On Grammar and Oxford in The Art of English Poesie
by Andrew Hannas
This communication responds to the article, “What Did George Puttenham Really Say About Oxford And Why It Matters”, appearing on the Shakespeare Authorship Page web site, in which the author offers an interpretation of a passage in The Arte of English Poesie (London, 1589, anonymous though often attributed to a Puttenham, Richard or George) that would have the poetical writings of the Earl of Oxford, together with several other courtiers, known and made public, thus obviating his need for, or presumed practice of, using pseudonyms or living covers, and by extension demolishing the general notion that “William Shakespeare” was a pen-name, perhaps with a living frontman with a similar name. The passage at issue reads as follows:
And in her Maiesties time that now is are sprong up an other crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen of her Maiesties owne servaunts, who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be foundout and made publicke with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford. Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Walter Rawleigh, Master Edward Dyar, Maister Fulke Grevell, Gascon, Britton, Turberuille and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for envie, but to avoyde tediousneffe, and who have deserved no little commendation.[Book I, Chapter 31, p. 49]
Of this passage the author, Terry Ross, writes, “Oxford’s name and verse are known to Puttenham, and he is first on the list of ‘the rest’—that is, of those whose poetry is known to him under their own names.” In other words, Ross interprets “the rest” from the passage to refer to the subsequent set of names, names whose poetic works have been “made publicke” ["publicke"in the more narrow sense of being published or 'in print']. If this interpretation were correct, then “an other crew of Courtly makers… ” logically MUST be a different set of names—not just a set of writers who haven’t gone public with their works but a set of “Noblemen and Gentlemen …who have written excellently well”, a set of names the Arte’s author leaves unnamed even though he ostensibly knows of their works! In 1589, just who could be in such a set? Ross does not clarify the logical difficulties his interpretation of “the rest” creates.
Turning to the list of names themselves, in fairness it must be conceded that the status of their works is a mixed bag with respect to going into print, and no one would dispute that several poems by Edward DeVere had been printed before 1589 (but none since 1576, and no dramatic work). Such concession notwithstanding, Ross’s interpretation of “the rest” encounters one enormous problem of literary history—the fact that NONE of Philip Sidney’s poetry was published when he was alive. He died in October of 1586, and even by 1589 none of his poetical work had been printed (the Arcadia with its poetical experiments, 1590; Astrophel and Stella, 1591, etc). Obviously, for the author of Chapter 31 to name Sidney, he must be aware of Sidney’s poetry—but this knowledge by no means implies that Sidney ever intended his own poetry to be made public over his own name, while he was living. Likewise, in 1589 none of Walter Raleigh’s works had been printed (that we know of over his name) save one commendatory poem to Gascoigne’s Steele Glasse, 1576; with Buckhurst, nothing (that we know of over his name) since some Latin verses prefacing Bartholomew Clerke’s Latin Courtier, 1571/2 (also prefaced by Oxford, a boldness by both Buckhurst and Oxford that was breaking the mold of courtly silence which theArte laments). Buckhurst, incidentally, was addressed as late as 1602 by Thomas Campion “as to the noblest iudge of Poesy”, high praise for someone whose public poesy (that we know of over his name) had ended some thirty years earlier. To my knowledge, nothing by Greville was in print by 1589; as for Gascoigne and Turberville, again, 1576 seems to be the year of their swan song inprint, during their lifetimes. So, curiously, 1576 seems to be the latest year for anyone on the list in Chapter 31 being newly in print (though I’m not sure of Dyer at this writing): what seems to emerge from the comments in the passage is that by the time of the writing of Chapter 31, which has to fall between Raleigh’s knighting, 1584, and 1589, courtly poetry, in whatever genre—lyric, eclogue, drama, even translation—certainly was alive but had not seen the light of day in print for many a year, over the names of their genuine authors, while they were alive.
Thus, both grammatically and in a wider literary historical context, I have to disagree with Ross’s interpretaion of “the rest”. It makes little if any logical, and dubious if any historical, sense to separate the “Courtly makers” from the subsequent list of names, especially as those names as given fit precisely into the social categories the former group advertises, and moreover as their collective output of poetry in print (that we know of over their own names)appears to be nil over the 1576–1589 interval. The ‘solution’? As Arthur Golding, Edward De Vere’s uncle and tutor in the 1560s, commented on Ovidian allegory, one must see what has come before and after the passage to understand the passage. And in fairness I must say that I’m in sympathy with Ross in grappling with “the rest”, but had he gone back and forth just a few lines from the passage at issue, I think “the rest” could be understood much better in its admittedly difficult context than his interpretation so quickly proffers. Chapter 31 is about naming names of English poets “to th’ intent chiefly that their names should not be defrauded of such honour as seemeth due to them for having by their studies so much beautified our English tong …”. A sort of pantheon of names follows—Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate, Skelton, Wyatt, Surrey, Vaux, Sterneholde, Heywood, Ferrys. Then comes the sentence preceding the passage at issue:
In Queenes Maries time florished above any other Doctout Phaer one that was well learned & excellently well translated into English verse Heroicall certaine bookes of Virgils Aeneidos. Since him followed Maister Arthure Golding, who with no lesse commendation turned into English meetre the Metamorphosis of Ouide, and that other Doctour [Twinne], who made the supplement to those bookes of Virgils Aeneidos, which Maister Phaer left undone. And in her Maiesties time that now is are sprong up ….” [etc.].
After the passage at issue, the train of thought continues:
But of them all particularly this is myne opinion, that Chaucer, with Gower, Lidgat and Harding for their antiquitie oughte to have the first place, and Chaucer as the most renowmed [sic] of them all, for the much learning appeareth to be in him aboue any of the rest.”
And the train of laudatory thought continues, circling back to the names of Buckhurst, Oxford, Sidney (unpublished!), et al., before a splendid superlative to the Queen, who “exceedeth all the rest” with her pen [probably not mere flattery, in my view]. I would venture that the key to the context of “the rest” in the passage at issue is found in the phrases “But of them all” and “aboue any of the rest” in the sentence that follows the passage. That is, when these three lengthy sentences are read as an entirety, “the rest” in the passage at issue refers NOT to the subsequent names of “Courtly makers” but to the earlier pantheon of known poets in print [though bear in mind that the poems of Surrey, Oxford's uncle, weren't printed while Surrey was alive ...].
A paraphrase might go thusly:
‘In earlier days these writers’ poetry found their way into print, and now we have many in our own Queen’s time whose poetry would be much admired if the extent of their works could be known and put into print as with those poets I have just named ["made publicke with the rest"], poets from Chaucer up through Golding and Phaer-Twinne, translators of Ovid and Vergil. And here are the NAMES of the poets [Oxford, Buckhurst, Sidney, et al.] of our Queen’s time who deserve such favorable comparison “with the rest” [the Chaucer et al. list] But still, “of them all” [Chaucer through the Oxford- Sidney list], I would give highest honours to Chaucer because of the learning in his works that seems better than any of all of the aforementioned names ["aboue any of the rest"], and special merit to the other poets in their respective genres.’
In the logic of this analysis, there are two sets of poets, the set of “the rest”, the poets from Chaucer through Phaer-Twinne, and the new set of “Courtly makers”, which includes Oxford, Buckhurst, Sidney, Raleigh, and lesser luminaries of the court circle. Subsuming both sets of names is the phrase “But of them all” which can only be interpreted to include ALL of the previously mentioned names, from Chaucer to Oxford et al. Such meaning is reinforced by the phrase “aboue any of the rest”, which again is a way of grouping the COMPLETE sets of aforementioned names, the Chaucer-Phaer set and the Oxford-Sidney set. In the set-logic of the author of Chapter 31, “the rest” is a way of tying together aforementioned names, not of introducing new ones. Lest one doubt this recapitulative use of “the rest”, here is the final sentence of Chapter 31:
But last in recitall and first in degree is the Queene our soveraigne Lady, whose learned, delicate, noble Muse, easily surmounteth all the rest that have written before her time or since [i.e, since her rule], for sence, sweetnesse and subtillitie, be it in Ode, Elegie, Epigram, or any other kinde of poeme Heroick or Lyricke, wherein it shall please her Maiestie to employ her penne, euen by as much oddes as her owne excellent estate and degree exceedeth all the rest of her most humble vassalls.
Here the set-logic of the first “all the rest” groups ALL the previous poets and puts the Queen atop them all in ability, and the last “all the rest” puts her above all the populace, completing the progressively inclusive sense of “the rest” in Chapter 31. Yet, beyond the grammatical or literary dimensions, Ross’s misinterpretation of Chapter 31 fails to appreciate the crucial bibliographic status of that chapter, and indeed of the entire Arte itself. By best estimates Chapter 31 was a last minute addition or ‘insertion’ to the Arte, first registered in November, 1588, but transferred and re-registered in April of 1589, to be printed (by the neophyte Richard Field) later in that year—but not with the standard dedicatory letter over an author’s name. Instead, the Arte came out anonymously, prefaced by a woodcut of the Queen followed by a cryptically outlandish cover letter announcing the work’s anonymity to none other than that great patron of poetry, William Cecil, signed by “R. F. Printer”. From its very outset The Arte of English Poesie announces its own theme of authorial anonymity, if not of duplicity. The text we see in The Arte may in fact span some twenty years (1569–89) of composition; if done by one ‘Puttenham’, this reader can humbly assert that this Puttenham produced (without any track-record of poetic talent, and dead in 1590, despite the 1600 date in MLA bibliographies) a virtuoso performance not even approached by Sidney or any other apologist for poetry of the era. Without question The Arte is a product of one or more close insiders, not of an onlooker, with respect not only to Court poetics but also to Court politics about those poetics. Chapter 31, as a late insertion, with its naming of names, very well could have have prompted the anonymity of publication that is a major lament in the Arte itself. In naming Oxford, Buckhurst, Sidney, Chapter 31 may have triggered the very authorial reticence it hoped to alleviate. The Arte is a ‘performative text’—doing what its words say—and in this instance perhaps undoing itself by erasing its author(s) in greater service to poetics.