Chapter 26

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

Chapter Twenty-Six


HAD IT NOT BEEN that Elizabeth’s morbid vanity was pierced to the quick by the Earl’s amorous betrayal, she would never have pretended that even a vague suspicion existed against his loyalty. But to shame him who had shamed her and to crush her younger rival in his affections was to this imperious goddess of chastity almost a reflex action. Truth was not to her an absolute value: honesty and fair dealing were a matter of expediency. She vindictively misused her power in punishing him for a sin she herself secretly committed, and that to Oxford was the shameful, the unforgivable thing.

Anne Vavasor and her infant son were taken to the Tower in March, 1581. Lord Oxford soon followed them there, evidently in April. And when he was released on June 8, he was banished from the court.

The Queen pretended she was withholding full liberty until he could be confronted with those he had accused. But this was merely to save her face, and whoever else may have been deceived by her ruse, her Turk certainly was not.

Soon the plays will resound with cries of “banishment.” The word “banish” and its derivatives occur with,a tremendous preponderance in those written between 1581 and ’83—in the revision of Titus Andronicus, in Coriolanus, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, As You Like It, in Cymbeline, the Belarius section related to the “storm or robbery,” which was obviously added during the ’80’s, perhaps augmented later, and in The Two Gentlemen, which must now have had its first of several revisions, to give Silvia a rival in Julia. The reason “banish” occurs only twice, and then casually, in Measure for Measure, is doubtless because this play was written while the Earl was in the Tower. It is, by the way, curious how the dramatist calls the Queen’s rival Julia in The Two Gentlemen, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet and Julietta in Measure for Measure; while Julia’s maid in The Two Gentlemen is called Lucetta, their combined names thus being Julietta.

As we interpret Coriolanus, it belongs to three distinct periods, being brought up to date from time to time and thereby kept popular. Mrs. Clark is no doubt correct in taking the 1580 prototype of Caius Marcius to be Sir Francis Drake—though we add cum Oxford. We believe that he later became, for a time, Sir Walter Ralegh cum Oxford, and that in 1601 he represented Essex-Southampton, if not altogether Southampton. Since limitations of space forbid three discussions of Coriolanus, we shall confine ourselves to the last version and consider it when we reach that period. Suffice it to say here that “banishment” is heavily accented in that play: Drake was banished, Ralegh was also, while Essex was executed and Southampton sentenced to life-imprisonment.

Soon, then, banishment will become a dominant theme in the dramas—crescendo at first, almost to a pitch of frenzy in Romeo and Juliet, sostenuto in Richard II, then, after a sporadic con brio, gradually diminuendo—woven in with calumny or slander, shipwreck, ambition, revenge, the lost son or daughter, ingratitude, and so on.

But early in 1581, before Oxford received the stunning blow of banishment, he felt the outrage of being committed to the Tower. And there is overwhelming internal evidence that he wrote Measure for Measure while he was there. When we hear people say plaintively what an “unpleasant” play this is, we are moved to retort, “And why not? The dramatist was in an unpleasant state of mind when he wrote it, and in a decidedly unpleasant place!” Here, in an even greater degree than is usually the case, the author is far more concerned with his symbolic truth than he is with verisimilitude. His emotions are too strong for his art; if the play suffers, he nevertheless makes his point, which was, to him, of profound and enduring importance. Again and again one seems to perceive that it was only by working off his anguish through the medium of the dramas that this highly sensitized, passionate idealist saved and steadied his reason. At times it was the sole means he had of holding his own against the Queen and hostile Philistine authority.

We note with interest that the orthodox commentators have assigned the writing of Measure for Measure to 1603, for there is evidence indicating this approximate date as the time of final revision. The two passages commonly supposed to refer to King James may well have been inserted to please him, for Oxford was beholden to James in 1603:

Duke.                        I love the people
But do not like to stage me to their eyes. . . . (I.1.67 et seq.),


Angelo. The general, subject to a well-wish’d king,
Quit their own part, and in obsequious fondness
Crowd to his presence, where their untaught love
Must needs appear offence. (II.4.25-31.)

Measure for Measure was one of the eight plays by Lord Oxford which King James ordered to be presented at court upon the Earl’s death, (1) as he had fourteen presented immediately following the Countess of Oxford’s death in 1612. The fact that James chose this play bears out the theory that it had been revised in 1588 to incorporate pointed references to the unfair trial and ignoble execution of Mary Stuart; (2) and there are inescapable allusions in the Duke’s evasive methods to Elizabeth’s at that time: the constant shifting of orders for Claudio’s death, for example, and the following passage (I.3.31-43):

Friar Thomas. It rested in your Grace
T’ unloose this tied-up justice when you pleased;
And it in you more dreadful would have seem’d
Than in Lord Angelo.
Duke. I do fear, too dreadful:
. . . Therefore, indeed, my father,
I have on Angelo impos’d the office,
Who m;ly, in the ambush of my name, strike home,
And yet my nature never in the sight

To do it slander.

This is almost a literal picture of Elizabeth, in 1587, making Davison the scapegoat, so that she herself would not be slandered for ordering Mary’s execution. Added to this the fact that one of the captains of the Spanish Armada, Bertendona, commanded the ship, Regazona, names so similar to the prisoners’ names, Bernadine and Ragozine, together with half a dozen other similarities, provides quite sufficient evidence of a 1587-88 revision. But we must not get so far ahead of our story: our concern now is with the situation in 1581.

Measure for Measure is based upon the idea of the abuse of authority, the misuse of power, which becomes tyranny when a ruler punishes a subject for a fault of which he himself may be guilty. The words “authority” and “tyranny” (or “tyrant” or “tyrannous”) recur through the action like an accusing knell, while the plea for justice reaches its peak in Isabella’s impassioned lines to the Duke (V.1.20-25):

Justice, O royal duke! . . .
O worthy prince! dishonour not your eye
By throwing it on any other object
Till you have heard me in my true complaint
And given me justice, justice, justice, justice!

Here Lord Oxford was addressing the Queen directly, almost frantic with resentment and bitterness that she had diverted her attention from his serious accusations—his “true complaint”—and shown consideration to the conspirators.

He had found the skeleton plot for his play in Cinthio’s Hecatomithi, though he made radical changes: in the original, Angela, the virgin, sacrifices her chastity. It is significant that he appropriated the name Angela, ironically using its masculine form for that of the deputy Duke, who represents both the unworthy side of Elizabeth’s behavior and of his own. The prototypes of the characters shift and change. Sometimes the Duke stands for Elizabeth, sometimes for Oxford himself, as Angelo does; occasionally he allows it to appear that the chaste virgin Isabella is a representation of the Queen. Whether this were merely a loophole with which he provided himself or a formal tribute to Elizabeth’s legend made in the midst of his own self-reproach, we cannot be sure; perhaps it was both: he was treading dangerous ground.

Isabella’s speech about mercy (II.2.59-63) recalls Portia’s. No doubt the Earl’s intention was to remind the Queen that she had stood for the noble Portia and had pleaded with another for that mercy which now he asked of her:

No ceremony that to great ones ‘longs,
Not the king’s crown, nor the deputed sword,
The marshall’s truncheon, nor the judge’s robe,
Becomes them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does.

He gives at least lip-service to her pose in Lucio’s “Hail, virgin,” followed by:

I hold you as a thing ensky’d and sainted;
By your renouncement an immortal spirit,
And to be talk’d with in sincerity,
As with a saint. (I.4.34-7.)

And he softens his criticism of the Queen’s abuse of authority by making it Isabella’s own:

O! it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant (II.2.107-9);

and again in the masterly passage,

. . . but man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep. (II.2.117-22.)

(We are so accustomed to the familiar expressions in these lines—especially “high heaven” and “the angels weep”—that we are likely to lose sight of the fact that they were “new-minted” by this poet out of a stiff, cumbersome linguistic medium: he was really creating a new language while writing from turbulent emotions and a truly coruscating intellect.)

“Go to your bosom,” says Isabella,

Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know
That’s like my brother’s fault: if it confess
A natural guiltiness such as is his,
Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue
Against my brother’s life. (II.2.136-41.)

He was very adroit in putting these words into the virgin’s mouth, for actually this was his own challenge to the Queen, who dishonored herself by punishing him for a fault of which she, and even she with him, had been guilty. And he repeated the tactic in Isabella’s speech (II.4.173 et seq.):

                         O perilous mouths!
That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,
Either of condemnation or aproof,
Bidding the law make curt’sy to their will;
Hooking both right and wrong to th’ appetite,
To follow as it draws.

To cloak his censure of the Queen, he portrays (III.1) the shock Isabella feels at the very thought of license. But there is a subtle point here which we shall do well to note in this personification of Elizabeth. Isabella is so emphatically a virgin, so committed, as it were, to virginity, that she is about to take orders; whereas Elizabeth is so notably a virgin that there is endless talk about it. We have then two professional virgins, or rather one. Before long we shall find Gertrude-Elizabeth saying of another woman, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”: recognizing a fault that was her own. The dramatist has presented the truth to us as openly as he could. When one realizes the extent of his daring and the force of his revelation, one can only wonder, not that every effort was made to hide his identity and dissever him from his proper position, but that his work was allowed to survive at all.

We have hesitated to suggest that Oxford used the name Angelo in scorn of himself, as Angel O, who had left his wife in such high dudgeon for being accused of the very sin of which he himself was now guilty: not merely illicit love, but illicit love exposed and disgraced. Yet the rhymed speech of the Duke which brings Act III to a close proves this to have been the case. In this he also plays upon his name, E. Vere. Escalus has just informed the Duke that he has found his brother justice, Angelo, severe.

Duke. He, who the sword of heaven will bear,
Should be as holy as severe;
Pattern in himself to know,
Grace to stand and virtue go;
More nor less to others paying
Than by self-offences weighing.
Shame to him whose cruel striking
Kills for faults of his own liking!
Twice treble shame on Angelo,
To weed my vice and let his grow!
O, what may man within him hide,
Though angel on the outward side!

There is a great deal more to this entire speech than appears on the surface. Oxford has begun referring to his wit, which he uses—like Berowne, Jaques, the Bastard, Hamlet, and the rest—to show the times for what they are, as well as to revenge his own wrongs. He thinks of it as his weapon—a rapier, a sword, a spear. If this seems too fantastic, we can only plead for patience, for “the proofs are extant.” He—like Berowne sitting “in the sky” and watching his fellow-sinners—has been bearing “the sword of heaven,” or, like Feste, (3) administering reproof to his friends, in the name of truth; and now he has been caught in a serious lapse himself. So he says if he is to bear the right of reproof—”the sword of heaven”—he must look to his own behavior—”be as holy as s-evere,” and be an “angel O” within as well as “on the outward side.”

The speech continues with a guarded but nevertheless unmistakable reference to the plays which he spins about the iniquities of the times. It is necessary to attend carefully:

How many likeness made in crimes,
Making practice on the times,

To draw with idle spiders’ strings
Most pond’rous and substantial things!

He has been holding “the mirror up to nature. . . to show vice her own image,” or, to change the metaphor, he has been weaving his “idle spiders’ strings” to ensnare and exhibit “most ponderous and substantial things.” He reminds himself that he must be worthy of the privilege.

A new note of humility has appeared in the tempestuous, vengeful Earl. He has been deeply wounded by the disgrace of the double scandal attaching to his good name, and while he is bitter about his unjust treatment, he is honest enough to admit his own shortcomings. He will continue to grow in stature. It is striking that Escalus says of the Duke in this same scene (III.2.240-1) that he was

One that, above all other strifes, contended especially to know himself.

This is true of the Earl of Oxford. He has had a serious jolt to his pride and self-esteem: he is great enough to profit by it.

For the time being, he sees Burghley in a softer light, making him the highly respected, elder statesman, Escalus, although there are a few touches which he could not resist, as when the old statesman says of Isabella (V.1.272):

I will go darkly to work with her;

when the disguised Duke asks (292),

Come you to seek the lamb here of the fox?

and again when Escalus exclaims (306-7):

To the rack with him! We’ll touse you joint by joint,
But we will know his purpose.

Moreover, Lucio’s description of Angelo sounds suspiciously like Oxford’s opinion of Burghley and the Queen in their role of authority:

His givings-out were of an infinite distance
From his true-meant design. Upon his place,
And with full line of his authority,
Governs Lord Angelo; a man whose blood
Is very snow-broth. (4) (I.4.54-8.)

And apparently the Earl could not resist giving Pompey the following shrewd comment (III.2.6-11):

‘Twas never merry world since, of two usuries, the merriest was put down, and the worser allowed by order of law a furred gown to keep him warm; and furred with fox and lamb skins too, to signify that craft, being richer than innocency, stands for the facing.

The Lord Treasurer, nicknamed the Fox, wore a long “furred gown” in winter, probably trimmed with fox and figuratively reinforced with the’ wool of the lambs he had fleeced; his “craft” made him far “richer than [Oxford’s] innocency,” or integrity, made Oxford.

Of course Claudio is the aspect of the Earl who had had an illicit affair with Anne Vavasor, Julietta, and been committed to prison for it. Angelo proceeds with Julietta, when he hears of her situation, precisely as Elizabeth so coldly did with Anne Vavasor upon being apprised of the baby’s birth:

Provost. What shall be done, sir, with the groaning Juliet?
She’s very near her hour.
Angelo. Dispose of her
To some more fitter place; and that with speed.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
See you the fornicatress be remov’d:
Let her have needful but not lavish, means. (II.2.14-24.)

The next time we hear of Julietta, she is in the prison. Elizabeth sent Anne Vavasor to prison with full “speed.” Julietta is a very shadowy figure here, but she is only temporarily kept in abeyance by Oxford’s engrossed preoccupation with the Queen’s misuse of authority.

A striking feature of Claudio’s punishment is that he is conducted through the streets with some publicity. Pompey sees him.

Pompey. Here comes Signior Claudio, led by the provost to prison; and there’s Madam Juliet.
Claudio. Fellow, why dost thou show me thus to the world?
Bear me to prison where I am committed.
Provost. I do it not in evil disposition,
But from Lord Angelo by special charge.
Claudio. Thus can the demi-god Authority
Make us pay down for our offence by weight.
The words of heaven: on whom it will it will;
On whom it will not, so; yet still ’tis just. (I.2.117-26.)

It may have been Elizabeth’s spite that ordered a similar procedure.

During the same year, 1581, Anthony Munday’s play, Zelauto The Fountain of Fame, was dedicated to Lord Oxford,

By A. M. Servaunt to the Right Honourable
The Earle of Oxenford
Hanas alit Artes.
(Honor nourishes the Arts.)

Zelauto, who seems to be a kind of emblematic presentment of the Earl, speaks:

. . . I was conducted by a dozen Officers, with their Halberds to my lodging when I was unarmed, both mine Hoste and I were lead to the Prison, such a multitude of people following us such good report everie one gave me: that credite me, I went as willing to the Prison as to my Lodging.

Mariana of the moated grange is Anne Cecil—Married Anne, or Mari Ana: the moated grange being either Castle Hedingham or the Vere manor-house at Lavenham, both of which were moated, and at both of which Anne had lived at times when her husband was obliged to be in attendance at court. (During his separation from Anne, the Earl had arranged for payment of nearly two hundred pounds a year out of the rents of Lavenham Park for her maintenance.) (5) We have quoted—in Chapter Five—a contrite little poem written to her by her young husband on one of these occasions, from the collection, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres.

Now we have the curious hoax again which was practised’in collaboration with a friend of another Mariana, named Diana, in All’s Well, the same hoax which gossip said Burghley had perpetrated against Oxford himself, where a man is tricked into sleeping with his wife in the belief that she is another woman—a virgin, a “Diana.”

We are left in no possible doubt as to the identity of this Mariana. Angelo says (V.1.209-17):

My lord, I must confess I know this woman;
And five years since there was some speech of marriage
Betwixt myself and her, which was broke off,
Partly for that her promised proportions
Came short of composition; but, in chief
For that her reputation was disvalu’d
In levity: since which time of five years
I never spake with her, saw her, nor heard from her,
Upon my faith and honour.

He takes the knight’s oath, and in his own name: “I, nEver.”

It had been exactly “five years” since Lord Oxford had returned from the Continent and refused to speak to his wife, because her “reputation” had been “disvalu’d in levity”—”made the fable of the world,” as he had then put it. By this he may have meant bandied about in gossip merely; or by “levity” he may have meant her “reputation was disvalu’d” by this very hoax which he has used twice in the plays in connection with Anne. No matter how revolting the idea is, he tells all of it, he withholds nothing, in the plays.

This is the first hint we have had, however—and where else should we have had it?—that Burghley had welshed on Anne’s dowry. Well may this have been one of the “mislikes” to which the irate young Earl had referred in the matter of his marriage. But money had never been a vital matter to him, and it would have been the light treatment of his name which had galled him most.

It is in the remarriage of Angelo to Mariana, as much as anything else, that we find the dramatist is far less concerned with his fictional characters than with the symbolism. This is no conventional happy ending, even though Mariana wants it so much. It is really distasteful. What it actually signifies is that the remorseful Oxford was thinking of returning to Anne, who certainly wanted him, and had all along; and as he felt this would resolve their difficulties, so he allows it to resolve those of their fictional counterparts.

As usual, he is unsparing with regard to himself. The Duke relates to Isabella (III.1) how Angelo had deserted Mariana after her brother had “miscarried at sea,” losing her dowry. Part of this is connected with 1588, but the point here is that Anne had lost her husband after he had miscarried at sea—after Burghley had, as he suspects, tried to wreck him and his fortunes were drastically reduced.

Isabella. Can this be so? Did Angelo so leave her?
Duke. Left her in tears, and dried not one of them with his comfort; swallowed his vows whole pretending in her discoveries of dishonour; in few, bestowed her on her own lamentation, which she yet wears for his sake; and he, a marble to her tears, is washed with them, but relents not. . . . This forenamed maid hath yet in her the continuance of her first affection: his unjust unkindness, that in all reason should have quenched her love, hath, like an impediment in the current, made it more violent and unruly. . . . I will presently to St. Luke’s; there at the moated grange resides this dejected Mariana. . . . (III.1.222-63.)

Later the Duke says to Mariana (V.I.414):

It is your husband mock’d you with a husband.

And Mariana replies (422-37):

O my dear Lord!
I crave no other, nor no better man.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
They say best men are moulded out of faults,
And for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad: so may my husband.

He certainly does not spare himself; for Isabella calls Angelo “A hypocrite, a virgin-violator” (V.1.41), adding, with enough name-clues to leave no possible doubt of the identity:

It is not truer he is Angelo
Than this is all as true as it is strange;
Nay, it is ten times true; for truth is truth
To the end of reckoning.

This is the very essence of Oxford. (As Troilus, he will pun similarly on “truth.”) His treatment of Anne was part of the ineradicable strange truth of his life, all of which he means to reveal.

However, he was not letting Elizabeth off too easily either, and he shares the reprehensible character of Angelo with her. It is to the Queen that certain passages about Angelo refer. What sarcasm informs, for instance, the Duke’s innocent remark about Angelo (I.3.2-3):

Believe not that the dribbling (6) dart of love
Can pierce a complete bosom;

and again (50-3):

          Lord Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows, or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone. . .

while Escalus says to him (II.1.11-16):

Had time coher’d with place or place with wishing,
Or that the resolute acting of your blood
Could have attain’d the effect of your own purpose,
Whether you had not, some time in your life,
Err’d in this point which now you censure him,
And pull’d the law upon you.

Angelo himself reflects, as Oxford suggests Elizabeth might do (II. 2.176-7), that

Thieves for their robbery have authority
When judges steal themselves;

and also (IV.4.27-9):

For my authority bears so credent bulk
That no particular scandal once can touch,
But it confounds the breather.

Not all the speeches about authority are aimed exclusively at the Queen, however. Sir Gilbert Gerard, appointed Master of the Rolls on May 30, 1581, had been taking his power very seriously. He had been Attorney G\neral at the time of the Duke of Norfolk’s execution and may well have had a set-to with Lord Oxford at that time, who had exerted himself strenuously in his cousin’s behalf. He may ,have been glad of a chance to get back at the Earl. In any case, when, after the conspiracy was discovered at the close of 1580, steps were taken to circumvent the Catholics, this man was in authority. Edicts were announced to penalize those not attending church regularly, and so on; certain of the old blue laws were revived, statutes which had been on the books for many years but not enforced by Elizabeth during her reign; and Gerard took it upon himself to put thelp into effect.

Isabella says (II.2.106):

So you must be the first that gives this sentence;

while Claudio has immediately remarked of the new deputy for the Duke (I.2.161-74):

Whether it be the fault and glimpse of newness,
Or whether that the body public be
A horse whereon the governor doth ride,
Who, newly in the seat, that it may know
He can command, lets it straight feel the spur;
Whether the tyranny be in his place,
Or in his eminence that fills it up,
I stagger in:—but this new governor
A wakes me all the enrolled penalties
Which have, like unscour’d armour, hung by the wall
So long that nineteen zodiacs have gone round,
And none of them been worn; and, for a name,
Now puts the drowsy and neglected act
Freshly on me: ’tis surely for a name.

He knew Elizabeth was behind it, but he also blamed Gerard, who may have had a spite against him. As for the “nineteen zodiacs,” it had been exactly nineteen years since he had inherited the title on his father’s death and come to London, to the court.

Since an inconsistency occurs in the Duke’s speech (1.3.1g et seq.) when he cites the

Strict statutes and most biting law
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Which for this fourteen years we have let sleep,

it has been suggested that, as these numbers were originally written in Roman numerals, the XIV could have been a mistranscription for XIX. On the other hand, the reference here may be to the dissolution of Parliament in 1567, fourteen years before. It opened again on January 16, 1581, after having been prorogued twenty-four times; 7 this being only the third session since the election in 1572.

One of the laws called into use at this juncture was against actors. According to Richard Reulidge,

Soon after 1580, the authorities of London received permission from Queen Elizabeth and her Privy Council to thrust the players out of the city, and to pull down all playhouses and dancing-houses within their liberties. . . and the playhouses in Gracious Street, Bishopsgate Street, that nigh St. Paul’s, that on Ludgate Hill . . . were quite put down and suppressed by these religious senators. (8)

Nevertheless, these inns he mentions continued to be used by the players for many years; so some powerful influence must have been exerted.

Such supererogation would, however, have made Lord Oxford, who owned and managed two companies of players, highly indignant. In the light of this and of the fact that, according to Stephen Gosson, a play called Pompey, after having been given at Whitehall, was appearing in January 1581 at a public playhouse, Pompey’s speech and Escalus’s reply (II.1.243-56) are apposite:

Pompey. If you head and hang all that offend that way but for ten year together, you’ll be glad to give out a commission for more heads. If this law hold in Vienna ten year, I’ll rent the fairest house in it after threepence a bay. If you live to see this come to pass, say Pompey told you so.
Thank you, good Pompey; and in requital of your prophecy, hark you: I advise you let me not find you. before me again upon any complaint whatsoever; no, not for dwelling where you do; if I do, Pompey, I shall beat you to your tent, and prove a shrewd Caesar to you. In plain dealing, Pompey, I shall have you whirl. So, for this time, Pompey, fare you well.

Here Escalus is of course Burghley, who hated the theatre and did all he could to suppress it. This explains Pompey’s other remarks about its being “never merry world, sim:e of two usuries, the merriest was put down and the worser allowed by order of law a furred gown,” etc.; the merriest actually being the theatre, though Pompey means bawdry, the other Burghley’s extortions.

The “proclamation” Pompey and Mistress Overdone discuss (1.2.95 et seq.) is, of course, the new edict for enforcement of the old blue laws. Pompey informs her that

All houses of resort in the suburbs. . . must be pluck’d down.
Mrs. Overdone. And what shall become of those in the city?
Pompey. They shall stand for seed: they had gone down too, but that a wise burgher put in for them.

Our guess would be that the “wise burgher” was that glutton for property, the wise Burghley, who had signed at least one letter to Oxford, “W. Burg.” He amassed an immense amount of land in one way and another.

Oxford is speaking directly to Elizabeth in the Duke’s words (V.l. 313-17):

I have seen corruption boil and bubble
Till it o’er-run the stew: laws for all faults,
But faults so countenanc’d that the strong statutes
Stand like the forfeits in a barber’s shop,
As much in mock as mark.

And he is telling her that she and he are both to blame, in Escalus’s rebuke to Angelo (V.1.466-9):

I am sorry one so learned and so wise
As you, Lord Angelo, have still appear’d,
Should slip so grossly, both in the heat of blood,
And lack of temper’d judgment afterward.

If no other clue offered for the date of the action, it would be neatly set by Mistress Overdone’s complaint (I.2.83-5):

Thus, what with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows and what with poverty, I am custom-shrunk;

for the Papal invasion took place in 1580, and many recruits were leaving London; the plague or “sweating-sickness” was rife in the city at that time; and in 1581 a sensation was caused by the execution of Campion and others on the gallows.

There are many passages which connect Measure tor Measure with Oxford’s other current work. It will be recalled that the title itself is used in 3 Henry VI (II.6.55) when Warwick says:

Measure for measure must be answered,

and here the Duke puts it (V.1.406-7),

Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure,
Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure.

If the Earl is not now quite so vengeful, yet he demands justice. If Measure tor Measure is not exactly “some device” designed to give “despite his due,” it is nevertheless a device with which to protest against unfair treatment. This play and 3 Henry VI were written within a short time of each other.

Moreover, the Latin expression, “cucullus non facit monachum” (V.1.256), is used in another almost contiguous play, Twelfth Night. (I.5.58.) Here Lucio applies it to the Duke: “The hood (or cowl) does not make the monk;” whereas in Twelfth Night, the Clown applied it to himself, making a pun on the famous jester, Monarcho: “The (jester’s) hood does not make a Monarcho.”

There is another reference connecting Measure for Measure with Richard III: the dream Lord Oxford is said to have had about his stepfather, Tyrrell. Here he refers to it in Pompey’s words (II.1.260):

Whip me! No, no; let carman whip his jade.

Again, Lucio’s remark that the Duke is said to be in Rome prefigures the appearance of Romeo—a name given, in the old days, to one who had made a pilgrimage to Rome. The point would scarcely be worth noting except for the thread of connection it offers with Oxford’s reading of Dante while in the gloomy Tower: a fact indicated by Claudio’s speech about “the mystery of death,” which will one day by the subject of Hamlet’s magnificent soliloquy, “To be or not to be.” Lord Oxford certainly had the fate of Paolo and Francesca in mind, the two lovers who were blown by the eternal winds of the Inferno, when he wrote Claudio’s lines:

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts
Imagine howling: ’tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature, is a paradise
To what we fear of death. (III.1.116-30.)

When Lucio, unaware of the Duke’s identity, tells him to show his “sheep-biting” face, he of course alludes to the man—or the boar—who had bitten the sheep, Hatton, in a recent play. But all his words are suggestive, for he is unmistakably talking to the playwright when he says (V.1.348-51):

Why, you bald-pated, lying rascal, you must be hooded, must you? Show your knave’s visage, with a pox to you! show your sheep-biting face, and be hanged an hour! Will ‘t ‘not off?
                (Pulls off the friar’s hood and discovers the Duke.)

This is only one of several trenchant references to the anonymity of the nobleman-dramatist. Lucio, by the way, seems to be a composite of the irresponsible friends, especially Howard and Arundel, who had recently abused Oxford, telling all sorts of absurd lies about him, such as Lucio tells the supposed friar about the Duke. But the madcap Earl has evidently included in the character a burlesque of his own talkativeness. Lucio has a touch of Parolles, of All’s Well, and may have been called Lucio—Loose E. O.—partly in self-mockery. The Duke has, in fact, said to him (332-3):

You must, sir, change persons with me, ere you make that my report.

This may have been done for protection, since a dramatist could be summoned before the Star Chamber for portraying a living person on the stage; and now that Howard and Arundel were resolved to ruin him, the Earl had need of some caution. Lucio had called the Duke “a flesh-monger, a fool, and a coward”: defamations on a par with those his former friends had voiced against Oxford.

The incognito of the Duke is skilfully turned to point to the dramatist’s anonymity:

Lucio. . . . By my troth, Isabel, I loved thy brother; if the old fantastical duke of dark corners had been at home, he had lived.
Duke. Sir, the duke is marvellous little beholding to your reports; but the best is, he lives not in them.
Lucio. Friar, thou knowest not the duke so well as I do: he’s a better woodman than thou takest him for.
Duke. You’ll answer this one day. Fare ye well. (IV.3.159-65.)

This is all quite clear. The “fantastical” Oxford who is hooded by anonymity and by keeping in “dark corners” is very little “beholding” to the men who have been accusing him of all sorts of iniquities, but the best of it is that these reports are not true: “he lives not in them.” When Lucio says he’s “a better woodman” (i.e., wencher) than is supposed, the Duke tells him he’ll answer for that accusation one day—as indeed he will, in the plays. But nothing daunted, Lucio, like the conspirators, has still more tales to tell. “I’m a kind of burr,” he says; “I shall stick.” This was prophetic, for Howard’s and Arundel’s charges, stupid, unfounded, even silly as they are, have persisted until today. There may be a further implication here: that Oxford’s own unworthy side will remain with him.

This part seems to have been brought up to date after 1600, when the Earl was fifty, perhaps at the time the passages about James were added, but the reference to the old accusations was retained. Lucio says (III.2.102 et seq.):

A little more lenity to lechery would do no harm in him [Angelo]. . . . Would the duke that is absent have done this? . . . he had some feeling for the sport; he knew the service, and that instructed him to mercy.
Duke. I never heard the absent duke much detected for women. . . . Lucio. Who? Not the duke? yes, your beggar of fifty. . . the duke had crochets in him. He would be drunk too: that let me inform you. . . and I believe I know the cause of his withdrawing.
Duke. What, I prithee, might be the cause?
Lucio. No, pardon; ’tis a secret must be locked within the teeth and the liPs; but this I can let you understand, the greater file of the subject held the duke to be wise.
Duke. Wise! why, no question but he was.
Lucio. A very superficial, ignorant, unweighing fellow. (9)
Duke. Either this is envy in you, folly, or mistaking; the very stream of his life and the business he hath helmed must, upon a warranted need, give him a better proclamation. Let him be but testimonied in his own bringings forth, and he shall appear to the envious a scholar, a statesman and a soldier. Therefore you speak unskilfully; or, if your knowledge be more, it is much darkened in your malice.

We urge that the significance of this dignified statement be fully appreciated. By the time he had reached fifty, the Earl saw only too well that he was going to be calumniated. (Lucio has become a more complex figure.) By then he had withdrawn from the court and his name had been made a secret to be “locked within the teeth and the lips.” The “business” he has “helmed” is of course the dramas replete with contemporary history which he has written and—by 1600—those he has directed others to write, as their master. The word “helmed” is deliberately chosen for its connection with the “helmet” of Pallas Athena, patron of the theatre, because it conveyed invisibility. He was the patron of the Elizabethan theatre, and became as invisible as ever Pallas did.

With an uncanny prescience, the Earl states his case for the future. He might be talking to Ben Jonson after having read the ambiguous periods which serve to introduce the First Folio: this in the last passage quoted above, reminding him that, “upon a warranted need”—such as the publication of his complete works, for example—the business he had helmed should have given him “a better proclamation.” “Let him,” he says—and scholars take note!—”Let him be but testimonied by his own bringings forth, and he shall appear to the envious a scholar, a statesman and a soldier.” (In other words, he shall appear as Hamlet, or as the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who were one and the same person.) “Therefore you speak unskilfully; of, if your knowledge be more, it is much darkened in your malice.”

Lucio might be Jonson himself now when he protests:

Sir, I know him, and I love him. [He does not add, “on this side idolatry.”]
Duke. I can hardly believe that, since you know not what you speak. But if ever the duke returns,—as our prayers are he may,—let me desire you to make your answer before him. . . .

And speaking for the Earl himself, he winds up the scene with:

No might nor greatness in mortality
Can censure ‘scape: back-wounding calumny
The whitest virtue strikes. What king so strong
Can tie the gall up in a slanderous tongue?

In the dialogue quoted above, Lucio has become the true dramatist’s eternal detractor. It was written near the end of Lord Oxford’s life and may have been his last word on the subject of the plot to destroy his good name.

The Duke takes Lucio to task when he finally reveals himself in the play (V.1.496-9):

You, sirrah, that knew me for a fool, a coward;
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Wherein have I so deserv’d of you,
That you extol me thus?
Lucio. Faith, my lord, I spoke it but according to the trick.

There are identity-clues in the Duke’s words to Isabella, and to us all (IV.3.128-9):

Mark what I say, which you shall find
By every syllable a faithful verity.

And Isabella might be appealing to posterity when she says (V.1.65-7):

. . . let your reason serve
To make the truth appear where it seems hid,
And hide the false seems true.


1. Accounts of the Revels for 1604.

2. Admiral Holland thinks it was first written in 1588, but he overlooked the strong evidence for the earlier date. His findings are interesting and irrefutable for a 1588 version but cannot be discussed here.

3. Of whom Olivia says (T.N.: 1.5.96-9): “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.”  

4. As Polonius’s will be seen to be. Chap. Fifty.

5. E.T.C.: The Man Who Was Sh.; p. 45.

6. This seems to have been one of the words Philip Sidney picked up from Oxford; for a sonnet of his begins;

Not at first sight nor with a dribbled shot
Love gave the wound which while I live will breathe.

7. E.T.C.: Hidd. All.; p. 295.

8. J. Q. Adams: Shakespearean Playhouses; p. 8.

9. One day another disparager, Ben Jonson, will be saying much the same thing. and many generations will accept what they mistakenly believe to be his estimate of the true author.

Contents | Chapter Twenty-Seven