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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.

HearseofHenryStuart

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

 

“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”

 

The Goddess of Justice

December 25th, 2010 No comments

Terras

Astraea

reliquit

“Astraea has left the earth.”

The phrase is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but Shakespeare gives it new meaning when he has the grieving Titus Andronicus rouse his kinsmen to join him in some madcap archery, shooting arrows into the emperor’s court, each one tipped with a supplication to the gods.

Titus, if you recall, had very good reason for his madness, whether feigned or real: the emperor’s step-sons had raped and horribly disfigured his daughter Lavinia, and he had seen the heads of two of his sons tumbled at his feet, knowing full well that they’d been executed on false charges and through a heartless deceit that had cost him his own hand.  “We may go pipe for justice,” he tells his gathered family, including his brother Marcus, grandson Lucius, and several assembled nephews.

As Jonathan Bate notes in his edition of the play, “Queen Elizabeth was frequently mythologized as Astraea.”

Had John de Vere lived to see Titus Andronicus played onstage, he might well have appreciated the old warrior’s fantastical, near-treasonous shenanigans with bow and arrow.  Back in Great Harry’s time, his brother-in-law, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, had cooled his heels in the Fleet prison after a shooting spree with “stone bows” through the streets of London.  While incarcerated, he wrote an indignant poem mocking the citizens of London and those who had detained him.

The “emperor” – as Henry VIII had styled himself – was not pleased.  Two years later, on Dec. 12, 1546, Surrey and his father, Thomas, 3rd duke of Norfolk, were arrested on specious charges, and soon condemned for treason.  Surrey was beheaded five weeks later, on January 19.  Only the death of Henry VIII had saved Norfolk from the same fate.  Earl John’s sister Frances was eight months pregnant when her husband was executed.  Since the records are silent as to their reactions, we can only imagine what John and Frances thought about the king’s “justice”.

Titus first played in London sometime between 1584 and 1589, according to Ben Jonson. On January 19, 1585 – exactly thirty-nine years after the beheading of Surrey – Richard Enewes, aged 92 “or thereabouts” admitted to the queen’s attorney general what he had done to Joan Jockey many long years ago:

…in the absence of the Earl, [John de Vere] the Lord Darcy and Lord Sheffield came to Earl’s Colne, and this examinant [Enewes himself] & two more with him brake open the door where the same Joan was and spoiled her, and this examinant’s fellow, John Smith, cut her nose, and thereupon after she was put away.

Joan Jockey was the village girl whom the 16th earl of Oxford had married at White Colne Church in the spring of 1546 or 47, after his first wife Dorothy had left him.  Curiously, her fate – an attack led by two men of the new nobility, both related by marriage to her husband – seems unnervingly close to what befell Shakespeare’s Lavinia.

It appears that Earl John’s reckless wedding was not well-received by Lord Darcy and Lord Sheffield, who were married to the earl’s sisters Elizabeth and Anne, respectively.  While their motivations remain obscure, it does seem that these two lords were responsible for organizing the vicious attack on Joan.  “Spoiled her” most likely indicates that she was raped, since Enewes speaks of the cutting as a separate action.

Would Astraea, goddess of Justice, now punish Richard Enewes and his surviving fellows, for their hideous crime?

Not on this day.  At issue was a lawsuit initiated by Hugh Key against Richard Masterson, over a manor bequeathed to Margery Golding by her husband, John de Vere, as Nina Green explains in her summary of the case.  Apparently, Hugh Key sought to prove that Edward de Vere’s birth was unlawful; unfortunately, his side of the story is missing from the records.  The testimony that we read in the surviving documents was offered “on the part & behalf of Richard Masterson gentleman, defendant against Hugh Key complainant.”  The job of these five witnesses was to give evidence in support of Masterson, whose claim to any interest in the disputed property required that Edward de Vere be the legal heir of Earl John.  To a man, each swore that to the best of their knowledge, the birth of Edward, now earl of Oxford, was lawful.

But if any one of them had knowledge to the contrary, would they have dared to offer it?  Although she doesn’t pose this question, Nina Green unintentionally implies as much when she observes:

Had the marriage been found to be illegitimate, it would have invalidated Oxford’s right to the earldom and therefore the Queen’s right to Oxford’s wardship, and the Queen would have had to repay to those now found to be the legitimate heirs all the profits she had taken under Oxford’s wardship from 1562 to 1585. It was perhaps for this reason that the Queen appointed her two highest-ranking legal officers, her Attorney-General, John Popham, and her Solicitor-General, Thomas Egerton, to conduct the examinations of the five witnesses. [emphasis added]

Certainly, on pecuniary grounds alone, it was not in the queen’s self-interest to allow anyone to find that Oxford was a bastard. Yet even without this selfish motivation, Elizabeth’s instincts would have been to protect Lord Burghley’s son-in-law, as Walter Ralegh might have cunningly reminded her.  On May 12, 1583, he’d written to Burghley, trumpeting his success in coaxing the queen to drop her present inclination to re-open the Howard-Arundel affair:

I answered that being assured her Majesty would never permit anything to be prosecuted to the Earl’s danger, if any such possibility were, and therefore it were to small purpose after so long absence, and so many disgraces, to call his honor, and name, again in question, whereby he might appear the less fit either for her favor or presence, in conclusion her Majesty confessed that she meant it only thereby to give the Earl warning… [emphasis added] (Monstrous Adversary, p. 290)

Consummate politician that he was, Ralegh used the queen’s devotion to Burghley, and concern for the old man’s health, as his trump card:

I delivered her your lordship’s letter and what I said farther, how honorable, and profitable it were for [her] Majesty to have regard to your Lordship[s] health and quiet…

Thanks to the aggravated testimony of Charles Arundel, back in December of 1580, we know that Oxford had been bitterly stung by the queen’s true opinion on his birth.  As Arundel remembers it, the earl had both complained and threatened revenge for her taunting comment: “That the Queen said he was a bastard, for which cause he would never love her, and leave her in the lurch one day. One mistress for love, another for the pound.”

Knowing that her Majesty knew something about his doubtful legitimacy, Edward de Vere must have been just a tad anxious to learn what questions her Attorney-General Popham and Solicitor-General Egerton would put to the five men, and how they would reply.  Would the goddess of Justice bring to light dark truths that even he had never suspected about his father’s irregular marriages?  Or would Elizabeth use the opportunity to once again “give the Earl warning”, reminding him of how very much – including “his honor, and name” –  he owed to her good will?