While I agree that the responsibility for authorship of the play performed just before the Essex uprising most likely belongs to DeVere, a couple of things still bother me about the other narrative: one about the idea that Will Shakspere was involved or even a pawn in the rebellion propaganda. It came to me, as I scanned the rambling, evidence-free musings of one who claims to have “solved Shakespeare,” thanks to a friend’s reference. This person stated that William Shakespeare “wept” over the death of his patron, Lord Essex (a prelude to claiming Hamlet is primarily about this other earl, among other things). Ah, poor Will. If one sympathized with the rebels, the aftermath was a sad time. But as I tell my students, even poor sources can get you thinking. When you step in something, you have to examine your boots more closely than you might have otherwise. Of course, there is no corroborative proof that Essex or Southampton were Shakspere’s patrons, but aside from that annoying problem, why do serious scholars not see how naïve they seem with regard to the age’s political realities when they do not consider what would have really happened to Shakspere if he had been, as they claim, the minion and mouthpiece of these men who belonged to a clearly militant political faction?
It makes more sense if the messages of the plays were those of the earls’ equal who had some sort of apparent immunity (for which he had and would forever pay an unspeakable price). Afterall, Oxford was, at this point, to some extent, old news, an inconveniently persistent and cogent riddler, and a known quality and quantity, and an all too willing and convenient provider of all-consuming and engaging distractions for the people to get them through what were then increasingly distressing and trying times. Some forget that if some of the aristocracy is unhappy, the remainder of society are most likely in much greater pain. It was clear that the Queen was going to die soon, and things were not going well at home or abroad, to say the least.
As for finding out what happened with Essex and friends, I have already found that some minor distortion and omission in dealing with related documentary evidence over the years has not helped matters and has led to misinterpretation by scholars of many stances. But for the actors and others associated with the business of the playhouses to be allowed to carry on and even stage another play at court soon afterwards without much interference from the government suggests that their involvement was not a priority concern. So the other thing that bothers me about the several versions of the Essex rebellion-plus-play-as- catalyst narrative is whether ‘the play [was] the thing’ or not. Was it, and is it really so important? Or is it important for or indicative of reasons we are not completely seeing? Was it overshadowed by graver concerns?
With the early confusion of a skeptic on a learning curve, I plunge on. I have found that this scholarship must be circuitous. I have amassed some reasonable and finite readings, but know that these will expand. I am keeping a log of the primary documents involved, hoping that I may actually get to see some of them for myself or at least figure out what they say from comparative viewing. I am glad for the now interdisciplinary nature of these studies, because alternate paths are possible. One of my first year writing students is researching wormhole theory, and when I told the class a little about the problems associated with researching Shakespeare’s true identity, he humored me a little and volunteered to let me know if he finds out how I might venture back into time. He wanted to go for me, but I told him he might think it over a bit more, and that he would have to join me and undergo some cultural and sensory training, for this kind of venture is not for the impatient or the squeamish. And so I wade in…
CODA: I fear I am already finding things that my respected Oxfordian friends and colleagues will not want to hear, but I find that the truth, as our constant seeker of it knew so well, that is sometimes a bit painful. What may have happened may not be what we expected. Funny, just when we think we have found a gaping hole where there used to be a nice bit of support for DeVere, we find an even better explanation that seems to be an even stronger imprint of his inky hand on the page. I do not seek to undermine my friends, but to put better stones beneath our case.
© Michelle Maycock 2014