Who is Edward DeVere? How close we came to passing over this remarkable genius completely, his name nearly confined to the obscurity of period scholarship, along with all the other men of great importance in their day whose names are soon forgotten, their lifetimes of works but a footnote in the dust-collecting tomes of historical record.
DeVere was a man whose achievements earned greater renown than he could have possibly expected, yet he himself was nearly forgotten, his works attributed to another. How hard it must have been for DeVere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, to live out his life, witnessing in its later chapters the effect that his writings would have on his world, but remaining unable to come forward as the author.
I heard about the disputed authorship of the works of Shakespeare as early as high school, and it wasn't too hard for me to believe that history could be wrong about such a thing, but I never took much time to investigate the matter myself until recently. Although first academic publication of the Oxford theory of Shakespeare authorship is close to a century old, it seems that Oxfordians have been gaining a good amount of ground of late, perhaps attributable in part to the production of the movie Anonymous, a dramatic interpretation of the life of Edward DeVere in the late sixteenth century. A documentary on this topic, Nothing Truer Than Truth (Vero Nihil Verius, the DeVere family motto) is also scheduled for release sometime next year.
The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship has many good resources covering the DeVere authorship, including Eight Reasons to Think Oxford Was Shakespeare and a list of well known proponents of the Oxford theory, which includes Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, and Walt Whitman. The Oxford theory is actually centuries old, but it was first published by Thomas Looney in 1920, at which time it was met with scorn and refutation by the academic establishment. Popular criticisms found much more footing focusing derision on the author's name than by examining his actual research.
My research into the topic began with two books: Shakespeare by Another Name, by Mark Anderson, and Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom, by Charles Beauclerk. These are essentially biographies of Edward DeVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a man far more qualified to be the author of such prodigal works as are attributed to William Shakspere of Stratford on the Avon.
An in depth study of the biography of DeVere is, unto itself, a compelling argument for his authorship of Shakespeare. A poet and playwright, and perhaps one of the best educated men of his time, DeVere was well acquainted with nearly all academic disciplines, and the works of Shakespeare indicate rich knowledge in fields such as botany, law, theology, astronomy, history and the classics, to name a few. Many of the events in his life are depicted in the Shakespeare canon, some with such detail as can scarcely be considered coincidental.
For instance, it is hard to imagine how such intimate knowledge of the layout and culture of Italy, Venice in particular, could have come to Will of Stratford, who never left the greater London area, but DeVere traveled Italy extensively, taking a special liking to Venice where he rented a house as a home base during his travels.
Also from the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship is this list of fourteen reasons to doubt that Will of Stratford on the Avon was the author of the many works of Shakespeare.
14 reasons to doubt the Stratfordian attribution
Shakespeare, alone of all the great writers in Western civilization, presents a unique enigma. Despite two hundred years of scholarly attempts to establish the Stratford man’s credentials, doubts about the author’s identity refuse to go away and are getting stronger daily. As Henry James said, “The facts of Stratford do not ‘square’ with the plays of genius…”:
- The life documented in conventional biographies is inconsistent with the life revealed in the plays and poems. William Shaksper was the perfect bourgeois businessman, a man of worldly wealth and upward mobility. The plays express a consistent pattern of contempt for the values and attitudes necessary for success in the social milieu in which the alleged author lived. Instead they reflect a distinctively aristocratic social view, as Walt Whitman recognized when he postulated that “only one of the Wolfish earls” would seem to be the true author of the history plays.
- As Charlton Ogburn and others have argued in the past, and as Diana Price’s new book documents in detail, all of the literary references allegedly made to the man from Stratford are in fact ambiguous and may just as easily refer to some unknown person writing under a popular and often-recognized “nom de plume”; conversely the many documents which do exist relating to the Stratford Shakspere fail to indicate that he was even literate and suggest the life of someone who is unlikely to have been anything but a talented shill and front man for the real author.
- In an age of copious eulogies, none was forthcoming when William Shakspere died in Stratford.
- Among the leading figures of the day who strangely take no notice of the Stratford man’s fame is the antiquarian, classical scholar and heraldic expert William Camden. In his list of Stratford Worthies of 1605 William Camden omits the Stratford man’s name, even though Camden had previously passed on Shakspere’s application for a family coat of arms. In his Annals for the year 1616 Camden omits mention of the Stratford man’s death. In his Remains Concerning Britain Camden lists the name “Shakespeare” as one of the common names of England, but makes no remark at all about the then-famous author. (The inference is that it did not occur to Camden that the author, “Shakespeare”, and the Stratford man were the same person.) The first memorial verse to “Shakespeare” appears in the 1623 Folio.
- William Shakspere’s son-in-law John Hall, who kept an extensive journal, including notice of the “excellent Poet” and Warwickshire native Michael Drayton, fails to mention his father-in-law’s association with the theatre, with drama, or with literature — an astounding and troubling lacuna.
- As Charlton Ogburn points out, the conditions for the survival of books, manuscripts or other documents definitively linking the Stratford man to the works of Shakespeare could not have been more ideal. New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon remained in hands of Shakspere’s descendents until the 1670s, after the social upheavals of the revolution, and less than forty years before Nicholas Rowe wrote the first biography of the alleged author.
- Aside from one curious and now lost or suppressed document once at Wilton House referring to “the man Shakespeare,” there is no mention in the documents of the time of the supposed author’s intimate acquaintance with the inner circles of the Jacobean or Elizabethan courts, in striking contrast to Ben Jonson and other contemporary writers.
- The author of Shakespeare’s works had to be familiar with a wide body of knowledge for his time — law, music, foreign languages, the classics, and aristocratic manners and sports. There is no documentation that William Shakspere of Stratford had access to such information. Unlike other major playwrights of the period he did not attend college.
- Shakespeare accurately employs as many as six hundred legal terms in the play, indicating the necessity of a formal legal training in his background, which in Elizabethan times was not likely to have been obtained outside the Inns of Court. No record exists of the Stratford man attending an Inn of Court; Edward de Vere graduated from Grays Inn circa 1567.
- Despite a massive man-hunt going back more than two centuries, not a single authenticated letter written in his hand or book from his library has ever been found.
- No legitimate portrait of him exists.
- The plays reflect an intimate knowledge of mid-late 16th century international affairs and diplomacy, court life, etc. Yet the supposed author moved in the exalted circles where such information was available without leaving a trace. Ben Jonson, a real-life middle-class poet and playwright, displays a similar knowledge but his copious interaction the aristocratic power elite of the day is documented in many extant sources.
- Shakspere’s will, noteworthy for its detailed disposition of household furniture, there is no mention of books, library, manuscripts, or of any literary interest. The only theatrical connection is an interlined bequest, quite possibly a spurious later edition to the will, to the actors Hemminges and Condell who are also mentioned in the 1623 folio as “friends” of the author.
- The only specimens of William Shakspere’s handwriting to come down to us are six almost illegible signatures, each formed differently from the others, and each from the latter period of his life (none earlier than 1612). Three of these signatures are on his will, one is on a deposition in someone else’s breach of promise case, and two are on property documents. None of these has anything to do with literature. The first syllable, incidentally, in all these signatures is spelled “Shak”, whereas the published plays and poems consistently spell the name “Shake”.
Another interesting piece of this puzzle is found in Lyly's Latin Grammar, a standard text used in basic education during Elizabethan times. Three times in the Shakespeare cannon (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Titus Andronicus, and Henry IV Part 1) we find reference not just to this Latin textbook, but to one specific page, where, in explaining proper versus common nouns, the example is given: Edwardus is my proper name. Since Lyly's grammar was a work that all educated people had committed to memory during their early studies, it is reasonable to assume that DeVere's references to this particular page were a way of cryptically revealing his true identity to his audience.
For a more complete explanation of "Edwardus is my proper name," click here. At the bottom of this page from the Oxford Authorship Site, there is a link to an essay analyzing each reference to Lyly's Grammar in the three different Shakespeare plays.
Numerous books have been written about the many historical facts that suggest that DeVere was the true author of the Shakespeare works, so I cannot possibly cover all the details in this article. I do plan to write a good deal more on the subject as I continue my studies. (I have recently purchased Looney's book, Shakespeare Identified, and it is next on my list to read.) This is but an overview, where I hope to provide a few introductory resources for those who wish to dig deeper.
It would be a great shame for a genius such as DeVere to remain unacknowledged, even centuries after his death. Having read so much about his life, which is knowable to us across time by the many letters written by and about him, I can't help but feel like I know the old chap. He was far from perfect, but his perspicacity and wit were unmatched, powerful enough to echo yet through our world across the void of time. He deserves to be recognized as the man who created the greatest works of the English language. I challenge anyone who doubts that Oxford was Shakespeare to read any of the three books referenced above, and then refute the information as best they can.
When people offhandedly dismiss the Oxford theory, I am reminded of Isaac Newton, who, when confronted on why he takes astrology seriously, responded, "because I, sir, have studied the subject. You have not." So study up, and raise your glass to the seventeenth Earl of Oxford!