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Did Ben Jonson write The Tempest’s masque?

February 2nd, 2014 No comments

In his essay “Another Jonson Critic” (The Ben Jonson Journal 18.1, 2011) Andrew Gurr observes: “Shakespeare never wrote any masques for the Court. So why did he create part of one for The Tempest?” His question serves as launchpad for a searching review of the many similarities and echoes that scholars have long noted between Ben Jonson’s pre-1610 masques and the one we find in The Tempest. Aided by speculations as to the “consistently lively and intimate relationship” between these two famous rivals, Gurr concludes that Shakespeare’s apparent awareness of Jonson’s masques, and Prospero’s abrupt dismissal of the pageantry when he recalls Caliban’s conspiracy, works as a “quiet comment on the pretensions inherent in Jonson’s courtly masquing.”

InigoJonesBJMasqueOfAugures

 

But is this an adequate explanation for the uncanny accuracy of Shakespeare’s imitation? Jonson, after all, knew these transient pretensions firsthand, and Prospero’s “Our revels now are ended” speech directly echoes sentiments he’d already expressed in Hymenaei, published in 1606. With so many examples of his influence over the form and content of this masque, why, I wonder, did Andrew Gurr not ask if Jonson might have written it?  Given the recent scholarship on “collaboration” in Shakespeare’s canon, especially among the later plays, further investigation into Ben Jonson’s hand within The Tempest certainly seems justified.

What follows are just a few of the similarities to Jonson’s masques, as well as Jonson’s thinking about the phenomena of the court masque, as noted by Gurr:

* Transcience: In his preface to Hymenaei, Jonson “wrote of the division between a masque’s “soule,” it’s poetry, and the materiality and transience of its staging. The soul, he argued, had the “lasting” impact. Otherwise, “all the glorie of all these solemnities had perish’d like a blaze, and gone out in the beholders eyes.” Though Gurr hesitates to say so, Jonson’s skepticism about “shows” in his preface actually mirrors Prospero’s dismissal in his “Our revels now are ended” speech, where, just as swiftly as he can clap his hand, the “insubstantial pageant” he’s orchestrated will fade and dissolve, like a blazing moment of sunset.

Instead of acknowledging that Jonson and Shakespeare have the same views on this transcience of the Jacobean court spectacles, Gurr attempts to find difference where there is none: “Jonson’s introductory notes to his 1610 masque must have stimulated Shakespeare’s thinking about such shows. Whatever his reason for so abruptly truncating The Tempest’s masque, Shakespeare seems to have developed his own view of the new art. His feelings seem to have been altogether more modest, or at least more modulated.”

* The Great Globe: Universally and inextricably linked in the public mind of today to William Shakespeare and his Globe theatre, this may not have been the case in early Jacobean London, as Gurr’s next observation suggests:

Hymenaei has several features that must have registered in Shakespeare’s mind… Not the least of the apparent echoes of [Jonson’s] masque in The Tempest is the great orb of silver and gilt, the giant “microcosme, or Globe, (figuring Man)” designed by Inigo Jones. …Whether or not Prospero alludes to it directly when he specifies “the great Globe it selfe” while declaring that “Our Revels now are ended,” a few people in the audience at the Blackfriars, not least Jonson himself, might have been expected to see the link.

To further illustrate, Gurr quotes from John Pory’s letter to Sir Robert Cotton dated 7 January, 1606:

Ben Jonson turned the globe of the earth standing behind the altar, and within the Concave sate the 8 men-maskers representing the 4 humours and the fower affections who leapt forth to disturb the sacrifice to union…

Don’t you just love the image of Ben Jonson turning that huge mechanical globe, with all those gorgeously costumed courtiers sweating in its concave belly?  Note also how his eight men-masquers leapt forth to disturb.  This mirrors the reason for Prospero’s abrupt ending of the masque: the memory of Caliban and his co-conspirators leapt forth to disturb him, the deposed duke of Milan and self-appointed guardian of the island’s “commonwealth”.

JunoIrisWencelasHollar

* Reason: Jonson’s affection for the quality of “wakeful reason” is well-documented in his early Epode, included in Chester’s Love’s Martyr.  Without reaching so far back, Gurr easily connects Prospero’s reliance on reason with Jonson’s symbolic portrayal of the virtue:

Moreover, that in Jonson’s Hymenaei it should be Reason who was the one to restore order, sitting on top of Hymenaei’s globe and descending from it to quell the disruptive Humours and Affections, such a show of control seems nicely echoed in Prospero’s own subsequent dismissal of his disordered masquers.”

Jonson and Shakespeare do seem to be thinking along similar lines at this time, as when we find Prospero declaring, “Yet with my nobler reason gains’t my fury…”  And Jonson’s early use of “wakeful Reason” calls to mind the sleepy terms that Prospero uses to dismiss the pageant when his spy, Ariel, reminds him of the “foul conspiracy”:

We are such stuff/as dreams are made on…

…our little life is rounded by a sleep…

…My brain is troubled, be not disturbed with my infirmity

Had Prospero and his “nobler reason” been awake, rather than invested in staging this dreamy “vanity” (which for some reason he seems to think is expected of him), would he have forgotten Caliban’s mischief?

* Drawn swords: The anti-masque is a Jonsonian innovation, written to portray the disorder that the order of a masque will reform, through its symbolic poetry and pageantry.  At this point in his essay, Gurr moves beyond the Tempest’s masque to a consideration of where, if at all, we may find the play’s “anti-masque”.  He cites Catherine M. Shaw: “who identifies the play’s antimasque as Ariel’s previous maddening of Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio at the end of act 3 while Prospero is standing to view it ‘on the top’.”  If we follow Shaw’s line of thinking as regards the anti-masque, we find it leads us to another echo of Jonson’s Hymenaei:

…Alonso and Antonio have both rebelled against Reason by ‘violating the unity of family and state,’ making them draw their swords just as the masquers do in Hymenaei.

* “on the top”: As we’ve just seen, this phrase appears in act 3, scene 3, where Shaw locates the anti-masque of the play.  Gurr draws our attention to a similar phrase in Jonson’s Hymenaei, where

“a statue of Jupiter is present above the pair, positioned ‘standing in the toppe (figuring the heaven) brandishing his thunder.’ This may well have been reflected in Cymbeline’s Jupiter, suspended from the Globe’s heavens… as much as in Prospero, positioned to watch the banquet during Ariel’s appearance as the Harpy in a superior position specified by the stage direction only as “on the top,a distinctive location not repeated anywhere in any other play.”  

This echo of a unique stage direction in two of Shakespeare’s later plays seems to position Jonson as the Jacobean trend-setter in his staging effects.   Having exceeded my 1,000 word limit for a blog post, I’ll save the remainder of Gurr’s very useful essay for another day.  Thank you for visiting the EO Review.

In a Continual Tempest

November 2nd, 2013 No comments

My brave spirit!  Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil/Would not infect his reason?  ~Prospero to Ariel, The Tempest

Far from being a play that he must have hated, The Tempest actually put a breath of life into Ben Jonson’s stiff ‘Epode’, (click here to read in a separate window) which appeared alongside Shakespeare’s ‘Phoenix and the Turtle’ in Love’s Martyr.   So far, no one but Charles Downing, a turn-of-the-last-century bardolator, seems to have noticed that each of the concepts Jonson had explored in that early morality poem gained a local habitation and a name on Shakespeare’s bare island:  Vice, Virtue, Reason, Blind Desire and True Love all come alive as Antonio, Gonzalo, Prospero, Ferdinand and Miranda.

prospero-and-ariel

The thematic correspondences between Jonson’s poem and Shakespeare’s play seem to me to be sufficiently striking for us to question whether or not there may have been some silent, unrecorded collaboration between the two poets in the composition of The Tempest.  If so, it was a perfect mating of talents. Where Jonson had compressed all his static allegorical figures into a relatively brief ‘Poetical Essay’ (116 lines), Shakespeare, in The Tempest, seems to have unpacked Jonson’s mannequins and clothed their naked utility with robust poetry and ethereal song.  Thought is translated into symbolic action.  Take, for instance, Jonson’s tedious musing in his poem’s first lines:

Not to know vice at all, and keep true state,
Is virtue and not fate :
Next to that virtue, is to know vice well,
And her black spite expel,
Which to effect (since no breast is so sure, 
Or safe, but she’ll procure
Some way of entrance) (Epode lines 1-7)

In The Tempest, we find Jonson’s idea moving with swift authority when Prospero questions his “Brave spirit”, Ariel, about the results of his magical project.  Paraphrased as “Was no breast so sure or safe, that this coil/ would not infect their reason?”, the question leads us directly to where Jonson is going in his poem.  A few lines further down, Jonson introduces “Wakeful Reason, our affection’s king”, who depends on us to “plant a guard/Of thoughts to watch and ward” against the entrance of Vice.  In the The Tempest, Shakespeare plants two unreliable guards – Antonio and Sebastian – to watch over the sleeping king:  AHollowBurstofBellowing

We two, my lord,
Will guard your person while you take your rest,
And watch your safety. (TT 2.1.911-13)

A few minutes later in the play, Gonzalo, who plays “Virtue” to the conspirators’ “Vice”, gives us a vivid illustration of lines 22-3 in Jonson’s poem, which speak of what happens when “the sentinel, That should ring larum to the heart, doth sleep”:

Upon mine honour, sir, I heard a humming,
And that a strange one too, which did awake me:
I shaked you, sir, and cried: as mine eyes open’d,
I saw their weapons drawn: there was a noise,
That’s verily. ‘Tis best we stand upon our guard,
Or that we quit this place; let’s draw our weapons. (TT 2.1.1066-71)

The next passage in Jonson’s poem tells how “Wakeful Reason” will “quickly taste the treason” of the Vices attempting to enter each breast that seems so sure.  Once alerted to these temptations, the next step for “Reason” is to “commit/close, the close cause of it”.   The line is dense but not obscure.  “Commit” carries the meaning of imprison, as we find in Shakespeare: “Sir, here comes the nobleman that committed the Prince for striking him about Bardolph” (2H4, 1.2.350).  As for the “close cause” to be committed, it is “close” to us because our own eyes and ears are the ports of entry for Vice.  Therefore, in the logic of Jonson’s poetic essay:

‘Tis the securest policy we have,
To make our sense our slave.  (Epode lines 17-18)

“To make our sense our slave” may be the allegorical logic that binds Prospero (as “Wakeful Reason”) so uneasily to his role as master of two spirit “slaves”, Ariel and Caliban.  Caliban, who “must eat” his dinner, and would gladly people the island with a “brave brood” of Calibans, easily represents our carnal appetites.  At the end of the play, when Prospero has finished taming the beast in Caliban, he confesses what we might have guessed all along: “This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.”

Ariel is much more complicated than Caliban, perhaps because the senses he serves – Prospero’s intellectual pride and desire for vengeance – are in themselves such complex temptations.  These two pitfalls are missing from Jonson’s early poem, which has the perfect love of the Phoenix and the Turtle for its inspiration.  But Ariel also serves as Prospero’s personal Cupid, by bringing Ferdinand and Miranda together:

At the first sight
They have changed eyes. Delicate Ariel,
I’ll set thee free for this. (TT1.2.613)

ariel_ferdinand

As in The Tempest, Cupid isn’t mentioned by name in Jonson’s poem, but the blind boy’s disruptive methods and effects make a strong impression in both works.  One major object of Prospero’s “art” in raising the tempest was to bring Ferdinand safely ashore where he cannot help but fall helplessly in love with the admirable Miranda.  With this in mind, listen closely to Ariel’s response to Prospero’s, “Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil/Would not infect their reason?”

                                     …Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad and play’d
Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
Then all afire with me: the king’s son, Ferdinand,
With hair up-staring,—then like reeds, not hair,—
Was the first man that leap’d; cried, ‘Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.’ (TT 1.2.329-36)

Now compare this with how Jonson personifies Cupid by his other name, “blind Desire”:

The thing, they here call Love, is blind Desire,
Arm’d with bow, shafts, and fire;
Inconstant, like the sea, of whence ’tis borne,
Rough, swelling, like a storm:
With whom who sails, rides on the surge of fear,
And boils, as if he were
In a continual tempest. (Epode lines 37-43)

With both passages still fresh in mind, listen now to Shakespeare’s portrait of Ferdinand riding the swollen surge, lines that were meant as comfort to King Alonso, who has no idea that his son survived the tempest and is now smitten with Miranda: tempestAriel

                                       …Sir, he may live:
I saw him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs; he trod the water,
Whose enmity he flung aside, and breasted
The surge most swoln that met him; his bold head
‘Bove the contentious waves he kept, and oar’d
Himself with his good arms in lusty stroke
To the shore, that o’er his wave-worn basis bow’d,
As stooping to relieve him: I not doubt
He came alive to land.

“It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that Shakespeare wrote these lines, in which there seems to be but one trace of him, and that is “oared”, says H. H. Furness in the Variorum edition of the play, with no further discussion of his reason for doubting Shakespeare’s hand here.  Could Jonson have written these lines?  “I not doubt” is a phrase that appears twice in this play, but no where else in Shakespeare; we find it in Jonson’s Cataline.  Likewise, Shakespeare only combines “bold” with “head” here in The Tempest; Jonson uses “bold head” in his Epigram CXXVI to Mrs. Cary.  He may have publicly dissed The Tempest in Bartholomew Fair, but Honest Ben seems to have left a partial print or two on Shakespeare’s text.  

One Phoenix?

October 25th, 2013 4 comments

elizafuneral

“Sebastian’s pointed allusion to “one tree [in Arabia], the Phoenix throne; one Phoenix at this hour reigning there” (3.3.21-24) can now be appreciated – as it would be in any play dated before 1604 – as a topical compliment to an elderly Queen known as the Phoenix, Elizabeth I (1533- 1603).”  Stritmatter & Kositsky, On the Date, Sources and Design of Shakespeare’s Tempest, McFarland, 2013

In my last post, Phoenix of the Tempest, we saw how Sebastian’s allusion, followed by references to the traveler Puntarvolo of Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour, could, indeed, direct us to a time during Elizabeth’s reign.  Specifically, in a play attributed to Shakespeare, I believe we’re invited to revisit the “Poetical Essaies” on the topic of the Phoenix that he and Ben Jonson contributed to Robert Chester’s Love’s Martyr.  Could it be that the author is also inviting us to hear a compliment to Elizabeth while she still reigned, as Stritmatter and Kositsky imagine?

Not necessarily so.  Allusions are notoriously subjective, even more so when so much is at stake, as it is for those who hold that Oxford (who died on June 24, 1604) wrote “Shakespeare” and “Shakespeare” wrote The Tempest.  We must be on guard against hidden assumptions that may limit the scope of our inquiry. For example, as evidence that Sebastian’s Phoenix refers to Elizabeth, Stritmatter and Kositsky state, (in a footnote to the book’s first reference to the Phoenix, ch. 7, p. 79, fn. 36):

Incidentally, the passage suggests that Queen Elizabeth was alive when the play was written: her association with the Phoenix is too well known to require detailed exposition.  As early as 1574 medallions were struck bearing her image on one side and the phoenix on the other, and in 1575 she sat for the “phoenix portrait” by Nicholas Hilliard wearing one. [A second footnote, to ch. 9, repeats this assertion almost verbatim.]

Notice how “too well known” lullabies us into complacency.  Of course, Elizabeth adopted and nurtured the Phoenix myth for herself, but she wasn’t the only Phoenix of the times.  In 1593, The Phoenix Nest included poems of grief honoring the slain Philip Sidney as a Phoenix (with “E.O” as one of the contributors; his poem was later reprinted in England’s Helicon as by the “Earle of Oxenford“).  By marrying Sidney’s widow, Essex symbolically rose from Philip’s ashes to carry on the Sidnean flame of virtue.  After the beheading of Essex in 1601, his role as Sidney’s successor for the mantle of true, virtuous phoenix (or lover of the phoenix) may have been on the minds of the poets – Shakespeare included – who contributed to Love’s Martyr.

Funeral_procession_of_Sir_Philip_Sidney_1587_Theodor_de_Bry_pallbearers

Although they abstain from offering a likely date by which the earl of Oxenford would have written The Tempest, “any play dated before 1604″ is the time frame that Stritmatter and Kositsky stake out for Sebastian’s supposed compliment to Elizabeth as a living Phoenix.  Perhaps they meant to say “any play dated before Elizabeth’s death in March of 1603″?  Once she was gone, the mantle of Phoenix quickly passed, with imperial emphasis, to James:

The most common image with which James was associated, especially in the immediate aftermath of his succession, was that of the phoenix. A device with which writers had lauded Queen Elizabeth, it was one which could be used to celebrate the new king even as it remembered his predecessor. A long-time imperial motif, its use dated back to the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine… As James had returned to the throne of Britain as a Constantine so too was he like Britain reborn.  Theatre and Empire: Great Britain on the London Stages under James VI and I by Tristan Marshall

The list of examples Marshall provides should quickly alert us to the dangers of using Sebastian’s cry of belief in a Phoenix as either a reference to Elizabeth or as a dating marker for The Tempest:

In praising James, use of the phoenix began during the period of mourning for the queen. ‘One Phenix dead, another doth suruiue‘ and ‘thus is a phoenix of her ashes bred‘ wrote the Cambridge contributors to Sorrows Ioy (1603), while Henry Campion described ‘that Phoenix rare, whom all were loath to leaue’. Sylvester’s translation of Du Bartas’s Divine Weeks and Works (1608) mused: ‘from spicie Ashes to the sacred URNE of our dead Phoenix (dear ELIZABETH), A new true PHOENIX lively flourisheth… JAMES, thou just Heire’. Welcoming James to his capital on behalf of its sheriffs the MP and wit Richard Martin effused how ‘out of the ashes of this Phoenix wert thou, King James, borne for our good, the bright starre of the North’. Henry Petowe’s 1603 poem reporting James’s coronation, England’s Caesar, claimed that the king was ‘the Phoenix of all Soueraignty‘ while Dekker’s arch for Jame’s welcome to London, Nova Arabia Felix, associated Britain with ‘happy Arabia…’ …The king’s arrival before the arch represented the phoenix arising out of the ashes of the dead queen

These references to James as a phoenix highlight another problem with using the soft evidence of topical allusions to date the composition of an entire play: changes or additions may have been made at any time before publication, especially to a script revived soon after greatly altered circumstances.  Regardless of who we believe wrote Shakespeare, we should never lose sight of the documentary evidence we do have for dating this play: the first recorded performance at court of 1611, followed by a second royal production in 1613, along with the 1623 date of first publication in the First Folio.

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By the time the court saw The Tempest for a second time in 1613, they’d just mourned the death of Prince Henry in 1612 and were in the midst of celebrating the wedding of his sister Elizabeth to Frederick, Elector Palatine, on Feb 14, 1613.  Tristan Marshall documents another flurry of Phoenix references inspired by these momentous changes:

Use of the phoenix image was to be given new impetus when James’s heir apparent died prematurely in 1612. The death of Prince Henry was lamented by Christopher Brooke – ‘…this Phoenix …haue sacrificed his life in funerall flame‘ – while Protestant hopes were transferred to his sister and her husband, of which couple Robert Allyne wrote:

As Phoenix burnes herselfe against the Sunne,

That from her dust may spring another one…

So now, raise up a world of royall seed.

That may adorne the earth when ye are dead.

It is no coincidence that Phineas Pett built and launched a ship named the Phoenix in honour of the Princess Elizabeth before her departure with her husband, while Donne refers to the couple repeatedly as being two Phoenixes in his Epithalamion for their marriage.

As should now be evident, in a play first established as a stable text in 1623, Sebastian’s reference to a Phoenix still reigning could apply to Elizabeth as Anne Boleyn’s heir, to Essex as Philip Sidney’s heir, to James as Queen Elizabeth’s heir (1603-5), to the Stuart Princess Elizabeth as her brother Henry’s heir (1612-13), or to none of the above.  I believe the context best fits Jonson’s idealized Phoenix: a being infused with all Virtue and no Vice, wherein Passsion submits to Reason, and Love embraces Chastity.  As I hope to show in future posts, this was Prospero’s vision as well.  On Jonson’s terms, Ariel’s magic begins the work of transforming the treasonous fool Sebastian from a monster into a man.

~Marie Merkel

 

Phoenix of The Tempest

October 18th, 2013 No comments

Now I will believe…

…that in Arabia

There is one tree, the phoenix’ throne, one phoenix

At this hour reigning there.

One of the silliest ideas in Shakespeare studies is that Ben Jonson hated The Tempest.  If all we had to go on were his sly comments in Bartholomew Fair (1614), there might be some excuse for such myopia, but no poet of the era left behind a more comprehensive road map of his artistic journey. Tag along with him for any part of that road, be it through his plays, poems, masques or prose, and you’ll soon gauge the temper of the man: bold beyond belief, short-tempered, righteous, erudite, funny, self-deprecating, wily, smart,

FerdinandMirandaPaulFalconerPoole1850

generous, beloved and scorned.  If he heaped gorgeous praises on those he deemed worthy, no one suffered a fool with more gleeful relish. Prospero’s reforming project coincides with his own: how he would have loved to lure a ship of vicious ninnies to an island and pour into their captive ears and eyes the visionary music of his Art, in order to boil their brains till they came to their senses.

But you don’t need to read all of Jonson’s imposing “Works” to find proof of his essential sympathy with The Tempest.  All you need is one poem, which Sebastian’s sudden belief (3.3.21-4) in a Phoenix reigning “at this hour” would have called up for the play’s original audiences.  Two references in this scene point us towards Jonson.  Sebastian, a slothful, foul-mouthed lord, had just been whispering treason with Antonio when Ariel arrives with strange music and a banquet to ravish their senses.  Ariel’s magic also infects Antonio’s belief system; he seconds Sebastian’s outburst, and proclaims himself ready to swear to “what else does want credit”, such as the tales of “travelers” [that] ne’er did lie.

Not without mustard

Mention of travelers eventually leads Gonzalo to muse about the stories told by “Each putter-out of five for one“.  As Theobald discovered long ago, the meaning of this phrase will be found in Jonson’s highly popular Every Man Out of His Humour (published in quarto three times in 1600).  Both references – to traveler and the “putter-out of five for one” – invite us to recall Jonson’s vain-glorious traveler Puntarvolo, who made precisely this wager.

Once we pick up the author’s cues and land in Jonson territory, we have a new light to shine on Sebastian’s Phoenix.  In a play attributed solely to Shakespeare, any mention of this mythological bird should send us back to Robert Chester’s Love’s Martyr: Or Rosaline’s Complaint of 1601, where we’ll find Shakespeare’s poem “The Phoenix and the Turtle” published for the first time.  This intertextuality is reinforced by the bird’s appearance in a scene that not only begins with two unpleasantly witty Lords plotting the king’s death but also contains three phrases or references that call up works from the time of the Essex Rebellion.

Shakespeare appears to have had some sympathy with Essex and his followers, (perhaps blindsided by his devotion to Southampton) whereas Jonson, in Cynthia’s Revels, (1601) publicly chastised Essex in the figure of Acteon.  Here’s the rub: through Ariel, Prospero’s reforming magic elicits from Sebastian a new-found belief in a living Phoenix; Shakespeare, if you recall, ends his threnody on the Phoenix with

Chester_Robert-Loves_martyr_or_Rosalins_complaint

Now let us turn to Jonson, who, as it happens, also wrote a “Poetical Essay” on the phoenix for Love’s Martyr.  His contribution is placed last, as if to give him final say among the four poets (Marston and Chapman are the other two contributors).  Charles Downing (God in Shakespeare, 1901) believes that Jonson’s

Epode will be easily recognised as the germ of The Tempest, and in it the reader will find my interpretation so far of the play…confirmed in important particulars.”  

 

By “germ” it seems to me that Downing has in mind an originating impulse such as we might expect to come from the author himself.  After reading all four of Jonson’s contributions to Love’s Martyr, I agree with Downing’s assessment of the importance, in particular, of his Epode (reprinted later in The Forest).  If you aren’t already familiar with this poem, (reprinted below the turtle) I hope you’ll take the time to read it carefully and impartially, to judge for yourself.  I do believe you’ll find, in embryonic state, the essential concepts regarding reason, passion, chastity and virtue that underlie Prospero’s reforming “project”.  If Shakespeare truly wrote The Tempest, all by himself, then it is his belated salute of honor to Jonson’s moral vision in Love’s Martyr

ThouTortoise 

BEN JONSON’S EPODE.

 

Not to know vice at all, and keep true state,

Is virtue and not fate

Next to that virtue is to know vice well,

And her black spight expel;

Which to effect (since no breast is so sure

Or safe, but she’ll procure

Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard

Of thoughts, to watch and ward

At the eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,

That no strange or unkind

Object arrive there, but the heart, our spy,

Give knowledge instantly,

To wakeful Reason, our affection’s King;

Who, in the examining,

Will quickly taste the treason, and commit, 

Close, the close cause of it.

Tis the securest policy we have

To make our sense our slave.

But this true course is not embraced by many,

By many! Scarce by any.

For either our affections do rebel,

Or else the sentinel,

That should ring ‘larum to the heart, doth sleep:

Or some great thought doth keep (as ambition)

Back the intelligence, and falsely swears

They’re base and idle fears

Whereof the loyal conscience so complains.

Thus by these subtle trains,

Do several passions invade the mind,

And strike our reason blind.

Of which usurping rank, some have thought love

The First; as prone to move

Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests

In our inflamed breasts:

But this doth from the cloud of Error grow

Which thus we over-blow.

The thing they here call love is blind desire,

Armed with bow, shafts, and fire: 

Inconstant like the sea of whence ‘tis born,

Rough, swelling, like a storm,

With whom who sails rides on the surge of fear,

And boils as if he were

In a continual tempest. Now true love

No such effects doth prove;

That is an essence far more gentle, fine,

Pure, perfect, nay, divine.

It is a golden chain, let down from heaven,

Whose links are bright and even;

That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines

The soft and sweetest minds

In equal knots: this bears no brands, nor darts 

To murder different hearts,

But, in a calm and godlike unity,

Preserves community.

O, who is he that, in this peace enjoys

The Elixir of all joys?

A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,

And lasting as her flowers;

Richer than Time, and as Time’s virtue, rare; 

Sober as saddest care;

A fixed thought, an eye untaught to glance;

Who blest with such high chance,

Would at suggestion of a steep desire

Cast himself from the spire

Of all his happiness? But, soft; I hear

Some vicious Fool draw near

That cries, we dream, and swears there’s no such thing 

As this chaste love we sing.

Peace, Luxury! thou are like one of those

Who, being at sea, suppose,

Because they move, the continent doth so.

No, Vice, we let thee know,

Though thy wild thoughts with sparrow’s wings do fly,

Turtles can chastely die;

And yet (in this to express ourselves more clear)

We do not number here

Such spirits as are only continent,

Because lust’s means are spent;

Or those who doubt the common mouth of fame,

And for their place and name,

Cannot so safely sin; their chastity

Is mere necessity;

Nor mean we those, whom vows in conscience

Have filled with abstinence;

Though we acknowledge, who can so abstain,

Makes a most blessed gain.

He that, for love of goodness, hateth ill,

Is more crown worthy still

Than he, which for sin’s penalty forbears;

His heart sins, though he fears.

But we propose a person like our Dove,

Graced with a Phoenix’ love;

A beauty of that clear and sparkling light,

Would make a day of night,

And turn the blackest sorrow to bright joys:

Whose odorous breath destroys 

All taste of bitterness, and makes the air

As sweet as she is fair:

A body as harmoniously composed

As if nature disclosed

All her best symmetry in that one feature!

O, so divine a creature 

Who could be false to? Chiefly when he knows

How only she bestows

The wealthy treasure of her love on him; 

Making his fortunes swim 

In the full flood of her admired perfection? 

What savage brute affection

Would not be fearful to offend a dame

Of this excelling frame?

Much more a noble and right generous mind, 

To virtuous moods inclined,

That knows the weight of guilt; he will refrain

From thoughts of such a strain,

And to his sense object this sentence ever,

Man may securely sin, but safely never.”

 

Thank you for visiting the EO Review.

Romance Lurked in the Corners

September 24th, 2013 3 comments


THE ELIZABETHAN PRODIGALS

by Richard Helgerson

University of California Press, 1976

What a shining example Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, must have been to the up-and-coming writers of Helgerson’s study: George Gascoigne, John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge and Philip Sidney.  Tales of prodigality saturate accounts of the earl’s life, no matter how brief.  High points of this bad-boy biography include his penchant for spending, drinking, wenching, rioting, lying, reckless swordplay and in general wasting hours in idleness and lewd poetry, without ever once holding “a real job”.

After his father’s death in 1561, Oxford entered William Cecil’s household just in time to appreciate the uproar created by misbehaving son Thomas, for whom Cecil had composed his first set of precepts on how to be a virtuous subject and serve the Commonwealth while on his continental tour.  Years later, when his favored son Robert was about to embark on the same journey, with all its pitfalls of temptation, Lord Burghley revised his notes to Thomas into the more famous precepts, which Shakespeare seems to have parodied in Polonius.  Chances are that Burghley had Oxford’s naughty escapades in Italy in mind when writing this second set of precepts.

Helgerson’s choice of prodigals reflect the London literary scene of the decade between late 1570 to late 1580, beginning soon after Oxford’s return from Italy with perfumed gloves for the queen and a young choir boy named Orazio for himself.  Greene and Lyly both dedicated works to the earl; Philip Sidney was his rival in love and poetry, while Gascoigne and Lodge at one time delighted in the same sort of roistering company that wreaked havoc on Oxford’s marriage to Anne Cecil.  Although Helgerson misses the opportunity to assess the earl’s premier place among Elizabethan prodigals, his compact survey of these Prodigal Narratives shows a neat fit with Oxford’s personal history as William Cecil’s ward and then son-in-law.  Indeed, Helgerson identifies Cecil and his utlitarian views on education as a prime influence on the younger generation:

In a patriarchal state, deriving its moral authority from its likeness to the family, Burghley, whom Peele addressed as parens patriae, was the archetypal father.  He was, moreover, the most active and powerful advocate of the ideals of mid-century English humanism…

Perhaps with Father Burghley’s admonitory finger-wagging in mind, young George Whetstone (Burghley’s neighbor in Stamford) takes a reformatory stance when hawking his wares to members of his own generation:

…in plucking off the vizard of self-conceit under which I sometimes proudly masked with vain desires, other young gentlemen may reform their wanton lives in seeing the fond and fruitless success of my fantastical imaginations, which be no other than poems of honest love, and yet, for that the exercise we use in reading loving discourses seldom, in my conceit, acquiteth our pains with anything beneficial unto the commonweal or very profitable to ourselves, I thought the “Garden of Unthriftiness” the meetest title I could give them.

The Prodigal Son 1623

The Prodigal Son 1623

Several of Oxford’s poems toy with the conceits of honest love, vain desires and unrewarded pains:

“Possessed by desire/No sweeter life I try/Than in her love to die”

“So he that takes the pain to pen the book…”

“And others yet do gather them, that took less pain I know”

“If care or skill could conquer vain desire…”

“Who loves aloft and sets his heart on high/Deserves no pain, though he do pine and die”

Desire can have no greater pain/Than for to see another man/That he desireth to obtain”

With some justification, we can imagine the earl smiling at Whetstone’s sly apology for his addiction to writing love poems.  This same protest of reformatory zeal appeared a decade earlier, in the pious prefaces of Brooke and Golding, when publishing translations of seductively Romantic or Pagan literature.  Duly forewarned, with the reformist authorities appeased, English readers were now free to enjoy these wanton toys.  As Helgerson notes,

…it has become usual to distinguish between the Elizabethan fathers and their sons by identifying one group with mid-century English humanism and the other with Italianate and romantic courtliness, opposing “the wisdom of a Burghley” to “the graces of a Sidney.

For students of Oxford’s life, this passage may call to mind Gabriel Harvey’s poem mocking the “Tuscanish” earl and the fruits of his travels.  Did Oxford’s tales from Italy have some small influence on Helgerson’s band of prodigal brothers?   The possibility – and swift dismissal – inevitably comes up in his chapter on Lyly, but rather than his customary acuity, here the author pleads obscurity:

Nor is it clear that the viciousness of Oxford’s life led him as a patron to prefer licentious writing.  As Hunter remarks, Oxford ‘commanded’ his ‘loving friend’ Thomas Bedingfield to translate Cardan’s Comfort into English (1573) and this argues seriousness of mind and sobriety of taste.

Sober in 1573, a year spent in the arms of a Venetian courtesan may have affected the earl’s tastes.  Unfortunately, Helgerson overlooked the many dedications to Oxford of Courtly Romances and Love Poetry, by Munday, Greene and Watson.  Combined with his patronage of Lyly’s Euphues, these connections put the “sober” earl at the epicenter of Elizabethan literary rebellion.  Helgerson deftly summarizes the stakes in this generational struggle at the end of chapter 2:

…The highest officers of the realm proclaimed the attitudes of conservative, mid-century humanism for all to hear; but romance, however much it might try to disguise itself as another form of humanistic admonition, lurked in the corners, passing in manuscript from hand to hand, never venturing into print without an apology.  Humanism belonged to the hierarchical relations of father and son, schoolmaster and pupil, elder and younger; romance to the egalitarian commerce of friend with friend – those lewd and flattering companions whom fathers and prodigal son plays continually warn against.  Humanism inhabited the masculine and misogynistic world of school and state; romance “had rather be shut in a lady’s casket than open in a scholar’s study”.

If Edward de Vere contributed to the Prodigal literature of this decade – as Harvey’s “feeble pen” address at Audley End suggests, no matter how you spin it – would he have kept his trifles shut in a lady’s casket, away from his father-in-law’s unappreciative eye?  Or clap a vizard on his vain conceits and fantastical imaginations?                 ~Marie Merkel

Follow-up studies influenced by The Elizabethan Prodigals:

Redefining Elizabethan Literature by Georgia E. Brown, 2004

Sons and Authors in Elizabethan England by Derek B. Alwes, 2004

“I am that I am” says William Shakespeare…

November 19th, 2011 5 comments

Then Moses said vnto god, Behold, when I shall come vnto the children of Israel, and shall say vnto them, the god of your fathers hath sent me vnto you: if they say vnto me, What is his name? what shall I say vnto them?

And God answered Moses, I Am That I Am.  Also he said, thus shalt thou say vnto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me vnto you.

Exodus 3: 13-14, Geneva Bible 1599

Many thanks to Sarah B. for her useful comment on my last post, “He that will forget God”:

“Your odd leap from the Richard conversation to the “I am who I am” thing seems illogical. The phrase doesn’t figure anywhere in the conversation.”

You’re right, Sarah, I did take quite a leap, depending more on innuendo and intuition than straight exposition and fact.  But I do appreciate your expectation of logic, and will try to add a few stepping stones to make it easier to follow what I only suggested a few weeks ago:

1). Elizabeth characterized the person responsible for portraying her as Richard the Second as “He that will forget God.”

2). A person who uses God’s own phrase, “I am that I am” without remembering that he or she is what they are by the grace of God has, quite literally, forgotten God.

3).  William Shakespeare, who was not brought to trial, or even brought in for questioning regarding his bit part in the Essex Rebellion, forgot to mention God when he said “I am that I am” in Sonnet 121.  Edward de Vere also forgot to mention God when he proclaimed himself “I am that I am” in a personal letter admonishing his father-in-law.

4). Therefore, William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere – two praised dramatists with well-documented ties to the London theater world –  both qualify for consideration as the subject of Lambarde and Elizabeth’s conversation, that unnamed he of the “wicked imagination”, aka “he that will forget God.”

Edward de Vere seems to hold the better claim, being a creature “made” by Elizabeth, who granted him a thousand pounds a year when he was bankrupt, for naught but keeping state in respectable style, so as to uphold the outward awe of England’s nobility.  And yet, if the earl of Oxford had anything at all to do with William Shakespeare and his poetry, by way of collaboration or subversion, for some reason, he neglected to claim responsibility for his contributions.  Perhaps like “Captain Tucca” of Satiromastix, he was content to let others take “the guilt of conscience” for his dramatic devices.

Of course, Elizabeth may have had many other manifestations of forgetting God in mind, when voicing her ire towards the gentleman with the “wicked imagination”.  She may have found evidence of a proud, humanist spirit in Shakespeare’s plays.  She may have recognized the perplexing impossibility of assessing Shakespeare’s true faith from reading his tragedies, histories and comedies.  She may have looked in vain for humble praise of God or adoration of Jesus Christ in Shakespeare’s published poems.

Did Elizabeth know of Shakespeare’s use of the phrase, “I am that I am”?  Perhaps, perhaps not, since his “sugared sonnets” may have been circulating among a circle of friends that didn’t include her Majesty.  And yet, that circle quite likely included Richard Barnfield, a friend of Meres, and intimate of high-society figures such as Penelope Rich (sister of Essex) and William Stanley, earl of Derby.  Barnfield’s saucy and salacious poem of 1596, brashly entitled Cynthia and dedicated to the queen, certainly caused more than a passing frown of consternation.  It isn’t hard to imagine that someone who had Shakespeare’s private sonnets in hand, sonnets that were being eagerly read among a privileged coterie, would have enjoyed sharing such charming booty with the ever-romantic Virgin Queen.

As for Edward de Vere’s “I am that I am” assertion, Elizabeth’s “spirit”, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, may have felt it his duty to let her majesty know of the incredibly arrogant letter he’d received from her proud subject.  As a devout man with Puritan inclinations, Lord Burghley would have immediately recognized the theological implications of de Vere’s usurping God’s sacred name for his own, tawdry ends.   Chances are he would have felt compelled to issue a stiff corrective to such presumption.

This, I believe, is what actually happened.  Shortly after Burghley received this letter, a legal complaint was allowed to proceed in which Edward de Vere’s legitimacy came under intense scrutiny.  Incredibly embarrassing details about John de Vere’s erratic love life were made public, including a lurid tale about the rape and mutilation of the 16th earl of Oxford’s second, bigamous wife, Joan Jockey.  Both Elizabeth and Burghley had the power to squash these proceedings, but did not.  Could it be that they both agreed that Edward de Vere needed a bit more humbling?  (For more on the connections between Oxford’s letters to his father-in-law Burghley, and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 121, see Robert Detobel’s short essay, “I am that I am”).

In any case, Elizabeth didn’t need to see this letter to know Edward de Vere as “He that will forget God”.   Twenty years before her conversation with Lambarde, she’d read the testimony of de Vere’s cousin Henry Howard, and his former friend, Charles Arundel.  To back up the accuracy of what they say that Oxford said, these men called as witness Lord Windsor, Mr. Russell and Walter Ralegh.  Elizabeth could and probably did ask each of these men if Oxford really did indulge in such talk:

…his most horrible and detestable blasphemy in denial of the divinity of Christ, our Saviour, terming the Trinity as a fable, that Joesph was a wittold, and the Blessed Virgin a whore.  (see Monstrous Adversary, Alan H. Nelson, p. 210)

BTW, I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who has read Jonathan Bate’s discussion of Elizabeth’s conversation with Lambarde (Soul of the Age, 2009), and can either comment on his challenge to the authenticity of the record, or fill in some of the gaps from those pages unavailable on Google books!

“He that will forget God…”

November 7th, 2011 7 comments

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.  ~Matthew 24:24

What a thrice-double ass was I to take this drunkard for a god, and worship this dull fool. ~ Caliban


In a charming interview last spring Harold Bloom, the world-famous scholar, bibliophile and unapologetic Bardolator proclaimed “If Shakespeare isn’t God then I don’t know what God is.”  Now there’s a bold, new answer to the Shakespeare Authorship Question!  Enough already of chasing after drunkards and dull fools like “Truer than true” Edward de Vere, or his mild-mannered ventriloquist, William Shakespeare.  If Shakespeare isn’t “Shakespeare”, then who else could he possibly be but…  I AM THAT I AM?

What would Ben Jonson have thought of such idolatry, I wonder?  Jonson wrote and published only one new play – The Devil is an Asse –  for the year of William Shakespeare’s demise in 1616.  No eulogy for the dead poet, no epigram or epitaph, nothing like the gracious and heartfelt lines he penned for the loss of his satiric comrade, Thomas Nashe.  Come to think of it, why are both William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere never mentioned by name in Jonson’s Collected Works of 1616?  Perhaps Honest Ben was still smarting from the humiliating “purge” that Shakespeare had given him, way back in the Poet’s War of 1597-1601.  Lest we forget, that war began (as Captain Tucca tells us in Satiromastix) with Jonson’s imprisonment and interrogation by Richard Topcliffe, for his part in writing The Isle of Dogs.

While we’re wondering about idolatry, what would that earthly goddess, Elizabeth Regina, have thought of Bloom’s take on God and Shakespeare?  Though rarely mentioned in biographies of the Bard, there does exist a moment in the historical record that brings William Shakespeare very close to Elizabeth Tudor – closer than anything else scholars have found after centuries of searching the archives.  A few months after the Essex Rebellion of 1601, the queen had a most revealing conversation with William Lambarde, who had just presented her with his “Pandecta” of historical documents.  Upon turning to the reign of Richard II, Elizabeth paused, and exclaimed:

“I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?”

To which Lambarde diplomatically replied:

“Such a wicked imagination was determined and attempted by a most unkind gentleman, the most adorned creature that ever your Majesty made.”

Elizabeth shot back:

“He that will forget God will also forget his benefactors.  This tragedy was played forty times in open streets and houses.”

So, where is Shakespeare in this tense exchange, you might ask?  Well, he should be securely right there in the first line, with Elizabeth’s indignant question to Lambarde.   After all, we know that the rebels had commissioned the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to perform Richard II on the eve of their monumentally stupid rebellion.  With this well-documented background knowledge, even the most cautious scholar may legitimately infer that Elizabeth had found in Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard the deposed king a mirror of her own self as a disposable queen.

If William Shakespeare and no one else was responsible for writing this play, then it stands to reason that William Shakespeare and no one else was responsible for whatever impudent insinuations the queen found in his tragedy of Richard the Second.  Lambarde’s reply, however,  suggests that while he knew just who the queen had in mind, that man clearly was not “Shakespear ye player” from Stratford-on-Avon.

Given that Robert Devereaux, the recently beheaded earl of Essex, certainly qualifies as one of Elizabeth’s adorned and made creatures, historians have generally assumed that Lambarde must have held Essex, rather than Shakespeare, responsible for something – perhaps for staging “forty times in open streets and houses” this potentially seditious play.  But what about that “wicked imagination”?  Wouldn’t that belong, not to the man (or men) who had conspired to use the play for treasonous ends, but to the poet who had initially created this unkind dramatic image of England’s aging Gloriana?

There’s no denying that the author of Richard II is somehow implicated in this conversation.  And yet, nothing really adds up, does it?  Lambarde and Elizabeth obviously know something that we don’t.  Just as obviously, something in Shakespeare’s play cut Elizabeth to the quick.  With her unique intelligence and harrowing experiences as a monarch, Elizabeth had the heart and soul to know Shakespeare and to comprehend his dramatic revisions of English history better than anyone else alive at that time.

This conversation with Lambarde documents an astounding moment, when the queen of England allowed her servant to see through the unique window she possessed into the soul of that “most unkind gentleman”, he of the “wicked imagination”.  The person responsible for imagining her as Richard the Second was someone she knew well, someone whom she herself had uniquely “made” and “adorned”.

For her, this unnamed individual who hurt her so was “he that will forget God.”

In the historical records of Elizabethan England, we find two men – William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere – who used the phrase I AM THAT I AM – God’s own name, as revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14) – without remembering to add “by the grace of God”.

“He that will forget God”

 

Much Virtue in “If”

April 4th, 2011 20 comments

Now available in paperback from Grove Press, with a new forward by James Norwood, Professor of Humanities, University of Minnesota:

Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: the True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth

by Charles Beauclerk

Grove Press, 2011

Now is this golden crown like a deep well

That owes two buckets, filling one another

The emptier ever dancing in the air

the other down, unseen, and full of water.

What makes a history of Shakespeare “true”?  Charles Beauclerk’s story begins propitiously – he has the right man, Edward de Vere, and he knows that Edward de Vere drew from a deep, unfathomable well:

…the process of making images is largely unconscious, fashioned from the invisible components of the individual imagination, rather like an alphabet arising out of the unconscious of a new race.  … In this hinterland of the soul, where images hatch, we are very close to the heartbeat of motivation, of sensing why an author writes as he does.  (SLK, p. 156)

Remarkably, the author also knows his own part – and the part that every lover of Shakespeare’s poetry performs –  when we set out to transcribe and interpret these heartbeats:

We respond to him on a preconscious level – between the lines – almost as if we were co-creators, for the dynamic field in which his unconscious mind intersects with ours is intensely alive, making his work strongly akin to music.   (SLK p. 164)

This unconscious intersection with our will, powered by Shakespeare’s irresistibly mellifluous lines, is a form of magic.  We can’t help wanting to take his words in, to have them “by heart”, to release them on our own breath.  We are enchanted, and in this state, Shakespeare’s story – the one we read between the lines of his kings and queens and all their devastating follies – touches a part of us that makes us love him and want to protect him.

The facts of Edward de Vere’s troubled biography, placed alongside this poetry, vibrate through every synapse of the work, charging the lines, images and words with sparks of meaning.  By the light of these shooting stars, like the bewitching glow of Ariel’s “flamed amazement” on the topmast of our brave vessel, we read and listen for his heartbeat, instead of our own.

But are these new signals yielding a “true” history of Shakespeare?  Such a prodigious intelligence will not give up its mysteries to weekend stargazers.  Like Dante, Shakespeare dared to write his autobiography in colossal cipher.  Does Charles Beauclerk have the key to Shakespeare’s dramatic alphabet?  I think he has one vital part of it.  Towards the end of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom, he tells us that “an essential quality of the plays themselves” is that “they are the life, not only of the dramatist, but of the times in which he lived.  Their fabulousness is their reality.” (SLK p. 325)  In other words – and I hope I do justice to what Charles intended here – Shakespeare’s plays and poems are fables.  They may be populated with what seem to be real people from de Vere’s life, but their “reality” has been transformed into something necessary to the poet.

The truth of fables is not a literal truth, that we can prove or disprove with historical documents, but a psychic one, transferred from the poet to the heart and mind of the true listener.  The fabulous subconscious story that Charles Beauclerk hears is in some ways the same story that Edward de Vere seems to be whispering in my ear, each time I go back and read The Collected Works of William Shakespeare cover to cover.  This tragic tale has five essential components:

1. Shakespeare’s works betray a very personal, hyper-sensitivity to the stain of bastardy.

2. He thought of himself as a Prince, but along the way he lost his kingdom.

3. His poetic gift compelled him to transform the dross and agony of life into a surrogate kingdom of the mind.

4. His dramatic portrayals of Elizabeth suggest a privileged but volatile relationship.

5. “Shakespeare’s desire for vengeance was real and one of the great motivating forces of the canon.” (SLK, p. 274)

Even when one disagrees intensely – as I most emphatically do – with some of Charles Beauclerk’s basic assumptions and theories, the great wonder of his “true history” is how much of what he draws up from below the mottled surface scum of the well remains pertinent.  One bucket – for supporting facts in the historical record, cautiously interpreted – is often the emptier, and dances in the air, but the other sinks deep, and fills with water.  Beauclerk is extraordinarily attuned to Edward de Vere’s personal transformations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with a keen eye for permutations of the Actaeon myth.  Here are a few examples of what you will miss, if in your aversion to Prince Tudor theory or insistence upon historiographical rigor you neglect to read Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom, as I almost did:

In another extraordinary resurfacing of the Actaeon myth, Tamora is compared to Diana, the moon goddess.  When Lavinia and her husband, Bassianus, come upon Tamora in the woods, the empress tells Bassianus that had she Diana’s power she would mete out the same punishment to him that Actaeon suffered at the hands of the goddess.  In the end, it is Lavinia who is fated to drink from this bitter cup, for like Actaeon transformed into a stag she loses the power of speech, and her delicate hands are turned into hooflike stumps.” (p. 273)

Titus is a play that I know quite well, but this searing vision of Lavinia as a silent stag was a revelation for me.   Venturing into more heretical territory, Beauclerk offers a terrifying insight into the personal relevance of Shakespeare’s two published poems, Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece:

Venus, who at the end of the previous poem flew off to Paphos, where she meant to “immure herself and not be seen,” is transformed into the chaste and cloistered Lucrece; and the boar-pierced Adonis becomes “lust-breathed” Tarquin, who in destroying the chastity of “the silver moon,” as Shakespeare describes Lucrece – i.e., in deflowering the goddess – brings down the monarchy.  Thus Adonis becomes both the flower and the serpent under it.  The flower that the goddess presses to her bosom is beautiful but deadly, rather like the asp that Cleopatra nurses at her breast.  Thus the Shakespearean hero-archetype embodies within himself both the redeemer (Adonis) and the destroyer (Tarquin)… (p. 176)

“Thus Adonis becomes both the flower and the serpent”: I had suspected as much, but have never had the courage to raise this topic for discussion in the usual Oxfordian chat-rooms and other venues.  In this, and in his recognition of Oxford’s vengeful nature, (quoted above), we seem to have witnessed the same disturbing basilisk, daring us to look in his eyes.  Beauclerk doesn’t flinch; his commentary on Falstaff is chilling in its penetrating accuracy:

Ultimately, Falstaff is imprisoned in his own kingdom of language, where wit takes precedence over feeling.  When he says that his womb undoes him, it is his womb of wit – his invention – rather than his great belly.  Though wondrously humorous, the fat knight seems to have almost no feeling toward others; he is too wrapped up in the great adventure on which his great wit is willy-nilly leading him.

Now for our differences.  They are many, but only one really matters:  Who were Edward de Vere’s true parents? Charles Beauclerk’s history begins with the tentative proposition that Oxford was the child of Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour.  Note the word “tentative”, which I’ll get to in a moment.   My position is that Edward was John de Vere’s firstborn son, but not securely legitimate, as the historical records show.  The following brief essays, along with the file on the 1585 Depositions, outline the historical and literary basis for my alternative theory, that Joan Jockey may have been Edward’s true mother: John de Vere’s firstborn son; The Goddess of Justice; “Why dost not speak to me?”; “You bee a sort of knaves”, sayd Skelton; 1585 Depositions Concerning Oxford’s Legitimacy

When Beauclerk chose to build his story around the second Prince Tudor theory, surely he knew he was taking on a highly controversial and divisive premise.  Disarmingly, with strategically placed deployments of “if” and “seems” and “whether… or not”, he allows for our hesitations and doubts: when all is said and done, perhaps we will not find that he has proven his hypothesis: 

p. 41 “Whether she bore a child by Seymour or not…

p. 92:  “Thus, if Oxford was Elizabeth’s son…”

p. 101: “….like Hamlet he was, it seems, the son of the queen.”

p. 158: “And if his mother was the Virgin Queen…”

p. 224: “If Shakespeare was indeed the son of the Virgin Queen…”

p. 296: “Whether he was the queen’s son or not…”

p. 322: “… and Shakespeare, it seems, was the fruit of that trespass.”

p. 334: “…in Oxford’s case, if, as the evidence suggests, his mother was the most powerful woman…”

As Touchstone wittily puts it, “Your If is the only peace-maker; much virtue in If!”

Here’s an “if” in return: “If Edward de Vere knew for certain that he wasn’t John de Vere’s son, but instead, was the bastard son of Elizabeth Tudor and Thomas Seymour, how would he feel about the exchange?”  On page 86, Beauclerk writes:

Whatever comforts he could press to his bosom Edward de Vere knew for certain that there were those about him who saw through his “Oxford” mask; nor could he draw solace from the fact that the blood of the Tudors flowed in his veins, for his royal birth was far from being a political reality. [emphasis added]

But beginning on p. 231, under the sub-heading “Tudor-Celtic Mythology”, he exposes the less-than-glamorous roots of the Tudor dynasty:

The Tudors were Welsh landowners…  …In the Tudors we have a self-consciously created dynasty aware of their weak claim to the throne, who buttressed their credentials by tracing their line from King Arthur, the once and future king.  In naming his firstborn son Arthur and having him christened at Winchester Cathedral, Henry VII was deliberately invoking the chivalry and glamour of Britain’s semi-mythical past, a considerable irony in view of his own grasping, ungenerous nature and his relentless undermining of the old feudal nobility. (SLK, p. 232)

Lest we forget, neither Edward Oxenford nor William Shakespeare ever wrote a play about Henry VII, whom Francis Bacon tells us severely undermined the 13th earl of Oxford’s power, in an apocryphal tale that sounds very much like one of madcap Ned de Vere’s bibulous inventions.  Continuing his deconstruction of the Tudor Myth, Beauclerk writes:

The Tudors, in the grandiosity generated by their lineal insecurity, embraced the notion that they were the promised descendants of Arthur…

Once on the throne, [Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond] played up the romantic image his deeds fostered in people’s minds.  In truth, the Tudor dynasty was founded upon conquest (and the killing of a king).”   “Despite his insistence that this was a reconquest, which avenged the original Saxon invasion, a deep insecurity accompanied the dynasty through its 118 years of rule. (p. 233)

Life for [Henry VIII] was theater; his every act invited a fanfare.  Yet all this show masked a deep insecurity, which became more conspicuous as his reign ripened. (p. 235)

As pater patriae (father of his people) and supreme governor of the Church of England, Henry VIII invested the monarchy with a revitalized, almost mystical sense of its sovereignty, yet he was an imperialist in outlook.  … His veneration for the traditions, music and architecture of the Catholic church sat uncomfortably with his desecration of the monasteries, and his love of chivalry and the joust contradicted his protracted attacks on the old feudal nobility. (p. 236)

Would the 17th earl of Oxford and Lord Great Chamberlain of England, whose ancestors came in with William the Conqueror, have drawn any solace from losing his de Vere blood in exchange for that of the insecure Tudors?  I don’t think so.

In my reading of the evidence, both historical and literary, the earl of Oxford drew his sustaining identity from his claim to the ancient Vere line and their affinity.  Their historical triumphs and quarrels were part of his legacy; their family traits were in his genetic makeup.  If Nick Bottom’s “mythic DNA is the Minotaur, the monstrous son – half man, half bull – of Minos, King of Crete” (SLK, p. 202) then so too is this strain running in the veins of the man who signed himself Edward Oxenford.  When he gazed upon the faces of the effigies that once graced Colne Priory, he was seeing his grandsires and grandams, and the faces of his own future heirs.  As we read in Chapman’s eulogy of Oxford in The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois:

…he had a face

Like one of the most ancient honour’d Romans

From whence his noblest family was deriv’d.

These were his people. If we lose sight of this, we lose our first and best contact with Edward de Vere and how he became “Shakespeare”.  He loved his honor as a Vere; he owned his shame as a Vere; he wreaked his vengeance as a Vere:

…when Gloucester sees a beggar in the storm, he thinks a man a worm, and at that moment his son Edgar comes into his mind.  Edgar, the outcast son, is the worm (worm in French being ver).  When Cleopatra arranges to die in her monument, a clown enters with an asp – or worm, as he calls it – hidden in a basket of figs. (SLK p. 372)

“He that has a house to put’s head in has a good head-piece” (III.ii. 25-26)

.

Say, is my kingdom lost? why, ’twas my care
And what loss is it to be rid of care? ~ Richard II

I agree with Beauclerk that Shakespeare’s plays and poems bear witness to the pain of having lost a kingdom, but in my view, (derived in large measure from the political understory of the Howard family in Titus Andronicus) that kingdom was more likely to have been in opposition to the Tudor line than a part of it.  On his own, Edward de Vere had three earthly kingdoms somewhat within his grasp, all of them lost by 1591.  The first was a Plantagenet alliance through marriage to one of the Hastings girls, which Beauclerk mentions on p. 71: “It looks as though John de Vere had taken it into his head to arrange a royal marriage for his teenage charge…”  The second was Oxford’s impetuous and near-treasonous support for his first cousin Thomas Howard, who lost his head over the hare-brained temptation to wed Mary, Queen of Scots.

The third lost kingdom, as Beauclerk notes, was the ancient seat of the Oxford earldom: “Then in December 1591, …Oxford surrendered the heart of his de Vere inheritance by alienating Hedingham Castle to Burghley in trust for his three daughters.  It was an abdication with rich consequences for literature, if King Lear is anything to judge by.” (p. 330)  But why would a prince of the realm and poet who boldly tells the queen’s chief minister “I am that I am” have any need for a paltry scepter?  Why would he be so foolish as to desire all the mundane distractions and obligations that turn a golden crown into a dull and heavy lump of lead?  The true kingdom that Oxford strove mightily to maintain in his own sovereign control was that of the mind:

As James Kirsch says of Hamlet and his father, so might we say of Shakespeare and Elizabeth: his kingdom was the inner world, hers the political realm. (p. 295)

As in Hamlet, the only true king seems to be a ghost.  Scratch the surface of these plays and one finds oneself staring at the crowned figure of vanity holding a skull in one hand and the fool’s bauble in the other. (p. 210-11)

As if he could not believe he had a true right to his inherited “kingdom” based in Essex, Oxford recklessly divested himself of all its physical trappings, till he had nothing to pass on but his name and his words.  The first went to his heirs of the blood, the second to his heirs of the spirit, an awesomely potent bequest that we still haven’t learned quite how to decipher.  The quest is daunting, too much for one lonely reader, or a whole fraternity of stargazers, to take on.  How can we bear to follow King Lear on his journey out into the raging tempest that mirrors the demons in his skull, once we know that he is not a stage puppet but a breathing portrait of the author, and the purified condensation of everything that the name “Shakespeare” calls up in our hearts and minds?  The jewel in the crown of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom is Beauclerk’s courageous attempt to do just that:

Opening one’s heart to a great work of literature of the intensity of King Lear is like setting forth on a pilgrimage toward an inner realm on the horizon of one’s being.  Reading and walking, if undertaken in the spirit of wonder and intrepidity that transforms them into a way of life, refresh the soul in profound and allied ways.  Thoreau’s advice to walkers would be my advice to Shakespeare’s readers: “We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return – prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.” As a work that shakes the foundations of western culture, King Lear demands this sort of self-abandonment.  We never quite return from the journey.

My copy of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom has furious scribbles in the margins of every other page, some of them less than polite.  Yet when I told Charles Beauclerk in no uncertain terms that I could not agree with his theory on Oxford’s birth, he was most gracious, replying that he is open to hearing other theories; would I send him a copy when I write up my thoughts?  His True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth may not be your cup of true, but it is certainly the work of a generous and intrepid spirit.    ~Marie Merkel

Shakespeare’s True Face

March 14th, 2011 5 comments


Almost no one is pleased by Martin Droeshout’s engraving of our beloved “Star of Poets”.  Here’s the anonymous opinion of a writer for The Sun, reviewing Basil Brown’s Supposed Caricature of the Droeshout:

The abominable eidolon which appears in the First Folio, opposite BEN JONSON’S sly advice to the Reader to look rather upon the Booke than upon the picture, has been for nearly three hundred years the despair of everybody wondering what SHAKESPEARE’S physiognomy really was like. No human being ever even faintly resembled the Droeshout print. The face is as impossible as is the doublet of riveted boiler iron.  ~Feb. 23, 1911, The Sun

Much to be preferred would have been something more closely modeled on the movie-star handsome face in the Cobbe Portrait, or the immediately likable fellow teasing us with his ever-so-sweet-and-shy smile in the Sanders portrait.

Dream on, my friends.  Ben Jonson, who surely knew “The AVTHOR”, says this is our man:

TO THE READER:

This figure, that thou here seest put,

It was for gentle Shakespeare cut;

Wherein the Graver had a strife

with Nature, to out-doo the life:

O, could he but have drawne his wit

As well in brasse, as he hath hit

His face; the Print would then surpasse

All, that was ever writ in brasse.

But, since he cannot, Reader, looke

Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

Is Honest Ben playing with us?   As a shrewd observer of his own times, and passionate imbiber of classic and continental literature, he’s our best contemporary witness to what the real “Shakespeare”  – whoever you believe that may be – looked like, inside and out.   After all, these two enormous poetic egos haunted the same London taverns and bookstalls.  They wrote their comedies and tragedies for the same actors.  Both were born poets, as well as “made”.

In the 1590s, both collaborated with that irrepressible satirist, Thomas Nashe.  And both knew Francis Langley, lord of the manor of Paris Garden and owner of the magnificent Swan Theater.  But there was one significant difference in each man’s recorded acquaintance with this pugnacious entrepreneur.  William Shakespeare and his side-kick Langley were never arrested for their threats of bodily harm to William Wayte in 1596.  A year later, however, Ben Jonson went to prison for his part in writing the disastrous Isle of Dogs, which played at Langley’s Swan. Soon after, the Poetomachia began, during which Shakespeare gave Jonson that famous, if elusive, literary purge.

No doubt about it, Ben knew our Author, and had reason to envy, and even resent him.  When he assures us that the figure we see gracing Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies was “cut” for “gentle Shakespeare”, he speaks from a uniquely privileged position.  We sense that he expects posterity will know this, and thus take him at his word.  With a poetic genius of Jonson’s caliber, however, taking him “at his word” requires us to enter his own peculiar labyrinth of associative language.

Just as we do today, Jacobean followers of Jonson’s irreverent parodies would have sifted his contribution to the First Folio for the inevitable left-handed compliment to the master.  For example, why, in such a short piece of verse, does Jonson use the word “brass” twice?  As I’ve learned by following one of the most brilliant Oxfordian researchers we have, by the time the word “brass” works its way through Jonson’s literary digestive tract, he’s wholly transformed its surface connotations.

Since 2002, Nicole Doyle has been sharing her insights into the mysteries of the Droeshout engraving –  from its mismatched eyes to its “impossible doublet” –  with members of the late Robert Brazil’s Elizaforum.  By placing these visual puzzles alongside Jonson’s words, both in the poems he wrote for Shakespeare in 1623 and where he’s used them in other works, she has shown – persuasively, in my view – that Jonson intended the reader to “read” Droeshout’s disproportionate engraving as an emblem of  Shakespeare’s deformed literary “manners”.

For Oxfordians, this means that Droeshout wasn’t hired to cut a mockery of “the Stratford Man”.   His model – and Jonson’s target – was “The AVTHOR”, whom Jonson belatedly embraces as “his beloved” for this grand occasion.  What we are seeing in this iconic emblem isn’t Edward de Vere as he saw himself in the mirror, or the achingly human and noble being he made of himself in his art, but Edward de Vere through Ben Jonson’s eyes: sans Right, sans Romance, sans Idolatry.

Most likely, Martin Droeshout began his task with an image already in existence, as the British Museum’s website explains:

An engraving is not worked directly from life, but from a flat model, either a painting or a drawing. Droeshout must have been given a painting or drawing of Shakespeare as a young man, from which to engrave his plate.

Since Oxfordians do possess the advantage of a painting or two of our “Shakespeare as a young man” – one when he was twenty-four or so, and the other from when he was in his early thirties – we can readily compare these relatively honest (if not flattering) images of Edward de Vere with the First Folio’s satiric cartoon.  Here they are, left and right profile, side by side with Droeshout’s engraving:








.

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After viewing the Welbeck Portrait (top, right) in 1920, J. T. Looney suggested that:

…a very strong case might be made out for Droeshout having worked from this portrait, of Edward de Vere, making modifications according to instructions.

(Appendix II of Shakespeare Identified).

What do you think?

~Marie Merkel


To the Reader.
This Figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the Graver had a strife
with Nature, to out-doo the life :
O, could he but have drawne his wit
As well in brasse, as he hath hit
His face ; the Print would then surpasse
All, that was ever writ in brasse.
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

A Most Auspicious Star

March 7th, 2011 8 comments

But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
Advanc’d, and made a Constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets…

~ Ben Jonson, “To the memory of my beloued, The AVTHOR…”

This week, it’s my pleasure to publish a delightful Oxfordian find that landed in my mailbox a few days ago.  I do believe that what follows contains a vital new clue to the perennial mystery surrounding “The AVTHOR” of Shake-speare’s Sonnets.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A Most Auspicious Star

by Richard J. Kennedy

In 1640, the publisher John Benson put forth a curious edition of Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. This was more or less the 2nd edition of the 1609 Sonnets, with a few omissions and some extra text in praise of the poet.  Amongst the many small changes in this later quarto, there are questions for the close lookers-on who have a suspicion that the makers of this 1640 edition were puzzling with the reader.

The book opens with several questions. First, there’s the frontispiece portrait. The proportions are all off and the gentleman poet, if taken to be the Stratford man, is wearing the cape of a courtier, much above his station. The verse below says that “This Shadowe is renowned Shakespear’s ?” Yet the man casts no shadow, but like some gothic undead-creep who shows no reflection in a mirror, so it is with the sitter, unless that white space is meant to be a halo.

Well, the writer poses Shakespeare’s name as a question anyway, and follows with two more question marks (the applause? delight?) where none would be wanted. Then the concluding couplet of the frontispiece poem lays out a couple of trim anagrams for Vere, precious in the sight of Oxfordians:

For ever live thy fame, the world to tell,

Thy like, no age, shall ever parallel.

In the 1609 edition of the Sonnets, the dedication page was found out by John M. Rollett to hide a cipher, which reads: “THESE SONNETS ALL BY EVER” – playing on the same ‘ever’ anagram for Vere.

Given these several visual and typographic examples of playfulness on the frontispiece of the 1640 Poems, perhaps there’s more to be found out in the front matter of that edition.  On the next page, we find a letter “To The Reader”, signed by “I.B.” (presumably John Benson) , in which the text is all italic except, in the fifth line, where the name of ‘William Shakespeare’ is straight up Roman, and on the second page, first line, the word ‘Seren’ is set in the identical font.


When the text is glossed by the scholars, they often take ‘Seren’ to be a misspelling, and report the word as ‘serene’, which is fine in context, but perhaps the writer is playing with us and he really means ‘Seren’ exactly as it’s printed.

Those two exceptions may only be the sort of haggard type-setting and approximate spelling often found in texts of that time. Yet if not a mere fumbling of some apprentice printer’s devil, why set the name William Shakespeare and Seren in typographic company, perhaps drawing Seren to our special attention in this large field of otherwise italic type?

A pleasing answer might be that Seren is the Welsh word for “Star”…

…and that we are to take the word as an epithet for De Vere because a single star is quartered in his shield, and we might remember that the Chorus in Henry V proclaims the king to be “this star of England”. The phrase is also the happy choice for the title of the Oxford biography by Charlton and Dorthy Ogburn.

The 1640 Poems can be found in facsimile at the Rare Book Room

yn seren mwyaf addawol — Prospero


Richard Kennedy, independent researcher and prolific writer of children’s books, known for his “wit, iconoclasm, wild exuberance, narrative skill and poetic prose” (Children’s Books and their Creators), was the first to identify John Ford as the author of The Funeral Elegy by “W.S.”, (NY Times, 2002) and the first to propose that Shakespeare’s Stratford Monument is actually a bust of William’s father, John Shakspere, the “Woolpack Man” (TLS 2006).