All of us on the Oxfordian side of the 'authorship question' easily understand that we are dealing with one of the world's greatest imponderables... how otherwise intelligent and highly educated people would cling so desperately and against all reason to the untenable notion that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works traditionally assigned to him. As James Warren incisively outlines in two commentaries (1 and 2) related to his new book, Shakespeare Revolutionized*, Looney and his Oxfordian successors are confronted and confounded by what is truly one of the most incomprehensible and intractable 'resistances' to new information that the world has ever seen.
Warren lays out three dynamic contexts in which he has found resistance to the question of Stratfordian authorship to be present in individuals as well as in the engrained traditions of academic institutions. In the first category, he highlights the natural resistance that human beings have to an abrupt change in familiar and well-worn ideas and beliefs in favor of a new, complex re-thinking of those ideas. While we certainly agree that the psychological resistance that occurs at this 'Cognitive' level of consciousness is forcefully at play to make Looney's task especially challenging, the implacable resistance of cognitively adroit, highly educated Stratfordians to his ideas would seem to suggest that there is a force of resistance at work here at another level of the psyche... one that is less accessible to the influence of cognitive processes. For this we need the idea of 'resistance' in the Freudian, or more likely Jungian sense which occurs at the level of the 'collective unconscious'... the assemblage of symbolic meanings and latent ideologies that are shared and passed down in the myths, legends, traditions and language of tribal and national groups. Where to look for Stratfordian resistance at this unconscious level?
The Thousand Years War of National Identity
Whereas the Hundred Years War between the Norman French nobility of England and Franco French nobility of France is said to have begun in 1337 and ended with the battle of Castillon in 1453, the Thousand Years War of our title began, we would argue, in 1066 and persists to the present day. Whereas the first was fought on the battlefields of France with conscripted cavalry and infantry, axes, archery and mace, the ongoing war of 'English' versus 'French' that predates, comprehends and supersedes it is a war of language, culture and native soul... a war that is fought semi-consciously on an intangible battlefield with elements that define and constitute the national identity of the British especially but also of the greater English-speaking world. And in this theatre, not of war, but of this largely unspoken, existential drama of already 1000 years duration, the enigmatic character of Edward de Vere (aka 'William Shakespeare'), our English author par excellence, appears in the most prominent and defining role... that of a primary architect of the English language itself.
Ironic perhaps but completely understandable is the fact that this greatest of English author's 'native' language(s!) were both French and English... French, as the language of his forebears since Aubrey de Vere first came to the Isles with (or shortly following) William the Conqueror... and English as the native language of his land, albeit a land ruled by former noblemen of France and who still spoke and considered themselves French in blood and bones (and territory, but for some accidents of battle that may perhaps be redeemed on another more fortunate, future day). Wasn't it exactly de Vere's genius of language 'in general'... his astounding multilingual vocabulary and his ability to 'play' with words and expressions drawn from his knowledge of Latin, Greek, French, Italian as well as olde and current English... that animated his pen and drew it to such superlative heights?
The Need for 'Shakespeare'
In light of this ongoing struggle, could the fixation on 'Shakespeare of Stratford' in the English-speaking world be a matter of national pride perhaps... a lingering remnant of the Hundred Years War that has long been relegated to the national unconscious but lurks and works there as an intractable impediment to the truth? What truth?... The simple fact that a 'Frenchman', Edward de Vere, however long-ago and completely assimilated, could have given us the formative apogee of our 'English' language. Is not this very idea perhaps such an affront to English identity that some myth of genuinely 'English' authorship must be upheld to vanquish it? And thus, like an implacable obsession, the myth of the man from Stratford keeps its iron grip on the minds of otherwise smart people... delivering them the comforting thought that the pure 'native genius' of a poorly educated, quasi-literate, but thoroughly Anglo-Saxon, 'English' chap ('one of ours') was the author and the giver of this most dear and treasured national gift.
Without something forcefully at work at this unconscious level, how would it be possible that such an otherwise intelligent and diverse person as Kenneth Branagh, who is so well-versed in the subtle nuances of the canon, could produce, against all evidence to the contrary, such a simple-minded portrayal of the author as is found in his latest movie, All is True? Why is he so steadfastly resisting what can be shown, manifestly, to be true indeed? Could it be that it's because this guy, who portrayed Henry V so effectively and passionately, is thoroughly a man 'of the Isles' and would hardly, willingly cede the crown of authorship to a Frenchman? Better perhaps to 'strike this crown' into the Stratford 'hazard' than to do so?
The Need for 'Oxford'
And what is especially indicative that this is at the very root of the resistance that coils itself so tightly around this truth is the fact that it is strongly present even among those who are devoting their very working lives to bringing the fact of de Vere's authorship forth! What we are referring to is the fact that the author's name, 'Edward de Vere', is little used even in the most devout 'Oxfordian' scholarship nor in common parlance among Oxfordians. For 'de Vere', we generally substitute 'Oxford', a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon place-name with a resoundingly English ring to it. But why call the most honored man that wrote the canon, rather than by his given name, by the name of a place to which he was associated? Most authors are referred to by name (or pen-name if they so choose). But in the case of de Vere, the object of our unbounded admiration and interest, we generally call him not by name but by English place... 'Oxford'. It's as if we would devoutly wish this to be his name in fact, but alas, it is indeed 'Edward de Vere'... a name that clearly rings of his ultimately French lineage.
Of course we recognize the tradition, followed by de Vere himself, of referring to the Earls of England by the name of their given 'domain'... 'Oxford', 'Essex', 'Southampton', etc. On the part of de Vere, this indeed needs to be noted and respected just as we must respect his wish to write 'anonymously' under the name 'William Shakespeare'. His use of ‘Oxford’ to refer to himself would not have created the least issue for his posterity (us) to sort out. So what if he referred to himself this way? It would be no issue at all to this day. The problem and endless confusion and riddle that we have inherited, however, albeit by his own device of using a nom de plume rather than his own name, is that the 'pen-name' that he chose was not a pen-name at all but rather the real name of a contemporary human being who was involved and acted in the very theatre in which his plays were being performed! A more confusing situation of authorship can hardly be imagined.
Perhaps, if he were alive today, de Vere might quietly take a seat in the Stratfordian camp just as he did when he wrote the works... to avoid the tumult of debate, argument and politics that is anathema to a creative soul. But given the fact that he is now distant enough from the world of things to no longer need the cover of an alter-identity and out of respect for the works of transcendent genius that he has left us, we feel it's time to dispel this fog of confusion. It no longer serves any good purpose. So we propose to be clear about who this man was and, as we do with all respected human beings, call him properly by name... not a pen-name, place name or nickname, but the real name that he was given at his birth, Edward de Vere.
As a graphic example of the decided 'preference' for the English "Oxford" over the French "de Vere" among us Oxfordians, here is a count, from the last three issues of the SOF journal, of occurances of the three 'names' that Edward de Vere is called by... 'Shakespeare', 'Oxford' and 'Edward de Vere'...
de Vere: 70
Edward de Vere: 75
Why the reluctance, even among devoted fans of the man, to call him by his name? If this level of resistance is present even among his devotees, how much stronger must it be in the world of academia and traditional scholarship... not to mention among the general English-speaking world as a whole. Much more comfortable to believe that a true Englishman like “good ole' Will” gave us these works of genius than a Frenchman named “de Vere”. And cloaking him as a thoroughly English 'Oxford' by name does nothing to ease this imperceptible, unacknowledged injury to national pride.
What we're getting at here is the idea that Edward de Vere's manifest 'French-ness' is not something for us English speakers to be embarrassed about but rather celebrated to the hilt! Far from being an 'adulterating' element to his English character and authorship, the ethnicity that sounds so clearly in his name... 'de Vere'... is essential to the genius that gave us these greatest works of world literature that he chose, for love of his native land and his Queen, to write in English.
Comments and discussion are most welcome and can be entered below.
* Warren, James. Shakespeare Revolutionized: The First Hundred Years of J. Thomas Looney's Shakespeare Identified. Cary, North Carolina: Veritas Publications, 2021