Like . . . something or other
Oxford is almost a stranger to the basic poetic building block of metaphor. The few he uses in his poetry and writing are clichéd and formulaic. Shakespeare is at the opposite end of the metaphorical spectrum, separated from Oxford's work by an astronomical gap in creativity and imagination.
In several poems, Oxford anthropomorphises Desire and has a bit of chit-chat with him. Like this:
Desire I did desire to stay;
And while with him I craved talk,
The courteous knight said me no nay,
But hand in hand with me did walk;
Then of Desire I ask’d again,
What things did please and what did pain.
A suitable subject for a bit of telling and memorable metaphor but Oxford doesn't come up with any. His poetry remains stubbornly narrative. His rhythm, not helped by 36 monosyllables in six lines of verse, is dull and plodding. Even his two syllable words all fit the ti Tum ti Tum ti Tum ti Tum iambic tetrameter. Although you could be kind and say it was done for effect, the repetition of 'desire' in the first line is simply cack-handed incompetence. The repetition in the third line 'no nay' is merely to fill out the metre. It's the work of an amateur.
In fact the effect of the whole poem—there are more verses along the same lines—is creepily perverse rather than inspiring. Like the poetry of an old man with a bag of sweeties.
Whereas Will, on the same subject, just can't help himself. He's off the metaphorical diving board and into conceit before we've had ten words.
My love is as a fever longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
As a metaphor, disease and its cure is commonplace enough to have featured even in Oxford’s work. It’s unfair to compare prose with verse in this respect but here is the Earl trying to express almost the same thought as Shakespeare in a piece many Oxfordians will offer as proof of the quality of his work, his preface to Bedingfield’s Cardanus Comfort.
I prefer mine own intention to discover your volume before your request to secret the same; wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or physician, who, although his patient in the extremity of his burning fever is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body, yet for the danger he doth evidently know by his science to ensue, denieth him the same. So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion, yet I, knowing the discommodities that shall redound to yourself thereby (and which is more, unto your countrymen) as one that is willing to salve so great an inconvenience, am nothing dainty to deny your request.
Labouring the point, you might think. Thomas J Looney, the father of Oxfordianism, regarded the quality of expression in this preface of Oxford's as proof positive of the link with Shakespeare; “As a letter it is, of course, prose, but it is the prose of a genuine poet: its terse ingenuity, wealth of figurative speech, and even its musical quality…". Clearly not on the same page. See if you find any 'terse ingenuity' or try to count the figures of speech in the 'wealth' that Looney refers to. Both are imaginary.
By contrast, Shakespeare’s verse tightly uncoils the thought in his extended metaphor. Oxford demonstrates a clear understanding of the comparison between someone who knows what’s best for his friend Befingfield and a physician who can see the best interest of his patient, yet his prose lumbers about without much assistance from imagination or any aid from figurative language.
There are only two Oxfordian counters to this argument.
- Oxford’s bad work was written while still a child—his good work was written under the name Shakespeare as an adult.
- If his bad work is provably written as an adult, then Oxford deliberately wrote incompetently under his own name to conceal his true identity.
The problem with the first is that Oxford was still writing rubbish at the age of 27 and wherever and whenever, you look at his poetical career, there is still no imaginative metaphor, certainly nothing anywhere nearly as complex as Will’s ideas on love as a sickness with reason as its ineffective cure.
The problem with the second is that, without concrete proof of a successful, extensive conspiracy to guard Oxford’s anonymity, it is plainly crazy. We will come to conspiracies elsewhere.
On the subject of metaphor, a look at how it is used in Oxfordian argument might not be out place here. This is an extract from Paul Streitz’s Oxfordian website shakespeareidentified.com which has been frequently cited as an authority in my online dealings in the debate.
He claims that Oxford use[s] the same metaphors under different pen names and offers three examples as proof:
As Arthur Brooke in Romeus and Juilet , "the flower yieldeth honey to the bee;"
As Oxford in "The Earl of Oxford to the Reader of Bedingfield's Candanus' Comfort," "The idle drone that labours not at all, Sucks up the sweet of honey from the bee;"
And as "Shakespeare" in Henry IV "We bring it to the hive, and, like the bees, Are murdered for our pains."
Paul Streitz is one of many Oxfordians who attribute lots of anonymous Elizabethan work to Oxford. Here, he is arguing that these three ‘metaphors’ are so strikingly similar that the same man must have written them.
Yet the first is merely a prosaic statement, the second is a common platitude. The third example is an original thought. It contains a simile and represents a considerably more poetic reflection than either of the first. Yet despite being Will's work, it's a line of dialogue and does not have the considered lyrical payload of the romantic sonnet above.
As with so much Oxfordian exposition, we have learnt precisely nothing bearing on authorship matters from these three examples. Mr Streitz has simply listed three phrases which contain references to bees, almost certainly written by three different authors, and has attempted to link them together with a literary term he probably does not fully understand. Grabbing quick examples from the internet without checking to see whether they truly support an argument is common Oxfordian technique.
Was Oxford really the man who would 'the multitudinous seas incarnadine'? The Earl would surely just have stained the water red with blood and left it at that.5