Shakespeare--Who Was He? The Oxford Challenge to the Bard of Avon

By Richard F. Whalen | Go to book overview
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Chapter Seven
Oxford's Literary Life

Three days after his father's funeral, twelve-year-old Edward de Vere rode into London, where he was to be a ward of the Crown until he turned twenty-one. The boy arrived from his ancestral home north of London late in the afternoon at the head of an entourage of 140 men on horseback, all in mourning black. He was now the earl of Oxford, the seventeenth in the line of earls, a title he inherited from his father along with the title of lord great chamberlain in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. 1

His destination was the mansion of William Cecil, a commoner but Queen Elizabeth's master of the court of wards as well as her most influential adviser. Cecil House in the Strand, not far from Charing Cross, became Oxford's new home, where he continued to study with tutors while growing up with Cecil's children.

Cecil's daughter, Anne, was six years old when the new earl of Oxford joined the household. Nine years later they were married. Several months before the wedding, the queen elevated Cecil to the peerage as Lord Burghley. If Lord Burghley is caricatured as Polonius in Hamlet--as has long been held by traditional scholarship--then his daughter, Anne, becomes Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius in the play, and Oxford becomes Hamlet.

-71-

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