Oxford & Hamlet
Washington State University
EDWARD DE VERE, 17th EARL OF OXFORD
It is said that everyone who thinks about it after reading it ends up with the impression that Hamlet bears some connection to the author. If Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was the author of the works of “Shake-speare,” then get this:
Oxford’s mother remarried after her husband’s death while Edward was in his teens, and she married beneath her in rank (the date remains undiscovered). Just as there are no truly warm maternal figures in the plays, we get no evidence of much affection between Oxford and his mother: she mentions him only in passing in a letter to Burghley, in whose household Oxford grew up as ward.
Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley, was betrothed to Oxford before she was fifteen. The marriage was postponed once, we don’t know why, but it happened. The plays often contain young girls under the sway of powerful rulers in court, daughters of commoners destined by the elders for marriage to young aristocrats of noble blood.
Polonius has long been considered a caricature of Burghley, with the playwright parodying Burghley’s long-winded advice in a letter to his own son, published only years after Oxford’s, Shakspere’s, and Burghley’s deaths, suggesting that the playwright had to have seen it firsthand (and there’s no connection between Burghley and Shakspere). Polus and Pondus were nicknames for Burghley in contemporary notes. A possible earlier version of the play names the character Corambis; Burghley’s Latin motto was “Cor unum, via una” (one heart, one way), and with “bis” meaning twice or again, the playwright contorts the motto with the idea of ambiguity, signifying double-dealing. Burghley was known for his spying tactics (like Polonius), and he expressed pride at having been born during the Diet of Worms (the convocation of secular and church leaders in the German city and presided over by the emperor). When Hamlet calls Polonius a fishmonger, he may be referring to Burghley’s sponsoring of a law making Wednesday a meatless day in addition to Friday — a move designed to support the fishing industry.
Hamlet mentions two pirate attacks on his way to England. Oxford’s ship was attacked twice while he was returning to England.
Hamlet reads an unidentified book, but scholars deduce that it sounds like the Cardanus Comforte, due to the book’s philosophy being reflected in the play. Oxford commissioned this book and wrote a long preface to the man who translated it from Italian. Oxford’s name, not the translator’s, appears on the title page.
Hamlet commands, organizes, and stages the play not as an actor but more as a producer, director, and author. He seems to be well-known as a patron. This matches de Vere.
Oxford’s favorite cousin was Horatio de Vere, fifteen years younger. Oxford wanted to make him and his brother heirs to the earldom.
In Hamlet’s dying words, he asks that the true story be told.