Oxford and the Armada: The REAL Story


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The Question

The Spring 1996 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter includes a quotation (p. 3) from the British actor Michael York pondering Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech: "'Afterall (sic),' he added, 'it's the most famous speech in western literature. But what does it mean?'"

York said that, as an Oxfordian, such questions take on a whole new meaning for him. Having a real author in mind, with "real life" events to illuminate the text, meant that he could think of Hamlet/Oxford as a man who did literally "take arms against a sea of troubles" when he took to sea against the Armada in 1588. Actors always appreciate such insights, and he, as an actor, appreciated the extra meaning that such a line now yielded.

The idea that Oxford saw action against the Armada may be traced to such biographers as Ward, who takes a contemporary ballad at face value (p. 291, note 1):

The graphic description of the Earl "standing on the hatches" with the Boar on his helmet "foaming for inward ire" conveys the impression that the ballad was written by someone who actually saw Oxford standing in full armour on the deck of his ship.

Is it, however, a fact that Oxford "did literally" take to sea against the Armada in 1588?

The Answer

It is literally a fact that Oxford did not take to sea (or to land) against the Armada. Instead, he behaved with such pique that for the next sixteen years he did not receive a single new vote from any fellow nobleman for the Order of the Garter.

The facts, as opposed to Oxfordian fictions, are these:

For questions concerning these pages please contact Alan H. Nelson at ahnelson@socrates.berkeley.edu