My first brush with Shakespeare came years ago, when as a young woman I was studying acting in London, with tutors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Webber Douglas, an acting school. The question, “How did this author’s personal history affect his work?” simply never came up. (Isn’t that odd?) Anyway, returning to the U.S., my acting career veered toward Kiss Me Kate and away from The Taming of the Shrew.
Until last August, that is, when looking through my DVD/movie library, I ran across Anonymous, which I had seen before, and watched it again. This time? POW! A spark of driving curiosity got hold of me. Being a writer I knew that poetic license and filmmaker’s-fancy might be at play here, so I felt compelled to delve into this adventuresome ‘Oxenford’ Earl.
I devoured every Oxfordian book I could get my hands on, every YouTube discussion I could find. Hooked! So, I decided to write and produce a one-woman show: O Mistress Mine: the Secrets, Lies, Loves & Wives, Of Edward De Vere, the REAL Shake-speare.
There is an ocean of detail to include; but knowing what to leave out will be as important. When you create a timeline of the life’s experiences of Stratford’s Will Shaksper and Edward De Vere, the contrast is startling:
By the time Shaksper was a mere fourteen, 28-year old Oxford had completed or earned several lifetimes of scholarship, study, several degrees, years of travel on the Continent, and many contemporaneous kudos for his writing gift. He regularly presented plays for Elizabeth’s court. This polished courtier had also lived a life of shattering loss, jealousy and betrayal.
And ‘Stratford?!?’ Nothing. Recovering Stratfordian Diana Price wasn’t able to find a “literary paper trail” or any contemporaneous evidence that the man from Stratford was a professional writer, or was actually literate!
Voluminous research connects the writings of Shake-spear to the well-documented life of Edward De Vere, especially in the way that Hamlet’s life mirrors Oxford’s. There is one very telling detail about the play that strikes me as smoking-gun material: The first part of Hamlet is based on a Scandavian folklore myth, Amlet. After the King dies, Shake-spear echoes the Beowulf story line.
Another smoking gun: At the time, the only known copy of Beowulf resided in the magnificent library of Cecil House, the young Earl’s home since the age of 12, where daily he spent many hours in the pursuit of his studies. The Cecil Library, which held over 1,700 books and 250 manuscripts, was said to be the most impressive in all of Europe.
Commoner Will Shaksper did not have access to that library, nor to that book. Or, I’m sure to obscure Scandinavian folk myths. Indeed, no one outside that household could have gently fingered through the pages of that single copy of Beowulf. Except our young scholar, Edward De Vere, the REAL Shake-spear!
— Robin Phillips