THIS STAR OF ENGLAND
Man of the Renaissance
by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn
HOWEVER, we are as yet concerned, not with the mature poet and the pain of his anonymity, but with the young idealist whose excited mind, proud spirit, and overcharged emotions had persuaded him that his sudden fall from his high peak of success and favor had been an unjust and irrevocable damnation.
At some time during the period of his disgrace, between his accusation of the traitors and the final clearing of his name, while Lord Oxford was a prey to violent onslaughts of resentment and despair, he took up Titus Andronicus again, which he had first written in 1577 as a symbolic comment upon the terrible Spanish Fury in Antwerp, adapting it now to the current situation. Concerned as it is with the horrors attendant upon conspiracy and treason, it lay ready to his hand. To the ignominy of his imprisonment had presently been added the shame of banishment from the court during the Queen’s pleasure. This had driven him into new depths of anguish and surely accounts for the abandon with which he threw himself into the gruesome details of this play. If Titus is terrible, it is because the author’s state of mind was terrible. Great poets do not toss off work of this kind simply to pander to the public’s taste for the macabre.
A critic, whose name we do not know, wrote that “Titus Andronicus, in many of its characteristic features, reflects the form of Roman tragedy almost universally accepted and followed in the early period of the drama. The Medea and Thyestes of Seneca are crowded with Pagan horrors of the most revolting kind. [It will be recalled that Thomas Nashe refers to Oxford as “English Seneca.”] . . . From these tragedies the conception of the physically horrible as an element of tragedy was imported into the early English drama and intensified by the realistic tendency which the events of the time. . . had impressed upon the common stages.”
“The events of the time” would now be impressed upon the stage through the medium of a lacerated mind. Steeped in classical literature as he was, the man who had risked everything to protect England and his Queen against a dangerous conspiracy and received nothing but reprobation and shame for his pains felt no merely physical horror too revolting to point the issue.
There have been almost as many opinions expressed about this play as there have been critics to formulate them. And the assurance with which each one has put forth his theory, is evidence of man’s resourcefulness in rationalization. Various commentators have subscribed to various dates and to various authors, for its composition. We have already quoted Ben Jonson’s remark to the effect that Jeronimo and Andronicus had been, by 1614, known for twenty-five or thirty years. (Jonson himself had for a time acted the part of mad Hieronimo—or Jeronimo—of The Spanish Tragedy on the common stage.)
Titus Andronicus, in its earliest version, however, seems to have been the play entitled Titus and Gisippus, (1) which appeared in 1577. Henslowe records a performance of Tittus and Vespacia in 1591 and of Titus and Ondronicus in 1594, the word, “Ne” being added after the latter, to indicate that it was a new version. (There was a new adaptation at approximately that time, at one scene of which we shall glance in its proper context.) The title-page of the edition published anonymously in 1594 read:
The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedy of Titus Andronicus. As it was plaide by the Right Honourable the Earle of Darbie, Earle of Pembroke, and Earle of Sussex their servants.
The terrible massacre called the Spanish Fury had taken place on November 4, 1576. Oxford knew that another might well be precipitated in England if the present Catholic conspirators were unchecked. But he had not only the Catholics against him now, he had the rigid opposition of the Puritans.
A clergyman in Surrey named Stephen Batman was apparently excoriating this very drama in The Golden Booke of Leaden Gods, published in 1577:
We Christians may see with what erroneous trumperies, Antiquities hath been nozzled, in what filthy puddles they have beene myred, under what masking Vysors of clouted religions they have been bewytched, and finally into what Apostasy, Atheisme, Idolatrye, and Heresie, they have plunged their Soules.
Whether he knew the identity of the author who was masked with a “Vysor of clouted [i.e., patched] religions” cannot be said; but there was no other dramatist to whom he could have been referring, and certainly no other play. How capricious is the judgment of fanatics! This preacher could no doubt read the Old Testament without wincing at all.
Another scandalized writer, one Edward Hake, in his Newes Out of Pawles Churchyarde, published some time later, evidently did know the identity of the dramatist, although he confused the Boar of Oxford’s cognizance with the Badger, probably because the bristles of both are put to the same use. It would seem that Hake, believing the dramatist a Catholic, had mistaken the significance of the Henry VI plays. His venomous attack took the form of verse:
Thou Papist, thou false hearted to thy Prince,
Thou wouldst bereave her Grace of Princely Powre.
Shall brockysh Badger beare as now the sway,
And now to thee, thou double faced drudge,
Thy hooded head that doth two faces beare,
I see how closely underhand it nods,
And therefore Janus once againe I say,
Go charme your tongue, least I take hood away.
This very critic may have given Oxford the idea of having the Duke “hooded” as a friar in the forthcoming Measure for Measure, to disguise his real identity; in that play he repeats the Latin phrase first used in Twelfth Night: “cucullus non facit monachum.” He was quick to seize upon such taunts”
Of course, since Elizabeth had sent Oxford to the Tower at this time, men were justified in believing him to have been a Catholic, as the French Ambassador had said. Fanatics are not the only people who leap to conclusions, interpreting facts in the light of strong emotion. The Queen seemed to be incapable of fear; many historians have commented upon this fact. It may have been as much for the purpose of shocking her into a realization of the terrible danger threatening her person no less than her throne as to give vent to the torment induced by her conduct toward him, that the Earl now readdressed himself to this grim and vicious tragedy, deliberately adhering to the Senecan mode.
We find that the chief character, Andronicus, the noble warrior who has buried so many sons in his country’s cause, stands for the family of Vere: the tomb where the bodies of his sons lie, for Earl’s Colne, at Castle Hedingham, where for “five centuries”—1066 to 1562—the Vere warriors had been buried. Titus himself speaks of it (I.1.350):
This monument five hundred years hath stood.
When his sons, killed in the war, are laid in the tomb of the Andronici, he says (I.1.150-4):
In peace and honour rest you here, my sons;
Rome’s readiest champions, repose you here in rest,
Secure from worldly chances and mishaps!
Here lurks no treason, here no envy swells,
Here grow no damned drugs, here are no storms. . . .
In these lines Edward de Vere speaks to the Queen, reminding her that a Vere, the son of England’s “readiest champions,” cannot be accused of “treason,” should not be subjected to such “storms” as have been released upon him by the charges of the conspirators and by her “envy.” The “damned drugs” must be a cut at Leicester, who had been accused of poisoning many who had thwarted his ambitions, and whom Oxford may well have suspected of trying to poison him, as he seems at one time to have suspected him, with Burghley, of plotting his death at the hands of pirates.
Castle Hedingham housed one of the finest armories in England, and it is to this that Titus refers when he invites young Lucius (IV.1.113-14) to
Come, go with me into mine armoury:
Lucius, I’ll fit thee. . . .
Later the proud warrior faces his daughter’s despoilers with the words (V.2.171):
Here stands the spring whom you have stained with mud. . . .
punning on Ver. The two sons of conspiracy have stained his spring—his name, Vere—with mud.
The old Andronicus, mad from grief, in the very extremity of rage and despair, is a connecting link between old Hieronimo and King Lear. The three betrayed old men, tragic in their impotent pride and integrity, are unmistakably products of one great mind. We believe that when Oxford wrote King Lear in 1589, he changed the name of the old play to The Spanish Tragedy, presenting it to Kyd.
It was soon after the revision of Titus Andronicus—in March 1582, to be exact—that Thomas Watson dedicated his Hekatompathia to the Earl of Oxford. And in poem 71 he called him “dear Titus mine, my ancient friend.” Furthermore some years later, Marston was to refer to a concealed poet, whom he shows in an acrostic to be Edward de Vere, as “Mutius.” Mutius in the play we are considering is one of the sons of Titus, who, as we have said, stands for the Vere family. The name makes a Latin anagram, Sum tui: I am of thee, or, I am thine. Coincidence would need a longer arm than it can well be granted to embrace both these instances. Such an interconnection cannot be accidental.
Lucius, the son of Titus, is banished: another fact which relates the play to 1581, when Oxford was chafing bitterly at his banishment. He is the
Brave slip, sprung from the great Andronicus. (V.1.9.)
This strange drama is full of symbolism, some of which is puzzling, much of which is clear. The characters are not, of course, clean-cut representations of actual persons, but blended, as they had perforce to be, yet certain figures are easily recognizable.
Aaron, whose special province is the evil “pit”—or “hole,” or “vale,” or “cave,” “hollow den,” etc.—has a bag of gold, quite extraneous to the plot, by the way, of which he says (II.3.1-7):
He that had wit would think that I had none,
To bury so much gold under a tree,
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Know that this gold must coin a stratagem
Which, cunningly effected, will beget
A very excellent Piece of villany.
In Act II, scene 3, the synonyms for this “vale,” “pit,” or “cave” are mentioned twenty-one times; yet another synonym, “dell”—defined in the Oxford Dictionary as a “small hollow or valley, usually with treeclad sides,” which is precisely the way the dramatist describes it—is conspicuously not mentioned at all. But this word added to “Aaron” gives the name of the arch-conspirator, Arundel, which by the way is pronounced Aaron-dell, not Arundel.
Hume says that “Saturn” was the name Simier used for Philip of Spain in his letters to Queen Elizabeth. (2) He had of course taken this from Lord Oxford’s play: this name thenceforth would have been entendu at court. Arundel was a traitor in the pay of Spain, for the project of putting Mary Stuart on. the English throne, as Aaron was a minion of Saturnius and his wife Tamora, his gold being their gold, bestowed upon him by them, to “coin a stratagem.” His speech concludes:
And so repose, sweet gold, for their unrest
That have their alms out at the empress’ chest.
It would seem that in the beginning of the play Tamora is intended to impersonate Mary Queen of Scots, or perhaps only the cause of the Queen of Scots, for whose accession to the English throne the English Catholics, Philip’s minions, were plotting. She says to Saturnius, the emperor (I.1.330-1):
If Saturnine advance the Queen of Goths,
She will a handmaid be to his desires.
(Much as one may deplore the fact, this is precisely the position Mary Stuart took with Philip.) And Marcus asks Titus (I.1.392-4):
How comes it that the subtle Queen of Goths
Is of a sudden thus advanc’d in Rome?
But soon Tamora becomes conspiracy personified, in all its remorseless cruelty,
. . . with her sacred wit
To villainy and vengeance consecrate. (II.1.120-1.)
After this she is usually inhuman, the archetype of the fanatic, although Aaron seems to be addressing Mary Stuart when he speaks of their two purposes (II.3.30-1):
Madam, though Venus govern your desires,
Saturn is dominator over mine.
In other words, Mary’s desires and her cause are centered upon Elizabeth (Venus), while Arundel’s chief concern is Philip’s gold: which was indeed the truth. However, when he says to Tamora (II.3.53-4),
. . . and I’ll go fetch thy sons
To back thy quarrels, whatsoe’er they be,
he is speaking of Howard and Southwell who, with Arundel, were the chief sons, the hope, of the conspiracy. But it is Oxford himself expressing his attitude in Titus’s words (III.1.266-74):
Why, I have not another tear to shed:
Besides, this sorrow is an enemy,
And would usurp upon my watery eyes,
And make them blind with tributary tears:
Then which way shall I find Revenge’s cave?
For these two heads do seem to speak to me,
And threat me I shall never come to bliss
Till all these mischiefs be return’d again
Even in their throats that have committed them.
We may be sure Oxford had wept. All the characters in the tragedies who stand for him do weep. (Elizabethans wept far more readily than modern men do, were less restrained in their emotions.) To “find Revenge” was a compulsion of honor with him. In Titus Andronicus the word “revenge” occurs twenty-seven times—thirty times, if we add the past tense—and “vengeance” seven: by far more than in any other play; which fact leads us to suspect that Titus was at least partially revised before Measure tor Measure was written.
As it had been an agent of Howard, seconded by Arundel, who had reported Anne Cecil’s alleged unfaithfulness to Oxford while he was in Paris, enacting the role of Iago to Othello, so now Aaron speaks in the temper of Iago when he gloats (III.1.202-5):
O! how this villainy
Doth fat me with the very thoughts of it.
Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace,
Aaron will have his soul black like his face.
Aaron is a Moor: which is to say he is a Spaniard, or a creature of Spain. His blackness is symbolic, in contradistinction to the fairness of true Englishmen.
Even if Lilian Winstanley had not given us the historical basis for the sixteenth century attitude toward black persons, we could have deduced it from several of Oxford’s dramas and sonnets; in fact, we had done so (and had published a paper on Othello’s symbolic blackness) long before we discovered the Winstanley studies and were of course gratified to have our findings substantiated. She states that the Elizabethan audience had “an intense moral and physical repugnance” toward the Moors. One reason for this, of course, was their hatred and fear of Spain.
In Spenser’s Fairie Queene, the three horrible villains of Book II are Saracens; and in Tyl Eulenspiegel devils are black men. “The body of Henry III of France turned black after his death, and his Catholic opponents cite this as proving that he was. . . a devil”; so Miss Winstanley asserts, adding that in the sixteenth century black was as definite a sign of evil “as being possessed of . . . horns, hoofs, and a tail.” (3)
Oxford will be found to use “black” again and again to denote evil, together with “stain”: the stain of bastardy, etc.
There is a subtle and tantalizing connection between Titus Andronicus and Othello. For instance, Brabantio was the father of Desdemona, and Antwerp, the scene of the Spanish Fury, was in the province of Brabant. Moreover, the son of Tamora and Aaron, who is black, is ordained by his father
To be a warrior, and command a camp (IV.2.182),
which is precisely what Othello was and did. It is a very intricate symbolism.
Aaron is simply another Iago when he says, calling to mind Arundel’s testimony against Oxford (V.3.11-13):
Some devil whisper curses in mine ear,
And prompt me, that my tongue may utter forth
The venomous malice of my swelling heart!
The Earl of Oxford’s formal defense against his detractors has not been preserved along with their accusations. But he has left his own record.
That efforts had been made by the conspirators to induce Oxford to join them—and it must have been these efforts which had caused him to realize the seriousness of the threat and made him sound the alarm—evidence appears in the passage (IV.4.99 et seq.) where Tamora sends a messenger for an interview, perhaps at Vere House, with Lucius, son of Andronicus, who stands for Oxford, son of the Veres:
Say that the emperor requests a parley
Of warlike Lucius, and appoint the meeting,
Even at his father’s house, the old Andronicus.
Saturnius. Aemilius, do this message honourably,
And if he stand on hostage for his safety,
Bid him demand what pledge shall please him best.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Tamara. Now will I to that old Andronicus,
And temper him with all the art I have,
To pluck proud Lucius from the warlike Goths.
For Lucius had gone to raise a defense against Saturnius among the warlike Goths, as Oxford may have hoped to enlist the aid of the loyal Scots against Philip and his henchmen. If Queen Elizabeth would not give him a hearing, this was one way in which he could show her how things were.
Lucius tells his father (III.1.50-1):
. . . the judges have pronounced
my everlasting doom of banishment.
And Titus replies:
O happy man! they have befriended thee.
Why, foolish Lucius, dost thou not perceive
That Rome is but a wilderness of tigers?
Tigers must prey; and Rome affords no prey
But me and mine; how happy art thou then
From these devourers to be banished.
There are several ways to interpret the birth of the black bastard to Tamara and Aaron. We shall speak of two here, reserving a third for a later chapter, when certain developments will have indicated a still further intention on the dramatist’s part. Of course, the simple symbolism is that conspiracy is carried on by the mating in lust of the fanatic with the villain whose outward appearance is merely an indication of his black soul. But a topical allusion seems also to be cloaked here in a strange though not impenetrable obscurity.
In 1587, there arrived in Spain a young man twenty-six years of age who gave his name as Arthur Dudley and declared himself to be the son of Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester, confiding in Sir Francis Englefield the following information, which the latter relayed to the King: (4)
Imprimis, he said that a man named Robert Southern, a servant of Catharine Ashley (who had been governess to the Queen in her youth, and was for ever afterwards one of her most beloved and intimate ladies), which Southern was married, and lived twenty leagues from London, was summoned to Hampton Court. When he arrived, another lady of the Queen’s court, named Harrington [perhaps the mother of the Queen’s godson, John Harrington.—D. and C.O.], asked him to obtain a nurse for a new-born child of a lady who had been so careless of her honour that, if it became known, it would bring great shame upon all the company, and would highly displease the Queen if she knew it. The next morning, in a corridor leading to the Queen’s private chamber, the child was given to the man, who was told that its name was Arthur. The man took the child, and gave it for some days to the wife of a miller of Molesley to suckle. He afterwards took it to a village near where he lived, 29 leagues from London, where the child remained until it was weaned. He then took it to his own house, and brought it up with his own children, in place of one of his which had died of similar age. .. .
We quote only this excerpt for the purpose of comparing it with two passages in Titus Andronicus (IV.2):
Enter a Nurse with a blackamoor child.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nurse. O gentle Aaron! we are all undone.
Now help, or woe betide thee evermore!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
O! that which I would hide from heaven’s eye,
Our empress’ shame, and stately Rome’s disgrace!
She is deliver’d, lords, she is deliver’d.
Aaron. To whom?
Nurse. I mean she’s brought a bed.
Aaron. Well, God give her good rest! What hath he sent her?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nurse. A joyless, dismal, black, and sorrowful issue.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The empress sends it thee, thy stamp, thy seal,
And bids thee christen it with thy dagger’s point.
Aaron. ‘Zounds, ye whore! is black so base a hue? (56 et seq.)
“Black” here is the stain of bastardy—a “base hue.”
Presently Aaron is planning what to do with the child:
Aaron. Not far, one Muli lives, my countryman;
His wife but yesternight was brought to bed.
His child is like to her, as fair as you are:
Go pack with him, and give the mother gold,
And tell them both the circumstance of all,
And how by this their child shall be advanc’d,
And be received for the emperor’s heir. . . . (154 et seq.)
This is enough to suggest the point. We shall go into it more fully later. The purpose in the play seems to be to show what becomes of a Queen’s bastard son. (With regard to the young man named Arthur Dudley, who was twenty-six years old in I587, it is worth while to cite here the following document from the Medical Record of Queen Elizabeth:
Examination of Robt. Garrerd, his wife, and Mannell, her servant, on January 19, 1563, referring to August I56I.—”Was told by Lady Willoughby . . . that while Her Majesty was at Ipswich, she looked like one lately come out of child-bed. . . . Heard Lady Willoughby say that her Majesty looked very pale,—like a woman out of child-bed.” (5)
Such things, it would seem, can happen.)
Long ago Theobald declared that we must suppose this story of Titus Andronicus to be “merely fictitious. . . . Andronicus is a surname of purely Greek derivation. Tamora is neither mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus nor anybody else I can find.” He should have looked nearer home; for, as Canon Rendall has written, regarding Golding’s version of Justin,
with its long dedicatory address to the Earl of Oxford. . . the opening” chapter contains references to Cyrus, his decapitation by the Scythian queen, Tamyris, and her barbarous order to immerse his head in human blood, which nowhere else found place in English histories. . . . [This] made a lasting impression on the mind of “Shakespeare” . . . as attested by the following quotations:
The plot is laid: if all things fall out right,
I shall as famous be by this exploit
As Scythian Tamyris by Cyrus’ death. (I H. VI: II.3.4-6.)
. . . Semiramis, nay, barbarous Tamora;
For no name fits thy nature but thy own. (Tit. And.: II.3.118-19.)(6)
Theobald should not have looked so far away in time, any more than in space. He added: “Nor had Rome in the time of her emperors any war with the Goths that I know of. . . . And yet the scene of our play is laid at Rome, and Satumius is elected to the empire at the Capitol.” He missed the symbolism entirely; yet he might have known that the Elizabethan mind not only delighted in but demanded symbolism. In divorcing the author of these dramas from their subject-matter, the most painstaking scholars have become mired up in their own deep speculations. One can feel only profound regret that so many conscientious and able men have wasted their talents and labor in myopic conc,entration upon shadows when the rich and wondrous substance was concealed behind only the thinnest curtain. What great and inspiring truths they could have revealed! To the tragedy of their own wasted devotion they have added perpetuation of the tragedy of the genius whom they sought wholeheartedly to honor.
The basis of the classical part of Titus Andronicus is to be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Story of Procne and Philomel, with which no writer was ever more familiar than Lord Oxford. The reader will recall that it was while his uncle, Arthur Golding, was tutoring him at Cecil House that his famous translation was made. The phenomenally precocious young Earl must have helped, for he became steeped in the whole work. Canon Rendall has stated that in Venus and Adonis every book of the Metamorphoses has been drawn upon, and allusions to this classic are found throughout the plays. In fact, so intimately was Oxford connected in the minds of his contemporaries with this old Roman author that he is personified in jonson’s Poetaster as Ovid, sr., and his son as Ovid.
Titus and young Lucius—who is the young Oxford—speak (IV.1.41-3):
Titus. Lucius, what book is that she tosseth so?
Lucius. Grandsire, ’tis Ovid’s Metamorphoses;
My mother gave it me.
(Oxford’s mother was the half-sister of Golding, the translator.)
Titus. This is the tragic tale of Philomel,
And treats of Tereus’ treason and his rape;
A rape, I fear, was root at thine annoy. (47-9.)
He is saying this, of course, to Lavinia, who is a highly symbolical figure.
The Elizabethans used the words “dear” and “deer” almost interchangeably, partly because spelling was phonetic and not uniform; and the customary pun is made in a passage between Marcus and Titus concerning Lavinia. Here Titus speaks for Edward de Vere himself, while Marcus, the sympathetic brother, may be taken to stand for the loyal and sympathetic Sussex:
Marcus. O! thus I found her straying in the park,
Seeking to hide herself as doth the deer
That hath receiv’d some unrecuring wound.
Titus. It was my dear; and he that wounded her
Hath hurt me more than had he kill’d me dead:
For now I stand as one upon a rock
Environ’d with a wilderness of sea,
Who marks the waxing tide grow wave by wave,
Expecting ever when some envious surge
Will in his brinish bowels swallow him. (III.1.89-98.)
In the play Lavinia is raped, then her tongue is cut out and her hands cut off. This may be partly symbolic of what can happen to England through the machinations of the conspirators, but it is probable that there is a sub-allusion here to these same traitors’ spiritual violation of Anne Cecil, Oxford’s “dear,” when their agent reported her supposed infidelity, robbing her of any defense through word of mouth, since they knew she would not be believed—any more than Desdemona was—or of any hope of helping herself; so that her life was wrecked. Lavinia was the name of Aeneas’s wife, and Aeneas was a “traveller” (having wandered to Italy after the Trojan war). One does not wish to carry symbolism too far, but the widest reaches seem not to have been considered extreme by the Elizabethans, and sometimes allusions in the dramas are like the colored wooden eggs that used to come from Russia, which you opened one after another, only to find a still smaller one within. Certainly Oxford was deeply remorseful about his wife at this time. Of course, he may only now have realized that Howard and Arundel were behind the accusations against Anne. Only now does the “calumny” theme come noticeably into the plays. And it was soon after this that he returned to Anne to resume his life with her. He never recovered from the deep remorse he suffered on her account. To this the dramas repeatedly attest.
The ostensible reference here is, however, to the city of Antwerp, where the terrible massacre, the Spanish Fury, had been perpetrated by the Spanish Catholics. Antwerp was violated as Lavinia was. The symbolism is exceptionally clear at this point.
Old tradition had it that this city was founded by a giant, who, establishing himself on the River Scheidt, exacted tribute of one half their merchandise from all navigators that passed by. When any refused, his right hand was amputated and thrown into the river. This practice of Hand-werpen) or hand-throwing, gave Antwerp its name; upon the city’s escutcheon two hands were heId up “in heraldic attestation of the truth.” (7) Lavinia’s hands were cut off.
The allusion is emphatically driven home in the passage, so akin to Lear, where Titus, after he has lost his own hand—or the power to help himself—through a vicious trick of Aaron’s, replies to his brother (III. 2. 21-45):
Marcus. Fie, brother, fie! teach her not thus to lay
Such violent hands upon her tender life.
Titus. How now! has sorrow made thee dote already?
Why, Marcus, no man should be mad but I.
What violent hands can she lay on her life?
Ah! wherefore dost thou urge the name of hands;
To bid Aeneas tell the tale twice o’er,
How Troy was burnt and he made miserable?
O! handle not the theme to talk of hands,
Lest we remember still that we have none.
Fie, fie! how franticly I square my talk,
As if we should forget we had no hands,
If Marcus did not name the word of hands.
Come, let’s fall to; and, gentle girl, eat this:
Here is no drink. Hark, Marcus, what she says;
I can interpret all her martyr’d signs.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Speechless complainer, I will learn thy thought,
In thy dumb action I will be as perfect
As begging hermits in their holy prayers:
Thou shalt not sigh, nor hold thy stumps to heaven,
Nor wink, nor nod, nor kneel, nor make a sign,
But I of these will wrest an alphabet,
And by still practice learn to know thy meaning.
Here is meaning within meaning; it is evident that the poet was in a state of intense distress when he wrote it.
Titus’s speech at the close of this scene is strikingly like Lear’s to Cordelia when visualizing the peaceful life they will spend together in a walled prison, where they will “pray and sing and tell old tales”—except that the dramatist has not yet attained to his full powers:
Lavinia, go with me:
I’ll to thy closet; and go read with thee
Sad stories chanced in the times of old.
It is the same picture: the grief-stricken, half-mad old man and the beloved daughter. (Titus’s anguish will be more fully understood after we have grasped the full import of Lear’s feeling for Cordelia.)
All this would seem to establish beyond question that thematically the grisly drama, Titus Andronicus, is Lord Oxford’s. Verbally too, most if not all of it would seem to be. Like his early plays, notably The Spanish Tragedy, it has a number of Latin phrases. It is beyond the province of this book to discuss characteristic rhythms, double-endings, and so on: millions of words have been written by learned men on this and allied technical subjects. In our opinion, the dramatist, over the period of thirty-odd years which he gave to the writing and revision of his work, showed enormous flexibility and variety. He might ask,
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
But it was a rhetorical question. He was an inveterate experimenter and innovator. He created innumerable forms and had infinite resource. A most excellent study has recently been written to demonstrate that Shakespeare made conscious use of two hundred figures in rhetoric and logic. (8) It is, to say the least, distasteful to see the academic carpenters measuring with their footrules this line against that, computing the number of double endings, attributing one play to one man, another to another, taking Venus and Adonis away entirely, because it embodies an uncharacteristic manner or words the poet did not often use. Such solemn mechanics led J. M. Robertson, of The Shakespeare Canon, to conclude that Mark Antony’s great speech in Julius Caesar was by another hand than Shakespeare’s! The Earl of Oxford was too brilliant and too various to be confined within tidy classifications. One reason for the parlous state into which criticism of the works of this genius has fallen is that too many limited minds have sought to restrict him to their own level, all too willing to believe, for example, that, like themselves, though he shows ample evidence to the contrary, he had “small Latin and less Greek.” That phrase was one of Jonson’s “springes to catch woodcocks.” It has caught far more than he must have dreamed it would.
Because we expect to return to this play later, in order to make certain points which would now be premature, we shall mention here only a few further indications of Oxford’s authorship.
Demetrius’s speech (II.1.82-4),
She is a woman, therefore may be woo’d,
She is a woman, therefore may be won;
She is Lavinia, therefore must be lov’d,
suggests not only Sonnet 41 (lines 5-7), but also a passage from the recently completed Richard III (I.2.229-31)—
Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long—
as well as the fourth stanza of the Earl’s signed poem, Love and Antagonism:
She is my joy, she is my care and woe;
She is my pain, she is my ease therefore;
She is my death, she is my life also,
She is my salve, she is my wounded sore.
As the Spanish Ambassador had declared that Lord Oxford was “a lad who has a great following in the country,” and as the King, Claudius, remarks of Hamlet, the Prince (IV.3.4-5),
He’s lov’d of the distracted multitude,
Who like not in their judgment but their eyes;
so Saturnius says of Lucius, scion of the Andronici (IV.4.72-6):
‘Tis he the common people love so much;
Myself hath often heard them say,
When I have walked like a private man,
That Lucius’ banishment was wrongfully,
And they have wished that Lucius were their emperor.
The “banishment” theme, uppermost now in the Earl’s sore mind, is stressed in Titus Andronicus:
Titus. Here stands my other son, a banished man. (III.1.100);
Lucius. Lastly, myself unkindly banished,
The gates shut on me, and turn’d weePing out,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And I am the turn’d forth, be it known to you,
That have preserv’d her welfare in my blood,
And from her bosom took the enemy’s point,
Sheathing the steel in my adventurous body.
Alas! you know I am no vaunter, I;
My scars are witness, dumb although they are,
That my report is just, and full of truth.
But soft, methinks I do digress too much,
Citing my worthless praise; O! pardon me;
For when no friends are by, men praise themselves. (V.3.104-18.)
This is more realism than allegory. The Earl catches himself—”But soft, me thinks I do digress too much”—for he must not speak too plainly. He is “banished,” he has been turned forth, “weeping,” by Elizabeth whom he has served loyally, his “report” having been “just, and full of truth.” Now he finds himself alone and unfriended.