During my psychoanalytic training some 30 years ago, I was chagrined
to learn that Freud supported the flaky theory that Edward de Vere,
17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), was the true author of the works
of Shakespeare. Freud’s misogynist theory of female sexuality
was embarrassing enough, but now this! I didn’t give it much
further thought until 1999, when I was surprised to read in The
New York Times that de Vere was gaining credibility as the
author who used both the pen name and front man of William Shakespeare
of Stratford. This article intrigued me. My psychoanalytic publications
often stem from my exploration of blind spots – not only in
individuals, but in groups such as my fellow psychoanalysts. For
example, I have spent many years specializing in the treatment of
post-traumatic dissociative disorders, and I was impressed by the
way many of my psychoanalytic colleagues used to dismiss the existence
of multiple personality disorder.
I began reading some of the many excellent books outlining de
Vere’s claim as Shakespeare. The more I read, the more convincing
the evidence looked. In 2004, I re-read the Times article,
and I was excited to realize that de Vere’s 1570 Geneva Bible
was owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library. This library, the most
extensive collection of Shakespeariana in the world, is two blocks
from the U.S. Capitol and not far from my home. I became credentialed
as a “reader,” or scholar permitted access to their
collection. I did this because I had learned that de Vere’s
Bible has hundreds of annotations in it that fit closely with the
thousands of Biblical allusions and echoes in Shakespeare. If there’s
a “smoking gun” that helps document de Vere’s
claim to be Shakespeare, this is it. I also found that the Folger
is an unsurpassed scholarly resource, with hundreds of thousands
of rare books and manuscripts.
My research at the Folger helped ignite a burning passion that
has since led me into many byways of research on de Vere. In the
process, I have had the good fortune to develop a friendship and
collaboration with Roger Stritmatter, who earned his Ph.D. in comparative
literature with a dissertation on de Vere’s Bible. He made
history by earning the first Ph.D. in literature in the United States
based on a dissertation asserting that de Vere was Shakespeare.
He employed a handwriting expert who verified with high confidence
that the notes the margins of the Folger’s 1570 Bible were
in fact written by de Vere. Most startlingly, Stritmatter accumulated
a massive amount of data that enabled me to highlight the close
correlation that his findings showed between Shakespeare’s
interest in certain Biblical passages, and de Vere’s interest
in that same group of passages.
Let me explain. If Shakespeare alluded to the same Biblical verse
two, three, or even more times, would you agree that this reflected
his growing level of interest in that verse? Now, if de Vere annotated
a given Biblical verse, would you also agree this reflected his
interest in that verse? De Vere used several methods to mark Biblical
passages – he might underline the entire verse, or underline
the verse number, or write a key word in the margin, or draw a fleur-de-lys
in the margin (a medieval form of annotation that he still used).
It turns out that the more times Shakespeare alluded to a given
verse, the more likely it is that de Vere marked that same
verse in some fashion. There are 450 Biblical verses that Shakespeare
cited only once; only 13 percent of these verses are marked in de
Vere’s Bible. But among the 160 verses Shakespeare cited four
times, de Vere marked 27 percent of these. There are even eight
verses that Shakespeare cited six times – de Vere
marked 88 percent of these.
At this point, some of you may be thinking, “So what?”
I have been fascinated by the range of reactions to the now-overwhelming
evidence from many additional sources that de Vere was probably
the pseudonymous author of Shakespeare’s works. What’s
going on? I believe there are many sources of the skepticism, apathy,
and even hostility I have encountered on my authorship quest. We
trust experts, and we should – usually. But literary studies
lack a reliable methodology to evaluate such authorship claims.
We assume that it’s difference in science. But recall that
Wegener had accumulated overwhelming evidence for his theory of
continental drift by 1915. He was a mere geographer, though, not
a geologist. Geologists – the specialists in that field –
argued that there was no known conceivable explanation of how continental
drift could have occurred, so they ridiculed Wegener’s theory.
But, by the mid-1960s, new information about plate tectonics provided
the missing pieces of explanatory theory, and geologists now fully
accept Wegener’s 1915 proposal.
The situation is analogous when it comes to de Vere as Shakespeare.
We have abundant evidence that he was regarded by his contemporaries
as the best of the Elizabethan courtier poets; that a few of his
contemporaries knew he wrote anonymously; that he sponsored theatrical
companies most of his life; and that he was regarded as one of the
best Elizabethan authors of comedies. There are hundreds of connections
between the content of the plays and poems of Shakespeare and the
documented facts of de Vere’s life. The first 17 sonnets entreat
a young man to marry. In 1590, when they were probably written,
de Vere’s father-in-law William Cecil was ordering his 17-year-old
ward the Earl of Southampton to marry his granddaughter –
de Vere’s daughter Elizabeth. This was the same earl to whom
the long poems of Shakespeare were dedicated in 1593 and 1594 –
the first publications to use the pen name “William Shake-speare.”
But, we still do not know with certainty why he wrote
under a pseudonym. This crucial but missing piece of evidence is
a major reason de Vere isn’t yet more widely accepted as Shakespeare.
In all likelihood, there were multiple internal and external reasons
for his using a pseudonym. Elizabethan nobility did not publish
poetry under their names during their lifetimes. The world of the
theater was held in some disrepute, and playwrights such as Ben
Jonson were frequently punished for offending those in power. De
Vere/Shakespeare’s history plays put the Tudor monarchs in
the best possible light; their propaganda value may have been enhanced
by attributing them to a commoner. In addition, my study of the
psychology of pseudonymity offers many examples of writers whose
creativity seemed to flourish when their authorship was concealed.
If de Vere used one pseudonym, he probably disguised other writings
as well. For example, I have recently published articles attributing
two anonymous 1585 poems to de Vere/Shakespeare. There is a whole
new world of research beckoning to us, which will deepen our appreciation
for the greatest writer in the English language.
Many people have asked me with visible exasperation, “What
difference would it make who wrote the works of Shakespeare?”
I was initially puzzled by this question, especially when it was
posed by talented psychoanalysts. If we were discussing any other
great writer, they invariably would look for connections between
the life experiences and psychology of the author, and unconscious
themes and conflicts in his or her literary creations. Why are reactions
so different when it comes to Shakespeare? Freud thought it was
because we have a unique reverence for Shakespeare. He said we idealize
not only his plays and poems, but the man himself. We want to believe
he was every bit as perfect as his works. What we know about the
man from Stratford is so limited that we can imagine almost anything
we want about him, and people such as Steven Greenblatt have done
just that. De Vere, on the other hand, was a complicated person,
whose life offers in abundance the very complexity we should expect
of the man who wrote Shakespeare’s works.
Richard M. Waugaman ’70, M.D., is clinical professor
of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and Training
& Supervising Analyst Emeritus, Washington Psychoanalytic Institute.
His 65 scholarly publications began with an article stemming from
his senior thesis on Nietzsche and Freud, supervised by Walter Kaufmann.
He is married to Elisabeth Pearson Waugaman *71, the author-illustrator
of the children’s book, Follow Your Dreams: The Life
of Alberto Santos Dumont.