Archive for January, 2011

“Carrying Tempest in His Hand and Voice”

January 31st, 2011 4 comments

Have you ever read The Alchemist and The Tempest at the same time?  I don’t mean consecutively, one after the other, but literally, at the same time, Act by Act and scene by scene?  If you do, I guarantee you will be amazed to find out how closely the two plays “talk back” to each other.

Right from the opening scene, Jonson’s thunderous altercation between Face, Subtle and Doll slaps the audience with an in-your-face parody of The Tempest’s thunderous altercation between The Boatswain, Antonio & Co. and The Master, with “The Master” ingeniously split between the ship’s captain and God himself, king of all roarers, who commands the “Elements”.

In both plays, beastly insults foul the air, with “dogs” as a constant theme.  In The Alchemist, Face – who is a mere servant in the house of his absent master – tags his senior partner, Subtle the Alchemist, with several doggy epithets:  “You most notorious whelp”; “my mongrel” and “Doctor Dog”.  Doll calls them both “perpetual curs.”

In The Tempest, we find the reverse situation, with a passel of frightened Lords barking out the canine curses.  Sebastian hollers at the Boatswain, “A poxe o’your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable Dog!”  When the Boatswain dares to backtalk, Antonio roars, “Hang, cur, hang, you whoreson insolent Noise-maker.”

If you look closer, the parallels only intensify.  At line 9 of The Alchemist, Doll warns the two growling pups, “Hark, I hear somebody,” after which Subtle snarls, “I shall mar/All that the tailor has made, if you approach.”  Compare this to The Tempest, line 10, when Antonio demands, “Where is the Master, Boson?”  and the Boatswain growls, “Do you not hear him?  You mar our labour/ Keep your Cabins: you do assist the storm.”

And the correspondences keep on coming.  Read the two in tandem, and this image of keeping within cabins will call to mind the claustrophobic setting of The Alchemist, where the trio of cony-catching rascals have set up shop in Lovewit’s house – “Lovewit” being Face’s absent master.  The Boatswain’s “You do assist the storm,” will have you flipping back the pages of The Alchemist to find Doll’s attempts to quiet her two madmen, with “Will you  betray all?”, and a few lines later, “Will you mar all?” and finally, “Will you be/your own destructions, gentlemen?”

The Tempest’s Boatswain asks a similar question of his “gentlemen” passengers, as he frantically does his best to save the ship:

A plague— [A cry within.  Enter Sebastian, Antonio & Gonzalo.] —upon this howling: they are louder then the weather, or our office.  Yet again?  What do you here?  Shall we give o’er and drown?  Have you a mind to sink?

As you pick up the scent, each pungent echo leads on to the next.  In The Alchemist, Face threatens to turn Subtle in for practicing magic, thus putting the rogue’s “neck/ within a noose.”  In The Tempest, Gonzalo says the Boatswain’s complexion is “perfect Gallows.”  And why does that “gallows” complexion suddenly stop you in your tracks?  Flip some more pages, and you’ll find Face’s vivid description of Subtle-the-bankrupt-and-worthy-to-be-hanged magician, with his “…complexion, of the Roman wash/Stuck full of black and melancholic worms.”

Not convinced yet?  Here’s one more, this time beginning with The Tempest, and Gonzalo’s strange comment on the sinking ship:

“I”ll warrant him for drowning, though the Ship were no stronger then a Nut-shell, and as leaky as an unstanched wench.”

Following this “unsavory simile” (so uncharacteristic of Shakespeare, I might add; where else does he so crudely refer to the privy topic of a woman’s menses?), the Boatswain does his best to save them all, but to no avail.  In come the wet Mariners, crying,  “All lost, to prayers, to prayers, all lost.”  Now turn back to The Alchemist, where you’ll find that the raging human storm also climaxes in a cry of “Lost!”:

SUBTLE:  Cow-herd.

FACE:                           Conjuror.

SUBTLE:                                            Cutpurse.

FACE:                                                                    Witch.

DOLL:                                                                                  O me!

We are ruin’d! Lost!

A few lines later, we hear the shattering of a vessel, as Doll takes matters firmly in hand:

She catcheth out Face his sword: and breaks Subtle’s glass.

Subtle’s glass is one of his alchemical vessels, variously termed curcurbits, gripe’s eggs and bolt’s-heads within The Alchemist.  In The Tempest, the three uses of “vessel” all refer to the cracked ship, which as we’ve just seen, the author oddly and imprecisely likens to an “unstanched wench”.  Which brings us to Doll’s highly significant command to Subtle, after she breaks his alchemical glass:  “And you, sir, with your menstrue, gather it up.”  Menstrue, as you’ll see if you click the link to George Ripley’s work, was a term used in alchemy, as Jonson no doubt knew, given his mention of Ripley within The Alchemist.

David Lucking has many more correspondences in “Carrying Tempest in his Hand and Voice“, but he doesn’t seem to know what to make of it all.  One conclusion he shyly offers is that Ben Jonson’s cynical Alchemist must be commenting on Shakespeare’s Romantic Tempest, rather than the other way around, as the traditional dating has led scholars to believe.  But how does all this intertextuality play out from the Oxfordian perspective, given Oxford’s death in 1604, and the sure dating of The Alchemist to 1610?

The way I see it, these plays are two golden eggs, hatched by the same cackling bird.  Or fraternal twins, nursed on the same rich Shakespearean Boar’s milk.  They are anti-masque and masque, the Cain and Abel,  or Romulus and Remus,  of Ben Jonson’s fiercely independent Novo Orbe.

You cannot fathom the mystery of The Tempest without the aid of The Alchemist.  That’s how the Master planned it.




FACE: You might talk softlier, rascal.

SUBTLE:                                                  No, you scarab,

I’ll thunder you in pieces.  I will teach you

How to beware to tempt a fury again,

That carries tempest in his hand and voice.

FACE: You might talk softlier, rascal.

SUBTLE:                                                  No, you scarab,

I’ll thunder you in pieces.  I will teach you

How to beware to tempt a fury again,

That carries tempest in his hand and voice.

“You bee a sort of knaves”, sayd Skelton

January 16th, 2011 No comments
What is your theory?  That Oxford was born in 1548, the son of Joan Jockey?  What difference would that make to the creation of the Shakespeare canon?

Many thanks to the reader (identified below) who sent me this and a few other sharp questions about my re-examination of the documents relevant to Oxford’s birth.  Since any theory about Oxford’s true parentage would require DNA analysis to prove or conclusively refute, I’d better call this my hunch rather than theory.  In the spirit of possibility, I suggest these hypothetical and (to my mind) sensible reasons for the seemingly irrational or irresponsible marriages of John de Vere:

1. John de Vere made a bigamous marriage with “Joan Jockey ” because she was pregnant.  Otherwise, he would have just “kept her”, in the same manner that the witnesses of 1585 say he kept Anne of Tilbury Hall.

2. Earl John’s brothers-in-law Darcy and Sheffield disapproved of this alliance because Joan was a nobody, a mere village wench, and they wanted him to marry a somebody, preferably one of their kin.

3. Knowing that Lady Dorothy was dying, Darcy and Sheffield arranged for Enowes and Smith to “rid [Joan and Anne of Tilbury Hall] away from the …earl” because they wished him to marry one of their kin.  In Joan’s case, this “ridding away” required an act of horrific violence because John de Vere was very attached to his expectant second wife.  The men resorted to raping Joan and cutting her nose because they wished to destroy her as an honorable or attractive woman, and/or because their “spoiling” would cast permanent doubt on the paternity of Joan’s child, (if she was in the early stages of pregnancy), and/or because they wanted to leave the earl with zero temptation to make his marriage to Joan legal after the countess died.

4. John de Vere needed a wife in the spring of 1548 because Joan had given birth to a boy, and he wanted very much to raise the boy as his son and heir.  John became emotionally attached to this firstborn son from the woman he had married in White Colne Church because of the trauma she had suffered at the hands of his kin, and/or because his ancestors, the 13th and 14th earls of Oxford, had died without leaving a male heir, and/or because after ten years of marriage, his first wife Dorothy had only produced two daughters, with one dying “in swaddling clothes”.

I’ll be the first to admit that even if we find all of the above to be within the realm of possible, this very “possible” son may not have been Edward de Vere, and may not even have survived.  Nevertheless, I often imagine that Edward was Joan’s son.  For me, this narrative offers a more compassionate reading of John de Vere’s actions.  And the stain of bastardy –  in particular, the thought of such base blood possibly running in his noble veins – adds tremendous psychological depth to Edward Oxenford’s biography and to the works of his greatest biographer, William Shakespeare.

But that’s a topic for another day.  For now, I’d like to follow up the theme of John de Vere’s passion for his firstborn son (as I imagine), with another question from the same reader:

Once the Nevil heiress left [Earl John], [Darcy and Sheffield’s] need as representatives of the ruling party in their county, was to have the earl produce a male heir, as soon as possible, legally, by an appropriate member of the Essex upper classes, not someone like Joan Jockey.  Had Joan had a child, what need would there be to go through the elaborate process of getting him taken on as a foundling by another mother, one that was perfectly capable of producing children, as she did with Mary Vere.

On the first point, I’m not sure that Earl John’s in-laws needed him to produce a male heir, a.s.a.p.  What they didn’t need or want was an heir by commoners such as Joan, or Anne, or Dorothy Fosser.  Margery Golding’s family had the right connections – maybe not as good as the Wentworth match that Seymour and Darcy had hoped for, but she was a choice they could live with.

If Joan had given birth to the earl’s son, it would have been natural and humane for him to want to raise his own flesh and blood as his legal heir, rather than abandon him.  I imagine the price he might have demanded in return for lifting Margery Golding into the nobility was that she accept and raise this boy as her own.  It all comes down to a matter of the heart.  I believe John de Vere had a good one, and that his son remembered him with bemused respect and great melancholy.

Whatever the truth may be, as biographers seeking an empathetic understanding of our subject, how might we imagine Edward responding to the gossip he was bound to hear about Joan Jockey from his earliest years?  In 1566, three years after his sister Katherine challenged his “legitimacy of the blood”, someone put together a jest book deceptively entitled Merry Tales of Skelton.  Much to my surprise, in the Seventh Tale, I found an uncanny mirror of just how I’d imagined John de Vere’s love for his boy:

Skelton, the next Sunday after, went into the pulpit to preach, and said: Vos estis, vos estis, that is to say, You be, you be.  and what be you?  said Skelton.  I say, that you be a sort of knaves, yea, and a man might say worse then knaves; and why, I shall show you.  You have complained of me to the bishop that I do keep a fair wench in my house: I do tell you, if you had any fair wives, it were some what to help me at need; I am a man as you be: you have foul wives, and I have a fair wench, of the which I have begotten a fair boy, as I do think, and as you all shall see.

Thou wife, said Skelton, that hast my child, be not afraid; bring me hither my child to me; the which was done.  And he, showing his child naked to all the parish, said, how say you, neighbors all; is not this child as fair as is the best of all yours?  It hath nose, eyes, hands, and feet, as well as any of your:  it is not like a pig, nor a calf, nor like no foul nor no monstrous beast.  If I had, said Skelton, brought forth this child without arms or legs, or that it were deformed, being a monstrous thing, I would never have blamed you to have complained to the bishop of me; but to complain without a cause, I say, as I said before in my antethem, vos estis, you be, and have be, & will and shall be, knaves, to complain of me without a cause reasonable.

Does anyone else hear Shakespearean echoes in this?

Hamlet, as he contemplates suicide and the hereafter: “To be, or not to be.”

Shylock,  the despised, claiming his common humanity: “Hath not a Jew eyes; hath not a Jew hands?”

In Much Ado about Nothing, the 2nd watchman’s hilarious bumbling: “Bring Deformed forth”.

And Aaron the Moor, exulting in the birth of his bastard son:

‘Zounds, ye whore! is black so base a hue?
Sweet blowse, you are a beauteous blossom, sure.

Many thanks to Stephanie Hopkins Hughes for her good questions, and willingness to re-visit these disturbing years in Oxford’s biography.

“Why dost not speak to me?”

January 9th, 2011 No comments

Marcus Andronicus,

to his niece, Lavinia:


Why dost not speak to me?


Alas, a crimson River of warm blood,


Like to a bubbling Fountain stirred with wind,


Doth rise and fall between thy Rosed lips,


Coming and going with thy honied breath.


But sure some Tereus hath deflowered thee,


And lest thou shouldst detect them cut thy tongue.

Without her saying a word, Marcus already knows an unspeakable shame has befallen his niece.  “And lest thou shouldst detect them” he says; he knows that she’s been attacked by more than one Tereus, and knows that the blood he sees on her face comes from a cut tongue.

Yet nothing in the play gives us any reason to suspect him of complicity in the crime – quite the opposite.  Throughout the furies of bloody vengeance, Marcus remains a totem of noble, compassionate stability.  He knows more than he should simply because his creator is not offering realistic drama, but a stylized pageantry of mythic revenge.  “Shakespeare”, in the person of Uncle Marcus, speaks like a young poet stumbling through a textbook translation of brute and nasty fact into beautified, exalted truth.

Some truths are too horrifying, or embarrassing, or dangerous to speak of, except through the shimmering veils of poetry or the grotesques of old wives’ tales.  Richard Enowes’ confessed crime of 1585 falls into this category.  Forty years pass before even a whisper of this callous gang rape surfaces in the records, and even that document leaves us with more questions than answers.  When did John de Vere learn of the attack on Joan?  When, if ever, did he discover who was responsible?  If he’d known that his sister Anne’s husband, Edmund Sheffield, and his sister Elizabeth’s husband, Thomas Darcy, had organized the assault, would he have chosen to remain silent rather than accuse his own kinsman and shame his family name?  Could he possibly have known all along just what they were up to?  As Alan Nelson observes:

The 16th Earl’s exact role in the attack on Joan Jockey is uncertain.  Either his two brothers-in-law acted to destroy an alliance that they regarded as a threat to their own interests; or the Earl cooperated in an effort to drive away a woman who had become a liability.  That the Earl was somehow complicit is suggested by the fact that Enowes and Smith stayed in his service, as revealed by the Earl’s will of 1562, while he remained on exceedingly good terms with Darcy, as revealed in his will of 1552.

When I first read this, it seemed to me that Nelson’s bias against Edward de Vere’s person had unfairly spilled over to the father.   He starts out on firm footing, recognizing the benefits of a potential new alliance to Darcy and Sheffield.  But then he neglects to examine other possible reasons for Earl John’s continued employment of Enowes and Smith, or the full, coercive context of those “good terms with Darcy”.  No where in his account do we learn of Earl John’s shattering loss of another brother-in-law, Henry Howard, beheaded in the midst of his erratic marriages.  Perhaps one needs to have lived in terror to recognize when others are manifesting the strains of life under a tyrant.

Truth to tell, my own response to the 1585 depositions has been equally biased.  In my earliest phase of writing about Titus Andronicus from an Oxfordian perspective, I was too ready to interpret “Shakespeare’s” dramatization of a similar rape, and how Uncle Marcus responds, as evidence of how the real author, Edward Oxenford, knew his father had reacted to the assault on Joan.  The lines I’ve quoted above, along with so much of the play,  seemed to me a wonderfully compassionate record of his father’s helpless fury over what his in-laws had done.  But for all we know, Oxford had never heard of Joan Jockey before 1585.

How would a trained historian approach the evidence, both documentary and literary? It seems to me that any account of Oxford’s life must begin with a clear, emotionally detached – left-brained if you will – assessment of the documents, before flying aloft with right-brain intuitions of a deeper, camouflaged truth.  I now know that my own first, second and third readings of the 1585 depositions failed to pick up many small hints and inconsistencies within the five different accounts.  The layout of the document made it very difficult (for me at least) to keep track of what question each man was answering, and who said what before and after him, in response to the same question.  For ease of comprehension, I’ve now reformatted the questions and answers, and posted what I hope will be a more reader-friendly version: 1585 Depositions Concerning Oxford’s Legitmacy. [filed under “The Life”, top menu]

In two earlier posts, “John de Vere’s firstborn son” and “The Goddess of Justice“, I’ve been laying the groundwork for an in-depth re-examination of every piece of evidence relevant to Oxford’s birth.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing six different summaries of what the 1585 depositions actually say:

1. Alan H. Nelson, who gives the fullest account of the Joan Jockey incident on  pp. 14-19 of Monstrous Adversary (2003).

2. Daphne Pearson, who briefly discusses Oxford’s legitimacy problems on pg. 25 and on pg. 112 of Edward de Vere (1550-1604): The Crisis and Consequences of Wardship (2005).

3. Mark Anderson, who talks about John de Vere and his marriage problems on pg. 3 and discusses the”bastardy lawsuit” of 1563 on pg. 24 of Shakespeare by Another Name (2005).

4. Charles Beauclerk, who summarizes these claims of illegitimacy on pp. 56-7 of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom (2010).

5. Christopher Paul, whose article, “The ‘Prince Tudor” Dilemma: Hip Thesis, Hypothesis, or Old Wives’ Tale?” is frequently cited as a rebuttal to adventurous theories about Oxford’s birth.

6. Nina Green, who deftly summarizes the 1585 Depositions; mentions the issue in the footnotes to her 2009 Brief Chronicles article,  “The Fall of the House of Oxford”, and again in her Oxmyth’s involving other individuals page, where she lists as “Myth” the assertion that “the 16th Earl’s second marriage, to Margery Golding, was ‘irregular’.”

If you know of an important discussion of this document that I’ve overlooked, whether published in a book, journal, newsletter or online, please send me a message so I can include it in this survey.  Many thanks!

Why dost not speak to me?

Alas, a crimson River of warm blood,

Like to a bubbling Fountain stirred with wind,

Doth rise and fall between thy Rosed lips,

Coming and going with thy honied breath.

But sure some Tereus hath deflowered thee,

And lest thou shouldst detect them cut thy tongue.