Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 65. Saturday, 21 Mar 1992.
Date: Wed, 18 Mar 1992 06:26:00 -0500
From: Peter Scott <
Subject: Shakespeare and The Earl of Oxford
[Ed Note: Peter Scott has forwarded this contentious query
from the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.books. -- k.s.]
Forwarded from Usenet (rec.arts.books)
Date: 16-MAR-1992 17:46:08
Description: Shakespeare and The Earl of Oxford
It may surprise news readers but the attribution authorship of
William Shakespeare's work to William Shaksper of Stratford has
very little basis in the historical record; none of the records,
link him to a literary life and very few to a theatrical life.
The same can't be said for his contemporaries. Despite their
lesser place in English literature we can read well
documented biographies of Ben Jonson, Marlowe, Harvey,
Drayton, Spenser, Greene, and Nashe.
After two centuries of intensive research by formidably equipped scholars,
no incontrovertible proof that William Shaksper of Stratford was the author
has yet emerged. The amount of research done on the
Oxfordian case has been orders of magnitude smaller, but it has
turned up quite a good case. It is perhaps symptomatic of the
problem, but Shakespearean research is plagued by the forgeries of
Collier, Cunningham and Ireland who sought to augment the very
small amount of hard evidence that is available. Schoenbaum still
cites the Court of Revels records despite the clear demonstration
by Tannenbaum (orthodox scholar) that they are forgeries.
Let me give you two pieces of hard evidence that undermine the
1. Actor John Heminges' daughter, Thomasina, married William Ostler, one of
the actors of the King's men. He died in 1614 leaving shares
in the leases of the Globe and Blackfriars theatres to Thomasina.
She was unable to obtain possession of the shares from her
father and filed suit against him. Her petition, dated 1615,
"Cumque per quandam aliam indenturan inter Basilium Nicholl,
Willelmum Shakespeare, Johannem Witter, Johannem Hemynges,
Henricum Condell, and Johannem Edmondes and Marium vxorem eius
ex vna prte and prefatum Willelmum Ostler ex altera parte, apud
Londonium predictam in predicta parochia beate Marie de Arcubus
in Warda de Cheape Lodonie factum, gerentem datum vicesimo die
Februarii anno regni dicti domini Regis nunc Anglie non
supradicto (1612), recitando quod,
Cum quidam Nicolaus Brend de West Mousley in Comitatu Surria
armiger per indenturam suam tripartitam, gerentem datum vicesimo
primo die Februarii anno regni domine Elizabeth nuper Regine
Anglie quadragesimo primo (1599), pro consideracionibus in eadem
indentura tripartita mercionatis and expressatis, dismisisset,
concessisset and ad firmam tradidesset quibusdam Cuthberto
Burbadge and Ricardo Burbadge de Londonia generosis, prefato
Willelmo Shakspeare and Augustino Phillips and Thome Pope de
Londonia generosis defunctis, predicto Johanni Hemynges, and
Willelmo Kempe nuper de Londonia generoso defuncto, totam illam
parcellam fundi nuper...."
If you have no Latin then you may want to obtain a translation
for yourself. The gist of it is that Thomasina refers to
"Richard and Cuthbert Burbadge, gentlemen of London, and to
Willelmo Shakespeare, Augustino Phillips and Thomas Pope of
London, dead gentlemen." The Latin case indicates long dead,
whereas Willelmo Kempe, in the next line, is referred to as " a
gentleman from London recently deceased."
Initially I thought that 1615 was close enough to 1616 for it not
to matter much, but a Latin scholar of my acquaintance pointed
out that the reference clearly means "long dead". This is
confirmed by the death dates for Phillips (May 1605) and Pope
(prior to February 1604). Kemp apparently died in 1608 or 1609.
Orthodox scholars (Chambers, Schoenbaum) cite the document
but they don't mention or explain the "generosis defunctis"
reference. The Public Records Office handbook merely notes that:
"Although Shakespeare was not an active party in this action his
name occurs in this plea as a shareholder in both the Globe and
On the basis of this unrefuted legal document, there must have
been two William Shakespeares; one who had had shares in the Globe
and was dead by 1608 at the latest, and one who was still alive
and well in Stratford in 1615.
The suit also tells us that shares in the Globe
and Blackfriars were valuable enough to sue your father for.
Why did the mercenary William Shakesper of the historical record
omit any references to his theatrical shares in his will? The
only conclusion I can draw from this evidence is that some other
William Shakespeare actually owned the shares.
On the basis of just this one piece of hard evidence, we are
entitled to ask "which Shakespeare?" whenever the name turns up
in disembodied contemporary references.
Now, if this document had referred to a William Shakespeare
currently living in Stratford, in the same way as it referred to
the Burbages, we would have had supporting evidence for the
man from Stratford. Since it clearly referred to a William
Shakespeare different from the Stratford man, this document
significantly weakens the case for Shaksper. The fact that
orthodox scholars make no attempt to explain the document
weakens their credibility in my view.
2. The Cornwallis-Lyons manuscript at the Folger library
contains the earliest copy of any portion of Shakespeare's
work known to exist. It dates from Elizabethan times.
The book is a small oblong quarto of nineteen leaves bound
in leather. Stamped in gold on the spine, is:
MSS POEMS BY VERE EARL OF OXFORD &C.
The book contains thirty three poems transcribed in several
distinct Elizabethan hands. Some of them have
authors ascribed but the identifications may or may not be
correct. These include J Bentley, Philip Sidney, Edward Dyer,
Anne Vavasour (the Oxfordian's dark lady) and Edward de Vere.
Several poems have no author's name affixed to them, and one is
attributed to William Shakespeare since an inferior variation of
it appeared as his in the 1599 edition of "The Passionate
The orthodox scholars who have studied the other poems date
them in the 1580s. Despite all the internal evidence, and
contrary to their own previously stated conclusions, they then
assign the single poem assigned to Shakespeare to the 1590s;
to do otherwise would throw a wrench into the orthodox
I would assume that the poems that lacked an author's name
could be attributed to the name on the spine, but this would be
too conjectural to be accepted as evidence that de Vere wrote
some poetry attributed to Shakespeare. The other reasonable
assumption, that Shakespeare was writing poetry in the 1580s,
blows the orthodox dating of Shakespeare's poetry out of the
water. The only other assumptions one could make are that the
poetry in "The Passionate Pilgrim" was wrongly ascribed to
Shakespeare (which the orthodox scholars do not believe), or
that the Shakespearean poem was copied into the manuscript many
years later even though it is not the last poem in the
One response to the original posting has been that the authorship
doesn't matter; we have the plays and poetry. That view might be
acceptable to an unreconstructed deconstructionist, but it doesn't
sit well with me. To take a contemporary example, consider
Arthur Miller's works. If you didn't know that "The Crucible"
had been written during the McCarthy era you would
miss half the message. Similarly, knowing he (Miller, not McCarthy)
had been married to Marilyn Monroe makes "After the Fall"
much more fascinating.
If we accept the possibility that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
actually wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare then we do find
illuminating parallels between his personal life, the politics of the court
and the plays.
The works of Shakespeare do contain one reference to the Warwickshire
of Shaksper's youth - the induction scene of the "The Taming of the Shrew".
If you believe Shaksper was the patsy for some high ranking nobleman's
literary perversions then you'll enjoy this scene.
For another modern comparison, consider the plight of QE2 if she had
a secret passion for writing lurid historical romances.
They might get published but you could be certain it wouldn't be
under her name. The powers that be might even dig up a stand-in to
do the talk-show circuit.
My apologies for an extremely long posting. I would recommend that
anyone interested in the Shakespeare authorship question read the
Ogburn book and an orthodox biography such as Schoenbaum's
"William Shakespeare, a Documentary Life" hand in hand.
Schoenbaum is less prone than most Shakespearean scholars to
treating fable and conjecture as fact, though he still slips up
now and then.