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Tempests again

“I freeze and burn, love is bitter and sweet,
my sighs are tempests and my tears are floods,
I am in ecstasy and agony,
I am possessed by memories of her and
I am in exile from myself.” 

Francesco Petrarca*

Tempest metaphors are a favourite amongst poets and always have been. It's so easy to associate Olympian raging storms with chthonic emotional turmoil. Shakespeare's storm on the heath in King Lear is possibly the closest confrontation between elemental nature and primordial humanity. Storms on heaths, however barren, are different from storms at sea.

Money Money Money

“By Shakespeare's time the possibilities for a politically critical drama had been transformed by the emergence of professional repertory companies which despite their residual status as royal servants derived their economic strength from a far wider public. Shakespeare's career reflects not just individual genius but the excitement of a whole collective institution at the possibilities of what amounted to a cultural revolution: the emergence of a literary public sphere which prepared the way for the formation of a political public sphere."

David Norbrook, "What Cares These Roarers for the Name of the King?: Language and Utopia in The Tempest"


One of the more irritating sights in Oxfordland is the blundering pursuit of an improbable idea through fantasy thickets concocted from what they regard as evidence. These junkets always lead either to a damning assessment of Shakespeare or a conclusive addition to their so-called case for De Vere's authorship. Fox-hunting with the rear half of a pantomime horse.

The unspeakable in pursuit of the unarguable. 

Their constant efforts to drown the evidence of Will's career in acid are intended to generate a cloud of noxious smoke to hide the crucifyingly embarrassing fact that no real evidence—of any sort—lends credence to their own case. Recently we have seen imaginary acts of usury and criminal behaviour pile up into a mountain of disreputable sharp practice and then lead to the conclusion that Shakespeare earned his cash from pimping, strong-arming, moneylending and generally impersonating Don Corleone in Elizabethan Southwark.

Contemptible, predictable nonsense.


In the race to complete a list of 100 reasons why Oxford did or did not write Shakespeare's plays, Hank Whittemore's site has taken a strong lead in the final straight and now looks certain to beat us to the magic figure. We are becalmed on #95. In his Reason #95 Hank's attention falls on the relationship between the Earl and Christopher Marlowe as he advances his theory of how a young, up and coming playwright like Kit would have got his start in the cauldron of Elizabethan theatre. 

Weever's tangled web


The Oxfordian pick has struck gold again, an occurrence that seems to happen with astounding regularity, yet for some reason the nuggets found never seem to get past the assay office.

This time the treasure lode is an article by the new leading light of Oxfordian research, Alexander Waugh, grandson of Evelyn Waugh and an established author in his own right. The last few years he seems to have directed his not inconsiderable intellect to the Oxford Authorship Question, the almost century-long effort to find evidence that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the True Author of the works universally attributed to the usurer, grain dealer, and play broker, William Shakespeare (if that was indeed his real name; Shicklespurt is the more likely moniker) of Stratford-upon-Avon, gentleman.

Mr. Waugh's latest effort, ‘John Weever - Another Anti-Stratfordian,’ is published in The De Vere Society Newsletter, 21: 2 (May 2014), pp. 12-15.

Wracke and Redemption

A comparative textual study

In their article published in the September 2007, Review of English Studies, Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky claim that a letter written by William Strachey drew on several sources published after its putative composition date of 15 July 1610, and was completed at least 2 years later, too late to be used by Shakespeare as a source for The Tempest. But a close textual comparison between the letter, the published sources and other contemporary documents, including a relatively newly discovered draft of the Strachey letter, demonstrates the primacy of Strachey’s letter and confirms its use as a source in the Virginia Company tract published in November 1610, therefore preserving its accessibility as a source for Shakespeare.

For their kind suggestions during the writing of this article, I thank Jacqueline Foertsch, David Kathman, Lynne Kositsky, Irvin Matus, Tom Veal and especially Alden T. Vaughan.

The Review of English Studies, New Series © The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press 2009; all rights reserved doi:10.1093/res/hgp107

In the summer of 1609, the Virginia Company of London sent nine ships to re-supply its fledging hard-luck Jamestown colony in Virginia. The fleet ran into a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic and the flagship Sea Venture, carrying the colony's new governor, Sir Thomas Gates, became separated from the fleet and was presumed lost by those who weathered the storm and made it to Virginia. But Gates and all 150 passengers and crew members had actually been shipwrecked on the uninhabited island of Bermuda.

During the next ten months they managed not only to survive, but also to build two new vessels and complete the journey to Virginia. When they finally arrived at Jamestown in May 1610, they found the colony in total collapse, suffering from famine and Indian attacks that had reduced the 600 colonists to fewer than 70. Gates ordered the surviving colonists into the ships to sail home. However, they met with a new supply fleet before clearing the Chesapeake Bay, and so they turned back to renew the ultimately successful colony. The survival and escape to safety of Gates' colonists and the deliverance of the Jamestown colony galvanised London when the news reached England in September 1610.



Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but
there is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases,
that cry out on the top of question, and are most
tyrannically clapped for't: these are now the
fashion, and so berattle the common stages--so they
call them--that many wearing rapiers are afraid of
goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.


What, are they children? who maintains 'em? how are
they escoted? Will they pursue the quality no
longer than they can sing? will they not say
afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common
players--as it is most like, if their means are no
better--their writers do them wrong, to make them
exclaim against their own succession?


'Faith, there has been much to do on both sides; and
the nation holds it no sin to tarre them to
controversy: there was, for a while, no money bid
for argument, unless the poet and the player went to
cuffs in the question.


Is't possible?


O, there has been much throwing about of brains.


Do the boys carry it away?


Ay, that they do, my lord; Hercules and his load too.


It is not very strange; for mine uncle is king of
Denmark, those that would make mows at him while
my father lived, give twenty, forty, fifty, an
hundred ducats a-piece for his picture in little.
'Sblood, there is something in this more than
natural, if philosophy could find it out.

I have often wondered, with the best in theatre on their doorstep and regular new work from the best crew of playwrights and actors ever gathered in one place, why Elizabethan audiences would pay an additional fourpence to watch plays performed by child companies. And after watching The Malcontent at the new Wanamaker, I still don't have the answer. Which is strange since the play was written for a Children's company by John Marston in 1603, so watching a production in an absolutely beautiful, perfectly recreated Jacobean theatre should have solved the mystery from the off.

But it didn't. Your modern theatre goer with kids of a certain age has seen a lot of children's theatre. And though I've seen a couple of memorable productions of Midsummer Night's Dream, I've winced through most of it. The bar is set in a different place for modern viewers and there is an elephant trap made from bad experiences of Nativity extravaganzas which any new child production has to avoid at all costs. 

There's another problem that needs careful skirting. Times have changed. What are we to make of the highly sexualised content of the material in the mouths of 12 year old boys and girls in our age of CRB checks for cricket tea ladies?

Bussy Galore

A famous modern poet used to sacrifice every year a Statius to Virgil’s manes; and I have indignation enough to burn a D’Ambois annually to the memory of Jonson.

John Dryden's poor opinion of Chapman's most famous plays is not widely shared, these days.

Connecting Oxford to Jacobean drama is a Labour of Hercules for Oxfordians, given that he died in 1604 before Jacobean drama had much to distinguish it from Elizabethan drama. Yet in a unique passage in Chapman's Jacobean drama The Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois, the Earl himself is criticised and even rebuked on stage.

This is a rather extraordinary occurrence if you believe Oxfordian tales of censorship and the stigma of print.  Their entire authorship case requires Oxford to hide behind an allonym for the offence of a few dim resemblances between Polonius and Cecil, so what can they mean, ignoring Chapman so disrespectfully taking the mickey out of the Earl, without even disguising his name, in a long and critical passage? Off with his head, surely?

The play is a sequel to Bussy d'Ambois, entered in the Register in June 1607 by the Children of St Paul's but which later found its way into the repertoire of The King's Men who acted it at court in the 1630's. It forms part of four plays written by Chapman about 16c events at the French court. Two of these were banned and then censored to remove the offending treatment of the French Queen. So how did the critical representation of the Earl survive?

Rhapsody in Red

Does converting to Oxfordianism increase your appreciation of the work, as many Oxfordians claim? Nat Whilk likens it to ketchup on gourmet cooking, creating such an accurate picture of how faint praise can damn creative effort, we decided to indulge in a few riffs on the theme. 

First the Oxfordian post which triggered our imagination, from Barabara Hobens Feldt. Posting on a thread attached to Annie Martirosyan's Amazon review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, Barbara is indulging in the time-dishonoured 'elite knowledge' argument as she builds to her rhapsodic climax.

2 Corinth

“I clearly see that my work for the Earl of Oxford cannot be much longer required.”

Lawrence Nowell

De Vere’s formal education ended at thirteen, when his last known tutor, Lawrence Nowell, washed his hands of him: “I clearly see that my work for the Earl of Oxford cannot be much longer required.” Tactfully put. Oxfordians interpret that to mean that the pupil had outstripped his master. But the tutor lavishes no praise, and offers no regrets at leaving what would—in Oxfordian fantasy—have been the student of a scholar’s dreams. If you had the boy Shakespeare as a pupil, would you shrug him off? But Nowell had other, more congenial work in hand. And Oxford had received all the tutelage that a boy of his rank— who would always have secretaries—would need. Dancing, drawing, French, cosmography (that is to say, maps), and a bit of Latin—a small fraction of what a grammar-school boy would learn—made way for lordlier accomplishments, fencing and horsemanship. Some lessons took. Oxford had a nice italic hand; he was a pretty dancer and a champion at tilting.