Chapter 34

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

Chapter Thirty-Four


ALTHOUGH THE LONG PHASE which has been called the dramatist’s “gloomy period” was to continue, roughly speaking, through the production of five more plays—As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, and The Tempest—he had nevertheless, as we have observed, retained his capacity for merriment. The insouciance that rose to the surface even in the midst of sorrow is shown in the composite portrait of himself as Mercutio and Romeo. Long ago the Earl had attested to his paradoxical temperament in the lines:

I am not as I seem to be,
For when I smile I am not glad;
A thrall, although you count me free,
I, most in mirth, most pensive sad.

If he dramatized himself as the melancholy Jaques in As You Like It, he was Touchstone too, the clown who had “been a courtier,” and he also spoke through the mouth of the Banished Duke, who had found his spirit assuaged by the serenity, the general decency and dependability, of nature.

Lord Oxford was still writing primarily for the Queen: Whether he now decided that he had railed at her enough for the time being, or whether he felt himself temporarily purged of bitterness and indignation through the emotional release provided by the tragedies which had engaged him so intensely, he seems now to have turned a kindly eye upon her affairs and concluded that, after being cruel, he would do well, for a change, to be kind.

She was having troubles of her own, and although during 1582 he still vehemently resented her failure to have restored him even yet to favor, he had compensations and could be generous. Of course he may have wished to try another means of placating her: as a courtier, he knew and was forced to practice all the tricks. In any case, he wrote his next play, As You Like It, with an eye to the Queen’s public and personal problems, signally the Alençon match. Even the title suggests that this time he was trying to please her. But he was not allowing her to forget his own affair.

It is palpable that Oxford never had any enthusiasm for Alençon; on the contrary. He would appear rather belatedly to have joined Sussex and the others in supporting the marriage, partly because it was the safest policy at the moment and partly through mistrust of Leicester’s overweening ambition. It was not that Oxford liked Alençon more, but that he could tolerate Leicester and Hatton considerably less.

Delightful as this play is, idyllic as it shows on the surface, it has strange and meaningful depths. We might of course, find it pleasanter to continue to regard Orlando as a beautiful youth, wronged and then vindicated, Rosalind a wise and witty maiden ditto, and the whole story a serio-comic, ingratiating fairy-tale in which good conquers evil and love reigns supreme. But if the play is carefully read, this will not do. Besides, one has an inestimable debt to the poet who has conferred such wealth; and he makes it quite explicit that he wishes to be understood, declaring, in the person of Touchstone:

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. (III.3.11-14.)

(Or, to translate into modern slang, it cramps his style.) And because it is only by perceiving his meaning in the plays that we can exorcise the curse of his anonymity, can know the man himself and comprehend his life, in all its rich and tragic complexity, we must accept the terms and try to plumb his intention. He was literally asking us to do this. How can we refuse? We shall, in any event, gain immeasurably in the process.

As You Like It is actually two plays combined: one written circa 1582, the other superimposed upon it in 1589, or thereabouts, then a final blending in 1598, when further additions were made. They were rather carelessly put together, it would seem, since the name Oliver is used for two quite dissimilar characters, and likewise the name Jaques. Sometime during the 1590’s the highly symbolic Touchstone-Audrey-William identity-scenes were introduced: they have nothing whatever to do with the plot of either the 1582 topical Alençon story or with the 1589-91 or -92 combination, which introduces the Fair Youth of the Sonnets and refers to Sir Philip Sidney, who had died in 1586, as “Dead poet”; but they have much to do with the real author versus the substitute.

We shall confine ourselves here chiefly to the early version of the play, with regretful awareness that there are probably more parallels with French contemporary history than we have apprehended. There may be contemporaneous writers with whom we are as yet unacquainted who, like Jonson, have made interesting revelations by means of parodies or allegories. We shall quote enough of Jonson’s heavy-handed, mean-spirited satires upon the courtly dramatist, of whom he was so bitterly jealous, to round out the picture.

Lord Oxford made frequent use for dramatic purposes of contemporary French history. He knew many of the poets of the day and the diplomats, as well as the members of the House of Valois, Catherine, her sons Henry III and Alençon, and her daughter Marguerite, who married Henry of Navarre. Lilian Winstanley has written scholarly works upon the subject of “Shakespeare’s” intimate acquaintance with French events and problems, celebrated in French poetry of the day, and Percy Allen has made some brilliant contributions to the subject, including among other quotations the tribute D’Aubigné paid presumably to Lord Oxford himself:

Je vois un prince anglo is, courageux par excès,
A qui l’amour quitté fait un rude procès.

It would seem from this that the famous Huguenot poet knew about the love-affair between Oxford and the Queen and her shocking treatment of him.

To begin with, whether we like it or not, Orlando was obviously intended by his creator for Alençonat least partially. Oliver, his cruel brother, is Henry III of France, who certainly hated Alençon. Their father, Henry II of the House of Valois, stands for Sir Rowland de Bois, hero of the French epic poem, Chanson de Roland. (Valois suggests de Bois.) Their legends are similar, in that the former, wounded in a tourney by Captain Montgomery of his Scottish Guard, insisted upon having another round after the decision, and was killed; whereas the equally indomitable Roland, refusing the pleas of his friend, Oliver, to wind his horn and summon help in a battle against hopeless odds, also died bravely. But there is a double significance, for Roland is, of course, merely another name for Orlando, who is described in one of the “songs in which Charlemain delighted”this one, as it happens, sung by the Norman Taillefer at the Battle of Hastingsas much the same type of man that Oxford, whose Norman ancestor took part in the Conquest, reveals himself here and there in the plays to be. The English translation reads:

On stubborn foes he vengeance wreak’d,
And laid about him like a Tartar;
But if for mercy once they squeak’d,
He was the first to grant them quarter.
The battle won, of Roland’s soul
Each milder virtue took possession:
To vanquish’d foes he, o’er a bowl,
His heart surrendered at discretion. (1)

Henry III had decided, as his brother, Charles IX, had done during his reign, that “France was not large enough for both him and Alençon.” There was ceaseless animosity between them. Oliver is like Henry III in his willingness to go any lengths to be rid of his younger brother.

The political impasse in which Elizabeth found herself at this time was crucial. She was still trying to play off Spain against France by promising to marry Alençon, while promoting his campaign in Flanders. (An account of her wiles and gambits may be found in Hume’s The Courtships of Queen Elizabeth.) Suffice it to say here that by 1582 she was badly worriednot only by international problems but by the continued religious antagonisms at homeand it is likely that Oxford wrote the love-story of Rosalind and Orlando to support the Queen in her pretense of sincerity toward her lover. This is As You Like It, not I, he seems to say.

When the King of France informed his brother that he would give him no help in the Netherlands and the Queen Mother, Catherine de’ Medici, urged him to return home before he was made “the laughing-stock of the world,” Elizabeth had taken strong means to maintain the status quo. On November 21, 1581, she had instructed Castlenau, in the presence of Leicester and Walsingham, “You may write this to the King: that the Duke of Alençon shall be my husband”; then, turning, she had kissed Alençon on the mouth, giving him a ring from her hand as a pledge. He therewith gave her one from his (quite in the manner of Portia and Bassanio sealing their troth). Whereupon, calling “the ladies and gentlemen from the presence-chamber to the gallery,” she had emphatically repeated her announcement.

As we have previously remarked, all that was now necessary was the consent of Parliament. This was her loophole, and thus she secured delay, throwing the onus on the French King, since her ministers could not agree to the terms he made. She played cat and mouse with the Duke, now cajoling him, now throwing him into despair with her trifling. Her greatest wish was to keep him persuaded of her good faith, while speedily getting him out of the country and on his way to the Netherlands. But the strain was becoming unendurable. Elizabeth told Burghley on Christmas night “that she would not marry the lad to be empress of the world and that he must get rid of him somehow.” (2)

Wary by now, Alençon postponed leaving, and it was Elizabeth’s turn to grow desperate. Then suddenly, on January 11, 1582, Secretary Pinart’s son arrived in England bringing acceptance of all the English terms on the part of the King, the Queen Mother, and the Huguenots. This was a staggering contretemps for Elizabeth. But the crafty Burghley found a way to escape the trap, while persuading Sussex that the marriage would really come off at last, now that all barriers were removed, thus through him conveying the cheering conviction to Alençon. He wept with joy at his brother’s goodness and the turn of his fortunes.

Elizabeth, more eager than ever to be rid of him, now that her suspicions of the French King’s intentions had been intensified, pressed for his departure. And finally, at the beginning of February, he set forth for Flushing, where the Prince of Orange and other high dignitaries stood ready to welcome him as a deputy of the Queen of England. Elizabeth made him a personal present of £25,000 (she had promised him 30,000) when he leftno small sum, since she was badly off for money at this timeand told him that “a wound on his little finger would pierce her heart.” (Perhaps she would have swooned as Rosalind did at the sight of the napkin stained with Orlando’s blood [IV.3.157]. Or perhaps she would not!) In the end, she made so urgent a point of his need to obtain help from his brother that her true purpose was revealed, which had been from the first to incite France and Spain against each other, so that she might remain clear.

However, she kept up the pretence of infatuation even at home, remarking to her suite one day soon after Alençon had left, “I would give a million to have my frog swimming in the Thames instead of the stagnant waters of the Netherlands.” (3)

It was flattering to the Queen, now forty-nine years old, to be portrayed as the lovely Rosalind“Fair Rosalind,” the Tudor Rosebut of course the courtiers always flattered her. (4) It was certainly a compliment to the swart, toad-like Alençon to appear as the amiable Orlando. Her Turk was giving the Queen what she liked. Something within him had snapped. D’Aubigné had been right. To this exceptionally courageous Englishman “l’amour quitté” had been a harsh experience. From now on he would regard Elizabeth in a more filial light than heretofore, and he would not expect her to be honest, even with him.

Restored to his wife now, Lord Oxford was still living away from the court, it may well have been at his seat in Warwickshire, when Elizabeth made her spectacular gesture of kissing Alençon on the lips and proclaiming publicly that he would be her husband; but he would not have been long in hearing the news. The passage he introduced into this play surely alludes to Elizabeth’s (Diana’s) politic kiss, since it is not germane to the story of the forest lovers (III.4.7-18):

Rosalind. His very hair is of the dissembling colour.
Celia. Something browner than Judas’s; marry, his kisses are Judas’s own children.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .    .
Rosalind. . . . his kissing is as full of sanctity as the touch of holy bread.
Celia. He hath bought a pair of cast lips at Diana; a nun of winter’s sisterhood kisses not more religiously; the very ice at chastity is in them.

In other words, for all the righteous attitude Elizabeth has assumed, the kiss she and Alençon have exchanged was a Judas kiss of policy. The Queen’s kiss, resolute and stiff, made with the “cast lips of Diana” was “bought” by necessity and was bestowed in a spirit of dedication. The legend of her chastity embellished the account, making recognition inescapable.

Ben Jonson, in Cynthia’s Revels, which is sprinkled with references to As You Like It, has Mercury say:

Marry, all that I fear is Cynthia’s presence, which with the cold at her chastity casteth such an antiperistasis about the place that no heat of thine will tarry with the patient.

There are many allusions which connect Orlando with Alençon besides both the young men’s patent gullibility. In the conversation (I.1) with Charles the Wrestler, Oliver tells Charles that his brother is “the stubbornest young fellow of France, full of ambition.” He adds:

I had as lief thou didst break his neck as his finger. (142.)

Alençon was, indeed, stubborn and ambitious, as well as being quite as villainous as Oliver pretends to Charles that Orlando is. And these instructions to Charles suggest Elizabeth’s remark to Alençon that “a wound on his little finger would pierce her heart.”

After admitting that his soul hates nothing more than Orlando, Oliver continues (I.1.161-5):

Yet he’s gentle, never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved, and indeed so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprised.

This has a very familiar ring, and abruptly we realize that Oxford is in fact playing his usual game of combining himself with the historical prototype of the hero of the piece. (5) The deftness with which he here makes apt points about two such diametrically opposed characters as himself and Alençon is admirable. First, regarding the application to Elizabeth’s suitor: he was of “gentle”‘or noble birth, “never schooled”in truth, he was almost illiterate, though he had had a great deal of experience and might be said to be learned in practical ways. As for his popularity, it is recorded that when he “crossed into Spanish Flanders in 1581 . . . half the young nobility of France were with him,” although when things turned against him, they deserted, “slipping back across the border into France.”

As for Oxford’s being “never schooled but learned,” he meant this in a literal sense: he had spent very little time as a student in the universities, having been tutored, for the most part, outside, but going first to Cambridge and later to Oxford to receive his degrees. The “noble device” of which he was possessed was the plays and poems he could turn out; and he hadwe are given Mendoza’s word for it“a great following in the country.” .

The discovery that Oxford shares with Alençon the character of Orlando, clears up the rather ambiguous opening speech which Orlando makes. It states both men’s complaints. Oxford is speaking to Elizabeth of himself in the lines,

. . . call you that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are bred better; for besides that they are fair with their feeding, they are taught their manage. . . . (8-11.)

He means he is not allowed to consort with his equals at court but is kept in exile in the country; even Elizabeth’s horses have been trained for the lives they were to lead, while he himself has been maintained at court and is now thrown upon the world unprepared. (Compare Sonnet 111, lines 3 and 4.)

Adam is to Alençon, Simier; to Oxford, Churchyard.

This is it, Adam, that grieves me; and the spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutiny against this servitude. I will no longer endure it, though yet I know no wise remedy how to avoid it (20-24.)

It is amazing the way he combines two such diverse characters and implies so much. If there were any doubt that he has Elizabeth’s treatment of him in mind, it should be dispelled when Oliver tells Orlando (I.1.35-6):

Marry, sir, be better employed, and be naught awhile.

Orlando tells his brother, who is persecuting him:

. . . The courtesy of nations allows you my better. . . but the same tradition takes not away my blood. . . . (45-8),

adding again,

The spirit of my father grows strong in me, and I will no longer endure it; therefore allow me such exercises as may become a gentleman, or give me the poor allottery my father left me by testament. . . . (68-9.)

There is a definite allusion here not only to the Earl’s ancestral (Norman) spirit but to his rightful inheritance, Havering of the Bowre, which Elizabeth had been inexcusably withholding, to say nothing of the Forest of Essex, and probably to the estates in the hands of the Court of Wards as well.

Oxford is also at times the “old duke” whose “banishment” Charles speaks of (I. 1.98), remarking,

. . . three or four loving lords have put themselves into voluntary exile with him. . . . They say he is already in the forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him. . . . They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world. (99-117.)

This was the forest of Ardennes and also the forest of Arden, which latter formed part of Lord Oxford’s estate in Warwickshire on the Avon. (It is of passing interest that, in Book XLII of Orlando Furioso, Rinaldo encounters the terrible serpent, jealousy, in the Forest of Arden.)

The wrestling-match, with which Oliver arranges for Charles to put an end to Orlando, symbolizes the recent contest in which Charles Arundel had so viciously attacked Oxford. Like Charles the Wrestler he could have said,

I wrestle for my credit. . . it is a thing of his own search and altogether against my will. (124-33.)

The Howards and perhaps others stand for Oliver here.

The historical prototype of the Wrestler would seem to be Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, and Orlando’s victory in the match is Alençon’s victory at Cambrai.

Bidding Orlando good luck in the contest, Rosalind says:

Now, Hercules, be thy speed, young man! (I.2.208.)

Not only was Alençon’s name Hercule-François de Valois, but he was also called Monsieur, both in France and England. And this explains the rather awkward form of address in the two girls’ speeches to him (244-7):

Rosalind (giving him a chain from her neck). Gentleman, wear this for me… .
Celia. . . . Fare you well, fair gentleman.

Rosalind telling Orlando,

The little strength that I have, I would it were with you (I.2.192),

is Elizabeth speaking to Alençon on his departure; and the chain she gives him is “la belle jartière.”

When the Queen had paid her celebrated visit to the Pelican, Drake’s ship, in 1581, she was accompanied by Marchaumont, to whom she was exceedingly partial. As she was crossing the gangway, one of her purple and gold garters came off and was dragged by her skirts. The alert Frenchman retrieved it, laughingly refusing to give it up until she assured him that it was the only means she had of fastening her stocking and promised to return it to him as soon as they reached Westminster. She made no ceremony about putting it on then and there in his presence. The next day M. de Mery was dispatched to Alençon, bearing a love-letter from Elizabeth, together with “la belle jartière” as a souvenir from Marchaumont. Upon winning the victory at Cambrai, Alençon wrote the Queen that “la belle jartière” was the cause of all his good fortune and vowed he would never surrender it so long as he lived.

The dramatist, unable to be too realistic, made the chain do for the garter. Celia refers to the “chain you once wore” (III.2.182), and Rosalind changes color; then Celia speaks of Orlando’s “little beard,” which certainly describes the sparse growth shown in the Duke’s portrait. Oxford’s, too, was quite small, for that matter.

Before leaving the subject of Drake’s ship, the Pelican, which was afterwards renamed the Golden Hind, in honor of Sir Christopher Hatton’s crest, Hatton having been one of the largest investors in Drake’s famous voyage, it is well to mention the use of the word “monster” (I.2.22), which was fashionable in the early 1580’s. The great explorers of the day usually brought back with them strange-looking men or animals from some savage land they had visited, and people found amusement in going to see these creatures, which they called “monsters”; the adjective “monstrous” became common also at this time.

Rosalind and Celia are engaged in a highly symbolic dialogue (1.2)in which Celia’s observation regarding Fortune,

. . . those that she makes fair she scarce makes honest (37),

is a cut Oxford was able to direct at more women than Elizabethwhen Touchstone enters; and presently he and Celia have a trenchant passage (86-90):

Touchstone. The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.
Celia. By my troth, thou sayest true; for since the little wit that fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise men have makes a great show.

Because Elizabeth’s “allowed fool” spoke wisely what she and others were doing foolishly, the “little wit” that he had “was silenced.” Oxford tells her she may now console herself with her wise men’s foolery, faute de mieux.

Touchstone begins (106),

Nay, if I keep my rank,

But Rosalind cuts him off with a pun; and we are left with the information that this Clown, who “hath been a courtier” (V.4.42), was a nobleman as well. All this ties in with Sonnets 110 and 111:

Alas, ’tis true I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view;


Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu’d
To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.

Monsieur Le Beau is, apparently, a composite of de Bex and Marchaumont, Count de Beaumont, the one Alençon’s secretary, who wrote voluminous, gossipy letters, and the other his chief agent, a great favorite with the Queen.

Celia. Here comes Monsieur Le Beau.
Rosalind. With his mouth full of news.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Celia. Bonjour, Monsieur Le Beau; what’s the news? (I.2.90-97.)

Presently Le Beau says:

There comes an old man and his three sons
Celia. I could match this beginning with an old tale. (117-19.)

This is a pointed allusion to the Middle English tale of Gamelyn, upon which part of the As You Like It story is based, and which begins with almost these same words.”

Le Beau continues:

Three proper young men, of excellent growth and presence

and Rosalind puns with a legal phrase:

With bills on their necks. ‘Be it known unto all men by these presents.’ (I.2.120-3.)

Lord Chief Justice Campbell wrote, in 1859:

In Elizabeth’s reign deeds were in the Latin tongue; and all deeds poll, and many other law papers, began with the words, NOVERINT universi per presentes—“Be it known to all men by these presents, etc.” . . . In Act II, Sc. 1, there are illustrations which would present themselves rather to the mind of one initiated in legal proceedings, than of one who had been brought up as an apprentice to a glover, or an assistant to a butcher or a woolstapler:for instance, when it is said of the poor wounded deer, weeping in the stream

      . . . thou mak’st a testament
As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more
To that which hath too much. (II.1.47-9.)

He adds that “in Act III, Sc. 1, a deep technical knowledge is displayed” in Duke Frederick’s words:

Make an extent upon his house and lands (17),

pointing out that this refers to “an extendi facias applying to house and lands, as a fieri facias would apply to goods and chattels, or a capias ad satisfaciendum to the person.” Lord Campbell further observes that the dramatist also “gives us the true legal meaning of the word ‘attorney,’ viz., representative or deputy. . .” in the following passage (IV.1.87-93): .

Rosalind. Well, in her person I say I will not have you.
Orlando. Then in mine own person I die.
Rosalind. No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicat, in a love cause. (6)

Duke Frederick seems to stand for a combination of Leicester and Hatton, both of whom strongly opposed Alençon and, as has been seen, undoubtedly conspired to prolong Oxford’s banishment. It seems that Oxford may have suspected Burghley too of preferring to keep him away from the court, in the belief that he might be more faithful to Anne. If so, we have an explanation of his appealing to Hatton; and thus he also is included in the character of Duke Frederick. Certainly he is Celia’s father

But yet indeed the smaller is his daughter (I.2.271)

and “the smaller” of two women characters invariably represents “the sweet little Countess of Oxford.” Duke Frederick’s anger with Rosalind is of course the opposition of Leicester et al. to Elizabeth’s attitude toward Alençon.

Rosalind’s comment apropos of Orlando,

The duke my father loved his father dearly (I.3.29),

has reference to the amity existing between Henry VIII and Alençon’s grandfather, Francis I, who met him on the Field of the Cloth of Gold. And when, in banishing Rosalind, Frederick says (I.3.57),

Thou art thy father’s daughter, there’s enough,

the double reference is to Leicester’s current hatred of everything French and the fact that Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was brought up in the French court.

Some reports have it that Elizabeth was above the average in height, others say not. Rosalind remarks that she is “more than common tall” (114.) Part of her speech here belongs, however, to a later period when the Fair Youth played the part of “the fair youth,” Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede.

Act II is primed with allusions to Lord Oxford. In Duke Senior’s opening speech he says:

Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .    .   .   .   .   .    .   .
“This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
Sweet are the uses of adversity. . . .

The Earl himself was finding this true.

We have previously quoted from The Begger’s Ape, a contemporary poem in which Oxford, allegorized as “the Oxe,” praises the advantages of life in the forest away from the envious court. An additional excerpt (in line with Sonnets 25, 124, and 125) corroborates the identification:

“Alas, (quoth th’ Oxe) how vulgar is affection
“In vainely seeking after fond promotion,
“As well th’ ignoble as the Noble blood
“Deeme vading pompe the happie mans chiefe good.
“Yet view the Court and marke the misery
“Of those that swim in Court felicitie,
“Whose wretched steps in Princes Courts attends
“His slavish will on others wills depends.”

The Duke and “the melancholy Jaques,” who are both the dramatist himself, take the same attitude about the “poor dappled fools,” the denizens of the forest who are victimized. Jaques speaks precisely as Timon did (55-7), and the whole passage between Duke Senior and the First Lord is highly significant, especially the following:

Duke Senior. But what said Jaques?
Did he not moralize the spectacle?
First Lord. O yes, into a thousand similes.
First, for his weeping into the needless stream,
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .    .   .   .   .   .    .   .
. . . then, being there alone,
Left and abandon’d of his velvet friends;
” ‘Tis right,” quoth he; “thus misery doth part
The flux of company”:
anon, a careless herd,
Full of the pasture, jumps along by him
And never stays to greet him: “Ay,” quoth Jaques,
“Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens;
‘Tis just the fashion; wherefore do you look
Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there?”
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .    .   .   .   .   .    .   .
Duke Senior. And did you leave him in this contemplation
Second Lord.
We did, my lord, weeping and commenting
Upon the sobbing deer.
Duke Senior. Show me the place.
I love to cope him in these sullen fits,
For then he’s full of matter. (II.1.43-68.)

Jaques is the melancholy or reflective side of the poet, “moralizing” the scene in the forest just as he does every “spectacle” of the times in the plays, and identifying himself with the characters. He is Elizabeth’s “deer”or dear“weeping” at the sight of the other “sobbing deer,” who is also abandoned by his “velvet friends.” Momentarily the Duke seems to stand for the Queen herself, who liked so much to hear Oxford’s “moralizing” of all subjects that she gave him more license than she ever gave anyone else, not even excepting Leicester.

The ensuing scene is also richly allusive. Historically Adam represents Simier, who loaned Alençon all the money he possessed, as Adam loaned all his to his young master. But his words are Churchyard’s (who was old, having been born in 1520) to Oxford:

Know you not, master, to some kind of men
Their graces serve them but as enemies?
No more do yours: your virtues, gentle master,
Are sanctified and holy traitors to you.
O, what a world is this, when what is comely
Envenoms him that bears it! (II.3.10-15.)

Here we have an important statement. Oxford knows his genius is God-given, an exceptional attribute; but it is an enemy to him and creates trouble. This shows that persons in high places resented his plays, as we know that Burghley did, to say nothing of Leicester and Hatton, and were inimical to him, because of them. Churchyard could well have spoken thus to the Earl.

Adam’s account of Oliver’s hatred of his brother and of his intention to make away with him by burning

       the lodging where you use to lie,
And you within it (II.3.23-4),

recalls the murder of Darnley; for the house in which he was recuperating from illness was blown up by gunpowder and his and his servant’s bodies hurled into the yard. Many of Oxford’s plays allude to the various aspects of Mary Stuart’s tragic life, now moving along toward its terrible dénouement.

Adam’s statement that he was “now almost fourscore” (11.3.71) would have been true of Churchyard in 1598, when he was seventy-eight. Whether he was in service to the Sixteenth Earl at the age of seventeen we do not know.

Scene 4 of this Act is as fully primed with allusion as the preceding one, this time giving us the jester side of Oxford, in Touchstone, and the poetor shepherdin Corin. The Corin-Silvius-Phebe part belongs to the ’90’s, by which time it can be said of the shepherd, Corin:

Though in thy youth thou wast as true a lover
As ever sigh’d upon a midnight pillow:
But if thy love were ever like to mine
And sure 1 think did never man love so
How many actions most ridiculous
Hast thou been drawn to by thy fantasy? (II.4.25-30.)

Touchstone says that “this shepherd’s passion” (which also means “this poet’s verse”) “grows something stale with me.” (58-60.) By 1589-90, Touchstone-Corin-Oxford had become disillusioned with shepherds’ passions in both senses of the term. When Touchstone and Corin leave, “if not with bag and baggage, yet with scrip and scrippage” (i.e., the plays and poems), Celia says:

Didst thou hear these verses?
Rosalind. O, yes, I heard them all, and more too; for some of them had more feet than the verses would bear.
Celia. That’s no matter: the feet might bear the verses.
Rosalind. Ay, but the feet were lame, and could not bear themselves without the verse, and therefore stood lamely in the verse. (III.2.163-72.)

This is good rich Elizabethan punning on the “lame feet” which have to bear Vere (both Veres, or “verses,” Touchstone and Carin) since the duel with Knyvet, though it is ostensibly the poet’s metre which Rosalind criticizes.

We are now introduced to the irresistible Jaques. Probably nowhere except in Hamlet are we given a more vivid and sustained portrait of the Earl of Oxford in his early thirties than in the remainder of Act II.


1. From the Preface to the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto, tr. and ed. by John Hoole.

2. Hume: The Courtships of Q. Eliz.; p. 284.

3. F. Chamberlin: The Sayings of Q. Eliz.; cit. Cal. S. P. Simancas, vol. III, No. 221, Mch. I, 1582.

4. When Edward de Vere was in his ‘teens at court, Queen Elizabeth had had a companion named Cecilia, to whom she was especially devoted. This was Lady Cecilia of Sweden, sister to her former suitor, Eric. She took such delight in the Swedish princess that when the Margrave returned to his own domains, she persuaded the Lady Cecilia, his wife, to remain with her; hence Celia as Rosalind’s friend.—This from Agnes Strickland; pp. 176-7.

5. In one of the early poems in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, signed Meritum petere, grave, the youthful Oxford rebukes Elizabeth for unfaithfulness to him thus:

Medora he must be thy make [mate],
Since thou Orlando doth forsake.
(Appendix, Note 4-(3) b.)

This leads us to the source, or certainly the background, of the Earl’s material for this play: Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. In Book XIX Angelica, beloved of the Paladin, or Earl, Orlando, falls in love with and marries a Moorish youth, Medoro, in the forest where he has been wounded; they go to live in a shepherd’s cot nearby; and shortly afterwards Orlando, coming to the forest, finds Medoro’s love-letters to Angelica inscribed on the trees here and there; whereupon Orlando becomes mad (Furioso).

6. John Lord Campbell, LL.D., F.R.S.E.: Shakespeare’s Legal Acquirements; pp.47-53. This book gives many illustrations of the correct use of legal terms, some of them abstruse, in the plays.

Contents | Chapter Thirty-Five