Chapter 37

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

Chapter Thirty-Seven


UNDER THE TITLE of A Historie of Ariodante and Geneuora there was presented at Richmond “before her maiestie on Shrovetuesdaie at night,” (1) February 12, 1583, a play which was undoubtedly the first version of Much Ado About Nothing. The Hero-Claudio part of the plot is a variant of a story about Ariodante and Geneuora in Book V of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, with the incident of the simulated death and revival of the wronged heroine taken from a novella by Bandello, in which the scene is likewise Messina and the names of the two elder men, Leonato and Don Pedro. The Earl of Oxford was well aware that there is nothing new under the sun and that the “old tales” have a vitality that justifies their use again.

In the early 1600’S a play called Benedicte and Betteris was performed before King James, and this must be the same. It is clear that the author intended the name to be spelled Benedict–i.e., well-spoken–rather than Benedick, as it became in the First Folio, not only because he liked to juggle with well and wyll, or will, but also because he has Beatrice say (III.4.74-5):

Benedictus! why Benedictus? you have some moral in this Benedictus.

The story would have appealed to Oxford, because it corresponded with one of his dominant themes: a chaste wife or mistress suspected by her lover of infidelity and unjustly repudiated by him. In Sonnet 76 he puts the lucid question:

Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth and where they did proceed?

He not only tells his name in the word “ever” or “every” (E.Ver or E.Very), but he keeps his invention in a recognizable garb, writing “still all one,” telling the same story over and over again. .

He often chooses a special scene in which to sprinkle name-clues. They come thick and fast in Much Ado (I.1.204-68):

Don Pedro. Thou was ever an obstinate heretic in despite of beauty.
And never could maintain his part but in the force of his will. (232-5.)
Benedick. . . . prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking. . . . (247-8.)
Claudio. If this should ever happen, thou wouldst be horn-mad.
Don Pedro. Nay, if Cupid have not spent all his quiver in Venice, thou wilt quake for this shortly.
Benedick. I look for an earthquake too then. (265-9.)

This is apposite because of the 1580 earthquake. The reference to Venice and losing blood points to The Merchant of Venice, which appeared at about that time, and to Antonio’s identification with Benedick-Oxford. But the most potent hint of concealed identity comes in Benedick’s statement to Claudio (207-9):

I can be secret as a dumb man; I would have you think so; but on my allegiance, mark you this, on my allegiance.

This declaration, occurring in the midst of the name-clues just cited, is highly significant. What can we conclude save that his anonymity was a compact with the Queen, but that while he would keep the letter of his oath, he would yet provide the letters of his name?

There is reason to believe that Much Ado was begun before As You Like It and was set aside, in order that the Elizabeth-Alençon love-affair might be played up at a crucial time and the attack on William of Orange dramatized. Oxford certainly wrote Much Ado while reproaching himself for his harsh treatment of his wife. He even makes amends to Burghley, in the person of Leonato (the name taken from Bandello and retained because the old man stands partially for England, Leo), picturing him as a wronged and dignified old father, the most amiable–excepting Lafeu–of all the Burghley characterizations in the plays, although his better side is shown in the two immediately following. Oxford himself is partially Claudio–for the Anne Cecil-Hero story; and he is altogether Benedick to Anne Vavasor’s Beatrice, seeming to say through these two that their liaison has been an attraction of wits and that they had been pricked on by others to confess the attraction.

Relationships are somewhat disguised, of course, but one notes that whereas Juliet was a combination of the two Annes, and fair Rosaline a kinswoman of the Capulets, here Beatrice is Hero’s close friend and, as the niece of Leonato, her cousin; for there is a touch of Queen Elizabeth in Beatrice, as will appear later. Beatrice’s chief prototype had an uncle, too, but he was Thomas Knyvet. At the outset, after calling Benedick “Signior Mountanto,” which is a fencing-term, she says (I.1.37-40):

He set up his bills here in Messina and challenged Cupid at the flight; and my uncle’s fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid, and challenged him at the bird-bolt.

The reference is to Oxford’s play-bills and to the duel he had fought with her uncle, who, we are to suppose she means–or Oxford means–was a fool to challenge him so lightly, or inappropriately.

Beatrice and Benedick are unmistakably the dark Rosaline and Berowne of Love’s Labour’s Lost: their dialogue throughout I.1 is the same in mood as that of the younger pair, a witty sparring.

Leonato. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her. (I.1.61-2.)

But the Messenger will not have Beatrice malign Benedick, who is, he protests (55-6):

A lord to a lord, a man to a man, stuffed with all honourable virtues.

Beatrice, however, assures him that Benedick

hath every month a new sworn brother.
Messenger. Is ‘t possible?
Beatrice. Very easily possible: he wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the next block. (2)

That Benedick is regarded as something of an amoroso appears in the following passage (I.1.102-7):

            Don Pedro. . . . I think this is your daughter.
Leonato. Her mother hath many times told me so.
Benedick. Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?
Leonato. Signior Benedick, no; for then you were a child.

Oxford habitually mocks himself as well as others. He has just had an illegitimate child by Anne-Beatrice, who takes him up as he replies, with:

I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.

And when he challenges her for her sharpness, she says (138):

A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours;

thus bringing up the charge of “beastliness” made against Oxford. Then she adds (143-4):

You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.

Later in the play the relationship between Benedick-Oxford and Beatrice-Anne Vavasor is made more explicit in the latter’s answer to Don Pedro (II.1.271-6):

Don Pedro. Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
Beatrice. Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for a single one; marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your Grace may well say I have lost it.

Here is complete candor. Anne had given her lover two hearts for one, her son’s and her own. For the rest, she means he had seduced her, or tricked her into a love-affair.

Oxford seems to be trying to make amends to her too. In endowing her with a spirited gaiety, he nevertheless conveys the idea that her sharpness and independence are a defence flaunted by a heart that has been bruised.

Beatrice. I was born to speak all mirth and no matter (323);


. . . there there was a star danced, and under that was I born. (328.)

She is still the dark wanton, however; and of her and Benedick Leonato says, as could well have been said of Rosaline and Berowne:

O Lord! my lord, if they were but a week married, they would talk themselves mad. (346-7.)

Beatrice identifies Benedick as the high-strung Oxford in unmistakable terms. (11.1.136-49.) She is conversing with him while they are masked:

Beatrice. Why, he’s the prince’s jester: a very dull fool; only his gift is in devising impossible slanders; none but libertines delight in him. . . he both Pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him. . . .
Benedick. When I know the gentleman, I’ll tell him what you say.
Beatrice. Do, do: he’ll but break a comparison or two on me; which, peradventure not marked or not laughed at, strikes him into melancholy; and then there’s a partridge wing saved, for the fool will eat no supper that night.

By degrees we get a vivid picture of the Earl of Oxford, for he has seen to it that the players “tell all.” Benedick was certainly not “the prince’s jester.” The only prince mentioned is Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, while Benedick is a young lord of Padua, who “sets up his bills”–play-bills–“here in Messina”: which is England, because Leonata is Governor. Thus Beatrice is talking about the Earl of Oxford, who is Elizabeth’s “allowed fool,” as Feste was Olivia’s, and Touchstone Rosalind’s and Celia’s; and also her chief dramatist, as Jaques meant to be the Duke’s.

We may be sure the courtiers were flattered when they were featured in the plays, though they may frequently have writhed at the “jester’s” realism, and been unforgiving, like Hatton. Sometimes they laughed, or pretended to; but sometimes they “beat him,” as Leicester often tried to “beat” or circumvent him, and as Christopher Hatton managed often to do in subtle and effective ways. But when, as Beatrice says, they did not sufficiently mark him, then he was struck into “melancholy” (like Jaques, who demanded leave to speak his mind) and would “eat no supper that night.” In other words, when his “good wit” was not “seconded with the forward child Understanding,” he was, as Touchstone put it, “struck. . . dead.” This nervous susceptibility is characteristic of a man of Oxford’s sensitiveness and highly charged mind. He was too much the poet not to react emotionally when his shots misfired or his exuberant wit fell flat.

Don Pedro adds to the description of Oxford in saying of Benedick (II.1.371 et seq .):

Thus far I can praise him; he is of a noble strain, of approved valour, and, confirmed honesty. . . . I . . . will so practise on Benedick, that, in despite of his quick wit anq his queasy stomach, he shall fall in love with Beatrice. . . .

He has, says Don Pedro (III. 2. 10-36):

twice or thrice cut Cupid’s bow-string. . . . He hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper; for what his heart thinks his tongue speaks. . . . There is no appearance of fancy in him, unless it be a fancy that he hath to strange disguises; as to be a Dutchman today, a Frenchman tomorrow, or in the shape of two countries at once, as a German from the waist downward, all slops [i.e., loose breeches], and a Spaniard from the hip upward, no doublet. Unless he have a fancy to this foolery, as it appears he hath, he is no tool for fancy. . . .

In other words, he is steady enough. Barnabe Riche had written about Oxford’s riding through the streets on a footcloth nag with a fan of feathers before his face. Gabriel Harvey had spoken of his fantastic dress in Speculum Tuscanismi. He himself refers to “garments though new-fangl’d ill” in Sonnet 91. And Ben Jonson, in Cynthia’s Revels (I) describes Amorphus as

so sublimated and refined by travel; of so studied and well-exercised a gesture; so alone in fashion; . . . and was your first that ever enriched his country with the true laws of the duello.

He was a great innovator, not only in language, literature, the drama, but in fashions of dress as well. He did much to bring England into step with the more advanced progress of the Continent.

There is a reference here also to the perfumed gloves Oxford had brought Queen Elizabeth on his return from his travels, which is of course a definite identity-clue (III.4.59-60):

Hero. These gloves the count sent me; they are an excellent perfume.

It was from this that Jonson picked up the allusion for Amorphus’s song which we have already quoted. For, at best, he would have been only a baby when the Earl had returned with the famous gloves which had so delighted the Queen that they had become legendary. He refers to them again in Every Man Out:

Perfumed gloves, and delicate chains of amber,
To keep the air in awe of her sweet nostrils.

The passage in which Hero’s statement occurs (III.4) is of exceedingly complex significance. We shall return to it later for its further application, discussing now only its present meaning. Beatrice-Anne Vavasor is talking of being ill (obviously before the birth of her child) :

Hero. Good morrow, coz.
Beatrice. Good morrow, sweet Hero.
Hero. Why, how now! do you speak in the sick tune?
Beatrice. I am out of all other tune, methinks.
Margaret. Clap’s into “Light O’ love”; that goes without a burden. [The song has no “burden,” but Beatrice has after her light O’ love experience.] . . . I’ll dance it.
Beatrice. Ye light o’ love with your heels! then if your husband have stables enough, you’ll see he shall lack no barns. [A pun, meaning bairns, often called “barns” by simple people; vide, W. T.: III.3.6S.] Margaret. a illegitimate construction! . . .
Beatrice. ‘Tis almost five o’clock, cousin. . . . By my troth, I am exceeding ill.
Margaret. For a hawk, a horse, or a husband?
Beatrice. For a letter that begins them all, H. [This alludes more particularly to another situation but the letter can stand here for Howard, since it is the Howards who have complicated Anne’s and Oxford’s liaison, if they did not actually promote it.]
Margaret. Well, an you be not turned Turk, there’s no more sailing by the star. [By this she means that if Anne has not gone over completely to Oxford, whom the Queen called her Turk, there’s no, more sailing along with him: “sailing by the star” referring to the Vere emblem, the mullioned star.]
Beatrice. What means the fool, trow?
Margaret. Nothing, I; but God send every one their heart’s desire. [Nothing: i.e., O. And E.Ver-y one’s heart’s desire is a son; the reference here being to the other situation. Chap. Sixty-two.]
Hero. These gloves the count sent me: they are an excellent perfume. Beatrice. I am stuffed, cousin, I cannot smell. [She does not mean her head is stuffed.]
Margaret. A maid, and stuffed! There’s goodly catching of cold.
Beatrice. O, God help me! God help me! how long have you professed apprehension? [How long have you suspected the truth?]
Margaret. Ever since you left it. . . . [Ever since you ceased to apprehend and knew.]
Beatrice. . . . By my troth, I am sick.
Margaret. Get you some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus, and lay it to your heart. [Double meaning here: Carduus Benedictus, holy thistle; and kardia, the root-word, meaning heart. Thus, Lay Benedict’s heart to your own. Perhaps it was this passage that caused the editors to change the spelling to Benedick.]
Beatrice. Benedictus! why Benedictus? you pave some moral in this Benedictus.

The remainder is concerned with the other allusion, which we shall examine later. But we submit that this passage makes very little sense unless one knows the true author and the circumstances of his life. We have spoken before of the annalist Stowe’s observation that “it was the custom of the period to enfold in poems a second intention.” The Earl of Oxford, however, did not stop with a secondary meaning: he contrived wheels within wheels. He always meant something, although often when the commentators cannot apprehend his meaning, they blame him and not themselves.

Ben Jonson understood every bit of innuendo and frequently played upon it in his own parodies. In Every Man Out (II) he alludes to the above passage in his characteristically ambiguous fashion. Sir Puntarvolo-Oxford arranges for insurance

to be paid me . . . upon the return of myself, my wife, and my dog from the Turk’s court in Constantinople.

And subsequently (IV.4) he makes certain stipulations to the notary who draws up the papers:

Puntarvolo. Then, that the intended bound is the Turk’s court. . . and that, if either of us miscarry, the whole venture is lost. . . or if either of us turn Turk.

There are many evidences in Every Man Out of Jonson’s preoccupation with Much Ado. He missed nothing: he appropriated freely. When the question is asked (II) if Puntarvolo is magnanimous, the reply is:

As the skin between your brows, sir.

Whereas Dogberry says of Goodman Verges that

his wits are not so blunt. . . but, in faith, [he is] honest as the skin between his brows. (III.5.11-13.)

What Ursula said of Benedick was literally true of Oxford:

Signior Benedick
For shape, for bearing, argument and valour,
Goes foremost for report through Italy.
Hero. Indeed he hath an excellent good name. (III.1.95-8.)

When in Italy Oxford had issued a challenge to prove the supremacy of England, but no one had dared answer it.

That Benedick is a poet appears in the request Margaret makes and his response (V.2.4-7):

Margaret. Will you then write me a sonnet in praise of my beauty? Benedick. In so high a style, Margaret, that no. man living shall come over it. . . .

Oxford naturally knew that he was the greatest poet of his time, that he was equipped to write in a high style, and that his verse would be deathless. He said as much in the Sonnets.

The Earl is jibing merrily at Sidney’s society, the Areopagus, which had taken a stand against rhyme in verse, when Benedick says (V.2.35-41):

Marry, I cannot show it in rime; I have tried: I can find out no rime to “lady” but “baby,” an innocent rime; for “scorn,” “horn,” a hard rime; for “school,” “fool,” a babbling rime; very ominous endings; no, I was not born under a riming planet, nor I cannot woo in festival terms.

The implication is that his opponents are incapable of artistic rhyming, hence they decry it; and his words, “woo in festival terms,” are probably a quip at Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella sonnets, which were artificial and conventional, not truly felt.

The passage between Benedick and the Boy at the beginning of II.3, would seem to be a lightsome reference to Oxford’s ordering the young Sidney (the quondam Boyet) off the tennis-court and to the triviality of the affair:

Benedick. Boy!
Boy. Signior?
Benedick. In my chamber-window lies a book; bring it hither to me in the orchard.
Boy. I am here already, sir.
Benedick. I know that; but I would have thee hence, and here again.

But to return to Beatrice and Benedick: the latter, after having spoken of “my very visor” II.1.238), offers to travel “to the world’s end” on any errand for Don Pedro:

I will fetch you a toothpicker now from the furthest inch of Asia; bring you the length of Prester John’s foot; fetch you a hair off the Great Cham’s beard. . . . (262-4.)

The Frampton translation of Marco Polo’s travels had been published and been widely read in 1579; Oxford applies it to himself in speaking of the “toothpicker” and making the pun about the “hair off the Great Cham’s beard.” Here we have one of the innumerable “hair-hare-heir” puns to which the Elizabethans were almost morbidly addicted. He means the “heir of the Great Chamberlain.” Benedick has previously said (I.1.182) that “Cupid is a good hare-finder”; i.e., “heir-finder.” More and more of such puns will be forthcoming.

There is another point besides Anne Vavasor’s “apprehensions” and Marco Polo’s travels which connects the writing of this play with 1579-80, when we believe it was begun, though laid aside; and this is the gay passage (I.1.268 et seq.) speaking of the “earthquake” (1580) and embodying Don Pedro’s “Well, you will temporize with the hours” (an addition for the change of time, or literally, for the change of calendar, 1582). Don Pedro dates the imaginary letter, and later

The sixth of July. . . (279),

Leonato says (II. 1.352-3):

Not till Monday, my dear son, which is hence just a seven-night. . . .

Admiral Holland states that the “sixth of July” fell on a “Monday” in 1579.

One more point is in order in this connection. The Bill of Excommunication which Pope Pius issued against Elizabeth was a prominent feature of Father Campion’s and Father Parsons’s campaign of 1580; hence Dogberry’s solecism (III.5.64-5):

. . . only get the learned writer to set down our excommunication, and meet me at the gaol.

The tennis-court quarrel had occurred in 1579, and there is another allusion to it when Claudio says of Benedick (II1.2.43-4):

. . . the ornament of his cheek hath already stuffed tennis-balls.

It would seem that Beatrice “could not endure’ a husband with a beard on his face.” (II.1.29-30′) And Claudio, who is partly Philip Sidney and partly Oxford, says (V.1.l44):

God bless me from a challenge!–

thus alluding to two challenges Oxford had received.

As Benedick to Beatrice, Oxford could have said to Anne:

I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will. (V.2.65-6.)

The irrepressible Earl makes another glancing reference to Arundel’s charge against him of “great beastliness” in the passage where Don Pedro and Claudio tease Benedick about his impending marriage (V.4.34 et seq.). Finally Claudio says:

Tush! fear not, man, we’ll tip thy horns with gold,
And all Europa shall rejoice at thee,
As once Europa did at lusty Jove,
When he would play the noble beast in love.
Benedick. Bull Jove, sir, had an amiable low:
And some such strange bull leap’d your father’s cow,
And got a calf in that same noble feat,
Much like to you, for you have just his bleat. (44-51.)

So once again Oxford parries a thrust at himself, while making a merry pass at Sidney.

Before leaving Benedick, we must make an observation about his identity as the dramatist himself. We do not know when Oxford first informally adopted his nom de plume, or when he began using or speaking of it in bohemia; but that it was already in his mind is apparent in two passages in Much Ado:

Benedick. By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me.
Beatrice. Do not swear by it, and eat it.
Benedick. I will swear by it that you love me; and I will make him eat it that says I love not you.
Beatrice. Will you not eat your word? (IV.1.278-82.).

This is just a small hint: But presently we have (V.1.124-5):

Claudio. . . . Wilt thou use thy wit?
Benedick. It is in my scabbard; shall I draw it?

It becomes increasingly apparent that Oxford regarded his wit (and his work that proceeded from it) as the weapon he was using for sovereign and country as his noble ancestors had used their swords and spears, and as the perfect courtier was bound to do. The Queen forbad him a martial career, but he wielded his sword–s-word, or words–just as doughtily and effectively as he could have employed a real one on the battlefield.

At the close of this play Benedick says:

I’ll devise thee brave punishments. . . . Strike up, pipers!

This play–or device–was the result. He devised it with his wit, which he took out of its scabbard for the purpose.

There is a great deal more to Much Ado than we have yet spoken of. It is, in fact, so full of intimate revelations that Jonson chipped off many pieces of it for both Every Man Out and Cynthia’s Revels.

Some fifteen years or so after the first version of Much Ado was presented, “honest Ben” Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour was performed. Since, during the last thirteen or fourteen years of his life, Lord Oxford was continually revising his work, it is impossible to say of certain passages whether they belonged to the early 1580’s or to the turn of the century. But some can be definitely placed.

That Jonson wrote Every Man Out in a spirit of jealousy and envy he himself testified in the abject speech he made as an Epilogue when it was performed before the Queen. Whether he was ever personally acquainted with Oxford we do not know, but he had certainly seen him and he was well-versed in the particulars of his life which made anonymity obligatory. Knowing in what a close relation the Earl stood to the Queen, as well as how safely in her protection, he must have been somewhat alarmed at having his heavy satire of Puntarvolo, “the Vain-glorious knight,” presented before Elizabeth, As Malicente (Malice net), who sets a trap for Puntarvolo, he made a sycophantic speech to Elizabeth, kneeling midway:

Never till now did object greet mine eyes
With any light content; but in her graces
All my malicious powers have lost their stings.
Envy is fled from my soul at sight of her,
And she hath chased all black thoughts from my bosom,
Like as the sun doth darkness from the world.
My stream of humour is run out of me. . , ,

as, he continues, rather too graphically, the sewage runs out of the Thames upon the swelling tide. . .

And I have now a spirit sweet and clear
As the more rarefied and subtle air:–
With which, and with a heart as pure as fire,
Yet humble as the earth, do I implore
O heaven, that She, whose presence hath effected
This change in me, may, , . etc., etc.

But before the beatific vision of the sixty-seven-year-old Queen had struck such regenerative ecstasy into his soul, he had been, in this play as again in Cynthia’s Revels (1600-01), animated with incredible envy and malice toward the long-established dramatist, Jonson, as we have said, bitterly resented the fact that these old dramas, which he–belonging as he did to the younger generation–believed out-dated, still played to crowded houses, while his own work went for years unappreciated. In the Prologue to Every Man Out he declares that his purpose is

To give these ignorant well-spoken days
Some taste of the abuse of this word humour.

Oxford had been using the word frequently in his plays of this period, and he continued to do so. He must surely have added several passages to Much Ado after Jonson’s satire, if not some of his Epigrams, appeared.

Benedick. I’ll tell thee what, prince; a college of witcrackers cannot flout me out of my humour. Dost thou think I care for a satire or an epigram? (V.4.100 et seq.)

In both Every Man Out and Cynthia’s Revels Jonson carps at the character who represents Lord Oxford for praising himself and for self-love respectively. Hence the following dialogue (Much Ado: V.2.71 et seq.):

Beatrice. . . . there’s not one wise man among twenty that will praise himself.
Benedick. An old. . .instance, Beatrice, that lived in the time of good neighbours. . . therefore it is most expedient for the wise,–if Don Worm, his conscience, find no impediment to the contrary,–to be the trumpet of his own virtues, as 1 am to myself. So much for praising myself, who I myself bear witness, is praiseworthy. [“Don Worm” is a play upon his name, since ver, in French, means worm.]

Compare the description of Puntarvolo, in E.M.O.:

Puntarvolo, a vain-glorious knight, over-englishing his travels [that is, he writes plays about foreign countries he has visited but they are about English people], wholly consecrated to singularity; the very Jacob’s staff of compliment. [Jonson was envious of courtiers, as well as successful dramatists.] Of presence good enough, but so palpably affected to his own praise, that for want of flatterers he commends himself, to the floutage [Benedick’s word] of his own family. He deals upon returns and strange performances, resolving, in spite of public derision, to stick to his own fashion, Phrase, and gesture.

That is to say, he deals with “returns” of his former plays (revisions), “sponsors strange performances”of these old-fashioned plays written in the “high style,” and sticks to his own (outmoded) “fashion, phrase, and gesture.” In other words, though he flouts his own family (Burghley included), he will not be flouted out of his humor.

The “Jacob’s staff” allusion is arresting. In public processions, when he did not carry the Sword of State before the Queen, the Lord Great Chamberlain was accustomed to appear with the “staff” of his hereditary office.

Then came the Lord Chamberlain with his white staff,
And all the people began to laugh.

Jonson had undoubtedly seen Lord Oxford at such a time and been impressed with the elegance with which he wielded his staff while bowing to the ladies. Why, he sourly wondered, does this man have everything, while I, who am his equal in intellect, and his superior in classical learning (vide Benedick’s “college of witcrackers”) must struggle for mere recognition? This was clearly Jonson’s attitude before success came to him.

Of himself, as Asper, in the Introduction, before he becomes Macilente, for the purpose of flouting every character in the play, Jonson characteristically asserts that he is

of an ingenious and free spirit, eager and constant in reproof, without fear controlling the world’s abuses. One whom no servile hope of gain, or frosty apprehension of danger, can make to be a parasite, either of time, place, or opinion.

He praises himself extravagantly also in Cynthia’s Revels, while declaring that Amorphus-Oxford is “his own promoter in every place,” etc.

This was the jealous Jonson, who had been a bricklayer and had not yet become a companion of the aristocracy, standing apart and sneering at the courtier-dramatist. He is the same man who will later become a protege of the Earl of Pembroke, Oxford’s son-in-law, and, when the “grand possessors”–of whom Pembroke is one–decide to publish, in 1623, a folio of the illustrious plays, will write an ambiguous panegyric to the mask and be paid handsomely for perpetrating the great hoax. This is “honest Ben.”

But we have not finished with Much Ado About Nothing.


1 Feuillerat Documents, p. 350.

2 Jonson dramatizes this point with great emphasis but different import in Cyn. Rev.: 1.1. See Chap. Sixty-One.

Contents | Chapter Thirty-Eight