The Young Shakespeare

The Young Shakespeare (17): The Rival Poet

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DECEMBER 1594
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.


1594-95

RICHARD BARNFIELD, THE RIVAL POET

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.


JANUARY 1595
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. 

The Young Shakespeare (16): Dodging The Plague

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SUMMER 1592
Closing the Theatres

The stage, & especially the London stage, had become Shakespeare’s personal forum, his creative mouthpiece if you will, & in June 1592 his voice was about to be silenced for quite a while. It all began with a riot in Southwark that drew the ire of the Privy Council, after it learn’d of ‘certain apprentices and other idle people‘ who had caused ‘the late mutinous and foul disorder in Southwark in most outrageous and tumultuous sort’. London’s lord mayor, Sir William Webbe, had written to Lord Burghley that a a crowd of ‘loose and masterless men,’ had tried to rescue a companion who had been arrested… iat a play, which, besides the breach of the Sabbath day, giveth opportunity of committing these & other such disorders.’

The Privy Council also discovered the same unruly mob ‘have a further purpose and meaning on Midsummer Evening or Midsummer Night or about that time to renew their lewd assemblage.’ To counter this civil disturbance, the Privy Council beefed ‘set a strong and substantial watch’ & also banned plays in another other past-times & gatherings that drew the common folk together until ‘the Feast of St Michael’ on the 29th September.

And then came the plague. It arrived in London from the provinces in August & by the 21st September at least 35 parishes were “infeckted” with plague. There would be no reopening of the theatres on the Feast of Saint Michael, that’s for sure, & the government soon extended the shutdown until the 29th of December.


APRIL 1593
Shakespeare Publishes Venus & Adonis

In 1592, London’s population was about 150,000. By the following summer, when this particular outbreak of plague had finally died out, according to the 1631 chronicle of John Stow, 10,575 Londoners had died. In 593 the Privy Council wrote to the Lord Mayor, prohibiting, ‘all plays, baiting of bears, bulls, bowling & any other like occasions to assemble any numbers of people together. IN the wake of such physical & cultural devastations, the Queen had decamp’d to Windsor Castle, the actors had gone off touring the provinces & Shakespeare, somewhere in England, got to work on his writing.

On the 18th April, 1593, Shakespeare’s fellow London-based Stratford ex-pat, Richard Field, obtained a license for the publication of Venus & Adonis. It would turn out to be a great success, with seven editions being printed by 1602. It was a bit sexy, you see, & adolescent male studenthood loved it. It is dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, who we have recently appreciated was being tutored by Shakespeare in Titchfield. This dedication, by the way, however floridly sycophantic, is the closest we are to hearing the real voice of Shakespeare.

To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesly,
Earl of Southampton and Baron of Tichfield.

Right Honourable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden: Only, if your honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a god-father, and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your honourable survey, and your honour to your heart’s content: which I wish may always answer your wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation.

Your honour’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.

The very first V&A printing cost 6 old pence & was sold at the sign of the white greyhound in the bookseller district of  St Paul’s Churchyard. The first run was read to disintegration, & there would be 11 more editions printed over the next twenty-five years.


1593
Theatre at the Prestcott Cockpit

Despite the theatres in London having closed, the appetite for drama remained undiminish’d. Up in lovely Lancashire a playhouse was built on the waste at Prestcott, the market town situated directly besides Knowsley estate. The logical conclusion is that the playhouse was erected to counter the debilitating effects of the plague &through the seasons of 1593-94 it would have played host to a number of touring companies been forced to hit the less road in order to sustain a living.

The Cockpit surviv’d until 1902 as ‘Flatiron House.’ Richard Wilson writes of , ‘the Elizabethan playhouse at Knowsley, near Liverpool, remains one of the dark secrets of Shakesperean England. Very few commentators are aware of even the existence of this theatre, built by the Stewards of Henry Stanley, Earl of Derby, on the site of his cockpit, some time in the 1580s.’


SEPTEMBER 1593
The Death of the Earl of Derby

Remaining in Lancashire, William Stanley’s poppadom died on the 25th September, 1593, whose title pass’d to his elder brother. Ferdinando Stanley was both poet and author & was consider’d to be, ‘of an exalted genius as well as birth.’ We’ve hardly had a look at the guy, really, but the fact that his sponsor’d troupe was the first to perform many of Shakespeare’s plays makes him quite a significant figure in all our pasts. They were known as Lord Strange’s Men, but on Ferdinando’s succession to the family seat chang’d their name to The Earl of Derby’s Men,

A fine figurehead, pro-Catholic elements soon began to stir, plotting for him to even become the king of England. It seems as if he was never actually in on the plot, & when Richard Hesketh, third cousin Thomas Hesketh of Rufford, turn’d up on his doorstep from abroad, stirring up Jesuit hijinx, Ferdinando did the right thing for his own neck & turned Hesketh over to the authorities for interrogation.


FEBRUARY 1594
Titus Andronicus

On February 6th, 1594 Shakespeare’s Titus was enter’d into the Stationer’s Register. It was first publish’d in quarto form; perhaps with permission from the author, or more probably not, the title page states that the play was acted by three different companies, Lord Strange’s Men (also called Derby’s Men), Pembroke’s Men, and Sussex’s Men. As for being perform’d, with the plague subsiding a bit in the winters, the Rose Theatre reopened, with Henslowe’s Diary reporting ‘Titus & Ondronicus’ being play’d by Sussex’s Men three times, on January 23 and 28 and February 6, 1594. It was very well received, with Henslowe earning 40 shillings or more from each performance.

These performances of Titus were the last of Shakespeare’s twenties – he would turn 30 in April, 1594, which was also a significant month for his great comrade, lover, co-author & friend, William Stanley, who was just about to inherit an Earldom.  


APRIL 1594
The Death of Ferdinando Strange

After only six months as the Earl of Derby, Ferdinando died in the mysterious of circumstances; having suddenly taken ill with a severe and violent sickness. He fell sick at Knowsley Hall but travelled to Lathom House where he took bezoar stone and powdered unicorn’s horn as medicine, before dying on 16th April, 1594. Poisoning was suspected – possibly one of the earliest lethal uses of arsenic against a human being – perhaps even retributively over the Hesketh affair. On the other hand, in the Elizabethan State Papers, on 15th August 1594 a Jesuit call’d Edmund Yorke, who is reported as saying, “Burghley poisoned the Earl of Derby so as to marry his granddaughter to his brother.” William Camden’s history has a nice overview of the events;

Ferdinand Stanley Earle of Darby… expired in the flowre of his youth, not without suspition of poyson, being tormented with cruell paynes by frequent vomitings of a darke colour like rusty yron. There was found in his chamber an Image of waxe, the belly pierced thorow with haires of the same colour that his were, put there, (as the wiser sort have judged, to remove the suspition of poyson). The matter vomited up stayned the silver Basons in such sort, that by no art they could possibly be brought againe to their former brightnesse… No small suspicion lighted upon the Gentleman of his horse, who; as soone as the Earle tooke his bed, tooke his best horse, and fled”


May 1594
The Rape Of Lucrece

The Rape of Lucrece was entered into the Stationers’ Register on 9 May 1594, and published later that year, in a quarto printed by Richard Field for the bookseller John Harrison (“the Elder”); who sold the book from his shop at the sign of the White Greyhound in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Tho’ not as popular as V&A, the poem would still go through eight editions before 1641. Just like V&A, he was basing his poem on the Titian paintings he’d seen in Madrid. & just like V&A Shakespeare once again dedicated his poem to the Earl of Southampton;

To the
Right Honourable Henry Wriothesly,
Earl of Southampton and Baron of Tichfield.

The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with all happiness,
Your lordship’s in all duty,
William Shakespeare.

Lucrece seems inspired by Robert Southwell’s rather lengthily titled, ‘An epistle of comfort to the reuerend priestes, & to the honorable, worshipful, & other of the laye sort restrayned in durance for the Catholicke fayth.’ Compare;

RS: Battering downe the walles….
His soul’s fair temple is defaced,
WS: Batter’d down her consecrated wall

RS: consumed . . . Ætna . . . smoake . . . ayre
WS: As smoke from Aetna, that in air consumes

RS: the very rockes . . . dissolved
WS: For stones dissolv’d to water do convert

RS: A huge Chaos [is hell]
WS: Vast sin-concealing chaos

Other inspirations are Samuel Daniels Complaint of Rosamond, plus a passage on time elaborated from Thomas Watsons ‘Passionate Century (77).

Shakespeare’s authorship of Lucrece was soon being acclaim’d in a narrative poem call’d ‘Willobie His Avisa’ – published as a pamphlet in London after being entered in the Registers of Stationer’s Hall on 3rd September, 1594. Its stanza is that of Venus & Adonis, & is said to have been written by a person called “Henry Willobie,” whose initials, of course, match those of the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley.

Though Collatine have deerely bought,
To high renowne, a lasting life,
And found, that most in vaine have sought,
To have a Faire, and Constant wife,
Yet Tarquyne pluckt his glistering grape,
And Shake-speare, paints poor Lucrece rape.

The poem also contains a character called “W.S.,” who is presented as a friend to “H.W.”, and offers him advice on wooing Avisa. As HW is about to take his turn to persuade Avisa out of her chastity, he finds that he is “not able any longer to endure the burning heat of so fervent a humor”, and so he “betrayeth the secrecy of his disease unto his familiar friend, W.S., who, not long before, had tried the curtesy of the like passion.” W.S. then offer some advice, with, “She is no saint, she is no Nonne, I think in time she may be wonne.” This little corner of Shakespeareana is ripe for exploration, & I’m sure the true answers is out there somewhere.

It is again thro’ Lucrece there rose another of the earliest allusions to Shakespeare. It is found in the Epicedium, a quarto pamphlet made up of a single poem in memory of Lady Helen Branch, who died on April 10, 1594. In the opening stanza the self-denigrating anonymous poet lists several poets who would be better at praising the late Lady Branch:

You that haue writ of chaste Lucretia,
Whose death was witnesse of her spotlesse life:
Or pend the praise of sad Cornelia,
Whose blamelesse name hath made her fame so rise:
As noble Pompeys most renoumed wife.
Hither vnto your home direct your eies:
Whereas vnthought on, much more matter lies.

The Cornelia reference leads us Robert Garnier, whose tragedy ‘Cornelia’ was also publish’d in 1594. What is interesting is that the poem has the signature of a certain “W. Har.” We have already encounter’d William Harborne in relations to Shakespeare via Istanbul & the Grand Tour. In August 1588 he left his role & return’d to London – there’s even a fantastic account of this voyage in printed in Hakluyt’s Collection of Voyages. So he could definitely write, & with Harborne back in England – he was from the Familist county of Norfolk -, & being quite high up in society, he would have felt at least comfortably station’d to pen an elegy to an aristocratic lady. Tantalisingly, the initials WH appear in the dedication to Shakespeare’s sonnets which were enter’d into the Stationer’s Register in 1609 – 8 years before Harborne died.

There is nothing concrete, but there is definitely the feel of phantoms congregating into a possible solution for the most enigmatic of Shakespearean mysteries – who was the ‘onlue begetter, Mr. W.H.’

 

TO. THE. ONLIE. BEGETTER. OF.

THESE. INSUING. SONNETS.

Mr. W.H. ALL. HAPPINESSE.

AND. THAT. ETERNITIE.

PROMISED.

BY.

OUR. EVER. LIVING. POET.

WISHETH.

THE. WELL. WISHING.

ADVENTURER. IN.

SETTING.

FORTH.

                       T.T.

T.T. is clearly Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of the sonnets. But the wording of the dedication is interesting – William Harborne was clearly an adventurer, for an ambassadorial role in the Porte would have been quite a celebrated mission. Harborne would surely have witness’d for himself the Dark Lady triangle, & would have even known her identity. He might even have had copies of some of the sonnets themselves, written out by Shakespeare in Turkey. This would explain the ‘begetter,’ reference, or perhaps Harborne was financially involv’d in the printing, keen to see & read the final result. As for the well-wisher reference, this could refer to his involvement with the release of Stanley from his incarceration, an intervention on behalf of the incarcerated English he gain’d quite a reputation for. Of course, this is speculation, but it is a tantalisingly sound possibility, made even more fascinating by Thomson Cooper’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, which states;

{Thomas Nashe}, writing in 1598, speaks of ‘mercurial-breasted Mr. Harborne,’ who, he says, ‘always accepted a rich spark of eternity, first lighted and inkindled at Yarmouth, or there first bred and brought forth to see the light: who since, in the hottest dayies of Leo, hath echoing noised the name of our island and of Yarmouth, so tritonly, that not an infant of the cur-tailed, skin-clipping Pagans, but talk of London as frequently as of their Prophet’s tomb at Mecca’ Nashes Lenten stuffe 1599

Cooper adds;

In his return to England Harborne settled at Mundham, Norfolk. He died there on 6 November 1617 and was buried in that parish. There is, or was, a monument to his memory in that parish, with a eulogistic inscription in English verse.

Returning to Lucrece’s influence on the literati, in 1595 William Clerke in his ‘ Polimanteia’ gave ‘all praise’ to ‘sweet Shakespeare’ for his ‘ Lucrecia,’ while in 1598 the poem is also mention’d by Gabriel Harvey alongside V&A among a series of marginal notes found in Thomas Speght’s edition of ‘The Workes of… Chaucer’ (1598).

The younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeare’s Venus, & Adonis: but his Lucrece, & his tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, have it in them, to please the wiser sort.

Harvey mentions Shakespeare a second time, when he suggests that Sir Edward Dyer’s Amaryllis and Sir Walter Raleigh’s Cynthia are worthy of emulation by a number of authors, being; “Spenser, Constable, Fraunce, Watson, Daniel, Warner, Chapman, Sylvester, Shakespeare, & the rest of our flourishing metricians.”

Of course, the Anti-Stratfordians rarely acknowledge these even exist…


1594
The Merchant of Venice

In 1594 Shakespeare brought his great Merchant Of Venice into the world, mention’d among the Bard’s classic comedies by Meres just a few years later;

His Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love’s labor’s lost … his Midsummers night dreame, & his Merchant of Venice

During Shakespeare’s day, the Jews were in about the middle of their forced hiatus from Britain. It had begun in 1290, after King Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion officially banished Jews from England, and they would not be allowed back until the late 1700s. In the 16th Century, however,  there were about a hundred Marranos in England, Jews forced to convert to Christianity that still secretly practiced Judaism. Among them was Dr. Roderigo Lopez, the Queen’s head physician, who in 1594 was charged with treason as he allegedly tried to poison the queen. He was found guilty and in the June of 1594 was hanged. This might have been the very spark which usher’d Shakespeare’s Venetian adventures onto the page, for the names of Shakespeare’s characters & even the plot of the play directly allude to the doctor’s trial. Among the play’s names, Shylock’s enemy Antonio is significant, for this was also the name of Dr. Lopez’s main accuser and biggest enemy – with the Portuguese name contrasting the setting in Venice. Lopez’s trial was a strongly bias’d kangaroo court of an affair, very much like that of Shylocks, when the Duke and Senator of Venice, unfairly judge Shylock’s trial. The appointed judges have already decided that Shylock is guilty, before the trial starts.

The Young Shakespeare (15): Upstart Crow

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1590
AUTUMN
Shakespeare in Titchfield

According to Aubrey, Shakespeare had been, ‘in his younger yeares a schoolmaster in the countrey,’ but when? In 1590, Shakespeare’s ‘younger years’ are running out somewhat, & we only have two more years to go until he is a smash-hot dramatist & the talk of all London. A year later, in 1593, he is dedicating his first poetic effort, Venus & Adonis, to a young English nobleman called Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, in which he describes his ‘unpolished lines’ as being written during his ‘idle hours’. The question is, what was Shakespeare doing when he was not being idle?

The answer is he was tutoring the seventeen year old earl, who disappears from the records between October 1590 and August 1591. He was, in fact, living in Titchfield, where his pro-Catholic mother, Countess Mary, was in residence at Titchfield House. His contact now with Shakespeare would blossom into a great friendship, with Nicholas Rowe describing how the bard;

Had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the Earl of Southampton… there is one instance so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare’s, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D’Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted, that my Lord Southampton, at one time, gave him a thousand pounds to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age has shown to French dancers and Italian eunuchs.

Finally, a possible & oblique connection between Shakespeare & Southampton is found in a 1592 letter from the Third Earl of Southampton is signed by him, but penned by somebody else. An American hand-writing expert, Charles Hamilton, has suggested the handwriting is identical to a portion of the manuscript of The Play of Sir Thomas More, which lies on solid ground enough in the world of Shakespearean scholarship to be given as the bard’s own hand.

It is now time to introduce a new dimension to the sonnets, a layer to Hisalrik if you will. We have established so far that Shakespeare wrote sonnets to William Stanley & to the mysterious Turkish lady in Constantinople. I am a sonneteer myself, & understand how individual sonnets composed to different persons may be synthesised into a paean to a single ‘ideal’ within a sequence. In the same spirit, a small number of the sonnets were composed to Southampton, those in which Shakespeare takes on the role of the older man urging the younger aristocrat to marry & have children. These are known as the ‘Procreation Sonnets,’ & form the first 17 of the 154 strong sequence.

There is a significant back story. Thomas Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton, and father of Shakespeare’s patron, died on 4th October 1581, leaving the seven year old Henry as his only surviving son. Elizabethan law deign’d him to become a ward of the Crown, & placed him in the hands of a certain Lord Burghley who would in 1589 put huge pressure on the young earl to marry his own grand-daughter, Lady Elizabeth Vere, the daughter of the Earl of Oxford of antishakespearean fame. In 1591, John Clapham – one of Burghley’s secretaries compos’d & dedicates a poem called Narcissus to Southampton, which concerns a handsome youth who had fallen in love with own reflection. Shakespeare would handle the handsome youth motif differently, instead suggesting it was Southampton’s duty to marry & continue his beautiful physical lineage.


1590
DECEMBER
The Tears of the Muses

Shakespeare’s presence in Hampshire follow’d hard on the heels of Edmund Spenser himself, who was there in 1590. The poet Samuel Woodford, who lived in Hampshire near Alton, told Aubrey that, ‘Mr. Spenser lived sometime in these parts, in this delicate sweet air; where he enjoyed his muse, and wrote a good part of his verses.’ Some of these verses were included volume of poems called The Tears of the Muses, registered on the 29th December, 1590. They were dedicated to a relation of the poet’s, Alice Spencer of Althorp, who had married William Stanley’s brother, Ferdinando. , which in the scheme of our survey shows an increasingly narrowing world!

In one of the stanzas of Spenser’s new poem, we see the return of the same ‘Willy’ who inhabited the 1578 Calendar.

And he, the man, whom Nature self had mad
To mock herself, and Truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under mimic shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw;
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himself to mockery to sell

That he is deem’d ‘our pleasant Willy‘ suggests a connection to both Alice and Edmund Spenser, which is confirmed through bond of blood, for Shakespeare’s mother was distantly related to the Spensers. Spenser’s description of ‘large streams of honey and sweet nectar,’ is reminiscent & contemporaneous with Francis Meres’ description of Shakespeare in the Palladis Tamia as ‘mellifluous & honey-tongued.’ That Shakespeare was ‘dead of late‘ indicates him as being between creative periods, while the ‘cell’ mentioned by Spenser points to Shakespeare’s taking up of a position as tutor to the Earl of Southampton. The cell seems to refer to a house near Titchfield Abbey, known as Place House Cottage, which was a schoolhouse at the time & where Shakespeare might have slept.


1591
SPRING
Shakespeare writes Edmund Ironside

The Earls of Southampton clearly enjoyed the Theatre – plans of 1737 show a large room on the upper level of Titchfield House labelled as ‘Play House Room.’ The tradition of theatre-making at Titchfield stretched back to before its Abbey had been converted to a stately home. In 1538, one of Thomas Wriothesley’s servants wrote to him, describing how Thomas’s future wife, Jane, ‘handleth the country gentlemen, the farmers and their wives to your great worship and every night is as merry as can be with Christmas plays and masques with Anthony Gedge and other of your servants.’

During Shakespeare’s time at Titchfield he created a play call’d Edmund Ironside, rapidly cobbling together a variant of his Titus Andronicus for a new audience, & setting it in Hampshire – the opening scene is in Southampton, while the Earls of Southampton are the main protagonists. It is likely he found the story in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland – published in 1577, and again in 1587 – perhaps even in the libraries of Titchfield. Another source appears to be William Lambarde’s Archaionomia [Ancient Laws], a collection of Anglo-Saxon customs and laws that he translated and published in 1568, & of course the county of Hampshire is at the very of Anglo-Saxon England, with Winchester being the former capital of Wessex, from where Alfred The Great issued his laws. Fascinatingly, in the 1940s a copy of the Archaionomia was found with ‘Wm Shakespeare’ scrawled across the title page in what is basically Shakespeare’s signature…

Signature on Shakespeare’s will

Still in the library of Titchfield, according to Randall Martin, Ironside is a very bookish piece, inspired by Thomas Hughes’s neo-senecan tragedy, The Misfortunes of Arthur (1588), John Heywood’s play The Pardoner and the frere, Spenser’s Faerie Queene (published in 1590) – the source for several unusual words and phrases – & William Warner’s verse-chronicle Albion’s England (1586) as the source of “smaller details of character and situation”

To modern scholars, Edmond Ironside is a mysterious & anonymous play, with no records of performance in the period, suggesting, of course, its creation for a private performance. They all concur on one thing, however, that its a rather crude  & organized piece, with meandering plotline & irrelevant speeches and scenes throughout. The manuscript was discovered in 1865, when the British Museum purchased fifteen play manuscripts bound together into a single volume from a private library, known as Egerton 1994. Ironside certainly feels like it is bubbling up from a thinking Shakespeare – for it possesses familiarities with the Law, the Bible, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and country life, as does most of Shakespeare’s work. Meanwhile scholars have suggested it was written by him for the following linguistic reasons;

* There are 260 words that were used first by Shakespeare
* There are 635 instances of Shakespearean rare words
* There are 300 usages of the very rarest Shakespearean words
* There are 700 clear parrallels with the first folio
* There are 350 verbatim phrases

The most considerable echoes can be found in Titus & the Henry VI plays, & placing Shakespeare writing Edmund Ironside in Hampshire after Titus & before he began work on his famous cycle of Histories makes perfect sense. Thus, creating Edmund Ironside would be a catalytical moment for Shakespeare – it was his first attempt at writing English history, & within days. one expects, he began work on the trilogy of plays to Henry VI that would make his name & shoot his talents into the stratosphere. Indeed, when in  Ironside we hear the following phrases: “this noble isle,” “my pleasure’s paradise,” “the fortress of my crown,” “this little world,” “this little isle,” “this solitary isle,” “this realm of England,” we also hear echoes of Shakespeare’s famous phrases, such as, “this sceptered isle,” “demi-paradise,” “this fortress,” “this little world,” “this precious stone set in the silver sea,” “this realm, this England.”

Examining Ironside in more detail, we may observe that it shares with Titus a theme of rival candidates vying for a crown, while making mainstream some of the Roman play’s more tributary plots. There can also be made solid comparisons between the Edricus of Edmund Ironside & Joan Of Arc from 1H6. In his ‘Shakespeare’s Lost Play, Edmund Ironside,’ Eric Sams describes how it, ‘contains some 260 words or usages which on the evidence of the Oxford English Dictionary were first used by Shakespeare himself, with the strong presumption that it was he who coined them. Further, it exhibits 635 instances of Shakespeare’s rare words including some 300 of the very rarest, and 700 clear parallels with the First Folio, including 350 phrases shared verbatim. All these features are found most frequently in the earliest canonical plays of circa 1590. So the young Shakespeare is an obvious suspect.’ In his ‘EDMOND IRONSIDE, THE ENGLISH KING’, RL Jiménez has plenty more to say on the topic;

If Ironside includes and anticipates not just one, and not just a handful, but over 260 examples of words, usages, locutions and ideas which the OED attributes to Shakespeare as his first coinages.’

Edmund enters during a conversation begun off-stage, as often in Shakespeare

To compare one’s own characters with Judas and Jesus, in deliberate reference to the Gospel account of the betrayal, to make amusing puns on the actual words used, and above all to put the words of Jesus into the mouth of Judas; these characteristics identify the young Shakespeare in three separate plays (3H6, R2, LLL) of the early 1590s.

On any analysis, Shakespeare at the time of Titus c. 1589 was steeped in Ovid, including Book I (banquet of Lycaon, story of Io) as well as III (Actaeon), XIII (Hecuba) and so probably X (Orpheus) as well. The same is true of the author of Ironside c. 1588. Unless it is safe to assume that two Tudor dramatists showed the same concentration on the same books of the same works of the same poet at the same time there is a good case for identification on those grounds alone.

Edricus delivers a fifty-line soliloquy in the manner of Richard III, Iago, or Aaron in Titus Andronicus, in which he recounts what a villain he is

In a scene even shorter than the nearly identical one in the last act of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Canute meets Egina, offers her a cup of wine, and proposes––all in the space of thirty lines.

A leading scholar of the Elizabethan drama, Frederick Boas, observed that the dramatist portrayed Edricus as a “Machiavellian intriguer” who has the “stamp of Renaissance Italy rather than of Anglo-Saxon England”

Hendiadys––where two words expressing the same idea are joined by a conjunction––is another rhetorical device that Shakespeare used abundantly in his early writings. Albert Feuillerat found 86 examples, such as “reek and smoke,” “shake and shudder,” “dread and fear,” and “repose and rest,” in Venus and Adonis and Lucrece(61-2). They are relatively rare in Marlowe, but appear in profusion throughout Edmond Ironside––6 in the first scene alone.

Dozens of images, themes, and symbols found in both the anonymous play and in his accepted works, especially in the early plays, attest to the thought patterns of a single mind: people likened to plants, insects, birds and beasts of all kinds; blood that is shed or drunk; severed heads; soldiers who stand watch, who desert, who are betrayed, or deprived of necessities; evil and traitorous flatterers; emotional women; stubborn Jews; kings who are betrayed and rant about Judas; vows of revenge; children parting from their mothers; portents in the skies; plots that hammer in the head; passions that boil, rage, or ignite; feigned laughter; dark sighs; salt tears; Troy ablaze, etc. There are over seventy such motifs in Ironside that are repeated in Titus Andronicus, Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III, Richard II, and Richard III

In Act IV of Ironside, Emma recounts her anguish as she tearfully dispatches her two small sons to Normandy for safekeeping:
to dam my eyes were but to drown my heart like Hecuba the woeful queen of Troy who having no avoidance of her grief ran mad for sorrow ’cause she could not weep (1477-80)
In Titus Andronicus, as the ravished and mutilated Lavinia runs after him, the young Lucius struggles to understand her grief:
I have heard my grandsire say full oft extremity of griefs would make men mad
and I have read that Hecuba of Troy ran mad for sorrow. (4.1.18-21)

Another example is Canute’s comparison of the destruction he will wreak upon “new Troy” (London) with that suffered by ancient Troy, which he describes as “consumed to ashes and to coals/ with flaming fire . . . ” Similar references to Troy-on-fire are scattered throughout Shakespeare’s works: five in Lucrece (1468, 1474-6, 1491, 1523-4, 1561); three in Titus Andronicus (3.1.70, 3.2.28, 5.3.84); two in Henry VI, Part 2 (1.4.17, 3.2.118); and one each in Henry IV, Part 2 (1.1.73), Julius Caesar (1.2.113), and Hamlet (2.2.466).

The dramatist also specifies the weapon––an axe, unmentioned in the chronicles. Stich is the execu- tioner, and the “Ha. Ha. Ha.” reaction of Edricus, followed by Canute’s question, “Why laughest thou, Edricus?” are identical to similar laughs and questions after similar gruesome acts in Henry VI, Part I (2.2.42-3), and Titus Andronicus (3.1.65). The brutal mutilation scene extends to more than 160 lines. As Boas says, “No detail of physical horror is spared; the atmosphere is as foul and asphyxiating as in the notorious scenes in Titus Andronicus”

Act III opens with another irrelevant scene that is unique in Elizabethan drama. It is a vicious and abusive quarrel between the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who are presented in their historical positions on opposite sides of the war. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who favors Canute, asserts his authority over York, calls him an “irreligious prelate,” and demands that he yield to him. The Archbishop of York replies by calling Canterbury a traitor, a rebel, a betrayer of his King, a profane priest, a Pharisee, and a parasite. After three exchanges of this type, York flees the stage and Canterbury follows, threatening to club him. Neither is heard from again. A similar exchange occurs in the third scene of Act I of Henry VI, Part I between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector of the King, and his rival, Henry Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester. The language and the level of invective are remarkably similar, and there are identical threats of violence.

Finally, & quite significantly as appertaining to my investigation, having begun to believe that Shakespeare had transcribed the Mystery Plays in Burnley, Sams says;

As commentators have noted, however, Judas does indeed greet Jesus thus {all hail} in certain surviving texts of the mediaeval Mystery Play both at York (Schoenbaum, 1975, 48) and Chester (Milward, 1973, 33). There are strong independent grounds for supposing that Shakespeare had indeed seen such plays, already outmoded in his lifetime but still surviving in certain centres during his younger years; he refers to them in such phrases as ‘it out-Herods Herod’, ‘the old Vice’, and so on.


1591
SUMMER
Shakespeare begins the History Cycle

Shakespeare’s great sequence of history plays covers pretty much the whole of the dynastic War of the Roses, that dividing of England & Englishness which ran & ran & ran for deacdes of division, slaughter & power politics. The conflict was fought our between two royal houses, that of Lancaster & that of York, & ‘there is general agreement,‘ writes Lefranc, ‘that Shakespeare, in the historical dramas he devoted to the wars of the Roses, in spite of his usual impartiality, shows himself Lancastrian.’ This makes sense, for Shakespeare’s own great-grandfather fought at Bosworth field on the side of Henry Tudor, as suggested by Shakespeare’s father when he applied to the College of Heralds for a family coat of arms in 1596. A draft prepared by William Dethick, the garter king-of-arms, declared by ‘credible report’ that John Shakespeare’s, ‘parentes & late antecessors were for their valeant & faithfull service advanced & rewarded by the most prudent prince King Henry the seventh of famous memorie, sythence whiche tyme they have contiewed at those partes in good reputacion & credit.’

‘Shakespeare rearranged history,‘ says E. A. J. Honigmann ‘so as to make Stanley’s services to the incoming Tudor dynasty seem more momentous than they really were.’ The History plays definitely inflate the role of the Stanleys in the creation of the Tudor state, which end of course a Stanley-sponsored Shakespeare would achieve. The 1st Earl of Derby, Thomas Stanley, was created as such by Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth, which role was dramatized in Richard III. Shakespeare famously portrays Richard III as a heinous villain, which was handy for the Stanleys seeing as Thomas & his kinsman, William, both betrayed the last Plantaganet king at Bosworth. This led to the moment when the whole Tudor dynasty began, as Thomas Stanley pluck’d the crown from the dead Richard and then places it on Henry’s head.

Taking his matter from Raphael Holinshed’s ‘Chronicles of England, Scotlande, & Irelande,’ our bard wove together a wonderful piece of drama in which he ressurected history & brought it alive like no other had done before. Not long after seeing it, Thomas Nashe wrote;

How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French, to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times) who in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.

Significantly, John Talbot was also the name of William Stanley’s very good friend, John Talbot, who would be later knighted by King James at Lathom House itself.

When creating his history cycle, Shakespeare drew from his time spent with the Queen’s Players, & especially one of the plays in their repertoire, The Famous Victories of Henry V. We know it was theirs as on its publication in 1598, the play was advertised as acted by ‘her Queen’s Majesty’s Players.’ C.A. Greer points out fifteen plot elements of the Famous Victories that are to be found with greater detail in the trilogy. These include the robbery at Gad’s Hill of the King’s receivers, the meeting of the robbers in an Eastcheap Tavern, the reconciliation of the newly crowned King Henry V with the Chief Justice, the gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin, and Pistol’s encounter with a French soldier (Dericke’s in The Famous Victories).

Another ‘anonymous’ history play might be included in the Shakespearean canon. Printed in 1596, Edward III was at least co-author’d by Shakespeare. What is interesting is that it contains several gibes at Scotland and the Scottish people, which might reflect the bard’s own experience of his time at the court of King James. This could also explain why the play was not included in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, which was published after the Scottish King James had succeeded to the English throne in 1603. If Macbeth is the ‘Scottish Play,’ then Edward III is the ‘anti-Scottish play.’ Accepted by modern scholars as authentic Shakespeare, the tradition goes back to at least 1760, when Edward Capell suggested as much in his ‘Prolusions; or, Select Pieces of Ancient Poetry, Compil’d with great Care from their several Originals, and Offer’d to the Publicke as Specimens of the Integrity that should be Found in the Editions of worthy Authors.‘ There are even passages which are direct quotes from Shakespeare’s sonnets, most notably the line “lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds” (sonnet 94) and the phrase “scarlet ornaments”, as used in sonnet 142.


1591
AUTUMN
Shakespeare meets John Florio

John Florio was the most famous Italian in Elizabethan England. He was also a tutor to the Earl of Southampton at some point… the dates have never been established. We do know that in his Italian-English dictionary publish’d in 1598, he states he had lived ‘some yeeres ‘ in the ‘paie & patronage‘ of the earl as his tutor in Italian & French. It is possible to get to the key date of 1591 thro a single sonnet which appears in the introduction to Florio’s book, ‘Second Frutes.’ This series of discussions in Italian contains, in the second dialogue, two speakers call’d John & Henry, clearly mirroring Florio & The Earl of Southampton. Indeed, the topics touched on in the Second Fruits, like primero, the theatre, love, and tennis, represent Southampton’s tastes.

Phaeton to his Friend Florio

Sweet friend, whose name agrees with thy increase
How fit a rival art thou of the spring!
For when each branch hath left his flourishing,
And green-locked summer’s shady pleasures cease,
She makes the winter’s storms repose in peace
And spends her franchise on each living thing:
The daisies spout, the little birds do sing,
Herbs, gums, and plants do vaunt of their release.
So when that all our English wits lay dead
(Except the laurel that is evergreen)
Thou with thy fruits our barrenness o’erspread
And set thy flowery pleasance to be seen.
Such fruits, such flowerets of morality
Were ne’er befroe brought out of Italy.

This is an excellent sonnet, fermenting nicely with Shakespearean terms, conceits, and images. Indeed, just as the Phaeton sonnet and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 1 both end their first lines with increase, so the Phaeton sonnet and Sonnet 1 both rhyme on spring. In The Life and Times of William Shakespeare, Levi opines, “no other writer of sonnets is as good as this except Spenser, but Spenser would have signed it. The humour is Shakespeare’s, and so is the movement of thought, so is the seasonal coloring.” What is not Shakespeare’s is the rhyme scheme – it uses the “Spenserian”  “abba abba cdcdee” instead of his preferred “abab cdcd efef gg”. But in 1591 Spenser was all the rage & in Hampshire, so…

Sonnets 97 and 98 are surely the work of the same hand that wrote the Phaeton sonnet, which they echo in the words winter, pleasure, bareness, summer’s, increase, decease, fruit, birds, sing, spring, sweet, flowers, shadow, and various synonyms and paraphrases. Line 11’s ‘o’erspread’ reflects Shakespeare’s fondness for the prefix o’er; the Sonnets give us o’ercharg’d, o’ergreen, o’erpress’d, o’ersnow’d, o’ersways, and o’erworn, among other constructions. Elsewhere, his plays boast such odd coinages as o’erwrastling and o’erstunk! Line 4’s ‘and green-locked summer’s shady pleasures cease,‘ feels very Shakespearean. Compare Sonnet 18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” See also “Making no summer of another’s green” (68); “The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet” (94); “For summer and his pleasures wait on thee” (97); and this quatrain from 12:

When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard.

Phaeton is found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the son of Phoebus Apollo who drives his father’s chariot, only to scorch the earth and fall to his death.  An accident then, which leads to Sonnet 37 & Shakespeare’s mentioning of him in a tutor-like, fatherly role, & having been ‘made lame by fortune’s dearest spite.’ Was this why Shakespeare was in the country – recuperating from a broken leg or something!

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts do crowned sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed
And by a part of all thy glory live.
     Look, what is best, that best I wish in thee:
     This wish I have; then ten times happy me!


1591-92
Shakespeare Begins Romeo & Juliet

Another play that Shakespeare was working on at Titchfield is that famous tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo & Juliet. We know it was written befor 1595, & a line uttered by Juliet’s nurse gives us a credible date.

‘Tis since the earthquake now eleven years

In April 1580, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake caused extensive damage in the south-east of England and in London, two people were killed. If this is the earthquake Shakespeare is referring to, then Romeo & Juliet is being written in 1591. It is also being written the following year, as it contains nods to a 1592 romance by Samuel Daniel called The Complaint of Rosamond; the relevant passages include the description by Rosamond’s ghost of her death by poison and of Henry II’s mourning at his mistress’s bier (603-79) which remerges in Romeo’s lament over Juliet’s body (V.iii.92-115). In Daniel, a few line later, he gives us Rosamund’s epitaph;

And after ages monuments shall find, Shewing thy beauties title not thy name, Rose of the world that sweetned so the same.

We here see wordplay on Rosamund’s name – where her ‘beauties title’ (rosa mundi) is not her real name (rosa munda). These, & the word ‘sweetened’ leads us naturally to Juliet’s famous declaration;

O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title.

Romeo & Juliet would have resonated with the Southampton family, The Third Earl’s maternal grandfather, Antony Browne, was a pal of King Philip II of Spain, who created him Viscount Montague in September, 1554. Romeo & Juliet, of course, is a play which features a feud between the Montagues & the Capulets! A forbidden, homosexual love between Southampton & Shakespeare may only be speculated on,& might be a feature embedded in the play, but there is no proof…  as of yet.

In Romeo & Juliet we can a taste a little of Shakespeare;’s Grand Tour with Stanley. Romeo’s expresses his love via  the metaphors of the sonneteering Petrarchist school of Serafino Aquilano. In a tragedy by Luigi Groto, the Adriana (publ. 1578), which is also inspired by the story of Romeo and Juliet, two passages spoken by a character call’d Latino contain similes used by Romeo, while also mentioning a nightingale in the parting scene.


1592
FEBRUARY
The Premier of Shakespeare’s Battle of Alcazar

Philip Henslowe was a London businessman who built the Rose playhouse in 1587. He also kept a priceless of diary of plays & their takings which contains some of Shakespeare’s debuts. Here’s the Spring season of 1592;

February
19 – fryer bacone & friar bungay –
20 – muly mulloco
21 – Orlando –
23 – Don Horatio
24 – Sir John Mandeville
25 – Harey of Cornwall
26 – The Jew of Malta
28 – Clorys & Orgasto

March
2 – Matchavell
3 – henry Vi
4 – Pope John
4 – Bendo & Richardo
6 – 4 plays in one
8 – The looking glass
9 – Zenobia
14 – Jeronimo
21 – Constantine
22 – Jerusalem

April
6 – Brandymer
10 – the comedy of jeronimo
11 – titus & vespasian 3 – 4 – 0
28 – tamberlayne part 2 – 3 4 – 0
28 – the tanner of denmark –

The second of these plays, muly mulloco, perform’d on the 21st of February, & should be the same as a play first performed by Lord Strange’s Men call’d the ‘The Battell of Alcazar’ as one of the characters in the play refers to another as ‘Muly Molucco,’ a name which appears nowhere else in Elizabethan drama. The play’s proper title, as printed in its quarto edition, is ‘The Battell of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of Portugal, and Abdelmelec king of Marocco.

Topical references to the Armada suggest the play was written 1588-1589 & there are traces of Stanley-Shakepeare coauthorship. When in North Africa together, they would have listened to tales of the Battle of Ksar El Kebir (Alcazar), fought in northern Morocco on the 4th of August 1578. Brian Vickers shows numerous verbal echoes between the co-authored parts of Titus Andronicus & the Alcazar including a highly similar double consonantal alliteration. Macdonald P Jackson also highights how the weird formalities of the first Act of Titus have been mirrored by those of the Alcazar.


1592
MARCH
A Star is Born

In early 1592, the world at large became witness to Henry VI part 1, performed by Ferdinando Stanley’s Lord Strange’s Men. This makes Lord Strange’s Men the first acting company to be ‘officially’ associated with a Shakespeare play. After an unprecedented six performaces at court over the winter season, they began playing in the capital’s theatres, including the Rose, which had opened on February 19th, 1592. In his diary, the Rose’s theatre manager, Philip Henslowe recorded quite succinctly that on the 3rd March 1592, he had seen a ‘ne’ play called ‘Harey the vj.’ This play seems to be Henry VI part 1 by Shakespeare, for in the August of that year, in his Pierce Penniless, Thomas Nashe refers to a play he had recently seen which featured a rousing depiction of Lord Talbot, a major character in Henry VI part 1. Takings for ‘Harey the vj.’ were three pounds, sixteen shillings & eightpence, which equates to 16,444 pennies in the ‘box’ – a clear hit! I mean lets be honest, the paying public would have been amazed, there was a new kid on the block & Shakespeare had thrust himself onto the public imagination in much the same way George Lucas did with his Star Wars trilogy.


1592
SUMMER-AUTUMN
Shakespeare attacked by Greene

Shakespeare’s plays were clearly a hit, but true fame is always laced with a splash of envious outside spite. Enter fellow playwright, Robert Greene who, writing practically on his deathbed, vilifies Shakespeare in his Groatsworth of Wit as, ‘an vpstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Iohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.’ The reference to Shakespeare being a jack of all trades, a ‘johannes fac totum,’ could well be implying his status as Southampton’s teacher. By parodying Shakespeare’s line ‘O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide,‘ (Henry VI, part 3), it is clear Greene is alluding to Shakespeare in quite jealous tones.

In the same pamphlet, Greene seems also to refer to Shakespeare’s participation with the Queen’s Players, on whose formation in 1583 were given the title, ‘grooms of the chamber.’ Greene writes; ‘it is pity men of such rare wits [Nashe, Marlowe and Peele] should be subject to the pleasures of such rude grooms.’ The old order was dying, Robert Greene would pass away on the 2nd September 1592, by which time a completely new form of theatre was springing up about the marvellous & remarkable quill of an ‘uneducated’ Warwickshire yeoman. By the end of the year, even Greene’s publisher was climbing aboard the bandwagon, when in a preface to Kind-Harts Dreame by Henry Chettle, we find;

About three moneths since died M. Robert Greene, leauing many papers in sundry Booke sellers hands, among other his Groatsworth of wit, in which a letter written to diuers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken, and because on the dead they cannot be auenged, they wilfully forge in their concietes a liuing Author: and after tossing it two and fro, no remedy, but it must light on me. How I haue all the time of my conuersing in printing hindred the bitter inueying against schollers, it hath been very well knowne, and how in that I dealt I can sufficiently prooue. With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I neuer be: The other, whome at that time I did not so much spare, as since I wish I had, for that as I haue moderated the heate of liuing writers, and might haue vsde my owne discretion, (especially in such a case) the Author beeing dead, that I did not, I am as very, as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because my selfe haue scene his demeanor no lesse ciuill than he exclent in the qualitie he professes

With this very public apology & refutation of Greene’s attack, Shakespeare, it seems, had become the darling of the London’s Theatre world. There would be no looking back!


The Young Shakespeare (14): Ireland, Scotland & Denmark

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1588-89
Winter
Shakespeare Influenced by John Lyly

By the winter of 1588, Shakespeare was heavily into writing the Elizabethan equivalent of romcoms. Since his return from the continent he had already created LLL, Twelfth Night &The Taming of the Shrew, all of which share familial affinities in common. When writing his next play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare went to the playhouse to see John Lyly’s Midas sometime between late 1588 & early 1589. When he came to writing Two Gentleman, Shakespeare would transplant the essence of a couple of Lyly’s scenes into his new play, such as the discussion between Launce and Speed regarding the vices and virtues of Launce’s mistress. Two Gentlemen may have been started on the Grand Tour; for Honigmann gives it a date of 1587, reasoning, ‘in terms of basic dramatic technique the play is more naive than anything else in the canon.’

The next play admitted to Shakespeare’s merry gang of jaunty comedies was The Merry Wives of Windsor, seems to have been penned over the winter of 1588-89. One of the songs in the play can be connected to Lyly.

Fie on sinful fantasy!
Fie on lust and luxury!
Lust is but a bloody fire,
Kindled with unchaste desire,
Fed in heart, whose flames aspire
As thoughts do blow them, higher and higher.

Pinch him, fairies, mutually;
Pinch him for his villany;
Pinch him, and burn him, and turn him about,
Till candles and starlight and moonshine be out.

These lyrics are lifted from from the Fairy Song in Endymion, a play by Lyly, the manager of the St Paul’s Boys. Endymion was first published in 1591, but a statement on the quarto title page stating ‘played before the Queens Majestie on Candlemas Day’ could only refer to a performance in 1588. Candlemass is the 2nd of February, & the only record of a Candlemass payment to the St Paul’s Boys was in 1588.

In III-1, the song sung by Hugh Evans beginning…

To shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sings madrigals;
There will we make our beds of roses,
And a thousand fragrant posies.

…is a clear remould of Marlowe’s famous song;

COME live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.
There will we sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
There will I make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle.


1589
SPRING
Shakespeare joins the Queen’s Players

The parallels between Shakespeare’s plays & the Queen’s plays,’ writes Terence G Schoone-Jongen, ‘are substantial & intricate.’ That Shakespeare was a member of the Queen’s Players seems likely. During 1588 & 1589, the Derby Household Book shows that the Queen’s Men visited Latham & Knoswley five times, bringing them into the immediate Stanley circle. A number of their recorded plays would be rewritten by Shakespeare, with lines & phrases from the Ur-types popping all across his extensive ouevre. Where the Queen’s Players produced Richard III & King Leir, so Shakespeare wrote a version of Richard III & the spell’d slightly differently, King Lear. Elsewhere, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth forms the entire foundation for the material of 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V, while their Troublesome Reign of King John is simply a redaction of Shakespeare’s King John. So much so, that in the 1611 quarto printing of the Troublesome Reign, the authorship was assigned to ‘W. Sh’ which was elongated in the 1622 printing into ‘W. Shakespeare.

Among the many similarities which have been observ’d, Launce’s rebuking of his dog, Crab, in Two Gentlemen, finds a precedent in Sir Clyomon & Sir Clamydes. That same play also bears a strong resemblance to the mechanicals of the playlet in Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Regarding the two Lears, Sir Walter Greg suggested that, ‘ideas, phrases, cadences from the old play still floated in his memory below the level of conscious thought, &… now & again one or another helped to fashion the words that flowed from his pen.’ Elsewhere, Brian Walsh remarks on Shakespeare’s acute familiarity with the ‘recitation of genealogy from plays in the Queen’s Men repertory,’ & also observes how Shakespeare’s King John keeps the line, ‘For that my grandsire was an Englishman,’ & the two Hamlets share, ‘the screeking Raven sits croking for revenge.

Shakespeare’s entry into the Queen’s might be related to the absence from the troupe of that most famous of Elizabethan actors, & Queen’s Man, Richard Tarleton. He had died in September 1588 & the Men would have been in need of fresh blood – & who better than the brilliant Young Shakespeare to step into the role. Incidentally, Tarleton was a West Midlands lad just like Shakespeare, a remembrance to whom is  contained thro the Hamlet’s court jester, to whose skull is spoken the ever famous line, ‘alas poor Yorick, I knew him so well. Coincidence or not, a certain trustee of Tarleton’s will, William Johnson, would one day become a trustee on Shakespeare’s purchase of a house in Blackfriars.

Shakespeare’s presence association with the Queen’s Men immediately affected his writing, for in Two Gentlemen we see an affiliation with the (now lost) with the Queen’s Players’ Felix & Philomena, which the Revels Accounts record as being perform’d for the court at Greenwich Palace on 3 January 1585. This was based on Spanish prose romance Los Siete Libros de la Diana (The Seven Books of the Diana) by the Portuguese writer Jorge de Montemayor, where the story of Don Felix and Philomena is told. Shakespeare might even have had a familiarity with Diana from his time in Spain- an English translation was not available until Bartholomew Young published his in 1598 – & it cannot be denied that Two Gentlemen has a definite sprinkle of Don Quixote.


1589
SUMMER
Shakespeare gets involved with the Blackfriars Theatre

All through his life Shakespeare would be involved in every aspect of the stage, taking part-shares in theatres, writing the plays, & even bloody acting in them. He was a veritable Mister.Theatre. His first venture into the financial side of things was in 1589, when he took a share in the Blackfriars Theatre. Evidence for this comes through a manuscript which had passed into the hands of Lord Ellesmere, the then attorney-general, in the 1840s. The manuscript reveals how Shakespeare’s name stands twelfth in the enumeration of the members of the company;

These are to certifie your right Honble Lordships, that her majesty’s poore playeres, James Burbadge, Richard Burbadge, John Laneham, Thomas Greene, Robert Wilson, John Taylor, Anth. Wadeson, Thomas Pope, George Peele, Augustine Phillipps, Nicholas Towley, William Shakespeare, William Kempe, William Johnson, Baptiste Goodale, & Robert Armyn, being all of them sharers in the black Fryers playehouse, have never given cause of displeasure, in that they have brought into their playes maters of state & Religion, unfitt to be handled by them, or to be presentved before lewde spectators: neither hath anie complaynte in that kinde ever bene preferrd against them, or anie of them. Wherefore, they trust most humblie in your Lordships consideration of their former good behaviour, being at all tymes readie, & willing, to yeelde obedience to any command whatsoever your Lordships in your wisdome may thinke in such case meete, &c.

About this time we also have a possible attack on Shakespeare by Thomas Nashe, who in the Preface to Robert Greene’s Menaphon – a prose romance with interludes of verse published in 1589 – writes quite bitterly;

But herein I cannot so fully bequeath them to folly as their idiot art-masters, that intrude themselves to our ears as the alchemists of eloquence, who (mounted on the stage of arrogance) think to outbrave better pens with the swelling bombast of bragging blank verse.


1589
SUMMER
Shakespeare Reads Out Venus & Adonis

One hot summer’s day in London, 1589, perhaps on the lawn of Fisher’s Folly, Shakespeare was reading Venus & Adonis to a select crowd. He was 25 – a fun-loving age if ever there was one – & to have been in attendance at a drunken evening filled with the early stanzas of Shakespeare’s erotic masterpiece would have been great fun. One man that felt the poem more than most was Thomas Lodge, whose 1589 poem ‘Scillaes Metamorphosis,’ has many captivating echoes of V&A. Lodge also spent time in the Earl of Derby’s household in the 1580s, which ensures his admission into the private circle about Stanley & Shakespeare. As for his ‘Scillaes Metamorphosis, Shakespeare’s words are taken almost wholesale;

But like a stormy day, now wind, now rain,
Sighs dry her cheeks V&A

And when my tears had ceas’d their stormy shower
He dried my cheeks Lodge

Sometimes she shakes her head, and then his hand,
Sometime her arms infold him like a band  V&A

Some chafe his temples with their lovely hands,
Some weep, some wake, some curse affection’s bands Lodge

Lodge’s poem uses the same 6-lined stanza & rhyme scheme of Venus & Adonis, & even pays tribute to Shakespeare’s master-class with the following stanzas;

He that hath seen the sweet Arcadian boy
Wiping the purple from his forced wound,
His pretty tears betokening his annoy,
His sighs, his cries, his falling on the ground,
The echoes ringing from the rocks his fall,
The trees with tears reporting of his thrall:

And Venus starting at her love-mate’s cry,
Forcing her birds to haste her chariot on;
And full of grief at last with piteous eye
Seeing where all pale with death he lay alone,
Whose beauty quail’d, as wont the lilies droop
When wasteful winter winds do make them stoop:

Her dainty hand address’d to daw her dear,
Her roseal lip allied to his pale cheek,
Her sighs, and then her looks and heavy cheer,
Her bitter threats, and then her passions meek;
How on his senseless corpse she lay a-crying,
As if the boy were then but new a-dying.


1589
AUGUST-SEPTEMBER
Shakespeare Visits Ireland

Since their formation in 1583, the Queen’s Players had been the leading troupe of actors in the land, travelling widely, with prominent performances at court over the prestigious festive seasons. Shakespeare joined the Queen’s Players at a time when they were dividing themselves into sub-troupes. ‘By 1589,’ writes Terence G Schoone-Jongen, ‘each branch – one apparently led by John & Laurence Dutton, the other by John Laneham – was sometimes identified by its leader as well as patron. Initially, the divided branches may have been a touring practice.’

Through Shakespeare’s presence among the Queen’s Players, we can now place him in Ireland. Shakespeare. An entry in the Ancient Treasury Book of Dublin reveals that in 1589, four pounds was paid to troupes called The Queen’s Players and The Queen and Earl of Essex Players ‘for showing their sports.’ These two troupes then travel over the Irish Sea to Lancashire, where at Knowsley the Queen’s Men performed in the evening of 6th Sept. and in the afternoon of 7th Sept., and then Essex’s Players performed in the evening of 7th Sept.

While in Ireland Shakespeare would have heard the word, Púca, which means ghost & went on to become ‘Puck’, the name of a ‘spirit’ in Midsummer Nights Dream (Act II Scene 1). He might have also heard phrases like “A hundred thousand welcomes” – Coriolanus (Act II Scene I) & “Did you ever hear the like?…….Did you ever dream of such a thing?” (Pericles Act IV Scene IV 1). The Irish were & still are world renownwed for the music, &  famous. The phrase  “Calin o custure me” in Henry V is taken from an Old Irish harp melody called “Cailín ó cois Stúir mé”;

When as I view your comely grace
Caleno custurame
Your golden hairs, your angel’s face,
Caleno custurame

W.H. Gratton Flood in his ‘History of Irish Music’ devotes a whole chapter to Shakespeare’s knowledge of 11 Irish songs, being;

1. Callino casturame – Mentioned as an Irish tune in ‘A handful of Pleasant dities’ (1594).
2. Ducdame – a corruption of An d-tiocfaidh from Eileen A Rún .
3. “Fortune my Foe” – (Merry Wives of Windsor Act II Scene III) ‘reckoned always an Irish tune’.
4. “Peg a Ramsay” – (Twelfth Night Act II Scene III) A ‘dump tune’ which Flood states  were played on a small Irish harp called a tiompán
5. “Bonny Sweet Robin”
6. “Whoop do me no harm, good man”- (A Winter’s Tale Act IV Scene III) known in Ireland as “Paddy whack.”
7. “Welladay; or Essex’s last Good-Night” – about the death of the Earl of Essex in Ireland in 1576.
8. “The Fading ” or “Witha a fading” – (“A Winter’s Tale” Act IV) “is, even on the testimony of the late Mr William Chappell (an uncompromising advocate of English music) undoubtedly an Irish dance tune. Also called the ‘Rince Fada’.”
9. “Light o’ Love” – (Two Gentlemen of Verona Act I Scene 2) an allusion is made to the tune of ‘light o’love’ another Irish tune.
10. “Yellow Stockings” – Known in Gaelic as “Cuma, liom” and the reference is to the saffron ‘truis’ of the medieval Irish.
11. “Edgar: Wantest thou eyes at trial, madam ? Come o’er the bourn, Bessie, to me.” – (King Lear Act III Scene VI)


1589
SEPTEMBER
The Queen’s Players are sent to the court of King James

King James VI of Scotland clearly loved the theatre, surrounded himself with artists and musicians, collectively known as the Castalian Band. He even composed many decent enough poems of his own. To help celebrate his upcoming marriage to a princess of Denmark called Anna, he asked Queen Elizabeth of England if he could borrow some of her actors, & it is Her Majesty’s granting of her royal cousin’s request that commences Shakespeare’s first visit to Scotland. The statement of the Revels tells us in that in September 1589 money was paid; ‘ for the furnishing of a mask for six maskers and six torchbearers, and of such persons as were to utter speeches at the shewing of the same maske, sent into Scotland to the King of Scotts mariage, by her Majestieís commanundement.’ Among the ‘six maskers,’ we shall place William Shakespeare, now a fully-fledg’d member of one of the half-troupes into which the Queen’s Players were dividing in 1589.

After the request had reached Knowsley, & after their last performance there on the afternoon of the 7th, it seems that it took the Queen’s Players three days to travel the 100 miles or so between Knowsley & Carlisle by the 10th September. The governor of Carlisle, Baron Scroop of Bolton, soon found himself involv’d in this high proflie case of pass the parcel, writing;

After my verie hartie comendacions: vpon a letter receyved from Mr. Roger Asheton, signifying vnto me that yt was the kinges earnest desire for to have her Majesties players for to repayer into Scotland to his grace : I dyd furthwith dispatche a servant of my owen unto them wheir they were in the furthest part of Langkeshire, wherevpon they made their returne heather to Carliell, wher they are, and have stayed for the space of ten dayes, whereof I thought good to gyve yow notice in the respect of the great desyre that the king had to have the same Come unto his grace: And withall to praye yow to gyve knowledg therof to his Majestie. So for the present, I bydd yow right hartelie farewell

Carlisle
The xxth of Septemre, 1589
Yowr verie assured loving friend
H Scrope

What Shakesepeare got up to in those 10 days in Cumbria we do not know – there are no traces of the county in his works. One expects they were rehearsing hard for the forthcoming nuptials, & maybe a little carousing with the locals. Its a nice city.


1589
OCTOBER
Shakespeare in Scotland

As storms raged across the North Sea, Princess Anna of Denmark was unable to make the treacherous crossing, leading to James camping up at Seton Castle to watch the Firth of Forth for her ship. A letter from William Asheby to Walsingham. [Sept. 8, 1589) reads;

With the first wind the Queen is expected out of Denmark. It is thought that she embarked about the 2nd instant, but that contrary winds keep the fleet back. Great preparation is made at Leith to receive her, and to lodge her till the solemnity, which shall be twelve days after her arrival. The King is at Seaton till her arrival.

A week later, William Asheby wrote;

We dailie now expect the fleet of De[nmark]. The Quene embarqued at Copmanhaven [on] Moundaie the first of this moneth, and [hath] not set foote on ground sithence, except [the] last storme, which continued the 12 and thirten of this present southwest, haith driven the fleet back into Norwaie, [as] in all likliehode it haith done.

The Lord Dingwall arrived here this [day]. He left the Quene and the whole fleet on [this] side of Elsenoure, and had sight of the same nere the Skaw. It is certen[ly] looked that the Quene shall arrive in this Firth within as shorte space as [wind] and wether cane serve from Norwaie [to] this cost, which maie be in foure or fi[ve] daies, if thei have keapt the seas, and not entred over farr the Sound of .

The wind haith ben southwest and gre[at] this foure daies last past. This daie it groweth calmer and northwest, so as in . . . daies the Quenes arrivall is expected at Le[ith], where great preparacion is made to receave her.

The wait dragg’d on & on & a very impatient & romantically-minded James, ‘passionate as true lovers be’, was on the 8th of October said to ‘lyeth at Cragmillar, hard by Edenbrowghe, retyred, and as a kind lover spends the t[yme] in sighing.’ His malaise was soon converted to action & he  decided that instead of waiting he would risk the crossing & marry his young bride in Norway instead. Bring the mountain to Mohammed.

With him went Shakespeare, but before they sailed from Leith on October 24th, Shakespeare clearly spent time perusing the Royal Library in Edinburgh. In 1589 it held the single, 43,000 lines-long manuscript copy of William Stewart’s Chronicle of Scotland. Written in the Scottish vernacular, there are positive parralels with Macbeth, including one of sixty-five lines which elucidates the murderous motives of Macbeth and his wife. Wilson notes that, ‘Boece and Holinshed have nothing corresponding to this, and yet how well it sums up the pity of Macbeth’s fall as Shakespeare represents it.’ Another chronicle-marker is the 26-line tirade by Lady Macbeth as she taunts her husband as being a coward and unmanly and breaking his vow to seek the crown (1.7.36–61). ‘In every case in which Stewart differs from Holinshed,’ says Stopes, ‘Shakespeare follows Stewart.’

Other sources for Macbeth which Shakespeare would have studied in the Royal Scottish Library include Andrew Wyntoun’s metrical ‘Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland’ & also the ‘Flyting betwixt Montgomerie and Polwart,’ a poem which contains the three wyrd sisters. In the latter text After their bewitching curses come to a close, they begin to speak to each in turn, just as they deliver their prophecies in Macbeth.

The first said, ‘surelie of a shot;’
The second, ‘of a running knot;’
The third, ‘be throwing of the throate,
Like a tyke ouer a tree (Flyting)

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air (Macbeth)

We also have two allusions are to Scots law: “double trust” and “interdiction.” the Oxfordian Richard F. Whalen explains it all quite succinctly’

Macbeth says of Duncan: “He’s here in double trust: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed; then as his host, who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself” The “double trust” concept was enacted into law in 1587 when the Scottish Parliament raised from mere homicide to treason the slaying of someone of rank who was also a guest of his slayer, with the trial to be held in the highest court.

The legal term “interdiction” occurs in the strange colloquy between Macduff and Malcolm. Macduff laments that Malcolm, the heir to the throne, “by his own interdiction stands accused and does blaspheme his breed” This refers in Scots law to someone conscious of his failings who gives up or is forced to give up the management of his own affairs, which is what Malcolm seemed to be doing, much to Macduff’s dismay.

The thing about Oxfordians is that they are the most meticulous researchers – they turn over stone several times & check for how it looks for the light, & their research has been invaluable to tell you the truth – team work!

One of the most important pieces of local knowledge embedded in the play is that of Macbeth’s armour-bearer being named Seton. The legends of Macbeth do not mention any Setons, but Professor Wilson of the University of Edinburgh was astonish’d that “somehow or other” Shakespeare learned that the Setons were the hereditary armour-bearers to the kings of Scotland. But of course Shakespeare was on the very Seton spot with King James.

Finally, the date of Shakespeare’s visit to Macbeth country is intriguing, as the plays spirit seems to have fused with a contemporary event – the murder of the Duke of Guise by Henry III of France in December 1588. Eva Turner Clark, in her ‘Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays ‘(1931), observed ‘many points in common’ between the Killing of Duncan by Macbeth and the murder of Guise by Henry III, citing ‘the power and influence’ of Catherine De’ Medici, who was inside the Chateau of Blois in France when the murder took place, just as Lady Macbeth is in Macbeth’s Castle in Scotland during the murder of Duncan.


1589
OCTOBER
Shakespeare sails to Norway

That Shakespeare & the Queen’s Players went with King James in his large wedding entourage can be discerned through an epigram in John Davies of Hereford’s The Scourge of Folly (c.1610). Dedicated to, ‘our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare,’  it begins;

SOME say good Will (which I, in sport, do sing)
Had’st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst bin a companion for a King

Scholars have scratched their heads over this passage for centuries, but there is a starkness to it which fits with consummate ease into the Queen’s Player’s accompanying of King James VI to Denmark.

So Shakespeare & James had set off for Norway, with the king’s the journey being described thus;

He was more than fortunate than his bride in having four days of fair weather, but on the fifth a storm arose & a day later he landed at Flekkefjord in Norway.

It must have been quite a poetic moment for our young bard, leaving him verteux & receptive to the energies which would one day manifest themselves in Hamlet. From Flekkefjord Shakespeare & James proceeded to Oslo. In the Danish cccount of the day, translated by Peter Graves, we observe how Shakespeare fbecame acquainted with the figure who would be creochisped into ‘Hamlet’ as Guildenstern, the friend of Rosencrantz.

When his majesty arrived, he went to to Old Bishop’s palace to meet her ladyship. this was the order of the procession: first walked two Scottish noblemen (who were his majesty’s heralds) each bearing a white stick as a sign of peace; next came Steen Brahe, Henning Gioye, Axel Gyldenstierne, Hans Pederson, Ove Juel, Captain Noimand & Peter Iversen; then came his majesty between the Scottish earl & another Scottish lord; after them came the king’s courtiers & the Scottish nobility, all with their hats in their hands

As for Rosencrantz, he would have been about somewhere, for among the Danish signatories to the prenuptual demands made by Scottish enjoys on behalf of the King (9th July 1589), we can observe a certain ‘Jørgen Rozenkrantz.’


1589-90
WINTER
Shakespeare visits Kronborg Castle

James and Anne were married in Oslo, November 23rd, at the great hall in Christen Mule’s house with all the splendour possible at that time & place. As they drove from the church James arranged a curious spectacle for the entertainment of the people of Oslo. By his orders four young “blackamoors” danced naked in the snow in front of the royal carriage, but the cold was so intense that they died a little later of pneumonia. After the nuptials, most of the entourage returned to Scotland, but others – including the Queen’s Players – accompanied the royal couple to Kronborg Castle in Denmark. It must be noted that while this half of the Queen’s Players were in Denmark, the others were performing over the festive season for Queen Elizabeth, where for a performance at Richmond court on the 26th December, they receiv’d the princely sum of £20.

The King was in a great mood, & wrote home that, ‘we are drinking & dryving (killing time) in the auld manner.’ Kronborg is the very place in which Hamlet as we know it was set, yet the original story, as given by Saxo Grammaticus, shows how Hamlet’s father was the governor of Jutland. Kronborg, however, is on Zealand. Then why did Shakespeare move the scene?

We may now assume that on his visit to Denmark, Shakespeare began to revise his Hamlet, adding genuine on-the-spot location stuff to an earlier version of the play. Shakespeare’s presence at Kronborg as part of a wandering troupe of players echoes out into Hamlet’s famous ‘play-within-the-play,’ where a troupe of traveling players enact a ‘Dumb-Show’ call’d the Murder of Gonzaga (or the Mousetrap).

Enter a King and a Queen, very lovingly: the Queen embracing him, and he her. She kneels and makes show of protestation unto him. He takes her up, and declines his head upon her neck: lays him down upon a bank of flowers: she, seeing him asleep, leaves him. Anon comes in a fellow, takes off his crown, kisses it, and pours poison in the Kingís ears, and exit. The Queen returns;  finds the King dead, and makes passionate action. The Poisoner, with some two or three Mutes, comes in again, seeming to lament with her. The dead body is carried away. The Poisoner wooes the Queen with gifts; she seems loath and unwilling awhile, but in the end accepts his love.

There is a definitive nod to James in Shakespeare’s play. Just as Hamlet’s father is the King in the Dumb-Show was murdered by having poison administered to his ear,  a French surgeon, Ambrosie Parex, was suspected of killing the French King, Francis II, by giving him an ear infection during the course of treatment. Francis was the first husband of James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots. That the Gonzaga family heralded from Mantua, & of course we have already placed Shakespeare in that city with Stanley.


1590
SPRING
Shakespeare returns to Scotland

English troupes tour’d the continent regularly in Shakespeare’s time – from the Album of Franz Hartmann, of Frankfort on Oder

In early 1590, James returned to Scotland with his new wife. That Shakespeare was back in Scotland in wintry months is reflected by his uncanny observation in Macbeth of “so fair and foul a day I have not seen.”  During the coronation ceremonies in Edinburgh, the masque ordered by James the previous September finally got its chance to be aired. Although Shakespeare is not mentioned by name, the clothes he & his five other masquers are, as given in Lansd.MSS 59.

A maske of six coates of purple gold tinsell, garded with purple & black clothe of silver striped. Bases of crimson clothe of gold, with pendants of maled purple silver tinsell. Twoe paire of sleves to the same of red cloth of gold, & four paire of sleves to the same of white clothe of copper, silvered. Six partletts of purplee clothe of silver knotted/ Six hed peces, whereof foure of clothe of gold, knotted, & twoe of purple clothe of gold braunched. Six fethers to the same hed peces. Six mantles, whereof four of oringe clothe of gold braunched, & twoe of purple & white clot of silver braunched. Six vizardes, & siz fawchins guilded.

Six cassocks for torche bearers of damaske; three of yellowe, & three of red, garded with red & yellow damaske counterchaunged. Six paire of hose of damaske; three of yellow, & three of red, garded with red & yellowe damaske counterchaunged. Six hatts of crimson clothe of gold, & six fethers to the same. Six vizardes.

Four heares of silke, & four garlandes of flowers, for the attire of them that are to utter certaine speeches at the shewing of the same maske.

The masque may have been part of the luscious celebrations made during the procession up the Royal Mile made by the new queen, or perhaps performed at the festivities in Edinburgh castle. That Shakespeare was under the Stuart wing at this time seems to reflect itself into Macbeth again, in particular the 1590 witch trials of Denmark & North Berwick, near Edinburgh. The poor ‘witches’ had been given the blame for the bad weather keeping Anna from James, & also the terrible storms they had to endure on the return voyage. No-one dared to mention that winter might have had something to do with it, & more than a hundred suspected witches in North Berwick were arrested. Many would soon be confessing – under torture of course – to having met with the Devil in the church at night, and devoted themselves to doing evil, including poisoning the King and other members of his household, and attempting to sink the King’s ship. When writing Macbeth, Shakespeare would adapt many concepts from the trials, including the rituals confessed by the witches & the borrowing of  quotes from the treaties, such as spells, ‘purposely to be cassin into the sea to raise winds for destruction of ships.’

There are in Macbeth quite canny descriptions of Scottish weather, when ‘so fair and foul a day I have not seen.’ Shakespeare also describes how the, ‘air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses‘ to which Banquo adds ‘Heaven’s breath smells woo­ingly here. The air is delicate,’ Is this a remembrance in Shakespeare of visiting some Highland scene, especially the castle of Macbeth, described by Shakespeare as a ‘pleasant seat.’ Arthur Clark also notes that Inverness has an unusually mild “microclimate” distinct from the rest of Scotland, and he too wonders how Shakespeare could have known about it without hav­ing visited Inverness. Clark also shows how Shakespeare accuraelty locates Dunsinane, Great Birnam Wood, Forres, Inverness, the Western Isles, Colmekill, Saint Colme, and the lands that gave their names to the thanes: Fife, Glamis, Cawdor, Ross, Lennox, Mentieth, Angus and Caithness. Again, on the spot knowledge seems likely, while in Banquo’s question: “How far is it called to Forres”? the use of the word “Called,” reflects a typical Scots locution of the time.

 


1590
SPRING
Shakespeare & the Arte Of English Poesie

It was in late 1588 that Shakespeare began to convert all the materials he collected, & all the observations he made whilst travelling, into theatrical gold dust. He may have had a mind burgeoning with ideas, even a few rough sketches of scenes & storylines, & a number of drafted passages of poetic speech. What the needed now was focus, & perhaps he had conversed with the anonymously printed Arte of English Poesie was entered at Stationers’ Hall in 1588. WL Rushton has identified over 200 literary links between the Puttenham’s Arte & the works of Shakespeare, showing how the bard must have read it. Shakespeare may even have read the work in manuscript, for there is one passage in particular that seems to be the Shakesperean manifesto;

There were also poets that wrote openly for the stage, I mean plays & interludes, to recreate the people with matters of disport, & to that intent did set forth in shows & pagaents common behaviours & manner of life as were the meaner sort of men, & they were called comical poets, of whom among the greeks Meander & Aristophanes were most excellent, with the Latins Terence & Plautus. Besides those poets comic there were others, but meddled not with so base matters: for they set forth doleful falls of unfortunate & afflicted princes, & were called poets tragical. Such were euripedes among the others who mounted nothing so high as any of them both, but in based & humble style, by manner of dialogue, uttered the private & familar talk of the meanest sort of men, as shepherds, haywards & such like

Authorship of the book has been associated with George Puttenham, but there is a possibility it was penn’d by Shakespeare himself. The book was was printed by Richard Field, Shakespeare’s Stratford countryman in London, on which title page was exhibited the same title Emblem “Anchor of Hope”, as found on “Venus and Adonis”(1593) and “Lucrece”(1594). In 1909, William Lowes Rushton published a book, “Shakespeare and ‘The Arte of English Poesie’ ”, in which he shows that Shakespeare used a number of figures which the author of “The Arte.…” describes, & also extensively uses similar words and phrases found in the book in his own plays. For example, Zurcher tells us, ‘Shakespeare would make Puttenham’s final three chapters from the Arte of English Poesie the basis of his analysis of artificiality, sincerity & power in the contest between Brutus & Mark Anthony In Julius Ceasar.’ The authorship debate is ongoing, but what is clear is that Shakespeare & the book are intrinsically connected.

The Young Shakespeare (13): Christmas With the Stanleys 1588-89

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In 1588 Shakespeare joined the Stanley family at Knowsley for a very special festive season. Ferdinando Stanley was becoming a very important figure in English theatre When the Earl of Leicester died on the 4th September, 1588, his theatrical troupe merged with Ferdinando’s Lord Strange’s Men. This infusion of lifeblood really helped ressurrect the company, which had not done anything for years. Both the Theatre & the Curtain playhouses in London were then used by the company in 1588 & 1589, which brings them into the Shakespearean orbit.

The Stanleys were Oxford University boys, & would had grown up with the long-standing tradition of plays being acted out over the festive season. MJ Davis writes, ‘Christ Church & St Johns were the two colleges where drama flourished most. At Christ Church there was a decree that two comedies & two tragedies – one of each in Greek &, the others in Latin – were to be acted during the Christmas season each year. Whereas Cambridge excelled in comedy, Oxford excelled in tragedy, with Seneca’s plays prominent towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign.’ In the same fashion, over the Festive season of 1588-89, two different plays were acted to a great pantheon of northern dignitaries. The Household Accounts book describe the events of the theatrical festive seasons;

29 December 1588 – 4th January 1589

Sondaye Mr Carter pretched at which was dyvers strandgers, on mondaye came mr stewarde, on Tuesday the reste of my lords cownsell & also Sir Ihon Savadge, at nyghte a play was had in the halle & the same nyght my Lord strandge came home, on wednesdaye mr fletewod pretched, & the same daye yonge mr halsall & his wiffe came on thursedaye mr Irelande of the hutte, on frydaye Sir Ihon savadge departed & the same daie mr hesketh mr anderton & mr asheton came & also my lord bushoppe & sir Ihon byron

This tells us that ‘a play was had in the halle’ on New Years Eve, on the very same night ‘Lord strandge came home.’ When Four days later Thomas Hesketh also arrives at Lathom, we get the idea that Shakespeare was also in the vicinity. The play would have been performed in the Derby’s private theatre at Knowsley, which survived until 1902 as ‘Flatiron House.’ It had been built on the waste by Richard Harrington, a tennant of Prescot Hall, of which place Richard Wilson writes, ‘the Elizabethan playhouse at Knowsley, near Liverpool, remains one of the dark secrets of Shakesperian England. Very few commentators are aware of even the existence of this theatre, built by the Stewards of Henry Stanley, Earl of Derby, on the site of his cockpit, some time in the 1580s.’ Other visitors that Christmas include some of the most important men in the north of England, such as the Bishop of Chester, William Chanderton & Sir John Byron, an ancestor of the poet Lord Byron. It is clear that they came to see a play, for the next entry in the household book reads;

5th January to 10th January

sondaye mr caldwell pretched, & that nyght plaiers plaied, mondaye my Lord bushop pretched, & the same daye mr trafforth mr Edward stanley, mr mydleton of Leighton came on Tuesdaye Sir Richard shirbon mr stewarde my Lord bushoppe Sir Ihon byron & many others departed, wednesdaye my lord removed to new parke, on frydaye mr norres & mr tarbocke & mr Tildesley came & went

The key information here is that a second play was performed on the evening of 5th January – a time known to the Church of England as ‘Twelfth Night.’ A similar timed performance was played at court & recorded as, ‘1583. Jan. 5. A mask of iiadies on Twelfth Eve.’ Looking at the Shakespearean ouevre, it makes sense that his early-feeling Twelfth Night was played on this occasion. Samuel Pepys recorded on January 6th, 1662; ‘Dinner to the Duke’s house, & there saw ‘Twelfth-Night’ acted well, though it be but a silly play, & not related at all to the name or day.’

There is a notice of a lost play by Shakespeare, whose sole mention comes in the 1598 Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury, by Francis Meres. The passage basically tells us what Shakespeare had produced by that time;

As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece his sugared Sonnets among his private friends…. As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage…. for Comedy, witness his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labours Lost, his Love Labours Won, his Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his Merchant of Venice; for Tragedy his Richard the 2, Richard the 3, Henry the 4, King John, Titus Andronicus, and Romeo and Juliet.

The presence of Loves Labour Lost right next to Loves Labours Won suggest that they were originally played in sequence, which fits in perfectly with the festivities at Knowsley. Loves Labours Lost would have been performed at Christmas, with Love’s Labours Won/Twelfth Night being performed on the evening of January 5th. Stylistically & linguistically, the frantic energetic comedy of Love’s Labours Won/Twelfth Night resembles the Comedy of Errors, which we have dated to 1588.

Malvolio-And-Maria-From-Shakespeare-s-Twelfth-Night-550336.jpg

 

In 1602 we have the first ‘official’ record of a performance of Twelfth Night, in John Mannigham’s ‘Diary,’ when we hear’ ‘Feb. 2.–At our feast wee had a play called ‘Twelve Night, or What you Will,’ much like the Commedy of Errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni. A good practise in it to make the steward beleeue his Lady widdowe was in love with him, by counterfayting a lettre as from his Lady in generall termes, telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparraile, etc., and then when he came to practise making him beleeue they tooke him to be mad.’ Most scholars presume this to be the first performance of Twelfth Night – but I would like to propose that it was first played twelve years earlier at Lathom. Both performances come in the middle of Leap Years, which connects to the play’s reference to the woman-in-charge Leap Year rule;

Praise we may afford To any lady that subdues a lord

If we bounce our investigation off the Stanley-Shakespeare romance, Twelfth night is also full of sexually unusual pairings, a feast of homoerotic feelings erupting from its chief author & its muse, who seem mirrored in the absolute bonding between Antonio & Sebastian. There are  many subtextual echoes of the sonnets in Twelfth Night, especially in its handling of the humiliation of rejected love. Interestingly, the romantic wool seems to have fallen from Antonio’s eyes, whose god seems now more of a ‘vile idol.’ Also important is an echo of the sonnets’ menage a Trois in the Orsino, his boy & his lady triangle.

Turning now to Loves Labours Lost, Alfred Harbage once wrote, ‘I think that this play is more likely than any other to suggest the avenues of investigation if there is ever to be a ‘breakthrough’ in our knowledge of Shakespeare’s theatrical beginnings.’ Another scholar, Harley Granville-Barker, adds, ‘it abounds in jokes for the elect, were you not numbered among them you laughed, for safety, in the likeliest places. A year or two later the elect themselves might be hard put to it to remember what the joke was…. it’s a time-sensitive play for a very specific and select audience. Once we figure out who that audience is, we’ll know when the play was first written.’ When we observe there are a number of nods to the Stanleys throughout the play, surely we can answer Mr Harbage’s question. The play contains, for example, several references to the eagle; an important Stanley symbol as found on the family crest to the Eagle Tower at Latham.

What peremptory eagle-sighted eye
Dares looke upon the heaven of her brow
That is not blinded by her majestie

14th_to_17th_Earls_of_Derby

Earl Henry would loved to have heard about his beloved Navarre, the play’s setting, while Ferdinando would have been amused by his name being used as the main character. The Stanley household would have noticed that Malvolio was based upon steward, William Farrington. The play contains a masque – the Nine Worthies – identical to the one performed annually at nearby Chester. In a commentary on Love’s Labour’s Lost by Charles Knight, we read; ‘in this manuscript of… a Chester pageant… the Four Seasons concludes the representation of The Nine Worthies. Shakespeare must have seen such an exhibition, and have thence derived the songs of Ver and Hiems.’ This gives us a firm link to William Stanley, whose tutor, Richard Lloyd, wrote, ‘A brief discourse of the most renowned acts and right valiant conquests of those puissant Princes called the Nine Worthies.‘ Shakespeare must have seen Lloyd’s mask at some point in order to import the songs into his own play. Lefranc found many correspondences between Lloyd’s Nine Worthies and the masque in Love’s Labour’s Lost, and even reminiscent lines: In The Nine Worthies we read: ‘This puissant prince and conqueror bare in his shield a Lyon or, Wich sitting in a chaire bent a battel axe in his paw argent,‘ and in Love’s Labour’s Lost: ‘Your lion, that holds his poll-axe sitting on a close-stool, will be given to Ajax.’

With Shakespeare fresh from his Continental sonnetteering, it is no wonder that sonnets take an important cameo in the LLL. There is an extremely famous & charming sonnet-reading scene, which shows how much the art form was on Shakespeare’s mind at the time. Examples include;

So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not
To those fresh morning drops upon the rose,
As thy eye-beams, when their fresh rays have smote
The night of dew that on my cheeks down flows:
Nor shines the silver moon one half so bright
Through the transparent bosom of the deep,
As doth thy face through tears of mine give light;
Thou shinest in every tear that I do weep:
No drop but as a coach doth carry thee;
So ridest thou triumphing in my woe.
Do but behold the tears that swell in me,
And they thy glory through my grief will show:
But do not love thyself; then thou wilt keep
My tears for glasses, and still make me weep.

Did not the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye,
‘Gainst whom the world cannot hold argument,
Persuade my heart to this false perjury?
Vows for thee broke deserve not punishment.
A woman I forswore; but I will prove,
Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee:
My vow was earthly, thou a heavenly love;
Thy grace being gain’d cures all disgrace in me.
Vows are but breath, and breath a vapour is:
Then thou, fair sun, which on my earth dost shine,
Exhalest this vapour-vow; in thee it is:
If broken then, it is no fault of mine:
If by me broke, what fool is not so wise
To lose an oath to win a paradise?

loveslabourslost

That Love’s Labours Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays was recognized as far back as 1710. when Charles Gildon opined, ‘since it is one of the worst of Shakespeare’s Plays, nay I think I may say the very worst, I cannot but think that it is his first.’ To this, Clare Asquith adds, ‘now the first and dominant conviction at which we arrive in a rapid reading of the text is that Loves Labours Lost was written as a topical play; that it bristles throughout with topical allusion; and that most, if not all, of its characters were meant by shakespeare to be portraits or caricatures of living persons.‘ The name ‘Armardo’ is a clear reference to the armada, while the play also makes reference to the Martin Marprelate controversy which raged from 1588-89. Of the latter reference, ‎George Richard Hibbard describes, ‘the ‘clue’ provided by Hercules’ killing of Cerberus, that three-headed Canis,’… a reference to ‘Nashe’s prowess in 1589 against the three-headed Martin – Martin Marprelate, Martin senior & Martin Junior.’

With the composition of LLL having taken place not long after Shakespeare had experienced the turmoil of his Turkish menage a trois, we can see how the Dark Lady of the sonnets found her way into LLL, when the beauties of a certain sable-skinned lady called ‘Rosaline’ are described. Biron’s passage beginning ‘devils soonest tempt’ could well have been a sonnet originally, which wound its way into LLL instead.

FERDINAND – By heaven, thy love is black as ebony.

BIRON – Is ebony like her? O wood divine!
A wife of such wood were felicity.
O, who can give an oath? where is a book?
That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack,
If that she learn not of her eye to look:
No face is fair that is not full so black.

FERDINAND – O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons and the suit of night;
And beauty’s crest becomes the heavens well.

BIRON – Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light.
O, if in black my lady’s brows be deck’d,
It mourns that painting and usurping hair
Should ravish doters with a false aspect;
And therefore is she born to make black fair.
Her favour turns the fashion of the days,
For native blood is counted painting now;
And therefore red, that would avoid dispraise,
Paints itself black, to imitate her brow.

DUMAIN – To look like her are chimney-sweepers black.

LONGAVILLE – And since her time are colliers counted bright.

FERDINAND – And Ethiopes of their sweet complexion crack.

Coompare the above with sonnet 127

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.

Before Shakespeare leaves Knowsley, I’d like to suggest his borrowing of a book from the Stanley’s – North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives. This is one of the most important source texts for the Shakespearean plays, & a paper survives noting that a copy of North’s translation was loaned to a certain “Wilhelmi” by Ferdinando’s wife, Alice, and returned in 1611. The latter year is, of course, the date of the Tempest, Shakespeare’s last play to be performed & to many the moment he gives up writing – he surely won’t be needing that Plutarch anymore!

The Young Shakespeare (12): Return to England

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NOVEMBER 1587

Shakespeare Sails Home

The Grafton Portrait – Shakespeare in his 20s

In the noble houses of Elizabethan England, the ‘household book’ would record the toings & froings of visitors to the estate. The vast majority of these have been lost, but at Knowsley, however, one of these little diaries miraculously survived the ravagings of time, written down with meticulous energy by the Stanley steward, William Ffarington. Crucially, the book supplies us with information for the three-year period between 1587 & 1589, providing the precise date for Stanley’s return to Knowsley… December 1587. With the lunar eclipse recorded in one of Shakespeare’s Turkish sonnets occurring in September, we are given a three month window for Stanley to be freed from prison & to travel from Constantinople to Lancashire. Intriguingly, in one of Lorenzo Bernardo’s dispatches, we hear of an English Catholic gentleman who was acting quite suspiciously bout Constantinople in that very time period.

November 11th: An English gentleman arrived here on board the ships ‘Salvagna.’ He says he is a Catholic; that he left England at the end of May with the intention of going to Jerusalem, but on his arrival here he changed his mind, & after staying a few days he left for Patras, there to embark on board an English ship for England. This roused great suspicions, & I succeeded in keeping him under observation

Whoever that mysterious Catholic was, if he had been on the trail of Stanley he was too late; for he & Shakespeare were already scudding the sea-lanes home. In the age of Elizabethan sail, Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind had a top speed of 8 knots, about 9.2 mph. With the port of London lying 3627 nautical miles from Constantinople, the voyage would have taken about 19 days of unbroken sailing. Slowing down the ship to the speed of a merchant vessel, perhaps 4 or 5 knots, the same voyage would have taken just over a month. Ample time for Stanley to return to Lancashire by December. In, ‘The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant,’ we read of the probable route taken from the eastern Meditterranean only a few months after Stanley, picking up the journey at Crete (Candia) in 1588. It took Sanderson 2 months to get to England, but he has several pauses such as the fortnight near the rock of Goletta.

The 23th January [1588] we weare ashore at an iland of[f] Candia, cauled Christiana^. The 25th we cast ancore at Caldarona. The 11th and 12th of Febrewary we passed betwene Sisilia and Malta. The 13th to Pantalaria. The 14th we weare in sight of Cape Bon one Barbarie side. The 15th we sawe Goletta, a rocke a little of[f] of Carthadge. The last of Febrewary we arived in Argier [Algiers]. Sett saile from thence the 2d of March. The 6th came in sight of Cape d’ Gatt.  The 7th at night we passed by Jebberaltare, and so throughe the Streyghts. Frome Suta [Ceuta] we weare espied, who shott  twise. In the morninge we had Cape Spratt [Spartel] about six leagues asterne. The 11th we weare as highe as Cape St. Vincent.  The 19th we weare even with Cape Fenister ; frome thence caped  [i.e. bore] NNW. The 22th, beinge Friday, we came to the soundinges; threwe the lead at night, and found 92 fathome.  Then we caped NE. and by E. The next day in the morninge we  found 70 fathom, and at none [i.e. noon] 55. The next day we  fell with Portland 3 , which was the first of Ingland we had sight  of. Then to the Downes, and so to Gravesend; frome thence in a wherry to Blackewale; so by land to London, the 29th of March 1588.

It is on this voyage that Shakespeare would have gained his knowledge of the Bay of Portugal (the Bay of Biscay), an unusually deep body of water that would have been unsoundable by the plumbing methods of Shakespeare’s time. Memory of the Bard’s time on the Bay can be found in As You Like It;

ROSALIND: O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But it cannot be sounded: my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal

The long hours of tedium that a sea-voyage entails provided a perfect atmosphere in which Shakespeare could compose his poetry. As our two lovers drifted home, sharing, it is possible that Shakespeare found a serene moment to compose yet another sonnet of the series to his ‘Handsome Youth.’ There is one sonnet in particular that can be accurately dated to the Stanleyan Grand Tour.

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride;
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen;
Three April pérfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah yet doth beauty, like a dial hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived.
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.

If the twelve seasons mentioned begin with that of winter 1584-85, then it is the three Mediterranean ‘hot Junes’ of ’85, ’86 & ’87 which Shakespeare spent with Stanley that are meant. This means the sonnet was composed at the end of autumn, 1587, just as they were sailing home.


DECEMBER 1587

Stanley Spends Christmas in Lancashire

In the year of 1587 the plague came to the good folk of Lancashire. This was pterry bad, of course, but the return of our gallant & sun-bronzed adventurers cheered up the county, no end. Stanley would have cut a dashing image; 25 years old, fully tanned & bubbling with exciting tales from his travels – there were sea-battles, death-row prisons, duels, magicians & a sordid love triangle – its had everything really. There is an account made in that very year by William Harrison of how Stanley might have appeared to English on his return.

The usual sending of noblemen’s and mean gentlemen’s sons into Italy, from whence they bring home nothing but mere atheism, infidelity, vicious conversation, and ambitious and proud behaviour, whereby it cometh to pass that they return far worse men than they went out….. they have learned in Italy to go up and down also in England with pages at their heels finely apparelled, whose face and countenance shall be such as sheweth the master not to be blind in his choice

Might Stanley have even taken his great new friend Shakespeare with him to Lancashire. Our young bard was 23, fresh from a Grand Tour, & flush with the creativity that would soon manifest itself as some of the greatest plays the world has ever seen. It is no wonder that after travelling Europe in such a fashion that the young Shakespeare would find his mind & spirit filling with so much poesis it would take years to spill onto the page. How it became such stellar poetry was down, of course, to his flowering genius, which surely was first nourished in the fertile bedsoil of the Stanleyan Grand Tour – a perfect start for a career of high genius. The dramatic continental output of the Shakesperean ouvre is, in all essence, a grand & brilliant creochisp of the Swan of Avon’s especial flight abroad. Some plays were being penned already, some may have only been a title with a few scraps of notes, some were yet to be born.

There seems an incredible dedication by Shakespeare to recording as many details of the Grand Tour is possible in his plays. As our party arrived at Knowsley, Shakespeare’s knapsack would have contained the manuscript copies of his & Stanley’s co-written plays, such as Titus Andronicus, & Pericles. These two might even have been performed that Christmas at Knowsley, when the Household Books record a visit by ‘Sir Thomas hesketh plaiers’ in December 1587;

On fryday my Lord the earle came home from cowrte & the same night came my Lord bishoppe, mr stewarde mr recyver mr foxe, on saturday Sir Thomas hesketh plaiers went awaie

This could well have been the performance that won the newly-emerging playwright his first laurels of appreciation. That the disembarkation of the flower-garlanded galleon that was England’s true bard occurred at Knowsley, introduces Stanley’s brother, Ferdinando Stanley, into the equation. Taking the bardic baton from his brother, who had his education to continue, Ferdinando would drag our boy back to London, & into the realisation of his prenominate destiny.


1588 SPRING

Shakespeare in London

The possession of a certain book by Christopher Marlowe, & its correlations with his plays, suggests he owned or knew somebody with a copy of Ibn ‘Arabshah’s biography of Timur / Tamerlaine, the ‘Aja ‘ib al-maqdur,’ which wouldn’t be translated into European languages until Golius’s Latin version of 1638. Among these similarities is the astonishing matches between the physical appearance & character of Marlowe’s Tamburlaien & Ibn ‘ Arabshah’s Timur. There are also striking matches the incidents surrounding the capture of the Ottoman Turkish sultan Bajazeth as given in the Aja ‘ib al-maqdur, & Act 3 in Marlowe’s play. One possible explanation is that on their return to England from the Ottoman empire, a copy of the Aja ‘ib al-maqdur was in the possession of Stanley & Shakespeare & was given to Marlowe as a gift. A date of well before March 1588 is probable – perhaps even on their first return the previous December – when Robert Greene accus’d Marlowe of ‘daring god out of heaven with that Atheist Tamburlan’, an imitation of Marlowe’s description of his own protagonist, whose ‘looks do menace heaven and dare the gods.’ The play itself was a great a success, full of fresh direction, complexities & dazzling wordplay, it really did set the scene & clearly inspired Shakespeare’s own ouvre. “The fingerprints of Tamburlaine,” writes Stephen Greenblatt, “are all over the plays that are among Shakespeare’s earliest known ventures as a playwright.”

On the 24th April 1588, William Shakespeare turn’d 24. He was now in the full prime of youth & beauty, bubbling with a particular propensity for sheer genius. As for his sexuality, falling in love with William Stanley seems to have had a hand in some kind of alteration, for it must be noted that from this moment on Shakespeare sires no more children, & would eventually leave his bequeath his wife their ‘second best bed’ in his will. The timing of his return coincided with an epoch of great national importance – the Spanish were assembling a huge fleet ready to sail up the channel in order to help ferry across the Channel a great army of invasion they were massing at the French coast.

The England the Spanish were aiming to attack was on the rise; possessing a fledgeling colony in America & mercantile interests across the globe. Just as it is today, London was both a thriving international sea-port & a cosmopolitan national capital. The city was fuel’d by such a melting-pot of culture, attracting the best of the provincial talents, that Elizabethan theatre would evolve into its capsules of dramaturgical, philosophical brilliance, helped no end by having the genius of Shakespeare in the mix. ‘He began early to make essayes at Dramatique Poetry,’ recorded Aubrey, ‘which at that time was very lowe; and his Playes tooke well. He was a handsome, well-shap’t man: very good company, and of a very readie and pleasant smoothe Witt.’


1588 SUMMER

Shakespeare Enters Thomas Watson’s Circle

Enter Thomas Watson. The English College diary at Douay records on October 15, 1576, ‘Dominus Watson went from here to Paris.’ Like Shakespeare, who also benefitted from the poetically-charged atmosphere of the English College, Watson would become a profound & prolific poet. In a verse preface to his Latin version of the Antigone (1581), he gives us a little gloss concerning his life;

I spent seven or eight years far from my homeland, and learned to speak in diverse tongues. Then I became well versed in Italy’s language and manners, and also thy our tongue and ways, learned France. Wherever I was wafted, I cultivated the Muses as best I could

Watson, born in St Olave Parish in 1555. There is a record for him studying at Winchester College in 1567, & when he supplied verses to Greene’s Ciceronis Amor (1589), Watson signed himself an Oxford man – which means that he studied at the that university at some point. This is confirmed by the Oxford antiquarian Anthony à Wood (Athenae Oxonienses 1691) who stated, “Thomas Watson, a Londoner born, did spend his time in this university, not in logic and philosophy, as he ought to have done, but in the smooth and pleasant studies of poetry and romance, whereby he obtained an honourable name among the students of those faculties.” One of these students could well have been William Stanley, who was 6 years younger than Watson & who studied at St Johns. William Stanley may also have met Watson in Paris 1582, as fourteen years afterwards, in 1596,  the anonymous author of Ulysses upon Ajax  describes a certain, ‘Tom Watson’s jests, I heard them at Paris fourteen years ago: besides what balductum play is not full of them?” 

It seems that Watson’s own time on the continent was a surreptitious escapade in Catholic scholarship. It is likely that he met the Italian Jesuit Metteo Ricci during this period, for a system of local memory training Watson would publish as a treatise in 1585 was identical to the one used by Matteo to wow the Chinese. In 1577 Watson was back in Douay, where we read ‘August: on the seventh day Master Watson, Master Robinson, Master Griffith, and some others left for England because of the riots.’ On this new return to England, Watson began living in Westminster, where he began to write poems for his ‘Passionate Century of Love’ (1582) – the first significant sonnet sequence of the age. These 18 line ‘sonnets’ were actually three comblended sestets – ABABCC – the form which Shakespeare would us for his Venus & Adonis. Indeed, in the Polimanteia (1595) a certain WC describes a ‘Wanton Adonis’  (Shakespeare had just published Venus & Adonis) as ‘Watson’s heyre.’  In addition, Watson’s 1585 Latin poem, Amyntas, ends with their heroes transforming into flowers (as in V&A), while Watson’s translation of Coluthus’ erotic Raprus Helenae (1586) may also have influenced the poem at some point before Shakespeare prepared it for printing.

By 1589 Watson had become the tutor to John Cornwallis, son of William, a high-ranking, yet Catholic, advocate of the Queen’s Bench. William Cornwallis described Watson as being able to, ‘deuise twenty fictions and knaveryes in a play, which was his daily practyse and his liuing.’ Watson’s own theatrical bent is confirmed in the Palladis Tamia of Francis Meres in 1598, which places him among such eminent company as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Drayton, Johnson & Kyd as being ‘our best for tragedie.’  Only one of Watson’s plays survives, from 1589, called ‘The Trewe Misterie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke’ with its obvious Shakesperean connotations.

That Shakespeare was actually Watson’s friend can be discerned thro’ analysing the sonnets; 146 & 147 appropriate many of Watson’s words, while a line in sonnet 32 is extremely significant;

If thou survive my well-contented day,
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bett’ring of the time,
And though they be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O! then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
But since he died and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.

The key line is ‘march in ranks of better equipage’ which connects to a statement by Nash, in his preface to Greene’s Menaphon (1589) which expresses that Watson’s works, ‘march in equipage of honour.‘ Watson died in 1592, & if I am right, then this sonnet was written after that occasion, & when Shakespeare writes, ‘had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age, A dearer birth than this his love had brought, To march in ranks of better equipage: But since he died and poets better prove, Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love,’ he is stating that tho’ better exist than Watson, the love he professes in his poetry is worth emulating.

In the National Archives there is the Prerogative Court of Canterbury copy of the will of Sir William Cornwallis, from 1611, which tells us that he became owner of an enormous mansion known as Fisher’s Folly in 1588, on the site of the present Devonshire Square. Described as a huge structure with ‘gardens of pleasure, bowling-alleys and the like,’ it had up til then been in possession of the Earl Of Oxford, who made the place the, ‘headquarters for the school of poets and dramatists who openly acknowledged his patronage and leadership,’ a fertile breeding ground indeed. One person in the household was Cornelia Cornwallis, one of the younger daughters, who would eventually – in 1601 – marry Sir Richard Fermor of Somerton, Oxfordshire. His auntie, Anne(d.1550), had been the wife of William Lucy (d.1551), & thus the mother of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, Warwickshire, the very estate where the young Shakespeare was caught stealing deer!

In 1588, another of Cornwallis’ daughters, Anne, became the transcriber of a short anthology of sixteenth century poetry known as the Cornwallis-Lysons manuscript. This leather-bound quarto bears the large feminine signature, “Anne Cornwaleys her booke,” & contains an attribution to a certain WS. After coming into the possession of James Orchard Halliwell in 1852. He soon became convinced that one poem in particular would appear as Shakespeare’s in the 1599 collection of poems attributed to Shakespeare known as the Passionate Pilgrim.

Now hoe, inoughe, too much I fear; For if my ladye heare this songe, She will not sticke to ringe my eare, To teache my tongue to be soe longe; Yet would she blushe, here be it saide, To heare her secrets thus bewrayede. Cornwallis-Lysons

But soft; enough, too much I fear, Lest that my mistress hear my song; She’ll not stick to round me i’ the ear, To teach my tongue to be so long: Yet will she blush, here be it said, To hear her secrets so bewray’d. Poem XIX, The Passionate Pilgrim

The language, spelling & rhythms of the Shakespeare poem in the Cornwallis-Lyon possess an extremely similar ring to the language, spelling & rhythms of the poem attributed to WS in 1577, which I gave in an earlier post, but shall give again the first seven libes;

W.S. in Commendation of the author begins

Of silver pure thy penne is made, dipte in the Muses well
They eloquence & loftie style all other doth excell:
Thy wisedom great & secrete sense diffusedly disguysde,
Doth shew how Pallas rules thy minde, & Phoebus hath devisde
Those Golden lines, which polisht are with Tagus glittering sandes.
A pallace playne of pleasures great unto the vewers handes.
Thy learning doth bewray itselfe and worthie prayse dothe crave,

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips had this to say about the comparison between the Cornwallis-Lyon & the Passionate Pilgrim stanzas;

In this (manuscript) reading, we get rid of the harsh and false metre of the third (printed) line, and obtain a more natural imagery; the lady wringing, her lover’s ear for betraying her secrets, being certainly a more appropriate punishment for his fault than that of merely whispering (to) him.

Invention has been racked to account for the utter disappearance of the poems of Shakespeare in his own hand. The Rev. Mr. Hunter, in his recently published New Illustrations of the Life and Writings of Shakespeare, ingeniously supposes that the last descendant of the Poet, Lady Barnard (granddaughter of the Stratford citizen) in her over-religious zeal, may have destroyed any writings that remained in her hands. Whatever cause it may be owing, it is a certain fact that, at the present time, not a line of (William Shakspere’s) writing is known to exist. In the absence of his (literary) autographs, any contemporaneous manuscript is of importance; and in this view the present (Cornwallis) one may justly be deemed a literary curiosity of high interest.

In conclusion, I may observe that during a search of ten years later extended to about fifty years and after a careful examination of every collection of the kind I could meet with, either in public or private libraries, the present is the only specimen of any of Shakespeare’s writings I have seen which was written in the sixteenth century. Scraps may be occasionally met with in miscellanies of a later date, but this volume, in point of antiquity, may be fairly considered to be unique in its kind, and as one of the most interesting illustrations of Shakespeare known to exist.

It is through Venus & Adonis that we  can also raise the possibility that Shakespeare met poet & future martyr Robert Southwell in the Watson circle. In the preface to his Saint Peter’s Complaint, Southwell provides the following passage;

Worthy cosen, Poets, by abusing their talent, and making the follies, and faygnings of love the customary subject of their base endeavours, have so discredited this facultie, that a Poet, a Lover and a Lyar, are by many reckoned but three words of one signification.

Here we have Southwell criticizing his ‘Worthy Cousin’ which might well be Shakespeare. The 1595 version just reads ‘to my worthy cousin,’ while on the title page of the 1616 version, we read, “to my worthy good cosen Maister W. S.” The controversy seems to concern Venus & Adonis, whose sexy cha-cha-cha was the polar opposite of the writings of a high-minded, godfearing, recusant Jesuit like Southwell. In the Complaint’s preface he intimates as much’

Still finest wits are stilling Venus Rose.
In Paynim toyes the sweetest vaines are spent:
To Christian workes, few have their tallents lent.
(The Author to the Reader, 16-18)

Southwell was imprisoned in 1592, & Venus was published in 1593. So this means Southwell would have read Venus in manuscript form some time before 1592.
Robert Southwell had been in residence with Watson at Douai, returning to England & the cause in 1586 aged 25. The following year he issued a pro-catholic treatise from a secret 1587 press known as ‘An Epistle of Comfort.’ It is clear that Shakespeare was familiar with the work, as it furnishes similar and in some cases even more striking parallels with passages from Measure for Measure, and from Julius Caesar. With the Merchant of Venice it is even possible to recreate passages in Shakespeare from scattered’ Southwellian phrases, as if they were lifted at random from the book & then reassembl’d in a cohesive form.

None of Southwell’s poetry was published until 1595, but it definitely runs thro’ Venus & Adonis itself. In his poem on Herod’s murder of the Innocents (composed in his favorite stanzaic form, which is that of Venus and Adonis), Southwell describes the eerie atmosphere in which the young ones lie slaughtered:

Sunne being fled the starres do leese their light,
And shining beames, in bloody streames they drench.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
O blessed babes, first flowers of christian spring,
Who though untimely cropt[,] faire garlandes frame . . .
The flight into Egypt

The baroque image of starlight floating, almost drowning, in the blood of children that seems like the juice of “flowers . . . untimely cropt,” is also evoked in Shakespeare’s poem, when Venus’s eyes, which had “fled” at first sight of Adonis’s bleeding body, finally opened like “stars” and

threw unwilling light
Upon the wide wound that the boar had trench’d
In his soft flank, whose wonted lily white
With purple tears, that his wound wept, was drench’d.
No flow’r was nigh . . .
But stole his blood, and seem’d with him to bleed.

Adonis himself is then transformed into a “flower,” which Venus in her grief and possessiveness untimely “crops” (1037, 1032, 1051-56, 1167-75). In another of Southwell’s poems, God is a cropper: “God doth sometymes first cropp the sweetest floure, / And leaves the weede till tyme do it devoure” (“I dye without deserte, 35-36); in Venus, “The Destinies” command the cropping, and flowers (as in Southwell’s lyric) are contrasted with weeds: “The Destinies . . . / bid thee crop a weed, thou pluck’st a flower” (945-46).


1588 SUMMER

Shakespeare Gets To Work

Whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line Ben Johnson

His mind and hand went together: And what he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, that wee have scarse received from him a blot in his papers Preface to the First Folio

In 1588, Shakespeare began working on converting into theatrical gold dust all the materials he had collected on his travels. His mind would have been burgeoning with ideas; bubbling with a few rough sketches of scenes & storylines, & nibbled at by a number of drafted passages of poetic speech, for in the words of William Wordsworth, ‘poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.’ Samuel Johnson’s opinion of Shakespeare’s career path should also be taken into account;

He found the English stage in a state of utmost rudeness; no essays either in tragedy or comedy had appeared, from which it could be discovered to what degree of delight either one or other might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue were yet understood. Shakespeare may be truly said to have introduced them both amongst us, & in some of his happier scenes to have carried them to the utmost height. 

In 1588 George Puttenham entered his Arte of English Poesie at the Stationers’ Hall, published by Richard Field the following year, which Shakespeare was definitely familiar with. WL Rushton has identified over 200 literary links between Puttenham’s Arte & the works of Shakespeare, & there is one passage in particular that seems to be the Shakesperian manifesto;

There were also poets that wrote openly for the stage, I mean plays & interludes, to recreate the people with matters of disport, & to that intent did set forth in shows & pagaents common behaviours & manner of life as were the meaner sort of men, & they were called comical poets, of whom among the greeks Meander & Aristophanes were most excellent, with the Latins Terence & Plautus. Besides those poets comic there were others, but meddled not with so base matters: for they set forth doleful falls of unfortunate & afflicted princes, & were called poets tragical. Such were euripedes among the others who mounted nothing so high as any of them both, but in based & humble style, by manner of dialogue, uttered the private & familar talk of the meanest sort of men, as shepherds, haywards & such like


1588 SEPTEMBER

Shakespeare in Court

John Shakespeare – Our Poet’s Poppa

On Michalemas (September 29th), 1588, the Court of Common Pleas in London heard a case between William Burbage of Stratford and John Shakespeare, the poet’s father. The matter concerned was John’s remortegaged property at Wilmcote. Another John, surnamed Lambert, had taken on the property, but refused to pay £20 that he owed our poet’s father. In the Bill of complainant in Queen’s Bench case of Shackespere v. Lambert, William is named twice as his son.

What is fascinating about the case, is that of all the attorneys in London John Shakespeare could have chosen, he selected John Harborne, the son of William Harborne, the very ambassador in Constantinople where we had just placed William Shakespeare. Scholars have brushed over John Harborne, imagining there to be no relevance in the quest for the historical Shakespeare – that Harborne’s father was an ambassador in Constantinople would have been irrelevant, for the academic community has scoffed at Shakespeare’s presence in Italy, let alone Turkey.

Harborne was trained at Clement’s Inn, & he seems to be satirised as Justice Shallow in Henry IV Part 1, who is also said to have studied law at Clements. One passage in particular relates to our investigation

SHALLOW By yea and nay, sir, I dare say my cousin William is become a good scholar: he is at Oxford still, is he not?
SILENCE Indeed, sir, to my cost.
SHALLOW A’ must, then, to the inns o’ court shortly. I was once of Clement’s Inn, where I think they will talk of mad Shallow yet.

Where Justice Shallow refers to ‘my cousin William’ who was at Oxford and who ‘must then to the Inns of Court shortly,’ we gain a complete match for William Stanley, also an Oxford man, whose 1588 enrolment at Lincoln’s Inn supports his being a ‘good scholar.’


1588 AUTUMN

The Comedy of Errors

Our budding bard would have been inspired by the growing popularity of the theatrical profession; the likes of Thomas Kyd, whose Spanish Tragedy had just taken London by storm, & Christopher Marlowe, the writer of such fantastic pieces as Dido, Queen of Carthage, Tamburlaine the Great, & Doctor Faustus. The keen-eyed Shakespearean scholar, TW Baldwin, highlights allusions in the Comedy of Errors play to both the Armada & to Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, published in 1588. COE also contains a clever pun about France, ‘making war against her hair,‘ referring to the ‘War of the Three Henries’ fought between 1585 & 1589. The same passage also suggests the Spanish Armarda of 1588.

ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE Where France?
DROMIO OF SYRACUSE In her forehead, armed and reverted, making war against her heir.
DROMIO OF SYRACUSE Sir, upon her nose, all o’er-embellished with rubies, carbuncles, sapphires, declining their rich aspect to the hot breath of Spain, who sent whole armadas of caracks to be ballast at her nose.

Baldwin also points to a passage in the play which seems to describe Finsbury Fields, one of the sites of London’s public executions;

The Duke himself in person
Comes this way to the melacholy vale
The place of death & sorry execution
Behind the ditches of the abbey here

In the 16th century, Finsbury Fields were separated from Holyrood Abbey by ditches. Baldwin goes on to say, ‘It would appear that on Saturday morning, October 5, 1588, William Shakespeare attended the execution of William Hartley, seminary priest, in Finsbury Fields, near the Theatre & Curtain; & there received certain impressions which shortly afterward appeared, transmuted by the magic of his imagination, in the Comedy of Errors.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Young Shakespeare (11): The Dark Lady

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FEBRUARY 1587
Shakespeare in Cyprus

After the John Dee meeting in the Garland come three stanzas which whisk our travellers to the Holy land;

But one three years Sir William would stay,
Within the Emperor’s court so freely,
And then Sir William he would go,
To Bethlehem right speedily,

Likewise to fair Jerusalem,
Where our blessed Saviour Christ did die
He asked them if it was so,
They answered and told him aye.

This is the Tree, the Jews then said,
Whereon the Carpenter’s son did die;
That was my Saviour, Sir William said,
For sure he died for the sins of me.

In the possession of one of our party members might have lain the delightful Informacion for Pylgrymes unto the Holy Londe, published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1498. The Rough Guide of the Middle Ages, it was packed full of advice for tavellers, including the best equipment to take with them on their journey including; ‘a lytell cawdron, a fryenge panne, dysshes, platers, cuppes of glasse… a fther bed, a matrasse, a pylawe, two payre sheets & a quylte.’ The book also suggests travelling with six chickens in cages, which brings the romantic image of travelling the continent crashing down to earth somewhat.

Sailing south through the Adriatic once more, this time they hung a left at Greece & eventually came to dock for a while at the ports of Cyprus. This visit would inspire Shakespeare to bescene parts of his tragedy, Othello, on the island. The official setting is given in the text as only a ‘sea-port’ of Cyprus, & a ‘hall in the castle,’ with local tradition affirming that Shakespeare was describing the heavily fortified medieval citadel at Famagusta. It is while staying at this fortress that Shakespeare would have heard the local story of Francesca de Sessa, a dark-skinned Venetian officer serving in Cyprus known as ‘Il Moro.’ Both place & person were implanted in Shakespeare’s vernal imagination, waiting for them to catch the creative fire one day which would burn Othello into existence. When it did so, the play would be given further gloss by raiding Cinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi (1565), which Shakespeare had read in Italian. This pattern of development continues throughout most of Shakespeare’s continental plays: when metapoetic travelogues are liberally sprinkled with the plots of foreign authors.

In 1553, on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the diarist John Locke recorded his experiences of Famagusta, a sample of which read;

We alighted at Famagusta , and after we were refreshed we went to see the towne. This is a very faire strong holde, and the strongest and greatest in the Iland. The walles are faire and new, and strongly rampired with foure principall bulwarkes, and betweene them turrions, responding one to another, these walles did the Venetians make. They have also on the haven side of it a Castle, and the haven is chained, the citie hath onely two gates, to say, one for the lande and another for the sea, they have in the towne continually, be it peace or warres, 800 souldiers, and fortie and sixe gunners, besides Captaines, petie Captaines, Governour and Generall. The lande gate hath alwayes fiftie souldiers, pikes and gunners with their harnes, watching thereat night and day. At the sea gate five and twentie, upon the walles every night doe watch fifteene men in watch houses, for every watch house five men, and in the market place 30 souldiers continually. There may no soldier serve there above 5. yeres, neither will they without friendship suffer them to depart afore 5. yeres be expired, and there may serve of all nations except Greekes. They have every pay, which is 45. dayes, 15 Mozenigos, which is 15 shillings sterling. Their horsemen have onely sixe soldes Venetian a day, and provender for their horses, but they have also certaine lande therewith to plow and sowe for the maintenance of their horses, but truely I marvell how they live being so hardly fed, for all the sommer they feede onely upon chopt strawe and barley, for hey they have none, and yet they be faire, fat and serviceable. The Venetians send every two yeeres new rulers, which they call Castellani. The towne hath allowed it also two gallies continually armed and furnished.

The 30 in the morning we ridde to a chappell, where they say Saint Katherin was borne. This Chappell is in olde Famagusta , the which was destroyed by Englishmen, and is cleane overthrowne to the ground, to this day desolate and not inhabited by any person, it was of a great circuit, and there be to this day mountaines of faire, great, and strong buildings, and not onely there, but also in many places of the Iland. Moreover when they digge, plowe, or trench they finde sometimes olde antient coines, some of golde, some of silver, and some of copper, yea and many tombes and vautes with sepulchers in them. This olde Famagusta is from the other, foure miles, and standeth on a hill, but the new towne on a plaine. Thence we returned to new Famagusta againe to dinner, and toward evening we went about the towne, and in the great Church we sawe the tombe of king Jaques, which was the last king of Cyprus , and was buried in the yere of Christ one thousand foure hundred seventie & three, and had to wife one of the daughters of Venice , of the house of Cornari, the which family at this day hath great revenues in this Island, and by means of that mariage the Venetians chalenge the kingdom of Cyprus .

The first of October in the morning, we went to see the reliefe of the watches. That done, we went to one of the Greekes Churches to see a pot or Jarre of stone, which is sayd to bee one of the seven Jarres of water, the which the Lord God at the mariage converted into wine. It is a pot of earth very faire, white enamelled, and fairely wrought upon with drawen worke, and hath on either side of it, instead of handles, eares made in fourme as the Painters make angels wings, it was about an elle high, and small at the bottome, with a long necke and correspondent in circuit to the bottome, the belly very great and round, it holdeth full twelve gallons, and hath a tap-hole to drawe wine out thereat, the Jarre is very auncient, but whether it be one of them or no, I know not. The aire of Famagusta is very unwholesome, as they say, by reason of certaine marish ground adjoyning unto it. They have also a certaine yeerely sicknesse raigning in the same towne, above all the rest of the Island: yet neverthelesse, they have it in other townes, but not so much. It is a certaine rednesse and paine of the eyes, the which if it bee not quickly holpen, it taketh away their sight, so that yeerely almost in that towne, they have about twentie that lose their sight, either of one eye or both, and it commeth for the most part in this moneth of October, and the last moneth: for I have met divers times three and foure at once in companies, both men and women. Their living is better cheape in Famagusta then in any other place of the Island, because there may no kinde of provision within their libertie bee solde out of the Citie.


MARCH 1587: Shakespeare Sees Jerusalem

And then Sir William he would go,
To Bethlehem right speedily,

Likewise to fair Jerusalem,
Where our blessed Saviour Christ did die
He asked them if it was so,
They answered and told him aye.

This is the Tree, the Jews then said,
Whereon the Carpenter’s son did die ;
That was my Saviour, Sir William said,
For sure he died for the sins of me.

For two Catholics, a chance to visit the place where Jesus was born could not be missed. There are no traces of the visit in the plays, but instead I shall return to Fynes Moryson’ own visit to the area, whose Protestantism caused quite a kerfuffle;

These foure comming in company to Jerusalem, had beene received into this Monastery, and when they had seene the monuments within and neere Jerusalem, they went to Bethlehem, where it happened that upon a health drunke by the Flemmings to the King of Spaine, which the English refused to pledge, they fell from words to blowes, so as two of them returned wounded to the Monastery of Jerusalem. Then these Italian Friars, (according to the Papists manner, who first make the sicke confesse their sinnes, and receive the Lords Supper, before they suffer Physitian or Apothecary to come to them, or any kitchin physicke to be given them): I say the Friars pressed them to confesse their sinnes, and so to receive the Lords Supper, which when they refused to doe, it was apparant to the Friars, that they were of the reformed Religion, (whom they terme heretikes). Whereupon the Friars beganne to neglect them (I will not say to hate them): and while the two which were wounded staied for recovery of their health, and so detained the other two with them, it happened that the third fell sicke.

Elsewhere, John Locke remarks on the banning of the wearing of the colour green by the Muslim authorities;

The 23 we sent the bote on land with a messenger to the Padre Guardian of Jerusalem. This day it was notified unto mee by one of the shippe that had beene a slave in Turkie, that no man might weare greene in this land, because their prophet Mahomet went in greene. This came to my knowledge by reason of the Scrivanello, who had a greene cap, which was forbidden him to weare on the land.


APRIL 1587

More Levantine Travels

After their pilgrimage, the two men would have set off toward Constantinople,  probably  stopping off at Tripoli, Lebanon, for supplies, of which place Moryson writes; ‘The Haven is compassed with a wall, and lies upon the west-side of the City, wherein were many little Barkes, and some Shippes of Marsiles in France. The Haven is fortified with seven Towers, whereof the fourth is called the Tower of Love, because it was built by an Italian Merchant, who was found in bed with a Turkish woman, which offence is capitall as well to the Turke as Christian, if he had not thus redeemed his life. Upon the Haven are built many store-houses for Merchants goods, and shops wherein they are set to sayle. The City of Tripoli is some halfe mile distant from the Haven, to which the way is sandy, having many gardens on both sides. In this way they shew a pillar festned upon a hill of sand, by which they say the sand is inchanted, lest it should grow to over whelme the City.’ 

In ‘The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant,’ we read of another Englishman’s medical experiences of the port of Tripoli in Syria.

One eveninge, ridinge with a janesarie to the waterside, sittinge uppon my asse, in the midest of a plaine fields, I felte a paulpable blowe a good one the left shoulder, which staied me one my asse. The janesary angell ridinge before me looked backe, but nether I nor he sawe any thinge. When I came backe in my chamber some hower after, standing at a table, sowinge a little gould in my doblett (for the next day I should have gone for Alepo, my horse hire paid for and aparrell sent), I sank downe uppon a lute, that stode at the corner of my bourd, and broke it all in peces. At last, a littell recoveringe, I crept to the dore and cauled for aquavita; which was brought, and I threwe myselfe thawart the bed.

Then I fell into a Jewe doctors hands, a phesition, who purged and drewe so much blodd frome me that I was not wholie recovered of that sicknes in many monthes after. Yet I put myselfe into the shipp Hercules, full weake, and ther had the yealowe janders, after that I had bine so weake (and recovered againe) that I was not able to stand or goe, but every time I was lifted to a cheaire, whilst John Bond and William Tett (who weare my good attendants) made my bed, I sounded [i.e. swooned] awaye, and beinge laid in bed againe I recovered : a strainge and most greviouse sicknes. I lived four monethes at least by barly water boyled thicke and thickened with suger; also stued prunes and dried apricoks put in water, and the water of them I dranke, which did refreshe and kepe me alive. Then I fell to a little chickin broth, and so to tast the chicken etc. That Tripoli ayre at that time had infected 40 or 50 Inglishmen at least. Onely the maisters mate and four others died. The coffin was made and sett out for me, but God prevented that busines (His name be ever praised).

It is possible Shakespeare & Stanley went deeper into the Syrian hinterland, for the city of Aleppo is mentioned in Macbeth and in Othello. In Macbeth we see the mention of a merchant trading ship –  ‘Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ the Tiger’ – while the second mention is found Othello, spoken by the man himself, who describes his killing of a Turk just as he stabs himself!

In Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban’d Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus.

Aleppo

From Syria our party pass’d on to Turkey, & there is one play in particular which contains memories of their visit. In the Comedy of Errors, a Sicilian merchant called Egeon is imprisoned in the ancient city of Ephesus. The city played an integral part in the early days of Christianity, being one of the seven churches addressed by the Book of Revelations. Fifteen centuries later, the Christians were usurped by the Islamic Ottomans, & this once well-populated & sophisticated city became locked in a terminal decline. Its river, the Caystros, was steadily silting up into malarial swamps, leaving the once bustling harbours of Ephesus far inland. Population levels plummeted so much that a century before Shakespeare’s visit, the city was said to contain 2,000 souls. By the time our Bard reached the city the numbers had halved, & come 1824 both town & citadel had been abandoned completely, except for wild animals wandering its time-haunted streets.

It is time now to focus our investigation on a situation central to the plot of the Comedy of Errors – the imprisonment of Egeon. The plotline surfaces only in the first & final acts, but the threat of death hangs over Egeon throughout the entire play. In light of the Stanleyan Grand Tour, we must notice the tallies between Egeon & Stanley, who was himself imprisoned while visiting Turkey. Thomas Aspen writes; ‘after paying a visit to Palestine, he journeyed to Turkey, and had a narrow escape of becoming a victim to the bigotry of the followers of Mahommed. In a discussion with one of the Paschas he defended Christianity and the Bible, and denounced the religion propounded in the Koran as false and deceptive. He was arrested for “blasphemy against the religion of Mahommed,” and after being kept a long time in a filthy and dismal prison, a date was fixed for his execution, but a lady interceded on his behalf, and three days before the appointed time he was liberated.‘ That ‘dismal prison’ was not situated in Ephesus, however, but in Constantinople; a city towards which our suntann’d party travel’d next.

Heading out of Syria, as the young Shakespeare was sailing along the shores of western Turkey, he was already jotting ideas down for the play, ‘Pericles.’ At one point he was reclining lazily in a boat, anchored in the harbour of Mitylene, a moment which transchispered itself into the play’s stage directions;

On board Pericles’ ship, off Mytilene. A pavilion on deck, with a curtain beofe it; PERICLES within, reclining on a couch, unkepty clad in sackcloth. A barge lies beside the Trian vessel

‘Shakespere’s own muse his Pericles first bore,’ said the great poet of Restoration England, John Dryden. The uneven writing of Pericles suggests its first two acts were co-written. As early as 1709, Nicholas Rowe was suggesting,

‘there is good Reason to believe that the greatest part of that Play was not written by him; tho’ it is own’d, some part of it certainly was, particularly the last Act.‘ The second author’s identity is unknown, but Pericles does contain a number idiomatic expressions of the Lancashire dialect, such as would have been native to Stanley, such as ‘keep thee warm.’ So yet again, as we travel with Stanley & Shakespeare, the idea of them collaborating & composing the prototypes of a number of the canon’s early plays’ remanifests.


MAY 1587
Shakespeare Visits Constantinople

Our Grand Tourists have now reached the furthest limits of their travels, reaching the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Only two years before their arrival, an Elizabethan traveler called Henry Austel had recorded his own visit to the ‘most statelie City of Constantinople, which for the situation & proude seat thereof, for the beautiful & commodious havens, & for the great & sumptuous buildings of the Temples, which they call Moschea, is to be preferred before all Cities of Europe.’ It had only been a decade or two since the Ottoman Empire had reached its high-water mark, but defeats at Malta & Lepanto ensured the Turks would never ever dominate the world. They would now have to trade their way to global improvement, & in the wake of the Italian financial crash of the 1570s it was the English merchants who would deal directly with the Grand Turke.

As he walked around its capital, Shakespeare would have marveled at the minarets & markets, while as under sultry Turkish suns & star-studded Oriental moons may have penned the following sonnet to Stanley.

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay’d,
To-morrow sharpen’d in his former might:
So, love, be thou; although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
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;
Else call it winter, which being full of care
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wish’d, more rare.

The key allusion is to the Greek myth of Hero & Leander, the two passionate lovers were separated by the Hellespont, today’s Dardandanelles, near which Constantinople lies. Leander would swim each night across the straits to make passionate love to his beloved Hero, as in the sonnet’s, ‘where two contracted new / Come daily to the banks, that, when they see / Return of love, more blest may be the view.’ More support for a direct Shakespearean visit to the area can be found in Othello, where the relentless nature of individuality is compared to the strong one-way currents found at the Hellespont.

Like to the Pontick Sea,
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne’er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on
To the Propontic and the Hellespont

Embedded in Shakespeare’s description is the word ‘icy,’ a word which indicates personal knowledge. The reference does not appear in Pliny – or anywhere else despite the efforts of the best anti-shakespeareans – but is true all the same


SEPTEMBER 1587
Stanley Incarcerated

We have already learnt of Stanley’s incarceration in Turkey on trussed up charges of Blasphemy. The Garland tells us;

Sir William was taken prisoner,
And for his religion condemn’d to die.

Before I’ll forsake my living Lord,
My blessed Saviour and sweet Lamb;
Sweet Jesus Christ that died for me,
I’ll die the worst Death that e’er did man.

Farewel Father, and farewel Mother,
And farewel all Friends at Latham-Hall,
Little do they know I am a Prisoner,
Or how I’m subject unto thrall.

More details are given in the Brief Account, in which this we are told how a certain ‘bashaw’ (pasha) attempted to entangle Stanley in religious controversy. The Lancashire lad was shrewd at first, until the Pasha cunningly declared Christianity to be a fable; ‘your prophet is an imposter, your profession hypocrisy.‘ Stanley countered with a spirited defence, on which he was swiftly arrested by ‘a band of janissaries’ & cast in a prison, three yards square. Stanley’s imprisonment would last for 5 weeks, without bread or water, & suffering the constant torments of an insolent jailor, while all the time the Pasha was using his ‘utmost influence’ to bring Stanley ‘to the gibbet.’

These events seem to have taken place in September 1587, as discerned thro’ the mention of a lunar eclipse in sonnet 107;

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.

On the 16th September, 1587, the Moon was shadowed in a deep partial eclipse, lasting 3 hours and 7 minutes, when 76% was shrouded in darkness. Thus, it was after this event, when ‘the mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,’ that Shakespeare’s love for Stanley became ‘forfeit to a confined doom,‘ ie imprisoned in a Turkish prison awaiting death. Fortunately for the lads & their love, a heroine was just about to ride to their rescue, whose entrance into the story should settle the greatest Shakespearean mystery of them all… the identity of the mysterious ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets, who was in fact a Turkish noblewoman.

A Lady walking under the prison wall,
Hearing Sir William so sore lament,
Unto the Great Turk she did go,
To beg his life was her intent

A Boon, a Boon, thou Emperor,
For thou’rt a Lord of great command;
Grant me the life of an Englishman,
Therefore against me do not stand,

For I will make him a husband of mine,
Whereby Mahomet he may adore;
He’ll carry me into his own country,
And safely thither conduct me o’er.

The Lady’s to the Prison gone,
Where that Sir William he did lie;
Be of good chear, thou Englishman,
I think this day I’ve set thee free;

If thou wilt yield to marry me,
And take me for to be thy bride;
To take me into thy own country,
And safely thither to be my Guide.

I cannot marry, Sir William said,
To ne’er a Lady in this country;
For if ever on English ground I tread,
I have a wife, and children three.

This Excuse serv’d Sir William well,
So the Lady was sorry for what he did say,
And gave him five hundred pounds in gold,
To carry him into his own country;

But one half year Sir William would stay,
After from prison he was set free;

According to the Brief Account, while in Constantinople Stanley had endeared himself to the family of an influential Turk, whose wife & daughter had become greatly concerned about his incarceration. The daughter – who is clearly mentioned in the Garland – managed to get an interview with the Sultan, & eventually secured Stanley’s freedom. As she turned up at the prison, the Brief Account tells us it was with ‘the most rapturous emotions’ that Stanley ‘beheld his female deliverer.‘ She found him in a most sorry state indeed; his body was decimated, his eyes were sunken, his cheeks were pallid & his mind was maddened by thoughts of imminent execution. Instead, at the eleventh hour he was saved from the gibbet by the ‘romantic gallantry’ of a ‘worthy family.’


OCTOBER 1587
The Dark Lady

It is clear that there was a Turkish woman very much in love with Stanley at the same time as was Shakespeare. The back-story reflects itself with neatness onto the dramatic sub-structure of the sonnets, in which a Dark Lady courts both Shakespeare & the Handsome Youth, who we have already associated quite clinically with Stanley. Metric reminiscences of this ménage a trois are found in sonnets 127–152, where Shakespeare & Stanley are shown to be in love with the same dark-skinned woman, who appears to have had some kind of amorous relations with both men. Sonnets 127 & 130 are fine reflections of Shakespeare’s internal torment at falling for an exotic beauty;

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

A little of the Dark Lady’s personality can be discerned by a deeper reading of the sonnets. She is painted as a most promiscuous creature, who ‘robb’d others’ beds revenues of their rents,’ & ‘in act her bed-vow broke,’ which implies she was already married, & may even have been the mother of the family, not the daughter!

There are more clues for the Turks to investigate for we can also see the Dark Lady as described in sonnet 128 as something of a musician;

How oft when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st

There is one stand-out sonnet in the Dark Lady series, number 135, which seems to have been written by one William for another. Leo Daugherty states, ‘virtually all editors & other scholars believe to constitute wordplay referring not only to Shakespeare’s own given name but also probably to his addresses as well.’ It reads;

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in overplus;
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will

Sonnet 136 is a similarly gentle play on the fact that the Dark Lady is love in with two different men called William, or Will;

If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;
Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove
Among a number one is reckoned none:
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy store’s account I one must be;
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me for my name is ‘Will.’

There are two sonnets in the series which contain elements of Stanley’s Turkish captivity. The metaphor of imprisonment in sonnet 133 hints at the dire straits in which Stanley had found himself;

Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail:
And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

Sonnet 144 contains some excellent & appropriate Christian allegories attached to the ‘two loves’ of Shakespeare, which paint Stanley as an angel & his tempter – the Dark Lady – as an infidel ‘devil’ wanting to ‘corrupt’ the ‘purity’ of Stanley’s sainthood.

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still;
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend
Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell:
Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

The same sonnet also yields a clue as to how Stanley escaped prison, for when we read ‘whether that my angel be turn’d fiend / suspect I may, but not directly tell,’ we can identify a correlation to the forced conversions of Christians in the eastern Mediterranean. Only by relenting from his proud Christian stance, & embracing Allah, would his life be saved. Stanley was a member of a family of survivors, & clearly did what was needed to secure his freedom. One can only imagine the joy felt by Shakespeare on his release.

It is probable that the ambassador, William Harborne, help’d matters somewhat, for according to Thomas Cooper, in teh Dictionary of National Biography, Harborne – ‘succeeded in procuring the redemption from captivity of many English subjects.’


Shakespeare & The Turks

Throughout his plays, Shakespeare mentions the Ottomans more than 40 times, some with those accurate & obscure details which pinned him down to Italy.  We see in Henry IV Part 2 the porte exacting an ever increasing tribute form the conquered provinces,  & despotic sultans follow on from each other. We have seraglio mutes in  Henry V & Turkish eunuchs in Alls Well, but the most interesting reference is made in King Lear, directly associating the Turks with the illicit extra-marital affairs.

A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled
my hair; wore gloves in my cap; served the lust of
my mistress’ heart, and did the act of darkness with
her; swore as many oaths as I spake words, and
broke them in the sweet face of heaven: one that
slept in the contriving of lust, and waked to do it:
wine loved I deeply, dice dearly: and in woman
out-paramoured the Turk:

In Othello we learn that Shakespeare knew the Turks were the common enemy of Venice & the Saracens, that they were circumcised & that Mohammed had forbidden his followers to quarrel with one another. In the Merchant of Venice, when the Prince of Morocco proclaims his courage by saying, “by this scimitar / that slew the sophy & a persian prince / that won three fields of Sultan Solyman,” we may observe an accurate depiction of the 16th century Turko-Perisan wars.

Henry IV, Part 2, contains an interesting insight into Turkish court intrigue, when the dying king admonishes his son, ‘This is the English, not the Turkish court; Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds, but Harry, Harry.’ Its implication is that on succeeding the throne Henry IV declares says that he will not remember old grudges, opposed to the Turkish sultans – in 1574, Amurath murdered his brothers on succeeding to the throne, and his successor in 1596 did the same.

The Young Shakespeare (10): Tasso & the Alchemist, John Dee

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September 1586: Shakespeare Meets Tasso

On leaving Algeria, Stanley & Shakespeare sailed into the Tyrannean Sea, passing Sardinia & entering Italy at either Livorno or Genoa. From here they re-entered Lombardy, and in September reached Mantua. Its ruler, Duke William, father of Prince Vincenzo, was in a receptive mood to the arts. Analysing the letters of Striggio, we learn that Duke William was looking for young instrumentalists, &  gives a lovely flavour of the age;

I have received from Messer Flavio Riccio Your Illustrious Lordship’s note and I have informed him that in Florence there are two lads, aged 16 or 17, but they are poor and brought up by Franzosino of the Abandonati. They play cornett, transverse flute, viola and trombone. Franzosino has them play constantly, every day on the Grand Duke’s balcony [on the Palazzo Vecchio; or the Loggia de’ Lanzi] and at table. They also performed at the comedy which the Grand Duke put on for the Ferrara wedding (Florence, 1586). They do not have a regular salary from His Highness, although they are constantly in service. But they go about playing in churches, accompanied by the organ, wherever necessary, in Lucca and Pistoia and elsewhere, as requested. One of them would be suitable for His Highness {Duke William}, and although they are not altogether excellent they are at least more than passable. Because they are dependent and obligated to Franzosino, who has taught them, it is necessary to refer to and come to an agreement with him; also to clothe and provide shoes for them, for they are still supplied with clothes from the Ospedale, and they still eat and sleep there, unless things have changed since I left Florence.

There are several pointers which suggest that Shakespeare encountered Tasso while visiting Mantua. Tasso’s sister was called Cornelia, the same name as Titus Andronicus, which I suspect Shakespeare was comping at the time. The birth of the bard’s version of Hamlet may have also been born from this prodigious meeting. There are clear connections between Hamlet’s madness & that of Tasso’s – both occasionally feigned – & we can trace a connection between Hamlet’s drawing of his sword in his stepmother’s chamber, where he killed the chief counseler Polinus, & Tasso’s drawing of a knife on a servant in the Duchess of Urbino’s apartment in 1577. There is also the famous play-within-a-play embedded within Hamlet, which concerns the very family into which Tasso had been released. It appears in Act 3 scene 2 as a play called The Murder of Gonzago (or The Mousetrap), during which we hear;

He poisons him i’ th’ garden for ’s estate. His name’s Gonzago. The story is extant, and writ in choice Italian. You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.

It is a delightful thought to imagine the Italian poet reciting some of his magnificent poem, Jerusalem Delivered, to Shakespeare in Mantua. One character in the epic that may have stuck was the Saracen sorceress, Armida, who in the strongest moments of emotion forgets her spellcraft & resorts to tears & prayers & persuasions. A few years later, when Shakespeare was writing Anthony & Cleopatra, he has the latter do just the same;

CLEOPATRA
O my lord, my lord,
Forgive my fearful sails! I little thought
You would have follow’d.

MARK ANTONY
Egypt, thou knew’st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings,
And thou shouldst tow me after: o’er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew’st, and that
Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods
Command me.

CLEOPATRA
O, my pardon!

MARK ANTONY
Now I must
To the young man send humble treaties, dodge
And palter in the shifts of lowness; who
With half the bulk o’ the world play’d as I pleased,
Making and marring fortunes. You did know
How much you were my conqueror; and that
My sword, made weak by my affection, would
Obey it on all cause.

CLEOPATRA
Pardon, pardon!

MARK ANTONY
Fall not a tear, I say; one of them rates
All that is won and lost: give me a kiss;
Even this repays me. We sent our schoolmaster;
Is he come back? Love, I am full of lead.
Some wine, within there, and our viands! Fortune knows
We scorn her most when most she offers blows.

It is also distinctly possible perhaps that Shakespeare’s knowledge of sail-making at Bergamo given in The Taming of the Shrew came from a visit there with Tasso, for it was the Italian poet’s paternal town.


1586: Shakespeare Encounters Tasso’s ‘Aminta’

Following its quiet debut in Ferrara in 1573, & more public performance at the 1574 Pesaro Carneveal, Tasso’s Aminta became a highly influential success, with Lisa Sampson observing how the play, ‘was rapidly seized upon for scenarios, episodes & characterisation by a wide range of writers from all over the peninsular.’ A 5-act play, it seems that Shakespeare witness’d the play at first hand. Love’s Labours Lost borrows from the Intermedio II chorus of Aminta, first printed in 1665, while As You Like It contains direct translations & numeorus echoes. Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Tasso’s mythology-steeped Renaissance Pastoralism, described by Cody as, ‘the Platonic theory of a good inner life, accomodated to the literary myth of the courtier as lover & poet. In the Italian Renaissance… pastoralism becomes the temper of the aristocratic mind: the reconciling of discors & contradictions in the medium of the work of art, that shadow of the ideal.’ Cody also describes Shakespeare as integrating Love’s Labours Lost into the, ‘Elizabethan aesthetic Platonism under its pastoral-comical aspect,’ adding, ‘the advantage of recognizing that the orthodox, elegaic Italians & the festive English comedian speak a common language of pastoral Neo-Platonism is considerable.’

Other plays to possess a strong streak of this consciously artificial, highly allegorical, hyper-mythomemed Pastoralism are Twelfth Night & the Two Gentleman of Verona, the latter worldscape described by Cody as ‘clearly the Italianate courtier-lover’s world, translated,’ adding, ‘the series of groups into which the play resolve sitself is pastoral & kinetic in the  manner of the Aminta.’ As in Aminta, the heroine is called Sylvia; & just as in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, Silvia is pursued & threatened with rape by Proteus, so in Aminta a satyr kidnaps & nearly rapes Sylvia. Cody also compares the Two Gentlemen of Verona’s Silvia scene to Tasso’s work, stating, ‘it is the one scene in which Shaksepeare successfully invokes the ‘magic potency of the theatre,’ seeking as Tasso does in his third intermedio in the Aminta to gather up his audience into the art of his play by reminding them of  a reality beyond their own.’ Perhaps the most pastoral of the plays, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream was created in 1595 – for William Stanley’s wedding – & includes a passage heady in the language of pastoral myth, which also seems to nod at the early death of Tasso, also in 1595,

The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp.”
We’ll none of that: that have I told my love
In glory of my kinsman Hercules.
“The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.”
That is an old device, and it was played
When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.
“The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.”

The passage above makes reference to Hercules, allusions to whom crop up in the other two early Pastoral comedies, Loves Labours Lost & the Two Gentlemen of Verona. ‘Not that the comedies are the earliest of his plays,’ writes Cody, ‘in which pastoralism appears. In the histories there is at least one important pastoral theme among the cluster of commonplaces concerning Fortune, Nature, & the Prince: it has been termed ‘the rejection of the aspiring mind.’ It is central to the Henry VI trilogy, as witness the scene on Towton Field (2.5); & Shakespeare continues to develop it, more satisfyingly than anywhere perhaps in Henry IV.’ Cody also connects the garden scene of Richard II to the Renaissance habit of observing nature on a divine plane, stating, ‘It is to this aspect of the tradition – a Neo-Platonic landscape of the mind, mythopoeically conceived, as by Tasso in his Aminta – that appears to have been the model for Shakespeare’s orginiative experiments in romantic comedy.’


1586: Tasso Inspires Hamlet

Hamlet also seems to have been inspired by Tasso’s work on the Torrismondo, created in the very moment & the very city where I am placing the William Shakespeare of 1586. Louise George Clubb describes both plays possess, ‘a preoccupation with genre, with experimentation with hybrids & structure is made manifest by conducting a critical action simultaneously with a dramtic fable, underlaid with a paradigmatic myth calling attention to genre. In both, the choice of Scandinavian medieval chronicle is the sign of the sequence to come: from history to myth to genre to critical contemplation of structure. In short, Shakespeare & Tasso were upping their game with some pretty innovative drama, whose familial offerings in the history of theatre are with each other & each other only.‘ The materials of Torrismondo & Hamlet, adds Club, ‘allowed for a confrontation of ostensible history with undeclared myth in plots which silently claimed kinship with the very arguments cited by Aristotle.‘ It certainly feels as if Shakespeare was inspired by Tasso’s Torrismondo, which was being created in the very moment & the very city where I am placing William Shakespeare of 1586.

We should now look forwards a little to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play supposedly from him middle period. The Hamlet story itself burst into literary life well before, in the 13th century with Saxo Grammaticus. Could it possibly be that during Shakespeare’s time with Tasso that he began to court the same affection for Scandinavian royal dramas of the Middle Ages as the Italian poet. Perhaps Shakespeare had picked up a copy of François de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques (published in 1574) while in France, in which Saxo’s story was given great embellishment. Perhaps meeting Tasso was the catalyst for Shakespeare to create what is called by scholars the ‘Ur-Hamlet’ (the German prefix means primordial). No copy of the Ur-Hamlet has survived, but its existence must date to before 1589, when Thomas Nashe in his 1589 preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon entitled To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities, referred to the ‘English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.‘ The Seneca-Hamlet connection can be clearly seen with;

The dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns (Hamlet, III. i. 78-80)

sera nos illo referat senectus.
nemo ad id sero venit unde numquam,
cum semel venit, potuit reverti (HF. 864-6)

dic sub aeternos properare manes
Herculem et regnum canis inquieti
unde non umquam remeavit ullus.
(HO. 1525-7 altera versio, remeabit ill)

By 1596, Thomas Lodge would be writing of ‘the Visard of the ghost which cried so miserably at the theatre, like an oister-wife, Hamlet, revenge.’ Two years later, Dr Gabriel Harvey recorded, ‘the younger sort take much delight in Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis; but his Lucrece, & his tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, have it in them to please the wiser sort.‘ Finally, & after a long road of development which began in the 1580s, Hamlet as we know it would eventually be entered into in the Register of the Stationers’ Company in 1602. Well before then, however, it could have been on Shakespeare’s Grand Tour & his conversations with Tasso especially that the seeds of Hamlet were planted.


OCTOBER 1586
Shakespeare Visits John Dee

On leaving Mantua, Stanley & Shakespeare embark’d on a tough, overland, Brokeback Mountain ride up & over the Alps, during which time our budding bard may have etched the opening to sonnet 33;

Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye

There is also this passage from Anthony & Cleopatra which seems to invoke the Alpine crossing;Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish,A vapor sometime like a bear or lion,A towered citadel, a pendant rock,A forkèd mountain, or blue promontoryWith trees upon ’t that nod unto the world

According to the Garland of William Stanley, our young Lancastrian nobleman – & Shakespeare – had made a great geographical leap from Algeria to Russia (via Mantua) in order to spend some time with John Dee. It reads;

Within the Court of Barbary,
When two full years Sir William had been,
Into Russia he needs must go,
To visit the Emperor and his Queen,

One Doctor Dee he met with there,
Which Doctor was born at Manchester ;
Who knew Sir William Stanley well,
Tho’ he had not seen him for many a year.

Pray what’s the Cause, the Doctor said,
Brings you, Sir William, into this Country
I’m come to travel, Sir William replied,
And I pray thee, Doctor, what brought thee!

I came to do a cure, the Doctor said,
Which was of the Emperor’s feet to be done,
And I have perform’d it effectually,
Which none could do but an Englishman.

Then he brought him before the Emperor,
Who entertained him with Princely cheer,
And gave him Gold and Silver store,
Desiring his company for seven year.

But one three years Sir William would stay,
Within the Emperor’s court so freely,
And then Sir William he would go,
To Bethlehem right speedily

The Chispologist here identifies two chispers, the first being the exaggeration of the dates, & the other being the wrong Tsar. In the mid-1580s, John Dee, that famous Elizabethan alchemist & academic from Manchester, & his mate Edward Kelley were in Bohemia, at the court of another ‘Tsar,’ the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II. His title was in fact ‘Ceasar, to the harking back to pagan Roman emperers whose authority he inherited. But of course the word Tsar is the Russian deviation of Ceasar. It was Dee’s eldest son, Arthur who was in Russia c.1600, who heal’d the the Tsar’s foot before returning to Norwich, & was subsequently confused with his father in the Garland.

Both Dee & Kelly were known to the group. Dee was from Manchester, near the Stanley lands, & indeed the Garland says, ‘knew Sir William Stanley well / Tho’ he had not seen him for many a year,‘ while Edward Kelley was the same man who created the woodcut images for Spenser’s Shepheard’s Calendar. Dee records a number of meetings with Derby in his diaries, & other nuggets such as the date and time of William’s daughter’s birth. Derby would eventually swing Dee into being a director of Christ’s College, Manchester.

In late 1586 Dee & Kelly were in residence at Trebona in Bohemia (in the modern-day Czech Republic), during which time Dee was making contact with the court of the Russian Tsar, but from hundreds of miles away. On reaching Dee, the arch-magus would have filled them in on recent developments, of how at first he had been a valued guest of the court of Rudolf II, an intellectual hotbed centred on Prague. PJ French states, ‘Dee’s world view was thoroughly of the Renaissance, though it was one which is unfamiliar today, one of a line of philosopher-magicians that stemmed from Ficino & Pico della Mirandola & included, among others, Trithemius, Abbot of Sondheim, Henry Cornelius Agrippa Paracelsus. etc…. Like Dee, these philosophers lived in a world that was half magical, half scientific.’

Dee eventually fell upon the wrong side of Rudolf, & after being banished from Prague was given shelter at in the household of Vilém of Rožmberk, Bohemia’s most powerful nobleman, in the town of Trebona. Equidistant between Prague & Vienna, Trebona welcomed Dee & Kelley on the 14th September, 1586, along with Kelley’s wife Joanna, Dee’s wife Jane & their four children, including an infant boy called Michael.

Also in Prague at that time was a copy of Titian’s Venus & Adonis – or perhaps even the original – commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (d.1558), as discerned through a letter written by F. Mueller, the correspondent in Italy for the court of Bavaria. Now held in the Galleria Nazionale of Palazzo Barberini in Rome, it is mark’d out from all the other V&As painted by Titian (there were many copies made, usually completed by his students) by the hat worn by Adonis. In Shakespeare’s poem we actually have various mentions of such a hat, as in, ‘with one fair hand she heaveth up his hat,’ & ‘therefore would he put his bonnet on.’ It is possible that Stanley & Shakespeare were living the swancy-fancy life of art connoisseurs at this point & making an effort to study the work of evidently their favorite painter & painting. Indeed, on their Italian itinerary they may have seen copies of the V&A at the Palazzo Mariscotti in Rome, or in the possession of the Barbarigo-Guistiniani family in Padua.


SHAKESPEARE & MAGIC

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Shakespeare’s knowledge of esoteric tradition is highly sophisticated, & one that weaves through his sonnets and plays to a surprising degree. In The Winter’s Tale the statue of Hermione (from from Hermes) springs to life in the same way that the Hermetic Asclepius is described as being effected by Egyptian magic. Elsewhere, Sonnet 33 is full of alchemical references & also of the earth-heaven phenomena called ‘correspondances’ – surreptitiously placed in a mountainous landscape such as Bohemia.

Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green;
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy:
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride,
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow,
But out alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.
Yet him for this, my love no whit disdaineth,
Suns of the world may stain, when heaven’s sun staineth.

Shakespeare is using the idea of “correspondences”, in which earthly phenomena are related to the heavens, as the logical structure of this sonnet. In particular, macrocosmic heavenly phenomena are paralleled by microcosmic human ones. There are also numerous astrological references in Shakespeare’s plays, while Sonnet 15 is laden with astrology & the ‘secret influences’ of celestial bodies.

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment.
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment.
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky:
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory.
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

Here we have Shakespeare referring to the celestial influences as the “secret influence” controlling what he presents here & elsewhere as a play (“shows”) with the world as a stage. Other astrological references in Shakespeare include 

…that we, the poorer born,
Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes
All’s Well That Ends Well

HELENA. Monsieur Parolles, you were born under a charitable star.
PAROLLES. Under Mars, I.
All’s Well That Ends Well

When my good stars, that were my former guides
Antony and Cleopatra

that our stars,
Unreconciliable, should divide
Our equalness to this.
Antony and Cleopatra

Our Jovial star reign’d at his birth
Cymbeline

 


November 1586
Shakespeare sketches the Tempest

At this point in the Stanleyan Grand Tour, the first outlines of the plot & structure of a play called the Tempest appeared in Shakespeare’s notebooks. It was first performed in public in 1611, yet a proto-version could have been one of the earliest creations of his blossoming mind – you can’t rush genius like – especially when the Tempest is the first play one comes to when entering the First Folio. A clue might be found in five consecutive lines of the Garland, where we observe quite succinctly the setting of the Tempest (Barbary is North Africa) & its principle subject Prospero, a dead-ringer for John Dee.

Within the Court of Barbary,
When two full years Sir William had been,
Into Russia he needs must go,
To visit the Emperor and his Queen,
One Doctor Dee he met with there

Where Prospero had his Ariel, Dee declared he possessed a benevolent angel called, ‘Uriel, the angel of light.’ Such an early date for the proto-Tempest is unwittingly hinted at by Sydney Lee’s; ‘the influence of Ovid, especially the Metamorphoses, was apparent throughout his earliest literary work, both poetic & dramatic, & is discernible in the ‘Tempest.’ This play reflects the early experiences Shakespeare enjoy’d with Commedia dell’Arte; which sometimes featured a magician, his daughter & supernatural attendants. CDA also contained archetypical clowns known as Arlecchino and Brighella, on which the Tempest’s Stephano and Trinculo are clearly based, while its lecherous Neapolitan hunchback has a perfect correspondence in Caliban.

The Tempest is the second play in which Shakespeare named a central noble character Ferdinand (the first being Love’s Labour’s Lost), a very similar name to William’s dead brother, Ferdinando. Indeed, in the first scene of The Tempest in the First Folio, when “Ferdinand” enters the play he is named as Ferdinando.

The Tempest is one of only two of Shakespeare’s plays that utilise the Classical Unities – a dramaturgical tradition of setting a play in a single place & time, with the other being the very early Comedy of Errors. Coincidence or not, CoE is set in the eastern Mediterranean, the same part of the world where Stanley & Shakespeare would be moving to next…


December 1586
The Trebona Familists

Many of the Shakespeare’s esoteric themes and sources lead the chispologist to the library of John Dee. Also using the library at that time was Edward Kelley, who seems to have dedicated a poem in the Venus & Adonis stanza form to his ‘especiall’ friend, GS. The reference appears in Elias Ashmole’ 1652 anthology, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, when we must remember that the name Gulielmus Shaksper appears on the Bard’s baptism recodr. As already postulated, Shakespeare could well have been working on Venus & Adonis during the Grand Tour, perhaps even reading a few stanzas out to his compatriots in Trebona. This could later have inspired Kelly to try out the poetic form for himself, of which I’ll give a few of my favorites stanzas;

S.E.K. concerning the Philosophers Stone, written to his especiall good friend, G.S. Gent.

The heauenlie Cope hath in him natures fower,
Two hidden, but the rest to sight appeare:
Wherein the Spermes of all the bodies lower
Most secret are, yet spring forth once a yeare:
And as the earth with water Authors are,
So of his part is drines end of care.

If this my Doctrine bend not with thy braine,
Then say I nothing, though I sayd too much:
Of truth tis good, will mooued me, not gaine,
To write these lines: yet write I not to such
As catch at crabs, when better frutes appeare,
And want to chuse at fittest time of yeare.

Thou maist (my friend) say, What is this for lore?
I aunswere, Such as auncient Phisicke taught:
And though thou red a thousand bookes before,
Yet in respect of this, they teach thee naught:
Thou maist likewise be blinde, and call me foole,
Yet shall these Rules for euer praise their Schoole.

The same collection of poems also has a commentary which tells how Kelley performed an alchemical tansmutation to, “gratifie Master Edward Garland and his Brother Francis.”These brothers also turn up in Dee’s diary, along with two other ‘Garlands’, Robert & Henry, & none of the four of have ever turned up anywhere else in the Elizabethen world, suggesting the true names were incognito. The ‘Brothers’ element more than hints at the Familist connection. But this is rabbit-hole’s worth of a tangent, so its only a maybe for me, but adding a note of the going’s on with the Garland brothers as given in Dee’s diary – note its connection to the actual Russian Tsar.

8 Dec: Monday, about noon, Mr Edward Garland came to Trebona to me from the Emperor of Muscovia, according to the articles before sent unto me by Thomas Simkinson

9 Dec: On the 19 day (by the new calendar), to please Master Edward Garland (who had been sent as a messenger from the Emperor of Muscovy to ask me to come to him, etc, and his brother Francis, E.K. made a public demonstration of the philosophers’ stone in the proportion of one grain (no bigger than the least grain of sand) to 1 oz and a ¼ of common and almost 1 oz of the best gold was produced. When we had weighed the gold, we divided it up and gave the crucible to Edward at the same time.

Dee’s connection to the Familists is more assured, such as;

1: He was associated with many Continental Familists, including Christopher Plantin, the Antwerp printer who published the works of Niclaes) & the Antewerp bookseller Arnold Birckmann,

2: In 1577 Dee suggested to the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, another Familist, that correspondence could reach him via Birckmann’s servants.

3: Familists married within the group, & if widowed would quickly remarry, with age having no bearing on the choice. John Dee married three times, with little space between them, his third wife, Jane Fromond, being 28 years younger than him.

4: Dee & Kelley were friends with the Familist Francesco Pucci, spending time together in Krakow in 1585, & Prague the following year.

5: Dee & Kelley were also on excellent terms with Prince Albert Laski of Poland, whose relation, Johannes Alasko, lived in the Familst ‘capital’ of Emden.

6: Dee was a big favorite of Queen Elizabeth, whose own personal Yeomen Gaurd were Familists. In the anonymous Supplication of the Family of Love (1606) we read, “It appeareth that she [Elizabeth] had alwayes about her some Familistes, or favourers of that Sect, who alwaies related, or bare tidinges what was donne, or intended against them.”


Shakespeare in Bohemia

Shakespeare’s own brief stay in the region can be traced via three separate plays;

(i) Measure for Measure is set in Vienna.
(ii) The Winter’s Tale is set in ‘Bohemia’.
(iii) ‘The old hermit of Prague,’ is mentioned in Twelfth Night.

As the old hermit of 
Prague, that never saw pen and ink, very wittily 
Said to a niece of King Gorboduc, ‘That that is is;

A slender hint indeed, but when attached to Stanley’s recorded visit to Dee, we can trace the thought roots to seeds physically planted. Although no firm evidence has as yet been unearthed of their visit, we do know a little of what the skryrer’s Kelley & Dee were up to. Rudolf had given them a lab to practice their alchemy, including experiments on a mysterious red powder Kelly had found buried at Northwick Hill. Kelley was also dabbling with Catholcoism, even fasting for a whole month before a visit to a Jesuit priest.

Throughout January, a suddenly very wealthy Kelley made several visits to Prague, & let us for a whimsical moment conject that Shakespeare went with them. I normally have evidence to back my statements, but for once I’d like to just imagine Shakespeare going with Kelley to see Prague – I’ve been there myself, & thoroughly enjoyed the experience, including a rather ridiculous  encounter with some Mancunian drug-dealers back in 2001, which you can read all about in my Epistles to Posterity.

The Young Shakespeare (9): Shakespeare At Sea

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APRIL 1586
Shakespeare crosses the Adriatic

That Shakespeare took to the whale-roads is reflected by an extremely accurate knowledge of both the sea & its sailing terms. Most scholars presume he acquired this knowledge thro’ book-reading, but with Sir Henry Mainwaring releasing the first nautical dictionary only in 1644, this avenue may be precluded. Instead, of Shakespeare’s sealore, AF Falconer declares he, ‘must have learned it first hand for there was no other way,’ adding that the Bard possess’d, ‘an understanding of naval ceremony, naval strategy & the duties & characteristic ways of officers & men.’ One passage in particular contains a highly obscure sailing term;

Believe me, sir, she is the goodliest woman
That ever lay by man: which when the people
Had the full view of, such a noise arose
As the shrouds make at sea in a stiff tempest

‘It is a puzzle,’ writes WB Whall, ‘how Shakespeare, unless he had been a sailor, could have known enough of sea life to write such a magnificently apt simile as this. It could not have occurred to anyone who had not been at sea. The shrouds are the heavy ropes of the rigging which supports the masts of a ship on neither side so that they can carry sail.’ Another naval accuracy comes in Hamlet’s, ‘methought I lay worse than the mutinies in the bilboes,’ with the latter word being sea-slang for leg-shackles. One also gets the feeling that Shakespeare even personally experienced a ship-wreck, his plays are simply littered with them, including;

After our ship did split,
When you and those poor number saved with you
Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,
Most provident in peril, bind himself,
Courage and hope both teaching him the practise,
To a strong mast that lived upon the sea;
Twelfth Night 1:2

Across the Adriatic from Italy lie the thousand-islands of Croatia, or Illyria as it was known in more antique times. In 1553, an English gentleman called John Locke recorded his own pilgrimage to Jerusalem, & with it being only three decades before Shakespeare, its pretty close to how it would have been for our party.

We sayled all the day long by the bowline alongst the coast of Ragusa {Dubrovnik}, and towardes night we were within 7 or 8 miles of Ragusa , that we might see the white walles, but because it was night, we cast about to the sea, minding at the second watch, to beare it againe to Ragusa… This citie of Ragusa paieth tribute to the Turke yerely fourteene thousand Sechinos, and every Sechino is of venetian money eight livers and two soldes, besides other presents which they give to the Turkes Bassas when they come thither. The Venetians have a rocke or cragge within a mile of the said towne, for the which the Raguseos would give them much money, but they doe keepe it more for the namesake, then for profite. This rocke lieth on the Southside of the towne, and is called Il cromo, there is nothing on it but onely a Monasterie called Sant Jeronimo. The maine of the Turkes countrie is bordering on it within one mile, for the which cause they are in great subjection.

In 1586 Illyria was the only independent city-state on the eastern littoral of the Adriatic in the sixteenth century. It is mentioned ten times by Shakespeare, who sets his Twelfth Night there, which we may now conject was after he had experienced for himself the port of Ragusa. As one hears references to Illyria’s coasts, sailors, the ‘Uskok’ pirates, tall population & robust wines, one senses the snatch of time Shakespeare had with the country as he sailed south through the Adriatic. Elsewhere in the canon, the term for Ragusa’s ships, Argosies (after Ragosies), was used by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Henry VI, Part III and The Taming of the Shrew, while in Measure for Measure a plot turn in the last act depended on the substitution of the severed head of a “Rhagozin” pirate for Claudio’s. A Croatian on ths pot, Josip Torbarina, in his “The Setting of Shakespeare’s Plays,” (Studia Romanica et Anglica Zagrabiensia 17 (1964) & Shakespeare & Dubrovnik (1977) amasses compelling evidence for Shakespeare’s use of contemporary Dalmatia and the city of Ragusa as the setting for Twelfth Night.


MAY 1586
Stanley in Egypt

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Leaving ‘Illyria,’ our party sailed on to Egypt, & the sweaty flesh-pots of its capital, Cairo. In, ‘The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant,’ we may read a contemporary English account of a visit to Cairo & its surrounds, including the place where the baby Jesus had fled to from Herod.

Cairo is mutch bigger then Constantinople. Many thinges noteable ar in and about this citie, which others no doubt reporteth and ar not beleved; as ar the twelve storehouses wheare they say Josiph kept the come the seven deere years (some say the same was reserved in the vaults of the Peramidis). I went twise to aplacetenn miles frome Cairo, cauled the Mataria, beinge yet solemlie visited by Christians ; it is wheare Josiph and Mary remained with our Saviour. Ther is a springe of water which, as they report, have bine ever since; and alike a plott in a garden wher groweth spriggs that yealdeth balsamo. The Papists come often to this house a massinge in great devotion, and observe a place like a cubberd, wher they say our Saviour was laid ; and alike a great crossebodied wild figge tree in the gardin, with also the water wherein our Ladie washed our Saviours clouts.

At Cairo I was shewed howe and of what sorts of serpents the
Moors do make thier treacle. I did ther also see both wild and tame gattie pardie^ (cats of mountayne, as we caule them), little and great monkies, dragons, muske cats, gasells (which ar a kind of roebucke), bodies of momia [see p. 44], and live cocadrills 5 , both of land and water ; which have bine offered at my gate to be sold. Some I have bought at some tim[e]s for my recreation, of most of thes sorts; for ther I remained 18 monethes. Onse I caused a villaine to ripp a cocadrill, which was of some 2J yeards longe ; the same beinge a female, which had in hir paunch above 100 eggs, yealowe like youlks of eggs and just of sutch bignes.

On arriving in Cairo would have sought out the principle headquarters of the Levant Company, from which office emanated tendrils of pre-imperial trade into the ports & courts of the eastern Mediterranean. Powerful cities such as Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Jerusalem, Damascus & Aleppo had all become secure stopping-stations for the Levant Company, as was Constantinople, where Company man William Harborne had become the de facto English ambassador to the Ottomans. Within two decades the East Indies Company would be formed, the majority of its nucleus members being Levant Company men, & one could say that British India has its true roots in these Elizabethan mercantile expeditions to the east.

The connection between William Stanley & the Levant Company begins with Barry Coward, author of a book on the history of the Stanley family, who states, ‘from 1584 to 1593 Earl Henry borrowed as he had never done before… the loans raised by Earl Henry & his son, Ferdinando, were all raised by bonds pledging a cash surety, made with important London merchant financiers, like John lacy, Richard Martin, Peter Vanlore, Michael Cornleius, William Cuslowe, Nicholas Mosley, & Sir Rowland Hayward.’ A key link here is Richard Martin, a two-time mayor of London & one of the founding members of the Levant Company in 1581. The Stanley’s financial embroilment with such a fellow would have led to William Stanley being sent to check up on the family’s investments in the new markets.

Stanley’s journey to Egypt is given more details by Thomas Aspen, who records; ‘afterwards he proceeded to Egypt, and with the assistance of a native guide, went to reconnoitre the River Nile. Whilst on their journey, a large male tiger suddenly appeared from behind a thicket, and with a hideous howl came rushing towards them. Sir William had two pistols, and discharged one as the tiger was making a spring at them. Unfortunately he missed his aim, and it was only by dexterously stepping aside that he eluded the grasp of the ferocious brute. Before the animal had time to take another spring, Sir William drew a second pistol, discharged the contents into the tiger’s breast, and as it reeled drew his sword and killed it.’ That our party visited the River Nile allows us to look deeper into one of Donne’s sonnets.

See, sir, how, as the sun’s hot masculine flame
Begets strange creatures on Nile’s dirty slime,
In me your fatherly yet lusty rhyme
For these songs are their fruits—have wrought the same.
But though th’ engend’ring force from which they came
Be strong enough, and Nature doth admit
Seven to be born at once; I send as yet
But six; they say the seventh hath still some maim.
I choose your judgment, which the same degree
Doth with her sister, your invention, hold,
As fire these drossy rhymes to purify,
Or as elixir, to change them to gold.
You are that alchemist, which always had
Wit, whose one spark could make good things of bad.

This sonnet’s opening lines invoke a definite sense of witnessing the Nile at first hand. The decisive evidence comes with the sonnet being placed among a sequence dedicated by Donne to a certain ‘E of D,’ implying his Grand Tour patron, William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby


MAY 1586
Shakespeare’s Sonnets to Stanley

Shakespeare’s own time in Egypt is reflected by two unusual eye-witness accounts found in two of his earliest plays;

Thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog
Twelfth Night

An Egyptian that had nine hours lien dead who was by good appliance recovered
Pericles

Just as Donne was writing deliciously sensuous sonnets to & for Stanley, so was Shakespeare. What happens on the Grand Tour stays on the Grand Tour, & here was our bard in Egypt, where the demands of a young family had been replaced by poetical yearnings to see pyramids & sail the love-barges of Cleopatra. He was also traveling with a prominent member of his country’s royal family, & as we have discerned from the secret back story behind Venus & Adonis, Stanley actually fancied him. Sleeping your way to the top has always been a good way to get ahead, & in Shakespeare’s case he didn’t mind if it was with a member of the opposite sex. Read what you will of it as you may, but on his return to England Shakespeare never sired another child, implying perhaps he became fully LGBTQ on the Grand Tour.

It is Shakespeare’s love for Stanley that provides an important keystone in the dissemination of the many mysteries behind Shakespeare’s famous sonnet sequence. The form chosen for these poetical lovegasms is the short, 14-line photo-poem – the sonnet –  a poetical form capable of storing some of the most refined & musical expressions of human thought. That Shakespeare was writing sonnets at such an early stage in his career was opined by his greatest biographer, & most ardent analyticist, Sydney Lee, who proclaim’d; ‘in both their excellences & their defects Shakespeare’s sonnets betray their kinship to his early dramatic work,’ comparing their, ‘unimpressive displays of verbal jugglery,’ with similar instances in the early plays.

Eventually published in 1609, Shakespeare’s sequence seems to be a collection of individual sonnet-clusters. The exact order in which these sequences of creative pulses, eternally crystalized & unified by gorgeous iambic pentameter, were written is beyond the remit of this book. One of these mini-sequences reflects Shakespeare’s homosexual love for a young aristocratic man & in 1586, there were no love sonnet sequences from one man to another except for one – Michaelangelo’s impassioned sonnets to Tommasso dei Cavalieri which Shakespeare may even have come across in Italy.

So who was Shakespeare’s muse? That the fellow is a member of the uppermost echelons of the aristocracy is suggested by sonnet 125, which begins, ‘were it ought to me I bore the canopy.’ The ceremonial material in question is that carried over the head of the incumbent monarch by England’s leading noblemen, in procession to Westminster Abbey & the coronation. On becoming the Earl of Derby himself, William Stanley himself would conduct this very act at the 1603 coronation of James I.

Over the past two centuries, the Bard’s corpse has been argued over & dissected so much, that hardly anything remains of the man: his flesh & bones have been shredded, flung & scattered across the ever-expanding wastelands of Shakespearean criticism. The one bonus of all these efforts is that the Elizabethan Age has been scrutinized to a near infinite degree by scholars hoping to turn up some precious new nugget of biographical detail concerning the Bard. There have been successes & among this vast sea of uncertainty one may find the following island of logical thinking;

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

This passage was written by Leo Daugherty whom, after surviving such a process of intense academic endeavour with his wits intact, stated in his brilliant book, ‘William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield & the Sixth Earl of Derby’ that he had made, ‘conclusions of some enormity.’ The crux of his excited proclamation was that the identity of the Handsome Youth was a certain Elizabethan nobleman called William Stanley. Yes, our William Stanley! It makes sense, for there are positive analogies in language between Venus and this set of sonnets.

There is one sonnet in particular that reflects the logistical relationship between Shakespeare & Stanley, with our young poet highlighting his role as a retainer ;

Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour,
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love, that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.


JUNE 1586
Shakespeare joins the Levant Company fleet

We have now placed Shakespeare firmly among the buccaneering world of corsairs that constituted the Elizabethan navy, where men like Drake, Hawkins & Raleigh were the idols of the day. Our young bard is about to board one of the Levant Company ships in Egypt with all five vessels of the mini-fleet having made successful trading operations in Turkey, Egypt & Syria. Three of the ships had met up in the Egyptian port of Alexandria: The Toby, the Susan & the Edward Bonaventure; & by the June of 1586 they had combined with the remaining two Company ships off the Greek island of Zante.

All five ships, & four other non-Company vessels from England, had fused together for security reasons – the journey through the Straits of Gibraltar, a cannon’s shot from hostile Spain, would be treacherous for one or two vessels traveling on their own. It was a prudent move, as a very real danger was imminent; two separate squadrons of Spanish & Maltese galleys had left the Straits of Gibraltar & were hunting down the English like hungry, prowling wolves.


JULY 1586
The Battle of Pantelleria

Deep in the middle of a sultry summer, Shakespeare found himself sailing west through the Mediterranean as a passenger of the Levant Company fleet. After safely bypassing Malta, they were suddenly intercepted by a squadron of eleven Spanish and Maltese galleys under Don Pedro de Leyva. The engagement took place off the island of Pantelleria on the 13th July, a five-hour running battle which saw the massive devastation of Spanish ships like some prophetic glimmer of the Armada. A Venetian ambassador to Rome, Giovanni Gritti, recorded;

Between Sicily & the island of Pantalara the galleys of Naples & of Sicily fell in with nine English galleys returning form Constantinople, full of merchandise, & although they attacked the English ships they failed to take them. The galleys have returned to Naples for reinforcement & will sail again to search for the English. They have sent news of these English to Genoa, so that they may be on the look out for them in the waters of Corsica & Sardinia

After five hours of fighting the Spanish galleys had been battered into submission. On the English side only two sailors had died, & a handful more being wounded. The tough English sailors had simply outmanoeuvred, & more importantly, outgunned the Spanish. Remembrances of Shakespeare witnessing such a brutal sea-battle lies scatter’d throughout this plays. AF Falconer writes how he, ‘distinguishes between various types of ordnance & gun, understands how they work & are managed, & is familiar with gunnery terms & words of command.’ We can see for ourselves in examples, such as

The nimble gunner
With linstock now the devilish cannon touches
Henry V

Like an overcharged gun, recoil
And turn the force of them upon thyself
2 Henry VI

What’s this? a sleeve? ’tis like a demi-cannon
What, up and down, carved like an apple-tart?
Taming of the Shrew


JULY 1586
Shakespeare visits Linosa

While stopping for provisions & water round about the time of the Battle of Pantelleria, Shakespeare took a wander of the island of Linosa – anciently ‘Aethusa.’ In a great moment of creative fusion, the island became embedded in his mnemonic vaults, & probably sketch & reported on in his notebooks, ready for the right moment to become the setting of one of his poems or plays. This eventually occurred when Shakespeare was writing the Tempest, the last to be performed publicly in his lifetime.

Linosa is an extremely pretty island, its three lofty cones being the spiky remnants of ancient volcanoes. In Shakespeare’s time Linosa was deserted, like the other islands of the Pelagian archipelago in which it lies. Of a possible Tempestesque shipwreck on the island, GD Gussone wrote; ‘before 1828 some travelers going to Linosa found three human skeletons on those mountains which, in his opinion, where the remains of men who were perhaps thrown by a storm on to the island and that miserably perished for lack of food.’

Linosa’s position between Sicily & Tunisia fits neatly with the geography of the Tempest, in which Alonso, King of Naples, washes up on a deserted island on his way to see the King of Tunis. The island also plays host to the witch Syrocrax, banished there from Tunisia’s neighbor, Algiers. The true Syrocrax is mentioned in John Ogilby’s ‘Accurate Description of Africa,’ in which she advises, soothsayer fashion, the commander of Algiers not to surrender the city to Emperor Charles V in 1541. The citizens did as they were bidden, & the fleet of Charles V was destroyed in a ‘terrible Tempest.’ Unfortunately for Syrocrax, ‘to palliate the shame and the reproaches that are thrown upon them for making use of a witch,’ she was exiled in a pregnant state on Linosa, & was perhaps even one of the skeletons found on the island. According to the Tempest, she was dead by the events of the play, but her son Caliban was still alive. His character, then, may have been based on a real meeting with Shakespeare, whose bones were laid to rest beside his mother’s on the mountains.


July 6th 1586: Tasso released from the Asylum

While Shakespeare was fighting the Battle of Pantelleria, after seven years of poor mental health Torquato Tasso was released from Hospital of St. Anna at Ferrara, at the request of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua. Gonzago was a major patron of the arts and sciences, and had turn’d Mantua into a vibrant cultural centre. Tasso, Italy’s finest renaissance poet, was given a beautiful apartment in the royal palace, furnished with comforts he could need. Perfect conditions for poetic composition, which climate soon inspired Tasso to rework his 1573 tragedy Galealto Re di Norvegia into a new drama, Torrismondo.


AUGUST 1586
Shakespeare in Algiers

After the battle of Pantelleria, the Company fleet headed for Algiers in order to restock supplies & make any necessary battle-repairs. These movements fit neatly into the itinerary of William Stanley, who according to the Garland visited ‘the King of Morocco and his nobles all / Then went to the King of Barbary.’ A connection between Stanley & North Africa comes through the Barbary Company, formed in 1585. The Queen herself had invested in the project, alongside Stanley’s father. The Levant Company connection is tentative, but the presence of William Stanley at this particular emporium further supports the notion he may have been working for his father – details on contracts needed to be fine-tuned, perhaps, or accounts checked.

Despite suffering little in losses & damage, the battle of Pantelleria would have shredded the nerves of our young party, & at this point Stanley would have ordered his youngest charge, John Donne, to make his way back to England in the relative safety of the armed merchantmen. With the help of a thick sea-mist, this little fleet avoided the waiting Spanish at Gibraltar, & was soon unloading their wares at the London docks. John Donne would eventually return once more to the service of the Earl of Derby, where on the 13th May 1587 the Derby Household Books included a ‘Mr John Downes’ alongside the same six waiters who appeared on the 1585 retinue list with a certain ‘Mr John Donnes.


The Young Shakespeare (8): Shakespeare in Italy

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November 1585: Shakespeare Reaches Italy

Like all art, poetry grows naturally out of accumulated materielle, to which is added an individual poet’s personality & technique. Their creations should be seen as the fragrant flowers of a bush, the roots of which are buried deep under the earth. By following these roots to their sources of nourishment, we can slowly create a picture of the poet’s unseen life, the one that lives beneath the surface of the page. If Shakespeare had accompanied Stanley, the sheer wealth of scenery & culture that Europe contains should have found an eventual memorial among his plays. When the English poet Lord Byron visited the Continent in the early 19th century, his composition of a long poem called Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage is more or less a record of his travels. In the same fashion, it is through the Chisper Effect that we can see how the plays of Shakespeare are a metacreative journal of his travels with Stanley. Doctor AW Titherly concurs with such a notion by stating,

Shakespeare’s geography, being ubiquitous in its range, is evidentially inconclusive, except in so far as its abiding realism manifestly betrays extensive travel experience as distinct from mere book-learning.

It is time, then, to proceed with the upmost joy unto the Italian peninsular, the greatest of all the Shakespearean hauntlands. It is in the famous Shelleyan  ‘Paradise of Exiles,’ that Shakespeare would set more than a quarter of his plays, such as the seminal classic, Romeo & Juliet. Shakespeare & Italy are like pasta & wine – they go together so darned well. Mario Praz writes;

Shakespeare’s Italy is so near to that idyllic Italy which we can picture from Ariosto’s and Castiglione’s works that some have ventured to suggest that Shakespeare travelled there: how could he otherwise have been able to draw such a true-to-life image, when everybody round him in England was spellbound by the myth of Italian wickedness? 

A great deal of Shakespeare’s Italian connections were unearthed by an amiable Californian, Richard Paul Roe, who sadly departed this world in 2010. The last twenty-five years of his life were spent wandering about Italy with a well-thumbed copy of Shakespeare in his hands, hunting down clues as to whether the Bard had visited the country or not. To say his efforts were a success are a clear understatement, the Indiana Jones of Shakespearean studies, he dug out & polished many prime artefacts, concluding;

The ‘imaginary’ settings for the ten Italian plays of Shakespeare have presented both specific, and strikingly accurate, details about that country, as a result of dedicated sojourns within it by the playwright. The author’s journeys took him from its Alpine slopes to the toe of its peninsula, across the length and breadth of its great island of Sicily, and included sailing trips on both the adjoining Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas. For the last four hundred years, nearly all of the playwright’s descriptions of Italy’s places and treasures have either gone unrecognized as being true, or have been dismissed as mistaken.

Italy burned an indelible mark into Shakespeare’s creative consciousness, & throughout his works we find over a hundred scenes set in that country, alongside 800 general other references. A great study of these was made by another Bard-in-Italy aficionado, Ernesto Grillo, a 20th century teacher & lecturer of Italian studies at Glasgow University, & absolute Shakespeare nut. After a lifetime of lectures, one of his students assembled Grillo’s copious notes into a book entitled Shakespeare and Italy. Published in 1949, it quotes Grillo in conclusion:

Italy with its public and private life, its laws and customs, its ceremonial and other characteristics, pulsates in every line of our dramatist, while the atmosphere of many scenes is Italian in the truest sense of the word. We cannot but wonder how Shakespeare obtained such accurate information, and we have no hesitation in affirming that on at least one occasion he must have visited Italy

This ‘one occasion’ would have been in the company of William Stanley oon his Grand Tour. ‘Open my heart and you will see / Graved inside of it, ‘Italy!’’ sang Robert Browning, & it makes perfect sense that our budding Bard would have visited the land of Virgil, Dante, Petrach & Tasso, where it is long felt & long understood by the English pantheon of poets how the Italian influence has rais’d their art to its highest pitch.


NOVEMBER 1585
The Levant Company Launch Five Ships from London

As Shakespeare was having his first frothy coffees in Italy, to promote the trade of Elizabethan England the Company of Merchants of the Levant was formed to take advantage of the declining international trade of both the Portuguese & the Venetian empires. The Company would establish ‘factories’ in the Syrian city of Aleppo (its headquarters), Constantinople, Alexandria and Smyrna. They also commissioned a small fleet of five ships to trade in the Near East, but at the very moment they were set to embark, in November 1585 Phillip II of Spain declared war on England. This forced the Company to heavily arm the fleet; the 300-ton galleon Merchant Royal, the William and John (one ship), the Toby, the Susan and the 300-ton armed merchant galleon Edward Bonaventure. They sailed later in the month, & we shall see in a short while how important this little fleet is to the unwritten history of William Shakespeare.


DECEMBER 1585
Shakespeare in Florence

Like any poet of substance, Shakespeare’s soul would have been fired up for his first visit to Florence; the home of Dante and a true diamond among the many-jewell-d delights of Tuscany. Florence is a veritable beauty to behold, especially when observed from its heights, when the weighty Duomo rises out of a sea of orange rooves like some volcanic, Polynesian island. Shakespeare would set several scenes of Alls Well that Ends Well in the city, while an accurate knowledge of Florence & the Florentines is heavily evident in other plays. In Alls Well (3-5) we hear, ‘if they do approach the City, We shall lose all the sight,’ a statement elucidated by Roe’s, ‘the ‘City’ in question is an area to north of the Arno, where stood the walled Roman colony of Florentia.’ Roe also pinpointed the description of a religious hostelry situated ‘at the Saint Francis here beside the port.’ On investigation, Roe discovered that the ‘Saint Francis’ in question was, ‘the ancient name of Piazza Ognissanti, where the Chiesa di Ognissanti (Church of All Saints), belonged to the Franciscans since 1561,’ to which Mari Praz adds, ‘the palmers’ hostel “at the St Francis here beside the port” (III. v. 37) would stand for the oratory of San Francesco dei Vanchetoni in the neighbourhood of Porta a1 Prato in Florence.’

At the time the city would have been abuzz with anticipation for the upcoming dynatsic marriage between Virginia de’ Medici, daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, to Cesara D’Este, on of Alfonso, Marquis of Montecchio, in turn the illegitimate (but later legitimized) son of Alfonso I, Duke of Ferrara. They would be married in Florence on the 6th February 1586, & it is possible that Shakespeare & Stanley were in attendance. To celebrate the event the artists of Italy were in ferment; a comedy ‘l’Amico Fido’,  by Giovanni de’ Bardi, was commissioned  with the lyrics of Alessandro Striggio, who had been been ‘continually involved in some intermedi and musical compositions for the Grand Duke‘ for months. Meanwhile, in Ferrara the poet Torquato Tasso was dedicating a cantata to the newlyweds.

While in ever-flourishing Florence, Shakespeare connected on a spiritual & artistic level with the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, visiting his natal house which still stands to this day. It would have been a grand transference of the Parnassian baton, for Dante’s contribution to world literature is the brilliant Divine Comedy, a most beautiful epic poem through which the poet explored Hell, Purgatory & Heaven, embroidered by some of the most sublimely beautiful language. So gorgeous were his words, in fact, that when the fragmented Italian principalities were searching for a national language; out of the many dialects on offer it was Dante’s Tuscan that won the day. In the same fashion, Shakespeare’s influence over the English language has been equally meritorious, for there is something about a song sung on the highest slopes of Parnassus that reverberates along the tongues of a poet’s fellow countrymen for forever & a day. John W. Draper, in his Shakespeare and Florence and the Florentines (Italica: December 1946) elucidates excellently the Shakespeare-Florence connection;

What did Shakespeare know of Florence? That it bred great men, and also great gentlemen, as appears in Claudio and Cassio; that it sometimes depended on France in wars against its neighbors, apparent in All’s Well; that it was a leader in the new theories of warfare and in the mathematics that they required, for otherwise Othello’s appointment of Cassio is absurd and perhaps Claudio’s success in war owed something to such knowledge; that it was a great financial center, is evidenced in the Pedant’s bill of exchange and in lago’s slurs against his rival; and perhaps Shakespeare thought of Lucentio’s “philosophy” as distinctively Florentine. These are all cultural or intellecutal things; of the physical aspects of the city and its peculiar customs, he offers nothing: for Venetian local color, he uses the Rialto, the special police, the gondoliers; but Shakespeare’s Florence, though he thought of it no less than Venice as a center of commerce and culture, has no Ponte Vecchio, no churches, no palaces, no markets; it is a mere ghost city. In All’s Well, he lays eight scenes in or near the city, yet never refers to the Arno; and the “Duke” who gives Bertram the command of horse is not mentioned as a Medici. Surely young roistering nobles would have given him a much more vivid picture of the city; and even a single book on Florence, like Contareno’s Venice, would have supplied a fuller and more balanced view. One is led to the conclusion that such local color as was not in his sources.

Mario Praz highlights a further Fiorentine connection;

The “Saint Jaques Ie Grand” to which Helena is supposed to betake herself on a pilgrimage in All’s Well would not be the well known sanctuary in Spain but San Giacomo d’Altopascio not far from Florence. To this we may add the findings of Ernesto Grillo who describes how Shakespeare knew, ‘the Florentines were notable merchants and mathematicians, making frequent use in their commerce of letters of credit and counting their money by ducats; and he was also aware that they were constantly in conflict with the Sienese. And here the poet uses a phrase which is pure Italian–The Florentines and the Sienese are by the ear (si pigliano per gli orecchi).’


JANUARY 1586
Shakespeare visits Rome

In 1586, the Eternal City was a shadow of the epic metropolis of the Ceasars, but still held the same charm & fascination as it does to the tourist of today. ‘Of the ground contained within the walls,’ remarked Shakespeare’s contemporary, William Thomas, ‘scarcely the third part is now inhabited, and that not where the beauty of Rome hath been but for the most part on the plain to the waterside and in the Vatican, because that since the Bishops began to reign every man hath coveted to build as near the court as might be. Nevertheless, those streets and buildings that are there at this time are so fair that I think no city doth excel it.’ The digs were also of a high quality & were remembered by Montaigne on his tour of the continent, 1581-82; ‘the lodgings in Rome are generally furnished a little better than at Paris, as they have great abundance of gilt leather, with which the lodgings of any pretence are upholstered.’

For Stanley, a visit to the Italian capital was truly relish’d, where the Vatican City especially would have been a most soulful draw for our pro-papal party. In the England of 1585 it was a treasonous offence to be, or even harbour, a Catholic priest; while £20 fines were handed out to anybody who failed to attend a protestant service. What a relief for our party who would have been overjoyed to step into any Roman church they liked, to worship their version of Jesus in the open. Shakespeare might even have taken the opportunity to examine the Vatican library, as Montaigne did & recorded a few years previously.I saw the {Vatican} library without any difficulty: anybody sees it this, & makes what extracts he pleases; & it is open almost evetry morning. I wa shown over the whole & invited by a gentleman to make use of it whenere I wishe. I saw here, too, a Virgil written by hand, in exceedingly big letters, & in those long & narrow characters which we see in the inscriptions of the time of the Emperors – for instance, about the period of Constantine – which have something of the Gothic form, & have lost that square proportion which we see in the old Latin handwritings. This Virgil confirmed the opinion I have always held, that the first four lines they put in the Aeneid are borrowed: this book has them not.(from) Montaigne’s Trip to Italy, 1580-1581

There was also the Jesuit connection, who had built another ‘English College’ in Rome itself. What is fascinating is that in 1585, a leather parchment kept by the college names a certain in ‘Arthurus Stratfordus Wigomniensis.’ In 1587 we then see a “Shfordus Cestriensis” while 1589 saw the residence of a certain “Gulielmus Clerkue Stratfordiensis.” Are any of these Shakespeare? Possibly, probably not, but the Stratford = Catholicism -Rome connection is here assured. At the college in late 1585 was Robert Southwell, a young & talented Jesuit with a tendency for the pen & the creation of excellent poetry. That he & Shakespeare connected at some point is reflected by a small notice in Southwell’s Saint Peter’s Complaint (1595), published on the Continent after the martyr had suffered. The significant passage read: “to My Worthy Good Cosen Master W.S.” and the conjecture that the W.S. is indeed William Shakespeare. Southwell remonstrates with his good cousin about the abuse of poetry: “Worthy cosen, Poets, by abusing their talent, and making the follies, and faygnings of love the customary subject of their base endeavours, have so discredited this facultie, that a Poet, a Lover and a Lyar, are by many reckoned but three words of one signification.”


JANUARY 1586
Shakespeare Begins Titus Andronicus

Stanley & Shakespeare delighted in seeing the ruins of the ancient city, which according to the Brief Account reflected Stanley’s, ‘credit on his taste.’ It was upon these walks that Shakespeare’s creative connection to Rome was forged, as reflected by his four Roman Plays; Julius Ceasar, Anthony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus & Titus Andronicus. While wandering the remains of the Forum & the Colosseum, already 15 centuries old, Shakespeare’s innate enthusiasm was fired into tackling themes of grand antiquity. Of these, it is the play Titus Andronicus that was begun in earnest on the spot, a brutally violent revenge play in the style of the Roman dramatist Seneca. Most poets have several pieces going on at any one time, & when the epic Shakespearean scholar Walter Raleigh relates, ‘his early play of Titus Andronicus, which is like the poems,‘ we obtain a feeling that Shakespeare was writing a proto-Titus at the same time as he was penning Venus & Adonis. Philip C Koln observed in them a ‘close kinship’ where ‘both Titus & Venus contain rape (or attempted rape), Ovidian in origin, transformations, heavily embellished poetry to express the deepest physical & psychic wounds, the curse of doomed love, & the powerlessness of gods & goddesses to protect.’  A 1585-86 date for Titus also fits well with Ben Jonson who, writing in 1614, describes Titus as being, ‘these twenty five or thirty years,‘ old; i.e. 1584-89.

It had not been so long since Shakespeare had stood in the Alcazar gazing deeply at the brushwork of Titian’s Rape of Lucrece. As he combobulated his new play, Lucrece’s enforced ravishment became the inspiration for a similar rape. Indeed, in Titus, as the sexually molested and mutilated Lavinia reveals the identity of her rapists, her uncle Marcus invokes the story of Lucrece in order to invoke an oath of vengeance;

And swear with me—as, with the woeful fere
And father of that chaste dishonoured dame,
Lord Junius Brutus swore for Lucrece’ rape
That we will prosecute by good advice
Mortal revenge upon these traitorous Goths,
And see their blood, or die with this reproach

On an allegorical level, in her excellent book, Shadowplay, Clare Asquith notes how the rape of Lavinia seems to represent English Catholocism in the early 1580s. This wasan appropriate choice of metaphor, reinforced by Lavinia’s lopped off hands, reflecting the Catholic inability to worship freely in Elizabethan England. In the wake of the Tudor Reformation, Asquith reminds us, ‘the faces, arms & attributes of thousands of images of the Madonna & the saints were still being mutilated in exactly this way all over England; some of them, faces slashed & hands removed, still remain in parish churches.’ Such hidden, pro-Catholic layers would have resonated powerfully with a sympathetic 16th century audience. ‘A related similarity between Tamora & Elizabeth is inescapable,’ writes Asquith, & it is through Titus’s hidden Catholic layer that she finds an allusion to events of the year directly preceding that in which Shakespeare began writing the play. ‘In 1585,’ states Asquith, ‘Richard Shelley… was imprisoned for presenting a petition for toleration, dying later in jail without trial. The demented Titus accosts a simple countryman & asks him to deliver a letter that… also contains a weapon… a knife – a hint at the barbed attacks contained in the appeals. The message is twice called a ‘supplicatio.’ For running this errand, the poor clown, who delivers the letter with a cheerful invocation to God & the martyr St Stephen, is hanged on the spot.’

That Titus was Shakespeare’s first dramatic production is also cryptically embedded in the play itself. The plot has no historical basis, but the name of its chief character seems based upon Livius Andronicus, a Roman poet & dramatist of the third century BC, also known as Titus. The Roman writer Livy describes how Livius Andronicus had been an inspired dramaturgical innovator, who ‘was the first, some years later, to abandon saturae and compose a play with a plot. Like everyone else in those days, he acted his own pieces; and the story goes that when his voice, owing to the frequent demands made upon it, had lost its freshness, he asked and obtained the indulgence to let a boy stand before the flautist to sing the monody, while he acted it himself, with a vivacity of gesture that gained considerably from his not having to use his voice. From that time on actors began to use singers to accompany their gesticulation, reserving only the dialogue parts for their own delivery.’ It would have been apt for a forward-thinking playwright to name his first play after a similar-minded dramatist of the past, & a nod to the Roman may be seen in the cutting off of Lavinia’s tongue, mirroring the mute dramaturgy as utilised & made famous by Livius Andronicus.

In 1687 Edward Ravenscroft was the first to question Shakespeare’s authorship in the introduction his own adaptation of the play, stating; ‘I have been told by some anciently conversant with the Stage, that it was not Originally his, but brought by a private Author to be Acted and he only gave some Master-touches to one or two of the Principal Parts or Characters; this I am apt to believe, because ’tis the most incorrect and indigested piece in all his Works, It seems rather a heap of Rubbish then a Structure.‘ In the modern age the academic community agrees that Titus Andronicus was only co-authored by Shakespeare – whether actually agreeing, or massively polarized in the ‘he wrote it/he did’nt write it’ camps. There are clear discrepancies in style & vocabulary rippling all throughout the text; the blank verse especially doesn’t feel like Shakespeare’s. The earliest commentary on the play’s origins, made by Edward Ravenscroft in 1687, describes Titus as, ‘the most incorrect and indigested piece in all his Works; It seems rather a heap of Rubbish then a Structure.’ This creative jumbling forwards Stanley as a candidate for co-authorship, that Titus was the product of a collaboration between our erstwhile, literary-minded travellers. Stanley, of course, was a good old Lancashire lad, who would have spoken in that broad, Elysium-dripping accent of the North, & his presence during the penning of Titus which would account for its numerous dialectical idoms, such as; blowse, brabble, brat, caterwauling, chaps, codding, egall, faire-fast, gald, leere, luls, ruffle, slonke, tawnt, trull & welkin. That Stanley was involved in the creation of Titus would also help to explain why his family’s private troupe of players were the first to perform the play. When it was printed in 1594 – the year Stanley became the Earl of Derby – the title page of the first quarto edition reads; ‘as it was Plaide by the Right Honourable the Earle of Darbie, Earle of Pembrooke, and Earle of Suffox their Seruants.’

There is one more angle to the composition of Titus, & that is a leaning by certain scholars towards George Peele’s co-authorship of the play J. Dover Wilson writes of the repetition of phrases and sentiments in Act 1 that “most of the clichés and tricks are indubitably Peele’s. No dramatist of the age is so apt to repeat himself or so much given to odd or strained phrases,” while Robertson identified 133 words and phrases in Titus which he felt strongly indicated Peele. Many of these concern Peele’s poem The Honour of the Garter (1593). One word in particular has advanced the Peele argument; “palliament” , meaning robe and possibly derived from the Latin “pallium” and/or “palludamentum.” If Peele & Shakespeare were collaborating, there are two possibilities as to the why. The first is that he helped with the play on Shakespeare’s return to England, just as they had worked on the Arraignment together. The second possibility is the most intriguing – Peele disappears from the annals for three years; in 1585 he was employed to write the Device of the Pageant borne before Woolston Dixie on his becoming Lord Mayor of London (October 1585), & in 1588 he writes a play on the Spanish Armada. It is possible that Peele joined our tourists at some point, & may have been invited along by Stanley, who had been studying at Oxford in the exact same period as Peele.


JANUARY 1586
Shakespeare Travels Through Italy

Leaving the Eternal City, let us now head north once more in the company of Shakespeare, Stanley & perhaps the 12-year-old John Donne. It was on this journey that Stanley, according to Thomas Aspen, ‘assumed the garb of a mendicant friar for the purpose of gaining information and the more readily getting through the country.’ This circumstance would one day found its place in Measure for Measure, where Vincentio also disguises himself as a friar. Meanwhile, Shakespeare was skimming through through the openly homoerotic sonnets of Michaelangelo. In that great painters’ old age he addressed a series of the most passionate sonnets unti two handsome young noblemen of his intimacy; Tommaso dei Cavalieri & Vittoria Colonna. ‘A great theme,’ Shakespeare thought as he looked up from the pages to idolize his dear Stanley.

Between Terni and Rome, according to Smollett, the inns were `abominally nasty’, generally destitute of provisions; and when provisions were found the guests were ‘almost poisoned by the cookery’. Samuel Sharp (The Horrors of an Italian Journey) confirmed this verdict:

Give what scope you please to your fancy, you will never imagine half the disagreeableness that Italian beds, Italian cooks, Italian post-houses, Italian postilions, and Italian nastiness offer to an Englishman in an Italian journey; much more to an English woman. At Turin, Milan, Venice, Rome, and, perhaps, two or three other towns, you meet with good accommodation; but no words can express the wretchedness of the other inns. No other bed but one of straw, and next to that a dirty sheet, sprinkled with water, and, consequently, damp; for a covering you have another sheet, as coarse as the first, and as coarse as one of your kitchen jack-towels, with a dirty coverlet. The bedsted consists of four wooden forms, or benches; and English Peer and Peeress must lye in this manner, unless they carry an upholsterer’s shop with them, which is very troublesome. There are, by the bye, no such things as curtains, and hardly, from Venice to Rome, that cleanly and most useful invention, a privy; so that what should be collected and buried in oblivion, is forever under your nose and eyes


FEBRUARY 1586
Shakespeare in Padua

In 1545 a troupe of communally-funded traveling performers of the new-fangl’d, definitely not medieval ‘commedia erudite’ went to a notary office in Padua to make their existence official. The theatrical tradition was about to explode into Europe & by the end of the century permanent playhouses were springing up all across the continent. Shakespeare’s knowledge of the fair city of Padua, perched upon those perfect plains of north Italy, transcends anything he could have acquired through bookish lore. We find Bellario as a Paduan name in The Merchant of Venice, which in fact it is, while in the Taming of the Shrew, where Biondello says, ‘my master hath appointed me to go to Saint Luke’s, to bid the priest be ready to come against you come with your appendix,’ Paul Roe tracked down the actual church, declaring it to be the Saint Luke’s Church of via Venti Settembre 22. Only a stone’s throw away, Roe was delighted to pass through the arched Porta Barbarigo & straight into Act I, Scene I of the Taming of the Shrew; with its waterway, landing place and wide open space with clustering buildings. That Shakespeare stayed in the city just feels right; Padua was home to one of the greatest universities of the Renaissance, & a trip to such an academic environment fits in with Stanley’s intellectual itinerary. At the time of their visit, the majority of Europe’s greatest medical doctors & teachers were based in Padua, & a period of erudition in the city by the young Shakespeare helps account for the high level of medical knowledge in his plays. An example comes in Love’s Labours Lost, when Holferness states;

This is a gift that I have, simple, simple; a foolish, extravagant spirit, full of forms, figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions: these are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater, and delivered upon the mellowing of occasion

This passage shows a remarkable insight into the obscure biological material known as the ‘pia mater,’ a Latin term for the inner lining or membrane of the brain and spinal cord, along with its neurological connections to the brain’s activities. The key to the conundrum comes with an English physician known as William Harvey (1578-1657), the first man to describe to the English the processes of the circulation of the blood about the body. His book, De Motu Cordis, was published in 1628, yet Shakespeare was hinting at this very process decades before, where in Julius Ceasar we read, ‘you are my true and honourable wife, as dear to me as are those ruddy drops that visit my sad heart.’ How on earth could Shakespeare & Harvey both have obtained this select & secret knowledge? The answer can only be at Padua, whose university Harvey entered in 1592. While there he developed a relationship with Hieronymus Fabricius of Acquapendente, who had held the chair of Medicine and Anatomy at the time of Stanley’s visit. Back in the 1570s, Fabricius had discovered that veins possessed valves which kept the blood flowing in the direction of the heart, & one expects that is was in his private lectures that men like Shakespeare would have first heard of the pia mater & the circulation of the blood.  Shakespeare would have enjoyed his stay in Padua, in part down to the  ‘pensions of the highest class’ recorded by Montaigne a few year’s previously;There is … a house boy or some women who wait upon them. Each one has a very neat bedrooom, for in their rooms & candles they provide for themelves. The catering, as we saw, very good; one lives there very reasonably, which is the reason, I think why many foreigners, even when they are no longer students, settle there Finally, having already placed Stanley & Shakespeare in creative collaboration on the continent with Titus Andronicus, their presence together in Padua suggests they also began working on The Taming of the Shrew together. In 1979, Macdonald Jackson showed how through the use of rare words, parts of Titus Andronicus are closest to the Shrew. The editor of the 1857 epic complete works of Shakespeare, Grant White, proposing that one writer – ie our Stanley – supplied the love-plot, while Shakespeare was behind ‘the strong, clear characterization, the delicious humor, & the rich verbal coloring of the recast Induction, and all the scenes in which Katherine & Petruchio & Grumio are the prominent figures.’


FEBRUARY 1586
Shakespeare in Lombardy

Being now at the beating heart of the Veneto Plain we find ourselves within striking distance of several more of Shakespeare’s Italian plays. Of these productions, his most famous is Romeo & Juliet, which sees the Montagues & Capulets playing out their tragic feud in Verona & Mantua, while The Two Gentlemen of Verona, is set in, well, Verona. These two cities, along with Milan, are sited in what Shakespeare accurately describes as ‘fruitful Lombardy, the pleasant garden of great Italy.’ That Shakespeare spent time in Mantua is hinted at in The Winter’s Tale, where he describes Queen Hermione’s statue as; ‘a piece many years in doing and now newly perform’d by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom.‘ Julio Romano was actually famous for being a painter, not a sculptor, but in Vasari’s Lives of Seventy of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, we are given two (now-lost) Latin epitaphs on Romano which confirm his status as both sculptor & a painter! Such obscure & minute details like these only serve to reinforce Shakespeare’s personal observations of his time in Italy.

We have previously seen through Shakespeare’s creation of Venus & Adonis how the great art of Europe inspired our impressionable young poet. Likewise, we may also assume that he saw a famous painting by Correggio while visiting Milan. From 1585, the Jupiter and Io was exhibited in the palace of the sculptor, Leoni, of which viewing experience Shakespeare writes, ‘we’ll show thee Io as she was a maid / And how she was beguiled and surpris’d / As lively painted as the deed was done.’ While in Milan, Shakespeare certainly discovered the city’s Well of St Gregory, for he understood that it was a burial pit for plague victims, rather than a water-storage unit. To these Milanese connections we can add another observation, this time made by Grillo, who writes; ‘despite being 100 miles from the coast, the city of Bergamo, near Milan, produced sails. In the Taming of the Shrew, Vincentio says to Tranio,Thy father! O villain! He is a sailmaker in Bergamo.’

By placing the young Shakespeare in Verona provide the thoughtseeds which would blossom into the plays of Romeo & Juliet & The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Of these, the latter is thought by many scholars to be the first of Shakespeare’s fully written plays. Two Gentlemen is an immature play whose “dramatic structure,” declares Stanley Wells, ‘is comparatively unambitious, and while some of its scenes are expertly constructed, those involving more than, at the most, four characters betray an uncertainty of technique suggestive of inexperience.” The play oens with the love-obsessed Valentine talking to Proteus, with Valentine preparing to leave Verona for Milan so as to broaden his horizons.

Proteus
Cease to persuade, my loving Proteus:
Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits.
Were’t not affection chains thy tender days
To the sweet glances of thy honour’d love,
I rather would entreat thy company
To see the wonders of the world abroad,
Than, living dully sluggardized at home,
Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness.
But since thou lovest, love still and thrive therein,
Even as I would when I to love begin.

Valentine
Stop trying to convince me, enamored Proteus!
Young people who always stay at home are very dull.
If love didn’t keep you here—chaining you to your beloved’s sweet looks—
I would ask you to join me, so you can see the wonders of the world abroad.
That’s better than to live in a dull way,
being lazy at home and wasting your youth by doing nothing.
But since you’re in love, continue to love and let your love grow.
I’ll do the same when I fall in love.

The legacy of Romeo & Juliet has had, in Verona, a most profound effect. Every day sees a new set of star-crossed lovers arrive in the city to take a bubble-bath in its lake of wistful romanticism. Close to the imagined site of Juliet’s Balcony, explosions of graffiti & notes cover the walls on a daily basis, leading to the irate & rather staid Veronese authorities instigating 500 euro fines to anyone who stick notes up with chewing gum! Another Shakespeare-induced visitor to Verona, Paul Roe, was not looking for love, however, but was drawn there by the a singular passage in Romeo & Juliet, which contained a very distinctive topographical clue;

Madam, an hour before the worshipped sun
Peered forth the golden window of the East,
A troubled mind drove me to walk abroad,
Where, underneath the grove of sycamore
That westward rooteth from the city’s side,
So early walking did I see your son

To this day, there stands a grove of Sycamores outside the western walls of the city, which were joyously observed by Roe; ‘in the first act, in the very first scene, of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the trees are described; and no one has ever thought that the English genius who wrote the play could have been telling the truth: that there were such trees, growing exactly where he said in Verona.‘ Roe also points out that Verona’s Chiesa di San Pietro Incarnario is mentioned by Juliet’s, ‘now, by Saint Peter’s church, and Peter too. He shall not make me there a joyful bride.’ Shakespeare also understood the etymology of a minor place very much off the normal radar, ten miles from Verona on the banks of the Tartaro River. Called Villafranca, its name translates as ‘Freetown,’ & in Romeo & Juliet we hear, ‘you Capulet, shall go along with me; And Montague, come you this afternoon, To know our father pleasure in this case, To old Freetown our common judgment place.’ As details like these are absent from both the 1562 Arthur Brooke poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, & the Italian originals by da Porta and Bandello, once again we must place Shakespeare in person at the scene-setting of one of his plays.

Before we leave Lombardy, let us put to bed an Anti-Shakespearean factochisp of his time there, as told by Sydney Lee; ‘the fact that he represents Valentine in the ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ as travelling from Verona to Milan by sea, & Prospero in the ‘Tempest’ as embarking on a ship at the gates of Milan, renders it impossible that he could have gathered his knowledge of Northern Italy from personal observation.’ To counter this assumption Roe rummaged ferret-like through the Verona State Archives & finally found a map dated to 1713 which show how the Adige, Tartaro, and Po rivers were once connected by a system of canals. These would have allowed the water-borne journey along the fossi as undertaken by Valentine in the Two Gentlemen. As for the aquatic ‘gates of Milan,’ the fact that a sea-going ‘bark’ such as was described in the Tempest as leaving Milan finds confirmation through the pen of Michel de Montaigne, who in 1581 wrote; ‘we crossed the river Naviglio, which was narrow, but still deep enough to carry great barks to Milan.’ Shakespeare’s select knowledge of those unexpectedly navigable north Italian river ways bolsters our touring Bard yet further.


1586: SHAKESPEARE’S ITALIAN STUDIES

The Decameron

The chief purpose of their visit to Italy, in fact the whole trip to Europe, was to further the party’s education. JC Collins writes of another poet’s trip to the same country a decade earlier, stating of Sydney’s twelve-month stay that, ‘before he left Italy he was master of Latin, Italian & French, & anxious also to begin a study of Greek.’ Of his travels in 1574, Sidney’s travelling companion, Lodowick Bryskett remembers the same Italy through which our Grand Tourists would have travelled;

Through many a hill & dale,
Through pleasant woods & many an unknown way,
Along the banks of many silver streams,
He with him went; & with him he did scale
The craggy rocks of th’ Alp & Appenine
Still with the Muses sportin

There are many traces of Shakespeare’s reading of Italian literature, whether at leisure or in scholarship, reading matter for the long journeys id the 16th century; on foor, horseback or even carriage. Among the many plays & prose pieces are names & the plots of which would eventually find their way into the Shakesepeareean ouvre. Many of these were untranslated into English before the plays were composed, such as those five stories by the Italian Renaissance poet, Matteo Bandello, which were later adapted by Shakespeare into Cymbeline, Othello, the Claudio subplot of Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo & Juliet & Twelfth Night, Edward III (part 2, story 29). Bandello also inspires certain motifs in Shakespeare’s Lucrece poem. Away from the enthusiastic Bandelllo, nuggets include;

1 : Hamlet’s ‘what a piece of work is man,’ is suggesed by the ms of Leon Battista Alberti’s Delle Tranquilita dell Animo – not printed til 1843

2: Andrea da Darnerino’s ‘Reali di Francia’ is similar to Cymbeline

3: Ser Giovanni Fiorentino’s Il Pecorone – in which we find the debtor Antonio – inspired the Merchant of Venice

4: There are flashes of Berni in Othello

5: Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso inspired Othello, the Tempest, a Midsummer Nights Dream & Much Ado About Nothing

6: Othello’s story was taken from Cinthio’s El Capitano Moro, of which there was then no translation.

7: The Clever Wench tale found the in the 9th story of Boccaccio’s Decameron inspired Alls Well that Ends Well

8: The Hecatomiti of Cinthio would also inspire the Isabella adventures in Measure for Measure

9: The 15th century Novellino of Masuccio Salernitani influenced both the Merchant of Venice & Romeo & Juliet

10:  Taming of the Shrew is inspired by the Notti piacevoli of Straparola, published in Venice in 1550We should at this point recognise the influence on Shakespeare of John Florio’s Engish manual for learning Italian, Folio’s First Frutes (1578), which contains the sentence, “we need not speak so much of love, all books are full of love, with so many authors, that it were labour lost to speak of Love.”

11: In Measure for Measure Shakespeare must have taken the idea of the substitution of the bodies from Cinthio’s drama Epitia, since the substitution does not occur in the story of the Hecatommithi (Deca VIII, novella 5), of which Epitia is a dramatic version.

12: The Tempest, whose Italian inspiration has been convincingly traced by Ferdinando Neri (Scenari delle maschere in Arcadia, Citta di Castello 1913) introduces two clowns who, instead of being portrayed as Elizabethan Londoners as in Shakespeare’s other plays, seem to have been borrowed from a Neapolitan farce. (B. Croce, “Shakespeare, Napoli, e la commedia napoletana dell’arte”, in La Critica for May-July, 1919).

We should also recognise the influence on Shakespeare of John Florio’s Engish manual for learning Italian, Folio’s First Frutes (1578), which contains the sentence, “we need not speak so much of love, all books are full of love, with so many authors, that it were labour lost to speak of Love.” Love’s Labours Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, alongside Twelfth Night, whose Italian influences are striking. Chief among these is the ‘confusing twins’ plot of Gl’Ingannati (the deceived), one of the commedia erudita of the Italian Cinquecento. The diarist John Manningham noted similarities in his diary record of a performance in 1602, when it was, he wrote, ‘most like and neere to that Italian called Inganni’. 


FEBRUARY 1586
Shakespeare experiences Commeddia Dell Arte

The history of Elizabethan theatre is a curious hybrid, an amalgam of continental trends & the medieval folk traditions of the English provinces. By the Elizabethan age, her playwrights had developed an uninhibited secular drama, inspired by a burgeoning humanist world-view & fuell’d by a constant stream of renaissance minds forged in grammar-schools & varnished in the land’s universities. It is in Shakespeare’s visit to Italy, then, that these forces were truly emblazoned upon a single individual spirit. To the Elizabethan mind, Italy was poetry, & Italian theatre the most innovative on the planet. In 1586, from the fertile fields of the Veneto Plain, directly to the east of Lombardy, a new kind of improvised comical theatre called Commeddia Dell Arte began to spring up. The full name of the form is commedia dell’arte all’improvviso, or ‘comedy of the very creative ability of improvisatio,’ & were rather like the romantic comedies of today, & were typically acted out by masked ‘archetypes’ trained to give out improvised performances. These stock characters included foolish old men, mischievous servants, brash military officers, & miserly merchants. In Act II Scene II of Hamlet, Hamlet seems to be describing a performance as he speaks to an actor;

I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted; or, if it was, not above once; for the play, I remember, pleased not the million; ’twas caviare to the general: but it was–as I received it, and others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine–an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, set down with as much modesty as cunning. I remember, one said there were no sallets in the lines to make the matter savoury, nor no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation; but called it an honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine.

Most of Shakespeare’s early plays – The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night & Much Ado About Nothing – were inspired by the tradition. Of Love’s Labours Lost, where Geoffrey Bullough writes, ‘there may have been an earlier play, continental in origin & affected by the commedia dell’arte tradition,‘ he is referring to the use of CDA’s archetypical characters; foolish old men, mischievous servants, brash military officers & miserly merchants such as the braggart (Armado) & ostentatious pedant (Holofernes). Another early play, Twelfth Night, utilises many of CDA’s ‘lazzi,’ a stock comic element, as when the ‘Pantalone’ is tricked by other characters into doing those daft things they have convinced him will impress the woman he admires.

That Shakespeare witnessed a performance at some point seems likely, for Verona, alongside sites such as Mantua, was firmly  on the circuit of traveling CDELA troupes. Grillo writes that English theatre, ‘borrowed from Italian drama much of its technique–chorus, echo, play within a play, dumb show, ghosts of great men, mechanical stage apparatus and all the physical horrors which aroused in the audience feelings of awe and terror,‘ & with Shakespeare’s trip to the Continent being in all essence an academic pursuit, it seems that the study of Italian theatre was on the curriculum.


MARCH 1586
Shakespeare in Venice

Of all the cities in adorable Italy, Shakespeare seems to know the most about the floating pleasure-palace that is Venice. When, in the Merchant of Venice, he writes, ‘what news on the Rialto?’ he was well aware of the rumour-laden tittle-tattle that flock still to that famously beautiful bridge. Elsewhere in the pantheon, just after  Shakespeare introduces Cassio as a ‘Florentine’ in Othello, he has the Venetian lago become all prickly & slurry,  reflecting the provincial Italian animosity our bard must have observed at first hand. In the MOV in particular, Grillo finds, ‘an inimitable Italian atmosphere… the topography is so precise & accurate that it must convince even the most superficial reader that the poet visited the country, acutely observant of all its characteristics as he traveled through its mountains & valleys. One instance is the gift of a dish of pigeons which Gobbo takes to his son’s master. Gobbo is a purely Venetian name, which must certainly have been suggested to Shakespeare by the statue of the kneeling hunchback of the Rialto, which forms the base of the pillar upon which in ancient days were affixed the decrees of the Republic.’

The inimitable Paul Roe found the very house where MOV’s Shylock lived: a ‘penthouse’ on the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, where Jewish Banks once leant the Christians money. That it was, & still is, supported by three columns, just as Shakespeare describes, is yet another incredible accuracy from our poet in Italy. The MOV gives the following directions to the house; ‘turn upon your right hand at the next turning, but at the next turning of all, on your left; marry, at the very next turning, turn of no hand; but turn down indirectly to the Jew’s house,’ which is an uncanny way of describing the mazy lanes of Venice. ‘Other Shakespearean Venetian references,’ says John Hudson, ‘are to the characteristic gondolas & chopins – a kind of platform shoe – as well as to the Venetian calendar & judicial procedures.’

There is also a very subtle time-clue  that Shakespeare was visiting Venice before 1589.  In the MOV, we hear Portia say, ‘Tarry, Jew. The law hath yet another hold on you. It is enacted in the laws of Venice, if it be proved against an alien that by direct or indirect attempts he seek the life of any citizen.‘ This ‘law’ cannot be applicable to tha 1589 ruling made by the venetian Senate which declared the city’s Jewish  residents were now full citizens of the Republic.

Another Elizabethan traveller to Venice, Fynnes Moryson, offers an accurate insight into the city which Shakespeare would have encountered. Notice how he observes the Traghetti ferries, which in the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare calls, ‘trajects,’ as in, ‘unto the traject, to the common ferry. Which trades to Venice.’

This stately City built in the bottome of the gulfe of the Adriatique sea… is eight miles in circuit, and hath seventy parishes, wherein each Church hath a little market place, for the most part foure square, and a publike Well. For the common sort use well water, and raine water kept in cesternes; but the Gentlemen fetch their water by boat from the land. It hath thirty one cloysters of Monkes, and twenty eight of Nunnes, besides chappels and alines-houses. Channels of water passe through this City (consisting of many Ilands joyned with Bridges) as the bloud passeth through the veines of mans body; so that a man may passe to what place he will both by land and water. The great channell is in length about one thousand three hundred paces, and in breadth forty paces, and hath onely one bridge called Rialto, and the passage is very pleasant by this channell; being adorned on both sides with stately Pallaces. And that men may passe speedily, besides this bridge, therebe thirteene places called Traghetti, where boats attend Gondole. called Gondole; which being of incredible number give ready passage to all men.

Of other correlations in the MOV, Shakespeare describes the “liberty of strangers,” a key part of the Venetian constitution; accurate sailors’ expressions are put into the mouths of Salanio and Salerio, we hear of the “trance!” or traghetto which connects Venice to the mainland. and in Othello we see a mention of the “special officers of the night,” ie the Venetian nightwardens. Thro’ Moryson, we can really get a feel for Shakespeare’s stay in Venice; absorbing all the vibrant life & colour of the market-places, or perhaps studying in the city’s library. Here are a couple more Venetian passages from his ‘Itinerary.’

Right over against the Dukes Pallace, in the… second market place of the pallace, is the library, whose building is remarkable, and the architecture of the corner next the market place of the Bakers, is held by great Artists a rare worke, and divers carved Images of Heathen Gods, and Goddesses in the old habit, are no lesse praised, as done by the hands of most skilfull workemen. On the inside, the arched roofes curiously painted, and the little study of ivory, with pillars of Allablaster, and rare stones, and carved Images (in which an old breviary of written hand, and much esteemed, is kept) are things very remarkeable. The inner chamber is called the study ; in which many statuaes and halle statuaes, twelve heads of Emperors, and other things given to the State by Cardinall Dominicke Grimani, are esteemed precious by all antiquaries. And in this Library are laid up the Bookes, which the Patriarke and Cardinall Bessarione gave to Saint Marke (that is to the State) by his last will, and the most rare books brought from Constantinople at the taking thereof, and otherwise gathered from all parts of Greece.

This City aboundeth with good fish, which are twice each day to be sold in two markets of Saint Marke & Rialto, & that it spendeth weekly five hundred Oxen, & two hundred & fifty Calves, besides great numbers of young Goates, Hens, and many kinds of birds, besides that it aboundeth with sea birds, whereof the Venetian writers make two hundred kinds, and likewise aboundeth with savoury fruits, and many salted and dried dainties, and with all manner of victuals, in such sort as they impart them to other Cities. I will also adde that here is great concourse of all nations, as well for the pleasure the City yeeldeth, as for the free conversation ; and especially for the commodity of trafficke. That in no place is to be found in one market place such variety of apparell, languages, and manners.

While in Venice, Shakespeare would have pictorially seen the next stage in the development of his Venus & Adonis. The above painting is by Titian, his amazing ‘Sacred & Profane Love,’ in which the coat of arms of a leading Venetian politician – Niccolo Aurelio – can be seen. In the sculptural relief below the two women – one of whom is Venus – there is a man on the ground that invokes the image of a chastised Adonis. The rampant horse & the woman being checked by the hair in the relief seem to represent the halting of the passions, with the horse being the Platonic symbol of libido. This pictorial motif then turns up in the poem as;

But, lo, from forth a copse that neighbours by,
A breeding jennet, lusty, young and proud,
Adonis’ trampling courser doth espy,
And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud:
The strong-neck’d steed, being tied unto a tree,
Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he.
Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,
And now his woven girths he breaks asunder.

The Venice that is portrayed in Othello shows a personal appreciation by the bard. Grillo summoned up concisely much of the true Venetian atmosphere that he could see in the play, being, ‘the darkness of morning, the narrow and mysterious “calli,” Brabantio’s house with its heavy iron-barred doors, the Sagittary, the official residence of the commanders of the galleys, the hired gondolier witness of gallant intrigues… the galleys sent on a multitude of errands, the armaments, the attendants with torches, the special night guards, the council chamber, the senators, the Doge —the beloved Signor Magnifico— the discussions about the war… the history of Othello with all the sacrifices made in defence of the republic, the appearance of the divine Desdemona, fair & beautiful as a Titian portrait – all give the impression of a vivid portrayal of scenes enacted in the very heart of the Queen of the Adriatic.’ This wonderful passage brings us to the end of our search for Shakespeare’s secret Italy. He surely visited the country, for where else would he have picked up such a native phrase such as, ‘sano come un pesce / sound as a fish,’ an expression Grillo states was, even in his time, ‘still in common use in certain parts of Italy.’