Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer by Peter Farey

(this post originally appeared on November 23, 2009)

In my earlier piece "Oxfordians and the 1604 Question," I showed how in dramatic verse between the 1580s and 1620s there was a steady move away from the constant repetition of the regular end-stopped iambic pentameter by the increasing use of open lines and feminine endings.

I also showed graphically how Shakespeare’s plays exhibited a change in the same direction although—if the dates used are similar to those estimated by most Shakespearean scholars—the rate with which his use of these techniques increased was even greater than that of his contemporaries. The increase was nevertheless surprisingly consistent and the correlation between the estimated latest date for when the play was written and the frequency with which either or both of these techniques was used extremely high.I have shown these figures with an extended range, because I want to compare this chart with one based upon dates assumed by Oxfordians, and their dating necessarily starts much earlier.

In fact there is no agreed Oxfordian chronology as such, although there have been various theories and conjectures about when the plays were written. The nearest thing to a recently published one at the moment appears to be in a Wikipedia entry entitled “Chronology of Shakespeare’s Plays – Oxfordian” which is largely based upon estimates given by Charlton Ogburn in his seminal Oxfordian work, The Mysterious William Shakespeare.1 We are promised a more generally accepted one eventually, but as yet this is all we have to work with. Let’s see (below) what happens when we use the latest dates they suggest instead of those given by Elliott and Valenza.2

The reason I use the latest date in each case is that the counts of both open lines and feminine endings were obtained from the texts of plays as they have come down to us—in fact the Riverside edition—so what is needed is the nearest date we can find to the one in which the verse must have stabilized to more or less what it is today. This means that earlier versions of the plays, no matter who actually wrote them, are for these purposes quite irrelevant. What can be seen quite clearly is that the hugely valid trend identified with orthodox dating is completely wrecked, the necessary correlation between the date and the usage rate ignored, and the need to squeeze everything in before Oxford’s death (in 1604) shamelessly evident. The difficulty Oxfordians must necessarily have in finding a chronology which avoids these problems is that it is also essential for them to provide evidence, whether internal or external, in support of each chosen date, and it seems that they have as yet found no way in which this can be done.

Even this, however, is by no means the greatest problem created for them by the increasing use of the two techniques over the years, since most Oxfordians tend to claim that almost all of Shakespeare’s plays had in fact been written by 1598.

Here I have listed all of the Shakespeare plays considered by Elliott and Valenza, and sorted them in ascending order according to the rate of their usage of open lines and feminine endings. Where appropriate, I have indicated in each case (1) if the play was included in the list of Shakespeare plays published by Francis Meres in 1598, (2) if it’s been shown not to have been in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s repertoire when Meres’s list was published, and/or (3) if Elliott and Valenza gave it a date after 1604.

Here then are those questions which—according to the title—I say must be answered by anyone before they have really earned the right to call themselves true Oxfordians.

1) As most Oxfordians claim that the majority of Shakespeare’s plays had been written by 1598, what explanation would you give for Meres including in his list, published that year, only those with the lowest frequency of open lines and feminine endings?

2) As the use of open lines and feminine endings is no longer of any real significance in the way plays are dated by Shakespearean scholars, what explanation would you give for all 11 plays given a "post-1604" date by Elliott and Valenza appearing among the 13 plays with the highest usage rates?

The odds against either of these things happening just by chance are so astronomical that there must be a reason for each of them. The obvious reasons are that Meres referred only to those “Shakespeare” plays which had been written and performed by then, and that the Elliott and Valenza chronology is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, neither of these options is available to Oxfordians.

So, over to you guys! Oxford wasn't Shakespeare

Peter Farey

© Peter Farey, November 2009  Emmerich Anonymous

Peter Farey has been manning the Marlovian barricades on the internet for the past 11 years. His Marlowe Page is one of the most respected sites about Marlowe on the web. He is a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society.

Are Oxfordians backing the wrong candidate? Click here for a fascinating analysis of how Marlowe compares with de Vere on Shakespeare authorship criteria.

1Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Man and the Myth. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1984.
2Elliott, Ward and Robert Valenza. "And Then There Were None: Winnowing the Shakespeare Claimants." Computers and the Humanities 30, 1996. pp. 191-245.


GMancuso said...


I have just read all of your Oxford material on this site.
I do hope you continue to apply the pressure on the Oxfordians. Have they "officially" responded to you?

Giorgio Mancuso


CARLO D. said...

Editor's Note: Peter's "Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer" was originally posted here in November 2009. Click here to see the original reader comments to the piece.

Peter Farey said...

Hello Georgio,

The nearest approach there was to any Oxfordian discussion of the subject at the time I wrote those pieces occurred at the Shakespeare Fellowship's forum at As you will see if you follow this up, only one of the Oxfordian contributors showed any real inclination to discuss the questions seriously, let alone trying to answer them.

The two "solutions" which seemed to emerge eventually were (1) that the plays were written (by Oxford) much earlier, but kept under wraps and only released for public performance at around the time we think they were written and (2) that those plays given dates after 1604 were 'updated' by someone else. My point that such an updating would have required such a major change that the play could really no longer be described as Oxford's wasn't addressed. I also had some private correspondence about it with Richard Malim, Secretary of the De Vere Society in England, but he too preferred to talk about other matters. I also asked the Oxfordian author Mark Anderson for his views, and got the usual "Marlovians are wrong so who are you to be attacking us?" argument.

The fact is, my intention never has been to attack Oxfordians as such, only to ask them to explain to me why they continue to believe in Oxford when the information these charts provide are certainly enough to convince me that he cannot possibly be the true author. I would love to know what rational explanation there might be for it, but experience certainly seems to confirm that no such rational explanation will ever be forthcoming.


daver852 said...

A very interesting approach the question of Oxfordian claims. My own own response to the Oxfordians is simply this: read De Vere's surviving works. There is just no way this man could have written Shakespeare's plays and poems. He was a not too gifted amateur, not a genius.

Watkins said...

brilliant, mr. f.

Mann said...

Yes, Daver. This is what Oxfordians conveniently avoid talking about: his "amateur" writing. Shakespearean? Please.

The 1604 question is very well argued by Farey.

Sanji said...

excellent. thanks for this post. I find the devere case is puzzlingly weak.

Endymion said...

I see that the Oxfordians don't want to answer squat.

Anonymous said...


Lefty said...

There is doubt, no doubt, about exactly when the plays were penned, and to what extent they were revised. Anyone adept at charts and statistics can mislead or confound. How convienient to simply say Marlowe's death was faked, he split to the continent, and operated as Shake-speare. Marlovians need to study up on the life of Oxford, and its correlation to the Canon, especially the Sonnets, which are only based upon the facts of Oxford's life, and no other. Being over 40, and having a crush on a young man who you want to see get married, at the time Southampton was engaged to a De Vere daughter is too restrictive of a requirement for anyone other than Oxford to fulfill. I do not doubt that Marlowe and Oxford interacted. This is not a contest to find the "coolest" candidate. If so, Marlowe wins. But it's not. Sorry. It's Oxford.

Lefty said...

To Daver852: You are referring to poetry written by a teenager. I'm sure we'd all blush at our immature attempts to harvest our hearts on paper. His letter to Thomas Bedingfield, written when he was in his early 2o's, seems to me to be in the spirit of Shake-speare, at the very least. I'd love to show you poems by great writers written in their teens. They'd all be blown off by you, for good reason. Why did Meres mention Oxford as being the best at comedy, if he was so terrible? Perhaps because people evolve past their 16th year perhaps?

Peter Farey said...

Lefty tells us:

"Anyone adept at charts and statistics can mislead or confound."
Then why don't you tell us precisely how I have either misled or confounded in the very simple and entirely factual table I presented in my essay and, more to the point, what answers you offer to the two very simple questions (simple for anyone other than Oxfordians, that is) which I pose in it?

"How convienient to simply say Marlowe's death was faked".
Yes, of course one can't deny that not knowing anything about what happened to Marlowe after 1593 if he survived can be used to our advantage. But any such speculation plays only a very small part in our actual argument, and pales into insignificance beside the belief that Oxenford could have developed from the highly inauspicious poetic start we know about to be a writer of the sublime verse believed to have been by Shakespeare - a belief which is fundamental to the case for Oxford but for which there is no actual evidence whatsoever.

"especially the Sonnets, which are only based upon the facts of Oxford's life, and no other."
I see, so you think that fortune had barred Oxford from boasting of having "proud titles"? I would have thought that this would be among the only things of which he could still boast! I also find it hard to understand why he might consider himself "too be remembered" by a noble friend, but only as "the coward conquest of a wretch's knife". No speculation required to match such things to Marlowe's biography, is there?