California Literary Review

Book Review: Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: The True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth by Charles Beauclerk


April 6th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

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Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom by Charles Beauclerk
Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: The True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth
by Charles Beauclerk
Grove Press, 352 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Shock and Awe: Shakespeare’s Hidden! History

Charles Beauclerk did not write Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: The True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth.

Wait, wait, hear me out.

Despite his name being prominently displayed on the dust jacket, despite the inclusion of his photo and bio, I can prove that this book (which claims that Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford and the illegitimate son of Elizabeth I) was not written by – CHaRleS FrAnciS ToPham dE VerE BeAuclErK – but by SHAKESPEARE himself.

Consider the evidence. The shadowy Beauclerk is said to be the descendant of the Earl of Oxford; his profile is eerily similar to the Martin Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare that graces the frontispiece of the First Folio; and his book is littered with quotations from Shakespeare’s works. Can there be any doubt?

In truth, I am disappointed in Beauclerk. I had been looking forward to this book. There are plausible reasons for suggesting that the Warwickshire lad known as Shakespeare was not the same guy who knocked out Romeo & Juliet and King Lear, but if you’re looking for a cogent summary of the evidence, try Wikipedia.

If you want the Shakespearean equivalent of the Bible Code, however, you’re in luck. Here you can find a rambling discourse that suggests Elizabeth slept with her stepmother’s husband, had a secret son (Shakespeare, i.e. the Earl of Oxford) and then, once puberty had kicked in, slept with him as well (so that she was now both mother and grandmother to the new son, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton).

This makes Shakespeare not only brilliant, but royal. And makes Beauclerk, I might add, a Tudor descendant.

Our thwarted prince supports his “shocking” revelations by combining the arguments of J. Thomas Looney, one of the first defenders of the Oxford claim, with his own textual analyses of Elizabethan source documents.

Here are few selected highlights of his method…

From Spenser’s The Fate of the Butterfly, with italicized emphasis from Beauclerk:

O Clarion, thou fairest thou
Of all thy kinde, unhappie happie Flie.

Oxford is “happy” because he is royal, and “unhappy” because his royalty is tainted.

From Richard Barnefield’s The Encomium of Lady Pecunia, again with Beauclerk’s italics suggesting a pun on Vere:

And Shakespeare then, whose honey-flowing vain
(Pleasing the world) thy praises doth obtain,
Whose Venus and whose Lucrece (sweet and chaste)
Thy name in fame’s immortal book have plac’d.
Live ever thou, at least in fame live ever:
Well may the body die, but fame dies never.

And this from an analysis of the motto in Isaac Oliver’s famous “Rainbow” portrait of Elizabeth:

There is no sun to be seen in the portrait, even symbolically, yet the queen grasps a phallic-looking rainbow in her right hand, above which appears the legend NON SINE SOLE IRIS, ‘No rainbow without the sun’ – in other words, No reign without the son.

I could allow him the pun of son/sun (though I might point out that Elizabeth was also referred to as a masculine prince), but I can’t forgive his neglect of Genesis 9:13-17.

These examples, however, are mere potshots in the war against a middle-class Bard. The real artillery for the Oxford-claim is to be found in the theatre:

Shakespeare’s extraordinary sexual psychopathology, as revealed in the plays, is nothing less than his attempt to legitimize his carnal love for his mother, the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth of England. His unconscious works overtime to devise all manner of ingenious justifications, so that he can avoid falling into the abyss marked taboo.

Extracting biographical details from Shakespeare’s writings is a dangerous pastime, just as it is with any playwright. Not to mention that Shakespeare’s works are so encompassing, so varied, that you can argue just about any point triumphantly:

  • Shakespeare was cursed with a psychopathic wife, insomnia and a bad case of OCD (Macbeth)
  • Shakespeare studied law, was ashamed of his virginity and had a thing for nuns (Measure for Measure)
  • Shakespeare enjoyed cross-dressing, dreaded drowning and hated English weather (Twelfth Night)

But let’s look on the bright side. This approach gives Beauclerk plenty of opportunities to find clues to his theory, such as this dropped hint in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Titania is used by Ovid as an epithet for Diana, the virgin goddess, and here the mother of the “changeling” is identified as a votaress of Diana, a tag confirmed in the next line in the phrase “Indian air,” which yields both “Diana” and “Dian[‘s] air [-heir].”

Surprise, surprise, it’s Hamlet (the gloomy heir who is too much i’ the sun) who ultimately tells us the shocking truth. In Beauclerk’s drama, Elizabeth I is cast as the incestuous Gertrude, Polonius becomes William Cecil, the Queen’s trusted advisor and Oxford’s scheming father-in-law, and Anne Cecil, Oxford’s wife, morphs into Ophelia. We don’t know if Oxford enjoyed grubbing around in graves, but doubtless Beauclerk will find evidence for it somewhere.

Perhaps what bothers me most about Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom is that Beauclerk had a golden opportunity to tell us a good story and he muffed it. The Earl of Oxford, from the small grains one can glean from the psycho-literary-babble, was a fascinating character.

A well-educated, well-traveled and hot-tempered aristocrat, Oxford was a starry figure at the Elizabethan court. His patronage of the arts, writes and actors (and his profligate spending) left him practically penniless and he died in obscurity in 1604.

He was also a writer. And like others of the time who masked their aristocratic origins, it is possible that some of his poems were published under a pseudonym. Whether he had the time between his dueling and his dalliances to write Shakespeare’s works is a matter of debate, but his life was never dull.

But Beauclerk is too busy with his theories to speak plainly and to the purpose. He doesn’t bother to refute the main arguments people have against Oxford (I find it significant that he skims over Macbeth, a play with strong ties to James I’s reign), nor can he refrain from marring all else with over-the-top claims. I don’t often feel the urge to hurl narratives across the room, but this one caused a significant dent in my wall.

I would have thought Shakespeare in Love might have advanced our understanding of the authorship debate, but apparently not. Writers are still assuming that Shakespeare, be he lowly or lordly, wrote in some kind of mysterious vacuum, where learning stopped after the age of twenty.

The idea that an Elizabethan dramatist could collaborate with his fellow actors, seek advice from scholars, listen to firsthand accounts from worldly patrons, observe royal scandals from backstage or borrow a bloody book now and again is apparently impossible.

As is the concept that a writer creates characters and plotlines to advance the story. Or that a dramatist writes parts with specific actors in mind. Or that focusing on would-be kings, thwarted lovers and misfits makes for good drama. Or that Shakespeare’s plays should not be read as his personal Da Vinci Code, but as an expression of his professional development.

But who am I kidding? Without positive evidence one way or another, scholars are going to be happily bickering over this issue forever. Of course, it would have been nice to have some firm facts in favor of Oxford, but Beauclerk claims his arch-villains, the Cecils, conveniently destroyed “anything that might readily betray the Shake-speare secret.”

That’s okay, Charles Beauclerk. Your secret is safe with me.

  • douglas colling

    haven’t read the book, but just wanted to mention that i don’t agree with the statement that Macbeth is tied to the reign of James 1st.

    i think it is actually about his mother Mary and would have been written a few years before she was executed in 1587.

  • Boswell

    Oxford’s exclusion as a candidate is based upon a single word in MacBeth, EQUIVOCATE, as that was the defense of a Preacher implicated in the Gunpowder Plot. In fact, equivocating, lying in the name of God, making it truth, was a defense used in other well-documented trials, one famous one in particular in the reign of Elizabeth. If that’s the only HARD PROOF that Oxford could not be “Shake-speare”, then sign me up as an Oxfordian. At least from the Oxfordian position, the sonnets make sense, and a person with a drama troupe, money, talent, education, and access to the inner circle of Royals allows us to understand the time better than assuming someone made it all up in his spare time.

  • Michael

    I stopped reading at the title– it is published by Grove Atlantic and it 430 pages… Not a great start to a review.

  • pam sloane

    Agree completely with above review. I am quite disappointed that the book does not live up to its promise at all. It rambles because its voice is forever shifting modes – from microdetails, to overviews, with sweeping, unsubstantiated assertions tossed in randomly for dramatic effect. The book’s premise is thus so poorly developed and mangled by poor and uneven writing that it loses momentum less than halfway through. It just fizzles out like a fire buried under a wet blanket, unable to gain momentum. Beauclerk’s cavalier treatment of his shocking assertion that de Vere is the illegitimate son of QEI stopped me cold, and is not dealt with in any convincing detail whatsoeveer. Unfortunately this method prevails once the more coherent introduction ends. I do suspect there is so much more to say. But the manner in which any cohesive theory is lost in verbal obsfucation and baseless, sweeping assumptions condemns this book to join its dead subjects, to be forgotten over time. What a disappointment!

  • Kate Malone

    Beauclerk has really stirred up the mud and I am loving every word of this book – not that I believe every word. But Beauclerk cannot be totally disregarded, he has credentials and has done an immense amount of research. The book is chock full of Elizabethan history and is a treasure trove of citations and references. It will be interesting to see how this book will compare with the awaited Shapiro book on the identity question. If nothing else it has heads spinning at the Folger! A good ride through Elizabethan London – hang on.

  • anita

    Wow, are you just trying to be funny or being serious? Have you even read the book with so much statistics Charles Beauclerk has given? You people amaze me! I am so disappointed at the missing analysis of your ridiculous story. Edward de Vere is definitely a proof of who Shakespeare was and the fact that you don’t believe that shows that you apparently did not comprehend all the materials read in this book.

  • Jem Bloomfield

    Elinor is not only being serious, she’s being a lot funnier than most of us would manage when faced with a book like this. Beauclerk’s got form when it comes to writing over-reaching historical fantasy dressed up as scholarship. If memory serves the definitive takedown of his brand of anti-Stratfordianism comes in Gary Taylor’s “Revinventing Shakespeare”: I don’t think most other scholars in the field take him seriously enough to attack him. Though that may be because the movie “Anonymous” and the associated press campaign of high school “teaching materials” means that no-one has time to waste these days on what looks in comparison like quaint Victorian tinkering. Nice work, Elinor.

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