Appendix I

An Exchange Between WJ Ray and Alan H. Nelson
Regarding Monstrous Adversary

 

NOTE: Alan H. Nelson's "Monstrous Adversary" had been anticipated for years as the definitive biography of Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford. However when it was published, little or no letters of De Vere's which contained familiar Shakespearean language saw printer's ink. An exception was the passage referred to in the e-mail exchange recorded here. This single inclusion, I could not understand until I read the acknowledgments, which gave thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library for financial assistance to complete the book. I had to consider that support confirmation of Nelson's bias and stubborn orthodoxy, given the result.

Not the king's crown nor the deputed sword
The marshall's truncheon nor the judge's robe
Becomes them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does

Isabella, Measure For Measure

LETTER I:

Sir:

I found it amazing to have read a 500-page book about De Vere which so consistently denies, by omission, the possibility of his concealed identity under the name Shakespeare. Denial which is so formidable as a psychological defense rarely manifests as the essential character of a scholarly book.

However, I owe to you the personal discovery that De Vere's letter, on p.420, (paperback), contains a remarkable sentence on the theme of justice:

"Nothing adorns a king more than justice
nor in anything does a king more resemble God than in justice,
which is the head of all virtue,
and he that is endowed therewith has all the rest."

I knew I had seen that formulation before:

The quality of mercy is not strained
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest.
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest, it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
It is an attribute to God himself
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

This correspondence could have provided you motivation for examining the De Vere-Shakespearean connection, were the spirit of inquiry alive and alert to it. The Hebrew word for justice (Tsedek) simultaneously includes the element of mercy, (Chesed). Apparently De Vere studied kingship and justice from Old Testament teachings.

Regardless, you did me a service. I never would have seen that letter except for encountering your "Monstrous Adversary". I checked for the same letter in Fowler's compendium (Shakespeare Revealed In Oxford's Letters); find it there on p. 771. It'll make an Oxford scholar of you maybe.

Best wishes,

William Ray
Willits California

REPLY 1:

No two comments could be more opposed. The letter says that the virtue best suited to a monarch is justice; the play says that the virtue best suited to a monarch is mercy.

Justice and mercy were considered by de Vere's age (as by many ages) to be opposites. I far prefer Shakespeare's formulation to Oxford's.

Alan H. Nelson


LETTER 2:

Sir:

Thank you for your prompt reply. I do not see your implacable opposition of justice and mercy as represented by the one quotation versus the other, since to my ear they both were speaking of the same virtue(s), one subsumed in the other in the fuller discussion, and with virtually the same cadence and language.

My reading focuses particularly upon "nor in anything does a king more resemble God than in justice". Compare, "It is an attribute to God himself and earthly [i.e., kingly?] power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice." The only real difference is between "resembles" versus "show likest".


It wasn't De Vere's purpose writing to Robert Cecil, Lord Burghley in 1603 importuning a petition of Jame I to humiliate himself and ask for mercy, through making the full argument (in 'Merchant of Venice') about the content of Godly justice–in the Old Testament as well as Portia's speech, a blend of mercy and justice. Do you not see that resemblance, side by side? Does there have to be complete duplication to indicate related style, expression, thought, and conviction?

The embellishing but also similar language, "Nothing adorns a king more than justice" paralleling "It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown" adds yet more to the impression of similar style, expression, thought, and conviction between the two passages.

Putting all this parallelism together but then combatting it with the defensive flout, "Well, he didn't SAY mercy did he?" strikes me as determined to not see plain stylistic similarity even amidst De Vere's expedient use of a former more profound discussion of justice. By my reckoning, he was too proud to employ his fuller discussion which emphasized mercy as a necessary aspect of the virtue. Besides which, in 1603 he was talking about property, not life and death. He would not beg for mercy when mercy had nothing to do with it. Judicious fairness would do fine.

Enjoyed going through the book,

William Ray


REPLY 2:

Justice and Mercy are considered theological and ideological opposites. If you don't understand that, you can't follow the ideas which lie behind Portia's speech in MofV [Merchant of Venice].

Alan Nelson


LETTER 3:

This must be where we part company. Much do I not understand. But I know what Tsedek means: that justice includes mercy, i.e., humanity. De Vere made that concept explicit in English with the Portia speech. He repeated the concept, in an attenuated form, in his letter to Cecil, and with very nearly the same composition and phrasing.

On the claim that 'Justice' and 'Mercy' are considered theological and ideological opposites, this is after all a claim–with an embedded put-down that if I can't understand that, well, phew. And up to now I always thought justice and injustice were theological and ideological opposites! If the claim has any substance, how, when, on what ground, and what could such historical abstractions have to do with the very individual and similar expressions of the writer(s) discussed here, which comparisons are conveniently avoided?

You certainly have provocative non sequiturs. They don't make for good judgment though. Here's to tela (meaning 'spear') that according to you can't possibly mean javelins or spears but the least lethal 'projectile weapon' (i.e. an arrow) that was invented up to that time, besides the dart and the spitball. Therefore the other part of the nickname for De Vere 'vibrating/shaking', the meaning of vibrans, has to be 'shooting' instead. So Gabriel Harvey's Latin phrase praising De Vere, "who shakes a spear" dies a smothered demise in favor of the tamer "who shoots arrows". Was that really what Harvey declaimed in honor of De Vere, that 'hasti vibrans' means he can shoot arrows? You might have been stretching for that one.

With many happy memories of Dwinelle, Wheeler, and Bancroft,

William Ray


REPLY 3:

It's not legitimate to cite a Hebrew understanding of justice and mercy when Shakespeare lived in a world which considered them opposed. Indeed, justice was associated with the "Old Testament" while mercy was associated with the "New Testament." If we had only the Old Testament, that is, the Jewish religion, we would have justice alone and no mercy, and everyone would end up in Hell; it's only the coming of Christ and his death on the cross which brings about the possibility of mercy. This is the basic theology not only of Shakespeare but of Milton.

Shakespeare of course didn't read Hebrew, but Milton did, and clearly would not have recognized your definition. [that Tsedek and Chesed share a cognate root sed, thus mercy is inherent in justice, See letter #1] I do not personally accept the distinction - indeed I find it abhorrent, particularly its refusal to find mercy in the Hebrew Bible - but it's what the Christian West is all about.

Alan Nelson


LETTER 4:

Interesting that you find reason to continue the discussion. Totally commendable. Because whatever the Christian West might declare to be or be about on the subject of justice, there is plenty of evidence from De Vere's Geneva Bible that he was up on this subject and it was all coming from the Old Testament. (Ecclesiasticus in Apocrypha 28:1-3; Jeremiah 15:11 marked or underlined). We won't have to rehearse the remarkable similarities between Portia's speech and De Vere's angry plea, which are much more interesting to me, but all right, let's discuss the texts for the sake of good faith.

Parenthetically, I don't claim that he knew Hebrew but with Israel Ames a Marrano as his secretary and Baptista Spinola, another, as a supportive friend, he had plenty of resource for a discussion. Enough to interest him to write what became The Merchant of Venice and take a crack at the common law courts in England that were all 'justice' and no equity.

In Jeremiah, l5:11, the Lord says verily I will release thee for good.

Justice, or justice that has within it mercy?

In Ecclesiasticus, 28:1-3 all underlined in the Geneva Bible, (1) 'he that seeketh vengeance shall find vengeance of the Lord–and he will surely keep his sins. (2) Forgive thy neighbor the hurt that he hath done to thee, that thy sins be forgiven also, when thou prayest. (3) Should a man bear hatred against man and then desire forgiveness of the Lord?' –

Justice and nothing but, or is mercy (forgiveness) just?

There is also the question from God at the end of Jonah where he asks if you have pity on the gourd, should I not have pity on Nineveh? Don't know if Stritmatter checked that one. All of them Old Testament quotations showing mercy as an aspect of Godly justice and by De Vere's analogy an example to kings.

For my money if the two concepts merged in Portia's speech, against the (underlined in his Geneva Bible) precedent background, and the expression of them is similar in the play and the letter, (and elsewhere in Shakespeare) that's remarkable and tends to support the Oxfordian claim. I grant that De Vere left out the mercy part for contextual and prideful reasons. His language didn't–and without a contrived effort couldn't–change. Rambling hasty angry alcoholic letters seemed to be his habit, all the more proof that he wasn't calculating and this really was his thought process.

Best wishes,

William Ray


REPLY 4:

The chance that Amice or Spinola could read Hebrew is zero.

AHN


LETTER 5:

No idea. I have no specific information about them. But when the Spanish lost in 1588, numerous Jewish aliens in England emigrated back to Europe so they could worship openly. Marranoes kept their faith and skills that much anyway. My family did; they moved to Poland and carried on from there.

In any case, that's not the big end of the issue. De Vere got exposure to the ideas somehow, whether in Italy or England or both, whether book-learning or personal discussion or both, and from my perspective he wrote a play with the ideas strongly featured, and strongly enough embedded in his subconscious memory to repeat the language pretty closely twenty three years later for lesser
purposes. The language itself is the best threshold evidence. Time will tell. I was a little surprised you left that letter in without ellipses, since I presume you wanted to limit typical Shakespeare/De Vere overlaps.


REPLY 5:

Oxford: Justice; Shakespeare: Mercy

You can believe that Justice and Mercy are identical if you wish, but if that's the basis of your claim that Oxford and Shakespeare are identical, then you're working from faith, not from evidence.

Alan H. Nelson


LETTER 6:

Another non sequitor. No fair distorting the other guy's language. I never said or will say justice and mercy are identical. There wouldn't be need for two words if they were. I said, as does the Hebrew background indicate and De Vere apparently advert in two instances, (1) in the fuller (M of V) discussion, mercy is an aspect of Godly justice, that mercy is mightiest in the mightiest, that nowhere does earthly power approximate godly power as in justice, mercy's host, and verily mercy seasons justice in the most kingly monarch, thus even twenty-three years later, (2) the king who is just is closest to God, yea is better adorned by JUSTICE(-mercy expediently eclipsed) than his fitted crown, quoth the Bard. Nothing too complicated about that, but I'm fighting denial of ordinary logical connective syntax here, and, denial being a formidable psychological defense, you have chosen defense versus comprehension of the obvious. I'm not castigating you whatever you say. I just like to solve problems of truth. In this case, discovering the origin of the related concepts; the expression of the concepts in an inspired formulation; and the partial repetition of that formulation in a different context but with essential similarity. That the formulations indicate a single formulator to me is quite interesting, because I have nothing to lose by the perception. You may and I understand.

Thanks for taking this on,

William Ray


REPLY 6:

Well, you're free to believe whatever you want, evidence or no evidence.

Alan H. Nelson


LETTER 7:

Sorry, put-down, not discourse. Of course it's not belief alone if one finds parallel style, cadence, topic, and treatment. Which is what is in front of the two of us in this monks' debate, a microcosm of the whole controversy. As one who relies on reasoning, the thinker uses working faith that the rudiments of reason will lead to a reasonable conclusion when threshold evidence leads onto a plateau we label persuasive. And he uses not just faith but essential fairness, to conclude according to his evidence. Otherwise scholarship is a subset of sophistry. Nice sparring with you.

William Ray

REPLY 7:

This conversation is going nowhere. Over and out.

Alan H. Nelson


LETTER 8:

Takes two to converse.


What stronger breast plate than a heart untainted
Thence is he armed that hath his quarrel just
And he but naked, though locked up in steel
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted

Henry VI


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