IN THE PRECEDING ISSUE of the QUARTERLY the first serious attempt was
made to analyze the personal allusions to the author of Venus and
Adonis in Thomas Edwards' 1593. "L'Envoy to Narcissus."
That we succeeded in proving the poet-playwright Earl of Oxford to be
Edwards' nominee for the authorship of the "Shakespeare" poem
is the opinion of several well-versed Elizabethan scholars to whom our
analysis has been submitted.
Let us now anticipate the skepticism of those who may wish to suggest
a candidate other than the Earl of Oxford as the poet-playwright described
It appears indisputable that this one whose power floweth far and
whose purple robes distained identify him with the stately
tropes rich conceited of the masking Adon, as well as with
the writing of satirical comedy for Blackfriars Theatre production is
at the same time signified as of the royal circle at the Center of
What poet-playwright of contemporary renown occupied an Elizabethan
Court position comparable to Edwards' specifications in 1593?
Could it be William of Stratford?
Not even his most vehement partisans will seriously advance such a
claim for the reported butcher's apprentice and horse-groom from Warwickshire.
Was it Francis Bacon then?
There is no record of Bacon having written a line of first-class poetry
or drama during the lifetime of Elizabeth. His acknowledged experiments,
in verse speak for themselveswith mediocre. flatness. Any lines
less "Shakespearean" would be difficult to find in the dust-bin
of literary oblivion.
Moreover, Francis Bacon was not of the purple-veined nobility. His
forbears were lawyers and professional scholars, several of them extremely
able, but distinctly middle-class. Bacon himself remained plain "Master"
Bacon until Elizabeth's successor came to the throne. In 1593 this gifted
young commoner was frantically tilling wires to secure some governmental
post which would assure him leisure to pursue his philosophical studiesand
that with notable non-success. When he came to Court it was as a supplicant
or an intelligence agent. The only real influence he exerted during
the latter decade of Elizabeth was as the private adviser of Essex,
until he turned upon his benefactor to advance himself over the unfortunate
Earl's dishonored corpse.
The fatal weakness of the so-called "Bacon-Shakespeare" authorship
claims resides in the fact that it is absolutely impossible to certify
Bacon as a personal participant in the rise of the creative art of the
Elizabethan drama by any contemporary testimony. The "claims"
of his advocates are primarily based upon "cryptograms" and
"ciphers"long since exploded as childishly unreliable.
Could Edwards, perchance, be referring to the 6th Earl of Derby
as the author of Venus and Adonis?
Hardly, inasmuch as William Stanley was chiefly notable for his absence
from Court circles when Edwards wrote. The general belief is that he
spent most of his time in foreign travel. He was a younger son, then
on the "outs" with his relatives, and certainly occupied no
position of any demonstrable power whatever at the Court of Elizabeth.
Neither is there any direct evidence during the early 1590's that he
was considered an influential and experienced poet or dramatist. There
are later references to Derbythen Oxford's son-in-lawas
a writer and producer of "comedies for the common players".
But these are not dated before 1599. They indicate that Derby's interest
in playwriting and theatre production gained headway through intimacy
with Lord Oxford. And distinctly so as his father-in-law's bodily powers
waned. My own opinion is that Derby is not to be discounted as a possible
collaborator with Oxford in certain Shakespearean enterprises. At least,
he can be accurately documented through recent research as Ben Jonson's
active patron, and provides an authentic personal connecting link between
Jonson and the real "Shakespeare."
Finally, to recapitulate Oxford's fitness for the Edwards' identification:
As one born in the purple and related to many of the ablest
and most highly cultivated families in English history, Oxford is the
only nobleman of great prestige in 1593 who can be thoroughly documented
by his contemporaries as a poet and playwright of genius.
His honorary office of Lord Chamberlain of England and his ancient
lineage gave him precedence over all other Earls of the realm. And the
royal Sword of State, of which he had the disposition, by right of office,
symbolizes the delegated authority of the reigning sovereign. That this
poet-playwright could be accurately described as one whose power
floweth far, both in Court circles and in Elizabethan literary affairs,
admits. of no question. There is definite proof, also abundantly available,
that his great name was sullied by intimate association with "lewd"
writers of the Shakespearean creative circle. Nash's satirical address
to Oxford as "Gentle Master William, Apis Lapis," the
Sacred Ox of contemporary letters, in the 1593 dedicatory epistle of
Strange News, verifies everything in this connection that the
statements of Lord Treasurer Burghley, Spenser and Sir George Buck suggest.
We have already noted that the dedication of Nash's Strange News
to his patron proves that Oxford's literary nickname was the same as
that borne by the "Gentle Master William" of the immortal
plays. Furthermore, this playwright nobleman's ownership of a favorite
manor on the River Avon in Warwickshire, and the historical record of
his appearance as an actor in a spectacular show given on the same stream
for the Queen's pleasure, certify Oxford's right to be considered the
subject of Jonson's metaphorical reference to "Shakespeare"
as Sweet Swan of Avon.
In the space now at our disposal, it would be impossible to digest
all realistic evidence to the same effect. Such evidence has been detailed
in many books and pamphlets, beginning with Looney's "Shakespeare"
Identified (1920), and continuing throughout the eight previous
volumes of this periodical.
I will only say that the lavish praise of Lord Oxford as poet, playwright
and voluminous creative worker by such critical authority and fellow
writers of his day as Webbe; the anonymous author of The Arte of
English Poesie; Angel Day; Spenser; Nash; Meres; Harvey; and Henry
Peacham, cannot be matched in the case of any other candidate for Shakespearean
authorship honors who was living when Thomas Edwards wrote his Narcissusand
who at the same time meets all personal requirements of this
remarkable description of the creator of Venus and Adonis.
Associations of the Earls of Oxford And Members of
The identity of the Thomas Edwards who in 1593 wrote the exceedingly
rare and historically important Cephalus and Procris (and) Narcissus,
which contains the description of the 17th Earl of Oxford in his pseudonymic
role of "Shakespeare," does not seem to have been settled
up to this time.
The British Museum catalogues him as "The Poet" to distinguish
him from other Thomas Edwardses of about the same era; while the editors
of the Dictionary of National Biography languidly view the problem with
the remark that "Edwards is a common name."
All known circumstances considered, however, I would venture to suggest
that this little known poet and Shakespearean commentator was a member
of the family of Richard Edwards, the Elizabethan poet, musician and
playwright who composed and staged Palamon and Arcite and Damon and
A native of Somersetshire, Richard Edwards was born about 1523, and
is said to have died toward the end of 1566. A scholar of Corpus Christi,
Oxford, he received his M.A. degree in 1547. Later he studied law at
Lincoln's Inn, and was appointed a Gentleman of the Queen's Chapel and
Master of the Children of the Chapel about 1561. His skill in music
and dramatics is frequently mentioned by his contemporaries. Edwards
trained selected groups from the boys of the Royal Choir in several
successful dramatic offerings, including his own plays. The Queen is
said to have encouraged this, expending more than a thousand pounds
a year to maintain the Chapel's musical and acting forces.
The most humanly interesting account extant of Elizabeth's enthusiasm
for the stage is to be found in a contemporary manuscript in the Harleian
collection. It is written by the Oxford scholar Neal and tells of the
Queen's visit to that university in September 1566, when Edwards and
his youthful actors gave their first performance of Palamon and Arcite
before Elizabeth, her courtiers, and the whole university personnel.
The production was so graphically enacted that many of the younger undergraduates
present who had never seen a play were entirely carried away, shouting
directions to the players in some of the hunting scenes. This so amused
the Queen that she applauded them on from her box, crying
"Oh, excellent! These boys in very troth are ready to leap out
of the windows to follow the hounds."
The young Earl of Oxford, then several months past his sixteenth birthday,
was one of Elizabeth's personal attendants on this occasion, and was
among those who received an honorary M.A. degree from the university,
following the two days devoted principally to Edwards' dramatic offerings.
There can be no doubt that young Oxford was personally acquainted with
Richard Edwards, for they had marked mutual interests in music, acting,
writing and the stage. Also eight of Oxford's early poems appear in
a famous Elizabethan anthology entitled The Paradise of Dainty Devices
which Edwards is credited with having collected "for his private
use" from the writings of "divers learned Gentlemen."
The first edition of the volume is dated 1576, whereas Edwards was buried
in 1566. Therefore, if the statements of Henry Disle, editor-publisher
of the Paradise can be accepted at face value, the poems by Oxford
included therein must all have been composed before the Earl was
seventeen years of age. Several of these signed lyrics of his are,
nevertheless, of outstanding spirit and felicity. In fact, some of their
lines have been accepted as of genuinely adult Shakespearean composition
by eminent professors of English. For such tests, a potpourri has
been arranged by Dr. L. P. Bénézet, consisting of an admixture
of the Oxford lines (unidentified) with others taken from the songs
and sonnets of "William Shakespeare."
It is not merely an "accident," either, it would seem, that
one of Richard Edwards' songs, beginning "When griping grief the
heart doth wound" provides a tunefully mirthful interlude in Romeo
As has been previously noted, some years after Richard Edwards' death,
the boy actors company which he had organized at Westminster was combined
with a similar group at Windsor to create the professional troupe for
the Blackfriars Theatre. As the backer of this enterprise, Oxford's
own theatrical interests can thus be seen to be a direct continuation
of an important Elizabethan stage movement, pioneered by Richard Edwards.
These are the main reasons why I think it not unreasonable to suggest
that the poet Thomas Edwards, who was in touch with contemporary creative
writing and obviously knew something of the Blackfriars Theatre group
of satirists, was either a direct or collateral descendant of the author
of Palamon and Arcite. Edwards may be "a common name,"
but a facility for poetry and an interest in stagge affairs was certainly
not held in common by many Elizabethans answering to the cognomen. In
fact, family tradition could very well be a determining factoraccording
to the immemorial English point of viewto justify such a remarkable
departure by the Thomas Edwards of 1593.
I would also venture to suggest that he was probably the Thomas Edwards
who is recorded as a scholar of Queen's College, Cambridge, from which
he received the degrees of B.A. in 1579 and M.A. in 1582. Queen's was
the college at which Edward de Vere (then known by the title of Lord
Bulbeck) originally matriculated as an "impubes" fellow-commoner
(before his ninth birthday) in November 1558. Thomas Edwards of Queen's,
according to the Dictionary of National Biography, became in 1618 Rector
of Langenhoe, Essex, one of the parishes in Lord Oxford's native county.
And now for a final piece of authenticated documentation from the public
records, which indicates a relationship between members of the Edwards
family and that of the poet Earl of Oxford, continuing from the days
of Richard Edwards, the playwright, on into the period immediately succeeding
the publication of Shakespeare's First Folio.
It is to be found in the records of the Exchequer of James I, filed
in The King's Remembrancer, No. XVI, where are listed "Licenses
to pass from England beyond the Seas." Under date of "23 Oct.
1624" appears this entry:
George Parsons, 24, silkweaver, resident in Hackney (the London
suburb where. the 17th Earl of Oxford had his home during the final
decade of his life) to the Leager (Lowlands) about c'ten his
affaires with ye Earle of Oxford (the poet's son, Henry de Vere,
18th Earl). In the room of this partie went on (e) Richard Edward(s)
68, resident in Hackney, whose pass was made dated in (for) Nov.
This Richard Edward(s) who accompanied Parsons to the Lowlands on "affaires
with ye Earle of Oxford" appears to have been born about 1556.
In point of years, therefore, he could have been a son and namesake
of the 1523-1566 playwright Edwards, whose literary and dramatic activities
overlap and notably highlight those of the youthful Edward de Vere with
Whether the Thomas Edwards who wrote the 1593 commentary on Lord Oxford
as "Shakespeare" was closely related to this 1624 Hackney
resident has not yet been determined. But, while it is reasonable to
argue that the author of "L'Envoy to Narcissus" had believable
opportunities to acquire personal knowledge of Oxford's career as most
powerful concealed poet-playwright of the age, no evidence of any associations
of any type can be found to connect the Stratford-on-Avon native personally
with a single person named Edwards throughout his entire lifetime.