Arthur Golding: The Uncle of Edward de Vere,
And the Intimate Part He Played in the Development
of Shakespeare’s Creative Genius
Copyright 1940 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, December 1940.
I wish there were more biographies of forgotten people.
Edward FitzGerald, translator of Omar Khayyam
It seems strange that a writer who left the impress of his achievements so indelibly upon the golden age of English literature as did Arthur Golding should have lacked a biography until the present day.
A debt of gratitude is due Louis Thorn Golding of Brookline, Massachusetts, for the industry and enthusiasm that has at last brought about publication of an adequate book on the foremost translator of the Shakespearean era.
Under the quaint title of An Elizabethan Puritan,  Mr. Golding has assembled many long-hidden facts of his distinguished ancestor’s career. The presentation is sound and scholarly, showing that considerable pains have been taken in locating original documentary sources, and the narrative is smoothly contrived throughout.
Like Robert Greene, Thomas Nash, Edward Fitzgerald, George Borrow, Constable and Gainsborough, and many another poet, dramatist and painter who has played an important part in the development of English art, Arthur Golding was born in East Anglia, the south-eastern country which is, quite appropriately enough, the first corner of Britain to greet the morning sun. Not least among the ancients of this group, Golding can be accorded unique honours for his pioneering spirit and the fact that his many important translations helped mould the thoughts, artistic destinies and religious beliefs of many of the most remarkable minds that England has produced.
Born at the manor of Belchamp St. Paul’s, north-western Essex, in the year 1536, the son of John Golding, Esquire, one of the auditors of the Court of Exchequer, Arthur Golding was the sixth child in a family of eleven.
His mother, Ursula Marston Golding, was the second wife of her husband and a lady of brains and character from whom the translator appears to have inherited habits of industry and sobriety, as well as his strong religious convictions.
Many will find it a surprising anomaly that the man who first put the sensuous measures of Ovid’s Metamorphoses into English verse was also the indefatigable reproducer of John Calvin’s grimly interminable Sermons. But the Elizabethan age has other examples to offer of such seemingly contradictory personalities. That is perhaps one reason why it is difficult at times for modem students to get a true perspective on the human elements involved in the flowering of the English Renaissance.
John Golding died in 1547, leaving his principal estates to his eldest son Thomas. But the rest of the family must have been well provided for, as an elder daughter Margery married John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, on the 5th of August in the year following. And in 1552, at the age of 16, Arthur Golding was entered as a “fellow commoner” or privileged student at Jesus College, Cambridge. He appears to have left without taking a degree some time after Mary Tudor came to the throne, the inference being that state pressure exerted upon Cambridge teachers at this unhappy period for their addiction to the principles of the Protestant Reformation made college life too uncertain for students of the same faith.
But Arthur Golding was a born scholar with an unusual aptitude for foreign tongues and his lack of a college degree proved no bar to his mastery of classic Latin and contemporary French.
The marriage of his half-sister Margery to the genial Earl John of Oxford also opened many great doors to him, as the Veres of Hedingham Castle represented what Macaulay designates as the “longest and most illustrious line of nobles that England has seen.” John of Oxford unquestionably encouraged the young man in his studies, for later in life Golding dedicated the translation of one of his Latin histories to Edward de Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford’s heir, with the statement that he had originally intended it for the senior nobleman “to whom I had long before vowed this my travail.”
Like nearly every other forerunner who has tried to scale the heights with a pen for an alpenstock, Arthur Golding had plenty of trouble. Money and property ran through his fingers like quicksilver. During his latter years the bailiffs pursued him with malignant persistency and on various and sundry occasions he was forced to study the problem of supporting a growing family from behind the bars of a debtors’ prison. His end in May 1606, old, broken in health, debt-ridden to the last, is too sad to dwell upon.
Was Arthur Golding Really “Shakespeare’s” Tutor?
To those readers who are interested in the new theory, now taking root in various parts of the English-speaking world, that the greatest literary figure the race has yet produced was really Arthur Golding’s nephew, Edward de Vere, who wrote under the nom de plume of “William Shakespeare,” An Elizabethan Puritan will provide valuable corroborative evidence.
All commentators on Shakespeare’s literary background are agreed that Venus and Adonis and many passing allusions in the plays trace directly to Golding’s publications of Ovid. Speaking of the Metamorphoses, Sir Sidney Lee says:
“Golding’s rendering of Ovid had been one of Shakespeare’s best-loved books in youth, and his parting tribute (in The Tempest) proves the permanence of his early impressions, in spite of his widened interests.”
There is nothing to prove that Golding and the citizen of Stratford-on-Avon ever met, but one of the first things to arouse wide-spread interest in the Oxford-Shakespeare case has been the fact that Arthur Golding was not only the uncle of Edward de Vere but his companion and adviser for some time after the twelve year old peer lost his father and, as a Royal Ward, took up his residence in the household of Sir William Cecil. During this period Golding worked upon his translations of the Latin poet, which were printed in 1564 and 1567 with dedications to Robert, Earl of Leicester.
The 17th Earl of Oxford is definitely known to have been an accomplished Latin scholar as well as a poet of marked ability. Gabriel Harvey bears witness to this. So does Angel Day, in the 1586 dedication of his English Secretarie to the nobleman “whose infancy from the beginning was ever sacred to the Muses.” In the same year of 1586 William Webbe’s Discourse of English Poetry declared that “in the rare devices of poetry” . . . “the right honourable Earl of Oxford may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest.” The anonymous author of The Arte of English Poesie in 1589 also placed “that noble gentleman Edward Earl of Oxford” . . . “first” . . . among all the poets “of Her Majesty’s own servants who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest.” Finally the great Edmund Spenser himself, who was not given to idle flattery, addressed a dedicatory Sonnet to the Earl in the opening pages of the 1590 edition of The Faerie Queene. He referred to Oxford’s affinity to the Muses as
“… the love which thou doest beare
To th’ Heliconian imps, and they to thee;
They unto thee, and thou to them, most deare.”
These references to creative gifts are too categorical to be ignored. They must mean that Edward de Vere had done outstanding work which is either lost or has not come down to us under his own name.
Keys to the mystery will be found in the personal connection that existed between Lord Oxford and Arthur Golding, on the one hand, and the clear-cut reflection of Golding’s own personality and his literary labors in the works of “William Shakespeare,” on the other.
In fact, study of Louis Thom Golding’s research makes it possible at this time to announce a discovery of heretofore unidentified Shakespearean source material that seems to have escaped the attention of experts in the field during the past three hundred years.
Edward de Vere had been entered as an “impubes fellow-commoner” at Queen’s College, Cambridge nearly fours years before he took up his official residence with the Master of the Royal Wards. Arthur Golding, fourteen years his senior, accompanied the young Earl as personal “receiver” of the Vere estates which were then apparently among the greatest in the realm. That Golding also acted as tutor and general adviser to his nephew can be taken for granted, for the translator addresses Oxford in such a dual spirit in dedications of books published in 1564 and 1571.
The first of these is an English version of Justin’s previously untranslated Abridgement of the Histories of Trogus Pompeius, “a worke conteyning briefly great plenty of most delectable Historyes, and notable examples, worthy not only to be Read, but also to bee embraced and followed by al men.”
Lord Oxford was only fourteen years of age and about to receive a degree from St. John’s College, Cambridge, when his uncle offered the fruit of his labors in the field of ancient history to him in these words:
… there was not any who, either of duty might more justly claim the same, or for whose estate it seemed more requisite and necessary, or of whom I thought it should be more favourably accepted, than of your honour. For … it is not unknown to others, and I have had experience thereof myself, how earnest a desire your honour hath naturally graffed in you to read, peruse, and communicate with others as well the histories of ancient times, and things done long ago, as also of the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding. The which do not only rejoice the hearts of all such as bear faithful affection to the honourable house of your ancestors, but also stir up great hope and expectation of such wisdom and experience in you in times to come, as is meet and beseeming for so noble a race.
Then, after urging young Oxford to emulate the examples of Epaminondas of Thebes and Arymba of Epirus who were not only great soldiers but scholars and peace-makers as well, he concludes:
Let these and other examples encourage your tender years … to proceed in learning and virtue . . . whereof, as your great forwardness giveth assured hope and expectation, so I most heartily beseech Almighty God to further, augment, establish and confirm the same in your Lordship with the abundance of his grace.
Your Lordship’s humble servant,
A Discovery of Real Import
The “delectable Historyes, and notable examples” thus brought to Edward de Vere’s attention so persuasively during his formative years must have vividly appealed to the precocious boy.
It is a significant “coincidence,” now noted for the first time, that the writer of the Shakespearean plays must also have been vividly impressed by the succinct tales from Trogus Pompeius for he alludes many times to striking incidents and unusual personalities of the ancient world that appear in this early translation by Arthur Golding. Lack of space prevents mention of more than two or three such parallels here:
In the first chapter of the Historyes we find the story of Cyrus, ruler of the Persian Empire, and his defeat and death by the unusual strategy of the Scythian queen Tomyris.
Turning to Shakespeare 1 Henry Sixth, (II, 3), we discover the Countess of Auvergne planning the capture and murder of the English hero Talbot with comments such as these:
The plot is laid; if all things fall out right,
I shall be as famous by this exploit
As Scythian Tomyris by Cyrus’ death.
The connection here is unmistakable for Trogus Pompeius seems to be the one historian of the period who refers to Tomyris as a Scythian queen. Herodotus, and others speak of her as Queen of the Massagetae.
Again, in this book dedicated to Lord Oxford by Arthur Golding we read of Semiramis the mythical queen of Assyria and her criminal exploits, with her own son Ninyas.
Shakespeare’s allegorical melodrama of Titus Andronicus compares the blood-thirsty Tamora, Queen of the Goths (here evidently representing the Spain of Philip II) with
This goddess, this Semiramis, this nymph,
This siren, that will charm Rome’s Saturnine.
And in the introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, the lord who plays the practical joke on Sly, the drunken tinker, promises him
Softer and sweeter than the lustful bed
On purpose trimmed up for Semiramis.
The account of Alexander the Great in Trogus Pompeius is particularly well handled—a model of clear and concise reporting. Two dramatic incidents in this miniature biography of the classic superman seem to have fixed themselves in the memory of Shakespeare. The first relates to Alexander’s murdering of his confidential friend Cleitus during a drinking bout.
This is alluded to by the irrepressible and muddle-tongued Fluellen in Henry V, (IV.7) as follows:
Alexander,—Got knows, and you know,—in his rages and his furies, and his wraths, and his cholers, and his moods, and his displeasures, and his indignations, and also being a little intoxicates in his prains, did, in his ales and his angers, look you, kill his pest friend, Cleitus.
The other Alexandrian anecdote has to do with the great conqueror’s final act. It is reported in the ancient chronicle in this wise:
When his friends saw him dying, they asked him “whom he would appoint as the successor to his throne?” He replied, “The most worthy.” Such was his nobleness of spirit, that though he left a son named Hercules, a brother called Aridaeus, and his wife Roxane with child, yet forgetting his relations, he named only “the most worthy” as his successor; as though it were unlawful for any but a brave man to succeed a brave man …
Shakespeare’s King Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, having put away his wife and daughter in a jealous rage, (just as Lord Oxford himself did in 1576, by the way) finds himself likely to face the future without an heir. The old noblewoman Paulina offers him this cold but familiar comfort (Act V.1.):
Care not for issue:
The crown will find an heir: great Alexander
Left his to th’ worthiest; so his successor
Was like to be the best.
Altogether, there are ten or more clear-cut allusions in the plays to memorable characterizations and passages that appear in Arthur Golding translation of Trogus Pompeius. In addition, Shakespeare seems to have drawn heavily upon the book in naming many of his dramatic personages. Fully a dozen of the heroes of antiquity that Golding re-vitalized for the delectation of his brilliant nephew reappear in name if not in exact characterization in the Shakespearean comedies and tragedies—exclusive of the Roman plays, modeled directly upon Plutarch.
“Thine Uncle, Famous in Caesar’s Praises”
In October, 1565, from his East Anglian birthplace of “Powles Belchamp,” Arthur Golding dedicated one of his most important translations “To the ryghte honorable Syr Willyam Cecill Knight, principal Secretarye to the Queenes Maiestie, and maister of her highnes Courtes of wardes and liueries.”
This was a spirited English version of Caesar’s Commentaries, bearing the rather verbose title of The eyght bookes of Caius Iulius Caesar conteyning his Martiall exploytes in the Realme of Gallia and the Countries bordering upon the same. The volume represents a landmark in English history and scholarship for it was the first’ translation of the greatest of all military classics to be printed in the vernacular. That it was eagerly read by Golding’s bookish young relative, there can be no doubt. Shakespeare’s preoccupation with the character and exploits of Julius Caesar is too well known to require comment.
It is interesting, but perhaps not surprising to find the Bard adopting Golding’s exact phraseology when the latter makes Caesar remark:
Of all the inhabitants of the isle, the civilest
are the Kentish-folke.
This reappears in the speech of the doomed Lord Say to Jack Cade, 2 Henry VI, (IV.7):
Kent, in the Commentaries Caesar writ,
Is term’d the civill’st place of all this’ isle.
Also in Cymbeline (III.1), the playwright has Lucius, the Roman general, remark to the British leader:
When Julius Caesar, whose remembrance yet
Lives in men’s eyes and will to ears and tongues
Be theme and hearing ever, was in this Britain
And conquer’d it, Cassibelan, thine uncle,—
Famous in Caesar’s praises, no whit less
Than in his feats deserving it, etc….
Cassibelan does not appear in the play and his relationship to Cymbeline and admiration for Caesar seem to stress the Bard’s appreciation of uncles who reflect Arthur Golding’s particular characteristics. Half a dozen pointed references in various plays to the fact that an uncle can, if he will, fulfill the offices of a missing parent, come readily to mind.
When my uncle told me so, he wept,
And hugg’d me in his arm … (3 Henry VI)
. . . And thy uncle will
As dear be to thee as thy father was.
But the most unusual of these allusions that adumbrate Shakespeare’s familiarity with the scholarly Golding himself occur in As You Like It.
Rosalind, disguised as a backwoods youth, meets Orlando in the forest and is complimented upon her refined accent. She replies:
I have been told so of many: but indeed
an old religious uncle of mine taught me to speak,
who was in his youth an inland man….
Later in the play, when Orlando tries to explain the contradictions in Rosalind’s hidden personality to the Duke, he says:
But my good lord, this boy is forest-born,
And hath been tutor’d in the rudiments
Of many desperate studies by his uncle,
Whom he reports to be a great magician…
The Protean Personality of the Poet-Peer
Close students of the personality of Arthur Golding as it emerges from his biography will also find the idiosyncracies of this unusual puritan-poet-scholar and his chief interests in life so persistently refracted through the rays of Shakespeare’s scintillating genius that the identification of the translator with the poet’s development is in many respects easier to distinguish than is the part that Golding the man took in the education and support of his own children.
For instance, the translator’s dedication to his nephew in 1571 of The Psalmes of David and others with M. John Calvin’s Commentaries might seem at first glance of very little significance, except to the two people chiefly concerned. The “old religious uncle” appears to have been somewhat concerned at this time about the spiritual welfare of the dashing young peer who was known as a champion “spear-shaker” in the lists, an ingenious writer of light verse, a patron of poets, philosophers and dramatists, and the Queen’s personal favorite among Court entertainers. “If it were not for his fickle head he would pass any of them shortly,” wrote Gilbert Talbot to his father, the Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1572. Evidently Arthur Golding watched the development of Oxford’s mind with some distrust, for the Earl was as complex and contradictory a personality as the age had to offer: a voracious student and distinguished scholar, and at the same time a highly-mannered fop; a musician and a master-tilter; a poet, a keen follower of new philosophies, but an incorrigible practical joker; an eager soldier, an expert horseman, the best dancer at Court and withal a natural comedian. Courthope in his History of English Poetry describes him (appropriately enough) in exactly the same words that Shakespeare uses to characterize Falstaff: “He was not only witty in himself, but the cause of wit in others.” Sir William Cecil, his guardian, sketches the Earl realistically in a letter written to Lord Rutland at this time.
I find…that there is much more in him of understanding than any stranger to would think. And for my own part I find that whereof I take comfort in his wit and knowledge grown by good observation.
This was the distinctly “off standard” representative of the ancient English aristocracy to whom Arthur Golding addressed his 1571 edition of The Psalms of David with the heartfelt hope that Oxford would take their message as
…the lantern of your feet, and the light of your steps. Whosoever walketh without it walketh but in darkness, though he were otherwise as sharp-sighted as Linceus, or Argus, and had all the sciences, arts, cunning, eloquence, and wisdom of the world.
For many generations writers on the Elizabethan period who did not bother to look closely into the matter have held the opinion that this good advice of Arthur Golding was thrown away on Edward Earl of Oxford, and that the talented but eccentric young nobleman degenerated into a quarrelsome wastrel, a treasonable turn-coat in religion, in brief, a flighty nonentity who was chiefly distinguished for his monumental debts and his differences with Sir Philip Sidney.
But the actual facts of his life, as they have been dredged up from the original records of the times by J. Thomas Looney, Capt. B. M. Ward and others of recent years, tell a far different story. Lord Oxford appears to have been the most misunderstood and persistently misrepresented poet that was ever born in England. His talents as a scholar, an entertainer and a comedian fused into focus as his wealth declined, and the best of evidence now exists to show that he was really the creative power behind the development of the Shakespearean stage. That he wrote the plays and poems generally credited to the unschooled and untravelled business man of Stratford-on-Avon who had such difficulty in penning his own signature, a very substantial mass of testimony bears witness.
We also know that while Lord Oxford never announced himself a Calvinist, as his uncle may have hoped he would, his spiritual stamina was sufficient to enable him to rise above the mistakes and misadventures of early manhood which had landed him in the Tower on two separate occasions. Some of the valuable properties which Arthur Golding sacrificed so mysteriously at about the same period undoubtedly went to help the Earl out of these embarrassments. In any event, Oxford lived long enough to emerge from the shadows. When James I came to the throne in 1603 he rescued the poet-peer from official obscurity and financial uncertainty and made him a member of the Royal Privy Council. In a letter to Sir Robert Cecil, the Earl’s brother-in-law, James refers to him as “Great Oxford.” No other Englishman of the day can be shown to have elicited so unusual a tribute from the drama-loving monarch of Edinburgh. Neither is there any evidence to show that Edward de Vere had achieved notable success in any fields other than poetry, music and playwriting when James arrived in England.
An Amazing “Coincidence”
The Psalms of David which Arthur Golding so hopefully dedicated to his twenty-one year old nephew may have helped Lord Oxford through some of the crises of his chequered career. At least we have the comment of Sir George Buc, who served for many years in the office of the Master of the Revels and licensed several of the Shakespearean plays for production, that
… certaynly the erl was a magnificent and a very learned and religious man …
This comment was recently decyphered from some half-burned notes in Buc’s handwriting, found among his manuscripts in the Harleian collection. The Master of the Revels adds other significant words in defence of the peer who had unquestionably lost caste by becoming a public playwright, ending as follows:
I spea (k) bu (t) what I know, for he vouchsafed me . . . the honour of his familiar ac(quaintance).
It is unfortunate that all of Buc’s notes on this matter have not been preserved for no one can question the significance of the fact, in connection with other Oxford-Shakespeare authorship evidence, that this remarkable nobleman was on terms of “familiar acquaintance” with a licenser of Shakespeare’s plays.
Turning back to these masterpieces with the thought that perhaps Arthur Golding’s presentation of The Psalms of David and others to their apparent author may have had some perceptible influence upon the creative structure of the plays, we find the conjecture justified beyond all reasonable doubt. Expert opinion informs us that
From first to last there is not a play in the Folio entirely free from a suggestion of a use of the Psalms. In two plays, 2 Henry VI and King Henry VIII the allusions to the Psalms run into double figures. Even the Sonnets are not devoid of quotations from the Psalms. If Shakespeare made instinctive and spontaneous use of any part of Scripture it was of the Psalter.
This testimony appears in Richmond Noble’s authoritative work on Shakespeare’s Biblical Knowledge, published 1935. Mr. Noble was granted a scholarship by the University of Liverpool to carry out his research. He also secured the advisory co-operation of the greatest living authorities on the history of English Biblical publication and the Shakespearean texts. He seems to have been in no way concerned with the problem of the disputed authorship of the plays and expresses the orthodox point of view throughout his investigation that Shakespeare the dramatist was a citizen of Stratford-on-Avon.
But here again, in tracing the Bard’s familiarity with Biblical text, the investigator reaches conclusions that can be shown to corroborate the Oxfordian theory in convincing detail.
Realizing that no direct evidence exists to prove that the householder of Stratford ever personally owned a Bible or for that matter, any other book, Richmond Noble at first adopted Sir Sidney Lee’s supposition that the poet had been instructed in Biblical lore at school. He soon found, however, that
. . . unfortunately this view seems to have been based on nothing more substantial than a confident assumption; there is nothing to show that (Lee) took any pains to confirm it by means of inquiry. There has as yet been no adequate proof adduced that the English Bible,was taught generally in country schools between 1572 and 1580, or if we agree that Shakespeare served as an usher, even as late as 1586.
Mr. Noble then goes on to prove that the man who wrote the plays had a scholar’s knowledge of all the Biblical texts that were circulated in England prior to the King James version—but particularly of the phraseology of the Genevan Bible, so dear to the hearts of John Calvin and Arthur Golding.
It is beyond all shadow of doubt (says our authority) that on occasions Shakespeare used the Genevan, just as on others he used the Bishops; and on others again, a rendering found in the Prayer Book . . . but the evidence is in favor of Shakespeare’s possession of a Genevan Old Testament . . .
We have italicized some of Mr. Noble’s words to accentuate their import in relation to (1) the lack of proof that the Stratford man ever owned any books and (2) the fact that indisputable documentary evidence is on file at Hatfield House, the ancient home of the Cecil family, showing that Edward, Earl of Oxford early in life purchased a copy of the particular rendering of the Scriptures with which Shakespeare, in Mr. Noble’s expert opinion, was personally familiar. Proof of this appears in an old account book under date “from January 1st to September 30th, 1569/70,” with the notation, “payments, made by John Hart, Chester Herald, on behalf of the Earl of Oxford.” The item with which we are now concerned reads:
To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers . . . 2 . 7 . 10.
So it would seem that Calvinist Arthur Golding’s eloquent appeal to his unpredictable nephew to take the scriptures—and particularly the Psalms—”as the light of your steps” may very well have been acted upon in a way far different from that in which the puritanical translator had intended but to the eternal glory of English literature!
As outlined in previous pages of this essay, “Mr. William Shakespeare” can be shown to have made instinctive use of those books by Arthur Golding which the Elizabethan translator either dedicated to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, or published while personally associated with his literary nephew—”whose infancy from the beginning was ever sacred to the Muses.”
This situation, touching the very well-springs of Shakespeare’s creative mystery, reveals much coincidental evidence to buttress other strong documentary testimony in the Oxford-Shakespeare authorship case.
Shakespeare’s Familiarity with the Routine of Choir Boys
It has already been mentioned (continues the author of Shakespeare’s Biblical Knowledge) that Shakespeare quoted more from the Psalter than from any other book of the Bible. … His indebtedness to the Psalter struck Mr. Anders very forcibly when reviewing the subject in his Shakespeare’s Books, and he hazarded the suggestion that perhaps he had sung the Psalms in church as a choir-boy. Certainly his knowledge of the Psalms is greater than the ordinary layman might be expected to acquire by attendance at church. . . . It would account for his acquaintance with some of the elements of vocal music.
A shrewd observation and one that coincides with Edward de Vere’s recorded activities with uncanny accuracy!
For contemporary accounts of Elizabethan theatrical affairs, as published by Sir E. K. Chambers and others, tell us that beginning in 1583 and continuing for an indefinite period thereafter, Lord Oxford was the patron of a company of junior players made up from choir-boys of the Chapel Royal and St. Paul’s Cathedral. As a poet, playwright and gifted musician himself, the Earl must certainly have familiarized himself with the routine of these choir singers before selecting them to appear under his patronage. John Lyly, the writer whose influence upon the comedies of Shakespeare has been remarked by hundreds of critics, acted as private secretary to Oxford at this period and also as stage manager of the “Oxford Boys.” The published Quartos of all of Lyly’s comedies but one state on their title-pages that they were first presented by these children from the choirs of the Queen’s Chapel and St. Paul’s.
Such facts not only conjure up pleasing pictures of the Earl’s real associations and interests; they help supply tangible substance to the Shakespearean creative background which otherwise presents the most baffling vacuum in English literature.
The evidence that brings Arthur Golding and the Bard within the same creative orbit is too extensive to have been accidental. Just as Sir Sidney Lee and other orthodox authorities have concluded, the dramatist is mentally akin to the translator. Such being the case, it would seem not only possible but very natural to find that these two outstanding Elizabethan writers had enjoyed personal relations. But no scrap of testimony can be produced to show that the Stratford citizen ever met Golding.
On the other hand, the close relationship—both by blood and literary affinity—that existed between the playwriting, Earl of Oxford and the translator of Ovid, provides constructive evidence that Oxford was indeed the real “William Shakespeare.”
Golding’s Biography Points the Way
But in these comments on Louis Thorn Golding’s book I do not wish to give the impression that the author is himself a proponent of the Oxfordian theory or that he sees any particular significance in the facts that Arthur Golding personally endeavored to influence the thinking and the conduct of his literary nephew, while at the same time the Golding translations are admitted by everyone to have fundamentally influenced several of the best-known works published under the name of “William Shakespeare.”‘ As it happens, Louis Thorn Golding devotes only four or five pages to the latter subject and follows the old and mistaken notion that Edward of Oxford was permanently addicted to a “wild and spendthrift life.”
I have, therefore, taken An Elizabethan Puritan as a starting point for new research which includes Lord Oxford in his lesser known character of a gifted scholar, a producer of plays and a writer whom contemporary critics declared would be recognized as the foremost among all Court poets if his “doings could be found out and made public with the rest.” The fact that Dr. Gabriel Harvey in 1578 took it upon himself to admonish this nobleman that he was wasting too much of his time upon “bloodless books” and “writings that serve no useful purpose,” while ending his harangue with the striking reference:
. . . thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear. . .
should have given a hint to students of the Shakespearean arcana generations ago that Arthur Golding’s aristocratic nephew, who lived so many years under “an unlifted shadow” in the company of bohemian writers, actors and playwrights, would repay careful investigation.
As it turns out, the Golding, Oxford-Shakespeare lead opens up so many new lines of evidence contributory to a realistic solution of the new authorship theory that its most important phases can be sketched only in barest outline here. A few more instances of “Mr. William Shakespeare’s” reliance upon mental stimuli provided by Lord Oxford’s uncle, and we shall have done.
Another Golding Book That Influenced the Bard
In 1578, the same year that Harvey, the Cambridge pundit, saw fit to reprove the Earl of Oxford publicly for devoting himself to the pen instead of the spear, Arthur Golding issued from the press of John Day a translation of Seneca. The title, rendered in modern English, reads:
The work of the excellent Philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca concerning Benefiting, that is To say the doing, receiving, and requiting of good Turns.
Dr. Lily B. Campbell in her scholarly study of Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes (1930), traces to Arthur Golding’s popularization of this Senecan discourse “most of the ideas on gratitude”‘ that found dramatic expression in Shakespeare’s age. She uses the Golding text in direct comparison with the basic structure of King Lear to show how the playwright developed his psychological theme with Seneca’s observations on the good or evil results that follow wise or foolish benefactions clearly in mind.
Thus in King Lear we find that the law of benefiting is not observed by either party, for the Kim, never ceases to recount the good he has done and the gratitude that is owed him while his undutiful daughters forget altogether the benefits they have received and fail to be grateful for them.
It is a notable fact that Lord Oxford, like King Lear, was the father of three daughters. As he grew older and his estates dwindled, the nobleman experienced increasing difficulty in supporting the young ladies in accordance with their social positions. It therefore came about that his father-in-law, the great Lord Burghley, forced Oxford from time to time to sign away rights in Castle Hedingham and other ancient family properties in order to insure the economic future of these girls—though all three seem to have been Cordelias when left to their own inclinations.
The influence of Seneca as a dramatist on Shakespeare is so obvious that comment would be tedious. The Roman philosopher-playwright is mentioned by name in Hamlet and quoted or referred to more than twenty-five times in six or seven different plays. Certain important elements in Hamlet derive as directly from Senecan psychology as does the gratitude theme of Lear. Dr. John W. Cunliffe covers most of these parallels in The Influence of Seneca on Elizabethan Tragedy (1893).
A thorough study of Golding’s version of Benefiting will, however, unquestionably reveal Shakespeare’s indebtedness to the book for many turns of thought not heretofore traced in origin. Timon of Athens’ remark: “We are born to do benefits”; and several direct paraphrases in the Sonnets immediately present themselves. But perhaps the most extraordinary of all appears in the philosophic motif of that charming song, in As You Like It:
Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen
Because it is not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
* * *
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friends remembered not.
A Murder and An Earthquake
In addition to his many translations from the Latin and French, Lord Oxford’s indefatigable uncle published two English books on rather sensational contemporary happenings.
The first of these was A brief discourse of the late murder of master George Sanders, a worshipful Citizen of London (1573). This pithy recital of the snuffing out of a prosperous merchant tailor by the paramour of the tailor’s wife, with special emphasis on “the secret working of Gods terrible wrathe in a guiltie and blouddie conscience,” went into several editions and was later dramatized under the title of A Warning for Faire Women. In this form it was produced at the Globe Theatre during the 1590’s by “Shakespeare’s company.” The play, though printed in 1599, bears no author’s name and has been attributed by some critics to John Lyly who served so long as Lord Oxford’s private secretary and stage manager.
Arthur Golding’s other original work was A discourse upon the Earthquake that happened through this realm of England and other places of Christendom, the sixth of April, 1580. In mentioning this journalistic tract, the Dictionary of National Biography remarks:
Shakespeare refers to the same earthquake in Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene 3.
Golding Thwarts a Crime in High Life and “Shakespeare’s” Indignation Rankles
One of the most interesting portions of An Elizabethan Puritan has to do with the serious troubles that John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, experienced as the result of a love affair with one “Mistress Dorothy,” the governess or companion of his young daughter, Lady Katherine de Vere, following the death of his first wife. The Earl evidently gave a promise of marriage to this woman which she in turn admitted to the child. In some way the affair came to the ears of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who had seized power as Lord Protector in 1547, upon the accession of Henry VIII’s frail heir. Greedy and unscrupulous, Somerset immediately set on foot a scheme to blackmail the Earl of Oxford into an agreement to affiance his small daughter and only heir (at that time) to one of Somerset’s sons. To accomplish this, “Mistress Dorothy” was spirited away and pressure was exerted upon Oxford to make him agree to a “fine,” ostensibly in earnest of his daughter’s marriage to young Seymour, but really for the private enrichment of the Duke of Somerset. This “fine,” as exacted from the harassed nobleman, was so worded that its provisions stripped his collateral heirs of their rights in the vast Vere estates. Certain legal authorities date the decline of the Vere family fortunes from this ill-advised love affair of the 16th Earl, coupled with Somerset’s blackmailing devices; though the forced “fine” was later voided by Parliament.
This calls to mind another tell-tale “coincidence” in the Oxford-Shakespeare dossier, for it appears that in defiance of full historical warrant, the author of 1 Henry VI and 2 Henry VI makes a Duke of Somerset the outstanding villain of both plays. He is pictured as a scheming trouble-maker who causes the death of the valiant Talbot and his son by delaying re-enforcements during the battle of Bordeaux. Throughout both dramas, Somerset is referred to as “the fraud of England,” “vile traitor,” and characterized as one who studies to play both sides in the contention between the houses of York and Lancaster to his own advantage. At one point Richard Plantagenet exclaims:
And for those wrongs, those bitter injuries
Which Somerset hath offer’d to my House,
I doubt not but with honour to redress;
And therefore haste I to the Parliament,
Either to be restorèd to my blood,
Or make my ill th’advantage of my good.
Such expressions would come even more appropriately from the mouth of an Elizabethan Vere than from a long-dead Plantagenet. For it is a fact, here thoroughly documented, that as a direct result of John de Vere’s persecution by the sixteenth century Somerset and the calling into question of the legality of the Earl’s marriage to Margery Golding Edward de Vere’s mother, the 17th Earl of Oxford was in 1563 put in jeopardy of losing his titles and all rights to his patrimony. Only a thirteen-year-old boy when the first of these suits affecting his legitimacy were instituted, his literary uncle undertook the “desperate study” of his case in legal rebuttal. And so well did the staunch Puritan perform these duties that the little Earl was saved the disgrace of social and economic extinction at the outset of his career. But the experience could not help but leave marks deeply etched in a mind so impressionable.
These circumstances may explain “Mr. William Shakespeare’s” determination to embalm the name of Somerset in the amber of his, scorn, just as they give additional point to the Bard’s appreciation of loyal uncles. Also, quite reasonably, they may indicate a personal motive behind the development of the Bastard’s character in King John. For years ago Algernon Charles Swinburne, among others, remarked that this debonnaire young patriot who is branded as illegitimate at the beginning of his active life, is unquestionably the beau ideal of all Shakespeare’s quasi-historical heroes.
Certainly the recovered facts of Edward de Vere’s private life, his known activities and associations, provide more realistic answers to such problems in the psychology of literary creation than any conjecture that has yet emanated from the shadowy back-ground of the rustic village on the Avon.
Charles Wisner Barrell
1. An Elizabethan Puritan, by Louis Thom Golding. Richard R. Smith, New York.