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Hughes on Merkel’s Mousetrap

Stephanie Hopkins Hughes has published a review and commentary on Marie Merkel’s online work-in-progress, The First Mousetrap & the Tudor Massacre of the Howards: With the wrongful deaths of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England (beheaded 1536); Catherine Howard, Queen of England (beheaded 1542); Henry Howard, poet earl of Surrey (beheaded 1547); Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk (beheaded 1572); & several other unfortunate Howards never before deciphered.

Hughes’ commentary, “Merkel’s View of Titus Andronicus”, published February 17, 2010 on Hughes’ blog politicworm, confirmed her qualified approval of Merkel’s thesis:

Having promised to read your material online (The First Mousetrap) and consider your theory that Titus Andronicus is an allegory for the fate of the Howard family, I am half convinced that you’re right, even more than half.  I have to hold off a bit because I don’t see the kind of clearcut connections between the play and the Howards, the kind we can see with some of the other plays, but that doesn’t mean you’re not right, or at least on the right track.

. . .

I don’t see that you claimed anywhere in your chapters or introduction that the author was the Earl of Oxford (did you and I missed it?).  In fact, you make a few comments that seem to connect its creation with William of Stratford.  Once Oxford is seen as the author, a possible connection with the Howards becomes much stronger.  They were his family, he was in their camp from his early 20s to his early 30s, and with Sussex and then Hunsdon as his patron (1572-’82) he had every reason to write a play in their defense.  Also, with Oxford as the author, he would have no need of Holinshed.  His primary source would be his Howard cousins, who would have had their family history at the tips of their tongues.

Merkel responded with a comment added to the Hughes’ review:

This is a first book for me, and I may not have chosen the right approach. I wrote it entirely from the Oxfordian perspective, but always with a general audience of Shakespeare lovers in mind. My goal was to offer these readers a new view of the Bard as a passionately engaged commentator on his times. I didn’t want to start out by saying, in effect, “Look, Oxford really is the right answer, just read this book and you’ll see why!”

Each chapter builds on minutely observed historical connections with the words of the play, introducing the Howard and de Vere family members as their parallel characters appear. I begin with Act One, and work chronologically forward through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. By the time the reader gets to chapter 15, when the story completely intersects with Edward’s childhood, I’m hoping that without my prompting, they’ll be furiously scribbling in the margins, “Oxford, and no one else, MUST have written this play!”


About Linda Theil


  1. I wonder if Ms. Merkel has dealt with the prior Oxfordian scholarship on this play, such as Eva Turner Clarke’s argument that the play reflects the violence of the Spanish fury in the lowlands. It would be very natural for a reader or attendee of this play in, say, the late 1580s, to associate it with internal English politics, particularly on the eve of or just after the Armada. In other words, the Roman context would readily be associated with Catholic attempts to suppress Protestantism with violent assault.

    In order to argue for a more local allegorical reading involving the Howards I think one must first show why this obvious context is not the one intended by the author. Perhaps Ms. Merkel has done that in her book, which I have not seen. But it would seem, in any case, a pre-requisite to the informed assent of readers knowledgeable about the period in question.

    The Ogburns senior also endorsed this reading, here:


    And here:


    One does not have to follow a chronology as early as their’s in order to see the relevance of this perspective to the play.

    I suspect there is orthodox Shakespearean commentary which concurs with this, but I am not able at the moment to lay my hands on it.

    One must conclude that this is a steep slope to climb. I hope that Ms. Merkel and those who would follow her lead have got a lot of good Mountaineering supplies.

  2. oops, please read

    It would NOT be very natural for a reader or attendee of this play in, say, the late 1580s, to associate it with internal English politics, particularly on the eve of or just after the Armada.

  3. Linda,

    Thanks for keeping the news coming and for posting Stephanie’s comments on my work from her politicworm blog.


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