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:
10-10:30 Writing and Drawing
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.