Chapter 23

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

Chapter Twenty-Three


IT WILL LONG AGO have become apparent that when we say Oxford is this character or that, we do not mean that he is portraying himself realistically in all of them, though he does in some. He is, for instance, altogether Timon, Bertram, Berowne, and many others, while his comedic side is represented in Launcelot, Armado, the Clown Feste, Fabian, etc. As a matter of fact, these last two are practically the same person, but it has been suggested that the dramatist needed both of them in the final scene and so made them separate characters. Sometimes we recognize the component parts of one character, sometimes only one in a character whom we nevertheless know to be a composite. Olivia is usually Elizabeth here; her seven years’ mourning would have been that she put on for St. Bartholomew’s Day: and in the French, the historical, frame of reference, Viola may have been La Môle, the first envoy to broach the Alençon match, who arrived in England shortly before the Massacre. Simier arrived exactly seven years later, and Elizabeth promptly fell in love with him instead of with the Duke his master, whom of course she had not yet seen. In another—perhaps 1587—version of the play, Olivia was partly Lady Mary Pembroke, as we have said, in mourning for her brother, Philip Sidney, who had died of his wounds in the Netherlands in 1586. (Elizabeth, however, went into mourning again in 1587, for Mary Stuart.)

Oxford undoubtedly made alterations after this event, for he was a close friend of Lady Mary Pembroke. For instance, Sir Andrew becomes in the 1587 version partially Andrew de Loo, of whom Motley wrote in his United Netherlands:

And when business was over Champagny . . . invited de Loo and Secretary Cosima to supper and the three made a night of it, sitting up late and draining such huge bumpers to the health of the Queen of England that, as the excellent Andrew subsequently informed Burghley, his head ached most bravely next morning. (1)

This letter to Burghley is obviously the foundation for the passage between Maria and Toby about Sir Andrew (1.3.37-9):

Maria. They that add, moreover, he’s drunk nightly in your company.
Sir Toby. With drinking healths to my niece.

That Olivia became partially Lady Mary Pembroke in the first revision is quite patent from the Captain’s information regarding Olivia (1.2.34-9):

A virtuous maid, the daughter of a count,
That died some twelvemonth since; then leaving her
In the protection of his son, her brother,
Who shortly also died: for whose dear love
They say she hath abjur’d the company
And sight of men.

Sir Philip Sidney’s father had died a few months before he did. (2)

There are a dozen other points pertaining to this version. However, we cannot possibly examine all of them here but must confine ourselves to the most important and overt, hoping one day to have an opportunity to do a thorough study of this complex play.

Thus we take Olivia for Elizabeth, and Malvolio for Hatton. And we have what Oxford knew was a typical conversation between them regarding himself, which follows a passage between the Clown and Olivia that shocks and disgusts the humorless Steward (1.5.38 et seq.):

Clown. God bless thee, lady!
Olivia. Take the fool away.
Clown. Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.
Olivia. Go to, you’re a dry fool. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Clown. Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool. . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Olivia. Make your proof.
Clown. I must catechise you for it, madonna; good my mouse of virtue, answer me.

(Hatton would have been horrified at Oxford’s calling the Queen “my mouse of virtue.” And so would that arrogant lady have been if anyone else had so saucily presumed.)

Clown. Good madonna, why mournest thou?
Olivia. Good fool, for my brother’s death.
Clown. I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
Olivia. I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
Clown. The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.

It is worth a digression here to quote from a letter the Queen wrote the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1582, condoling with him upon the death of his son and expressing this identical philosophy:

Besides, if we do duly look into the matter in true course of Christianity, we shall then see that the loss hath brought so great a gain to the gentleman whom we now lack, as we have rather cause to rejoice than to lament. (3)

This is a striking coincidence. Elizabeth would have been very familiar with Twelfth Night by that time.

Olivia asks Malvolio’s opinion of the fool and he replies:

. . . infirmity that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool. . . . I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal. . . unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged. I protest, I take these wise men, that crow so at these set kind of fools, no better than the fools’ zanies.
Olivia. O! you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets. There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.

That is to say, though he do what Jacques promises he will do when invested in his motley:

Cleanse the foul body of th’ infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine.

The Earl of Oxford was really trying to improve things.

In one of the passages of Every Man Out satirizing Twelfth Night, Jonson has the following, which makes it clear that he understood this to be the case:

Mitis. . . . the argument of this comedy might have been of some other nature, as of a duke in love with a countess, and that countess to be in love with the duke’s son, and the son to love the lady’s waiting-maid. . . with a clown to their servingman.
Cordatus. . . . Quid sit comoedia? . . . a thing throughout pleasant and ridiculous, and accommodated to the correction of manners. (III.1.)

(Mitis’s outline is more accurate than can at this point be demonstrated.)

Later Hamlet will declare that the plays “hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show. . . the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

Presently the Clown has a passage with Viola (III.1), in which there is much playing on words, leading the Clown to say (12-13):

A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit: how quickly the wrong side may be turned outward!

(In turning it inside out, you disclose ver  in the middle. This comparison will be used again.)

Viola. Nay, that’s certain: they that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton. . . . Art not thou the Lady Olivia’s fool?
Clown. . . I am indeed not her fool, but her corrupter of words. . . . Foolery, sir, does not walk about the orb like- the sun; it shines every where. . .
.     .     .    .    .    .    .   .
Viola. This fellow’s wise enough to play the fool,
And to do that well craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. (III.1.14-67.)

Here we have Berowne who sits “in the sky,”

And wretched fools’ secrets heedfully o’er-eye,
More sacks to the mill;

and he in turn is only another aspect of the Bastard, who resolves to be observant, spurred by

the inward motion to deliver
Sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age’s tooth.

They are all fictional presentments of the man concerning whom Harvey said there was

Not the like discourser for Tongue, and head to be found out,
Not the like resolute man for great and serious affairs,
Not the like lynx to spy out secrets and privities of States,
Ey’d like to Argus, ear’d like to Midas, nos’d like to Naso,
Wing’d like to Mercury, fittest of a thousand, for to be employ’d.

The Duke is speaking in Oxford’s person when he says (I.4.37-8):

. . . for myself am best
When least in company;

which suggests the poem signed by de Vere:

That never am less idle, lo! than when I am alone,

Benvolio will express the same idea.

The Duke, in common with the Clown with his songs, is like Oxford in his love of music. “How,” he asks Viola (II.4.20), “dost thou like this tune?”

Viola. It gives the very echo to the seat
Where love is thran’d,

Indeed, the songs the Clown sings are the “Ver-y echo” of the court where his love, Elizabeth, “is thron’d.” O Mistress Mine is preserved in Queen Elizabeth’s Virginal Book. (4)

The Earl put himself transiently into the character of the Duke, in this version, in order to remind Elizabeth that she was ignoring him for the beguiling Simier. She was; but she did not like it when he consoled himself elsewhere. It is curious that Olivia describes the Duke in almost the identical words Chapman later used in describing the Earl of Oxford when she says (I.5.265-70):

Your lord does know my mind; I cannot love him;
Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble,
Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth;
Of voices well-divulg’d, free, learn’d, and valiant;
And in dimension and the shape of nature
A gracious person
; but yet I cannot love him.

He was taunting her for preferring Simier. But in the end, he speaks to her in Sebastian’s voice—as he will speak to her again in Sonnet 123—with the prophetic and profoundly significant words (IV.3.33):

And, having sworn truth, ever will be true.

Another clue occurs when Olivia, finding Toby, Fabian, the Clown, and Sebastian in a brawl says (IV.1.45-9):

Hold, Toby! on thy life I charge thee, hold!
Will it be ever thus? Ungracious wretch!
Fit for the mountains and the barbarous caves,
Where manners ne’er were preach’d. Out of my sight!

This passage is worth noting. It is Elizabeth angry. We find Belarius-Oxford living in just such “mountains and barbarous caves” in the addition made during the late 1580’s or the ’90’s to Cymbeline.

It is to the credit of the dramatist that he is never malicious in his characterization of Malvolio; while he plays around the edges of ridicule, he does not make the man contemptible or altogether absurd. Charles Lamb touched off the character astutely when he said:

Malvolio is not essentially ludicrous. He becomes comic but by accident. He is cold, austere, repelling; but dignified, consistent, and, for what appears, rather an over-stretched morality. Maria describes him as a sort of Puritan; and he might have worn his gold chain with honour in one of our old round-head families. . . . But his morality and his manners are misplaced in Illyria. He is opposed to the proper levities of the piece, and falls in the unequal contest. Still, his pride, or his gravity, is inherent, and native to the man, not mock or affected. . . . His quality is at the best unlovely, but neither buffoon nor contemptible. His bearing is lofty, a little above his station, but probably not above his deserts.

With this intuitive verdict the dramatist himself would no doubt have been satisfied. It galled him that the man had no humor, for humor was necessary at court—in Illyria; and to one of the old established nobility he was decidedly “above his station.” Hatton’s enmity, since it was that of a person whom the alas, unworldly Earl deemed inconsiderable, did not greatly disturb him; however, it would have irritated him beyond measure if he had been carousing with Willoughby and others when the Vice-Chamberlain took it upon himself to administer a reproof, as here:

Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and the Clown are making merry (II.3.):

Maria. What a caterwauling do you keep here! If my lady have not called up her steward Malvolio and bid him turn you out of doors, never trust me.
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
                        Enter Malvolio.
Malvolio. My masters, are you mad? or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do you make an alehouse of my lady’s house? . . . Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time, in you?
Sir Toby. We did keep time, sir, in our catches. Sneck up!
Malvolio. Sir Toby, I must be round with you. My lady bade me tell you that, though she harbours you as her kinsman, she’s nothing allied to your disorders. If you can separate yourselves and your misdemeanours, you are welcome to the house; if not. . . she is very willing to bid you farewell.
Sir Toby. “Farewell, dear heart, since I must needs be gone.”
.     .     .     .     .     .     .    .     .
Clown. “His eyes do show his days are almost done.”
Malvolio. Is ‘t even so?
.     .     .     .     .     .    .    .    .
Sir Toby. “Shall I bid him go?”
Clown. “What an if you do?”
Sir Toby. “Shall I bid him go, and spare not?”
Clown. “0! no, no, no, no, you dare not.”
Sir Toby. “Out 0′ time!” Sir, ye lie. Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? . . . Go, sir, rub your chain with crumbs. A stoup of wine, Maria.
Malvolio. Mistress Mary, if you prized my lady’s favour. . . you would not give means for this uncivil rule: she shall know of it, by this hand. Maria. Go shake your ears. (II.3.74 et seq.)

Here we have another reference to the chain Elizabeth had given Hatton, of which he was inordinately proud. It may have been an S- chain. Being a Puritan, he calls Maria “Mary.”

The letter signed with the famous posy, “The Fortunate-Unhappy,” with which the miscreants “gull” Malvolio, takes him in completely because he is so serious-minded, ambitious and vain. He speaks of Olivia’s C’s, her U’s, her T’s, and her great P’s (II.5.89 et seq). There had been much talk about Elizabeth’s “letters” to Count Simier and to Alençon, who though called Duke was really a Prince of France and would have been so addressed by the Queen, especially since she had now decided that she would never marry anyone save a “prince of royal blood.” The four letters mentioned occur in their two titles, while the punning reiteration of the word “letters” serves to drive home to Hatton a reminder of his own offensive ones.

However, with the habit Oxford had of keeping the plays up to date with topical allusions, he later inserted an especially significant statement in this passage pointing to Mary Stuart’s Scandal Letter to the Queen written in 1584, (5) in which is set forth all the scandal Lady Shrewsbury had repeated to her about Elizabeth. Not to be overlooked is the name Shrewsbury in connection with the epithet, “fair shrew,” applied to Maria (I.3.48). It is Maria, the “fair shrew,” who says (II.3.161-3):

I can write very like my lady your niece; on a forgotten matter we can hardly make distinction of our hands.

Compare this with the following statement from H. G. Bell’s Life of Mary Queen of Scots:

Mary’s handwriting was not difficult of imitation. It was formed, says Goodall, after what is commonly called Italic print. . . . Mary herself alluded to the facility with which her hand could be imitated. . . “there are divers in Scotland can counterfeit my handwriting and write the like manner of writing which I use as well as myself:” . . . In still further confirmation of these facts, Blackwood mentions that the handwriting of Mary Beaton, one of her Maids of Honour, could not possibly be distinguished from that of the Queen. (6)

Maria in the play is called “Olivia’s Woman,” which corresponds with Mary, the Maid of Honour to the Queen of Scots, or, for that matter, to Marie, the Queen of Scots herself. There is never anything superficial about Oxford’s allusions: they are not only wide but deep.

But to revert to Malvolio. He broods upon what the letters, M, 0, A, I, may mean, while Sir Toby and Fabian engage in a sportsmen’s conversation, as Oxford and Willoughby would often have done. The letters ,are all found in the name Malvolio, but, as he says (II.5.134-6):

. . . there is no consonancy in the sequel. . . . A should follow, but O does.
Fabian. And O shall end, I hope.
Sir Toby. Ay, or I’ll cudgel him, and make him cry O!

The obvious point is that O will make an end of Malvolio-Hatton’s letters which have been inimical to him. Malvolio himself is made to declare (146):

. . . for everyone of these letters are in my name.

Even so, this is not all. There is, of course, a reason for the jumbling of the letters, M, O, A, I, and the cognoscenti in the audience would have understood the subtler reference. Hume records that after Simier had left England,

he maintained a copious cipher-correspondence with Elizabeth, which is now at Hatfield, containing the most minute details of Alençon’s movements, interspersed with curious marks which presumably stand for kisses, twin hearts transfixed with Cupid’s darts, etc. (7)

Even the Elizabethans were no subtler than the French, however, and Castelnau must have reflected that if Elizabeth permitted such a jest, she could not be altogether serious about the marriage negotiations and further that Lord Oxford certainly could not be. Although jealous of Simier, Castelnau would of course have been one with him in a matter of national pride.

In the Scandal Letter, the following accusation occurs:

As for the said haton (she said) that you ran him so hard showing so publicly the love that you bore him that he himself was constrained to withdraw from it and that you gave a box on the ear to kiligrew for not having brought back the said haton to you after he had been sent to recall him having departed in anger from you for some insulting words you had said to him because of certain gold buttons which he had on his coat.

Mrs. Clark suggests that the yellow stockings and cross garters Malvolio put on for Olivia’s expected delectation may have been an adaptation of the “gold buttons.” It may also have referred to Hatton’s (crossed) ambition to receive the Order of the Garter when Sidney acted as proxy for Prince Casimir’s installation. Yellow is the color of jealousy. 8  However this may be, the “box on the ears” that the Queen gave Killigrew seems to be referred to in Maria’s speech when she says, after describing Malvolio’s ridiculous obedience to the letter:

You have not seen such a thing as ’tis; I can hardly forbear hurling things at him. I know my lady will strike him. (III.2.81-3.)

The ebullient Earl can be counted upon to have taken extreme delight in appearing as the Clown and Sir Topas in the dark-room scene with Malvolio. He gives us a good idea of his general build when, as the Clown about to don a curate’s gown, he says (IV.2.4 et seq.):

Well, I’ll put it on and I will dissemble myself in ‘t; and I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown. I am not tall enough to become the function well, nor lean enough to be thought a good student. . . .

Oxford was apparently of medium height; in the Gaerheerdts picture where he is seen with Elizabeth, he seems slightly taller than she, who was described as having a “stature neither tall nor low.” He seems to have increased in weight during his thirties and then to have grown very slender again. The Clown continues, simulating the parson; and here we have the comedic Oxford in the vein:

Bonos dies, Sir Toby: for, as the old hermit of Prague, that never saw pen and ink, very wittily said. . . ‘That that is, is’; so I, being Master parson, am Master parson; for, what is ‘that’ but ‘that,’ and ‘is’ but ‘is?’ . . . What ho! I say. Peace in this prison. .
Sir Toby. The knave counterfeits well; a good knave.

He must have been an excellent actor. The whole scene would have provoked high mirth at court. And when, in the dark room with the distracted Malvolio, the Earl acted the double role of Clown and parson, it was spirited entertainment (99 et seq.):

Clown. Advise you what you say: the minister is here. Malvolio, Malvolio, thy wits the heavens restore! endeavour thyself to sleep, and leave thy vain bibble-babble.
Malvolio. Sir Topas!
Clown. Maintain no words with him, good fellow.—Who, I, sir? not I, sir. God be wi’ you, good Sir Topas. Marry, amen. I will, sir, I will.

Malvolio pleads with him (85 et seq.):

Good fool, as ever thou wilt deserve well at my hand. . .

But this jester was not a man to bargain with.

(The name, Sir Topas, must have been taken from Chaucer’s Sir Tophas. There is a Sir Tophas-an amorphous foreshadowing of Falstaff—in Endymion, which is attributed to Lyly, but which we believe we can demonstrate to be, originally, the work of the Earl of Oxford.)

The Clown’s parting words to Malvolio are couched in a rhyme evocative of the old Morality plays known to the dramatist from childhood, in which the devil’s companion, Vice, an aspect of Harlequin with his visor and lathe sword, took a lively part. This sprightly villain, probably through Oxford’s own contrivings for the most part, evolved into the Clown of Elizabethan drama.

     I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I’ll be with you again,
In a trice,
Like to the old Vice,
Your need to sustain;
Who with dagger of lath,
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries Ah, ah! to the devil:
Like a mad lad,
Pare thy nails, dad;
Adieu, goodman drivel. (IV.2.125-36.)

Finally, when things are straightened out, Fabian explains to Olivia (V.1.358 et seq.):

Good madam, hear me speak,
And let no quarrel nor no brawl to come
Taint the condition of this present hour,
Which I have wonder’d at. In hope it shall not,
Most freely I confess, myself and Toby
Set this device against Malvolio here,
Upon some stubborn and uncourteous parts
We had conceiv’d against him. . . .
How with sportful malice it was follow’d
May rather pluck on laughter than revenge,
It that the injuries be justly weigh’d
That have on both sides past.

Although Oxford had said in a signed poem that he would “revenge” wrongs with “some device” and would not rest till wit had “wrought his will on injury,” and had done so here, he believed that he had given no worse than he had received. He was ready to cry quits, now that his grievance had been thoroughly aired. In his alternate character of the Clown, he summarizes the affair (378):

. . . thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.

But Malvolio will never forgive. His words,

I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you,

were also prophetic. The Earl had no illusions about his evil-willer.

The Clown, however, is cheerful enough and ends the play with a song. Oxford himself must certainly have taken the part of the Clown at court-performances and sung all the charming songs to the accompaniment of his lute. He makes it evident who Olivia-Elizabeth’s “allowed fool” is.

The early version of Twelfth Night was given in a spirit similar to that of a well-known association of newspaper men of our day, who “roast” on their gridiron prominent public men, according to our more democratic fashion. It will be a miracle if any of their spiced wit succeeds in keeping its tang for more than three hundred years. Most of Lord Oxford’s victims probably took their roasting in good part, thankful that it had been no worse, as perhaps many modern victims do. But there were always some who were too vulnerable, too sensitive, or too vain, then as now, and sometimes the wit was too sharply barbed.

It will easily be seen that this play could never be publicly known as an “invention” or “device” of the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, or that he was the Queen’s “allowed fool” and “corrupter of words.” Because of the extremely revealing passages in the final revision, Twelfth Night was never published before 1623.

There are references to many contemporary affairs in the text, of which we shall mention only a few. Sir Andrew’s line (III.2.32),

I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician,

alludes to a sect founded in about 1580 by Robert Browne, a relative of Lord Burghley’s; he was subsequently excommunicated by the Bishop of Peterborough. (9)

Since “the new map with the augmentation of the Indies” (III.2.80) wherein all the West Indies, Kingdom of Mexico, and so on, were included, was published in 1587, printed in France and dedicated to Hakluyt, (10) this statement belongs to the revision.

The ballad, “Please one and please all” (III.4.24), was believed to have been written by Richard Tarleton, the actor, whom Oxford would of course have known; it was published under the initials, “R. T.,” in 1592, but he had died in 1588. (11)

Because in 1580 Lyly had published the second part of Euphues, called Euphues and his England, and dedicated it to the Earl of Oxford, the following correspondence is worth noting:

Sir Andrew. Fair lady, do you think you have fools in hand?
.     .     .     .     .     .     .    .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
Maria. Now, sir, “thought is free.” (I.3.65, 70.)


Euphues. “Why then,” quoth he, “dost thou think me a fool?” . . .
thought is free, my lord,” quoth she.

The passage (V.1.118-19),

Like to the Egyptian thief at point of death,
Kill what I love,

is a reference to the Ethiopica of Heliodorus, dedicated to Lord Oxford in 1568 by Thomas Underdoune and reissued in 1587. (12)

In conclusion, we shall cite a few additional parodies of Twelfth Night from Every Man Out of His Humour which, being a general satire on the nobleman-dramatist and his works, includes, even in the title, a play on his name: E-Ver-y Man.

Sir Puntarvolo-Oxford enters from hunting (II.1), as the nobleman (also Oxford) does in the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew, bidding his huntsman “give wind to thy horn.” (We condense the text for brevity.) A “Waiting-gentlewoman” appears at the window above, and he has a little game with her—in a travesty of The Two Gentlemen (IV.2.88-136), where Oxford is Proteus. Though Puntarvolo himself is lord of the castle, he nevertheless inquires:

What call you the lord of the castle, sweet face?
Gent. (above). The lord of the castle is a knight, sir; signior Puntarvolo.
Punt. Puntarvolo! O—
Carlo. Now must he ruminate.
Fastidious. Does he know the wench all this while, then?
Car. 0, do you know me, man? Why, therein lies the syrup of the jest; it’s a project, a designment of his own, a thing studied, rehearst as ordinarily as his coming from hawking or hunting, as a jig after a play.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Punt. Of what years is the knight, fair damsel?
Gent. Faith, much about your years, sir.
Punt. What complexion, or what stature bears he?
Gent. Of your stature, and very near upon your complexion.
Punt. Mine is melancholy. . . And doth argue constancy, chiefly in love.

We interrupt this speech, in order to call attention, first, to the “constancy,” which is the burden of innumerable verses Oxford wrote Elizabeth, and then to the similarity of the italicized lines to the following passage from Twelfth Night (II.4.26 et seq.):

Duke. What kind of woman is ‘t?
Viola. Of your complexion
Duke. She is not worth thee, then. What years, i’ faith?
Viola. About your years, my lord.
Duke. Too old, by heaven. . . [Skip to 113]:
Viola. And with a green and yellow melancholy, etc.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Duke [19-20.] Save in the constant image of the creature That is belov’d.

Since in the version of Twelfth Night that Jonson knew, Oxford was predominantly the Duke, as well as Antonio, we can see what the satirist is up to. The scene continues:

Punt. . . . What are his endowments? is he courteous?
Gent. O, the most courteous knight in Christian land, sir.
Punt. Is he magnanimous?
Gent. As the skin between your brows, sir.
Punt. Is he bountiful? . . .
Gent. Bountiful! ay, sir, I would you should know it; the poor are served at his gates, early and late, sir.
Punt. Is he learned?
Gent. O ay, sir, he can speak the French and Italian.
Punt. Then he has travelled?
Gent. Ay, forsooth, he has been beyond seas once or twice.
Punt. Is he religious?
Gent. I know not what you call religious, but he goes to church, I am sure. [i.e., Church of England. He is not a Puritan.]
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Punt. Would I might but see his face.

This last refers of course to the concealed authorship. Every Man Out belongs to the year 1598, when the anonymity had became a fiat.

Before Puntarvolo arrives, the men awaiting him converse in phrases from Oxford’s plays, and one of them says:

By the virtue of my soul, this knight dwells in Elysium here;—

which will be recognized as aimed at Viola’s

My brother he is in Elysium. (I.2.3.)

For Jonson is not above taking a superior attitude toward Oxford’s laxity. The play is set in Illyria, a Greek locale, but Homer does not put Elysium in “the realms of the dead,” only the Latins do.

Jonson alters Olivia’s name to Saviolina—San Olivia—but he calls her “madona,” as the Clown calls Olivia. (This is the only time the word “madonna” is used throughout Oxford’s plays, and it is always applied to Olivia by the Clown.) Puntarvolo says of her (II.1):

Then you must. . . know our court-star there, that Planet of wit, madona Saviolina?
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Fastidious.. . . . she has the most harmonious and musical strain of wit that ever tempted a true ear. . . she does observe as pure a phrase, and use as choice figures in her ordinary conferences, as any be in the Arcadia.

Jonson wishes it to be well understood that he knew Olivia was partly the Queen—Diana, the “moon,” etc.: hence the “planet” of wit. But he knew she also stood for the Countess of Pembroke, whose brother, Philip Sidney, wrote “the Arcadia” while staying with her in 1580; thus “Illyria” becomes “Arcadia.” Ben Jonson was later a friend of Lady Mary Pembroke.

In another scene, after Fastidious Brisk has made a remark about “accosting” the “piercing wit” of his mistress—much having been made of the word “accost” and of Maria’s wit in Twelfth Night—Cinedo says:

if you had but your long stockings on, to be dancing a galliard as she comes by. (III.2.)

These references of Jonson’s are unmistakable; and Every Man Out was performed on the stage in 1598, published in quarto in 1600. Yet Dowden solemnly asserts, regarding Twelfth Night: “We shall probably be very near the mark if we date the play 1600-1.” (13)  And he has the usual comments about the borrowing, his “conjecture” being that “much, if not the main body, of Shakespeare’s plot may have been derived” from “Barnabe Riche’s Farewell to a Militarie Profession, 1581.” It so happens that Barnabe Riche is the very last person Oxford would have derived anything from, even if he had had need of poaching and had not written his play at least a year earlier; for in this same book Riche had lampooned Oxford, at a time when the Earl’s fortunes were very low; and besides, Christopher Hatton was Barnabe Riche’s patron! Moreover, Riche stated on page 1 of his “Conclusion,” that some of the stories he used had already “been applied to the purposes of the stage.”

The borrowing was all on the other side. As for Jonson, he would have had no material at all, had it not been for Oxford. A year after the Earl’s death, Jonson was still “satirizing” him—as Touchstone, in Eastward Hoe (Jonson being a collaborator with others), published in 1605, the title reminiscent of Viola’s “Then Westward Hoe!” (T.N.: III.1.139), this of course a cry of the Thames boatmen. Even Dryden, though, like an earlier Shaw, he did scant justice to the great author of Antony and Cleopatra, whose version of that drama he believed he had improved upon when writing his own, was constrained to say:

Shakespear who, taught by none, did first impart
To Fletcher wit, to lab’ring Jonson Art!

In the early seventeenth century it was well known that Jonson plagiarized Oxford. He himself called it “translating”: it was so flagrant he had to call it something. This is shown by the following verse written by Thomas May “To my worthy friend, John Ford,” in 1629:

‘Tis said from Shakespeare’s mine your play you draw:
What need?-when Shakespeare still survives in you;
But grant it were from his vast treasury reft,
That plund’rer Ben ne’er made so rich a theft. (14)


1. Quoted by Holland; p. 88.

2. Op. cit.; p. 87.

3. Nicolas: Sir Ch. Hatton; p. 267.

4. About the publication of this book, after the turn of the century, in a beautiful and costly format, there is much mystery. O Mistress Mine is attributed to William Byrd, and For Bonny Sweet Robin is All My Joy, from Hamlet, which is included in the same collection, is attributed to Giles Farnaby. (“Sweet Robin” was Elizabeth’s name for Leicester.) But this could simply mean that these men arranged the score, Byrd having arranged a great deal of the Elizabethan music for publication; or, of course, it might be another gambit in the enforcement of anonymity, for one of the foremost musicians of the day declared that, “although using the science [of music] as a recreation,” Lord Oxford had “overgone most of them that make it a profession.” Other songs from the plays survive in manuscript.

In 1584, an anthology was published called A Handefull of Pleasant Delites by one Clement Robinson (the name otherwise unknown) “and divers others.” This contained little poems, many of them unsigned, to be sung to popular tunes of the day. One is called A New Courtly Sonet of the Lady Greensleeves (which, it will be recalled, is mentioned in The Merry Wives). The title suggests Oxford, who would, of course, have written a “courtly sonet.” Certain of the poems in this collection are undeniably his, not only marked by his imagery and style but addressed to the Queen, as usual. One has the following lines:

Rosemarie is for remembrance
between us daie and night…
Violet is for faithfulnesse
which shall in me abide.

5. A translation of this letter is given in full in Appendix, Note 1.

6. Holland; p. 93. Admiral Holland takes the reference here to be to the Casket letters, and considers this a vindication of Mary Stuart; but we doubt if so much was intended.

7. The Courtships of Q. Eliz.; p. 277.

8. “Yellow stockings” are used to denote jealousy in Dekker’s The Honest Whore: Part II: I.1.143.

9. Holland; p. 90.

10. Op. cit.; p. 91.

11. Ibid; p. 91.

12. Ibid.; pp. 88-92.

13. Intro. Oxford ed. T.N.

14. Adams and Bradley: Jonson Allusion Book; p.141. T.W. Baldwin: Shakspere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke.

Contents | Chapter Twenty-Four