Shakespeare Authorship Essay Research Paper For a

Shakespeare Authorship Essay, Research Paper

For a host of persuasive but commonly disregarded reasons, the Earl of

Oxford has quietly become by far the most compelling man to be found

behind the mask of “Shake-speare.” As Orson Welles put it in 1954, “I

think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t agree, there are some

awful funny coincidences incidences to explain away.” Some of these

coincidences are obscure, others are hard to overlook. A 1578 Latin

encomium to Oxford, for example, contains some highly suggestive

praise: “Pallas lies concealed in thy right hand,” it says. “Thine eyes

flash fire; Thy countenance shakes spears.” Elizabethans knew that

Pallas Athena was known by the sobriquet “the spear-shaker.” The hyphen

in Shake-speare’s name also was a tip-off: other Elizabethan pseudonyms

include “Cutbert Curry-knave,” “Simon Smell-knave,” and “Adam

Fouleweather (student in asse-tronomy).”(FN*).

The case for Oxford’s authorship hardly rests on hidden clues and

allusions, however. One of the most important new pieces of Oxfordian

evidence centers around a 1570 English Bible, in the “Geneva

translation,” once owned and annotated by the Earl of Oxford, Edward de

Vere. In an eight-year study of the de Vere Bible, a University of

Massachusetts doctoral student named Roger Stritmatter has found that

the 430-year-old book is essentially, as he puts it, “Shake-speare’s

Bible with the Earl of Oxford’s coat of arms on the cover.” Stritmatter

discovered that more than a quarter of the 1,066 annotations and marked

passages in the de Vere Bible appear in Shake-speare. The parallels

range from the thematic–sharing a motif, idea, or trope–to the

verbal–using names, phrases, or wordings that suggest a specific

biblical passage.

In his research, Stritmatter pioneered a stylistic-fingerprinting

technique that involves isolating an author’s most prominent biblical

allusions–those that appear four or more times in the author’s canon.

After compiling a list of such “diagnostic verses” for the writings of

Shake-speare and three of his most celebrated literary

contemporaries–Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edmund

Spenser–Stritmatter undertook a comparative study to discern how

meaningful the de Vere Bible evidence was. He found that each author’s

favorite biblical allusions composed a unique and idiosyncratic set and

could thus be marshaled to distinguish one author from another.

Stritmatter then compared each set of “diagnostics” to the marked

passages in the de Vere Bible. The results were, from any perspective

but the most dogmatically orthodox, a stunning confirmation of the

Oxfordian theory.

Stritmatter found that very few of the marked verses in the de Vere

Bible appeared in Spenser’s, Marlowe’s, or Bacon’s diagnostic verses.

On the other hand, the Shake-speare canon brims with de Vere Bible

verses. Twenty-nine of Shake-speare’s top sixty-six biblical allusions

are marked in the de Vere Bible. Furthermore, three of Shake-speare’s

diagnostic verses show up in Oxford’s extant letters. All in all, the

correlation between Shake-speare’s favorite biblical verses and Edward

de Vere’s Bible is very high: .439 compared with .054, .068, and .020

for Spenser, Marlowe, and Bacon. Was “Shake-speare” the pen name for

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, or must we formulate ever more

elaborate hypotheses that preserve the old byline but ignore the appeal

of common sense and new evidence?

One favorite rejoinder to the Oxfordian argument is that the author’s

identity doesn’t really matter; only the works do. “The play’s the

thing” has become the shibboleth of indifference-claiming doubters.

These four words, however, typify Shake-speare’s attitude toward the

theater about as well as the first six words of A Tale of Two Cities

express Charles Dickens’s opinion of the French Revolution: “It was the

best of times.” In both cases, the fragment suggests an authorial

perspective very different from the original context.

“The play’s the thing,” Hamlet says, referring to his masque “The

Mouse-trap,” “wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Hardly a

pr cis for advocating the death of the author, Hamlet’s observation

reports that drama’s function comes closer to espionage than to mere

entertainment. Hamlet’s full quote is, in fact, a fair summary of the

Oxfordian reading of the entire cannon. If pressed, Shake-speare, like

Hamlet, would probably deny a play’s topical relevance. But, as an

ambitious courtier, he would have valued his dramaturgical ability to

comment on, lampoon, vilify, and praise people and events at Queen

Elizabeth’s court. It is hard to deny that Hamlet is the closest

Shake-speare comes to a picture of the dramatist at work.

Nowadays, assertions that one can recover the author’s perspective from

his own dramatic self-portraits are often ridiculed as naive or

simplistic. Yet the converse–that Shake-speare somehow evaded the

realities and particulars of his own life in creating his most

enduring, profound, and nuanced characters–is absurd on its face. Of

course, the infinite recesses of the imagination make an appealing

refuge to the savvy debater. Shake-speare was a creative genius (a

claim no one would dare dispute); ergo, he could and did make it all

up. Following the same reasoning, though, Hamlet’s own masque holds no

political purpose either. Rather than seeing it as a ploy to “catch the

conscience of the king,” a strictly Stratfordian reading of “The

Mouse-trap” would be compelled to see it as little more than a fanciful

Italian fable divorced of its obvious allegory to the foul deeds

committed at the court of Elsinore. The fact that, just like Hamlet,

“The Mouse-trap” stages a king’s poisoning and a queen’s hasty

remarriage becomes just another “awful funny” coincidence.

In the history of the Shake-speare authorship controversy, every

claimant to the laurels has queued up offering the promise of

mouth-watering connections to the canon. Justifiably, skeptics have

countered that if you squint your eyes hard enough, any scrap or

biographical datum can be made to resemble something from Shake-speare.

With Oxford, however, everything seems to have found its way into

Shake-speare. Gone are the days when heretics would storm the ramparts

whenever some thread was discovered between the character Rosencrantz

and Francis Bacon’s grandpa. Today it’s more alarming when a

Shake-speare play or poem does not overflow with Oxfordian connotations

and connections. The problem for any Oxfordian is the perhaps enviable

task of selecting which handful of gems should be brought out from the

treasure chest. In what follows, then, I will touch on five

Shake-spearean characters–Hamlet, Helena, Falstaff, King Lear, and

Prospero–and will briefly point out a few parallels with Oxford.

Hamlet. More than a mere authorial specter, the Prince enacts entire

portions of Oxford’s life story. Oxford’s two military cousins, Horace

and Francis Vere, appear as Hamlet’s comrade-at-arms Horatio and the

soldier Francisco. Oxford satirizes his guardian and father-in-law, the

officious, bumbling, royal adviser Lord Burghley (nicknamed “Polus”),

as the officious, bumbling royal adviser Polonius. The parallels

between Burghley and Polonius are so vast and detailed that even the

staunch Stratfordian A. L. Rowse admitted that “there is nothing

original” anymore in asserting this widely recognized connection.

Furthermore, like Polonius, Burghley had a daughter. At age twenty-one,

Oxford was married to Anne Cecil, and their nuptial affairs were

anything but blissful. The tragically unstable triangle of

Hamlet-Ophelia-Polonius found its living parallel in

Oxford-Anne-”Polus.” In short, from the profound (Oxford’s mother

quickly remarried upon the untimely death of her husband) to the

picayune (Oxford was abducted by pirates on a sea voyage), Hamlet’s

“Mouse-trap” captures the identity of its author.

Helena. Just as details of Oxford’s life story appear throughout each

of the Shake-speare plays and poems, Anne Cecil’s tragic tale is

reflected in many Shake-spearean heroines, including Ophelia,

Desdemona, Isabella, Hero, Hermione, and Helena. In All’s Well That

Ends Well, Helena seeks out and eventually wins the hand of the

fatherless Bertram, who is being raised as a ward of the

court–precisely the situation Oxford found himself in when Anne was

thrust upon him by his guardian and soon-to-be father-in-law. Like

Helena, Anne was rejected by her headstrong new husband, who fled to

Italy rather than remain at home with her. Both Oxford and Bertram

refused to consummate their vows–and both eventually impregnated their

wives by virtue of a “bed trick” (the strange and almost unbelievable

stratagem wherein the husband thinks he is sleeping with another woman

but is in fact sleeping with his own wife).

Falstaff. The comic conscience of the Henry IV plays, Falstaff can be

read as an authorial self-parody embodying two of Oxford’s more

notorious qualities: a razor wit and a wastrel’s worldview. In The

Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff also provokes Master Ford’s jealousy,

lampooning the author’s own hypocrisy in flying into a jealous rage at

his wife when he suspected her of infidelity. And the romantic subplot

involving the daughter of the other “merry wife”–Anne Page–so

specifically skewers the marriage negotiations between Oxford, Anne

Cecil, and her onetime prospective husband, Sir Philip Sidney, that the

dowries and pensions mentioned in the play match precisely those of the

play’s historical counterparts. In the same play, Falstaff brags to

Master Ford that he “fear s not Goliath with a weaver’s beam.” This odd

expression is in fact shorthand for the biblical Goliath’s spear as it

is detailed in II Samuel 21:19: “Goliath the Gittite: the staff of

whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” Not only did Oxford mark the

verse in his Bible; he even underlined the words “weaver’s beam.”.

King Lear. In a play whose dramatic engine is the family dynamics of

two tragically flawed patriarchs (Lear and the Earl of Gloucester),

Shake-speare stages the exact familial relationships that Oxford faced

in his twilight years. His first marriage to Anne Cecil left him a

widower, like Lear, with three daughters, of whom the elder two were

married. His second marriage produced only one son, whose patrilineal

claims could conceivably be challenged by Oxford’s bastard son–a

mirror of the gullible Earl of Gloucester’s situation. As if

highlighting one of the thematic underpinnings of King Lear, in his

Bible, Oxford marked Hosea 9:7 (”The prophet is a fool; the spiritual

man is mad”), which Lear’s daughter Goneril inverts in her venomous

remark that “Jesters do oft prove prophets.”.

Prospero. The Tempest’s exiled nobleman, cast-away hermit, and

scholarly shaman provides the author’s grand farewell to a world that

he recognizes will bury his name, even when his book is exalted to the

ends of the earth. Oxfordians, in general, agree with scholarly

tradition that The Tempest was probably Shake-speare’s final play–and

many concur with the German Stratfordian critic Karl Elze that “all

external arguments and indications are in favor of the play being

written in the year 1604.” Before he takes his final bow, Prospero

makes one last plea to his eternal audience. Drawing from a contiguous

set of Oxford’s marked verses at Ecclesiasticus 28:1-5 concerning the

need for reciprocal mercy as the precondition of human freedom,

Prospero delivers his farewell speech with the hopes that someone will

take him at his word:.

R elease me from my bands With the help of your good hands! Gentle

breath of yours my sails Must fill or else my project fails, Which was

to please. Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, And my ending

is despair, Unless I be reliev’d by prayer, Which pierces so that it

assaults Mercy itself and frees all faults. As you from crimes would

pardon’d be, Let your indulgence set me free.

Like Hamlet, The Tempest’s aristocrat cum magus begs those around him

to hear his story and, in so doing, to free him from his temporary

chains. The rest, as the academic ghost-chase for the cipher from

Stratford has ably demonstrated, is silence.

At the end of The Tempest, Prospero uses the metaphors of shipwrecks

and stormy weather to deliver his closing salvo against the desolate

island he called home. During the final year of his life, the Earl of

Oxford clearly had such imagery on his mind, as can be seen in his

eloquent April 1603 letter to his former brother-in-law, Robert Cecil,

on the death of Queen Elizabeth: “In this common shipwreck, mine is

above all the rest, who least regarded, though often comforted, of all

her followers, she hath left to try my fortune among the alterations of

time and chance, either without sail whereby to take the advantage of

any prosperous gale, or with anchor to ride till the storm be

overpast.” The alterations of time and chance have been cruel to Edward

de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. But the last five years of discoveries

and developments have made two things increasingly clear: the tempest

has broken, and Prospero’s indulgence is finally upon us.

Added material.

FOOTNOTE* Another intriguing reference comes from the satirist Thomas

Nashe, who included a dedication to a “Gentle Master William” in his

1593 book Strange News, describing him as the “most copious” poet in

England. He alludes to “the blue boar,” Oxford’s heraldic emblem, and

roasts “William” with the Latin phrase Apis lapis, which translates as

“sacred ox.”.

I am “a sort of” haunted by the conviction that the divine William is

the biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patient

world. The more I turn him round and round the more he so affects me.

But that is all–I am not pretending to treat the question or to carry

it any further. It bristles with difficulties, and I can only express

my general sense by saying that I find it almost as impossible to

conceive that Bacon wrote the plays as to conceive that the man from

Stratford, as we know the man from Stratford, did.


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