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J. T. Looney part 2: “Self-Revelation in Hamlet”?

May 22nd, 2015 No comments

Sorry, no pirates this time.  However, in his chapter devoted to Hamlet, Looney expands on his earlier observations with 18 additional parallels, correspondences or topical allusions between Oxford’s life and Shakespeare’s play.  For ease of reference, I’ve collated these new items (in boldface) with the sixteen parallels tallied in my blog entry of May 9, 2015 (J. T. Looney on Hamlet, Part 1).

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Once again, I’ve arranged Looney’s suggested parallels according to their approximate appearance within the play as it unfolds.  The excerpts provided below are much briefer than those I posted last time, with links to Shakespeare Identified when available through Google books.  Not included are observations from Looney of so general a nature that they defied quick synopsis, much less a direct link to any particular moment in the play or to a supporting historical document.

What follows is merely a list, with no endorsement intended.  The question marks following each item invite skepticism and debate, as the next logical step after these have been noted and reviewed.  I’ve even resisted the temptation to separate those I feel are stronger from items that I would set aside as poorly grounded.

If you are new to these pages, please see “Hamlet’s Parallel Universe” for background on this particular project.  For those who’ve been following, either here or on Facebook, a quick reminder of what’s at stake and how I’ll approach the problem:

Must the establishment of true believers – and by believers I mean those who accept William of Stratford as Shakespeare as well as those who choose Oxford – ignore the evidence of parallels and/or allusions in the text of Hamlet to Essex or Rutland, King James, Derby or Sidney, to protect their candidate?  Absent the pressure of authorship contentions, earlier scholars allowed a much wider lens to the author’s hawking eye.

That’s the way I propose to look at Tom Reedy’s four candidates (plus Sidney) for “closer and more abundant” parallels with Hamlet: as if there were no Shakespeare Authorship Question.  Shakespeare will simply be Shakespeare, sans quotes or hyphens.  For the purpose of this investigation, he’s the author of the Hamlet text we find published in three separate editions: 1603, 1604 and 1623.

LooneyTitlePage

Looney’s major and minor suggestions of correspondence between Hamlet and Oxford:

1) 1.1.70-78: Allusion to the Armada?

2) 1.2.138: Hamlet & Oxford both supplanted after remarriage of mother?

3) 1.2.146: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit lack of trust in womanhood?

4) 1.2.129-58: Hamlet & Oxford both possess large mental reserves and secretiveness?

5) 1.2.58-61;112-16: Hamlet & Oxford both denied permission to travel?

6) 1.2.187: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit father-worship?

7) 1.3.6 etc.: If Polonius is Burghley and Hamlet is Oxford, then Ophelia is Anne Cecil?

8) 1.3.18: Hamlet & Oxford both could not marry as they chose?

9) 1.3.49: Laertes mirrors Thomas Cecil?

10) 1.3.58: Polonius’ advice to son parallels Burghley’s advice to son(s)?

11) 1.5.179: Hamlet & Oxford both “put an antic disposition on”?

12) 2.1.1-74: Polonius & Burghley both spied on their sons?

13) 2.1.58: Polonius & Burghley both wise about tennis court quarrels?

14) 2.2.398-405: Hamlet’s jest to Polonius re: “Jephthah” fits Burghley’s sacrifice of Anne?

15) 2.2.140: Hamlet a Prince & Oxford like a prince?

16) 2.2.356 (and more):  Hamlet w/players mirrors Oxford w/poets & his troupe?

17) 3.1.39-40 (and more): Social status of Polonius & Ophelia mirrors Burghley and Anne?

18) 3.1.90-150: Hamlet sees Ophelia as her father’s pawn mirrors Oxford & Anne Cecil?

19) 3.1.104: Hamlet’s use of ‘honest’ to Ophelia mirrors Burghley’s use of honest?

20) 3.2.91-2: Shakespeare’s 2 uses of “university” parallels Oxford’s slight attendance?

21) 3.2.246: Hamlet & Oxford both show interest in Italy?

22) 3.2.275; 340-3: Hamlet & Oxford both musically inclined?

23) 3.2.347-54: Hamlet & Oxford both resist attempts to know their mind?

24) 3.2.57-69: Horatio’s character matches Horace Vere’s character?

25) 3.4.25: Hamlet stabs Polonius, Oxford stabs Bricknell?

26) 4.6.11-20: Hamlet & Oxford both participate in sea fight?

27) 4.7.83 to end: Hamlet & Oxford both involved in swordplay & duels?

28) 5.1.60-4: Gravedigger’s song from Lord Vaux of special significance for Oxford?

29) 5.1.75-7: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit contempt for politicians?

30) 5.1.232: Hamlet & Oxford both return from sea to the death of lover/wife?

31) 5.1.280: Hamlet’s love for Laertes mirrors Oxford’s regard for Thomas Cecil?

32) 5.2.291-3: Hamlet’s “wounded name” reflected in “unlifted shadow” o’er Oxford’s name?

33) 5.2.309: Election of Fortinbras parallels James I in 1603?

34) 5.2.349: Hamlet & Oxford both want (desire and lack) military vocation? 

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Relevant excerpts from Looney’s Shakespeare Identified with links to full text:

1.2.138: “But two months dead”: Hamlet & Oxford both are supplanted after remarriage of mother?

As, moreover, her death occurred at Castle Hedingham, one of the chief of the ancestral homes of the De Veres, it looks as though Oxford’s stepfather had established himself on the family estates

1.2.146: “Frailty, thy name is woman”: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit lack of trust in womanhood?

With a capacity for intense affection, such as we have already pointed out in “Shakespeare” and in De Vere, Hamlet was incapable of any real trust in womanhood. His faith had been shattered by the inconstancy of his own mother. This curious combination of intense affectionateness with weakness of faith in women is therefore characteristic of all three, “Shakespeare” (in his sonnets), Hamlet, and De Vere.

1.2.129-58:”O that this too too solid flesh would melt”: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit “large mental reserves” and secretiveness

All that quickness of the senses which marks alike the work of De Vere and Shakespeare manifests itself in the person of Hamlet. He misses nothing; and everything he sees or hears opens some new avenue to the “inmost parts” of those about him. A man like this is almost foredoomed to a tragic loneliness

CastleSkullBlueSky

1.3.6 etc.: “the trifling of his favour”: If Polonius is Burghley, and Hamlet is Oxford, then Ophelia is Anne Cecil?

For, although Polonius’s daughter, Ophelia, was not actually Hamlet’s wife, she represents that relationship in the play…

1.3.49: “Like a puffed and reckless libertine”: Laertes mirrors Thomas Cecil?

The tendency towards irregularities, at which Ophelia hints in her parting words to her brother, is strongly suggestive of Thomas Cecil’s life in Paris…  …We are told that Thomas Cecil incurred his father’s displeasure by his “slothfulness,” “extravagance,” “carelessness in dress,” “inordinate love of unmeet plays, as dice and cards”; and that he learnt to dance and play at tennis.

1.3.58: “And these few precepts in thy memory”: Polonius’ advice to son parallels Burghley’s advice to son?

Probably the most conclusive evidence that Polonius is Burleigh is to be found in the best-known lines which Shakespeare has put into the mouth of Denmark’s minister — the string of worldly-wise maxims which he bestows upon his son Laertes (Act 1. 3)…

1.3.78: “To thine own self be true”: Polonius mirrors Burghley on self-interest?

This is quite in keeping with the cynical egoism of Burleigh’s advice, “Beware of being surety for thy best friends”; but “keep some great man for thy friend.”…

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1.5.9-13 and elsewhere: “Doomed for a certain turn”: Catholic-skeptic Hamlet mirrors Catholic-atheist Oxford?

…All this, too, is in accord with the shadowy indications that are given of Oxford’s dealings with religion: his profession of Catholicism at one time, the accusation of atheism against him at another.

1.5.179: Hamlet & EO both “put an antic disposition on”?

…It is a match of wits in which the ablest mind wins by allowing his inferior antagonists to suppose him mentally deficient. Now the records we have of Oxford represent his eccentricity in his early and middle period as being of an extreme character, and if we suppose him to be Shakespeare, we can quite believe that his own secret purposes were being pursued partly under a mask of vagary.

2.2.140: “Lord Hamlet is a Prince, out of thy star”: Hamlet a Prince & Oxford like a prince?

Oxford, of course, was not a prince of royal blood: but then there were no princes of royal blood at the English court, and the Earl of Oxford, in his younger days, was the nearest approach to a royal prince that the English court could boast. In the matter of ancient lineage and territorial establishment a descendant of Aubrey de Vere had nothing to fear in comparison with a descendant of Owen Tudor

3.1.103: “Ha, ha? Are you honest?”: Hamlet’s use of ‘honest’ to Ophelia mirrors Burghley’s use of honest?

Hamlet’s use of the double sense of the word “honest” in a question to Ophelia — the identical word which in its worse sense was, thrust to the front by Burleigh respecting the rupture between Lord and Lady Oxford

HonestOphelia

3.2.57-69: “blest are those/ whose blood and judgement are so well commingled”: Horatio’s character matches Horace Vere’s character?

The passage in which Hamlet describes the character of Horatio ought therefore to be compared with what Fuller says of Horatio de Vere.

3.2.246: “The story is extent, and writ in choice Italian”: Hamlet & Oxford both show interest in Italy?

In the same scene he shows his interest in Italy.

3.2.275; 340-3: “Come, some music.  Come, the recorders”: Hamlet & Oxford both musically inclined?

Hamlet expresses his musical feeling and even suggests musical skill in the “recorder” scene.

3.2.347-54: “You would play upon me”:Hamlet & Oxford both resist attempts to know their mind?

Now this resistance to interference stands out clearly at the time when Oxford, having returned from abroad, is reported to have behaved in a strange manner towards Lady Oxford

4.6.11-20:”Ere we were two days old at sea…”: Hamlet & Oxford both participate in sea-fight?

…and his actual participation in a sea-fight is duly recorded.

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4.5.103: “Laertes shall be king” parallels Essex and his Rebellion?

Not as an important part of our argument, but as strengthening the feeling of a connection between the play of Hamlet and events in England at the time when it appeared, the rising of the citizens of Elsinor with the cry “Laertes shall be king,” is suggestive of the rising in London under Essex

4.5.160: “Dear maid, kind sister, Sweet Ophelia”: Ophelia and Anne Cecil both sweet maids?

We notice, however, that the few words the Queen speaks respecting Ophelia harp on the idea of that sweetness which, we have noticed, Lady Oxford

4.7.83 to end: Hamlet & Oxford both involved in swordplay & duels?

The duelling in which he takes part also has its counterpart in the life of Oxford

5.1.280: “I lov’d you ever”:Hamlet’s love for Laertes matches Oxford’s for Thomas Cecil?

Now the fact is that Thomas Cecil was one entirely out of touch with and in many ways quite antagonistic to Burleigh and his policy… …He was also one of those who, along with Oxford, favoured the Queen’s, marriage with the Duke of Alençon, in direct opposition to the policy of Burleigh…

5.2.309:”He has my dying voice”: election of Fortinbras mirrors James I in 1603?

Again the change, not only in the occupants of the throne but also of dynasties in Denmark, “the election lighting on Fortinbras,” from the neighbouring country of Poland, is suggestive of a similar change in England when, consequent upon the royal nomination, England received the first of a new dynasty from the neighbouring country of Scotland. In this case Fortinbras would be James I, and Oxford’s officiating at the coronation might appear as an equivalent to Hamlet’s dying vote, “He has my dying voice.”

5.2.349: “Bear Hamlet like a soldier”: Hamlet & Oxford both want (desire and lack) military vocation? 

His unrealized ambitions for a military vocation are indicated in the final scene

Is this all of them?  If you think I’ve missed something, please let me know!

 

J. T. Looney on Hamlet, part 1

May 9th, 2015 6 comments

Since Hamlet will not be bounded in a nutshell, where does one start in tabulating parallels to this king of infinite space?  We may as well begin with J. T. Looney’s Shakespeare Identified [1920], since Hamlet is so central to his thesis.  What follows are 16 correspondences or allusions Looney found within Hamlet to situations in Edward de Vere’s life, each of these mentioned in passing, as part of his case for Oxford as Shakespeare.  Not included in this post are those he reserved for discussion in Chapter XVI, “Dramatic Self-revelation: Hamlet”.
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I’ve arranged Looney’s suggested parallels according to their approximate appearance within the play as it unfolds, with links provided to the text when available through Google books.  In many cases, the excerpts I’ve provided give only a hint of the more complex associations that Looney is envisioning.  The preliminary list below gives a brief title to each item, followed with a question mark to indicate a status of “to be debated” rather than “proven”.

Before debate on the merits of each item, however, it would be most helpful to consider the types of connections Looney has offered, the method he uses to deduce and support each parallel, and the quality of documentary evidence provided.  It may be that some of Looney’s suggestions fall outside the parameters of this project.

1. I. i. 70-78: Allusion to the Armada?

2. I. ii. 58-61;112-16: EO & Hamlet both denied permission to travel?

3. I. ii. 187: EO & Hamlet both exhibit father-worship?

4. I. iii. 18: EO & Hamlet both could not marry as they chose?

5. II. i. 1-74: Burghley & Polonius both spied on their sons?

6. II. i. 58: Burghley & Polonius both wise about tennis court quarrels?

7. II. ii. 398-405: Hamlet’s jest to Polonius re: “Jephthah” fits Burghley’s sacrifice of Anne?

8. II. ii. 356 (and more):  Hamlet w/players mirrors Oxford w/poets & his troupe?

9. III. i. 39-40 (and more): Social status of Cecil & Anne mirrors Polonius & Ophelia?

10.  III. i. 90-150: Hamlet sees Ophelia as her father’s pawn mirrors EO and Anne Cecil?

11. III. ii. 91-2: Hamlet to Polonius on “university”/EO’s slight attendance?

12.  III. iv. 24: Hamlet stabs Polonius, EO stabs Bricknell?

13. V. i. 60-4: Song from Lord Vaux of special significance for EO?

14. V. i. 75-7: Hamlet & Oxford both exhibit contempt for politicians?

15.  V. ii. 1-81: Hamlet & EO both return from sea to the death of lover/wife?

16. V. ii. 291-3; 299-302: Hamlet’s “wounded name”> the “unlifted shadow” o’er EO’s name?

LisbonArmadaHamlet

Relevant excerpts from Looney’s Shakespeare Identified

1) Act I. i. 70-78: “This same strict and most observant watch”

In February, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, and this is the year in which we lose traces of Edward de Vere’s connection with drama. It was a time of great stress and excitement in the country. The fear of a Spanish invasion lay heavily on the nation and preparations were in full swing to meet the expected Armada. Passing, as we of these days have done, through times of still greater stress, we can now quite see the allusion to England prior to the coming of the Armada in the following passage from Hamlet.

Tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land;
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint labourer with the day?[p. 360]

 

2) Act I. ii. 58-61;112-16: “He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave”

The special point with which we are now dealing — the obstacles thrown in the way of a young man’s wish to travel — appears again in “Hamlet.” Laertes applies for the king’s permission to go abroad, and the king asks, “Have you your father’s leave? What says Polonius?” To which Polonius replies:

He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave
By laboursome petition, and at last
Upon his will I seal’d my hard consent:
I do beseech you, give him leave to go.

Then there is the king and queen’s opposition to Hamlet’s wish to go to Wittenberg, and the false reasons assigned:

WittenbergHamlet

King:
It is most retrograde to our desire;
And we beseech you, bend you to remain
Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye,
Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.

Again we notice that it is Polonius who is chiefly opposed to his son’s travelling, exactly as Burleigh raised his own opposition into a settled maxim of policy:

Suffer not thy sons to cross the Alps and if by travel they get a few broken languages they shall profit them nothing more than to have one meat served up in divers dishes.
(Burleigh’s maxims – Martin A. S. Hume.) [p. 267]

 

3) Act I. ii. 187: “I shall not look upon his like again”

…The loss of such a father, with the complete upsetting of his young life that it immediately involved, must have been a great grief to one so sensitively constituted. We may naturally suppose, then, that the figure of a hero-father would live in his imagination; and the reader of “Shakespeare” who has missed this note of father-worship in the great dramas has been found wanting in serious attention to their finer contents.

The greatest play of Shakespeare’s, “Hamlet,” has father-worship as its prime motive:

“He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.” [pg. 232]

 

4) Act I. iii. 18: “For he himself is subject to his birth”

We have already had to draw attention to the startling character of the analogy between Oxford and the central character in “All’s Well,” the royal ward, Bertram Count of Roussilon, to which must now be added this proximity in social rank and intimate intercourse with royalty, to which Helena refers in her conversation with the King. It will be interesting to notice, too, the emphasis given both in this play and in “Hamlet” to the idea that by virtue of their birth the chief characters had no personal liberty of choice in the matter of marriage. [p. 247]

5) Act II. i. 1-74: “Before you visit him, … make inquiry of his behaviour.”

It is quite evident, moreover, from G. Ravenscroft Dennis’s work on “The House of Cecil,” that when his eldest son, Thomas, afterwards Earl of Exeter, was in Paris, Burleigh had him watched and secretly reported on, quite in the manner of Polonius’s employment of the spy Reynaldo. [p. 261]

 

6) Act II. i. 58: “…there falling out at tennis”

The story of the tennis-court quarrel is one of the few particulars about Oxford that have become current. Indeed, one very interesting history of English literature mentions the incident, and ignores the fact that the earl was at all concerned with literature. Now, considering the prominence given to this story, it almost appears as if “Shakespeare,” in “Hamlet,” had intended to furnish a clue to his identity when he represents Polonius dragging in a reference to young men “falling out at tennis.” [pp. 296-7]

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7) Act II. ii. 398-405: “O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure thou hadst!”

If, therefore, there is any character in Shakespeare’s works whom we may be able to identify with Burleigh, to have had him likened to Jephtha, as Hamlet does Polonius, would have been something of a slander upon Jephtha. For the conduct of this Old Testament character towards his daughter seems quite respectable compared with the sordid dealings of the great Lord Burleigh; and the tears which the latter seems ostentatiously to have shed at the death of her whom he called his “filia carissima” ought to have sprung from the grief of shame and repentance rather than the grief of bereavement. [p. 258]

 

8) Act II. ii. 356: “Do the boys carry it away?”

Although other companies of actors are referred to as “Boys,” it is to Oxford’s company that the name seems to have been most particularly attached. This frequent reference to his company as “The Oxford Boys” is suggestive, too, of a personal familiarity, and the kindly interest of an employer in the needs and welfare of the men he employed. From every indication we have of his character he was not the man to keep his gold “continually imprisoned in his bags,” to use his own phrase, whilst there were playwrights or actors about him whom he could benefit. Everything betokens a relationship similar to that which had existed between Hamlet and his players, and which he expresses in his welcome to them on renewing his intercourse with them:

“You are welcome, masters; welcome all. I am glad to see thee well. Welcome good friends. O! my old friend.”

Then there is Hamlet’s admonition to Polonius:

“Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used … Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve the more merit is in your bounty.”

Seeing, moreover, that Oxford’s company has passed into the history of English drama as the “Oxford Boys,” what shall we make of Hamlet speaking of his company as “the boys”?

“Do the boys carry it away?”

More important, however, are the instructions and criticism which Hamlet as a patron of playactors offers, to his company. His whole attitude is just such as a patron of Oxford’s social position, literary taste, and dramatic enthusiasm would naturally assume towards a company which he was not only patronising but directing. In this matter no quotation of passages would suffice for our purpose. We can only ask the reader, bearing in mind all we have been able to lay before him, of Oxford’s poetic work, life and character, to read through the whole of that part of the play which treats of Hamlet’s dealing with the players (Acts II. and III. s. 2). If he does not feel that we have here an exact representation of what Oxford’s handling of his own company would be, our own work in these pages must have been most imperfectly performed. [p. 318]

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9) Act III. i. 39-40: And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish/That your good beauties be the happy cause/of Hamlet’s wildness”

At the time when the marriage between Anne and Sidney was arranged the Earl of Oxford was, socially, “out of Anne’s star.” Now Cecil’s care for the social and material advancement of his own family is one of the outstanding features of his policy. From this point of view the marriage of his daughter to one of the foremost of the ancient nobility, and a man of vast possessions, would be a great acquisition and the gratification of a high personal ambition. These social connections evidently meant much to him, for he had tried to make out an aristocratic ancestry for himself and had failed. Whether or not Elizabeth would sanction such an alliance might, however, be considered extremely doubtful; and if she were to consent, such consent would be almost as great a concession to Cecil as was that of Denmark’s King and Queen to the marriage of Hamlet with the daughter of Polonius. [p. 257]

 

10) Act III. i. 90-150: “Where’s your father?”

The cryptic explanation of his conduct which we have just quoted seems to have been the only one which Oxford would vouchsafe – to Burleigh at any rate. Burleigh complains of Oxford’s taciturnity in the matter: that he would only reply, “I have answered you” — which is strikingly suggestive of Shylock’s laconic expression “Are you answered?” One account suggests that the attitude he assumed on his arrival was a sudden and erratic change. If this be correct it is certainly suggestive of that lightning-like change one notices in Hamlet’s bearing towards, Ophelia, when he detects that she is allowing herself to be made the tool of her father in spying upon Hamlet himself (Act III, scene 1 ). [p. 277]

[later in Shakespeare Identified]: …Lady Oxford’s fault was probably no worse than that of having weakly succumbed to, a masterful father, or rather two masterful parents. Ophelia’s weakness, then, in permitting herself to be made her father’s tool in intruding upon Hamlet, certainly suggests her as a possible dramatic analogue to the unfortunate Lady Oxford. [p. 283]

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11) Act III. ii. 91-2: “My lord, you play’d once/ i’ th’ university, you say?

It is claimed by some writers that Shakespeare shows a knowledge of the universities. Such contact as Edward de Vere had with them would be sufficient to account for that knowledge, whilst the apparently small part it played in his life would quite agree with the almost negligible part that college and university matters occupy in the plays. There are only two occasions on which Shakespeare mentions the word “university.” Hamlet, in poking fun at Polonius, draws him out by exciting his vanity about what he had done “at the university.” [p. 244]

12) Act III. iv. 24: “I took thee for thy better”

Oxford had inflicted a wound on an under-cook in Burleigh’s employ, and this wound unfortunately proved fatal. None of the circumstances are told, possibly because they are unknown, but, like everything else, the event must needs be set down to Oxford’s discredit. Now, remembering Burleigh’s spying methods and the peculiar circumstances under which Polonius received his death wound at the hands of Hamlet, we may possibly find in the drama a suggestion of something that had actually happened in the experience of its author; especially in view of Hamlet’s exclamation:

“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better.” [p. 262]

CartoonHamletStabsPolonius

 

13) Act V. i.: 60-4: “In youth, when I did love”

Now, by a curious chance, the last poem in the “Vaux” collection, the poem therefore that immediately precedes the De Vere collection, is the identical song of Lord Vaux   which “Shakespeare” adapts for the use of the gravedigger in “Hamlet.” This may not have much weight as evidence. Nevertheless, if it can be maintained, as it reasonably may, that Edward de Vere in his earliest poetic efforts built upon foundations that Lord Vaux had laid, then the reappearance of an old song of Lord Vaux, in Shakespeare’s supreme masterpiece, forty years after the death of the writer of the song, is certainly not without significance as part of our general argument. [p. 170]

 

14) Act V. i. 75-7: “…the pate of a politician, one that would circumvent God”

Oxford’s general relationship to those politicians, moreover, is most clearly reflected in the works of Shakespeare where the very word “politician” is a term of derision and contempt.

“That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once; how the knave jowls it to the ground as if it were Cain’s jaw-bone that did the first murder! It might be the pate of a politician, one that would circumvent God, might it not?” [p. 357]

 

15) Act V. ii. 1-81: “Up from my cabin, my sea-gown scarfed about me”

Hamlet’s sea experiences we observe stand in direct association with the death of Ophelia. It is whilst he is away that she dies. He returns at the time of her burial, and after the graveyard scene resumes with Horatio the discussion of his sea adventures. As, then, the attitude of Hamlet to Ophelia resembles in some particular that of Oxford to his wife, we may hope, at any rate, that, as “Shakespeare,” he gives us in the famous graveyard scene a revelation of the true state of his affections: a supposition which even his conduct at the time of their rupture quite justifies.

The death of Lady Oxford, and the subsidence of the national excitement in relation to the Spanish Armada, following, as they do, closely upon the last indications we have of his theatrical enterprises, may be taken as marking the time at which he began “to sit in idle cell,” or the beginning of the third period of his life. [p. 362]

 

16) Act V. ii. 291-3; 299-302: “Now cracks a noble heart”

“Horatio, I am dead;
Thou livest; report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.
* * *
If ever thou didst hold me in. thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.”
Hamlet (V. 2).

“An unlifted shadow somehow lies across his memory.”
Dr. Grosart. [pg. 209]

 

 

Hamlet’s Parallel Universe

April 20th, 2015 10 comments

William Shakespeare may be “lost in the mists of time”… but Hamlet seems to be ever-living. As a character, he has an uncanny number of parallels with the documented life of Edward Oxenford. Therefore, as long as scholars maintain that William of Stratford wrote Hamlet, other scholars will be asking why the earl has such an overbearing presence in Shakespeare’s greatest work.

BranaghHamletMousetrap

Is this really true?  That’s me speaking, by the way, circulating my tempered version of a standard Oxfordian claim.  Twice in the last three months, I’ve made this assertion in public, and both times I’ve attracted rapid-fire response from scholars who beg to differ.  Just last week, Tom Reedy (in the comments section of the Press Telegram) shot back:

I can tell, however, that you don’t know the biographical parallels to the life of James I, Essex, Rutland and Derby that are found in Hamlet, some of which are closer and more abundant that those of Oxford…

Is this really true?  A quick survey turns up some intriguing mirrors and allusions (see the links below), some new and some that I’d long forgotten I knew.  But are they closer, and more abundant than the parallels to Hamlet claimed for Oxford?  Hmmm…  How does Tom know this, I wonder?  Has someone, somewhere, tabulated these things, a la Diana Price?

If so, I wish that list had come up in the “Parallel Universe” discussion I had with Michael Dobson during his 6-week Hamlet MOOC (massive open online course) this past February. Michael’s immediate response to my Hamlet-parallels-to-Oxford comments echoes Tom Reedy’s:

The category of people with things in common with Hamlet extends well beyond the Earl of Oxford, even if one were to mistake the play for an autobiography.

A few days later, to counter my persistent dragging of a “dead earl” into the picture, he went even further:

…it would be possible to find parallels to almost anyone somewhere in the text of Hamlet if that’s what one wanted to do.

Martin Wiggins notes that Burbage had recently lost his father, and almost lost his father's business empire.

Now surely this statement is truer than true!  True, but utterly useless.  Shakespeare’s creations continually invite us to wonder and speculate on their glorious specificity.  Sensing the inherent weakness of Prof. Dobson’s stance, and even better, the opportunity he’d opened for testing my own assumptions, I countered with a challenge:

I haven’t drawn up my own list of the many parallels – of situation, of temperament, or of plain biographical documented fact – between Hamlet and Oxford, but will happily do so and match them against whatever figure(s) of the times you care to propose, including Richard Burbage. It would be an excellent exercise in critical thinking.

While he didn’t accept my invitation per se, for some reason, over the next few weeks the professor kept answering everything I wrote, so I kept writing, offering more parallels, or responding to his objections with more documentary support for previously cited parallels.  Most of his “shoot downs” were superficial dismissals, but one day Michael actually said Something Really Useful:

…if someone kept buttonholing you and asking whether it wasn’t perfectly obvious that Hamlet was all about Philip Sidney – why it even mentions the porcupine, his family crest! he had a powerful uncle! he died of an infected wound! – you’d surely assume that they had a distorting obsession with Philip Sidney that was preventing them from seeing the play, wouldn’t you?

SidneyPorcupine

Bingo!  That one hit home. Did I have a distorting obsession with Oxford that was preventing me from seeing Philip’s presence in Hamlet?  Immediately, I picked up my Variorum edition of the play, and turned to a passage that another student had recently mentioned, (“whilst this machine is to him”) which for some reason had called to mind Oxford’s lifelong foil and Fulke Greville’s hero, Philip Sidney.  A day later, after much reading and searching of Sidney’s poems and prose, I found out why – and when I shared one part of my “aha!” moment with Michael, he was gracious enough to admit he found it “truly interesting”.  For me, there’s a sweet-n-sour comfort in realizing that both of us may have missed a fascinating allusion by shutting Sidney out of our Shakespearean sights.

Must the establishment of true believers – and by believers I mean those who accept William of Stratford as Shakespeare as well as those who choose Oxford – ignore the evidence of parallels and/or allusions in the text of Hamlet to Essex or Rutland, King James, Derby or Sidney, to protect their candidate?  Absent the pressure of authorship contentions, earlier scholars allowed a much wider lens to the author’s hawking eye.

That’s the way I propose to look at Tom Reedy’s four candidates (plus Sidney) for “closer and more abundant” parallels with Hamlet: as if there were no Shakespeare Authorship Question.  Shakespeare will simply be Shakespeare, sans quotes or hyphens.  For the purpose of this investigation, he’s the author of the Hamlet text we find published in three separate editions: 1603, 1604 and 1623.

RobertDevereux2ndEarlofEssex

Since the play unfolds in time, building on each prior scene, the approach I’ll adopt is to begin with Act 1 scene 1, and examine all proposed allusions or parallels within that scene before proceeding to the next.  Each proposed example will require a supporting document.  Evaluation will include comparison with Shakespeare’s sources, Saxo Grammaticus and Belleforest, along with other relevant analogues to highlight either the differences or similarities to one or more of these sources.

In my next post, I’ll start with parallels suggested by J. T. Looney in Shakespeare Identified.  If you’d like to participate, please join the Facebook group “Hamlet’s Parallel Universe“.

RogerManners5thEarlofRutland

James VI and Hamlet : Lillian Winstanley, Hamlet and the Scottish Succession1921

Essex and Hamlet in David Bevington, Murder Most Foul: Hamlet Through the Ages, 2011

Rutland and Hamlet: Ilya M. Gililov, The Shakespeare Game, 2003

Derby and Hamlet: John M. Rollett, William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby, 2015

Sidney and Hamlet: George Russell French, Shakespearana Genealogica, 1869

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 late breath of life into Ben Jonson’s early ‘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 dry 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 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”