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Repeat Airdate: 4/23/96 PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
Kevin Sim

Al Austin

The Shakespeare Mystery

Actor: Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow...

Narrator: The most treasured writings of the English language bear the name of William Shakespeare.

How could anybody have thought that a man who could barely sign his name was the greatest writer in the English language?

Narrator: Who was the real Shakespeare? The son of a Stratford glovemaker? Or was he a forgotten nobleman, the 17th Earl of Oxford?

It is the greatest detective story there ever was.

Narrator: Tonight on FRONTLINE, "The Shakespeare Mystery."

Actor: Horatio, I am dead,

Thou live'st. Report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisified ...

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,

Things standing thus unknown, shall live

behind me!

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity a while,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in


To tell my story.

Narrator: Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, knew that the dead man must rely on the living to tell their stories. This film is about the man who wrote Hamlet. But whose story are we supposed to tell? Is it the story of the great nobleman born here more than four hundered years ago--brilliant, powerful, and now forgotten? Or is it the story of a genius born here, in this small country town, a glovemaker's son, a nobody, whose fame has spread throughout the world?

This is Stratford-on-Avon, hometown of William Shakespeare, and world center of the Shakespeare industry. Every April 23rd Stratford celebrates his birthday.

Nations from all over the world, nations that don't even speak Shakespeare's language, send their ambassadors to pay their respects and to parade through his town.

Every year a million tourists come here, and the good people of Stratford-on-Avon rejoice at this happy union of commerce and great literature.

The march from Shakespeare's birthplace along the streets he walked four hundred years ago grows larger every year.

Vicar: I bid you welcome to the Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity...

Narrator: The pilgrimage to his grave is a custom hallowed by history, consecrated by tradition, and blessed by the church. Exalted figures of the past look on forgotten, as year after year the endless tributes flow in the direction of the commoner.

Shakespeare is buried in the church floor. On the wall nearby is a monument to him. He wrote four poems, one hundred fifty-four sonnets, and thirty-eight plays. And many believe he told us more about ambition and royal intrigue and suffering, and about love and death and human nature, than anyone before or since.

But why did the man who told us so much about who we are tell us so little about himself? There has always been a question. And among the countless millions who have stood gazing at the bust of Shakespeare there have been some who came not to praise him, but to bury him. Mark Twain was one.

Mark Twain's Words: The bust, too--there in Stratford Church. The precious bust, the priceless bust, the calm bust, the serene bust, the emotionless bust--that face with the deep, deep, deep, subtle, subtle expression of a bladder.

Narrator: It was at the wheel of a Mississippi riverboat more than one hundred thirty years ago that Mark Twain began to have doubts about Shakespeare of Stratford. Twain learned the language of Shakespeare while he was learning the language of the river. From a riverboat captain who kept mixing the poetry and his commands together.

Mark Twain's Words: What man dares, I dare! Approach thou there she goes! Meet her! Didn't you know she'd smell the reef if you crowded it like that? Come ahead on the starboard; straighten up and go 'long, never tremble, or be alive again--Damnation, can't you keep away from that greasy water? Snatch her! Snatch her baldheaded! With thy sword!

Narrator: It was the captain's jargon that set Twain thinking. Only a riverboat could handle riverboat slang like that. There are some things that you just have to experience. Where would Shakespeare, the country biy, have learned the lawyer slang, court slang, soldier slang, and all the other jargon that fills the plays? For Twain, it wasn't possible.

Maybe skepticism was in the American air. Other Americans shared Twain's doubts. Emerson, Whitman, Henry James, even Charlie Chaplin, have left a trail of disbelief that today stretches to Beaufort, South Carolina. For fifty years, author Charlton Ogburn, and his parents before him, have led the battle against William Shakespeare of Stratford.

Charlton Ogburn, Author: I think it's the shame of the English-speaking people, British and American, that they have taken these plays--incomparable in literature--of whom the German poet Heinrich Heine says, "Of course God comes first, but surely Shakespeare comes next." This man who is next to God as a creator, we've taken his work and we've vested it on this miserable unattractive Stratford man of who, nothing good was ever said except that he was a natural wit.

Narrator: The doubts are getting closer to Shakespeare's home. This is a rare visit to Stratford for former British cabinet minister Enoch Powell, whose study of Shakespeare's plays convinced him that the town was built on a lie.

Enoch Powell, Former British Cabinet Minister: At that time I had been a member of the cabinet and I'd been in politics for twenty years and I had some idea of what it's like in the kitchen. And my astonishment was to discover that these were the best works of somebody who'd been in the kitchen. They're written by someone who has lived the life, who has been part of a life of politics and power, who knows what people feel when they are near to the center of power, near to the heat of the kitchen. It's not something which can be transferred, it's not something on which an author, just an author, can be briefed: "Oh, this is how it happened"; it comes straight out of experience--straight out of personal observation--straight out of personal feeling, that's the difference which comes over you when you read Shakespeare detached from the Stratfordian fantasy.

Narrator: For Powell, the British politician, just as for Twain, the American riverboater, the Stratford man had failed the crucial test of experience. The real Shakespeare was at home in worlds they believed the glovemaker's son could not have known, and the Stratford fantasy had made a bard out of bumpkin, transforming a common duck into the "Swan of Avon."

But Stratford's guardians of tradition haven't allowed these doubts to alter the official story.

Stratford Guide: The early life of Shakespeare would certainly have been spent in Henley Street here. As you visit the birthplace, you'll find that it's really a very interesting...building.

Narrator: The birthplace is where the visitor picks up the first threads of Shakespeare's biography. But he hears few facts. There's no record, for instance, that Shakespeare was born in this house. Instead, the visitor hears what may have happened...and is given a choice of possibilities.

Guide: What does intrigue scholars is what he actually did for work. Some theories are that he may have become a schoolmaster. Other theories that he was in fact a lawyer's clerk, an actor, there are several possibilities. In fact, of these theories...

Narrator: The tour is so skillful, a visitor may not notice that nothing here can actually be traced to Shakespeare himself.

Guide: Sadly none of the furnishings in this room belong to the family, they have subsequently been brought into the house by the Shakespeare Trust to furnish it in a manner that the Shakespeare's probably would have had. And the founder always maintains that he was born in the room directly above us, in the main bedroom. This has become known as the birth room, and really...

Narrator: In England today, one of the most prominent authorities on Stratford's William Shakespeare is historian A.L. Rowse.

A.L. Rowse, Historian: Wait, it might really rather surprise you, but I'm so used to living in the Elizabethan age, having spent most of my life researching into it, that I feel rather at home.

Interviewer: Why do you suppose the doubts about William Shakespeare of Stratford being the true author have persisted all these years.

A. L. Rowse: Well, nearly all the rot that's spoken by people who don't really--should shut up. I had a letter only a month or two ago from some silly woman who wanted to know, didn't I think, Dr. Rowse, that William Shakespeare must have been a woman. And then shortly after I got another nonsense letter: didn't I think that Elizabeth I--Queen Elizabeth--must have been a man. Why don't they get on and the read the books that can really tell them what is absolutely straight--history.

Interviewer: You own books?

A.L. Rowse: My own books.

Actor: And then the whining schoolboy, with his


And shining morning face, creeping like a snail

Unwillingly to school.

Narrator: With those lines from "As You Like It" Shakespeare scholars like to flesh out their picture of the poet's school days. In this very classroom, we are told, young William and his classmates learned enough Latin and Greek, enough of the classical scholars, enough about the writing of prose and verse, all the skills necessary, to furnish the intellectual background for the great works to come.

Headmistress: Will you stand up?

We'll say together the Lord's Prayer.

All Together: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy

name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Narrator: It was early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; the Lord's Prayer had only freshly been translated into Protestant English; and Stratford's grammar school was nurturing its most famous pupil.

But there is a problem. There is absolutely no documentary evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford ever went to school at all.

Actor: Yes, from the table of my memory

I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,

All saws of books, all forms, all pressures


That youth and observation copies there...

Narrator: No books, no records, only supposition, a shadow of the glovemaker and alderman's son who may have gone to school here. One by one, all the fine stories of Shakespeare, from the young scamp arrested for deer poaching, to the lovesick youth courting Anne Hathaway...all turn out to be the inventive recollections of people who had never seen Shakespeare--who were born long after he died. What is there to be learned for sure about him? He was born in 1564. Was married at 18. Had three children. Died in 1616. What other hard facts are there?

Practically every document that's been found tracing Shakespeare's life after he left Stratford for London is here in London's public record office. A William Shakespeare owned some shares in London's Globe Theatre. Several documents show Shakespeare delinquent in his taxes. A tax collector couldn't find him. He's named in some minor lawsuits. The accuracy of this 1595 document, the first and only record of William Shakespeare ever being paid as an actor, has been disputed by scholars.

Eight years later, in 1603, King James authorized several actors, including Shakespeare, to start performing plays again after the plague had closed the theaters.

But by then he'd bought a house back in Stratford and was dealing in real estate and grain. No plays, no poems, nit a single letter in Shakespeare's own hand has ever been found. In fact, the only examples of his handwriting yet discovered--the only examples generally accepted--are six signatures, each one spelled differently. Three of the signatures are in his will, the most famous Shakespeare document of all, one of the most famous documents in existence, period. In it he divides his property down to a silver bowl and a sword, but he makes no mention of any books, manuscripts, plays, poems, or any shares in a London theater. He leaves his wife just one thing: his second-best bed. Written between the lines of the will is a bequeathal of some money for rings "to my fellows John Heminge, Richard Burbage and Henry Condell" who were actors. That's about it; after centuries of the most intensive literary treasure hunt of all time, these are the nuggets. The leavings of a man who seems to have been interested in little except money. Doubters look at this meager collection and see no trace of the creator of Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, Othello, and the sonnets. They see only a very ordinary man.

But in Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library, the high temple of American Shakespearean studies, Professor Sam Schoenbaum believes that the "very ordinary man" of the documentary evidence is no barrier to greatness.

Professor Sam Schoenbaum: Shakespeare, as people have noted, the author of these plays, was also a man among men. Genius is not an occupation that takes up every moment of ones day. The genius has to eat, he procreates children, occasionally he sleeps, he occasionally uses the bathroom, and so on. It's hard for us to accommodate ourselves to the dual, the multifarious nature of the person who is, as we all recognize, a genius.

Charlton Ogburn: The Stratfordians would argue that it's like, it's like spontaneous generation. They are like the Christian fundamentalists who believe that life was created bang like that, overnight all complete as it is, just the way the plays of Shakespeare were completed bang in his brain without any background at all. How could anybody have thought that a man who could barely sign his name was the greatest writer in the English language? Who nobody while he was alive ever-- to the best of our knowledge-- ever identified as a dramatist Shakespeare, a dramatist of any kind, or any kind of writer.

Narrator: But the name William Shakespeare was linked to the poems and plays during the man's lifetime. It was there on two poems, published in 1593. Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucre. The name William Shakespeare was on The Sonnets when they appeared in 1609. It was on some of the unofficial publications of the plays--the "Quartos."

But the name wasn't spelled the way the Stratford spelled his--Shakspeare, without an e after the k. And often it was hyphenated-- an indication, according to anti-
Stratfordians, that people knew it was a pseudonym. While he lived, the definite link with the Stratford man was missing, and when he died, in 1616, no one seemed to notice.

Until seven years later, 1623. Then the monument was erected in the church. And almost simultaneously, the "First Folio" appeared. This was the first publication of all Shakespeare's plays. Here was the missing link to the Stratford man. In this book, Ben Jonson, who was second only to Shakespeare as a dramatist, wrote a poem to Shakespeare, calling him "Sweet Swan of Avon." The name Stratford is also mentioned in the introduction.

And there was one more definite link to Stratford in the First Folio. Its editors were listed as John Heminge and Henry Condell. Those are the same two actors the Stratford man had mentioned in his will.

Enoch Powell: Heminge and Condell-- his friends and colleagues during his lifetime who were able to perform this service for him after his death. Well we have Shakespeare's will. And in his will, as it happens, he remembered Heminge and Condell, but unfortunately, and that is one of the accidents which keep happening to William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon, the references to Heminge and Condell in the will are interlineations by another hand. Isn't that an unfortunate accident, that the link between the actors, who are the editors, or purport to be the editors, of this mass of new material never released before, have apparently been introduced into his will. By the way, having mentioned Shakespeare's will, that is a will in which this great spirit, this man is a man of immense learning and vision, not only bequeathed no books, that can be perhaps explained away. But he bequeathed not even the most valuable thing which he had to bequeath-- the remaining manuscripts of his plays, which would eventually be published seven years after his death. Trouble is there's a puzzle with which one is confronted-- it doesn't run right-- nothing's right.

A.L. Rowse: Enoch began as a classical scholar and I think he would do better really to confine himself to what he knows about. There's no problem whatever about the First Folio except that it was a tremendous big undertaking which in itself shows you how much Heminge and Condell and all the other people in the company really valued their chief dramatist- the best know, the most popular dramatist of the age. People really rushed to buy quartos of the plays that they could get a hold of, but the remaining plays of course were in the archives of the company. There's no problem about that at all, and I think we might really allow poor Mr. Powell really to retire upon politics, but there too, I gather, he's lost his seat. Don't want to bother about is opinions whatsoever-- doesn't qualify to have an opinion about it.

Narrator: But nothing about Shakespeare is that simple. No one even knows for sure what he looked like. This portrait hung in a place of honor in Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library until a close examination showed that it was the portrait of another man who'd been partly painted over. This portrait was owned by King William the Fourth and was once called "Shakespeare." It has now been retitled "Portrait of an Unknown Man." One by one, the portraits of Shakespeare have proved to be as fanciful as the anecdotes about his life. Art experts now doubt that he posed for a single one of them.

Interviewer: What do you make of the frontispiece-- the engraving-- the first picture of Shakespeare?

Enoch Powell: If you have to have a face, and everybody has a face, there is a face, ant that is a face of the same design as the face of the monument, the Stratford monument to which this book for the first time refers. The first connection between these plays and Stratford-on-Avon, and how convenient that there was a Stratford monument. Somebody fixed it, and to me in its wording, in its aspect, in everything about it that is a fix. It is a fix which was arranged to go with the First Folio. The one spoof goes with the other spoof, and it's all part of the spoof of William Shakespeare. Shocking isn't it, it's an absolute shocker. Somebody no doubt took it into the workshop and said, "Here, this is what it's to look like," it absolutely stinks.

Interviewer: ________ would write the sonnets?

Enoch Powell: I don't think it's the face of a man at all. I think it's the face of "Anonymous." Of somebody who isn't a man. Of a mask, somebody invented where there has to be somebody to conceal an identity. I can't put up with it.

Actor: When remedies are past, the griefs are ended

By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.

To mourn a mischief that is past and gone

Is the next way to draw new mischief on.

Charlton Ogburn: What I hope will happen is that the true author will be recognized. It is the greatest detective story there ever was, it's the greatest story in literature in my mind, and you cant' help getting absorbed in it and excited about it, and, furthermore, you can't help feeling it's important-- you want the man who conferred the greatest glory on English letters to get his recognition. It's a matter of simple justice.

Narrator: Just after World War One, an English schoolmaster named J. Thomas Looney set out to find the real William Shakespeare by constructing an exact profile of his man, the way a detective might.

There had been many candidates in the past--Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, even Queen Elizabeth. But Looney was looking for someone e new-- a man of superb education and recognized genius, a man close to the royal court, and a man who had written under his own name before becoming Shakespeare. The search lasted several years.

He came across this little volume of poetry here in the British Library and in it he found some poems which seemed remarkably similar to the works of Shakespeare.

Actor: Fram'd in the front of forlorn hope past all recovery,

I stayless stand, to abide the shock of shame and infamy.

My life, through ling'ring long, is lodged in lair of loathsome ways;

My death delay'd to keep from life the harm of hapless days.

My sprites, my heart, my wit and force, in deep distress are drowned;

The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground.

Narrator: The poems were by Edward de Vere, the seventeenth
Earl of Oxford. At first it seemed that he had written only a few youthful poems, then stopped writing. And yet literary critics of the period called de Vere one of the greatest Elizabethan poets and "the best for comedy." If he did write comedies and great poems, what happened to them? One of Looney's disciples came across a possible answer in another old book.

This one, "The Art of English Poesy," written in 1589, thirteen years after de Vere supposedly put down his pen. It says: "I know very many notable gentleman in the court that have written commendably and suppressed it again... or else suffered it to be published without their own names to it." For Looney's disciples, this was a vital clue. Here they saw a nobleman who couldn't admit he was also a playwright, whose station in life meant that someone else would get the credit for the fines plays and poems in the language.

Actor: Or I shall live your epitaph to make,

Or you survive when I in earth am rotten.

From hence your memory death cannot take,

Although in me each part will be forgotten.

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

Though I once gone, to all the world die.

The earth can yield me but a common grave

When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.

Your monument shall be my gently verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o'erread;

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse

When all the breathers of this world are dead.

You still shall live--such virtue hat my pen--

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Narrator: At Headingham Castle, northeast of London, the Earls of Oxford-- the de Veres-- had been "celebrated in the mouths of men" for over four hundred years. An Earl of Oxford had a signed Magna Carta. They had fought with Richard the Lionheart, with Henry V and Henry VI. Oxfords fought on the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses. It was into this famous old family of warriors and powerbrokers that Edward de Vere was born in 1550. He took on his father's easy familiarity with hunting, riding, and falconry-- aristocratic pastimes which furnish so much of the imagery of the plays and poems. In 1561, when he was eleven, he watched as Queen Elizabeth was entertained in this great hall by his father's own group of players. And a year later, when his father died, the twelve-year-old earl, now a ward of the court, took another step toward the center of the Elizabethan stage.

His new guardian was William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England. It was the beginning of a tense and difficult relationship that some believe provides the key to the Shakespeare mystery.

This is where the Elizabethan age began, in Hatfield, on the outskirts of London. It was here that Elizabeth first received the news that she has become Queen of England. In the years to come she would become Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, a goddess presiding over a golden age. And always behind the throne there was her chief minister, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who had now taken Edward de Vere into his care.

These are the diaries of Lord Burghley and some of the letters he received. Quite a few of them written by his ward Edward de Vere. Letters so well preserved they might have arrived today's mail. Neat confident handwriting. These diaries and letter give us glimpses into the life of Edward de Vere. They reveal a passionate, headstrong, thrill-seeking young man, a playboy, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. But a man who despite his noble upbringing hangs around with all sorts of strange characters, and a man who is constantly in trouble. For example: Burghley's diary for July 1567 says: about this time (when de Vere was just 17) an undercook was hurt by the Earl of Oxford (de Vere) whereof he died (the cook died). Burghley goes on to say that the cook ran onto de Vere's sword and it was the cook's fault. But Burghley hints that the death was se defendedo: self-defense

Actor: Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

Narrator: Many Shakespeare scholars believe that Lord Burghley was the model for the devious character Polonius in Hamlet, whose most famous speech is his list of rules for a successful life.

Actor: Beware

Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thine....

Narrator: Like Polonius, Lord Burghley had composed his own list of rules for a prudent life-- for his family's use. This was before Hamlet was written. Oxfordians argue that only someone in Burghley's household, like de Vere, could have seen the rules and used them as satire on stage. This was one of Burghley's rules: "He that payeth another man's debt seeketh his own decay."

Actor: Neither a borrower nor a lender be,

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulleths th' edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Narrator: Oxfordians believe that Lord Burghley provided de Vere with exactly the environment and education the author of the plays must have had. De Vere's tutor was England's greatest Latin scholar. He received degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge and then studied law. He became a favorite at court and even married Lord Burghley's daughter. This picture of Parliament shows Queen Elizabeth on her throne, Burghley at her right hand and de Vere holding the wand of office of the Lord Great Chamberlain. Oxfordians also say Shakespeare was a natural pen name for de Vere. The point to the fact that he was once saluted at court with the toast: "Thy countenance shakes a spear." And to de Vere's coat of arms.

Toastmaster: Ladies and gentlemen the toast it is: the memory of Edward de Vere.

Everyone: Edward de Vere-- here, here.

Narrator: The De Vere Society charity ball. From both sides of the Alantic the colorful champions of de Vere have converged on London to support the cause. Their leader is a twenty-three-year-old descendant of the Oxford line:
Charles Vere, the Earl of Buford, and despite appearances, the business of the evening is a literary revolution.

Charles Vere, Earl of Buford: It's very easy to say Shakespeare is Shakespeare and that's the last of anyone who says otherwise, but the issue is a lot more complicated. I would like to say something of the Earl of Oxford. He was a great and maverick intelligence, he was a law unto himself. Yes, he fell on hard times, but he was a cousin of the Queen and he also had a claim to the throne after her. He believed that he would become Edward VII-- he signed his signature with seven little dashes underneath which he dropped once James I came to the throne.

A.L. Rowse: Of course to some extent these ignorant people are really motivated a bit by snobbery. You see they think that only an earl or a duke could really write plays like that. When you and I know what rot that is, it's always the clever grammar-school boys who write the plays, you know like Christopher Marlowe, or Ben Jonson or Nash or Robert Greene or any of them. The plays are never written by an earl.

Charles Vere: When looking for who Shakespeare was you're already dealing with a very small section of society. And there's inevitably noblemen who were-- had the best tutors of the day-- who were well educated and so on. And the Earl of Oxford has all the academic, intellectual qualifications for being Shakespeare.

Interviewer: If it was de Vere-- if it was Edward de Vere, why wouldn't he have owned up to it?

Charles Vere: Peoople don't seem to understand that if the Earl of Oxford died knowing that he would be recognized as Shakespeare in his time, he would have considered that a slur on his name and he would have known that his family would have been dishonored.

Narrator: Oxfordians believe that although their man couldn't acknowledge that he was the author, he left clues throughout the works. More than a hundred of the sonnets are written to the Earl of Southampton. Stratfordians say Southampton was Shakespeare's patron. But de Vere had a more definite tie. Southampton was also a ward of Lord Burghley and at a one point almost married de Vere's daughter. Sonnet 125-- "Were't aught to me I bore the canopy." To Oxfordians the line makes sense, because de Vere did bear a golden canopy over Queen Elizabeth during celebration of the victory over the Spanish Armada.

Several sonnets speak of old age and imminent death. De Vere was nearing death at the time the sonnets were written. Shakespeare was still in his thirties. Sonnet 76-- "Every word doth almost tell my name." A possible pun on the name E. Vere? For centuries biographers have used the sonnets to light the dim past of the Stratford man. Now they're being used by Oxfordians to reveal an entirely different person.

A.L. Rowse: The Earl of Oxford was quite talented, he knew Italian, been to Italy. And he wrote just a few poems, he never wrote a single play, and he really became a most frightful lightweight. He was married to the daughter of the Great Lord Treasurer, whom he treated awfully badly. Because in point of fact he was a roaring homo, as Marlowe was and as Bacon was. I mean it was perfectly obvious William Shakespeare's plays are full of passionate appreciation and feeling for women. Where the Earl of Oxford had none, neither had Christopher Marlowe-- Christopher Marlowe was only interested in the boys and Francis Bacon had no interest-- he was also another homo. And William
Shakespeare you might say was almost abnormally heterosexual-- he was only interested in the girls. That's quite obvious from all his plays and all that we know about his life.

Interviewer: But the sonnets themselves you think were addressed to the Earl of Southampton even though they appear to be-- some of them-- love poems.

A.L. Rowse: Yes of course. But very clearly a platonic love you see. William Shakespeare makes it perfectly clear that he wasn't interested in Southampton sexually at all. Southampton was rather beautiful and rather effeminate young man, we know a great deal about him. And William Shakespeare says in the sonnet: "And for a woman we'rt thou first created till nature as she wrought thee fell adoting and added one thing to my purpose nothing, and since she pricked thee out to women's pleasure mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure." They can have you sexually, I'm not interested in that. He was interested in the young man's nature-- he had a golden nature, his real passion and infatuation was for the Dark Lady.

Narrator: The "Dark Lady" is the subject of Shakespeare's most anguished sonnets. Her identity has always been a mystery. But there was a dark lady in Oxford's life, too. Her name was Ann Vavasor. She was seventeen when she came to court, at the time when de Vere was estranged from his wife. When Ann bore his child, de Vere found himself jailed in the Tower of London.

Was this raw material for the bitter sonnet 147?

Actor: My love is as a fever, longing still

For that which longer nurseth the disease,

Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,

Th' uncertain sickly appetite to please..

Past cure I am, now reason is past care,

And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;

My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,

At random from the truth vainly expressed:

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,

Who are as black as hell, as dark as night.

Narrator: Lord Burghley had put up with his son-in-law's indiscretions. But Oxfordians believe he could not allow the public to learn that plays full of political intrigue and satire were being written by one of the family. So, according to this theory, in 1598 Burghley and Queen Elizabeth compelled de Vere to hide behind the pseudonym he had used earlier for two poems-- and that somehow this conspiracy of silence has lasted four hundred years.

Sam Schoenbaum: I suppose that if one if drawn to conspiracy theories one will come up with a conspiracy and find that answers certain issues and so on. I'm not myself given to conspiratorial thinking. I don't find any grassy knoll in Shakespeare. But I think in a way it's an attempt to come to terms with the essential incomprehensibility of genius. How could anyone have written theses plays? Genius has its mystery-- it's that it's incomprehensible. People-- many of them will do the best they can to come up with some sort of answer.

Charlton Ogburn: I think Hamlet was Oxford and I don't see how anybody who knows anything about literary creativity can fail to say that the author, whoever he was, has given his picture as Hamlet. This is written from the inside-- things happen in Hamlet not according to a preconceived plot, but as they do in life. And I think Hamlet's death was very much what Oxford had in mind for himself as he drew towards the end.

Actor: Horatio, I am dead,

Thou live'st, Report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied....

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,

Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity a while,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story.

Charlton Ogburn: I think that Oxford wanted his cousin Horace or Horatio to explain what was his situation in life, to explain that he wasn't the wastrel that he appeared on the surface-- the spendthrift-- the betrayer of his wife-- he wasn't' all the things that he's gone down as being which were marginal with him. He wants Horatio to explain what he really was.

Man: Your name from hence immortal life shall have, though I once gone to all the world must die.

Charlton Ogburn: I know what it cost him to write these plays. I know what if cost him to have to give up any hope of being acknowledged as the writer. God, you read the sonnets, you see it: "For I once drawn to all the world must die." That's a tragic cry for a man. He saw himself as Lear--I'm sure, not that his kingdom was lost, not that his kingdom was made over to his daughters--his literal kingdom, but that kingdom in which he lived--his works were being alienated from him. He felt as Lear did and for the first time in his life I think Oxford, this really quite hearty peer in some ways, was brought to feel the humanity--the common humanity with mankind that King Lear was brought to feel. And, yes, I would like very much to see this man get the credit that's his due as a person, I do feel it, his presence as a person, yes. I think he had a hell of a raw deal.

Interviewer: Are there any particular lines in the poems or plays that you always look at in order to call this feeling of loss and sadness most clearly to mind?

Charlton Ogburn: Well, I suppose the lines that do--that make me realize that he had looked on--he had felt an utter despair, that he knew utter despair as probably no other human being who wrote as eloquently has ever felt and those are the lines that Macbeth uttered when the news was brought to him of the queen's death. I don't think you need having them recited, you know what they are, but they do, they do affect me terribly when I hear them.

Interviewer: Can you try to tell me what they are?

Charlton Ogburn: I'll try to tell you what they are if my emotions don't get the better of me. Please remember I've been awfully sick, but the lines are:

"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and to-morrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time..."

Actor: And all our yesterday's have lighted fools

the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury...

Charlton Ogburn: signifying nothing. Yes, I feel that very strongly. Excuse me. But I know how the man felt who wrote that. We all know how he felt--black, utter despair that's never been so eloquently expressed before and probably never will again. I'd like to turn to other things he wrote. I don't like to dwell on it too much. But I can imagine how he felt--as Hamlet felt as he was dying, pleading to his cousin to put his cause aright to the unsatisfied. I'd like to help do that.

Narrator: The Earl of Oxford died of the plague in 1604. Stratfordians say that means he could not have been the author, because at least one of the plays was written years later. De Vere was buried here at Hackney Cemetery in North London. But his tomb has disappeared.

Actor: The earth can yield me but a common grave

When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o'erread;

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse

When all the...

Narrator: Oxfordians remain convinced that all the plays had been written by the time de Vere died...and members of his family were sure his body was moved down from Hackney and reburied.

Interviewer: Id this the de Vere tomb?

Charles Vere: That's right--this is the tomb of Francis Vere who was the Earl of Oxford's first cousin, together with Horace Horatio. And he died fighting in the Netherlands and was brought back to England and buried here with great ceremony.

Interviewer: There's an inscription in the slab next to the monument which says: Stone Coffin Underneath--do you know--what do you make of that?

Charles Vere: Well, I think--my hunch is that it may well be that the 17th Earl of Oxford was reburied there, was moved from Hackney Church and buried here. It would be unthinkable for the Earl of Oxford--a) to have no tomb just because of the sort of person he was, his station, 17th Earl of Oxford, that says it all, Lord Great Chamberlain of England; and of course if he was Shakespeare, if he gave the world that incredible achievement, then it would only be fitting that he should lie here in Westminster Abbey. I think that what one feels above all is a rather eerie sense of something mysterious or even untoward here. So I think one gets very much a sense of history in the present--of you and I taking part in it as much as back in the 17th century when this was erected. Our part is just as significant and I think it was probably intended to be. This resolution was left with future generations.

Charlton Ogburn: Here we have these greatest works --literary works of man. Why had they vanished and their disappearance down to the last line of manuscript is an enormous mystery--an enormous mystery.

Narrator: This February, technology--gamma ray photography--joined the search for Shakespeare's secrets.

Charlton Ogburn: The monument in the church in Stratford is the most peculiar monument that I've ever seen. Why does it say: "Readeth thou canst?" And if he can't read how is he going to read this injunction? Whom envious death has placed within this monument Shakespeare--Shakspeare, actually.

Obviously death--nor anybody else--has placed anybody in the monument because it's too small. To me it can only be explained as saying that death has placed Shakespeare--meaning Shakespeare's works--within this monument. No, I don't know whether the manuscripts are in the monument--God knows I have no way of knowing. All I say is that if someone else has an explanation of what this inscription means let him come forward and say so. Nobody else ever has; all they say is, it's just poetry.

I felt that it was worth anything to look into this monument--if there's only one chance in ten, one chance in fifty, to see if the manuscripts are there, I'd like to see the monument explored.

Man: Nothing.

Actor: If you can look into the seeds of time,

And say which grain will grow, and which will not,

Speak then to me...

Actor: Touching this vision here,

It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you...

There are more things in heaven and earth,


Than are dreamt of.

...what a wounded name,

Things standing thus unknown, shall live

behind me!

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity a while,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story.


Kevin Sim

Al Austin
Kevin Sim

Al Austin

Nick Rosen

Frank Pocklington

Andrew Hartley

Lee Corbett
Graham Robinson

Barry Reynolds

Steve Haynes

Christine Sharman
Sally Whittman


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