There are two great pleasures to be had from reading Michael Billington’s first collection of theatre criticism, One Night Stands 1971-1991. The first, assuming you are old enough to have been going to plays in the Seventies, is to be reminded of some wonderful, occasionally mind-blowing, evenings in the theatre. Written in the wind as […]
A question of gravity, currency, and gay flappers or majestic lappets?
Once the cloth covering of the nemes crown and its ponytail was complete I encountered my next obstacle. Under the added weight of fabric, cords and the hollow numchuck form, the crown kept falling back. It wouldn’t sit straight or actually stay on. I had to balance the weight of the front of the crown with that of the back.
The uraeus and vulture on the forehead alone didn’t solve the problem.I decided to attach the beard to the front of the form with hat elastic. This was the trick.
I wondered whether the ancient Egyptians had the same problem? Did Pseusennes I (1047-1001 BCE, 21st Dynasty) have the same problem?
Are those pencil-line side burns sported by Pseusennes, stylized beard straps meant to balance the weight of the crown?
Now that my crown was sitting squarely in place it should have looked right, but it didn’t. There was something about the lappets – the long flappy bits that hang by the side of the pharaoh’s face. Flappy, they shouldn’t have been. Stiff, triangular – pyramidal, in histoy they appear to rigidly frame the face before reaching down over the shoulders from the chin. There is no movement – no flow of diaphanous fabric (okay, I realise this is Ancient Egypt, not Ancient Greece, but was everything as stiff as their statues would indicate?)
The lappets of my crown didn’t unerringly frame my son’s face. They didn’t necessarily sit obediently, implacably on his shoulders – they twisted and curled. They needed the disciplinary action of a hard rod. Several actually. I set to work adding rods through the shoulder section of the lappet. I did the lower portion only, wanting to make sure the weight of the crown stayed forward and believing this was the minimum required to solve my dilemma. Time poor, I added a coin to help weigh them down – something that is done in costuming now and again.
Coins are so convenient, smooth and readily available to use as clothing weights. Would the Ancient Egyptians have used their currency as such a cheat? We are told they didn’t have coins – it was a barter economy. Dominic Perry of the Ancient Egypt History Podcast has suggested that linen may have been used instead of coins. Now I couldn’t cheat with linen but what about a few heavy beads? Beads have been used for bartering in Africa for centuries. Could the Ancient Egyptians also have used them as money? Would Ancient Egyptian seamstresses weighed down their clothing with beads?
Now that I had weighed down my flapping lappets, they towed the line. Did the Ancient Egyptian crown makers need rods for their lappets? Is that why the nemes crown was stripped?
Something started niggling at me. Gold rods low on lappets, lapis locks and lapidary allusions . . . King Khafre! my next post.
Death Mask of Pseusennes I, the Silver Pharoah (1047-1001 BCE 21st Dynasty)
D.Denisen CC BY-SA
King Khafre Statue
Question 2: Bald pate or bowl-like form?
Did the Ancient Egyptians shave their heads and place their crown atop it – no form required? Or did the nemes crown sit over a stiff papyrus form giving it its distinctive shape?
Because I was not going to use a golden tiara to anchor the crown on my child’s head, it suited me to conclude it had a definite form, like a modern-day milliner would use and that it was dressed in fabric. A three-quarter view of the crown, like the one above, seemed to confirm this. Assuming a golden tiara fit around his forehead, metal or papyrus supports holding the fabric up and stretching it around the back of his ears may have been soldered or riveted in place. The fabric would form around his bald pate then fall behind his head.
Problem 1 – The snake and vulture protrude out from above the tiara, where the cloth is supposed to drape over the head. Fabric alone would not support the weight of these jewelled creatures. Something hard and durable had to support them – like gold.
Problem 2 – The tiara doesn’t seem to disappear behind the ears but seems to form the side burns, cupping the head. As a consequence the tiara doesn’t appear to be holding the crown in place. The crown appears to be cupping the head, like a helmet.
Is this visible across other representations of the crown?
Death mask – https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/ Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA
It seems so.
What would the Ancient Egyptians have used to make the royal helmet? Annealed gold? Papyrus reeds? Papyrus reeds could help create the stripes as a form of texture but they don’t go far in explaining away what colour the gold lines of the death mask are meant to represent and could have posed a problem in lining up with the dyed blue stripes of the cloth. However heartily they were manipulated, it’s questionable whether papyrus reeds could hold the weight of the uraeus and vulture. But gold as an alternative couldn’t have been comfortable or practicable for everyday wear.
Regardless, gold or papyrus, neither was an option for me. Nonetheless, I knew exactly what I was going to use.
A perforated plastic colander previously purposed for producing ricotta cheese!
I was able to sew the fabric on, attach the uraeus and vulture – mine are plastic and rubber – and then solve a problem of gravity and balance by attaching the beard to it.
Answer: Bald pate or milliner’s form? Definitely a form – in my mind anyway.
Next: A question of gravity, currency and gay flappers or majestic lappets?
In going through the motions of creating two Nemes crowns, the idea that the crown worn by Tutankhamun was probably the one he was buried with solidified in my mind. More and more I rejected the idea that it was made out of linen attached to a golden tiara. There were several problems to contend with that required metal weights and supports to eliminate. Something cloth, needle and thread alone couldn’t eliminate. With the amount of metal needed to get the look right, it seemed easier to recreate the look out of gold, faience, electrum and ornamental stones – just as it was found attached to the death mask by Howard Carter. With this blogpost I will go through each major challenge I faced in recreating the cloth crown and the logic for my conclusion against it.
My First Attempt
Question 1: What does the cloth represent – hair or a pyramid?
I began with the accepted wisdom that the Nemes crown was made out of linen. Because gold thread was not the technology of the time, but dying was, I assumed that the linen cloth was woven with dyed thread and alternated with undyed linen to give it stripes. But what did the stripes represent? When a prince/king of Egypt is described he is said to have hair of lapis lazuli, a brittle, electic blue stone. That would indicate that the headpiece was representative of hair the colour of this highly prized stone.The gold could represent any colour. But what of its shape?
The Nemes crown flays out at the temples in a subtle pyramid form. Or so I imagined with my preconceived notions of what I thought I was seeing. The term adopted by later kings of Egypt, Pharoah, described themselves as the Great House. It seemed fitting that the look of the crown would reflect a pyramid shape. To this end I created a pattern for my faux-linen which allowed for the lapets to fall on the pharoah’s shoulders but the bulk of the cloth to be pulled loosely into a ponytail at the back.
The sewn panels would then dress a form, as in a millinery style form. I would attach the uraeus to the form and so would give the snake and vulture stability. Here I moved away from the logical circlet of gold with animals rivetted on as is seen on the death mask crown. This was a decision born of necessity – expense, time and weight. I knew what I was going to use for the form but did the Ancient Egyptians use one?
Question 2: Bald pate or bowl-like form?
Did the Ancients shave their heads and place their crown atop it – no form required? Or did the nemes crown sit over a stiff papyrus form giving it its distinctive shape?
Having a hard time finding the cloth that I wanted I resorted to using two old aprons – ravaged by use. I didn’t line the cloth and so I encountered another issue …
To be continued.
Arch, poised to stike, the deadly cobra sits in the middle of the Pharoah’s forehead. Which Pharoah? Each and every pharoah and king of Egypt it seems from Narmer in the Old Kingdom all the way down to Cleopatra, a couple of thousand years later. So what is King Tut doing putting a bird next to it? Even his heretic father, Akenaten didn’t do that. It seems that this combination of snake and bird is idiosyncratic to Tutankhamun and perhaps his wife, Ankhesenamun. If I was to recreate Tutankhamun’s look accurately then I had to figure out what the bird was and to satisfy my curiosity, why he broke with tradition to wear it.
Not all images of his crown gave clear enough visuals. Was it a hawk – a representation of Horus?
Or was it a vulture, the deadly nemesis of a snake? Royal women wore vultures on their crowns. Sometimes they wore the cobra (uraeus) in assuming the role of King e.g., Hatshepsut or sometimes not, e.g., the Primary Wife of the King Amenhotep III, Queen Tiy, wore 2 cobras. Cleopatra VII wore three.
Why a cobra? The cobra was a symbol of Lower Egypt, the Nile Delta where it could be found. It was a protective motif that was known as the uraeus. Interestingly enough, when Kings referred to themselves they associated their identity with their “uraeus”. Some crucial part of their personality, spirit or soul they considered to be a cobra, a uraeus.
Tutankhamun coupled his uraeus uniquely with a vulture. Why? The vulture was a symbol of Upper Egypt. It was also the incarnation of the Goddess Nekbet, she who was the protectoress of royal children.(1) Was Tutankhamun ill? In need of protection? As a royal child was he sickly? Many, many walking canes were found in his tomb. It is said that he had a club foot and a partial cleft palate. Also very decayed teeth. If he was Akhenaten’s son, was he not considered fit enough for rule? He didn’t succeed Akhenaten but was relegated a third in line after a possible daughter, Neferneferuaten, and then a son-in-law, Smenkhare?
But images of Tutankhamun before his funeral depict only the uraeus. Did he put the vulture there? Or did his successor responsible for his burial? And why would he?
Did the uraeus sit beside the vulture goddess Nekbet as a representation of another goddess, Wadjet? Together did the two affirm a united Egypt?
After Tutankhamun’s death, he was succeeded by the vizier Ay, Nefertiti’s possible father and so possibly his grandfather. Ay’s short reign was succeeded by Tutankhamun’s general, Horemheb. Then Egypt left the hands of two successive dynasties (17th and 18th) from Thebes in the south and fell into the hands of a military family from the north. Was there tension between the north and the south at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Horemheb was the man Tutankhamun wanted to suceed him but he was pushed aside by the elderly Ay. When Horemheb eventually got the throne, he left it to Rameses I, of that northern military family. Was Ay trying to send out a plea for unity among Horemheb’s supporters at a time when Egypt was at war and the rightful heir was away fighting that war in the Middle-East?
Assuming it was Ay who chose to depict Tutankhamun wearing the cobra and vulture for his funerary rites, was the adoption of the symbol of the united Egypt a necessary political trapping of Tutankhamun’s well attended funeral? Egyptian funeral processions were quite an event – nobility, priests and professional mourners were all in attendance.(2) A clever place to make a political point to a targeted audience? How united was Egypt at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Was Egypt in danger of succumbing to a succession crisis?
For the health of the king or for the health of the kingdom, I was satisfied that the creatures are snake and vulture. So I tried to recreate them thus:
Next … 3.Making the Nems Crown – Cloth or Gold?
(2) Dominic Perry’s wonderful Egyptian History Podcast describes a funeral not too long before Tutankhamun’s in the 17th Dynasty in Episode 56c: A Royal Funeral, here.
Tyldesley, Joyce, Tutankhamun’s Curse:The Developing Historyof an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013.
“He had grown old: his bones became silver; his flesh, gold; his hair of lapis lazuli . . .” (1)
When I look at the death mask of Tutankhamun with the view to recreate it, the first question I have to ask myself is how much is it artistic representation? The Ancient Egyptians were notorious for using art as propaganda. How much of it was gold or lapis lazuli? How much was cloth? donkey or goat hair? faience (an ancient mouldable glass with properties apparently similar to clay)?
Egyptologists tell us that Nemes crowns were made of linen, a fabric the ancient Egyptians were adept at spinning coarsely and diaphanously finely. But not all of it could have been made of this material. Notice the two creatures in the centre of the young king’s forehead? They at least must have been fashioned of something more pliable than cloth. And what were they attached to – a tiara of gold?
What about the ponytail that gathers the cloth at the nape of the king’s neck? Is it supposed to represent cloth cords? papyrus ones? a metal sprung coil?
Before I go any further I must disclose my bias: I have worked and trained as a lapidary jeweller. This colours my first thoughts on how this crown and mask were made – how I want for it to have been made. This experience has also influenced the steps that I took in recreating it as a theatrical costume.
When I look at Tutankhamun’s crown and mask, I see three sections: the crown and its lappets fanning out from his face; his face as a mask behind it; and an enormous inlaid necklace draped around his chest which I believe is a representation of another bib-style necklace that he wore in life, a beaded one. Inlaid jewellery is stiff and so impractical for movement. Strung beads however allow fluidity of movement.
This then invites me to question the beard of this young man, one very similar to another worn by his famous predecessor Hatshepsut. Surely neither Tutankhamun nor Hatshepsut grew their own beards! Did they wear fake ones of goat hair? Wouldn’t one of inlaid Lapis Lazuli or moulded faience have had greater impact and durability?
And then there is that ponytail. Is it bound together with cords of linen, wrapped over and over? Or could it have been a simple copper, silver or gold coil that the fabric was easily pulled through and held securely in place?
Finally, the look of a Nemes Crown made of linen would not have been gold and blue; gold thread hadn’t been invented yet and it would be another 1500 years or so before it was used in Roman era appliques. Of all of the crowns of Egypt, this style is the least ostentatious. Was this part of his everyday wear?
If we could play at being archaeologists on a hunt for the missing crown what would we be looking for? Striped linen cloth attached to a tiara with a couple of token sized totems protruding from the forehead? A coil of cord or wire for a ponytail and a fancy hair beard or an ornate one of faience encased in gold or silver?
How much is this famous image propaganda – the “would be god” with his hair shining with the rays of Ra and lapis lazuli, and his skin with the flesh of gold? This is just a taste of Ancient Egyptian propaganda, used even on a coffin and death mask. What about those animal figurines that protrude from the forehead? What are they ? What do they symbolise? Why did Tutankhamun wear two of them and only at the time of his death? What can they tell us of the state of his reign at the time of his death?
Next time : 2.Making the Nemes Crown:Snake and Vulture
Photos and References
(1) As read by Eric Wells on his Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt Podcast, 28th December, 2015, The Festival of Drunkenness and the Destruction of Mankind
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/ Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA
(3)Photo Credit King Tut’s Death Mask and Crown, back view:
Damnatio Memoriae, the erasing of one’s name, reputation, memory, for earthly eternity. In the case of Ancient Egypt, erasing one’s name was akin to black magic. You see, the Ancient Egyptians practised performative magic. By braking the ankles of a stone depiction of a person they crippled him in his afterlife. By erasing the cartouche, the written name of the king, the now-dead king also ceased to exist in the afterlife. The King had to have done something controversial, horrific, blasphemous for this to have been resorted to. At least that is how my 21st Century CE brain works. I can think of 20th Century despots that are worthy of this sort of treatment rather than the infamy they are accorded on their pedestals, celebrated for their excellence in despicability.
What could the boy king, Tutankhamen have done to have deserved this treatment? He, his immediate predecessors, Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten, and his father/uncle(1) Akhenaten were all purposefully forgotten from an Ancient Egyptian list of kings composed 100 years or so after their deaths. Even Akhenaten’s beloved primary wife, Nefertiti didn’t escape this abomination of her memory. Why?
Akhenaten was a heretic king who flouted the central cosmic order and balance of Egyptian society, maat, by throwing out the traditional anthropomorphic gods and enforcing the worship of an unknownable solar power, the Aten. Damnatio memoriae in his case was the monster that ate him when his heart was measured against his duty to maat and was found wanting. But Tutankhamun restored the old gods, restored maat, restored the cosmic order. Surely he didn’t deserve to be written out of history.
When Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb lots of questions arose. Was it Tutankhamen’s tomb? Why was it unfinished? Was it originally meant for a mere nobleman and was swapped? Was the Chariot Tomb (KV58) originally intended for Tutankhamen but was unfinished due to his early death? (2) What was the pink sediment that draped the tomb’s walls? Was Tutankhamen a cripple? What caused his death? Was he murdered? What was his relationship to his successor Ay like? Was Ay his grandfather? Was he the son of Akhenaten? Who was his mother? If he was Akhenaten’s son, why didn’t he succeed Smenkhare as king? Why did his general, Horemheb begin the campaign of Damnatio Memoriae against his family after he succeeded Ay as king? Why was his widow, Ankhesenamen so threated by the Egyptian court that she wrote to the traditional enemy, the Hittite king, to send her a son to marry, who would then rule Egypt? Why was control of Egypt passed from an upper Egyptian family to a Lower one after Horemheb’s death? And. .. what happened to his crown?
Earlier this year my son was set the task of making an iMovie about the life of Tutankhamen. A reluctant learner, nothing I said could inspire him to begin. Tutankhamen was just your age when he reigned. He renounced his parent’s religion about the time you did. He changed his name too. You look so much like him …what if we dressed you up as Tut to narrate your movie? Well, the last one worked. I found myself making a Nemes Crown. By looking at Tutankhamen’s death mask closely some possible answers to the questions above arose. One possibility haunts me.
Could Tutankhamen’s crown be hiding in plain sight?
(1) Eric Wells of the wonderful, thought provoking podcast Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt, makes a convincing argument for Akhenaten the uncle.
(2)KV58 is discussed by Joyce Tydesley’s Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing history of an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013, a wonderful, informative read
Excised – Damnatio Memoriae
Nefertiti and her Daughter
Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten
Belvoir St Theatre until 4th September
Directed by Eamon Flack
Shakespeare: boring; archaic; staid; difficult; artsy-fartsy; a chore. Not this production of Twelfth Night! Pacey. Clever. Colourful. Hilarious. A wealth of comic timing and techniques delivered expertly by well-training, long-practised artists. Jokes and wordplay written 400-plus years ago made clearer and extended by a physicality of performance and stage business that milks visual comedy. The cast is having a ball and the audience is invited. This is the Shakespeare production you drag your friends to so they can experience exactly why you like Shakespeare. They’ll love him too.
It’s so much fun, it’s easy to forget that Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, that it’s questioned as to whether it’s a comedy at all. There is a depth in the play that this performance doesn’t touch. It’s a director’s quandary that to go the full distance with the questions that Shakespeare asks will destroy its happy ending. What’s a comedy without a happy ending? You see, Shakespeare questions who we love, why we love and can we love on demand? By tying up most of the loose ends at the end, the reader of the text can feel deflated. Antonio who bares so much love and risks his life for the young Sebastian is cast off in the slacking of Sebastian’s new-found lust in Olivia. Olivia, mistaking Sebastian for Cesario, spirits him off to a church. When Sebastian’s identity is revealed she accepts that he is not the person whose proxy-wooing captivated her and accepts him because he is male and looks like Cesario/Viola and they are now married. The purity and passion in these same-sex relationships is cast aside for a facile heterosexual denouement.
Is there satisfying elements to the ending of the text? Yes. Orsino, who has been denying his attraction to Cesario/Viola can safely love the female Cesario/Viola and Sir Toby Belch marries his match in hijinx, Maria. In reading the text one wonders whether in a freer society if Viola would pursue the bond she makes with Olivia or Orsino. This production doesn’t go that deep. Eamon Flack’s interpretation stays on the surface of the text. It’s the right decision for a satisfied audience at the end of the show. Not that he doesn’t touch on same-sex love at all. Casting a female, Amber McMahon, to play Sebastian may incite questioning along that line as much as it gets a laugh when Olivia, Anita Hegh, kisses him/her. It does create challenges for the actor playing Cesario/Viola, Nikki Shiels.
Cesario/Viola spends a large chunk of the play onstage. It is her journey that we follow and that drives the play forward. By choosing to keep the interpretation on the surface she spends a long time in bemusement at Olivia’s advances. It’s a really hard intension to maintain and maintain interest in. A subtlety in response to Olivia’s poetry is lacking that would have enriched the performance for the actor and the audience. Similarly, Sebastian could have been more fleshed out. But how far do you go before a comedy in performance becomes the tragi-comedy of the text?
It’s often asked, does it really matter who wrote Shakespeare’s plays? Would it change our enjoyment of them? Would it change their interpretation? In the case of Twelfth Night, William of Stratford is such an unknown creature that we can make of the play what we will. However, if the bisexual Earl of Oxford were believed to be the author then it would be harder to keep the interpretation on the surface. It would be seen as part of a tradition of plays that are homosexual in theme and openly questioning sexuality. But I digress.
While all of the performances were really good and the comedy well timed I have to make special mention of Keith Robinson as Feste. He entertained the audience as the court jester as much as the court of the play. In coming back from the intermission he opened the second act in a sit-down – stand-up of jokes of a contemporary nature that then blended back into the text really well. His facial expressions, his timing – he had the audience. Anita Hegh as Olivia made great contrast of austerity and unbridled passion that resulted in many laughs. Movement Director Scott Witt had the ensemble cast moving in a choreography that was always purposeful and visually effective. The cast dressed as clowns in a sanatorium and moving in a colourful but starkly bare stage reminded me of an ancient chorus. Their movement physicalized the inner life/turmoil of the shipwrecked Viola and compensated for the lack of props and setting elements a more realistic set could have offered. Witt’s movement direction completed Michael Hankin’s set.
Any production can be knit picked but this one is just too engaging. It’s just wonderful.
Thank you to Elly Baxter from Belvior Publicity and Public Affairs for permission to use their photos.
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s The Little Prince adapted from the book by Antoine de Saint-Eupery; Directed by Michael Barlow, Adapted by Simon Clarke
Performed by Jacob Lehrer and Jessica Lewis
If you have ever created theatre for little kids you know that there are no rhetorical questions in the theatre. Throw a question at a very young child and it will answer it. If the child doesn’t hold with the actions a character makes it will call out ,”No!”, “Don’t go!”. “She’s hiding in the box”, etc.. They are the first to giggle, clap and get up and dance. If they don’t understand a theatrical convention, they will demand of the performers, “What are you doing?”, “What’s that?”; quite distracting for the rest of the audience. Whatever you do in staging, don’t lose their attention. They will let you know: “Can we go now?”, “I’m bored!”
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s production of the French classic by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is delivered with panache to the 4+ crowd. It has everything to sustain a very young child’s attention: big facial expressions that are felt and real, short scenes interspersed with music, a variety of puppets and styles of performance, plenty of colour and sensitivity in the realization of the handing of the puppets and an enigmatic, amazing, quixotic, unfolding set.
It is a thoroughly entertaining production . . . although, is Antoine de Saint-Expery’s message going over the tiny heads of its audience? It is a philosophical parable aimed at adults and the more mature of the younger set told in a naïve manner. Think of The Alchemist by Coelho. To counter this each short scene that reaches into the deeper reality of the play is followed by a sung refrain of the point being made. The message that what is valuable cannot be seen is repeated over and over. The audience is given every opportunity to absorb these words. But is the target audience to young to understand their meaning?
In its determination to hold the attention of its youngest audience members and adhere to tried and true practice for that age set, some of the magic of puppetry is lost.Necessarily a 50 minute production, the unpacking of the set, a compact crate filled with boxes and their surprises was rushed. A greater belief in the wonder of stage business and its ability to hold an audience’s attention would help to slow this down.
Between each message-filled episode of the Little Prince’s journey he would be floated away to the strains of, perhaps, discordant music that contrasted with the melodic tune of the scene just played out. The brevity of each scene interspersed with these interludes kept the fast pace in the overall delivery. These interludes would have been much more effective with a slightly older audience where the more mature child would have a space to absorb the pithy parable before being engaged with the next episode.
The lighting design was effective and helped to allot the many levels of reality their own place in the sun or space (or head space). Perhaps a smaller pool of light would have aided the delivery of scenes meant to be focused on the intimate interaction of just the puppets with each other. By this I mean I would have preferred to see less of the expressions of the performers when the puppets were interacting with each other in conversation. It was difficult to enter their reality when focus would slip between the puppeteer and the puppet in a weighty moment. The interplay between puppets and human characters was lovely. The relationship of the two human characters was a little nebulous but entertaining – what was their relationship? Were they stage hands? Random teenagers ready to play?. The selfies and adolescent stage business got the older child.
But these criticisms would be more apt if the performance was directed at an older audience. It’s not. I would love to see it directed at an adult, high school and older primary crowd – my eleven year old got it and enjoyed it.
It is beautifully presented. It is entertaining. I highly recommend it for a young and up to primary school age audience.
The Little Prince is playing in the Monkey Baa Theatre at Darling Quarter until 9th July.
Thank you to Liz Raleigh, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and Monkey Baa Theatre for their production photos.
If the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare, where is his paper trail? He had to have let the cat out of the bag to someone. He liked to brag. He talked over-the-top – especially in Europe – Duke of Oxford. He dressed over-the-top, an Italianate fop, apparently. He lived over-the-top, over-the-top of his income. His was an expansive personality. Why wouldn’t he have written letters speaking of his literary output? Not to have seems contrary to the vanity of his ego. So where is it? Where is the letter regarding his background reading? The personal response to the reception of his plays and poetry? The whine over his enforced anonymity?
Has history overlooked him? Has something more sinister been enacted? Was it a case of damnatio memoriae in the New Rome, London? A government conspiracy to silence him? Was it compounded by the involvement of acrimonious in-laws (the Cecils)? It wouldn’t be the first time in history that such a white-wash was enacted – think of Ancient Egypt, of King Tut.
Photo credit: Rob DeGraff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Or is the lack of evidence due to something a little more mundane? Could it be that his history is mouldering away in a provincial attic because his name and signature are obscure? When the family tree is being drawn up, the document with his signature may be put aside as his name doesn’t belong on the family branches.
He signed his name ‘Edward Oxenford’ or ‘Oxenforde’, or used his title, the Earl of Oxford, but doesn’t seem to have used his family name, Vere, outside of his acrostic poems or perhaps to thinly veil his identity. ‘De Vere’in signature form doesn’t seem to figure at all during his lifetime. Yet today, he is most commonly referred to as ‘Edward de Vere’.
Does a rose by any other name still smell as sweet? In this case it may wreak of damp or be riddled by bookworms (literally). You see, if he wrote about his creative output in letters they may have been addressed to any part of the English, French, Italian, German, Latin or Greek speaking world of his day. Potentially these letters are not restricted to Great Britain but an extensive part of Europe as well. Perhaps they have been thumbed through and pushed aside as a curiosity because his signed name, Edward Oxenford, is not recognizable. A mild curiosity may persist – what was he to the family? the local school teacher, curate, scribe? Eventually the weight of constructing that family tree relegates his name to obscurity once more.
If the name, Edward Oxenford, were to be promoted in the same way that Edward De Vere is, could more of his story come to light? Could that irrefutable piece of elusive evidence finally emerge to elucidate Edward’s enigma?
Happy 466th Birthday, Edward Oxenford(e)!