Chapter 17

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

Chapter Seventeen


THE Double Maske, or Love’s Labour’s Lost, is, apart from its vitality and charm, especially interesting for the wealth of information it provides. First, it is so definitely and variously related to the royal progress of 1578, as well as to synchronous happenings in Europe, that it could not be divorced from that period without being destroyed—or at least without becoming meaningless. Many commentators think it is meaningless, artificial, and somewhat silly. But it is far from being any of these. It is an elaborate jeu d’esprit, which could have been written only by an Elizabethan courtier who was a Euphuist, and therefore only by the Earl of Oxford. It was presented at court on January 11, 1579, as part of the entertainment arranged for Simier, Alençon’s emissary, and his entourage. Secondly, while giving a well-rounded view of its author at that stage of his career and not a few pointed clues to his name, it portrays the beginning of his love-affair with Anne Vavasor, or with a certain “dark” lady, as she is repeatedly called, who is described as a wanton, an amorous “light wench,” and as a wit. Since it was at this period that Oxford succumbed to Anne Vavasor’s spell, and since she was a brunette siren, she must, indeed, be Berowne’s Rosaline. She was, incidentally, the Rosalind of Spencer’s Shepheard’s Calendar. And she was related to the Howards.

Furthermore, among divers other amiable caricatures, Gabriel Harvey was, as we have said, presented as the pedant Holofernes; and this provoked his subsequent retaliatory lampoon of Oxford, to which in turn Armado responds in a lampoon of that very lampoon, doubtless added to the play immediately afterwards. The Double Maske was revised in 1589, at which time the Fair Youth became, and also played the part of, Moth; then in 1598, shortly in advance of its presentation before Queen Elizabeth at Christmas, it was published, “newly corrected and augmented” by the author.

Like many of Oxford’s plays, this one had its historical prototypes, as well as its dramatic; and here they were French, as a compliment to Simier. Mrs. Eva Turner Clark has written a whole book about the French historical implications and personages in this play. We shall merely give the briefest résumé of what was going on in 1578.

Henry III of France was on the throne, but Catherine de’ Medici wielded the sceptre. There was endless intrigue among the Catholic Guises to obtain political control. They were particularly inimical to Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot, and husband of Catherine’s daughter, Marguerite de Valois. Navarre had been obliged to flee to his own province, and now insisted that his wife join him, demanding her dowry, which he had never received. Because the King, her brother, disliked her and things were unpleasant at court, Marguerite went to join her husband, after having contrived, by a ruse, to go first to Flanders and arrange for an uprising there in favor of her brother, Alençon, who with her aid had escaped from the Louvre where he had been held captive by the Queen Mother. The word “malecontents” occurs in this play for the first time (III.1.185): it had a current vogue, because a party called Malecontents opposing Catherine de’ Medici had sprung up in France.

Accompanied by her mother and the “Flying Squadron” of Maids of Honour, Marguerite then went to Gascony, where Henry of Navarre met them attended by six hundred nobles, “but refused to receive Marguerite or to confer with the Queen Mother until his wife was remarried to him by the Protestant ritual, her dowry paid, and the towns [all of which were comprised by ancient Aquitaine] were delivered.” (1) The meeting—on October 2, 1578—was not cordial, but terms were finally arranged at Nerac.

The Marechal de Biron became Navarre’s deputy in Guyenne. (In some editions of the play Berowne’s name is spelled “Biron.” Like Timon, it has the dominant E. O. sound.) The Princess is historically, then, Marguerite de Valois. The “king my father” is Henry III, her brother. “Charles his father” is Charles IX, his brother, the former King. “The heir of Alençon, Katharine her name,” is Catherine de’ Medici, who was her unmarried son’s heir. Dumaine stands for the due de Mayenne who, however, came into the picture later. Since this play was produced in revised form in 1589, the name Dumaine patently belongs to that version. Henry III was assassinated in that year. Thus his death is announced to the Princess (V.2.712-14):

Mercade. I am sorry, madam; for the news I bring
Is heavy on my tongue. The king your father—
Princess. Dead, for my life!

This would be a curious expression if she were grieved, but of course Marguerite was not: her life was much safer. Her husband, Henry of Navarre, succeeded to the throne as Henry IV. It was only after he became a Catholic that the due de Mayenne supported him. Oxford kept up to date the plays he was interested in.

It is of future relevance to our inquiry that the Huguenot poet, D’Aubigné, was one of the gentlemen attending upon Navarre. Catherine had hoped that the Flying Squadron of young ladies might exert a desirable influence over Navarre and his attendant lords. They have their counterparts in Rosaline, Katharine, and Maria.

All this furnished the topical foundation for the “battle of wits,” which was what it had indeed been in France. The case is stated in Boyet’s speech to the Princess (II.1.1 et seq.):

Now, madam, summon up your dearest spirits:
Consider whom the king your father sends,
To whom he sends, and what’s his embassy:
Yourself, held precious in the world’s esteem,
To parley with the sole inheritor
Of all perfections that a man may owe,
Matchless Navarre; the plea of no less weight
Than Aquitaine, a dowry for a queen. . . .

This was, of course, a compliment to Marguerite—whom Oxford had met at the French court—as well as to her husband; and it was also a compliment to Elizabeth’s suitor, Alençon, since his sister was his ally against Catherine, Henry III, and the Guises.

When the King (Navarre) meets the Princess (Marguerite), he says (II.1.166 et seq.):

It shall suffice me: at which interview
All liberal reason I will yield unto,
Meantime, receive such welcome at my hand
As honour, without breach of honour, may
Make tender of to thy true worthiness.
You may not come, fair princess, in my gates….

There is another topical allusion in the mask (V.2.157):

Boyet. The trumpet sounds: be mask’d; the maskers come.
Enter Blackamoors with music; Moth; the King, Berowne,
Longaville, and Dumain in Russian habits, and masked.

This refers to an elaborate entertainment given in 1578 by the duc d’Alençon, a feature of which was the masquerading of a number of soldiers as “Russians.” Marguerite de Valois visited her brother that year and may have been present at the time. (2)

After this visit she went to Brabant, where the sad death of Helene de Tournon occurred. This is referred to (II.1.114):

Berowne. Did I not dance with you in Brabant once?

And (V.2.13-15):

Rosaline. You’ll ne’er be friends with him: ‘a killed your sister.
Katharine. He made her melancholy, sad, and heavy;
And so she died. (3)

So much for the French allusions. It is with the dramatic prototypes that we are more concerned here.

Berowne is Oxford. When he sits in the tree and observes the other courtiers, he is the playwright stalking his game (IV.3.75-8):

Berowne. All hid, all hid; an old infant play.
Like a demi-god sit I in the sky,
And wretched fools’ secrets heedfully o’er-eye.
More sacks to the mill!

It was never said more truly of anyone than of the Earl of Oxford that all was grist that came to his mill.

Armado is the fantastic, the comedic, aspect of Oxford, the Euphuist, the “traveller,” who, on his return from Europe, had brought with him new styles in clothes and apparently certain new manners which had caused him to be called an “Italianate Englishman.” (He refers to this in Sonnet 91: “Some [glory] in their garments, though newfangled ill.”) In caricaturing himself as Armado, he was joining in the joke. He is also filling his role of Court jester, as appears from the following:

Boyet. This Armado is a Spaniard, that keeps here in court;
A phantasime, a Monarcho, and one that makes sport
To the Prince and his book-mates. (IV.1.98-100.)

The “phantasime” refers to his anonymity in his plays. The word has a double significance: phantasmal, as well as fantastic. Oxford says, in The Passionate Pilgrim, st. XIV:

“Wander” a word for shadows like myself,
As take the pain, but cannot pluck the pelf.

Surely this is plain-spoken enough! He longs to have his authorship known. Armado is an anagram for O drama. He reveals the secret in a hundred ways.

There was at this time a real Monarcho, a crazy Italian who claimed to be monarch of the world. He must have died soon afterward, for Churchyard wrote an epitaph upon him in the following year. During the 1570’s Elizabeth had had an Italian jester named Monarcho, probably after the insane Italian. Oxford is here implying that he has taken this jester’s place. But there is a deeper meaning, an ironic one, for he considered himself by rights the Queen’s consort.

The King and Berowne describe Armado (I.1.159-73):

King. Our court, you know, is haunted
With a refined traveller of Spain;
A man in all the world’s new fashion planted,
That hath a mint of phrases in his brain;
One whom the music of his own vain tongue
Doth ravish like enchanting harmony;
A man of compliments, whom right and wrong
Have chose as umpire of their mutiny:
This child of fancy, that Armado hight,
For interim to our studies shall relate
In high-born words the worth of many a knight
From tawny Spain lost in the world’s debate.
How you delight, my lords, I know not, I;
But, I protest, I love to hear him lie,
And I will use him for my minstrelsy.

Berowne. Armado is a most illustrious wight,
A man of fire-new words, fashion’s own knight.

Every word here is of vital significance. The King is speaking as the sovereign, Elizabeth, now, describing this creative Renaissance man of her court, who is hospitable to “new fashion” as well as new words, which he mints in his brain, a copious and brilliant talker, who knows he talks well. “A man of compliments,” gracious at court, as here, in this compliment he has written to Alençon and his envoys, and an “umpire” between “right and wrong,” as Jaques-Oxford says he will be when “invested in his motley”:

. . . give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through and through
Cleanse the foul body of the infected world. (A.Y.L.I.:II.7.)

Armado is a “child of fancy” who “shall relate in high-born words the worth of many a knight.” This is Oxford of course, with his “high-born words,” for his words are always that. The King loves to hear him tell his tales, in the “interim” between his graver duties, and arbitrate between right and wrong, just as the Duke allows Jaques his motley, so that he can tell him the truth. This is all to say that Elizabeth gave Oxford license to speak his mind: she delighted in him, used him for her minstrelsy for thirty years.

Costard’s remark (IV.3.196) further identifies him:

Of Dun Adramadio, Dun Adramadio;

this form of the name being an anagram for “A drama dio”—Berowne has said, “Like a demi-god here sit I in the sky”—and “Dun” being the name of Oxford’s great-grandfather. It may be said that anyone who will pun as much as the dramatist did in this play will indulge in name-clues, anagrams, and all sorts of word-juggling. For example, note the puns on “man, woman, manor, and manner” (I.1.202-8), which, by the way, may allude to the visits Elizabeth had paid the Earl of Oxford at his manor-house, with its magnificent park, at Havering.

This brings us to Costard, who seems, like Parolles in All’s Well, to partake of what we might call the tough side of the Earl. But he seems to be partially Thomas Churchyard too, who served Lord Oxford faithfully for so many years; for it was Churchyard who introduced the Nine Worthies who appeared before the court on the 1578 progress, and here it is Costard who presents them (V.2). It is especially interesting that “Costard” means “a large apple,” and Falstaff describes himself, and is spoken of by contemporary playwrights as being “like an old apple-john” (I H.IV.: III.3.4). Jaquenetta seems to be a comedic presentation of the Queen, whom Oxford was obliged to court in a clandestine manner. Cleopatra-Elizabeth will one day admit that she is

No more, but e’en a woman, and commanded
By such poor passion as the maid that milks
And does the meanest chores. (A. and C.:IV.13.73-5.)

Armado is, like Parolles, one who loves words. Oxford is having fun with himself in a thoroughly disarming fashion in the letter written by Armado which, after a preamble, the King reads (I.1.226 et seq.):

King. No words!
Costard. Of other men’s secrets, I beseech you.
King (reading.) “So it is, besieged with sable-coloured melancholy, I did commend the black-oppressing humour . . . and, as I am a gentleman, betook myself to walk. The time when? About the sixth hour; when beasts most graze, birds best peck, and men sit down to that nourishment … called supper…. Now for the ground which … it is yclept thy park; . . . there did I see that low-spirited swain, that base minnow of thy mirth—”
Costard. Me.
King………. Him, I—as my ever-esteemed duty pricks me on—have sent to thee . . .”
Berowne. This is not so well as I looked for, but the best that ever I heard.

The ensuing scene (I.2) between Armado and Moth is a later addition, belonging to the time when the small Fair Youth became Oxford’s page and acted in his plays. The Earl adored him, as the Sonnets attest, and was charmed with his childish wit. This scene begins with Armado’s calling himself “melancholy.” He confesses that he is “ill at reckoning”—many literary men are; Oxford was no business man!—and Moth tells him he is a “gentleman and a gamester.” The whole dialogue is interesting. Moth’s exclamation (56), “To prove you a cipher!” means to prove you an O. (Part of the scene has great significance for 1589.) It leads to Armado’s speech, which glances at his rivals for Jaquenetta-Elizabeth’s affections, Hatton and Alençon, and ends with his own identification as Oxford, who wrote sonnets to Elizabeth, and to the Dark Lady as well:

Adieu, valour! rust, rapier! be still, drum! for your manager is in love…. Assist me, some extemporal god of rime; for I am sure I shall turn sonneter. Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio.

Since Oxford will be Falconbridge in King John, the reference must be to the marriage of his sister, Mary, to Peregrine Bertie when Maria—who may stand for Mary here, as Maria does in Twelfth Night—speaks of “a marriage feast”

Between Lord Perigort and the beauteous heir
Of Jacques Falconbridge. (II.1.40-l.)

In the first scene of Act III, after an amusing description of Oxford clowning (11-25) there are further name-clues: Moth tells Armado that he is “nothing at all,” which means O again; then with the entrance of Costard, there occur all the references, for the benefit of Simier, to the “envoy”—Armado speaking of taking “the word 1’envoy for a salve”; which suggests Simier’s mission of smoothing the way for Alençon; and the final play, so frequent in the dramas, on “French crown” (141), which was a coin, as well as a regal bone of contention. Armado winds up the show by conducting a song about Hiems, Winter, and Ver, Spring, directing, “Ver, begin” (V.2.888)—his last pointed allusion.

Costard’s description of Armado (IV.1.144-8) may have been added after Harvey’s lampoon of Oxford’s courtier manners:

Armado, o’ the one side, O! a most dainty man.
To see him walk before a lady, and to bear her fan!
To see him kiss his hand! and how most sweetly a’ will swear!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ah! heavens, it is a most pathetical nit!

In the English aspect of the play, Elizabeth is the Princess, although on a few occasions she speaks in the person of the King. It is probably another little dig at the over-zealous Sidney when the Princess says to Boyet (II.1.17-19):

I am less proud to hear you tell my worth
Than you much willing to be counted wise
In spending your wit in the praise of mine.

Elizabeth was rather fond of taking people down.

Philip Sidney, like Oxford, craved military service; thus Boyet was glad when the Princess gave him something to do:

Proud of employment, willingly I go. (II.1.35.)

It was probably through pure mischief that Oxford had Boyet-Sidney speak in rhyme. (II.1.232-47.) And his response to Rosaline’s rhyme (IV.1.127-8) is typical of Sidney. He must really have been good at carving, for that is mentioned twice, not only in the descriptive rhyme (V.2.318) but also when the Princess says (IV.1.55-6), in reference to Costard:

Boyet, you can carve;
Break up this capon.

There is one other passage which not only dates the play but identifies Boyet as Sidney so conclusively that it must be mentioned. This is Berowne’s long teasing rhymed speech (V.2.460-82), followed, after a courteous remark on Boyet’s part, with Berowne’s “Peace! I have done.”

Some carry-tale, some please-man, some slight zany,
Some mumble-news, some trencher-knight, some Dick,
That smiles his cheek in years, and knows the trick
To make my lady laugh when she’s dispos’d,
Told our intents before; which once disclos’d,
The ladies did change favours…. (To Boyet) and might not you
Forestall our sport, to make us thus untrue?
Do not you know my lady’s foot by the squire,
And laugh upon the apple of her eye?
And stand between her back, sir, and the fire,
Holding a trencher, jesting merrily?,
You put our page out: go, you are allow’d;
Die when you will, a smock shall be your shroud.

Sidney had given the Queen as a New Year’s present a white linen “smock” embroidered in black. Incidentally, this description of the young courtier entertaining the Queen with his jests while shielding her from the heat of the fire is delightfully vivid.

We have no way of recognizing the identity of any of the King’s attendants but Berowne-Oxford, who was of course the Prince’s premier Earl. And we are left in no possible doubt as to who he is or what he is like. Berowne is the courtier-dramatist. Rosaline describes him (II.1.64-76):

Another of these students at that time
Was there with him, if I have heard a truth:
Berowne they call him; but a merrier man,
Within the limit of becoming mirth,
I never spent an hour’s talk withal.
His eye begets occasion for his wit;
For every object that the one doth catch
The other turns to a mirth-moving jest,
Which his fair tongue, conceit’s expositor,
Delivers in such apt and gracious words,
That aged cars play truant at his tales,
And younger hearings are quite ravished;
So sweet and voluble is his discourse.

Oxford mocked himself as a talker, but he knew his own worth. Anne Vavasor would have expressed admiration like this of Rosaline’s. (The word “conceit” above, is of course used in the Elizabethan sense of “idea.”)

The dialogues between Rosaline and Berowne foreshadow those between Beatrice and Benedick, for they are the same persons; and this must have been the way Anne Vavasor and Oxford conversed. (4)

First (II.1.114 et seq.)..

Berowne. Did I not dance with you in Brabant once?
Rosaline. Did I not dance with you in Brabant once?
Berowne. I know you did.
Rosaline. How needless was it then
To ask the question.
Berowne. You must not be so quick.
Rosaline. ‘Tis ‘long of you that spur me with such questions….

Again (178 et seq. and V.2.374 et seq.).

Berowne asks Boyet (II.1.209):

Is she wedded or no?
Boyet. To her will, sir, or so;—

a remark that is fraught with meaning, for this Rosaline will be the dark Lady, who has a “will” and wants two “Wills”; gets them too.

Maria says (213-14):

That last is Berowne, the merry, madcap lord;
Not a word with him but a jest.
Boyet. And every jest but a word.
Princess. It was well done of you to take him at his word. (5)

All this alludes, of course, to Oxford the Euphuist, interested in word-play.

Anne Vavasor must have had a somewhat sarcastic tongue. Berowne chides Rosaline for this (V.2.374 et seq.):

Berowne. This jest is dry to me. Fair gentle sweet,
Your wit makes wise things foolish … your capacity
Is of that nature that to your huge store
Wise things seem foolish and rich things but poor.
Rosaline. This proves you wise and rich, for in my eye-
Berowne. I am a fool, and full of poverty . . .

This was the way Oxford felt about Anne. She tormented him; yet he could not keep away from her.

Berowne. O! I am yours, and all that I possess.
Rosaline. All the fool mine?
Berowne. I cannot give you less.
Rosaline. Which of the visors was it that you wore?
Berowne. Where? When? What visor? why demand you this?
Rosaline. There, then, that visor; that superfluous case
That hid the worse, and show’d the better face.

Oxford was, indeed, a complex, many-sided person and must have been inexplicable to many people. Some years before he had written a verse beginning, “I am not as I seem to be.” He is a little nervous about his “visor,” or mask. It so happened that, in a play which he must have been writing at this very time, since it was produced before the year was up, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, he presented one aspect of himself as Proteus, from Ovid’s Proteus Ambiguus, the man of undefined form, or, it might be said, of many forms; and it was from this that Jonson got the name Amorphus, which he gave the character who represented Oxford in Cynthia’s Revels.

Berowne continues this passage with a characteristic speech to Rosaline (395-416), which goes, in part:

Here stand I, lady, dart thy skill at me;
Bruise me with scorn, confound me with a flout;
Thrust thy sharp wit quite through my ignorance;
Cut me to pieces with thy keen conceit;
And I will wish thee never more to dance,
Nor never more in Russian habit wait,
O! never will I trust to speeches penn’d,
Nor to the motion of a school-boy’s tongue,
Nor never come in visor to my friend,
Nor woo in rime, like a blind harper’s song,
Taffeta phrases, silken terms precise,
Three-pil’d hyperboles, spruce affectation,
Figures pedantical; these summer flies
Have blown me full of maggot ostentation:
I do forswear them….

(The “never’s” are name-clues, and “visor” has the sous-entendu of anonymity.)

He forswears Euphuism, but almost immediately he is back at it again. Although he has promised that

Henceforth my wooing mind shall be express’d
In russet yeas and honest kersey noes,

he adds,

And to begin, wench,—so God help me, la!—
My love to thee is sound, sans crack or flaw.
Rosaline. Sans “sans,” I pray you.
Berowne. Yes, I have a trick
Of the old rage: bear with me, I am sick;
I’ll leave it by degrees. . . .

the “old rage” being furor poeticus. He knew he had been rather extreme in this play.

Berowne saw through Rosaline just as Oxford saw through Anne Vavasor, yet he was in love with her, as he confesses to Costard (III.1.176 et seq.):

Forsooth, in love! I, that have been love’s whip.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Regent of love-rimes, lord of folded arms,
The anointed sovereign of sighs and groans.
Liege of all loiterers and malecontents.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What! I love! I sue! I seek a wife!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And among three, to love the worst of all;
A wighty wanton with a velvet brow,
With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;
Ay, and by heaven, one that will do the deed
Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard:
And I to sigh for her! to watch for her!
To pray for her! Go to; it is a plague . . .

He spoke more truly than he knew. It was to be a plague to him for many years; yet, even knowing what he did, he was driven to her. He felt that if Elizabeth were going to marry Alençon, he might as well have his affair with Anne. In fact, he says so (IV.3.1 et seq.) in a passage where the King is Elizabeth and the “deer” being hunted is Alençon:

Berowne. The king is hunting the deer; I am coursing myself; they have pitched a toil; I am toiling in a pitch,—pitch that defiles. . .

and again in the dialogue Berowne has with the Princess (V.2.230-41) when she makes mock of his desire for “one sweet word,” which concludes:

Berowne. One word in secret.
Princess. Let it not be sweet.
Berowne. Thou griev’st my gall.
Princess. Gall! bitter.
Berowne. Therefore meet.

When the King says (IV.3.227-8):

My love her mistress, is a gracious moon;
She an attending star . . .

he is prefiguring Romeo and Juliet, in which Romeo leaves fair Rosaline (the Tudor Rose) for Juliet-Anne. The King adds (244):

By heaven, thy love is black as ebony;

and Berowne replies (255-8), in the style of the Sonnets:

O! if in black my lady’s eyes be deck’d,
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
… therefore is she born to make black fair.

The Princess in telling Costard (IV.1.106),

Thou hast mistaken his letter,

has a double meaning; and there is a further play upon Oxford’s letter O in a passage (V.2) which is preceded by more comments on Rosaline’s “beauty dark” (20), and Rosaline says:

Look what you do, you do it still i’ the dark.
Katharine. So do not you, for you are a light wench. (24-5.)

Then follows (38 et seq.):

O! he hath drawn my picture in his letter.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
‘Ware pencils! how? let me not die your debtor,
My red dominical, my golden letter:
O, that your face were not so full of O’s!
A pox upon that jest. . . .

There is, of course, a triple meaning, the O’s referring ostensibly to the pits left after smallpox, which was not uncommon in that day; Elizabeth had had a severe case in 1562 and was believed to be stricken with a return of the disease in 1572, though it seems to have been either chicken pox or hives. The hidden meaning concerns Oxford’s initial and the first syllable of his name.

It is significant that Berowne is said by Costard to be poor at figures, as Armado is said by Moth to be. If Costard is, indeed, Churchyard, whom we took to be represented by Flavius, the faithful steward, in Timon, he knows whereof he speaks, when he says (V.2.496-7):

O Lord, sir! it were a pity you should get your living by reckoning, sir.

We have gone into this at some length, because of its autobiographical import, and partly because here, as in Titus Andronicus and Cymbeline, the dramatist has adopted a method of embodying contemporary historical reference which he will bring to amazing effectiveness in Macbeth and Lear. There is much even so that we been obliged to omit. But it is necessary to include a brief discussion of Holofernes-Harvey, because that too connects Lord Oxford irrefutably with this play, as well as the play with 1578, ’79, and ’80.

Evidently Gabriel Harvey had accompanied the court to Norwich when the progress proceeded from Cambridge on its way east, very likely at the Earl’s invitation. Oxford must have overheard with mischievous delight some conversation between the preacher, Nathaniel Woods—who speaks here of his “parishioners” (IV.2.75) and whom Holofernes calls “domine” (106)—and the pedant Harvey, whose writings show that his caricature as Holofernes is not exaggerated.

Nathaniel, who was to publish a book about “conscience,” begins that very word (IV.2.2). The conversation which follows must been added soon after Simier revealed Leicester’s marriage to Elizabeth, for the “deer” (dear) is Leicester.

There could be no more definite proof that Oxford was, as Greville said, “superlative in the Prince’s favour” at this time than the sport he makes of Leicester in this scene:

Holofernes. The deer was, as you know, sanguis, in blood; ripe as a pomewater, who now hangeth like a jewel in the ear of caelo, the sky, the welkin, the heaven; and anon falleth like a crab on the face of terra, the soil, the land, the earth.
Nathaniel. Truly, Master Holofernes, the epithets are sweetly varied, like a scholar, at the least; but, sir, I assure ye, it was a buck of the first head. . . .
Dull. . . . ’twas a pricket.

This, being translated, says that the “deer”—Elizabeth’s dear, as he was known to be—was “in blood,” ardent, “ripe” for matrimony, is now in the seventh heaven of matrimonial bliss, but had, after Simier had told Elizabeth of his marriage, soon fallen to earth, like “a crab”: that is, a crabapple. Nathaniel says he was “a buck of the head”: in other words, when the antlers were first formed. (Simier caused Leicester to “wear horns.”) But Dull objects that he was pricket,” which is a buck in his second year—for Leicester was in his second year of marriage: he had been married in 1578, and this was 1579.

Nathaniel and Holofernes spurn the ignorance of Dull—who will reappear as Dogberry-and-Verges in Much Ado—but he insists (48) that

’twas a pricket that the princess killed.

And Holofernes offers to compose an epitaph on the death of the “deer who had been “killed” (deprived of her favor and imprisoned) by the Princess (Elizabeth). We have mentioned this before, but repeat the whole passage, which will now be doubly clear. It is only necessary to remember that Leicester could be called “Sore” because the city of Leicester was situated on the river Soar (then spelled Sore); and he was also “sore” because Elizabeth was carrying on negotiations for marriage with Alençon and yet had punished him for marrying Lettice Knollys; moreover a “sorel” is a buck of the third year—and part of this belongs to a subsequent revision.

Holofernes. . . . The preyful princess pierc’d and prick’d a pretty pleasing pricket;
Some say a sore; but not a sore, till now made sore with shooting. The dogs did yell; put L to sore, then sorel jumps from thicket; Of pricket, sore, or else sorel; the people fall a hooting.
If sore be sore, then L to sore makes fifty sores one sorel!
Of one sore I a hundred make, by adding but one more L. (IV.2.57-62.)

One distinguished scholar, who has at least given the dramatist credit for being a highly educated man—which is more than many do—dismisses this passage as “ridiculous . . . [its] modicum of meaning [in its] travesty of excessive alliteration [and] caricature of proparalepsis.” To which we reply in Holofernes’s words: haud credo!

This same writer points out that Holofernes is quoting (95-6) from the Eclogues of Mantuan. (6)

In the scene we are discussing, Oxford, who is no pedant (as Jonson and Chapman will preen themselves by reminding the world) yet knows more than the lot of them, puts himself momentarily into the role of Dull (any character named Antonio or Antony is likely to be Oxford). “You two book-men,” he calls Holofernes and Nathaniel; and this may have been one cause of Harvey’s offense: he thought the Earl was making sport of him. Of course the Earl was, but kindly, without a grain of malice, and not nearly so sharply as he did with others, including himself.

It is here (IV.2.78-81) that Holofernes shows he is a schoolmaster.

On the 1578 progress a pageant of the Nine Worthies was presented before the Queen and her court. Whether Oxford had anything to do with it is not told in any of the documents, although it is certainly he himself speaking in the person of Armado (V.1.94 et seq.), and it is recorded that Churchyard, who was Oxford’s right-hand man, introduced the Worthies:

Armado…. for I must tell thee, it will please his Grace … some time to lean upon my shoulder, and with his royal finger, thus dally with my excrescence, with my mustachio; but, sweet heart, let that pass…. I recount no fable: some certain special honours it pleaseth his greatness to impart to Armado, a soldier, a man of travel, that hath seen the world; but let that pass. The very all of all is … that the king would have me present the princess, sweet chuck, with some delightful ostentation, or show, or pageant, or antic, or firework….

Elizabeth would often have leaned upon the shoulder of her Turk; had teased him about the sparseness of his beard. She paid him “special honours,” him, “a traveller,” etc. And he was the man upon whom she depended for entertainment at court, as she had depended on him for arranging the “firework” and sham battle on the progress of 1572, to Warwick. That, fortunately, is a matter of record, which, being in The Black Book of Warwick, eluded Burghley’s eagle eye.

The beginning of the Nine Worthies passage (V.2.520-42) belongs to Oxford’s riposte to Harvey. But mostly, for the rest, it is not unlike Pyramus and Thisbe play presented before Theseus and Hippolyta.

Before speaking of the retaliatory passages, it will be necessary to quote Harvey’s Speculum Tuscanismi, in which he describes Oxford somewhat as the Earl describes Armado. He was not malicious either, he sincerely admired Lord Oxford, indeed revered his genius; he had merely been piqued.

Two more points should, however, be made here to round out this section of our study. One is a reference in the play to a book entitled Travel in the West and East Indies, published in 1577, which stated at the natives “are idolaters and do honour to the sun and moon,” and that “Bascallars inhabitants are idolaters and pray to the sun and moon.” (7)

That like a rude and savage man of Inde,
At the first opening of the gorgeous East,
Bows not his vassal head, and strucken blind,
Kisses the base ground with obedient breast. (IV.3.219-22.)

Vouchsafe to show the sunshine of your face,
That we, like savages, may worship it. (V.2.202-3.)

The other point, which doubtless goes without making, is that the sonnets in this play are de Vere’s type of sonnets.

For the moment, Oxford is speaking in the person of the King when the latter says to the Princess (V.2.810):

Hence ever then my heart is in thy breast.

It is what he had said to her in Sonnet 109 when he returned from his flight to the Continent in 1574:

As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie.

But it is in the person of Berowne that he speaks a line which epitomizes his whole tragic and noble story (V.2.768):

By being once false for ever to be true.


1. E.T.C.: Hidd. All.; pp. 110-11.

2. Adm. H. H. Holland: Shakespeare, Oxford, and Elizabethan Times; p. 27.

3. Op. cit.

4. We feel confident that Much Ado is the much-conjectured-about play which had once been called Love’s Labour’s Won; but since this love proved impermanent, the other title seemed more appropriate.

5. It may well be from this very passage that Chapman got the name he gave the character who represents Oxford in A Humorous Day’s Mirth: Lemot, i.e., the Word. In a dialogue similar to Berowne’s with Rosaline, Lemot says: “My name signifies word“; and Martia replies: “Well hit, Monsieur Verbum.” Follows a play on Ver and bum.

6. Sister Miriam Joseph: Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language; pp. 12, 52.

7. Holland; pp. 25-6.

Contents | Chapter Eighteen