Chapter 38

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

Chapter Thirty-Eight


Much Ado seems to mark the complete reconciliation between Oxford and Philip Sidney; and this not only because the Earl jests with the younger man on the friendliest terms, but also because his drama, Antony and Cleopatra, had evidently been presented at Richmond two nights before Much Ado appeared, by the Earl of Leicester’s company of actors; and that would hardly have happened if Leicester’s nephew had not been favorably disposed. The success of The history of Caesar had occasioned a demand for the return of Antony and Cleopatra; and during the period that Oxford was out of favor with the Queen, neither her company nor his own would have performed his plays at court.

In Much Ado About Nothing Claudio is a composite of Philip Sidney and Oxford himself. Thus Hero represents in part Frances Walsingham, whose clandestine engagement to another man prevented for some months her marriage to Sidney; while in the other, fundamental presentment, Hero is Anne Cecil, suspected of infidelity by the man she loved, and scorned before the world. The suggestion that the name Hero may have been taken from the first half of Ariadante, of the Italian story, seems apt, so far as it goes; but we find that this name gave Oxford a chance to imply a great deal more than he says when Claudio reads the scroll (V.3) at “the monument of Leonato,” which is actually, here, the tomb of the Veres, as that of Leontes will be when he has a similar scene in an almost identical situation in The Winter’s Tale (III.2.232-41).

The scroll begins:

Done to death by slanderous tongues
Was the Hero that here lies.

But the Song goes thus:

Pardon, goddess of the night,
Those that slew thy virgin knight.

So that we seem to have Hero standing here for the knight, who was Oxford, evidently in a late revision; and there is a marked significance mysteriously–though not unfathomably–related to The Phoenix and the Turtle.

In this version, of course, Hero represented Anne Cecil, whose life was for a time frustrated almost to extinction by her husband’s suspicion and outraged pride.

But the namby-pamby side of Claudio, willing to give up his betrothed without question and with small show of feeling, is Philip Sidney, who seems to have been emotionally immature, if not insipid. A letter he wrote Walsingham from Wilton, December 17, 1581, winds up:

The country affords no other stuff for letters but humble salutations, which humbly and heartily I send to yourself, my good lady, and my exceeding like to be good friend. (1)

It may have been at Leicester’s behest that Queen Elizabeth for a time forbade the young courtier to marry Frances Walsingham. But the particulars of Sidney’s love-affair do not concern us here: it seems to have concluded happily enough in marriage.

Claudio stands for the young soldier, Sidney, in the following passage:

Messenger. . . . He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion. (I.1.13-15.)

And Claudio’s expression of his feeling toward Hero (I.1.292 et seq.) is a witty commentary on Sidney’s sonnet which we have previously quoted. to point the love-at-first-sight allusion in As You Like It; this corroborating our statement that the reference there was to Sidney, not Marlowe. Note Sidney’s lines and then Claudio’s:

I saw, and liked, I liked but loved not.
I loved, but straight did not what love decreed.
At length
to love’s decree, I, forced, agreed. . . .
                              O! my lord,
When you went onward on this ended action,
I look’d upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That lik’d, but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love;
But now I am return’d, and that war-thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying, I lik’d her ere I went to wars.
Don Pedro. Thou wilt be like a lover presently,
And tire the hearer with a book of words.

He is not very passionate, but he writes conventional love-sonnets; and Sidney had admitted that soldiering was his metier, literature secondary. Later Claudio says:

Silence is the perfectest herald of joy, etc. (II.1.300-3.)

Benedick calls him “Lord Lack-beard” (V.1.l91); and Sidney seems to have been beardless; while there is a glancing allusion to his tendency to “peck up wit as pigeons pease,” in the following, though it could later have been adapted as a riposte to Jonson:

Benedick. Nay, mock not, mock not. The body of your discourse is sometimes guarded with fragments, and the guards are but slightly basted on neither: ere you flout old ends any further, examine your conscience. — . . (I.1.281-4.)

Since the elaborately courteous Sidney, now restored to the Queen’s favor, had been one of the courtiers appointed to accompany Alençon to Flanders early in 1582, Beatrice’s remark that he is “a civil count, civil as an orange” (II.1.288) is apparently an allusion to the Prince of Orange who was to receive the delegation. It is also Sidney whom Don John describes, (1.3.47-49):

Who? the most exquisite Claudio? – – – A proper squire! . – –

Philip Sidney was knighted January 8, 1583, a few weeks before this play was produced at court; it was of course written earlier.

But Claudio is elsewhere Oxford–as another Claudio was in Measure for Measure:

In mine eyes she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on. (I.1.185-6.)

He is talking here of Hero-Anne Cecil, for Benedick has said:

Why, i’ faith, me thinks she’s too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise. (I.1.169-71.)

He adds that Claudio is in love

with Hero, Leonato’s short daughter. (I.1.211-2.)

Anne’s famous obedience to her father is stressed also:

Beatrice. Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy, and say, “Father, as it please you”:–but yet, for all that, cousin– make another curtsy, and say, “Father, as it please me.” (11.1.52-6.)

Another familiar point is made when Don John says:

. . . he is enamoured on Hero; I pray you dissuade him from her; she is no equal for his birth. . . . (II.1.163-4.)

But here, Don John expresses Henry Howard’s strong opposition to Oxford’s marriage to the Protestant Anne Cecil.

Claudio-Oxford protests (IV.1.51-5):

No, Leonato,
I never tempted her with word too large;
But as a brother to his sister show’d
Bashful sincerity and comely love.
Hero. And seem’d I ever otherwise to you?

Then, of course, Hero meekly takes back the man who has wronged her.

The hospitable aspect of Burghley is shown in Leonato’s welcome to Don Pedro, typical of the welcome accorded the Queen when she made her exorbitantly expensive sojourns at Theobalds:

Leonato. Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your Grace, for trouble being gone, comfort should remain; but when you depart from me, sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave. (I.1.97-100.)

But subsequently Oxford cannot resist a little dart in Benedick’s words (II.3.125-7):

Benedick (aside). I should think this a gull, but that the white-bearded fellow speaks it: knavery cannot, sure, hide itself in such reverence;

and he gives us a glimpse of the intensely paternal Shylock in Leonato’s words (II.3.156-9):

She doth indeed; my daughter says so . . . my daughter is sometimes afeard she will do a desperate outrage to herself. It is very true.

The Friar’s speech to Leonato (IV.1.212 et seq.) about the wronged Hero is full of significance for the story of Oxford and Anne Cecil:

Friar. Marry, this. . . shall on her behalf
Change slander to remorse. . . .

which is exactly what happened in the case of Oxford and his wife. The Friar describes the process as it worked in the sensitive poet no less accurately when he speaks of the virtue we do not value while it is ours:

              . . . for it so falls out
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lack’d and lost,
Why then we reck the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
Whiles it was ours. So will it fare with Claudio:
When he shall hear she died upon his words,
The idea of her life shall sweetly creep

Into his study of imagination,
And every lovely organ of her life
Shall come apparell’d in more precious habit,
More moving delicate, and full of life
Into the eye and prospect of his soul
Than when she liv’d indeed: then shall he mourn
.   .   .   .   .   .    .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
And wish he had not so accus’d her,
No, though he thought his accusation true.

This is one of the few times we are given a strong hint that the accusation against Anne Cecil may not have been false. Even without the above testimony, one is not long in realizing, when reading the plays with a knowledge of the source of the marital-slander theme, that the poet never indeed loved his wife so well during their life together as he loved and grieved about her after her death. Was this because he could never be altogether sure of her virtue, her honesty, during her lifetime but could condone her possible lapse after she was gone? Demanding of Ophelia, “Are you honest?” Hamlet puts her from him; but after her death, he protests sincerely enough, “I lov’d Ophelia!”

It was no casual amorous affair on the part of his wife that preyed on Oxford’s mind; he had had many himself, and although the double standard obtained in that day, still moral laxity was common at court, and he was a man of exceptional fairness and understanding. What better evidence could be given of this than Emilia’s long speech (Othello: IV.3.83-103):

But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall. . . . Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them; they see and smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. . . and have we not affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have? . . .

No; the sinister quality of the report Howard’s agent had made in Paris to the young Earl–that was the thorn in the wound; and it is still plaguing him when he writes Hamlet eight years afterward, and Lear later still. The only positive clue we have is found in Pericles; and Pericles was omitted from the First and Second Folios.
Claudio at Hero’s tomb (V.3.21-2),

Now unto thy bones good-night!
Yearly will I do this rite,

is simply Leontes at that of his wronged wife, Hermione, and their little son (W.T.: III.2.236-8):

Once a day I’ll visit
The chapel where they lie, and tears shed there
Shall be my recreation;

which of course means his “re-creation” of the story: his keeping “invention in a noted weed,” one so personal to him that it almost tells his name.

All through the deeper significance, then, Lord Oxford is Claudio. There is nothing in the young soldier, the Sidney aspect, to make the Friar’s lines applicable to him; for indeed he was ready enough to marry Hero’s substitute, quite as Sidney was ready promptly to marry Frances Walsingham, though he had been writing love-sonnets to Penelope Rich, as Stella, and Frances had been pledged to another man.

Oxford plays fair. He allows Burghley’s grievance regarding his mistreatment of Anne to be stated to Claudio by Leonato (V.1.58 et seq.):

Leonato. Tush, tush, man! never fleer and jest at me:
I speak not like a dotard nor a fool,
As, under privilege of age, to brag
What I have done, being young, or what would do
Were I not old. Know, Claudio, to thy head,
Thou hast so wrong’d mine innocent child and me
That I am forc’d to lay my reverence by,
And with grey hairs and bruise of many days,
Do challenge thee to trial of a man.
I say thou hast belied mine innocent child:
Thy slander hath gone through and through her heart,
And she lies buried with her ancestors;
O! in a tomb where never scandal slept,
Save this of hers, fram’d by thy villany!
Claudio. My villany? .
Leonato.              Thine, Claudio; thine, I say. . . .

This is a far more dignified statement of his case ,than Burghley himself had made to the Queen. The Earl was magnanimous in his remorse, even suggesting that it was his suspicion that had dishonored the Vere name. One is reminded of the warm-hearted and spontaneous letter he had written his father-in-law in 1572, soon after his marriage. Now he was willing to start afresh. Like Brutus, he forgave as wholeheartedly as he resented.

It seems to us that no better example could be shown, if one were needed, of Oxford’s fairness and humanity than his treatment of the conspirators and their accusations against him in this play, nor a more telling illustration provided of his amazing volatility and detachment than his feat of converting his enemies’ vilification into comedy and calling it Much Ado About Nothing–or, Much Ado About O. He deserves here the name of Benedict: he has been marvelously well-spoken. Honor and his good name meant more to him than his life did. For a time, the slander with which they had sullied it had plunged him into desolation. But he had rallied, and finally he was able to laugh, to make the last word a gay one, ending, as Beatrice tartly remarked that Benedick always did, “with a jade’s trick.”

The arch-villain, Don John, represents Henry Howard. Don Pedro seems to be partially Philip Howard, for whom Oxford had far more respect: now and then he seems to stand for the Queen. Don Pedro admits, regarding his brother, that

He is compos’d and fram’d of treachery (V.1.247);

as, indeed, he was.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Henry Howard plays his full role, not only as the villain who maligned a chaste wife, but also as the accuser, with Conrade and Borachio–who are Arundel and Southwell–of Oxford himself, in the vicious attack countering his charge against the trio of conspiracy and treason. Howard was a congenital conspirator: his quality is shown in Don John’s conversation with Conrade (I.3.10 et seq.), where the following passage occurs:

Don John. I wonder that thou, being. . . born under Saturn, goest about to apply a moral medicine to a mortifying mischief. . . .

Don John of Austria was the brother of Philip of Spain, whom Simier, and perhaps others, called Saturn after having seen a performance of Titus Andronicus. The name Conrade is a rough anagram for C. Arundel–C. Aronde–who was until his death in the pay of the King of Spain.

Conrade. . . . You have of late stood out against your brother, and he hath ta’en you newly into his grace. (20-1.)

This refers to Elizabeth’s vacillating clemency towards Henry Howard, who was, however, her cousin, not her brother.

Don John. I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose [i.e., a Tudor rose, and thus loyal] in his grace; and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any; in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but that I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime, let me be that I am, and seek not to.alter me. (25-35.)

Pending the final showdown with Oxford, Howard was not in prison; he was most of the time living in custody, at the Queen’s command. And it is of course the Earl to whom reference is made when Don John continues (61-5):

Come, come; let us thither: this may prove food to my displeasure. That young start-up hath all the glory of my overthrow: if I can cross him any way, I bless myself every way. You are both sure, and will assist me?

They were, and they did, both Arundel and Southwell. The latter is Borachio: his name an anagram for Broach-i-o, or Broach E. 0., broach meaning to stab. (Tit. And.: IV.2.86: I’ll broach the tadpole on my rapier’s point; and M.N.D.: V.1.147: He bravely broach’d his boiling bloody breast.)

When Don John consults Borachio as to how Claudio-Oxford can be thwarted, it is Howard conspiring with his Iago:

Any bar, any cross, any impediment will be medicinable to me; I am sick in displeasure to him, and whatever comes athwart his affection ranges evenly with mine. How canst thou cross this marriage?
Borachio. Not honestly, my lord, but so covertly that no dishonesty shall appear in me. . . . I think I told your lordship, a year since, how much I am in the favour of Margaret, the waiting-gentlewoman to Hero. (II.2.4-14.)

This is “honest Iago,” the husband of Emilia, conspiring against Desdemona, who is again Anne Cecil, the chaste wife wrongly accused. The implication is that the plot had been brewing for “a year”: which fits perfectly with the facts of the case; for, as Burghley wrote in his memo. of January 3, 1576,

He [Oxford] confessed to my Lord Howard that he lay not with his wife but at Hampton Court, and that then the child could not be his, because the child was born in July which was not the space of twelve months;–

a confused statement resulting from the fact that Henry Howard had evidently said the child had not been born until September, though it had been the previous October when Lord Oxford had lain with his wife at Hampton Court. How typical of Oxford it is to bring in all this with such definite detail! He laughs at himself for doing so, when he has Beatrice say (II.l.l0) that Benedick is “evermore tattling.” It is of more than passing interest here that the adjective, “medicinable,” in Don John’s speech, above, occurs only once more in the whole literature of the dramas, and that is in Othello.

When Borachio has engaged “to misuse the prince, to vex Claudio, to undo Hero, and kill Leonato,” Don John says, because Howard also hated Burghley profoundly:

Only to despite them, I will endeavour anything. (II.2.30-1.)

And in the end, Ursula truly declares (V.2.95):

Don John is the author of all.

That Howard’s actions were motivated by a chronic discontent– “I make all use of it, for I use it only” (I.3.37.)–would seem to be Oxford’s diagnosis of the man’s villainy. And on the whole, he has dealt gently indeed with his traitorous friend and kinsman, his worst enemy. Henry Howard had been directly responsible for two of the bitterest experiences of Lord Oxford’s life: his impulsive repudiation of his wife, for which he apparently never forgave himself, and the slander, on two separate occasions, of his good name.

By 1586, Dogberry had become a familiar character. In a letter to Sir Francis Walsingham, apropos of the Babington conspiracy, Burghley spoke of the “dogberries of Enfield.”. Contemporary allusions to this play indicate that it was popular from the beginning, and perhaps Dogberry is partly responsible. Jonson refers to him in Every Man Out (I) and to Justice Shallow as well:

Sogliardo. : . . for my wealth, I might be a justice at the peace.
Ay, and a constable for your wit.

Dowden once remarked that what the author of Much Ado “derived from his sources is of far less importance than what originated in his imagination. . . while he loved laughter, [he] thought that laughter must live in alliance with a firm grasp on the serious realities of our world, full, as it is, of dark and bright.” Not apprehending what a “dark and bright” life the dramatist himself had led, or through what “whips and scorns” he had come to know that the “serious realities” can never for long be forgotten, the learned professor did not suspect that it was from experience rather than altogether from imagination that the tragic element in the plays had stemmed. The miracle of the Earl’s genius accounts for his brilliant effectiveness in transmuting his knowledge and experience, while his exuberance of spirit and amazing detachment enabled him to laugh, in retrospect, even at disaster–until the latter years, when the laughter finally died away and the tragic Muse took possession of the sensitive mind, dictating his final works and abiding with him to the end.

But now Lord Oxford was in his early thirties, and although he had plumbed the depths of humiliation and melancholy, his vigorous intelligence had asserted its balance, his humor was in the ascendant once more. He turned it brightly, as if with a searchlight from afar, upon his vilifiers and upon himself as he appeared in their evil report. Surely he could not have ridiculed their accusations thus, had there been much truth in them, or at least had there not been such a grotesque distortion of the truth that, terrible as the charges were, they could be shown to be ludicrous. Moreover, as has been elsewhere observed, had the nameless sexual offences and attempted murder by suborned agents been proved against him, he would have been completely discredited and his career at court for ever at an end. The men he had accused confronted him, their backs to the wall, unable to disprove his accusations of treachery and conspiracy, and therefore, snarling with impotent rage, counterattacked with their own best and most practised weapon, venomous slander.

Several superficial students, who have wished comfortably to dispose of Lord Oxford as author of the plays and the poems, have grasped at these slanders as evidence against him; Burghley, who censored all the records, having allowed them to be preserved. But the frenzied allegations were never proved, while his accusers were revealed and convicted as the traitors he had pronounced them to be, conspirators in the pay of Spain against their sovereign and country. They were among the “suborn’d informers” whom the poet scorned. It may as well be stated unequivocally here that none of this charge and countercharge accounts for Oxford’s enforced anonymity as author, nor has his “bewailed guilt” (of Sonnet 36) any connection with these accusations. That was something which he was never able to laugh about: it was that which constituted the basic, the real and pervasive tragedy of his life. In truth, only a “virtuous knight,” a man of impeccable honor, would have called it “guilt” at all.’ But the Philistines were only too glad to seize the point and exploit the appellation.

Yes; about some of the Howard-Arundel-Southwell (Don John-Conrade-Borachio) vilifications he was presently able to laugh; actually they became, in one or two instances, familiar cachets applied to Oxford; and he had only himself to blame, since he had advertised them so brashly in Much Ado.

Touching mine accuser [wrote Howard]: if the botchie and deformities of his mis-shapen life suffice not to discredit it and disgrace the warrant of his wreakful word: yet let his practices with some gentlemen to seek my life.

This may be the origin of the epithet, “Deformed,” which Oxford catches up and even flaunts in this play. By now, the wound sustained in his duel with Knyvet had in some degree really maimed him, and he seems to have been unable to resist the quibble which was doubly pointed.

Borachio and Conrade are conferring in the darkness (III.3.94 et seq.):

Borachio. Stand thee close then under this penthouse, for it drizzles rain, and I will, like a true drunkard, utter all to thee.

The prototypes of these two had conferred thus when Howard had accused Oxford of “railing against the Queen” and telling tall tales after dinner, but either Arundel or Southwell had stipulated that it had been while in his cups–“in poculis.” If Oxford had been intoxicated, “a true [Vere] drunkard”–and from what Cassio says in Othello about transforming “ourselves into beasts,” he had often in the past over-indulged in drink, to his sorrow–so of course had the others, and their testimony carried slight weight. It can hardly be believed, however, that he was “a notorious drunkard and very seldom sober,” in view of the immense amount of work he accomplished, not only in the writing of plays but in producing them in London and the provinces as well, to say nothing of sitting on Commissions and fulfilling other official duties. From Hamlet we can judge of the personal interest he took in training his actors.

The “rain” in which the plotters are standing recalls the lines Oxford had written about the attack upon his honor:

A storm, or robbery, call it what you will,
Shook down my mellow hangings, nay, my leaves,
And left me bare to weather. (Cym.: III.3.)


The creative mind often works in and from symbolic suggestion; and this point is interesting in that regard.

The Watch, suspecting treason, stands concealed within earshot.

Borachio. Therefore know, I have earned of Don John a thousand ducats. . . when rich villains have need of poor ones, poor ones may make what price they will.

A paid spy of Philip of Spain, he received his money through Henry Howard. He continues:

. . . Thou knowest that the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak, is nothing to a man. . . . But see’st thou not what a deformed thief fashion is?
Watch (aside). I know that Deformed: a’ has been a vile thief this seven years; a’ goes up and down like a gentleman: I remember his name.

All this is accompanied by a light pizzicato of allusion throughout. In 1580, the Queen had issued sumptuary laws dealing with certain “fashions” then in vogue. (2) Lord Oxford, because of having brought Continental styles to England, was always connected with exotic fashion, to the point of being called “fantastic.” There is high derision in Every Man Out for the courtiers who spend much time and thought on dress.

In 1580-81, it had been exactly “seven years” since Oxford had written his first “device,” embodying the Gad’s Hill robbery; in 1583, the year this play was produced, it had been exactly “seven years” since he had begun his recognized career as court-dramatist, from which time his output of plays had been steady. The term “thief” would seem to refer to his stealing of men’s secrets. Although he writes stage-plays, he “goes up and down like a gentleman.” (In the final revision, in 1600, there was a further significance.)

Borachio proceeds drunkenly and repetitiously, quite as Oxford’s rambling and verbose accusers had done:

Seest thou not, I say, what a deformed thief this fashion is? how giddily he turns about all the hot bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty? sometime fashioning them like Pharaoh’s soldiers in the reechy painting; sometime like god Bel’s priests in the old church-window; sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirched worm-eaten tapestry. . . .

If there had been allegations concerning irregular sexual practices with boys, Oxford was obviously not afraid of such preposterous fabrications, He kept a company of boy- and young men-actors and no doubt consulted old pictures, antique windows, and tapestries to obtain designs for their costumes: he might have used those of “Pharaoh’s soldiers” and “Bel’s priests” for the current Antony and Cleopatra. There is nothing shameful to hide, so he brings it out into the open.

Conrade. All this I see, and I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man. But art not thou thyself giddy with the fashion too, that thou hast shifted 3 out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion?

The author stresses the word “giddy,” adding later (V.4.107):

. . . for man is a giddy thing, etc.

It is his retort to Arundel’s charge that the elaborate fictions with which he regaled the table at jovial dinners were “forged out of his own giddy brain.”

They had charged him with leading an “impure life.” And Claudio finds a paper which he says is written in Benedick’s hand,

A halting sonnet of his own pure brain,
Fashion’d to Beatrice. (V.4.86-7.)

He has taken his calumniators up on one point after another. They had made some extravagant ones: “horrible enormities” . . . “great beastliness” . . . “detestable vices and impure life”; they had declared that he was an impudent and senseless liar, and–as we have previously recorded–so outrageous a boaster that Arundel has “been driven to rise from his table laughing.” “He is a notorious drunkard and very seldom sober. . . in his drunken fits he is no man but a beast, dispossessed of all modesty, temperance, and reason, and roars as one possessed with a wicked spirit.” He is “never restrained from his liberty of railing”–which is obviously to imply that Elizabeth does not restrain him because she enjoys it: like Olivia, in Twelfth Night, who asserts that

There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove. (1.5.96-9.)

The only one of these accusations which Oxford does not parry with insouciance is the charge of drunkenness; he takes that gravely enough, dealing with it, as we have said, in his next play, Othello.

We have not seen the original document containing the full list of accusations, but only those recorded by Ward and by Allen.

Article 45 reads as follows:

Fifthly. To show that the world never brought forth such a villainous monster, and for a parting blow to give him his full payment, I will prove against him his most horrible and detestable blasphemy, in denial of the divinity of Christ our saviour. and terming the Trinity as a fable. This heard my Lord Windsor, my Lord Harry, Rawlie, Southwell, and myself. And that Joseph was a wittold. . . .
To conclude. He is a beast in all respects, and in him no virtue to be found, and no vice wanting.

The contrast between Arundel’s career as a spy in the pay of Spain and Oxford’s as the greatest poet and writer of the most noble dramas the world has produced will serve to settle this question. Like many intellectual men and women, the Earl had undoubtedly gone through a period of agnosticism and atheism; but since at this very time he was said to have returned to the Catholic Church, that must have been one of the incidents raked up out of the past, like his boyhood resentment against the Queen for calling him a bastard. In 1576, when everything seemed to have failed him, he had consorted with such “bold and restless spirits” as Charles Arundel, Lord Surrey, Francis Southwell, and Walter Ralegh, indulging in philosophical discussions. This was his Timon period of profound disillusionment.

It is Arundel’s statement in Article 45 which Oxford has ridiculed in the dialogue between Don Pedro and Dogberry (V.1.212-22):

Don Pedro. Officers, what offence have these men done?
Dogberry. Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly they have verified unjust things; and to conclude, they are lying knaves.
Don Pedro. First, I ask thee what they have done; thirdly, I ask thee what’s their offence; sixth and lastly, why they are committed; and, to conclude, what you lay to their charge?

A man who was guilty of unspeakable enormities could hardly have turned the “lying knaves’ ” shafts against them with such nonchalance. “Fifthly,” says Arundel, and. , . “to conclude.”

And the muddle-headed Dogberry, whom they failed to “write down an ass,” parries the charges foggily against the “lying knaves,” while Don Pedro scoffs:

. . . sixth and lastly. . . and to conclude.

Of course the “lady” they have “belied” is Anne Cecil.

There has been an earlier passage (1.1.258) in which Don Pedro teases Benedick, quoting the line from Watson’s Hekatompathia, evidently paraphrased from The Spanish Tragedy:

“In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke;”

this also in answer to the “beast” and “monster” comparisons. The First Watch says (III.3.166-7):

And one Deformed is one of them: I know him, a’ wears a lock.

On the surface this would seem to mean a love-lock, a lock of hair; but it actually refers to the anonymity of the “Deformed,” who is like the Duke, of whom Lucio says, in Measure for Measure (III.2.138-42):

I believe I know the cause of his withdrawing. . . ’tis a secret must be locked within the teeth and the lips.

We have previously quoted Howard’s indictment of Oxford for “railing” at Francis Southwell

for commending the Queen’s singing one night at Hampton Court; protesting by the blood of God, that she had the worst voice, and did everything with the worst grace, that ever any woman did. . . .

The man who wrote Sonnet 128 to the Queen could with impunity show her the absurdity of this charge by aiming a glancing dart at it, as he did in Balthazar’s song (II.3.61 et seq.):

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nanny, nanny.
Sing no more ditties, sing no mo
        Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so
        Since summer first was leavy. . . .

Elizabeth would have been delighted at the impudence of her Turk, mocking his own inconstancy. He did not hesitate to drive his point home:

Don Pedro. By my troth, a good song.
Balthazar. And an ill singer, my lord.
Don Pedro. Ha, no, no, faith; thou singest well enough for a shift. . . .

This is a pun: he means “for a woman,” and he also means for an actor who has shifted into this part from, say, that of Benedick; for Oxford must have sung many of the songs in the plays to the accompaniment of his lute.

If Elizabeth had not been endowed with a sense of humor to match that of her great poet, English literature would have been immeasurably the poorer. Upon how delicate a balance do vast issues sometimes depend!

I’ll devise thee brave punishments [says Benedick] . . . Strike up, pipers!


1 Fox Bourne: Sir Philip Sidney; p. 364.

2 Holland; p. 41.

3 The chief function of Fungoso, in E.M.O., is to prove that “the fashion wears out more apparel than the man,” and one of his names is Shift.

Contents | Chapter Thirty-Nine