Is Not Oxford Here Another Anchor?
Copyright 1940 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, June-July 1940.
Who smirched thus and mired with infamy,
I might have said, No part of it is mine;
This shame derives itself from unknown loins.
Much Ado About Nothing, IV.1.132
Interesting indeed is that detail in the Nazi plan for the conquest of Britain which envisions the taking over and “rehabilitation” of Shakespeare as a true German poet who had the misfortune to be born outside the Third Reich.
The apostles of destruction have generously agreed to spare the Bard. Whether this means that Stratford-on-Avon is not to be bombed is not clear at this writing.
An April 24th wireless dispatch from Berlin to The New York Times reads as follows:
The works of William Shakespeare will survive the present war without having to undergo the disgrace of being identified by the Germans with present-day England. The German Shakespeare Association has decided that “Shakespeare was no spiritual companion of present-day British plutocracy,” so his works can continue to be identified with the German spirit.
Professor Wolfgang Keller also proved to the satisfaction of a meeting of the association here that Shakespeare was no friend of the French. Several of his plays, Professor Keller declared, show that Shakespeare regarded the French as “false, big-mouthed, frivolous and tricky—in short, he did not like them.”
Keller appears to have combed King John and the Henry Sixth plays for anti-French sentiments.
It is notable, on the other hand, that he ignores the final scene in The Life of Henry Fifth wherein we find expressed the fervent hope—now fulfilled—
that the contending kingdoms
Of France and England, whose very shores look pale
With envy of each other’s happiness,
May cease their hatred, and this dear conjunction
Plant neighborhood and Christian-like accord
In their sweet bosoms, that never war advance
His bleeding sword ‘twixt England and fair France.
* * * *
So be there ‘twixt your kingdoms such a spousal,
That never may ill office or fell jealousy,
Which troubles oft the bed of blessed marriage
Thrust in between the paction of these kingdoms,
To make divorce of their incorporate league;
That English may as French, French Englishmen,
Receive each other. God speak this Amen!
We search the plays in vain for any speech by a Shakespearean character expressing similar hopes for a permanent alliance between England and Germany. Only one of the plays—the sombre Measure for Measure—is given a Germanic setting, the stage locale being labelled “Vienna,” though the coloring and characterization throughout is that of Elizabethan England.
Mr. George Frisbee of San Francisco has pointed out that the author of Hamlet had some colloquial knowledge of the German language, as hinted in the early dialogue between King Claudius and the melancholy Prince. With oily heartiness the usurper says:
“But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son—”
and Hamlet mutters in an aside:
“A little more than kin; and less than kind.”
The word kind here certainly expresses the purely Teutonic meaning of child as well as the English meaning of natural and humane. Shakespeare would never miss an opportunity to put over a pun as obvious as this one.
In The Merry Wives of Windsor mention is made of a German “Duke” who has entered England secretly and, with his rascally suite, is swindling the tavern-keepers of Reading, of Maidenhead and of Colebrook out of post-horses and other accommodations.
Doctor Caius, the excitable Gallic physician in the comedy, refuses to accept this Elizabethan forerunner of the Nazi “Fifth Column” at face value:
“I cannot tell vat is dat: but it is tell-a-me, dat you make grand preparation for a Duke de Jamanie: by my trot, der is no Duke that the. Court is know, to come: I tell you for good will: adieu.”
Whereupon, mine host of the Garter, realizing that he has been victimized by his easy acceptance of the slogan, “Germans are honest men,” runs forth into the night shouting.
“Hue and cry, villain, go! Assist me, Knight, I am undone: fly, run!
Hue and cry, villain, Vam undone!”
This “Duke de Jamanie” has been identified by Sir E. K. Chambers and others as the Duke of Württemberg, formerly Count of Mömpelgart, who visited England from August 9 to September 5, 1592. Mömpelgart was received at Windsor by Queen Elizabeth and, on his own initiative, pressed for the privilege of investment with the Order of the Garter.
During his tour of England the German and his suite were delayed at Oxford, says Chambers, “because his post-horses were worn out, and could not be replaced, even at double the normal cost.” It is also stated that he misused a warrant for securing post-horses to the chagrin of certain innkeepers, such as mine host in The Merry Wives.
The Teutonic “nobleman” did not, however, achieve his wistful desire to be a Knight of the Order of the Garter until April 23,1597, when he was installed by proxy in absentia.
Dr. A. S. Cairncross in The Problem of Hamlet very logically concludes that both Chambers and Prof. Leslie Hotson are wrong in assuming that The Merry Wives of Windsor was written after the German Duke became a Knight of the Garter. The proper time to have rapped this pushful boor would have been immediately following his invasion of England in 1592, when his exploits were being currently discussed—rather than five years later when the Queen had finally honored the Teuton with England’s most coveted decoration.
The author of The Merry Wives of Windsor possessed an intimate knowledge of the village of Windsor with its castle, its Chapel of St. George, royal preserves, Garter Inn and general topographical features, as Maynard Dixon, historian of the famous borough, has shown in convincing detail.
It is impossible to place the shadowy William of Stratford in Windsor through any known documentation.
But one of the most interesting papers written by Mr. J. Thomas Looney in support of his main arguments to prove that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was the real creator of the comedy brings out the fact that Oxford was familiar with the environs of Windsor from early youth. We even have a contemporary sketch of him at the age of twenty-two, carrying the Sword of State before the Queen during a royal procession on its way to St. George’s Chapel, June 18, 1572, the occasion being the installation of the French Duc de Montmorenci as a Knight of the Garter.
At this same period Oxford was known to be Elizabeth’s favorite entertainer, putting on shows and pageants for the Queen’s delectation.
And if, as Dr. Cairncross, Prof. T. W. Baldwin and others opine, The Merry Wives of Windsor was produced as a part of the colorful Garter festival of April 23, 1593, this date would fit the realistic Oxfordian chronology very aptly indeed. For at that time the chief candidate for the high honor of installation in the Order of the Garter was Lord Oxford’s friend and fellow patron of theatrical enterprise, Edward Somerset Earl of Worcester.
The two groups of players who wore the liveries of Worcester and Oxford were among the ablest in the realm. Privy Council records show that in March, 1602, a special request from the Counsellors was addressed to the Lord Mayor of London to lift a previously enforced ban and allow a joint company of actors patronized by both of these Earls to continue to give public performances at the Boar’s Head Tavern, “the place they have especially used and do like best of.” It seems superfluous to point out that the old Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap—about two minutes’ walk across Candlewick Street from Lord Oxford’s ancestral city residence, Oxford Court—is also the scene of the bohemian revels of Falstaff and Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays.
Also significant is the fact that Philip Henslowe, the theatrical manager, lists in his famous Diary the names of William Kemp and John Lowin as actors lately included in this Worcester-Oxford group in 1602.
Both Kemp and Lowin are permanently identified with the presentation of Shakespearean works. In the introductory pages to the First Folio of 1623, they are mentioned among “the Principall Actors in all these Playes.”
The editor of the Tudor Edition of The Merry Wives of Windsor suggests that William Kemp may have been the original creator of the clownish figure of Sir John Oldcastle (later renamed Falstaff) in the Windsor comedy.
Such testimony argues circumstantially for Lord Oxford’s personal connection with Shakespearean theatrical affairs. His friend and co-patron of well known Shakespearean actors, Lord Worcester, seems to have been one of the inner circle of aristocratic intellectuals who knew the facts behind the authorship of The Merry Wives of Windsor and most of the other First Folio plays. If the personal papers and correspondence of Edward Somerset Earl of Worcester are still in existence and happen to survive the present blitzkreig, they may provide some interesting corroborative sidelights on the great authorship mystery.
Worcester was the nephew of Sir Thomas North whose English version of Plutarch’s Lives was used so extensively by Shakespeare in writing Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus.
Oxford himself owned a copy of Plutarch. We learn this from an account book still on file at Hatfield House which lists the Earl’s personal expenses in 1569. Among various other items which bear witness to the young nobleman’s literary proclivities is the notation of a payment to William Seres, the London stationer, for “Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers.”
This was the excellent and readable French translation of the Roman biographer that had been made by Jacques Amyot. It should be noted that Sir Thomas North utilized Amyot’s work for his English edition, instead of going back to Plutarch’s original Latin.
Everybody knows that Shakespeare follows the Amyot-North treatment of the Roman Lives very closely, particularly in Coriolanus. Oxfordians also know that Edward de Vere possessed colloquial command of both Latin and French. Moreover, if we consider the playwriting Earl as the real Shakespeare, it is a reasonable possibility that he may have taken an active hand with Sir Thomas North in rendering Amyot’s Plutarch into English during the 1569-79 decade, just as he can be shown to have collaborated with other popular translators of his day, such as Thomas Bedingfield, Bartholomew Clerke and Anthony Munday.
Incidentally, no Stratfordian authority has ever been able to bring William Shakspere within documentary hailing distance of this particular literary circle.
And though the Nazi hordes, bent on the destruction of English-French civilization, may with the same tragic stupidity that characterizes the rest of their “intellectual” effort, “spare” Stratford-on-Avon, their loudly trumpeted purpose to “rehabilitate” the Bard as a true German prophet remains as ridiculous as it is impertinent.
We may well imagine what type of “Shakespeare” might emerge from the colossal sausage-machines of Goebbels’ propaganda portfolio. The early butcher’s apprentice of Stratfordia would come into his own with a vengeance.
But over and beyond such a ghastly harlequinade—too terrible to contemplate—the voice of the true Shakespeare, speaking to all lovers of justice, truth and courage throughout the world will continue to inspire unfettered men in their grapple to the death with the forces of soul-destroying slavery now menacing those civilizations which .the Bard in his own lifetime wished to see joined in amity and enlightened progress.
Charles Wisner Barrell