De Vere in the Plays
The plays of Edward de Vere were the 36 published in the First Folio in 1623. By 1623, de Vere had been dead for nineteen years. The First Folio was sponsored by the husband and brother-in-law of one of de Vere's daughters. De Vere's family would likely have had possession of de Vere's original papers. While other "Shakespeare" plays were published in subsequent Folio editions, these were probably included by publishers of these editions to enhance sales, and may not have been written by Shakespeare.
There is an ongoing debate whether the works attributed to Shakespeare were written by one person. Because there are different writing styles in the plays, it is often suggested that they were the product of a "committee". It is reasonable to assume that de Vere was responsible for the production of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, but may not have been the sole writer. De Vere probably did not complete all the plays he was working on at the time of his death. His family would likely have ended up with his incomplete plays. Others, including the Earl of Derby - de Vere's son-in-law - may have finished up these incomplete plays, so they could be published. In addition, de Vere employed several poets and playwrights, particularly during the 1580s when he still had some money beyond the retainer from Queen Elizabeth to produce "propaganda" plays. These included Anthony Munday and John Lyly. It is likely that employees wrote at least parts of some plays under de Vere's direction.
If one assumes that Edward de Vere was responsible for the plays attributed to Shakespeare in the First Folio, and one examines these, several interesting things happen:
- There are so many instances where the works of Shakespeare reflect the known history of Edward de Vere, that there is an overwhelming circumstantial case that de Vere was responsible for the works attributed to Shakespeare
- The techniques used by de Vere to write the plays become evident. They include:
- Using his friends, relatives, enemies and acquaintances as character models. No wonder the characterization is so real.
- Writing plays in some instances to explore personal experiences in his own life. No wonder the plays contain such passion.
- Using his formidable powers of observation at court and elsewhere to create stories in exquisite detail.
- The reasons why many of the plays were written in the way they were written becomes clear. For example, the history plays were propaganda plays to promote the English nation in support of Queen Elizabeth, and were undoubtedly written to justify de Vere's annual income of £1,000 from Queen Elizabeth. Other plays were written to skewer enemies, or to explain himself and his life.
- By combining the personality revealed through the plays with the known history of Edward de Vere, one gets a fuller understanding of the man behind the greatest works in the English language. The picture is one of a very human individual, with tremendous strengths, big weaknesses, a checkered life with ups and downs, huge errors in judgment, impetuous and arrogant in youth but gaining maturity over time. De Vere was a man of great wit and intelligence who was smarter than everyone else and knew it, but he lacked the ability to translate these attributes into power and influence, perhaps in part because he did not have the patience to work with others less talented than himself to develop a power base. As a result, he was not taken seriously among his fellow peers and other key figures in Elizabeth's court. In response, he resorted to writing, using his plays to exert a secondary type of influence.
To see the relationship between Edward de Vere within the various plays of Shakespeare (as printed in the First Folio), check out the links below.