Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship

Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship
Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the most popular alternative candidate for the author behind the alleged pseudonym, Shakespeare. Unknown artist after lost original, 1575; National Portrait Gallery, London.

The Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship proposes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604), wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. While a large majority of scholars reject all alternative candidates for authorship, popular interest in various authorship theories continues to grow,[1] particularly among independent scholars and theatre professionals. Since the 1920s, Oxford has been the most widely accepted anti-Stratfordian candidate.[2][3][4]

The case for Oxford's authorship is based on perceived similarities between Oxford's biography and events in Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and longer poems; parallels of language, idiom, and thought between Oxford's letters and the Shakespearean canon;[5] and marked passages in Oxford's Bible that appear in some form in Shakespeare's plays.[6] Oxfordians point to the acclaim of Oxford's contemporaries regarding his talent as a poet and a playwright, the theory that he was a concealed poet, and his connections to London theatre and the contemporary playwrights of Shakespeare's day. They also note his long term relationships with Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Southampton, his knowledge of Court life, his private tutors and education, his academic and cultural patronage and his wide-ranging travels through the locations of Shakespeare's plays in France and Italy.

Though Oxford died in 1604 before 10 of the plays were performed or published according to the generally accepted chronology, Oxfordians point to 1604 as the year regular publication of Shakespeare's plays stopped for four years until three new plays were issued in 1608 and 1609, the last ones until 18 plays made their publication debut in the First Folio of 1623, and argue that some literary allusions to Shakespeare imply that the writer died before 1609. They also date some works earlier and suggest that unfinished works were completed by other playwrights and released after his death.

The convergence of documentary evidence of the type used by academics for authorial attribution—title pages, testimony by other contemporary poets and historians, and official records—sufficiently establishes Shakespeare of Stratford's authorship for the overwhelming majority of Shakespeare scholars and literary historians,[7] and no evidence links Oxford to Shakespeare's works.[8] Oxfordians, however, reject the apparent historical record as falsified to protect the identity of the real author, and interpret the plays and poems as autobiographical. They use the plays and poems to construct a hypothetical author, from which they deduce that the author must have been an aristocrat of great formal learning, intimate with the Elizabethan court and widely travelled through the countries and cities mentioned in the plays. They say that this inferred profile fits the biography of the Earl of Oxford better than the documented biography of William Shakespeare.


Biographical Evidence for Oxford's authorship

While there is no documentary evidence connecting Oxford (or any authorial candidate) to the plays of Shakespeare,[9] Oxfordian researchers, including Mark Anderson and Charlton Ogburn believe the connection is provided by considerable circumstantial evidence inferred from Oxford's connections to the Elizabethan theatre and poetry scene; the participation of his family in the printing and publication of the First Folio; his relationship with the Earl of Southampton (believed by most Shakespeare scholars to have been Shakespeare's patron); as well as a number of specific incidents and circumstances of Oxford's life that Oxfordians believe are depicted in the plays themselves.[10]

Theatre connections

  • Oxford was a leaseholder of the first Blackfriars Theatre;
  • He produced entertainments on tour and at court;
  • He was the patron of two acting companies – Oxford's Boys and Oxford's Men
  • Oxford maintained a company of musicians
  • He was a patron of writers, poets, playwrights and musicians.

Family connections

Oxford's Bible

In the late 1990's, Roger A. Stritmatter conducted a study of the marginalia found in Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible, which is now owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Bible contained 1,028 marked passages, about a quarter of which appear in Shakespeare's works as either a theme, allusion, or quotation.[11]

Verses Made by the Earl of Oxford

In 1588, due to ongoing financial problems, Oxford sold his house, Fisher's Folly, to William Cornwallis. In 1852, James Halliwell-Phillipps discovered a volume, "Anne Cornwaleys her booke," apparently the day book of Cornwallis’ daughter Anne, which Halliwell-Phillipps believed was written sometime in 1595. Anne's handwritten book contains "Verses Made by the Earl of Oxforde," "Anne Vavasour's Echo" (Anne Vavasour was Oxford's mistress 1579–1581, by whom he fathered an illegitimate child), and also a poem ascribed in 1599 to "Shakespeare" by William Jaggard in The Passionate Pilgrim. According to Charles Wisner Barrell, Anne's version was superior textually to the one published by Jaggard, and is the first handwritten example we have of a poem ascribed to Shakespeare.[12]

Stratford connections

The names Avon and Stratford have become irrevocably linked to Shakespeare with the 1623 publication of the First Folio, but Oxfordians note that Edward de Vere owned a manor, Bilton, near the Forest of Arden,[13] in Rugby, on the River Avon[14], although he sold it in 1580.[15] Oxfordians also consider it significant that the nearest town to the parish of Hackney, where de Vere later lived and was buried, was also named Stratford.Ogburn 1984, p. 236 They also regard Dr. John Ward's 1662 statement that Shakespeare spent at a rate of £1,000 a year as a critical piece of evidence, because Oxford received an annuity from Queen Elizabeth I of exactly £1,000 a year.[16] Ogburn said the annuity was granted "under mysterious circumstances",[17] and Anderson suggests it was granted because of Oxford's writing patriotic plays for government propaganda,[18] but the documentary evidence clearly indicates that the allowance was meant to relieve Oxford's embarrassed financial situation caused by the ruination of his estate.[19]

Oxford's Italian travels and the settings of Shakespeare's plays

Shakespeare placed many of his plays in Italy and sprinkled them with detailed descriptions of Italian life. Though there are no records Shakespeare of Stratford ever visited mainland Europe, historical documents confirm Oxford lived in Venice, and traveled for over a year through Italy.[20] According to Anderson, the Italian cities Oxford definitely visited in 1575–1576 were Venice, Padua, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Florence, Siena and Naples and he probably also passed through Messina, Mantua and Verona — all cities Shakespeare later wrote into the plays, while (except for Rome) the Italian cities Oxford bypassed are the same cities Shakespeare ignored.[21]

Literary connections

Oxford as a poet and playwright

There are three principal pieces of evidence praising Oxford as a poet and a playwright:

(1) The anonymous 1589 Arte of English Poesie, usually attributed to George Puttenham, contains a chapter describing the practice of concealed publication by court figures, which includes a passage listing Oxford as the finest writer of comedy:

for Tragedie, the Lord of Buckhurst, & Maister Edward Ferrys for such doings as I haue sene of theirs do deserue the hyest price:Th'Earle of Oxford and Maister Edwardes of her Maiesties Chappell for Comedy and Enterlude.

(2) Francis Meres' 1598 Palladis Tamia, which refers to him as Earle of Oxenford, lists him among the "best for comedy". Shakespeare's name appears further down the same list.

so the best for comedy amongst us bee, Edward Earle of Oxenforde, Doctor Gager of Oxforde, Maister Rowley once a rare Scholar of learned Pembroke Hall in Cambridge, Maister Edwardes one of her Majesty's Chapel, eloquent and witty John Lilly, Lodge, Gascoyne, Greene,Shakespeare, Thomas Nash, Thomas Heywood, Anthony Munday our best plotter, Chapman, Porter, Wilson, Hathway, and Henry Chettle.[22]

Palladis Tamia has been cited as an important source for both sides in the Shakespearean authorship controversy. In addition to being often cited as evidence for the chronology of the Shakespearean plays, the book is regarded by orthodox Shakespearean scholars as an important witness to the traditional view of Shakespearean authorship, both because of its listing of Shakespeare as a prominent playwright by 1598,[23] and because Meres also mentions Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as among several who are "the best for comedy amongst us." To the Oxfordians it has signified that Oxford was known as a prominent comic writer.[24] To traditional Shakespeareans, on the other hand, it has seemed that Meres' double reference to both Shakespeare and Oxford means that he knew that Oxford could not have been the author of the Shakespearean works.[25] A Brief Chronicles article which analyzes the numerical structure of Meres' Palladis Tamia to show that Meres not only knew that Oxford and Shakespeare were one and the same, but that he constructed his publication to carefully alert the reader to this fact was published in 2009.[26]

(3) Henry Peacham's 1622 The Compleat Gentleman omits Shakespeare's name and praises Oxford as one of the leading poets of the Elizabethan era,[27] saying:

In the time of our late Queene Elizabeth, which was truly a golden Age (for such a world of refined wits, and excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be hoped for, in any succeeding Age) above others, who honoured Poesie with their pennes and practise (to omit her Maiestie, who had a singular gift herein) were Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others; whom (together with those admirable wits, yet liuing, and so well knowne) not out of Ennuie but to auoid tediousnesse, I overpasse. Thus much of Poetrie.

Stratfordians disagree with this interpretation of Peacham, asserting that Peacham copied large parts of Puttenham's work but only used the names of those writers he considered "gentlemen", a title Peacham felt did not apply to actors. They further argue his list is of poets only and he did not include playwrights, neglecting for example Christopher Marlow.[citation needed] Alan Nelson, de Vere's only biographer who does not advocate the Oxfordian Theory, believes that "(c)ontemporary observers such as Harvey, Webbe, Puttenham and Meres clearly exaggerated Oxford's talent in deference to his rank."[28]

Although not strictly a report on Oxford's ability as a playwright, there is also a description of the esteem to which he was held as a writer in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, a 1613 play by George Chapman, who has been suggested as the Rival Poet of Shake-speares Sonnets:

I overtook, coming from Italy
In Germany, a great and famous Earl
Of England; the most goodly fashion’d man
I ever saw: from head to foot in form
Rare and most absolute; he had a face
Like one of the most ancient honour’d Romans
From whence his noblest family was deriv’d;
He was besides of spirit passing great
Valiant and learn’d, and liberal as the sun,
Spoke and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects,
Or of the discipline of public weals:
And ‘twas the Earl of Oxford.[29][30]

Oxford's lyric poetry

Some of Oxford's early lyric poetry survives under his own name.[31] In the opinion of J. Thomas Looney, as "far as forms of versification are concerned De Vere presents just that rich variety which is so noticeable in Shakespeare; and almost all the forms he employs we find reproduced in the Shakespeare work...."

"So far as the natural disposition of the writer is concerned...(t)he personality they reflect is perfectly in harmony with that which peer through the writings of Shakespeare. There are traces undoubtedly of those defects which the sonnets disclose in "Shakespeare," but through it all there shines the spirit of an intensely affectionate nature, highly sensitive, and craving for tenderness and sympathy. He is a man with faults, but stamped with reality and truth; honest even in his errors, making no pretence of being better than he was, and recalling frequently to our minds the lines in one of Shakespeare's sonnets:"

I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own.[32]

As far as the quality of Edward de Vere's known verse is concerned, Oxfordians respond to the charge that it is not at the level one would expect of a "Shakespeare" in two ways. First, Oxford's known works are those of a young man and as such should be considered juvenilia.[33][34] And second, neither is Titus Andronicus, and whoever wrote that play eventually wrote Hamlet. As Joseph Sobran observed, "The objection may be still made that…Oxford's poetry remains far inferior to Shakespeare's. But even granting the point for the sake of argument, ascribing authorship on the basis of quality is an uncertain business. Early in the (20th) century some scholars sought to exclude such plays as Titus Andronicus … on the grounds that they were unworthy of Shakespeare. Today their place is secure…. The poet who wrote King Lear was at some time also capable of writing Titus Andronicus." [35]

Perceived allusions to Oxford as a concealed writer

Before the advent of copyright, anonymous and pseudonymous publication was a common practice in the sixteenth century publishing world, and a passage in the Arte of English Poesie (1589), the leading work of literary criticism of the Elizabethan period and an anonymously published work itself, mentions in passing that literary figures in the court who wrote "commendably well" suppressed their productions, or allowed (suffered) them to see print without their names attached, "as if it were a discredit for a gentleman to seem learned" (Book 1, Chapter 8). In another passage 23 chapters later, the author (probably George Puttenham) speaks of aristocratic writers who, if their writings could be "found out", would appear to be excellent. In this passage Oxford is mentioned as a poet:

And in her Maiesties time that now is are sprong up an other crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen of her Maiesties owne seruaunts, who haue written excellently well as it would appeare if their doings could be found out and made publicke with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford, Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Walter Rawleigh, Master Edward Dyar, Maister Fulke Grevell, Gascon, Britton, Turberuille and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for enuie, but to auoyde tediousnesse, and who have deserued no little commendation. But of them all particularly this is myne opinion, that Chaucer, with Gower, Lidgat and Harding for their antiquitie ought to have the first place, and Chaucer as the most renowmed of them all, for the much learning appeareth to be in him aboue any of the rest (Book 1, Chapter 31).

Oxfordians believe these two passages, when linked, support their claim that Oxford was one of the most prominent "suppressed" writers of the day. Critics of his view argue that Oxford nor any other writer is not here identified as a concealed writer, but as the first in a list of known modern writers whose works have already been "made public", "of which number is first" Oxford, adding to the publicly acknowledged literary tradition dating back to Geoffrey Chaucer.[36][37] Other critics interpret the passage to mean that the courtly writers and their works are known within courtly circles, but not to the general public.[citation needed] In either case, Oxford nor anyone is identified as a hidden writer or one that used a pseudonym.

Oxfordians argue that at the time of the passage's composition (pre-1589), the writers referenced were not in print, and interpret Puttenham's passage (that the noblemen preferred to 'suppress' their work to avoid the discredit of appearing learned) to mean that they were 'concealed'. They cite Sir Philip Sydney, none of whose poetry was published until after his premature death, as an example. Similarly, by 1589 nothing by Greville was in print, and only one of Walter Raleigh's works had been published.[38] However, unlike the cited examples, a number of Oxford's poems did appear in printed miscellanies in his lifetime,[39] and the first poem published under Oxford's name was printed in 1572, 17 years before Puttenham's book was published.[40] Several other contemporary authors refer to Oxford as an openly acknowledged poet, and Puttenham himself quotes one of Oxford's verses elsewhere in the book, referring to him by name as the author:[41]

Edward Earle of Oxford a most noble and learned Gentleman made in this figure of responce an emble of desire otherwise called "Cupide" which from his excellencie and wit, I set down some part of the verses, for example. When wert thou borne desire?

In pompe and prime of May,
By whom sweete boy wert thou begot?
By good conceit men say,
Tell me who was thy nurse?
Fresh youth in sugred joy.
What was thy meate and dayly food?
Sad sighes with great annoy.
What hadst thou then to drinke?
Unfayned lovers tears.
What cradle wert thou rocked in?
In hope devoyd of feares (Book 3, Chapter 19).

Oxfordians also believe other texts refer to the Edward de Vere as a concealed writer. They argue that satirist John Marston's Scourge of Villanie (1598) contains further cryptic allusions to Oxford:

.......Far fly thy fame,
Most, most of me beloved, whose silent name
One letter bounds. Thy true judicial style
I ever honour, and if my love beguile
Not much my hopes, then thy unvalu'd worth
Shall mount fair place when Apes are turned forth.

The word Ape means pretender or mimic, and Oxfordians maintain the writer whose silent name is bound by one letter is Edward de VerE,[42] although Marston calls the passage an example of "hotchpodge giberdige" written by bad poets, and nowhere does Marston mention Oxford explicitly as a poet, bad or otherwise.

Joseph Sobran, in Alias Shakespeare, argues that in 1607 William Barksted, a minor poet and playwright, implies in his poem "Mirrha the Mother of Adonis" that Shakespeare was already deceased.

His Song was worthy merit (Shakespeare he)
sung the fair blossom, thou the withered tree
Laurel is due him, his art and wit
hath purchased it, Cypress thy brow will fit.

Sobran notes that the cypress tree was a symbol of mourning, and believes Barksted was specifically writing of Shakespeare in the past tense ("His song was worthy") — after Oxford's death in 1604, but prior to Shakespeare of Stratford's death in 1616.[43]Mainstream scholar Scott McCrea argues that this interpretation only works because the previous lines of the poem have been left out. The poem, which is about the mother of Adonis, is about to end and Barksted addresses his own muse. He tells his muse to "rest and sleep" because otherwise the poem will stray into territory already written about by Shakespeare in Venus and Adonis. Shakespeare wrote about "the fair blossom", young Adonis, "thou" (his own muse) the "withered tree", the aging Mirrha, who was transformed into a Myrrh tree. "His song" (Shakespeare's) was worthy merit, and he will get a laurel, but "thy brow" (Barksted's muse) will wear a cypress. Though Shakespeare's poem, published 14 years earlier, is referred to in the past tense, Shakespeare himself is "due" to get the laurel, implying he is still alive.[44]

There is a description of the figure of Oxford in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, a 1613 play by George Chapman, who has been suggested as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Chapman describes Oxford as "Rare and most absolute" in form and says he was "of spirit passing great / Valiant and learn’d, and liberal as the sun". He adds that he "spoke and writ sweetly" of both learned subjects and matters of state ("public weal").[45][46]

Composition dates of the plays/Oxford's 1604 death

Dates of composition

The exact dates of the composition of Shakespeare's plays are unknown. According to Charlton Ogburn, orthodox scholars presumed that the plays would have to fit within the lifetime of Shakespeare of Stratford, thus guessing to make the chronology conform to the years of 1564–1616.[47] But according to Ogburn, and most recently Mark Anderson, absolutely no evidence exists that any plays were written after 1604.[48][49]. Addressing the plays' dates of composition, Oxfordians note the following: In 1756, in Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Ben Jonson, William Rufus Chetwood concludes on the basis of performance records "at the end of the year of [1603], or the beginning of the next, 'tis supposed that [Shakespeare] took his farewell of the stage, both as author and actor.".[50] In 1874, German literary historian Karl Elze dated both The Tempest and Henry VIII — traditionally labeled as Shakespeare's last plays — to the years 1603–04.[51] In addition, the majority of 18th and 19th century scholars, including notables such as Samuel Johnson, Lewis Theobald, George Steevens, Edmond Malone, and James Halliwell-Phillipps, placed the composition of Henry VIII prior to 1604.[52] And in the 1969 and 1977 Pelican/Viking editions of Shakespeare's plays, Alfred Harbage showed the composition of Macbeth, Timon of Athens,Pericles, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra — all traditionally regarded as "late plays" —likely did not occur after 1604.[53]


The composition date of Hamlet has been a point of contention between scholars on both sides of the authorship question since the early 1900's. Several surviving references indicate that a Hamlet-like play was well-known throughout the 1590s, well before the traditional date of composition (1599-1601). Most scholars refer to this hypothetical early play as the Ur-Hamlet:

  • The earliest such reference occurs in 1589 when Thomas Nashe in his introduction to Robert Greene's Menaphon implies the existence of an early Hamlet: "English Seneca read by candle-light yields many good sentences, as Blood is a begger, and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls of tragical speeches."[54]
  • A 1594 performance record of Hamlet appears in Philip Henslowe's diary and in 1596 Thomas Lodge wrote of "the ghost which cried so miserably at the theatre, like an oyster-wife, Hamlet, revenge!"[55]

Oxfordian researchers believe that the play is an early version of Shakespeare's own play, and point to the fact that Shakespeare's version survives in three quite different early texts, Q1 (1603), Q2 (1604) and F (1623), suggesting the possibility that it was revised by the author over a period of many years. While the exact relationship of the short and apparently primitive text of Q1 to the later published texts is not resolved, Hardin Craig among others has suggested that it may represent an earlier draft of the play and hence would confirm that the play referred to in 1589 is in fact merely an earlier draft of Shakespeare's play. In an opinion shared in some form or another by Harold Bloom,[56] and Peter Alexander,[57], early scholar Andrew Cairncross, stated that "It may be assumed, until a new case can be shown to the contrary, that Shakespeare's Hamlet and no other is the play mentioned by Nashe in 1589 and Henslowe in 1594."[58] Harold Jenkins, in his 1982 Arden edition, dismisses this hypothesis,[59] which is also known as the "early start" theory.[60][61]

Love's Labour's Lost

Because of its highly intellectual character, seemingly detailed knowledge of the Court of Navarre, and geopolitical framework involving "Russians," Love's Labour's Lost has been among the plays that have seemed, to Oxfordian researchers, most discordant from the point of view of the traditional chronology of Shakespeare's plays. These problems have been compounded by the fact that some scholars believe that the play is inspired by actual historical events that transpired in Navarre in 1578, at which time Shakespeare of Stratford was only 14 years of age. Detailed study of the play from an Oxfordian point of view dates from Eva Turner Clark's 1933 study,[62] which sought to identify a number of characters in the play with various historical prototypes, among them Henry, King of Navarre (Ferdinand, King of Navarre), Marechal di Biron (Biron), Henri I d'Orléans, duc de Longueville, Governor of Picardie (Longaville), and Duc du Maine (Dumain). This similarity of names has seemed too close to be coincidental, and Clarke's identifications have been followed by numerous other Oxfordian scholars, among them Ogburn and Ogburn (1952).[63]

That the events of the play generally allude to real events of 1578 -- specifically the visit of Catherine de Medicis and her daughter Marguerite de Valois, wife of King Henry of Navarre to Nerac, ostensibly for the purpose of effecting a reconciliation between Henry and Merguerite, but in fact to negotiate with the King about the disposition of Acquitaine -- is a moment of rare agreement between Oxfordian and many orthodox scholars, among them Campbell and Quinn[64] In recent decades the play has attracted increasing attention from such Oxfordian scholars as theater historian Felica Hardison Londré,[65] editor of Love's Labour's Lost: Critical Essays,[66] which contains essays by both orthodox and Oxfordian scholars.

The 1604 issue

Title page and dedication of the Sonnets (1609). The hyphenated name and the phrase "ever-living poet" are used as arguments in the authorship debate.

For mainstream critics, the most compelling evidence against Oxford (besides the historical evidence for William Shakespeare) is his death in 1604, since the generally-accepted Chronology of Shakespeare's plays places the composition of about 10 of the plays after that date. They most often cite The Tempest, Henry VIII and Macbeth as almost certainly having been written after 1604 because of internal evidence and purported sources used by the playwright.

Oxfordian scholars, on the other hand, say some literary allusions imply that the playwright and poet died prior to 1609, when Shake-Speares Sonnets appeared with the epithet "our ever-living poet" in its dedication. They claim that the phrase "ever-living" rarely, if ever, referred to a living person, but instead was used to refer to the eternal soul of the deceased.[67]

Additionally, Oxfordians say that "Shake-speare" stopped writing in 1604.[68] as evidenced by the cessation of regular publication of Shakespeare's plays in that year. From 1593 through 1603, the publication of new plays appeared at the rate of two per year, and whenever an inferior or pirated text was published, it was typically followed by a genuine text described on the title page as "newly augmented" or "corrected". After the publication of the Q1 and Q2 Hamlet in 1603, regular new play publication ceased for almost five years (three new plays were issued in 1608 and 1609, the last ones until 18 plays made their publication debut in the First Folio of 1623). Anderson observes that, "After 1604, the 'newly correct[ing]' and 'augment[ing]' stops. Once again, the Shake-speare enterprise appears to have shut down."[68]


Addressing the plays' dates of composition, Oxfordians note the following: In 1756, in Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Ben Jonson, W. R. Chetwood concludes on the basis of performance records "at the end of the year of [1603], or the beginning of the next, 'tis supposed that [Shakespeare] took his farewell of the stage, both as author and actor." [69] In 1874, German literary historianKarl Elze dated both The Tempest and Henry VIII — traditionally labeled as Shakespeare’s last plays — to the years 1603–04.[70] In addition, the majority of 18th and 19th century scholars, including notables such as Samuel Johnson, Lewis Theobald, George Steevens, Edmond Malone, and James Halliwell-Phillipps, placed the composition ofHenry VIII prior to 1604.[71] And in the 1969 and 1977 Pelican/Viking editions of Shakespeare’s plays, Alfred Harbage showed the composition of Macbeth, Timon of Athens, Pericles, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra — all traditionally regarded as "late plays" — likely did not occur after 1604.[72]


Anderson also observes that while Shakespeare refers to the latest scientific discoveries and events right through the end of the 16th century, "Shakespeare is mute about science after de Vere’s [Oxford’s] death in 1604".[73]Anderson especially notes Shakespeare never mentioned the spectacular supernova of October 1604 or Kepler’s revolutionary 1609 study of planetary orbits.[73]

Notable silences

Because Shakespeare of Stratford lived until 1616, Oxfordians question why, if he were the author, did he not eulogize Queen Elizabeth at her death in 1603 or Henry, Prince of Wales, at his in 1612. They believe Oxford's 1604 death provides the explanation.[74] In an age when such actions were expected, Shakespeare also failed to memorialize the coronation of James I in 1604, the marriage of Princess Elizabeth in 1612, and the investiture of Prince Charles as the new Prince of Wales in 1613.[75]

Similarly, when Shakespeare of Stratford died, he was not publicly mourned.[76] As Mark Twain wrote, in Is Shakespeare Dead?, "When Shakespeare died in Stratford it was not an event. It made no more stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theater-actor would have made. Nobody came down from London; there were no lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national tears —there was merely silence, and nothing more. A striking contrast with what happened when Ben Jonson, and Francis Bacon, and Spenser, and Raleigh, and the other literary folk of Shakespeare’s time passed from life! No praiseful voice was lifted for the lost Bard of Avon; even Ben Jonson waited seven years before he lifted his."[77]

Diana Price, in Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography, notes that for a professional author, Shakespeare of Stratford seems to have been entirely uninterested in protecting his work. Price explains that while he had a well documented habit of going to court over relatively small sums, he never sued any of the publishers pirating his plays and sonnets, or took any legal action regarding their practice of attaching his name to the inferior output of others. Price also notes there is no evidence Shakespeare of Stratford was ever paid for writing and his detailed will failed to mention any of Shakespeare's unpublished plays or poems or any of the source books Shakespeare was known to have read.[78][79] Oxfordians also note Shakespeare of Stratford's relatives and neighbors never mentioned he was famous or a writer, nor are there any indications his heirs demanded or received payments for his supposed investments in the theatre or for any of the more than 16 masterwork plays unpublished at the time of his death.[80] Mark Twain, commenting on the subject, said, "Many poets die poor, but this is the only one in history that has died THIS poor; the others all left literary remains behind. Also a book. Maybe two."[77]

Parallels with the plays

Oxfordian researchers note numerous instances where Oxford's personal and court biographies parallel the plots and subplots of many of the Shakespeare plays. Most notable among these are similarities between Oxford's biography and the actions depicted in Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew, both of which contain a number of local details that, Oxfordians believe, could only have been obtained by personal experiences; Henry V and Henry VI, Part 3, where the Earls of Oxford are given much more prominent roles than their limited involvement in the actual history of the times would allow;[81]The Life and Death of King John, where Shakespeare felt it necessary to air-brush out of existence the traitorous Robert de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford.[82] and Henry IV, Part 1, which includes a well-known robbery scene with uncanny parallels to a real-life incident involving Oxford.[83] Oxfordians have also claimed many parallels between Oxford's relationship with his wife, Anne Cecil, and incidences in such plays as Othello, Cymbeline, The Winter's Taleand Measure for Measure, as well as the primary plot of All's Well That Ends Well.

William Cecil (Lord Burghley), Oxford's guardian and father-in-law, and Queen Elizabeth's most trusted advisor. Scholars on both sides of the question have believed Polonius is based on Lord Burghley.

Numerous Oxfordian researchers, including Charlton Ogburn, claim that Hamlet is the play most easily seen as portraying Oxford's life story. Traditional scholars say that the biographies of other contemporary figures, such as King James or the Earl of Essex, fit the play just as closely if not more so.[84]

  • Hamlet's father was murdered unexpectedly and his mother remarried shortly thereafter, less than two months after his death.[85] Oxfordians see a parallel with Oxford's life, as his father died at the age of 46 on 3 August 1562, although not before making a will six days earlier, and his stepmother remarried within 15 months, although exactly when is unknown.[86]
  • At 15, Oxford was made a royal ward and placed in the household of Lord Burghley, who was the Lord High Treasurer and Queen Elizabeth I's closest and most trusted advisor. Burghley is regarded by some mainstream scholars as the prototype for the character of chief minister Polonius. Oxfordians point out that in the First Quarto the character was not named Polonius, but Corambis. Oxfordian Charleton Ogburn asserts that Cor ambis means "two-hearted" (a view not independently supported by Latinists). He believes that the name is a swipe "at Burghley’s motto, Cor unum, via una, or 'one heart, one way.'" Mainstream scholars suggest that it derives from the Latin phrase "crambe repetita" meaning "reheated cabbage", which was expanded in Elizabethan usage to "Crambe bis posita mors est" ("twice served cabbage is deadly").[87] This implies "a boring old man" who spouts trite rehashed ideas.[88][89] Similar variants such as "Crambo" and "Corabme" appear in Latin-English dictionaries at the time.[90]
  • Hamlet was engaged to marry Ophelia, daughter to Polonius, who went mad and committed suicide by drowning, while Edward de Vere was engaged to marry Anne Cecil, daughter to Burghley, and he did marry her.
  • Like Laertes, who received the famous list of maxims from his father Polonius, Robert Cecil received a similarly famous list from his father Burghley — a list the Shakespearean scholar E. K. Chambers suggested was the author's likely source.
  • One of Hamlet’s chief opponents at court was Laertes, the son of Polonius, while Oxford continually sought the help of Robert Cecil, the son of Lord Burghley, to seek the queen's favour, with no results.
  • Polonius sent the spy Reynaldo to watch his son when Laertes was away at school, and for similar reasons Burghley sent a spy to watch his son, Thomas, when he was away in Paris.
  • The ruler of Mantua in 1575, when Oxford traveled through the area, was Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga, who happened to be a member of the same Gonzaga family of the wife of the Duke of Urbino, who was killed in 1538 by a poisoned lotion rubbed into his ears by his barber. Some scholars think that The Murder of Gonzago, the unknown play which was reworked by Hamlet into The Mousetrap (the play within the play) that reenacted Hamlet's father being killed by having poison poured into his ear, may have been a popular theatrical reenactment of Urbino's assassination. Mark Anderson says it is the same story, and that Oxford having passed through the area that Gonzaga ruled was in some way responsible for Hamlet's play-within-the-play.[91]
  • While returning from Italy in 1576 Edward de Vere first encountered a cavalry division outside of Paris that was being led by a German duke and then pirates in the English Channel. As Anderson stated: “Just as Hamlet’s review of Fortinbras’ troops leads directly to an ocean voyage overtaken by pirates, de Vere’s meeting with Duke Casimir’s army was soon followed by a Channel crossing intercepted by pirates."
  • In Act IV, Hamlet describes himself as "set naked" in "the kingdom" and later reveals he was taken captive by pirates. In a striking parallel, on Oxford's return from Europe across the Channel in April 1576, his ship was hijacked by pirates who robbed him and left him stripped to his shirt, and who might have murdered him had not one of them recognized him.[92] Anderson notes that "[n]either the encounter with Fortinbras’ army nor Hamlet’s brush with buccaneers appears in any of the play's sources – to the puzzlement of numerous literary critics.”[93]

Parallels with the sonnets and poems

In 1609, a volume of 154 linked poems was published under the title SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS. Most historians believe that the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, wrote its dedication. The focus of the series appears to follow the author's relationships with three characters, whose identities remain controversial: the Fair Youth, the Dark Lady or Mistress and the Rival Poet. The Fair Youth is generally, but far from universally, thought by mainstream scholars to be Southhampton. The Dark Lady is believed by some Oxfordians to be Anne Vavasour (or Vasasor), who bore the Earl of Oxford a son out of wedlock, whom she named Edward Vere. While there is no consensus candidate for the Rival Poet, some suppose he could have been Christopher Marlowe or George Chapman, although a strong case was made by the Oxfordian Peter R. Moore for Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.[94]

Oxfordians assert that the inclusion of "by our ever-living poet" in its dedication implies the author was dead, "ever-living" being generally understood to mean the person in question was deceased. Oxfordians assert that not one researcher has been able to provide an example where the term "ever-living" referred to an individual who was alive at the time. Nevertheless, it remains debatable whether the phrase, in this context, refers to Shakespeare or to God.[95]

Oxfordians also believe the title (Shake-Speares Sonnets) suggests a finality indicating that it was a completed body of work with no further sonnets expected. They also consider the differences of opinion among Shakespearean scholars as to whether the Sonnets are fictional or autobiographical to be a serious problem facing Stratfordians. Joseph Sobran questions why, if the sonnets were fiction, did Shakespeare of Stratford — who lived until 1616 — fail to publish a corrected and authorized edition? If, on the other hand, they are autobiographic, why did they fail to match the Stratford man's life story?[96] According to Sobran and other researchers, the themes and personal circumstances expounded by the author of the Sonnets are remarkably similar to Oxford's biography.

In The De Vere Code,[97] a recently published book by English actor Jonathan Bond, the author claims that the 30-word dedication to the original publication of Shakespeare's Sonnets contains six simple encryptions which conclusively establish Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as the author of the poems. The encryptions also settle the question of the identity of "the Fair Youth" as Henry Wriothesley and contain striking references to the sonnets themselves and de Vere's relationship to Sir Philip Sidney and Ben Jonson.


Oxford was born in 1550, and was between 40 and 53 years old when he presumably wrote the sonnets. Shakespeare of Stratford was born in 1564. Even though the average life expectancy of Elizabethans was short, being between 26 and 39 was not considered old. In spite of this, age and growing older are recurring themes in the Sonnets:

Sonnet 138

... vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best.

Shakespeare also described his relationship with the Fair Youth as like "a decrepit father." However, Shakespeare of Stratford was only 9 years older than Southampton, while Oxford was 23 years older.[98]

Sonnet 37

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortune's dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth....


In his later years, Oxford described himself as "lame". On several occasions, the author of the sonnets also described himself as lame:

Sonnet 37
I, made lame by fortune's dearest spite...
Sonnet 89
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt...
Edward de Vere's letter of March 25, 1595 to Lord Burghley
"When Your Lordship shall have best time and leisure if I may know it, I will attend Your Lordship as well as a lame man may at your house."[99]


Sobran maintains the Sonnets "abound not only in legal terms — more than 200 — but also in elaborate legal conceits." These terms include: allege, auditor, defects, exchequer, forfeit, heirs, impeach, lease, moiety, recompense, render, sureties, and usage. Shakespeare also uses the then newly minted legal term, "quietus" (final settlement), in the last Fair Youth sonnet.

Sonnet 134

So now I have confessed that he is thine,
And I myself am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I’ll forfeit, so that other mine
Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous, and he is kind:
He learned but surety-like to write for me,
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer that put'st forth all to use,
And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
So him I lose through my unkind abuse....

Oxford was trained in the law and, in 1567, was admitted to Gray's Inn, one of the Inns of Court which Justice Shallow reminisces about in Henry IV, Part 2."[100]

Southampton – The Fair Youth

Southampton, Oxford's peer and one-time prospective son-in-law, and the often-purported "fair youth" of the early sonnets.

Beginning with Looney, Oxfordians have almost always asserted that Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, Oxford's peer and hoped-for son-in-law, is the "fair youth" referred to in the early sonnets (exceptions are Percy Allen and Louis Benezit[101]). Mainstream Stratfordian writers have also often taken this view, but there have also been several other candidates, including William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke.

Sobran argues that the first seventeen sonnets, on the procreation theme, give indications of belonging to Burghley's campaign to make [Southampton] marry his granddaughter, [who was] Oxford's daughter Elizabeth Vere, and concludes that, '(o)bviously, Oxford would have known all three parties.... It is hard to imagine how Mr. Shaksper (of Stratford) could have known any of them. Let alone have been invited to participate in the effort to encourage the match.'[102] Sobran also observes that in 16th-century England, actors and playwrights did not presume to give advice to the nobility, and asserts "It is clear, too, that the poet is of the same rank as the youth. He praises, scolds, admonishes, teases, and woos him with the liberty of a social equal who does not have to worry about seeming insolent.... 'Make thee another self, for love of me' (Sonnet 10), is impossible to conceive as a request from a poor poet to his patron: it expresses the hope of a father — or a father-in-law. And Oxford was, precisely, Southampton's prospective father-in-law."[98]

Oxfordians also cite Sonnet 91, contending the lines imply that the author is in a position to make such comparisons, and the 'high birth' he refers to is his own:[98]

Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be.

Oxfordian author William Farina notes as well that in Sonnets 40–42 the "fair youth" seems to have gone on to steal the "dark lady" from Shakespeare; however in Sonnet 42 Shakespeare enjoins the youth with "we must not be foes." Farina notes the "idea of Will Shakespere (of Stratford) offering such assurance to the Earl of Southampton is truly a smiler."[103]

Public disgrace

Sobran also believes "scholars have largely ignored one of the chief themes of the Sonnets: the poet's sense of disgrace.... [T]here can be no doubt that the poet is referring to something real that he expects his friends to know about; in fact, he makes clear that a wide public knows about it... Once again the poet's situation matches Oxford's.... He has been a topic of scandal on several occasions. And his contemporaries saw the course of his life as one of decline from great wealth, honor, and promise to disgrace and ruin. This perception was underlined by enemies who accused him of every imaginable offense and perversion, charges he was apparently unable to rebut."[104]

Sonnet 29

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heav’n with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope....

Sonnet 112

Your love and pity doth th' impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow,
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?

As early as 1576 Edward de Vere was writing about this subject in his poem Loss of Good Name,[2] which Professor Steven W. May described as "a defiant lyric without precedent in English Renaissance verse."[105]

Lost fame

The poems Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, first published in 1593 and 1594 under the name "William Shakespeare", proved highly popular for several decades – with Venus and Adonis published six more times before 1616, while Lucrece required four additional printings during this same period.[106] By 1598, they were so famous, London poet and sonneteer Richard Barnefield wrote:

Whose Venus and whose Lucrece (sweet and chaste)
Thy name in fame's immortal Book have plac't
Live ever you, at least in Fame live ever:
Well may the Body die, but Fame dies never.[107]

Despite such publicity, Sobran observed, "[t]he author of the Sonnets expects and hopes to be forgotten. While he is confident that his poetry will outlast marble and monument, it will immortalize his young friend, not himself. He says that his style is so distinctive and unchanging that ‘every word doth almost tell my name,’ implying that his name is otherwise concealed – at a time when he is publishing long poems under the name William Shakespeare. This seems to mean that he is not writing these Sonnets under that (hidden) name."[108] Stratfordians respond that several sonnets literally do tell his name, containing numerous puns on the name Will[iam]; in sonnet 136 the poet directly says "thou lov'st me for my name is Will."[109]

Sonnet 81

...Or you survive, when I in earth am rotten;
From hence your memory death cannot take’
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die;
The earth can yield me but a common grave’
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse’
Which eyes not yet created shall o’ver-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse…

Sonnet 72

My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me, nor you

Based on these sonnets, and others, Oxfordians assert that if the author expected his "name" to be "forgotten" and "buried", it would not have been the name that permanently adorned the published works themselves.

Case against Oxfordian theory

Oxford's death

A primary objection to the Oxfordian theory is Edward de Vere's 1604 death, after which a number of Shakespeare's plays are conventionally believed to have been written, according to 300 years of orthodox scholarship.

Oxfordians respond that as the conventional dates for the plays were developed by Stratfordian scholars to fit within the Stratfordian theory, they remain conjectural and self-serving. Oxfordians also note a number of the so-called "later plays", such as Henry VIII, Macbeth, Timon of Athens and Pericles have been described as incomplete or collaborative, whereas under the Oxfordian theory these plays were either drafted earlier than conventionally believed, or were simply revised/completed by others after Oxford's death.[110]

Mainstream scholars reject these explanations and cite examples incongruous to the Oxfordian scenario:

  • Shakespearean scholar David Haley notes that in order to have written Coriolanus, Edward de Vere "must have foreseen the Midland Revolt grain riots [of 1607] reported in Coriolanus", a view most Shakespeareans accept.[111] However, Nate Eastman surmises that the opening scenes were more likely written in response to London's 1595 Tower Hill riot,[112] a date more in agreement with the Oxfordian view.
  • The Tempest is considered by most Shakespearean scholars to have been written in 1610–11 and inspired by published and unpublished contemporary descriptions of the 1609 Sea Venture shipwreck on the island of Bermuda, and most especially William Strachey's eyewitness report, A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight because of certain verbal, plot and thematic similarities.[113] Kenneth Muir, however, thought that "the extent of verbal echoes of the [Bermuda] pamphlets has, I think, been exaggerated."[114] Oxfordians have dealt with this problem in several ways. Looney rejected the play altogether, arguing that its style and the "dreary negativism" it promoted were inconsistent with Shakespeare's "essentially positivist" soul, and so could not have been written by Oxford. Later Oxfordians have generally abandoned this argument. They either argue that it was left unfinished or say that earlier sources, such as Richard Eden's The Decades of the New Worlde Or West India (1555) and Desiderius Erasmus's Naufragium/The Shipwreck (1523), sufficiently account for some of the phrasing and images in The Tempest.[115] Both sources have been acknowledged by previous scholars as possible influences.[116][117]
  • Henry VIII was described as a new play in 1613. Oxfordians argue that this refers to the fact it was new on stage, having its first production in that year. Also, many 18th- and 19th-century scholars, including Samuel Johnson, Lewis Theobald, George Steevens, Edmond Malone, and James Halliwell-Phillipps, placed the composition of Henry VIII prior to 1604, as they believed Elizabeth's execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (the then king James I's mother) made any vigorous defence of the Tudors politically inappropriate in the England of James I.[118]
  • Stratfordians contend that Macbeth represents the most overwhelming single piece of evidence against the Oxfordian position, asserting the play was written in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot,[119] which was discovered on 5 November 1605, a year after Oxford died. In particular, Stratfordians claim the porter's lines about "equivocation" may allude to the trial of Father Garnet in 1606.[120] Oxfordians respond that the concept of "equivocation" was the subject of a 1583 tract by Queen Elizabeth's chief councillor (and Oxford's father-in-law) Lord Burghley, as well as of the 1584 Doctrine of Equivocation by the Spanish prelate Martín de Azpilcueta, which was disseminated across Europe and into England in the 1590s.[121] In addition, A. R. Braunmuller, in the New Cambridge edition, finds the post-1605 arguments inconclusive, and argues only for an earliest date of 1603.[122]

Additional objections

Mainstream scholarship notes that extravagant praise for de Vere's poetry was a convention of flattery;[123] that he was a mediocre poet; that he was patron for an acting company from 1580 to 1602 which did not produce Shakespeare's plays; that there is no significant statistical correlation between the annotations in the Geneva Bible and biblical references in Shakespeare;[124][125] that the styles of Shakespeare and Oxford, under the most thorough recent computer analysis, are "light years apart";[126] and that, while the First Folio shows traces of a dialect identical to Shakespeare's, the Earl of Oxford, raised in Essex, spoke an East Anglian dialect.[127] Steven May, the reigning authority on de Vere's poetry, argues that Oxfordian attempts to relate the Earl's poetry to Shakespeare are based on 'a hopelessly flawed methodology', in that Looney assigned to de Vere poems he had not written.[128] Contemporary writers exaggerated de Vere's poetic accomplishments in deference to his rank, and the testimony of Meres that de Vere was 'best for comedy' is followed by a further comment naming Shakespeare, which shows Meres knew that Oxford and Shakespeare were not the same man.[129] Further, attribution studies,[130] which have shown certain plays in the canon were written by two or three hands, are a 'nightmare' for Oxfordians, implying a 'jumble sale scenario' for his literary remains long after his death.[131] It is, according to David Bevington, a 'virtually unanimous' opinion among teachers and scholars of Shakespeare that the canon of late plays depicts an artistic journey that extends well beyond 1604, the date of de Vere's death.[132] Also, catalogues of similarities between incidents in the plays and the life of an aristocrat are flawed as arguments because similar lists of parallels have been drawn for many candidates, from Bacon to William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby.[133]

In addition to the problem of Edward de Vere's 1604 death, supporters of the orthodox view dispute all contentions in favour of Oxford. In The Shakespeare Claimants, a 1962 examination of the authorship question, H. N. Gibson concluded that "... on analysis the Oxfordian case appears to me a very weak one".[134] Mainstream critics also assert the connections between Oxford's life and the plots of Shakespeare's plays are conjectural.

More specifically, Professor Jonathan Bate, in The Genius of Shakespeare (1997) stated that Oxfordians cannot "provide any explanation for …technical changes attendant on the King's Men's move to the Blackfriars theatre four years after their candidate's death.... Unlike the Globe, the Blackfriars was an indoor playhouse" and so required plays with frequent breaks in order to replace the candles it used for lighting. "The plays written after Shakespeare's company began using the Blackfriars in 1608, Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale for instance, have what most ... of the earlier plays do not have: a carefully planned five-act structure". If new Shakespearean plays were being written especially for presentation at the Blackfriars' theatre after 1608, they could not have been written by Edward de Vere.[135]

Stratfordians also stress that any supposedly special knowledge of the aristocracy appearing in the plays can be more easily explained by Shakespeare of Stratford's life-time of performances before nobility and royalty,[136][137] and possibly, as Gibson theorizes, "by visits to his patron's house, as Marlowe visited Walsingham."[138]

In addition, Stratfordian scholars point to a poem written circa 1620 by a student at Oxford, William Basse, that mentioned the author Shakespeare died in 1616, which is the year Shakespeare of Stratford deceased and not Edward de Vere.[139] Mainstream critics further claim that if William Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays and poems, the number of people needed to suppress this information would have made their attempts highly unlikely to succeed.[140] And John Michell, in Who Wrote Shakespeare, noted that "[a]gainst the Oxford theory are several references to Shakespeare, later than 1604, which imply that the author was then still alive".[141] Also, a method of computerized textual comparison developed by the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic compared the styles of Oxford with Shakespeare and found the odds of Oxford having written Shakespeare as "lower than the odds of getting hit by lightning".[142]

Some Stratfordian academics also argue the Oxford theory is based on simple snobbishness: that anti-Stratfordians reject the idea that the son of a mere tradesman could write the plays and poems of Shakespeare.[143]

An equally simple argument is made by Columbia University professor James S. Shapiro, author of the book Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?: namely, the tautology in any theory that "there must have been a conspiracy to suppress the truth of de Vere’s authorship" just because "the very absence of surviving evidence proves the case." He cites, by contrast, "testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else" supporting Shakespeare's authorship.[144]

History of the Oxfordian theory

Looney's Shakespeare Identified (1920) began the modern Oxfordian movement and made Oxford the most widely accepted anti-Stratfordian candidate.

The claim that the works of Shakespeare were in fact written by someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. The original principal alternative candidate was Francis Bacon, but by the beginning of the twentieth century other candidates, typically aristocrats, were put forward.[145] The Oxford theory was first proposed by J. Thomas Looney in his 1920 book Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford[146] Following earlier anti-Stratfordians, Looney argued that the known facts of Shakespeare's life did not fit the personality he ascribed to the author of the plays. Shakespeare of Stratford had a petty "acquisitive disposition", he said, while the plays made heroes of free-spending figures.[147] They also portrayed middle and lower class people negatively, while Shakespearean heroes were typically aristocratic. Looney considered that Oxford's personality fitted that he deduced from the plays, and also identified characters in the plays as detailed portraits of Oxford's family and personal contacts. Oxford's death in 1604 was linked to a drop-off in the publication of Shakespeare plays. Looney declared that the late play The Tempest was not written by Oxford, and that others performed or published after Oxford's death were most probably left incomplete and finished by other writers, thus explaining the apparent idiosyncrasies of style found in the late Shakespeare plays. Looney also introduced the argument that the reference to the "ever living poet" in the 1609 dedication to Shakespeare's sonnets implied that the author was dead at the time of publication.[148]

The Ashbourne portrait of William Shakespeare, which hangs in the Folger Shakespeare Library was analyzed by Charles Wisner Barrell, director of Photography at Bell, who concluded it was an overpainting of the Earl of Oxford, though more recent research identifies it as a portrait of Hugh Hamersley.[149][150]

Sigmund Freud, the gothic horror novelist Marjorie Bowen, and several early 20th-century celebrities found the thesis persuasive,[151] and Oxford soon overtook Bacon as the favoured alternative candidate to Shakespeare of Stratford, though academic Shakespeareans mostly ridiculed or ignored the claims. Looney's theory attracted a number of activist followers who published books supplementing his own and added new arguments, most notably Percy Allen, Bernard M. Ward, Louis P. Bénézet and Charles Wisner Barrell. In 1921, Sir George Greenwood, Looney, and others founded The Shakespeare Fellowship, an organization originally dedicated to the discussion and promotion of ecumenical anti-Stratfordian views, but which later became devoted to promoting Oxford as the true Shakespeare.

Decline and revival

After a period of decline of the Oxfordian theory beginning with World War II, in 1952 Charlton Ogburn and his wife Dorothy published the 1,300-page This Star of England, including the Prince Tudor theory, which briefly revived Oxfordism. A series of critical academic books and articles, however, held in check any appreciable growth of anti-Stratfordism and Oxfordism, most notably The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined (1957), by William and Elizebeth Friedman, The Poacher from Stratford (1958), by Frank Wadsworth, Shakespeare and His Betters (1958), by Reginald Churchill, The Shakespeare Claimants (1962), by H. N. Gibson, and Shakespeare and His Rivals: A Casebook on the Authorship Controversy (1962), by George L. McMichael and Edgar M. Glenn. By 1968 the newsletter of The Shakespeare Oxford Society reported that "the missionary or evangelical spirit of most of our members seems to be at a low ebb, dormant, or non-existent".[152] In 1974, membership in the society stood at 80.[153] In 1979, the publication of an analysis of The Ashbourne portrait dealt a further blow to the movement. The painting, long claimed to be one of the portraits of Shakespeare, but considered by Barrell to be an overpaint of a portrait of the Earl of Oxford, turned out to represent neither, but rather depicted Hugh Hamersley.

Charlton Ogburn, Jr. was elected president of The Shakespeare Oxford Society in 1976 and kick-started the modern revival of the Oxfordian movement by seeking publicity through moot court trials, media debates, television, and later the Internet, including Wikipedia, methods which became standard policy for Oxfordian and anti-Stratfordian promoters because of their success in recruiting members of the lay public.[154] He portrayed academic scholars as self-interested members of an "entrenched authority" that aimed to "outlaw and silence dissent in a supposedly free society", and proposed to counter their influence by portraying Oxford as a candidate on equal footing with Shakespeare.[155] In 1985 he published his 900-page The Mysterious William Shakespeare: the Myth and the Reality, and by framing the issue as one of fairness in the atmosphere of conspiracy that permeated America after Watergate, he used the media to circumnavigate academia and appeal directly to the public.[156] Ogburn's efforts secured Oxford the place as the most popular alternative candidate.[157]

Although Shakespearean experts disparaged Ogburn's methodology and his conclusions, one reviewer, Richmond Crinkley, the Folger Shakespeare Library's former director of educational programs, acknowledged the appeal of Ogburn's approach, writing that the doubts over Shakespeare, "arising early and growing rapidly", have a "simple, direct plausibility", and the dismissive attitude of established scholars only worked to encourage such doubts. Though Crinkley rejected Ogburn's thesis, he believed that one merit of the book lay in the way it focused attention on what is not known of Shakespeare.[158] Spurred by Ogburn's book, '[i]n the last decade of the twentieth century members of the Oxfordian camp gathered strength and made a fresh assault on the Shakespearean citadel, hoping finally to unseat the man from Stratford and install de Vere in his place.'[159]

The Oxfordian theory returned to wide public attention in anticipation of the late October 2011 release of Roland Emmerich's film Anonymous. Its distributor, Sony Pictures, advertised that the film "presents a compelling portrait of Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare's plays," and commissioned high school and college-level lesson plans to promote the authorship question to history and literature teachers across the United States.[160] According to Sony Pictures, "The objective for our Anonymous program, as stated in the classroom literature, is ‘to encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine the theories about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works and to formulate their own opinions.’ The study guide does not state that Edward de Vere is the writer of Shakespeare’s work, but it does pose the authorship question which has been debated by scholars for decades".[161]

Variant Oxfordian theories

Although most all Oxfordians agree on the main arguments for Oxford, the theory has spawned schismatic variants that have not net with wide acceptance by all Oxfordians, although they have gained much attention.

Prince Tudor theory

In a letter written by Looney in 1933, he mentions that Allen and Ward were "advancing certain views respecting Oxford and Queen Eliz. which appear to me extravagant & improbable, in no way strengthen Oxford’s Shakespeare claims, and are likely to bring the whole cause into ridicule."[162][145] Allen and Ward claimed that they had discovered that Elizabeth and Oxford were lovers and had conceived a child.

Allen developed the theory in his 1934 book Anne Cecil, Elizabeth & Oxford. He argued that the child was given the name William Hughes, who became an actor under the stage-name "William Shakespeare". He adopted the name because his father, Oxford, was already using it as a pen-name for his plays. Oxford had borrowed the name from a third Shakespeare, the man of that name from Stratford-upon-Avon, who was a law student at the time, but who was never an actor or a writer.[163]

Allen later changed his mind about Hughes and decided that the concealed child was the Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Shakespeare's narrative poems. This secret drama, which has become known as the Prince Tudor theory, was covertly represented in Oxford's plays and poems and remained hidden until Allen and Ward's discoveries. The narrative poems and sonnets had been written by Oxford for his son. This Star of England (1952) by Charlton and Dorothy Ogburn included arguments in support of this version of the theory. Their son, Charlton Ogburn junior, agreed with Looney that the theory was an impediment to the Oxfordian movement and omitted all discussion about it in his own Oxfordian works.

However, the theory was revived and expanded by Elisabeth Sears in Shakespeare and the Tudor Rose (2002), and Hank Whittemore in The Monument (2005), an analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnets which interprets the poems as a poetic history of Queen Elizabeth, Oxford, and Southampton. Paul Streitz's Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I (2001) advances a variation on the theory: that Oxford himself was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth by her stepfather, Thomas Seymour. Oxford was thus the half-brother of his own son by the queen. The book also claims that the queen had children by the Earl of Leicester, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Mary Sidney and Elizabeth Leighton.

References in popular culture

  • Leslie Howard's 1943 anti-Nazi film, "Pimpernel" Smith, features dialogue by the protagonist Horatio Smith, a professor of archaeology at Cambridge, endorsing the Oxfordian theory.[164]
  • The 2000 YA novel A Question of Will by Lynne Kositsky addresses the debate over who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.[165]
  • Oxfordian theory is the basis of Amy Freed's 2001 play The Beard of Avon.
  • Oxfordian theory is central to the plot of Sarah Smith's 2003 novel Chasing Shakespeares, which she also adapted into a play.[166]
  • The 2005 YA novel Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach is centered on Oxfordian theory.
  • The Oxfordian theory, among others, is discussed in Jennifer Lee Carrell's 2007 thriller Interred With Their Bones.
  • The 2011 film Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich and based on a screenplay by John Orloff, stars Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave. The film posits in cinematic terms how Edward de Vere's writings came to be attributed to William Shakespere of Stratford and portrays the Prince Tudor theory.[167][168][169][170]

See also


The UK and US editions of Shapiro 2010 differ significantly in pagination. The citations to the book used in this article list the UK page numbers first, followed by the page numbers of the US edition in parentheses.

  1. ^ Niederkorn, William S. "A Historic Whodunit: If Shakespeare Didn't, Who Did?" New York Times. February 10, 2001
  2. ^ "Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford". Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. 2007. http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article-9374297/Edward-de-Vere-17th-earl-of-Oxford. Retrieved 2007-08-31. 
  3. ^ Satchell, Michael (2000-07-24). "Hunting for good Will: Will the real Shakespeare please stand up?". U.S. News. http://www.usnews.com/usnews/doubleissue/mysteries/shakespeare.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-31. 
  4. ^ McMichael, George and Edgar M. Glenn.Shakespeare and his Rivals: A Casebook on the Authorship Controversy. Odyssey Press, 1962. p. 159.
  5. ^ Fowler, William Plumer.Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall, 1986.
  6. ^ Anderson 2005, pp. 381—2.
  7. ^ Wadsworth 1958, pp. 163–164:McCrea 2005, pp. xii–xiii.
  8. ^ Shapiro 2010, p. 7 (8).
  9. ^ Shapiro 2010, p. 7 (8).
  10. ^ Anderson 2005, p. 381.
  11. ^ Anderson 2005, pp. 381—2.
  12. ^ Ogburn (1984), p. 711.
  13. ^ Ogburn 1984, p. 714; Anderson 2005, p. 325.
  14. ^ Ogburn 1984, p. 235.
  15. ^ Ogburn 1984, p. 714; Matus 1994, p. 688.
  16. ^ Ogburn 1984, pp. 402, 688.
  17. ^ Ogburn 1984, p. 402.
  18. ^ Anderson 2005, pp. 210-1
  19. ^ Matus 1994, pp. 259-60.
  20. ^ Ogburn 1984, p. xxx.
  21. ^ Anderson 2005, pp. 106–107.
  22. ^ Meres, Francis. "Palladis Tamia: Wit's Treasury. A Comparative Discourse of our English Poets, with the Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets." (1598)
  23. ^ James Shapiro, Who Wrote Shakespeare?: The Case for William Shakespeare of Stratfordonline e-book, 2011, n.p.
  24. ^ Charlton Ogburn, The Mysterious William Shakespeare, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1984, 195-96.
  25. ^ Shapiro, ibid.
  26. ^ Robert Detobel and K.C. Ligon, "Francis Meres and the Earl of Oxford," Brief Chronicles I (2009), 123-137.
  27. ^ Alexander, M. and Wright, D. "A Few Curiosities Regarding Edward de Vere and the Writer Who Called Himself Shakespeare", Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference, 2007.
  28. ^ Nelson 2003, p. 387
  29. ^ Ogburn (1984), p. 401.
  30. ^ Chapman, George. The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois. In The Works of George Chapman Vol. I, Shepherd and Swinburne, eds. Chatto and Windus, 1874. p. 197.
  31. ^ Poems and Lyrics of Edward de Vere. ElizabethanAuthors.com.
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  33. ^ Fowler, William Plumer. Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall, 1986. P. XXV–XXVI.
  34. ^ Anderson, p. 28
  35. ^ Sobran, Joseph. "Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Poetry." Malim, Richard, ed. Great Oxford: Essays on the Life and Work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, 1550–1604. London: Parapress, 2004. p. 138.
  36. ^ Ross
  37. ^ Nelson 2003, p. 386:'this very passage has been misread in support of the argument, now thoroughly discredited, that a 'stigma of print' discouraged publication by members of the nobility. Oxford was one of many noblemen whose poems and names were broadcast in print.'
  38. ^ Hannas, Andrew."The Rest is Not Silence: On Grammar and Oxford in The Art of English Poesie." Shakespeare Oxford Society.
  39. ^ Gordon Braden, Sixteenth-century poetry: an annotated anthology, Wiley & Co.2005 p.138.
  40. ^ McCrea 2005, p. 167.
  41. ^ McCrea 2005, p. 167.
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  43. ^ Sobran (1997), p. 144.
  44. ^ McCrea 2005, p. 180.
  45. ^ Ogburn 1984, p. 401.
  46. ^ Chapman, George. The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois. In The Works of George Chapman Vol. I, Shepherd and Swinburne, eds. Chatto and Windus, 1874. p. 197.
  47. ^ Ogburn 1984, pp. 382–390.
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  49. ^ Anderson 2005.
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  53. ^ Harbage, Alfred, ed. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Penguin Books, 1969.
  54. ^ Nashe quoted in Jenkins, p.83
  55. ^ Jenkins, p.83
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  59. ^ Jenkins, p. 84, note 4
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  61. ^ http://nq.oxfordjournals.org/content/47/1/58.extract
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  64. ^ Oscar James Campbell and Edward G. Quinn, The Reader's Encyclopedia of Shakespeare, New York: Thomas Crowell & Co., 1966, 470.
  65. ^ http://cas.umkc.edu/theatre/faculty/londre.htm
  66. ^ Felicia Hardison Londré, Love's Labour's Lost: Critical Essays Garland, 1997
  67. ^ Miller, Ruth Loyd.Oxfordian Vistas. Vol II of Shakespeare Identified, by J. Thomas Looney and edited by Ruth Loyd Miller. Kennikat Press, 1975. pp. 211–214.
  68. ^ a b Anderson (2005), pp. 400–405.
  69. ^ Anderson (2005), p. 398.
  70. ^ Elze, Karl. Essays on Shakespeare. London: MacMillan and Co., 1874. pp. 1–29, 151–192.
  71. ^ Anderson (2005), pp. 403–04.
  72. ^ Harbage, Alfred, ed. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Penguin Books, 1969.
  73. ^ a b Anderson (2005), p. 399.
  74. ^ Wright, Daniel."The Funeral Elegy Scandal." The Shakespeare Fellowship.
  75. ^ Miller, Ruth Loyd.Oxfordian Vistas. Vol II of Shakespeare Identified, by J. Thomas Looney and edited by Ruth Loyd Miller. Kennikat Press, 1975. pp. 290–294.
  76. ^ Ogburn (1984), pp. 112, 759.
  77. ^ a b Twain, Mark. Is Shakespeare Dead? 1909.
  78. ^ Price, Diana. Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem. [1] Westport, Ct: Greenwood, 2001. pp. 130–131.
  79. ^ Sobran, Joseph. Alias Shakespeare: Solving the Greatest Literary Mystery of All Time. Free Press, 1997. pp. 25, 146.
  80. ^ Brazil, Robert. "The Shakespeare Problem." Shakespeare: The Authorship Controversy. ElizabethanAuthors.com: 1998.
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  82. ^ Anderson (2005), pp. 5, 25.
  83. ^ Ogburn (1984), pp. 384, 529.
  84. ^ Kathman, David. "Alleged Parallels between the Plays and Oxford's Life" The Shakespeare Authorship Page. Accessed 21 October 2011.
  85. ^ Hamlet 1.2.138.
  86. ^ ref>Nelson 2003, pp. 30,41
  87. ^ Doris V. Falk, Proverbs and the Polonius Destiny, Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter, 1967, p.23
  88. ^ William Shakespeare, Philip Edwards (ed) Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p.71.
  89. ^ Courtney, Krystyna Kujawinska. “Shakespeare in Poland: selected Issues” Internet Shakespeare Editions, University of Victoria, 2003, p. 2.
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  94. ^ Moore, Peter R. "The Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets", Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter. Autumn 1989
  95. ^ Foster, Don (1987), "Master W.H., R.I.P", PMLA 102 (1): 42–54, doi:10.2307/462491. 
  96. ^ Sobran (1997), p. 84.
  97. ^ Jonathan Bond "The De Vere Code: Proof of the True Author of SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS" (Real Press, 2009) ISBN 0956412793, http://www.deverecode.com
  98. ^ a b c Sobran (1997), p. 198.
  99. ^ Anderson (2005), p. 291.
  100. ^ Sobran (1997)
  101. ^ Louis P. Benezet, The Six Loves of Shake-speare, Pageant Press, Inc., New York, 1959.; Percy Allen, Anne Cecil, Elizabeth & Oxford: A Study of Relations between these three, with the Duke of Alencon added; based mainly upon internal evidence, drawn from (Chapman's?) A Lover's Complaint; Lord Oxford's (and others) A Hundreth Sundrie Flowers; Spenser's Faery Queen..., Archer, 1934.
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  103. ^ Farina, William, "De Vere as Shakespeare." Jefferson, North Carolina. McFarland & Company. 2006. p. 234.
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  110. ^ Anderson (2006, expanded paperback edition), pp. 397–401, 574.
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  116. ^ Eden is referenced in: Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. ed. Frank Kermode. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958. pp. xxxii–xxxiii.
  117. ^ Erasmus is referenced in: Bullough, Geoffrey. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Volume VIII. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975. pp. 334–339.
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Falk, Doris V. , Proverbs and the Polonius Destiny, Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter, 1967, Edwards, Philip (ed) Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Cambridge University Press, 2004 Courtney, Krystyna Kujawinska. “Shakespeare in Poland: selected Issues” Internet Shakespeare Editions, University of Victoria, 2003. Duthie,Ian The 'bad' quarto of Hamlet: a critical study, Cambridge: University Press; New York: Macmillan Co., 1941 Pressly, William L. The Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare: Through the Looking Glass. Shakespeare Quarterly, 1993, pp. 54–72

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