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Choice (March 2004, vol. 41, no. 7)

Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), is best known as the leading candidate in the "who wrote Shakespeare" debate. Thankfully, Nelson (Univ. of California, Berkeley) has not written propaganda for either side but instead produced a meticulously researched and detailed biography, the first since 1928. Oxford grew up in the household of William Cecil, Baron Burghley, one of the most important men in Elizabeth's court, and married his daughter, Anne. That connection, and his own nobility, protected Oxford as he engaged in adultery, necromancy, murder, and treasonous plots, but it could not stop the extravagant spending that destroyed the Oxford holdings and bankrupted the earldom. Eschewing the current trend, Nelson relies on solid historical research rather than ficionalized re-creations or psychological explanations. This can occasionally be a problem -- he explains few details of Elizabethan life and reproduces large chunks of documents without modernizing, making the book difficult for undergraduates. But for anyone interested in the authorship debate, Oxford himself, or life at the court of Elizabeth I, this book is a goldmine, with many documents and facts reproduced for the first time.
Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students through faculty. -- A. Castaldo, Widener University

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