Chapter 19

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

Chapter Nineteen


ON DECEMBER 26, 1579, “A history of the Duke of Millayn and the Marquis of Mantua [was] shewed at Whitehall on St. Stephens daie at nighte enacted by the Lord Chamberleynes seruantes wholie furnyshed in this office some newe made and moche altered where on was Imployed for iiijor newe head Attyers with traynes Scarfes, garters and other Attyers, xiij Ells of Sarcenett an countrie howse a Cittye and vij paire of gloves.” (1)

This was the early version of The Two Gentlemen of Verona; and it was primed with allusions to the proposed Alençon match, as the situation stood at the close of 1579. A sedulous study discloses more distinctly than it is possible to discern in some of the other plays the features which belonged to the early version and those which were added; for the former was topical and shorter, the characters predominantly those involved in the marriage question, while the latter is intensely personal, astonishingly revealing, and utilizes the original features in the most ingenious fashion. Much is made of “gloves” in the play (II.1) and “garters” are mentioned in the same scene. “A countrie howse” and “a Cittye” would also have been required, to say nothing of elegant “Attyers,” the leading characters being persons of wealth and distinction.

Mrs. Clark has skilfully analyzed the play from the standpoint of its political significance. In the main, we agree with her findings, and we shall run through it briefly to give a general idea of its contemporary appositeness. But she has not touched upon the really profound and important personal implications, after the title became The Two Gentlemen of Verona—Ver-ona, or one Ver, since two sides of Oxford’s own character are represented in the “two gentlemen.” We shall take up this final version at some length later for the conclusive evidence it provides in the matter of the enforced anonymity of the Earl of Oxford. The adroitness and artistry with which he was able to superimpose his own story upon that of topical events was masterly—in his great tragedies really miraculous.

The more fully the political situation of 1579 is described, the more neatly the allusions in the play are seen to fit and exemplify them. As we have said before, it is quite obvious that the Queen of England could not afford to have it generally known that these plays were written by her Lord Great Chamberlain, for then they would have been taken as official. She seems to have been completely under Lord Oxford’s spell, her appetite for his dramatic rendition of herself and her affairs insatiable. How fortunate for the world that this was the case!

Roughly stated, in 1579 Valentine was Alençon, Proteus Simier, though occasionally the two were shifted, for the sake of fluidity and to avoid literal portraiture. The Duke was the Council, who—all but Sussex, and now Burghley—opposed the Alençon match; Silvia of course was Elizabeth, Don Alphonso (I.3.39-42) was Mendoza, the Spanish Ambassador. Thurio was Hatton, with, it may be, a dash of Leicester, who bitterly and for personal reasons opposed the marriage; Eglamour Bussy d’Ambois, who helped Alençon to escape on Valentine’s Day from the Louvre, where the Queen Mother and Henry III had had him incarcerated.

Both Hatton and Leicester were exceedingly jealous of Simier, who was in constant attendance upon the Queen and was meeting with apparent success in his efforts on Alençon’s behalf. At this time, and for the next few years, so Hume says,

the aim of English diplomacy was to capture Alençon for English interests and embroil him with his brother [Henry III], whilst at the same time avoiding an open rupture with Spain. (2)

The situation was particularly acute just now, because of a truce between Catherine de’ Medici and the Huguenots, and because a Douglas of Scotland was at the French court carrying on an intrigue with Henry III for Mary Stuart.

So Elizabeth’s line was to encourage Alençon, which she did to such an extent that she seems almost to have fooled herself, along with everyone else. He came over in August, and elaborate preparations were made to dazzle and beguile him. Although he was small and ugly, pock-marked and even repulsive, Elizabeth appeared to be really attracted to him. She called him her frog and treated him with a great show of affection. On August 25, Mendoza wrote Philip: “The Queen is delighted with Alençon and he with her, as she has let out to some of her courtiers.”

After a stay of only a week, however, Alenςon was packed off, returning to Europe accompanied by Simier. The regular Ambassador, Castelnau de la Mauvissiore, said that Alençon wrote Elizabeth letters “ardent enough to set fire to water.” The Prince during his visit had showered the courtiers with rich jewels and had given Elizabeth “a splendid ring worth 10,000 crowns.” The word “ring” is mentioned five times in IV.4, and once in V.4. It is Proteus’s ring, but Oxford shifted the two gentlemen, as we have said, and in this case, it was partially to serve his own purpose about a ring of his own.

When Valentine takes leave of Proteus in the opening scene, it is Alençon departing to be Prince of the Flemings, a somewhat hazardous enterprise. Proteus says (16-18):

If ever danger do environ thee,
Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers,
For I will be thy beadsman, Valentine.

Left alone, Proteus soliloquizes (63 et seq.):

He after honour hunts, I after love . . .

Simier certainly made love to Elizabeth, to the scandal of the court.

The word “malecontent,” used so frequently in France during these years, appears again here, as it had in Love’s Labour’s Lost:

Valentine. Why, how know you that I am in love?
Speed. . . . you have learned like Sir Proteus to wreathe your arms, like a malecontent; to relish a love-song like a robin red-breast. . . . (II.1.17 et seq.)

The only times this word was used in the dramas was during the six-year period of the Alençon marriage question: that is, in the two plays mentioned above, in 3 Henry VI (1580), and, shortly after the finale, in The Merry Wives (1584-5). The “robin red-breast” is Leicester, Elizabeth’s “sweet Robin.”

Elizabeth displayed all her charms for Alenςon during his visit, “posed before him,” as Hume says, “dined and supped with him in private.”

Valentine. But tell me, dost thou know my lady Silvia?
She that you gaze on as she sits at supper? (II.1.43-6.)

The emphasis on the love-letter in this version calls attention to the Duke’s effusions to Elizabeth, which, as usual, he had to have a secretary write for him.

There is a suggestion of the French idiom throughout the conversation between Silvia and Valentine (II.1.117-38): “And yet . . . and yet,” for “Mais . . . mais”; “Ay, ay,” for “Oui, oui”; “Please you” for “S’il vous plait,” and so on; while a bit earlier, the exaggeration, “thousand” and “million” suggest the French “mille,” so commonly used—as in “mille remercies,” etc. (100-5.)

Valentine. Madam and mistress, a thousand good morrows.
Speed (aside). O! give you good even. Here’s a million of manners.
Silvia. Sir Valentine and servant, to you two thousand.

Simier had written Elizabeth from Dover before he and Alençon embarked:

Madame, I must tell you how little rest your frog [grenouille] had last night, he having done nothing but sigh and weep. At eight o’clock he made me get up to discourse to him of your divine beauty. . . . He has sworn to me a thousand times but [for the fact that] he will soon see you again . . . he would not wish to live another quarter of an hour.

Valentine. What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?
What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?
. . . . . . . .
If I be not by her fair influence
Foster’d, illumin’d, cherish’d, kept alive,
I fly not death, to fly his deadly doom:
Tarry I here, I but attend on death;
But, fly I hence, I fly away from life. (III.1.174-87.)

Before Alençon had come over, he had written Elizabeth: “I guard your beautiful picture which is never separated from me.” Much is made of Silvia’s picture (IV.4), where Julia says, “Her hair is auburn. . . . Her eyes are grey as glass” (189, 192), as was indeed the case, though the forehead is not, it would seem, realistically described, since Elizabeth’s was high.

Before Simier had left England the first time, he had discovered that his wife had been having an affair with his brother while he was away with Alençon. Although he was expected in England, and Elizabeth could not understand the delay, he postponed his journey long enough to go home and have his men kill his brother at his gates. His wife died soon afterwards; whether by poison or from grief was not known.

In the play, it is Valentine who confesses to having killed a man (IV.1.27), and Antonio’s insistence upon Proteus’s immediate departure would seem to refer to the English Council’s desire that Simier come at once. (I.3.70-5.)

Antonio. Tomorrow be in readiness to go:
Excuse it not, for I am peremptory.

Proteus. My lord, I cannot be so soon provided:
Please you, deliberate a day or two.

Antonio. Look, what thou want’st shall be sent after thee:
No more of stay; tomorrow thou must go.

There is no reason given in the play for such haste.

The escape that Alençon and Simier had made through a window of the Louvre by means of a rope-ladder is alluded to in Valentine’s speech (II.4.179-84):

Ay, we are betroth’d: nay, more, our marriage-hour,
With all the cunning manner of our flight
Determin’d of: how I must climb her window,
The ladder made of cords, and all the means
Plotted and ‘greed on for my happiness.

They were met at St. Genevieve’s Wall by Bussy d’Ambois, with all the arrangements made for their flight. Here the meeting planned is for “St. Gregory’s Well.”

One striking passage must be noted which is almost a literal transcription of a statement Alençon made to Elizabeth in 1581, but which was retained in the final version for a different and pointed significance. In December of that year the French Prince had said to the Queen, “If I cannot get you for my wife by fair means and affection, I must do so by force, for I will not leave this country without you.” (3)

In the drama it is rendered thus (V.4.57-8):

I’ll woo you like a soldier at arms’ end
And love you ‘gainst the nature of Iove,—force ye!

For ulterior purposes, which will later be clarified, Oxford put this speech into the mouth of Proteus.

This is the merest sketch of the contemporary French allusions, but it will serve to establish the date and identity of the play. Most of the comedy belongs to the later version, except of course the “sheep” passages, which concern Hatton.

Speed. You conclude that my master is a shepherd, then, and I a sheep?
. . . . . . . .
Proteus. True, and thy master a shepherd . . . etc. (I.1.76, 83.)

Elizabeth called herself her Sheep’s shepherd; and several years later, when Hatton was growing jealous of Walter Ralegh, she sent him a message by Heneage to the effect that “You should remember she was a shepherd, and then you might think how dear her sheep was unto her.”

Oxford simply could not let Hatton alone: the man seemed to tantalize him. He was storing up trouble for himself in making merry with this fatuous egoist, but even if he had realized it, or had cared, he probably could not have refrained, Hatton seemed to him so ridiculous. As Proteus, he finds the court “too small a pasture for such store of muttons.” (I.1.)

When Launce says (III.1.343),

Well; the best is she hath no teeth to bite,

he is frankly quoting the letter Hatton had written the Queen warning her against him: “reserve it [her gracious favor] to the Sheep, be hath no tooth to bite, where the Boar’s tusk may both raze and tear.” And he leaves the ambitious sycophant in no doubt that he has seen Dyer’s letter of advice to him when he has Proteus offer a variant of the same advice to the Duke (III.2.31 et seq.):

Proteus. The best way is to slander Valentine
With falsehood, cowardice, and poor descent.
Three things that women highly hold in hate.

Duke. Ay, but she’ll think that it is spoke in hate.

Proteus. Ay, if his enemy deliver it:
Therefore it must with circumstance be spoken
By one whom she esteemeth as his friend.

Dyer’s letter recommended

hating my Lord Ctm [Oxford] in the Queen’s understanding for affection’s sake . . . remember that you use no words of disgrace or reproach towards him to any; that he, being the less provoked, may sleep, thinking all safe, while you do awake and attend to your advantages.

Gabriel Harvey was right: Oxford was “eyed like to Argus, nos’d like to Naso”; he saw and smelled out everything.

It becomes immediately clear upon Thurio’s appearance (II.4) that he is Hatton. The Earl jibes at his sonnets to the Queen at the close of Act III, scene 2. “Vain Thurio” never forgave him, never forgot.

In the original version of the play, Launce would have been a kind of leit-motif representation of the Vice of the Morality plays, or Harlequin, with his dagger of lathe; hence his name, Launce, or Lance. He was a step in the evolution of the clown who filled an important role in certain of the later dramas. Thus there is a double intention in Speed’s remark to Launce (III.1.282):

Your old vice still. .

The late 1570’s were crowded days in Lord Oxford’s life. To his other activities was now added a lively interest in the sea-voyages of his friend, Martin Frobisher. During Elizabeth’s reign many doughty adventurers sprang up, aided and encouraged not only by her personal concern and friendliness but also by the money she subscribed toward what was politely called their trading ventures. From these dangerous and often highly questionable beginnings arose England’s sea-power.

In 1576 two ships had left Gravesend under the command of Captain Frobisher for the purpose of finding a shorter route to “renowned Cathay.” For several years Humphrey Gilbert, Michael Lok, and Dr. Dee, the astrologer, also, it will be recalled, a friend of Lord Oxford’s, had been studying and planning for this expedition. Gilbert published a pamphlet called A Discourse of a Discovery for a new passage to Cataia. But the venture was a financial failure. In less than four months the ships were back at Harwich. Among the losers in this enterprise were Leicester, Burghley, Sussex, Walsingham, and Philip Sidney. But the following year they tried it again, the Queen leading off with a subscription of £l000.

In Twelfth Night (II.3.77) Sir Toby Belch says of Olivia-Elizabeth: “My lady’s a Cataian”—which meant, topically, an investor in the Cataian venture.

Frobisher’s second voyage lasted until September 1577; in the excitement of having found what they claimed to be “gold ore,” the adventurers abandoned their intention to discover a northwest passage to China and returned home. There was much confusion as to the real value of the ore, estimates varying. Of these Dr. Dee’s was high, and amid great optimism and a new investment of 15,000 pounds, a third voyage was planned.

Four days before the eleven ships set forth, Lord Oxford dispatched the following letter:

To my very loving friends William Peiham and Thomas Randolph Esquires: Master Yongem, Master Hogan, Master Field; and others the Commissioners for the voyage to Meta Incognita.

After my very hearty commendations: Understanding of the wise proceeding and orderly dealing for the continuing of the voyage for the discovery of Cathay by the northwest (which this bearer, my friend Master Frobisher, hath already very honourably attempted and is now eftsoons to be employed for the better achieving thereof): and the rather induced, as well for the great liking Her Majesty hath to have the same passage discovered, as also for the special good favour I bear Master Frobisher, to offer unto you to be an adventurer therein for the sum of 1000 pounds or more, if you like to admit thereof; which sum or sums, upon your certificate of admittance, I will enter into bond, shall be paid for that use unto you upon Michaelmas day next coming. Requesting your answers therein, I bid you heartily farewell. From the Court, the 21st day of May 1578.

Your loving friend,


Before the voyage began Lord Oxford put 2,000 pounds more into the venture, buying the stock from Michael Lok (whose name was sometimes spelled Lock), this making the Earl, with 3,000 pounds at stake, for which he had given his bond, the largest investor in the enterprise.

But alas for his hopes, the affair was a fiasco. The ore brought back was found, when tested, to be worthless; and Lok was attacked by the disappointed adventurers.

On November 20, Frobisher and forty infuriated men descended upon him in his home, accusing him of being “a false accountant to the company, a cozener of my Lord of Oxford, no venturer at all in the voyages, a bankrupt knave.”(4) In the end, convicted by the testimony of having known the ore was worthless, Lok was committed to the Fleet.

Things were rather quiet after this until two years later when Drake returned to Plymouth in the Golden Hind after a successful circumnavigation of the globe, bringing solid ingots of pure gold and silver captured from Spanish treasure-ships off the coast of Peru. For a time there were serious compunctions on the part of some members of the Council about accepting treasure seized from Spanish ships in what they felt was an act of piracy, though others maintained that it was a legitimate move in guerilla naval warfare. But finally the Queen decided that Drake had acted within his rights, and the investors were enormously enriched. The fact that the Queen’s share came to the equivalent of nearly $360,000 in terms of modern value would, as Corbett observes, “account for the great favour she showed Drake.” (5) Christopher Hatton was made wealthy, his share coming to some $120,000.

After his first failure, the Earl of Oxford made two more investments, one in 1581, when he bought a ship, the Edward Bonaventure, which set forth in company with the Ughtrede—renamed the Leicester—and the bark Talbot, and again in 1584, when he was a shareholder in “The Colleagues of the Fellowship for the Discovery of the North West Passage.” But he lost money in both enterprises. The only result of the second voyage, which was made under the command of Captain John Davis, was the discovery of the Davis Straits. Small wonder that, after the loss of such great sums which he could ill spare in the search for the northwest passage, Oxford had Hamlet say, “I am but mad north-north west . . . ”

But before this time came, the Earl was to dramatize his loss in the play in which Antonio gives his bond for 3,000 ducats, precisely as Oxford himself had given his bond for 3,000 pounds. Lok was denounced on all sides as a rogue and a knave. (One ordinary meaning of “shy,” according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “elusive, hard to find or catch,” while Murray’s Oxford Dictionary defines the colloquial meaning as “of questionable character, disreputable, shady.” Our word “shyster” is evidently derived from this.) However, there are many other points that connect The Merchant of Venice with this period of the author’s life. The play was no doubt begun in 1578 and superseded by more pressing requirements for the entertainment of the French envoys.

Julia and her maid Lucetta of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (I.2) are simply an earlier presentment of Portia and Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice (I.2); their scenes occur at exactly the same time in the action of the two plays.


1. E.T.C.: Hidd. All.; p. 162; cit. Feuillerat Documents; p. 320.

2. The Courtships of Q. Eliz. The matter discussed pp. 189-215.

3. Hume: The Courtships of Q. Eliz.; p. 281.

4. Ward; p. 239; cit. Cal. S.P.Colonial, 50.64. E.T.C.: Hidd. All.; p. 195. Fox Bourne: Sir Philip Sidney; p. 161.

5. Corbett: Drake and the Tudor Navy; vol. 1, p. 410.

Contents | Chapter Twenty