Friday, February 21, 2014

Corrigendum: The case of "Oxford's Greek New Testament"

On the Facebook forum ShakesVere, researcher, author and blogger Marie Merkel recently questioned a piece of evidence in the Oxfordian docket. The item -- a Greek New Testament (it is surmised) that Edward de Vere gave to his wife Anne -- is mentioned in Appendix A of "Shakespeare" by Another Name

In reviewing this material, I'm persuaded that, yes, there's more supposition than fact here. As will be described below, I think the matter still merits an endnote. But only as a hypothesis, and one that also should be flagged as such. 

As Oxford's first biographer, B.M. Ward first pointed out, there's a record in the calendar of manuscripts at Hatfield House (XIII, 362) of a copy of a New Testament which is no longer extant. But the manuscript calendar does transcribe a Latin inscription from the book's flyleaf. Nina Green's excellent Oxford-Shakespeare website has the full Latin transcript with an English translation here.  

The Latin poem from the New Testament's flyleaf contains homophonic, though not etymological, puns on Vere and the Latin veritas (truth). Here's part of it:
"[S]ince thou, a Vere, art wife and mother of a Vere daughter, and seeing that thou mayest with good hope look forward to being mother of an heir of the Veres, may thy mind always glow with love of the truth, and may thy true motto be Ever Lover of the Truth. And that thou mayest the better attain to this, pray to the Author of all Truth that His Word may teach thee; that His Spirit may nourish thy inner life, so that, thus alleviating the absent longings of thy dear husband, thou, a Vere, mayest be called the true glory of thy husband. ... To the illustrious Lady Anne Vere, Countess of Oxford, while her noble husband, Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, was travelling in foreign parts."
Not exactly Virgil. Still, despite its anonymous nature, the context of the poem does suggest Oxford's hand, especially as it might offer an interesting glimpse into an insecure, doting zealotry in Oxford's intense scrutiny over Anne's pregnancy.

Remember, too, Oxford had publicly stated before leaving for Italy that if his wife became pregnant soon after he'd departed for Italy, he was not the father. The fact that he anticipated her becoming pregnant and had already prepared an alibi suggests some goings-on behind the scene that history has not yet become privy to.  So the poem's overstated emphasis on Vere & "truth" is certainly consistent with a cognitive dissonance probably roiling his brain over Anne's pregnancy and his claimed non-participation therein. 

In any event, as Merkel fairly points out, the transcript in the Hatfield House manuscript calendar does not state who the author of this poem was. It's consistent with Oxford, but not proved. 

And the possibility that the New Testament book in question was a Greek New Testament is only just that. Yes, Greek New Testaments were popular at that time. But the document doesn't say which language the New Testament was in. 

SBAN, Appendix A "Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible and Shake-speare," contains the following sentence: "De Vere also bought and shipped home a Greek edition of the New Testament during his tour of Italy in 1575-76." (p. 382) 

That sentence is incorrect, or at best is overstated as fact when it's only supposition. The paragraph it is in is about evidence that Oxford knew and referred to other editions of the Bible in other languages than English. The other evidence, a punning reference to an Italian translation of Acts 9:5 found in one of Oxford's letters, still stands. So the point still stands. Thus I don't think the world would miss that sentence if it were deleted entirely. Future editions of SBAN will do just that. 

I do plan to insert an endnote about the New Testament flyleaf poem, though. Because I think it's still an interesting possibility, given the biographical context behind the poem. But at the moment, the material at hand only warrants an endnote. 

Postscript: To be clear, at present SBAN does not anywhere mention the flyleaf poem. But in deleting the Appendix A sentence above, I'm now more drawn to the poem -- at least in the context of a speculative endnote -- as a possible psychological insight into the supremely jealous mind of an overseas Englishman as he wandered Italy and France.

Post-postscript: A previous draft stated that Vere is cognate with veritas, which is of course inaccurate. The proper term for the poem's Vere-veritas puns is that they are in fact homophonic, not etymological.

(cc) image by B. Vasiliy


Marie Merkel said...
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Marie Merkel said...

Thank you, Mark, for this gracious acknowledgement. When I saw that even Nina Green hadn't found any proof of a Greek New Testament, I figured - not without some regret- that Ward must have let his imagination get away from him.

As you revisit the theory that Oxford wrote the "Words of truth" lines to the new mother Anne, may I suggest that you also consider Mildred Cecil as the versifier?

In "Early Modern Women's Manuscript Writing", there's a full chapter on Lady Burleigh, giving insights into her circle of friends and political connections, and how they used "epitaphs and occasional poems in various languages to or about members of the family, which suggest a strong sense of dynastic loyalty."

That sounds to me a lot like what we have in those ten Latin lines - a devout Puritan mother voicing her strong pride in the illustrious marriage of her daughter, a longing for the Cecil-Vere dynasty's future heir, sententious moralizing and redundant punning on "Vere" and "veritas".

Linda Theil said...

I will be perhaps foolishly bold in saying the words that strike me so forcefully when I read this call and response: Stratfordian Shakespeare scholars could never have this conversation.