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“I am that I am” says William Shakespeare…

November 19th, 2011 5 comments

Then Moses said vnto god, Behold, when I shall come vnto the children of Israel, and shall say vnto them, the god of your fathers hath sent me vnto you: if they say vnto me, What is his name? what shall I say vnto them?

And God answered Moses, I Am That I Am.  Also he said, thus shalt thou say vnto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me vnto you.

Exodus 3: 13-14, Geneva Bible 1599

Many thanks to Sarah B. for her useful comment on my last post, “He that will forget God”:

“Your odd leap from the Richard conversation to the “I am who I am” thing seems illogical. The phrase doesn’t figure anywhere in the conversation.”

You’re right, Sarah, I did take quite a leap, depending more on innuendo and intuition than straight exposition and fact.  But I do appreciate your expectation of logic, and will try to add a few stepping stones to make it easier to follow what I only suggested a few weeks ago:

1). Elizabeth characterized the person responsible for portraying her as Richard the Second as “He that will forget God.”

2). A person who uses God’s own phrase, “I am that I am” without remembering that he or she is what they are by the grace of God has, quite literally, forgotten God.

3).  William Shakespeare, who was not brought to trial, or even brought in for questioning regarding his bit part in the Essex Rebellion, forgot to mention God when he said “I am that I am” in Sonnet 121.  Edward de Vere also forgot to mention God when he proclaimed himself “I am that I am” in a personal letter admonishing his father-in-law.

4). Therefore, William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere – two praised dramatists with well-documented ties to the London theater world -  both qualify for consideration as the subject of Lambarde and Elizabeth’s conversation, that unnamed he of the “wicked imagination”, aka “he that will forget God.”

Edward de Vere seems to hold the better claim, being a creature “made” by Elizabeth, who granted him a thousand pounds a year when he was bankrupt, for naught but keeping state in respectable style, so as to uphold the outward awe of England’s nobility.  And yet, if the earl of Oxford had anything at all to do with William Shakespeare and his poetry, by way of collaboration or subversion, for some reason, he neglected to claim responsibility for his contributions.  Perhaps like “Captain Tucca” of Satiromastix, he was content to let others take “the guilt of conscience” for his dramatic devices.

Of course, Elizabeth may have had many other manifestations of forgetting God in mind, when voicing her ire towards the gentleman with the “wicked imagination”.  She may have found evidence of a proud, humanist spirit in Shakespeare’s plays.  She may have recognized the perplexing impossibility of assessing Shakespeare’s true faith from reading his tragedies, histories and comedies.  She may have looked in vain for humble praise of God or adoration of Jesus Christ in Shakespeare’s published poems.

Did Elizabeth know of Shakespeare’s use of the phrase, “I am that I am”?  Perhaps, perhaps not, since his “sugared sonnets” may have been circulating among a circle of friends that didn’t include her Majesty.  And yet, that circle quite likely included Richard Barnfield, a friend of Meres, and intimate of high-society figures such as Penelope Rich (sister of Essex) and William Stanley, earl of Derby.  Barnfield’s saucy and salacious poem of 1596, brashly entitled Cynthia and dedicated to the queen, certainly caused more than a passing frown of consternation.  It isn’t hard to imagine that someone who had Shakespeare’s private sonnets in hand, sonnets that were being eagerly read among a privileged coterie, would have enjoyed sharing such charming booty with the ever-romantic Virgin Queen.

As for Edward de Vere’s “I am that I am” assertion, Elizabeth’s “spirit”, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, may have felt it his duty to let her majesty know of the incredibly arrogant letter he’d received from her proud subject.  As a devout man with Puritan inclinations, Lord Burghley would have immediately recognized the theological implications of de Vere’s usurping God’s sacred name for his own, tawdry ends.   Chances are he would have felt compelled to issue a stiff corrective to such presumption.

This, I believe, is what actually happened.  Shortly after Burghley received this letter, a legal complaint was allowed to proceed in which Edward de Vere’s legitimacy came under intense scrutiny.  Incredibly embarrassing details about John de Vere’s erratic love life were made public, including a lurid tale about the rape and mutilation of the 16th earl of Oxford’s second, bigamous wife, Joan Jockey.  Both Elizabeth and Burghley had the power to squash these proceedings, but did not.  Could it be that they both agreed that Edward de Vere needed a bit more humbling?  (For more on the connections between Oxford’s letters to his father-in-law Burghley, and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 121, see Robert Detobel’s short essay, “I am that I am”).

In any case, Elizabeth didn’t need to see this letter to know Edward de Vere as “He that will forget God”.   Twenty years before her conversation with Lambarde, she’d read the testimony of de Vere’s cousin Henry Howard, and his former friend, Charles Arundel.  To back up the accuracy of what they say that Oxford said, these men called as witness Lord Windsor, Mr. Russell and Walter Ralegh.  Elizabeth could and probably did ask each of these men if Oxford really did indulge in such talk:

…his most horrible and detestable blasphemy in denial of the divinity of Christ, our Saviour, terming the Trinity as a fable, that Joesph was a wittold, and the Blessed Virgin a whore.  (see Monstrous Adversary, Alan H. Nelson, p. 210)

BTW, I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who has read Jonathan Bate’s discussion of Elizabeth’s conversation with Lambarde (Soul of the Age, 2009), and can either comment on his challenge to the authenticity of the record, or fill in some of the gaps from those pages unavailable on Google books!

“Why dost not speak to me?”

January 9th, 2011 No comments

Marcus Andronicus,

to his niece, Lavinia:

 

Why dost not speak to me?

 

Alas, a crimson River of warm blood,

 

Like to a bubbling Fountain stirred with wind,

 

Doth rise and fall between thy Rosed lips,

 

Coming and going with thy honied breath.

 

But sure some Tereus hath deflowered thee,

 

And lest thou shouldst detect them cut thy tongue.


Without her saying a word, Marcus already knows an unspeakable shame has befallen his niece.  “And lest thou shouldst detect them” he says; he knows that she’s been attacked by more than one Tereus, and knows that the blood he sees on her face comes from a cut tongue.

Yet nothing in the play gives us any reason to suspect him of complicity in the crime – quite the opposite.  Throughout the furies of bloody vengeance, Marcus remains a totem of noble, compassionate stability.  He knows more than he should simply because his creator is not offering realistic drama, but a stylized pageantry of mythic revenge.  “Shakespeare”, in the person of Uncle Marcus, speaks like a young poet stumbling through a textbook translation of brute and nasty fact into beautified, exalted truth.

Some truths are too horrifying, or embarrassing, or dangerous to speak of, except through the shimmering veils of poetry or the grotesques of old wives’ tales.  Richard Enowes’ confessed crime of 1585 falls into this category.  Forty years pass before even a whisper of this callous gang rape surfaces in the records, and even that document leaves us with more questions than answers.  When did John de Vere learn of the attack on Joan?  When, if ever, did he discover who was responsible?  If he’d known that his sister Anne’s husband, Edmund Sheffield, and his sister Elizabeth’s husband, Thomas Darcy, had organized the assault, would he have chosen to remain silent rather than accuse his own kinsman and shame his family name?  Could he possibly have known all along just what they were up to?  As Alan Nelson observes:

The 16th Earl’s exact role in the attack on Joan Jockey is uncertain.  Either his two brothers-in-law acted to destroy an alliance that they regarded as a threat to their own interests; or the Earl cooperated in an effort to drive away a woman who had become a liability.  That the Earl was somehow complicit is suggested by the fact that Enowes and Smith stayed in his service, as revealed by the Earl’s will of 1562, while he remained on exceedingly good terms with Darcy, as revealed in his will of 1552.

When I first read this, it seemed to me that Nelson’s bias against Edward de Vere’s person had unfairly spilled over to the father.   He starts out on firm footing, recognizing the benefits of a potential new alliance to Darcy and Sheffield.  But then he neglects to examine other possible reasons for Earl John’s continued employment of Enowes and Smith, or the full, coercive context of those “good terms with Darcy”.  No where in his account do we learn of Earl John’s shattering loss of another brother-in-law, Henry Howard, beheaded in the midst of his erratic marriages.  Perhaps one needs to have lived in terror to recognize when others are manifesting the strains of life under a tyrant.

Truth to tell, my own response to the 1585 depositions has been equally biased.  In my earliest phase of writing about Titus Andronicus from an Oxfordian perspective, I was too ready to interpret “Shakespeare’s” dramatization of a similar rape, and how Uncle Marcus responds, as evidence of how the real author, Edward Oxenford, knew his father had reacted to the assault on Joan.  The lines I’ve quoted above, along with so much of the play,  seemed to me a wonderfully compassionate record of his father’s helpless fury over what his in-laws had done.  But for all we know, Oxford had never heard of Joan Jockey before 1585.

How would a trained historian approach the evidence, both documentary and literary? It seems to me that any account of Oxford’s life must begin with a clear, emotionally detached – left-brained if you will – assessment of the documents, before flying aloft with right-brain intuitions of a deeper, camouflaged truth.  I now know that my own first, second and third readings of the 1585 depositions failed to pick up many small hints and inconsistencies within the five different accounts.  The layout of the document made it very difficult (for me at least) to keep track of what question each man was answering, and who said what before and after him, in response to the same question.  For ease of comprehension, I’ve now reformatted the questions and answers, and posted what I hope will be a more reader-friendly version: 1585 Depositions Concerning Oxford’s Legitmacy. [filed under "The Life", top menu]

In two earlier posts, “John de Vere’s firstborn son” and “The Goddess of Justice“, I’ve been laying the groundwork for an in-depth re-examination of every piece of evidence relevant to Oxford’s birth.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing six different summaries of what the 1585 depositions actually say:

1. Alan H. Nelson, who gives the fullest account of the Joan Jockey incident on  pp. 14-19 of Monstrous Adversary (2003).

2. Daphne Pearson, who briefly discusses Oxford’s legitimacy problems on pg. 25 and on pg. 112 of Edward de Vere (1550-1604): The Crisis and Consequences of Wardship (2005).

3. Mark Anderson, who talks about John de Vere and his marriage problems on pg. 3 and discusses the”bastardy lawsuit” of 1563 on pg. 24 of Shakespeare by Another Name (2005).

4. Charles Beauclerk, who summarizes these claims of illegitimacy on pp. 56-7 of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom (2010).

5. Christopher Paul, whose article, “The ‘Prince Tudor” Dilemma: Hip Thesis, Hypothesis, or Old Wives’ Tale?” is frequently cited as a rebuttal to adventurous theories about Oxford’s birth.

6. Nina Green, who deftly summarizes the 1585 Depositions; mentions the issue in the footnotes to her 2009 Brief Chronicles article,  “The Fall of the House of Oxford”, and again in her Oxmyth’s involving other individuals page, where she lists as “Myth” the assertion that “the 16th Earl’s second marriage, to Margery Golding, was ‘irregular’.”

If you know of an important discussion of this document that I’ve overlooked, whether published in a book, journal, newsletter or online, please send me a message so I can include it in this survey.  Many thanks!

Why dost not speak to me?

Alas, a crimson River of warm blood,

Like to a bubbling Fountain stirred with wind,

Doth rise and fall between thy Rosed lips,

Coming and going with thy honied breath.

But sure some Tereus hath deflowered thee,

And lest thou shouldst detect them cut thy tongue.

John de Vere’s firstborn son

December 18th, 2010 10 comments

For most of us who have any interest in the topic, that would be Edward, the only son ever recorded or claimed by the 16th earl of Oxford as his own.  I like to imagine that the boy’s arrival would have pleased his father.  Both the 13th and 14th earls of Oxford had failed to produce heirs, and his twelve years of marriage to Dorothy Neville had given him two daughters (one who survived, Katherine, and Faith, who died in infancy) but no son. Given the circumstances of predation and instability that all of England, but Earl John in particular, had endured since the passing of Great Harry in January of 1547, a male heir to his ancient family name must have given him great comfort.

And when did the happy father first welcome his baby boy and claim him as his own?  On the face of it, Alan H. Nelson’s discovery of a Privy Council document, dated 17 April, 1550, authorizing a gift “at the Christening of our very goode Lorde the Erle of Oxfordes Sonne“, leaves little room to doubt the traditionally accepted date of birth, first recorded in William Cecil’s retrospective table of important family dates as “1550 April 12, Edw. Co. Oxon Natus“.

As it happens, the 17th of April, 1550 was quite a busy day for the Privy Council, with the record of transactions beginning on page 430 of the online edition of the Register, and continuing through page 431 (Acts of the Privy Council of England, 1547-1550, Vol. 2, available at British History Online).  From the wording of the warrant, it appears that the christening had not yet occurred, and that the earl of Oxford’s son did not yet have a name; if he had one, surely someone would have thought to include it.  The name “Edward” had never been used for the de Vere earls; no doubt Earl John wished to honor his young monarch.  But he may also have wished to appease the king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of the Realm, who had so voraciously pursued a personal interest in the de Vere family’s estates.  By early April of 1550, Somerset seemed to be on the verge of regaining his former power; on 10 April, he had been reinstated to the Privy Council.

Most commentators on Edward de Vere’s birth have found the christening cup warrant to be sufficient proof that he was, indeed, the legitimate son of John de Vere and Margery Golding .  (See, for example, Robert Brazil on Oxford’s nativity, the first eleven pages of Christopher Paul’s article on Prince Tudor theory, Part II, and Nina Green’s opening account of The Fall of the House of Oxford) A small but eloquent minority, however, continue to suspect that this document is somehow compromised, and that the true story of Edward de Vere’s birth may have been willfully obscured.

As comforting as it might be to let well-enough alone, we actually have good reason to believe that things are not quite as they seem.  The first person to go on record with their doubts was a first-hand witness to Earl John’s affairs:  Edward’s half-sister Katherine Vere, Lady Windsor.   Perhaps out of respect for her father’s peace of mind, she said nothing until after his death in August 3, 1562.  But less than a year later, her husband filed a suit that seems to have touched the young earl of Oxford’s “legitimacy of the blood“, along with that of his sister, Mary.  The sole surviving document ( here in Latin, and here as translated in Nelson’s Monstrous Adversary) mentions “certain articles” but provides no clue as to the basis for Katherine’s attempt to nullify her father’s claim that Edward was, indeed, his true heir.

For that, we must turn to the disturbing testimony of five witnesses who were called on forty years after the events in question to recount all that they remembered of Earl John’s adulteries, reckless courtships, and his bigamous marriage to “Joan Jockey”, prior to his hasty agreement to wed Margery Golding.  Curiously, not one of these five men betrayed the least suspicion that the earl’s passionate affairs might have resulted in the birth of a bastard child.  This is mildly surprising.  In spite of all his mistresses and “pretended” marriages, Katherine, Faith, Edward and Mary were and remain John de Vere’s only children on record.  No spurious Edmund, it seems, ever dogged the heels of the earldom’s true Edgar.

And yet, Edward’s legitimacy problems began long before Katherine contested his rights in 1563, and were of such force that he remained vulnerable even after his father’s seemingly lawful marriage to Margery Golding in 1548.  From his first breath, Edward would have been surrounded by family who had lived through all the events described in 1585.  Some of his closest kin assuredly knew all that had happened to the village girl Joan – after all, his uncles Thomas Darcy and Edmund Sheffield were two of the five men who had “cut” and “spoiled” her.

Have you ever wondered why Sir John Popham’s twenty questions to the deponents of 1585, in a case that threatened the 17th earl of Oxford’s right to his name and lineal inheritance, did not include, “To the best of your knowledge, was there issue from any of these previous extra-marital liasions?”  Given that the queen herself had called Oxford a bastard, we might wonder if Popham had consulted her before drafting his questions.  If something truly damaging to the de Vere inheritance of Burghley’s granddaughters lurked in the testimony of these five men, would she have wanted it brought to light?  What if one of the men testified that Earl John had married Joan because she was pregnant with his child?

Among these darkest of memories, we find no easy explanation for Earl John’s touchingly erratic and increasingly frantic determination to marry someone, anyone.  What was his problem?  After Dorothy’s death in January, 1548, he was free at last to contract another true marriage.  Maybe what he needed, urgently, was a new wife who would silently adopt and legitimize a baby son born to the shamed and mutilated woman he’d already married at Whit Colne Church.