Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Oxfordian Rationalizations

Yes, I am, perhaps, a bit of a fool for believing Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the writer behind the works of William Shakespeare.  How do you prove something is true when it is so obvious that someone worked really hard to keep it a secret for all this time?  Is it a betrayal of the man to go against his apparent wishes and try to out him for his incredible secret?  It is hard for me to judge.  After all, I know I am a fool.

But even if he is not Shakespeare, and just sits at the apex of a mountain of coincidences, I am fascinated by the historical character of Edward de Vere.

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The keep at Hedingham Castle, the de Vere family seat in Essex (photo by David Phillips)

He was born the only son of John de Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford, and heir to the second oldest title among English nobility.  His father stood by Elizabeth when she was under house arrest under the reign of Bloody Mary, and went with her as a court favorite to the throne of England when she survived the ordeal.  So naturally Edward was a favorite of Elizabeth’s since childhood.  Later stories would suggest he became the Queen’s secret lover, but the rumors of the Virgin Queen’s harlotry were most likely the invention of Philip of Spain and other nobility in Catholic Europe who plotted endlessly against her because she chose to adopt her father’s protestant Anglican religion instead of returning England to Catholicism like her half-sister Mary before her.  Elizabeth’s personal integrity may not have been perfect, but the love she bore for young Edward was probably not the improper kind that the movie Anonymous by Roland Emmerich suggested.

But even though de Vere was born lucky, I would not say he was particularly lucky in life.  He was only twelve when his father (though having completed his will) died.  The result being that he was made ward to Queen Elizabeth herself.  She was not exactly the foster-mother type, however.  She sent the boy to be raised in the home of her Secretary of State and chief adviser, William Cecil (later made Lord Baron Burghley).  Meanwhile Elizabeth took possession of some of his estates in payment for the wardship and bestowed them on Robert Dudley (her childhood friend and probable one true love, though he was married to someone else).  Young Edward was a difficult student.  His tutor, the famous scholar Laurence Nowell, resigned in frustration, probably because the boy was too bright and far-reaching for the antiquarian scholar to deal with, possibly himself being a bit dumber than advertised.   Edward quickly developed a reputation for love poetry at Elizabeth’s royal court.  He was a gifted, though somewhat conflicted, prodigy.

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William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

And here is what I find most fascinating about his life story.  As you reread it, keeping the works of Shakespeare in mind, you begin to see Shakespeare’s source material coming to life.  Edward would end up marrying Cecil’s young daughter Anne, so that Lord Burghley was not only a man who raised him, but also his father-in-law.  But marrying off your offspring to nobility was an accepted manner of social climbing, and Cecil wasn’t entirely sure he couldn’t do better for his daughter.  And the meddlesome, lecturing, and self-righteous nature of the man comes out in Shakespearean characters like Polonius in Hamlet who spies upon the suicidal prince because he fears the effect Hamlet’s love for his daughter Ophelia might have on her reputation, causing him to spout all manner of cliches and stuffy, self-important advice.

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Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury

Cecil’s son Robert, the hunchbacked boy who grows up to take over his father’s office as adviser to both Elizabeth and James I, is a crafty statesman and plotter who is the undoing of the Earl of Essex in a real-life plot against the throne of Elizabeth.  It is hard not to read about his real-life exploits without seeing the connections to Iago in Othello and the conniving hunchback Richard III.

So, once again I have overshot my target length in this essay because I get so wound up in the details of my discoveries.  There are numerous things written and published about the connections between de Vere and the Bard himself.  I have only begun to scratch the surface in this telling of it.  But I am just a fool with a humor blog.  If it interests you at all, I encourage you to go to as many of the available sources as you can possibly google.  I haven’t yet finished doing that myself.  And I do hope I haven’t told anything here that makes Shakespeare turn over in his grave (if, indeed, a grave could ever really hold him.)

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Shakespeare Knows Fools

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The fact that Shakespeare was a master of the art of creating and mocking fools does not really help decide the question of who Shakespeare really was.  A stage actor who owned a theater in Elizabethan times and apparently focused on being the bit player, the butler, the second man on the castle wall in the great plays, would certainly know enough of flim-flam, being a con man, or artfully throwing turds at kings and queens in ways that get rewarded rather than beheaded.  But a nobleman who has unpopular and unwelcome-but-probably-wise insights into the back-stabbing-goings-on of the royal court of England would equally be capable of putting the most memorable of critiques of humanity into the mouth of the fool or the clown in the great stage-play of life.  Even the most depressing and violent of the Shakespearean tragedies is enhanced and made pointed by the presence of the fool and the comic relief.  In some ways everything that Shakespeare wrote was a comedy.

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Whoever Shakespeare was, he shared Mark Twain’s overall assessment of “That damned human race” and often declared all men fools in the eyes of the playwright.  Puck’s observation on humanity is delivered about not only Bottom and the other poor players who carry on their vain attempts at performing Pyramus and Thisbe while Bottom magically wears the head of an ass, but also the easily fooled lovers who mistake their true loves for one another, and even the clueless mortal King Theseus of Athens.

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In the play within a play, Nick Bottom wants to be not only his own role, Pyramus the romantic lead, but argues that he should be Thisbe, the lion, and Pyramus all at once, making a satire of human nature and its overreaching ways that we could only pray Donald Trump will one day watch and magically understand.  In fact, Shakespeare’s entire body of work is an extended investigation of foolishness versus wisdom, and with Shakespeare, the verdict always goes to the fool.

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The plays of William Shakespeare are filled with fools doing foolish things… and fools being accidentally wise. (Think Jacques in As You Like It giving his famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy in which he elucidates the seven ages of man.)  There are fools too who prove to be wise.  (Think of the ironic advice given by the jester Touchstone in As You Like It, or the pithy commentary of King Lear’s fool).  The fools in Shakespeare’s work are not merely the comedy relief, but the main point that Shakespeare makes about humanity.

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Whoever the man was who wrote the plays of Shakespeare, he was someone who had a deep understanding of the basic irony underlying all of human life.  And someone with that vital sense of the bittersweet, a philosophy of life that encompasses the highest heights and lowest depths that a soul can reach, is someone who has suffered as well as known great joy, someone who has experienced loss as often as profit, and has known real love as well as real hatred.  It is the fool that Shakespeare shakes us by the neck with to make us recognize the fool in all of us which makes the plays resonate so deeply within us.  It is watching the path of the fool unfolding that makes us shake our head and say to ourselves, “Yes, that is what life is really like.”

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The Oxford Obfuscation

queen-elizabeth-iIf you are going to entertain a completely absurd notion like, “Shakespeare wasn’t really written by Shakespeare”, then you have to have some knowledge of the times and the context within which such a profoundly counter-intuitive thing could possibly be true.  And it also helps to understand more precisely what the “writing of Shakespeare” actually means.  Now, I know it is not particularly fair to confuse you, dear reader, right before I try to dazzle you with my complicated and over-thunk lackwit conspiracy theory, but that is, after all, what obfuscation actually means.

The plays, sonnets, and other poetry of William Shakespeare reveal the mind of a genius.  Whoever wrote the works has to be a complicated man living a complicated life.  He has to be a sensitive, empathetic, highly intelligent, observant, and troubled man.  You don’t write the dark and deeply troubled suicidal tragedy of Hamlet without ever having thought of taking your own life.  You cannot portray the madness of King Lear without ever having experienced the turmoil of the mind that threatens to tear your soul apart.  And you don’t write about the complexities of love found in As You Like It or Romeo and Juliet without ever having experienced the massive thunderstorms of the mind that go along with falling in love.  And we are talking true love, not necessarily the domestic love you have for the wife you are stuck with.   You see what I did just there?  I put you into the head of the writer, and started you thinking like you yourself are Shakespeare.  As goofy a mental gymnastic exercise as that is, bear with me and keep thinking it.

At the time of Shakespeare’s ascendancy as the Bard Laureate of English Literature, England was not a safe place to be either a noble or a playwright.  Queen Elizabeth’s mother had her head cut off for bad politics even though she was married to the King of England at the time.  Lady Jane Gray, one of Elizabeth’s predecessors, lost her head when she was no more than a sixteen-year-old girl.  During Elizabeth’s reign, one of her court favorites, Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, attempted to seize the queen herself after a riot fomented by a performance of Shakespeare’s play, Richard II, at which eleven of Essex’s noble supporters were said to be present stirring up the emotions of the crowd.  It was a near thing for the writer of the play (about the life of a king whose reign ended in controversy about succession and which led eventually to the War of the Roses) to escape without also being caught up in the rebellion’s failure and round of executions that separated Essex from his head.  Elizabeth banned numbers of plays with religious or political content, bans that never seemed to touch the writer of Shakespeare’s plays, even when they touched on political themes.  You didn’t have to rebel against the Queen to lose your head either.  Elizabeth was trying to reinstate Anglican Protestantism against the critical tides of Catholic Europe.  You could be banished, put to death, or impressed  by force into the English Navy for being suspected of ideas that were too Catholic.  And witchcraft, or consulting with witches, as Macbeth depicts, earned you a nice warm fire in the public square to cleanse your immortal soul.

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Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

So, if one were to be both a playwright and a nobleman, known to and beloved by Queen Elizabeth, might there not be good reason to write under a pseudonym?  And numerous people who write about Edward de Vere mention the fact that he wrote poetry and plays, and the plays were very popular.  Some scraps of poetry by the Earl of Oxford still exist, but whatever happened to the manuscripts of his plays?  It is a conspiracy theory so delicious, that I have to take at least one more bite.  (You understand, I try to stick to a 500-word target for these posts, and even this 600+ is really too long.  So that means there has to be an Earl of Oxford Part II at least.)

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The Heart of Shakespeare

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Despite my skepticism about the accepted wisdom in regard to the historical William Shakespeare, I do deeply love the body of work that is Shakespeare.  My most favorite play is The Tempest, the final play in the canon.  I also have read and loved As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello,  and King Lear.  I know that is not all of the plays, but that is probably more than most people have read.  And of course, as an English major in college, and later as a teacher, I have actually analyzed, compared, studied, and taught some of these plays.  So, the Shakespeare I know is the Shakespeare of the writer’s own mind, his communicated wit and wisdom, imagination and intellect.

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And I do not have any disdain or disrespect to give the Stratford guy.  To say that, in the Elizabethan world, the actor son of a tradesman with only a grammar school education could not have been the mind behind the literary masterworks is foolish.  The Stratford guy owned and operated the Globe theater at a time when “the play was the thing”.  All of London society, rich and poor, gloried in the theater, and Shakespeare did for Elizabethan plays what Babe Ruth did for baseball.  He was a good enough business man to make himself a decent fortune.  Although, apparently, this world-shaking author didn’t spend any of his money on owning books, which in my experience is extremely rare among writers.  His life, bound up in an urban existence that never traveled outside of the country also somehow produced great works that were set in places in Europe, especially Italy, that described those settings in accurate detail.  As a working actor, he also apparently had the time to study law and somehow learn the inner workings of the royal courts of more than one country.  And the plots were not original.  He took existing stories that already were a part of European literature and lore and wove them into rich tapestries of human striving, laughable foibles, and a deep understanding of basic human character.  But I do have doubts that the businessman and actor from Stratford was the real writer of the plays.

I have already told you that I don’t believe Sir Francis Bacon was secretly Shakespeare.  Christopher Marlowe wasn’t either.  And I have unsuccessfully made a case against Shakspere, the Stratford guy.  So who could possibly be the real William Shakespeare?  Well, I am not going to be able to make a decent case for him in the 100 words that I have left to end this essay with.  So there has to be more to come.  (And stop screaming obscenities at the computer screen.  I am going to reveal the name before the end of this essay.  And I promise not to make my case for him in coming days too boring and horrible.)  I have to show why I believe that the true heart of Shakespeare could only have beaten within the body of Edward deVere, the Earl of Oxford.

 

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Green and Fuzzy Blue Brainwork

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There is reason to believe I have to reroute some of the back roads on the road map of my thinking parts.  I have been spending a lot of time in Elizabethan England lately due to my obsession with who I think Shakespeare really was.   There are a lot of dark alleys to be plumbed on that section of the map.  I really admire the Roland Emmerich film Anonymous about Edward deVere, the Earl of Oxford being the real writer behind the works of Shakespeare, but I do recognize that it is a work a fiction, and an altered-history work of fantasy fiction at that.    So I find myself not yet ready to tackle that particular essay in the Shakespeare series as yet.  More think time and creative-mixing time is needed.  I need to stop at one of the quaint little mental inns on that particular Elizabethan back road and get some much needed rest for my Elizabethan conspiracy muscles.

Meanwhile back in the real world, Trumpzilla has been busy wrecking the world I live in with a bleak inauguration speech written by Steve Bannon that works its fire-breathing magic to blacken the hearts and perceptions of people I love and care about who also happen to be staunch conservatives.  My Facebook feed is up in arms about how many people actually attended the inauguration ceremony and how unfair the media is for trying to make it seem like Trump’s celebration parade was a deserted wasteland when in reality it was… well…  what’s a synonym for deserted wasteland that won’t offend conservatives who will bend or break any truth to defend Trumpzilla’s turkey-tweets?

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But then, as I was going to QT for my morning caffeine-addict’s fix of Diet Coke, I heard Lionel Richie’s song “Say You, Say Me” playing on the radio.  Ah, the perfect metaphor.  It is a song used as the theme song from the 1986 movie White Nights about a Russian ballet star who has defected to the US during the Cold War and then was in a plane accident-incident that put him back in the Russians’ clutches.  The movie stars Mikhail Baryshnikov, an actual Russian ballet star turned defector, and Gregory Hines, the American tap dancer.  It is a beautiful movie that features amazing dance sequences, Russian conflict of interests because the dancer wants to be free and yet misses his homeland and culture, and a resolution involving intrigue and escape.  In many ways, the plot, centered around a Russian threat and dark days in a place where the sun doesn’t set, is exactly what we are going through with Trumpzilla.  But the song is about two people communicating and eventually “coming together, naturally”.

It started me thinking about the purpose of this blog.  I mean, you obviously know that this blog is really about me talking to myself about myself, if you are one of those crazy few who actually read this far through a goopy blog post like this.  I use this blog to think about myself, the world around me, and even sometimes, like now, to think about thinking.  Yet, I have a duty to the reader to reach that point where our thinking comes together, naturally.  If not, then why bother to post and publish at all?

So here’s what I think about the Shakespeare question, written in the tavern room at the inn on parchment… with a quill pen.  The real Shakespeare was a writer just like me, writing for himself.  And he discovered through the play-writing process that he had to share that writing for himself with the great wide world, because the Prospero’s magic of it could change the world for everybody.  That is the real purpose of Shakespeare’s existence, no matter who he really was.  And that is the real purpose of my existence as well, even if I turn out to be nothing more than one of the top hundred best writers that no one ever actually read.

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Kit Marlowe, Secret Agent

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Christopher Marlowe is often sited as the real Shakespeare, a problematic assertion given that he would’ve been forced to write a number of plays after he was dead, giving new meaning to the term “ghost writer”.  But I would like to add to the assertion that “Marlowe is NOT Shakespeare!” that I also believe he did not die as they claim that he did.  Marlowe is a fascinating character of debauchery and misbehavior, intrigue and mystery, and undeniable genius.  As a writer, he was a maverick and risk-taker, having begun the ascendance of the theatrical play as one of the heights of Elizabethan literature with his play Tamburlaine the Great, about the historical figure who rose from shepherd boy to monarch.  This play, and its sequel, Tamburlaine the Great Part II, were among the very first English plays to be written in blank verse, meaning there is a very definite connection between the style of writing established by Marlowe and the later work of Shakespeare.  It is probable that for a few years, Kit Marlowe was a member of the Gray’s Inn group along with Sir Francis Bacon and several other suspicious literary luminaries like Sir Walter Raleigh and possibly Ben Jonson.  (I have to admit at this point that if I am wrong about the Stratford guy and he did write the plays, then he was a member of this group as well, because it was not closed to commoners, only to stupid people.  The Stratford guy was in no way stupid or a villain, no matter what you may believe about the authorship question.)  But here is where the link to Shakespeare’s plays and poetry both begins and ends.  Yes, Kit Marlowe was a capable enough author to have written such sublime plays.  He has all the individual skills to make up the whole.  But if you read his masterwork, The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, you will see that the voice, the unique literary style of the work is simply not by the same author.  Although Shakespeare revisits some of the same themes that Marlowe used in his plays, his manner of development, handling of character, style of humor, and underlying conviction in the existence of God are all different and opposed to Marlowe’s.  Marlowe is NOT Shakespeare.  Shakespeare’s works have more in common with Bacon’s than Marlowe’s.  And I have already said that, “Shakespeare is NOT Bacon… or eggs either.”  And if I said it, it must be so.  (Don’t throw eggs and tomatoes at your computer screen when you read this.  Just call me stupid and vain in the comments like everybody else does.)

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And an even more compelling reason to those of you who don’t obsess over reading Shakespeare and Marlowe and Ben Jonson is that, at the time Shakespeare’s plays were probably written, Kit Marlowe was busy either being stone cold dead, or, having faked his death, was busy being a secret agent for Queen Elizabeth.

 

And why would a goofball like me think that Christopher Marlowe cunningly faked his own death and went into his own thrilling quest to be like James Bond more than 300 years before Ian Fleming?  Well, because I know how to read and am not generally bright enough not to believe what others have written about him and his connections to world of spying in Elizabethan times.

These authors have brought out the fact that Marlowe’s frequent absences from college and later public obligations coincide with things like the mysterious tutor called “Morley” who tutored Arbella, niece of Mary Queen of Scots, and a potential successor to Queen Elizabeth, in 1589.  He was also arrested in the Netherlands for allegedly counterfeiting coins related to the activities of seditious Catholics.  He was brought back to England to be dealt with by Lord Treasurer Burghley, the closest adviser to Queen Elizabeth, and was then not so much punished as let off the hook and even rewarded monetarily.  Still think he was not a spy?  Well, his demise probably came about through his relationship with Lord Francis Walsingham and his friendship with Walsingham’s son.  You see, Walsingham was Elizabeth’s “M”, leader of her spies and intelligence units.  After Walsingham died, there was deep concern that no one was still able to protect Marlowe from possible consequences of being both a homosexual and an atheist.  (Being gay was obviously not as serious a sin as atheism for which torture and death penalties lay in wait.)  It was possible that rival spies and nefarious forces could kidnap Marlowe and get information out of him that the Queen needed to be kept secret.

So, when Lord Burghley tortured Marlowe’s friend and sometime roommate, Thomas Kyd, into naming Marlowe a heretic and sending men out with a warrant to arrest Marlowe, Kit’s other friend, Thomas Walsingham probably warned Marlowe.  The bar fight that supposedly ended Marlowe’s life was witnessed by two friends of his, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley, both provably con men and professional liars.  The knife that stabbed him in the forehead above his right eye was wielded by Ingram Fizer, another of Marlowe’s disreputable friends, allegedly over an unpaid debt.  Fizer, of course, though he freely admitted killing Marlowe, was acquitted of the murder.  And the coroner’s report is suspect.  Rules of investigation were not followed, and the body was never independently identified by someone other than the three friends at the scene of the crime.  And the body was hastily buried before anyone else could get a close look at it.

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I am not only telling you that I believe Christopher “Kit” Marlowe was NOT Shakespeare… or eggs either (though that joke doesn’t really work here), but I believe he didn’t die the way it has been reported to us by history.  And why do I believe these things?  Because I think the story of Christopher Marlowe is a really great story, and it exists as a story whether it is historically true or not.

 

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A Shakespearean Celebration of Trump

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Yes, I am well aware that I am in the middle of an epic Shakespeare rant this week, explaining in the goofiest of terms the reason I believe Shakespeare is not Shaksper.  But you have to mark a solemn occasion like the onset of the end-times.  So I thought I might pay dissembling dreary lip service to the inauguration of a man who, if he appeared in the middle of a Dick Tracy episode, would be known as the villainous Cheeto-head.122p7s

You see, I don’t recognize this villain as the legitimate head of my government.  So I won’t be using the title of “President” with this villain’s name.  Instead, I intend to practice Shakespearian insults to get the bad taste out of my mouth on this horrible day resulting from the malfeasance of certain bad actors, a concerted effort to suppress the vote in key States like Florida, an inebriated campaign run by a dissolute, dissembling mountebank with a talent for misdirection, and a very unfortunate ill-timed collective brain fart on the part of masses of angry but somewhat intellectually limited white people.  (No, I am not worried that they will get me for that last one.  They don’t know what most of the words mean, and none of them would take the time to read this far through this post.)

The conflagration of Trumpkin Trolls on the internet have been telling me that they have endured eight years of Obama, and now I should just shut up and endure eight years of the Great Orange Face.  But, swaggering lackwits, I say thee nay!  This will not be an eight year reign.  It will either be a zero-year tragedy extravaganza or a permanent reign until the bedeviled Fenris Wolf consumes poor over-wrought Thor on the terrible day know as Ragnarok.  The spoiled bag of figgy pudding that is our new leader and golden king will have a lot to answer to St. Peter for.  Um, or is that Mephistopheles?

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I intend to hold the vicarious viscount of villainy accountable with my words and wit, meager as they may be.  And I will decry everything he and the harpy DeVos will do to my beloved system of public education.  I will probably also expire from the villainy of the wretched Republican pizzle drinkers who are busy disemboweling the health care system that has so recently kept me alive, but I will continue to testify to their perfidy until my last breath expires.

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So, I guess I can bring an end to this venomous epistle satisfied that I have lectured ass-headed Bottom about having a donkey’s head on his shoulders in the most roundly Shakespearean way I could wrangle.  Shakespeare, if he gave us anything of value, gave us to understand the true power of words.  And it is by the application of powerful and true words we must battle this sanguine, self-satisfied snollygoster who can barely read and is crippled with a dysfunctional slow-working pate which he more often sits on than uses to think with.

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