Home / News / Results of Oxfordian Survey at Madison Conference

Results of Oxfordian Survey at Madison Conference

December 5, 2014

Survey Says (2014)

by Alex McNeil

Alex McNeil has conducted surveys of Oxfordian opinion at the 2008, 2011, and 2014 conferences.

 

Attendees at this year’s Annual Conference were invited to fill out a survey (see below), soliciting their views and opinions on various aspects of the Authorship Question. It asked respondents to indicate, on a nine-point scale, their level of agreement or disagreement with each of 43 statements, arranged in several topics. A response of 7, 8 or 9 indicated agreement with a particular statement, a response of 1, 2 or 3 indicated disagreement, and a response of 4, 5 or 6 indicated uncertainty. The same survey was used at the 2011 Joint SOS/SF Conference in Washington, DC, and a substantially similar one was first used at the 2008 Joint Conference in White Plains, NY. As one would expect, the results of the 2014 survey are generally consistent with those of 2011 and 2008; however, in about one-quarter of the statements, the median response in 2014 was significantly different from prior surveys. This year, 36 surveys were completed.

Areas of Greatest Consensus

This group consists of ten statements where the weighted median response was 8.0 or greater, or 2.0 or less, indicating a high degree of agreement or disagreement with a particular statement. It should come as no surprise that the statement with the strongest consensus was that Edward de Vere is the principal author of the Shakespeare canon (Statement #1A on the survey). The median was 9; only one respondent disagreed and only one indicated uncertainty. There was almost as strong agreement with Statement #3, that Shakspere of Stratford wrote no literary works (median 9, with two disagreeing and two uncertain). There was strong disagreement with Statement #27, that the Sonnets aren’t “about” anything (median 1.3, with two agreeing and one uncertain), and strong disagreement with Statement #1B, that someone other than de Vere or Shakspere wrote the canon (median 1.5, with two agreeing and one uncertain).

Strong consensuses were also reported on six other statements:

ŸStatement #30, that the First Folio publication was organized by de Vere’s children, by Pembroke and Montgomery, with help from Ben Jonson (median 8.3, with two disagreeing and three uncertain).

ŸStatement #23, that the Fair Youth of the Sonnets is Henry Wriothesley (median 8.1, with one disagreeing and eight uncertain).

ŸStatement #13, disagreeing with the statement that de Vere did not die in 1604 (median 1.9, with five agreeing and six uncertain).

ŸStatement #8A, that Edward de Vere was the natural son of the 16th Earl of Oxford and Margery Golding (median 8, with six disagreeing and eight uncertain).

ŸStatement #8B, disagreeing with the statement that Edward de Vere was the son of Princess Elizabeth (median 2, with five agreeing and six uncertain).

ŸStatement #29, that the title page illustration in Minerva Brittana alludes to the authorship issue (median 8, with one disagreeing and six uncertain).

Areas of Significant Consensus

This group includes twelve statements where the median response was between 7 and 7.9, or between 2.1 and 3. On these statements a clear majority of respondents expressed either agreement or disagreement (usually less strongly than in the first group), but a greater degree of uncertainty was reported than for the first group of statements:

ŸStatement #12, that de Vere’s thousand-pound annuity was made in connection with his literary activities (median 7.6, with three disagreeing and eight uncertain).

ŸStatement #20, that de Vere played a key role in sparing Southampton’s life after his 1601 treason conviction (median 7.6, with two disagreeing and seven uncertain).

ŸStatement #6, that de Vere’s authorship role was well known in Elizabeth’s court (median 7.5, with two disagreeing and five uncertain).

ŸStatement #24C, disagreeing with the statement that Elizabeth Trentham is the Dark Lady of the Sonnets (median 2.5, with five agreeing and eleven uncertain).

ŸStatement #31, that many academics privately harbor doubt about Shakspere (median 7.3, with two disagreeing and seven uncertain).

ŸStatement #2, disagreeing with the statement that several authors wrote the canon under de Vere’s general supervision (median 2.8, with three agreeing and four uncertain).

ŸStatement #15, that de Vere wrote many other works not attributed to him (median 7.2, with two disagreeing and eleven uncertain).

ŸStatement #21, that the Sonnets are published in correct order (median 7.1, with three disagreeing and twelve uncertain).

ŸStatement #5, that de Vere’s authorship role was widely known in the literary community (median 7, with one disagreeing and ten uncertain).

ŸStatement # 7B, that de Vere’s posthumous literary anonymity was arranged by his children and Pembroke and Montgomery, assisted by Ben Jonson (median 7, with six disagreeing and eight uncertain).

ŸStatement #7C, that his literary anonymity was state-imposed (median 7, with five disagreeing and ten uncertain).

ŸStatement #19, that Southampton is “Mr. W.H.,” the dedicatee of the Sonnets (median 7, with five disagreeing and nine uncertain).

Areas Without Consensus

The final group – the largest, with 21 statements – includes those where the median was between 3.1 and 6.9, indicating neither general agreement nor general disagreement. These statements reflect either a plurality of “uncertain” responses or significant numbers of responses expressing agreement and disagreement with a particular statement (i.e., divergent views held by significant numbers of respondents). I’ve divided this large group into two subgroups. The first subgroup are those with medians between 6 and 6.9 or between 3.1 and 4:

ŸStatement #26, that the principal story of the Sonnets is of politics and succession (median 6.5; sixteen respondents agreed, while nine disagreed and seven were uncertain).

ŸStatement #24B, that the Dark Lady is Emilia Bassanio (median 3.5; nineteen disagreed, one agreed and thirteen were uncertain).

ŸStatement #17C, that Henry Wriothesley was the son of de Vere and Queen Elizabeth (median 3.5; seventeen disagreed, eleven agreed, six were uncertain).

ŸStatement #17A, that Wriothesley was the son of the Queen (median 4; seventeen disagreed, eleven agreed, seven were uncertain).

ŸStatement #17D, that Wriothesley was the object of de Vere’s homosexual infatuation (median 4; fifteen disagreed, seven agreed, ten were uncertain).

ŸStatement #18, that the Venus and Adonis and Lucrece dedications to Wriothesley were for political reasons (median 6; eighteen agreed, seven disagreed, ten were uncertain).

ŸStatement #24A, that the Dark Lady is Queen Elizabeth (median 6; twelve agreed, eleven disagreed, eleven were uncertain).

ŸStatement #24D, that the Dark Lady is someone other than the Queen, Emilia Bassanio or Elizabeth Trentham (median 4; fourteen disagreed, eight agreed, seven were uncertain).

ŸStatement #25A, that the principal story of the Sonnets is about homosexual love (median 4; fourteen disagreed, nine agreed, ten were uncertain).

ŸStatement #25B, that the principal Sonnets story is about heterosexual love (median 6; sixteen agreed, twelve disagreed, six were uncertain).

ŸStatement #25C, that the principal Sonnets story is about both heterosexual and homosexual love (median 6; sixteen agreed, eleven disagreed, eight were uncertain).

The second subgroup consists of those with medians closest to the exact middle:

ŸStatement #4, that Shakspere was a literary “front man” (median 5.5; fourteen agreed, nine disagreed, eleven were uncertain).

ŸStatement #7A, that de Vere did not want his authorship role known even after his death (median 4.5; eleven agreed, eleven disagreed, eleven were uncertain. The weighted median tilts slightly toward disagreement, because those who disagreed did so more strongly than those who agreed).

ŸStatement #9, that the 16th Earl of Oxford died of natural causes (median 5; eight agreed, four disagreed, twenty-four were uncertain. This question elicited by far the largest number of “uncertain” responses).

ŸStatement #10, that de Vere was the biological father of Elizabeth Vere (median 5.5; fourteen agreed, three disagreed, nineteen were uncertain).

ŸStatement #11, that de Vere had a sexual relationship with the Queen (median 5; thirteen agreed, eleven disagreed, twelve were uncertain).

ŸStatement #14, that de Vere is buried in Westminster Abbey (median 5; eleven disagreed, seven agreed, eighteen were uncertain).

Statement #16, that Henry Wriothesley was the biological son of the Second Earl of Southampton and his wife (median 5; twelve agreed, eleven disagreed, eleven were uncertain).

ŸStatement #17B, that Wriothesley was the son of de Vere (median 5.5; fourteen agreed, eleven disagreed, ten were uncertain).

ŸStatement #22, the Sonnets dedication is an anagram or word puzzle (median 5.5; fifteen agreed, six disagreed, twelve were uncertain).

ŸStatement #28, that we don’t yet know what the Sonnets are really about (median 4.5; fifteen disagreed, eleven agreed, eight were uncertain).

Analysis

The results of the 2014 survey show some significant changes from 2011. In general, the 2014 results show greater uncertainty on many aspects of the Authorship Question. In 2011, responses to eleven of the 43 statements fell within the “Areas of Greatest Consensus” (indicating median responses at one end or the other of the nine-point scale). In 2014 only seven statements fell into this category. Additionally, for eleven of the 43 statements, the median shifted by 1.0 or more; in eight of those cases the shift was away from consensus.

In five cases the median shifted by 2.0 or more. The biggest shift was seen in Statement #4 – whether Shakspere of Stratford served as a literary “front man.” In 2011 the median was 8.3, placing it squarely in the area of greatest consensus. In 2014 the median dropped to 5.5, placing it now in the area of least consensus. Another big shift was seen in Statement #17C – whether Henry Wriothesley was the son of de Vere and Queen Elizabeth. In 2011 the median was 6.1 (within the uncertain group, but tilting toward agreement). In 2014 the median was 3.5 (still within the uncertain group, but now tilting toward disagreement). A similar, but slightly smaller, shift occurred in a related statement (#17A, which said only that he was the son of Elizabeth), where the median shifted from 6.2 in 2011 to 4 in 2014.

Views also changed on whether de Vere and Queen Elizabeth had a sexual relationship (Statement #11). In 2011 the median response to that statement was 7.4, indicating substantial agreement. In 2014 the median dropped to 5, with the respondents almost evenly split among agreement, disagreement and uncertainty. As to whether de Vere had a homosexual infatuation with Henry Wriothesley (Statement #17D), the median shifted from 1.8 in 2011 (indicating significant disagreement with the statement) to 4.0 in 2014 (indicating uncertainty, tilting slightly toward disagreement).

For six statements the median shifted between 1.0 and 1.9. For the notion that de Vere lived beyond 1604 (#13), the median shifted toward consensus, from 3.5 in 2011 to 1.9 in 2014 (indicating significant disagreement with the statement). As to the identity of the Dark Lady in the Sonnets, for Emilia Bassanio (#24B) the median shifted from 2.0 in 2011 (disagreement) to 3.5 in 2014 (tilting toward uncertainty). For Queen Elizabeth as the Dark Lady (#24A), the median shifted from 4.6 in 2011 (uncertainty, tilting very slightly toward disagreement) to 6.0 in 2014 (still uncertainty, but now tilting toward agreement).

For Statement #15 (de Vere wrote many other literary works), the median stayed within the area of general agreement, but dropped from 8.3 in 2011 to 7.2 in 2014. As to whether de Vere was Henry Wriothesley’s father (Statement #17B), the median dropped from 6.5 to 5.5, indicating greater uncertainty. And, as to whether we yet know what the Sonnets are really about, the median increased from 3.5 in 2011 to 4.5 in 2014, again indicating greater uncertainty.

Summary

Assuming that the number of respondents (36) constituted a large enough sample to be statistically valid, it appears that Oxfordians are in general agreement about the broad outlines of the Authorship Question, but are not in agreement (and show less agreement than in previous years) about several of the particulars.

ŸAuthorship: There was a strong consensus that Oxford alone is the principal author of the Shakespeare canon, that his role was widely known in court and in literary circles, and that his anonymity was probably state-imposed and was perpetuated by his children and others. There was uncertainty about whether Oxford himself wanted his role to be revealed after his death.

ŸOxford’s Biography: There was strong consensus that he was the son of the 16th Earl and his wife, that the 1586 annuity was made in connection with literary activities, that he wrote many other literary works, and that he died in 1604. There was much uncertainty about whether the 16th earl died of natural causes, about whether Oxford was the biological father of Elizabeth Vere and whether he is buried in Westminster Abbey. There were very divergent opinions on whether he had a sexual relationship with the Queen. There was no agreement on whether Will Shakspere was a “front man” for Oxford’s authorship.

ŸHenry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton: There was less consensus about him. There was agreement that Oxford played a role in sparing his life after his treason conviction, and that he is the “Mr. W.H.” to whom the Sonnets are dedicated. Everything else is unclear – who his real parents were, whether he had a homosexual relationship with Oxford, and whether the 1593 and 1594 dedications to him from “William Shakespeare” were for political reasons.

ŸThe Sonnets: There was substantial agreement only on a few matters. They were published in correct order; the Fair Youth is Southampton; and they aren’t just literary exercises. As to other matters there was no agreement. The leading candidate for the Dark Lady is Queen Elizabeth, but her “score” of 6 is well within the range of uncertainty; she was trailed (in declining order) by “someone else,” Emilia Bassanio and Elizabeth Trentham, all scoring at 4 or less. The leading explanation of the real story of the Sonnets is “politics and succession” (6.5), which narrowly edged “heterosexual love” and “heterosexual and homosexual love” (both at 6). Trailing were “we don’t yet know” and that the real story is (only) homosexual love, at 4.5 and 4, respectively. There was no consensus about whether the Dedication is an anagram or word puzzle.

ŸOther matters: There was substantial agreement on all three – that the Minerva Brittana title page alludes to authorship; that the publication of the First Folio was engineered by Oxford’s daughters, Pembroke, Montgomery and Ben Jonson; and (perhaps ever hopefully) that many academics privately harbor doubt about the case for Shakspere of Stratford as author.

           2014 S.O.F. CONFERENCE – MEMBER SURVEY.

[On a 1-to-9 scale, indicate your agreement or disagreement with each of the following statements. “1” indicates strongest disagreement, “9” indicates strongest agreement.]

AUTHORSHIP

1a. Edward de Vere is the principal author of the Shakespeare Canon.
1b. Someone else (not de Vere or Shakspere of Stratford) is the principal author of the Shakespeare Canon.
2. The Canon was written by several authors under de Vere’s general “supervision.”
3. William Shakspere of Stratford wrote no literary works.
4. Shakspere of Stratford served as a literary “front man” for the true author(s).
5. De Vere’s authorship role was widely known in his literary community.
6. De Vere’s authorship role was widely known in Queen Elizabeth’s court.
7a. De Vere himself did not wish his authorship role to be known even after his death.
7b. De Vere’s posthumous literary anonymity was arranged by his children and by Pembroke and Montgomery, with help from Ben Jonson.
7c. De Vere’s literary anonymity was imposed by the State.

EDWARD DE VERE, 17TH EARL OF OXFORD

8a. He was the natural son of the 16th Earl and Margery Golding.
8b. He was the natural son of Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth.
9. The 16th Earl died of natural causes in 1562.
10. Edward was the biological father of his wife’s (Anne Cecil’s) first child in1576.
11. Edward had a sexual relationship with Queen Elizabeth.
12. The 1000-pound annual grant to him in 1586 was made in connection with his literary activities.
13. Edward did not die in 1604, but lived on for several more years.
14. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
15. He wrote many other literary works which are not attributed to him.

HENRY WRIOTHESLEY, THIRD EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON

16. He was the natural son of the 2nd Earl and his wife.
17a. He was the son of Queen Elizabeth.
17b. He was the son of Edward de Vere.
17c. He was the son of Edward de Vere and the Queen.
17d. He was the object of Edward de Vere’s homosexual infatuation, not his son.
18. The dedications to him in Venus and Adonis and Lucrece were for political reasons as much as, if not more than, literary reasons.
19. He is the “Mr. W. H.” to whom the Sonnets are dedicated.
20. De Vere played a key role in sparing Southampton’s life after the latter’s conviction for the Essex Rebellion.

THE SONNETS

21. The Sonnets are published more or less (or entirely) in correct order.
22. The Sonnet Dedication is some sort of anagram or word puzzle.
23. The “Fair Youth” is Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
24a. The “Dark Lady” is Queen Elizabeth.
24b. The “Dark Lady” is Emilia Bassanio.
24c. The “Dark Lady” is Elizabeth Trentham, Oxford’s second wife.
24d. The “Dark Lady” is someone else.
25a. The principal story of the Sonnets is concerned with homosexual love and romance among real persons.
25b. The principal story of the Sonnets is concerned with heterosexual love and romance among real persons.
25c. The principal story of the Sonnets is concerned with both homosexual and heterosexual love and romance among real persons.
26. The principal story of the Sonnets is about politics and succession.
27. The Sonnets are just literary works and aren’t “about” anything.
28. We don’t yet know what the Sonnets are about.

MISCELLANEOUS

29. The illustration on the title page of Minerva Brittana (the hand behind the curtain) is an allusion to the authorship issue.
30. The publication of the Folio was organized by de Vere’s children and Pembroke and Montgomery, with Ben Jonson’s assistance.
31. Many academics privately harbor doubt about the case for Shakspere of Stratford as author, but won’t publicly admit it.

— Reprinted from the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Fall 2014.