By Bruce Lacey
“Shakespeare” by Another Name, by Mark Anderson, is a biography of the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. It is the story of the dramatic life of an Elizabethan nobleman whose father’s death left him a ward of a powerful but manipulative royal official, a spendthrift rake with a feudal sense of honor, a would-be military hero, a star of Elizabeth’s court (for a time), a talented poet and playwright, a man shamed by his own scandalous behavior and – in his mind — his own public cuckoldry, who ultimately squandered his family’s inheritance and lived out his last days in regret and relative poverty. And, by the way, in the view of Anderson and many others, a man who authored the plays traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare.
Anderson’s work is part of a tradition going back to the eighteenth century that questions Shakespeare’s authorship and proposes alternative candidates. This tradition of includes such illustrious names as Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, etc. but, to say the least, has not been well received by academic Shakespeare scholarship. Currently the Earl of Oxford is probably the leading candidate (out of many) among Shakespeare skeptics.
You can, if you like, enjoy this book quite apart from its place in the Shakespeare authorship controversy. It is a pleasure to read, an engaging, sympathetic biography of a most dramatic and in many ways tragic life. Indeed, it makes use of an unusual and remarkably successful literary device : By casting de Vere as the author of Shakespeare’s works, Anderson is able to weave passages of Shakespeare’s plays into the narrative, where they serve with uncanny aptness as semi-autobiographical expressions of the intrigues, struggles, and passions of de Vere and those around him. You can also engage the book as a kind of sophisticated historical detective game, the object of which is to find clues to the origin and meaning of Shakespeare’s works in the details of de Vere’s life and also clues to de Vere’s life in Shakespeare’s works. The pleasure here is especially in the disclosure of one telling and surprising detail after another that connects the two, creating a sense of mystery explored and resolved.
But of course the more serious question is : Is it true? Did Oxford really write the works of Shakespeare? Or, if a conclusive answer to this question is not available at the moment — it’s certainly not available to me — how weighty is the evidence he provides, especially as compared to the evidence for the more straightforward and traditional candidate from Stratford-on-Avon? No doubt one controversial feature of Anderson’s biography is that it does not so much argue that de Vere wrote Shakespeare as take that assumption as its point of departure and shape the biographical details around it. This has some disadvantages for anyone looking for a full statement of an argument for Oxford as author : First, no argument that Oxford wrote these works is complete without an argument that Shakespeare of Stratford didn’t, but Anderson restricts himself to a brief summary of the reasons for doubt (given in numerous other books) in the introduction. Second, although he does deal with many of the objections to Oxford’s authorship, often in some depth, the objections appear in the narrative only incidentally, or as they are ready for rebuttal by his own account. There’s no attempt to survey the main counterarguments and objections as such. (Once again, numerous other books have done this, with varying degrees of success.)
However, this is just to judge the book by what it doesn’t attempt do. The book doesn’t attempt to provide a complete and formal argument for Oxford’s authorship. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a substantial contribution to such an argument. Indeed, there are some advantages to using Oxford’s authorship as a starting point rather than a conclusion. Anderson takes an impressive number of connections developed by preceding scholarship and integrates them into a single life story. In so doing, we get, so to speak, a full statement of the hypothesis of Oxford authorship; we can see how much it explains, what predictions it generates, and how fruitful it is, all prior to entering the slugfest that is the authorship controversy. In this respect the book is also a great motivator for further study. I challenge you to read it and retain a dismissive attitude towards its thesis.
A more serious objection to a book of this kind is the view that, given the details of the life of any one of a number of contemporary Elizabethans, on the one hand, and the riches of the works of Shakespeare, on the other, it is no doubt possible for an industrious researcher to uncover a number of parallels and coincidental connections which, when skilfully woven together, create a “biography” of said Elizabethan “as Shakespeare”. This is certainly true, and is the main reason to approach “Shakespeare” by Another Name with caution. David Kathman – Assistant Editor of New Variorum Shakespeare Poems — ridicules such parallel-mongering in the case of Hamlet.) However, I don’t think this observation by itself is enough to warrant dismissal of Anderson’s book. It is difficult to know the point at which an accumulation of coincidences and parallels goes beyond what a combination of chance, selectivity, and art could readily yield, and it’s not obvious that Anderson doesn’t go beyond that point.
Indeed, if de Vere did not write the works of Shakespeare, this book is a case study in the potential of this method to create the illusion of authorship. It’s not that any one of the connections Anderson points out is in itself a compelling reason to think de Vere was the author; it is the sheer number of connections, the steady accumulation Anderson unearths at every stage of de Vere’s life, supported by 157 pages of endnotes, that is quite striking. To illustrate, here is a selection of what I’m calling “connections” drawn from one section of the book.
In 1575-1576, at the age of 25, de Vere took a tour of Italy and environs by way of Paris. (By contrast, William Shakespeare, so far as anyone knows, never left England.) We know from letters and other sources that he visited Verona, Venice, Palermo, Naples, Genoa, Florence, Padua, Siena, and the outskirts of Milan. The trip, which links together the sites of many of Shakespeare’s plays, would have brought him firsthand knowledge of these places. What makes this more interesting is a number of particular connections Anderson, drawing on previous scholarship, makes. Here is a sample :
• In Venice the painting of Venus and Adonis by Titian, who was alive in 1575, was on display in Titian’s palatial home, often seen by visiting nobility. Shakespeare’s first published work, the poem Venus and Adonis, captures details of Titian’s painting, including the fact that Adonis tries to pull away from Venus, and that he wears a hat (unlike the four replicas of the painting that existed elsewhere). According to art historian Erwin Panofsky, “Shakepeare’s words … sound like poetic paraphrase of Titian’s composition”.
• De Vere was in Siena two days before Twelfth Night in1576, where he probably saw the annual performance of The Deceived (Gl’Ingannati) on Twelfth Night. A version of Gl’Ingannati is widely thought to be the source of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. It has been speculated that this annual performance accounts for the name Twelfth Night, since nothing in the content of the play has to do directly with this holiday. DeVere would have made this association first hand.
• A mosaic representing the seven ages of man inside the Siena Duomo parallels the seven ages of man speech in As You Like It (103).)
• Shakespeare knew the somewhat obscure fact that canals and waterways connected Milan, Verona, and Venice, and that Bohemia had a seacoast at this time. (Ben Jonson took this as evidence that Shakespeare had his geography wrong.) De Vere – along with anyone else who visited these areas — would have had direct experience of these on his travel route.
• According to Anderson, an earlier letter from the French ambassador (see p.91, 70, and footnote p. 455) stated that Don John, the bastard half-brother of Philip II of Spain, “had a job” for de Vere. De Vere later claimed to have commanded some troops sent to avert civil war in Genoa, a dispute the pope appointed Don John to settle. In Much Ado About Nothing, “Don John” appears as the bastard brother of the Prince of Aragon.
• Since de Vere was in Florence, he would have encountered pilgrims on their way to Rome, since 1575 was a “Jubilee Year” in the Catholic Church. Although, according to Anderson, in late 1575 Rome “had reached its capacity” and “many travelers never made it further south than overflow sites near Florence” (p. 101). In All’s Well that Ends Well, French pilgrim Helena passes through Florence on her way to “Saint Jaques le Grand”. Why Saint Jaques le Grand? Shakespeare knew, as many subsequent scholars did not, that there is a shrine to St. James the Great (“St Jaques le Grand” in Helena’s native French) near Florence, as opposed to the more famous site of that name it Spain.
• On the way home, de Vere possibly was asked by the German Duke Jan Casimir to review his troops (this based on a later play by George Chapman that portrays this encounter). Then, crossing the English Channel, his ship was attacked by pirates and de Vere, according to two third-party accounts, was taken prisoner and, robbed of his clothes, left “naked”. The parallel here is with Hamlet, in which Hamlet reviews the troops of Fortinbras and then sets sail, is taken by pirates, and “set naked on your kingdom” (neither event being in the the play’s sources).
The preceding is a selection of what I’m calling “connections” from about 35 pages of Anderson’s book (out of a total of 380 pages, excluding appendices). I omit several others found in the same pages, some quite fascinating although more speculative, for lack of space.
I find this fascinating, although whether this sort of thing meets the test of going beyond what a combination of chance, selectivity, and art could yield I don’t know. After all, none of these is particularly compelling in itself. Shakespeare could have gained much of this information from books, travelers, or Italian emigres. Still, the sheer accumulation of these details over the course of the book is impressive.
Or rather, perhaps it is the interconnection of a number of separate observations that’s impressive. Here is one example of what I mean. Aside from de Vere’s presence at the performance of Gl’Ingannati, Anderson later finds another clue connecting Twelfth Night to de Vere : In 1581, de Vere and one Sir Christopher Hatton were notorious rivals for the Queen’s attention. The character Malvolvio, who is an object of mockery throughout the play, is made to read a prank letter signed “The Fortunate Unhappy”. This is a reversal of Hatton’s Latin pen name Felix Infortunatus – “the happy unfortunate”. Add to this the statement of antiquarian Francis Peck in 1732 that he had in his possession for publication “a pleasant conceit of Vere, earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English court, circa 1580” and two other apparent references in the play to events of 1580 and 1581, and you have a prima facie case that a version of this play may have be produced by de Vere in the early 1580’s. (William Shakespeare turned 16 in 1580.) Anderson’s suggestion is that such court plays by de Vere were later revised to make the Shakespearean works we know.
De Vere’s Life and Shakespeare’s Works
However, I don’t want to give the impression that the book consists simply of a series of “telling details” Anderson ferrets out to argue for de Vere’s authorship. He devotes considerable attention to the way in which major themes in the plays are intertwined with de Vere’s roller coaster of a life. The death of de Vere’s father when he was twelve left him to be raised by the Master of Royal Wards, William Cecil, who was appointed by the Queen to raise orphans of the high nobility. Cecil seems to have retained a certain control over de Vere’s inheritance for most of his life – many of his letters to Cecil are pleas for money — leaving him with a sense that he had been deprived of his rightful place in the world despite all his advantages.
Perhaps the most pivotal relationship in De Vere’s life was his marriage to Anne Cecil, Lord Burghley’s daughter, who grew up in the same household with him. He apparently refused to consummate the marriage and ignored his wife for four years. Then, when he learned that she was pregnant during his trip to Italy, de Vere became embittered at what he thought was her infidelity and at what became a public scandal. In the end, it seems he probably was the father without quite knowing it. (I won’t speculate on the mechanics of this) Anderson finds parallels in the plot of All’s Well that Ends Well, where Bertram loses his father, becomes a ward of court, and is then married to Helena against his will because she is beneath his rank (after which her family is entitled, as Cecil’s family was entitled soon after Anne’s marriage to de Vere). Then he goes to Italy and is finally won back to his wife by a bed-trick (that is, she tricks him into sleeping with her).
In the view of Cecil and others, de Vere was “enticed by certain lewd persons to be a stranger to his wife”. Anderson suspects Rowland Yorke, who had been known to block her from de Vere’s private chamber and in whose brother’s house de Vere went to live when he came back from Italy. Yorke remained de Vere’s companion until he reconciled with his wife six years later. Yorke later proved his worm-like character by betraying the English army to the Spanish in 1586. He was eventually poisoned. Thus de Vere has his own Iago. (In a characteristic touch, Anderson notes that according to a seventeenth century source Yorke was the person who introduced a “bold and dangerous way of foining [thrusting] with the rapier in dueling”, and then notes that in Othello Iago brags that he has often “yerk’d…[opponents] under the ribs”.)
Anderson argues that the themes of fidelity, suspicion, and jealousy in Shakespeare’s plays have their roots in de Vere’s experience with Anne :
Author, Mark Anderson
Lacking definite answers, de Vere was left to spend much of the rest of his life poetically and dramatically exploring every possible scenario behind [his first daughter’s] birth. Was de Vere deceived by a bed trick? All’s Well and Measure for Measure consider such a strategem. Could Anne have been raped and then covered it up? Rape of Lucrece and Titus Andronicus present this scenario. Was Anne actually unfaithful? The Winter’s Tale sneaks in such a possibility. Was de Vere misled by a sinister servant? Well…yes. And that one is certainly laid out in full view in Othello and Cymbeline. Did de Vere act cruelly and heartlessly no matter what Anne had or hadn’t done? The Winter’s Tale and Othello suggest he’d reached that conclusion by the end of his life.
De Vere also satirizes his own jealous obsessions. The Comedy of Errors and The Merry Wives of Windsor both poke fun at the jealous insanity of the author recognized in himself. (p.147)
Thus Anderson intertwines the emotional currents in de Vere’s life with those in Shakespeare’s plays.
The other two large themes in “Shakespeare” by Another Name are de Vere’s literary career and the arc of scandal and uncontrolled spending that led de Vere effectively to bankruptcy by about 1590, having sold all his ancestral lands and incurred massive debts.
The Literary Career.
Besides some poetry under his own name, mostly youthful, de Vere was a patron of several poets and playwrights and sponsored one or two acting troupes before he went broke. Anderson provides good reason (see above) to think he also wrote plays performed at Court, although none of them survive in his name. John Lyly, whose work is widely regarded as a major influence on Shakespeare (“Shakespeare learned from Lyly how to write prose” according to Kenneth Muir, himself definitely no Oxfordian, in Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays (p.8)), actually served as de Vere’s private secretary in the early 1580’s, along with playwright Anthony Munday, who is also standardly cited as a source for three Shakespeare plays . These influences are to be expected if de Vere was Shakespeare. Naturally Anderson suggests the influence went in both directions. Close connections between de Vere and other Elizabethan playwrights are cited.
Anderson also uncovers some interesting contemporaneous testimony on the quality of de Vere’s work. A tribute to de Vere from The Arte of English Poesie (1589) is well-known : that a number of noblemen “have written commendably well – as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest – of which number is first that noble gentleman Edward, earl of Oxford”. More intriguing to me was the following from Thomas Edwardes’ Narcissus (1595). A series of verses praising various contemporary writers ends with one to Shakespeare (called “Adon”) for his Venus and Adonis (published two years earlier), followed by the following verses for an anonymous writer, presumably distinct from Shakespeare, who “should have been of our rhyme the only object and the star”:
Eke [Likewise] in purple robes distaind,
Amid’st the Center of this clime,
I have heard say does remain,
One whose power floweth far,
That should have been of our rhyme
The only object and the star.
Well could his bewitching pen,
Done the Muses objects to us
Although he difers much from men
Tilting under Frieries,
Yet his golden art might woo us
To have honored him with bays. (spelling partly modernized by me)
Anderson takes the reference to “tilting under friaries” to refer to a much publicized brawl (another de Vere scandal) in in the Blackfriars neighborhood in 1584 involving two of de Vere’s retainers, and “in purple robes distaind” to mean “disdained by those in purple robes”, referring to de Vere’s disgrace and exclusion from the Court.
De Vere’s Disgrace and Bankruptcy
Anderson’s detailed portrait of De Vere’s losses in both finances and reputation in the 1590s is especially important since it enables him to define the circumstances in which de Vere might plausibly have sought to have his plays performed in public theaters without attribution. His life at Court, including his role as court playwright, largely ceased after 1588. He could no longer fund his acting troupes – the Earl of Oxford’s Men and the Earl of Oxford’s Boys (only one record of a performance by them in the 1590’s survives). Anderson argues that openly submitting plays to the commercial theater would have amplified his disgrace. He also argues – less convincingly I think – that de Vere’s first published work – not a play but the poem Venus and Adonis – would, coming from his pen, have been seen as a controversial allegory involving Queen Elizabeth.
De Vere’s reduced circumstances can also help to explain the sort of persona we find in the Sonnets, where the themes of aging, shame, and despair are often prominent. Even the earliest sonnets, which are usually taken to be addressed to the young Earl of Southhampton in the early 1590’s (when Shakespeare was not yet 30 but de Vere was past 40), seem to stress the author’s age :
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaz’d on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed of small worth held….(Sonnet 2).
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long. (Sonnet 73)
These are two of many. Scott McCrea, who defends Shakespeare’s authorship, says the recurrent theme of aging in the sonnets is “the one piece of evidence that actually contradicts Shakespeare’s candidacy”.
What I’d Like to Know
Here is an interesting fact : A large percentage of Shakespeare plays seem to have an earlier version (or at least a version of the same story or plot) by some anonymous author that was performed in Court or by the Queen’s players in the 1570’s and 1580’s. (The first plausible appearance of a Shakespeare play is about 1590.) I refer not only to the well-known “sources” – e.g. The True Tragedie of Richard III, first performed by the Queen’s men around 1590, which is an acknowledged probable source for Richard III – but also to lost plays of which we only have the title. For example, in December 1584 Oxford’s Boys – one of de Vere’s acting troupes – performed A History of Agamemnon and Ulysses before the queen and her court. Although that play is lost, Anderson points out that the core of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is a heated dispute between Agamemnon and Ulysses, and draws further parallels between that scene of Shakespeare’s play and the political and military situation in 1584.
Here is a list of such potential “early versions” of Shakespeare plays, their first known date of performance, and the relevant Shakespeare play, along with a comment (quoted comments are from Anderson). I also draw from a very nice website that lists the sources of Shakespeare’s plays among other things, and one that lists first performance dates and locations for early Elizabethan literature . (Remember, William Shakespeare was born in 1564.)
Historie of Error (1577) (lost play) and Comedy of Errors. Linkage based on titles alone.
History of Titus and Gisippus (1577) (lost play) and Two Gentlemen of Verona. The latter play is believed to be based in part on Book II, Ch. 12 of Boccaccio’s Decameron, starring Titus and Gisippus.
History of the Cruelties of a Stepmother (1578) (lost play) and Cymbeline. Not only is Cymbeline the story of a cruel stepmother, one of its sources – The Ethiopian History of Heliodorus – was dedicated to de Vere in 1577.
History of the Rape of Second Helen (1579) (lost play) and All’s Well that Ends Well. This is a much more speculative connection, based really on parallels between the latter play, whose main character is Helen, and de Vere’s life. But see the discussion above. (The first Helen is Helen of Troy, covered in Troilus and Cressida.)
A Moor’s Masque (1579) (lost masque) and Othello. This was a “skit” performed on March 3, 1579. Obviously this connection is speculative.
The “pleasant conceit of Vere, earl of Oxford…circa 1580” reported by Francis Peck (and subsequently lost) and Twelfth Night. See the discussion above.
A History of Ariodante and Genevora (1583) (lost play) and Much Ado About Nothing. The standard source for the latter play is Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, the story of Ariodante and Genevora.
A History of Agamemnon and Ulysses (1584) (lost play) and Troilus and Cressida. See the discussion above.
The Famous Victories of Henry V (1586) and Henry V.
The Troublesome Reign of King John (1587-1591) and King John
King Leir and His Three Daughters (1588-1594) and King Lear
The True Tragedie of Richard III (1588-1594) and Richard III
The Taming of A Shrew (1588-1593) and The Taming of The Shrew.
Of these early “versions”, we have texts for the last five. Anderson suggests that many or most of these are “early drafts” by de Vere or by de Vere along with his associates (although in some cases I find this implausible – e.g.comparing Richard III with True Tragedie). These were then revised and published in the 1590’s.
Even if one doesn’t accept the view that these are by de Vere, it is a striking fact that so many of Shakespeare’s plays seem to have had a döppelganger performed at Court (or by the Queen’s Men) in the fifteen years prior to William Shakespeare’s appearance on the scene. This isn’t a question about the sources of a particular play, but simply about a feature of the body of Shakespeare’s work as a whole. His selection of plots and themes has a very large overlap with that set of plays. Maybe someone reading this review can enlighten me. Do other Elizabethan playwrights duplicate the themes of previous recent plays in this way? To me, it seems that this calls for an explanation of some kind. One explanation might be that many of the plays were written by de Vere and then revised by him. Another might be that many were written by de Vere and Shakespeare for some reason chose this body of work to serve as raw material, preserving some of the de Vere-related material in them. Or maybe de Vere has nothing to do with it.
The Other Side of the Story
The above is not a summary of Anderson’s evidence but just a sampling and an overview. I found it intriguing.
However, I ought to point out that Anderson weaves fact and supposition together so well it’s easy to confuse the two. He gives such a nice account of de Vere’s visit to Ragusa (today’s Dubrovnik) — possibly the Illyrian city where Twelfth Night is set, thus reinforcing the pattern of connections above — that one forgets that the only reason to believe de Vere was there at all is that he took a Mediterranean voyage from Venice and also expressed an intent to visit the Aegean — though he apparently never got there. Anderson merely suggests Ragusa would have been a normal stop on the way to the Aegean, after which he presumably turned around and went to Sicily. One must be wary of constructing patterns on speculative foundations. Anderson also reports that de Vere attended a party at which Margaret, countess of Lennox, was present. Her family archives held an obscure manuscript – the Scottish source of the account in Holinshed’s Chronicles usually considered the source of Macbeth, the source of the source, so to speak — which there is some evidence Shakespeare used directly. Anderson’s description of the encounter makes it easy to lose track of the fact that the only documentary basis for this connection is that both names appear on a guest list. So the sense that we’ve discovered the key to the Ur-source, so to speak, is something of an illusion. It’s easy to be beguiled by this book.
As a novice in this area, in both Shakespeare studies and specifically in the question of authorship, I was wary. So I read The Case for Shakespeare : The End of the Authorship Question by Scott McCrea (Praeger 2005) and the materials on the “Shakespeare Authorship Page” website, as well as assorted bits of other books relating to the authorship question. The first thing I found was that whoever becomes curious about the Shakespeare authorship question has entered the lion’s den. The level of vitriol is bewildering, although thankfully Anderson’s biography is largely free of it.
Leaving vitriol aside, I’ll single out three of what I take to be the most compelling arguments against de Vere as Shakespeare :
• The “Will” Sonnets, where the author deliberately uses the word/name “will” a great many times and, in Sonnet 136, actually says “my name is Will”. Given that the sonnets were private poems, what reason would there be for the author to use a pseudonym? Personally, I think this pretty compelling.
• De Vere died in 1604 and several of Shakespeare’s plays appear to have been written after that date. How much of a problem this is depends on how easy it is to argue that this dating is wrong. This debate often turns on the dating of The Tempest, which is usually taken to make use of the so-called Strachey letter of 1610 describing a shipwreck in 1609. However, possibly a more compelling argument is what McCrea calls the “logjam argument”. Several plays appear to include source material dated in 1603. For de Vere to have written them all before his death in June 1604, he would had to had to write an improbable number of major plays in the last year of his life.
• Although Ben Jonson’s public laudatory comments about Shakespeare, the Swan of Avon, in the First Folio of 1623, might have sought to preserve the pen-name “Shakespeare” the public knew to ensure publication success, other comments of his are known where there’s no such motive. While Jonson is apt to criticize Shakespeare (and every other author, as McCrea shows) in private, his private remarks on “Shakespeare” also include “I lov’d the man, and do honour his memory (on this side Idolatry) as much as any” in a context where he’s clearly referring to the very fellow known to the players – i.e. William Shakespeare of Stratford.
McCrea also addresses the most important reason for doubting that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. This is the general thesis that a small town son of a glover with no higher education and no experience of the world outside of Stratford and London could display a knowledge of law, medicine, Italy, courtly life, military and nautical matters, and the specialized language of falconry, and could draw on sources in Latin, French, Italian and possibly Spanish and Greek that hadn’t been translated into English yet. Since there were no public libraries in Shakespeare’s day, access to books itself would have been a daunting challenge. McCrea takes this challenge head on, devoting chapters to each kind of knowledge. He argues that in fact all the Latin authors Shakespeare cites were taught in public school, commoners did know falconry and could easily learn French (he challenges the claim that Shakespeare would have had to know Italian or other languages), and that the other information would have been available second hand.
I won’t comment further on this, except to note that there is reason to be skeptical of the defenders of Shakespeare as well as his skeptics. Debunking Shakespeare’s alleged knowledge of northern Italy, McCrea says the following :
In 1908, Sir Edward Sullivan believed he could explain why landlocked cities are ports in the plays. He claimed to discover waterways that connected the cities during the 1500s. Probably he was looking at German maps of the period that view Italy from the Alps and inaccurately show a maze of rivers… In fact, there is no archaeological evidence these waterways ever existed. Surely after only four hundred years there would be some trace of them…Given the violent history of Italyduring the Renaissance, and the efforts of the city states to defend themselves from one another (like Verona’s wall), such canals are absurd. Yet, hilariously, as late as 1997, Joseph Sobran argued that knowledge of these waterways was proof the Author [of Shakespeare’s works] had been to Italy! (p. 76)
However, according to The Times Online, Jan.12, 2009, this summer the Italian government plans to begin to “reopen medieval and Renaissance inland waterways so that tourists can travel more than 500 kilometres (300 miles) by boat from Lake Maggiore to Venice via Milan”. According to the article, “canals of Milan were first built in the 12th century by Benedictine and Cistercian monks, and later expanded in line with designs by Leonardo da Vinci, linking the city to the sea.”. Hilarious.
In sum : Trust no one. It appears there are good reasons to take the de Vere hypothesis seriously, and also good reasons to be skeptical of it. That’s where I will leave it. Below are a few links for further reference in case you are interested.
• Elizabethan Authors Homepage. A very nice site with a page on Shakespeare sources and on the Shakespeare authorship question among other things.
• Mr. Shakespeare and the Internet. Maybe this is even nicer. It’s “the most comprehensive guide to Shakespearean resources on the internet” according to David Kathman.
• Shakespeare Oxford Society. Oxford (de Vere) wrote Shakespeare.
• Shakespeare Authorship Page. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.
• Early Modern Plays Presented in London : Playwrights, Companies, and Playhouses. A birds-eye view of the chronology of early modern plays and their performance.
• Shakespeare Authorship Coalition. Home of the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt”.
• The Shakespeare Fellowship.
Bruce Lacey is a contributing editor to The Muffin Post. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan. He resides in New York. For more on “Skakespeare By Another Name” visit Mark Anderson’s blogspots and myspace.com.