Q: Sam, in your extensive research that went into writing The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, certainly you formulated some opinions regarding Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. Oxfordians, those who promote the theory that de Vere authored the works we attribute to Shakespeare, are a rather large bunch. What's your take on all this?
Sam: It does not take much analysis of the historical data to show that the Oxfordian thesis is quite untenable.
First, the dates are against them. De Vere was born in 1550, which means that if he started writing the plays and poems at age 18, he would have produced his first work in 1568. No scholar believes that anything in the First Folio was written that far back.
Both Marlowe and Shakespeare were born in 1564, and we know that Marlowe started writing while at Cambridge University, late 1580 to 1587. He may have even started writing his translations of Ovid and his play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, while still at the King’s School in Canterbury. In addition, de Vere died in 1604 and his last years were lived in illness and seclusion, before many of the great plays are believed to have been written. Shakespeare died in 1616 saying nothing about plays or poems in his will, and we believe that Marlowe died after 1623 when the First Folio was published. There is good reason to believe that Marlowe did some of the editing of the plays chosen to be in the Folio painstakingly gathered by his executor and friend Edward Blount.
Second, there is the problem of de Vere the person. He was not a literary genius by a long shot. Twenty poems that he wrote in his youth are the only examples we have of the man’s literary talent. C. S. Lewis said of Oxford’s poetry: “Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, shows here and there, a faint talent, but is for the most part undistinguished and verbose.” So there is no evidence that he had that supreme literary genius that we recognize in the works under the name Shakespeare. He left no indication of any kind that he was capable of writing the 36 plays in the First Folio or that he had the time or inclination to do so. He was a dilettante.
I think the lack of genius is the most important critique we can make of the man. Such genius is not common, and when it appears it makes waves. That is why the plays are still produced today and characters like Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, etc. seem to have as much reality as living historical figures. The plays are a product of an extraordinary mind, and we know Marlowe was an extraordinary talent. No one can dispute that.
Finally, Oxford had no compelling reason to deny that he wrote the greatest dramas in English literary history. Marlowe, however, had the most compelling reason of all to hide his identity: he was supposed to be dead!
Why are there so many Oxfordians? It has a lot to do with the influence of Looney’s book published in 1920 and subsequent books on Oxford, the latest written as recently as 2005. Also, they all believed that Marlowe had been killed at Deptford in 1593, so that left only Oxford and Bacon in the running. Hoffman’s book, published in 1955, was the first to advance the thesis that Marlowe was not killed at Deptford and was the subject of a faked death. It initiated the development of a Marlovian movement which has grown somewhat slowly since then. Mike Rubbo’s film documented the movement right up to the present.
I’ve spoken to Oxfordians, and there is a cult-like groupthink among them. They have lived so long with Oxford, that to change their minds will require the kind of evidence they can’t deny. But I think it will take time for my book and Pinksen’s book to make their full impact on the authorship field of contention.
But what both Marlovians and Oxfordians have in common is an unshakable belief that the actor-businessman William Shakespeare was not the author of the works attributed to him.
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, December 2008
Samuel Blumenfeld, a World War II veteran of the Italian campaign, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. He is a former editor in the New York book publishing industry and has lectured widely. His writings have appeared in such diverse publications as Esquire, Reason, Education Digest, Vital Speeches of the Day, Boston, and many others. He is a regular contributor to MSC. Emmerich
See Sam on YouTube addressing the authorship controversy.
Click here for Daryl Pinksen's December 28, 2008, posting on de Vere.
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