Chapter 28

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

Chapter Twenty-Eight


THE EARL CALMED DOWN after the emotional katharsis of Titus, but he was still chafing under the humiliation of being denied his liberty. Inveterate idealist, he was young enough to be confident that right must conquer might and good evil, if only the truth could be fairly presented.

In July 1581, the month after his release from the Tower, Lord Oxford wrote a letter to Burghley:

Robin Christmas [one of his two chief estate agents] did yesterday tell me how, honourably you had dealt with Her Majesty as touching my liberty and that this day she had made promise to your Lordship that it shall be. Unless your Lordship shall make some (motion) to put Her Majesty in (mind) thereof, I fear in these other causes of the two Lords she will forget me. For she is nothing of her own disposition, as I find, so ready to deliver as speedy to commit, and every little trifle gives her matter for a long delay.

There was no one connected with Elizabeth who had not been driven frantic by her procrastination. Oxford himself had recently recorded his experience in this regard in Richard III:

I have learn’d that fearful commenting
Is leaden servitor to dull delay. (IV.3.51-2.)

The letter continues with a résumé of a message Walsingham had brought him from the Queen, (1) that she wished to hear again his accusations against Howard, Southwell, and Arundel; (2) that she had heard he intended to cut down some of his woods, especially around his house, and she preferred that he sell some land instead; and (3) that she had heard of his being “hardly used” by several of his servants during his committal and promised to redress, as far as she could, the loss he had sustained. He speaks of certain “false reports” which his servants had been making to Burghley about their fellows “to abuse your Lordship and me,” in particular that Burghley has received the wrong opinion about the man who was the bearer of the present letter.

And truly, my Lord, I hear of these things wherewith he is charged, and I can assure you wrongfully and slanderously. But the world is so cunning as of a shadow they can make a substance, and of a likelihood a truth.

But letting these things pass for a while, I must not forget to give your Lordship those thanks which are due to you for this your honourable dealing to Her Majesty on my behalf, which I hope shall not be without effect. The which attending from the Court, I shall take my leave of your Lordship. and rest at your commandment at my house this morning.

Your Lordship’s assured,
Edward Oxenford (1)

The last sentence of the penultimate paragraph is especially striking in view of the fact that he has just been writing about Lucio’s slanderous remarks regarding the disguised Duke, in which he made “of a shadow a substance,” paving the way for posterity to make “of a likelihood a truth.” Not all of this part, we thus see, belonged to 1603.

But the Queen remained as inert as a vessel becalmed. And now Anne Cecil comes into the picture again in a letter from Walsingham to Burghley, written on the 14th of July:

I dealt very earnestly with the Queen touching the Earl of Oxford’s liberty, putting her in mind of her promise made both to your Lordship and to the Lady his wife.

So we find Anne is very much in Mariana’s case, willing if not eager to take back the husband who has wronged her, although he is in disgrace. All creative writers, even the greatest, draw upon their own experience.

The Fox, it would seem, scented a double gain in having the Earl restored to favor through his wife’s efforts.

The only stay [Walsingham explains] groweth through the impertinent suit which is made for the delivery of the Lord Henry Howard and Master Charles Arundel, whom, before their delivery, Her Majesty thinketh meet they should be confronted by the Earl, who hath made humble request to be set at liberty before he be brought to charge them, as he was at the time he first gave information against them. Her Majesty, notwithstanding the reasonableness of the request, and the promises made unto your Lordship that he should first be set at liberty. . . cannot as yet be brought to yield. . . .

Why Burghley should have bespoken the services of Christopher Hatton for Lord Oxford is a mystery, but he did so repeatedly. No one would have known better than Burghley about Hatton’s bitter enmity towards the Earl. Clear evidence that the two were in confidential communication on this subject is found in an undated letter from Hatton to the Queen, which his biographer places tentatively in 1591, though he admits it may have been written long before, but which we unhesitatingly ascribe to this period because of its appositeness to the situation. It reads:

If the wounds of the thought were not most dangerous of all without speedy dressing, I should not now trouble your Majesty with the lines of my complaint. And if whatsoever came from you were not either very gracious or grievous to me, what you said would not sink so deeply in my bosom. My profession hath been, is, and ever shall be to your Majesty, all duty within order, all reverent love without measure, and all truth without blame; insomuch as, when I shall not be found such to your Majesty as Caesar sought to have his wife to himself, not only without sin, but also not to be suspected, I wish my spirit divided from my body as his spouse was from his bed. And therefore, upon yesternight’s words, I am driven to say to your Majesty, either to satisfy wrong conceit, or to answer false report, that if the speech you used at your Turk did ever pass my pen or lips to any creature out of your Highness’ hearing but to my Lord at Burghley (with whom I have talked both at the man and the matter), I desire no less condemnation than as a traitor, and no more pardon than his punishment. And further, if ever I spake or sent to the ambassadors at France, Spain, or Scotland, or have accompanied, to my knowledge, any that canters with them, I do renounce all good from your Majesty in earth, and all grace from God in heaven. Which assurance, if your Highness think not sufficient, upon the knees of my heart I humbly crave at your Majesty’s hands. . . [to] make the perfectest trial hereof. . .(2)

No wonder that the self-righteous Hatton was moved to protest so ardently, for a this very time (as it would seem) he was encouraging, if not inciting his protege, Barnabe Riche, to write a satirical description of Oxford. Moreover, he was receiving effusive letters from Arundel, signed, “Your honour’s fast and unfeigned friend.” Those who have suspected that the Earl must have had powerful enemies preventing his reconciliation with the Queen could certainly have satisfied themselves by observing the Machiavellian devices of the Vice-Chamberlain. Ever mindful of Dyer’s dastardly counsel, he must have been adroit indeed not only to have sustained and fed the Queen’s anger against her Turk but to have done so in spite of the efforts on his behalf being made by her two chief ministers, Burghley and Walsingham—that is, if Burghley really was making sincere efforts, as his own stake in the affair would seem to indicate that he must have been.

But again and again he appeals to Hatton, as now: on July 14, 1581:

. . . yesterday, being advertised of your good and honourable dealing with Her Majesty in the case of my daughter of Oxford, I could not suffer my thanks to grow above one day old; and therefore in these lines I do presently thank you, and do pray you in any proceeding therein not to have the Earl dealt with strainably, but only by way of advice, as good for myself; for otherwise he may suspect that I regard myself and my daughter more than he is regarded for his liberty. (3)

One cannot help smiling to note Burghley’s respect for what the Earl may suspect. By now he would have learned how quickly the younger man was able to penetrate his hypocrisies.

It is very sad to think of the anomalous position the young Countess of Oxford had occupied during the past five years. It would be all but heart-breaking except for the fact that her first allegiance appeared always to be to her father rather than to her husband. There is no doubt that her husband believed this, and this fact gives the story of their frustrated marriage a peculiar twist. Of course it was natural that now, for so long forsaken by her husband, she should act upon her father’s advice: in any case, she was evidently a creature of a pliant, if not a somewhat plaintive, nature. It would seem that in absentia, at least, she had the power to stir her husband’s heart. What their immediate effect upon each other was one can only surmise; but it is worth noting that the woman who appears to have excited the Earl’s fiercest passions and to have moved him to anguish as well as at least transient bliss was his wife’s distinct opposite.

Anne Cecil was small, apparently “brown in hue,” called “sweet” by her contemporaries, and gave the effect of a yielding softness; she was certainly constant; whereas Anne Vavasor, also dark, was (to judge from her portrait) rather tall, was caustically witty, daring, passionate, faithless. Anne, the wife, touched the Earl’s heart, aroused his pity, stabbed his conscience with a wound which never healed; but it is doubtful if she ever uttered a word that engaged his energetic mind. On the other hand, Anne Vavasor and Elizabeth the Queen stimulated his powers, mental as well as emotional, spurring him to high pitches of ardor only wantonly to betray his trust or disgust his fastidious spirit. It is these two who induced in the poet the restless, tormented attitude toward women which became a characteristic of him, a systole of sanguine fascination, a diastole of bitter disenchantment. So far as we know, this is one responsibility which has never been laid at Elizabeth’s door, but it is a valid one. And it seems somehow fitting that it should be so, for Elizabeth and Oxford were, as we have already observed, the two outstanding personalities of the English Renaissance.

The bitterness the Earl experienced through Elizabeth’s treatment of him in 1581, and for many months thereafter, colored his whole life. He had deserved better at her hands than this, and he had already suffered much unhappiness and frustration; indeed there were times when he seems to have felt that he had sacrificed his youth to her insatiable demands. Now an old injury began to rankle, one he had done his best to forgive, to be reconciled to; of this we shall speak later. He never really trusted her again.

On December 7 of this same year, the Countess of Oxford wrote her husband as follows:

My Lord, in what misery I may account myself to be, that neither can see any end thereof nor yet any hope to diminish it. And now of late having had some hope in my own conceit that your Lordship would have renewed some part of your favour that you began to show me this summer, when you made me assured of your good meaning, though you seemed fearful to show it by open address. . . .

This would indicate that Oxford had at least been in correspondence with his wife during the summer, though without seeing her. How unfortunate that his letters do not survive! The Countess continues:

Now after long silence of hearing anything from you, at the length I am informed—but how truly I know not and yet how uncomfortably I do not seek it—that your Lordship is entered into misliking of me without any cause in deed or thought. And therefore, my good Lord, I beseech you in the name of that God, which knoweth all my thoughts and love towards you, let me know the truth of your meaning towards me; upon what cause you are moved to continue me in this misery and what you would have me do in my power to recover your constant favour, so as your Lordship may not be led still to detain me in calamity without some probable cause, whereof, I appeal to God, I am utterly innocent. From my father’s house at Westminster. . . .(4)

Whatever the Earl’s faults, among which must be set down the prolonged coldness to his young wife, his marriage to whom had been, even while it lasted, subject to many handicaps and limitations, he had a heart easily touched by the pathos of human suffering. It seems, to use Anne’s own phrase, “a calamity not without some probable cause” that the reply to this touching letter has not been preserved. It would have been illuminating as well as eloquent. We must reconstruct its substance as best we may from the response which it prompted her to make, dated December 12:

My very good Lord, I most heartily thank you for your letter, and am most sorry to. perceive how you are unquieted with the uncertainty of the world, whereof I myself am not without some taste. But seeing you will me to assure myself of anything that I may as your wife challenge of you, I will the more patiently abide the adversity which otherwise I fear, and—if God will so permit it that it might be good for you—I would leave the greater part of your adverse fortune and make it my comfort to bear part with you. As for my father, I do assure you, whatever hath been reported of him, I know no man can wish better to you than he doth, and yet the practices in Court I fear do make seek to make contrary shows.

Always between these two loomed the crafty father, whom his son-in-law knew far better than did most of those who have told his story for posterity. There is plenty of evidence in the records that the son-in-law was justified in his judgment, though not of course in those which Burghley himself so carefully supervised. And it has been the Lord Treasurer’s copious documents which have been for the most part consulted, the others—either through Jack of enterprise or naivete on the part of historians—passed over with a few footnotes or brushed aside with a tolerant phrase. Frederick Chamberlin, for example, no less industrious than benign, has written many hundreds of pages to prove that Elizabeth was a kind of eminent Victorian spinster and Leicester a distinguished statesman as well as a valorous soldier. And Frederick Chamberlin, LL.B., M.R.I., F.R.H.S., F.S.A., F.R.G.S., F.R.A.S., obviously influenced by the distinction and integrity of subsequent Cecils, blandly stated in an elaborately documented study of Queen Elizabeth:

We are bound to record that we would believe Burghley on any matter of fact as against all other testimony; and upon a matter in which his opinion would not be palpably influenced by his too cautious nature—too cautious, we mean, for daring enterprises—we know of no man of his time in whose judgment so much confidence can be placed. (5)

This, we submit, is the kind of benevolent, guileless judgment which has no place in an interpretation of the semi-barbarous, highly cultivated, subtle Elizabethans. And Chamberlin is among such credulous historians only one of many. How can an honest student grant such indulgence to a man again and again forsworn, at best a sanctimonious hypocrite, at worst a traitor to his friends and supporters, a flagrant lier and contriver, a cruel persecutor of those who stood in the path of his ruthless aggrandizement? Even Macaulay is inclined to gloss over some of Burghley’s earlier religious hypocrisy on the ground that it was natural to prefer not to be burned. But little did this diligent historian suspect the enormous implications of his own observation when he said that Burghley “loved to mark his dislike of the showy, quick-witted young men of the rising generation.” Here we have an illustration of the temperate judgment resulting from taking Burghley’s own report. The Lord Treasurer’s “dislike” of “the rising generation” of the literati, the “lewd friends” of his son-in-law, amounted to loathing.

Tytler, who seems to have been one of the few historians to penetrate the ink-screen with which Burghley contrived to obscure his ignoble deeds, makes an interesting statement. He is speaking of the “Submission” which the arch-hypocrite, then simply Sir William Cecil, presented to Mary Tudor and which begins: “First my submission with all the lowliness any heart can conceive.” And he asserts:

It is singular that so important a paper as this should have been so little consulted by the writers of Cecil’s life, whose besetting fault it is to indulge in vague and unlimited encomiums. Yet the facts which it contains are not only interesting as illustrating his character, but are in truth all we know of the secret history which unseated Jane and placed Mary on the throne. . . . Such little beings are our greatest men. (6)

As we have said before, there is reason to believe—though naturally no external or documentary evidence exists—that Oxford suspected Burghley of being at least partly instrumental in setting the pirates upon his ship when he returned from the Continent to face the issue of his wife’s unfaithfulness, that he suspected his father-in-law of perhaps conniving with Leicester in a plot to have him murdered (although it may have been only later that he suspected Leicester), since, if he were out of the way, his child, Burghley’s grand-daughter, would inherit the Vere estates and Burghley himself would be well rid of the poet’s “adder’s sense” which easily apprehended the cunning motives of his Philistine soul.

We do not know all that Oxford had written his wife, for his letter has been, along with everything else that would ever have extenuated his conduct, destroyed; but he had patently questioned her about her father. One can see Hamlet thrusting Ophelia from his embrace to inquire abruptly, “Where is your father?” And as Ophelia tremulously and mendaciously replies, “At home, my lord,” so here Anne, perhaps no less tremulously, though one hopes not so mendaciously, answers, “As for my father, I do assure you. . .”

Her husband had apparently warned her about some of the women at court, for she goes on:

For my Lady Drury, I deal as little with her as any can, and care no more for her than you would have me; but I have been driven sometimes, for avoiding of malice and envy, to do that with both her and others which I would not with my will do. Good my Lord, assure yourself it is you whom only I love and fear, and so am desirous above all the world to please you, wishing that I might hear oftener from you until better fortune will have us meet together. (7)

This is infinitely touching. And so is Ophelia’s madness touching too. Then one remembers that it was her father’s death, not her lover’s defection, which drove her mad, and one realizes that the author, like the husband, could never, try as he might, divorce the daughter’s actions from the father’s meddlesome contrivings.

Almost immediately after Oxford fell into disfavor with the Queen, early in 1581, Barnabe Riche, who referred to Christopher Hatton as “my very good Lord and upholder,” wrote a lampoon of the Earl, the source of which is obvious, Twelfth Night having appeared in the previous year. The Puritans, becoming as we have said more and more vexed by Elizabeth’s dawdling over the Alençon match, lost no opportunity to vituperate those who they believed encouraged her. It was with this in mind and pricked on by his patron, we may be sure, that Riche, having seen Oxford riding through the streets to or from the theatre and still partially in costume, wrote the following:

It was my fortune at my last being in London to walk through the Strand towards Westminster, where I met one came riding towards me on a footcloth nag, apparelled in a French ruff, a French cloak, a French hose, and in hand a great fan of feathers, bearing them up (very womanly) against his face. And for that I had never seen any man wear them. before that day, I began to think it impossible that there might a man be found so foolish as to make himself a scorn to the world to wear so womanish a toy; but rather thought it had been some shameless woman that had disguised herself like a man in our hose and our cloaks; for our doublets, gowns, caps, and hats, they had gone long ago.

If Lord Oxford, feeling prankish, had noted this shocked observer—as he seems to have noticed everything—ten to one he had smirked and minced behind his “fan of feathers” the more to scandalize the gawker. If he had known whose follower the man was, he would have taken even greater delight in giving him a lively tale to carry which would make the solemn Lidds dedicated to the Queen bat and quiver. Hatton, who had known insecurity, would have died rather than expose himself to ridicule, or even to public laughter: Twelfth Night would have gone hard with him, one can understand that. Oxford, so far always as secure as if he had been born on Olympus in Jupiter’s day, could afford to be sportive.

When he came closer, Riche noted that the rider had a beard.

And as he passed by me I saw three following him that were his men, and taking the hindermost by the arm, I asked him what gentlewoman his master was. But the fellow, not understanding my meaning, told me his master’s name and departed.

The three men were probably actors and, assuming the stranger must know their master was en route to or from the playhouse, considered the inquiry less witty than it was intended to seem. Having already said enough to make his point, Riche nevertheless proceeds, in order to stress the French penchant of the gentleman—the outward suggesting the inward leanings: for thus the Elizabethan mind worked—and so please the Puritan anti-Alençon Hatton:

Now, if it were to defend the wind or the coldness of the air, methinks a French hood had been a great deal better, for that it had been more gentlewomanlike, and being close pinned down about his ears would have kept his head a great deal warmer; and then a French hood on his head, a French ruff about his neck, and a pair of French hose on his legs, had been right—à la mode de France; and this had been something suitable to his wit. (8)

With their propensity for savoring all the ingredients of such a jest, the Elizabethans may have thought this satire highly amusing; no doubt even the subject of it did. He had grown more bohemian as he had become more involved in the writing and production of plays; and there was a freemasonry among literary men then as now which encouraged good-humored “ragging.”

This lampoon which Hatton’s protege had written served the serious-minded Vice-Chamberlain as an excellent stick with which to beat the Earl when he was down. Riche who, like Gascoigne and Churchyard, was pre-eminently a soldier, also produced another, the time being so propitious:

Experience now hath taught me, that to be of Mars his crewe, there is nothing but paine, travaill, disquiet, cold, hunger, thirste, penury, bad lodging, and worse fare.

Now contrary to be of Venus bands, there is pleasure, sporte, joye, solace, mirthe, peace, quiet Teste, dainty fare.

Here we have a definite connection with Gascoigne’s re-publication as his own of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, in which he had been supported and abetted by Hatton. For in the new edition, he had added a poem deliberately calculated to infuriate Oxford—again undoubtedly pricked on by the vindictive Hatton. Himself a professional soldier, Gascoigne had the usual contempt for a man whose martial experience had been for the most part vicarious. He knew this was a sensitive point with Oxford, who had longed to go to the wars; and he must have been exceedingly angry, or certainly strongly provoked, to write the insulting poem, which no doubt hurt the proud young de Vere even more than having his own verses claimed by another man. (It would seem, however, that Oxford later turned the whole thing into a merry jest when he caricatured himself as Parolles in All’s Well: he never bore a grudge for long.) We quote a portion of the poem, to give the idea of its intent:


To write of Warre and wote not what it is,
Nor ever yet could march where war was made,
May well be thought a work begun amis,
A rash attempt in worthless verse to wade

 It concludes with a rebuke to Oxford for having “overthrowne” his neighbor’s (i.e., Hatton’s) house to make his own “garden” (of “Sundrie Flowres”) shapely, warning him that that means war. (Here again we know nothing of Oxford’s defense beyond what he tells US in Timon: III.5.)
Oh, Dukes, oh Earls, Oh Barons, Knights and squiers,
Keep you content with that which is your owne,
Let braverie never have you in his briers,
Seeke not to mowewhere you have never sowne,
Let not your neighbour’s house be overthrowne,
To make your garden straight, round,even and square,
For that is warre (God’s scourge) then Lords beware.
The fact that Hatton’s protege, Barnabe Riche, makes a sharp allusion to this poem, when he implies that courtiers know nothing of war, is evidence enough that Hatton was behind both these attacks. The phrase in the last line of Riche’s comparison, “quiet reste,” is quoted directly from Oxford’s early signed sonnet, Love Thy Choice. This is to stress the change in the Earl’s status—that he is no longer allowed to love Elizabeth, since he is forbidden to come into her presence.

From now on, however, Lord Oxford, though always intrinsically the courtier—as who, reading the graceful polished speeches of his kings, countesses, dukes, and young princes can fail to divine?—would be outwardly more the man of the theatre, the playwright-manager-actor, a man of lusty humor but thoughtful mien, ribald in jest but gentle, dignified, and aloof in disposition, at times gay and debonair as Armado or Touchstone, at others melancholy as Jaques or Hamlet the Dane. More and more the melancholy strain would prevail until, before many years, he would be writing tragedies which ‘would thrill the mind and appall the heart. And always he was true: true to his friends, to his inbred sense of honor and his illustrious name.

We say “always”; and this is the view one is constrained to take when his life is seen in perspective and his intentions understood. But there was one impulsive act, stemming from youthful ardor and confidence, for which he later reproached himself bitterly. (Berowne says: “By being once false for ever to be true.”) One of the orthodox commentators, Dr. Grosart, speaking, in 1872, of the beauty of Edward de Vere’s early poetry, remarked that “an un lifted shadow lies across his memory.” This is the heart of it; and if the reader has not already guessed its nature, he will learn in good season. Until more of the facts come to light, discussion would be premature.

At Vere House, where he was living at this time, the work of the Earl and his “servants” proceeded. Thomas Watson had by now attached himself to the Euphuists and was dedicating his Hekatompathia, the Passionate Century at Love, to Lord Oxford in these words:

Alexander the Great, passing in a time by the workshop of Apelles, curiously surveyed some of his doings; whose long stay in viewing them brought all the people into so great a liking of the painter’s workmanship that immediately after they bought up all his pictures, what price soever he set them at.

And the like good hap (Right Honourable) befel unto me lately concerning these my Love Passions [i.e., Love Poems], which then chanced Apelles for his portraits. For since the world hath understood (I know not how) that your Honour had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favourably perused it, being as yet but in written hand, many have ofttimes and earnestly called upon me to put it to the press, that for their money they might but see what your Lordship with some liking had already perused. And thus at this moment I humbly take my leave; but first wishing the continual increase of your Lordship’s honour, with abundance of good friends, reconciliation of all foes, and what good soever tendeth unto perfect happiness.

Your Lordship’s humbly at command,

Since most of the information obtainable with regard to the Earl of Oxford comes from hostile sources or has been deliberately “slanted,” as we say, it is gratifying to read a simple statement of the esteem in which he was held by those who knew him well and of the influence his literary sanction exercised. We note the mention of his foes. Furthermore, we learn here that, in spite of his troubled mind and deep sense of disgrace and betrayal at the Queen’s hands, “the noble Earl,” as Harvey had once put it, “continued like his magnificent self.” He made himself accessible to writers, gave them aid and encouragement in the publication of their work, insuring them, as Watson indicates, the success which accompanied his patronage. But those close to him knew what he had suffered, and Thomas Watson recognized this in wishing him “continual increase of . . . honour, with abundance of good friends, reconciliation of all foes, and what good soever tendeth unto perfect happiness.”

In his introduction to a reprint of the Hekatompathia, the distinguished critic, Edward Arber, remarks that it is strange such a book should have fallen into oblivion, the excellence of the poems being self-evident. He is particularly struck by the “annotations” which head the poems. “They are most skilfully written,” he asserts. “Who wrote them? May he have been the Earl of Oxford? Was he the friend whom Watson addresses in Number 71 as ‘dear Titus mine, mine ancient friend?’ ” “Who else?” we reply. In the annotation to the 67th poem, the author himself reveals that Lord Oxford, who “for some good he had conceived of the works, vouchsafed with his own hand certain poesies concerning the same; amongst which was this one: Love hath no leaden heels.

It is a curious fact that in Watson’s Tears of Fancy, posthumously published in 1593, the last sonnet of the series is, Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart? which has been definitely ascribed to the Earl of Oxford in the Rawlinson manuscript. (9)

Only a short time before this Anthony Munday had written the acrostic spelling his patron’s name which appeared in The Mirror of Mutability:

E xcept I should in friendship seem ingrate,
D enying duty, whereto I am bound;
W ith letting slip your Honour’s worthy state,
A t all assays, which I have noble found,
R ight well I might refrain to handle pen:
D enouncing aye the company of men.
D own, dire despair, let courage come in Place,
E xalt his fame whom Honour doth embrace.
V irtue hath aye adorn’d your valiant heart,
E xampl’d by your deeds of lasting fame:
R egarding such as take God Mars his part
E ach where by proof, in honour and in name.

These men knew Lord Oxford, worked with him day by day for years. Not only is their word more to be trusted than that of envious opportunists and Philistines: their word testifies to the greatness of heart and mind which is encountered throughout the dramas and the Sonnets, such greatness as no other man of the day can be found to have exhibited.

It is in Watson’s Hekatompathia that a line occurs which also appears in The Spanish Tragedy: “In time the savage bull sustains the yoke.” This gives us the clue that Oxford had already written that play which he might later allow Kyd, who was only twenty-three in 1581, to revise under his direction. Certainly one of its chief characters, Hieronimo, was an old familiar to the theatre-going public by the ’90’s.

Within the next few years Robert Greene was to come under the Earl’s patronage, and so was Angel Day. Of the former, Courthope says, with the topsy-turvy logic of the scholars who were obliged to cut their pattern to fit mistaken dates, that “he exercised an unmistakable influence on the genius of Shakespeare,” adding that Greene’s Pandosto “furnished Shakespeare with the outline of The Winter’s Tale.” How easily these gentlemen make the central sun the borrower of light, instead of the satellites! Thomas Watson’s work so obviously enhanced by the master hand of his patron shows where the debt actually lay.

So the Earl was, in spite of obloquy, continuing to be his generous self. Literature was an obsession with him. It provided an outlet for his teeming mind and tempestuous spirit, a vehicle for his increasing knowledge and understanding of people and of life. It took in his hands the order of poetry, because of his feeling for artistic form, his exquisite sensitiveness to music, to the rhythms of nature, and the underlying harmony of universal truths.

But the poet was not suffered altogether to lose himself in literary pursuits and preoccupations. Not only was he concerned about the status of his wife and his duty to her, he was apparently unable to free himself from the toils of his mistress, Anne Vavasor. It was in fact to be many years before he would succeed in doing so. She seems to have kept him intermittently agitated and tormented through a full decade of his prime, eventually exerting a fascination even over the Fair Youth—as the Sonnets show—and driving the poet himself “frantic mad with evermore unrest.” She was the Dark Lady, his evil genius. She was the cause of his break with the Queen and of the many tributary difficulties and miseries emanating from that which clouded the ensuing years with humiliation and despair.

Now, in 1582, another result of this liaison was to precipitate another calamity.


1. Ward; pp. 223-4; cit. Lansdowne MSS., 33.6.

2. Nicolas: Memoir of the Life and Times of Sir Chr. Hatton; p. 496. Nicolas did not know who “your Turk” was.

3. Ward: p. 224; cit. Cal.S.P.Dom. (1581-90); p. 23.

4. Ward; p. 226; cit. Lansdowne MSS., 104.63. A copy only.

5. The Private Char. of Q. Eliz.; p. 255. However, he understood Burghley better some years later when writing Eliz. and Leycester.

6. England Under Edward VI and Mary; Vol. II, pp. 195-6.

7. Ward; p. 227; cit. Lansdowne MSS., 104.64.

8. Farewell to the Militaire Profession. Second Dedicatory Epistle.

9. Ward; p. 196.


Contents | Chapter Twenty-Nine