William Shakespeare's Real Name: Edward De Vere?

An Interview with Matthew Cossolotto About The Case for Edward De Vere

Edward De Vere
Edward De Vere. Public Domain

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, has emerged as the strongest candidate from the Shakespeare authorship debate. Could William Shakespeare's Real Name be Edward De Vere?

In the second part of our interview with Matthew Cossolotto, Shakespeare Oxford Society president (2005-2009), we discuss why Edward De Vere would have needed a pseudonym.

About.com: Why did Edward De Vere need to write under a pseudonym? Why not simply use his real name?

Matthew Cossolotto: There were undoubtedly a host of reasons Edward de Vere did not publish his works under his real name. One likely reason is that he may well have been prevented from doing so by the powers that be at Court. In Sonnet 66, Shakespeare complained of “art made tongue-tie by authority.” That’s one theory.

De Vere may well have chosen to remain anonymous and employ a pseudonym because it gave him greater creative freedom and the ability to speak truth to power. If de Vere was revealing embarrassing or even scandalous facts about powerful figures at Court (Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burghley, the Earl of Leicester among others) he may well have concluded that discretion was the better part of valor and not put his name on his works.

About.com: So potentially, it would have been dangerous for de Vere to put his name to the plays and poems we now attribute to William Shakespeare?

Matthew Cossolotto: Yes.

Sometimes I think of de Vere as the “deep throat” of Elizabeth’s Court. Remember, there was no such thing a freedom of the press in those days. If de Vere’s writings could be construed as critical of the government or specific individuals, especially the Queen, he would not have lasted very long.

In addition, there was something of a social taboo that tended to discourage high-ranking noblemen – Edward de Vere was the 17th Earl of Oxford after all – from publishing works of drama and poetry under their own names.

My feeling is that this was not a hard-and-fast sort of thing. I wouldn’t argue that this so-called “stigma of print” was the only reason the Earl of Oxford opted against publishing under his own name. I’d say it’s one of the factors that should be taken into account.

About.com: Is there not conclusive evidence to connect William of Stratford to Shakespeare’s plays?

Matthew Cossolotto: No – and I’d like to point out that the case for William of Stratford has not been conclusively proved. It’s based on conjecture, supposition, and creative thinking buttressed by centuries of calcified tradition. But scholars have not found a single letter written by him to anybody. Not one scrap of a play manuscript or even a sonnet has been discovered in Shakespeare’s handwriting. When Stratford's Shakespeare died in 1616, literary London doesn’t seem to have noticed. So the case for the Stratfordian theory is far from settled. I believe there is room for doubt.

About.com: Do you believe that the case for De Vere can ever be conclusively proved?

Matthew Cossolotto: Yes, I think that the case for Edward de Vere will one day be conclusively established.

But for that to happen there will need to be a good deal more money dedicated to research focused on de Vere and less money squandered in the unproductive effort to rehash the same tired evidence for the Stratford candidate.

Vast armies of Stratfordian researchers have been digging for centuries and they’ve come up with very little. In contrast, a relative handful of poorly funded, intrepid researchers have developed an impressive circumstantial case for the Oxford theory.

I hope others will come at this topic with an open mind. The Shakespeare authorship mystery is one of the greatest literary mysteries of all time – this is Shakespeare, after all. So the stakes are pretty high. We should make every effort to get this right – to make sure that we’re honoring the true Bard.

Matthew Cossolotto was president of the Shakespeare Oxford Society between 2005-2009.

In the first part of this interview, Cossolotto discusses the relationship between William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere.

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Jamieson, Lee. "William Shakespeare's Real Name: Edward De Vere?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 26, 2015, thoughtco.com/shakespeares-real-name-edward-de-vere-2984990. Jamieson, Lee. (2015, October 26). William Shakespeare's Real Name: Edward De Vere? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/shakespeares-real-name-edward-de-vere-2984990 Jamieson, Lee. "William Shakespeare's Real Name: Edward De Vere?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/shakespeares-real-name-edward-de-vere-2984990 (accessed December 12, 2017).