Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Could the Earl of Oxford Have Written the Works of Shakespeare? by Donna N. Murphy

Edward de Vere (1550-1604), the seventeenth earl of Oxford, was a fine dancer and jouster, a lover of music and falconry. He was a respectable poet, as evidenced by the 16 to 20 poems by him that have survived. Oxford garnered praise for his writing in The Arte of English Poesie and in Henry Peacham’s The Compleat Gentleman, in a section paraphrasing The Arte of English Poesie. Francis Meres named Oxford one of seventeen men who were “best for comedy.”1 Unfortunately, no known play by him exists. There is mention of one on a 1732 list of documents that a scholar intended to print, but never did: “a pleasant conceit of Vere, earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English court, circa 1580.”2 Parallels between the life of Oxford and Shakespeare’s works have been well documented.

But could he have written Shakespeare? Besides the circumstance that he died in 1604 (a date no one disputes) and that scholars believe eleven of the Bard’s plays were written after his death (a position Oxfordians certainly dispute), a man as self-centered, unethical, vindictive and materialistic as he was lacked the moral make-up to do so. If one believes that the works of Shakespeare were written by a sage man to reflect core ethical values and mirror human nature back to the audience, an inestimable gift to humanity, one would need to assume a massive transformation of character at some point in Oxford’s life. There is, however, no evidence that Oxford changed. This article discusses Oxford’s moral make-up, apparent references to him in Thomas Nashe’s Summers Last Will and Testament and William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and Oxford’s general writing ability.

Various episodes demonstrate the Earl of Oxford’s character over time. Oxford married Lord Burghley’s daughter Anne at Oxford’s own request in 1571, when he was twenty one and she was fifteen. He did not sleep with her. One theory explaining why he did not share Anne’s bed was that Oxford wished to manipulate Burghley into securing a pardon for his cousin the Duke of Norfolk who had been accused of treason and, after Norfolk was executed, to revenge himself by denying Burghley grandchildren.3 Oxford did lay with his wife, however, in October 1574 at Hampton Court (he admitted this) before heading off on a trip to Europe the following January.4 Baby Elizabeth was born to Anne on July 2, 1575.

European travel was expensive, and Philip Sidney spent £750 - £1080 during his three-year tour of Europe. In contrast, however, Oxford burned through £4,561 in fourteen months of travel.5

Before he returned, Oxford heard unspecified, derogatory information about Anne. As a result, he refused to see his wife and child for five years. Whatever it was that Oxford heard, a less arrogant, more considerate man would at least have taken his wife’s feelings into account and talked to her face to face about his suspicions. He would at least have agreed to meet a child that looked up to him as her father. A year later Oxford wrote Lord Burghley, “For always I have and will still prefer mine own content before others.”6

When thirty years old, Oxford got a maid of honor to the Queen pregnant. Sir Walter Ralegh and the Earl of Southampton fell in love with maids of honor, too, and Ralegh got his paramour with child. Both men, however, were unmarried at the time, and wed the ladies. The reaction of the already-married Oxford to Vavasour’s pregnancy was talk of flight to Spain. She had a miscarriage, but he got her pregnant again. Knowing the Queen would react poorly toward him as Anne Vavasour began to show, Oxford chose Vavasour’s sixth month of pregnancy to re-embrace Protestantism and publicly denounce three friends who, along with himself, had turned Catholic (one of them was Charles Arundel, who later slandered him). Oxford’s maneuver backfired, however, as the Queen was unhappy about being forced to act against these three whom she esteemed. After Vavasour delivered a son and was placed in the Tower of London, the rumour that Oxford would escape abroad caused the government to monitor the ports; instead, he joined Vavasour for a brief stay in the Tower, Queen Elizabeth’s usual punishment for this type of transgression.7 The following year, Oxford reconciled with his wife.

At age thirty eight, Oxford refused an assignment during the Armada year to govern the seaport of Harwich and the two thousand men appointed to defend it because, he said, the position would do him no credit. He vowed to go over the Earl of Leicester’s head and ask the Queen for a different post.8 A less egocentric man would have served the Crown in whatever capacity was requested of him, particularly since the two fleets had engaged in battle a few days previously and England was in a state of crisis.

Three years later, Oxford signed over Castle Hedingham to Lord Burghley to be placed in trust for his three daughters, since he had otherwise spent their inheritance.9 Before parting with Hedingham, however, Oxford ordered the property to be stripped or razed.10 Oxford repeatedly thought of himself before others, even his own children. Burghley raised Oxford’s three daughters after their mother died in 1588. Oxford’s dereliction of duty was recorded for all time on the Burghley tomb in Westminster Abbey: the girls’ grandfather “has the care of all these [Oxford’s daughters] children.”11

Edmund Spenser alluded to this self-centeredness in his 1590 dedication to Oxford, one of a series of dedications to aristocrats in The Faerie Queene:
And also for the love which thou dost bear
To the’Heliconian imps [Muses]—and they to thee—
They unto thee and thou to them most dear:
Dear as thou art unto thyself.12
In letters written between 1590 and 1602 Oxford complained of poor health, infirmity and lameness. In March 1603, as the Queen lay dying, he railed against her unofficial successor, the Scots King James VI, and spoke with the Earl of Lincoln about the possibility of sending Lord Hastings to France to raise troops. But as the commander of the Tower of London later reported to Cecil:
I knew him [Oxford] to be so weak in body, in friends, in hability, and all other means to raise any combustion in the state as I never feared any danger to proceed from so feeble a foundation.13
The author of the Shakespeare plays was a premier judge of character. It is therefore noteworthy that Oxford employed as one of his most trusted servants a man named Rowland Yorke, who would later sell out English positions in the Netherlands to the Spanish. William Camden called Yorke a “man of loose and dissolute behavior and desperately audacious...the first that...brought into England that bold and dangerous way of foining [thrusting] with the rapier in dueling.” Oxford biographer Mark Anderson termed him “the most venal man who ever served the seventeenth earl—a real distinction, considering the Elizabethan rogues and hooligans who at one time or another wore the livery of the blue boar [were employed by Oxford].” Some of the Earl’s servants were highwaymen, and one was hung for murder.14 Oxford himself killed a man, an unarmed undercook, but was declared not guilty by a Burghley-influenced jury that found the unfortunate fellow had committed suicide by “running upon a point of a fence-sword of the said earl.”15

Thomas Nashe appears to have held a low opinion of Oxford—a blow that is, in my view, fatal, given the close interrelationship between the works of Nashe and Shakespeare. While we cannot, of course, assume that any fictional character represents a real person, it is worth reporting instances where fiction and reality seem to intersect. In his Summer’s Last Will and Testament (written c. 1592, when Oxford was forty two years old), the character Spring is consistently called “Ver” (Latin for “spring”) whereas the other three seasons are called by their English names. Nashe specialist Rita Lamb and Oxfordian Mark Anderson both view Ver as a stand-in for Oxford.16 Nashe calls Ver a “monstrous unthrift,” employing an adjective contemporaries used to describe Oxford: Fulke Greville called him a “monstrous villain,” while to Arundel he was a “monstrous adversary.”17

Ver refuses to live within financial bounds, and claims that since the world is transitory and is made of nothing, he must help consume it to nothing. Oxford had entirely consumed a fortune worth between £3,000 and £12,000 per year by the time Nashe wrote. Summer—a representation of Queen Elizabeth—who has been quite generous to Ver, as Elizabeth was to Oxford, responds, “So study thousands not to mend their lives/ But to maintain the sin they most affect.”

All’s Well That Ends Well

According to Francis Osborne, writing fifty years after Oxford’s death, Oxford was the target of a “bed trick.” He was brought to Anne’s bed under the notion that he would be sleeping with a different lady, and impregnated his own wife. From this union, a baby was born.18 The account identified the baby as Susan de Vere, but this makes no sense, as Anne bore two children between 1584-6 before Susan’s birth in 1587. Osborne may well have gotten his names wrong and meant their first child, Elizabeth, with Oxford being tricked into sleeping with Anne at Hampton Court in 1574.19

In All’s Well That Ends Well, Count Bertram is forced into marrying Helena, whom he believes is beneath him. Bertram refuses to sleep with her and goes off to war. The lady is patient and virtuous, as was Anne; Bertram is rash and unbridled, as was Oxford. Bertram makes plans to sleep with a chaste woman who, unbeknownst to him, is outraged by his behavior. The word is spread that Helena is dead; then the woman has a still-living Helena take her place in bed. Bertram gets his wife pregnant without knowing that it is her, and they reconcile.

To a large extent, All’s Well That Ends Well follows its source, which was ultimately Boccaccio’s Decameron, the ninth novel of the third day. Boccaccio had not yet been translated from the Italian, but this story had been included in William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure, 1566. On the basis of slight differences in character names, H.G. Wright argued that Shakespeare employed the French translation of Boccaccio by Antoine le Maçon.20 All three works have been considered possible sources for the purposes of this discussion. The bed trick is contained in all of them, and is an old ruse which dates back to the Bible.

How does All’s Well That Ends Well differ from them in ways that link it to the Earl of Oxford? In all three sources, Bertram is always called “Count.” French and Italian do not have a linguistic equivalent to “Earl.” Yet in Shakespeare’s version, twice he is called an earl. After Bertram's father dies, he is “left under the royal custody of the king,” according to Painter, “nelle mani del re lasciato,” according to the Italian, and “sous la garde-noble du Roi” in the French. In All’s Well That Ends Well, Bertram says, after his father’s death, that he was “in ward” to his majesty, using the word which best applied to Oxford, who was brought up by Lord Burghley as a ward of the crown after his father’s death. In the play a clown says, while speaking about Bertram, “I know a man that...sold a goodly manor for a song.” (III.ii.8-9) The remark may well refer to the fact that Oxford signed over a family estate to a musician he admired, Chapel Royal organist William Byrd.21

In all three sources, Bertram’s wife bears him twin sons; at the end of Shakespeare’s play she is still pregnant, leaving the sex of her child (no twins are implied) unstated. Finally, Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well comes off as a harsher character than in the sources. Shakespeare’s ending is less satisfying, with Bertram given only one line to signal a shift from hating to loving his wife, and that line starts with “if.” There is no sense that Bertram has become a caring, honorable man.

Some who think the Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare cite All’s Well That Ends Well as evidence.22 But if the play were intended as a mea culpa, Bertram ought to have undergone a heart-warming transformation at the end. Instead, Oxford seems to be memorialized in an unfavorable light. All’s Well That Ends Well was first published in the First Folio, and is traditionally assigned a composition date of 1603/4. The Earl of Oxford died June 24, 1604.

A few words about writing ability: regarding Oxford’s existing poetry, his themes are conventional and his work is not timeless. But Oxfordians believe that Oxford wrote the bulk of Shakespeare’s plays in the 1590’s, while his poetry dates mostly from the 1570’s, and ability can improve over time. B.M. Ward pubished ten of Oxford’s letters, however, that date from 1590-1602, and letters speak volumes. The letters of contemporary author John Lyly are clever, even when his purpose is to request something; they display his euphuistic writing style, his wit, his ability to craft a joke and turn a phrase.23In Christopher Marlowe’s one existing letter, a sixteen-line dedication to the Countess of Pembroke, he incorporates numerous classical allusions (including to Philomela, whose story influenced Titus Andronicus), hyperbole, metaphors, antithesis and personification.24 It sounds like something he would write. Oxford’s letters are straightforward. They are neither clever nor interesting to read. The few metaphors are commonplace. They are not at all like something one would expect from the pen of the Bard.25 The same, of course, can be said of William Shakspere’s will.

It might be argued that Christopher Marlowe did not have the moral make-up to have written the works of Shakespeare, either, because he was accused of heresy. Jolly olde England, however, was a time of spies and secrets, an era when agents provocateurs slandered enemies, leading to their ruin and death. Marlowe parodied Richard Baines, an English intelligencer who posed as a student at the Rheims seminary, was arrested, and confessed that he had suggested killing everyone at the seminary by adding poison to the communal well or to the soup. In The Jew of Malta, Barabas bragged that he went about poisoning wells, and proceeded to kill an entire religious community by tainting its broth. This is the same Baines who accused Marlowe of coinage in Flushing, and then wrote the Baines Note, with its allegations of heresy against Marlowe: there was bad blood between these two.

Fellow author Thomas Kyd denounced Marlowe as well, but he did so in prison under the duress of torture. In Lenten Stuffe, Thomas Nashe railed against torture, complaining that it would make a man confess he crucified Jesus Christ rather than abide the extremities of suffering. The two extant documents by Kyd regarding Marlowe were written after the news of Marlowe’s “death.” At that point Kyd would have viewed it as too late to save Marlowe’s skin; he was desperately trying to save his own.

Free thinkers were sometimes accused of heresy in the era during which Marlowe lived, Galileo Galilei and Sir Walter Ralegh being famous examples. Marlowe, at least, stood in honorable company. The same cannot be said, however, for the Earl of Oxford, the band of hooligans he employed, the friends he betrayed, the children he failed to support, and the opponents to the succession of King James with whom he associated toward the end of his life.

Donna N. Murphy

© Donna N. Murphy, November 2009

Donna Nielsen Murphy is currently teaching English in Tokyo and working to determine authorship of English Renaissance literature via linguistic analysis. She has been published in Notes and Queries, Cahiers Élisabéthains and The Marlowe Society’s Research Journal and Newsletter. She is a former economic analyst and author of the novel Heaven on Earth.

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Donna Murphy for co-winning the 2010 Calvin and Rose G. Hoffman Prize for a Distinguished Publication on Christopher Marlowe.

1Oxford’s poetry is collected in “The Poems of Edward DeVere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford and of Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex,” ed. Steven W. May, Studies in Philology 77 (1980).
2Anderson, Mark. Shakespeare by Another Name (New York: Penguin Group, 2005), 154.
3Anderson, 48-9,60-1. Two sources report that Oxford was refusing to sleep with Anne in 1572. The first, apparently written before Norfolk’s execution, said that Oxford forsaking Anne’s bed was a result of “Burghley’s role in Norfolk’s predicament,” and the other, written afterward, that servant Rowland Yorke was barring Anne from Oxford’s bedchamber, presumably at Oxford’s command (Anderson, 51, 60). Nelson reported that Oxford was not sleeping with his wife during the period leading up to October, 1574 in Alan H. Nelson, Monstrous Adversary. The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Liverpool University Press, 2003), 145.
4Nelson, 145.
5Anderson, 93; and Kathryn Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 69.
6Anderson, 121.
7Anderson, 163-6.
8Nelson, 317-8.
9A challenge to Oxford by Thomas Vavasour dated January 19, 1585 speaks of “thy [Oxford’s] forlorn kindred, whom as thou hast left nothing to inherit so thou dost thrust them violently into thy shameful quarrels.” B.M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford 1550-1604 (John Murray: London, 1928), 229.
10Anderson, 248; and Nelson, 335.
11Ward, 262.
12Anderson, 246.
13Anderson, 291, 344-5.
14Anderson, 115, 66.
15“Edward DeVere,” Dictionary of National Biography.
16Lamb, R. “Does Nashe’s only surviving play contain satire?” http://sicttasd.tripod.com/ttheory.html, accessed September 28, 2009; and Mark Anderson, 254-6. Summer’s Last Will and Testament is quoted from The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), Vol. III, 243.
17Nelson, 197, 214.
18Osborne, Francis. Memoires on the Raigne of Queen Elizabeth and King James (London:1658), 79; cited in William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well, ed. G.K. Hunter (London: Metheun and Co., Ltd, 1966), xliv.
19Anderson favored the theory that Osborne meant Elizabeth instead of Susan, 484. In February, 1575, Anne asked for medicines that would induce an abortion, saying, “[I] stand in doubt whether he [Oxford] pass [judgment] upon me and it [the pregnancy] or not” (Anderson, 119). If Oxford had been tricked into sleeping with his wife, at the time he might have told her that he would disavow a child if he had made her pregnant. One can only hope that Anne was rewarded by a special place in heaven for all the suffering Oxford caused her during their marriage.
20Wright, Herbert G. “How Did Shakespeare Come to Know the ‘Decameron’?” Modern Language Review 50 (1955): 45-8.
21Anderson, 66.
22See, for example, J. Thomas Looney, “Shakespeare” Identified (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1920) and Charlton Ogburn, The Mysterious William Shakespeare (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1984).
23The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. Warwick Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), Vol. III, 28-9, 64-5, 68-9.
24Marlowe’s dedication is published in its original Latin and Sutton's translation into English in The Complete Works of Thomas Watson (1556-1592), ed. Dana F. Sutton (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1996), Vol. II, 201.
25For Oxford’s 1590-1602 letters, see Ward, 329-44.

Click here for "The Case Against Oxford as Shakespeare," a compilation of some of this blog's articles on the Oxford theory. Emmerich Anonymous film
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Cassel said...

An informative article.

JPRWakeForest said...

Where are the Oxfordians? This website has done great work in weakening the case for Devere.

Luanna said...

This is a lovely article, Ms. Murphy, intelligent and logical. I visit this site quite often, and I don't believe I've seen anything from you before. Are you new? If so, I look forward to seeing more contributions from you.

Max said...

Someone as obviously well-read as Ms. Murphy should know that there is frequently only a tenuous connection between the behavior of artists in their personal lives and the moral messages in their works.

Pointing out Oxford's character flaws really says nothing at all about whether or not he wrote Shakespeare's works. Artists frequently condemn moral failings which they themselves personally manifest.

Some of the information here -- for example, the troubled relationships between Oxford, Burghley, and Burghley's daughter -- is actually used by Oxfordians to support their case. They see that particular triangle mirrored in the Hamlet-Polonius-Ophelia triad. Frankly, I think that's one of their most compelling ideas.

But I appreciate the wealth of biographical and literary detail supplied in this piece.

Donna N. Murphy said...

Along my own journey of self-development, I have met enough spiritual masters to recognize that the Bard was one, too. Oxford was well educated, but he was not wise. He was, in fact, the antithesis of the type of person who could have written the timeless works of Shakespeare. I know Oxford’s character doesn’t matter to Oxfordians, but it matters immensely to me. Between Oxford’s character, his death before several works in the First Folio are believed to have been written, and the lack of linguistic/stylistic connections between his writing and Shakespeare’s, Oxford is, to me, dead in the water as a candidate for Shakespeare. Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Edward II evidence both his wisdom and dramatic ability, while Hero and Leander demonstrates his sense of humor and his sense of poetry. Marlowe was motivated to go underground (he was about to certainly be tortured and probably executed), plus his linguistic/stylistic connections to the Bard are legion. If one doesn’t believe the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works, Marlowe rises head-and shoulders above the other candidates.

I have been researching the Shakespeare authorship for what seems like ages, but my published work has so far only nibbled around the fringes of the question. I have been looking at the big picture, i.e., the larger body of English Renaissance literature, because I believe that a band of brothers was involved, and to solve the problem at the scholarly level we must be able to differentiate linguistically between key playwrights, and also locate instances of co-authorship when possible. The big picture approach takes a lot of time, but I hope eventually to make major contributions to the authorship question. And the reason I’m doing it is because I think what we have here is a group of men who quietly advanced an awakening in English literature, theater and science, not for money, fame or fortune, but because they wanted to benefit mankind. The way I see it, their story, once better understood via clues they hid in their works (this is the most fun part of my research), will be incredibly inspirational.

Donna Murphy

Anonymous said...

Open letter to Donna Murphy, Ph.D.

Dear Donna,
I enjoyed reading your well-researched article. It draws together a lot of relevant historical information. But I want to quibble with an important psychological assumption you have made: that a bad man cannot have written the works of Shakespeare. As a practicing psychoanalyst, I find it inconceivable that a consistently good man could possibly have written these works, that constantly delve so perceptively into the darkest recesses of the human heart. To me, Edward de Vere’s life reveals him to be precisely the sort of complex person who might have produced the complexity of the works attributed to Shakespeare. As you know, I now have 20 publications on this topic, including a 7,000-word forthcoming article in Notes & Queries that summarizes my discovery of a previously unknown source for most of Shakespeare’s works in the 20 psalms marked in Edward de Vere’s Sternhold and Hopkins Whole Book of the Psalms. My latest article may be found at http://www.briefchronicles.com/ojs/index.php/bc/article/view/6/28

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.
Reader, Folger Shakespeare Library
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry,
Georgetown University School of Medicine

Max said...

I agree that Shakespeare (whoever he was) had much wisdom about the workings of the human psyche, both in its light and dark aspects. Some of that wisdom may have been hard-won. So many of his characters are tortured by their own failings, in a way that suggests that the author knew about this kind of thing from personal experience.

I put the author on a high pedestal as a master of language, character, and dramatic construction. But I don't agree with all of his expressed moral values. For instance, Shakespeare was pretty obviously a strong believer in monarchy and aristocracy, from the number of plots in which the king or the prince swoops in at the end and neatly solves all the problems. That is inimical to my 21st-century American way of looking at the world. But I think it says a lot about the author's worldview.

Isabel said...

Dear Dr Waugaman:

I should not be particularly surprised that an eminent psychiatrist would follow the steps of none other than Dr Sigmund Freud, in the proposal that the Earl of Oxford could have written the works of Shakespeare.

Much as I admire Dr Freud, I have never understood how he could reconcile the authorship of "All's Well that Ends Well" to the pathetic "hero" that is supposed to represent the author.

You are absolutely right, I believe, in presuming that a "bad" man (what is a "bad" man, by the way?) may write excellent plays.

I don't dare hope for a moment that my candidate, Christopher Marlowe, the eternal spy, for most of his life deprived of the comfort of human affections; always in hiding, always "alone" in the deepest sense of the word, could have been a "nice man"; he would not have been human. A "nice man" drowning, as he must have felt, in a well of loneliness and disappointment, year after year, does not succeed in surviving depression, as well as fighting against the hatred and fanaticism of men around him,to say nothing of the ingratitude of the Monarchs who used him in their service, and left him to die in exile and despair, robbing him of his deserved literary glory. Unlike other "candidates" Marlowe did not chose anonymity for his works; the anonymity was imposed on him.

The man who wrote "Coriolanus" was not simply borrowing a plot from Plutarch's Lives; he was probably someone who had looked in his wounded heart and found perhaps the seeds of treason there: Why does a model soldier and citizen become a traitor? To what extreme provocation must he be subjected before he contemplates such self-destroying debasement?

Shakespeare writes about Coriolanus as if he knew all about such temptation, and had succeeded in freeing himself from it by spelling out the terrible process in one of his most extraordinary and beautifully poignant plays.

So, yes, of course an imperfect man can free his mind from his worst fantasies and temptations, writing about treason, murder, revenge, etc; if this man happens to be a genius, his works would be masterpieces. But what genius would describe himself as the childish, spineless, foolish, Bertran de Rousillon?

Most "major" villains in the Canon have some ounce of greatness in them; even Iago, the most hideous of them all, shows a remarkable, even uncanny, intelligence. But what greatness is there in Bertram? He doesn't even "grow up" by virtue of his experience. All's Well's "happy ending" is possibly the bitterest of all "happy endings" in the Canon, with the possible exception of The Merchant of Venice.

And it is curious that another unredeemed villain in the Comedies, Angelo, in Measure for Measure, owes also some debt to the Earl, with his shameful "bed-trick" story.

Sorry, doctor: when considering the case for Oxford as Shakespeare, I'd find it easier to jump over the considerable hurdles presented by impossible dates and major class objections, than to jump the Bertran hurdle: Psychology forbids it.

And I find it disappointing that I should have to say this to an expert like yourself; but then you have Dr Freud on your side, and that must be a comfort.

Donna N. Murphy said...

Dear Richard,

Thanks for the link to your most recent article. It is well written and well researched, as is everything you do, and I recommend it to other bloggers. I enjoyed meeting you at the Shakespeare Association conference and have a great deal of respect for you; anti-Stratfordians are fortunate to have you in their midst. I just happen to think you’re a member of the wrong camp. Come join us over here—we’re having fun!

Marlowe fits your profile in that he was not a consistently good man. Leaving aside his sword fight with William Bradley as a probable matter of self defense, in May, 1592, two constables in Shoreditch lodged a complaint against Christopher Marle of London, stating that he threatened them with “opprobrious [scornful] words.” Four months later, Canterbury tailor William Corkyn sued Christopher Marlowe for assaulting him with a stick and a dagger, and that he incurred £5 worth of damages; Corkyn’s suit was later dropped by mutual consent. If, as appears to be the case, he was an intelligencer, he regularly lied to people. Marlowe cruelly mocked Richard Baines in The Jew of Malta and, if he wrote Soliman and Perseda as I believe, mocked Gabriel Harvey in that piece (J.J.M. Tobin has documented how Shakespeare made fun of Gabriel Harvey in The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night).

But something happened to change the Bard. He tells us in Sonnet 111:

Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu’d
To what it works in, like the Dyer’s hand,
Pity me then, and wish I were renewed,
Whilst like a willing patient I will drink,
Potions of Eisell [vinegar] ‘gainst my strong infection,

It was after his name received a brand (as Marlowe’s name certainly did) that he became “subdu’d.” So far as I am able to discern, Oxford’s unadmirable character did not change, ever.

Where we Marlovians can run circles around Oxfordians is in terms of linguistic and stylistic connections between Marlowe and Shakespeare. Calvin Hoffman was the first to document them, and eventually I will publish work which significantly boosts Hoffman’s findings.

P.S. I don’t have a Ph.D. I have a B.S.F.S. in International Affairs from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, and an M.A. in Agricultural Economics from Wisconsin University. I studied Ag. Econ. because I wanted to “save the world” via development economics in third-world countries. I have since come to believe that the only person you can change is yourself, but when you change yourself, your world changes.

Anthony Kellett said...


I have nothing worthwhile to add to your post, it was well stated; but you said, “Shakespeare was pretty obviously a strong believer in monarchy and aristocracy, from the number of plots in which the king or the prince swoops in at the end and neatly solves all the problems. That is inimical to my 21st-century American way of looking at the world. But I think it says a lot about the author's worldview.”

The USA has been attempting to “swoop in at the end and neatly solve all the problems” and, largely, failing miserably, for at least the last 60 years; including the 21st Century; ironically, a template no doubt derived from the modern day manifestation of Elizabethan drama, Hollywood movies. My despair at these actions is exacerbated by the fact that many were problems they caused in the first place, when they “swooped” in on the previous “problem”.

I have no reason to doubt that you are a fine, right-minded person (as I know many of your countrymen to be, too); but please do not extrapolate that to imply the inclusion of your nation. Whether you like it or not, the name “America” was represented by George Bush for most of the 21st century; swooping to declare wars “won” in a matter of months that we, strangely, still appear to be fighting nearly seven years later.

I apologise for the off-subject comment (and I will not respond to any counter, for that reason) but I cannot let things like this pass unchallenged; it is inimical to my 21st-century humanist way of looking at the world.

Isabel said...

Your comment:
"But I don't agree with all of his expressed moral values. For instance, Shakespeare was pretty obviously a strong believer in monarchy and aristocracy, from the number of plots in which the king or the prince swoops in at the end and neatly solves all the problems. That is inimical to my 21st-century American way of looking at the world. But I think it says a lot about the author's worldview."

The middle and lower classes in Europe, in Shakespeare's time, were not interesting objects for either the poet or the dramatist; nor did they expect to be. The history of literature in the Renaissance shows us that only heroes, kings, princes and gods, male and female, were of any interest whatsoever to the artist and its public. And then "Shakespeare" arrived, turning established values upside down and asking embarrassing questions.

There were not many Republics in Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries for Shakespeare to represent on stage, but, such as there were, like the Venetian Republic for example, were shown in the plays, with Magistrates, rather than Kings, swooping in at the end, apparently to put things "to rights". In the Merchant of Venice, for example, a nice lady and a Judge in combination manage to save the life of an improvident and racist Christian, by means of an all too transparent legal quibble.

As for the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar, we are shown, is murdered because he is suspected of wanting an Imperial Crown. In fact, none of the Roman and Greek Tragedies shows any "king" swooping in, like the USA Marines, to save the day. There is no day saved in Anthony and Cleopatra, or Troilus and Cressida, or Timon of Athens.

And then there are the plays about the death of Kings killed by other Kings, as, for example, Richard II and Richard III; or the story of a King that kills a King and is killed by a King, such as Duncan, Macbeth and Malcolm; or a King that is easily persuaded to invade a foreign Country without provocation, such as Henry V. Or a Prince that murders his brother in order to become a King, like Claudius. One could go on forever citing examples.

It seems to me that none of these plays shows us an author that is "a strong believer in monarchy and aristocracy". Shakespeare was an observer of human nature; its failings, its temptations and its achievements. That he had to pay lip service to the powers-that-be would have been inevitable, and, indeed, a hasty interpretation of his works may show them as trite as you describe them.

But Shakespeare's greatness consists precisely in his capacity to refrain from judgement, and to present, for anyone who cares to see it, that there is usually more than one way of looking at any conflict. His neutrality is legendary, and he hardly ever expresses categorical moral values with which anyone could be in disagreement.

If you have not yet caught on to that Shakespearean trick, Max, I suggest you read the plays again, carefully.

CARLO D. said...

ed. note: the above comment is by Isabel Gortázar

A. Jon Revele said...

very well done, Ms. Murphy!

Anonymous said...

I wanted everyone to know that Donna Murphy's article on Groatsworth of Witte in the journal Notes & Queries just received favorable mention in the letters of the November 13 2009 issue of the Times Literary Supplement.
Richard Waugaman

CARLO D. said...



Sir, – The debate on authorship of Greene’s Groatsworth of Witte (1592) may not have been definitively resolved, as Alan D. Hawkins claims (Letters, October 9). Since Richard Westley’s study in 2005, Donna N. Murphy has undertaken a careful analysis of the vocabulary of Groatsworth and identified fifty-five words used there but not elsewhere in Greene’s writings. Eighteen of these words do, however, appear in the works of Greene’s enemy Gabriel Harvey, who also had the skill, knowledge and motivation to write Groatsworth in an attempt to destroy the reputation of the literary enemy who had heaped scorn on his recently deceased brother.

The results of Donna Murphy’s work were published in Notes and Queries in 2007.

11 Gibson Gardens, Saffron Walden.

(from Times Literary Supplement. 11 November 2009, Letters to the Editor)

Anonymous said...

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Mike M said...

By all accounts, Mozart was a jerk. Surely he couldn't have composed the sublime works of Mozart?

Donna said...

Mozart was hardly a jerk in the same sense as the Earl of Oxford, but during his brash, younger days, he composed pieces which did not require the same wise, philosophical bent demonstrated in the works of Shakespeare. During the last seven years of his life, Mozart was involved with Freemasonry (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozart_and_Freemasonry), an organization that encourages its members to turn both inward to improve themselves, and outward to perform acts of charity for mankind. It was during these years that Mozart composed his great operas which did combine wisdom with musical prowess.