About the Review
Oxford has also been touted, for the past eighty years, as the author of the poems and plays of William Shakespeare. It has become a matter of urgency to measure the real Oxford against the myth created by partisan apologists, and all too often embraced without critical rigour by the popular press.
~ Alan Nelson, Monstrous Adversary 2003
This is NOT an Oxfordian site, per se*
but a place to investigate that elusive creature, “the real Oxford”, a controversial Elizabethan subject well worth studying in his own right, with as much impartiality as we can muster.
Insofar as the earl’s life story bumps up against the towering icon of Shakespeare, our purpose here is not to promote the case for Oxford as Shakespeare, but to critique it, from an insider’s perspective. Debate is healthy. Though Nelson’s own account of Oxford’s life is marred by dislike for his subject, his challenge remains a pertinent one. Many Oxfordian myths – from the Prince Tudor fantasy of his royal birth in 1548 to the recent claims of a pre-1604 genesis for The Tempest - are even now taking root in the public imagination, and will grow more entrenched with each new publication.
Curiously, the antipathy towards Edward de Vere within mainstream academia makes a sulphuric ghost of him in studies where he might truly have a place in the narrative. Anyone searching for a scholarly assessment of his presence in the lives of Queen Elizabeth or Robert Dudley, in the works of John Lyly or Robert Green, or in the famous Harvey~Nashe quarrel, may feel a bit cheated. If mentioned at all, more often than not we’ll find him quickly dismissed with a smart slap in the next sentence. Reviews of such works will focus on integrating the historical moment or particular work under consideration with the facts of Oxford’s life.
One place where Oxford’s family history and Shakespeare’s works do seem to collide is in the early revenge tragedy, Titus Andronicus, which I believe contains many intentional parallels with the Howards, who were closely related to the de Veres through several marriages during the reign of the Tudors. Please visit Shakespeare & the Howards for introductory chapters to my book on the subject.
On the other hand, a strange repellent force seems to be at work when we look for parallels to Oxford’s life – the standard Oxfordian method of discerning authorship – within The Tempest. The savagely witty Antonio, who mocks a Burghley-inspired Gonzalo, and ineffectually plots a lame treason, is perhaps the least attractive villain in Shakespeare’s acknowledged canon, yet he does present a few discomfiting correspondences to what we know of Oxford from historical records. A work in progress, Ben Jonson & The Tempest will explore the many Jonsonian and Jacobean influences on the play, as well as its Elizabethan roots.
* Many posts dated before Sept. 24, 2013 were written from the Oxfordian perspective. However, The Edward Oxenford Review was originally conceived as a neutral sounding board for all things related to the earl’s life and times, without bias for or against his person, due to theories of authorship. After a two-years hiatus, much soul searching, and a survey of the new pro- and anti-Oxfordian websites that have sprouted since my last post in 2011, I am even more convinced of the need for non-aligned territory in cyberspace. It is my sincere hope that the next major biography of Edward de Vere will avoid the temptations of making either a devil or an angel of the man, based on the author’s conviction of who really wrote Shakespeare.
ABOUT THE EDITOR: Since first learning of the “authorship question” in April of 2000, I’ve been researching the claims made for the earl of Oxford as author of not only the plays and poems of William Shakespeare, but also the works of Robert Green, Thomas Nashe and many others.
In 2002, I was surprised to discover a clear link between Oxford’s Howard cousins and one of Shakespeare’s plays. For the next five years I worked exclusively on researching and writing Shakespeare and the Howards: A New Reading of Titus Andronicus. An expanded version of chapter 1, “Titus Andronicus and the Treasonous House of Howard” appeared in The Oxfordian, Vol. 12.
My next project explored the tempestuous relations between Ben Jonson and Shakespeare during the Poetomachia, or “Poet’s War” of 1597 – 1602, and the echoes of these times that seemed to surface in The Alchemist and The Tempest. I’ve presented two papers on this topic at the “Symposium: Shakespeare from the Oxfordian Perspective” conferences in Watertown, MA., the first resulting in an article for the Shakespeare-Oxford Society Newsletter, “Ben Jonson & The Tempest: ‘The Copie may be mistaken for the Principall’” (Sept. 2009).
My last foray into public speaking was at the annual SOS – SF conference (Ashland, 2010), where I presented a talk on some previously unnoticed intertextual curiosities involving Shakespeare’s “fruiterer” in Henry IV, Part II and a similar “fruiterer” in the 1562 anonymous Interlude, Jack Juggler.
Thanks for visiting the EO Review! Comments and questions are always welcome.
~ Marie Merkel