Richard Malim Colours in the Chasm which made 'Shakespeare' possible

Tue, 03/01/2012 - 23:14 -- Heward Wilkinson

For anyone who has read, and noted, Ben Jonson's location of Shakespeare as the 'peer', the contemporary, not of the Jacobean playwrights, but of the Elizabethan, Lyly, Marlowe, and Kyd: For if I thought my judgment were of years, I should commit thee surely with thy peers, And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine, Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line. there is a yawning gap between the heavy blank verse of Gorboduc and the exquisite instrument which had emerged by the time of, say, A Midsummer Nights Dream.

It is desparately hard to fill it in within the Stratfordian timescale, but if we turn to the early years of the Earl of Oxford to fill the gap, then there is a tale as yet mainly untold, except episodically in many journal articles here and there. The distinguished Secretary of the De Vere Society, Richard Malim, now gives us a new book which addresses this yawning chasm We wish this book 'bon voyage'! He writes:

WHY ANOTHER BOOK ON OXFORD’S LIFE…………...? Richard Malim The Earl of Oxford and the Making of “Shakespeare”: The Literary Life of Edward De Vere in Context Published: December 23rd 2011 The answer to the question above is in the secondary title – quite a few books of biography and some with literary evidence have been written about the Earl of Oxford as Shakespeare, but there is a gap – one that I hope will be filled by this title, which focuses entirely on the role of Oxford in England’s literary Renaissance.

The Oxford scenario damages beyond repair the consensus on the literary history of England, but to date no-one has really shown how. That consensus begins with the agreed position that although there were stirrings in the English literary scene there was very little development from the ‘drab’ scenario painted by C. S. Lewis until the advent of Sidney, Marlowe, Greene and Peele in the mid 1580’s. Then a few years later along comes Shakespeare.

Now I believe that underplays the Revolution that took place in the five years after 1575, when English became a language of eloquence. That came about as C. S. Lewis tells us because of the leadership and example of the plays of the period. While the book deals with the existing situation before that Revolution and with Oxford’s life up to 1575, my interest is on his effect on that literary scene as the leader of that Revolution. I put together such evidence as there is (quite considerable, and nothing to contradict my thesis). I review the plays that he wrote or might have written before he went to Italy in 1574 and for the next fifteen years after his return, pointing out not only the topical and biographical references, but also how the arguments of ‘orthodox’ critics support my thesis (great fun, that!), and how Marlowe and company are his followers not his exemplars.

I then show the evidence for what I believe is his ‘dark’ period (twelve years earlier than that for William Shakespeare’s , which the ‘orthodox’ place circa 1600) which affected Oxford for the remainder of his life. I then consider developments in the reputation of ‘Shakespeare’ after his death in 1604, and finally for the period from the Restoration in 1660 to Malone 1790. Every critic of the time acknowledges ‘Shakespeare’s’ paramountcy as author and also his priority in time, as having no exemplars and being the lone revolutionary creator of the modern theatre. Malone agreed with that and never came to grips with the evidence for the writing of the ostensibly anonymous plays in the 1570s and 80s, which renders his 1590-and-after dating scheme for the plays useless, as in effect acknowledged by Coleridge. These are vital matters for the Oxford case which it is essential to have the ‘orthodox’ critic consider (or have his/her nose rubbed in). I hope therefore my book will be a start in that process.

By the way, I also put in an Appendix with a critique of the claims for William Shakespeare as the author, entitled “The Irrelevant Life “. My book was offered to 23 literary agents in England without success but on the recommendation of Mark Anderson (his “SHAKESPEARE” BY ANOTHER NAME is the best biography), I sent it to McFarland, a small academic publisher in North Carolina who took it straightaway: they are to retail it at $ 45. If it is ordered through Eurospan in UK ( it costs £34.95. De Vere Society members obtain it from me at £20. Foreign members £25, which must be paid in sterling – exchange into sterling costs are prohibitive. Postage and packing included – please state if a signed copy is wanted. Questions on content, text etc. and De Vere Society discounts to me at .......................................................... And a flavour of the kind of enquiry the book institutes can be gathered from the following extract: TASTER-EXTRACT from “THE EARL OF OXFORD AND THE MAKING OF SHAKESPEARE – THE LITERARY LIFE OF EDWARD DE VERE IN CONTEXT” pp. 139 - 141

  We have already seen the ‘Marlowe clap of thunder’ school exemplified. A contrasting school saw a more evolutionary process. Eloquence acquired a deeper meaning: “Instead of merely fulfilling its outward function as a polished, highly adorned and effective technique of oratory, eloquence comes to mean the ability to communicate by the medium of words a variety of man’s deepest emotions. This ability we find in ‘Shakespeare’, but we should not find it had not the playwrights who preceded him [i.e. the author(s) of the plays listed in the next but one paragraph below] already contributed to dramatic verse that wealth of expression and of effect the potentialities of which were to be completely realised only after their time.”127

To begin with, Gorboduc 1562 demonstrates that the stage entirely relies on rhetoric, consisting of monologues, soliloquies and set speeches, reporting action elsewhere and reaction to it, with an ultimate didactic purpose, rather than being a drama of entertainment illustrating conflict and action between the characters. Gismond of Salerne 1567 is a romantic comedy in the footsteps of Gorboduc. The beginnings of a freer or more realistic style may be seen in Gascoigne’s Jocasta 1565. Thomas Preston’s Cambises c.1562 represents a hybrid between the ‘pure’ style of Gorboduc and the rough dramas of the touring morality plays with their appeal to popular taste; in Cambises, “Everything is cruder and clumsier,” there is a “relish for coarse jests and violence of expression and graceless stage effects.”128

Wolfgang Clemen in a chapter headed ‘Popular Drama and History Plays’ (before ‘Shakespeare’ as he sees it) comments on this Cambises, and also on an anonymous play Jack Straw, dated to 1592 but probably much earlier and “much less impressive than Famous Victories.” The remainder of Clemen’s chapter treats of this play and of four other ‘anonymous’ plays, namely, The Troublesome Raigne of King John, The True Tragedie of Richard the Third, Thomas of Woodstock and King Leir and his Three Daughters. Clemen demonstrates that these plays (and he could have added Edmund Ironside and Edward III, and possibly The First Part of Sir John Oldcastle – see Chapter 2 n.24) are the steps by which drama in England evolved into the glory of ‘Shakespeare’ , “The transition from the rhetorical tragedy of the early period to the Shakespearian type of drama is bound up with the most striking and impressive developments in form that English drama has undergone in the whole of its history.” He does not consider whether these plays were ‘Shakespeare’s’ apprentice efforts by which he taught himself (there could be no English mentors for him) the groundblocks of his art.

He is nevertheless profoundly impressed by the strides away from the earlier crudities both in writing and presentation which these plays represent in that evolution, so that it is logical for his readers to see them as such apprentice efforts of a writer teaching himself without exemplars and feeling towards the mature works we find in the ‘Shakespeare’ canon. The ‘orthodox’ critic is confronted with, to him (but not to me), a paradox. At every stage in ‘Shakespeare’s’ early and middle plays there are conventional usages, forms of style, literary artifices, et cetera, which have origins and parallels in ‘pre-Shakesperian drama’, which make it appear them to be merely an evolutionary phenomenon. Clemen notes that this would be an entirely wrong conclusion, “we constantly feel that we are in the presence of something entirely new and unexpected, something that belongs to him alone…

One of the distinctive features of Shakespeare’s development is his constant modification of the existing dramatic kinds and of the styles of expression that lay ready to hand.” The paradox is an illusion if you discard all those authors and works which Clemen thinks are pre-‘Shakespeare’, but which are post-Revolution (i.e. Marlowe etc.), and consider only those (perhaps juvenile or experimental) works referred to in the previous paragraph. Of course individually, especially if dated to be contemporaneous with the ‘orthodox’ Shakespeare of the 1590s, these works are correctly not highly rated artistically: put in as a group as forerunners to the ‘orthodox’ canon, they are immensely significant for the development of drama, since they have no predecessors worthy of the name. They are important foundation elements of Shakespeare’s Revolution. If the seven plays mentioned earlier are Shakespeare’s early efforts, they are not particularly like the more finished article (but there is nothing more similar – even remotely so), however much they may resemble it in terms of plot, use of vernacular and naturalism, and rejection of the Seneca-Gorboduc school. It is tempting to suggest that the young author Oxford realised their deficiencies, and sought additional inspiration from foreign sources, whence he profited to such an extent he was able to rewrite his earlier plays and begin his career as the “best for comedies”; this is precisely how his life developed, as we have seen.   127. “Eloquence”: W. H. Clemen : English Tragedy Before Shakespeare (Methuen, London 1967) pp.25, 192ff and 290 128. “Graceless stage effects “ sent up by Falstaff – I Henry IV, II, v, ll. 381-390