Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship
The Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship proposes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford and Lord Great Chamberlain of England, wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. Though most literary scholars reject all alternative authorship candidates, including Oxford, popular interest in the Oxfordian theory continues. Since the 1920s, the Oxfordian theory has been the most popular alternative Shakespeare authorship theory.
Oxfordian arguments rely heavily on biographical allusions, and theory adherents find correspondences between incidents and circumstances in Oxford's life and events in Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and longer poems. The case also relies on perceived parallels of language, idiom, and thought between Oxford's letters and the Shakespearean canon; and marked passages in Oxford's Bible that appear in some form in Shakespeare's plays. That no plays survive under Oxford's name is also important to the Oxfordian theory. Oxfordians interpret certain 16th- and 17th-century literary allusions as indicating that Oxford was one of the more prominent suppressed anonymous and/or pseudonymous writers of the day. Under this scenario, Shakespeare of Stratford was either a "front man" or "play-broker" who published the plays under his own name or was merely an actor with a similar name, misidentified as the playwright since the first Shakespeare biographies of the early 1700s.
The convergence of documentary evidence of the type used by academics for authorial attribution—title pages, testimony by other contemporary poets and historians, and official records—establishes Shakespeare's authorship for the overwhelming majority of Shakespeare scholars and literary historians, and no evidence links Oxford to Shakespeare's works. Oxfordians, however, reject the historical record and often propose the conspiracy theory that the record was falsified to protect the identity of the real author, invoking the dearth of evidence for any conspiracy as evidence of its success. Scholars also note that interpreting the plays and poems as autobiographical, and then using them to construct a hypothetical author, is a method most literary specialists consider unreliable as far as attributive value.
The most compelling evidence against the Oxfordian Theory is de Vere's death in 1604, since the generally accepted chronology of Shakespeare's plays places the composition of as many as twelve of the plays after that date. Oxfordian researchers respond that the annual publication of "new" or "corrected" Shakespeare plays stopped in 1604, and that the dedication to Shakespeare's Sonnets implies that the author was dead prior to their publication in 1609. Oxfordians believe the reason so many of the "late plays" show evidence of revision and collaboration is because they were completed by other playwrights after Oxford's death.
Edward de Vere, biography
Oxfordians say that his background fits the assumed ideal of what the writer of Shakespeare should be. Oxford was noted for his literary and theatrical patronage, garnering dedications from a wide range of authors. For much of his adult life, Oxford patronized at least two acting companies, as well as performances by musicians, acrobats and performing animals, and in 1583, he was a leaseholder of the first Blackfriars Theatre in London. Beyond his connections to the Elizabethean theatre world, Oxfordian researchers note his numerous family connections (including those to the patrons of Shakespeare's First Folio), his relationships with Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of Southampton, his knowledge of court life, his private tutors and dedication to learning, and his wide-ranging travels through the locations of Shakespeare's plays in France and Italy.
History of the Oxfordian theory
The theory that the works of Shakespeare were in fact written by someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon dates back at least to the mid-nineteenth century. In 1857, the first published book focussed entirely on the authorship debate, The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, by Delia Bacon, was printed. Ms. Bacon proposed the first "group theory" of Shakespearean authorship, attributing the works to a committee headed by Francis Bacon and including Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spencer and, among others, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. A group theory featuring Oxford was also proposed by Gilbert Slater in The Seven Shakespeares (1931), in which he theorized that the works were written by seven different authors: Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Sir Walter Raleigh, William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, Christopher Marlowe, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, and Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland.
The formal "Oxfordian theory" was first proposed by J. Thomas Looney in his 1920 book Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Following earlier anti-Stratfordians, Looney argued that the known facts of Shakespeare's life did not fit the personality he ascribed to the author of the plays. Shakespeare had a petty "acquisitive disposition", he said, while the plays made heroes of free-spending figures. They also portrayed middle and lower-class people negatively, while Shakespearean heroes were typically aristocratic. Looney considered that Oxford's personality fitted that he deduced from the plays, and also identified characters in the plays as detailed portraits of Oxford's family and personal contacts. Several characters, including Hamlet and Bertram (in All's Well that Ends Well), were, he believed, self-portraits. Adapting arguments earlier used for Rutland and Derby, Looney fitted events in the plays to episodes in Oxford's life, including his travels to France and Italy, the settings for many plays. Oxford's death in 1604 was linked to a drop-off in the publication of Shakespeare plays. Looney declared that the late play The Tempest was not written by Oxford, and that others performed or published after Oxford's death were most probably left incomplete and finished by other writers, thus explaining the apparent idiosyncrasies of style found in the late Shakespeare plays. Looney also introduced the argument that the reference to the "ever-living poet" in the 1609 dedication to Shakespeare's sonnets implied that the author was dead at the time of publication.
Sigmund Freud, the novelist Marjorie Bowen, and several 20th-century celebrities found the thesis persuasive, and Oxford soon overtook Bacon as the favoured alternative candidate to Shakespeare, though academic Shakespeareans mostly ignored the subject. Looney's theory attracted a number of activist followers who published books supplementing his own and added new arguments, most notably Percy Allen, Bernard M. Ward, Louis P. Bénézet and Charles Wisner Barrell. Mainstream scholar Stephen May has noted that Oxfordians of this period made genuine contributions to knowledge of Elizabethan history, "Foremost among these is Ward's quite competent biography of the Earl,…. Also noteworthy is Charles Wisner Barrell's identification of Edward Vere, Oxford's illegitimate son by Anne Vavasour, a relationship which escaped E. K. Chambers." In 1921, Sir George Greenwood, Looney, and others founded The Shakespeare Fellowship, an organization originally dedicated to the discussion and promotion of ecumenical anti-Stratfordian views, but which later became devoted to promoting Oxford as the true Shakespeare.
Decline and revival
After a period of decline of the Oxfordian theory beginning with World War II, in 1952 Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn published the 1,300-page This Star of England, which briefly revived Oxfordism. A series of critical academic books and articles, however, held in check any appreciable growth of anti-Stratfordism and Oxfordism, most notably The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined (1957), by William and Elizebeth Friedman, The Poacher from Stratford (1958), by Frank Wadsworth, Shakespeare and His Betters (1958), by Reginald Churchill, The Shakespeare Claimants (1962), by H. N. Gibson, and Shakespeare and His Rivals: A Casebook on the Authorship Controversy (1962), by George L. McMichael and Edgar M. Glenn. By 1968 the newsletter of The Shakespeare Oxford Society reported that "the missionary or evangelical spirit of most of our members seems to be at a low ebb, dormant, or non-existent". In 1974, membership in the society stood at 80. In 1979, the publication of an analysis of The Ashbourne portrait dealt a further blow to the movement. The painting, long claimed to be one of the portraits of Shakespeare, but considered by Barrell to be an overpaint of a portrait of the Earl of Oxford, turned out to represent neither, but rather depicted Hugh Hamersley.
Charlton Ogburn, Jr. was elected president of The Shakespeare Oxford Society in 1976 and kick-started the modern revival of the Oxfordian movement by seeking publicity through moot court trials, media debates, television, and later the Internet, including Wikipedia, methods which became standard policy for Oxfordian and anti-Stratfordian promoters because of their success in recruiting members of the lay public. He portrayed academic scholars as self-interested members of an "entrenched authority" that aimed to "outlaw and silence dissent in a supposedly free society", and proposed to counter their influence by portraying Oxford as a candidate on equal footing with Shakespeare. In 1985 he published his 900-page The Mysterious William Shakespeare: the Myth and the Reality, and by framing the issue as one of fairness in the atmosphere of conspiracy that permeated America after Watergate, he used the media to circumnavigate academia and appeal directly to the public. Ogburn's efforts secured Oxford the place as the most popular alternative candidate.
Although Shakespearean experts disparaged Ogburn's methodology and his conclusions, one reviewer, Richmond Crinkley, the Folger Shakespeare Library's former director of educational programs, acknowledged the appeal of Ogburn's approach, writing that the doubts over Shakespeare, "arising early and growing rapidly", have a "simple, direct plausibility", and the dismissive attitude of established scholars only worked to encourage such doubts. Though Crinkley rejected Ogburn's thesis, he believed that one merit of the book lay in the way it focused attention on what is not known of Shakespeare. Spurred by Ogburn's book, "[i]n the last decade of the twentieth century members of the Oxfordian camp gathered strength and made a fresh assault on the Shakespearean citadel, hoping finally to unseat the man from Stratford and install de Vere in his place."
The Oxfordian theory returned to wide public attention in anticipation of the late October 2011 release of Roland Emmerich's film Anonymous. Its distributor, Sony Pictures, advertised that the film "presents a compelling portrait of Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare's plays", and commissioned high school and college-level lesson plans to promote the authorship question to history and literature teachers across the United States. According to Sony Pictures, "The objective for our Anonymous program, as stated in the classroom literature, is 'to encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine the theories about the authorship of Shakespeare's works and to formulate their own opinions.' The study guide does not state that Edward de Vere is the writer of Shakespeare's work, but it does pose the authorship question which has been debated by scholars for decades".
Variant Oxfordian theories
Although most Oxfordians agree on the main arguments for Oxford, the theory has spawned schismatic variants that have not met with wide acceptance by all Oxfordians, although they have gained much attention.
Prince Tudor theory
In a letter written by Looney in 1933, he mentions that Allen and Ward were "advancing certain views respecting Oxford and Queen Eliz. which appear to me extravagant & improbable, in no way strengthen Oxford’s Shakespeare claims, and are likely to bring the whole cause into ridicule." Allen and Ward believed that they had discovered that Elizabeth and Oxford were lovers and had conceived a child. Allen developed the theory in his 1934 bookAnne Cecil, Elizabeth & Oxford. He argued that the child was given the name William Hughes, who became an actor under the stage-name "William Shakespeare". He adopted the name because his father, Oxford, was already using it as a pen-name for his plays. Oxford had borrowed the name from a third Shakespeare, the man of that name from Stratford-upon-Avon, who was a law student at the time, but who was never an actor or a writer. Allen later changed his mind about Hughes and decided that the concealed child was the Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Shakespeare's narrative poems. This secret drama, which has become known as the Prince Tudor theory, was covertly represented in Oxford's plays and poems and remained hidden until Allen and Ward's discoveries. The narrative poems and sonnets had been written by Oxford for his son. This Star of England (1952) by Charlton and Dorothy Ogburn included arguments in support of this version of the theory. Their son, Charlton Ogburn, Jr, agreed with Looney that the theory was an impediment to the Oxfordian movement and omitted all discussion about it in his own Oxfordian works.
However, the theory was revived and expanded by Elisabeth Sears in Shakespeare and the Tudor Rose (2002), and Hank Whittemore in The Monument (2005), an analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnets which interprets the poems as a poetic history of Queen Elizabeth, Oxford, and Southampton. Paul Streitz's Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I (2001) advances a variation on the theory: that Oxford himself was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth by her stepfather, Thomas Seymour. Oxford was thus the half-brother of his own son by the queen. Streitz also believes that the queen had children by the Earl of Leicester. These were Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Mary Sidney and Elizabeth Leighton.
Attribution of other works to Oxford
As with other candidates for authorship of Shakespeare's works, Oxford's supporters have attributed numerous non-Shakespearean works to him. Looney began the process in his 1921 edition of de Vere's poetry. He suggested that de Vere was also responsible for some of the literary works credited to Arthur Golding, Anthony Munday and John Lyly. Streitz credits Oxford with the Authorized King James Version of the Bible. Two professors of linguistics have claimed that de Vere wrote not only the works of Shakespeare, but most of what is memorable in English literature during his lifetime, with such names as Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, Philip Sidney, John Lyly, George Peele, George Gascoigne, Raphael Holinshed, Robert Greene, Thomas Phaer, and Arthur Golding being among dozens of further pseudonyms of de Vere. Ramon Jiménez has credited Oxford with such plays asThe True Tragedy of Richard III and Edmund Ironside.
Case against Oxfordian theory
Methodology of Oxfordian argument
Specialists in Elizabethan literary history[who?] object to the methodology of Oxfordian arguments. In lieu of any evidence of the type commonly used for authorship attribution, Oxfordians discard the methods used by historians and employ other types of arguments to make their case, the most common being supposed parallels between Oxford's life and Shakespeare's works.
Another is finding cryptic allusions to Oxford's supposed play writing in other literary works of the era that to them suggest that his authorship was obvious to those "in the know". Scholars[who?] have described their methods as subjective and devoid of any evidential value, saying they use a "double standard", "consistently distort and misrepresent the historical record", "neglect to provide necessary context" and calling some of their arguments "outright fabrication". One major evidential objection to the Oxfordian theory is Edward de Vere's 1604 death, after which a number of Shakespeare's plays are conventionally believed[who?] to have been written. In The Shakespeare Claimants, a 1962 examination of the authorship question, H. N. Gibson concluded that "... on analysis the Oxfordian case appears to me a very weak one".
Some mainstream academics[who?] argue that the 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. The Shakespeare Oxford Society has responded that such name calling is "a substitute for reasoned responses to Oxfordian evidence and logic" and is merely an ad hominem attack, a charge echoed by journalists on both sides of the issue, including Michael Prescott and Joseph Sobran.
Mainstream critics[who?] further say that if William Shakespeare were a fraud instead of the true author, the number of people involved in suppressing this information would have made it highly unlikely to succeed. And citing the "testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else" supporting Shakespeare's authorship, Columbia University professor James S. Shapiro points out the logically fatal tautology of any theory claiming that "there must have been a conspiracy to suppress the truth of de Vere’s authorship" based on the idea that "the very absence of surviving evidence proves the case."
Case for the Oxfordian theory
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Oxford's literary reputation
Oxford as a poet and playwright
Who taught thee first to sigh alas, my Heart?
Edward de Vere, date unknown
Oxfordians cite four principal pieces of evidence praising Oxford as a poet and a playwright:
(1) William Webbe's Discourse of English Poetrie (1586) surveys and criticises early Elizabethan poets and their works, including those of Elizabeth's court and naming Oxford as "the most excellent" among them.
(2) George Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie (1589), includes Oxford on a list of courtier poets and includes of his verses as exemplars of "his excellencie and wit." Oxford and Richard Edwardes are also praised as playwrights who "deserve the hyest price" for in the genres of "Comedy and Enterlude".
Biographer Alan Nelson, who opposes the Oxfordian Theory, believes that "[c]ontemporary observers such as Harvey, Webbe, Puttenham and Meres exaggerated Oxford's talent in deference to his rank." However, Stephen May, a specialist in Oxford's poetry, says that both Webbe and Puttenham rank him first among the court poets, a ranking he would not achieved "despite his reputation as a patron, by virtue of a handful of lyrics". After Oxford's death, similar praise came from additional sources:
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.
Stratfordians disagree with this interpretation and say that Peacham copied large parts of Puttenham's work but only used those writers he considered "gentlemen" for examples, a category Peacham did not apply to actors. They also say that he lists poets only, no playwrights, leaving out Christopher Marlowe, for example.
There is also a flattering description of Oxford's learning, wit, and writing in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, a 1613 play by George Chapman, who has been suggested as the Rival Poet of Shake-speares Sonnets.
Oxford's lyric poetry
Loss of Good Name (excerpt)
Framed in the front of forlorn hope, past all recovery,
Earl of Oxford, c. 1576
Some of Oxford's lyric works have survived. Stephen May, a leading authority on Oxford's poetry, believes these are only a sampling, noting that "both Webbe and Puttenham rank him first among the courtier poets, an eminence he probably would not have been granted, despite his reputation as a patron, by virtue of a mere handful of lyrics". May writes that Oxford’s youthful poems, which have been described as experimental and innovative, ‘create a dramatic break with everything known to have been written at the Elizabethan court up to that time’. May describes one poem, in which the author cries out against ‘this loss of my good name,’ as a ‘defiant lyric without precedent in English Renaissance verse’.
In the opinion of J. Thomas Looney, as "far as forms of versification are concerned De Vere presents just that rich variety which is so noticeable in Shakespeare; and almost all the forms he employs we find reproduced in the Shakespeare work." Oxfordian Louis P. Bénézet created the "Bénézet test", a collage of lines from Shakespeare and lines he thought were representative of Oxford, challenging non-specialists to tell the difference between the two authors. May notes that Looney compared various motifs, rhetorical devices and phrases with certain Shakespeare works to find similarities he said were "the most crucial in the piecing together of the case", but that Looney used six poems mistakenly attributed to Oxford that were actually written by Greene, Campion, and Greville for some of those "crucial" examples. Bénézet also used two lines from Greene that he thought were Oxford's, while succeeding Oxfordians, including Charles Wisner Barrell, have also misattributed poems to Oxford. "This on-going confusion of Oxford's genuine verse with that of at least three other poets," writes May, "illustrates the wholesale failure of the basic Oxfordian methodology."
According to a computerised textual comparison developed by the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic, the styles of Shakespeare and Oxford were found to be "light years apart", and the odds of Oxford having written Shakespeare were reported as "lower than the odds of getting hit by lightning". John Shahan and Richard Whalen, writing in The Oxfordian (volume IX, 2006), condemned the Claremont study, calling it "apples to oranges", and noting that the study did not compare Oxford's songs to Shakespeare's songs, did not compare a clean unconfounded sample of Oxford's poems with Shakespeare's poems, and charged that the students under Elliott and Valenza's supervision incorrectly assumed that Oxford's youthful verse was representative of his mature poetry.
Were I a king I could command content;
Edward de Vere, date unknown
May describes Oxford as a "competent, fairly experimental poet working in the established modes of mid-century lyric verse" and his poetry as "examples of the standard varieties of mid-Elizabethan amorous lyric". In 2004, May wrote that Oxford's poetry was "one man's contribution to the rhetorical mainstream of an evolving Elizabethan poetic" and challenged readers to distinguish any of it from "the output of his mediocre mid-century contemporaries". C. S. Lewis wrote that de Vere's poetry shows "a faint talent", but is "for the most part undistinguished and verbose."
Joseph Sobran's book, Alias Shakespeare, includes Oxford's known poetry in an appendix with what he considers extensive verbal parallels with the work of Shakespeare, and he argues that Oxford's poetry is comparable in quality to some of Shakespeare's early work, such as Titus Andronicus. Other Oxfordians say that de Vere's extant work is that of a young man and should be considered juvenilia, while May believes that all the evidence dates his surviving work to his early 20s and later.
Perceived allusions to Oxford as a concealed writer
“many notable Gentlemen in the Court that have written commendably, and suppressed it again, or else suffered it to be published without their own names to it: as if it were a discredit for a Gentleman to seem learned and to show himself amorous of any good Art.”
Puttenham attempts to list "the most commended writers in our English Poesie" 23 chapters later, beginning with Chaucer. In the present time, he writes, in Elizabeth's court "are sprung up another crew of courtly makers, noblemen and gentlemen of her Majesty's own servants, who have written excellently 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 Earle of Oxford..." followed by the names of eight more courtier poets, Sackville, Raleigh, Gascoigne, Breton, and Turberville).
According to Daniel Wright, these combined passages confirm that Oxford was one of the concealed writers in the Elizabethan court. Critics of this view argue that Oxford is not specifically identified as a "concealed writer", but as the first in a list of known modern writers whose works have already been "made public", "of which number is first" Oxford. In response, Andrew Hannas argues that "the rest" refers to the list of English poets preceding those of Elizabeth's court, based on Puttenham's sentence following the list in which he subsumes both sets of names in the phrase "But of them all" and states his opinion of the best poets.
Critics point out that six of the nine poets listed had appeared in print under their own names long before 1589, including a number of Oxford's poems in printed miscellanies, and the first poem published under Oxford's name was printed in 1572, 17 years before Puttenham's book was published. Several other contemporary authors name Oxford as a poet, and Puttenham himself quotes one of Oxford's verses elsewhere in the book, referring to him by name as the author, so Oxfordians misread Puttenham.
Oxfordians also believe other texts refer to the Edward de Vere as a concealed writer. They argue that satirist John Marston's Scourge of Villanie (1598) contains further cryptic allusions to Oxford:
.......Far fly thy fame,
Most, most of me beloved, whose silent name
One letter bounds. Thy true judicial style
I ever honour, and if my love beguile
Not much my hopes, then thy unvalu'd worth
Shall mount fair place when Apes are turned forth.
The word Ape means pretender or mimic, and Oxfordians maintain the writer whose silent name is bound by one letter is Edward de VerE, although Marston calls the passage an example of "hotchpodge giberdige" written by bad poets, and nowhere does Marston mention Oxford explicitly as a poet, bad or otherwise.
In the late 1990s, Roger A. Stritmatter conducted a study of the marked passages found in Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible, which is now owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Bible contains 1,028 instances of underlined words or passages and a few hand-written annotations, most of which consist of a single word or fragment. About a quarter of the marked passages appear in Shakespeare's works as either a theme, allusion, or quotation. Stritmatter grouped the marked passages into themes (the responsibilities of the rich and powerful; the virtue of charity; the evils of usury; the nature of sin; prophecy; the value of secret works; the eschatology of end times; the nature of proper speech). Arguing that the themes fitted de Vere's known interests, he proceeded to link specific themes to passages in Shakespeare. Critics have doubted that any of the underlinings or annotations in the Bible can be reliably attributed to de Vere and not the book's other owners prior to its acquisition by the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1925, as well as challenging the looseness of Stritmatter's standards for a Biblical allusion in Shakespeare's works and arguing that there is no statistical significance to the overlap.
Anne Cornwaleys her booke
In 1588, due to ongoing financial problems, Oxford sold his house, Fisher's Folly, to William Cornwallis, a distant relative. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, following the opinion of Charles Wisner Barrell, the mansion had served as a centre for the numerous dramatists and poets that Oxford patronized, until his dwindling finances forced him to dispose of it.
In 1852, James Halliwell-Phillipps bought a manuscript volume, "Anne Cornwaleys her booke," described by the Folger Shakespeare Library as a poetical miscellany of Cornwallis’ daughter Anne, which Halliwell-Phillipps believed was transcribed sometime in 1595. The DNB states that the poems in the anthology had been presumed to have been found in Fisher's Folly after the Cornwallis family moved in, with scholars assuming that Anne had copied the contents herself. However, it is more likely that the poems were "simply chosen to please a romantic adolescent and presented to Anne by a friend or relative," and neither of the two hands in the volume are hers. About half of the collection of 34 poems are unattributed, some of which have been since assigned to a number of court poets.
The collection "bespeaks a reading practice dependent on insider knowledge of desire, scandal and politics at court", including two poems attributed in the book to "Vavaser" concerning a court scandal involving Oxford and Anne Vavasour, Oxford's mistress from 1579–1581 by whom he fathered an illegitimate child. Two of the poems are attributed to Oxford in the collection, which also includes an unattributed poem later printed by William Jaggard in The Passionate Pilgrim (1599) under Shakespeare's name, although it is not considered to be Shakespearean by modern critics. According to Charles Wisner Barrell, the version in Anne's book is superior textually to the one published by Jaggard and is the earliest handwritten example we have of a poem that has been ascribed to Shakespeare. Barrell thought it "significant" that "the mysterious Bard and the mysterious poet Earl have actually been linked together... since the 1590's at least."
While no documentary evidence connects Oxford (or any authorial candidate) to the plays of Shakespeare, Oxfordian writers, including Mark Anderson and Charlton Ogburn, say that connection is made by considerable circumstantial evidence inferred from Oxford's connections to the Elizabethan theatre and poetry scene; the participation of his family in the printing and publication of the First Folio; his relationship with the Earl of Southampton (believed by most Shakespeare scholars to have been Shakespeare's patron); as well as a number of specific incidents and circumstances of Oxford's life that Oxfordians say are depicted in the plays themselves.
Regarding Oxford's knowledge of court life, which Oxfordians believe is reflected throughout the plays, mainstream scholars say that any special knowledge of the aristocracy appearing in the plays can be more easily explained by Shakespeare's life-time of performances before nobility and royalty, and possibly, as Gibson theorises, "by visits to his patron's house, as Marlowe visited Walsingham."
- Oxford was a leaseholder of the first Blackfriars Theatre;
- He produced entertainments on tour and at court;
- He was the patron of two acting companies – Oxford's Boys and Oxford's Men;
- Oxford maintained a company of musicians;
- He was a patron of writers, poets, playwrights and musicians.
- 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 (many scholars have argued that Southampton was the Fair Youth of the Sonnets);
- His mother, Margory Golding, was the sister of the Ovid translator Arthur Golding;
- His uncle, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was the inventor of the English or Shakespearean sonnetform;
- 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).
Shakespeare's native Avon and Stratford are referred to in two prefatory poems in the 1623 First Folio, one of which refers to Shakespeare as "Swan of Avon" and another to the author's "Stratford monument".
- One of Edward de Vere's manors, Bilton Hall, near the Forest of Arden, on the River Avon. This view was first expressed by Charles Wisner Barrell, who argued that De Vere "kept the place as a literary hideaway where he could carry on his creative work without the interference of his father-in-law, Burghley, and other distractions of Court and city life."
- The nearest town to the parish of Hackney, where de Vere later lived and was buried, was also named Stratford.
Mainstream author Irvin Matus demonstrated that Oxford sold Bilton Hall in 1580, having previously rented it out, making it unlikely, in Matus' opinion, that Ben Jonson's 1623 poem would refer to a property Oxford had sold 43 years earlier. And although his widow provided for the creation of a monument at Hackney in her 1613 will, there is no evidence that it was ever erected;
Oxfordians also believe that Rev. Dr. John Ward's 1662 diary entry stating that Shakespeare wrote two plays a year "and for that had an allowance so large that he spent at the rate of £1,000 a year" as a critical piece of evidence, since Queen Elizabeth I gave Oxford an annuity of exactly £1,000 beginning in 1586 that was continued until his death. Ogburn wrote that the annuity was granted "under mysterious circumstances", and Anderson suggests it was granted because of Oxford's writing patriotic plays for government propaganda. However, the documentary evidence indicates that the allowance was meant to relieve Oxford's embarrassed financial situation caused by the ruination of his estate.
The 1604 issue
For mainstream Shakespearean scholars, the most compelling evidence against Oxford (besides the historical evidence for William Shakespeare) is his death in 1604, since the generally accepted chronology of Shakespeare's plays places the composition of as many as twelve of the plays after that date. Critics often cite The Tempest and Macbeth, for example, as having been written after 1604.
The exact dates of the composition of most of Shakespeare's plays are uncertain, although David Bevington says it is a 'virtually unanimous' opinion among teachers and scholars of Shakespeare that the canon of late plays depicts an artistic journey that extends well beyond 1604. Evidence for this includes allusions to historical events and literary sources which postdate 1604, as well as Shakespeare's adaptation of his style to accommodate Jacobean literary tastes and the changing membership of the King's Men and their different venues.
The play that can be dated within a fourteen month period is The Tempest. This play has long been assumed to have been inspired by the 1609 wreck at Bermuda, then feared by mariners as the Isle of the Devils, of the flagship of the Virginia Company, the Sea Venture, while leading the Third Supply to relieve Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia. The survivors spent nine months in Bermuda before most completed the journey to Jamestown on 23 May 1610, on two new ships built from scratch. One of the survivors was appointed Governor Sir Thomas Gates. With the company believing all aboard the Sea Venture dead, a new governor, Baron De La Warr, had been sent with the Fourth Supply fleet, which arrived on 10 June 1610 as Jamestown was being abandoned. De la Warr remained in Jamestown as Governor, while Gates returned to England, arriving in September, 1610. The news of the survival of the Sea Venture's passengers and crew caused a great sensation in England. Two accounts were published: Sylvester Jordain's A Discovery of the Barmvdas, Otherwise Called the Ile of Divels, in October, 1610, and A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia a month later. The True Reportory of the Wrack, and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates Knight, an account by William Strachey dated 15 July 1610, returned to England with Gates in the form of a letter which was circulated privately until its eventual publication in 1625. Shakespeare had multiple contacts to the circle of people amongst whom the letter circled, including to Strachey. The Tempest shows clear evidence that he had read and relied on Jordain and especially Stratchey. The play shares premise, basic plot, and many details of the Sea Venture's wrecking and the adventures of the survivors, as well as specific details and linguistics. A detailed comparative analysis shows the Declaration to have been the primary source from which the play was drawn.
This firmly dates the writing of the play to the months between Gates return to England and the 1st of November, 1611. This has made severing the connection of the play with the wreck of the Sea Venture a priority amongst Oxfordians. A variety of asymmetric attacks have been directed on the links. These include attempting to cast doubt on whether the Declaration travelled back to England with Gates, whether Gates travelled back to England early enough, whether the lowly Shakespeare would have had access to the lofty circles in which the Declaration was circulated, to understating the points of similarity between the Sea Venture wreck and the accounts of it, on the one hand, and the play on the other. Oxfordians have even claimed that the writers of the first-hand accounts of the real wreck based them on The Tempest, or, at least, the same antiquated sources that Shakespeare, or rather Oxford, is imagined to have used exclusively.
Anderson asserts that 1604 was the year "Shakespeare" stopped writing, and Oxfordian Ruth Loyd Miller and others contend that the poet-playwright died before 1609, implied by certain literary allusions, including the phrase "our ever-living poet" used in the dedication for Shake-Speares Sonnets. Miller wrote that the phrase rarely, if ever, referred to a living person, but instead was used to refer to the eternal soul of the deceased, as in Henry VI, Part I, where Shakespeare writes of "(t)hat ever-living man of memory, Henry the Fifth" (4.3.51-52). Bacon, Derby, Neville, and Shakespeare of Stratford all lived well past the 1609 publication of the Sonnets.
However, Don Foster, in his study of Early Modern uses of the phrase "ever-living", argues that the phrase most frequently refers to God or other supernatural beings, suggesting that the dedication calls upon God to bless the living begetter (writer) of the sonnets. He states that the initials "W. H." were a misprint for "W. S." or "W. SH". Bate thinks it a misprint as well, but he thinks it "improbable" that the phrase refers to God. and suggests that the "ever-living poet" might be "a great dead English poet who had written on the great theme of poetic immortality", such as Sir Philip Sidney or Edmund Spenser.
Against the Oxford theory are several references to Shakespeare later than 1604 that imply that the author was then still alive. A poem written circa 1620 by William Basse, a student at Oxford, was titled "On the Death of William Shakespeare, who Died in Aprill, Anno. Dom. 1616", the month and year Shakespeare died and not Edward de Vere.
Early Start Theory
For Anderson, and other Oxfordians, a significant and unresolved debate persists over the question of whether many of the "late plays" were indeed written, as is generally believed by orthodox scholars, during the Jacobean period. Andrew Cairncross, for example, argued persuasively as early as 1936, in a thesis less refuted than ignored, that Hamlet was written as early as 1588-89. Anderson believes further evidence supports the contention that the allegedly "Jacobean plays" may actually have been written several years earlier than is customarily believed — and all of them before 1604. Anderson notes that proponents of earlier dating (now called the 'early-start' theory) go back over 200 years. In 1756, for example, inMemoirs of the Life and Writings of Ben Jonson, W.R. Chetwood concluded on the basis of performance records "at the end of the year of , or the beginning of the next, 'tis supposed that [Shakespeare] took his farewell of the stage, both as author and actor". In 1874, German literary historian Karl Elze dated The Tempest — traditionally labeled as Shakespeare's last play — to the years 1603-04.
Anderson believes the theory that the existing chronology is significantly too late is strongly supported by the publication pattern of Shakespeare's plays, noting that from 1593 through 1603 the publication of new Shake-speare plays "appeared in print, on average, twice per year." Then, in 1604, Shake-speare "fell silent" and stopped (new play) publication for almost 5 years. Anderson says "the early history of reprints ... also point to 1604 as a watershed year", and notes that during the years of 1593–1604, whenever an inferior or pirated text was published, it was then typically followed by a genuine text that was "newly augmented" or "corrected": "After 1604, the 'newly correct[ing]' and 'augment[ing]' stops. Once again, the Shake-speare enterprise appears to have shut down".
Collaborations and revisions
Anderson also believes that the later plays (including Henry VIII, Macbeth, Timon of Athens and Pericles), which have been described as incomplete or "collaborative", were simply revised or completed by others after Oxford's death. Shapiro, however, believes that attribution studies, which have shown certain plays in the canon were written by two or three hands, are a 'nightmare' for Oxfordians, implying a 'jumble sale scenario' for his literary remains long after his death.
The move to the Blackfriars
Professor Jonathan Bate, in The Genius of Shakespeare (1997) stated that Oxfordians cannot "provide any explanation for …technical changes attendant on the King's Men's move to the Blackfriars theatre four years after their candidate's death.... Unlike the Globe, the Blackfriars was an indoor playhouse" and so required plays with frequent breaks in order to replace the candles it used for lighting. "The plays written after Shakespeare's company began using the Blackfriars in 1608, Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale for instance, have what most ... of the earlier plays do not have: a carefully planned five-act structure". If new Shakespearean plays were being written especially for presentation at the Blackfriars' theatre after 1608, they could not have been written by Edward de Vere.
Oxfordians respond that Oxford was well acquainted with the Blackfriars Theatre - having been a leaseholder of the venue, and gifting to his then-secretary John Lyly - and note that the "assumption" that Shakespeare wrote plays for the Blackfriars is not universally accepted, citing Shakespearean scholars such as A. Nicoll who said that "all available evidence is either completely negative or else runs directly counter to such a supposition" and Harley Granville-Barker, who stated "Shakespeare did not write (except for Henry V) five-act plays at any stage of his career. The five-act structure was formalized in the First Folio, and is inauthentic".
- Because Shakespeare of Stratford lived until 1616, Oxfordians question why, if he were the author, did he not eulogize Queen Elizabeth at her death in 1603 or Henry, Prince of Wales, at his in 1612. They believe Oxford's 1604 death provides the explanation. In an age when such actions were expected, Shakespeare also failed to memorialize the coronation of James I in 1604, the marriage of Princess Elizabeth in 1612, and the investiture of Prince Charles as the new Prince of Wales in 1613.
- Shakespeare of Stratford's death
- Similarly, when Shakespeare of Stratford died, he was not publicly mourned. As Mark Twain wrote, in Is Shakespeare Dead?, "When Shakespeare died in Stratford it was not an event. It made no more stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theatre-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."
- Anderson contends that Shakespeare refers to the latest scientific discoveries and events through the end of the 16th century, but "is mute about science after de Vere’s [Oxford’s] death in 1604". He believes that the absence of any mention of the spectacular supernova of October 1604 or Kepler’s revolutionary 1609 study of planetary orbits are especially noteworthy.
- Unpublished plays
- Diana Price, in Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography, notes that for a professional author, Shakespeare of Stratford seems to have been entirely uninterested in protecting his work. Price explains that while he had a well documented habit of going to court over relatively small sums, he never sued any of the publishers pirating his plays and sonnets, or took any legal action regarding their practice of attaching his name to the inferior output of others. Price also notes there is no evidence Shakespeare of Stratford was ever paid for writing and his detailed will failed to mention any of Shakespeare's unpublished plays or poems or any of the source books Shakespeare was known to have read.
- Stratford acquaintances
- Oxfordians also note that there is no evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford's relatives and neighbors ever mentioned he was famous or a writer, nor are there any indications his heirs demanded or received payments for his supposed investments in the theatre or for any of the more than 16 masterwork plays unpublished at the time of his death. 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."
Dates of composition
Oxfordians say that the conventional composition dates for the plays were developed by mainstream scholars to fit within Shakespeare's lifetime and that no evidence exists that any plays were written after 1604. Oxfordians also note that while the conventional dating for Henry VIII is 1610-13, the majority of 18th and 19th century scholars, including notables such as Samuel Johnson, Lewis Theobald, George Steevens, Edmond Malone, and James Halliwell-Phillipps, placed the composition of Henry VIII prior to 1604, as they believed Elizabeth's execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (the then king James I's mother) made any vigorous defence of the Tudors politically inappropriate in the England of James I. Similarly, in the case of Macbeth (conventinally dated to 1606), mainstream scholar A. R. Braunmuller, in the New Cambridge edition, finds the post-1605 arguments for the play inconclusive, and argues only for an earliest date of 1603.
As recently as the 1969 and 1977 Pelican/Viking editions of Shakespeare's plays, Alfred Harbage showed that the composition ofMacbeth, Timon of Athens, Pericles, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra — all conventionally regarded as "late plays" — likely did not occur after 1604.
- Scholars have argued over the composition date of Hamlet since the early 1900s. A Hamlet-like play, dubbed by scholars as the Ur-Hamlet, was well-known before 1590, long before the generally accepted composition date (1599–1601) of Shakespeare's play. The earliest reference occurs in 1589 when Thomas Nashe in his introduction to Robert Greene'sMenaphon implies the existence of an early Hamlet: "English Seneca read by candle-light yields many good sentences, as Blood is a begger, and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls of tragical speeches." A 1594 performance of Hamlet is recorded in Philip Henslowe's diary, and in 1596 Thomas Lodge wrote of "the ghost which cried so miserably at the theatre, like an oyster-wife, Hamlet, revenge!"
- Oxfordian researchers believe that the Ur-Hamlet is an early version of Shakespeare's own play, and point out that Shakespeare's version survives in three quite different early texts, Q1 (1603), Q2 (1604) and F (1623), suggesting the possibility that it was revised by the author over a period of many years. While the exact relationship of the short and apparently primitive text of Q1 to the later published texts is not resolved, Hardin Craig among others has suggested that it may represent an earlier draft of the play. If so, it would suggest that the play referred to in 1589 was a still earlier draft of Shakespeare's play.
- In an opinion shared in some form or another by Harold Bloom and Peter Alexander, Andrew Cairncross in 1936 wrote, "It may be assumed, until a new case can be shown to the contrary, that Shakespeare's Hamlet and no other is the play mentioned by Nashe in 1589 and Henslowe in 1594." In his 1982 Arden edition, Harold Jenkins dismisses this hypothesis, which is also known as the "early start" theory.
- The vast majority of critics believe that Macbeth was written in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, which they say is one of the most overwhelming arguments against the Oxfordian theory. This plot was brought to light on 5 November 1605, a year after Oxford died. In particular, scholars identify the porter's lines about "equivocation" related to treason as an allusion to the trial of Henry Garnet in 1606. Oxfordians counter that the concept of "equivocation" was the subject of a 1583 tract by Queen Elizabeth's chiefcouncillor (and Oxford's father-in-law) Lord Burghley, as well as of the 1584 Doctrine of Equivocation by the Spanish prelate Martín de Azpilcueta, which was disseminated across Europe and into England in the 1590s. And in the New Cambridge edition of the play, A. R. Braunmuller (not an Oxfordian) finds the evidence for the 1605-06 date "vague, circumstantial, and undatable" and merely affirms a date of composition no earlier than the ascension of James I in March 1603.
- Shakespearean scholar David Haley asserts that if Edward de Vere had written Coriolanus, he "must have foreseen the Midland Revolt grain riots [of 1607] reported in Coriolanus", possible topical allusions in the play that most Shakespeareans accept. But at least one scholar has suggested that the opening scenes allude to London's 1595 Tower Hill riot.
- Henry VIII
- Henry VIII was described as a new play in 1613. Oxfordians argue that this refers to the fact it was new on stage, having its first production in that year.
- The Tempest
- Modern Shakespearean scholars almost unanimously date The Tempest to 1610–11 and say that it drew on published and unpublished contemporary descriptions of the 1609 Sea Venture shipwreck on the island of Bermuda, especially William Strachey's eyewitness report, A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight because of certain verbal, plot and thematic similarities. Kenneth Muir, however, thought that "the extent of verbal echoes of the [Bermuda] pamphlets has, I think, been exaggerated." Oxfordians have dealt with this problem in several ways. Looney rejected the play altogether, arguing that its style and the "dreary negativism" it promoted were inconsistent with Shakespeare's "essentially positivist" soul, and so could not have been written by Oxford. Later Oxfordians have generally abandoned this argument, saying that it was left unfinished or arguing that earlier sources, such as Richard Eden's The Decades of the New Worlde Or West India (1555) and Desiderius Erasmus's Naufragium/The Shipwreck (1523), sufficiently account for the phrasing and images in The Tempest. Both sources have been acknowledged by previous scholars as possible influences.
Parallels with the Shakespearean Canon
Parallels with the plays
In an approach which has its foundation in biographical criticism, Oxfordians list numerous incidents in Oxford's life that they say parallel those in many of the Shakespeare plays. Most notable among these, they say, are similar incidents found in Oxford's biography and Hamlet, as well as in Henry IV, Part 1, which includes a well-known robbery scene with uncanny parallels to a real-life incident involving Oxford. Literary scholars respond that the idea that an author's work must reflect his or her life is a modernist assumption not held by Elizabethan writers, and that biographical interpretations of literature are unreliable in attributing authorship, and that such lists of similarities between incidents in the plays and the life of an aristocrat are flawed arguments because similar lists have been drawn up for many competing candidates, such as Francis Bacon and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. Harold Love writes that "The very fact that their application has produced so many rival claimants demonstrates their unreliability," and Jonathan Bate writes that the Oxfordian biographical method "is in essence no different from the cryptogram, since Shakespeare's range of characters and plots, both familial and political, is so vast that it would be possible to find in the plays 'self-portraits' of … anybody one cares to think of."
Numerous Oxfordian researchers, including Ogburn and Anderson, consider Hamlet as the play most easily seen as portraying Oxford's life story. Mainstream scholars say that incidents from the lives of other contemporary figures such as King James or the Earl of Essex, fit the play just as closely, if not more so.
- As in Hamlet, Oxfordians say that Oxford's father died young and that his mother made an "o'er hasty marriage". Oxford's father died at the age of 46 on 3 August 1562, after making a will just six days earlier, and his stepmother remarried within 15 months, although exactly when is unknown.
- At 12, Oxford was made a royal ward and placed in the household of Lord Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer and Queen Elizabeth I's closest and most trusted advisor. As early as 1869 George Russell French suggested that Burghley was the model for Polonius, Claudius' chief minister, and that the characters of Ophelia and Laertes derived from two of Burghley's children, Anne and Robert Cecil (French thought Hamlet, though, was Sir Phillip Sidney). Shakespearean John Dover Wilson wrote in 1932 that "the figure of Polonius is almost without doubt intended as a caricature of Burleigh, who died on 4 August 1598". In the first published edition the character was named Corambis, not Polonius, and Ogburn said that Cor ambis can be defined as "two-hearted" (a view not independently supported by Latinists). He says the name is a swipe "at Burghley’s motto, Cor unum, via una, or 'one heart, one way.'" Winstanley also thought the name Corambis suggested Burghley. Other scholars suggest that it derives from the Latin phrase "crambe repetita" meaning "reheated cabbage", which was expanded in Elizabethan usage to "Crambe bis posita mors est" ("twice served cabbage is deadly"), which implies "a boring old man" who spouts trite rehashed ideas.
- Ophelia, daughter to Polonius, was considered a candidate to marry Hamlet, while Edward de Vere was engaged to marry (and did marry) Anne Cecil, daughter to Burghley.
- One of Hamlet's chief opponents at court was Laertes, the son of Polonius, while one of Oxford's chief opponents at court was Robert Cecil, the son of Lord Burghley. Like Laertes, who received the famous list of maxims from his father Polonius, Thomas Cecil received a similarly famous list from his father Burghley — a list the mainstream scholar E. K. Chambers acknowledged was the author's likely source.
- In the play, Polonius sent the spy Reynaldo to watch his son when Laertes returns to France for school, and for similar reasons Burghley sent a spy to watch his son, Thomas, when he was away in Paris.
- Hamlet was a member of the higher nobility, patronised an acting company and had trusted companions named Horatio and Francisco. Likewise, Oxford was a member of the higher nobility, patronised several acting companies, and had two famous cousins named Horace Vere and Francis Vere. Oxfordians say that Horace Vere was known as Horatio as well, and say that Hamlet's friend Horatio had the same personality, both being known for their ability to remain calm under all conditions.
- While returning from Italy in 1576, Oxford met a cavalry division outside of Paris that was being led by a German duke. He then encountered pirates in the English Channel. As Anderson stated: "Just as Hamlet's review of Fortinbras’ troops leads directly to an ocean voyage overtaken by pirates, de Vere's meeting with Duke Casimir's army was soon followed by a Channel crossing intercepted by pirates." In Act IV, Hamlet describes himself as "set naked" in "the kingdom". In a parallel which Oxfordians consider striking, after Oxford's real-life abduction, the Channel pirates left him stripped naked on the Danish shore, recalling Hamlet's line "I am set naked on your shore...". Anderson notes, "Neither the encounter with Fortinbras’ army nor Hamlet's brush with buccaneers appears in any of the play's sources – to the puzzlement of numerous literary critics.)" 
- In 1921, Lilian Winstanley claimed "absolute" certainty that "the historical analogues exist; that they are important, numerous, detailed and undeniable" and that "Shakespeare is using a large element of contemporary history inHamlet." She compared Hamlet with both the Earl of Essex and James I. She also identified Polonius with Burghley parallels, and noted a "curious parallel" in the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet with that of Anne Cecil and Oxford. Winstanley noted similar parallels in the relationship of Elizabeth Vernon and Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
Henry IV, Part 1
In May 1573, in a letter to Lord Burghley, 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 also by Oxford, based on the exaggerated importance it bestowed on the 11th Earl of Oxford. In the earlier version of the play even the correct month of the crime (May), was mentioned.
Oxfordians believe a similar case of Oxford's exaggerated importance is visible in Henry V, where the character of the 12th Earl of Oxford is given a much more prominent role than the actual history of the times would allow, and in Henry VI, Part 3, which places Oxford at the great Lancastrian defeat at Tewkesbury. Throughout the play John de Vere, the thirteenth earl of Oxford is, according to Oxfordians, “hardly mentioned except to be praised”. In reality, the 13th Earl was not at Tewkesbury during the battle.
Oxfordians, such as Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn, in their This Star of England, believe the reason Shakespeare went to the trouble of creating an historical place for Oxford in the climatic battle was because it was the easiest way Edward de Vere could "advertised his loyalty to (Queen Elizabeth)" and remind her of "the historic part borne by the Earls of Oxford in defeating the usurpers and restoring the Lancastrians to power.” 
All's Well That Ends Well
On 19 December 1571, in an arranged wedding, Oxford married Lord Burghley's 15-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil — an equally surprising choice as that in All's Well That Ends Well, as 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 the same year by Queen Elizabeth to enable this marriage of social inequals. Oxfordians believe 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.
In his Memoires (1658), Francis Osborne reports an anecdote about "the last great Earle of Oxford, whose Lady was brought to his bed under the notion of his Mistris, and from such a virtuous deceit she (Oxford's youngest daughter) is said to proceed" (p. 79). Such a bed trick has been a dramatic convention since antiquity. Thomas Middleton used it five times and Shakespeare and James Shirley used it four times. Shakespeare's use of it inAll's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure followed his sources for the plays (stories by Boccaccio and Cinthio). Oxfordians say that de Vere was drawn to these stories because they "paralleled his own"
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Tom Veal has noted that the early play The Two Gentlemen of Verona reveals no familiarity on the playwright's part with Italy other than "a few place names and the scarcely recondite fact that the inhabitants were Roman Catholics." For example, the play's Verona is situated on a tidal river and has a duke, and none of the characters have distinctly Italian names like in the later plays. Therefore, if the play was written by Oxford, it must have been before he visited Italy in 1575. However, the play's principal source, the Spanish Diana Enamorada, would not be translated into French or English until 1578, meaning that someone basing a play on it that early could only have read it in the original Spanish, and there is no evidence that Oxford spoke this language. Furthermore, Veal argues, the only explanation for the verbal parallels with the English translation of 1582 would be that the translator saw the play performed and echoed it in his translation, which he describes as "not an impossible theory but far from a plausible one."
In 1577 the Company of Cathay was formed to support Martin Frobisher’s hunt for the Northwest Passage, although Frobisher and his investors quickly became distracted by reports of gold at Hall’s Island. With thoughts of an impending Canadian gold-rush and trusting in the financial advice of Michael Lok, the treasurer of the company, de Vere signed a bond for £3,000 in order to invest £1,000 and to assume £2,000 worth—about half—of Lok's personal investment in the enterprise. Oxfordians say this is similar to Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, who was indebted to Shylock for 3,000 ducats against the successful return of his vessels.
Oxfordians also note that when de Vere travelled through Venice, he borrowed 500 crowns from a Baptista Nigrone. In Padua, he borrowed from a man named Pasquino Spinola. In 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, which Oxfordians take to be a conflation of Baptista Nigrone and Pasquino Spinola.
When the character of Antipholus of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors tells his servant to go out and buy some rope, the servant (Dromio) replies, "I buy a thousand pounds a year! I buy a rope!" (Act 4, scene 1). The meaning of Dromio’s line has not been satisfactorily explained by critics, but Oxfordians say the line is somehow connected to the fact that de Vere was given a £1,000 annuity by the Queen, later continued by King James.
Oxford's extramarital affair
Oxfordians see Oxford's marriage to Anne Cecil, Lord Burghley's daughter, paralleled in such plays as Hamlet, Othello, Cymbeline, The Merry Wives of Windsor, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Winter's Tale.
Oxford's illicit congress with Anne Vavasour resulted in an intermittent series of street battles between the Knyvet clan, led by Anne's uncle, Sir Thomas Knyvet, and Oxford’s men. As in Romeo and Juliet, this imbroglio produced three deaths and several other injuries. The feud was finally put to an end only by the intervention of the Queen.
Parallels with the sonnets and poems
In 1609, a volume of 154 linked poems was published under the title SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS. Oxfordians believe the title (Shake-Speares Sonnets) suggests a finality indicating that it was a completed body of work with no further sonnets expected, and consider the differences of opinion among Shakespearean scholars as to whether the Sonnets are fictional or autobiographical to be a serious problem facing orthodox scholars. Joseph Sobran questions why Shakespeare (who lived until 1616) failed to publish a corrected and authorized edition if they are fiction, as well as why they fail to match Shakespeare's life story if they are autobiographic. According to Sobran and other researchers, the themes and personal circumstances expounded by the author of the Sonnets are remarkably similar to Oxford's biography.
The Fair Youth, the Dark Lady, and the Rival Poet
The focus of the 154 sonnet series appears to narrate the author's relationships with three characters: the Fair Youth, the Dark Lady or Mistress, and the Rival Poet. Beginning with Looney, most Oxfordians (exceptions are Percy Allen and Louis Bénézet) believe that the "Fair Youth" referred to in the early sonnets refers to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, Oxford's peer and prospective son-in-law. The Dark Lady is believed by some Oxfordians to be Anne Vavasour, Oxford's mistress who bore him a son out of wedlock. A case was made by the Oxfordian Peter R. Moore that the Rival Poet was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
Sobran suggests that the so-called procreation sonnets were part of a campaign by Burghley to persuade Southampton to marry his granddaughter, Oxford's daughter Elizabeth de Vere, and says that it was more likely that Oxford would have participated in such a campaign than that Shakespeare would know the parties involved or presume to give advice to the nobility.
Oxfordians also believe that the tone of the poems themselves is that of a nobleman addressing an equal rather than that of a poet addressing his patron. According to them, Sonnet 91 (which compares the Fair Youth's love to such treasures as high birth, wealth, and horses) implies that the author is in a position to make such comparisons, and the 'high birth' he refers to is his own.
Age and lameness
Oxford was born in 1550, and was between 40 and 53 years old when he presumably would have written the sonnets. Shakespeare was born in 1564. Even though the average life expectancy of Elizabethans was short, being between 26 and 39 was not considered old. In spite of this, age and growing older are recurring themes in the Sonnets, for example, in Sonnets 138 and 37. In his later years, Oxford described himself as "lame". On several occasions, the author of the sonnets also described himself as lame, such as in Sonnets 37 and 89.
Sobran also believes "scholars have largely ignored one of the chief themes of the Sonnets: the poet's sense of disgrace.... [T]here can be no doubt that the poet is referring to something real that he expects his friends to know about; in fact, he makes clear that a wide public knows about it... Once again the poet's situation matches Oxford's.... He has been a topic of scandal on several occasions. And his contemporaries saw the course of his life as one of decline from great wealth, honor, and promise to disgrace and ruin. This perception was underlined by enemies who accused him of every imaginable offense and perversion, charges he was apparently unable to rebut." Examples include Sonnets 29 and 112.
As early as 1576, Edward de Vere was writing about this subject in his poem Loss of Good Name, which Professor Steven W. May described as "a defiant lyric without precedent in English Renaissance verse."
The poems Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, first published in 1593 and 1594 under the name "William Shakespeare", proved highly popular for several decades – with Venus and Adonis published six more times before 1616, while Lucrece required four additional printings during this same period. By 1598, they were so famous, London poet and sonneteer Richard Barnefield wrote:
Whose Venus and whose Lucrece (sweet and chaste)
Thy name in fame's immortal Book have plac't
Live ever you, at least in Fame live ever:
Well may the Body die, but Fame dies never.
Despite such publicity, Sobran observed, "[t]he author of the Sonnets expects and hopes to be forgotten. While he is confident that his poetry will outlast marble and monument, it will immortalize his young friend, not himself. He says that his style is so distinctive and unchanging that 'every word doth almost tell my name,' implying that his name is otherwise concealed – at a time when he is publishing long poems under the name William Shakespeare. This seems to mean that he is not writing these Sonnets under that (hidden) name." Mainstream writers respond that several sonnets literally do tell his name, containing numerous puns on the name Will[iam]; in sonnet 136 the poet directly says "thou lov'st me for my name is Will."
Based on Sonnets 81, 72, and others, Oxfordians believe that if the author expected his "name" to be "forgotten" and "buried", it would not have been the name 'William Shakespeare' that permanently adorned the published works themselves.
Parallels with Shakespeare's play settings
Almost half of Shakespeare's plays are set in Italy, many of them containing details of Italian laws, customs, and culture which Oxfordians believe could only have been obtained by personal experiences in Italy, and especially in Venice. This argument had earlier been used by supporters of the Earl of Rutland and the Earl of Derby as authorship candidates, both of whom had also travelled on the continent of Europe. Oxfordian William Farina refers to Shakespeare's apparent knowledge of the Jewish ghetto, Venetian architecture and laws in The Merchant of Venice, especially the city's "notorious Alien Statute". Historical documents confirm that Oxford lived in Venice, and travelled for over a year through Italy. In his letter to Lord Burghley dated 24 September 1575, he expressed a certain dislike of the country: "I am glad I have seen it, and I care not ever to see it any more". Still, he remained in Italy for another six months, leaving Venice in March 1576. According to Anderson, Oxford definitely visited Venice, Padua, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Florence, Siena and Naples, and probably passed through Messina, Mantua and Verona, all cities used as settings by Shakespeare. In testimony before the Venetian Inquisition, Edward de Vere was said to be fluent in Italian.
However, some Shakespeare scholars say that Shakespeare gets many details of Italian life wrong, including the laws and urban geography of Venice. Kenneth Gross writes that "the play itself knows nothing about the Venetian ghetto; we get no sense of a legally separate region of Venice where Shylock must dwell." Scott McCrea describes the setting as "a nonrealistic Venice" and the laws invoked by Portia as part of the "imaginary world of the play", inconsistent with actual legal practice. Charles Ross points out that Shakespeare's Alien Statute bears little resemblance to any Italian law. And Michael Neill believes that in the later plays, such as Othello, Shakespeare probably used Lewes Lewknor's 1599 English translation of Gasparo Contarini's The Commonwealth and Government of Venice for some details about Venice's laws and customs.
Despite this, a number of mainstream scholars have argued that Shakespeare could have visited Italy. Ernesto Grillo's book Shakespeare and Italy (1949) argued that he probably visited northern Italy sometime around 1591-2. Grillo states 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." Shakespeare also uses Italian in the banter between Lucentio and Tranio and in the greetings between Petruchio and Hortensio in the first act. According to Professor Grillo, these exchanges are "pure Italian." Oxfordians argue that this supports their own position, since there is no evidence that William Shakespeare ever left England, but Oxford undoubtedly visited the area. However, other scholars have found Grillo's arguments unpersuasive, arguing that Shakespeare could have derived much of this material from John Florio, an Italian scholar living in England who was later thanked by Ben Jonson for helping him get Italian details right for his play Volpone. Kier Elam believes Shakespeare's Italian idioms in Shrew and some of the dialogue can be traced to Florio's Second Fruits, a bilingual introduction to Italian language and culture published in 1591. Jason Lawrence believes that Shakespeare’s Italian dialogue in the play derives "almost entirely" from Florio’s First Fruits(1578). He also believes that Shakespeare became more proficient in reading the language as set out in Florio’s manuals, as evidenced by his increasing use of Florio and other Italian sources for writing the plays.
Identification of earlier works with Shakespeare plays
Some Oxfordians have identified several titles or descriptions of lost works from Oxford's lifetime that suggest a thematic similarity to a particular Shakespearean play and have theorized these works were early versions. For example, in 1732, the antiquarian Francis Peck published in Desiderata Curiosa a list of documents in his possession that he intended to print someday. They included "a pleasant conceit of Vere, earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English court, circa 1580." Peck never published his archives, which are now lost. To Anderson, Peck's description suggests that this conceit is "arguably an early draft of Twelfth Night."
Although searching Shakespeare's works for encrypted clues supposedly left by the true author is associated mainly with the Baconian theory, such arguments are often made by Oxfordians as well. Early Oxfordians found many references to Oxford's family name "Vere" in the plays and poems, in supposed puns on words such as "ever" (E. Vere). The De Vere Code, a book by English actor Jonathan Bond, the author believes that Thomas Thorpe´s 30-word dedication to the original publication of Shakespeare's Sonnets contains six simple encryptions which conclusively establish de Vere as the author of the poems. He also writes that the alleged encryptions settle the question of the identity of "the Fair Youth" as Henry Wriothesley and contain striking references to the sonnets themselves and de Vere's relationship to Sir Philip Sidney and Ben Jonson.
Similarly, a 2009 article in the Oxfordian journal Brief Chronicles noted that Francis Meres, in Palladis Tamia compares 17 named English poets to 16 named classical poets. Writing that Meres was obsessed with numerology, the authors propose that the numbers should be symmetrical, and that careful readers are meant to infer that Meres knew two of the English poets (viz., Oxford and Shakespeare) to actually be one and the same.
References in popular culture
- Leslie Howard's 1943 anti-Nazi film, "Pimpernel" Smith, features dialogue by the protagonist Horatio Smith, a professor of archaeology at Cambridge, endorsing the Oxfordian theory.
- The 2000 YA novel A Question of Will by Lynne Kositsky addresses the debate over who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.
- Oxfordian theory is the basis of Amy Freed's 2001 play The Beard of Avon.
- Oxfordian theory is central to the plot of Sarah Smith's 2003 novel Chasing Shakespeares, which she also adapted into a play.
- The 2005 YA novel Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach is centred on Oxfordian theory.
- The Oxfordian theory, among others, is discussed in Jennifer Lee Carrell's 2007 thriller Interred With Their Bones.
- The 2011 film Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich and based on a screenplay by John Orloff, stars Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave. The film posits in cinematic terms how Edward de Vere's writings came to be attributed to William Shakespeare and portrays the Prince Tudor theory.
The UK and US editions of Shapiro 2010 differ significantly in pagination. The citations to the book used in this article list the UK page numbers first, followed by the page numbers of the US edition in parentheses.
- Blakemore 2011, quoting William Hunt: "No, absolutely no competent student of the period, historical or literary, has ever taken this theory seriously. First of all, the founding premise is false -- there is nothing especially mysterious about William Shakespeare, who is as well documented as one could expect of a man of his time. None of his contemporaries or associates expressed any doubt about the authorship of his poems and plays. Nothing about De Vere (Oxford) suggests he had any great talent, and there is no reason to suppose he would have suppressed any talents he possessed."
- Proudfoot, Richard; Thompson, Ann; Kastan, David Scott, eds. (5 July 2001). The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works. London: Arden Shakespeare. p. 3. ISBN 1-903436-61-3..
- Niederkorn, William S. "A Historic Whodunit: If Shakespeare Didn't, Who Did?" New York Times. 10 February 2001
- Shapiro 210, p. 214 (189); McMichael & Glenn 1962, p. 159.
- Bate 1998, p. 90
- Shapiro 2010, p. 244 (214).
- Looney 1920, pp. 125–126.
- Wadsworth 1958, pp. 163–164:McCrea 2005, pp. xii–xiii.
- Shapiro 2010, p. 7 (8).
- Shapiro 2010, p. 276 (243).
- Bate 1998, p. 90: "Their [Oxfordians'] favorite code is the hidden personal allusion ... But this method is in essence no different from the cryptogram, since Shakespeare's range of characters and plots, both familial and political, is so vast that it would be possible to find in the plays 'self-portraits' of, once more, anybody one cares to think of."; Love 2002, pp. 87, 200: "It has more than once been claimed that the combination of 'biographical-fit' and cryptographical arguments could be used to establish a case for almost any individual ... The very fact that their application has produced so many rival claimants demonstrates their unreliability."Shapiro 2010, pp. 304–13 (268–77); Schoone-Jongen 2008, p. 5: "in voicing dissatisfaction over the apparent lack of continuity between the certain facts of Shakespeare's life and the spirit of his literary output, anti-Stratfordians adopt the very Modernist assumption that an author's work must reflect his or her life. Neither Shakespeare nor his fellow Elizabethan writers operated under this assumption."; Smith 2008, p. 629: "...deriving an idea of an author from his or her works is always problematic, particularly in a multi-vocal genre like drama, since it crucially underestimates the heterogeneous influences and imaginative reaches of creative writing."
- Anderson 2005, p. 399.
- May 1980, p. 9.
- Chambers 1923, pp. 100–102;Nelson 2003, pp. 391–2.
- Smith 1964, pp. 151, 155
- "History of the Controversy". Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable website. Retrieved 22 Feb 2013..
- Julian Messner (1955). "The Murder of the Man Who Was "Shakespeare"". The Murder of the Man Who Was "Shakespeare". New York.
- Looney 1920.
- Shapiro 2010.
- Looney 1920.
- Michell, John. Who Wrote Shakespeare? London: Thames & Hudson, 1996. pp.162–4
- May 1980b
- Quoted inShapiro 2010, pp. 228–9 (201).
- Shapiro 2010, p. 230 (202).
- Shapiro 2010, pp. 229–49 (202–19).
- Shapiro 2010, pp. 230–3 (202–5).
- Shapiro 2010, pp. 232–3 (204–5).
- Bethell 1991, p. 47; Gibson 2005, pp. 48, 72, 124;Kathman 2003, p. 620; Schoenbaum 1991, pp. 430–40.
- Crinkley 1985, pp. 515–522.
- McDonald, Russ, ed. Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1945–2000, Blackwell, 2004, p.3
- Shapiro 2011, p. 25.
- Lee, Chris (17 October 2011). "Was Shakespeare a Fraud?". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 26 June 2012..
- Shapiro 2010, p. 214.
- Christopher Paul, "A new letter by J. T. Looney brought to light", Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 8–9.PDF
- Helen Hackett, Shakespeare and Elizabeth: the meeting of two myths, Princeton University Press, 2009, pp.157–60
- Shapiro 2010, pp. 189–206.
- Streitz, Paul (2001). Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I. Darien, CT: Oxford Institute Press. pp. 185–9. ISBN 0-9713498-0-0..
- Brame, Michael; Popova, Galina (17 December 2002). Shakespeare's Fingerprints. Vashon Island, Washington: Adonis Editions. ISBN 978-0972038522..
- Jiménez, Ramon (2004), "The True Tragedy of Richard the Third: another Early History Play by Edward de Vere", The Oxfordian 7.
- Jiménez, Ramon (2003), "Edmond Ironside, the English King: Edward de Vere's Anglo-Saxon History Play", The Oxfordian 6.
- Kathman 1999.
- Gibson 1962, p. 90.
- Bate 1998.
- Ogburn (1984 edition), p. 182
- Meres, Francis. "Palladis Tamia: Wit's Treasury. A Comparative Discourse of our English Poets, with the Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets." (1598)
- Nelson 2003, p. 387.
- May, p12
- Alexander, M. and Wright, D. "A Few Curiosities Regarding Edward de Vere and the Writer Who Called Himself Shakespeare", Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference, 2007.
- May 1980b, pp.12.
- Looney (1948 edition, New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce), pp. 135–139.
- May 1980b, pp. 10-11.
- Elliott & Valenza 2004, p. 396, cf.'Since nothing in Oxford’s canonical verse in any way hints at an affinity with the poetry of William Shakespeare.' 329.
- Elliott & Valenza 2004.
- McCrea 2005, pp. 208ff.,229.
- May 1980b, p. 13
- May 2004, p. 253.
- Lewis 1990, p. 267.
- Sobran, Joseph. "Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Poetry." Malim, Richard, ed. Great Oxford: Essays on the Life and Work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, 1550–1604. London: Parapress, 2004. p. 138.
- Fowler, William Plumer. Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall, 1986. P. XXV–XXVI.
- Anderson 2005, p. 28.
- May 2004, p. 231.
- Pressly 1993, pp. 54–72.
- Whigham, Frank and Wayne A. Rebhorn (eds.). The Art of English Poesy: A Critical Edition Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007, p. 149.
- Nelson 2003, p. 386:"this very passage has been misread in support of the argument, now thoroughly discredited, that a 'stigma of print' discouraged publication by members of the nobility. Oxford was one of many noblemen whose poems and names were broadcast in print."
- Hannas, Andrew."The Rest is Not Silence: On Grammar and Oxford in The Art of English Poesie." Shakespeare Oxford Society.
- Gordon Braden,Sixteenth-century poetry: an annotated anthology, Wiley & Co.2005 p.138.
- McCrea 2005, p. 167.
- Ogburn 1984, pp. 401–402.
- Anderson 2005, pp. 381–2.
- Stritmatter 2001.
- Stritmatter 2001, pp. 57, 429–30.
- Tom Veal (23 March 2003). "Querulous Notes (March 2002)". Stromata. Retrieved 6 July 2012..
- Tom Veal (20 January 2004). "Querulous Notes (2004)". Stromata. Retrieved 6 July 2012..
- Nelson 2004, p. 166; Velz 2006, pp. 113, 116–7 notes orthodox studies taking Shakespeare’s allusions to reflect mainly the Bishops' Bible until 1598, and gradually more allusions to the Geneva Bible after that date, perhaps reflecting his familiarity, and lodgings with Huguenot families and the greater availability of the Geneva version.
- Tom Veal (3 February 2004). "Querulous Notes (2004)". Stromata. Retrieved 6 July 2012..
- Kathman (3).
- Snook,Edith. Women, Reading, And The Cultural Politics Of Early Modern England Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series, pp94. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2005.ISBN 0754652564, 9780754652564
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- Taylo & Wells 1987, p. 74.
- Ogburn (1984), p. 711; Barrell, C. W."Earliest Authenticated 'Shakespeare' Transcript Found With Oxford's Personal Poems" inThe Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, April 1945.
- Barrell, 21-40
- Anderson 2005, p. 381.
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- Ogburn 1984, pp. 402, 688.
- Ogburn 1984, p. 402.
- Anderson 2005, pp. 210–1.
- Matus 1994, pp. 259–60.
- Bates, Genius of Shakespeare, pp66-67
- Bevington 2005, p. 10.
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- Shakespeare in American Life: The Wreck of the Sea Venture
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- Anderson (2005), pp. 398-405.
- Miller, Ruth Loyd.Oxfordian Vistas. Vol II of Shakespeare Identified, by J. Thomas Looney and edited by Ruth Loyd Miller. Kennikat Press, 1975. pp. 211–214.
- Shakespeare's death recorded in Stratford Parish Registry
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- Kathman 2004.
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- Anderson (2006, expanded paperback edition), pp. 397–401, 574.
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- Malim, p 96-98
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Sites promoting the Oxfordian theory
Sites refuting the Oxfordian theory