CRITICISMS PART 1
SECTION 1: REVIEWING A REVIEWER
I'm not interested in attacking personalities. It's the principles which
Stratfordians stand for that I intend to review and discuss. It's not scholars vs.
Oxfordians either. Scholarship is not the point here. It doesn't matter whether
the Stratfordians are professional scholars or not, it's what they have to say to
counter-argue against de Vere that matters here. It's the truth we're after, not
attempts at literary assassination. And personal invective is not a reasoned
argument. We can only discuss and consider purported facts here.
Now that we've identified Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as
Shakespeare, he has to withstand the criticisms of Stratfordians and other
claimants to be Shakespeare. I begin with a Review of Richard F. Whalen's
book Shakespeare: Who Was He? The Oxford Challenge to the Bard of Avon
(1994). I just happened to come across this on the Web, and it seems to provide
a good starting point. I have no interest in defending the Whalen book, or
attacking the Reviewer, who shall be nameless. What we're looking for are
logical and reasonable arguments or proofs as to why de Vere is not
Shakespeare. I've divided the Review into two parts, one being what I will
politely call Wishful Thinking. This is a number of phrases, mostly deleterious,
that are not founded in fact. We are not interested in mere unsupported
opinions. I've numbered them for convenience, in case we need to refer back to
them. The Reviewer's words are in italics. My comments are bracketed.
1. One of the more exotic phenomena associated with Shakespeare is the
(A word of explanation here. You may say: that's a fact, not an opinion. Why
I've included it is because of the word 'exotic.' This is a value judgement by
the writer without evidence to support it, and purports to set the somewhat
contemptuous tone for what follows.
2. One of the founding members of the so-called Anti-Stratfordian movement,
Delia Bacon ...argued that Shakespeare's works had been authored... by (no
prizes offered) Francis Bacon.
(Another comment here. I've included this because it fills up space in the
Review, but has nothing to do with de Vere, who also happens to be the subject
of the book under review).
3. If we may believe Richard F. Whalen...
4. Whalen tries to present the merit of the Oxfordian case...
5. ,,,the unfortunately named J. Thomas Looney...
6. Like any anti-Stratfordian tract, Whalen's...
7. (of de Vere's 'profile') A similar profile would fit dozens of courtiers, of
8. This approach (parallelism between the plays of Shakespeare and Oxford's
life) reveals one of the two major weaknesses of his argument. For it
presupposes that Shakespeare's plays are to a large extent autobiographical.
(My reason for including this is that parallelism presupposes nothing. If there
are parallels and attention is drawn to them, that is factual. The major
weakness in an argument would be to say that Shakespeare never had any
autobiographical elements in his plays, which would be an artificial limitation
imposed by a third party on the poet/dramatist's work).
9. It is doubtful whether all great art is necessarily drawn from the author's own
(Comment: This has nothing to do with the particular case of de Vere as
10. Here the reader may have his reservations...
11. Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage was received by many veterans of the
American Civil War as a faithful account of what the fighting was really like
from the perspective of a private soldier. Much to their surprise, it emerged that
Crane had never seen action himself...
(Comment: None of the 'many veterans' are quoted to substantiate this
statement, nor is any evidence provided as to how many. This purports to be
evidence, but as presented, it isn't).
12. With similar disdain for plausibility, Whalen dismisses other pieces of
13. I believe the examples I have given are fairly typical of Whalen's blatant
disregard for literary and psychological plausibility and of his omissions in the
field of basic scholarship such as the investigation of sources. Yet, scholarly
standards may be irrelevant to books such as Whalen's. Anti-Stratfordianism, it
would appear on the evidence of this study, is not so much a matter of
scholarship as of faith. As such, like Creationism, it is beyond verification, and
perhaps in our teaching practice, we should also handle it like those biology
teachers who are to juxtapose Creationism with the Theory of Evolution as an
alternative view that may be worth pursuing for those who are interested, but
that falls outside the province of science proper..
(I've called this Wishful Thinking because it lacks factual evidence except to
tell us something about the state of mind of the writer who substitutes personal
feelings for evidence in defence of his personal beliefs).
(Now let's look at the facts this Stratfordian provides).
1. Although the parallels between Oxford's life, as presented by Whalen, and
Shakespeare's plays are sometimes striking...
(Comment: this is not a criticism, it's an endorsement).
2. this approach (the parallelism) also reveals one of the two major weaknesses
of his argument. For it presupposes that Shakespeare's plays are to a large
extent autobiographical. Indeed, Whalen says in so many words that "all the
great artists" drew on their own experience in their works, and cites (14, named
by Whalen, listed by the Reviewer) as examples.
3. Only two (on the list) come before the Romantics.
4. surely the view of art as the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions was
not so much in evidence before Wordsworth?
5. only two (of the 14) are predominantly known for their drama, usually the
most objective of genres.
6.(Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage is cited as contrary evidence to
parallelism) (see Wishful Thinking #11).
his picture of warfare was built on a combination of hearsay and a vivid
This is the first major objection of the reviewer. While admitting some
striking parallels between de Vere's life as described by Whalen and
Shakespeare's plays, he questions the validity of parallelism between an
author's life and his work as a writer. Of the 14 cases cited by Whalen as
evidence, none of which the Reviewer disagrees with, he cites but one example
to prove his argument.. His example is Stephen Crane).
(Stephen Crane had a short life: 1871 - 1900, about 29 years. He began writing
for newspapers in 1891; the Red Badge of Courage came when he was about
The secession of South Carolina was passed December 20, 1860. By February
4, 1861 the other 6 states of the lower south had left the Union and organized
the Confederate States of America. The population of the north was about
22,700,000; of the south about 8,700,000 of whom about 3,500,000 were slaves.
Fighting began between the two sides (North and South) in July, 1861. Final
surrender of the southern armies came in mid 1865. The American social
psyche was deeply wounded by this civil war. It has been talked over,
reviewed, re-enacted, analyzed, debated, and to this day remains a major part
of the American experience. The lives of many fine young men on both sides
were lost in this war.
As you can see from the dates, the entire war was over about 6 years before
Stephen Crane was born. William Wordsworth, the poet, (1770-1850) died 21
years before Crane was born. Crane was in the post Wordsworthian Romantic
period which the Reviewer told us himself was less relevant for Shakespeare.
Neither Crane nor Wordsworth were playwrights).
For this first major objection by the Reviewer to de Vere as Shakespeare, we
find there is no factual evidence whatsoever given to prove it).
7. My second problem with Whalen's argument is that it is wholly based on
circumstantial evidence that flies in the face of more obvious direct evidence
linking the works to the man from Stratford.
(Comment: the Reviewer goes on to talk about Ben Jonson, Leonard Digges
and the First Folio (1623) publication of a collected edition of Shakespeare's
plays (F1). There is much controversy over F1 and it is proposed to devote a
full chapter to it later.)
8. More fundamentally, Whalen's survey leaves out of account all the known
sources of Shakespeare's plays...
9. we know that Shakespeare... could have found all the essential ingredients of
Romeo and Juliet in Matteo Bandello's story as well as in English versions by
Brooke and Painter.
(Comment: I have no disagreement with this generalized statement. To be
more precise than the Reviewer, in chapter 22 we listed Shakespeare's plays
with two sets of dates for their appearance: Romeo and Juliet being 1595 and
1597. This doesn't tell us when the play was written. It could have been much
earlier. But we know that Painter's Palace of Pleasure (1597) would appear to
be too late for an influence on the play. We also know that de Vere was
Shakespeare, and had fluency in Latin, Italian and French. He could have read
the story in old romances and poems. For example, Boisteau's Histoire de
Deux Amans, itself an adaptation of Bandello's romance. The obvious source,
to which Shakespeare adhered very closely, as was usual for him, was Arthur
Brooke's poem of 3026 lines, Romeo and Juliet, published in 1562.
Once a playwright has a story line and a plot, he has to clothe it with real
characters who each have their own hopes, fears, ambitions, faults, and good
points, and then have to interact in the play, meaningfully and convincingly.
That's where the playwright draws on personal experiences to flesh out the
characters and their interactions with realism.
Something in a particular story has to be the trigger in the mind of a
playwright to let him know that here's a situation to which he can relate with
feeling and experience. He needs to have some personal knowledge of what his
characters have to go through in the play. De Vere had this type of personal
experience to create the Romeo and Juliet characters. He had married a 15
year old blonde girl. He later had a surreptitious, torrid and intimate love
affair with a black haired teenager, for which he was surprised and attacked
by a relative, variously described as her cousin or uncle. Both men were
wounded in the sword fight, de Vere more seriously. For about 2 years after
that incident the respective retainers fought in the streets; at least two of them
were killed. How much closer to the experiences described so vividly in Romeo
and Juliet did the playwright have to get? But as to the plot of the play, de
Vere had everything he needed in Arthur Brooke's lengthy poem.
The criticism by the Reviewer that Whalen bases his argument on
circumstantial evidence does nothing at all to deny that de Vere was
10. (The Reviewer and Whalen agree on the 'bawdy word play' in sonnet 136
and the preceding sonnet. Then the Reviewer says)
The suggestive closing words of sonnet 136 "for my name is Will"... what does
the word "Will" play on, then, if not (as the verse says explicitly) on the author's
(The companion sonnet, 135 was printed in full and discussed in some detail in
chapter 10, on pseudonyms, and 136 given in full in Chapter 24. In both 135
and 136 the word 'Will' is italicized, which the Reviewer does not follow in his
article. This poetic differentiation should make it clear that whatever the word
refers to, it's certainly not the name of the poet. And I have news for the
Reviewer. To answer his question bluntly, 'what does the word 'Will' play on,
if not on the author's name?' It's his penis. Don't take my word for it, read the
two sonnets printed in full in the chapters listed above, with my commentary,
and decide for yourself who's right.
These two sonnets are the last things Stratfordians should be relying on to
prove William Shakespeare was the man from Stratford on Avon. What the
poems prove is that William was not, in fact, the poet's name. This has nothing
to do with disqualifying de Vere from being Shakespeare).
There is nothing in this review to show that de Vere was not Shakespeare, with
the proviso that the First Folio (1623) will be discussed in a later chapter.
DE VERE A SECOND CLASS WRITER?
Some scholars aver that as well as being a 'dead-beat dad,' de Vere was a
second class writer.
Here's a quotation from "a History of English Literature" by Legouis and
Cazamian Part 1 (the Middle Ages and the Renascence (650 - 1660), the part
which is by Emile Legouis, translated from the French by Hele Douglas
Among the men of the court, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) was
distinguished as much by his cult of poetry as by the extravagance of his life. The
typical great Italianate lord, he resumed in himself several of the vices and some
of the artistic and literary qualities of the transalpine peninsula, His lyrical verse
is scattered among such collections of the period as The Paradyse of Daynty
Devises (1576) and does not lack grace and facility. He exemplifies the taste for
letters which reigned in the court circle and which might be found in a dissolute
fop like himself as well as in a daring adventurer like Raleigh, or in Sidney, the
mirror of perfect chivalry. Beside the court poets, professional men of letters
were ranged - Lyly who dedicated his Euphues to Oxford, Spenser who headed
his Calendar with Sidney's name and addressed the preface of his Faerie
Queene to Raleigh. The court and its neighbourhood were the first home of the
As to the 'exposure' of de Vere's personal life as less than proper, this has
nothing to do with whether he was a capable writer. I therefore propose to
ignore such criticism as irrelevant. In any case, many gifted artistic people
have had less than salubrious existences: even the sanctimonious William
Wordsworth apparently sired an illegitimate daughter. But the 'second class
writer' accusation must be considered very seriously
At least one university professor in Canada taught his 20th c. English class
students that Shakespeare was a first class dramatist, but a second class poet.
This is an interesting refinement of the problem. Poets generally, and
Shakespeare in particular, as individuals write what they think and feel about
life as they find it and the situations and people they meet. One might call
poetry a personal genre. But play writing is a different art form. It involves
many people: directors, producers, actors, stage hands, lighting specialists,
musicians, carpenters, wardrobe specialists, make-up artists, painters, and so
on. It's a business, an industry, and requires a set, a theatre, or alternative
accommodation with seating arrangements for the other important component,
an audience. The writer is just one of many involved in the creation and
performance of a play.
Because the population of Elizabethan London was small, there were not that
many patrons to draw on, and plays could not run for extended periods of
time. During the uprising by the Earl of Essex and his supporters, when a
playhouse was asked to put on a performance of Richard 2nd, the players and
management were reluctant; they said it was an old play and they didn't see
how it could be profitable. They had to be paid to provide the performance.
A successful, and therefore profitable play, then as now, is refined and edited,
has many additions, variations, and deletions from scenes as the play is
performed. A really successful play, such as My Fair Lady, is not born with a
perfection that never changes. It is a joint effort by many people over time that
polishes and improves the production. My Fair Lady is a long way removed
from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, but that's where it began. Repeated
performances enable a play to be distilled down to a product that has power,
motivation and emotion in every line by every character. Similarly I suggest
that each of at least the best of Shakespeare's plays evolved from a masque or
other very early court performance to later public productions after having
gone through many revisions with topical allusions added or removed from
time to time.
The further problem with Elizabethan plays is knowing who exactly had a
hand in writing them. It is well known that they often co-operated and more
than one writer was involved in a play, probably because of the demand for
new or revised plays, and the relatively small number of competent
playwrights. For whatever reason, the pattern was set early on with Sackville
and Norton co-operating to create the play "Gorboduc." (Chapter 22). It
seems well attested that members of the 'university wits' group sometimes
co-operated with one another. And a later famous partnership is Beaumont
and Fletcher. I suggest there is not one scholar and not one computer that can
tell us definitively what Sackville wrote, and what Norton wrote in Gorboduc,
apart from the information passed down to us that one wrote two acts and the
other 3 acts. The play flows in a way that suggests closer co-operation than
that. If there wasn't, and each wrote his own acts, how would you ever
distinguish between their writings if you were not told by a contemporary who
wrote what? Similarly, in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, who can tell what
Beaumont wrote and what Fletcher wrote?
I hope I've made my point here that identifying beyond a reasonable doubt
who had a hand in writing an Elizabethan play is a very risky business. As to
de Vere, his father the 16th Earl of Oxford had his own company of actors.
They probably performed as part of the entertainment provided to Queen
Elizabeth when she visited them at Hedingham Castle in north east Essex,
when de Vere was about 11 years old. Since the French ambassador wrote to
Burghley in 1575 that he had seen a 'device' by de Vere (when both were at the
French Court), which he commended, it probably tells us that at least by age
25 de Vere was writing masques, or plays of his own.
This leads us on to a consideration of the 'proto-Shakespearean' plays.
The Famous Victories of Henry 5th is one. When I read the first scene of the
Famous Victories play I thought it was terrible, and that the writer must have
been very young - probably in his late teens, whoever he was. It was certainly
nothing like Shakespeare's work. There were many cheap pseudo swear
words, it was generally vulgar and without merit, I thought. But when I turned
the pages to what followed I gradually became impressed. It was still an early
work by some one, but someone with a penchant for action who moved his play
along at a fast pace. It contained the elements of Henry 4.1 and Henry 4.2 as
well as Henry 5 of Shakespeare. The power is there, but not the polish. I could
see why the Introduction to my copy of Henry 4.1 had this to say
The source which gave the first hint for the comic scenes was undoubtedly a play
called 'The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, containing the honourable
battell of Agincourt.' This play, though not published before 1598, was written at
least ten years earlier as a part in it was at some time taken by an actor who died
in 1588. The first scenes deal with the life of Prince Henry before he becomes
king and contain among other incidents a robbery on Gadshill, in which the
Prince and his associates are concerned. Among the last are 'Ned' and 'Sir John
Oldcastle,' certainly the prototypes of Poins and Sir John Falstaff. 'Gadshill' is
common to both plays. Further, in the older play there is a revel in 'the old
tavern at Eastcheap' and it is at the Boar's Head, Eastcheap, that Falstaff tells
his tale of the men in buckram (2.4). The bare idea of Falstaff's impersonation
of the King may have been suggested by a scene in the earlier play, where one of
the characters plays the part of the Lord Chief Justice, and there are one or two
verbal similarities (see 1.2.59; 2.1.19; 2.4.290) but the resemblance ends here.
From a literary point of view the old play is worthless; and only a few words and
incidents represent the sum of Shakespeare's debt, but the whole conception of
the comic scenes is quite different from Shakespeare's; the Prince in the old play
is a drunken thief who is turned by a sudden conversion into a hero-king..., But
there is no doubt that the Falstaff of Henry 4th was originally called Oldcastle.
What the commentator is telling us is that the earlier play was crude by
comparison with Shakespeare's trilogy. I suggest to you that this play, and I
deduce therefore several other earlier plays dismissed by scholars as of little or
no literary merit, or lost altogether, were in fact by de Vere. who was owner of
and responsible for the operation of an agri-realty business comprising many
estates that relative to today would have put him in the realm of the Fortune
500. Then how did this 2nd class young dramatist become Shakespeare? I
think the answer is not hard to find. We've already mentioned that de Vere
was brought up accustomed to the family owning a company of players and
observing them at work in their productions. By the time his wardship with
Burghley was over he was already employing reputable playwrights as his
secretaries. There was a long list of them: Thomas Churchyard, who seemed to
have worked for de Vere for most of De Vere's life; Anthony Munday, who
Meres called 'our best plotter'; John Lyly founder of the Euphuistic literary
circle, and who worked for de Vere for about 10 formative years - the 1580s;
John Marston; Thomas Nashe; and before as well as after de Vere's death the
Earl of Derby (who married a de Vere daughter).
All this is why a Shakespearean play may have originated some 20 years
before its present dating. And it may have had several playwrights working on
it. John Lyly, for example, may have looked at the Famous Victories and said
"No, No, you can do better than that. Why don't you..." and Lyly, could have
encouraged and helped de Vere to spin it out into 3 plays, as Lyly spun out his
own work. Between them both, the 3 newer plays would have unfolded with
polish and panache, but motivated by de Vere's brilliant sense of humour and
movement in action.
It's not for nothing that Gabriel Harvey said young Euphues hatched the eggs
that his elder friends laid, and in 1593 called Lyly the fiddlestick of Oxford. A
'fiddlestick' can mean 'a mere nothing' but also means the bow that brings
music from a stringed instrument. Taking both remarks by Harvey into
account suggests by 'fiddlestick' he meant primarily the second meaning, but
with typical Elizabethan style probably a hint of the first meaning as well.
I'd like to give an example of how I think this co-operation worked in practice.
E. K. Chambers, an early 20th C. Shakespearean scholar who is still highly
regarded, was the editor of my printed copy of Hamlet. I'll quote from his
Introduction and then his Appendix D in full, and add my comments. (Gil. is
Gildenstern, the companion of Rosencrantz))
The early history of Hamlet affords one of the most difficult problems with
which Shakespearian scholarship has to deal. Three printed versions have come
down to us, These present remarkable variations from each other, and one of
them in particular, the earliest, appears to be fundamentally different from the
other two. ... scholars still disagree hopelessly as to the exact nature of the
earliest version; and the whole question is complicated by the probable existence
of a pre-Shakespearian Hamlet,...'
THE TRAVELLING OF THE PLAYERS (Act ii Scene 2, line 343).
The passage in which Rosencrantz explains the reasons why Hamlet's favourite
company of tragedians are 'travelling' appears in a different form in each of the
three versions. They may here be given together for purposes of comparison.
Ham. How comes it that they travel? Do they grow restie?
Gil. No, my lord, their reputation holds as it was wont.
Ham. How then?
Gil. Yfaith my Lord, noueltie carries it away,
For the principall publike audience that
Came to them, are turned to private playes,
And to the humour of children.
Ham. How chance it they trauaile? their residence both in reputation, and profit
was better both wayes.
Ros. I thinke their inhibition, comes by the means of the late innouasion.
Ham. Doe they hold the same estimation they did when I was in the City; are
they so followed?
Ros. No indeede are they not.
Ham. How chances it they trauaile? their residence both in reputation and
profit was better both wayes.
Rosin. I thinke their Inhibition comes by the meanes of the late Innouation?
Ham. Doe they hold the same estimation they did when I was in the City? are
they so follow'd?
Rosin. No indeed, they are not.
Ham. How comes it? Doe they grow rusty?
Rosin. Nay, their indeauour keepes in the wonted pace; But there is Sir an ayrie
of Children, little Yases, that crye out on the top of question; and are most
tyrannically clap't for't: these are now the fashion, and so be-ratled the common
Stages (so they call them) that many wearing Rapiers, are affraide of
Goose-quils, and dare scarce come thither.
It will be seen that the reason for the 'travelling' assigned in Q1 is the popularity
of a rival company, of children; in Q2 an 'inhibition' due to an 'innovation'; in
F2, both these causes are mentioned.
For the remainder of Appendix D of E. K. Chambers see Note 1 at the end of
My comments are:
First, I think there's a printer's error in the reference to F2, which I suggest
should be read as F1.
Next, coming at this material as an investigative auditor, from outside the
realm of Shakespearean scholarship, and having satisfied myself by negative
assurance that de Vere is Shakespeare, and Shaxper, investor in the Globe,
and possibly bit actor there, is not Shakespeare, enables me to see some things
perhaps more clearly and simply than scholars suffering from a
misapprehension of the facts.
1. The Q1 excerpt is by de Vere. Having studied quite intensively all the
poems attributed to Shakespeare including in particular the Sonnets, I can say
that whoever wrote the Sonnets wrote this passage in Hamlet. It's brief, and to
the point. It even includes the word 'resty.' That word is changed to rusty in
F1. But Sonnet 100 has this line:
Rise, resty Muse, my love's sweet face survey
I have not come across this word used by any other Elizabethan poet (which
doesn't mean they haven't used it, somewhere, though,)
The few words in Q1 do not impede the movement and action in the play, I
2. Q2 is quite different. It is balanced prose, and polished. I suggest this is a
substitution by John Lyly, when working for de Vere and improving de Vere's
play writing. Here's a one sentence example of Lyly's balanced style. He's
writing about a 3 sided geometric figure, a triangle, yet he manages to balance
There must in every triangle be three lines, the first beginneth, the second
augmenteth, the third concludeth it a figure; so in love three virtues, affection,
which draweth the heart, secrecy which increaseth the hope, constancy which
finisheth the work.
Incidentally, Lyly dedicated his Euphues and his England, from which this
quotation comes, to de Vere.
3. F1 is different again. The long final sentence by Rosencrantz refers to
Rapiers and Goose-quills. This, I suggest, is typical Jonson. I'm spared making
my own comments as we've quoted Chambers here who refers to two of
Jonson's plays as 'satirical, full of attacks on rival poets and players.' (Note 1:
ii The Aery of Children paragraph). I don't care to twist my brain into knots
trying to figure out who Jonson is sniping at in any particular sentence. We'll
have more to say about Jonson in a later chapter on F1. But here's a quotation
from Jonson's own work: Every Man in his Humour. I opened the book at
random, and turned a page or two to find an example of both Jonson's blank
verse and prose. This is what I found: Act 1.1.65,
Step. (Stephen) What would you ha'me do?
Know. (Knowall) What would I have you do? I'll tell you, kinsman;
Learn to be wise, and practise how to thrive;
That I would have you do: and not to spend
Your coin on every bauble that you fancy,
Ort every foolish brain that humours you.
I would not have you to invade each place,
Nor thrust yourself on all societies,
Till men's affections, or your own desert,
Should worthily invite you to your rank.
He that is so respectless in his courses,
Oft sells his reputation at cheap market.
Nor would I, you should melt away yourself
In flashing bravery, lest, while you affect
To make a blaze of gentry to the world,
A little puff of scorn extinguish it;
And you be left like an unsavoury snuff,
Whose property is only to offend.
I'd have you sober, and contain yourself,
Not that your sail be bigger than your boat;
But moderate your expenses now, at first,
As you may keep the same proportion still:
Nor stand so much on your gentility,
Which is an airy, and mere borrowed thing,
From dead men's dust, and bones; and none of yours,
Except you make, or hold it.
Enter a Servant
Who comes here?
Serv. Save you, gentlemen!
Step. Nay, we do not stand much on our gentility, friend; yet you are welcome:
and I assure you mine uncle here is a man of a thousand a year, Middlesex land.
He has but one son in all the world, I am his next heir, at the common law,
Master Stephen, as simple as I stand here, if my cousin dies, as there's hope he
will: I have a pretty living o'mine own too, beside, hard by here.
I thought this would be a fair representation of Jonson's work, and leave it at
that. But then, while transcribing it I suddenly realized what I think is going on
here, and I believe it's quite remarkable and fortuitous that I stumbled
unknowingly on this piece to quote, because, typical of Jonson, it's what he's
famous for; it's not what it seems. I believe it's a take-off on de Vere's youthful
life: his drunkenness with his friends Howard and Arundel; his brash
challenge to the world when in Sicily; his costly dress at court; the accusations
by his 'friends' which helped blow away his reputation; his excessive pride in
the de Vere family name and ancestry; wasting his patrimony on unsubstantial
things; his family castle in Essex (next east to Middlesex (a small county where
London is); his illegitimate son; his £1,000 a year from the Queen; all mixed up
a little to avoid government charges for breaking the law against referring to
living persons. It's clever, and subtle in its way, and far different from de
Vere's writing style that moves right along with the action at a fast pace,
twisting, turning plots all about high society and glimpses of the bumbling
peasantry below, with occasional reaches to the highest levels of English
literature by the sheer driving force of his words.
Why did Jonson pick on de Vere to castigate in this way? Simple, he was the
hated rival poet/dramatist who had everything; wealth, rank, and filling the
playhouses while Jonson struggled with far less popular support at the box
Of more interest is another quotation from Hamlet, followed with a note by
Chambers, Here's the play, Act 3.2.42 :
Ham. ...And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for
them; for there be some of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some
quantity of barren spectators to laugh too; though, in the mean time, some
necessary question of the play be then to be considered: that's villanous, and
shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.
Chambers suggests this is a reference to Kempe, a Globe clown. And he has
the Globe company appearing at Aberdeen in Scotland and Cambridge
University in southern England at about the same time (Note 1:1 near the end
of the paragraph). This, I suggest, is impractical. The solution is referred to in
my chapter 9. Kempe In my view was most certainly not at Cambridge in the
Parnassus play. He was being ridiculed there for his ignorance of the classics.
This means someone else played his part. Now here's what Chambers has to
add concerning Hamlet's remarks about clowns:
The following lines are inserted here in Q1. There is nothing corresponding to
them in Q2 or F1: -
And then you have some again, that keeps one suit
Of jests, as a man is known by one suit of
Apparell, and gentlemen quotes his jests down
In their tables, before they come to the play, as thus:
'Cannot you stay till I eat my porridge?' and 'You owe me
A quarter's wages'; and, 'My coat wants a cullison';
And, 'Your beer is sour'; and blabbering with his lips,
And thus keeping in his cinque-pace of jests,
When, God knows, the warm Clown cannot make a jest
Unless by chance, as the blind man catches a hare;
Masters! tell him of it.
It seems to me this is youthful de Vere again. Shakespeare uses 'tables' the
self-same way in Sonnet 122, and elsewhere in Hamlet (e.g. 1.5.107)
I suggest this Q1 piece supports the '2nd class writer' criticism of de Vere. But
we must remember this is Shakespeare, not necessarily de Vere. It seems to me
John Lyly took this piece out in his emendations for Q2, and either himself
wrote the prose piece now appearing in the play, or helped de Vere write it. I
believe Lyly's inserts and deletions maintain the high quality of the play.
Jonson's addition is pedestrian and lends nothing to the play, And now that we
know de Vere has to have been Shakespeare we know Chambers is mistaken
when he says the war of the theatres was over in 1604 and Shakespeare and
Jonson were friends again. To the contrary, it was not because of friendship or
even a change of monarch, but the fact that de Vere was dead in 1604.
There was an entry in the Registers of the Stationers' Company for 1601 of
books 'allowed to be printed' of a book called 'the Revenge of HAMLETT ...as
yt was latelie Acted by the Lord Chamberleyne his servantes..' The publishing
date for Q1 was 1603, for Q2 was 1604, and of course F1 was 1623. It's
interesting that with all his scholarship Chambers thinks Q1 represents an
earlier play, (rather than a mutilated and 'foul copy'), due to some obvious
differences in style and content between Q1, and Q2 and F1,(see Note 2),
although he thinks Shaxper is Shakespeare. But once we substitute de Vere for
Shaxper, the sequence of events makes eminent sense, and we can have a better
understanding as to how the play developed. It also tells us that scholars of
Shakespeare are quite right in thinking there may be a precursor to Hamlet.
There may well have been an earlier version even than Q1, but if so I suggest it
was a court play by de Vere, also unadorned by the suavity and urbanity of
Lyly's polished style.
By these examples from the play of Hamlet, generally accepted as the pinnacle
of Shakespeare's greatness, I hope I have made my case that identifying
Shakespeare's work is a very risky business. For those of us who have
misgivings about de Vere's use of his playwright employees in the creation or
improving of his many plays, we should remember that the King James'
Version of the Bible, a translation into English published in 1611, 7 years after
de Vere's death, was not a one-man translation. Senior clerics, bishops and
others, with professors from Oxford and Cambridge, about 30 in all, were
responsible for this excellent example of English literature. De Vere was a
brilliant though perhaps somewhat unstable man, and quick to learn. It would
be no disgrace to him to find he was helped in developing his literary
We'll continue with a review of further criticisms in the next chapter.
APPENDIX D OF E. K. CHAMBERS
The title-page of Q1 shows us that Hamlet, in the early days of its career, was
acted out of London. It is not unnatural, therefore, to seek in this passage an
allusion to some 'travelling' of Shakespeare's own company. which may help to
determine the date of the play. It will be well to take the two points separately.
1. The "Inhibition and "Innovation", - It would appear that 'inhibition' was a
technical term for an order restraining theatrical performances, or the
performances of a particular company, from taking place in London. The
'inhibition' here spoken of has been identified with various such orders issued at
different times during the long struggle between the theatrical or court and the
anti-theatrical or city parties, represented respectively by the Privy Council and
the Corporation. (See Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare,
and Fleay, Chronicle History of the London Stage.) So, too, the 'innovation' has
been interpreted as 'the new practice of introducing polemical matter on the
stage,' or 'the new morals of the Puritan party.' But we are helped to a better
explanation by the fuller knowledge of the history of the Globe company, which
is chiefly due to Mr. Fleay. In 1601 the company was in disgrace at court owing
to the share they had taken in the conspiracy of Essex and Southampton. A
performance of Richard II had been given by them to encourage the
conspirators. (Note 1: see Mr. Hales' Notes and Essays, and the Introduction to
my edition of Richard II Falcon Series). For the only time during a long period
of years they were not invited to take part in the Christmas festivities. Probably
they travelled during the autumn; they seem to have been at Aberdeen in October
(Note 2: Cf. Macbeth (Warwick Series), Introduction, p.11, and the excursus on
Shakespeare in Scotland in Knight's Shakespeare.) and at Cambridge about the
same date (Note 3: Kempe and Burbage are introduced in the second part of The
Return from Parnassus, a Cambridge play with a local scene, probably written in
1601. Cf. Macray's edition of the play, and Fleay, Biographical Chronicle of the
English Drama, ii.349.); and if so, this is most likely the 'travelling ' alluded to in
the play. Then the 'inhibition' will be the refusal of permission to act at court,
and the 'innovation', the political innovation or conspiracy which led to it.
ii. The Aery of Children. Can this allusion also be referred to in this same year,
1601? It was just at this time that the children of the Chapel Royal were acting at
the Blackfriars. They took a prominent part in the stage controversy known as
the 'war of the theatres', and amongst other plays they produced between 1597
and 1603, Ben Jonson's Cynthia's Revels and his Poetaster, satirical plays, full
of attacks on rival poets and players, and answering well to the description given
in the text. Moreover, the Q1 phrase, 'the humours of children', seems to point to
Jonson's fondness for painting 'humours' or comic types. Witness the titles of his
earlier plays, Every Man in his Humour and Every Man out of his Humour. If
the allusion has been correctly identified, Hamlet may be the play in which
Shakespeare 'put down' Ben Jonson. (Note 4: Cf. The Returne from Parnassus.
Mr. Fleay, however, thinks that the play meant was Troilus and Cressida.)
The question remains, why was the point about the 'innovation' omitted in Q1,
and that about the children in Q2? The first difficulty is easily explained. When
the reporter went to the theatre, - probably early in 1602, as the book was entered
in the Stationers' Registers in July of that year, -Elizabeth was still on the
throne. Whatever the Globe company chose to do in the provinces, they would
have been ill-advised to allow any allusion to the facts of their disgrace to stand
in the play when it was acted in town. Just in the same way, the most
objectionable scene of Richard II., from a political point of view, was omitted
from the two editions of the play published in Elizabeth's lifetime. In 1604,
however, the date of Q2, she was dead, and such nice caution became no longer
necessary. At the same time another change of circumstances led to the omission
of the attack on the player- children. By 1604 the so-called 'war of the theatres'
was over, Jonson and Shakespeare were probably friends again, and the latter
had no desire to print anything discourteous to the former. (Note: Cf. the
omission, probably for similar reasons, in Q2 of the attack upon Kempe, which
appeared in Q1 - iii. 2. 50, note). In the meantime, however, the passage had
been elaborated at the general revision of the play to the form in which it is
found in F1, As to the re-appearance of both the allusions in 1623, probably they
had remained throughout in the theatre copy of the play. When F1 was
published, both the matters to which they referred had become ancient history,
and there was no reason why they should be suppressed.
THE FIRST QUARTO EDITION OF HAMLET
Here are some excerpts from what E. K. Chambers has to say in his
Introduction to the play.
The First Quarto stands by itself; the later Quartos follow the second; but an
independent text is afforded by the First Folio...The Folio adds a few passages
which are not found in the (Second) Quarto. But these advantages are more than
compensated for by considerable and important omissions, especially in the
soliloquies. The Second Quarto was evidently printed from a longer and more
complete manuscript than the Folio...
The relation of the First Quarto to the later versions is a much more difficult
matter. ... And in all probability it was founded upon hasty notes taken in
shorthand or otherwise... during a performance at the theatre. This would
account for the extreme shortness of the text, for its mutilated character, for the
obvious gaps in the sense, for the number of imperfect and wrongly arranged
lines, and of misheard words and phrases. ,,,
But now comes the point which is still the subject of the keenest controversy.
Supposing that this dialogue had been reproduced with absolute accuracy, would
the result have closely represented the Second Quarto? ... Scholars of great
authority have declared on both sides, but the weight of evidence appears to me
to be in favour of the theory that there was a considerable and important
revision. The order of the scenes in the First Quarto is not quite that of the
Second. Some of the characters, notably that of Gertrude, are differently
conceived; the great soliloquies are almost entirely omitted; the dialogue is less
subtle and elaborate, ... There are passages which make very good sense and
not bad poetry as they stand...but which have apparently been rewritten and
improved throughout for the Second Quarto. And finally, the names of the
characters are not quite the same in the two versions: the Polonius and Reynaldo
of the Second Quarto replace the Corambis and Montano of the First. ...
There certainly was a play of Hamlet in existence as early as 1589 or possibly
1587. There are several allusions to this play in contemporary literature, notably
in Nash's prefatory epistle to Greene's Menophon. And in the diary of Henslowe
the manager there is a record of a performance of it, not as a 'new interlude,' on
June 9, 1594. It was acted by the Lord Chamberlain's company, who were then
playing for about ten days under Henslowe's management at Newington Butts.
...There can be little doubt Shakespeare used it as a starting point, when he wrote
his own play on the same subject for the same company.... Shakespeare was
never careful to invent his own plots; his art lay rather in using old bottles to
contain his quite new wine. But the dialogue, the characters, the psychological
motive - these are his and his alone, and it is in these that the greatness of
Hamlet lies. ...The only question is whether ... fragments of the earlier author's
writing are still embedded in the text....
Back to Index Page