An Update - by Mark K. Anderson for The Shakespeare Oxford Society.

"The mystery persists in part because both Stratford and Oxford cases are built on circumstantial evidence. A single clear document, a smoking gun, that would irrefutably link any one person to Shakespeare's works has eluded scholars for almost four centuries. While a mystery this old may never be resolved, it is clear that the search will continue, the doubters and defenders united by their reverence for the man they seek."

--Judy Woodruff on FRONTLINE's "The Shakespeare Mystery" (1989)


Since FRONTLINE first broadcast the above words, much has happened in the authorship debate. But the "smoking gun" for the Stratford or Oxford cases has not been found. Not yet, at least.

That said, we do now have the Earl of Oxford's Bible.

In fact, the discovery and subsequent study (begun in 1991 and still in progress) of the hand-annotated 1569 Geneva Bible originally purchased for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford has proven so rich a vein that many of the world's leading Shakespeare pundits are busily ignoring it right now.

Smithsonian magazine, The Shakespeare Newsletter and an exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library dismissed the de Vere Bible study as a "false alarm" -- to use the Smithsonian's words. Then again, the original argument began with the observation that the date on the Bible's title page reads "1596."

It certainly is curious that more than a quarter of the 1000 underlined verses and marginal notes in the de Vere Bible turn out to be some of Shakespeare's favorite biblical passages -- many of which have already been studied and cataloged by generations of scholars.

In addition, the de Vere Bible has pointed the way to more than 100 of Shakespeare's scriptural references that had previously been overlooked. The 425 year-old book has even been used to correct shortcomings in other Shakespeare biblical scholarship.

For instance, in Act V of Merchant of Venice Portia marvels, "That light we see is burning in my hall. How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world." According to a 1935 study, Portia's words hearken back to the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ remarks, "Let your good light shine before men, that they may see your good works." (Matthew 5:16) However, de Vere's biblical markings shine light on a more proximate source. Namely, in his letter to the Philippians (2:14-15), Paul writes, "Do all things without murmering and reasonings that ye may be blameless and pure and the sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a naughty and crooked nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world."

This passage, underlined by de Vere, not only demonstrates how de Vere's annotations allow a reader to improve with relative ease upon studies that have consumed a decade or more of work. (In short, when searching for Shakespearean biblical references, using an "answer key" is the quickest road to results.)

It also provides a glimpse into the inner life and turmoil of the man Oxfordians argue lies behind the "Shake-speare" pseudonym. Throughout his Bible, de Vere continually returns to the theme of "doing all things without murmering" and of the eventual recognition for one's secret works and deeds. (Click here for six examples from the Old Testament, New Testament and Apocrypha.)

Indeed, by 1589 -- ten years after he was memorialized with the words "Thy Will Shakes Spears" -- contemporaries already recognize de Vere as the finest of Elizabethan poets "if his doings could be found out and made public with the rest." What those secret works may be remains as veiled as the remaining 15 years of his life -- when he withdraws from the public stage of his younger years. (Engrossing himself in the "writing in the country" he refers to in a 1596 letter?) And now his biblical annotations tell the story the author of the "Shake-speare" canon continually struggled with. That is, in the words of Sonnet 72:

O, lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me that you should love,
After my death, dear love, forget me quite;
For you in me can nothing worthy prove --
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart.
O, lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you;
For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.

As "The Shakespeare Mystery" host Al Austin concludes, "Hamlet knew that the dead rely upon the living to tell their story." So Edward de Vere may well have followed the command of Revelations 14:13, allowing himself the scriptural consolation that though he may be blotted from the table of history for a time, in the end the truth will out.

--Mark K. Anderson

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