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The Many Nicknames of the Earl of Oxford

Master Apis Lapis

Charles Wisner Barrell, writing in the October 1944 issue of The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, exposed for the first time a reality with devastating implications for Shakespearean orthodoxy.

Thomas Nashe, in his 1592 dedicatory preface to Strange News, refers to the Earl of Oxford as “Master Apis Lapis” (the “sacred stone oxen”) and “Gentler Master William,” argued Barrell.

This finding is important not merely because it demonstrates that the nickname “William” was apparently applied to Oxford in 1592 on the eve of the publication of Venus and Adonis. Just as importantly, Nashe’s dedication is an effusive testimony to Oxford’s potent reputation as a brilliant but suppressed and controversial poet and playwright.

Oxford’s persona, Barrell implied, overshadows the entire exchange of pamphlets between Nashe and his literary adversary, the Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey. In Strange News itself, Nash warns Harvey to beware of Oxford: “He is a little man, but hath one of the best wits in England.”

In his preface to the tract, argued Barrell, Nashe trades jests with this same witty patron and Lordly drinking companion, under the rubric of the nickname “Master Apis Lapis.”

Orthodox Shakespeareans like Terry Ross and David Kathman argue that Strange News is dedicated to someone named William Beeston, a man whose existence cannot even be firmly established by Elizabethan scholars but whom John Payne Collier evidently regarded as “a man of some authority on matters of poetry.”

Revealingly, although this theory is endorsed in passing by the great Nashe scholar Ronald McKerrow, writing four decades before Barrell conducted the first serious investigation of the matter in this article, no one — not even Ross or Kathman — has attempted to refute Barrell’s analysis or argue in any detail for the identification of Lapis with Beeston.

Perhaps now that Barrell’s article is finally available to general readers on the web, some enterprising young enthusiast for the Stratfordian paradigm will undertake to demonstrate in detail why we should trust the offthand remark of John Payne Collier instead of accepting Barrell’s detailed and, it seems to us, conclusive contextualization of the evidence. When someone does, we’ll be happy to provide a link to it.

Pierce Penniless

The years 1592-93 were busy ones for Thomas Nashe. His Strange News with the effusive dedication to Master Apis Lapis appeared in print sometime in January, but only about five months before that he published another controversial work, Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil.

As this article (pdf format) by Mark Anderson and Roger Stritmatter demonstrates, Nashe had recently been gravely dissapointed by his patron Oxford, whose financial difficulties had resulted in Nashe spending some time in debtor’s prison when Oxford failed to pay his promised share of the rent on apartments in which he was subsidizing Nashe and another poet, Thomas Churchyard.

Pierce Penilesse is a caricature of a fallen nobleman who is unable to maintain his financial standing without appealing to the devil for financial aid. Penniless, argue Anderson and Stritmatter, as does Elizabeth Appleton in her new book on the Marprelate pamphlet wars, was another of Nashe’s nicknames for his improvident but brilliant patron.

Terry Ross, however, in an article posted to the Usenet discussion group HLAS (“Humanities Literature Authorship Shakespeare), attacks Anderson and Stritmatter’s argument and asserts that “Harvey’s references to ‘Pierce Penniless’ in Four Letters and in Pierce’s Supererogation and elsewhere are ALWAYS references to Thomas Nashe or his work and are NEVER to Oxford.”


Cuddy is the judge of the rhyming contest in the October section of Edmund Spenser’s Shepherde’s Calendar (1579), where he is described as the “perfecte pattern of a poet.” This long-overlooked analysis by Eva Turner Clarke, first published in the 1933 book, The Satirical Comedie of Love’s Labour’s Lost, argues — convincingly we believe — that Cuddy (otherwise completely unidentified by Spenser scholars) is based on Oxford. If so, it is telling indeed that by 1579 he was known to no less an authority than Spenser as the “perfect pattern of a poet.”

Pasquill Cavaliero of England

Pasquill is the nom de plume assumed by the most important of the writers who sallied into the literary field to defend of the Anglican establishment against the satirical attacks of the Puritan pamphleteer Martin Marprelate (c. 1588-90). Pasquill’s identity has never been established. In her new book analyzing the problem Elizabeth Appleton argues convincingly that Pasquill was a pseudonym adopted by the Earl of Oxford (details and links forthcoming).


The name of the aristocratic ideal pictured in three famous novels by John Lyly, Oxford’s secretary, written 1579-81. Later applied by Gabriel Harvey and others to Oxford himself (details and links forthcoming).


This, then is a partial list of the many nicknames which were apparently applied to the Earl of Oxford by Nashe and Harvey, or which, in the latter case, were actually employed by Oxford as a fictive persona — pseudonym — in the public arena. More remain to be discovered.

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