Why I am an Oxfordian

Sat, 06/08/2011 - 09:47 -- Heward Wilkinson

Why I am an Oxfordian In what follows I sketch the background for why I personally think Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the primary author of the plays of Shakespeare. This is no attempt at proof, just an account of what has influenced me myself. Nina Green’s and Mark Alexander’s sites are probably the most useful for documentary materials on all of this: http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/documents.html http://www.sourcetext.com/sourcebook/

  1. The Oxfordian paradigm [which is a paradigm, in the Kuhnian sense, for it deeply alters our total sense of history and literature: http://des.emory.edu/mfp/Kuhn.html ], despite the apparently counter-intuitive appeal to a conspiracy of sorts, turns the literary paradigm back the right way up. It displaces the ‘impersonal author’ conception which, driven surely in part by our dearth of literary knowledge about William Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon, has bedevilled English criticism since the 19th Century up to James Shapiro, e.g., TS Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent:

http://www.bartleby.com/200/sw4.html ‘The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.’  

  1. In his much greater essay on the Metaphysical Poets: http://personal.centenary.edu/~dhavird/TSEMetaPoets.html , Eliot, on the other hand, is absolutely correct to emphasise the primacy of transformation into poetry, that poetry is not merely highlighted autobiography: ‘we may ask, what would have been the fate of the 'metaphysical' had the current of poetry descended in a direct line from them, as it descended in a direct line to them ? They would not, certainly, be classified as metaphysical. The possible interests of a poet are unlimited; the more intelligent he is the better; the more intelligent he is the more likely that he will have interests: our only condition is that he turn them into poetry, and not merely meditate on them poetically. A philosophical theory which has entered into poetry is established, for its truth or falsity in one sense ceases to matter, and its truth in another sense is proved.’

  Oxfordians have had a tendency to be one-sidedly autobiographical in this second sense. Charlton Ogburn Jr. puts this with characteristic emphasis (The Mystery of William Shakespeare, p. 304): “One writer after another has told us that what writers write about is themselves. Joseph Conrad, for corroboration of his own view, quotes Anatole France as declaring that ‘failing the resolution to hold our peace, we can only talk of ourselves’. ‘Every man’s work whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else is always a portrait of humself.’ Samuel Butler declared, ‘and the more he tries to conceal himself, the more clearly will his character appear.’ ‘A man’s work is autobiographical in spite of every subterfuge’, the poet Wallace Stevens wrote, adding, ‘it cannot be otherwise’. Said Havelock Ellis: ‘Every artist writes his own autobiography,’ and the playwright Edward Albee, ‘Your source material is the people you know, not those you don’t know.’ Ultimately, however, ‘every character is an extension of the author’s own personality’.” This leads to the endless, understandable, fruitful, yet very lop-sided, Oxfordian tendency to find autobiographical links in the works, and consequently to a certain un-literary critical literalism in the process, which prevents us seeing the wider picture, or, sometimes, reading texts either carefully enough, or subtly enough. The truth, clearly, has to lie in an integration of the two extremes.  

  1. Starting from this overall assumption, with its two aspects, the first reason I want to give for being an Oxfordian, is that we have to be able to make sense of the author of Shakespeare as a writer. Oxford does fulfil this condition; he is a writer par excellence. There is in Shakespeare such things as the very post-modern repetitions of plays within plays that constantly we find in him! We feel, as Harvey did with such exasperation in Speculum Tuscanismi (p. 23 below): http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Nashe/Three_Proper_Witty_Familiar.pdf

the imprint of genius and of the writer (we obsessive Oxfordians are all still the puppets of the long hand of this dead writer); in our sense of him as a writer, he is utterly and completely a living writer. As such, I think one of the appeals of Stratfordism is that we keep Shakespeare at a distance (hard even so, as Keats discovered!); we - apparently - do not have to deal with that mercurial and narcissistic mind, which gets into absolutely everything, like termites, and is comprehensively significance-creating and mimetic! We can take a holiday from it! Stratfordism gives us a break from the oppressive power of genius. De Vere does not. When he is most light, apparently, then he most infiltrates… Midsummers Nights Dream is the classic instance. Like Wagner and Proust and James Joyce!! From this point of view Dennis Baron’s researches: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vere-Shakespeare-Oleander-language-literature/dp/0906672376/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1 even if lopsided, are a kind of grim and giant confirmation of just how comprehensive De Vere’s writer’s narcissism is!  

  1. This enables us to make sense of the relationship of his tragic world view to his tragic life experience. We do not have to work out a precise account of this relationship, which will be an open-ended one of its very nature, to recognise that there is one. But we do have to take account of the reality that no one could conceive of works of the compelling, and dramatically masterly darkness, of Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, and of course many others (I name the supreme ones) who had not comparably and relevantly suffered personally. This is clearly borne out by the ‘dramatic theory’ implicit, not only in many things Hamlet says, but his use of the the Mousetrap ‘to catch the conscience of the King’. No nonsense about the ‘intentional fallacy’ (Wimsatt and Beardsley, 1946) there! In the exchange

‘HORATIO You will lose this wager, my lord. HAMLET I do not think so: since he went into France, I have been in continual practise: I shall win at the odds. But thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart: but it is no matter. HORATIO Nay, good my lord,-- HAMLET It is but foolery; but it is such a kind of gain-giving, as would perhaps trouble a woman. HORATIO If your mind dislike any thing, obey it: I will forestall their repair hither, and say you are not fit. HAMLET Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes?’   when Hamlet says to Horatio, ‘But thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart: but it is no matter.’, it is impossible a man should write such words in the context of the whole interweave of such a play, who had not ‘been there’. Likewise, if we consider Sonnet 129: ‘The expense of spirit in a waste of shame Is lust in action; and till action, lust Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame, Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust, Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight, Past reason hunted, and no sooner had Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait On purpose laid to make the taker mad; Mad in pursuit and in possession so; Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme; A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe; Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream. All this the world well knows; yet none knows well To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.’   are we really going to say that this could have been written by a man who himself had no sexual experience?! What is left to dispute (for Stratfordians could hardly dispute these)? Only factual-historical links of biographical detail. And no sweeping general theory can hinge on that. Of course, it is obvious why Stratfordians would want to rule them out of court. (For fuller discussion of all this, my review article on Shapiro: http://hewardwilkinson.co.uk/2010/04/) The actual general rule is that no author can write about a depth of experience or feeling without having experienced comparable depth, not necessarily of the exact feeling but in the territory. Nietzsche asks what must have a man have suffered to have such a need for buffoonery [Ecce Homo] Writing before the Oxfordian discovery, he wrote: ‘Seeking for my highest formula for Shakespeare, I invariably find only this: he conceived the type of Caesar. Such things a man cannot guess - he either is the thing, or he is not. The great poet draws only from his own experience - to such an extent that later he can no longer endure his own work. After glancing at my Zarathustra, I pace to and fro in my room for a half hour, unable to control an unbearable fit of sobbing. I know of no more, heart-rending reading than Shakespeare: what he must have suffered to be so much in need of playing the clown! Is Hamlet understood? Not doubt but certainty drives one mad. But to feel this,. one must be profound, abysmal, a philosopher.We all fear the truth. And, to make a confession: I feel instinctively certain that Lord Bacon is the originator, the self-torturer, of this most appalling literature: what do I care about the wretched gabble of American fools and half-wits? But the power for the greatest realism in vision is not only compatible with the greatest realism in deeds, with the monstrous, with crime - it actually presupposes the latter. . . . We hardly know enough about Lord Bacon - the first realist in the, highest sense of the word-to be sure of everything he did, everything he willed, and everything he experienced in himself. To the devil with the critics! Suppose I had christened my Zarathustra with a name not my own - with Richard Wagner's, for instance - the insight of two thousand years would not have sufficed to guess that the author of Human, all-too-Human was the visionary of Zarathustra.’   The consequence for our thought about Shakespeare is that he had to be someone built on the sort of giant scale of his greatest characters, someone who had gone to the brink of madness, been deeply and hopelessly in love, and so on. We do not have to solve all the problems about, for example, the nature of the love expressed in the Sonnets, to recognise these things. But if we look at comparable figures like Lord Byron, Goethe, and Richard Wagner, we find roughly parallel predicaments. And it is clear that Oxford, both for good and ill, was perceived as such by his contemporaries. Alan Nelson’s baleful testimony http://www.amazon.co.uk/Monstrous-Adversary-Liverpool-English-Studies/dp/085323678X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1312619882&sr=1-2 – not to mention the Earl of Leicester’s fuming remarks about Oxford during the Armada situation – both, by default, confirm that he was a very formidable customer, and could be as big a pain in the butt as Richard Wagner when he chose.   This leads us on to:

  1. The English historical dimension/obsession. Clearly whoever wrote the plays had a unique relationship with, and concern for, English mythic history, from a certain point of view. This is a one-off. No one else comes anywhere near. It is like an A la recherché du temps perdu of English history, or Zola’s and Balzac’s great novel sequences. No one writes such things that is not intimately engaged with that whole world and its meaning and significance. As Enoch Powell remarked in the Frontline discussion, he had ‘been in the kitchen’ [Harry Truman]. If we read the lives of Aeschylus and Sophocles, we find that, so had they! Aeschylus fought at the Battle of Marathon! Sophocles was at the centre of Athenian governance during the Peloponnesian War period. Shakespeare is also deeply interested in pre-mediaeval England.


  1. Crucially, Shakespeare is an Elizabethan, as Ben Jonson emphasises (Marlowe, Kyd, and Lyly are his peers, ‘And all the Muses still were in their prime, When, like Apollo, he came forth to warm Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm!’ – this cannot be said of a Jacobean playwright whose great period is from 1600-1611): http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173731 The dilemmas of Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, are Elizabethan dilemmas, succession, and murder of monarchs, dilemmas. In Act V of Hamlet, Hamlet and Horatio mock the euphuistic Osric – what contemporary sense would that have made in 1600 or so? (see further bottom p. 2 below): http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Nashe/Preface_Greenes_Menaphon.pdf


  1. I believe the First Folio content, and the First Folio production and sales, are indicative of a particular deeply knowledgeable audience, which goes with his having been the Elizabethan court dramatist. The price of a First Folio would have been very roughly in the region of £400 each; this mainly sold out (1000 copies, over 200 of which still exist) and would not have been bought by the people, who were mainly not literate then, but by a knowing aristocracy, (and those who had more recently joined that world), most of whom would know something of the inside story of what this was about: http://www.wjray.net/shakespeare_papers/first-folio.htm


  1. I believe Ben Jonson, in a host of ways, is one of the great sources of testimony, if we read him aright. And the connection to the Ignoto poem in the preliminary material to the Fairie Queene is a crucial link in this connection. In Spenser’s The Fairie Queene there are various commendatory verses and Spenser's poems to the authors. There is one to the Earl of Oxford but no direct reply. Several of us, including me in my book, and Nina Green, have held however that Oxford penned the poem by Ignoto: http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Newsletters/EK_2_of_7-50.pdf I think it is conclusive that the Ignoto poem is by Oxford-Shakespeare. My reasoning: 1. The Ignoto poem is written with AUTHORITY, from one master to another. There was only one master other than Spenser in 1590 (and note how Spenser catches his narcissism so wonderfully): 'And also for the love, which thou doest beare To th' Heliconian ymps and they to thee, They unto thee, and thou to them most deare: Deare as thou art unto thy selfe, so love That loves and honours thee, as doth behove' 2. This master, in 1590, cannot possibly be William of Stratford, who had not yet, even by Stratfordian accounts, appeared anywhere in the poetic universe. 3. This master IS 'Shakespeare', because Ben Jonson deliberately echoes all of this in his panegyric. Clearly he is alluding to the Ignoto poem, it is a deliberate reminiscence, as Charlton Ogburn Jr noted, and by implication it is therefore alluding to the second master, as, and in parallel and mirroring of the way, that master had alluded to the first one (notice the defeat of 'envy' is the common theme of all three poems, a feather in Girard's cap, btw!), and it has to be Oxford not WS (this is also confirmed by the Jonson reference to his 'peers' as being Lyly, Kyd, and Marlowe, and by much else): http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/jonson/benshake.htm

  Ignoto: 'Thus then to shew my judgement to be such As can discerne of colours blacke, and white, As alls to free my minde from envies tuch, That never gives to any man his right, I here pronounce this workmanship is such, As that no pen can set it forth too much.' Jonson: 'To draw no envy, SHAKSPEARE, on thy name, Am I thus ample to thy book and fame ; While I confess thy writings to be such, As neither Man nor Muse can praise too much. 'Tis true, and all men's suffrage' In addition the strategy of both poems is the same - to single out authentic praise by dissociating it from subtle undermining or cliche praise: Ignoto: 'To looke upon a worke of rare devise The which a workman setteth out to view, And not to yield it the deserved prise That unto such a worksmanship is dew, Doth either prove the judgement to be naught, Or els doth shew a mind with envy fraught. To labour to commend a peece of work Which no man goes about to discommend, Would raise a jealous doubt that there did lurke, Some secret doubt, whereto the prayse did tend. For when men know the goodnes of the wyne, 'Tis needlesse for the hoast to have a sygne.' Jonson (alluding to the supposed Heminges and Condell letters): 'But these ways Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise ; For seeliest ignorance on these may light, Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right ; Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ; Or crafty malice might pretend this praise, And think to ruin where it seemed to raise. These are, as some infamous bawd or whore Should praise a matron ; what could hurt her more ? But thou art proof against them, and, indeed, Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.' So I conclude the Ignoto poem is by Oxford-Shakespeare, and that Ben Jonson (in parallel to the Droeshout portrait http://www.briefchronicles.com/ojs/index.php/bc/article/view/65/126) is making it as obvious as he possibly can, short of actually announcing it.

  1. All the innumerable biographical parallels are vast and multiplicitous testimony, but I need not dwell on all that, as this is the territory most explored by Oxfordians. Just to call attention here to two of them: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shakespeare-Guide-Italy-Retracing-Travels/dp/0062074261/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1312622681&sr=1-2


  1. Shakespeare has a comprehensive world view, which is an aristocratic monarchical church supremacist, view, a mediaeval feudal world view (Marx as well as Whitman http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=WhiPro5.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=5&division=div2 spotted this very well), for which the groundlings have their lower order place (though there is noblesse oblige in certain respects, especially in King Lear). His analysis of money is one may say that of someone who has ‘suffered at its hands’ (Timon, Merchant, c.f., Marx on Timon http://hewardwilkinson.co.uk/stratfordian-nostalgia-and-marx/), as is his view of fashion and ‘who’s in who’s out’ (Troilus and Cressida, 3.3 ‘Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, Wherein he puts alms for oblivion, A great-sized monster of ingratitudes: Those scraps are good deeds past; which are devour'd As fast as they are made, forgot as soon As done: perseverance, dear my lord, Keeps honour bright: to have done is to hang Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail In monumental mockery. Take the instant way; For honour travels in a strait so narrow, Where one but goes abreast: keep then the path; For emulation hath a thousand sons That one by one pursue: if you give way, Or hedge aside from the direct forthright, Like to an enter'd tide, they all rush by And leave you hindmost; Or like a gallant horse fall'n in first rank, Lie there for pavement to the abject rear, O'er-run and trampled on: then what they do in present, Though less than yours in past, must o'ertop yours; For time is like a fashionable host That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand, And with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly, Grasps in the comer: welcome ever smiles, And farewell goes out sighing. O, let not virtue seek Remuneration for the thing it was; For beauty, wit, High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service, Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all To envious and calumniating time. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin, That all with one consent praise new-born gawds, Though they are made and moulded of things past, And give to dust that is a little gilt More laud than gilt o'er-dusted. The present eye praises the present object. Then marvel not, thou great and complete man, That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax; Since things in motion sooner catch the eye Than what not stirs. The cry went once on thee, And still it might, and yet it may again, If thou wouldst not entomb thyself alive And case thy reputation in thy tent; Whose glorious deeds, but in these fields of late, Made emulous missions 'mongst the gods themselves And drave great Mars to faction.)


  1. He is through and through a European mind – embracing England; folklore; doctrine of kingship and theology; Italy; France; Greece and Rome (think of the stunning understanding in Julius Caesar, which both Nietzsche and Rene Girard so much admire); Christianity, paganism, and Renaissance scepticism; all the arts; music; aristocratic sports and diversions; the law; medicine (a modern social psychiatrist before his time, think of how Lear’s madness is healed; and understanding the circulation of the blood whilst Harvey was developing the theory); herbal lore, and gardens. and wild flora; the astronomy of Copernicus and Giordano Bruno; Hermetic philosophy; he is saturated in Chaucer, Ovid, Castiliogne, Cardanus, Montaigne; he is busy Europeanising the English Court and of course, in this, he has a great, if ambivalent, ally in Elizabeth; etc. This is all not news to anyone here, but it is worth remembering the whole European dimension to this. Someone not intimately acquainted with both European statecraft and European intellectual-cultural life could not have written these plays and poems.


  1. Shakespeare reveals a thoroughgoing mercuriality and narcissism – Midsummer Nights Dream and Troilus and Cressida are two devastating examples of this, which is why they are central for Rene Girard (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Theatre-Envy-Od%C3%A9on-Rene-Girard/dp/0852445105/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1312623190&sr=1-1). King Lear is the terrible diagnosis of it.


  1. The paradigm is this: we cannot help but see him as an archetypal, seismic, Promethean figure, having the same relation to the modern English and European world, as Athens, Plato and Aristotle in particular, had to the ancient and mediaeval world. He is a world mind. Now there is no reason why a world mind may not come up from the back streets, provided he can get an education in all the things that he needs to know to write about the world he writes about. But we have null specific data on how this would have been possible, in that epoch, shortly after the beginning of printing, before general education, for William Shakespere of Stratford-on-Avon, and nothing in the least which distinguishes him as a writer with the above characteristics. We have EVERY indication of how it was possible for Oxford. (http://shakespearebyanothername.com/) We can form a sense, as I have intimated in this survey, of what he was like as a whole man, a great, a supreme, but tragically flawed, mind.

  Next time I shall try to turn to the: Problems Oxfordism has to solve   But enough for now.