“What is the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” Answer: “A violin has never had a beer in it.”
The two musical instruments may look alike, but people normally associate folks belonging to a higher class of society with a violin than a fiddle. Likewise, when people debate the authorship issue of William Shakespeare vs Edward de Vere they will often associate the man from Stratford to be “the fiddle” and Edward de Vere to be the violin. After all, Shakespeare hailed from the country and got his education at a grammar school while Oxford grew up at the royal court of Queen Elizabeth. He gained his education from expensive private tutors. Hopefully, my book, Shakey’s Madness will show you that this view is completely mistaken and the roles should actually be reversed. Oxford saw himself as a fiddle while Shakespeare viewed himself as the violin.
William’s father, John Shakespeare had been brought before the magistrates in London so many times that by age 30 most likely William was keenly aware the townspeople of Stratford-upon-Avon were talking behind his back. Not in a good way either. By now, most had linked the name Shakespeare to crooked and illegal wool dealings. Therefore, William wanted to clear his family name in the worst way. He bought a coat of arms. Then he purchased expensive real estate. He paid £320 for 107 acres, a considerable sum for vacant land at a time when a single house cost around £50, and then he did not even show up for the closing. He acted like it was all beneath him. He also snagged “Newhouse” one of the largest homes in the county. William saw himself as a violin and wanted everyone to admire him.
But Edward de Vere? I am going to try to avoid using the word “suffer” because people often will say this or that person “suffered” from mental illness but that is not true. The person did not suffer. He or she was born with mental illness and had to endure it throughout his/her life. Back in the Elizabethan age, not much was known about mental illness. During medieval times people believed madness had to do with someone possessed by the devil so those unhappy individuals who were considered mad were usually beaten with a whip and put in a dark room or locked away. We hear of these treatments in the Shakespeare canon, but why? William of Stratford was not mad. But why else would a nine-year-old Edward de Vere break all the windows of his college dorm? Someone must have left the child in a dark room, right?
Come with me for a minute. Imagine if you were born in the year 1550 and you had to endure mental illness. There was no Google search engine. What would you do if you were educated by tutors?
Madness explains why the “real” author read so much – just like Edward de Vere who read every classical book he could get his hands on. It didn’t matter if the book was written in Greek, Latin, French, Spanish or English, Edward tried his best to get a handle on what was wrong with him. Why did other people think he was off? Why did he faint so much? Why did he needlessly spend so much money? He could never figure it out. He was like a dog trying to chase it’s tail.
Medical specialists tell us that bipolar disorder can cause self-esteem issues. This is why Oxford could feel like a violin on some days (while on a manic high) and lower than a fiddle when he became depressed.
Here is a question: was a woman or a Black person or a Jew considered to be the lowest of lows in Elizabethan England? It did not matter because Edward could identify and empathize with each and all of them. He wrote Othello and The Merchant of Venice to help describe his feelings. Madness or what today we would call bipolar disorder made him believe he was below worthless. His depression is why the plays are full of melancholy and the sonnets are filled with depression and despair.
Instead of seriously looking at medical issues as a reasonable explanation, most Shakespeare scholars will ignore them. They have spent too much time, money and energy on social justice issues and decolonization or collaboration. To admit they put their money on the wrong horse is something they would rather not consider – not realizing that additional books, videos and courses will be needed. Not to mention actually having something that could be used to avoid cutting the arts from college programs. A study of de Vere and Bipolar Disorder benefits students because the symptoms of de Vere’s affliction do not manifest until mid-teens to early adulthood- just when students are beginning to dig their teeth into a serious study of Shakespeare’s plays.
Xenophobia means “distrusting people from other countries” but interestingly, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. The symptoms have never changed either. So someone who endures the disorder in 2021 will behave like someone who endured it in 1580. Fortunately, the treatment and medication for the disorder have greatly changed.
But let us return to Shakespeare’s birthright. Why is it that most of us feel we are entitled to learn about him and/or his works? Perhaps it is because of one of the symptoms of the very illness that I am speaking about because bipolar disorder causes self-doubt in the person who has the affliction. He or she has a problem trusting themselves, as well as others. Distrust of one’s own self. Underline it. Don’t we all feel this at some time in our life?
At the heart of any Shakespeare play are lifelike characters who will share feelings that we all can relate to: like what makes a good friend? Bassanio in the Merchant of Venice shows us. He would give up his family to spare his friend Antonio’s life. We also get to see how characters with self-doubt handle their insecurity issues. Living in a world full of uncertainty, Othello doubts. Hamlet has to ponder the ghost’s words. But Cordelia? No, she stands up to her father, and Portia in the Merchant of Venice disguises herself as a judge and displays her wisdom. Lady Macbeth taunts and mocks her husband’s lack of courage.
If you read about bipolar disorder, you will discover that besides feeling despair and depression many bipolar people are also paranoid. They would rather give their works away completely than be discovered as an author. Sylvia Plath, for example, used a pseudonym because she did not think her work was good enough to be published. But the opposite of paranoia is pronoia where one feels that the entire world around them conspires to do them good. Are these polar opposites found in the plays of Shakespeare? Yes. Just ask the King in Love’s Labour’s Lost or Duke Orsini in Twelfth Night.
People today will insist that life was unbearable for Moors (Black people), Jews and women in Elizabethan society without ever considering the people who perhaps silently suffered the most. These were the folks who endured mental disease. They were not only marginalized and neglected but institutionalized or beaten when and if they dared to complain.
Yes, it can be said Shakespeare has been used to differentiate and subjugate people. But it is time to replace the old standard of William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon as being a boy genius who made it big on the London stage. Why? Because it is not true. The poems, plays and sonnets were all written by a mentally ill man from London who was the seventeenth earl of Oxford.
Doing so, researchers may come to realize that Edward de Vere did his best to talk about discrimination during his lifetime. He actually lived in Italy and most likely came into contact with the Jews and Moors who were living there. He could probably identify with them because he might have been treated badly because of his mental illness. And though Oxford was considered “odd”, eccentric and different, his behaviour may have been ahead of his time. It also may have helped him emphathize with and understand the marginalized in society who weresometimes the “stars” of his plays.
Unfortunately, most scholars will read this essay and pretend to play the worlds smallest violin. Most will keep Edward de Vere as “second fiddle”. But maybe those of us who have experienced friends or relatives enduring bipolar disorder will pass the message along. Because the reason most people find affinity for Shakespeare is that he “seems like one of us”. Someone who understood what it feels like to be “seen but not heard.” For this reason, I suggest the name “Shakes-Vere” an equal study of both men.
After all, a violin has four strings and a fiddle four “strangs”.