged a marriage between his daughter Anne and de Vere in 1571. In 1575, de Vere took off for Italy for a year, claiming that his marriage had never been consummated. He spent some time in Venice, Florence, Sienna. On his journey he traveled to Greece, Croatia – then known as Illyria – and back to England to meet his first daughter and reconcile with his wife. Although he accepted the marriage he never really participated in it. He was rumored to have had an affair with Queen Elizabeth, and he fathered a child by his mistress Anna Vavasour. He got into many a scrap, including political ones. He was known as a poet and writer, a dandy, a great drinker and storyteller and a tempestuous poet possessed of a tormented soul.

He had a sister who may have been cut of the same cloth. When she set out to marry she would have none of the suitors William Cecil had chosen for her, preferring the hothead Peregrine Bertie. De Vere despised Peregrine Bertie and did what he could to block the marriage, but after it happened he accepted the couple and even became a good friend to his volatile brother in law. The couple provided quite a display of temperament and the constant drama of power struggles as they settled into married life.

This is only a fraction of the story, but even in this brief, partial re-telling, one can see not only the makings of an extraordinary life in one of the most compelling times and places in the history of the world but also quite possibly the seeds of some of the greatest theatrical writing ever to have been produced. Where many have doubted the possibility that the isolated actor-turned-merchant of remote Stratford could have had the education and the grace to have written the monumental works of Shakespeare, no one has come up with a better candidate for the real author than Edward de Vere.

Whether or not you think it is possible that the man whose name was always signed Shakspeare (who is not known for certain to have been able to write, and signed his documents with a "X") actually didn't write the plays, it is interesting to study the biography of the aristocrat whose life is related in Mark Anderson's book "Shakespeare" by Another Name. It reveals a great deal about the historical period, explaining that, for one thing, unlike today, playwrights weren't celebrities – and the theatre itself was more of a platform for veiled political statements than a source of a night's diversion.

I can't say that I am positive that de Vere was da Bard, but I know there's a T-shirt I could buy proclaiming that on Anderson's website. Whether or not you buy the premise (or the premium), I suggest you read da book.


beenandgone said...

You present a good case that Shakespeare was the pen name of Edward de Vere. How did Christopher Marlowe get on the short list of being the real Shakespeare if de Vere seemed such an obvious suspect? And don't tell me that de Vere is the pen name of Marlowe.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Marlowe, a frequent choice of those who dispute the validity of the actor from Stratford, was certainly a logical candidate. A first-rate Elizabethan writer, Marlowe was also an adventurer and a spy who was killed in 1593 in a bar fight. His work comes the closest of all the Elizabethans to that of the greatest writer of the English language, but his life did not hold as many parallels to the plots of the plays nor did he have the same life agenda.

John Sweden said...

Hej ff,

Thanks for once again proving the value of this blog and the web upon which it exists. I spent six hours last night and early this morning “googling” the the life of a man named “William Shakespeare”. That’s the problem of the “nom de plume” business. There was a real man who was not hiding behind a made up name. His life and his rise to fame and fortune, in the world of Elizabethan theater, is as well documented, as any of his time and more than some. On the one hand we have the real “Will”, who was a well a recognized, successful, actor, poet, producer, theater owner and whose whole life, after the missing years, was devoted to the theater and the production of plays. On the other we have the “Earl” who is hiding his identity with the help of family friends, the entire theatrical community, London and Elizabethian court, behind a simple “nom de plume”. Who would had the motivation; who could and would have written all the plays and sonnets attributed to William Shakepeare? I’ll go with the real thing.

This one is for you and “Beenandgone.” I discovered that it was rumored that Marlow faked his own death in order to avoid being taken before the infamous “star chamber”.

Below are some of the wonderful educational sites I’ve found along the information superhighway. “I now be educated” or “I nowst be educadith”.

This Shakespeare authorship site does a heavy academic number on the “Edward de Vere” theory.

These sites are some of the others which I thought were good for reference.

This was my starting point

wikipedia reference:

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, an English nobleman and intimate of Queen Elizabeth, became the most prominent alternative candidate for authorship of the Shakespeare canon, after having been identified in the 1920s. Oxford partisans note the similarities between the Earl's life, and events and sentiments depicted in the plays and sonnets. The principal hurdle for the Oxfordian theory is the evidence that many of the Shakespeare plays were written after their candidate's death, but well within the lifespan of William Shakespeare.

P.S. Actually it was his father who was known not to be able to read or write.

Finding Fair Hope said...

The diehards who insist the that man who wrote the Shakespeare canon lived and died in Stratford-upon-Avon refuse to admit any new information into their minds. Close study of the plays has always caused doubts that anyone not exposed to an education including Latin, Greek, history, the law, court mores and aristocratic customs could simply not have created the allusions and references in the plays and poetry. Only those of noble birth were educated in those subjects in the 16th Century, like it or not. The frequent quotes from Ovid's Metamorphoses and the references to other classical works clearly identify the author "Shakespeare" as a man of the upper class. A great deal is known about the man who lived in Stratford, but no record from the time connects him to the literary works. What is known about him, including the inscription on his tomb, indicates that he was an ordinary man indeed.
Finding Fair Hope said...

As for the dates the plays were "written," it is not known exactly when each play was written. Unlike today, you didn't write something and get it published at approximately the same time. The plays were not written, published, and then produced. Many plays were never written; all record of them but the titles have been lost. When a play was written, it could have been written by hand and then memorized with the script being passed from one set of grubby hands to another and played for years before being published. And because it was brought to life in a playhouse, a play could easily come and go without ever being published. The First Folio of Shakespeare was a compilation of his plays, and was published between 1621 and 1623, the first run being paid for by the family of Edward de Vere.

benedict s. said...

Actually (I was there) William and Edward was confidants, the latter whispering plot ideas into the former's less-travelled ear. Many others did the same, for Will was known as a man handy with words. William wrote the stuff, but in all fairness, he should have acknowledged the contributions of his "consultants." Tolstoy, for instance, always said (not) that the plots for his novels were given to him by Satan's helpers, and it's hard to imagine a more knowledgeable source.

John Sweden said...

I think it would do you some good to spend an afternoon over at

Many of your questionable claims would be answered there by someone who not only knows, but also provides hard evidence, in depth, to back it up. There is an interesting section on the Elizabethan class hierarchy and social mobility within it. Which was much more flexible than you make it out to be. It also documents and describes not only William Shakespeare’s rise, but his friends and their families, places within it. In terms of the school, there is no official record that anybody, including Shakespeare, attended the school during that period.

The problem I see with the theory, as you present it, is that you would need three Shakespeares. The village idiot of Stratford, The known actor and very successful social climbing member of the “Kings Men”, of course the playwright, "My name is not Earl" using both their names and just maybe a fourth shooter on the grassy knoll.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Maybe you're right. There are tons of books supporting the theory that the non-entity from Stratford was the greatest writer in the history of the English language. Most scholars accept it without much problem. And they certainly don't intend to let any new information seep into their already made-up minds.

Sometimes I wish I could be like that.

John Sweden said...

What new evidence? You should at least put forward some evidence other than "Anderson says there was a lot written about a man from the country who was trying to take credit for the for the plays and poetry de Vere wrote." You present no creditable arguments, so you resort to character assassination and the wild speculation, with no factual evidence, that the family of deVere claimed that they were keeping authorship a secret out of fear of torture and death. Yet these so called highly seditious plays were produced and performed by the “King’s men” and William Shakespeare, as a player with them, is officially listed as a member of the Kings household (

You mention that he signed his name with an “X”. Kathman provides a whole list of prominent writers and actors, Shakespeare amongst them, who signed documents with their names ( At least give us one factual verifiable piece of evidence that the Earl did in fact write the plays under the pseudonym of William Shakespeare other than the guy from Stratford couldn’t have written them because, as you wishfully claim, he was illiterate. Again we are back to three Shakespeares, the illiterate couldn’t sign his own name, the actor who could, and the earl who wouldn’t.

The arguments for deVere being the author are not based on any provable facts but more a wishful, "circumstantial" and circular thinking of conspirators who just want to prove their non-point and not let the historical facts, as they exist, speak for themselves.

Kathman's site is not just some historical recording of Shakespeare’s life but a very in depth, point-by-point rebuttal of the Oxfordian point of view, with all of the factual evidence that is available and presented on both sides. I would argue that it is you have made up your mind and all facts to the contrary, be “damned”.

Finding Fair Hope said...

I for one am glad to see you've gotten so involved in this controversy, John. I just felt it was important to state some of what i learned from Anderson's book that cemented my feeling that it was probably de Vere who wrote the canon that came to attributed to Shakspeare. I didn't expect to be required to put forth all the information in the tome he wrote, which is 577 pages long, including appendices and footnotes.

I did go to the websites you have suggested and found them interesting too. When I mentioned that Anderson said there was "a lot written" I was not thinking it would be necessary to cite all his sources. His book is a biography of de Vere -- with the axe being ground that the man's biography closely parallels situations dealt with in the plays and sonnets.

I didn't say "new evidence." There were mentions by such writers as Thomas Nashe and Robert Greene in their satiric works of the period that have baffled scholars for centuries. Both Oxfordians and Stratfordians use their works such as Greene's Groatsworth of Wit to plead their case. The Oxford side is the mention of "a Tiger's heart in a player's hide" and describes a certain country fellow who hires others to write plays for him and takes the credit, is a general phony, an "upstart crow beautified with our feathers..."

No one would claim that these lines are evidence of anything. We don't know who the upstart crow was or if it is a real person. But it could be that Greene was trying to clear something up, and the defenders of Oxford believe he was.

The defenders of Shakspeare call it nonsense, and that is their right. I can't say that I know, or that my mind is closed on the matter. I simply say that it is time we admitted this possibility -- that it was probably not the man from Stratford who wrote the plays -- and investigate it seriously. The emotional effort to shut down the inquiry seems to me to be a betrayal of history. If there is definite proof that Edward de Vere did not write the plays, I will read that book too. We are far from a conclusion on this because the Stratfordians have been so adamant that the de Vere claims are a hoax.

Mark Twain wrote a book about the impossibility of Shakspeare having written the plays -- and Orson Welles believed the de Vere theory. I'm enjoying being in their camp at the moment. I had a lot of quibbles with Anderson's book but found it a fascinating read. I think it's fun if some of my readers are investigating this, and I really like that they disagree with my conclusions.

Benedict S. said...

This must be a reprint. I do not recall posting a comment today or yesterday, and yet one appears from me. In any case, the comment posted above was not seriously intended. I have not researched this issue at all, but I suspect that there is some merit to the claim that William Shakespeare was fronting for a noble who did not want his name besmirched by an involvement with the theater. From what you say, Edward de Vere seems to have the qualifications.

John Sweden said...

It is fun and I thank you for providing the motivation. I think I've just discovered a book that is more in line with my personal view of why I think Shakespeare is Shakespeare. I'll be ordering it from Amazon shortly. It's titled "Shakespeare The Player" by John Southworth.

From the reviews and comentaries it focuses on Shakespeare as the actor and valued member of the Kings Company. It also appears to fill in those strange missing years and would seem provide for me as a artist the much needed motivational energy and interactive synergy necessary for producing such a large consistantly and qualitative body of work.

I think I will end this phase of the conversation here at least until I have a chance to read this book.

Finding Fair Hope said...

I suggest that all who are confused by today's post (complete with comments) re-read the first sentence. This ran in early May and created, as you see, quite a stir at the time. It was deleted when I thought I was clearing my "cache" and I feel it is worthy of floating forever in cyberspace, so I am rerunning it. You will be seeing the return of several of my lost posts, but some are, alas, gone for good.

Michael J. Farrand said...

Excellent article. You might want to read my poem on the subject "The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare".

Finding Fair Hope said...

Welcome to the fray, Mr. Farrand! I like your poem.

It just so happens that I'm now reading a book called History Play which is a biography of Christopher Marlowe, putting him forth as the writer of Shakespeare's works. And a friend has promised to lend me her copy of Sweet Swan of Avon which touts Mary Sidney as the writer. I admit I'm convinced it was de Vere, but it's interesting to hear other theories.