1575: Shakespeare Taken Out of School
What comes up must come down, & in 1575 it is supposed that John Shakespeare began to tighten his belt, pulling his eldest son out of school. Rowe tells us; ‘the narrowness of his Circumstances, and the want of his assistance at Home, forc’d his Father to withdraw him from thence.’ Personally I think there’s more to the story than a simple financial one, but its difficult to prove. Whatever were the reasons, confirmation of Shakespeare’s premature departure from grammar school is found in a pleasant eulogy made by Shakespeare’s fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, which reads, ‘and though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek, from thence to honour thee I would not seek.’ Later on in the 17th century, Thomas Fuller adds ‘he was an eminent instance of the truth of that rule, poeta non fit, sed nascitur; one is not made, but born a poet. Indeed his learning was but very little.’ Shakespeare would thenforth consider himself without a higher level of schooling, for in his dedication to the Lucrece poem he considers them, ‘untutored lines.’
We may be able to place Shakespeare in Kenilworth palace, not far from Stratford, in July 1575. The queen was visiting & her train were the Children of the Chapel, a troupe of child actors led by William Hunnis. The outlandish celebrations, especially Hunnis’ device of the Lady of the Lake, would turn up once more in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Oberon;
Sat upon a promontory
& heard a Mermaid on a Dolphin’s back
uttering such dulcet & harmonious breath
That the rude seas grew civil at her song
& certain starres shot madly from their spheres
to hear the sea-maids music
This description matches a section in George Gascoigne’s ‘The Princely Pleasures, at the Court at Kenilworth’ (1576), where at the Station of the song of Protheus: a water pageant begins with Protheus appearing on a dolphin float with a musical consort inside: “the Dolphyn was conueied vpon the boate, so that the Owners seen to bee his Fynnes. With in the which Dolphyn a Consort of Musicke was secretly placed, the which sounded, and Protheus clearing his voyce, sang his song of congratulation.” Whether Shakespeare witnessed it first hand, or no, its presence in Shakespeareana is assured.
1575: Shakespeare Leaves Stratford
In 1575, two events conspired to propel the eleven-year-old Shakespeare out of his hometown. The first echoes the modern truanting teenager, whose idle, juvenile sporting lands them in trouble with the local authorities. In the case of Shakespeare, without the anchor of a schoolday got in with the wrong sort & conducted a spot of poaching that landed him in hot water. According to Rev. Davies our young bard, ‘was much given to all unluckiness in stealing venison & rabbits, particularly from Sir Thomas Lucy, who had him oft whipt, & sometimes imprisoned, & at last made him fly from his native county to his great advancement.’ For the rest of his life Shakespeare would remain a poacher of sorts, essentially walking into the literature canon of the known world & taking what he liked in order to toss it into whatever dramatic soup he was cooking up at the time.
A transchispering remembrance of these incidents with Sir Thomas bubble to the surface in both Henry IV pt.2 & the Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a certain vain & self-delusional character known as Justice Shallow seems very much modelled on Lucy. Where Shallow says his coat-of-arms depicted ‘luces’, i.e the fish called pikes, so did the Lucy’s of Charlecote. This was not the first time that Lucy would inspire Shakespeare’s words, as discern’d from Rowe’s account of the poaching episode,
He had, by a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag’d him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong’d to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford.For this he was prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho’ this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig’d to leave his Business and Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London
Rowe is here segueing into one story two known facts about Shakespeare’s early life, that he (i) left Stratford after getting into trouble & (ii) settled in London. Between these events I believe that Shakespeare did a lot more living. The trail begins in 1575, when Lancashire-born Simon Hunt gave up his post as Stratford schoolmaster in order to enroll at the English College in Douay, France, & train as a militant Jesuit. The First Douay-train’d Jesuits had arrive in England in 1574, cavorting from priest-hole to priest-hole, giving masses in secret to all the favuorable nests of papistry, the visit of whom seems to have struck Hunt to his holy Catholic core. Accompanying him to France was a Stratford youth, Richard Debdale of Shottery, & also, we shall here conject, Shakespeare. His early blossoming in the poetic arts, such as the Familist ballads & the satire pinned at Charlecote, marked him out as a special talent. This faculty for the Muses would have defined him as the perfect student for a certain Douay Jesuit called Edward Campion, who described the impecabillity of writing poetry (but not love poetry) during one’s youthful studies, while at the same time becoming intimate with, ‘the majesty of Virgil, the festal grace of Ovid, the rhythm of Horace, & the buskined speech of Seneca.’
1575: Shakespeare Travels to London
As they travell’d south towards the English Channel, Hunt & Shakespeare would have slept in an English inn or three, of which Fynes Moryson, who was acquainted with the inns of Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, asserts in his Itinerary of 1617;
The world affords not such Inns as England hath, either for good and cheap entertainments at the guest’s own pleasure, or for humble attendance on passengers… as soon as a passenger comes to an Inn the servants run to him, and one takes his horse and walks him till he be cold, then rubs him and gives him meat, yet I must say they are not much to be trusted in this last point without the eye of the master or his servant to oversee them. Another servant gives the passenger his private chamber and kindles his fire, the third pulls off his boots and makes them clean. The Host or Hostess visits him, and if he will eat with the Host, or at a common table with others, his meal will cost him sixpence, or in some places but fourpence (yet this course is less honourable, and not used by gentlemen) : but if he will eat in his chamber, he commands what meat he will according to his appetite, and as much as he thinks fit for him and his company, yea, the kitchen is open to him to command the meat to be dressed as he best likes: and when he sits at table, the Host or Hostess will accompany him, of courtesy to be bid sit down: while he eats, if he have company especially, he shall be offered music, which he may freely take or refuse and if he be solitary, the Musicians will give him the good or if they have many guests will at least visit him
Another Elizabethan traveller, William Harrison, in his Description of England, describes inns lodging up to 300 folk & their horses, with some towns having more than 12 inns. Competition such as this ensured the provision of clean & comfy accommodation accompanied by very fine food & wine. Between these oasi, travel along Elizabethan highways was a most precarious venture. Dodgy roads & bridges & the occasional robber plagued the journey, with organized gangs operating all around London. Shakespeare may even have remembered such a scene, when in Henry IV he depicts;
I am accursed to rob in that thief’s company: the
rascal hath removed my horse, and tied him I know
not where. If I travel but four foot by the squier
further afoot, I shall break my wind. Well, I doubt
not but to die a fair death for all this, if I
‘scape hanging for killing that rogue. I have
forsworn his company hourly any time this two and
twenty years, and yet I am bewitched with the
rogue’s company. If the rascal hath not given me
medicines to make me love him, I’ll be hanged; it
could not be else: I have drunk medicines. Poins!
Hal! a plague upon you both! Bardolph! Peto!
I’ll starve ere I’ll rob a foot further. An ’twere
not as good a deed as drink, to turn true man and to
leave these rogues, I am the veriest varlet that
ever chewed with a tooth. Eight yards of uneven
ground is threescore and ten miles afoot with me;
and the stony-hearted villains know it well enough:
a plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another!
1575 : Shakespeare Visits London
As they travelled to France, with what wonder did Shakespeare first view the smoky skyline of London in his first approach from the north. It was love at first sight for for a fellow who would soon enough be calling the city home. Towering over all was the original Saint Pauls Cathedral – which would perish in the Great fire of London of 1666. The rest of London was made mainly out of timber, which of course fuelle’ that dramatic & devastating inferno. This packed city was still more or less crammed within its 15 centuries old Roman Walls, although villages peppered the countryside which would one day join up together in a seamless concrete heap.
In 1575, the profession to which Shakespeare’s destiny was intrinsically bound was in a sorry state indeed. The previous December, the puritan-dominated London common council had banned all public dramatic performances from the city, announcing;
Sundry great disorders & inconveniences have been found to ensue to this City by the inordinate haunting by great multitudes of people, specially youth, to plays, interludes & shows, namely occasion of frays & quarrels, evil practices of incontinecy in great inns, having chambers & secret places adjoining to their open stages & galleries, inveighing of maids, specially orphans & good citizens children, to privy & unmeet contracts, the publishing of unchaste, uncomely & unshamefast speeches & doings. Withdrawing of the Queen’s Majesty’s subjects from Divine service on Sundays & Holy days.
1575 : Shakespeare Reads George Gascoigne’s ‘Posies’
While in London, Hunt took Shakespeare to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, one of only three places in the country where one could legally buy books. It was as they browsed through the printed wonders on offer that Shakespeare stumbled across George Gascoignes ‘Posies,’ released that year. Hunt bought the book for his budding wee poet, in which pages we find Gascoigne’s definition of a sonnet as being, not of the Italian model, but that made famous by the Bard himself, which consists of; ‘Fouretene lynes, every lyne conteyning tenne syllables. The first twelve to ryme in staves of foure lynes, by crosse metr & the last two rhyming togither, do conclude the whole.’
Gascoigne’s Poesies would also influence both Romeo & Juliet & Pyramis and Thisbe – the play-within-a-play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Roger Prior (Gascoigne’s Poesies as a Shakespearian Source N&Q 245 2000) has shown how the aforemention’d plays seem particularly influenced by Gascoigne’s description of a masque celebrating the marriage in 1572 of two children of Anthony Browne, the 1st Viscount Montague. In addition, Gascoigne’s poem ‘The Refusal’ seems to have given the premise behind the rivalries of both Demetrius & Lysande, & Hermia & Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
1575-76: Shakespeare Attends the English College in Douay
Like many British schoolchildren, myself included, their first trip abroad was some kind of school trip to France. Shakespeare was no different, even if his teacher was on the run to become a militant Jesuit. Douay was to be a fertile bedsoil in which our poetical prodigy suddenly found himself; heated & passionate rhetoric would have abounded on all sides, infiltrating our wee bard’s psyche with the rhythmic pulsations of intelligent conversazione. The academic atmosphere he found himself among is perfectly described by a grandee at the English College, Rev. Gregory Martin, who described how at mealtimes;
The reader from the pulpit reads aloud the portion of the old Testament which occurs in the Roman breviary at the time… so that the whole bible is easily gone through in one year. Twice a day at the end of each meal they will have the usual explanation of a chapter; only it is done more perfectly than formerly, not merely on account of the pains which Richard Bristow takes, and his knowledge which was always very great, but also because of the increased authority and maturity which is implied in the degree of doctor in divinity lately conferred on him.
That the creative sponge of Shakespeare’s young mind was occupied by Douay is suggested by Cardinal Allen, who stated, ‘we preach in English, in order to acquire greater power and grace in the use of the vulgar tongue’. Of all those listening in 1575, there was one wide-eyed boy in a corner who was acquiring that very ‘greater power & grace’ by the minute. Also boarding at the English College in 1576 while studying at the Jesuit College of Anchin, was a certain Robert Southwell, a distant cousin of Shakespeare’s as seen by the following family tree, which also shows their distant connection to the Earl of Southampton, a future patron & dedicatee of Shakespeare’s poetry.
One of Southwell’s works, entitled St Peter’s Complaint, contained a dedication changed by the Jesuit press at the College of St. Omer from, ‘your loving cousin, R.S.’ to ‘my worthy good cousin Maister W.S.’ As he lived his life Shakespeare kept his early Jesuit connection on the lowdown, showing oblique knowledge of the writings of Southwell, along with the prominent Jesuits Edmund Campion & Henry Garnet. He also seems to allude to the Jesuit martyrdoms in sonnet 124, in which he referred to the ‘fools of time, which die for goodness and who have lived for crime.’ Then, in 1611, just as Shakespeare was wrapping up his writing career, John Speed, in his ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain,’ while denouncing the Jesuit Robert Parsons accusation against proto-protestant martyr John Oldcastle, alluded to him and William Shakespeare as “this papist and his poet”. Next comes the possession by Jesuit seminaries of early copies of Shakespeare including the First Folio found in 2015 at the library in St.-Omer that came from clearly came from the local college of Jesuits, & a quarto of Pericles owned by the same colelge in 1619.
1576: Shakespeare Returns to England
After a six-month stint at the English College, the intellectual capacity of our young bard would have been swollen no end. This period was one of the first stages of a unique course of education which just so happened to create one of the greatest poets to have ever lived. His time abroad would have helped mould a mind capable of such epic feats of linguistics that would, later in his career, expand his native tongue with hundreds of loan-words from foreign languages, including French. His departure from Douay, as we shall soon intimate, was with a certain Cuthbert Mayne, who had qualified as a Bachelor of Theology on the 7th February 1576. Two months later, on the 24 April 1576, Shakespeare turn’d twelve. The following day, Cuthbert Mayne set out for England with another priest called John Payne; & let us hyperfact Shakespeare in that small party also. On arrival in England, Mayne spent a short period in Cornwall, while Payne went to the South East. It is possible that Shakespeare went with Payne to stay with Anne, widow of Sir William Petre, and daughter of Sir William Browne, sometime Lord Mayor of the City of London, Their chief places of refuge were at Ingatestone, Essex, in whose house was a “priest hole”, & also in London. It should be no coincidence, then, that Essex was a major Familist centre in the 1570s. There is, however, definitive evidence for Shakespeare & Cuthbert Mayne having travelled to Lancashire together, which we shall look at in the next post.
1576: Theaters Spring up Across London
Before that trip to Burnley, in the year that Shakespeare made his first return to the capital, three theaters were built just outside the city limits of London (a fourth, the Curtain, would be built in 1577), where bureaucratic regulations did not apply. The first to be erected was the Newington Butts Playhouse, a mile south of the Thames, which stood roughly on the east side of Walworth Road near the junction with New Kent Road. The landlord was Richard Hickes, one of Queen Elizabeth’s bodyguards – the Yeomen of the Guard – most of whom were secret Familists. Hickes sublet the theatre on the 25th March 1576 to a certain Stratford man called Jerome Savage, described by his contemporary, Peter Hunningborne, as a, ‘verrie lewed fealowe’ who ‘liveth by noe other trade than playinge of staige plaies and Interlevde.’ Very much a man of the vernal Elizabethan theatre, Savage also ran a troupe of actors for the Earl of Warwick, known as Earl of Warwick’s Players.
Three weeks after the Newington Butts Playhouse began its life, a second permanent playhouse was erected at Shoreditch, called rather appropriately the ‘Theatre.’ Later that year, the third London dramahouse was built by court composer & master of the Children of the Chapel acting troupe, Richard Farrant. The location was Blackfriars, upon a section of the site of the monastery dissolved by Henry VIII. Circular & made of wood, these theaters could comfortably hold several thousand people, who would drop a penny into a box (2 for a cushion) as they entered. Later on, this box would be taken to a room, the contents emptied & leading to the phrase ‘Box Office’ of modern theater. The atmosphere created by the circular auditorium, & the closeness of the audience, manifested itself into something akin to that of a modern football match – theater was now popular entertainment, when the lowest & the highest born would rub shoulders together for a couple of hours of fantasy & drama. Just as today, they would had their opinions as to what they were watching – some of the poorer actors & productions had abuse & rotten vegetables hurled at them.
On Shakespeare’s return to England, he may have even attended one of these theatres for the first time, especially Newington Butts with its uncanny Stratford connection. I mean the first theatre in London & that periods chief playwright heralding from the same small township – on one hand quite a coinicidence, but on the other possible destiny, as the oppurtunities given to the young Shakespeare to experience the theatre woudl have fed his muses marvellously. As an early witness, he would have seen slightly over-the-top plays full of life & colour.
There is a list of props given by Blagrave (January 6, 1575) utilised by performers at the court, which gives us a good idea of what props were used in that period, being: ‘Monsters ; Mointains ; Forests; Beasts; Serpents; Weapons for war, as Guns, Dags, Bows, Arrows, Bills, Halberds, Boarspears, Fawchions, Daggers, Targets, Pllaxes, Clubs; Heads and Head pieces; Armour counterfeit; Moss, Holly, Ivy, Bays, Flowers; Quarters; Glue, Paste, Paper, and such like; with Nails, Hooks, Horsetails, Dishes for Devils’ eyes. Heaven, Hell, and the Devil and all: the Devil, I should say, but not all. ; ^I2, 14s. 4d.’ By 1580, Anthony Munday would berate the theatrical world with, ‘this unhonest trade of gain hath driven many from their occupations in hope of easier thrift. What success they have had, some of them have reported, finding the proverb true, that ill-gotten goods are ill spent.’ To a man who would go on to epitomise the theater itself, the reputation of actors & acting would have attracted the meagre-born William just as the luxurious lives of modern pop-stars inspire our young folk these days to learn the guitar.