The case for Oxford's authorship, first presented in the 1920s, then expanded in the 1980s, is based on abundant similarities between Oxford's biography and events in Shakespeare's plays; parallels of language, idiom, and thought between Oxford's letters and the Shakespearean canon; and underlined passages in Oxford's Bible that may correspond to quotations in Shakespeare's plays. Oxfordians point to the acclaim of Oxford's contemporaries regarding his talent as a poet and a playwright, his reputation as a concealed poet, and his connections to London theatre and the contemporary playwrights of Shakespeare's day. They also note his long term relationships with Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Southampton, his knowledge of Court life, his extensive education, his academic and cultural achievements and his wide-ranging travels through France and Italy.
Confronting the issue of Oxford's death in 1604, the main argument against the theory, Oxfordian researchers cite examples they say imply that the writer known as "Shake-Speare" died before 1609, and point to 1604 as the year that regular publication of Shakespeare's plays stopped for almost 20 years (until the 1623 publication of the First folio).
Supporters of the standard view, often referred to as "Stratfordian" or "Mainstream", dispute all contentions in favour of Oxford. Aside from the issue of Oxford's early death, they assert that the connections between Oxford's life and the plots of Shakespeare's plays are conjectural.
For the purposes of this article the term “Shakespeare” is taken to mean the poet and playwright who wrote the plays and poems in question; and the term “Shakespeare of Stratford” is taken to mean the William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon to whom authorship is generally credited.
Shakespeare of Stratford is further identified by the following evidence: He left gifts to actors from the London company in his will; the man from Stratford and the author of the works share a common name; and commendatory poems in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's works refer to the "Swan of Avon" and his "Stratford monument". Mainstream scholars believe that the latter phrase refers to the funerary monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, which refers to Shakespeare as a writer (comparing him to Virgil and calling his writing a "living art"), and was described as such by visitors to Stratford as far back as the 1630s.
Several pieces of circumstantial evidence support the Stratfordian view: In a 1592 pamphlet by the playwright Robert Greene called "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit", Greene chastises a playwright whom he calls "Shake-scene", calling him "an upstart crow" and a "Johannes factotum" (a "Jack-of-all-trades", a man able to feign skill), thus suggesting that people were aware of a writer named Shakespeare. Also, poet John Davies once referred to Shakespeare as "our English Terence". Additionally, Shakespeare's grave monument in Stratford, built within a decade of his death, currently features him with a pen in hand, suggesting that he was known as a writer.
Critics of the mainstream view have challenged most if not all of the above assertions, claiming that there is no direct evidence which clearly identifies Shakespeare of Stratford as a playwright. These critics note that the only theatrical reference in his will (the gifts to fellow actors) were interlined - i.e.: inserted between previously written lines - and thus subject to doubt; the term "Swan of Avon" can be interpreted in numerous ways; that "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit" could imply that Shakespeare was being given credit for the work of other writers; that Davies' mention of "our English Terence" is a mixed reference as Cicero, Quintilian, Michel de Montaigne and many contemporary Elizabethan scholars knew Terence as a front man for one or more Roman aristocratic playwrights.; and they assert that Shakespeare's grave monument was altered after its original creation, with the original monument merely showing a man holding a grain sack.
Quotations from notable anti-stratfordians:
Mark Twain - “All the rest of [Shakespeare's] vast history, as furnished by the biographers, is built up, course upon course, of guesses, inferences, theories, conjectures—an Eiffel Tower of artificialities rising sky-high from a very flat and very thin foundation of inconsequential facts."
Orson Welles - “I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t agree, there are some awfully funny coincidences to explain away."
Charlie Chaplin - “In the work of the greatest geniuses, humble beginnings will reveal themselves somewhere but one cannot trace the slightest sign of them in Shakespeare... Whoever wrote [Shakespeare] had an aristocratic attitude.”
Sigmund Freud - “I no longer believe that... the actor from Stratford was the author of the works that have been ascribed to him.”
Harry A. Blackmun — Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 1970 to 1994. - "The Oxfordians have presented a very strong — almost fully convincing — case for their point of view. If I had to rule on the evidence presented, it would be in favor of the Oxfordians.
Charles Dickens — "It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery and I tremble every day lest something turn up.
Ralph Waldo Emerson — "Other admirable men had led lives in some sort of keeping with their thought, but this man in wide contrast.
Walt Whitman — "I am firm against Shaksper — I mean the Avon man, the actor. and "Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — only one of the 'wolfish earls' so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works
In 1984, Charlton Ogburn's The Mysterious William Shakespeare renewed the case for Oxford's authorship with an abundance of new research and engaged in a critique of the standards and methods used by the orthodox school. In his Shakespeare Quarterly review of Ogburn's book, Richmond Crinkley, former Director of Educational Programs at the Folger Shakespeare Library, acknowledged the appeal of Ogburn's approach: "Doubts about Shakespeare came early and grew rapidly. They have a simple and direct plausibility", and that the dismissive approach of conventional scholarship encouraged such doubts: "The plausibility has been reinforced by the tone and methods by which traditional scholarship has responded to the doubts." Although Crinkley rejected Ogburn's thesis, believing that the "case made for Oxford leaves one unconvinced", he also concluded that "a particular achievement of ... Ogburn is that he focused our attention so effectively on what we do not know about Shakespeare.
For example, the three dedicatees of Shakespeare's works (the earls of Southampton, Montgomery and Pembroke) were each proposed as husbands for the three daughters of Edward de Vere. Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were dedicated to Southampton, and the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays was dedicated to Montgomery (who married Susan de Vere) and Pembroke (who was once engaged to Bridget De Vere). Oxford was a leaseholder of the first Blackfriars Theatre and produced grand entertainments at court; he was the son-in-law of Lord Burghley, who is often regarded as the model for Polonius; his daughter was engaged to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Shakespeare's narrative poems (indeed, many scholars believe Southampton to have been the Fair Lord of the Sonnets); his mother, Margory Golding, was the sister of the Ovid translator Arthur Golding; and Oxford's uncle, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was the inventor of the Shakespearean Sonnet (or English Sonnet) form.
In 1662 Dr. John Ward said that Shakespeare spent at a rate of 1,000 pounds a year, a huge sum by today's standards. In an oft-noted parallel, Oxford received an unexplained annuity from the notoriously thrifty Elizabeth I of 1,000 pounds a year. Shakespeare placed many plays in Italy and sprinkled detailed descriptions of Italian life throughout his plays. While there is no evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford ever visited Europe, Oxford lived in Venice and traveled for over a year through Italy and France. According to Anderson, the cities Oxford visited in 1585 were Venice, Padua, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Florence, Siena and Naples - all cities Shakespeare wrote into the plays, while the Italian cities Oxford bypassed are the same cities Shakespeare ignored.
In 1588, due to ongoing financial problems, Oxford sold his house, Fisher’s Folly, to William Cornwallis. In 1852, J.O. Halliwell-Phillips discovered “Anne Cornwaleys her booke,” apparently the day book of Cornwallis’ daughter Anne, which Halliwell-Phillips believed was written sometime in 1595. Anne’s handwritten book contains “Verses Made by the Earl of Oxforde,” “Anne Vavasor’s Echo,” and a poem ascribed in 1599 to Shakespeare by William Jaggard in “The Passionate Pilgrim.” According to Charles W. Barrell, Anne’s version was both superior textually to the one published by Jaggard and the first handwritten example we have of a poem ascribed to Shakespeare.
Recognizing that the names Avon and Stratford are irrevocably linked to Shakespeare by the first folio, Oxfordians note that Edward de Vere once owned an estate in the Avon river valley, near the Forest of Arden, and the nearest town to Hackney, where he later lived and was buried, was named Stratford.
Oxford was known as a dramatist and court poet of considerable note, but not one example of his plays survives under his name. A major question in Oxfordian theory is whether his works were published anonymously or pseudonymously. Anonymous and pseudonymous publication was a common practice in the sixteenth century publishing world, and a passage in the Arte of English Poesie (1589), the leading work of literary criticism of the Elizabethan period and an anonymously published work itself, alludes to the practice of concealed publication by literary figures in the court. Oxfordian researchers believe that these passages support their claim that Oxford was one of the most prominent "suppressed" writers of the day:
In Queenes Maries time florished above any other Doctout Phaer one that was well learned & excellently well translated into English verse Heroicall certaine bookes of Virgils Aeneidos. Since him followed Maister Arthure Golding, who with no lesse commendation turned into English meetre the Metamorphosis of Ouide, and that other Doctour, who made the supplement to those bookes of Virgils Aeneidos, which Maister Phaer left undone. And in her Maiesties time that now is are sprong up another crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen of her Maiesties owne servaunts, who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be foundout and made publicke with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford, Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Walter Rawleigh Master Edward Dyar, Maister Fulke Grevell, Gascon, Britton, Turberuille and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for envie, but to avoyde tediousneffe, and who have deserved no little commendation. But of them all particularly this is myne opinion, that Chaucer, with Gower, Lidgat and Harding for their antiquitie oughte to have the first place, and Chaucer as the most renowmed of them all, for the much learning appeareth to be in him aboue any of the rest.
Andrew Hannas in “On Grammar and Oxford in The Art of English Poesie” paraphrased the passage: "In earlier days these writers’ poetry (Phaer, Golding, etc.) found their way into print, and now we have many in our own Queen’s time whose poetry would be much admired if the extent of their works could be known and put into print as with those poets I have just named [”made publicke with the rest”], poets from Chaucer up through Golding and Phaer, translators of Ovid and Vergil. And here are the NAMES of the poets [Oxford, Buckhurst, Sidney, et al.] of our Queen’s time who deserve such favorable comparison “with the rest” [the Chaucer et al. list] But still, “of them all” [everyone named in the paragraph], I would give highest honours to Chaucer because of the learning in his works that seems better than any of all of the aforementioned names [”aboue any of the rest”], and special merit to the other poets in their respective genres."
Oxfordians note that at the time of the passage's composition (pre-1589), the writers referenced were themselves concealed writers. First and foremost Sir Philip Sydney, none of whose poetry was published until after his death. Similarly, by 1589 nothing by Greville was in print and none of Walter Raleigh’s works had been published (except one commendatory poem 12 years earlier in 1576).
1) The anonymous 1589 "Arte of English Poesie", in a passage that appears in the same chapter that details the practice of concealed publication by figures from the court, lists Oxford as the highest praised for comedy:
for Tragedie, the Lord of Buckhurst, & Maister Edward Ferrys for such doings as I haue sene of theirs do deserue the hyest price: Th'Earle of Oxford and Maister Edwardes of her Maiesties Chappell for Comedy and Enterlude.
2) Francis Meres' 1598 Palladis Tamia, which refers to him as Earle of Oxenford, and lists him among the "best for comedy". Shakespeare's name appears further down in the same list.
so the best for comedy amongst us bee, Edward Earle of Oxenforde, Doctor Gager of Oxforde, Maister Rowley once a rare Scholar of learned Pembroke Hall in Cambridge, Maister Edwardes one of her Majesty's Chapel, eloquent and witty John Lilly, Lodge, Gascoyne, Greene, Shakespeare, Thomas Nash, Thomas Heywood, Anthony Munday our best plotter, Chapman, Porter, Wilson, Hathway, and Henry Chettle.
Stratfordians believe that Shakespeare's appearance on the same list proves that Oxford and Shakespeare were two different writers. However, Oxfordians contend that, as of 1598, Meres simply wasn't aware of Oxford's use of the Shakespeare pseudonym.
3) Henry Peacham's 1622 The Compleat Gentleman omits Shakespeare's name completely and praises Oxford as one of the leading poets of the Elizabethean era, saying:
In the time of our late Queene Elizabeth, which was truly a golden Age (for such a world of refined wits, and excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be hoped for, in any succeeding Age) above others, who honoured Poesie with their pennes and practise (to omit her Maiestie, who had a singular gift herein) were Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others; whom (together with those admirable wits, yet liuing, and so well knowne) not out of Ennuie but to auoid tediousnesse, I overpasse. Thus much of Poetrie.
Stratfordians disagree with this interpretation of Peacham's work. They point out that the Peacham copied large parts of Puttenham's work but did not use the names of those writers who would not have been considered "gentlemen", a title that Peacham felt should not be applied to actors. They also argue that the list is only of poets and that Peacham does not list playwrights, neglecting others such as Christopher Marlow.
Although not strictly a report on De Vere's ability as a playwright there is a description of the esteem in which he was held as a writer in a 1613 play by George Chapman (possibly the Rival Poet of the Sonnets):
I overtook, coming from Italy
In Germany, a great and famous Earl
Of England; the most goodly fashion’d man
I ever saw: from head to foot in form
Rare and most absolute; he had a face
Like one of the most ancient honour’d Romans
From whence his noblest family was deriv’d;
He was besides of spirit passing great
Valiant and learn’d, and liberal as the sun,
Spoke and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects,
Or of the discipline of public weals:
And ‘twas the Earl of Oxford.
"So far as the natural disposition of the writer is concerned...(t)he personality they reflect is perfectly in harmony with that which peer through the writings of Shakespeare. There are traces undoubtedly of those defects which the sonnets disclose in “Shakespeare,” but through it all there shines the spirit of an intensely affectionate nature, highly sensitive, and craving for tenderness and sympathy. He is a man with faults, but stamped with reality and truth; honest even in his errors, making no pretence of being better than he was, and recalling frequently to our minds the lines in one of Shakespeare’s sonnets:"
I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own.
Oxfordian scholars have cited various examples they say imply that the writer of the plays and poems was dead prior to 1609, when Shake-Speare’s Sonnets first appeared with the enigmatic words "our ever-living Poet" on the title page. These researchers claim that the words "ever-living" rarely, if ever, refer to someone who is actually alive. Additionally, they assert that 1604 is the year that Shakespeare "mysteriously" stopped writing. If these claims were true, it would give a boost to the Oxfordian candidacy, as Bacon, Derby, Neville and Shakespeare of Stratford lived well past the 1609 publication of the Sonnets.
Similarly, when Shakespeare of Stratford died, he was not publicly mourned. Mark Twain noted, "When Shakespeare died in Stratford it was not an event. It made no more stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theater-actor would have made. Nobody came down from London; there were no lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national tears - there was merely silence, and nothing more. A striking contrast with what happened when Ben Jonson, and Francis Bacon, and Spenser, and Raleigh, and the other literary folk of Shakespeare’s time passed from life! No praiseful voice was lifted for the lost Bard of Avon; even Ben Jonson waited seven years before he lifted his.
Diana Price, in Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography, notes that for a professional author, Shakespeare of Stratford also seems to have been entirely uninterested in the publication of his work. Price explains that while he had a well documented habit of going to court over relatively small sums, he neither sued any of the publishers pirating his plays and sonnets, nor did he take any legal actions regarding their practice of attaching his name to the inferior output of others. There is no evidence Shakespeare of Stratford was ever paid for writing, and his detailed will fails to mention any of Shakespeare's unpublished plays or poems, or any of the source books that Shakespeare is known to have read. There is no indication his heirs ever demanded or received payments from his supposed investments in the theatre, or for any of Shakespeare's unpublished plays Mark Twain, commenting on the subject, said, "Many poets die poor, but this is the only one in history that has died THIS poor; the others all left literary remains behind. Also a book. Maybe two.
His Song was worthy merit (Shakespeare he)
sung the fair blossom, thou the withered tree
Laurel is due him, his art and wit
hath purchased it, Cypress thy brow will fit.
Joseph Sobran, in Alias Shakespeare, notes that the cypress tree was a symbol of mourning and believes Barkstead was writing of Shakespeare in the past tense ("His song was worthy") - after Oxford’s death in 1604, but prior to Shakespeare of Stratford’s in 1616.
Oxfordians believe the finality of the title (Shake-Speare's Sonnets) suggests that it was a completed body of work, with no further sonnets expected. They also consider the Sonnets one of the more serious problems facing Stratfordians, who differ among themselves as to whether the Sonnets are fiction or autobiographical. Sobran questions why, if the sonnets were fiction, did Shakespeare of Stratford - who lived until 1616 - fail to publish a corrected and authorized edition? If, on the other hand, they are autobiographical, why did they fail to match the Stratford man's life story? According to Sobran and other researchers, the themes and personal circumstances expounded by the author of the Sonnets are remarkably similar to Oxford's personal biography:
... vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best.
I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite
... am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give...
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons, making no defense.
"When Your Lordship shall have best time and leisure if I may know it, I will attend Your Lordship as well as a lame man may at your house.
So now I have confessed that he is thine,
And I myself am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I’ll forfeit, so that other mine
Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous, and he is kind:
He learned but surety-like to write for me,
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer that put’st forth all to use,
And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
So him I lose through my unkind abuse....
(Sobran contends, "the lines imply that he is in a position to make such comparisons, and the “high birth” he refers to is his own.”)
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heav’n with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope....
Your love and pity doth th' impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow,
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?
According to Charlton Ogburn Jr., and other researchers, Oxford's biography is strikingly similar to the plots and subplots of the plays themselves:
Oxfordians point out that like Hamlet, Oxford's father died suddenly (in 1562) and his mother remarried shortly thereafter. At 15, Oxford was made a royal ward and was placed in the household of Lord Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer, and Queen Elizabeth I's closest and most trusted advisor. Burghley is often regarded as the prototype for the character of chief minister Polonius. Oxfordians note that in the First Quarto the character was not named Polonius, but Corambis (Cor ambis = two hearted) - a swipe, as Charlton Ogburn notes "at Burghley’s motto, Cor unum, via una, or 'one heart, one way.'
Oxfordians also note that Hamlet was engaged to marry Ophelia, daughter to Polonius, while Edward de Vere was engaged to marry Anne Cecil, daughter to Lord Burghley. Like Laertes, who received the famous list of maxims from his father Polonius, Burghley's son Robert Cecil received a similarly famous list from his father - lists that mainstream scholar Sir E.K. Chambers acknowledged were parallel. Polonius also sent the spy Reynaldo to watch his son when Laertes was away at school and for similar reasons, Burghley set a spy on his son, Thomas, when he was away in Paris.
Likewise, Hamlet was a member of the higher nobility, supported an acting company and had a trusted friend named Horatio, while Oxford was a member of the higher nobility, supported acting companies and had a cousin named Horace (or Horatio) Vere. Both Sir Horatio de Vere (as he was also known) and Hamlet’s friend Horatio had the same personality, being known for their ability to remain calm under all conditions.
On 23 July 1567, the seventeen-year old Oxford killed an unarmed under-cook by the name of Thomas Brincknell while practicing fencing with Edward Baynam, a merchant tailor, in the backyard of Cecil's house in the Strand. Oxfordians note that Brincknell's "accidental" death is reminiscent of the accidental murder of the spying Polonius.
In a coincidence often noted by Oxfordians, on Oxford's return across the English Channel, his ship was hijacked by pirates, who stripped him naked, apparently with the intention of murdering him. When they were made aware of Oxford's noble status, he was allowed to go free, albeit without most of his possessions. Hamlet tells a similar story of a pirate abduction when he recounts to Horatio how he freed himself from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
In 1577 the Company of Cathay was formed to support Martin Frobisher’s hunt for the Northwest Passage, although he - and his investors – quickly became side-tracked by reports of gold at Hall’s Island. With thoughts of an impending Canadian gold-rush filling Oxford's head, and trusting in the advice of Michael Lok (a London businessman with Mediterranean connections) Oxford finally went in bond for 3,000 pounds, "just as Antonio in The Merchant of Venice is in bond for 3,000 ducats against the successful return of his vessels, with rich cargoes. Although 3,000 pounds was enough to ruin financially any man, De Vere went on to support Northwest Passage expeditions in 1584 and again in 1585. An Oxfordian might say that, along with Hamlet, Edward De Vere was "but mad north-northwest.
Shakespeare set almost half of his plays in France and Italy and filled them with local details that were not strictly necessary. Details, Oxfordians believe, that could only have been obtained by personal experiences. According to Mark Anderson “Shakespeare’s works also convey a ...well-traveled world citizen.... Shakespeare knew that Florence’s citizens were recognized for their arithmetic and bookkeeping (Othello).... He knew that a dish of baked doves was a time-honored northern Italian gift (The Merchant of Venice). He knew Venice in particular, like nowhere else in the world, save for London itself. Picayune Venetian matters scarcely escaped his grasp: the duke of Venice’s two votes in the city council, for example, or the special nighttime police force – the Signori di Notte – peculiar to Venice, or the foreign city where Venice’s Jews did most of their business, Frankfurt.” Oxford's extended tour of France and Italy from early 1575 through early 1576 included long-term lodgings near St Mark’s Square in Venice.
When Oxford travelled through Venice, he borrowed 500 crowns from a Baptista Nigrone. In Padua, he borrowed from a man named Pasquino Spinola. In Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Kate's father is described as a man "rich in crowns." He, too, is from Padua and his name is Baptista Minola—a conflation of Baptista Nigrone and Pasquino Spinola.
Peregrine Bertie successfully courted Oxford's sister, Mary de Vere in 1577. Though the couple met the resistance of Oxford and others, they were married within a year. Bertie and his mother, Kate Willoughby, are lampooned, not only in The Taming of the Shrew, but in the Winter's Tale, and Twelfth Night.
Mainstream scholar Ernesto Grillo (1876-1946), of the University of Glasgow, in Shakespeare and Italy, noted that "the local colour of 'The Taming of the Shrew' displays such an intimate acquaintance not only with the manners and customs of Italy but also with the minutest details of domestic life that it cannot have been gleaned from books or acquired in the course of conversations with travellers returned from Padua. The form of marriage between Petruchio and Katharine,....was Italian and not English....The description of Gremio's house and furnishings is striking because it represents an Italian villa of the sixteenth century with all its comforts and noble luxury." As far as is known, Shakespeare of Stratford never left England or showed any interest in Italy or Italian culture.
Much of the play takes place in the Forest of Arden, which was the name of the forest near Oxford’s old country estate, Bilton, and features the former libertine Lord Jaques who, like Oxford, "sold his lands to see other men’s". However, as Mark Anderson has pointed out, "local oral tradition holds that As You Like It was actually written at Billesley, an estate just outside Stratford-upon-Avon owned by the family of de Vere’s grandmother, Elizabeth Trussell."
One of the sights that Oxford may have taken in on his Christmas season visit to Siena, Italy was its cathedral, whose artwork includes a mosaic of the Seven Ages of Man. According to the art historian Samuel C. Chew, this artwork should be "familiar to Shakespearean scholars because it has been cited as a parallel to Jaques’s lines.... The Ages (in Siena) are represented thus, Infantia rides upon a hobbyhorse, Pueritia is a schoolboy, Adolescentia is an older scholar garbed in a long cloak, Juventus has a falcon on his wrist, Virilitas is robed in dignified fashion and carries a book, Senectus, leaning upon his staff, holds a rosary, Decrepitas, leaning upon two staves, looks into his tomb.
In May 1573, in a letter to William Cecil, two of Oxford's former employees accused three of Oxford's friends of attacking them on "the highway from Gravesend to Rochester." In Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 Falstaff and three roguish friends of Prince Hal also waylay unwary travellers—on the highway from Gravesend to Rochester.
This scene was also present in the earlier work, "The Famous Victories of Henry the Fift", which Oxfordians believe was another Edward de Vere play based on the exaggerated importance it bestowed on the 11th Earl of Oxford. However, in that version of the play even the correct month of the crime, May, was mentioned.
In the inflated importance and superb speeches given by the character Philip Faulconbridge ("The Bastard"), Oxfordians see a reflection of Edward De Vere’s own military fantasies and his long running legal argument with his half-sister over his legitimacy. They also find it intriguing that the play’s author felt it necessary to air-brush out of existence the traitorous Robert De Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford.
From an Oxfordian point of view, Shakespeare again used the life story of Edward De Vere in his plot for Merry Wives: Anne is Anne Cecil, the lovely, intelligent, commoner and single woman who happens to have a rich father; Fenton is Oxford, the charming, clever, broke, verse writing ne'er-do-well noblemen who is looking for a wife; and Anne’s father is William Cecil, the suspicious but rich potential father-in-law. Oxfordians hear the voice of De Vere, commenting on how his father-in-law Cecil views him, in the following passage:
I am too great of birth,
And that my state being gall’d with my expense,
I seek to heal it only by his wealth.
Besides these, other bars he lays before me,
My riots past, my wild societies;
And tells me ‘tis a thing impossible
I should love thee but as a property.
On 19 December 1571, in an arranged wedding, Oxford married Lord Burghley's fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil — an equally surprising choice as in the play because Oxford was of the oldest nobility in the kingdom whereas Anne was not of noble birth, her father having only been raised to the peerage that same year by Queen Elizabeth to enable the marriage of social inequals.
In 1658, Francis Osborne (1593–1659) included a bed-trick anecdote about Oxford in his Historical Memoires on the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James. According to Osborne (who had been a servant to the Herberts), Philip Herbert, then earl of Montgomery (and later Pembroke), was struck in the face by a Scottish courtier named Ramsey at a horse race at Croydon. Herbert, who did not strike back, "was left nothing to testifie his Manhood but a Beard and Children, by that Daughter of the last great Earl of Oxford, whose Lady was brought to his Bed under the notion of his Mistress, and from such a vertuous deceit she [that is, Pembroke’s wife] is said to proceed."
J. Thomas Looney believed these events reveal striking parallels between Edward De Vere and Bertam:
Bertram, a young lord of ancient lineage, of which he is himself proud, having lost a father for whom he entertained a strong affection, is brought to court by his mother and left as a royal ward, to be brought up under royal supervision. As he grows up he asks for military service and to be allowed to travel, but is repeatedly refused or put off. At last he goes away without permission. Before leaving he had been married to a young woman with whom he had been brought up, and who had herself been most active in bringing about the marriage. Matrimonial troubles, of which the outstanding feature is a refusal of cohabitation, are associated with both his stay abroad and his return home. Such a summary of a story we have been told in fragments elsewhere, and is as near to biography or autobiography if our theory be accepted, as a dramatist ever permitted himself to go.
From an Oxfordian perspective Measure for Measure contains numerous autobiographical allusions to Edward De Vere. Besides another use of the "bed-trick", there is the Anne Cecil-like Isabella, plus the Oxford-like Duke of Vienna, working to save a prisoner from the death penalty - just as Edward De Vere tried but failed to save his cousin, the Duke of Norfolk.
The generally accepted source of the play was a supposedly true incident that occurred in 1547, near Milan, a city Oxford visited in 1576. However, the play itself differs from these sources in a number of ways: First, the Duke's hidden manipulations were added; second, Claudio’s crime was changed from murder to seduction of a maiden - the same crime that sent Oxford to the Tower of London And finally, Isabella did not marry Angelo but, following Anne Cecil’s life story, married the Duke (De Vere).
Oxfordians note that in the play the Duke of Vienna preferred dealing with his problems through the use of a front, although he could have rescued Claudio at any time by dropping his disguise and stepping forward as himself.
In addition, Oxfordians see similarities between Edward de Vere's writings and the following Shakespearean passage:
It is not truer he is Angelo
Than this is all as true as it is strange.
Nay, it is ten times true. For truth is truth
To th’end of reckoning.
Oxford Letter to William Cecil:
Truth is truth, though never so old, and time cannot make that false which was once true.
Oxford's illicit congress with Anne Vavasour led to a prolonged quarrel with her uncle, Sir Thomas Knyvet, resulting in three deaths and several other injuries. Oxford himself was lamed in one of the duels. The imbroglio was put to an end when the Queen threatened to jail all those involved. The theme of "lameness" is evident in Shakespeare's Sonnets.
From an Oxfordian point of view the play is an autobiography of Edward De Vere, starting with an apology to Anne Cecil for ever thinking she was unfaithful (Claudio – Hero), to the Dogberry sub-plot as a parody of the Arundell-Howard Libel case, to a defence of his affair with Anne Vavasor. (Sir Thomas Knyvet, Anne Vavasor’s enraged uncle, even makes an appearance as Beatrice’s enraged uncle with the lines "Sir boy, I’ll whip you from your foining fence, nay, as I am a gentleman, I will.)
All 3 plays make use of the same Shakespearean plot that Oxfordians believe closely follow Edward De Vere’s treatment of his long suffering wife, Anne Cecil. According to Charlton Ogburn, in these "three plays the male protagonist conceives a murderous animosity toward a loving wife by imagining her unfaithful to him on the flimsiest of grounds, only to be later overwhelmed by remorse; and these three brutally condemned wives – Imogen in Cymbeline, Hermione in The Winter's Tale and Desdemona in Othello – are generally adjudged the most saintly and faultless of Shakespeare's heroines.
According to Joseph Sobran, Timon "a rich and generous patron suddenly finds that his munificence has left him ruined and friendless. He bitterly denounces the human race, with one interesting exception: his steward. Timon’s praise of his steward, in the midst of his railing against mankind, suggest Oxford’s own praise of Robert Christmas, a faithful servant who apparently stayed with him during the hardship he inflicted on himself through his legendary prodigality. Mark Anderson, an Oxfordian researcher, noted Timon of Athens "is Shakespeare’s self-portrait as a downwardly mobile aristocrat.
A number of observers, including the mainstream Shakespearean scholar Dover Wilson, believe that the character of Fluellen was modelled after the Welsh soldier of fortune Sir Roger Williams. Charles Wisner Barrell wrote, "Many of the speeches that the author of Henry the Fifth puts in the mouth of the argumentative Fluellen are merely poetical paraphrases of Sir Roger’s own arguments and 'instances' in his posthumous book, The Actions of the Lowe Countries", which was not published until 1618 - and therefore the play's author could only have known of them through private manuscripts or personal observations. Sir Roger was a follower of Oxford, and served with "the fighting Veres” (Oxford’s cousins, Francis and Horatio) in the Dutch Republic. He had no known connection to Shakespeare of Stratford.
Oxfordians believe that Edward de Vere, writing as Shakespeare, complained of the power his 1,000 pounds per year pension gave those in authority. To support this view they point to The Comedy of Errors and sonnet 111:
O for my sake do you wish fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds’
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
And according to Mark Anderson, “Annual grants of 1,000 pounds, one learns, come with some very large strings attached. One of the Comedy of Error’s two de Vere characters (Antipholus of Ephesus) tells his servant to go out and buy some rope. The servant (Dromio) replies with a non sequitur that critics have scratched their heads over for centuries” ‘I buy a thousand pounds a year!’ the servant says, ‘I buy a rope!” (Act 4, scene 1) As the mainstream Folger Shakespeare Library edition of the play states, “Dromio’s indignant exit line has not been satisfactorily explained.”
The PT Theory advances the belief that Oxford and Queen Elizabeth had a child who was raised as Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. It is to this young Earl that Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. This Star of England by Charlton and Dorothy Ogburn devoted space to the facts supporting this theory, which was expanded by Elisabeth Sears' Shakespeare and the Tudor Rose, Paul Streitz' Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I, and Hank Whittemore, in his analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnets, The Monument, which interprets the poems as a poetic history of Queen Elizabeth, Oxford and Southampton.
See the Prince Tudor theory page for a complete discussion of this topic.
In respect to the supposition that Shakespeare of Stratford was a full-time actor Oxfordians would counter that at that time all acting companies toured, and while a thorough search of municipal records throughout England has uncovered evidence of many touring groups, and many actors, it has failed to locate any trace of Shakespeare of Stratford.
Regarding the claim concerning Shakespeare’s many "patrons", Oxfordians point out that there is little or no evidence that they existed. The only indications even pointing to that possibility being the dedications to Southampton in Lucrece and Venus and Adonis. However, as mentioned by Gerald E. Bentley in Shakespeare: A Biographical Handbook "in spite of the thousands of pages that have been written on the Earl of Southampton as the poet's patron, the only facts so far established are Shakespeare’s dedication of the two long poem's to him in 1593 and 1594". In addition, no record of any payment to Shakespeare from a potential patron has ever been discovered, nor was Charlotte C. Stopes, the author of Southampton's standard biography, able to uncover any evidence of a Southampton-Shakespeare connection beyond the dedications, despite an extensive 5 year search.
Some Stratfordian academics argue, in addition, that Thomas Looney's Oxford theory is based on simple snobbishness: that anti-Stratfordians reject the idea that the son of a mere tradesman could write the plays and poems of Shakespeare. In fact, all the major Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theories promote an aristocrat in favour of Shakespeare of Stratford. Contrasting this is the statement of Professor The Revd V A Demant, Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, who stated: "This was not a matter of social class, or education or even of ideas. It concerned the unconscious attitudes of the world and life. Quite early on Looney had to meet the criticism that his was a "snob" view, holding that a man who had not been to a university and was of bourgeois origin could not be a literary giant. Looney somewhat resented the stupidity of this criticism. Certainly, he maintained, genius arises in any social milieu and is quite independent of formal education (witness Burns). But some background and peculiar personal attitudes indeliberately colour a man’s work, and another man without them cannot produce counterfeits. Further, Oxfordians note that figures such as Walt Whitman, Charlie Chaplin, Sigmund Freud, and Friederich Nietzsche and Mark Twain (both Baconians), none of whom are obvious candidates for snobbery, have all expressed anti-Stratfordian views. See the article on Baconian theory for additional information on Baconian issues that may relate to the Oxford candidacy.