THIS STAR OF ENGLAND
Man of the Renaissance
by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn
ROMEO AND JULIET belongs irrevocably to the period of Oxford’s banishment from court, to the time when, forsaken by Elizabeth—“fair Rosaline” now, the Tudor Rose, not the “dark Rosaline” of Love’s Labour’s Lost—he was still under the spell of Anne Vavasor, while yet reproaching himself for his treatment of his wife and actually on the point of returning to her. He had been through a bitter experience: public repudiation by his Royal Mistress ostensibly for Catholic sympathies, but really for his amorous affair with her Maid, her true motive so shrewdly dissembled that to the ignominy of his good name’s disgrace was added the galling shame of banishment in equal measure with that imposed upon the traitors he had denounced.
Whatever else this play may be—and it is many things, a complex network of symbolism woven from the tortured consciousness of a poet lamenting the pathos of youth and love victimized by meanness and cynicism—whatever else it may be, Romeo and Juliet is, “both at the first and last,” an intimate riposte to the Queen. This is to say that when it was first written, in 1581-83, he was stating his position primarily for her benefit, in reply to her injustice, and when it was rewritten—in 1591, almost surely—he was doing the same thing again, supplementing the reminder of past sorrows with a poignant reproach for an enduring grief. It is only the early significance we shall examine here: the other belongs to the period of the Sonnets and will be clarified by the light they shed.
The Sonnets constitute, in part, a recapitulation of the poet’s emotional life, his estimate of its disasters and rewards, and his hard-achieved resignation, never really complete, to the secrecy imposed by its involvements, which ordained that he—his good name—“to all the world must die.”
In the plays, as has already been seen, he is astonishingly specific, and he was never more so than in Romeo and Juliet. Hamlet speaks with pregnant purpose for the author himself when he says “the players cannot keep counsel; they’ll tell all.” Strangely enough, with the vast wealth of appreciation and tribute which have been accorded this man’s genius, one fundamental boon has too often been denied him. We have simply not taken him at his word, although—and what could be more ironical?—this very thing was what he most wanted of us. He wished to “be but testimonied by his own bringings-forth.” He said so again and again. But not only have we ignored his behest; we have regarded the literal truth he told as symbolic or general, while the symbolic we have either dismissed as fantasy or have misconstrued.
This, then, is the story of “fair Rosaline”—Elizabeth’s repudiation of the devotion of Romeo-Oxford, which she had accepted without fully requiting, and of his consolation in the spontaneous love of Juliet-Anne Vavasor—the ardent and wondrous love of youth, such as he has never known before because Rosaline-Elizabeth has held him in thrall. Juliet is, like Anne, related to his enemy, Tybalt-Knyvet (or Knybet, as it was often spelled), with whom he fights a duel; and their plighted love, which was in any case too perfect to last, partly because it is a poet’s idealization of human passion and faith, ends in tragedy. It was, indeed, as has been said before, a sacrificial love. That is the basic story, but, as always with this dramatist, there were nuances and complexities in almost every phase of plot and character, a certain amount of which was of course necessary for protection, though he is far too reckless here to make much attempt at disguise. For example, Juliet is not altogether Anne Vavasor but partially the young Anne Cecil whom the youthful Oxford had formerly married and toward whom he has lately begun to feel poignant stirrings of remorse and pity, which he construes as love.
Elizabeth, as sovereign, is portrayed by the Prince, who was incensed by the lengths to which the Montague-Capulet feud was carried, as the Queen was by the Oxford-Knyvet feud, an outgrowth of course of the Oxford-Howard enmity initiated in 1580. She herself might have been speaking in the Prince’s lines (I.1.83 et seq.):
Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbour-stained steel,—
Will they not hear? What hot you men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Throw your mis-temper’d weapons to the ground
And hear the sentence of your moved prince.
Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Have thrice disturb’d the quiet of our streets. . . .
And again (V.3.216 et seq.):
Seal up the mouth of outrage for a while,
Till we can clear these ambiguities,
And know their spring, their head, their true descent. , . .
and further (V.3.292-5):
See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love;
And I, for winking at your discords too,
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.
The “spring,” or source, the “true” descent, of these brawls was, of course, Vere. There is probably no other play than this consciously euphuistic one in which there are more numerous or emphatic name-clues. It is as if the dramatist wished there to be no mistake about its intensely personal significance. One might paraphrase his own words and say that essentially this play has much to do with love but more with honor: which, indeed, is true of much of his work.
That Romeo stands for the dramatist himself is admitted even by those who know nothing of his life and personality; they say it must be so. We agree—with this qualification: that Romeo was the poet-lover-courtier aspect of Oxford, whereas Mercutio is the mercurial tide, the dashing wit, to whom every word is a jest and every jest but word, while Benvolio represents the good will he felt and wished to practice toward Juliet-Anne’s defenders. This was, however, a frail and chancy thing at best, and Benvolio could quickly revert to the Romeo or Mercutio aspect, as we are given to understand in his scene with Mercutio (III. 1):
Mercutio. Thou art like one of those fellows that when he enters the confines of a tavern claps me his sword upon the table, and says, ‘God send me no need of thee!’ and by the operation of the second cup draws him on the drawer, when, indeed, there is no need.
Benvolio. Am I like such a fellow?
Mercutio. Come, come, thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood as any in Italy; and as soon moved to be moody, and as soon moody to be moved . . . why, thou wilt quarrel with a man that hath a hair more or less in his beard than thou hast. Thou wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes. . . .
Oxford, by the way, had hazel eyes.
In these three characters we are given a vivid portrait of the Edward Oxford of 1581, deeply moved by his first normal experience of passionate love, alive to all issues, impetuous, tetchy about his honor yet peaceful in intent (not only “two gentlemen of Ver-ona” this time, but three) and protesting against the stigma of banishment.
“Romeo banished”: the word clangs like a fateful bell, or the beat of a tom-tom, through the second and third scenes of Act III, occurring no less than 23 times within 140 lines. Romeo was, indeed, the proud young nobleman, yesterday “superlative in the Prince’s favour,” today abruptly disowned and publicly humiliated. He was Edward de Vere, whose name not only as a peer but also as a poet “stood first among the rest,” taking a nostalgic survey of the youth which was “wrongfully disgraced,” his “strength” being “disabled” by his sovereign’s vacillation and inconclusive handling of weighty matters, in other words, her “limping sway.” His resentment had already found expression in the rebuke aimed, in Measure for Measure) at the Queen’s misuse of her power; an even more personal aspect of it was now celebrated in this tragedy of youthful love. Elizabeth was middle-aged. He still young, sanguine, emotional, had a right to love. But he might have been faithful to her in that way too, if she had been so to him.
The early poem to the Queen, Love Thy Choice, must, indeed, have haunted his mind at this time, since it would seem to have suggested the other so closely connected with it, “Attributed to Queen Elizabeth” and signed “E. of O.”, of which the refrain was:
Go! go! go! seek some other where;
Importune me no more.
For Romeo says (I.1.199-200):
Tut! I have lost myself; I am not here;
This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.
During this session of sad and bitter recapitulations, he appears to have harked back to other poems of his youthful days which were signed and published under his own name; for there are striking similarities, as we have previously noted, between some of these and certain lines in Romeo and Juliet.
It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops (III.5.6-10);
But all so soon as the all-cheering sun
Should in the furthest east begin to draw
The shady curtains from Aurora’s bed. (I.1.135-7.)
These suggest one of his early Desire poems:
The lively lark stretched forth her wing,
The Messenger of morning bright;
And with her cheerful voice did sing,
The Day’s approach, discharging Night:
When that Aurora blushing red,
Descried the guilt of Thetis’ bed.
And when Juliet says (I.5.143-4):
Prodigious birth of love it is to me,
That 1 must love a loathed enemy,
she is repeating the plaint of the young de Vere, thrall to the faithless Elizabeth:
O, cruel hap and hard estate,
That forceth me to love my foe.
Benvolio’s words (I.1.126-30),
. . . but he was ware of me,
And stole into the covert of the wood:
I, measuring his affections by my own,
That most are busied when they’re most alone,
Pursued my humour. . .
express a tendency seen to be characteristic of Oxford in his early verses on Care and Disappointment:
[I] That with the careful culver climb(s) the worn and withered tree,
To entertain my thoughts, and there my hap to moan,
That never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone;
Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting (I.5.92)
derives from another early signed poem:
Patience perforce is such a pinching pain.
But the reminiscing seems to have gone further back than this.
Scholars have noted with varying degrees of puzzlement that Romeo and Juliet appears actually to be based on a long, naive, somewhat crude poem called Romeus and Juliet by a mysterious Arthur Brooke, published in 1562. Professor Ned P. Allen has written a clever essay citing parallels between the old poem and the play, passage for passage, demonstrating that, in many respects, the play is merely a highly finished, more mature version of the poem, and expressing the usual astonishment that Shakespeare should have drawn from, and adhered so closely to, such a source. (1)
However, in a footnote he gives what we take to be a key to the mystery:
There are many indications that Brooke’s faults are in part the result of extreme youth. In his prefatory poem addressed to the reader, Brooke compares his poems to the newborn cubs of a bear. Romeus and juliet, his eldest work and the only one that has been licked into shape, is, he says, a youthful work. [Since it is based on Boiastuau’s Histoires Tragiques, published in 1559] Brooke seems to have been referring to his present youth.
Now, we have seen that some of Oxford’s poems which appeared in The Paradise of Dainty Devices were written before he was sixteen, at least one of them evidently at thirteen; we have read a letter written by him in French when he was thirteen; further we have found Dean Nowell, a learned man—and men were truly learned in those days—declaring during that same year that the young Earl would not require his services much longer; and we have noted that he received his A.B. degree from Cambridge at fourteen. Besides all this, we shall find him later, in The Merry Wives, the first version of which was an adolescent comedy, portraying one aspect of himself as Ford and Brooke (the original spelling), punning on his name. Because of these facts, and because it is hardly conceivable that the Earl of Oxford would have gone to an old-fashioned, rambling, boyish poem, at times even paraphrasing the text, unless it were his own, we conclude that Romeus and Juliet was the first poem he ever wrote which he had “licked into shape,” and that it was published of course under a nom de plume. The reader may take this opinion for what it is worth.
Thre is evidence that, while writing Romeo and Juliet, the poet was not only communing with his youthful Muse, he was re-living some former convulsive indignation caused by Elizabeth’s faithlessness, to which several of his poems in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, as well as in other anthologies, bear early witness. (2) This play is not only an exquisite portrayal of romantic love, it is another “device” for “revenge of wrong.” It was not the first, nor would it be the last, time this supremely articulate poet would devise a play with which to “catch the conscience” of the Queen.
That Oxford had been reading The Divine Comedy while imprisoned in the Tower was suggested by his allusions in Measure for Measure, where, it will be recalled, the Duke (Oxford himself) was thought to have made a pilgrimage to Rome, by which he would have acquired the name “Romeo.”
Numerous stories had been written about such ill-fated lovers as Romeo and Juliet, with certain basic features of plot in common, and in one of these, da Porto’s novella (1530), the hero’s name was Romeo, though details of that story were quite different. But there are more specific reasons why this form of the name especially appealed to the persecuted poet as he sat reading Dante in the grim isolation of the Tower.
The story of Romeo has been told in the star adorned by those souls whose virtuous deeds had some taint of worldly ambition or anxiety for good repute, but who are now free from all envious desire to have a greater reward, and rejoice rather in the harmony of which their estate is part. Here too is the lowly Romeo who was so disinterested but so sensitive concerning his reputation.
This must have struck the Earl as uncannily juste. Hamlet will soon be declaring that he is “very proud, revengeful, ambitious” (III.1.124), and Oxford was honest enough to admit that his love for the Queen had been tainted with ambition. (He will excoriate himself for this very fact one day.) During the late crisis arising out of the conspiracy, he had, however, been “disinterested,” while almost his ruling passion was concerned for his “reputation,” his good name. He was, it will be remembered, Elizabeth’s Lord Great Chamberlain.
Raymond’s able and upright chamberlain, Romeo of Villeneuve (1170-1250), is also an historical character; but his name, Romeo, is the current term for one who has made a Pilgrimage to Rome. . . . Hence arose the romantic legend. . . followed by Dante. “There came to his [Raymond Berenger’s] Court a certain Romeo, who was returning from St. James’ and hearing the goodness of Count Raymond, abode in his court and was so wise and valorous, and came so much into favour with the Court that he made him master and steward of all that he had.”
The legend tells that Romeo served Raymond well, arranging splendid marriages for his four daughters, but that presently the “barons of Provence” accused the good Romeo that he had managed the Count’s treasure ill, and “called upon him to give an account.”
Dante told the story thus:
Within the pearl that now encloseth us,
Shines Romeo’s light, whose goodly deed and fair
Met ill acceptance. But the Provençals
That were his foes have little cause for mirth.
III shapes the man his course who makes his wrong
Of others’ worth. Four daughters that were born
To Raymond Berenger: and every one
Became a queen: and this for him did Romeo,
Though of mean state and from a foreign land.
Yet envious tongues incited him to ask
A reckoning at that just one, who returned
Twelve told to him tor ten. Aged and poor
He parted thence; and it the world did know
The Heart he had, begging his life by morsels,
‘Twould deem the praise it yields him scantly dealt. (4)
Here again the words are uncannily apropos: that his “goodly deed and fair” had met “ill acceptance. But the Provençals that were his foes had little cause for mirth.” The poet would have taken grim note of all this! Whereas, the last lines, in the light of our own comment that posterity has so often honored him in the wrong way, are rather startling too:
. . . and if the world did know
The Heart he had. . .
‘Twould deem the praise it yields him scantly dealt.
Elizabeth was thoroughly familiar with Dante in the original—she and her Turk may often have read from the Commedia together—and she could be counted upon not to miss the full import of the name. But “Romeo” suited his book in more ways still.
For one thing, the echo of Romeo is E. O. And this was patently in Oxford’s mind when he wrote Juliet’s lovely speech (II.2.158-63).
Hist! Romeo, hist! O! for a falconer’s voice,
To lure this tassel-gentle back again.
Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud,
Else I would tear the cave where Echo lies,
And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine,
With repetition of my Rom-eo’s name.
Here again early poems of de Vere’s furnished the imagery, in this case Woman’s Changeableness and Anne Vavasor’s Echo Poem. The first has the familiar falconry terms,
Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,
These gentle birds that fly from man to man.
The other makes use of the echo-motif especially dear to this poet’s imagination, repeating some of the words:
What wight first caught this heart and can from bondage it deliver? Vere…
Yet who doth most adore this wight, oh hollow caves tell true? You.
It is not merely for its importance to the story that “name” receives such emphasis in Romeo and Juliet. The word is used a dozen times in this scene alone. Moreover, there is a special meaning in the line, “Bondage is hoarse and may not speak aloud.” Increasingly now will the anonymity hints appear in. the plays; the implication here being that not only must Romeo’s name be secret, but the author’s too. Since Elizabeth has repudiated him, he has less interest in sacrificing recognition of his art for her sake, or for the conventions of the court. “That which we call a rose,” has however, a further significance and belongs to the period of the Sonnets.
Puns fleck the lovely textual surface of this drama as raindrops pucker the sheen of a deep pool. Even in the most sombre and the most tenderly wistful passages they produce a disconcerting ripple: disconcerting, that is, to the modern reader, though not to the Elizabethan. It was the attitude of the Renaissance writers and philosophers that “to play upon the various meanings of a word represented an intellectual exercise, a witty analysis commended and relished by Aristotle, practiced by Plato and the great dramatists of Greece. . . and by Cicero.” (5) In the light of the strange misconceptions regarding this great dramatist’s scholarship, it seems well to stress the fact that Oxford was actually re-creating the English language, making it flexible, enriching the common speech. In this play alone, as it happens, he made use of more than a score of intricate figures in Rhetoric: a point which impels one to reflect that surely no learned man can have been guilty of words more glaringly malapropos than Milton was when he wrote in L’Allegro:
Then to the well-trod stage anon,
If Jonson’s learned Sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakespear fancies childe,
Warble his native wood-notes wilde.
To the tedious old fiction of Jonson’s being more learned that the great poet-dramatist, Milton adds the silliest characterization one can well imagine. “Wood-notes wilde” were certainly not “native” to this man who was not only a supreme artist but a brilliantly conscious artificer. Even Jonson permitted himself the truth about that point in his ambiguous summing-up.
There are a number of puns on the author’s name in Romeo and Juliet, beginning with the word Ver-ona itself: the actual scene being Vere’s world or situation in 1581-3. For instance, we have (I.5.70-1):
And to say truth, Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-govern’d youth.
The Elizabethans spelled the word “vertuous,” one must remember. This is followed by (II.4.36-7):
Benvolio. Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo.
Mercutio. Without his roe, like a dried herring.
Without Ro, we have Me-O. It has been suggested that Oxford himself would have played the part of Romeo in private productions and that this was his entrance cue. None of this word-play is far-fetched if compared with the pun on “curtsy,” etc., twenty lines further along, or “single soled” and “solely singular” after ten more, or with dozens of others.
For example, “cheveril” crops up again: a word which seemed almost irresistible because it had “ver” in the middle and cheveril was a leather which stretched easily.
Mercutio. O! here’s a wit of cheveril that stretches from an inch narrow to an ell broad.
Romeo. I stretch it out for that word ‘broad’; which added to the goose, proves thee far and wide a broad goose. (II.4.84-8.)
Following this, Mercutio puns on “art”;
. . . now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art by art as well as by nature. . . . (90-1);
which means partly what we have said above and partly that Romeo has revealed his identity by art. Jonson uses this last point for his introductory poem to the First Folio.
To interpret further: The word “cheveril” was originally spelled “cheverel,” or “cheverell,” and “inch” was spelled “inche” or “ynche;” so that by narrowing “inche” to its last three letters, we find “ver” between the “inche“ narrowed and the “el” broadened by an extra “I.” Thus when Romeo stretches it out for “broad,” he leaves “ver,” or “O,” in the middle, “which added to the goose,” gives a long o-sound in that word too, in order to stress the initial, O, for Oxford. The expletive O is often used for this same purpose—notably in Love’s Labour’s Lost—as was the “cipher,” O, and we may be sure was so understood by the alert.
Ben Jonson, in The Poetaster—a play so dull until one realizes what the author is up to, and then, for the most part, so unadmirable—undoubtedly had the “cheveril-art” passage from Romeo and Juliet in mind in I.1:
Tucca. And the less art the better: besides, when it shall be in the power of thy cheveril conscience to do right or wrong. . . .
This is Jonson’s method; he not only satirizes the courtier-dramatist, toward whom his jealousy made him caustic until he was paid to celebrate his idolatrous love in the metrical ambiguities of the First Folio introduction—he weaves parodies of the dramas throughout the text of several of his own plays, as we have shown in the case of Twelfth Night.
We suspect that the name of the character representing Lord Oxford in Every Man Out of His Humour is made from the art-pun quoted above added to the part of Benvolio’s name suggesting Will: the name being Sir Puntarvolo—Pun-art-volo. His identification as a “humorous knight” ‘may well come from Benvolio’s words (II.1.31):
To be consorted with the humorous night.
Returning to Romeo’s manipulation of the broad “o,” one may compare passages from two of the most euphuistic plays, that now under consideration and Love’s Labour’s Lost:
Nurse. O holy friar! O! tell me, holy friar,
Where is my lady’s lord? where’s Romeo?
Friar Laurence. There on the ground, with his own tears made drunk.
Nurse. O! he is even in my mistress’ case,
Just in her case. O woeful sympathy!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Stand up, stand up; stand an you be a man:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why should you fall into so deep an O? (III.3.80-9.)
We have already spoken of the one from Love’s Labour’s Lost (V.2.38 et seq.) beginning:
O! he hath drawn my picture in his letter.
O! that your face were not so full of O’s!
and concluding with a pun:
A pox on that jest! and beshrew all shrows!
In the very beginning of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo himself makes a play on the initial when he says (I.1.l77-8):
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing! of nothing first create.
“Nothing” being of course zero, or a for Oxford, of and by whom the situation has been created.
In the passage of Friar Laurence’s speech (II.3.17-22) where Oxford is philosophizing over his own misdeeds, “nought” and “aught” are stressed.
It may be noted, incidentially, that Mercutio besides using other descriptive words—“humours, madman, passion, lover” —proclaims Romeo a poet when, summoning him to come forward, he exclaims (II.1.9-10):
Speak—but one rime and I am satisfied;
Cry but “Aye me!” couple but “love” and “dove”;
as he proclaims him an actor when he refers to him, six lines later, as an “ape”: this being the contemporary word for actor.
He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not:
The ape is dead, and I must conjure him.
Not only was word-play a respected convention of the time; it was an expected convention; the educated audience would have felt cheated if their ears and minds had not been titillated by such verbal gymnastics. Properly to appreciate the puns in these dramatic works, “one should,” as the commentator just now quoted has pointed out, “regard them as examples of four highly esteemed figures of Renaissance rhetoric—antanaclasis, syllepsis, paronomasia, and asteismus—which have their roots in the logical distinction between the various meanings of a word, and depend for their effect on the intellectual alertness necessary to perceive the ambiguity.” (6)
Oxford had no other recourse than word-play as an antidote to the anonymity to which he could never from the beginning to the end of his career become really reconciled. Autobiographical incidents without name-clues would not have been enough. Undoubtedly such quips as these we have cited brought forth many a chuckle, for it is always pleasant to playgoers to feel themselves among the initiate, always flattering to the intellect to apprehend the esoteric.
There is one other identity-passage which should not be overlooked. Mercutio, who—like Armado, in Love’s Labour’s Lost—is the light-some and the euphuistic side of Oxford-Romeo calls him “my very friend” (III.1.109)—speaks, as he dons his mask for the dance (I.4.29-31):
Give me a case to put my visage in:
A visor for a visor! what care I
What curious eye doth note deformities?
The “visor for a visor” points up the secret authorship: the mask for one who is already masked, that is to say. (It was Berowne who spoke of the visor in Love’s Labour’s Lost.) Mercutio means he will be recognized by his limp.
Romeo is in no mood for dancing. The game, he feels is not worth the candle, no more so than was the game he has long been playing with “fair Rosaline”-Elizabeth. He says so candidly, he, who had delighted the Queen with his dancing, while showing who it is that speaks (I.4.35-9):
Romeo. A torch for me; let wantons light of heart
Tickle the senseless rushes with their heels;
For I am proverb’d with a grandsire phrase:
I’ll be a candle-holder, and look on.
The game was ne’er so fair, and 1 am done.
Not only, he means, is the proverb as old as his grandsire, but his grandsire—his great-grandsire, to be exact—had been named Trussell; his grandmother was Elizabeth Trussell; and a trussell, the old spelling of trestle, is a stand or frame in which candles are held when lighted for religious observance. In fact, the Trussells’ quartering on Oxford’s coat of arms was a trestle, or “candle-holder.”
Romeo’s “I am done” sets Mercutio off on another series of puns:
Tut! dun’s the mouse, the constable’s own word:
If thou art Dun, we’ll draw thee from the mire.
Elizabeth’s Trussell’s grandfather—therefore Oxford’s great-great-grandsire—was Sir John Dun. There may be some further significance here to which we have no key.
An unusually large proportion of rhymed lines occurs in Romeo and Juliet. It may be that the Earl, glad to be released not only from imprisonment but also from the strictures of court-life, took pleasure in co-operating with his Euphuist associates, while demonstrating for the benefit of the rival Areopagus that rhyme should not be abandoned, as they decreed, but could be put to most excellent and ingratiating use. He continued this euphuistic line in King John and Richard II, which were soon to appear.
Other characters, as well as Romeo, have significant names. As Juliet’s kinsman, Tybalt, was the aggressive leader of the Capulet faction, so it was Knyvet (Knybet or Kneabet), Anne Vavasor’s uncle, who had challenged Oxford to the duel which permanently lamed him.
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love. (I.1.176.)
Sonnet 37 says: “I, made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite”; and Romeo cries,
O, I am Fortune’s fool! (III.1.135.)
It was Knyvet’s men—as in the play it was Tybalt’s—who seem usually to have started the street-fighting between the two factions. Feuillerat indicates this, (7) and Burghley stated it positively in one of the letters he wrote Hatton to enlist the aid for Oxford which was never forthcoming. The essential triviality of the provocation is shown in the opening scene of the play; at least the skirmishes would seem to have started from nothing but grew heated when Tybalt-Knyvet intruded, spoiling for a fight,
. . . his sword prepar’d,
Which, as he breath’d defiance in my ears,
He swung about his head and cut the winds. (I.1.111-13.)
The frays continued until Elizabeth stepped in and put a stop to them, as the Prince does.
It will be noted that Tybalt issues the challenge:
Benvolio. Tybalt, the kinsman of old Capulet,
Hath sent a letter to his father’s house.
Mercutio. A challenge; on my life. [i.e., “a challenge on my life.”]
Benvolio. Romeo will answer it. (II.4.6-9.)
Mercutio calls Tybalt “more than a prince of cats (II.4.18) and a “rat-catcher” (III 1.74), as well as a “king of cats” (III 1.76). Thus Thomas Knyvet is a Tom-cat. In discussing The Taming of the Shrew, we remarked that the name Theobald was a stock name for ‘a cat and that Queen Elizabeth wrote Theobalds “Tyboll’s.” Nashe once spoke of “Thibault, prince of cats.”
We had intended to forego the suggestion that the name of Capulet, who is an amiable caricature of Burghley, master of Theobalds—the “Kate Hall,” or Cat Hall, of the The Shrew—is an anagram for lupe-cat, or wolf-cat (it appears in All’s Well and in Twelfth Night as Capilet); but we are tempted to mention it, after all, because Capulet’s conversation with his relative during the ball, he speaks of “the nuptial of Lucentio” (I.5.38), and Lucentio was the name of the man who married Bianca and stood for Oxford. Besides which, the fact that one of the guests at Capulet’s party is Petruchio (I.5.134) indicates that Oxford had The Shrew in mind while writing Romeo and Juliet and that he was thinking of Capulet as the master of Cat’s Hall, Tyboll’s. Added to all this, is the close relationship evident at the time between Oxford and Lord Willoughby, the original of Petruchio, who had also been the chief prototype of Sir Toby Belch in the recently finished Twelfth Night, and with whom, in person, the Earl had been found walking in the garden when he was accused by Knyvet and his friends of fomenting a fight. One is more likely to miss the allusions of these artful Renaissance writers than to find too many. And thus, having gone so far, we go even farther and suggest that Mercutio, who represents the nonchalant side of Oxford, the exuberant poet-dramatist whom Elizabeth called her Turk, can be “anagrammatized” to make Me-turc-io, or Me, the Turk, E. O. Thus, in the midst of a tragic love-story embodying a heartfelt and stinging reproach to the Queen, her Turk could still salute Her Majesty with a laughing flick of his wit.
Mercutio’s long speech (I.4.55-95) beginning, “She is the fairies’ midwife,” is pure Oxford when he was in the mood for fanciful discourse, Romeo says of him (II.4.149-51):
A gentleman. . . that loves to hear himself talk, and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month.
In the passage between Romeo and Mercutio (II.4.36 et seq.) which abounds in puns and identity-clues, Romeo characterizes Mercutio as his antic aspect by saying (II.4.76-7):
Thou wast never with me for anything when thou wast not here for the goose. [Stretched out for the broad o, as in II.4.86-8.]
To make recognition of Tybalt inescapable Mercutio says further that he is
a gentleman of the very first house, of the first and second cause (II.4.24-5) ;
which is what Knyvet was, being related to the Rowards, one of the greatest houses in England; he was besides a practised courtier, as Mercutio describes him. There was of course a first and second cause of his enmity: (1) he was a Roward, and (2) he was Anne Vavasor’s uncle. Oxford was closely connected by blood, as well as by long association, with the Rowards; and Romeo means more than appears on the surface when he says of Capulet that it is a “name I tender as dearly as my own.” (III.1.70-1)
Mercutio’s “A plague o’ both your houses” (III.1.89) refers not only to the Montague-Capulet but the Vere-Howard feud. And the wound, he says (III.1.94-5), is “not so deep as a well” (wyll, or spring, or Ver) “nor so wide as a church-door” (of the Catholic church, which had led the Rowards to conspire against their Protestant sovereign.)
Benvolio is of course a well-wisher to Romeo, as Malvolio was an evil-wisher to Oxford in his role of Clown, or playwright.
Juilet is clearly, as we have said, a composite of Anne Vavasor, whose love-affair with the Earl had met such a sad debacle, and of Anne Cecil of Theobalds, to whom he had been betrothed when she was fourteen—“She hath not seen. the change of fourteen years” (I.2.9)—and about whom he was just now entertaining tender and remorseful thoughts. It was, of course, to Knyvet, Anne Vavasor’s uncle, and to Thomas Vavasor, as well as the Rowards, that Romeo alluded when he declared (II.2.69):
Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me.
It seems less strange that Oxford should combine these two Annes in one character when one reflects that the play is addressed to Queen Elizabeth, and rivals to her charms were regarded not as young women in love, with rights of their own, but simply as something opposing her exclusive claims.
Capulet is certainly a mild caricature of Burghley as genial host. Lord Burghley was inveterately hospitable to the great and kept a full record of those who dined with him. Queen Elizabeth paid more visits to his imposing homes than to those of any other subject, visits which were immensely costly to him, since she customarily arrived with a large train of nobles, together with dozens of servants, cooks, grooms, and so on. Burghley kept meticulous accounts of the disposal of rooms, courts, outhouses, stables, arranged and apportioned for these occasions; the one for the Queen’s visit in 1583, when her peace was made with Lord Oxford, being an elaborate and detailed affair, filling many pages.
His memorandum was headed thus:
The Queen honoured the Lord Treasurer by visiting him at Theabalds, with a large retinue, and stayed there five days. Amongst the attendants were the Earls of Warwick and Leicester, the Lord Admiral, Lord Howard, Lord Hunsdon, and others. [The Lord Admiral was Lord Howard of Effingham, not to be confused with the Henry Howard family.]
A long schedule follows, headed:
Rooms and lodgings in the two Courts at Theobalds, 27 May, 1583.
Certain rooms were allotted to:
the Groomes of the Privie Chamber
For the Officers of the sellor and pantrye For the Queene’s Cookes
For Mr. Howard and Mr. Edward Monice For the Clerk of the Kitchine
For the Squires of the Bodie
For the Gentlemen Ushers
For my Lady of Lincolne.
Then a long list of various servants, porters, etc., etc., and:
The South Syde, a third stage.
A Gallery for the Queen’s Majesty.
At the South end in a tower one chamber with two pallet-chambers—the Erle of Leicester.
In another Gallery:
A Chamber for the Gentlewomen of the Privie Chamber & Their Servants
The Gentlewomen of the Bedchamber
The Queen’s Majesty
The Queen’s withdrawinge Chamber
The Queen’s privie chamber, etc., etc.
A chamber with a pallet-chamber over the privie chamber—Sir Christopher Hatton, Vice Chamberlaine. (8)
Among several points of incidental interest are the proximity of Leicester and Hatton to the Queen’s Majesty, and the absence of all mention of the Earl of Oxford) although it was here that he is recorded as having made his peace with the Queen. The simplest explanation of this significant hiatus would seem to be that Nichols relied abundantly upon Camden in writing his three large volumes, often even paraphrasing Camden’s text, though not announcing that he is. doing so. Now Camden, as we have observed, was employed by Lord Burghley to write his Annals and was furnished for the purpose with Burghley’s voluminous memoranda and documents. In the early 1570’S, when the Lord Treasurer was still proud of the match his daughter had made, Lord Oxford’s name was prominent in his lists of guests. We should be blind indeed, not to see from the present instance the operating technique behind history’s amazing silence regarding England’s greatest genius and most dramatic personality.
Oxford would have remembered well the great ado made by his father-in-law at the time of his wedding to Anne. Burghley had written Walsingham that evening, in 1571, flushed with the excitement of the occasion and happy at the brilliant match his daughter had made, that he had been “not unoccupied with feasting my friends at the marriage of my daughter, who is this day married to the Earl of Oxford.”
Capulet. Monday! ha, hat Well, Wednesday is too soon;
O ‘ Thursday let it be: O’ Thursday, tell her,
She shall be married to this noble earl.
Will you be ready? do you like this haste?
We’ll keep no great ado; a friend or two. (III.4.19-23.)
Even from his lists and memoranda, detailed and rather pompous as they are, one can visualize the Lord Treasurer bustling about, directing everyone, supervising this, providing for that, so vividly in fact that one has a positive sense of recognition upon returning to the scenes in which Capulet arranges first for the ball and then for the marriage.
The likeness of Capulet to Burghley in his expansive social role is unmistakable throughout the passage between him and his relative (I.5.19-42.) He moves about among his guests, cordial and facetious, then settles down for a chat with Second Capulet.
Welcome, gentlemen! ladies that have their toes
Unplagu’d with corns will walk about with you.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
More light, more light, ye knaves! and turn the tables up.
And quench the fire, the room has grown too hot.
Ah, sirrah, this unlook’d-for sport comes well.
Nay, sit, nay, sit, good cousin Capulet,
For you and I are past our dancing-days;
How long is’t now since last yourself and I
Were in a mask?
Second Capulet. By ‘r Lady, thirty years.
Capulet. What, man! ’tis not so much, ’tis not so much:
‘Tis since the nuptial of Lucentio,
Come Pentecost as quickly as it will,
Some five-and-twenty years; and then we mask’d.
Second Capulet. ‘Tis more, ’tis more; his son is elder, sir.
His son is thirty.
Capulet. Will you tell me that?
His son was but a ward two years ago!
Burghley, then Sir William Cecil, had been Master of the Royal Wards when Edward de Vere, who was now just past “thirty,” had come to London to make his home at Cecil House as a “ward” of the Crown. The scene is London, not Verona, Capulet actually Romeo’s father-in-law, his erstwhile guardian. Oxford who was Lucentio in The Shrew, is now Lucentio, Jr.
Lady Burghley, like Lady Capulet, was accustomed to stand aside, giving her husband free rein, but watchful and uncompromising. Both she and her daughter deferred to the father.
After chiding Juliet for weeping, Lady Capulet has said (III.5.107):
Well, well, thou hast a careful father, child.
She is rather severe with the girl, in answer to whose plea for help in putting off the marriage to Paris, she coldly replies (III.5.204-5):
Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word.
Do as thou wilt, for 1 have done with thee.
Lady Capulet warns her husband (IV.2.39 et seq.):
We shall be short in our provision:
‘Tis now near night.
But he is not to be discouraged: he is bent upon bringing off the marriage:
Tush! I will stir about,
And all things shall be well, I warrant thee, wife,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . let me alone,
I’ll play the housewife for this once.
And the Nurse, with the knowing familiarity of an old and trusted servant, reproves his busybody agitation, quite as some garrulous, privileged, old family retainer at Theobalds must have twitted the bustling Burghley (IV.4.6-8):
The Nurse must have been taken from life; she is too realistic for even a genius to have conjured up out of “airy nothing.” (10) In her inimitable speech (I.3.16 et seq.) she makes two interesting allusions when she says, “Well, Susan is with God,” and a few lines later, ” ‘Tis since the earthquake now eleven year”; for Susan, the daughter of Oxford’s brother-in-law, Thomas Cecil, had died in 1575 and was, by then, so to speak, with God; and as for the earthquake, a terrible one had shaken Italy in 1570, damaging Verona and destroying Ferrara, a fact which that of the preceding year, 1580, in England, had recalled to the dramatist’s mind. If he revised Romeo and Juliet in 1591, as we believe he did, the reference could by then be to the 1580 earthquake eleven years before.
But the main theme of Romeo and Juliet was contrived and elaborated, as we have said, for the Queen. She had been high-handed and cruel. Very well; her foremost dramatist would hold the mirror up, so that she would miss none of the implications of her behavior or his own. The play was the thing!
10. In the Symposium, Plato declared that “the genius of comedy was the same with that of tragedy, and that the true artist in tragedy was an artist in comedy also.” However, as Edith Hamilton has astutely observed, Aeschylus and Shakespeare are the only great tragic dramatists who can laugh, and she makes the point that the Nurse who with her homely loquacity interrupts the tragic business in the Oresteia is the recognizable forerunner of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (The Greek:pp. 162-3.)