Were the plays written by a courtier?

Three of the major axes of Oxfordian argument insist that the author was a graduate, trained in the law and a court insider, privy to the workings of the court which are then accurately represented in the plays. 

De Vere wasn't a graduate of Cambridge or any other university. He spent a few months at Cambridge when he was eight. His degrees were honorary, given out to Elizabeth's followers on visits. It's ironic that Oxfordians make such a song and dance about the absence of Will's education records and then bestow the status of Cambridge Graduate on Oxford when there isn't a shred of evidence that he did any studying. Oxford tended more towards the typical profile of the cream of English society, rich and thick.

He wasn't a lawyer, either. Aristocrats liked dining occasionally at Gray's Inn but almost none studied law or became lawyers. Oxford went up to Gray's Inn with three other wards but only one of the four ever bought a law book and it wasn't The Earl. It shows. Oxford's legal Latin is frequently inaccurate. Will's legalese shows a bit more knowledge than Oxford's, which means he could have worked as a clerk or just picked up enough from his own experience of court cases. However, if neither of them ever opened a law book, nobody need be surprised. 'Kill all the lawyers' says Jack Cade, in the stage's first lawyer joke.

De Vere's university and legal careers give him no advantages over Will whatsoever.

But De Vere was the 17th Earl of Oxford, second peer of his rank with only the Ducal coterie above him. He was unquestionably a courtier.

So if the plays are accurate about court life, Oxfordians might have a point.

The plays are NOT accurate about court life. Not even slightly accurate. Nor has any Oxfordian, in all their tedious prolixity, ever been able to suggest a reason why Will's history plays look so much like Marlowe's. No one, not even the nuttiest authorship gladiator, has ever suggested Marlowe was an aristocrat. Marlowe was another commoner, another grammar school boy. So why does the man from Stratford make all the same mistakes as the man from Canterbury? Because neither of them were aristocrats. Of course.

The plays reflect a commoner's knowledge of the court right down to to their slow and steady improvement as Shakespeare's experience of court life increases over the lifetime of his career. By the time Will is writing Henry VIII (years after the Earl died) his court paraphernalia is finally starting to look like the real thing.

One of the 20C's leading authorities on Elizabethan life, Muriel St Clare Byrne wrote an illuminating essay on the subject of Shakespeare's court manners which is never cited by Oxfordian advocates of elite knowledge. I will quote the same passages as David Kathman has quoted on The Shakespeare Authorship site.

It follows, therefore, that the background of life in the plays is, and at the same time is not, the background of Elizabethan life. As an example -- old Capulet is an admirable picture of a testy Elizabethan parent, and his behaviour to Juliet in the matter of the match with Paris reminds us instantly of the perpetually quoted account that Lady Jane Grey gives of her own noble father and mother. The human reality is faithfully portrayed, and at the same time the detail of the portrait is contemporary. If, however, we go on lightheartedly to assume that old Capulet in his behaviour as a "nobleman" bears any resemblance to an Elizabethan noble of similar standing we shall be hopelessly misled. If we compare him with the genuine article we realise at once that the intimate "realistic," or Elizabethan, scenes in which he appears are purely "romantic," or, if we prefer, untrue to the facts of contemporary noble life. Shakespeare may label Capulet the head of a noble household, who can treat Paris, "a young Nobleman, Kinsman to the Prince," as his equal, and a proper match for his daughter; but when it comes to a scene like Act IV, Sc. iv, which shows the home life of this supposed nobleman, we realise that the setting is not Verona but Stratford, and that the most likely person to have sat for that very realistic portrait is John Shakespeare, or any of the good burgesses who were William's father's friends. They probably got in the way of all their busy servants and kitchen staffs on the occasions of daughters' weddings: but it is quite certain that an Elizabethan nobleman, with his retinue of anything from twenty to eight hundred gentlemen officers, and from a hundred to five hundred yeomen servants, did not come into personal contact with Antony and Potpan, Peter and Angelica, and did not himself have to issue orders for the quenching of fires and the turning up of tables. In these scenes Capulet is brother to Dekker's jolly shoemaker, Simon Eyre, not to Lord Burghley. 

A little later (p. 199), after she has given many examples of Shakespeare's noblemen acting in ways no real nobleman would have acted:

The etiquette and ceremonial complications of regal life find but little reflection in the plays. What Shakespeare either did not know, or else deliberately rejected for dramatic purposes, was the circumstance and order of life in a royal household. By ignorance or design -- more probably a mixture of both -- he has given us a romantic picture. It was natural that he should seize upon as apt for dramatic purposes the popular aspect of royalty, with which Elizabeth's subjects were well acquainted: Shakespeare and his Queen both possessed a superb sense of the theatre. What is surprising, however, is that he should so entirely neglect the dramatic opportunities offered by the intimate-formal routine in Court life, had he been acquainted with it. Henry VIII, in which we must allow for the collaboration of Fletcher, is the only play which exploits it in any way, though the natural dramatic value of this carefully staged remoteness is enormous. But Shakespeare will have none of it. Court life in the plays is definitely a homely affair in comparison with Court life at Whitehall.

The playwright's aristocratic background is core Oxfordian belief. Yet it is a fantasy.

It is like Bishop Wilberforce theorising about evolution. "Here, sitting at my desk, never having studied natural sciences, been to the Arctic or seen any of its wildlife does not prevent me from telling you, categorically, that there is no reason why a Polar Bear should be white." The Oxfordian sits at his laptop, in the identical frame of mind. "Here, at my browser, never have seen Edward II or Richard II in the theatre, not being a qualified historian or critic and not having read much about life in the Elizabethan court outside Oxfordian tracts, I can tell you for certain that there is such a difference between Shakespeare's history plays and those of Marlowe that it can only be explained by one of them being an aristocrat and the other being a commoner." 

Total and obvious nonsense.

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