Tin Ear

Fully a third of Oxford's surviving letters are taken up with his campaign to hold the Crown's monopoly on Cornish tin-mines.

You might call it an obsession. The letters come to over 10,000 words; the pursuit to five years, 1594-1599. In that span, the actual Shakespeare had other concerns: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Henriad, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and perhaps the first inklings of Hamlet. Not a bad run.

Not one allusion to tin-mines in any of these plays. In fact, the word "tin" appears nowhere in the canon.

Strikingly, despite his impassioned interest in tin-mines, Oxford spells "stannary" (a common word for them) as "stammerye." He doesn't seem to get the derivation from the Latin stannum.* This isn't the only such error Oxford makes: he spells "impudent" (from pudens ashamed, modest) as "impotent" (from potens powerful). He's deaf to language, both its sound and its sense. And if you don't know etymology and grammar as a musician knows scales—instinctively, by practice—then you can't play with language, you can't make old words new: a game at which Shakespeare was rather good.

Tin MiningHere is the text of one of Oxford's tin-mining letters. Bearing in mind that at the time this was written, Shakespeare's reputation would have been equivalent to Steven Spielberg's today, does this sound like a brilliant playwright and impresario at the top of his game?

My very good Lord vpone yowre message vnto me by yowre servant Hykes, I receyved no small comfort, that God puttinge into yowre hart to fauoure and assist me in my swtes to her Magestie after a longe travell [=travail], and doutfull labor, I myght obteyne sume ende to my contentment. Wherfore I most ernestly, and hartely desyre yowre Lordship to have a feelinge of myne infortunat estate, which althowghe yt be far vnfitt to indure delayes, yett have consumed fowre or fyve yeares, in a flatteringe hope of idell wordes. But now havinge receyved this comfortable message of furtherance & fauoure frome yowre Lordship althowghe her maiestie, be forgettfull of her selfe, yet by suche a good meane, I doo not dout, yf yow lyst but yat I may receyve sume frute of all my travell [=travail].
This last yeare past I have bene a swter [=suitor] to her Magestie yat I myght ferme her Tynes, gyvinge 3000l a yeare more then she hadd made. yf I had not done thys, ther weare which thowght to have had yt for a thowsand markes a yeare. I perseuerd, and yf I wowld have giuen yt over to suche, I myght have bene recompenced to my content. but for yat I dyd not a showe hathe bene made to her Magestie of 10 thowsand poundes of [=a] yeare, only determininge therby, to stope her Magestie frome harkeninge to my swte, and so to weare me out therof, which beinge compassed, to bringe yt to ther fyrst poynt or at the least to an easier rent, they demanded 30 or 40 thowsand poundes, to be lent them for one yeare, which they thowght her Magestie wowld absolutly refuse. and so havinge culler to breake of [=off] all, and my self forgotten yt myght be, and as they thowght most lekly, her Maiestie wowld yelde and be browght to be contentend [=contented] with a small sume, or att the most with so muche as I had offred. Thus I was to have beaten the bushe, whylst other howldinge the nett, had taken the bwyrd [=bird].
But as I perceyve, a rude copie of myne altogether vndigested came to her Magesties hands, wherby she is not so discoraged as they have made there account. this copie as I perceyve yowre Lordship hathe sene. yett I am sure, althowghe yow may discerne sume lyghtes of resonable matter, yt ys so yll [digested] ^\\appearinge// as yt wyll rather incomber yow, then comfort yow of any possibilite.
Yet vnderstandinge thus muche by yowre servant Hykes, I framed one other plott, which for that the other stood all vpon leklywhodes [=likelihoods], & probabilities, myghte vpon a more assured grownd be bwylt, yf her Maiestie any kynd away [=of way] can be perswaded to disburse forthe her monie. for wheras that for whiche was demanded 40tie or 30tie thowsand poundes, stood altogether vpon coniectures, this dyd only relye vpon that which was certeyne & what was by her maiesties informationes of the yere past certefied in her rates how yt myght be made with a fare [=far] smaller sume of mony layd owt, and so what difference ys betwiene dout and certeynte betwiene a great cost and || lesser charge that differencie is apparent betwiene that vnperfect noote and that I last sent yowre Lordship.
But yf yt be so yat her Magestie lekes away [=likes a way], wherby she shall lay forthe no monye & can be contented to have those revenues whiche allredie are made to be lyfted vp and increased to ten thowsand pownd by yeare.
Then I have discouerd suche an one as yf yowre Lordship leke [=like, approve] therofe, I wilbe glade to doo her Magestie seruice therin, & so to procede as I shalbe incoraged by yow.
And thys yt ys. those merchantes which fyrst sett me one [=on] worke, will giue her Magestie fowre thowsand pound a yeare aduancment of rent in her custome, yf she will grant me the ferme therof, and to me a fyft part. They are to lay owt in stoke [=stock] 20 thowsand pounde. I only bearinge but the name of the sute, lay owt never a pennye but have as ys sede [=said] a fyft part. this fyft part is assured me to be 2000l which indede althowghe I seme to receyve at [her Magesties handes shalbe payed to] there handes, yet yt shall rune into her Magesties cofers. so yat here is 6000l for her Mageste without layinge forthe one penye & I dare vndertake presently to be performed, so that this 6000l added to the 3283l wantethe but lyttell of 10 thowsand, to make vp whiche yf yt shall pleas her Magestie to graunt my sute for the licence of transportatione, I ame to giue her 500l more, and will what I can strayne my self to make yt vp full 10 thowsand [full] whiche ys sume 200 or 300l more.
Also for yowre Lordships furtherance of my swte concerninge the licence for ye transportatione of Tyne and leade, accordinge to the statute, which defendethe none [=prohibiteth any] to be carried out of the Realme without lycence vnles yt be to Calice [=Calais] etc, I will assure yowre lordship towardes the helpe of my doughters mariage, or otherwise as yt shall pleas yowre Lordship to assigne, to pay yearly whear and to whome yow shall appoynt 500l.
And yf her Magestie sees yat the other wayes are all intricate and troblesume then she may be assured of this last way to be presently performed, & yt ys without troble, to her Magestie or layinge owt any monye, to take this cowrse last sett downe. And althowghe the Marchant ys to be thowght therby to gayne, yet yt ys to be considered the sume of monye which he must lay owt, the hasard of the tymes, of ware [=war] of peace wherto he must stand, the dowt whyther the Mynes wyll continve there proportione or no. And what he dothe gayne, her Magestie shall allwayes be able to loke into by my fyft, wherofe thowghe I beare the name yet ^\\yt// ys hers. Thus desyringe pardone for my ernest and longe wrightinge, I commit yowre Lordship to the Almighte. this 20tie of Marche. Yowre Lordships alwayes to
(signed) Edward Oxenford

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