Soul of the Age: Volume 9

Soul of the Age: Volume 9

by MD Paul Hemenway Altrocchi


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ISBN-13: 9781491743454
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 08/21/2014
Pages: 472
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.95(d)

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Soul of the Age Volume 9

By Paul Hemenway Altrocchi


Copyright © 2014 Paul Hemenway Altrocchi, MD.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-4345-4


"Vere-y Interesting": Shakespeare's treatment of the Earls of Oxford in the History Plays

by Dr. Daniel L. Wright

Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Vol. 36, No. 1, p. 1, Spring, 2000

(Prof. Daniel Wright was for many years Professor of English at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. He founded the Annual Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in 1997 and directed it for 17 years. He also founded the first Shakespeare Authorship Research Center in the United States in 2010, also at Concordia. He is a prolific authorship scholar.)

No scholar of any merit disputes that Shakespeare imaginatively rewrote English history in his chronicle plays. As Judith Anderson has observed, "Shakespeare's dramas ... show an explicit ... self-conscious concern with the natures and varieties of truth in the portrayal of historical persons in art and in chronicle."

Moreover, most readers of Shakespeare agree with such scholars as Peter Saccio, E. M. W. Tillyard and Lily B. Campbell that Shakespeare's purpose in manipulating and reconfiguring historical accounts was broadly political (1). For example, in composing The Famous History of the Life of Henry the Eighth, Shakespeare dramatically shortens the life of Queen Katherine and sends her off to her eternal reward years before her death actually occurred. This was no careless compositional error. By so sequencing these events, Shakespeare aimed at quietly conferring added legitimacy (2) to Elizabeth's otherwise contestable claim to the throne by introducing the suggestion that Katherine of Aragon was dead at the time the Princess Elizabeth was born. Of course, we know that Elizabeth was born of Henry VIII's mistress and second wife while Katherine yet lived—but many in Shakespeare's audiences in his own day would not know this—and Shakespeare was not about to tell them.

In The Tragedy of Richard the Third, Shakespeare tells us that King Richard, at the fatal battle of Bosworth, encountered no fewer than six doubles of Henry, Earl of Richmond, in the field—of which Shakespeare's Richard fantastically claims that he has killed five. The claim, of course, is absurd, without any historical support, and contradicts all contemporary reports of the battle; John Julius Norwich, author of Shakespeare's Kings, declares that the account—an example of broad "dramatic license"—is anchored solely in Shakespeare's imagination.

So why, if it weren't true, and supported by no authority of any kind, would Shakespeare invent such a scene? What is the effect of Shakespeare's singular inclusion of this seemingly incidental fiction in his account? Can anyone doubt that his purpose in doing so is anything other than subtly to confer royal status on Richmond even before Richmond becomes King by right of conquest—assisting, thereby, on the public stage, in the greater legitimization of yet another claimant to the English throne whose legitimacy (and progeny) otherwise might be suspect?

Why does Shakespeare, in The Life and Death of King John, have John, a late twelfth/early thirteenth-century Angevin king, declare himself "supreme head" of the Church—a claim and a title that no English monarch would dare advance until the sixteenth century? Shakespeare has John defiantly address Cardinal Pandulph, the papal envoy, with the bold declaration that "[A]s we, under God, are supreme head, / So under Him that great supremacy, / Where we do reign, we will alone uphold, / Without th' assistance of a mortal hand: / So tell the pope, all reverence set apart/ To him and his usurped authority" (Ill.i. 155-60). Can this passage have been constructed for any other reason than to demonstrate, albeit anachronistically, the fundamentally Protestant character of true, sovereign English monarchy that knows obedience to no foreign power—temporal or spiritual? (3)

This is the public business of Shakespeare in the histories: rewriting already revised history in order to reinforce and consolidate the political claims of the Tudor dynasty and its Reformation heritage—an assertion, however, that must be foregone or somehow explained away if one embraces the now-fashionable but baseless claims of some scholars who assert that Shakespeare was a Catholic émigré to Lancashire where he also was known as "Shakeshafte."

There are other revisionist features in the Shakespeare histories which orthodox commentators are less able, or altogether unable, to explain. What, for example, are we to make of the way that the earls of Oxford—Edward de Vere's predecessors—are presented in the histories? Stratfordians cannot possibly account for the curiously selective manner in which the histories of the earls of Oxford are recounted in the Shakespeare histories (nor, for that matter, do any of them even try). After all, what interest—political or dramatic—would Will Shakspere, the Stratford man, have in creatively retouching de Vere family history to tell his epic story of England? None that I can imagine. However, if the writer of the Shakespeare plays were a de Vere himself, the revelation of a peculiarly personal interest in favorably presenting the history of the earls of Oxford might go far toward making some sense of Shakespeare's otherwise inexplicable determination to illuminate this noble family in a uniformly complimentary light.

Commentators on Shakespeare's first play of the Lancaster cycle often have expressed wonder at Shakespeare's choice of moment to begin this play. Why should The Tragedy of King Richard the Second open with the Dukes of Norfolk and Hereford hurling accusations of treason at one another? Wouldn't it seem more likely that Shakespeare the playwright might have elected to dramatize the colorful events that led to these embittered accusations? Perhaps—and if he was the author of the anonymous and unfinished play, Thomas of Woodstock (sometimes known as "Richard the Second, Part One"), he may have done— and that possibility, in itself, is the subject of a forthcoming paper from me. But whether Shakespeare wrote or contributed to Thomas of Woodstock is not our immediate concern, important as that is to a continuing investigation of the origins of the Shakespeare texts.

What interests us for the moment is why the figure of Robert de Vere, the 9th Earl of Oxford, does not figure prominently (or, indeed, at all!) in the account of Richard II's reign in the indisputably Shakespearean play of Richard the Second, for to read Froissart's Chronicles, you would think that the proper subject of The Tragedy of King Richard the Second would be not Richard of Bordeaux but Robert de Vere.

Robert de Vere, the 9th Earl of Oxford, I would submit, does not appear in Shakespere's account of Richard II's reign because, singular in prominence as de Vere was in the Ricardian court, the author had no desire to exhibit him before the public or to remind anyone of Robert de Vere's legacy. If Shakespeare were to have begun his account of Richard's reign any farther back in time than he does in Richard the Second, he almost surely would have been required to offer at least some glancing look at this multi-titled earl of Oxford. If Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, however, Robert de Vere may have been the last person in the author's ancient lineage to whom he would have desired any attention be drawn.

By almost all accounts, Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford, was an infamous figure of odious notoriety and vice who dredged the deepest contempt from the souls of leading Englishmen in his own day. He came to his title in 1372 at the age of ten, five years before the inauguration of young King Richard's reign. At an early age, he became the King's "bosom friend and favorite"; he was "constantly at the King's side as his closest friend and confidant." Verily Anderson suggests that Chaucer—a contemporary of de Vere who would have known him personally—might have described him as an accomplished artist, singer, poet, orator, dancer and writer, but John Julius Norwich dismisses him as but one of many undistinguished Ricardian courtiers, "frivolous, rapacious and empty-headed."

The 9th Earl of Oxford and Richard II

According to Froissart, the French chronicler, Robert de Vere was an ambitious, self-serving manipulator, even more derelict and disliked than his detested father, the 8th Earl (4) and easily the most hated of all of Richard's companions. Yet young King Richard, out of his great love for de Vere, raised him high: he awarded him many estates and commissions; he gave him military command; he awarded him the chamberlainship of England (5); he granted him the castle and town of Colchester, the castle and wardship of Queensborough, as well as the castle and lordship of Okeham and the hereditary shrievalty of Rutland; among the several offices that Richard conferred upon Robert de Vere were those of Justice of Chester and Justice of North Wales, Constable of England, Marquis of Dublin (6) and Duke of Ireland; he elevated him to the Privy Council and made him a Knight of the Garter. Richard also gave him the right to bear the arms of St. Edmund, King and Martyr. It even was rumored that, so passionate was Richard's affection for de Vere that he intended to have Oxford crowned King of Ireland.

Few persons, however—especially the King's powerful uncles—thought de Vere worthy of any of the dignities showered upon him by the King. Croissant reports that among enemies of Robert de Vere it was said, "This Duke of Leland twists the King round his finger and does what he likes in England"; and he reports it claimed among men that "King Richard ... was so blinkered by the Duke of Leland that even if he said black was white the King did not contradict him." The 9th Earl was derided, reports Froissart, as an instigator of civil disorder, rumored to be an embezzler of funds, and was charged by the King's enemies as the individual principally responsible for the wars that erupted between the King and his uncles, the Lords Appellant—more responsible, was he, ultimately, for Richard's decline and fall than Richard himself. He was preoccupied, not with matters of state but with self-indulgence and displays of "ostentatious splendor," and as Verily Anderson attests, he, like the King, "thought the creation and contemplation of beautiful palaces, furnishings, clothes and food more exciting than war with France."

Robert de Vere, moreover, according to Froissart, was hated as a wanton who willfully degraded his wife, Philippa—a granddaughter of King Edward III—by his promiscuous adulteries. In addition to the intense resentment of his person that was enkindled by his sexual improprieties among women, Robert de Vere also provoked particular anger and disgust amongst the nobility by what they perceived to be his suspiciously singular "intimacy" with the King. Nigel Saul records that "[s]o close did the association between the two become that in circles hostile to them it gave rise to allegations of homosexuality," and Thomas Walsingham's Historia Anglicana is but one among many chronicle accounts of the era that accuse Robert and Richard of "obscene familiarity" with one another.

Neither was this earl of Oxford highly regarded for any martial skill, noble achievements or intellectual prowess. John Julius Norwich chastises de Vere as an effete, corrupt Ricardian courtier who "taught the king effeminate habits, discouraging him from hunting, hawking and other manly sports ..." John Gardner, in his acclaimed study of the times and personages of Chaucerian England, also derogates Robert de Vere and indicts him as "fatuous"—"a stupid fop whom Richard advanced and coddled as Edward II had advanced and coddled Gaveston." Eventually, as we know, de Vere was driven into exile on the Continent, attainted, and died ignominiously (he was gored to death by a wild pig), although his body later was brought back from France for reburial with regal honors at Earl's Colne. At the funeral, we are told that King Richard, hysterical with grief, forced open the coffin, wept over the body and played with de Vere's jeweled fingers.

In sum, the judgment of history on the 9th Earl of Oxford is not especially one of unqualified admiration, although almost every historian or commentator on the period acknowledges that he was a depraved and wicked man of unparalleled import in England, Richard's "evil genius," of all Richard's counsellors "easily the worst of the lot," nothing less than the real power behind the throne (7). And yet Shakespeare makes no mention of him at all.

Even in Thomas of Woodstock, a play that incorporates the lifetime of the 9th Earl of Oxford, Robert de Vere makes no appearance at all, and in the only utterance of his name, we learn from the lips of his widow that he is dead (II.iii. 10-13). The author of this play, moreover—in what I would suggest is an otherwise unaccountable move unless he were the 17th Earl of Oxford (or someone else inexplicably determined that Robert de Vere neither be seen, heard nor indicted in this play!)—transports Sir Robert Tresilian forward in time to become, along with a coterie of other useless fops, the principal agents of the King's corruption during the era when not they, but de Vere, was the King's undisputed favorite.

In fact, in Thomas of Woodstock, Tresilian is made the plotter against Woodstock's life (a good trick, that, since Tresilian died nine years before Woodstock was killed)—and in Shakespeare's Richard the Second, it is implied that Woodstock's murderer is the Duke of Norfolk (8)—although according to the fourteenth-century Chronicon Anglie, Woodstock professed antipathy to no one in the realm except Robert de Vere, and Norfolk, though demonized in Richard the Second, is not accorded by the chroniclers with anything like the perfidy laid on him by Shakespeare (9).

Moreover, for our consideration of the origins of the text of Thomas of Woodstock as an adjunct or predecessor work to Richard the Second, we are well reminded that Sir John Bushy, Sir Edward Bagot and Sir Henry Greene, the light-footed minions of the King and the "caterpillars of the commonwealth" in Shakespeare's Richard the Second (Il.iii.166), were not leading courtiers of the 1380s; the leading courtier of the 1380s, undisputed by all historical accounts, was Robert de Vere. As both Nigel Saul and A. P. Rossiter point out, Bushy, Bagot and Greene came into the King's service much later—after the Duke of Gloucester's death. Yet the author of Thomas of Woodstock reverses history and features "Bagot, Bushy, [and] wanton Greene" (III.ii.41) at the core of tumultuous events in the early years in Richard's reign! In Act One of Woodstock, the author even identifies Greene as Chancellor of England and Bagot as Privy Seal— titles that, at this time, belonged to Robert de Vere and Michael de la Pole! Even de la Pole makes it into Thomas of Woodstock (albeit under the name of Lapoole, Captain of Calais, which de la Pole was, in fact, for some time, but not at the time of Gloucester's murder). Only Robert de Vere, among all the villains—the most prominent and powerful man in England—is nowhere to be seen.

The next generations of Oxfords

Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford, died childless and so was succeeded by his fifty-two-year-old uncle, Aubrey de Vere, for whom Richard was able to lift some of the consequences of the attainder that had been attached to Aubrey's nephew and heirs by the Merciless Parliament. Shortly thereafter, however, Richard was overthrown and imprisoned as a consequence of his cousin's cunning coup d'etat, and the 10th Earl of Oxford was punished by the Crown for offering refuge to the deposed King's half brother, the Earl of Huntington, when Huntington unsuccessfully attempted to restore his sibling to the throne. Richard was murdered in prison the following year, perhaps as a direct result of the fears of his possible restoration that had been incited by the actions against Henry IV which the 10th Earl of Oxford had supported. Aubrey de Vere also died soon thereafter, a man in royal disfavor, attainted and in official disgrace, marked as a collaborator with rebels against the Crown. Shakespeare makes no mention of him either.

Upon the death of Aubrey de Vere, the earldom of Oxford passed to Richard, Aubrey's teenage son, who, during much of his youth, had been playmate and companion to the new Lancastrian King's son and heir, Prince Hal. The two boys were almost the same age: Richard had been born in 1385, Hal, the future Henry V, in 1387. This 11th Earl didn't live long after he assumed the title, however; he died at the age of thirty-two. Not much is known about him, and he and the twelfth earl are the only earls of Oxford who lived during the years that comprise Shakespeare's two tetralogies of English history not to be referenced with even modest entries in the Dictionary of National Biography.


Excerpted from Soul of the Age Volume 9 by Paul Hemenway Altrocchi. Copyright © 2014 Paul Hemenway Altrocchi, MD.. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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Table of Contents


Foreword: Michael Delahoyde, Ph.D., xv,
Introduction, xxi,
1. Daniel Wright, 2000: Shakespeare's treatment of the Earls of Oxford, 1,
2. Nina Green: Oxford's Biography, 23,
3. Stephanie Hughes, 2006: Oxford's Childhood Part I, 80,
4. Stephanie Hughes, 2006: Oxford's Childhood Part II, 99,
5. Richard Whalen, 1995: Before Looney, Did Anyone Know Oxford was Shakespeare?, 126,
6. John Hamill, 2003: The Ten Restless Ghosts of Mantua: Part 1, 134,
7. John Hamill, 2003: The Ten Restless Ghosts of Mantua: Part 2, 149,
8. Richard Roe, 2008: Italian Directions for English Merchants, 164,
9. Mark Anderson, 2001: The Upstart Crow's Other Plumage, 176,
10. Mark Anderson, 2000: Ophelia's Difference, 183,
11. Alex McNeil, 2013: A Brief History of Anonymity, 192,
12. Robin Fox, 2009: Shakespeare, Oxford and the Grammar School Question, 196,
13. Robin Fox, 2010: Why Is There No History of Henry VII?, 223,
14. C.V. Berney, 2005: Who Wrote The Spanish Tragedy?, 230,
15. Bill Boyle, 2011: Wikipedia Wars: Is Coverage of the Authorship Question "Fair and Balanced"?, 241,
16. Charles Boyle, 2000: Why Pericles Was Not Included in the First Folio, 250,
17. Frank Davis, 2002: Revisiting the Dating of Twelfth Night, 259,
18. Frank Davis, 2009: Relevance of Shakspere's signatures, 272,
19. Richard Desper, 2006: Much Ado About Oxford — Part 1, 283,
20. Richard Desper, 2006: Much Ado About Oxford — Part 2, 297,
21. Katherine Chiljan, 2008: Complaints About A Lover's Complaint, 308,
22. Ren Draya, 2010: The Music in Othello, 321,
23. Ramòn Jiménez, 2008: Who Was the Author of Five Plays that Shakespeare Rewrote as His Own?, 329,
24. Roger Strimatter, 2000: The Not-Too-Hidden Key to Minerva Britanna, 345,
25. Michael Delahoyde, 2014: Lyric Poetry from Chaucer to Shakespeare, 365,
26. Michael Egan, 2012: The Essex Rebellion and Richard II: Why Wasn't Shakespeare Arrested?, 403,
27. John Shahan, 2007: Is There a Shakespeare Authorship Issue?, 418,
28. Paul Altrocchi, 2006: Why Are New Ideas Resisted Unto Death?, 427,

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