Chapter 22

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

Chapter Twenty-Two


WITH THE EXCEPTION of Parts 2 and 3 of Henry VI, only one more play belongs to the pre-1581 period, and that is Twelfth Night.

This is the last of the comedies penned by the insouciant hand of favored youth; and only part of it, as it exists today, belongs to that period, for it was revised in 1587 and again later when it was given strong autobiographical overtones, as part of a deliberate plan to tell the secret story. While Olivia represents Elizabeth in the early version and predominantly in the final personal parts, she seems to be partially Lady Mary Pembroke in that of 1587. We believe that the shadowy figure of Sebastian’s friend Antonio, the sad, tender, reserved counterpart of the man of the same name who was Bassanio’s friend, the Merchant, was introduced rather late and put into a similar relationship with the young hero of the piece, who, like Bassanio, came to stand for the Fair Youth.

It is unmistakably the poet of the Sonnets speaking to the Fair Youth when Antonio says to Sebastian (II.1.45-8):

I have many enemies in Orsino’s court,
Else I would very shortly see thee there;
But, come what may, I do adore thee so,
That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.

Moreover, we are left in no doubt that Sebastian-Viola is the “master-mistress” of Sonnet 20. Since this inference belongs to a later period, we merely quote the passages concerned without comment.

Sebastian. . . . some hour before you took me from the breach of the sea was my sister drowned. . . . A lady, sir, though it was said she much resembled me. . . . (II.1.21-6);
Duke (speaking of Sebastian and Viola.) One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons;
A natural perspective that is, and is not!
Sebastian. Antonio! O my dear Antonio!
How have the hours rack’d and tortur’d me
Since I have lost thee!
* * *
Antonio. How have you made division of yourself?
An apple cleft in two is not more twin
Than these two creatures. (V.1.218-26);
Sebastian (to Olivia.) You are betroth’d both to a maid and man. (V.1.265);
Duke (to Viola.) Here is my hand: you shall from this time be
Your master’s mistress. (V.1.327-8.)

The Fair Youth took small pages’ parts at first; later he would have played girls’ parts—Viola, Rosalind, etc.—until his voice changed: “the master mistress of my passion.”

Oxford himself has a part in more than the usual number of characters here. This was undoubtedly one of the instances that provided Jonson with his analogy, The Fountain of Self-Love, of which the sybarites at court waited eagerly to drink the waters brought by Amorphus. However, if the Earl seems unduly to have dramatized himself, as the jealous Jonson—who, by the way, certainly dramatized all the self he had to draw upon—sneered at him for doing, it must be remembered that he was pre-eminently a man of the Renaissance. Life was especially wondrous to this favored nobleman: he lived dramatically as one of its most resplendent figures, in the teeming center of an exciting world. It cannot be too emphatically stressed that we should avoid the mistake of judging people of that era by ourselves, for psychologically we are products of many changes and developments which have occurred since then. Even Jonson, born twenty-three years after Oxford, could not altogether understand him, for in his day the high peak, the corruscating moment, was past. There was still immense creative vigor, but it was a continuation of the impulse, an animation derived from the heat of the original spark. It was as if Edward de Vere had received the torch from the great creative source, and those who followed took their light from his.

In making an analysis of Twelfth Night for the purpose of demonstrating its integral connection with the year 1580, with certain recognizable persons of Elizabeth’s court, and with the only dramatist who could possibly have written it, we shall consider here what we take to be the early aspects of the play, examining later the revealing passages subsequently embodied in it. Even so, it will be impossible to follow up all the allusions: the text is thick with them.

Not confined to internal evidence for the date, we have the word of Peck, author of Desiderata Curiosa, that he intended to publish “a pleasant conceit of Vere, Earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English Court, circa 1580.”

By now, wearying of Hatton’s enmity and his rather heavy-handed strategy for supplanting him in the Queen’s favor, the mettlesome Earl would certainly have been on the alert to have a little fun with this well-favored, “rising” parvenu of the court. And he seems to have found a tempting opportunity at hand.

In reading an Italian play—or it may be in glancing over one he had seen performed in Italy: Gl’ Ingannati—he had come upon a prefatory story called Il Sacrificio, in which the “sacrifice of sonnets, madrigals, and love-tokens [is made] upon a poetic altar” by a man named, of all things, Agnol Malevolti. The coincidence was too startling and certainly too tempting to resist. Agnol—near enough to a lamb, agneau, agnus, agnello, and therefore near enough to a sheep—and Malevolti, suggestive of evil-wishers. It is interesting that, in a letter of some years before to Norris, Burghley had spoken of “evil-willers to our state.” (1) Perhaps it was an epithet to which Oxford was accustomed.

He had no idea of allowing Hatton to forget the letter he had written the Queen, after receiving Dyer’s advice as to how to turn her against my Lord Chamberlain: “Reserve it to the Sheep, he hath no tooth to bite, where the Boar’s tusk may both raze and tear.” She still called him her Sheep, her Mutton, her Lyddes. The chance to make a slight change in the name Malevolti, calling the sheep Malvolio—Mal-vol-E.O.: evil-willer to E.O.—this was a ready-made lead which the man who could never resist a pun or a quibble would certainly not forego.

From the beginning, the Earl of Oxford had entertained a low opinion of the humorless, ambitious Christopher Hatton, ten years his senior, who had “danced his way into the Queen’s favour in a galliard.” He had never feared competition from this quarter. Vain and tiresome the Vice-Chamberlain was, an unaccustomed type at court, affected, self-righteous, deficient in the qualities of honor, generosity, finesse, which Castiglione had held essential to the courtier; but he was rather handsome, he was not lacking in dignity, and he performed his office well enough in sincere devotion to the Queen’s service. A staunch Puritan, he was out of favor at the moment because allied with those opposing the Alençon match. This was the time to have a little sport with the Sheep; later Elizabeth might not approve or enjoy a jest at his expense: he had quite a way of getting round her.

It must have been in a spirit of high glee that Oxford wrote the key-passage, or dictated it to Lyly or Munday:

Sir Andrew. . .. and yet I will not compare with an old man.
Sir Toby. What is thy excellence in a galliard, knight?
Sir Andrew. Faith, I can cut a caper.
Sir Toby. And I can cut the mutton to it.
Sir Andrew. And I think I have the back-trick simply as strong as any man in Illyria.
Sir Toby. Wherefore are such things hid? wherefore have these gifts a curtain before ’em? . . . why dost thou not go to church in a galliard and come home in a coranto? My very walk should be a jig. . . . (1.3.121 et seq.)

And he continues with a coarse pun on another dance-step, the cinque-pace, for a popular touch of low humor.

All this was keen sarcasm. The “old man,” Hatton, forty to Oxford’s thirty, was naive in parading his good points. His “back-trick” was his artful back-biting, treated here as merely another dance-step: although a Sheep and having “no tooth to bite,” he yet had tried to nick the more violent Boar behind his back. Wherefore, demands Sir Toby, does he “hide” his abilities, which have all to do with dancing, and should be served up, like a proper “mutton with “capers,” even used—though he is a Puritan—for going to church. He is called a Puritan three times in 11.3

Sir Toby stresses Hatton’s “pushing” practices and calls attention to his shapely leg in concluding:

. . . is it a world to hide virtues in? I did think, by the excellent constitution of thy leg, it was formed under the star of the galliard.

Malvolio’s leg is referred to again and again.

For the connection with Agnol Malevolti’s sacrifice of love-sonnets upon a poetic altar, we must return for a moment to the contretemps of 1573 occasioned by the publication in London of the anthology of poems called A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, to which the most prominent contributors were Edward de Vere, George Gascoigne, and one probably supposed to pass for Christopher Hatton, collected by “G. T.” (2) It will be recalled that this had been rather high-handedly arranged while Gascoigne and Hatton were away by the mischievous young Earl of Oxford. His own posy appeared upon the title-page of the book, Meritum petere, grave, but he went further: he signed it to one of the poems which was headed, “The absent lover in ciphers deciphering his name,”—spelling out Edward de Vere in the text. (3)

As we have previously stated, we believe it can be established beyond question that other posies used in this collection were also Oxford’s, although he was obliged, because of the dangerously intimate revelations made in some of the verses to which they were signed, to use every possible means of secrecy. He was very artful about it but, as usual, he was determined to get everything recorded. It would seem that, in writing those signed Si fortunatus infoelix which intersperse the prose account of The Adventures of Master F.I., he was wickedly using a posy similar to Hatton’s, which Harvey declared on one occasion was Fortunatus Infoelix and on a later one, Foelix infortunatus(4)

Ward, writing in 1926—before he came to realize what Oxford’s relation to the Queen had been-thought that it was only because Hatton had been exposed in an unfavorable light that he and Gascoigne had taken revenge upon the Earl by publishing a revised edition of the book while the latter was on the Continent, with Gascoigne assuming sole authorship, calling it The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire. He quite missed the point at that time—although he must have seen it later—that it was Oxford’s love-affair with Elizabeth which had been exposed, and that it was principally this which had caused the drastic steps to be taken. If it had been learned that the Earl of Oxford was the chief author, as well as editor, of this first anthology of Elizabethan poetry, it would have been clear that he had been the Queen’s lover and that she was one of the “kites of Cressid’s kind.” As for The Adventures of Master F.I., it seems most likely that Oxford was making game of Hatton here for daring to be in love with the Queen—although some of the allusions are obscure to us now—precisely as he does more broadly in Love’s Labour’s Lost and in Twelfth Night. At this later date he could view the whole question more lightly; but A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres had been published not more than six months after Hatton had received Dyer’s cynical letter of advice as to how to supplant Lord Oxford in the Queen’s favor—a piece of impertinence and double-dealing which had certainly justified the Earl’s indignation.

Gascoigne’s dedicatory letter to the revised edition reads as follows:

To the reverend Divines, It is verie neare two yeares past, since (I being in Holland in service with the vertuous Prince of Orange) the most part of these poems were imprinted, and now at my returne, I find some of them have not only beene offensive for sundrie wanton speeches and lascivious phrases, but further I heare the same have been doubtfully construed, and therefore scandalous.

It was because Gascoigne had diverted the scandal from her name that Elizabeth had conferred the Laureateship upon him. No doubt she had taken a wicked delight in thus circumventing the young Earl who had appeased his resentment of her cavalier treatment of him by writing poems about it. But this was her purpose, and this was why she made such a formality of appointing Gascoigne Laureate, authorizing, if not actually posing for, a drawing in which he is shown kneeling before her, presenting his work, Hemetes the Heremite.

Oxford would certainly have told Gascoigne off in no mild terms, as well as expressing his resentment to the Queen. (He clearly indicates as much in Timon.) And shortly afterwards Gascoigne wrote a poem called The vanities of Bewtie, which appeared in a collection entitled The Grief of Joye,—this flatteringly addressed to the Queen and the beauties of the court, casting a broadside at de Vere:

Burrowe saith byde, and let me have a blowe,
And so saith Vere, that bloom of noble bloode,
Sidney saith staie, and let me bend my bowe,
So wrathe they are, or rather raging woode,
And sure they be, both gallant all and goode,
The fragrant flowres, of princely grace & porte,
For Marigolds (of late) smelt sweete in cowrte.

“Flowres” alludes of course to the anthology Oxford had published, and it would seem, from this, he had had the sympathy, if not the assistance, of Sidney and someone named Burrowe, a fact which lends significance to Sidney’s role in Twelfth Night, as well as causing one to wonder if “Burrowe” is perhaps the partial prototype of Sir Toby. As for “Marigolds,” Lyly at one time remarked that Queen Elizabeth “useth the marigold as her flower”: an idea that Oxford had employed in Sonnet 25:

Great princes’ favourites their proud leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye. . . .

Hatton’s signature, or posy, as we have said, had been Foelix infortunatus, and Oxford had patently been making sport with him in the character of “Master F.I.” of the Flowres. It is with the English translation of the posy Oxford had used there, “The Fortunate-Unhappy”—for (Si) Fortunatus infoelix—that Maria signs the letter with which she traps Malvolio, in a neat epitomization of the earlier hoax.

If Oxford had seen some of Christopher Hatton’s letters to the Queen, as he obviously had, he deserved commendation for his moderate treatment of his ambitious rival. Hatton’s letters, even allowing for the unctuous flattery Elizabeth demanded and received, are cloying.

In 1573 he had written the Queen from “the Spaw”:

Madam, I find the greatest lack that ever poor wretch sustained. No death, no, not hell, no fear of death shall ever win me of my consent so far to wrong myself again as to be absent from you one day. I lack that I live by.

My heart is full of woe. Would God I were with you but for one hour. I will wash away the faults of these letters with the drops from your poor Lyddes and so enclose them.

Passion overcometh me. I can write no more. Love me: for I love you. Live for ever. Shall I utter this familiar term, farewell? yea, ten thousand farewells. He speaketh it that most dearly loveth you. I hold you too long. Once again 1 crave pardon, and so bid you your poor Lidds, Farewell. 1573, June.

               Your bondman everlastingly tied,

This letter would have seemed to a spirited younger man fatuous and absurd.

Again he wrote:

But Madam, forget not your Lidds that are so often bathed with tears for your sake.

And once more:

I speak in the presence of God, I find [in] my body and mind that melancholy hath made myself forget myself. Your Mutton is black. Scarcely will you know your own, so much hath this disease dashed me. . . .love yourself. I cannot lack you. . . .

Followed the counsel about reserving her favor to the Sheep, etc.

No doubt Oxford imitated the posturings and mouthed the words of the Sheep for Elizabeth’s shameless amusement. He was reputed to be an excellent mimic.

How could a pedestrian mentality like Hatton’s expect to compete with one which expressed itself in such exquisite measures as those with which the Duke opens this play?—

If music be the food of love, play on:
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O! it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour.

Oxford clearly considered it poetic justice to revenge himself for the Sheep’s letter with a letter to Malvolio signed “The FortunateUnhappy.” This time his revenge was merry, however. It should be noted in passing that his own expressions of love for Elizabeth were very differently phrased from Hatton’s. One which was undoubtedly written to her during the 1570’s, while he still loved, and was confident of being beloved by, her was Sonnet 128.

Sir Toby asks Fabian (II.5.4-6):

Would thou not be glad to have the niggardly rascally sheep-biter come by some notable shame?

And Fabian, who, like the Clown, is a presentment of Oxford himself, and has just spoken of his “melancholy,” significantly replies:

I would exult, man: you know he brought me out o’ favour with my lady about a bear-baiting here.

This undoubtedly refers to the recent “baiting” of Burghley, “here,” on the stage, as Shylock; for Oxford says elsewhere that “Authority” is “a stubborn bear,” (5) and ordinarily when he uses “bear” as a noun, he is referring to Burghley as head of the Privy Council. Evidently Hatton had criticized him to the Queen for having caricatured Burghley as Shylock. Hatton and the Lord Treasurer stood firmly together.

Malvolio enters, preening himself upon Olivia’s (the Queen’s) affection for him, and talking of “fortune”—to stress the Fortunatus infoelix motif. Sir Toby observes that he is an overweening rogue, and Fabian replies (II.5.31-3):

Contemplation makes a rare turkey-cock of him: how he jets under his advanced plumes!

Hatton had received steady advancement at court, his latest being from Captain of the Bodyguard (which title he still retained) to Vice-Chamberlain. Fabian’s remark bears out Peck’s statement about this “pleasant conceit of Vere, Earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English Court.”

But Oxford was paying off another score or two here also. He was having his say about the affair of the tennis-court, Sidney’s foolish behavior in forcing him to a challenge, and so on. The comedy in Twelfth Night comes to life and is really comic when one understands the point of it. To do this, the characters must be identified.

Sir Toby Belch, although he has a dash of Oxford’s own convivial aspect, is chiefly Bertie, Lord Willoughby. Mrs. Clark suggests that if you take the last syllable of Bertie, the T-sound, and the last two of Willoughby, you have Toughby, or Toby; then, with the Be as a starter, you think what a heavy drinker often does, and you have Sir Toby’s last name. She does not add that this leaves Will; and perhaps just this small proportion was Oxford himself.

Maria is Lady Mary Vere, the Earl’s sister, formerly one of the Queen’s Maids of Honour, who married Lord Willoughby: “Maria Lady Belch,” as Swinburne calls her. The chief prototype of Petruchio’s Kate, she is identified at once in Sir Andrew’s greeting (1.3.48):

Bless you, fair shrew.

The conversation between Maria and the Clown (I.5) is especially interesting, since it gives so graphic a picture of Oxford “ragging” with his sister. She speaks of that which

may you be bold to say in your foolery (12),

for she knows he frequently skates upon thin ice. He retorts:

Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.

He twits her about her marriage, which was at this time in none too happy a state (19-21):

Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage; and, for turning away, let summer bear it out;—

apparently advising her to stick it out through the summer—which she did; and things seem to have resolved themselves in the end.

There must certainly have been an occasion when the Earl, in a fit of distraction, went ungartered, as Hamlet and other characters who stand for de Vere do, for she refers to this when she speaks of his “gaskins” falling.

Clown. Apt, in good faith, very apt. Well, go thy way: if Sir Toby would leave drinking, thou wert as witty a piece of Eve’s flesh as any in Illyria.

Lord Willoughby was quite a drinker at times, and his wife would, of course, have worried about it. Lady Mary must have been almost as mischievous as her brother, since Maria takes a leading part in the practical joke against Malvolio. In another scene (II.3), after telling Malvolio to “Go shake your ears,” she has made a witty pun to Sir Andrew:

Sir Andrew. And your horse now would make him an ass.
Maria. Ass, I doubt not. (171-3.)

And Sir Toby smacks of Petruchio when he remarks (182-3):

She’s a beagle, true [Vere] bred, and one that adores me; what o’ that?—

and also, when he replies to her “Follow me,” with,

To the gates of Tartar, thou most excellent devil of wit! (II.5.209-10.)

He gives a customary name-clue in calling the plot he is hatching with Fabian and Maria, who stand for Oxford and his sister (III.4.145), “our very pastime.”

Another point of identification occurs when Sir Toby says of Olivia:

My lady’s a Cataian. . . . Am I not consanguineous? am I not of her blood. (11.3.77-9.)

Elizabeth, as a large investor in the Cathay expedition, could be called a Cataian, to mitigate the appellation, Cataian commonly meaning a scamp. Lord Willoughby’s mother had been the fourth wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, whose third wife was a younger sister of Henry VIII; thus there was a sort of kinship, and of course the Queen called certain nobles who attended her at court “cousin.”

“O! the twelfth day of December—” (II.3.87.)

is a parody of the ballad, The Brave Lord Willoughby, which opens with, “The fifteenth of July . . .” Sir Andrew Aguecheek is largely Philip Sidney. When Sir Toby remarks (III.4.242-3):

He is a knight, dubbed with unhatched rapier, and on carpet consideration,

he refers to the fact that Sidney was knighted in 1583, so that he might act as proxy for Prince Casimir in his installation with the Order of the Garter. (6) This passage would be a later addition, to keep the play up to date.

It has been recognized by Dowden that Sir Andrew and Slender of The Merry Wives represent the same person, though, since he believed both plays to have been written many years after Sidney’s death, and by a man who would hardly have dared ridicule the nation’s hero, he had no idea whom these characters stood for. Amusingly enough, Sir Andrew uses a quaint expression that Slender, Robert Shallow’s (Robert Leicester’s) nephew—or “cousin,” as he is called—also uses, when he says (II.3.128-9):

‘Twere as good a deed as to drink when a man’s a-hungry.

Slender says, when Anne Page invites him to dinner (I.1.264):

I am not a-hungry, I thank you, forsooth.

Here Aguecheek speaks of himself with guileless candor (1.3.84-7):

Methinks sometimes I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has; but I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.

Perhaps it did harm to his complexion too, which was very bumpy. But the pointed allusion now is to his truculence, which prompted his behavior on the tennis-court and his efforts to stage a duel afterwards, on so trivial a provocation. After Sir Andrew has said he delights “in masques and revels sometimes altogether,” he replies to Sir Toby’s question as to whether he is “good at these kickchawses” by saying (1.3.120-1):

As any man in Illyria, whatsoever he be, under the degree of my betters;

which refers to Elizabeth’s refusal to allow Sidney to fight a duel with “E.Ver,” laying “before him the difference in degree between Earls and Gentlemen.”

Oxford never spoke a truer word of himself than when said of Berowne, “the merry madcap lord”:

Not a word with him but a jest.
And every jest but a word. (L.L.L.: II.i.)

At this stage of his career he worked off his milder resentments in merriment. But it is important to remember that, according to the feudal code, it was obligatory upon a nobleman to avenge his honor against every smirch upon it.

This comedy was written in high good humor, and was doubtless received so by everyone but Hatton. One hopes it was by Sidney. Oxford teases Sidney, as we might say, “to the Queen’s taste,” but he puts himself into the character of Sir Andrew also, to dull the sting, as when Maria says of him (1.3.25):

. . . he’s a very fool and a prodigal.

They were both prodigals, as it happened. And he refers to their rhyming-match about “a kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave,” in Maria’s ensuing words (30-4), which follow Sir Toby’s list of Sidney’s virtues:

. . . besides that he’s a fool, he’s a great quarreller; and but that he hath the gift of a coward to allay the gust he hath in quarrelling, ’tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave.

Oxford was a great quarreller too, and he had already shown, in caricaturing himself as Parolles, that he’d rather talk than fight.

Sidney was four years younger than Oxford and, although undoubtedly an estimable man, certainly nothing like such a scholar. Oxford had said of him (L.L.L.: V.2.316-17):

This fellow pecks up wit, as pigeons pease,
And utters it again when God doth please.

And here we see him pecking it up (50-8):

Sir Toby. Accost, Sir Andrew, accost.
Sir Andrew. What’s that?
Sir Toby. My niece’s chambermaid.
Sir Andrew. Good Mistress Accost, I desire better acquaintance.
* * *
Sir Toby. You mistake, knight: “accost” is, front her, board her, woo her. . . .

And again (91 et seq.):

Sir Toby. Pourquoi, my dear knight?
Sir Andrew. What is “pourquoi”?

His ensuing remark, that he wishes he had followed the arts, is Sidney’s own admission that soldiering was his first interest, literature secondary. Sir Toby comments on the straight long hair which we see in Sidney’s portrait: “It hangs,” he says (104), “like flax on a distaff.” And this identifies Sidney pointedly with Chaucer’s familiar portrait of the Pardoner—

This pardoner hadde heer as yelwe as wex,
But smoothe it henge, as doth a strike of flex

the suggestion being that, like his prototype, he will be a pardoner in the matter of this caricature. (In the person of a famous fictional character, the Earl will one day ask Sidney’s pardon again.)

He pecks up more wit when he hears Viola speak (III.1.87 et seq.):

Viola. . . . Most excellent and accomplished lady, the heavens rain odours on you!
Sir Andrew. The youth’s a rare courtier. “Rain odours!” well.
Viola. My matter hath no voice, lady, but to your own most pregnant and vouchsafed ear.
Sir Andrew. “Odours,” “pregnant,” and “vouchsafed,” I’ll get ’em all three ready.

Fabian says to Sir Andrew (III.2.19 et seq.):

She did show favour to the youth in your sight only to exasperate you, to awake your dormouse valour, to put fire in your heart, and brimstone in your liver. You should then have accosted her, and with some excellent jests fire-new from the mint, you should have banged the youth into dumbness. . . .
* * *
Sir Andrew. Will either of you bear me a challenge to him?

They have been working him up to the point during this passage of challenging Cesario-Viola. And this is a matter of considerable importance, for it shows that Oxford believed someone had urged Sidney to provoke him to his recent challenge: which the sequel he provides here not only proves to have been the case but also indicates who he thought the prodder was and further explains why he himself had afterward fought Leicester, Sidney’s uncle, as we have inferred that he did. (7) But we are led up to the revelation gradually, and there is some necessary disguise. The next reference is as follows (III.4.149 et seq.):

Fabian. More matter for a May morning.
Sir Andrew. Here’s the challenge; read it: I warrant there’s vinegar and pepper in ‘t.
Fabian. Is it so saucy?
Sir Andrew. Ay, is ‘t, I warrant him: do but read.
Sir Toby. Give me. “Youth, whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow.”
Fabian. Good, and valiant.
Sir Toby. “Wonder not, nor admire in thy mind, why I do call thee so, for I will show thee no reason for ‘t.”
Fabian. A good note, that keeps you from the blow of the law.
Sir Toby. “Thou comest to the Lady Olivia, and in my sight she uses thee kindly: but thou liest in thy throat; that is not the matter I challenge thee for.”
Fabian. Very brief, and exceeding good sense—less.
Sir Toby. “I will waylay thee going home; where, if it be thy chance to kill me,—”
Fabian. Good.
Sir Toby. “Thou killest me like a rogue and a villain.”
Fabian. Still you keep o’ the windy side o’ the law; good.
Sir Toby. “Fare thee well; and God have mercy upon one of our souls! He may have mercy upon mine, but my hope is better; and so look to thyself. Thy friend as thou usest him, and thy sworn enemy, Andrew Aguecheek.”

Thus Oxford’s opinion of Sidney’s passion for satisfaction resulting from the tennis-court fracas. And it is borne out by certain facts, one of which is a letter Sidney had actually written on another “May morning”—May 31, 1578, to be exact—to his father’s secretary, one Molyneux, part of which we quote:

You have played the very knave with me, and so I will make you know if I have good proof of it. But that for so much as is past. For that is to come . . . I will thrust my dagger into you, for I speak in earnest. In the meantime farewell. (8)

We submit that the Earl of Oxford knew his young friend, Philip Sidney, who was evidently a gentleman, but somewhat callow, pleasant but pallid. The trouble is that the latter has had the benefit of most excellent publicity, while Oxford has been called insolent, arrogant, and overbearing. But, as we have said, he suspected that Sidney had been prodded into provoking a challenge. And he sets about giving the facts, for he knew that if he did not tell his story, it would never be really known and his “good name” would be stained. (Incidentally, “Ague-cheek” suggests a cheek quiveringly inviting a slap or a challenge.)

Viola, disguised as Cesario, does not of course wish to fight Sir Andrew any more than he actually wishes to fight her. She speaks for the friendly, well-disposed Oxford when she says (III.4.234 et seq.):

. . . my remembrance is very free and clear from any image of offence done to any man. . . . I have heard of some kind of men that put quarrels purposely on others to taste their valour. . . . I beseech you, do me this courteous office, as to know of the knight what my offence to him is: it is something of my negligence, nothing of my purpose.

Nevertheless, Sir Toby goes right on trying to arouse Sir Andrew. He tells how fierce Cesario is, how skilful at fencing. And Sir Andrew backs down:

Plague on ‘t; an I thought he had been valiant and so cunning in fence I’d have seen him damned ere I’d have challenged him. Let him let the matter slip, I’ll give him my horse, grey Capilet. (III.4.291-5.)

But the affair grows serious when Sebastian appears instead of Viola. And Sebastian (who for the moment is Oxford aroused) means business when he fights. He beats Sir Andrew and turns upon Toby and Fabian. Then Sir Toby gives a clue (IV.1.28):

Hold, sir, or I’ll throw your dagger o’er the house;

which immediately reminds one of Hamlet’s duel with Laertes. Laertes (whose name is an anagram for A Lester) has been provoked by Claudius (Leicester) to fight a duel with Hamlet, his sword tipped with poison. One recalls Hamlet’s warm-hearted and courteous speech before the match begins, which concludes with:

Let my disclaiming from a purpos’d evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts,
That I have shot mine arrow o’er the house
And hurt my brother. (V.2.241-4.)

This is as far as Oxford could go in stating the facts. But it is sufficient when Nashe’s statement is recalled about “two great Peers being at jar and their quarrel continued to bloodshed,” (9) the time to which he had reference having been that immediately following the tennis-court squabble. Leicester was living in banishment from the Queen’s presence, and he was bitterly jealous of Oxford, who was then at the point of highest favor. Leicester had been accused of Amy Robsart’s murder; he was believed to have poisoned Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, as well as the Earl of Sheffield. When he himself died, it was said to have been from drinking some wine he had prepared for his wife as a restorative after fatigue, which she had unsuspectingly given him. (Jonson repeated this story to Drummond.)

In this general connection one further point should be added. It was at this time that Philip Sidney was writing his Apologie for Poetrie, in which—we have the word of Mr. Addington Symonds (10)—he “borrowed some of [the] phrases almost verbatim” from Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra. He protests against the romantic—Oxford’s—school, specifically its free use of time and place in a play.

For where the stage should always represent but one place; and the uttermost time presupposed in it, should be, both by Aristotle’s precept, and common reason, but one day; there is both many days and many places inartificially imagined. . . . Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by we hear news of a shipwreck in the same place, then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock.

One is assured that he is striking at Oxford when he proceeds:

But, besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust the clown in by head and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion. . . . I know Apuleius did somewhat so . . . and the ancients have one of two examples of tragi-comedies as Plautus hath Amphytrio . . . [but] we have . . . some extreme show of doltishness, indeed fit to lift up loud laughter and nothing else.

This may well be a dart aimed at Twelfth Night, where Sidney was Sir Andrew.

The three main species of the Drama are properly assigned to the three species of society; Tragedy to royal personages and the aristocracy; Comedy to the middle class; the Pastoral to hand-labourers.

And here we undoubtedly have a protest against Wily Beguiled, which we take to have been the earliest version of The Merry Wives, and in which Sidney felt degraded by his representation as Wily.

All this hidebound pomposity apparently increased the Earl’s glee. His young friend, he felt, should not take himself too seriously. Since our object here is to discover as much as possible of the true story, we feel justified in drawing together all the threads. It is what Oxford hoped would be done. There are still more in Twelfth Night.


1. Hume: The Gr. Ld. B.; p. 238.

2. In his Introduction to A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres—published in limited ed. in London, 1926—Ward states that “G.T.” was Oxford himself; but in The Sev. E. of O., pub. 1928, he states “G.T.” may have been George Turbeville. In our opinion, he was, if so, a blind for Oxford.

3. The Shakespeare scholar, Dr. Greg, makes the following comment (The Library, Dec. 1926): “We are expressly told that the name is concealed, and the acrostic found is an excellent one.” See Appendix, Note 4 (1.)

4. In Gabriel Harvey’s Marginalia (p. 166), Dr. G. C. Moore Smith records that Harvey had written in his copy of The Posies of George Gascoigne, 1575, on Fortunatus Infoelix, “lately the posy of Sir Christopher Hatton.” Whether this had, at one time, actually been Hatton’s posy, or whether Harvey had merely been confused, he stated it differently three years later in his address to Hatton at Audley End, which followed his long one, previously quoted, to the Earl of Oxford and a shorter one to Philip Sidney:

“To the honourable and brave knight Christopher Hatton,
counsellor to the Queen’s Majesty, concerning his symbol,
                    Foelix Infortunatus.

One man is happy, but unfortunate: another is fortunate but unhappy: each lacks the other’s dowry; some there are who possess both dowries, and these are happy and fortunate gentlemen, the observed of all observers. But you are not one of those whom fortune has so blessed. Forgive a poet’s licence, oh nobly born Hatton! for you actually are happy as well as fortunate; no other class fits you.”

Gabriel certainly seems to have been confused here; but the point for us is that he obviously connects Oxford with Hatton in the matter of this posy, The Fortunate Unhappy—or the Happy Unfortunate—and that Oxford subsequently makes definite recognition of this fact by using the identical words to describe Hamlet which Harvey has applied to him: “the observed of all observers.”

5. W. T.: IV.3.811-12.

6. H.R. Fox Bourne: A Memoir of Sir Philip Sidney; p. 364.

7. Chap. Eighteen.

8. Percy Allen: The Life-Story, etc.; p. 143.

9. It is of interest that Nashe’s expression, “two great Peers being at jar,” may have been derived from 2 Henry VI (I.1.251): “And Humphrey with the peers be fall’n at jars”—a correspondence rendered all the more striking by the fact that Humphrey of Gloucester is partially Leicester, who was the Peer with whom the Sidney quarrel had brought Oxford “at jar.”

10. Sh.’s Predecessors, etc.; p. 203.

Contents | Chapter Twenty-Three