|Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford|
by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
"Here's one I wrote earlier, guv". [Edward de Vere]So Hollywood has a new 'Shakespeare' movie coming out. Well, well, nearly 400 years dead and still good for business! The latest well-hyped offering is titled Anonymous and is based on the life of the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (1550-1604), whom the film hails as the ‘true author’ of Shakespeare’s plays. This is the also the view of a handful of crackpot Shakespearean actors and academics, though it may have been thought that the fact that de Vere inconveniently died before many of the plays had been written (Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale, Coriolanus, The Tempest) might have deterred them just a little.
One of the arguments they put forward against Shakespeare's authorship is that he did not attend a university and so would not have had the classical education needed to write the plays, many of which are based on stories from the Roman writer Ovid. But Shakespeare almost certainly attended Stratford Grammar School (the school records no longer exist, but Shakespeare's father was a town councillor and it was a 'perk' of all councillors that their sons were educated at the grammar school). They were called grammar schools because what they taught was Latin grammar, and once the boys had mastered the language all the lessons were in Latin. Among the books they studied was the works of - you guessed! - Ovid, and it is estimated that when the boys left the grammar school they would have had the equivalent of a classics degree from a modern university.
Shakespeare also seemed to reminisce on his grammar school days in his play The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which we see a boy, appropriately called William, being given an amusing Latin lesson by his Welsh school master, called in the play Evans. It is known that when Shakespeare was a boy there was indeed a Welsh master teaching at the grammar school.
|Shakespeare's dedication in|
The Rape of Lucrece to his
patron, the Earl of Southampton
The fact is that no one in Shakespeare's lifetime ever doubted that he was the author of the plays. Not the Stationer's Office, which approved books for publication; not the Master of the Revels, the booking agent for court performances of plays; not his friends and partners in his theatre company; not rival dramatists, such as Ben Jonson, a man famed at the time for his learning and erudition (though like Shakespeare he had no university education). The authorship fashion only arose in the Nineteenth Century, over 200 years after Shakespeare's death, when the Victorians, in search of a national hero, lauded him as a universal genius and a man of family values (yes, it's a good joke!), indeed as a demi-god. But if you put someone up on a plinth in that manner then sooner or later someone's going to want to knock you off. The more so if there's money to be made (conspiracy theorists, publishers, film makers, Mein Herr academics, etc., etc., etc., etc.)
The film also casts de Vere as the incestuous lover of Queen Elizabeth, so it obviously has its tongue firmly in its cheek. But how many Oscars will it win, that is the question.