A great irony of the authorship movement is that Henry Clay Folger, founder of that bastion of Stratfordian tradition in Washington, D.C., the Folger Shakespeare Library, was an Oxfordian sympathizer. Folger took such keen interest in J. T. Looney’s 1920 identification of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare” that, five years later in 1925, he bought the Geneva Bible the earl had purchased in 1570 at age nineteen.
Mr. Folger apparently had an open mind; in due time, as evidence in the postscript below will indicate, he very possibly would have gone on to become a full-fledged Oxfordian!
Edward de Vere’s copy of the Geneva Bible was quietly ensconced in the Library when it opened in 1932, two years after Folger’s death. There it remained, unheralded, until 1992 – sixty years! — when Oxfordian researchers Dr. Paul Nelson and Isabel Holden learned it was being guarded by folks with powerful reasons to keep its contents under wraps. And those contents were explosive: more than a thousand marked and/or underlined verses, apparently in Oxford’s own hand, with plenty of links to the Shakespeare works.
Enter Roger Stritmatter, who would pore over the handwritten annotations in Oxford’s Bible (often in partnership with journalist-author Mark Anderson) for the next eight years, earning his PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Dr. Stritmatter’s dissertation The Marginalia of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible, presented in April 2000, stands as both a remarkable achievement in scholarship and a landmark event in the history of Shakespearean authorship studies. The dissertation is also a powerful demonstration of insights and connections that become possible when the correct biography of “Shakespeare” is brought into alignment with historical documents (such as Oxford’s Bible) in relation to the poems and plays.
When Edward de Vere obtained his copy he was still a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in the custody of William Cecil Lord Burghley. In his documentary life of Oxford published in 1928, B.M. Ward reported finding an account book with “Payments made by John Hart, Chester Herald, on behalf of the Earl of Oxford” during 1570, with entries such as: “To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers – … Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books …” (These are sources used by “Shakespeare” for inspiration. If traditional scholars ever found such a list for the Stratford man, they’d hold a parade!)
“To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt” – well, yes, the copy in the Folger had that same gilded outer edge on the front. Bound in scarlet velvet, its silver engraved arms belonged to the Earl of Oxford.
“The first edition was published in 1560 in Geneva,” Stritmatter reports on his website. “Due to its incendiary implied criticisms of Catholicism, it remained a popular unauthorized translation throughout the reign of Elizabeth I … Over a hundred years of scholarship has made it clear that the Geneva Bible was the translation most familiar to Shakespeare.”
Among the approximately 1,043 underlined or marked verses in Oxford’s Bible, one hundred and forty-seven are cited by previous authorities as having influenced Shakespeare. Twenty marked verses contain language “at least as close” to other language already identified as Shakespearean influences – and so on, not to mention cases where Stritmatter found connections to the works of Shakespeare that previously had gone unnoticed. The earl’s copy also contains some thirty-two short handwritten notes that have been verified (through independent forensic paleography) to be his. And many themes reflected in the marked passages “can be traced directly to known biographical facts of Oxford’s life,” Stritmatter writes, confirming that “not only was Oxford the original owner of the book, but it was he who made the annotations.”
During Stritmatter’s journey he began to perceive a series of “patterned relations” narrating a “spiritual story” that we can see only when Edward de Vere is perceived as Shakespeare – a story about “secret works” by an annotator whose name is removed from the historical record but who, nonetheless, re-emerges as the man who gave the world the greatest works of the English language.
For example, Oxford marked and partially underlined Verse Nine of Chapter Seven in MICHA: “I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause and execute judgment for me; then will he bring me forth to the light…”
“Shakespeare” wrote in Lucrece:
Time’s glory is to calm contending Kings,
To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light
Oxford wrote under his own name to Secretary Robert Cecil (in 1602):
“Now time, and truth, have unmasked all difficulties.”
From the Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly of January 1946, more evidence that Henry Clay Folger was an Oxfordian sympathizer:
In 1929 Esther Singleton published Shakespearian Fantasias: Adventures in the Fourth Dimension, with stories based on characters in Shakespeare’s comedies. Obviously having read Shakespeare Identified by Looney, she introduced the Earl of Oxford as Berowne of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Jacques of As You Like It and Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing. Folger found these tales so delightful that he bought at least twenty copies of the book to give away to friends; and just before he died, he also negotiated with Miss Singleton to buy her original manuscript. Although she herself died only two weeks later, her heirs eventually presented the manuscript to the Folger Library in her memory. So, just as Sigmund Freud’s acceptance of the Oxfordian theory was suppressed, Henry Clay Folger’s sympathy toward Oxford’s authorship was kept a closely guarded secret for decades — until, that is, Edward de Vere’s copy of the Geneva Bible (laying virtually hidden in a great Library ostensibly dedicated to scholarship and truth!) became one more reason to believe that the earl himself was William Shakespeare.