Sunday, December 21, 2008

On de Vere: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

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.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.


Anonymous said...

great point, oxfordians and marlovians united in shakespeare not writing the plays!

Anonymous said...

Weakening the Devere case doesn't take a whole lot. Sam gets to the point.

Anonymous said...

The dates work against deVere and he was by no means an exceptional writer-as CS Lewis states; meanwhile accept that Kit wasn't killed in Deptford and Marlowe theory makes tremendous sense

Christine said...


Unknown said...

All of Sam's interviews and the entire website furthers the Marlovian cause in a manner that non PhD's in English can follow.

I doubt the authorship question will ever be resolved definitively but the best we can do is build the evidence in a professional and coherent manner.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely stated, Mr. Blumenfeld.

fotoguzzi said...

Perhaps Marlowe had someone tell the oaf from Stratford that the plays that were appearing in his name were from Oxford's pen.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Report on the Shakespeare Symposium from the Oxfordian Perspective held on May 30, 2009, at the Watertown, Mass., Public Library.

I spent a lovely day with an Oxfordian group where very little about Oxford was actually discussed. In fact, the best presentation of the day was on Shakespeare’s Will given by Bonner Miller Cutting of Houston, Texas. She did a devastating job, using a pinpoint illustrator. I encouraged her to put all of this in a book, which would finally put to rest the notion that William Shakespeare was a writer of any kind. She could have been speaking at a Marlovian conference. It was strictly an anti-Stratfordian lecture, one of the best I’ve ever heard. Mrs. Cutting is on the Board of Trustees of The Shakespeare Fellowship and is President of the Lone Star Shakespeare Roundtable in Houston.

Mark Anderson, author of the latest pro-Oxfordian book, gave a talk on the alleged Cobbe Portrait of Shakespeare. Using a pinpoint presentation, he proved that it was a portrait of Overbury, which I also wrote about in our own blog. He didn’t say much about Oxford, except that the chronology of the plays had to be revised in light of Oxford’s death in 1604.

But then Marie Merkel, a poet, gave her own pinpoint presentation, putting forth the absurd idea that all of the plays written after 1604 were actually the work of Ben Jonson! She concentrated on The Tempest, “proving” that Jonson had to have written it.

I distributed my Marlowe-Shakespeare brochures among the attendees, most of whom were very receptive. They were mainly senior citizens and very cordial. I spoke to several at lunch who asked more and more questions about Marlowe. Clearly, Oxfordians are quite vulnerable, and more of us should attend these Oxfordian seminars whenever possible. Most Oxfordians have read almost nothing of Marlowe’s works, and they have accepted the historical reports that he was killed in a bar-room brawl in 1593. So it takes a bit of discussion before you can begin to open their minds.

Marie Merkel said...

Dear Mr. Blumenfeld,

I'm so glad to hear you had a lovely time at the Symposium. The Marlowe - Shakespeare connection is often a blind spot for Oxfordians, and it helps to have someone needle them into taking a fresh look at Marlowe's works. I'm especially interested in Jonson's "additions" to Doctor Faustus. Perhaps at the next event, we'll have a more relaxed opportunity to chat.

As for your review of my talk, you are so right, it would be an absurd idea to say that all of the plays written after 1604 were actually the work of Ben Jonson, especially since we don’t know for sure when “Shakespeare” wrote anything.

However, the only play that I claimed for Ben Jonson was The Tempest. Whether or not he wrote it before or after 1604 is not an issue, since he lived until 1637.

Even if you are 100% sure that Marlowe wrote everything else, it would be wise to look into Jonson's influence on the structure, prosody and didactic themes in The Tempest.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Dear Ms. Merkel,
Many thanks for your kind comments about my review of the Oxfordian Seminar. And, of course, I enjoyed your talk. But I must disagree with you over The Tempest. I reviewed the play in my book, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, and concluded that it was indeed Marlowe's swan song. He had decided to stop writing plays, and Prospero is Marlowe claiming how godlike a poet-playwright is, creating something out of nothing.
I assume that you have read Marlowe's Dido: Queen of Carthage. What I found in many of the plays in the First Folio was the constant insertion of a remark or remarks about Dido. And The Tempest is no exception. To my mind this was Marlowe once more puting his fingerprints on a play being published under someone else's name.

Another important reason why I believe Marlowe wrote all of the plays in the First Folio is that its publisher was none other than Ed Blount, Marlowe's Executor! Blount obviously knew who wrote the plays, and he knew where to get all of them, including those that had never before been published or even staged. Marlowe was undoubtedly alive and even did some of the editing, which many scholars believe had to have been done by the author. Shakespeare, of course, was dead.

While I admire your effort to find the actual author of the plays written after de Vere's death, I suggest you might find more fertile ground in the Marlowe camp. So please read my book and let me know your reaction to my thesis.

Incidentally, as you know Jonson published his own folio of his works before the First Folio. Some scholars believe that the First Folio was indeed modeled after Jonson's folio. Had he written The Tempest, I believe he would have included it in his own collected works.

Marie Merkel said...

Dear Mr. Blumenfeld,

Before I respond to your message, a correction on my last post: Jonson’s “additions” were to The Spanish Tragedy, not Doctor Faustus.

In any case, I apologize for not yet having read your book, but look forward to reading your interpretation of The Tempest.

In your book, do you devote much time and analysis to these “Dido” references? I’m just starting to collect past commentary on the Tempest’s bizarre Dido dialogue, and would love to include in my notes a comparison with how Marlowe treats Dido in his early play.

You wrote:

“While I admire your effort to find the actual author of the plays written after de Vere's death…”

As I said in my last message, the date of de Vere’s death has nothing to do with my case for Jonson as author of The Tempest. If documents were to turn up proving Edward Oxenford alive and well in 1623, after faking his death to escape vengeance or debtor’s prison, I’d still say that Ben Jonson wrote The Tempest.

You wrote:
“Had [Jonson] written The Tempest, I believe he would have included it in his own collected works.”

Not the Ben Jonson I know! My premise, if you remember, is that he created a deliberate forgery of "Shakespeare". What a thrill it must have been for him to pass it off as genuine “Shakespeare”!

Bruce Robbins said...

Isn't is strange that Kit, Kyd, Watson, Greene and Peele were born and died around the same time?

Kit has it all over de Vere re: aptitude, but De Vere has it all over Kit re: he lived longer, thus has less to explain...

Actually, Kyd was more of an innovator than Kit was...His Spanish Tragedy, the first big hit, was copied by others...did Kit copy it in Tamburlaine? Did Shakespeare parody the style of Kyd, Marlowe or both? Did he finish a play started by Marlowe or Kyd? There are so many unanswered questions...I'm glad you guys are around who seem to think you have answers to absolutely everything!!