The Young Shakespeare (17): The Rival Poet

Posted on Updated on

A Busy Christmas

By the Christmas of 1594, the 30 year old Shakespeare has fully evolv’d into a Theatre owner, company member and Playwright! On Mar 15th, 1595, there is a record of payment, via an entry in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber to Chamberlain’s Men; for a December 27 or 28 performance.

To William Kempe, William Shakespeare & Richard Burbage, servaunts to the Lord Chamberleyne, upon the Councelle’s warrant dated at Whitehall xv. to Marcij… for twoe severall comedies or enterludes shewed by them before her majestie in Christmas tyme laste part viz St. Stephens daye and Innocents daye xiijli vjss vijd, and by way of her majesties Reward vjli iiijd, in all xxli.

By March 15, 1595, and inferentially by Christmas 1594, William Shakespeare had become a leading member of his company, the Lord Chamberlain’s players, sufficiently senior to serve with William Kempe and Richard Burbage as a financial trustee, receiving two £10 payments “for twoe seuerall Comedies or Enterludes shewed by them before her maiestie in Christmas tyme laste paste viz vpon St Stephens daye & Innocents daye.”

In 28 December 1594 the first known performance of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” took place in Gray’s Inn Hall, as part of the Inn’s Christmas festivities. These were recorded in detail in the “Gesta Grayorum”, a contemporary account of the performance, but not published until 1688. It tells us that “A Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus) was played by the Players” in Gray’s Inn Hall on December 28, 1594, amid an evening of general confusion that led to the occasion being called the “Night of Errors.”

The Gesta Grayorum, printed in 1688 from a manuscript apparently passed down from the 1590s is an account of the Christmas revels by the law students at Gray’s Inn in 1594. In the text reproduced below the references to the High and Mighty Prince, Henry Prince of Purpoole, our Prince of State, are to the mock prince crowned for the occasion from among the students, a sort of prince of misrule. The document is important for its clear reference to Shakespeare’s company–the players–and unmistakable references to Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, performed on this night of December 28, 1594 (“Innocents-Day”). It also contains an enigmatic references to (perhaps) certain elements in Love’s Labour’s Lost which are also reproduced below.

The next grand Night was intended to be upon Innocents-Day at Night ; at which time there was a great Prefence of Lords, Ladies, and worfhipful Perfonages, that did expect fome notable Performance at that time ; which, indeed, had been effected, if the multitude of Beholders had not been fo exceeding great, that thereby there was no convenient room for thofe that were Actors ; by reafon whereof, very good Inventions and Conceipts could not have opportunity to be applauded, which otherwife would have been great Contentation to the Beholders. Againft which time, our Friend, the Inner Temple, determined to fend their Ambaffador to our Prince of State, as fent from Frederick Templarius, their Emperor, who was then bufied in his Wars againft the Turk. The Ambaffador came very gallantly appointed, and attended by a great number of brave Gentlemen, which arrived at our Court about Nine of the Clock at Night. Upon their coming thither, the King at Arms gave notice to the Prince, then fitting in his Chair of State in the Hall, that there was come to his Court an Ambaffador from his ancient Friend the State of Templaria which defired to have prefent Accefs unto His Highnefs ; and fliewed his Honour further, that he feemed to be of very good fort, becaufe he was fo well attended ; and therefore defired that it would pleafe His Honour that fome of his Nobles and Lords might conduct him to His Highnefs’s Prefence ; which was done. So he was brought in very folemnly, with Sound of Trumpets, the King at Arms and Lords of Purpoole making to his Company, which marched before him in order. He was received very kindly of the Prince, and placed in a Chair befides His Highnefs, to the end that he might be Partaker of the Sports intended. But firft, he made a Speech to the Prince, wherein he declared how his excellent Renown and Fame was known throughout all the whole World ; and that the Report of his Greatnefs was not contained within the Bounds of the Ocean, but had come to the Ears of his noble Sovereign, Frederick Templarius where he is now warring againfl the Turks, the known Enemies to all Christendom; who having heard that His Excellency kept his Court at Graya, this Chriftmas, thought it to ftand with his ancient League of Amity and near Kindnefs, that fo long hath been continued and increafed by their noble Anceftors of famous Memory and Defert, to gratulate his Happinefs, and flourifhing Eftate ; and in that regard, had fent him his Ambaffador, to be refiding at His Excellency’s Court, in honour of his Greatnefs, and token of his tender Love and Good Will he beareth to His Highnefs; the Confirmation whereof he efpecially required, and by all means poffible, would ftudy to increafe and eternize: Which Function he was the more willing to accomplish, becaufe our State of Graya did grace Templaria with the Prefence of an Ambaffador about thirty Years fince, upon like occafion. Our Prince made him this Anfwer, That he did acknowledge that the great Kindnefs of his Lord, whereby he doth invite to further degrees in firm and Loyal Friendfhip, did deferve all honourable Commendations, and effectual Accomplifhment, that by any means might be devifed ; and that he accounted himfelf happy, by having the fincere and ftedfaft Love of fo gracious and renowned a Prince, as his Lord and Mafter deferved to be efteemed ; and that nothing in the World fhould hinder the due Obfervation of fo inviolable a Band as he efteemed his Favour and Good Will. Withal, he entred into Commendations of his noble and courageous Enterprizes, in that he chufeth out an Adverfary fit for his Greatnefs to encounter with, his Honour to be illuftrated by, and fuch an Enemy to all Christiendom as that the Glory of his Actions tend to the Safety and Liberty of all Civility and Humanity ; yet, notwithstanding that he was thus employed, in this Action or honouring us, he mewed both his honourable Mindfulnefs of our Love and Friendfhip, and alfo his own Puiffance, that can afford fo great a number of brave Gentlemen, and fo gallantly furnifhed and accomplimed : And fo concluded, with a Welcome both to the Ambaffador himfelf, and his Favourites, for their Lord and Mailer’s fake, and fo for their own good Deferts and Condition.

When the Ambaflador was placed, as aforefaid, and that there was fomething to be performed for the Delight of the Beholders, there arofe fuch a difordered Tumult and Crowd upon the Stage, that there was no Opportunity to effect that which was intended : There came fo great a number of worshipful Perfonages upon the Stage, that might not be difplaced ; and Gentlewomen, whofe Sex did privilege them from Violence, that when the Prince and his Officers had in vain, a good while, expected and endeavoured a Reformation, at length there was no hope of Redrefs for that prefent. The Lord Ambaffador and his Train thought that they were not fo kindly entertained, as was before expected, and thereupon would not ftay any longer at that time, but, in a fort, difcontented and difpleafed. After their Departure the Throngs and Tumults did fomewhat ceafe, although fo much of them continued, as was able to diforder and confound any good Inventions whatfoever. In regard whereof, as alfo for that the Sports intended were efpecially for the gracing of the Templarians it was thought good not to offer any thing of Account, faving Dancing and Revelling with Gentlewomen; and after fuch Sports, a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus) was played by the Players. So that Night was begun, and continued to the end, in nothing but Confufion and Errors; whereupon, it was ever afterwards called, The Night of Errors.

This mifchanceful Accident forting fo ill, to the great prejudice of the reft of our Proceedings, was a great Difcouragement and Difparagement to our whole State ; yet it gave occafion to the Lawyers of the Prince’s Council, the next Night, after Revels, to read a Commiffion of Oyer and Terminer, directed to certain Noblemen and Lords of His Highnefs’s Council, and others, that they would enquire, or caufe Enquiry to be made of fome great Diforders and Abufes lately done and committed within His Highnefs’s Dominions of Purpoole, efpecially by Sorceries and Inchantments ; and namely, of a great Witchcraft ufed the Night before, whereby there were great Diforders and Mifdemeanours, by Hurly-burlies, Crowds, Errors, Confufions, vain Reprefentations and Shews, to the utter Difcredit of our State and Policy.

The next Night upon this Occafion, we preferred Judgments thick and threefold, which were read publickly by the Clerk of the Crown, being all againft a Sorcerer or Conjurer that was fuppofed to be the Caufe of that confufed Inconvenience. Therein was contained, How he had caufed the Stage to be built, and Scaffolds to be reared to the top of the Houfe, to increafe Expectation. Alfo how he had caufed divers Ladies and Gentlewomen, and others of good Condition, to be invited to our Sports; alfo our deareft Friend, the State of Templaria, to be difgraced, and difappointed of their kind Entertainment, deferved and intended. Alfo that he caufed Throngs and Tumults, Crowds and Outrages, to difturb our whole Proceedings. And Laftly, that he had foifted a Company of bafe and common Fellows, to make up our Diforders with a Play of Errors and Confufions ; and that that Night had gained to us Difcredit, and itfelf a Nickname of Errors. All which were againft the Crown and Dignity of our Sovereign Lord, the Prince of Purpoole.

Under Colour of thefe Proceedings, were laid open to the View, all the Caufes of note that were committed by our chiefefl Statesmen in the Government of our Principality ; and every Officer in any great Place, that had not performed his Duty in that Service, was taxed hereby, from the higheft to the loweft, not fparing the Guard and Porters, that fuffered fo many difordered Perfons to enter in at the Court-Gates : Upon whofe aforefaid Indictments, the Prifoner was arraigned at the Bar, being brought thither by the Lieutenant of the Tower (for at that time the Stocks were graced with that Name;) and the Sheriff impannelled a Jury of Twenty four Gentlemen, that were to give their Verdict upon the Evidence given.

Shortly after this Shew, there came Letters to our State from Frederick Templarius ; wherein he defired, that his Ambaffador might be difpatched with Anfwer to thofe Things which he came to treat of So he was very honourably difmiffed, and accompanied homeward with the Nobles of Purpoole : Which Departure was before the next grand Day. The next grand Night was upon Twelfthday at Night; at which time the wonted honourable and worfhipful Company of Lords, Ladies and Knights were, as at other times, affembled ; and every one of them placed conveniently, according to their Condition. And when the Prince was afcended his Chair of State, and the Trumpets founded, there was prefently a Shew which concerned His Highnefs’s State and Government : The Invention was taken out of the Prince’s Arms, as they are blazon’d in the beginning of his Reign, by the King at Arms. Firft, There came fix Knights of the Helmet, with three that they led as Prifoners, and were attired like Monfters and Mifcreants. The Knights gae the Prince to underftand, that as they were returning from their Adventures out of Ruffia, wherein they aided the Emperor Ruffia, againft the Tartars t they furprized thefe three Perfbns, which were confpiring againfl His Highnefs and Dignity: and that being apprehended by them, they could not urge them to difclofe what they were : By which they refting very doubtful, there entred in the two Goddeffes, Arety and Amity; and they faid, that they would difclofe to the Prince who thefe fufpected Perfons were; and thereupon shewed, that they were Envy Malecontent and Folly : Which three had much mifliked His Highnefs’s Proceedings, and had attempted many things againft his State; and but for them two, Fertile and United Friendfhip, all their Inventions had been difappointed. Then willed they the Knights to depart, and to carry away the Offenders ; and that they themfelves fhould come in more pleafing fort, and better befitting the prefent. So the Knights departed, and Fertile and Amity promifed, that they two would fupport His Excellency againft all his Foes whatfoever, and then departed with moft pleafant Mufick. After their Departure, entred the fix Knights in a very ftately Mask, and danced a new devifed Meafure ; and after that, they took to them Ladies and Gentlewomen, and danced with them their Galliards, and fo departed with Mufick. Which being done, the Trumpets were commanded to found, and then the King at Arms came in before the Prince, and told His Honour, that there was arrived an Ambaffador from the mighty Emperor of Ruffia and Mofcovy, that had fome Matters of Weight to make known to His Highnefs. So the Prince willed that he fhould be admitted into his Prefence ; who came in Attire of Russia, accompanied with two of his own Country, in like Habit.

The confusion has been well explained by Alan H. Nelson;

While different theatre historians offer different explanations of the conflicting evidence, it is at least within the realm of possibility that the Lord Chamberlain’s players, Shakespeare among them, had contracted to present a play at Gray’s Inn on the evening of December 28th 1594. For some unknown reason the company was ordered to perform at court on the same evening, perhaps by last-minute royal command. Having discharged their responsibilities at Greenwich, the company returned by boat to London, appearing at Gray’s Inn near midnight among scenes of utter chaos.



If music and sweet poetry agree,
As they must needs, the sister and the brother,
Then must the love be great ’twixt thee and me,
Because thou lov’st the one and I the other.
Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch 
Upon the lute doth ravish human sense;
Spenser to me, whose deep conceit is such,
As passing all conceit, needs no defence.
Thou lov’st to hear the sweet melodious sound
That Phœbus’ lute, the queen of music, makes; 
And I in deep delight am chiefly drowned
Whenas himself to singing he betakes:
One god is god of both, as poets feign,
One knight loves both, and both in thee remain.

The above sonnet was sometimes attributed to Shakespeare as it appeared anonymously in the Shakespeare-heavy ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ of 1599. However, it has also appeared in Richard Barnfield’s ‘Poems in Divers Humors,’ the year before. What this does show is that Barnfield & Shakespeare were cut from the same cloth. Earlier in our essay on the Young Shakespeare we look’d at Leo Dougherty’s research into the Richard Barnfield, Shakespeare & Stanley sonneteering triangle, out of which body of work we were able to identify the time & place of the Dark Lady sonnets. We also came to understand how the homoerotic Richard Barnfield was the ‘Rival Poet’ of the sonnets, with Dougherty adding; ‘my inference… if they are about the same man, then the carryings on of Shakespeare, his ‘fair man’, & his dark lady took place before Shakespeare’s period of poetic rivalry.’ Here is one of the classic ‘rival poet’ sonnets from Shakesepaeare’s pen.

Was it the proud full saile of his great verse,
Bound for the prize of (all to precious) you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my braine inhearce,
Making their tombe the wombe wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write,
Aboue a mortall pitch, that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compiers by night
Giuing him ayde, my verse astonished.
He nor that affable familiar ghost
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast,
I was not sick of any feare from thence,
But when your countinance fild vp his line,
Then lackt I matter, that infeebled mine

Having arrived ourselves at the year of 1595, it is time to look at their relationship in more detail, beginning with Leo Daugherty.

A few years down the road, & increasingly mindful of Haines’ caution to Buck Milligan that Shakespeare’s sonnets are, ‘the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance,’ I nonetheless came to conclude from the evidence I accumulated that not only was Barnfield’s Ganymede the sixth Earl of Derby, William Stanley, but also that Barnfield published poems from 1594 (including over twenty homoerotic love sonnets) were in dialogue with some of Shakespeare’s own homoerotic sonnets to his Fair Youth… we hardly have reason to be very surprised if, after all, Shakespeare’s beloved & revered male addressee might turn out to be William Stanley.’

Daugherty bases his reasoning on a ‘sonnetteering conversation’ played out between Shakespeare & a younger poet, Richard Barnfield, who officialy dedicated his series of homoerotic sonnets to Stanley. Barnfield published his sonnets in 1593, dedicating them to Stanley in the most florid style; ‘To the Right Honorable, and most noble-minded Lorde, William Stanley, Earle of Darby, &c. Right Honorable, the dutiful affection I beare to your manie vertues, is cause, that to manifest my loue to your Lordship, I am constrained to shew my simplenes to the world. Many are they that admire your worth, of the which number, I (though the meanest in abilitie, yet with the formost in affection) am one that most desire to serue, and onely to serue your Honour. Small is the gift, but great is my good- will ; the which, by how much the lesse I am able to expresse it, by so much the more it is infinite.’ Barnfield continues on like this for quite a bit, & it really does feels like he is among the inspirations for Shakespeare’s moaning about a ‘rival poet’ in his sonnets;

O! how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.

So, in the years following 1593, we seem to be witnessing Shakespeare continuing his sonnet dialogue with Stanley, this time rather miff’d there’s a johnny-cum-lately in the mix. There are many comparisons between the two poets’ work, from poetical conceits to phraseology

Come thou hither, my friend so pretty, all riding on a hobby horse; Either make thyself more witty or again renew thy force (Barnfield)

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allayed,
To-morrow sharpened in his former might:
So, love, be thou, although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fulness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love, with a perpetual dulness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
As call it winter, which being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome, thrice more wished, more rare. (Shakespeare)

The two extracts above are solidly connected by the phrase ‘renew thy force.‘ In the next sonnet – with Shakespeare again sounding miff’d off at other poets writing for Stanley – a key phrase is ‘amend thy style,’ which turns up in Barnfields ‘Greene’s Funerals’ of 1594.

So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse,
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned’s wing
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine, and born of thee:
In others’ works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;
But thou art all my art, and dost advance
As high as learning, my rude ignorance. (Shakespeare)

Amend thy style? who can? who can amend thy style
For sweet conceit?
Alas the while
That any such as thou shouldst die
By fortunes guile (Richard Barnfield)

This poetic rivalry was short, brief, & bristling with excellent writing – however, their competition would soon be trump’d by the arrival of a new rival to Stanley’s affections – his future wife.

William Stanley Marries

On January 26th, 1595, at Greenwich Palace, William Stanley married Elizabeth de Vere, daughter of the 17th Earl of Oxford and granddaughter of Lord Burghley. The royal venue was probably a gift from the Queen herself, for de Vere was her maid of honour.  Robert Cecil in a letter says at least one play had been prepared to entertain the many guests, with a dance to close the night. That four days after the wedding there was ceremony in Lord Burghley’s House connects with a line in Midsummer Night’s Dream. The 30th of January 1595 was a New Moon, which leads us to the first lines of the play

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace. Four happy days bring in
Another moon. But, oh, methinks how slow
This old moon wanes. She lingers my desires,
Like to a stepdame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man’s revenue. 

One of MND’s characters is Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, whose presence could well have entertain’d the onwatching Elizabeth I herself. 

With the main storyline of MND being the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, MND is Shakespeare’s definitive paean to marriage, a bridal masque of sorts, & so much so that even the play within a play – Pyramus and Thisbe – is also about a {forbidden} marriage.

MND was enter’d into the Stationer’s Register on 8th October, 1600, & printed later that year; the title-page claims that the play “hath been sundry times publickely acted” by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, with Francis Meres mentioning it among Shakespeare’s plays in 1598. A 1594 date for its composition is suggested by an allusion to Edmund Spenser’s Epithalamion, an ode written to his own bride, Elizabeth Boyle, on their wedding day in 1594. In addition, by the bulk of contemporary testimony, the play’s cold, wet summer, followed by a poor harvest, also points to 1594. There is also the mechanicals’ discussion (3.1. 27–42), concerning the advisability of bringing a lion on stage for fear of frightening the ladies. This passage seems based on an incident which occurred at the feast for the baptism of Prince Henry of Scotland on 30 August 1594. As King James dined, a chariot was drawn in by a blackamoor; he was a substitute for the real lion which had been intended, “because [the lion’s] presence might have brought some feare to the nearest”. (For more details, see – A True reportarie of the most triumphant, and royal accomplishment of the baptisme of the most excellent, right high, and mightie prince, Frederik Henry; by the grace of God, Prince of Scotland Solemnized the 30. day of August. 1594).

The marriage of William Stanley & his becoming the Earl of Derby seems a perfect time to end this Young Shakespeare series. It had been a decade since the two Williams had adventured across Europa, at the end of which Shakespeare was well on his way to becoming a superstar for all ages. The private & youthful lust & love that they had shared on the road had dissipated onto the stage of time & its cast of thousands, tho’ of course many remembrances of their tourings were still to find an eternity through Shakespeare’s pen. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s