this is the intro text for Everreader 6 – do NOT type a title for it!
LEAVE it as it is.
this is the intro text for Everreader 6 – do NOT type a title for it!
this is the intro text for Everreader 6 – do NOT type a title for it!
LEAVE it as it is.
The following essay was originally published in two parts in the Summer 1997 and the Fall 1997/Winter 1998 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.
Last year, I wrote an article for the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn’s concept of “paradigm shifts” and the Oxfordian movement. (“A Little More Than Kuhn and Less Than Kind,” Newsletter, Winter 1996.)
In the interim, the essay’s reception outside the Oxfordian enclave has been delightfully mixed. It has been assigned reading lists in higher education, while in the Internet’s online world, the Obfuscation Police were apparently called on to disperse the growing crowds around Kuhn’s work.
“Ever since Kuhn’s book came out in the 1960s, every crackpot whose ideas are rejected by the establishment has piously declared that they represent a new ‘paradigm,’ and that the old guard is just clinging to their outmoded ideas because they can’t see beyond the old paradigm,” wrote Shakespeare Authorship Page co-manager David Kathman earlier this year. “This does not mean that everyone who invokes Kuhn is a crackpot, only that many of them are, and that just invoking Kuhn in favor of your cause doesn’t mean a whole lot.”
Online correspondent Caius Marcius went Kathman one better. He stated that the authorship controversy was about a “fact” -i.e. whether Oxford or Shakspere of Stratford was the author-and not a theory. Therefore Kuhn’s findings were irrelevant to Oxfordianism. (Never mind that the same sleight-of-hand can be performed with Kuhn’s own case study. Namely, the stir Copernicus caused was merely about a “fact”-i.e. whether the Sun or the Earth is at the center of the Solar System. Argal Kuhn’s findings are irrelevant to Kuhn’s data.)
Wrote Paul Crowley in frustration, “The difference in our positions about Shakespeare is so deep and extensive, and the gap is so unbridgeable that an invocation of Kuhnian paradigms is… entirely appropriate.”
Whatever one makes of the e-flak, it’s at least true that beneath all the garble, the nay-sayers have a basic point. Kuhn’s landmark study was the foundation upon which my article was based, and that study was nominally about an entirely different field from authorship research. There lies the nub. Science is not literature, nor is the twain the ‘tother. The differences are obvious. But here is the point beyond which the nay-sayers do not go. Appreciating the less obvious similarities shared by all fields endeavoring to uncover objective truth stands to benefit any truth-seeker, no matter what their discipline. Archaeology or genetics, psycholinguistics or grain science: if the purpose is to gather empirical evidence and construct theories to best explain the evidence, then lessons drawn from one discipline stand to benefit another discipline.
Since literary studies has seen nothing like the Shakespeare authorship question in its two plus centuries of academic investiture, guidance from outside the field could be useful. And since literary studies provide only part of the tools necessary to do Oxfordian research-history, logic, philosophy, theology, rhetoric, classics and science constitute yet more components of the problem-guidance from outside the field is especially germane.
Multidisciplinary studies, after all, call for multidisciplinary solutions.
So it was that Kuhn offered an attractive foundation on which to build an investigation of the “Looney theory.” But it was only a starting point.
Where one turns from there is entirely up to the investigator. The history of history undoubtedly holds revelations for Oxfordians hunting for precedent and instructive analogies. The two millennia of changing tides in philosophy may likewise present opportunities to grapple with the Oxfordian theory’s place in the larger context of paradigm shifts.
However, one needn’t necessarily venture afield from Kuhn either. The sciences are far from exhausted in teaching the patient authorship student how better to pursue her craft. My own background before entering the authorship arena was in physics and astronomy. And as a discipline constantly turning up new empirical evidence, refining and even refuting itself, the physical sciences can provide helpful perspective to Oxfordians up to their neck in 400 year-old historical documents and 16th century drama and poetry.
Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned in my technical training was to appreciate beauty. (Yes, Virginia, beauty is admired and even valued by the pocket protector crowd.) Of course, the kind of beauty one experiences in the sciences is different in substance from the beauty found in a Miles Davis album or a poem by Shelley or a painting by Picasso.
The beauty to be found in a theory, equation or concept is no less profound, though. (And I must confess to a disposition to theoretical beauty beyond the scope of most physicists-I went to graduate school to study general relativity, that most impractical and jobless subfield of physics founded nearly entirely on aesthetic arguments.)
The beauty of a theory is, like all aesthetic judgments, ultimately in the beholder’s eye. Fortunately, though, many great scientific minds have already put down what to their eyes constitutes absolute theoretical beauty.
And it only takes a few select words of advice to see the wisdom waiting to be tapped, for those willing to look.
“Truth and Beauty are all my argument”
Werner Heisenberg is one of the founders of quantum physics. Heisenberg is perhaps best known for his formula codifying the inherent uncertainty found in measurements at the subatomic level-the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. And though he discovered the mechanism for nature’s eternal equivocations, Heisenberg was far from uncertain about the difference between ideas that worked and those that didn’t work.
In his essay “The Meaning of Beauty in the Exact Sciences,” Heisenberg crystallizes the notion remarkably when he notes, “beauty is the proper conformity of the parts to one another and to the whole.” Like the Sonnets or the Bill of Rights, Heisenberg’s 15-word remark smacks of such precision that one could imagine less eloquent thinkers writing entire books without ever arriving at the core truth Heisenberg lighted upon.
Given Heisenberg’s working definition alone, then, one can begin to explore what is “beautiful” about the Oxfordian hypothesis, how one can further refine its beauty and how best to make that beauty evident to a world ignorant of its charms.
The question of what is “parts” and what is “whole” in Heisenberg’s terms immediately arises for one applying his dictum. The answer, it appears, can be found on more than one level. Begin with the smallest unit of poetic and dramatic meaning, the individual word. At the microscopic level, Oxfordian and Stratfordian theories offer competing interpretations. Neither necessarily emerges as a clear winner in the war of exegeses.
When Hamlet calls Polonius a “fishmonger” (2, 2, 174), Oxfordians titter at the gall of the author to call his father-in-law a bawd. Stratfordians attempt to deny this interpretation, since there is no way a common playwright could so besmirch the memory of William Cecil, Lord Burghley and escape with his head. Ironically, the most topical gloss of “fishmonger” gives the usually topically-allergic orthodox scholars plausible deniability: Burghley introduced Civil Lent to England, requiring all citizens to eat fish on Fridays. In that sense, Hamlet could perhaps only be referring to Civil Lent, thus clearing him of slander in this case.
It’s a big perhaps, but so long as one doesn’t pull the lens back any further, it’s a perhaps that can join the 27,431 other perhapses that make up the Stratford burgher’s hypothesized literary biography. As it happens, though, there are those today who have apparently had enough perhapses. In an amusing theoretical contortion, some of the less strategically-endowed Stratfordians have made the revisionist assertion that Polonius actually has nothing whatsoever to do with Burghley.
Say what you will about the notion’s patent absurdity–as Stratfordian scholar Lilian Winstanley wrote, “The resemblances [between Polonius and Burghley] are too great to be ascribed to any form of accident” –the plan does have immediate payoff.
Over the short-term, denying the canon’s most undeniable link to Oxford does undoubtedly buttress a few stone walls around Stratford, making the ramparts protecting, say, Hamnet Shakspere’s crib more impermeable to heretical assaults. But ultimately it’s pure folly. Oxfordians should in fact encourage such scholarly denial as much as possible, since baggage of that heft being tossed overboard portends titanic things for the “S.S. Stratford.” (Could the cry “Abandon ship!” be far behind?)
Whatever Polonial or even Corambial position a Shakespeare scholar takes, though, the fact remains that when the facts remain at the single-word level, Oxfordians are implicitly ceding ground. Focusing on microscopic details such as individual words, documents, records and facts plays to the Stratfordians’ advantage. When there is no big picture to confront, there is plenty of room for any authorship theory to roam. After he debated Prof. Alan Nelson (April 1997), Charles Burford remarked that Nelson evinced an almost talismanic worship of minutiae–and conversely an allergic aversion to the aggregate.
“I wanted to create a background against which Nelson’s comments would be heard for what they are: fragile, pedantic and artificial,” Burford wrote on the Phaeton online conference after the debate. “Of course, the cult of overspecialization in universities today (or ‘minutism’ as I call it) helps foster Nelson’s approach to Shakespeare. As long as he never steps back from his microscope and views every little detail of the age on a separate slide, he can live out his Stratford fetish. In that regard he’s a bit like the Lady of Shalott, weaving with the aid of a mirror. He may well be half sick of shadows for all we know, but Lancelot is going to have to sing mighty enticingly to break that mirror and force the professor’s confrontation with reality.”
So while there may be “beauty” at the level of the individual word, a debate waged solely on these grounds is probably not winnable for the heretic. “EVer”s and “truth”s may be authorial curios, but rhetorically they’re weak weaponry against a three century-old Stratfordian tradition of fetishistic devotion to the microscopic.
Moving on up
The hierarchy of beauty, however, offers greater rewards the higher an Oxfordian dares to climb. At the next level of “parts” to “whole”-the sentence-one begins to see patterns of meaning emerging where the Stratford burgher’s advocates can only make collages of OED definitions.
In Merry Wives of Windsor, for instance, Ford–an autobiographical character embodying Oxford’s jealousies directed against his first wife circa 1576–has a few authorial moments to give a heretic pause. In the play’s reconciliation scene, Falstaff–who joins Ford and Fenton as the play’s trio of authorial figures–realizes he’s been fooled once again.
The scene as a whole is very funny. Falstaff enters dressed as a stag, and most of the characters have an opportunity to mock him, mock others or mock themselves. Jokes rain from the sky like potatoes. And Ford has his share.
“I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass,” Falstaff says.
“Ay, and an ox too; both the proofs are extant,” replies Ford. (5, 5, 119-120)
Both lines read as if they should be followed with laughter. They’re set up like a comedic point-counterpoint, a parry followed by a riposte. Yet I saw a very funny production of Merry Wives several times this summer, and Ford’s line never got a laugh.
Immediately, of course, any blunderbuss who knows the author’s name can see the quickie joke in “Ox” Ford’s line. He’s filling in the blanks for those slowpokes who hadn’t quite figured out the whole story by now. Its meaning–which in this case translates to humor-is on a single–word level. Funny, but we can do better.
At the sentence level of meaning, then, the remark begs to be glossed. Why does Ford refer to “proofs” that are “extant”? Such quasi-legal words implore the reader to look outside the sentence for context.
At an earlier point in the play the Welsh parson Hugh Evans questions the schoolboy William Page on his Latin. “What is ‘lapis,’ William?” He asks.
William responds, “A stone.”
“And what is ‘a stone,’ William?”
“No; it is ‘lapis.’ I pray you, remember in your prain.” (4, 1, 31-6)
Again, this scene has some funny moments–mostly due to Mistress Quickly’s malapropisms and misapprehensions. The above sentences, though, read like Ford’s laughless one-liner. They feel as though they should be around for a reason, but neither the scene nor the characters seem to want to provide it.
Here’s where context again needs to be introduced. And here’s where one can begin to see the next level of proper conformity of parts to one another and to the whole. In his published letters, Gabriel Harvey audaciously referred to Oxford as “the ass” –obviously pejorative but perhaps also a reference to Apuleius’ Golden Ass.
Falstaff’s line, then, becomes both a contextual joke on his own buffoonery and a subtextual joke about his (i.e. the author’s) many sobriquets.
The “ox” gag continues on that theme.
Thomas Nashe’s Strange News (1592) contains a strange dedication to one “Master William Apis Lapis”–which Charles Wisner Barrell proved quite convincingly was Oxford (cf. Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly (Vol. 5, no. 4, p. 49, Oct. 1944)).
“Apis Lapis,” as he argues, is a “stoned [castrated] bull” or “ox.” So when Ford calls Falstaff an ox, he’s not just playing the name game.
Ford’s proof that Falstaff is an ox was recited by the schoolboy William in the previous act. So long as we remember in our “prain” that ‘lapis’ is stone, the author has given us enough information to get both the reference to and the substance of Nashe’s bilingual joke. Of course, the absurdity is compounded by the fact that Ford is as much “ox” as Falstaff. Perhaps more so.
The irony is often rich when Shakespeare’s authorial characters interact. Ford and Falstaff certainly provide the author ample opportunity to goof around with the very definition of self. Within the play, both characters are unique and distinct individuals. Yet as they acknowledge in the above exchange, their identities are only as different as the two nicknames for the same person. Now that’s funny. “The anchor is deep,” to quote Nym. “Will that humor pass?”
Part II – “Beauty” in the higher realms
In the last issue of the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, the specter of physicist Werner Heisenberg–godfather of quantum mechanics and discoverer of the uncertainty principle which bears his name–was invoked in an attempt to lay out some of the intuitive appeal of the Oxfordian theory.
Heisenberg valued the concept of beauty in a theory, and one of his remarks on the subject speaks to a quality contained in Looney’s looney idea.
“Beauty,” as he said in a 1970 address to the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, “is the proper conformity of the parts to one another and to the whole.”
Having already considered examples of the truth of this remark at the level of individual words and sentences, we can now ratchet up the rigging to a higher level of meaning.
Heisenberg’s notion of “beauty,” that is, can be appreciated as one stands back from a painting as well as at the level of individual brush strokes. Indeed, art lovers would no doubt add that much meaning and aesthetic value is lost when one focuses too much on the microscopic. A painter uses individual strokes to be considered with all the rest of her strokes on the canvas, not to be studied in isolation. And so it appears to be with a good theory–it should only get better as one stands back to look at the whole canvas or at one canvas in relation to other works in the gallery.
In this column, I’ll consider Heisenberg’s remark in the context of not a word or a sentence but an entire scene – Bottom and company’s enactment of “Pyramus and Thisbe” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1.
As it is typically performed today, Bottom’s play-within-a-play is an interlude given over to buffoonery and light laughs. Of course, it’s undeniably a very funny scene, and it holds plenty of opportunities for a good comic actor to show off his or her skills.
But there’s more to Bottom’s antics than such surface-level interpretations would allow. Indeed, the beauty of the Oxfordian theory reveals itself to those willing to dig beneath the surface.
As anyone familiar with the play knows, the dramatic centerpiece of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the marriage do-si-do game played by two young ladies (Helena and Hermia) and two suitors (Demetrius and Lysander). And, as it happens, the quartet’s matchmaking and mis-matchmaking adventures line up nicely with the nuptial antics leading to the 1595 marriage of Oxford’s first daughter, Elizabeth to William Stanley, Earl of Derby.
Without entering into a scholarly analysis of the correspondences–neither space nor format allows for such–suffice it to note that the broken third-party marriage arrangement between Demetrius and Hermia followed by Hermia’s marriage to Lysander at least roughly parallels the broken third-party marriage arrangement between the Earl of Southampton and Elizabeth Vere followed by Elizabeth Vere’s marriage to Derby. (Some Stratfordian scholars have speculated that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was first performed at the Vere-Derby wedding, which would further implicate the Vere-Derby match as potential dramatic fodder for the play.)
While the four romantic leads gallivant in the forest, falling in love and falling under the spell of Puck’s potions, the weaver Bottom and his crew work up to their performance of “Pyramus and Thisbe.” The Ovidian tale of unrequited love, in fact, caps A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Only a series of epilogues by Puck and the Fairy King and Queen stands between the end of Bottom’s drama and the final curtain of the entire play.
Within the orthodox theory of authorship, then, “Bottom’s Dream” –as Bottom calls his interlude– provides a comic ending to the play and burlesques the themes found throughout the drama. “As a part of the whole play the performance is organic not only because it is the achieved goal of the artisan-plot, but also by its relevance to the main themes: love, and the relation between imagination, illusion and reality,” writes Harold F. Brooks in his introduction to the Arden edition of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. That’s about it, though. Stratfordian discussion of any “proper conformity” between Bottom’s interlude and the rest of the play scarcely if ever ventures beyond the broad-sweeping themes Brooks writes about. But if one allows for the above Vere-Derby-Southampton / Hermia-Lysander-Demetrius parallels to creep in, the conformity Heisenberg seeks emerges like the fairies who populate A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s woods.
First, one need only recall that Southampton was the dedicatee of numerous works of literature akin to the story of “Pyramus and Thisbe.” So Bottom’s reworking of the old tale gains a satirical edge as a commentary on the many hacks who dedicated editions of their verse to Southampton after “Shake-speare” did so in Venus & Adonis and Lucrece.
Some of these works –such as John Clapham’s Narcissus, Thomas Powell’s Welsh Bayte and Thomas Nashe’s Unfortunate Traveller– name Southampton as the dedicatee. (Nashe also dedicated but never published a bawdy poem “The Choice of Valentines” to a “Lord S. … the fairest bud the red rose ever bore.” Southampton’s biographers C.C. Stopes and G.P.V. Akrigg have both argued that Nashe’s “Lord S.” is Southampton.)
Other tales –such as Drayton’s Endymion and Phoebe, Chapman’s Ovid’s Banquet of Sense, Thomas Peend’s Harmaphroditus and Salmacis, Lodge’s Scylla and Heywood’s Oenone and Paris– follow the Venus & Adonis model closely enough that a nod to Southampton can reasonably be inferred. One other work bears closer scrutiny in the present context. That is, in 1597, William Burton dedicated his Clitophon and Leucippe–an English translation of a romance by Achilles Tatius–to Southampton. The tale it tells casts both “Pyramus and Thisbe” and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a revealing light.
The young lover Clitophon, as Burton tells it, finds himself in an unwanted marriage arrangement made by his father and instead pines for his true love Leucippe. (In this case, Clitophon’s distaste for his father’s marriage plans is heightened by the fact that Clitophon’s proposed bride is also his half-sister.) The two lovers elope, and, as in “Pyramus,” one of them mistakenly learns in the midst of the drama that the other has been slain. Unlike the tragic ending of “Pyramus,” though, Clitophon and Leucippe’s story ends happily with their wedding in the presence of Leucippe’s father.
Considering the above in the light of Heisenberg’s dictum, one can see that even a cursory Oxfordian reading of “Bottom’s Dream” reveals entirely new layers of “proper conformit[ies] of the parts to one another and to the whole.”
As noted above, since Bottom presents an Ovidian tale before Demetrius and company, Bottom’s work can be seen as a spoof of the many Ovidian imitations presented to Southampton. But since the publication of Venus & Adonis is itself related to the Elizabeth Vere-Southampton marriage match (a fact well documented in Ogburn, Looney, etc.), “Bottom’s Dream” is also Shakespeare’s self-deprecating portrait of his own “unpolished lines.”
Viewed in this light, the autobiographical character Theseus would in a sense become a co-author of Bottom’s masque. And that may in fact be part of the joke when in lines 42-84, Theseus repeatedly insists on viewing “Pyramus and Thisbe” despite the protestations of Athens’ Master of Revels. As Oxford must have done on many occasions, Theseus both mocks the drama and demands that it be shown, whether it’s “extremely strech’d and conn’d with cruel pain” or not.
Furthermore, like Hamlet’s “Mousetrap,” Bottom’s masque also functions like a dumb show of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It retells the essential elements of the drama in the guise of an ancient tale. In Hollywood terms, it’s conveying to the audience (which is both the characters on stage and the actual audience) something about the “back story” of Demetrius (Pyramus) and Hermia (Thisbe). They may have come to love each other at some point, it says, but there’s a wall that separates them from one another. And, as a note of caution, it shows that a tragic end would have befallen Demetrius and Hermia had they instead gone through with her father’s marriage agreement.
Finally, Bottom’s staging of “Pyramus and Thisbe” brings to mind the language of Sonnet 116. (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments…”) It is as if The Wall that separates the two protagonists is the ultimate impediment in preventing the lovers’ amorous intents. Rather, the only things The Wall–which is actually a character in Bottom’s play–allows to pass between Pyramus and Thisbe are conversations and plans. The Wall will not be an “impediment” in uniting matters of the “mind”; it will only impede where matters of love and marriage are concerned. (“I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all,” says Thisbe after she tries to kiss Pyramus through a chink in the wall.)
Once Pyramus and Thisbe have unknowingly sealed their fate never to become lovers–they both agree to meet at “Ninny’s tomb” where they will both die–The Wall acknowledges that his job is done: “Thus have I, Wall, my part discharged so; And, being done, thus Wall away doth go.” (Lines 207-208) Over two essays, we have seen several instances where Stratfordian interpretations find few if any “proper conformit[ies] of the parts to one another and to the whole” and where only a few paragraphs of Oxfordian gloss deliver the desired conformities in abundance. That, in Heisenberg’s terms, is beauty.
It has also become apparent that as one climbs to higher levels of “parts” to “whole”–i.e. from words to sentences to scenes–the Oxfordian interpretations gain multiple layers of “conformities” while any gems Stratfordian readings turn up diminish in carat and hew.
This is perhaps where Oxfordians should consider their home turf. For while orthodox scholars may be able to sneak in a topicality or two with individual words (“the author’s father was a glover, and perhaps he heard the words ‘paring knife’ in his father’s shop…”), there is little the Stratfordian theory can deliver vis-a-vis higher levels of “conformity” in the works.
And it’s this same “beauty” contest that ultimately determines the superiority of one theory over another. As J.W.N. Sullivan, biographer of both Newton and Beethoven, wrote in 1919, “The measure of the success of a scientific theory is, in fact, a measure of its aesthetic value, since it is a measure of the extent to which it has introduced harmony in what was before chaos.”
(For a more comprehensive discussion of aesthetics in theory see S. Chandrasekhar’s Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science (U. Chicago Press, 1987))
This article was first published in the Fall 1996 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.
Vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.
William Shakespeare made his triumphant entrance into history with this Latin epigraph on the title-page of Venus and Adonis in 1593, quoting from Ovid’s Amores, in which the Roman poet of antiquity had described his own experiences with love. Shakespeare was striding onto the printed page as an actor, speaking the proud lines of the couplet as though they were his, and thereby introducing himself as the long-awaited English Ovid:
Let the mob admire base things;
may Golden Apollo serve me
full goblets from the Castalian Fount.
(Bullough, NDSS, Vol. 1, p. 161)
Publius Ovidius Naso, born in 43 B.C., sent the fresh breath of his love poems through the social life of Rome and became the toast of the town. Ovid revealed himself in his works more frankly than any writer of his culture; none so graphically depicted the intimacies of love. At the height of his poetic vigor, Ovid completed the monumental Metamorphoses, in which he linked together all the stories of classical mythology into a single artistic whole. Within fifteen books he depicted the full range of wondrous changes or “metamorphoses” by heroines and heroes from the dawn of creation to Ovid’s own time, when in his final book the soul of Julius Caesar is transformed into an eternal star in the heavens. In A.D. 8, Augustus cited the immorality of Ovid’s writings and banished him to the far edge of the empire. Here the exiled poet lived in the land of the Goths, amid a barbarous culture, until his death in disgrace a decade later.
But poetry, Ovid had declared, was a way of cheating death. He would rise above oblivion on the wings of his words. Now Shakespeare was taking the same position — “Not marble nor the gilded monuments of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme” –and with the epigraph from the Amores on his title-page, he claimed Ovid as his route to the Castalian spring on the side of Mt. Parnassus, sacred to Apollo and the Muses. Here was his source of inspiration, as well as his guarantor of high cultural status and immortality. He, too, through the virtue of his pen, would conquer disgrace or banishment or even death itself .
The newly arrived English Ovid, his cup brimming over, would infuse his own writings with tales of poetic, sexual and political power. He, too, would explore the psychology of desire and the transformations wrought by extremes of emotion; with Ovid, he would show that just when you think youve found what you most want in life, it destroys you. While also delighting in rhetorical ingenuity, verbal fertility and linguistic play, he would equally value variety and flexibility as fundamental habits of mind. His own contemporaries seemed to recognize the transfer of identity as not only literary but spiritual: “As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras,” Meres wrote, “so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare.”
For those who view the new author of Venus and Adonis as Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, it is possible to see him constructing the same kind of Ovidian illusion when he writes as a dramatist; that is, when he brings the magic of metamorphosis on stage. As perhaps the simplest example, the flesh-and-blood actor appears and we think, “Ah, here comes Will Kempe, playing Bottom in A Midsummer Nght’s Dream.” But then Bottom himself becomes an actor, during a play rehearsal within the play, wearing an asss head (III, i, 106) and now we think, Ah, here comes Bottom, playing the ass” — so that the original actor, Will Kempe, seems to vanish. Such is the case with Edward de Vere playing William Shakespeare who, in turn, embodies Ovid: the original author, himself a consummate actor-illusionist, seems to disappear.
Virtually all of Shakespeares plays are indebted to Ovid. Four times he refers to the Roman poet by name, five times to the swans singing at death as described in the Heroides.
The influence of Ovid was apparent throughout Shakespeare’s earliest literary work, both poetic and dramatic. His closest adaptations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses often reflect the phraseology of the popular English version by Arthur Golding issued between 1565 and 1567. (Sidney Lee, A Life of William Shakespeare)
Ovid, the love of Shakespeare’s life among Latin poets, made an overwhelming impression upon him, which he carried with him all his days: subjects, themes, characters and phrases haunted his imagination. The bulk of his classical mythology came from the Metamorphoses, which he used in the original as well as in Golding’s translation. (A.L. Rowse, Shakespeare, The Man)
The quotations above demonstrate how Stratfordian thinking about Shakespeare was forced to expand. First he is the poet of “small Latin” (a stubborn misreading of Ben Jonson’s words of praise in the First Folio) who must have relied upon Golding’s version in English; then, some generations later, it is acknowledged (reluctantly) that he also must have absorbed Ovid’s masterwork through the Roman poet’s actual Latin words. But evidence of his facility in both languages was always readily available: Shakespeare’s principal direct source for Lucrece — the Fasti of Ovid — was not published in an English translation until 1640, so Shakespeare had to move from Latin to English with consummate ease; he himself was a translator. In The Taming of the Shrew, to cite an example involving his favorite Latin author, he actually demonstrates this ability by having Lucentio “translate” Ovid’s Heroides for Bianca:
Hic ibat, as I told you before — Simois, I am Lucentio — hic est, son unto Vincentio of Pisa — Sigeia tellus, disguised thus to get your love — Hic steterat, and that Lucentio that comes a-wooing — Priami, is my man Tranio — regia, bearing my port –celsa senis, that we might beguile the old pantaloon. (III, i, 28-37)
J. Thomas Looney used the phrase “long foreground” for Shakespeare’s formative years, a period of necessary artistic growth and development which has always been totally missing from Stratfordian biography. Unless he was a god with miraculous powers, the sophisticated English poet who wrote Venus and Adonis went through much trial and error, creating a substantial body of apprenticeship work beforehand. By all logic Shakespeare must have begun translating Ovid in his earliest years, becoming thoroughly grounded in his old tales. He would have labored over the original texts and “tried on” various English nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, inventing new ones along the way; and in the process he would have acquired his astounding vocabulary of some 25,000 words, more than twice the size of Milton’s.
But let us return to Golding.
When John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford died suddenly and inexplicably in 1562, young Edward de Vere became a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth under the guardianship and control of William Cecil, her chief minister. The boy was a child of state and Her Royal Majesty was in every official respect his mother. Living with him at Cecil House was his uncle, Arthur Golding, and it was during this time that the “Golding” translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses was being rendered; so the young earl was physically present when the Roman poet’s tales of Echo and Narcissus, Venus and Adonis, et al, were transformed from their original Latin to English. In retrospect, given Shakespeare’s acknowledged debt to Ovid’s fifteen-book opus in both versions, the ecstatically feverish literary activity under Cecil’s roof becomes supremely significant.
It is remarkable, in light of Arthur Golding’s pivotal contribution to the English Renaissance, that traditional academia has never questioned his credentials for translating seduction scenes that he himself would have censored. Golding, after all, was an uptight puritanical scholar acting as one of Cecil’s henchmen. There is no evidence that he was ever the young Earl of Oxford’s tutor; at most he acted as the boys “receiver” for financial and legal matters. Otherwise, acting for the equally uptight and puritanical Cecil, he attempted to dissuade his nephew from taking any politically incorrect religious and cultural paths. His job, as well as inclination, was to quash Edward’s delight in exactly the kind of sensuous, stimulating, witty, erotic qualities that Ovid’s works embodied in the first place.
Arthur Golding was far more comfortable translating John Calvin’s version of the Psalms of David, which he published in 1571 and dedicated to Edward de Vere, urging the young earl to accept “true Religion, true Godliness, true Virtue.” Even though Oxford might have “all the sciences, arts, cunning, eloquence and wisdom of the world,” Golding warned him, without God’s word through Calvin he would “walk[eth] but in darkness.” This was probably a last ditch attempt to influence his nephew in the direction of puritanism, writes B.M. Ward, but “such efforts were doomed to disappointment” because “the movement of the time that appealed to Oxford was not the Reformation but the Renaissance.” Edward de Vere’s uncle would later warn that the earthquake of 1580 was God’s punishment for immoral behavior, specifically that of attending plays on Sundays, but by then his madcap nephew was himself producing plays.
It may be all too obvious that Arthur Golding could not, would not and did not translate Ovid’s tales of passion, seduction and lovemaking as well as incest by pagan gods and goddesses who were transformed into trees and lions and such. He was in every way incapable of it and, besides, he would have incurred Cecil’s wrath for doing so. Golding’s most notable task at Cecil House was helping Elizabeth and her Master of Royal Wards to quash a charge in 1563 that Edward de Vere and his sister Mary were bastards. At the heart of that legal challenge was the earlier and apparently sinister involvement of Golding’s half-brother and half-sister, Thomas and Margery Golding, who had meddled with the Oxford earldom.
While the English departments might have doubted Golding’s role based on his credentials, the History departments might have better explored his background.
This back story began to unfold shortly after the death of Henry VIII in 1547 and the succession of Edward VI, when the boy king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, assumed all power as Protector and Duke of Somerset. This brother of the late Queen, Jane Seymour, had staged a palace revolution without firing a shot; and if nine-year-old King Edward did not live to maturity, Somerset would need to block Mary and Elizabeth Tudor from the succession in order to keep his control. In opposition was is brother, Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour, who retaliated by marrying Henry’s widow, Catherine Parr, and getting her pregnant. At the same time the Admiral conducted an affair, or a political alliance based on sex, with Elizabeth, who was fourteen and living in the same household. By aligning himself with both Henry’s widow and Henry’s daughter, Seymour was challenging his brother on behalf of the Tudor dynasty.
Meanwhile, in his quest to keep on amassing power, Somerset went after the Oxford earldom with undisguised greed. He pressed some criminal charge against John de Vere, the details of which have not survived. Working for him was the ambitious young man William Cecil, who moved to quash a marriage between the widowed Oxford and his 10-year-old daughter’s governess, a Mrs. Dorothy, with whom the earl had twice proclaimed banns of matrimony. That done, Somerset arranged for his own seven-year-old son to be the eventual bridegroom of John de Vere’s daughter. He also attached a “fine” that stripped the earls collateral heirs of nearly all the great Vere possessions in Essex.
Enter, now, a pivotal figure in the person of Thomas Golding, a servant of Somerset who was apparently acting under Cecil’s orders. “By November 1547,” writes relative Louis Golding in this century, “Parliament granted John de Vere’s chantry lands to the Crown. Their liquidation was in every neighborhood a juicy plum, and in Essex this fell to Thomas Golding, who, in the words of Holman’s History of Halstead, knew how to improve his interest to get a large share of these lands. John de Vere signed the fine on February 1, 1548, and on the same day he made a new will, which was witnessed by Thomas Golding. That John de Vere was under some sort of observation or control by Thomas Golding is evident.”
Then, as Verily Anderson surmises in The De Veres of Castle Hedingham, this same Thomas Golding enlisted his own sister, Margery Golding, to be John de Vere’s wife. The wedding, which supposedly took place on August 1, 1548, was a total secret –unknown even to Oxfords daughter, Katherine, from his first marriage. Why would John de Vere suddenly wed the sister of a man who, along with Somerset and Cecil, had caused him to suffer such grief and humiliation? The answer can only be that this was a “forced” marriage and that the earl had capitulated.
By now Elizabeth had left the Seymour household after Catherine Parr had caught the princess in her husband’s arms. Elizabeth was reported “sick” while remaining in seclusion for some months. In early September 1548, after giving birth to Seymours daughter, Mary, his wife virtually accused him of trying to kill her. Catherine Parr died a few days later, leaving Seymour to resume his courtship of Elizabeth amid growing rumors that they would marry. Not far behind these events was Somerset, who arrested his brother in January 1549. He promptly put Elizabeth and her servants through some frightening interrogations, during which she boldly asked to be summoned to Court to show that she was not pregnant by the admiral. If Elizabeth had already given birth, Somerset had acted too late, so he reluctantly dropped his investigation. A few weeks later in March 1549, undoubtedly as the only way to avoid a recurring threat by Seymour and Elizabeth, Somerset executed his brother.
All during this time, William Cecil had played both sides of the fence. While in Somerset’s service he had begun a correspondence with Elizabeth, who would soon hire him as her surveyor of properties. The busy Cecil was now also in contact with Kate Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, who had taken in the orphaned daughter of Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr, although within a few years little Mary Seymour would disappear from history without a trace. During the subsequent reign of Mary Tudor, the Duchess of Suffolk would flee to Europe while John de Vere and his wife, Margery Golding, would hide at Castle Hedingham in Essex.
When Elizabeth succeeded in November 1558, at twenty-five, her first act was to install Cecil as her chief minister. She also elevated John de Vere and Margery Golding to favored status by orering them to live at Court for at least the first full year of the reign. Their children, Edward and Mary, hereby make their entrance in history.
As there was no record of little Mary Seymour after the age of two, so there was no record of the birth of Mary Vere, who would have been the same age. (Perhaps it is no coincidence that Mary Vere in 1579 would marry Kate Willoughby’s son, Peregrine, and that the play performed at their wedding may have been the early version of The Taming of the Shrew, whose title character, Kate, seems to be a combined portrait of both Kate Willoughby and Mary Vere.) There is also no record of when or where her brother was born, except for a suspicious diary entry by Cecil much later, in April 1576 — a particularly volatile time in this saga — when he gave Edwards birth date as April 12, 1550. (Hatfield MSS. Cal. XIII, 142) The boy was enrolled at Cambridge within days of Queen Mary’s death. Whatever his age, he would have been much younger than any college student in England. There is no record that he lived at the school, but, with John de Vere at Court and Margery Golding as a Maid of Honor, the lad would often have been brought into the Queen’s presence.
Upon John de Vere’s death in 1562, the widowed countess wrote to Cecil dropping any claim to an Oxford inheritance. In fact, Cecil got the wardship while the Queen’s lover, Robert Dudley (soon to be Earl of Leicester) gained the administration of de Vere’s lands. “I confess that a great trust has been committed to me of those things which, in my Lord’s lifetime, were kept most secret from me,” Margery Golding wrote to Cecil, as if pledging a vow of silence. (She had been a pawn in men’s games.) Her lack of “any message of love or affection” for young Edward, observed Ward, seemed to indicate that she “handed the boy over to Cecil as a royal ward without a pang.” We might add that Edward seemed to dismiss her from his mind as well. There is no evidence, either, that he gave any thought to John de Vere –unless we count his riding away from the Oxford funeral with “seven score horse” and making an entrance into London in the (virtually traitorous) manner of a young prince who would be king.
By now, if not before, the widows half-brother Arthur Golding was in Cecil’s service. On Cecil’s behalf, Golding handled the charge–brought by John de Veres daughter, Katherine, now in her twenties–that John de Vere’s marriage to Margery Golding had never existed. Katherine’s husband, Baron Windsor, demanded that both Edward de Vere and his sister Mary be forced to prove they weren’t bastards; but Arthur Golding, writing for Cecil, declared that the boy and girl (both of whose ages he put at fourteen in June 1563) were now the Queen’s property and, therefore, off-limits. The case, at least during Elizabeth’s reign, was dropped.
Just as Thomas and Margery Golding had been used to render John de Vere powerless, Arthur Golding was employed to help keep Edward de Vere in line. So we come full circle to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the role Golding played in its publication. As noted, Elizabeth in 1562 became Edward de Vere’s official mother; but its easy to imagine that before then he had been dazzled by the radiant young Queen and deeply motivated to please her. How could a mere boy match the physical presence of Robert Dudley, who was sharing her bed? He could do so most effectively by touching the Queen’s love for classical literature through the power of his own words.
Coincidentally enough it was not until the second full year of Elizabeth’s reign that Ovid’s Latin made its way into English. The first published translation appeared in 1560, within two years of her accession, by an anonymous author who had rendered the Narcissus poem from Book III of the Metamorphoses. An elaborate frontispiece, announcing The Fable of Ovid Treating of Narcissus, arranged this title so that its top line, in extra-large typeface, appeared as:
THE FABLE OF O
Was this the signature of the boy who would inherit the Oxford earldom? Reveling in the attentions of his Queen, would not Edward de Vere have fallen in love with his own image, much as the sixteen-year-old Narcissus of mythology had done? And if she herself had given him the Metamorphoses in Ovid’s Latin, what greater gift could he return than an Englished portion, in his own hand, of the tale he most identified with?
Five years later, in 1565, was Arthur Golding enlisted by Cecil to put his name on the young earl’s translation of the first four books of Ovid’s Metamorphoses? Surely it was Golding who included the prose dedication to Leicester, in which the morality and civic worth of Ovid’s poetry was stressed; and when all fifteen books appeared in 1567, surely it was Golding who added the fuller epistle to Leicester, in which he attempted to reconcile the Roman poet’s erotically charged work with the Bible. (“The snares of Mars and Venus shew that tyme will bring to light,” Golding moralizes in Book III, “the secret sinnes that folk commit in corners or by nyght.”)
Stratfordian scholar Jonathan Bate, in his book Shakespeare and Ovid, published in 1993, speculates that Golding’s epistle “probably constituted Shakespeare’s only sustained direct confrontation with the moralizing tradition — that is, if he bothered to read it.”
Well, I have no doubt that he did bother. Edward de Vere, reading his uncle’s impotent attempts to put a puritanical face on Ovid, must have erupted with devilish merriment. And soon after he came of age, while he and Elizabeth were dancing up a storm and raising eyebrows at Court in 1573, it must have amused Oxford as well to see Cecil (now his father-in-law) being forced to “wink[eth]” at these “love matters” as history records. In public, the official son of the Queen was now scandalizing the Court as her lover.
Even before then, I believe, Cecil had already “winked” at Edward de Vere’s translation of Ovid’s “love matters” by having them published in English under Golding’s name:
For a long time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts…Let that Courtly Epistle, more polished even than the writings of Castiglione himself, witness how greatly thou dost excel in letters. I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant… (Gabriel Harvey, speaking publicly in Latin to the Earl of Oxford, 1578)
Harvey was alluding to his personal knowledge of Edward de Vere’s own “long foreground” of labor in both English and Latin. He and Oxford had become friendly rivals in 1566, when the puritanical Harvey was at Cambridge. That was one year after part of the Metamorphoses, attributed to Golding, had appeared; it was also while the remaining books were still being translated. A dozen years later, was Harvey hinting that he had seen the work-in-progress? What had he thought of its robust vocabulary and bustling narrative? Had he winced at indecorous words such as queaches, plash, skapes, collup and codds? Perhaps this was partially why, in the same public address of 1578, Harvey exhorted Oxford to give up poetry:
O thou hero worthy of renown, throw away the insignificant pen! Throw away bloodless books and writings that serve no useful purpose!
In reply we have Shakespeare’s own caricature of Gabriel Harvey in the form of Holofernes, the schoolmaster and pedant of Love’s Labor’s Lost. Viewing the character in this light, we have the hilarious spectacle of Holofernes/Harvey extolling “the elegancy, facility and golden cadence of poesy,” directly contradicting Harvey’s public lecture to Oxford. And if this satire weren’t funny enough, we have him in his next breath effusively (and indecorously) praising the great Roman poet by name:
Holofernes: …Ovidius Naso was the man, and why, indeed, Naso, but for smelling out the odoriferous flowers of fancy, the jerks of invention?…(IV, ii, 123-5)
As a spoof of Harvey this works to its most wonderful effect by recalling his lecture to Oxford while turning it inside out: the lines become Oxford’s retort to Harvey through a character representing Harvey himself.
The reference to Ovid also reinforces the dramatists overall identification with him, which becomes even more obvious elsewhere:
I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths. (As You Like It, III, iii, 7-9)
In these words to Audrey, the clown Touchstone puns on the word capricious — whose Latin root is “caper” or goat — so that it becomes goat-like. (Again, so much for Shakespeare’s “small” Latin.) Both the dramatist and his character demonstrate their ability to equal the “capricious” or whimsical nature of Ovid’s wordplay. Touchstone becomes the banished Ovid among those who cannot comprehend him, while the unseen playwright is our English Ovid disguised as the “honest” Court Fool who reveals the truth.
As Touchstone tells William, the country fellow (Shaksper?) who loves Audrey (the plays?):
“For all your writers do consent that ipse is he: now, you are not ipse, for I am he.” (AYLI, V, i, 43-4).
Shakespeare becomes even bolder in announcing his presence when he summons the actual source of his play to the stage. In Cymbeline, for example, he has a copy of the Metamorphoses become Imogen’s bedtime book:
…She hath been reading late,
The tale of Tereus; here the leafs turnd down
Where Philomel gave up. (II, ii, 44-6)
And in what is perhaps the most self-consciously literary moment in all Shakespeare, the most significant source of Titus Andronicus becomes a tangible prop:
Titus: Lucius, what book is that she tosseth so?
Boy: Grandsire, tis Ovid’s Metamorphoses,
My mother gave it me. (IV, i, 41-3)
In this instant, the spell of the play is broken. Through young Lucius, the boy, we are offered a fleeting biographical image of how Shakespeare himself obtained his first copy of Ovid’s masterwork — his “mother” gave it to him — without which he could not have written Titus in the first place. At the same time, we are invited to follow him into the pages of the Metamorphoses, wherein the tales of two boys (Narcissus and Adonis) are the very sources of Venus and Adonis, through which he –”Shakespeare”– was delivered to the world. The poem itself (as well as its two main characters), having gestated since the 1570s, acted as the literary parent that gave birth to “Shakespeare” in 1593 and simultaneously became his first “heir” or literary child.
From the Narcissus tale, under Golding’s name: “This Lady bare a sonne whose beautie at his verie birth might justly love have wonne.” And from the Venus and Adonis tale, also under Golding’s name: “The water nymphes upon the soft sweete hearbes the chyld did lay, and bathde him with his mother’s teares.”
The Adonis of Ovid is the fruit of incest between Myrrha and her father. She becomes a tree, however, from which he is finally born. In Shakespeare’s poem, Adonis is combined with Narcissus while both he and Venus undergo metamorphoses which Bate attempts to unravel in this fascinating if daunting passage:
Where Ovid begins his tale with Adonis as a son issuing from a tree, Shakespeare ends his with a flower issuing from Adonis, who thus becomes a father. Shakespeare’s Venus acts out an extraordinary family romance. By imaging her lover as a father, she makes herself into the mother and the flower into the fruit of their union. But the logic of the imagery dictates that the flower is her sexual partner as well as her child, for it clearly substitutes for Adonis himself — she comforts herself with the thought that it is a love-token, which she can continually kiss. The fusion of lover and mother in the context of vegetative imagery makes Venus into Myrrha once again. It is as if, having slept with her father, the girl is now sleeping with her son. (Bate, 54-5)
“Venus the lover,” Bate concludes, “is also Venus the mother.” Is she the same mother who gave young Shakespeare his copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Latin? Is Venus, as Titania (the “imperial votress”) of Midsummer Night’s Dream is universally acknowledged to be, a representation of Queen Elizabeth? To what extent was William Shakespeare undergoing a metamorphosis not just into the English Ovid but into the Roman poet’s mythological figure of Adonis?
Let us close with some verses possibly from the young Edward de Vere, who seems to have identified himself with Adonis while asking similar rhetorical questions about his relationship to the Ovidian goddess who, in the Golding version, was kissed by Cupid and, “being wounded, thrust away her sonne”:
What were his parents? Gods or no?
That living long is yet a child;
A goddess son? Who thinks not so?
A god begot, beguiled;
Venus his mother, Mars his sire…*
(*from “What is Desire?”, a poem originally attributed to Oxford by Dr. Grosart in 1872, but disputed as being Oxford’s by Prof. Steven May in 1980).
This article was first published in the June 1941 Shakespeare Fellowship Trust Newsletter (American Branch). The italicized emphasis in some paragraphs are all reproduced from the original.
The Celtic scholar, T.F. Healey, sponsors the whimsical theory in the September 1940 issue of The American Mercury that “Shakespeare Was An Irishman.”
This is probably the one thousand and first effort that has been made to provide a realistic personal background for the elusive Bard. And Mr. Healey’s effort, though undeniably far-fetched, has the virtue of being both readable and stimulating. While the Stratford-on-Avon milieu disappears like a puff of smoke from the Healey dudeen, we are not asked to seek the true answer to Shakespeare’s identity in cryptograms, spirit rappings or other abracadabra. He is considered primarily as a poet, and poetic license is not too rudely violated in claiming his racial affinity to the land that traditionally honors bards.
The harp that once thrilled Tara’s halls would have awakened a responsive cord in Shakespeare’s breast. Of that we can rest assured.
From the Oxford-was-Shakespeare point of view, Mr. Healey’s brief provides new arguments to prove that the personal psychology behind the plays and poems is that of Edward de Vere, “most excellent” of Elizabethan Court poets. For he alone of all the creative “claimants” that have ever been put forward can be shown by authentic documentation to have been accused of harboring sentiments of radical approval for the activities of Irish patriots. And this, mind you, at a time when the expression of such sentiments was a treasonable offense!
Not a line nor a word has ever been found which personally connects Shakspere of Stratford with the Irish geographically, politically, genealogically, or through any of the numerous business deals and legal squabbles in which this citizen figures.
Neither was Sir Francis Bacon ever charged with being pro-Celtic. He was too active and ambitious a politician for any such foolishness.
Roger Manners, the boyish Earl of Rutland (born October 6, 1576), fought against the Irish in the army of the Earl of Essex in 1599.
None of these men can be shown to have been the sympathetic Celt-at-Heart that Mr. Healey analyzes.
The situation is quite different when we begin to thumb over Elizabethan State Papers and long-forgotten publications relating to the 17th Earl of Oxford who lost caste by his addiction to poetry, music and the stage.
Following his denunciation in December 1580 of Lord Henry Howard and Charles Arundel as English spies and conspirators in the pay of the King of Spain, the Earl of Oxford was in turn accused by Arundel of a list of offenses so numerous that Arundel states:
“…to report at large all the vices of this monstrous Earl were a labour without end.”
Written in the Tower in an effort to save his own neck, Arundel’s counter-accusations are hysterically phrased and in certain particulars unprintable. A digest is given in the Calendar of State Papers, Elizabeth, 1581-1590. Captain B.M. Ward made a complete transcript of the material while preparing his biography of Edward de Vere.
Charles Arundel later died on the Continent, a pensioner of Philip II. His written catalogue of Oxford’s “vices” must be accepted with allowances due the testimony of a proven traitor and political termite. But several of his comments on the literary Earl are extremely interesting when studied in connection with the Healey theory.
For instance, Arundel claims that on numerous occasions he has heard Oxford express commendation of the patriotism of “Dr. Sanders and Lord Baltinglas.”
Both of these men were prominent in the Irish “holy war” that seriously threatened English control during 1579 and 1580.
James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald raised the banner of revolt. He was accompanied by the famous Dr. Nicolas Sanders, who bore a papal legate’s commission. For several months this rebellion caused keen anxiety to the English overlords. It was finally put down with much bloodshed.
In her Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays, Mrs. Clark argues that Dr. Nicholas Sanders is the original of the miracle-worker referred to by Shakespeare under the nickname of “Saunder Simpcox” in 2 Henry VI (II, 1).
Soon after the Fitzgerald-Sanders abortive attempt to throw off English rule, during the summer of 1580, James Eustace, Third Viscount Baltinglas, took up arms against Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy, Arthur Grey. Baltinglas issued a vigorous protest against “the severities and injustice inflicted by Elizabethan officials on the people of Ireland. He repudiated recognition of a woman as head of the Church.” Baltinglas and his followers put up a determined but hopeless fight which finally ended with the leader’s escape to the Continent. His estates being confiscated by the Crown, one house in Dublin was granted to Edmund Spenser who then served the Lord Deputy Grey as secretary.
The objections of Lord Baltinglas to English rule were based on humanitarian and constitutional grounds. He has always been considered an Irish patriot of high principle and stainless character. Lord Oxford may have known him personally. In any event, according to Arundel’s testimony, the playwriting Earl admired Baltinglas as a man of heroic mold despite the latter’s enmity to the English government. This attitude fits the Healey Shakespearean thesis perfectly. It is a fact, moreover, that one of Shakespeare’s marked characteristics is his ability to recognize heroic qualities in the opponents of his dramatic protagonists. The inexplicable treatment of Joan of Arc, who is pictured as a harlot, is the outstanding exception that proves the rule. Is it just another “mere coincidence,” as Oscar James Campbell and other orthodox pundits would have it, that the poetical nobleman here is accused of displaying the same admiration for the valor of an official enemy which Shakespeare so frequently expresses?
The Healey analysis from other angles is equally suggestive of Lord Oxford’s creative hand in the plays. The knowledge of Irish folklore and music which Mr. Healey proves to have been among the Bard’s accomplishments cannot be verified, through any Stratfordian clue. But here again, Lord Oxford is known to have been in close personal touch with repositories of such knowledge.
Edmund Spenser, who secured his first leasehold in Ireland as a result of the attainder of Lord Baltinglas and who lived in the land long enough to become a recognized authority on its customs and folklore, enjoyed the familiar acquaintance of the poet Earl. Spenser’s dedicatory sonnet to Oxford in the 1590 edition of The Faery Queene not only enlists the nobleman’s good will because Spenser needs patronage, but most significantly hails the nobleman as himself a great poet, a beloved initiate of the Muses:
And also for the love which thou cost bear
To th’ Heliconian imps and they to thee,
They unto thee, and thou to them most
We may with reasonable assurance picture Edmund Spenser as a frequent dinner guest of “the passing singular odd” Earl of Oxford during Spenser’s visits to London. And as the two poets linger over their apples, cheese and wine, we can visualize the bohemian nobleman, famous throughout England for his love of the curious and the outlandish, “as well the histories of ancient times, and things done long ago, as also of the present estate of things in our days,”2 lending eager ear to Spenser’s tales of the wild Irish kerns who worship the moon and do use to make the wolf their gossip.”
The author of As You Like It displays just such familiarity with Celtic folklore when he has Rosalind mock the lovesick chorus of Phebe, Sllvius and Orlando with:
Pray you, no more of this; ’tis
like the howling of Irish wolves
against the moon.
Earlier in the comedy, Rosalind–who, in her disdain for love-rhymes displays the same unusual characteristic that distinguishes Spenser’s Rosalind of The Shepheard’s Calendar–has laughed Orlando’s forest-strewn verses to scorn:
I was never so berhymed since
Pythagoras’ time, that I was an
Irish rat, which I can hardly remember.
Here is not only a reference to transmigration, but to the claim of such Irish historians as Gerald de Barry that rats had been expelled from the Isle of Saints by the Bishop of Ferns, whose books they had probably gnawed and who used rhymes to effect his spells upon the rodents.
We can well imagine both Edmund Spenser and the witty and learned Earl of Oxford mulling over such bits of Irish legend as these. But it is difficult indeed to assume that the Stratford businessman would acquire similar curiosa from nowhere in particular.
“One may ask,” says Mr. Healey, “where Shakespeare got his knowledge of Irish mythology, legend and literature. It formed a phenomenally exceptional knowledge in the England of his day, where it was not even known that it existed. Not to speak of Irish songs and ballads found in the plays. Indeed, the subject of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Irish music alone holds much more than the merit of mere novelty to the ripe Shakespearean scholar. …There are ten…Irish folk-lore songs alluded to in the Plays, but every song is concealed under an alias ”
As the partisan and well-wisher of such Irish patriots as Sanders and Baltinglas and the personal friend of Spenser, Oxford was well circumstanced, it would seem, to acquire just such knowledge. Moreover, he had one outstanding advantage here which made it possible for him to evaluate and utilize for dramatic purposes the so-called “hidden music of Eire.”
For Lord Oxford was himself a musician of outstanding talent. He even figures in English political history in a musical interlude on the occasion of the execution of Essex for high treason. The story is too well known to repeat in detail here. But all of the Earl’s biographical commentators stress his addiction to music, as well as to poetry and the drama.
By the same token, every musical authority who writes on Shakespeare reaches the conclusion that the Bard had so thorough an appreciation of musical technique that many of his finest stage effects are achieved by the scientific application of this knowledge. Louis C. Elson’s Shakespeare In Music gives many instances in point. His discussion of the wonderful subtlety with which music is employed to characterize Ophelia’s mental collapse is illuminating. Of Scene 2, Act I, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Elson says: “This scene could easily give rise to an entire chapter of musical comment and elucidation.”
It seems certain that no creative artist possessing technical ability of this high order would be able to conceal it in his person as effectively as the citizen of Stratford did. His most assiduous biographers have been unable to trace a single contemporary reference to their man which offers any musical connotation whatever. To claim for such a will o’ the wisp every personal accomplishment that the author of the plays and poems exhibits, without bothering to substantiate such claims with bona fide documentation, may be acceptable practice in the realm of scholarship presided over by Prof. Campbell and his fellow obscurantists, but it will hardly pass muster among serious students of the Shakespeare problem.
Here again Lord Oxford is the one great concealed poet of his age who can be definitely shown to have embodied in his own person the knowledge and innate ability to meet the musical requirements of “Mr. William Shakespeare’s” creative role, as both Messrs. Healey and Elson define them.
During the 1590 decade the Earl who already numbered among his proteges such Shakespearean “source” writers as Thomas Watson, Anthony Munday, Thomas Churchyard, John Lyly and Robert Greene–not to mention his uncle Arthur Golding--became the acknowledged patron of the famous Anglo-Irish composer John Farmer.
Farmer held the post of organist and master of the children of the choir in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, according to the Chapter Acts of that church, reprinted in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (3rd Edition). He was one of the most gifted composers and musical arrangers of the Elizabethan era, a pioneer in the fields of the madrigal and counterpoint of different orders.
In 1591 Farmer dedicated his first studies in counterpoint to Edward de Vere, “Earle of Oxenford.” Divers and Sundry Ways…to the Number of Forty, Upon One Playn Song carries a significant statement of its composer’s relationship to the nobleman who, like his prototype in All’s Well, is known to have sold many “a goodly manor for a song”:
“Hereunto, my good Lord, I was the rather emboldened for your Lordship’s great affection to this noble science (i.e., music) hoping for the one you might pardon the other, and desirous to make known your inclination this way…. Besides this, my good Lord, I bear this conceit, that not only myself am vowed to your commandment, but all that is in me is dedicated to your Lordship’s service.”
At this time, as his volume states, John Farmer was living in London “in Broad Street, near the Royal Exchange.”
On August 10th, 1596, the records of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, tell us that Farmer was sworn in as “Viccar Corrall” in place of Robert Jordan, “resigned.” He held this position until 1599, when he appears to have returned to London to resume a close personal relationship to the Earl of Oxford.
During the same year he published another work, which insures his immortality in British musical history. This was The First Set of English Madrigals to Foure Voices. Newly composed by John Farmer, practitioner in the art of Musicque. Printed at London in Little Saint Helen’s by William Barley…Anno Dom. 1599.
Again Farmer dedicates his labors to his “very good Lord and Master,” the Earle of Oxenforde.” The wording of this dedication is so interesting from the personal angle that it should be read at length:
Most honourable Lord, it cometh not within the compass of my power to express all the duty I own, nor to pay the least part; so far have your honourable favors outstripped all means to manifest my humble affection that there is nothing left but praying and wondering. There is a canker worm that breedeth in many minds, feeding only upon forgetfulness and bringing forth to birth but ingratitude. To show that I have not been bitten with that monster, for worms prove monsters in this age, which yet never any painter could counterfeit to express the ugliness, nor any poet describe to decipher the height of their illness, I have presumed to tender these Madrigals only as remembrances of my service and witnesses of your Lordship’s liberal hand, by which I have lived so long, and from your honourable mind that so much have all liberal sciences. In this I shall be most encouraged if your Lordship vouchsafe the protection of my first-fruits, for that both of your greatness you best can, and for your judgment in music best may. For without flattery be it spoke, those that know your Lordship know this, that using this science as a recreation, your Lordship have overgone most of them that make it a profession. Right Honourable Lord, I hope it shall not be distasteful to number you here amongst the favourers of music, and the practisers, no more than Kings and Emperors that have been desirous to be in the roll of astronomers, that being but a star fair, the other an angel’s choir.
Thus most humbly submitting myself and my labours and whatever is or may be in me to your Lordship’s censure and protection, I humbly end, wishing your Lordship as continual an increasing of health and honour as there is a daily increase of virtue to come to happiness.
Your Lordship’s most dutiful servant to command,
Here we have unimpeachable contemporary documentation regarding Lord Oxford’s ability as a musician which should convince the most skeptical that he was fully capable of applying creatively all of the musical technique, taste and feeling which Elson and other authorities find throughout the Shakespearean plays.
The Earl’s relationship to the scholarly choirmaster of the Dublin Cathedral should also help make plain the avenues through which the mysterious Bard acquired his intimate knowledge of the folk tunes of Eire.
As invariably happens when new arguments, based upon bona fide documentation and genuine logic, are presented to identify the actual personality behind the professional mask of “Mr. William Shakespeare,” Lord Oxford’s Irish sympathies, together with his acceptance as a musical colleague by the composer of The First Set of English Madrigals, open up many interesting contributory lines of evidence that the playwriting Earl was the center of the great Elizabethan creative enigma.
This article was first published in the Spring 1986 Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter.
While reading Eva Turner Clark’s analysis of King Lear, in her Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays, I was struck by the polarity of our interpretation of this supreme drama. Where Clark finds historical and political allusions, especially for the years 1589-1590, I find personal ones. For King Lear is a play of internal, personal tragedy. With this in mind I strongly disagree with her statement, “I consider Kent represents Drake.” (P. 869 n.) Therefore I sought another contemporary of Oxford’s who would fulfill the characteristics and qualities of the Earl of Kent. In looking tor this prototype, I drew upon J. Thomas Looney’s methodology. (See Shakespeare Identified, p. 80.) Simply stated my task was to examine the text of Lear, to draw from it a definite conception of the character and qualities of the Earl of Kent, and then look for a man who fits that description. Once such a man was found it was necessary to connect him with the character of Kent and with the author. Eventually I found that my conception of Kent had been accurately described by S.T. Coleridge,
Kent is, perhaps, the nearest to perfect goodness in all Shakespeare’s characters, and yet the most individualized. There is an extraordinary charm in a bluntness, which is that only of a nobleman arising from a contempt of overtrained courtesy, and combined with easy placability where goodness of heart is apparent. His passionate affection for and fidelity to Lear act on our feelings in Lear’s own favor: virtue itself, seems to be in company with him. (Complete Works of Samuel Coleridge, Vol. IV, edited by W.G.T. Shedd, Harper and Bros., New York: 1884, pp. 138-39.)
The first two requirements of Looney’s blueprint had been completed. I had read and examined the text of Lear, and with the aid of Coleridge, I had out-lined the qualities of Kent. It was now necessary to find the man. He must be blunt but charming; noble and courteous, but not overbearing in rank or slavish to authority. He must be loyal to his country, his monarch, and his friends. He must be someone worthy to lead men; even nations. (It must be remembered that Kent is one of the triumvirate who, it is implied at the close of the play, will lead England’s destinies.) He must be someone who had won the highest respect and admiration of Oxford; the man chosen to be old King Lear’s personal champion (and, in effect Oxford’s also?) And, in keeping with my hypothesis on the nature of the play, he almost surely must be a man with whom Oxford was personally acquainted, on a familiar, even intimate basis. I believe that man to have been Peregrine Bertie, the 12th Lord Willoughby de Eresby. Lord Willoughby, as he is generally known, is familiar to Oxfordians through the writing of Eva Turner Clark and Bronson Feldman. They convincingly argued him to be the prototype of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew.
Kent first holds our attention with his passionate plea for Lear to reverse his judgment on Cordelia (Act 1, Scene 1). His declaration to Lear, “To plainness honors bound, When majesty stoops to folly,” gives voice to Willoughby’s point of view. While Commander of the English forces in the lowlands (December 1587 – March 1589), he was rebuked by the Queen for not consulting her regarding an appointment of the Captain of the Garrison at Bergen. Willoughby wrote back, “How unfit it is for Princes (whose cares are infinite) to be encumbered with impertinent causes.” (Three Generations of a Loyal House, by Lady Cecilie Goff. Printed privately under the care of the Rampant Lion Press, London: 1957, p. 35.) In the same scene, Kent tells Lear,
My life I never held but as a pawn,
To wage against thine enemies,
Nor fear to lose it,
Thy safety being the motive.
In September 1589, the Queen placed Willoughby in command of the English troops sent to aid the Protestant cause of Henry of Navarre. Elizabeth wrote to Henry describing her commander,
…His quality and the place he holds about me are such that it is not customary to permit him to be absent from me; … you will never have cause to doubt his boldness in your service, for he has given too frequent proofs that he regards no peril, be it what it may… (Goff, p. 55.)
Willoughby’s qualities of leadership and their recognition by his superiors and peers are shown not only by his commands in the Lowlands and France, but also by the planned offensive against the Spanish mainland following the defeat of the Armada. Francis Drake and Sir John Norris, who commanded the fleet and troops respectively in this endeavor, “were very anxious that he (Willoughby) should be in supreme command of the expedition.” (Goff, p. 47.) However, for health reasons, Willoughby declined. Thus far, Willoughby fulfills Kent in bluntness, loyalty to crown and country, and the soldierly skills and qualities of leadership of men. Kent’s other outstanding quality is his loyalty to those who are in disfavor with those who wield power. As Kent stood by Cordelia against Lear, and as he stood by Lear against Cornwall, Regan, and Goneril, so did Willoughby honor his friendship to those who were in opposition to state power. From his days as a youth in Burleigh’s household he had a deep devotion to the ill-fated Earl of Essex whom he described “as a man I love and honor above all men.” (Goff, p, 21.) Willoughby also numbered among his friends Sir Drew Drury, the leader of the Puritan Party, and the scrivener John Stubbe, who Willoughby included as a member of his household until Stubbe’s death in 1591. (Goff, p. 22.) Readers of Bronson Feldman’s Crowners Quest (12 – IV – 80) will recall Stubbe as the Puritan who was prosecuted for writing a book, in August 1579, against the Queen’s proposed marriage to the French Catholic Duke of Alencon. Feldman writes, “Hatton dug out … a decree of the Catholic despot Mary Tudor and her consort Philip the Spaniard ordering the behanding of any writer and printer of books they regarded as demeaning majesty. John Stubbe and his printer William Page lost their right hands under cleavers commanded by Kit Hatton. The mention of Hatton leads to another aspect of Kent’s character. Kent shows a particular hostility to Goneril’s retainer Oswald. Coleridge says, “The Steward should be placed in exact antithesis to Kent, as the only character of utter irredeemable baseness in Shakespeare.” (Complete Works, p. 139.) More than that, Oswald can be seen as a caricature of Sir Christopher. Willoughby can also be placed in exact antithesis to the Queen’s dancing Chancellor. We find the following quotation from Sir Robert Naunton’s Fragmenta Regalia, quoted in B.M. Ward’s The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford:
My Lord Willoughby was one of the Queen’s best swordsmen … I have heard it spoken that had he not alighted the Court, but applied himself to the Queen, he might have enjoyed a plentiful portion of her grace; and it was his saying – and it did him no good – that he was none of the Reptilian: intimating that he could not creep on the ground, and that the Court was not his element. For, indeed, as he was a great soldier so he was of amiable magnanimity, and could not brook the obsequiousness and assiduity of the Court. (p. 151.)
Let us now consider some smaller points of Kent’s character. Act III, Scene iv finds Lear determined to “arraign” his daughters. He drafts Kent to be “on the commission.” Shortly after Willoughby arrived in England from his command in the Lowlands, “he was one of the commissioners appointed to try Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, for treason.” (“Peregrine Bertie,” Dictionary of National Biography, p. 405.) When Lear first comes upon the disguised Kent (Act I, Scene iv) he asks him, “What coat thou profess?” Kent replies, “I do profess to be no less than I seem; … and to eat no fish.” This last expression was a popular phrase to signify one’s loyalty to the government and the Protestant faith. Willoughby was reared in that faith. His mother, Katherine, Duchess of Suffolk, was an ardent Protestant. Willoughby was no less, as evidenced by his military service to Protestant causes and his friendships with prominent Protestants. In this same conversation Kent protegees himself to be “as poor as the King.” Willoughby’s tour of duty in the Lowlands had made him a poor man. By 1589 he was deeply in debt. In order to pay his creditors he sold his timber and his stocks and mortgaged his estates in Norfolk. (Goff, p. 44.) Six years later (1595) he finally sold his lands (Goff, p. 71 – 72.) No doubt Oxford felt a sympathy for Willoughby’s financial difficulties; he too had become impoverished and had been forced to sell his lands.
Kent’s opposition to a despotic government shows itself when he joins the French invasion force camped near Dover. (Act IV, scenes iii and vii.) This too has a parallel in Willoughby’s career. While not joining England’s enemies, Willoughby was greatly embittered at not being repaid the monies he had spent in the Queen’s behalf in the Lowlands. On August 28, 1596, he wrote the Earl of Essex asking him to intervene with the Queen to secure for him the Governorship of Berwick-on-Tweed. Willoughby wrote, “If your Lordship cannot prevail I shall a thousand times wish rather to have buried my bones in Caddis Mallis (a stretch of land near Cadiz) than return to England so ill-regarded.” (Goff, p. 74.) His feelings are more strongly put by Sir John Buck, his longtime friend, who writes to Willoughby, “You write that England hath no need of the good man at Grimsthorpe (Willoughby’s estate in Lincolnshire) nor he of it.” (Goff, p. 75.)
Earlier in this essay I had included as a criterion for the prototype of Kent that this man must be familiar to and respected by the dramatist. Willoughby again suits the standards. He was the brother-in-law of Oxford, married to his sister Mary. From at least 1582, when Oxford broke with the Catholic party, he and Willoughby were on the best of terms. (Ward, p. 154.) As for Oxford’s respect for Willoughby, one has only to look at the great lord’s military deeds. He served as Ambassador to Denmark; his military victory over the Duke of Parma (against superior forces) consolidated the English defeat of the Armada; his service to Henry of Navarre, and his loyalty to Essex and Stubbe must have won Oxford’s deep admiration and affection. Oxford’s feelings must have reflected the universal esteem with which Willoughby was held. “Willoughby’s valor … excited more admiration on the part of his contemporaries than that of almost any other soldier of the age.” (“Peregrine Bertie,” Dictionary of National Biography, II, p. 406.)
Oxford could have had good reason for giving this noble character the title Earl of Kent. A brief look at the possible source of Lear might shed some additional light on this problem. The New Variorum Edition of King Lear (edited by H.H. Furness) claims that the “direct source” for Lear was “the ante-Shakespearean drama of The Chronicle History of King Leir.” (p. 383.) While no date or author is given for this older work, it was dramatized as early as 1593-94.” (Variorum, p. 383.) During these years Oxford was in retirement. It is possible that the Chronicle History was an earlier, less refined forerunner of King Lear. The two plays have a noticeable similarity. The “blunt and faithful counselor and friend” of King Leir is named Perillus. (Variorum, p. 401.) The blunt and faithful Willoughby was baptized Peregrine. The first two syllables of these names are nearly identical in spelling, and are alike phonetically. It Oxford was the unknown author of Leir, he may have already had Willoughby in mind.
The change in name from Perillus to Kent could have been a part of Oxford’s revision. This, I believe to have taken place sometime after Willoughby’s death, June 25, 1601. Kent’s declaration that, “I have years on my back forty-eight …” (Act I, scene iv) could be a clue to a more definite date. Willoughby was born October 12, 1555. If Oxford revised the older Leir sometime after the autumn of 1603, he could have included that line based on how old Willoughby would have been had he lived. It is possible that Oxford, saddened by the untimely loss of the “Brave Lord Willoughby,” rewrote the role of Perillus as a homage to the man Bronson Feldman described as “… a general more feared by the Spaniards than any English officer of the age.” (Secrets of Shakespeare, Lovelore Press, Philadelphia 1972, p. 14.)
The name of Kent appears three times in the family history and career of Lord Willoughby. It is possible that these episodes suggested the name of Kent to Oxford. Peregrine’s father, Richard Bertie, married his mother in 1552. On Good Friday, 1554, he was summoned before Bishop Gardiner, the Catholic lord chancellor. The bishop tried to persuade him to have his Protestant wife convert. In June Bertie sailed from England, but soon returned fearing for Katherine’s safety. On January 1, 1555, he managed to get her away from London using a disguise. While awaiting a ship to leave England safely they hid in Kent. The Berties finally reached Wessel where Peregrine was born and so named in memory of his parents’ peregrination. (Bertie, Richard,” Dictionary of National Biography, II, p. 407.) This story was doubtless told to Willoughby by his parents and may well have been known to Oxford.
The second episode concerns Willoughby’s sister Susan, who married the Earl of Kent, Reginald Grey, who died in 1573. (Ward, p. 154.) The last connection can be found in Willoughby’s French campaign. He commanded four thousand English troops in support of Henry of Navarre. The quality of the troops in general was poor, “with the one exception of Captain Leverson’s Kentish regiment” who “when put to the teat had risen to the occasion magnificently,…” (Goff, p. 58.)
Perhaps Oxford felt that such an earldom was an honor which Willoughby deserved but had never received. In any case, it seems likely that in the characterization of, first Perillus, and later Kent, Oxford was setting down a character who walked in company with virtue and thus attempted to do justice to Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby.
Editor’s note: Mr. LaGreca offers the following additional material, which serves to amplify the evidence presented in his article:
1) The source for the Stubbe behanding under orders from Christopher Hatton, is from Sir Harris Nicolas, Memoirs of Sir Christopher Hatton (London, 1847), pp. 140 – 41. Stubbe wrote to Hatton, while in prison and using his left hand (December 1, 1579), of his (Hatton’s) “round dealing” and severe sifting out of that fault that bred me all my woes.”
2) Also, Eva M. Tenison, in her Elizabethan England (Vol. VIII, pp. 226 – 27), demonstrates that Stubbe was with Willoughby during his service in the Lowlands. When Stubbe entered his household is not certain, but there is no doubt that he was a trusted member of it.
3) Finally, regarding the connection of Willoughby to the name of Kent, I again rely upon E.M. Tension (Vol. VIII, p. 216). She tells us that the family of Peregrine’s father, Richard Bertie, claims “ancient Saxon origin and “appear in the roles of Kentish territorial magnets” under the name of DeBerty and DeBerghstede. The birthplace of Richard Bertie was “Bertiested (now Bearsted) in Kent.”
This article was first published in the Winter 1997 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.
Those of us who take seriously the hypothesis that the Earl of Oxford used William Shakespeare of Stratford as a standin must ask ourselves whether or not this was a situation that had precedents. Did it occur just this once, more than once, or was it more or less standard practice, that noblemen or women who wished to publish their writings used the name of a commoner? Unfortunately, if such was the case, it’s going to be a difficult practice to uncover since its purpose would be precisely to avoid discovery. We will also be limited in our search to Shakespeare’s own period, since true publishing had only just begun in England in his time. Which means that the only precedent we can hope to find will be practices of a similar nature in other areas.
Since a standin or a pseudonym is a form of disguise, we might ask ourselves what other kinds of disguises were commonplace then. What about the most obvious kind of disguise, clothing? Did the Elizabethans in general, and the aristocracy in particular, like to hide their identity by wearing different kinds of clothing? It would appear so. Throughout the period there were numerous angry commentaries on the confusion caused by members of one class wearing the kinds of garments that were perceived as belonging to a different class; what might be regarded as a sort of social, rather than sexual, cross-dressing. That this was regarded as a real problem is shown by the so-called Sumptuary Laws which set restrictions on certain garments, materials, fabrics, even colors (such as royal purple), as reserved for the nobility, others for the merchant classes, and so on down to the humble brown and green frieze that was all that was allowed for peasants.
As for reasons why such laws would be necessary, commoners who could afford to dress as their social superiors would no doubt get better treatment by merchants and vendors, while the nobility would have more freedom to do as they pleased when they went about dressed as commoners. Was this done? It was certainly done, over and over, on the stage, not only by Shakespeare, who was particularly fond of the psychological bait and switch of cross-dressing, both social and sexual, but by many playwrights going back to the ancients. Did this reflect a real facet of human behavior, or did it happen only on the stage, possibly as a sort of extension of the disguising that was an inherent characteristic of actors assuming identities other than their own? Well, we know that in her youth, Mary Queen of Scots and her ladies-in-waiting used to go out on the town, all of them dressed as young men in cloaks and doublets, boots and hose. We also know from several published commentaries that women frequently went to plays wearing masks.
Further than that we probably cannot penetrate except by reasoned estimates, but one facet of early modern English life that has remained relatively unexamined in this regard might help us better educate our guesses. This is the cycle of seasonal entertainments known as the revels.
They were referred to in documents of the time by their Christian names, The Feast of the Innocents, The Feast of St. Stephen, etc., but behind the gentle names of pious saints lurked potent remnants of strange and fearful tribal rituals that, despite the diligent researches of cultural anthropologists, continue to stand outside the firelight of collective memory or imagination. The prehistoric rites of the great goddess and her earthly lovers included the induction of altered mental and emotional states by means of drumming, dancing and chanting, the retelling or reenactment of communal myths, the invocation of gods and animal totems, the ingestion of mind-altering substances, of fermented spirits and hallucinogenic mushrooms, of various forms and degrees of sexual license and blood sacrifice, both human and animal. These early relatives of what we now regard as primarily forms of entertainment, certainly could not be considered entertainment, though some of the same elements of psychological release were present. Their chief purpose was the seasonal reinforcement of a potent sense of communal unity, the cohesion of the group mind, a necessity for a people armed only with stone and wood in a world fraught with danger from outside forces of nature, beasts and tribes of other men.
With the advent of Christianity, the darker aspects of these seasonal rituals faded or were suppressed , leaving only odd vestiges (such as Christmas trees, yule logs, mistletoe, maypoles, Easter eggs, hot cross buns, etcetera) clinging to the feasting, dancing, games and plays, which were mostly all that was left by the 16th Century. Still, there’s no doubt that a certain need for such rituals continued into Shakespeare’s time, particularly in rural districts where the church was never able to overcome the instinct to maintain some sort of physical connection with the natural cycles of planting and harvest, of animal fertility, birth, and death; and that Christianity notwithstanding, many a maidenhead was lost while out a-Maying; and many a husband or wife came home shamefaced to their mates after a night spent with a stranger, or someone disguised as a stranger, deep in the woods on mid-summer night’s eve.
The characteristics of the revels as they existed in Shakespeare’s time dated from the Viking influences of the North to the French influences of the South, from the Dutch and Danish influences of the East to the purely Celtic West, from one social class to another, and from Court to country village, but all followed a similar pattern. Some were preceded by a Church ceremony, but all ended with feasting, music, dancing, and the ingestion of a sufficient quantity of fermented spirits to take the edge off the ordinary divisions caused by rank and offended feelings within the community.
For the lower classes the revels usually included games such as football or blind man’s bluff, tests of strength such as wrestling, tugs of war or log throwing contests, simple homemade entertainments (like those that Shakespeare loved to parody, such as the Nine Worthies in Love’s Labor’s Lost or the rude mechanicals in Midsummer Night’s Dream), Morris dances, and more or less professional entertainments such as acrobats, jugglers or puppet shows. The party would continue for some days until everyone was exhausted and ready to buckle down to another six-week stretch of pease porridge, hard work, and Christian virtue.
The longest revels took place at the winter equinox, and lasted from the beginning of December until the second week in January, a time when mariners and country folk slept late, relaxed and enjoyed themselves during the darkest and coldest part of the year. A bit like animals in hibernation, they fattened themselves with food, drink and excitement against the effortful months to come, of wresting a living from the ocean or the soil.
An interesting feature of the ancient Roman solstice festival, the Saturnalia, were the rituals of rank reversal, whereby some member of the lowest social order would be elevated for a week or two to a position of authority, and during that period waited on hand and foot by the real authorities. Vestiges of this ancient practice remained in Elizabeth’s time in outlying areas in the ritual of the Boy Bishop, particularly in the North of England. Rank reversal rites derived from the Roman Saturnalia expressed nostalgia for the Romans’ Golden Age of Saturn (the pagan version of the Garden of Eden) when all humans lived with each other as equals, before some had made themselves masters over the rest. (Such rituals of rank reversal appear also to contain elements of even earlier prehistoric rites whereby a tribal king was chosen from the people, feted for some period of time, then killed in a ritual sacrifice for purposes that are still a matter of intense scholarly debate.)
The importance of the revels at Court is shown by the fact that the department that dealt with all matters of entertainment and ceremony was known as the Office of the Revels. The revels at Court were different only in detail, not in substance, from the revels of town and village. There was feasting, music, dancing and the ingestion of a great deal of spirits. There were plays performed by professionals, but there were also entertainments created for the Court by its own members, in which courtiers took part, writing poems, songs and dramatic “interludes,” playing instruments, singing and dancing, and acting in masques.
This much is clear, yet in all discussions of the revels, from Court to country village, what is perhaps the most important factor is also one that generally sneaks right past our present day awareness due to the fact that there is little left in our modern life with which we can connect the reality behind the terms “mumming” and “disguising,” terms that continually recur in every commentary on the revels, and which are rarely explained sufficiently to convey their full import.
A disguising is a costume that is meant not just to enhance or to veil, but to totally disguise one’s identity. In rural and poor communities where people could afford nothing but the necessities, disguising usually meant wearing someone else’s clothing, often clothing of a member of the opposite sex, turned inside out, upside down, stuffed with pillows, with a stocking or homemade mask to completely cover the face, gloves to cover the hands, and so forth, and garnished with a silly hat or a mask that covered the entire head; the point being not so much to look like something specific as to lead all viewers away from any association they might be able to form with one’s true identity.
“Mumming” was the promenade through a community sometime during the Christmas holiday season (or, in Shakespeare’s day, most holidays) of a group of these disguised community members, known as “mummers,who sang, danced, performed whatever tricks or entertainments were theirs to share, and told jokes and stories in disguised voices. Some high-spirited youth of the community would be disguised as the Hobby Horse, a figure whose tribal origins appear to be lost in the mists of time, but whose present function was to terrify all those not in costume, to the delight of his fellow mummers.
Mummers paraded from house to house, and were invited in to some and given food and drink, while members of the household did their best to guess who they were. Although this may well have been a vestige of some pagan rite, with community members originally disguised as totem animals, vegetation gods, or some such, its more modern function surely was to bring the excitement of the unknown into isolated communities where everyone knew everyone all too well, and where strangers were usually feared and shunned, at the same time that it offered those in disguise a break from the identities, ages, and genders they were stuck with the rest of the year. As soon as a mummer was correctly identified, they doffed their masks and became themselves again, until it was time to take the show to the next house.
This was the gentler aspect of mumming. There was a darker side. Protected by their disguises and fueled by cups of cheer, mummers were at risk of being ignited by a sort of collective vindictiveness. If an illicit affair was known to be in progress, if it was perceived that wrong had been done by someone to the community, notes pinned on trees or doors informed the world. Gates put on roofs, farm animals turned loose, haystacks set afire, were a rough form of vigilante justice, and if some sort of appropriately funny twist could be added to the revenge, that would make it doubly enjoyable, doubly sweet. It was also dangerously easy for someone to hide an act of personal revenge as a mummers’ trick.
The Court version of the ancient rituals of mumming and disguising were known as “Masques,” or “Masks” as they spelled it then, because of course, everyone was masked, or in disguise. Since the Court could not afford the broad license of the country village, nor the psychological release of total anonymity, nor the consequences of social reversal, they came as close as they could by the partial disguising of the entire community in a Masque, which sought to create a fanciful “disguising” of all ranking members of the Court as some exotic community, such as a forest gathering of country swains and shepherdesses, a confluence of the forces of nature, a meeting of the gods and goddesses on Mt. Olympus, or of a fairy court ritual, with the monarch cast in some appropriately central and glamorous role.
Although there could never be a complete release from identity, nor a total social leveling, much of the pleasure of the Masque would come from a relative lessening of the tension created by rank, and the disguising of the community as a whole as something much different and much more pleasant than the nerve-wracking nightmare it must have been a great deal of the time. Thus the psychological needs met by the Court version of the revels differed in purpose from the country version only in degree.
That Shakespeare’s comedies were written originally as Court entertainments seems obvious, since so many facets of the ancient revels cling to them, the wooded settings, the sticking up of poems on trees, the evocation of animal totems or folk gods and the spells used to constrain or evoke them (Herne the Hunter, Bottom the ass, Sycorax and Caliban, Oberon and Titania, Puck, and Ariel), dancing and music. The tricks played on Malvolio by the revelers in Twelfth Night, and by Oberon and Puck on Titania and the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are simply glorified mummers pranks; and with both these plays the titles themselves make it abundantly clear for which of the seasonal festivals they were originally created.
Yet of all the devices of the revels used by Shakespeare, none does he use as much as disguising, chiefly women as boys, but also Falstaff as the Old Woman of Brainford and then as Herne the Hunter, Feste as Sir Topas, and so on. Although the gender reversal was used only in the comedies, in all his plays, again and again, for dramatic as well as comic purposes, he shows lords disguised as commoners. Possibly the oldest version of this play is the one he took from Ariosto (in I Suppositi, where it was in turn borrowed from the ancient Roman playwright Plautus) for the subplot of Taming of the Shrew, in which an aristocratic student exchanges identities with his manservant in order to get a job as a servant in the house of his beloved’s father and thus be in a position to make love with her whenever he pleases, while the servant is required to take his place at school and to speak for him when troubles arise with the neighbors (a plot not a whole lot different from one in which a Court writer exchanges identities with his servant so that he has the freedom to entertain his beloved audience, while the servant enacts the role of playwright and shareholder for legal purposes). Thus we see that “mumming” and “disguising” were at the heart not only of the plays of Shakespeare, not only of all Tudor and Jacobean Court entertainment, but that they were the very heart and soul of the ancient revels themselves. And further that mumming, as a custom with the deepest of roots in the ancient sources of culture, authorized revenges on local miscreants by means of various tricks and exposes, as a holiday pastime permitted to all members of the community that were able to maintain an impenetrable disguise. Thus it appears that the use of any standin, pseudonym or ploy that served to mask his identity, would have seemed perfectly within the bounds of ancient and honored custom to a nobleman who sought to delight some members of his community and punish others at festival time, which became, in the modern world to which Shakespeare helped give birth, anytime the trumpet sounded for a play.
This article was originally published in the October 1941 Shakespeare Fellowship Newsletter (American Branch).
The scene-shifter is supposed to have had far less to do in Queen Elizabeth’s day than at present. John Addington Symonds thus expresses the general opinion: “It is difficult for us to realize the simplicity with which the stage was mounted in the London theatres. Scenery may be said to have been almost wholly absent. Even in Masques performed at Court, on which immense sums of money were lavished, and which employed the ingenuity of men like Inigo Jones [reigns of James I and Charles I], effect was obtained by groupings of figures in dances, by tableaux and processions, gilded chariots, temples, fountains, and the like, far more than by scene-painting. Upon the public stage such expenditure had, of course, to be avoided. Attention was concentrated on the actors, with whose movements, boldly defined against a simple background, nothing interfered. The stage on which they played was narrow, projecting into the yard, surrounded on all sides by spectators.”
Dr. H. H. Furness says, in A note on Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare Variorum), “I think there were more scenery and stage accessories in those days than is generally believed.” Then he asks, “Why should the rough makeshifts by the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream excite such mirth in Theseus and his court if they were not seen to be caricatures of the real stage scenery to which that court was accustomed?”
An examination of the records of the Court Revels will throw some light on the subject. A useful volume, Plays and Masques at Court During the Reigns of Elizabeth, James and Charles, was published in 1926 by Dr. Susan Mary Steele, Professor of English at Judson College. The book was compiled from materials taken from the “official records of court performances found in the office-books of the Revels and in payments to actors; and contemporary allusions found in correspondence, memoirs, diaries, and the like.” For the Elizabethan period, much of the material had been already published by Professor Albert Feuillerat in Documents Relating to the Office of the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth (1908) .
Even before Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 “plays, masques, and other diversions were an established part of the holiday amusement of the English Court.” During the first decade of her reign, most of the holiday entertainments appear to have been in the form of masques, though when she visited the universities, according to Nichols’ Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, elaborate plays, generally in Latin, were arranged for her pleasure.
One of the earliest plays for which we have a description of the scenery is “Edwardes tragedy,” supposed to be Richard Edwards’s Damon and Pythias, produced at Whitehall, Christmas 1564. For this greatly admired play there were provided “Diuers townes and howsses and other devisses and Clowds.” For a play produced the following February, “Diuers Cities and Townes and the Emperours pallace & other devisses” were furnished by the Revels Office.
In 1556 [sic] Richard Edwards produced Palamon and Areite which pleased critics even better than Damon and Pythas. In this play, says Nichols, quoting from Wood’s MSS, “was acted a cry of hounds in the Quadrant, upon the train of a fox in the hunting of Theseus, with which the young scholars, who stood in the windows, were so much taken (supposing it was real), that they cried out, ‘Now, now!– there, there! he’s caught, he’s caught!’ All which the Queen merrily beholding, said, ‘O excellent! Those boys’ in very truth, are ready to leap out of the windows, to follow the hounds.’. .. In the acting of the said play, there was a good part performed by the Lady Amelia [supposedly the pretty boy, Peter Carew], who, for gathering her flowers prettily in a garden then represented, and singing sweetly in the time of March, received eight angels for a gracious reward by her Majesty’s command.”
In 1568 was produced, among other plays, “Orestes and a Tragedie of the Kinge of Scottes, to ye whiche belonged diuers howses, for the setting forthe of the same as Stratoes howse, Gobbyns howse, Orestioes howse Rome, the Pallace of prosperitie Scotlande and a gret Castell one thothere side.”
For six plays produced during the season of 1571-1572, all the suitable apparel for the actors was supplied by the Revels Office, “also apt howses: made of Canvasse, fframed. ffashioned & paynted accordingly: as might best serve theier severall purposes. Together with sundry properties incident: ffashioned, paynted, garnished, and bestowed as the partyes them selves required & needed.” For the play given on January 6, 1572, the Revels Office records the following: “John Izarde for mony to him due for his device in counterfeting Thunder & Lightening in the playe of Narcisses being requested thervnto by the seide Master of the office [a]nd for sundry necessaries by him spent therein ….xxij”
Another season, the Office of the Revels provided “A tree of Holly for the Duttons playe . . . other holly for the forest.” Again, “to paynte for howses for the players & for other properties as Monsters great hollow trees & suche other.” Properties needed in the different plays are not always listed in the Accounts, but are frequently mentioned in this way, “Throughly furnished garnished & fytted with the store of thoffice and provisions following,” showing that scenery and accessories were kept on hand from which new plays could be provided, sometimes with repairs and alterations.
A play at Hampton Court, December 25, 1574, required “iiij Lodes of Tymber for the Rock (which Mr. Rosse made for my Lord of Leicesters menns playe) & for other frames for players howses ij iiij.” In 1576, for The historie of the Collyer, a “paynted cloth and two frames” were taken to Hampton Court. Often the warrant for payment reads somewhat as follows: “For making theire Repaire to the Courte with their whole Companye and furniture to present a play before her Matie,” without listing details of the “furniture.” The “cariadge of the stuffe” to or from the court is often recorded while the articles carried are not given in the Accounts.
Occasionally, perhaps because the Revels Office could not supply the required stage-setting from its store and it became necessary to provide new scenery, the Accounts tell a fairly complete story. For The history of the Knight in the Burnyng Rock, produced at Whitehall, March 1, 1579, there were provided “Long sparre poles of furre . . . peeces of Eime cut compasse . . . Dobble quarters . . . single quarters . . . Deale bourds . . . Elme bourdes, 153. foote . . . in all,” and nails of various sizes were employed in the construction of the Rock. Its size is further indicated by the item “for mending a scalling Ladder that sewed at the Rock.” Sixpence was paid “ffor Coales at the Courte to drie the Painters worke on the Rock.” A “cloud” was employed in the same play. Ten shillings was paid “ffor a hoope and blewe Lynnen cloth to mend the clowde that was Borrowed and cut to serue the rock in the plate of the burnyng knight . . .” and “for nayles of sundry sortes vsed about the Clowde and drawing it vpp and downe;” also “for a coard and pullies to draw vpp the clowde.”
Besides actors’ apparel and properties furnished by the Revels Office for A history of the Duke of Millayn and the Marques of Mantua, produced December 26, 1579, “a countrie howse” and “a Cyttye” were supplied. For another play about the same time “A Cittie and a Battlement” were required. Similar items are listed many times. Many ells of sarcenet were used for most productions, “sarcenet” being a gauzy kind of silk, and the length of an “ell” being forty-five inches.
For A storie of Pompey, January 6, 1581, “was vmploied newe one great citty, a senate house and eight ells of cobble sarcenet for curtens.” During the season of 1581-1582, among properties provided were “a Mount with a Castle vpon the toppe of it, a Dragon & a Artificiall Tree” which cost 100; an “artificiall Lyon & a horse made of wood,” and three painted cloths.
Similar items for stage settings are occasionally recorded until 1584, but after that year they are not set down in the Accounts, nor seldom even the name of the play. This was probably due to the fact that at this time a new Clerk Comptroller of the Records of the Revels, William Honing, was appointed. From this time on, the most meagre details are given of productions at Court, merely place, date, name of company, and warrant for payment.
Failure to record details of stage-settings is no indication that plays were being produced less lavishly. On the contrary, from the time of the erection of the first theatre in 1576 to the end of Elizabeth’s reign, dramatic art was developing rapidly and we can only suppose that scenery and properties kept pace with the art. We may learn something from sermons preached through this period, for the clergy resented the better attendance at the theatres. An excerpt from one sermon, 1577, follows: “Behold the sumptuous Theatre houses, a continual monument of London’s prodigality.” Another sermon, 1578, refers to “the gorgeous playing place erected in the Fields.” Gabriel Harvey spoke of the “painted theatres,” “painted stage.” (J. Q. Adams, in Shakespearean Playhouses). Even Tom Coryat, in his Crudities, says that the comic theatre in Venice is “very beggarly and base in comparison of our stately playhouses in England; neither can their actors compare with ours for apparel, shows, and music.”
In 1583, twelve of the most important actors in London were chosen from the best of the old companies to form a new company under the patronage of the Queen and, for the rest of that decade, it enjoyed high popularity. One must assume that these very able actors were provided with all the necessary equipment, stage-settings as well as apparel, for producing advantageously the finer dramas written during the 1580′s.
It must be admitted that records of the Court Revels give only one side of the picture, yet it was to the ornate public theatres that the clergy objected and to which Tom Coryat gave praise. While plays at Court were always more handsomely produced, it is safe to assume, from what contemporaries tell us, that scenery matched the houses in which the plays were given. Some of the most magnificent homes in England were being built about this time and it must be conceded that masons and carpenters who could achieve such fine results in palaces, could equally apply their inventive genius, along with that of actors and managers, to the improvement of the stage.
The first public playhouse built in London exclusively for the production of plays was the Theatre, erected in 1576, but, like the inn-yards where plays had long been given, the roof covered only part of it, leaving the “groundlings” subject to vagaries of the weather. Those who could afford boxes in the galleries were protected from a straight downpour of rain, and so, doubtless, the stage was equally protected. This was important for the elaborate costumes generally worn and for any scenery in use at the time.
For the inclement winter season, a small portion of the priory of Blackfriars was operated as a so-called “private” theatre for several years, and a little later, the singing-school of St. Paul’s Cathedral. While these playhouses were extremely small in comparison with the large public theatres (the Curtain was built a year after the Theatre, and others followed soon after) some of the best plays appear to have been given in them. The price of admission was double what it was at the Theatre and persons who “went thither were gentle by birth and by behaviour as well; and playwrights, we are told, could always feel sure there of the calm attention of a choice audience.” The declared purpose for which plays were given at the private playhouses was to rehearse the actors in their parts so they might give finished productions at Court. This must have been true also of the Queen’s Company, which generally played at the Theatre. Fleay, in his History of the London Stage (Introduction, p. 11), is emphatic in his assertion of “the absolute subordination of public performances to Court presentations.”
While the cost of elaborate scenery, stage-settings, and apparel for the actors was probably prohibitive for both public and private playhouses, nevertheless, since companies which made use of these houses played also at Court where lavish productions were the rule, they must have employed less expensive substitutes or they would hardly have been practiced for the stage-settings in which they were eventually to appear.
Gabriel Harvey has told us that John Lyly was “vice-master,’ of Paul’s and “foole-master” of the Theatre, meaning that Lyly was the assistant director of the company of children playing at the singing-school of St. Paul’s Cathedral and of the comedians of the Queen’s Company playing at the Theatre. The question is, since Lyly was the assistant, who was the director? All through the period when he was connected with these two companies, he was employed as secretary by the Earl of Oxford, who was known as a dramatist and the patron of a playing company. It is a logical assumption that Lord Oxford was the director behind the scenes, though it did not become his rank as hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England, to assume such a position publicly, since with the Puritans, a large portion of the population, the stage was held in low repute, and the time was one of great political turmoil, owing to the troubles with Mary Stuart and the war with Spain.
It is evident that Lord Oxford had a special interest in plays produced at the little theatre in Blackfriars because he took over the lease of it from Henry Evans in 1583 and, while he is supposed to have presented it to John Lyly, his secretary, the annual rents paid in 1584 were 20 and 8 for Lord Oxford and Lyly respectively. Their tenancy at Blackfriars did not last long, owing to the objections to a theatre in the vicinity by the owner, Sir William More, and it was at this time that the company moved to the singing-school of St. Paul’s.
It was a source of special grief to Lord Burghley that his son-in-law had no regard for the value of money and that he would leave his family destitute, though he had inherited one of the greatest fortunes in the realm. Lord Burghley objected to “his lewd friends, who still, rule him by flatteries.” The word “lewd” did not then mean sinful or vicious, as it does today, but “lay” or “unlearned;” and we may suppose that the reference was to actors and playwrights, with whom he must have been closely associated. That Lord Oxford was the greatest spendthrift of Elizabeth’s reign, we may rest assured. That most of his money was expended on the improvement of the stage, scenery, costumes, and in the payment of actors and playwrights, we may well believe. When in 1586 he could no longer carry on his extravagant methods in producing plays, the Queen came to his rescue with the grant of 1,000 a year, which, as we learn from another of Lord Burghley’s letters, he continued to spend on his “lewd friends.” The Queen, however, understood and approved, for in 1586 the war with Spain began and she valued the stage for purposes of education and propaganda. Years after, Thomas Heywood wrote: “Plays have made the ignorant more apprehensive, taught the unlearned the knowledge of many famous histories, instructed such as cannot read in the discovery of all our English chronicles . . . plays are writ with this aim, and carried with this method, to teach their subjects obedience to their king, to show the people the untimely ends of such as have moved tumults, commotions, and insurrections, to present them with the flourishing estate of such as live in obedience, exhorting them to allegiance, dehorting them from all traitorous and felonious stratagems.”
Having learned from evidence which cannot be produced in our allotted space that the Earl of Oxford was the author of the plays which appeared in print under the nom de plume of “William Shakespeare,” we must now consider whether, during the period when he was closely associated with the London stage, there was any improvement in its scenery and its stage-settings. We have only to take down our volume of Shakespeare and glance through almost any play to discover how varied are the scenes. As we have shown that quite elaborate scenery was in use, at least in Court productions, through the early part of Elizabeth’s reign, we must assume that in the later part, with the magnificent development of the dramatic art and the building of beautiful theatres, the stage technicians developed their craft in keeping with the demands upon them. It is probably true that the bills for meeting the increasing costs were largely paid out of the pockets of our spendthrift Earl.
Much of the evidence concerning the stage and the drama of Elizabeth’s day was blotted out by the excesses of the Cromwellian period and by the devastation of the Great Fire of 1666. We can’ however, well believe that the stage in her reign was more beautifully appointed than many have thought and we ask, with Dr. Furness, “Why should the rough makeshifts by the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream excite such mirth in Theseus and his court if they were not seen to be caricatures of the real stage-scenery to which that court was accustomed?”