No. 5: Pray, My Love, Remember.
— Ophelia in Hamlet Act IV, Scene 5
by Marie Delgado Travis
Over a series of recent posts (below), I’ve tried to show that—much against my Will— Edward de Vere’s name crops up everywhere I look. For example,
• In the introductions to Shakespeares [sic] First Folio (1623), most notably the prefatory poem « To the Reader » by Ben Jonson (B.I.), where the name Vere / de Vere appears at least thirteen times:
- figure – ure = Vere
- thou here – uere = Vere
- was for gentle – vvree = Vere
- wherein – vvere = Vere
- graver – ver = Vere
- with nature – vvure = Vere
- haue drawne = uere = Vere
- well in braffe = vvere = Vere
- would then surpaffe – vvudeure = de Vere
- euer = Vere
- writ in braffe – vvre = Vere
- but since he cannot, Reader – uereder = de Vere
- picture – ure = Vere
• In an Epistle in a 1609 Quarto of Troilus and Cressida, which apparently was quickly suppressed. Now that you have the methodology—think Scrabble—I’ll abbreviate:
- A neuer = Vere
- writer = Vere
- euer reader newes = Edward de Vere
- Eternall reader you = Edouard de Vere
- haue heere = Vere
- Eternal reader you haue here = Eternal Earl Edouard de Vere
- a new play, neuer ftal’d with the Stage = Earl Edward de Vere
• and this week, on the vere cover of SHAKES-SPEARES [sic] SONNETS, itself:
I hadn’t noticed before, but there— right in the middle, almost in plain sight— is his name again:
NEVER BEFORE IMPRINTED.
Edvv. de Vere = Edw. de Vere
Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, died five years before the publication of Shakes-Speares Sonnets (1609). So if de Vere were the author, someone must have helped bring the unpublished manuscript—previously circulated among friends, perhaps— to light.
But who? Well, in the same place— at the vere heart of the title page— we also find:
NEVER BEFORE IMPRINTED.
Ben Ion[s]on (Jonson)
I owe you an S but there are five in « Shakespeares Sonnets. » This is not necessarily because Ben Jonson co-wrote the Sonnets. Ben is best known as a playwright— although his poems To Celia and On My First Son demonstrate that he could at times be a formidable Rival Poet. Take, for example:
Drink to me only with thine eyes, And I will pledge with mine.
But most of Ben’s poems fail to reach those breathtaking heights, and methinks he had much too much ego to cede ownership of his best work to the Shakespeare brand.
He protesteth too much, for example, that Inigo Jones’ background scenery distracted from his masques. Ben didn’t like to be upstaged, and famously blamed the lack of success of his play Sejanus His Fall on the audience, rather than himself.
Besides, he had his own First Folio to fill, which he achieved with The Workes of Benjamin Jonson, published in London by Will Stansby in 1616.
What Ben did recognize, better than most, was the importance of preserving the works of art of his generation. (See the discussion regarding Accius and Pacuvius in a previous post below).
Keep in mind, however, that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon was very much alive in 1609, so presumably could have done his own editing. But in lieu of the author himself, Ben would have served as a talented editor for any book. And— in and out of favor with the authorities (something which, oddly enough, the man from Stratford never was … why is that?)— Ben could always use the extra gig.
But what would Heminges and Condell —or perhaps Jonson himself on their behalf— say under similar circumstances some fourteen years later, with the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio?
It had bene a thing, we confeffe, worthie to haue bene wifhed, that the Author himfelfe had liu’d to haue fet forth, and ouerfeen his owne writings, But fince it hath bin ordain’d otherwife, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, the office of their care, and paine, to haue collected & publifth’d them … (before) you were abus’d with diverfe ftolne, and furreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and ftealthes of iniurious impoftors[.]
As mentioned in the last post, the following anagram is present in the above passage:
the late author and Earl Edward de Vere
But we also find …
Ben wished that the Author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his own writings
iniurious imposter = Ionson[,] imposter
« Set forth » is a term of art, meaning to print / publish. Editing a massive work like Shakespeare’s First Folio would mean heavy lifting at any price. This helps explain Jonson’s jest In Timber or Discoveries Made Upon Men and Matter:
I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare [sic], that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, « Would he had blotted a thousand »
Despite his « cares and pains, » Ben would not have been able to produce Shake-Speare’s Folio or Sonnets on his own. So who would have the means, interest and « will » to insure that Shakespeare’s work wouldn’t meet its way to dusty death? Logically, his own family, namely, his daughters (… and I don’t mean Susanna and Judith), and their spouses: William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby, who married Elizabeth de Vere—and whom I suggest in previous posts may have continued writing under the Shakespeare pseudonym after de Vere’s death; and Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke and 1st Earl of Montgomery, half of the Incomparable Paire cited in the First Folio, who married (first) Susan de Vere.
A third sister, Bridget de Vere had been engaged to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southamption, dedicatee of Shakespeare’s earlier narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). When that arrangement fell through, she entered into an unhappy union with Francis Norris, the future Earl of Bedford, who struggled with mental illness, a subject which Shakespeare treated in a number of plays, most notably Lear. See The Troubled Nature of Francis Norris, Earl of Berkshire.
In another article worth reading, Bonner Miller Cutting of the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship explains how the lady in black in the above painting by Van Dyck of the Herbert family is actually a posthumous representation of his deceased wife Susan de Vere—mother of young Philip, whose engagement the painting commemorates— and not as currently believed, Herbert’s estranged second wife, Ann Clifford. See A Countess Transformed:
How Lady Susan Vere Became Lady Anne Clifford,and note the resemblance between Susan and her daughter, Anne Sophia, also painted by Van Dyck (and with Edward de Vere’s portrait above, for that matter).
Despite legitimate « father issues, » Edward de Vere’s daughters may well have been honoring his literary legacy— if not for their own benefit, for that of their posterity.
Indeed, for someone forced by his hereditary position to conceal his authorship, Edward made it a point to embed his name in the Sonnets, so that, as Sonnet 76 states:
« … every word doth almost tell my name. »
edward de vere [the W is composed of two vv’s]
To check the hypothesis that Edward de Vere’s name would be present in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, I selected one of the 154 Sonnets in the collection, as a test case:
Albeit a tiny sample, it is just for starters, and Sonnet 72 was an obvious choice, chiefly on the basis of two intriguing lines:
« My name be buried where my body is »
« After my death, dear love, for get [forget] me quite »
Let’s examine each verse of Sonnet 72, keeping in mind de Vere’s title as Earl of Oxford, and his family motto, generally translates as « Nothing is truer than Truth. » The methodology is the same as above, merely rearranging letters to reveal hidden words or messages, which sometimes contradict what the text of the poem (or other form of writing) outwardly says (e.g. the poet’s « shame » turns out to be a false modesty—he knows his worth).
O least [lest] the world fhould tafke [task] you to recite
edward de uere, earl of ocksford = Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford
What merit liu’d in me,
Earl Edward de Vere
that you fhould loue After my death,
true, truer, truth
edvvard de uere
edouard de vere
edvv. de vere
for get me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy proue, / Vnleffe you would devife fome vertuous lyt [light, as it rhymes with recite and quite, but usually translated as lie]
nothing is truer than truth
worthy, virtuous edward de vere
To doe more for me then mine own defert [desert], / And hang more praife [praise] vpon deceafed [deceased] I,
nothing is more true / truer than truth
hang or praise earl edward de vere
Then nigard [than niggard] truth would willingly impart / O leaft [lest] your true loue may feeme falce [seem false] in this,
nothing truer than truth
i am williamiam shacspeare
That you for loue fpeake well of me untrue,
true, truer, truth
My name be buried where my body is, / And liue no more to fhame [shame] nor me nor you.
My name is edvv de uere
For I am fhamd by that which I bring forth, And so should you, to love things nothing worth.
i am william
i am nothing
i am edward de vere
nothing truer than truth
— If that isn’t an autograph, I don’t know what is!
Since starting this blog, I have become aware of many, more sophisticated attempts to decipher Shakespeare’s works. The late Albert Bergstahler’s work, for instance, essentially proves that the Earl of Oxford not only embedded his name, he (or his creative team working closely with the printers of particular first editions) embedded his initials, E.O. or E.Ox. in Shake-Speares Sonnets— just as he signed many of his poems in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, edited by Richard Edwardes (1576-1606).
Burgstahler also found similar intricate patterns, which basically line up the letters of de Vere’s name to form his initials, in poems praising either De Vere or Shakespeare’s work, including Jonson’s « To the Reader » in the First Folio.
Below is a small sample of Burgstaher’s research, using a different Sonnet (82). But he went on to discover de Vere’s initials in all but two of Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets (98.7%)— and the two outliers he believed were fragmented poems. Burgstahler’s 2009 paper « Encrypted testimony of Ben Jonson and his contemporaries for who William Shakespeare really was » is available via the link below:
But I digress. Returning to Sonnet 72 above, the poet claims to feel « shamed » by what he has « brought forth. » But is the modesty real or feigned?
The difference between fhamed and famed is a silent letter, h, or at best, a sigh or « aspiration, » since they unfortunately depend on the judgment of others, over which one has no control. And being forced by one’s station to write under a mask, a nom de plume, only heightens the uncertainty that one’s merit will ultimately be recognized. Imagine the indignity of producing the greatest works in the English language, and having them attributed to someone who can barely sign his name.
It reminds me in a way of two very different takes by Shakespeare on posthumous fame. Antony, for example, says in his famous funeral oration in Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2:
The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them; / The Good is Oft Interred with their Bones.
Yet Harry / Hal, the future Henry V, performing « fair rites of tenderness » [emphasis mine] over the slain body of his arch rival, Hotspur, in Henry IV Part 1, Act IV Scene 5, presents a more gracious scenario:
Adieu, and take thy praise with thee to heaven! Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave, But be not remember’d in thy epitaph!
So which would it be for our poet? Fame or the shame of anonymity, of being erased? I’m afraid we all know the answer.
The deposed King Richard II faces a similar dilemma in Act IV, Scene I of his eponymous tragedy:
… alack the heavy day,
That I have worn so many winters out,
And know not now what name to call myself!
— But he eventually comes to a sober acceptance of his fate in Act V, Scene 5:
… but whate’er I be,
Nor I nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased
With being nothing.
Even the v in « Whatever » is contracted, erased: not « vere, » but a nostalgic sigh « ’ere » (e.g, Sonnet 73: « To love that well which thou must leave ere long. » If all is true, however, de Vere, never fully « eased » or resigned himself to anonymity. The Shakespeare canon is strewn with breadcrumbs that lead to him again and again.
The only true shame may be that over time, de Vere’s merit, honor and fame were surreptitiously stolen by an imposter, the man from Stratford, who ironically never claimed to be anything other than a common player.