Chapter 15

“William Shakes-speare”
Man of the Renaissance
by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn

Chapter Fifteen


DURING THE BRILLIANT CHRISTMAS and New Year season of 1578-79, three more of Lord Oxford’s plays were performed at court. They are recorded in the Feuillerat Documents as follows:

On Thursday, January 1, 1579, A Morall of the marryage of Mynde and Measure shewen at Richmond on the sondaie next after Newe yeares daie enacted by the Children of Pawles furnished somethinges in this office. (1)

On Tuesday, January 6, 1579, The historie of the Rape of the second Helene shewen at Richmond on Twelf daie at night well furnished in this office with manie thinges for them.

On Sunday, January 11th, 1579, a Double Maske shewen before her maiestie the ffrench Imbassador being presente the sonday night after Twelfdaie. (One of these was A Maske of Amasones, the other A Maske of knightes.)

A Morall of the marryage of Mynde and Measure seems to have been the original title of The Taming of the Shrew, with Lady Mary Vere the chief prototype of Katharina, who had a strong Mynde, and Peregrine Bertie predominantly that of Petruchio, determined to subdue it to Measure. We have already spoken of this play and of the general situation upon which it was based. In our belief, Oxford had written a sketchy one of the same type some years before—perhaps while at Gray’s Inn; for The Shrew not only has similarities to Gascoigne’s Supposes produced there, upon which Oxford may well have collaborated, it also seems a very youthful work—and now he amplified it, brought in the personal allusions which would have been extremely diverting to the court, where the newly married Shrew and her husband were well known, and had it ready for the festive season.

It is only in his early plays that he uses so many quotations from the Latin. Here he also shows familiarity with Italy and the Italian language; with the furnishings of a palatial home (II.I.339-55); with the ills of horses (III.2-43 et seq.); with falconry (IV.I.185 et seq. and IV.2. 39); and he gives the rich Baptista Minola, father of Katharina and Bianca, a name patently combined from the names of two bankers with whom he had dealt in Italy—as we have previously remarked Baptista Nigrone and Pasquino Spinola.

Furthermore, this father has much in common with Burghley, and we fear the almost too sweet Bianca has a touch of Anne Cecil. When it appears that Lucentio-Oxford (2) has won her, his servant comforts Hortensio (IV.2.22-6):

Tranio. Signior Hortensio, I have often heard
Of your entire affection to Bianca;
And since mine eyes are witness of her lightness,
I will with you, if you be so contented,
Forswear Bianca and her love for ever.

It seems highly probable that Anne had a shrewish strain also, and she may have been accorded some part of the dubious honor of being Katharina; for in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the reference is unquestionably to Anne in Helena’s speech about Hermia (III.2.323-5).

O! when she’s angry, she is keen and shrewd.
She was a vixen when she went to school:
And though she be but little, she is fierce.

We are told that Anne was “little,” as well as that she was “sweet.” By two contemporaries she was spoken of, and so had gone down in history, as “the sweet little Countess of Oxford.”

Petruchio (who at times has a dash of Oxford himself; a playwright almost always combined characters, as we have said) calls Katharina “Kate of Kate-Hall” (II.1.188); and Kate-Hall (or Kat-Hall) is another name for Lord Burghley’s imposing home, Theobalds. Theobald, or Tyboll, was a variant of Theodobert, a cat in a well-known fable of the day, Reynard the Fox (Burghley was called “the Fox”); and Queen Elizabeth spelled Theobalds “Tyboll’s” or sometimes “Tibbals.” (3) From Petruchio’s doughty lines (II.I.269-73), we may take it that, certainly for punning purposes, Kate was pronounced Kat—short for Katharina:

For I am he am born to tame you, Kate;
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.
Here comes your father; never make denial;
I must and will have Katharine to my wife

Two instances where we think Petruchio is impersonating Oxford occur in a speech by Katharina (III.2.7-11) and another by the father, Baptista (III.2.97-8):

Katharina. No shame but mine: I must forsooth be forc’d
To give my hand oppos’d against my heart
Unto a mad-brain’d rudesby full of spleen;
Who woo’d in haste and means to wed at leisure;


Baptista. Why, sir, you know this is your wedding-day:
First we were sad, fearing you would not come.

In the former, Oxford has mischievously repeated Lady Suffolk’s opinion of him, expressed in her first letter to Burghley (Chap. Thirteen). In the latter, Baptista speaks in the person of the Lord Treasurer. Oxford seems not to have come to his wedding, and that is why it was postponed for three months, although the Queen and court were at Theobalds awaiting him. Burghley must have been in a great dither.

So, although The Taming of the Shrew is a youthful work and a gay comedy, it has its trenchant implications, into which, if it were feasible, we should like to go more fully. As for the Induction, that was added about fifteen years later; it will be discussed in good time.

* * * * * * * *

Regarding the play which followed, The Rape of the Second Helene, there is a great deal that must be said.

That this is the same play which was afterward entitled All’s Well that Ends Well is indicated by the opening lines of the Clown’s song which follows the Countess’s order (I.3.68-71):

Sirrah, tell my gentlewoman I would speak with her; Helen I mean.

Clown. Was this fair face the cause, quoth she,
Why the Grecians sacked Troy?

So this is the second Helen, whose “rape”—by the young Count of Rousillon, when he thought he was with Diana—is the story that was told about the Earl of Oxford and his young Countess (Chap. Nine); but it was originally taken from Boccaccio’s Decameron, with some of the characters’ names retained, the King there being French. As Looney said, this play “might be described as Boccaccio’s story plus the life of Edward de Vere.” Curiously, it contains the germ of Hamlet, as well as the first faint adumbration of Falstaff. And Diana’s last name is Capilet. All’s Well may almost be said to be an account of the beginning of the Hamlet-Ophelia relationship, of the time when Hamlet still trusted Ophelia and Polonius.

For it is clear that this play had been written before the crisis of 1576. There is the strongest internal evidence that it belongs circa 1572, when Oxford was living with his young wife at his “country Muses of Wivenhoe,” grateful for the “first [news] I have received of your Lordship’s good opinion conceived towards me,” and confessing himself “desirous and diligent to seek the same.” In other words, it was written during the early months of his marriage, when he was suffering pangs of contrition—he felt everything violently—for having run away on the eve of his wedding, to say nothing of having given his heart to the Queen, and was willing to believe not only that he had misjudged Burghley and Anne but also that he himself had been a coxcomb, thoroughly rude and inconsiderate of a kindly old man and a noble, patient, uncomplaining girl who loved him.

Bertram, like Hamlet, has lost the father he almost worshipped; he is loved by a girl of inferior birth. Polonius tells Ophelia that “Lord Hamlet is a prince out of thy star” (II.2.141); whereas here we have:

Helena. That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so above me … (I.1.91-2);

Steward…. she loved your son: Fortune … had put such difference
betwixt their two estates…. (I.3.109-11);

Helena. I am from humble, he from honour’d name (I.3.154);

Helena. I am your most obedient servant.
Bertram. Come, come, no more of that.
Helena. And ever shall
With true observance seek to eke out that
Wherein toward me my homely stars have fail’d
To equal my great fortune. (II.5.74-8.)

Helena. The Count Rousillon cannot be my brother:
I am from humble, he from honour’d name;
No note upon my parents, all his noble:
My master, my dear lord lie is; and I
His servant live, and will his vassal die. (I.3.153-7.)

The Echo poem, signed “Earl of Oxford,” puts it thus:

May I his favour match with love if he my love will try? I.
May I requite his birth with faith then faithful will I die? I.

To a feudal lord “vassal” would not have so objectionable a connotation as it has to us.

We have said that Anne Cecil was called “the sweet little Countess of Oxford”; Ophelia was “sweet Ophelia,” “pretty Ophelia,” etc.; and Helena—

Lafeu. Farewell, pretty lady…. (I.1.82);


Parolles. Little Helen, farewell. (I.1.194.)

Like Hamlet, Bertram loves the girl after he learns that she is dead:

That she, whom all men prais’d, and whom myself
Since I have lost, have lov’d, was in mine eye
The dust that did offend it. (V.3.53-5.)

The Countess’s advice to Bertram when he leaves home (I.1.64-73) is much like that of Polonius to Laertes. So is her, “Yes, Helen, you might be my daughter-in-law” (I.3.165) suggestive of Queen Gertrude’s “I hop’d thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife (V-1-251); while the King’s remark to Bertram about his father, “Methinks I hear him now” (I.2.53) is similar to Hamlet’s to Horatio (I.2.184): “My father, methinks I see my father.” An especially interesting correspondence of philosophical attitudes is found in two of Lafeu’s and Hamlet’s speeches:

Lafeu…. Hence it is that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear. (II.3.3-6.)


Horatio. O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
Hamlet. And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. (I.5.164-5.)

There are far too many parallels to quote. We mention these because Bertram and Hamlet are both Oxford himself.

Only two points concerning Helena’s likeness to Ophelia would appear to be later additions: one is the otherwise so modest Helena’s lewd conversation with Parolles about virginity (I.1.115 et seq.), which seems to match the strangely bawdy quality of Ophelia’s songs; the other, within this same conversation, Parolles’s words (144-7):

… virginity murders itself, and should be buried in highways, out of all sanctified limit, as a desperate offendress against nature. Virtue breeds mites, much like a cheese….

Ophelia was buried “out of all sanctified limit”; whereas the latter part suggests Hamlet’s pseudo-mad words to Polonius (II.2.181-6):

For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion—Have you a daughter? . . . Let her not walk in the sun: Conception is a blessing; but not as your daughter may conceive.

Then there is the queerly paradoxical clause in the Countess’s praise of Helena (I.1-42-5):

… her dispositions she inherits, which makes fair gifts fairer; for where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, there commendations go with pity….

It must be merely a coincidence that the letter Anne wrote to Lord Chamberlain Sussex in 1574 closed with the words: “. . . with my most hearty commendations. . . . Your Lordship’s poor friend, Anne Oxenforde.” We say “must be”; yet is it? Oxford had a way of reading old letters when writing or revising his plays. And such humility would have disgusted him, especially after the crisis of 1576. Moreover he never missed anything.

Can it be a further coincidence that Helena’s conversation with Parolles about virginity immediately follows the Countess’s scene with Lafeu in which the above passage occurs? That seems unlikely.

All this part is clearly a late addition, after the Hamlet state of mind had set in. Here, in All’s Well, it is chiefly himself the young dramatist is mercilessly flaying. He shows Bertram behaving contemptibly: he holds no brief for him. But, even so, it must be understood that Bertram was not quite the cad he seems to a modern reader since, in that day, there was a vast gulf between nobility and low birth. William Cecil’s grandfather had been a tavern-keeper in Stamford, which set him a world apart from a Vere. One has to accept the terms under which Lord Oxford lived and wrote; for, as we have said, psychology has its place in history—or evolution—and psychology calls the tune.

For the most part, the play is straight autobiography, only slightly disguised. In his opening speech Bertram says:

And I, in going, madam, weep o’er my father’s death anew; but I must attend his majesty’s command, to whom I am now in ward, evermore in subjection.

When the young Lord Oxford’s father died, he became a ward of the Crown. But instead of Bertram’s living in the house of Helena’s father, Helena lives in the house of his mother. (The Countess calls Helena “my gentlewoman.”—I.3.68. It is significant that Anne had been one of the Queen’s Maids of Honour.) Anne must have admired “his arched brows, his hawking eye” (I.199)—which are strikingly apparent in Lord Oxford’s portraits, both the Welbeck and the St. Albans—as Helena did Bertram’s, and as Ophelia admired Hamlet’s qualities. Whether Anne coveted Oxford more, in the beginning, or whether only Burghley did, we cannot know, but Helena certainly longed for the young Bertram.

The Countess stands for the Queen, and the King is a presentment of Elizabeth and Burghley; the old Lord Lafeu would seem to be part of the time a complimentary portrayal of Burghley. (This is one reason we are assured that the play was written before 1576; for after Oxford saw through Burghley once for all, he was seldom able to portray him as altogether admirable.)

Like the young de Vere, Bertram yearned to go to the wars, but he too was restrained:

Bertram. I am commanded here, and kept a coil with
“Too young,” and “the next year,” and ” ’tis too early.” 4
Parolles. An thy mind stand to ‘t, boy, steal away bravely.
Bertram. I shall stay here the forehorse to a smock,
Creaking my shoes on the plain masonry,
Till honour be bought up and no sword worn
But one to dance with! By heaven! I’ll steal away. (II.1.27-33.)

The “smock” was Elizabeth, who wished to keep him by her, liked his dancing, and refused him a military career.

Bertram is staggered when the King ordains that he is to marry Helena. Burghley, as Master of Wards, had the authority to marry the young Earl to anyone he chose. If, in this case, he initiated the project, it was the Queen who gave the order, as we are distinctly informed in the play.

In 1571, the time referred to in the action—the year Oxford was married to Anne—Queen Elizabeth had for nearly a year suffered from precisely the same malady that the King has in All’s Well.

Bertram. What is it, my good lord, the king languishes of?
Lafeu. A fistula, my lord.
Bertram. I heard not of it before.
Lafeu. I would it were not notorious…. (I.1.34-7.)

“Notorious” is what Elizabeth’s was in 1571. We cite some of the comments taken from contemporary documents, first noting that the Oxford Dictionary defines fistula as a long pipe-like ulcer with narrow mouth. Although there is a reference in 1569 to “an affliction which she has in her legs,” the first definite mention occurs a year later, when the duc d’Anjou declared “that he would not marry her, for she was not only an old creature, but had a sore leg.”

On June 29, Fénelon wrote from London to Paris:

. . . having had me called into her private chamber, in which she was dressed like an invalid, having her leg en repoz, after having recounted to me the particulars of her affliction, and made her excuses for not having been able to hear me as soon as I had desired … [In this interview she twice describes herself as lame.]

July 1, 1570, de Spes to Madrid from London:

The illness of the Queen is caused by an open ulcer [una illaga] above the ankle, which prevents her from walking.

Three more references to the ulcer follow in letters from de Spes to Madrid. Then August 16, 1570, De Gueras [evidently a misprint for De Guaras] from London to Zayas:

The Queen is in poor health with her malady in the leg.

May 2, Fénelon from London to Paris:

[The Queen] wished to complain to me that a young man who was in the highest place had said that Monsieur would do well to come to marry this old woman, who had had, the past year, so much of a sore (tant de mal) in one of her legs that she was not yet cured of it. . . .

Here we surely have a direct connection with the Earl of Oxford, the enfant terrible of the court, not only “a young man . . . in the highest place” but also the only young man from whom Elizabeth would have permitted such sauciness. She evidently repeated his teasing words with a sardonic humor. At this time Oxford was trying to turn her against Alençon. It should be noted that by May 1571, which was three months before Cecil announced Anne’s engagement in his letter to the Earl of Rutland, the Queen was “not yet cured of” her ulcer, and must have been growing discouraged, as the King is in the play. It can be seen from the above quotations that, as Lafeu says, the condition was “notorious.” We quote one more reference to it which occurs later:

November 1584, Mary Queen of Scots to Elizabeth:

About four or five years ago you being ill and I also at the same time, she [the Countess of Shrewsbury] told me that your malady came from the closing of a fistula that you had in one leg . . . .(5)

There is every reason to believe that Oxford’s consternation was equal to Bertram’s, which is thoroughly realistic:

Bertram. My wife, my liege! I shall beseech your highness
In such a business give me leave to use
The help of mine own eyes. (II.3.109-11.)

This is surely a strong indication that Oxford was ordered to marry Anne, and that what Burghley wrote the Earl of Rutland was for the record: “I think it doth seem strange to your Lordship to hear of a purposed determination in my Lord of Oxford to marry with my daughter; and so before his Lordship moved it to me I might have thought it.” The only way Oxford had of getting the record straight was to write the truth in the plays. And this was what he did, from first to last. And this was one reason why Burghley and his immediate heirs took every means they could do to conceal the identity of the dramatist.

They marry Bertram to Helena. He is disconsolate—

Undone, and forfeited to cares for ever! (II.3-273)—

and he will not consummate the marriage, but instead sends his wife home to his mother, while he makes ready to go to the wars. Parolles abets him, making the famous pun:

A young man married is a man that’s marr’d. (304.)

Helena may well ask,

… is it I
That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou
Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark
Of smoky muskets? (III.2.104-7.)

Lord St. John had written in 1571 to the Earl of Rutland:

The Earl of Oxford hath gotten him a wife—or at the least a wife hath caught him … which hath caused great weeping, walling and sorrowful cheer of those who had hoped to have that golden day.

Bertram tells Diana that he loves her, not Helena:

I was compell’d to her; but I love thee
By love’s own sweet constraint, and will for ever. (IV.2.15-16.)

It had seemed a rather strange thing, as we re-read this play, that Oxford had named this girl Diana, for Diana was Elizabeth’s chief appellation at court and with the poets. Then suddenly we realized that this was his very purpose. He is telling the Queen that it is she whom he loves and will love for ever. The truth of this statement will become self-evident as the story unfolds.

Bertram had informed Helena with candor and dignity (II.5.59-71):

I shall obey his will.
You must not marvel, Helen, at my course,
Which holds not colour with the time, nor does
The ministration and required office
Of my particular: prepar’d I was not
For such a business; therefore am I found
So much unsettled. This drives me to entreat you
That presently you take your way for home;
And rather muse than ask why I entreat you;
For my respects are better than they seem,
And my appointments have in them a need
Greater than shows itself at the first view
To you that know them not.

One of his “appointments” about which he could not speak was his relationship with Queen Elizabeth. She was doing a great deal for Burghley in arranging this marriage, but she was giving her young favorite a childish wife who would not claim too much of his time or thought, meanwhile keeping the reins in her own hands. The whole cold-blooded proposition had been a shock to the idealistic Earl of Oxford, and this is partly why he ran away. He had, as he says above, a need Greater than shows itself at the first view.”

The young husband will not even kiss Helena good-bye.

Bertram. Farewell. [Exit Helena.]
Go thou toward home; where I will never come
Whilst I can shake my sword or hear the drum.
Away! and for our flight!
Parolles. Bravely, coragio! (91-4.)

In touching up this play for presentation a few months after Harvey’s oration, the Earl no doubt recalled the words, “thy countenance shakes a spear.” He would recall them again more than once.

Act III opens in Florence—for which read Flanders—where war is being waged against the Senoys—Spaniards. We are obliged to take it that Oxford ran away to Flanders to see military service, because he could not abide the idea of being married to Anne, or probably anyone else, before he had seen something of the world, because he felt himself bound to the Queen, and also because he was stunned by Elizabeth’s making use of him for Burghley’s advantage.

It is to be noted that there had been a cessation of hostilities in the Low Countries in 1577, but early in 1578 they had started up again. Thus this was a topical allusion when the play was produced in January 1579, and would have been recognized by the audience. Mrs. Clark states that

while Elizabeth objected to sending an English army over to assist the Netherlanders, she allowed Col. Norris and several thousand volunteers to go. (6)

This is what is meant by the first part of Act 1, scene 2, which closes with the Second Lord’s remark (15-17):

It well may serve
A nursery to our gentry, who are sick
For breathing and exploit.

But the personal reference is of course to Oxford’s supposed service in Flanders in 1571, when he ran away on the eve of his marriage—while the Duke of Alva was there, as he was from 1567 to 1573. When he, Oxford, told such wild heroic tales of his exploits, he was deliberately combining, his runaway excursion of 1571 with that of 1574.

At home, the Countess reads a letter from her son—just such a letter of explanation as Oxford must have written Elizabeth:

You shall hear I am run away: know it before the report come. (III.2.22-3.)

He explains that he has “wedded but not bedded” Helena. (Oxford was evidently betrothed to Anne, but the marriage had not taken place.)

Countess. This is not well: rash and unbridled boy,
To fly the favours of so good a king!

Helena arrives with Two Gentlemen.

Helena. Madam, my lord is gone, for ever gone. (45.)

She reads the letter he has written (56-9) which tells her that when she can get the ring upon his finger and show him a child of his by her,

then call me husband: but in such a “then” I write a “‘never.”

In other words, “nE Ver.” This is his signature.

The Gentlemen tell the Countess that Bertram has gone to Florence, to be a soldier.

Such is his noble purpose; and believe ‘t,
The duke will lay upon him all the honour
That good convenience claims.
. . . . . . . . .
Countess. There’s nothing here that is too good for him
But only she; and she deserves a lord
That twenty such rude boys might tend upon. (III.2.68-80.)

When she learns that Parolles is with him, the Countess says:

A very tainted fellow and full of wickedness. (85.)

Now, in Parolles, we have a very subtle Elizabethan representation. For Parolles, a big talker, lives up to his name, which means words. And Parolles is intended to stand for the talkative side of Oxford himself, an unworthy side, which elaborates his exploits precisely as Arundel accused Oxford of elaborating these very adventures he had in Flanders in 1571. (7) The incorrigible Earl is here, then, picking up the taunt and waving it gleefully for all to see. He admits he talks too much and distorts his adventures, simply because he has the gift; he cannot help it. We are presented with a very generous clue when Lafeu reproaches Parolles (II.5.28-32):

A good traveller is something at the latter end of a dinner; but one that lies three thirds, and uses a known truth to pass a thousand nothings with, should be once heard and thrice beaten.

This is to say, that it is well enough for a “traveller,” like Oxford, to tell of his exploits at “the latter end of a dinner,” but one that uses known facts to base “a thousand nothings,” or fabrications on, should be— Let us finish the sentence this time and say, “pleasing to an Elizabethan audience.” As the Earl of Oxford was. He was called by his contemporaries “the best for comedy.”

There is a further allusion here to a poem Gascoigne had written during the recent contretemps, in which he paid his respects to noblemen who wrote about war without having experienced its rigors. (We shall take this up in another connection: Chapter 28.) Oxford is gaily flourishing the accusation and admitting his misdeeds in full measure.

We are given another clue to Parolles’s identity in the following passage:

Parolles. I love not many words.
First Lord. No more than a fish loves water. . . .
Second Lord. You do not know him, my lord, as we do: certain it is that he will steal himself into a man’s favour, and for a week escape a great deal of discoveries; but when you find him out you have him for ever after.
Bertram. Why, do you think he will make no deed at all of this that so seriously he does address himself unto?
First Lord. None in the world; but return with an invention and clap upon you two or three probable lies. . . . (III.6.87-102.)

In the scene (IV.1) where the lords prepare to play the practical joke on Parolles, one of them says that “he hath a smack of all the neighboring languages” (17), while Parolles himself plans what he will say to them:

It must be a very plausive invention…. They begin to smoke me, and disgraces have of late knocked too often at my door. I find my tongue is too foolhardy. . . . (27-30.)

Oxford had “the neighboring languages”; he speaks of his “invention” when referring to his work (Sonnet 76 says, “And keep invention in. a noted weed”); and by the time he was putting this play in shape for presentation, he had had “disgraces” knocking several times at his door. John Soouthern had spoken of his “knowledge of the tongues.” And Parolles says (IV.1.72-3):

If there be here German, or Dane, low Dutch,
Italian, or French, let him speak to me.

Some other ingredient goes into Parolles as well, however—one which smacks of Falstaff, for he is a coward, and Oxford was anything but that.

Parolles. I will confess what I know without constraint; if ye pinch me like a pasty, I can say no more.

And he is, like Falstaff with Prince Hal, quite willing to betray his master and companion (but of course it is himself he is betraying):

… that is an advertisement to . . . one Diana, to take heed of the allurement of one Count Rousillon, a foolish, idle boy, but for all that very ruttish. (IV.3.215-18.)

Later he speaks of “that lascivious young boy the count” (303); which is again extremely candid of Oxford, who will presently, as Jaques, confess that he has been a libertine. Parolles may be a combination of the Earl’s volubility in conversation prompted by his wealth of invention and of the exaggerated foolery into which it leads him, with a quality of someone else: Falstaff is a rather elaborate composite. But if, as Parolles, he talked too fulsomely of his exploits, as Bertram, he did well in battle; for the King says (V.3.30-1):

I have letters sent me
That set him high in fame.

In the final scene Bertram promises the King that if Helena can prove that she is the one who is to have his child,

I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly. (V.3.317.)

The Earl of Oxford could never understand why, when he was willing to take a ribbing himself for his follies and faults, others could not do likewise. While writing the plays, he seems to have been possessed of an impersonal aloofness. The truth was the thing, and as Parolles says (1V.3-158), “A truth’s a truth.” He was sometimes mordant but never malicious. Hatton never forgave him for making him the butt of his wit; neither did Ben Jonson when he became a victim; while as for Burghley—Burghley murdered his “good name,” as Oxford would have said, “for ever.”

There are a few more points to be touched upon, although we shall have to let others go. One is that the Clown, suggestively named Lavache, is a kind of reflection of Oxford too, as the clowns usually are; he was the Court jester. His clowns are mostly courtiers, or know court-ways. (8) There is often a certain pathos about the clowns in the plays, as there is here when Lavache is separated from his master, Bertram.

The Countess says to him (I.3.56-7):

Wilt thou ever be a foul-mouth’d and calumnious knave?

But he shows his court-training—and incidentally, engages in the kind of foolery Oxford must often have indulged in with Elizabeth—in II.2. Only a courtier could have jested in such a vein as this:

Truly, madam, if God have lent a man any manners, he may easily put it off at court; he that cannot make a leg, put off ‘s cap, kiss his hand, and say nothing, has neither leg, hands, lip, nor cap….

And we may take it that Oxford was mimicking some courtier who had got into the habit of saying, “O Lord, sir!” in the remainder of the scene, one line of which goes thus:

“O Lord, sir!” I see things may serve long, but not serve ever. (58.)

It is to the Clown that we owe what must be a vivid description of Oxford himself. (Later descriptions by his contemporaries corroborate this.) Here, by the way, we see the Earl momentarily as we shall see him in the role of Jaques.

Clown. By my troth, I take my young lord to be a very melancholy man.
Countess. By what observance, I pray you?
Clown. Why, he will look upon his boot and sing; pick his teeth and sing; mend the ruff and sing; ask questions and sing. I know a man that had this trick of melancholy sold his goodly manor for a song. (III.2.3-9.)

And the Widow says of Bertram (III.7.39-41):

Every night he ‘comes
With musics of all sorts and songs compos’d
To her unworthiness. . . .

It should be noted that the King’s words about Bertram’s father (I.2.38-47) show that Lord Oxford was not in any sense what we should call a snob. He simply recognized his advantages of high birth and felt the responsibility it entailed.

We have suggested that Oxford complimented Burghley by portraying him as the delightful Lafeu. Moreover, he very cleverly gives him a marriageable daughter, whom the old man thinks he would like to bestow upon Bertram, when Helena is reported dead, until he sees how faithless Bertram is.

Lafeu. I moved the king my master to speak in the behalf of my daughter; which, in the minority of them both, his majesty … did first propose. (IV.5.72-5.)

(Not to be overlooked is the fact that whenever an older man speaks of “my daughter,” he is sure to be Burghley.)

It may be the Queen did “first propose” the marriage of Oxford and Anne. In any case, he is now giving the Lord Treasurer the benefit of that implication. And he allows Lafeu to repudiate Bertram upon learning of his faithlessness. All of which is very handsome of the young dramatist, though it could scarcely have been written after 1576: it could merely have been left in.

There is a topical reference to the year 1578 in Lafeu’s remark (II.3-44):

Lustig, as the Dutchman says;

which points to the visit to the Dutch Colony during the recent progress to Norwich, where a Dutch minister addressed the Queen and the court.

A characteristic device of shifting his dramatis personnae for some purpose or other is illustrated when Lord Oxford gives Helena lines which actually relate very outspokenly to the Queen in tribute (I.1.170-8):

Not my virginity yet.
There shall your master have a thousand loves,
A mother, and a mistress, and a friend,
A phoenix, captain, and an enemy,
A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign,
A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear;
His humble ambition, proud humility,
His jarring concord, and his discord dulcet,
His faith, his sweet disaster. . . .

Elizabeth was all these things to him, and no one else was. She is in this play Bertram’s mother, enemy, and friend. Helena was certainly not so to Bertram, nor was Anne to Oxford. Nothing could be more mistaken than the notion that so great a poet and dramatist could have lived and written during this Queen’s reign and have had no acquaintance, no contact, with her whatever. She delighted in the stage and for years maintained her own company of players. It is because his contact was far too intimate and because he reveals this too candidly that all record of it has been expunged from her history.

By now surely even the most reluctant reader will agree that we have caught the Lord Treasurer at his trick of “fixing” the historical account. No word has survived in his documents to show that Oxford ran away to Flanders on the eve of his wedding in 1571. We should not know that he had ever seen action in Flanders except for Arundel’s accusation that he made such a fantastic story of his experiences there. Burghley had it all neatly arranged that posterity should believe Lord Oxford himself proposed marriage to his daughter. But Oxford tells us that he recoiled from the idea and ran away.

There is no way to learn when it was that the Earl realized he would have to tell his story himself, if it were ever to be known; but whenever it was, he deliberately set about planting identity-clues in the plays. There are many significant “ever’s” and “never’s” in All’s Well. (The word “ever” occurs twenty-seven times.) Besides being almost everything else, Lord Oxford was the first writer of detective stories, and as such he was par excellence.


1. Mrs. Clark (Hidd. All.; P. 94) cites Steele’s Plays and Masques at Court to explain the confusion of dates in the Revels Accounts here. The correct one seems to be Jan. 1, not Jan. 4; Thursday, that is, not Sunday.

2. The Earl of Oxford was called “Phoebus” at Court. Phoebus Apollo is the bringer of light; hence Lucent-E. O.

3. Agnes Strickland says that in one of her playful letters to, Burghley, the Queen “styles him the Eremite of Tibbals, and addresses him as ‘Sir Eremite.'” p. 480.

4. Oxford had written Burghley: “For having made an end to all hope to help myself by Her Majesty’s service—considering that my youth is objected unto me. . . .”

5. The excerpts cited above are taken from F. Chamberlin: The Private Character of Q. Eliz.; pp. 58-68, copied and translated from the original documents.

6. Hidd. All.; p. 105.

7. This play, we repeat, refers to the first time Oxford ran away, which was in 1571, when he must have remained several months; the second time, in 1574, he did not see service in the Low Countries but returned almost immediately, although Ward says he must have visited the Spanish lines outside Bommel in July.

8. When exception is made, it is for a special purpose, as in The Winter’s Tale.

Contents | Chapter Sixteen