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Book Review: Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: The True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth by Charles Beauclerk
Posted By Elinor Teele On April 6, 2010 @ 2:02 pm In Non-Fiction Reviews,Theatre,Writers | 7 Comments
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:
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.
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