Chapter 32

“William Shakes-speare”
Man of the Renaissance
by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn

Chapter Thirty-Two


WHILE STILL UNDER the Queen’s displeasure, the Earl of Oxford wrote seven more dramas, of which the first two were chronicle plays, The Life and Death of King John and The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, both setting forth the danger of usurpation and the egregious folly of vacillation or infirm purpose on the part of a monarch. He was continuing, as it were doggedly through the medium of the plays, to voice his warning to the Queen. For hundreds of years the Veres had wielded the sword in defense of England. This one had perforce adopted the pen as his weapon. There is abundant evidence that he so regarded it.

It is particularly striking to find in the Bastard, Faulconbridge, that creature of exuberant patriotism and tart humor, an aspect of the many-sided Oxford himself; he is a man who will stand for no nonsense: he will be stalwart in defense of his country, take risks and, if need be, die in the service of his sovereign. Again the Earl addresses Elizabeth. And he expresses his utter loyalty in the Bastard’s words upon the death of King John, who had had his allegiance, as Oxford’s Queen had ever had and would have his own:

Art thou gone so? I do but stay behind
To do the office for thee of revenge,
And then my soul shall wait on thee to heaven,
As it on earth hath been thy servant still. (V.7.70-3.)

Kent will one day speak thus of Lear, and in the same spirit. The Earl of Oxford may have added part of this speech shortly before his own death; for it expresses an attitude he revealed elsewhere at that time. Now, in the early 1580’s, Elizabeth has been unjust to him; but England is greater than either, great though they both are. Of this she must be reminded. And resolutely he assumes the duty; for no one can stir her, make her see, as he can. And certainly no one is allowed to speak to her so frankly as he.

This England never did, nor never shall
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself. (V.7.112-14.)

He is still living in banishment—which is in a practical sense a happier freedom than he has known before—and he flings his message out to her with the brave assurance of a man who has worked his way through a violent spiritual and emotional crisis, been strengthened by suffering, and finally purged of rancor, has come to terms with himself, said his say, put his house in order, and feels firm ground under his feet.

                  Nought shall make us rue,
If England to herself do rest but true.

One proof of his recovered poise is Oxford’s willingness to put himself into the role of the Bastard. This idea had no doubt been suggested by one of the more absurd charges recently made against him by Howard and Arundel. They had raked up the old story of his half-sister’s effort to have him declared illegitimate and had recalled his youthful rage and humiliation upon the Queen’s taunting him with it, when he had burst into tears and dashed from the room. They had quoted him as having declared that “The Queen sayd he was a bastard for whiche cause he wold never love hir and wold leve hir in the lurche one day.” If they had conjured up such out-dated and childish charges as this, they must have been hard put to it for accusations against him. It positively made him merry. Soon, in Much Ado About Nothing, he would be laughing them out of court. His gaiety has become barbed: his spirits rise, because of his natural resilience, but they quickly wane, as if wincing at their own spontaneity; there is a tinge of mockery in his badinage, he is not really lighthearted any more.

Nothing could be more characteristic of Oxford than the Bastard’s remark when Salisbury says (IV.3.94-5):

Stand by, or I shall gall you, Faulconbridge.
The Bastard. Thou wert better gall the devil, Salisbury.

But then was he not known to have a bastard son himself now? This boy was the issue, if not of Coeur-de-lion, at any rate of the Leonati, as Oxford seemed to like to think of himself, since so he (Oxford) appears in the part of Posthumus Leonatus (Lion-born), Leontes, and the “young lion” of Henry IV and V. He envisions the infant Edward Vere as a young soldier, manly, warm-hearted, dauntless, free of the onus of high rank; and so, in fact, Anne Vavasor’s son turned out to be. Perhaps in a final revision he gave to Philip Faulconbridge some of the qualities of this noble bastard, Sir Edward Vere, who by the time he was seventeen was a distinguished soldier fighting with Sir Horatio Vere in the Low Countries, and something of a poet as well.

The splendid vitality of Lord Oxford, true man of the Renaissance, had now asserted itself. He had things in proportion again and could manage well enough. . . until the next cataclysm should befall.

The commentators speak of an old play, The Troublesome Reigne of King John, from which the author of the existing play had “probably borrowed.” A. S. Cairncross has conclusively demonstrated (1) that The Troublesome Reigne of King John, printed in 1591, was a pirated edition of Shakespeare’s King John, and that Peele, in The Arraignment of Paris, circa 1584, borrowed from King John. Thomas Heywood referred to these garbled versions of stage-plays of the time as having “accidentally come into the printers’ hands and therefore so corrupt and mangled (coppied only by the eare) that I have been as unable to know them as ashamed to chalenge them.” And afterwards he put it more succinctly:

Some by Stenography drew
The plot: put it in print: (scarce one word trewe.)

Towards the close of 1581, Alençon, completely without funds after having relieved Cambrai, in Flanders, and refused aid by his brother, declared his intention of sailing immediately for England to exert his strong personal influence upon the Queen. She had already been forced to send him a large sum of money to prevent his letting Flanders go and uniting with the Guises. Leicester, increasingly irritated by Elizabeth’s protestations of affection for her frog, her Moor, her Italian, as she variously called him, did all he could to prevent the visit, but unsuccessfully, for the lover’s amorous letters and his emissaries’ persuasions won the day, and he arrived in November. But after her frog had come—although Elizabeth was outwardly as devoted as ever and pretended that only the difficulties made by the King of France delayed the marriage—Leicester became suddenly jubilant, and Sussex knew that appearances were not to be trusted, that the Queen was merely playing for time. She went so far, however, as publicly to pledge herself to marry the Duke, kissing him on the lips within sight of many of the court in the gallery at Whitehall. But it turned out—as the shrewd Mendoza at the time suspected it would—that she merely wished to show she had done her utmost and could leave it now to Parliament to impose conditions which the King of France would be bound to reject. Like Blanch, regarding her projected marriage to the Dauphin, she thus let it be known,

That she is bound in honour still to do
What you in wisdom still vouchsafe to say. (II.1.522-3.)

Having gone as far as she could, she left it to Parliament, her “uncle,” declaring (III.1.510):

My uncle’s will in this respect is mine. . . .

But Alençon was, by this time, when his fortunes were low and his position untenable, more eager than ever. And in the person of Lewis he protests (525-6):

Nay, ask me if I can refrain from love;
For I do love her most unfeignedly.

The situation was extremely complicated. Burghley had throughout been endeavoring to temporize with Spain, but Leicester and Walsingham had considered war inevitable. Now Mendoza believed that even Burghley would do no more to thwart their intentions to promote a war with Spain. But Burghley was badly worried: stricken with gout, he was literally lying low. The Queen felt she could not break her pledges to Alençon without antagonizing France, nor could she continue to help him in Flanders without risking war with Philip. Meanwhile Mary Stuart had established friendly relations with her son’s government in Scotland; Catholic priests and Jesuits were becoming intensely active; and Mary was in close touch with Spain once more. Things were now, she asserted, “better disposed than ever in Scotland for a return to its former condition. . . and English affairs could be dealt with subsequently. The King, her son, was quite determined to return to the Catholic religion, and inclined to an open rupture with the Queen of England.” (2)

It was not long before Mendoza had become the center of an organization composed of priests and Jesuits, henchmen of Mary Stuart, and of English Catholic nobles, to overthrow Elizabeth; he was compelled, in spite of himself, to make use of the Jesuit missionaries, who at first were entirely unaware of the Spanish political intentions underlying the proposed conversion of Scotland to Catholicism. Chatillon stands for Mendoza in the play.

In spite of the temptation to analyze King John in detail, we shall merely note a few points, leaving the reader to make more elaborate deductions from these. It is highly topical; and again the characters have as prototypes those who were taking part in the affairs of England during the crucial days when the play was written. The two periods—the historic and the current one—had much in common. Lord Oxford saw this and presented his vision of the truth, as was his wont, to the Queen. Though in a way it angered her, yet she accepted, if not even welcomed, it or she would never have allowed him the license to pursue this line.

It is no wonder that he rebuked her for vacillation. He must have been thoroughly disgusted when he heard—for he invariably heard everything—that upon Alençon’s arrival in England late in November 1581, Elizabeth had appointed Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, and his uncle, Henry Howard, to “make all arrangements for his comfort”; which showed that Henry Howard was not only free but actually favored, while he, Oxford, remained in disgrace.

Robert Cary, Earl of Monmouth, wrote in his diary about this visit of Alençon’s:

In 1581 Monsieur, the King. of France’s brother, came and remained a good time. All the time of his being here. . . [there were many] Court Triumphes . . . produced: and they were such as the best wittes and inventions in those days could devise to make the Court glorious, and to entertain so great a guest. (3)

It can be taken as fairly certain that among these entertainments were plays and masques by the Earl of Oxford, although no record survives, but it is equally certain that King John was not one of them. Indeed, it was written partly as a result of this gala occasion.

As the festivities continued, and Elizabeth’s blandishments to her frog grew overt and convincing, Leicester, becoming perturbed by the hazards of the affair, “persuaded the Queen to urge her lover to start at once for Flanders, in order to receive the oath of allegiance which the States were offering him, and then to return and marry her”; for this purpose she would give him 30,000 pounds. But “Sussex saw through the device and privately warned Alençon that whatever pledges might be made to him now. . . once he went away. . . the marriage would never take place.” (4)

King John makes a parallel compact with Lewis, the French Dauphin (II.1.527-30), with the same sum offered, in terms of marks:

Then do I give Volquessen, Touraine, Maine,
Poictiers, and Anjou, these five provinces,
With her to thee; and this addition more,
Full thirty thousand marks of English coin.

In the play Elizabeth is partly King John, partly Blanch, with AIençon Lewis the Dauphin, Constance Mary Queen of Scots, Arthur her son James. (5) Chatillon is, as we have said, Mendoza; Pandulph, Bishop of Milan, the Pope’s Legate. (Interesting to recall, in this connection, is the fact that Lord Oxford so disliked the real Bishop of Milan that, during his travels on the Continent, he had avoided that city rather than meet him.) Elinor stands for Elizabeth’s parent, sometimes definitely as Henry VIII, who made such a will as Constance taunts Elinor with having made (II.1.193.) And it is, of course, what the Catholic Mary thinks of as Elizabeth’s illegitimate birth (the basis of her own claim to the throne) to which Constance and Philip allude in the tense passage (II.1.94 et seq.) Philip is speaking:

But thou from loving England art so far
That thou hast underwrought his lawful king,
Cut off the sequence of posterity. . . .
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
. . . England was Geffrey’s right
And this is Geffrey’s. In the name of God,
How comes it then that thou art call’d a king. . .
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
. . . look into the blots and stains of right.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
King John. Alack! thou dost usurp authority.
Philip. Excuse; it is to beat usurping down.
Elinor. Who is it thou dost call usurper, France?
Constance. Let me make answer; thy usurping son.
Elinor. Out, insolent! thy bastard shall be king,
That thou mayst be a queen, and check the world.

Presently Constance, who seems to have Mary Stuart’s wit, says (133):

There’s a good grandam, boy, that would blot thee.

Elinor speaks for the Protestant Henry VIII and Elizabeth, both of whom had been excommunicated, when she exclaims to Constance (173):

Thou monstrous slanderer of heaven and earth!

and Constance for Mary when she replies as to a feminine Henry VIII:

Thou monstrous injurer of heaven and earth!
Call not me slanderer: thou and thine usurp
The dominations, royalties, and rights
Of this oppressed boy: this is thy eld’st son’s son;
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Thy sins are visited in this poor child;
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Being but the second generation
Removed from thy sin-conceiving womb.

Mary Stuart’s plans would have been thwarted by Elizabeth’s marriage to Alençon, and Philip acknowledges that so Constance’s would be by Blanch’s marriage to Lewis (II.l.545-8):

And by my faith, this league that we have made
Will give her sadness very little cure.
Brother of England, how may we content
This widow lady?

All these politic arrangements grate upon and he rails at Commodity (II.1.561 et seq.), the forthright Bastard, characteristically catching himself up, however, to admit that he does so “because he hath not woo’d me yet.”

In a speech so euphuistic as to seem a deliberate travesty upon the convention, the First Citizen sets forth the attitude of the English Catholic nobles toward the marriage of Elizabeth and Alençon (II.1.423 et seq.) And the Bastard explodes (466):

Zounds! I was never so bethump’d with words. . . .

And he mocks the Euphuists, as well as slings a dart at Elizabeth’s ugly lover, when he declaims (II.1.503-9):

Drawn in the flattering table of her eye!
Hang’d in the frowning wrinkle of her brow!
And quarter’d in her heart! he doth espy
Himself love’s traitor: this is pity now,
That hang’d and drawn and quarter’d, there should be
In such a love so vile a lout as he.

The Earl’s irrepressible spirits have revived for a time, at least, in this play. He brings in an identity-clue in the Bastard’s mocking speech to Austria, who is his pet aversion (II.1.290-3):

       Sirrah, were I at home,
At your den, sirrah, with your lioness,
I would set an ox-head to your lion’s hide,
And make a monster of you.

The way the Bastard baits Austria (III.I) with the recurrent refrain, “And hang a calf’s skin on those recreant limbs,” is one of the most hilariously funny things in the plays. Temporarily he is back in the vein again; in fact, he has, in the person of the Bastard, talked so copiously that Austria has said, thus presently reaping the whirlwind (II.1.147-8):

What cracker is this same that deafs our ears
With this abundance of superfluous breath?

People baited the Bastard—and Oxford—at their peril.

Not content, so lively is his mood, with sprinkling a few clues to his name through the text of this play, Oxford introduces certain epithets and cachets for the Bastard which were constantly applied to himself. These were recognized by his acquaintances during his lifetime and are easily picked up today by the alert reader. One is “the madcap Earl” King John remarks rhetorically to Elinor (I.1.84):

Why, what a madcap hath heaven lent us here!

Then the soliloquy (I.1.182 et seq.) which begins with the rueful statement that he is

A foot of honour better than I was
But many a foot at land the worse,

gives the regrettable truth which will be repeated from time to time of the loss of so much of his land. He had sold many of his estates, in order to travel; now he was selling more to keep his theatrical companies going and to support his bohemian friends: all this to Burghley’s scandalized disapproval.

The soliloquy continues, shrewdly witty, arriving (189) at the point where he begins to commune with himself:

                                      Now your traveller,
He and his toothpick at my worship’s mess. . . .

Other times, other customs. It would seem that the toothpick was not in Elizabethan days declasse. And Lord Oxford was evidently an habitual wielder of it. That it was even considered a mark of elegance appears in Fallace’s description of Fastidious Brisk, the “fine courtier,” in Every Man Out of His Humour (IV. 1):

. . . how sweetly he talks, and tells news of this lord, and of that lady; how cleanly he wipes his spoon at every spoonful of any white meat he eats, and what a neat case of pick-tooths he carries about him.

And Jonson describes Oxford himself in Cynthia’s Revels in this wise:

He that is with him is Amorphus, a traveller, one so made out of a mixture of shreds and forms, that himself is truly deformed. He walks most commonly with a clove or pick-tooth in his mouth, he is the very mint of compliment, all his behaviours are printed, his face is another volume of essays, and his beard is an Aristarchus.

The Earl falls in with the game, playing it at times for all it is worth. In The Winter’s Tale, for instance, there is a passage between the Clown and the Shepherd concerning Autolycus, who is in part the comedic side of Oxford (IV.3.757-62):

Clown. This cannot be but a great courtier.
Shepherd. His garments are rich, but he wears them not handsomely.
He seems to be the more noble in being fantastical: a great man, I’ll warrant; I know by the picking one’s teeth.

And in All’s Well the Clown had said of Bertram, who was again Oxford (III.2.3-9):

By my troth, I take my young lord to be a very melancholy man. . . . Why, he will look upon his boot and sing; mend the ruff and sing; ask questions and sing; Pick his teeth and sing. I know a man that had this trick of melancholy sold a goodly manor for a song.

In the Bastard’s buoyant speech, after referring to himself as fitting “the mounting spirit,” he continues (I.1.207-16):

For he is but a bastard to the time
That doth not smack of observation;
And so am I, whether I smack or no;
And not alone in habit and device,
Exterior form, outward accoutrement,
But from the inward motion to deliver
Sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age’s tooth:

Which, though I will not practise to deceive,
Yet to avoid deceit I mean to learn;
For it shall strew the footsteps of my rising.

We take this to mean that he considers that man to have no legitimate place in his own era who does not observe, take account of, and leave his impress on his time. But he, whether he does or not, is in any case somewhat outside, not merely because of his way of life or activities, his external attributes—including the fantastical styles he has imported from Europe: “garments though new-fangled ill,” his euphuistic speech, and so on—but because he has an instinctive compulsion to act as physician to the ills of the time. He will practice no deception in doing so but will be clear and sincere. Yet he will have to learn how to avoid deceiving and being deceived, for deceit will at every turn assail his progress to success and eminence.

The chiefest courtier has tasted the freedom which absence from the court has conferred. From now on he will remain unfettered: he will give scope to his genius.

Could there be anything more disarming, or more thoroughly English, than the scene which interrupts this soliloquy? “Who,” demands the Bastard—

But who comes in such haste in riding-robes?
What woman-post is this? hath she no husband
That will take pains to blow a horn before her?
Oh me! it is my mother. How now, good lady!
What brings you here to court so hastily?

Lady Faulconbridge, having heard that her son has been proclaimed a bastard, has come straightway to express her indignation. But the young man wheedles a confession out of her that he is indeed Coeur-de-Lion’s son. And he exonerates her, asserting that

He that perforce robs lions of their hearts
May easily win a woman’s. Ay, my mother,
With all my heart I thank thee for my father! (268-70.)

Who can tell but that the Earl was hoping his own bastard son might one day be thus grateful to his mother for giving him the heritage of the Leonati, or Veres, a “fault” which was not too great a “folly”? There is something touchingly wistful in this implied hope. Another pointed reference in this play is the attitude of the Tudor monarchs toward the Church. Like her father, Queen Elizabeth had a short way with priests. She may have believed as the Catholics did in spiritual matters, but politically she was firmly Protestant; she had no intention of allowing a dignitary of any church or organization to limit her supreme authority. In 1580 she had remarked to Mendoza, “My bishops are a set of knaves, and I will not have the Catholics ill-used”; (6) and, as we have noted, she had previously said to Feria, “I shall not let my subjects’ money be carried out of the realm to the pope any more; the bishops are a set of lazy scamps.”

King John’s address to Pandulph (III.1.147-60) recalls this:

What earthly name to interrogatories
Can tax the free breath of a sacred king?
Thou canst not, cardinal, devise a name
So slight, unworthy, and ridiculous,
To charge me to an answer, as the pope.
.  .  .    .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
And thus much more: that no Italian priest,
Shall tithe or toil in our dominions;
But as we under heaven are supreme head,
So under him that great supremacy,
Where we do reign, we will alone uphold,
Without the assistance of a mortal hand:
So tell the pope; all reverence set apart
To him, and his usurp’d authority.

Yet Elizabeth was so vacillating that it could be said of her as Salisbury said of King John (IV.2.76-7):

The colour of the king doth come and go
Between his purpose and his conscience.

And she took such risks through her policy of inaction that she might well have been in the position of King John when he permitted himself to be crowned a second time, to the disgust of the nobles, who spoke sharply to him (IV.2.3 et seq.):

Pembroke. This “once again,” but that your highness pleas’d,
Was once superfluous: you were crown’d before,
And that high royalty was ne’er pluck’d off,
The faiths of men ne’er stained with revolt;
Fresh expectation troubled not the land
With any long’d-for change or better state.

The scene in which King John rebukes Hubert for implicity understanding his wish to have young Arthur murdered was obviously rewritten after 1587, perhaps even much later, for it is vividly reminiscent of Elizabeth’s behavior regarding the order for the execution of Mary Stuart, which she repudiated afterwards, excoriating the man to whom she had expressly given it, simply for the purpose of clearing herself of responsibility.

It is too long and involved a story fully to relate here, but, in brief, the Queen, after having procrastinated endlessly, sent a message to Davison, Walsingham’s deputy (Walsingham being conveniently ill), requiring him to bring the death-warrant immediately, and then signed it, along with other state papers, in a pleasant, almost casual fashion, pretending she had forgotten it was there. But a few moments later, as Davison as leaving, she called him back, ordering him to take it forthwith to Cecil (for the affixing of the Great Seal). “Do it secretly,” she commanded, “for it may prove dangerous to me were it known before the execution actually takes place.” Then she became quite vivacious, chatting with the secretary; but as he was leaving for the second time, she called him once more, her gay mood—or her affectation of it—having passed, and, pacing up and down, began to question if there were not some other way. In the end, Davison, not only following her instructions but doing what he knew she intended him to do, took the death-warrant to Burghley, who affixed the Great Seal. After this, there was much maneuvering and dodging of responsibility as to who should make the final move. The upshot was that the Council left Burghley to bear the brunt; and he, characteristically, shelved it onto Davison. The Queen repudiated him, fined him so heavily that he was ruined, and banished him from court, leaving him a broken man. (She was no less ruthless in maintaining her reputation for humanity and mercy than for virginity.

King John says to Hubert (IV.2.220-42):

                         Hadst not thou been by,
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
This murder had not come into my mind.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Hadst thou but shook thy head or made a pause
When I spake darkly what I purposed,
Or turn’d an eye of doubt upon my face,
And bid me tell my tale in express words,
Deep shame had struck me dumb, made me break off,
And those thy fears might have wrought fears in me:
But thou didst understand me by my signs,
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
. . . didst let thy heart consent,
And consequently thy rude hand to act
The deed which both our tongues held vile to name.
Out of my sight, and never see me more!

Of the scene (IV.1) where Hubert, under the King’s orders, makes ready to put out young ‘Arthur’s eyes with a hot iron, (7) Sister Miriam Joseph writes that

iron becomes symbolic through repetition and acquires a quality of reflection and meditation, which joined to the repetition of eyes, see, and look, communicates both dignity and pathos. [She adds, in praise of the dramatist, that] even in the more external phases of his art [he] is preeminent. Writing at a time which invited to originality, distinction, and music of expression, he exhibits the ultimate in energy, verve, and daring creativeness. (8)

Not knowing the true identity of the poet, and therefore not suspecting how far, indeed, he was in advance of his time, this perceptive commentator has nevertheless described the personality, as well as the quality, of Edward de Vere, premier earl, first poet, first dramatist of England.

While Oxford was willing to portray the Queen’s outrageous vacillation, equivocation, and injustice, and he was certainly daring in this regard as no common citizen could possibly have been, still he was sufficiently considerate of her position—or of his own!—to omit mention of what was actually the greatest historic feature of King John’s reign: the signing of Magna Carta. Since one of Oxford’s ancestors, Robert, the Third Earl, had been a signatory to that famous document of 1215, his omission indicates purpose, as well as restraint. But, of course, he was under a heavy cloud at this time.

It was a point of honor and pride with Edward de Vere to serve his sovereign with the high devotion with which his ancestors hqd served the anointed kings to whom they owed fealty. The Second Earl, Aubrey, had commanded the King’s forces in Ireland. With the help of the French troops Philip had sent, King John captured Castle , Hedingham from the French garrison which held it, but in the last year of his life, it was recaptured by Lewis the Dauphin. This was Oxford’s home, his birthplace; the events of this reign were vivid to him through his family’s participation in them. Now, when his Queen was in danger, he, the leading representative of the great Vere name, was striving to serve her. A martial career had been denied him, but there were other ways. He had been stunned by Elizabeth’s failure to heed the true reports she had had from his lips about the conspiracy: he was still baffled, knew poignantly what it was to feel as the Bastard did (IV.3.140-5):

I am amaz’d, methinks, and lose my way
Among the thorns and dangers of this world.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .  .   .   .   .   .   .
The life, the right and truth of all this realm
Is fled to heaven.

(That the Earl had written in this same mood. to his wife is clear from her reply of December 12, 1581: “I . . . am most sorry to perceive how you are unquieted with the uncertainty of the world. . . .”) However, it is to be noted that the dramatist no longer introduces the Earls of Oxford by name as characters in his plays; and this may be because of the increasing necessity for anonymity, so far as the general public is concerned, though he still injects proof of his identity for the benefit of the inner circle and for posterity. On the other hand, it is not unlikely that his more mature mind rejected this youthful practice and he was willing now to let the record speak for itself.

One identity-clue that is infallible occurs in the text of this play. It is the characteristic affirmation, “But truth is truth.” (I.1.105.) Vere is Vere. This reiterated phrase is like a signature. It is a companion-piece to the motto on the family crest: Vera Nihil Verius.


1. The Problem of Hamlet; pp. 137-43.

2. Hume: The Gr. Ld. B.; pp. 362-6.

3. Nichols: Progresses; vol. II, p. 343.

4. Hume: op. cit.

5. In a later revision, Oxford gave the character of Arthur further implications.

6. F. Chamberlin: The Sayings of Q. Eliz.; p. 117, cit. a letter from Mendoza to Philip. The following quotation, p. 116.

7. We strongly suspect that one reason why Lord Oxford made so much of this somber and pathetic situation is because he had been deeply impressed in his youth by a similarly poignant scene in one of the Chester Miracle plays, showing Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac:

Father, tell me, or I go,
Whether I shall be harmed or no.
Ah, dear God, that me is woe!
Thou breaks my heart in sunder.
Father, tell me of this case,
Why you your sword drawn has,
And bears it naked in this place;
Thereof I have great wonder.
Isaac, son, peace, I thee pray;
Thou breaks my heart in tway.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .  .   .   .   .   .   .
Would God my mother were here with me!
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .  .   .   .   .   .   .
But yet you must do God’s bidding.
Father, tell my mother for nothing.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .  .   .   .   .   .   .
I pray you, father, turn down my face
A little, while you have space,
For I am sore adread.

Abraham is almost undone by the boy’s meekness, as Hubert is by Arthur’s gentle pleading.

8. Sh.’s Use of the Arts of Language; p. 89.

Contents | Chapter Thirty-Three