Archive for the ‘Was he Shakespeare?’ Category

J. T. Looney part 2: “Self-Revelation in Hamlet”?

May 22nd, 2015 1 comment

Sorry, no pirates this time.  However, in his chapter devoted to Hamlet, Looney expands on his earlier observations with 18 additional parallels, correspondences or topical allusions between Oxford’s life and Shakespeare’s play.  For ease of reference, I’ve collated these new items (in boldface) with the sixteen parallels tallied in my blog entry of May 9, 2015 (J. T. Looney on Hamlet, Part 1).


Once again, I’ve arranged Looney’s suggested parallels according to their approximate appearance within the play as it unfolds.  The excerpts provided below are much briefer than those I posted last time, with links to Shakespeare Identified when available through Google books.  Not included are observations from Looney of so general a nature that they defied quick synopsis, much less a direct link to any particular moment in the play or to a supporting historical document.

What follows is merely a list, with no endorsement intended.  The question marks following each item invite skepticism and debate, as the next logical step after these have been noted and reviewed.  I’ve even resisted the temptation to separate those I feel are stronger from items that I would set aside as poorly grounded.

If you are new to these pages, please see “Hamlet’s Parallel Universe” for background on this particular project.  For those who’ve been following, either here or on Facebook, a quick reminder of what’s at stake and how I’ll approach the problem:

Must the establishment of true believers – and by believers I mean those who accept William of Stratford as Shakespeare as well as those who choose Oxford – ignore the evidence of parallels and/or allusions in the text of Hamlet to Essex or Rutland, King James, Derby or Sidney, to protect their candidate?  Absent the pressure of authorship contentions, earlier scholars allowed a much wider lens to the author’s hawking eye.

That’s the way I propose to look at Tom Reedy’s four candidates (plus Sidney) for “closer and more abundant” parallels with Hamlet: as if there were no Shakespeare Authorship Question.  Shakespeare will simply be Shakespeare, sans quotes or hyphens.  For the purpose of this investigation, he’s the author of the Hamlet text we find published in three separate editions: 1603, 1604 and 1623.


Looney’s major and minor suggestions of correspondence between Hamlet and Oxford:

1) 1.1.70-78: Allusion to the Armada?

2) 1.2.138: Hamlet & Oxford both supplanted after remarriage of mother?

3) 1.2.146: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit lack of trust in womanhood?

4) 1.2.129-58: Hamlet & Oxford both possess large mental reserves and secretiveness?

5) 1.2.58-61;112-16: Hamlet & Oxford both denied permission to travel?

6) 1.2.187: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit father-worship?

7) 1.3.6 etc.: If Polonius is Burghley and Hamlet is Oxford, then Ophelia is Anne Cecil?

8) 1.3.18: Hamlet & Oxford both could not marry as they chose?

9) 1.3.49: Laertes mirrors Thomas Cecil?

10) 1.3.58: Polonius’ advice to son parallels Burghley’s advice to son(s)?

11) 1.3.78: Polonius mirrors Burghley on self-interest?

12) 1.5.179: Hamlet & Oxford both “put an antic disposition on”?

13) 1.5.9-13 and elsewhere: Catholic-skeptic Hamlet mirrors Catholic-atheist Oxford?

14) 2.1.1-74: Polonius & Burghley both spied on their sons?

15) 2.1.58: Polonius & Burghley both wise about tennis court quarrels?

16) 2.2.398-405: Hamlet’s jest to Polonius re: “Jephthah” fits Burghley’s sacrifice of Anne?

17) 2.2.140: Hamlet a Prince & Oxford like a prince?

18) 2.2.356 (and more):  Hamlet w/players mirrors Oxford w/poets & his troupe?

19) 3.1.39-40 (and more): Social status of Polonius & Ophelia mirrors Burghley and Anne?

20) 3.1.90-150: Hamlet sees Ophelia as her father’s pawn mirrors Oxford & Anne Cecil?

21) 3.1.104: Hamlet’s use of ‘honest’ to Ophelia mirrors Burghley’s use of honest?

22) 3.2.91-2: Shakespeare’s 2 uses of “university” parallels Oxford’s slight attendance?

23) 3.2.246: Hamlet & Oxford both show interest in Italy?

24) 3.2.275; 340-3: Hamlet & Oxford both musically inclined?

25) 3.2.347-54: Hamlet & Oxford both resist attempts to know their mind?

26) 3.2.57-69: Horatio’s character matches Horace Vere’s character?

27) 3.4.25: Hamlet stabs Polonius, Oxford stabs Bricknell?

28) 4.5.160: Ophelia and Anne Cecil both sweet maids?

29) 4.6.11-20: Hamlet & Oxford both participate in sea fight?

30) 4.7.83 to end: Hamlet & Oxford both involved in swordplay & duels?

31) 5.1.60-4: Gravedigger’s song from Lord Vaux of special significance for Oxford?

32) 5.1.75-7: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit contempt for politicians?

33) 5.1.232: Hamlet & Oxford both return from sea to the death of lover/wife?

34) 5.1.280: Hamlet’s love for Laertes mirrors Oxford’s regard for Thomas Cecil?

35) 5.2.291-3: Hamlet’s “wounded name” reflected in “unlifted shadow” o’er Oxford’s name?

36) 5.2.309: Election of Fortinbras parallels James I in 1603?

37) 5.2.349: Hamlet & Oxford both want (desire and lack) military vocation? 


Relevant excerpts from Looney’s Shakespeare Identified with links to full text:

1.2.138: “But two months dead”: Hamlet & Oxford both are supplanted after remarriage of mother?

As, moreover, her death occurred at Castle Hedingham, one of the chief of the ancestral homes of the De Veres, it looks as though Oxford’s stepfather had established himself on the family estates

1.2.146: “Frailty, thy name is woman”: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit lack of trust in womanhood?

With a capacity for intense affection, such as we have already pointed out in “Shakespeare” and in De Vere, Hamlet was incapable of any real trust in womanhood. His faith had been shattered by the inconstancy of his own mother. This curious combination of intense affectionateness with weakness of faith in women is therefore characteristic of all three, “Shakespeare” (in his sonnets), Hamlet, and De Vere.

1.2.129-58:”O that this too too solid flesh would melt”: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit “large mental reserves” and secretiveness

All that quickness of the senses which marks alike the work of De Vere and Shakespeare manifests itself in the person of Hamlet. He misses nothing; and everything he sees or hears opens some new avenue to the “inmost parts” of those about him. A man like this is almost foredoomed to a tragic loneliness


1.3.6 etc.: “the trifling of his favour”: If Polonius is Burghley, and Hamlet is Oxford, then Ophelia is Anne Cecil?

For, although Polonius’s daughter, Ophelia, was not actually Hamlet’s wife, she represents that relationship in the play…

1.3.49: “Like a puffed and reckless libertine”: Laertes mirrors Thomas Cecil?

The tendency towards irregularities, at which Ophelia hints in her parting words to her brother, is strongly suggestive of Thomas Cecil’s life in Paris…  …We are told that Thomas Cecil incurred his father’s displeasure by his “slothfulness,” “extravagance,” “carelessness in dress,” “inordinate love of unmeet plays, as dice and cards”; and that he learnt to dance and play at tennis.

1.3.58: “And these few precepts in thy memory”: Polonius’ advice to son parallels Burghley’s advice to son?

Probably the most conclusive evidence that Polonius is Burleigh is to be found in the best-known lines which Shakespeare has put into the mouth of Denmark’s minister — the string of worldly-wise maxims which he bestows upon his son Laertes (Act 1. 3)…

1.3.78: “To thine own self be true”: Polonius mirrors Burghley on self-interest?

This is quite in keeping with the cynical egoism of Burleigh’s advice, “Beware of being surety for thy best friends”; but “keep some great man for thy friend.”…


1.5.9-13 and elsewhere: “Doomed for a certain turn”: Catholic-skeptic Hamlet mirrors Catholic-atheist Oxford?

…All this, too, is in accord with the shadowy indications that are given of Oxford’s dealings with religion: his profession of Catholicism at one time, the accusation of atheism against him at another.

1.5.179: Hamlet & EO both “put an antic disposition on”?

…It is a match of wits in which the ablest mind wins by allowing his inferior antagonists to suppose him mentally deficient. Now the records we have of Oxford represent his eccentricity in his early and middle period as being of an extreme character, and if we suppose him to be Shakespeare, we can quite believe that his own secret purposes were being pursued partly under a mask of vagary.

2.2.140: “Lord Hamlet is a Prince, out of thy star”: Hamlet a Prince & Oxford like a prince?

Oxford, of course, was not a prince of royal blood: but then there were no princes of royal blood at the English court, and the Earl of Oxford, in his younger days, was the nearest approach to a royal prince that the English court could boast. In the matter of ancient lineage and territorial establishment a descendant of Aubrey de Vere had nothing to fear in comparison with a descendant of Owen Tudor

3.1.103: “Ha, ha? Are you honest?”: Hamlet’s use of ‘honest’ to Ophelia mirrors Burghley’s use of honest?

Hamlet’s use of the double sense of the word “honest” in a question to Ophelia — the identical word which in its worse sense was, thrust to the front by Burleigh respecting the rupture between Lord and Lady Oxford


3.2.57-69: “blest are those/ whose blood and judgement are so well commingled”: Horatio’s character matches Horace Vere’s character?

The passage in which Hamlet describes the character of Horatio ought therefore to be compared with what Fuller says of Horatio de Vere.

3.2.246: “The story is extent, and writ in choice Italian”: Hamlet & Oxford both show interest in Italy?

In the same scene he shows his interest in Italy.

3.2.275; 340-3: “Come, some music.  Come, the recorders”: Hamlet & Oxford both musically inclined?

Hamlet expresses his musical feeling and even suggests musical skill in the “recorder” scene.

3.2.347-54: “You would play upon me”:Hamlet & Oxford both resist attempts to know their mind?

Now this resistance to interference stands out clearly at the time when Oxford, having returned from abroad, is reported to have behaved in a strange manner towards Lady Oxford

4.6.11-20:”Ere we were two days old at sea…”: Hamlet & Oxford both participate in sea-fight?

…and his actual participation in a sea-fight is duly recorded.


4.5.103: “Laertes shall be king” parallels Essex and his Rebellion?

Not as an important part of our argument, but as strengthening the feeling of a connection between the play of Hamlet and events in England at the time when it appeared, the rising of the citizens of Elsinor with the cry “Laertes shall be king,” is suggestive of the rising in London under Essex

4.5.160: “Dear maid, kind sister, Sweet Ophelia”: Ophelia and Anne Cecil both sweet maids?

We notice, however, that the few words the Queen speaks respecting Ophelia harp on the idea of that sweetness which, we have noticed, Lady Oxford

4.7.83 to end: Hamlet & Oxford both involved in swordplay & duels?

The duelling in which he takes part also has its counterpart in the life of Oxford

5.1.280: “I lov’d you ever”:Hamlet’s love for Laertes matches Oxford’s for Thomas Cecil?

Now the fact is that Thomas Cecil was one entirely out of touch with and in many ways quite antagonistic to Burleigh and his policy… …He was also one of those who, along with Oxford, favoured the Queen’s, marriage with the Duke of Alençon, in direct opposition to the policy of Burleigh…

5.2.309:”He has my dying voice”: election of Fortinbras mirrors James I in 1603?

Again the change, not only in the occupants of the throne but also of dynasties in Denmark, “the election lighting on Fortinbras,” from the neighbouring country of Poland, is suggestive of a similar change in England when, consequent upon the royal nomination, England received the first of a new dynasty from the neighbouring country of Scotland. In this case Fortinbras would be James I, and Oxford’s officiating at the coronation might appear as an equivalent to Hamlet’s dying vote, “He has my dying voice.”

5.2.349: “Bear Hamlet like a soldier”: Hamlet & Oxford both want (desire and lack) military vocation? 

His unrealized ambitions for a military vocation are indicated in the final scene

Is this all of them?  If you think I’ve missed something, please let me know!


J. T. Looney on Hamlet, part 1

May 9th, 2015 6 comments

Since Hamlet will not be bounded in a nutshell, where does one start in tabulating parallels to this king of infinite space?  We may as well begin with J. T. Looney’s Shakespeare Identified [1920], since Hamlet is so central to Looney’s thesis.  What follows are 16 correspondences or allusions he found within Hamlet to situations in Edward de Vere’s life, each of these mentioned in passing, as part of his case for Oxford as Shakespeare.  Not included in this post are those he reserved for discussion in Chapter XVI, “Dramatic Self-revelation: Hamlet”.

I’ve arranged Looney’s suggested parallels according to their approximate appearance within the play as it unfolds, with links provided to the text when available through Google books.  In many cases, the excerpts I’ve provided give only a hint of the more complex associations that Looney is envisioning.  The preliminary list below gives a brief title to each item, followed with a question mark to indicate a status of “to be debated” rather than “proven”.

Before debate on the merits of each item, however, it would be most helpful to consider the types of connections Looney has offered, the method he uses to deduce and support each parallel, and the quality of documentary evidence provided.  It may be that some of Looney’s suggestions fall outside the parameters of this project.

1. I. i. 70-78: Allusion to the Armada?

2. I. ii. 58-61;112-16: EO & Hamlet both denied permission to travel?

3. I. ii. 187: EO & Hamlet both exhibit father-worship?

4. I. iii. 18: EO & Hamlet both could not marry as they chose?

5. II. i. 1-74: Burghley & Polonius both spied on their sons?

6. II. i. 58: Burghley & Polonius both wise about tennis court quarrels?

7. II. ii. 398-405: Hamlet’s jest to Polonius re: “Jephthah” fits Burghley’s sacrifice of Anne?

8. II. ii. 356 (and more):  Hamlet w/players mirrors Oxford w/poets & his troupe?

9. III. i. 39-40 (and more): Social status of Cecil & Anne mirrors Polonius & Ophelia?

10.  III. i. 90-150: Hamlet sees Ophelia as her father’s pawn mirrors EO and Anne Cecil?

11. III. ii. 91-2: Hamlet to Polonius on “university”/EO’s slight attendance?

12.  III. iv. 24: Hamlet stabs Polonius, EO stabs Bricknell?

13. V. i. 60-4: Song from Lord Vaux of special significance for EO?

14. V. i. 75-7: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit contempt for politicians?

15.  V. ii. 1-81: Hamlet & EO both return from sea to the death of lover/wife?

16. V. ii. 291-3; 299-302: Hamlet’s “wounded name”> the “unlifted shadow” o’er EO’s name?


Relevant excerpts from Looney’s Shakespeare Identified

1) Act I. i. 70-78: “This same strict and most observant watch”

In February, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, and this is the year in which we lose traces of Edward de Vere’s connection with drama. It was a time of great stress and excitement in the country. The fear of a Spanish invasion lay heavily on the nation and preparations were in full swing to meet the expected Armada. Passing, as we of these days have done, through times of still greater stress, we can now quite see the allusion to England prior to the coming of the Armada in the following passage from Hamlet.

Tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land;
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint labourer with the day?[p. 360]


2) Act I. ii. 58-61;112-16: “He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave”

The special point with which we are now dealing — the obstacles thrown in the way of a young man’s wish to travel — appears again in “Hamlet.” Laertes applies for the king’s permission to go abroad, and the king asks, “Have you your father’s leave? What says Polonius?” To which Polonius replies:

He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave
By laboursome petition, and at last
Upon his will I seal’d my hard consent:
I do beseech you, give him leave to go.

Then there is the king and queen’s opposition to Hamlet’s wish to go to Wittenberg, and the false reasons assigned:


It is most retrograde to our desire;
And we beseech you, bend you to remain
Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye,
Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.

Again we notice that it is Polonius who is chiefly opposed to his son’s travelling, exactly as Burleigh raised his own opposition into a settled maxim of policy:

Suffer not thy sons to cross the Alps and if by travel they get a few broken languages they shall profit them nothing more than to have one meat served up in divers dishes.
(Burleigh’s maxims – Martin A. S. Hume.) [p. 267]


3) Act I. ii. 187: “I shall not look upon his like again”

…The loss of such a father, with the complete upsetting of his young life that it immediately involved, must have been a great grief to one so sensitively constituted. We may naturally suppose, then, that the figure of a hero-father would live in his imagination; and the reader of “Shakespeare” who has missed this note of father-worship in the great dramas has been found wanting in serious attention to their finer contents.

The greatest play of Shakespeare’s, “Hamlet,” has father-worship as its prime motive:

“He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.” [pg. 232]


4) Act I. iii. 18: “For he himself is subject to his birth”

We have already had to draw attention to the startling character of the analogy between Oxford and the central character in “All’s Well,” the royal ward, Bertram Count of Roussilon, to which must now be added this proximity in social rank and intimate intercourse with royalty, to which Helena refers in her conversation with the King. It will be interesting to notice, too, the emphasis given both in this play and in “Hamlet” to the idea that by virtue of their birth the chief characters had no personal liberty of choice in the matter of marriage. [p. 247]

5) Act II. i. 1-74: “Before you visit him, … make inquiry of his behaviour.”

It is quite evident, moreover, from G. Ravenscroft Dennis’s work on “The House of Cecil,” that when his eldest son, Thomas, afterwards Earl of Exeter, was in Paris, Burleigh had him watched and secretly reported on, quite in the manner of Polonius’s employment of the spy Reynaldo. [p. 261]


6) Act II. i. 58: “…there falling out at tennis”

The story of the tennis-court quarrel is one of the few particulars about Oxford that have become current. Indeed, one very interesting history of English literature mentions the incident, and ignores the fact that the earl was at all concerned with literature. Now, considering the prominence given to this story, it almost appears as if “Shakespeare,” in “Hamlet,” had intended to furnish a clue to his identity when he represents Polonius dragging in a reference to young men “falling out at tennis.” [pp. 296-7]



7) Act II. ii. 398-405: “O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure thou hadst!”

If, therefore, there is any character in Shakespeare’s works whom we may be able to identify with Burleigh, to have had him likened to Jephtha, as Hamlet does Polonius, would have been something of a slander upon Jephtha. For the conduct of this Old Testament character towards his daughter seems quite respectable compared with the sordid dealings of the great Lord Burleigh; and the tears which the latter seems ostentatiously to have shed at the death of her whom he called his “filia carissima” ought to have sprung from the grief of shame and repentance rather than the grief of bereavement. [p. 258]


8) Act II. ii. 356: “Do the boys carry it away?”

Although other companies of actors are referred to as “Boys,” it is to Oxford’s company that the name seems to have been most particularly attached. This frequent reference to his company as “The Oxford Boys” is suggestive, too, of a personal familiarity, and the kindly interest of an employer in the needs and welfare of the men he employed. From every indication we have of his character he was not the man to keep his gold “continually imprisoned in his bags,” to use his own phrase, whilst there were playwrights or actors about him whom he could benefit. Everything betokens a relationship similar to that which had existed between Hamlet and his players, and which he expresses in his welcome to them on renewing his intercourse with them:

“You are welcome, masters; welcome all. I am glad to see thee well. Welcome good friends. O! my old friend.”

Then there is Hamlet’s admonition to Polonius:

“Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used … Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve the more merit is in your bounty.”

Seeing, moreover, that Oxford’s company has passed into the history of English drama as the “Oxford Boys,” what shall we make of Hamlet speaking of his company as “the boys”?

“Do the boys carry it away?”

More important, however, are the instructions and criticism which Hamlet as a patron of playactors offers, to his company. His whole attitude is just such as a patron of Oxford’s social position, literary taste, and dramatic enthusiasm would naturally assume towards a company which he was not only patronising but directing. In this matter no quotation of passages would suffice for our purpose. We can only ask the reader, bearing in mind all we have been able to lay before him, of Oxford’s poetic work, life and character, to read through the whole of that part of the play which treats of Hamlet’s dealing with the players (Acts II. and III. s. 2). If he does not feel that we have here an exact representation of what Oxford’s handling of his own company would be, our own work in these pages must have been most imperfectly performed. [p. 318]


9) Act III. i. 39-40: And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish/That your good beauties be the happy cause/of Hamlet’s wildness”

At the time when the marriage between Anne and Sidney was arranged the Earl of Oxford was, socially, “out of Anne’s star.” Now Cecil’s care for the social and material advancement of his own family is one of the outstanding features of his policy. From this point of view the marriage of his daughter to one of the foremost of the ancient nobility, and a man of vast possessions, would be a great acquisition and the gratification of a high personal ambition. These social connections evidently meant much to him, for he had tried to make out an aristocratic ancestry for himself and had failed. Whether or not Elizabeth would sanction such an alliance might, however, be considered extremely doubtful; and if she were to consent, such consent would be almost as great a concession to Cecil as was that of Denmark’s King and Queen to the marriage of Hamlet with the daughter of Polonius. [p. 257]


10) Act III. i. 90-150: “Where’s your father?”

The cryptic explanation of his conduct which we have just quoted seems to have been the only one which Oxford would vouchsafe – to Burleigh at any rate. Burleigh complains of Oxford’s taciturnity in the matter: that he would only reply, “I have answered you” — which is strikingly suggestive of Shylock’s laconic expression “Are you answered?” One account suggests that the attitude he assumed on his arrival was a sudden and erratic change. If this be correct it is certainly suggestive of that lightning-like change one notices in Hamlet’s bearing towards, Ophelia, when he detects that she is allowing herself to be made the tool of her father in spying upon Hamlet himself (Act III, scene 1 ). [p. 277]

[later in Shakespeare Identified]: …Lady Oxford’s fault was probably no worse than that of having weakly succumbed to, a masterful father, or rather two masterful parents. Ophelia’s weakness, then, in permitting herself to be made her father’s tool in intruding upon Hamlet, certainly suggests her as a possible dramatic analogue to the unfortunate Lady Oxford. [p. 283]



11) Act III. ii. 91-2: “My lord, you play’d once/ i’ th’ university, you say?

It is claimed by some writers that Shakespeare shows a knowledge of the universities. Such contact as Edward de Vere had with them would be sufficient to account for that knowledge, whilst the apparently small part it played in his life would quite agree with the almost negligible part that college and university matters occupy in the plays. There are only two occasions on which Shakespeare mentions the word “university.” Hamlet, in poking fun at Polonius, draws him out by exciting his vanity about what he had done “at the university.” [p. 244]

12) Act III. iv. 24: “I took thee for thy better”

Oxford had inflicted a wound on an under-cook in Burleigh’s employ, and this wound unfortunately proved fatal. None of the circumstances are told, possibly because they are unknown, but, like everything else, the event must needs be set down to Oxford’s discredit. Now, remembering Burleigh’s spying methods and the peculiar circumstances under which Polonius received his death wound at the hands of Hamlet, we may possibly find in the drama a suggestion of something that had actually happened in the experience of its author; especially in view of Hamlet’s exclamation:

“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better.” [p. 262]



13) Act V. i.: 60-4: “In youth, when I did love”

Now, by a curious chance, the last poem in the “Vaux” collection, the poem therefore that immediately precedes the De Vere collection, is the identical song of Lord Vaux   which “Shakespeare” adapts for the use of the gravedigger in “Hamlet.” This may not have much weight as evidence. Nevertheless, if it can be maintained, as it reasonably may, that Edward de Vere in his earliest poetic efforts built upon foundations that Lord Vaux had laid, then the reappearance of an old song of Lord Vaux, in Shakespeare’s supreme masterpiece, forty years after the death of the writer of the song, is certainly not without significance as part of our general argument. [p. 170]


14) Act V. i. 75-7: “…the pate of a politician, one that would circumvent God”

Oxford’s general relationship to those politicians, moreover, is most clearly reflected in the works of Shakespeare where the very word “politician” is a term of derision and contempt.

“That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once; how the knave jowls it to the ground as if it were Cain’s jaw-bone that did the first murder! It might be the pate of a politician, one that would circumvent God, might it not?” [p. 357]


15) Act V. ii. 1-81: “Up from my cabin, my sea-gown scarfed about me”

Hamlet’s sea experiences we observe stand in direct association with the death of Ophelia. It is whilst he is away that she dies. He returns at the time of her burial, and after the graveyard scene resumes with Horatio the discussion of his sea adventures. As, then, the attitude of Hamlet to Ophelia resembles in some particular that of Oxford to his wife, we may hope, at any rate, that, as “Shakespeare,” he gives us in the famous graveyard scene a revelation of the true state of his affections: a supposition which even his conduct at the time of their rupture quite justifies.

The death of Lady Oxford, and the subsidence of the national excitement in relation to the Spanish Armada, following, as they do, closely upon the last indications we have of his theatrical enterprises, may be taken as marking the time at which he began “to sit in idle cell,” or the beginning of the third period of his life. [p. 362]


16) Act V. ii. 291-3; 299-302: “Now cracks a noble heart”

“Horatio, I am dead;
Thou livest; report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.
* * *
If ever thou didst hold me in. thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.”
Hamlet (V. 2).

“An unlifted shadow somehow lies across his memory.”
Dr. Grosart. [pg. 209]



Hamlet’s Parallel Universe

April 20th, 2015 11 comments

William Shakespeare may be “lost in the mists of time”… but Hamlet seems to be ever-living. As a character, he has an uncanny number of parallels with the documented life of Edward Oxenford. Therefore, as long as scholars maintain that William of Stratford wrote Hamlet, other scholars will be asking why the earl has such an overbearing presence in Shakespeare’s greatest work.


Is this really true?  That’s me speaking, by the way, circulating my tempered version of a standard Oxfordian claim.  Twice in the last three months, I’ve made this assertion in public, and both times I’ve attracted rapid-fire response from scholars who beg to differ.  Just last week, Tom Reedy (in the comments section of the Press Telegram) shot back:

I can tell, however, that you don’t know the biographical parallels to the life of James I, Essex, Rutland and Derby that are found in Hamlet, some of which are closer and more abundant that those of Oxford…

Is this really true?  A quick survey turns up some intriguing mirrors and allusions (see the links below), some new and some that I’d long forgotten I knew.  But are they closer, and more abundant than the parallels to Hamlet claimed for Oxford?  Hmmm…  How does Tom know this, I wonder?  Has someone, somewhere, tabulated these things, a la Diana Price?

If so, I wish that list had come up in the “Parallel Universe” discussion I had with Michael Dobson during his 6-week Hamlet MOOC (massive open online course) this past February. Michael’s immediate response to my Hamlet-parallels-to-Oxford comments echoes Tom Reedy’s:

The category of people with things in common with Hamlet extends well beyond the Earl of Oxford, even if one were to mistake the play for an autobiography.

A few days later, to counter my persistent dragging of a “dead earl” into the picture, he went even further:

…it would be possible to find parallels to almost anyone somewhere in the text of Hamlet if that’s what one wanted to do.

Martin Wiggins notes that Burbage had recently lost his father, and almost lost his father's business empire.

Now surely this statement is truer than true!  True, but utterly useless.  Shakespeare’s creations continually invite us to wonder and speculate on their glorious specificity.  Sensing the inherent weakness of Prof. Dobson’s stance, and even better, the opportunity he’d opened for testing my own assumptions, I countered with a challenge:

I haven’t drawn up my own list of the many parallels – of situation, of temperament, or of plain biographical documented fact – between Hamlet and Oxford, but will happily do so and match them against whatever figure(s) of the times you care to propose, including Richard Burbage. It would be an excellent exercise in critical thinking.

While he didn’t accept my invitation per se, for some reason, over the next few weeks the professor kept answering everything I wrote, so I kept writing, offering more parallels, or responding to his objections with more documentary support for previously cited parallels.  Most of his “shoot downs” were superficial dismissals, but one day Michael actually said Something Really Useful:

…if someone kept buttonholing you and asking whether it wasn’t perfectly obvious that Hamlet was all about Philip Sidney – why it even mentions the porcupine, his family crest! he had a powerful uncle! he died of an infected wound! – you’d surely assume that they had a distorting obsession with Philip Sidney that was preventing them from seeing the play, wouldn’t you?


Bingo!  That one hit home. Did I have a distorting obsession with Oxford that was preventing me from seeing Philip’s presence in Hamlet?  Immediately, I picked up my Variorum edition of the play, and turned to a passage that another student had recently mentioned, (“whilst this machine is to him”) which for some reason had called to mind Oxford’s lifelong foil and Fulke Greville’s hero, Philip Sidney.  A day later, after much reading and searching of Sidney’s poems and prose, I found out why – and when I shared one part of my “aha!” moment with Michael, he was gracious enough to admit he found it “truly interesting”.  For me, there’s a sweet-n-sour comfort in realizing that both of us may have missed a fascinating allusion by shutting Sidney out of our Shakespearean sights.

Must the establishment of true believers – and by believers I mean those who accept William of Stratford as Shakespeare as well as those who choose Oxford – ignore the evidence of parallels and/or allusions in the text of Hamlet to Essex or Rutland, King James, Derby or Sidney, to protect their candidate?  Absent the pressure of authorship contentions, earlier scholars allowed a much wider lens to the author’s hawking eye.

That’s the way I propose to look at Tom Reedy’s four candidates (plus Sidney) for “closer and more abundant” parallels with Hamlet: as if there were no Shakespeare Authorship Question.  Shakespeare will simply be Shakespeare, sans quotes or hyphens.  For the purpose of this investigation, he’s the author of the Hamlet text we find published in three separate editions: 1603, 1604 and 1623.


Since the play unfolds in time, building on each prior scene, the approach I’ll adopt is to begin with Act 1 scene 1, and examine all proposed allusions or parallels within that scene before proceeding to the next.  Each proposed example will require a supporting document.  Evaluation will include comparison with Shakespeare’s sources, Saxo Grammaticus and Belleforest, along with other relevant analogues to highlight either the differences or similarities to one or more of these sources.

In my next post, I’ll start with parallels suggested by J. T. Looney in Shakespeare Identified.  If you’d like to participate, please join the Facebook group “Hamlet’s Parallel Universe“.


James VI and Hamlet : Lillian Winstanley, Hamlet and the Scottish Succession1921

Essex and Hamlet in David Bevington, Murder Most Foul: Hamlet Through the Ages, 2011

Rutland and Hamlet: Ilya M. Gililov, The Shakespeare Game, 2003

Derby and Hamlet: John M. Rollett, William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby, 2015

Sidney and Hamlet: George Russell French, Shakespearana Genealogica, 1869

Shakespeare’s True Face

March 14th, 2011 5 comments

Almost no one is pleased by Martin Droeshout’s engraving of our beloved “Star of Poets”.  Here’s the anonymous opinion of a writer for The Sun, reviewing Basil Brown’s Supposed Caricature of the Droeshout:

The abominable eidolon which appears in the First Folio, opposite BEN JONSON’S sly advice to the Reader to look rather upon the Booke than upon the picture, has been for nearly three hundred years the despair of everybody wondering what SHAKESPEARE’S physiognomy really was like. No human being ever even faintly resembled the Droeshout print. The face is as impossible as is the doublet of riveted boiler iron.  ~Feb. 23, 1911, The Sun

Much to be preferred would have been something more closely modeled on the movie-star handsome face in the Cobbe Portrait, or the immediately likable fellow teasing us with his ever-so-sweet-and-shy smile in the Sanders portrait.

Dream on, my friends.  Ben Jonson, who surely knew “The AVTHOR”, says this is our man:


This figure, that thou here seest put,

It was for gentle Shakespeare cut;

Wherein the Graver had a strife

with Nature, to out-doo the life:

O, could he but have drawne his wit

As well in brasse, as he hath hit

His face; the Print would then surpasse

All, that was ever writ in brasse.

But, since he cannot, Reader, looke

Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

Is Honest Ben playing with us?   As a shrewd observer of his own times, and passionate imbiber of classic and continental literature, he’s our best contemporary witness to what the real “Shakespeare”  – whoever you believe that may be – looked like, inside and out.   After all, these two enormous poetic egos haunted the same London taverns and bookstalls.  They wrote their comedies and tragedies for the same actors.  Both were born poets, as well as “made”.

In the 1590s, both collaborated with that irrepressible satirist, Thomas Nashe.  And both knew Francis Langley, lord of the manor of Paris Garden and owner of the magnificent Swan Theater.  But there was one significant difference in each man’s recorded acquaintance with this pugnacious entrepreneur.  William Shakespeare and his side-kick Langley were never arrested for their threats of bodily harm to William Wayte in 1596.  A year later, however, Ben Jonson went to prison for his part in writing the disastrous Isle of Dogs, which played at Langley’s Swan. Soon after, the Poetomachia began, during which Shakespeare gave Jonson that famous, if elusive, literary purge.

No doubt about it, Ben knew our Author, and had reason to envy, and even resent him.  When he assures us that the figure we see gracing Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies was “cut” for “gentle Shakespeare”, he speaks from a uniquely privileged position.  We sense that he expects posterity will know this, and thus take him at his word.  With a poetic genius of Jonson’s caliber, however, taking him “at his word” requires us to enter his own peculiar labyrinth of associative language.

Just as we do today, Jacobean followers of Jonson’s irreverent parodies would have sifted his contribution to the First Folio for the inevitable left-handed compliment to the master.  For example, why, in such a short piece of verse, does Jonson use the word “brass” twice?  As I’ve learned by following one of the most brilliant Oxfordian researchers we have, by the time the word “brass” works its way through Jonson’s literary digestive tract, he’s wholly transformed its surface connotations.

Since 2002, Nicole Doyle has been sharing her insights into the mysteries of the Droeshout engraving –  from its mismatched eyes to its “impossible doublet” –  with members of the late Robert Brazil’s Elizaforum.  By placing these visual puzzles alongside Jonson’s words, both in the poems he wrote for Shakespeare in 1623 and where he’s used them in other works, she has shown – persuasively, in my view – that Jonson intended the reader to “read” Droeshout’s disproportionate engraving as an emblem of  Shakespeare’s deformed literary “manners”.

For Oxfordians, this means that Droeshout wasn’t hired to cut a mockery of “the Stratford Man”.   His model – and Jonson’s target – was “The AVTHOR”, whom Jonson belatedly embraces as “his beloved” for this grand occasion.  What we are seeing in this iconic emblem isn’t Edward de Vere as he saw himself in the mirror, or the achingly human and noble being he made of himself in his art, but Edward de Vere through Ben Jonson’s eyes: sans Right, sans Romance, sans Idolatry.

Most likely, Martin Droeshout began his task with an image already in existence, as the British Museum’s website explains:

An engraving is not worked directly from life, but from a flat model, either a painting or a drawing. Droeshout must have been given a painting or drawing of Shakespeare as a young man, from which to engrave his plate.

Since Oxfordians do possess the advantage of a painting or two of our “Shakespeare as a young man” – one when he was twenty-four or so, and the other from when he was in his early thirties – we can readily compare these relatively honest (if not flattering) images of Edward de Vere with the First Folio’s satiric cartoon.  Here they are, left and right profile, side by side with Droeshout’s engraving:



After viewing the Welbeck Portrait (top, right) in 1920, J. T. Looney suggested that:

…a very strong case might be made out for Droeshout having worked from this portrait, of Edward de Vere, making modifications according to instructions.

(Appendix II of Shakespeare Identified).

What do you think?

~Marie Merkel

To the Reader.
This Figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the Graver had a strife
with Nature, to out-doo the life :
O, could he but have drawne his wit
As well in brasse, as he hath hit
His face ; the Print would then surpasse
All, that was ever writ in brasse.
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

Academic Response to ‘Anonymous’

November 27th, 2010 No comments


In his Oct. 29 post, “Academic Response to Anonymous”, Hardy Cook, editor of SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference,  faced the looming crisis of Roland Emmerich’s Oxford-as-Shakespeare film (scheduled for release in September of 2011) by soliciting advice from members:

…how will we as responsible scholars and academics respond to and address the issues that will arise from the premier of this film.

A few days later, in a post offering “Evidence of Authorship ” he restated his query to include the subject of Emmerich’s film, Edward de Vere:

…my original query was concerned with ways to address those who might ask about authorship and in particular de Vere after seeing the film Anonymous when it is released

I especially liked Tom Reedy’s “No More Sneers” advice, and Dave Evett’s sensible caution against presumptions regarding “evidence”. On Nov. 17, I also sent Hardy Cook some thoughts on the matter, but since he didn’t include my response in what appears to have been his last digest on the thread, I’ve taken the opportunity to revise and upgrade my submission for posting here, with links and images.


Dear Hardy Cook,

It seems to me that most of your respondents reacted against the main issue that will arise from viewing Emmerich’s film (namely, the authorship question) in general, and against the ways in which the case for Oxford has been presented in particular.  My response is more on the nut-n-bolts level of strategic preparation.  In order to anticipate how Emmerich’s story will pique the public’s curiosity, it seemed to me that you might want to have a better idea of what “Anonymous” will actually be about.  A few suggestions:


1) READ THE WORKS THAT INSPIRED THE SCRIPT: In 2004, I had the opportunity to read John Orloff’s original script, which told an imaginative “insider’s story” of the Elizabethan theatre world from the triple perspective of Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare and the earl of Oxford.  The script opened from a “Sons of Ben” perspective with the closing of the theaters in 1642, five years after Jonson’s death in 1637, before diving into the bitter rivalries that accompanied the tail end of the Elizabethan era and Oxford’s life.  From what I recall, Orloff’s version of “William” seemed inspired in part by Alden Brooks, who saw him as the frippery-of-wit writer, play-broker and all-around knave that Ben Jonson excoriated in his epitaph “On Poet-Ape” (see “The Dyer’s Hand”, 1943,  and Charles Wisner Barrell’s review, “A King of Shreds and Patches“).

If you take the time to follow Brooks’ reading of the various legends, pamphlets, plays and poems upon which he builds this reprehensible image, you’ll find the essence of his “Wm. Shakspere of Stratford” in the scurrilous character of “Captain Tucca“, who appears in Jonson’s “Poetaster” and in the Marston-Dekker reply, “Satiromastix“.  Scholars long ago identified other characters from these “Poet’s War” plays as lampoons on Marston, Dekker, Weever and Jonson, but no one has yet found a real-life counterpart for Tucca.

If, indeed, Emmerich gives us a Brooks’ inspired play-broker/pander/showman as his take on “William Shakespeare”, the best answer to questions on this portrayal might be to suggest a reading of these plays, along with “The Dyer’s Hand” and more recent (albeit less imaginative) studies of the Poetomachia, such as James Shapiro’s Rival Playwrights, and Shakespeare and the Poet’s War by James Bednarz.

2) READ UP ON THE HISTORY COVERED BY THE MOVIE: We know for certain that Emmerich has chosen the Essex Rebellion and the fateful staging of Richard II by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, for the catastrophe of his narrative.  Students and the general public may see a version of these events that highlights Shakespeare’s play as a provocative transgression – one that should have been severely punished but wasn’t. Be ready for the inevitable question, “Why not?”  With a dispassionate and respectful approach, the Essex Rebellion of “Anonymous” could provide a marvelous teaching opportunity, and a perfect launch into “Henry V”, “Julius Caesar” and “Troilus & Cressida“.

3) KNOW THE BASIC FACTS OF OXFORD’S BIOGRAPHY: Emmerich’s film will show the well-connected earl of Oxford walking about the streets of London as a patron, poet and direct contemporary of William Shakespeare.  Be prepared for people to ask, “Couldn’t they have known each other?” or “Wouldn’t Shakespeare at least be very aware of the earl, maybe even curious about him?”  Whatever the claims that others have made in his behalf, Edward Oxenford did, indeed, serve as patron to writers and playing companies, and had direct connections, whether through blood, enmity or patronage,  to major and minor literary figures of the day: Henry Howard, Arthur Golding, Philip Sidney, John Lyly, Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Nashe, etc.


Reportedly, Emmerich will present Oxford as a royal bastard with an identity crisis, along the lines of Charles Beauclerk’s study of an alienated poetic psyche, Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom. You should know that Oxford was regarded as illegitimate by his half-sister Katherine, who soon after their father’s death brought a case against him that would have stripped him of his name and inheritance.  On record, we have Charles Arundel’s witness of Oxford’s fury “that the Queen said he was a bastard for which cause he would never love her, and leave her in the lurch one day.”

Finally, I suggest that you portray the movie as Opportunity rather than Disaster.  Ridicule – of the film, of the authorship question, of Oxford himself – may seem to your students like a nervous defense against a devil you don’t dare look in the face.  The way I see it, anything you can say that will send your seeker back to The Bard’s ever-living poetry, with confidence in his or her own ability to discern the truth, may turn out to be a kindness long remembered.     ~Marie Merkel