Chapter 42

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

Chapter Forty-Two


CALIBAN IS SYMBOLIC on more than one level for different versions of the play. Besides representing, in the late 1580’s and the 1590’s, the gross, earthbound, easily swayed mob and the hoodlums of the theatre, he seems in part to personify, for the original, topical version of 1583, the matured bastard son of Aaron and Tamara of Titus Andronicus–offspring of black villainy mated with conspiracy–to whom, as he carried the child away, the malevolent Aaron had said (IV.2.177-82):

Come on, you thick-lipp’d slave, I’ll bear you hence;
For it is you that puts us to our shifts,

destining him

To be a warrior and command a camp.

Othello was the son of a Moor; he had thick lips, according to Roderigo (I.1.66); he came to “be a warrior and command a camp.” Alençon, the 1583 prototype of Othello, also had thick lips, came “to be a warrior and command a camp,” in Flanders. It is all very complex, and this is only one level of meaning.

Caliban is the son of the “damn’d witch Sycorax . . . the blue-eyed hag,” who had imprisoned Ariel in the rift of a cloven pine, where he did

               painfully remain
A dozen years. (I.2.278-9.)

In the year 1571, “a dozen years” before The Tempest was written, the project of Queen Elizabeth’s marriage to the due d’Anjou, afterward Henry III of France, was proposed; in 1572 it was abandoned, and Catherine de’ Medici suggested the younger brother, Alençon,(1) for the match instead, thus initiating the twelve-year period of negotiations. Who but the wicked Catherine de’ Medici was the “blue-eyed hag, the damn’d witch, Sycorax,” of “mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible”? Oxford hated her passionately; she was the prototype of the wicked stepmother Queen, of Cymbeline, who dealt in poisons, and of the wicked Dionyza in Pericles, who plotted murder. We shall meet her yet again.

Stephano calls Caliban “Monsieur monster” (III.2.19); and “Monsieur,” it will be recalled, was the name by which Alençon was widely known. Moreover, “Argier” (I.2.265) must stand for the English pronunciation of Angers, the capital of the dukedom of Anjou, which Alençon had inherited on his brother’s accession. These facts add weight, if not considerable clarity, to Prospero’s speech (V.1.268-71 ):

This mis-shapen knave,–
His mother was a witch; and one so strong
That could control the moon, make flows and ebbs,
And deal in her command without her power.

As for the “mis-shapen knave,” Motley wrote of Alençon:

It was thought that his revolting appearance was the principal reason for the rupture of the English marriage, and it was in vain that his supporters maintained that if he could forgive her age, she might, in return, excuse his ugliness.

The Queen Mother of France had, indeed, been so strong that she might have been said to “control the moon,” Elizabeth, since the Queen of England was compelled to maintain friendly relations with France, in order to fortify her position against Philip of Spain; Catherine of course played this advantage for all it was worth. The expression “flows and ebbs” perfectly describes Elizabeth’s policy, never more so than in regard to the Alençon match.

All this inference is given point by the name Sycorax, which Mrs. Clark suggests is formed by combining the first part of the word “sycophant” with a slightly altered “rex.” The passage, just quoted, indicates a certain sycophancy on Elizabeth’s part; but there is more to it than that.

Oxford’s imagination had for twelve years been kept in bondage–sycophancy to the English Rex–for the purpose of romanticizing and popularizing the Alençon match, to which there was always powerful opposition, writing masques and interludes before he produced plays. Now that this had become a dead issue, his imagination would be set free at last, as Prospero promises that Ariel shall be. He has reminded Ariel (I.2.270 et seq.):

               Thou, my slave,
As thou report’st thyself, wast then her servant:
And. . . thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorr’d commands. . . .

A deep sense of indignity at having had his creative gifts subjected for so long to such an unworthy cause would seem to have embittered Oxford against the man who had, besides, turned out to be a monster of wickedness like his mother. Although he subsequently modified the Alençon characters–Bassanio, Orlando, Othello–he left enough of the original version, as we have seen, to reveal the early dates and topicality of the plays.

There is still another bondage from which Prospero means to free his imagination. This is the burden of galling resentment with which his traducers have poisoned it. Although Antonio is, for economy and perhaps disguise, inoculated with Burghley’s bad traits, those which worked against Oxford, he and Sebastian, the two arch villains, are intended to stand, as we have suggested, for Howard and Arundel, who are his overt enemies. But Prospero has resolved “at this time” to “tell no tales” about them; thus freeing his imagination to range at will. Their fealty to the Spanish Rex adds point to the name of the “damn’d witch Sycorax,” whose son is Caliban. Conspiracy had been another evil which had fettered Edward de Vere’s imagination.

For the aspect of Caliban as the vulgar playwrights and actors we have Prospero’s confirmation (I.2.353-8):

                    I pitied the’e,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endow’d thy purposes
With words that made them known. . . .

In the following passage (I.2.308-14) there seems to be a more complex meaning:

Prospero. We’ll visit Caliban, my slave, who never Yields us kind answer.
Miranda. . . . ‘Tis a villain, sir,
I do not love to look on.
Prospero. But as ’tis,
We cannot miss him: he does make our fire,
Fetch in our wood; and serves in offices
That profit us.–What ho! slave! Caliban!
Thou earth, thou! speak!

Mrs. Clark observes that “the hewers of wood and the drawers of water” have been “infected with the virus of Puritanism,” accepting it as their religion; while Oxford, disaffected with Roman Catholicism because of the abuses the supporters of the French marriage have brought to it, likes that no better than the aggressive Calvinism which is becoming so popular. Lord Oxford had taught the general public many things through the medium of his plays, but “the Puritans were inveighing against the stage with steadily increasing vehemence, which explains why Caliban ‘never yields us kind answer.’ ”

In the character of Stephano [continues Mrs. Clark] I see a caricature of Thomas Cartwright, the leading Puritan divine of his day. The bottle Stephano carries. . . is filled, not with liquor, but with the doctrines of Calvinism. The scene of drunkenness is intended to show Cartwright as misguided. . . and intoxicated with the power he wields over the populace. . . . In 1583, Whitgift was made Archbishop of Canterbury and, as Primate of England, the chief difficulty he had to contend with in establishing uniformity of discipline in the Church was the influence. . . of Cartwright. (2)

On discovering Caliban lying upon the ground with his and Trinculo’s legs showing beneath his gaberdine, Stephano seeks to “recover”–which is to say, convert–him:

Stephana. Four legs and two voices. . . . His forward voice now is to speak well of his friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches, and to detract. If all the wine in my bottle will recover him, I will help his ague. Come. Amen! (II.2.88-92.)
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Stephana. Prithee do not turn me about: my stomach is not constant.
These be fine things, an if they be not sprites. That’s a brave god and bears celestial liquor. 1 will kneel to him.
Stephana. How didst thou ‘scape? How cam’st thou hither? swear by this bottle how thou cam’st hither. I escaped upon a butt of sack, which the sailors heaved overboard, by this bottle! which I made of the bark of a tree with mine own hands, since I was cast ashore.
Caliban. I’ll swear upon that bottle, to be thy true subject; for the liquor is not earthly.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Stephana. Here, kiss the book. (Gives Trinculo drink.) . . . Come, swear to that; kiss the book; I will furnish it anon with new contents; swear.
Trillculo. By this good light, this is a very shallow monster.–I afeard of him!–A very weak monster.– The man i’ the moon! a most poor credulous monster!
Caliban. 1’ll show thee every fertile inch o’ the island,’
And I will kiss thy foot. I prithee, be my god! . . . (II.2.112 et seq.)

Caliban’s song (II.2.180-6) is that of the ignorant public, of the eternal believer in the prophets of Utopia and in the possibility of getting something for nothing:

No more dams I’ll make for fish;
Nor fetch in firing,
At requiring.
Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish;
‘Ban, ‘Ban, Ca-Caliban,
Has a new master– Get a new man.
Freedom, high-day! high-day, freedom! freedom! high-day, freedom!

Quite as modern as jazz in his song, Caliban seems to be up-to-date in his threats too, when he says to Prospero (I.2.363-5):

You taught me your language; and my profit on ‘t
Is, I know how to curse: the red plague rid you,
For learning me your language!

As Miranda and Ferdinand fell in love at first sight, so it would seem the young Lord Strange, Ferdinanda Stanley, had felt a strong affinity for Lord Oxford’s plays upon the first encounter, as his brother William was also to do.

Born in 1559, Ferdinanda Stanley was called Lord Strange until, upon his father’s death, he inherited the Earldom of Derby. He was intensely interested in the theatre and during the ’80’s became the patron of a company of actors, acquiring some of the Paul’s Boys when that company was dissolved in 1590. “A scholar, poet, and patron of the drama,” he was extolled by Spenser as Amyntas in Colin Clout Comes Home Again; by Nashe in Pierce Pennilesse; by Greene in Ciceronis; and by Chapman in The Silence of the Night.

Ferdinand. My language! heavens!
I am the best of them that speak this speech,
Were I but where ’tis spoken. (I.2.425-7.)

None of his work survives; it was of course anonymous, like that of his brother, the Sixth Earl of Derby, and their friend, the Earl of Oxford.

The Stanleys were descended through their mother from Lady Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII. Ward writes:

In 1593 a Jesuit plot had been disclosed which had as its object the dethroning of Elizabeth and the placing of Ferdinando, who had just succeeded to the Earldom, on the throne. . . . Although both brothers, by their words and actions, showed themselves absolutely innocent of any complicity in this mad project, their very proximity to the throne rendered them perpetually open to suspicion. Ferdinando’s death [at thirty-four, by poison] has been traced to these Jesuit conspirators, who, when they discovered his uncompromisingly hostile attitude towards their machinations, hoped perhaps to find a readier instrument in his brother. (3)

In 1583, this cultivated young courtier was twenty-four years old; Lord Oxford had, at thirty-three, already become a Prospero.

Ferdinand follows Ariel to his master’s presence and falls in love with Prospero’s daughter. They feel they are made for each other.

                Admired Miranda!
Indeed the top of admiration; worth
What’s dearest to the world! (III.1.37-9.)

This is the way both men felt about the drama, and William Stanley felt likewise. It exerted such a fascination over them that they were willing to be nameless in its service.

Sir Edmund Chambers’s speculations regarding this association and the man he calls “Shakespeare” are interesting, if exasperating. His exhaustive investigations and painstaking studies would have been of inestimable value, had he not, through the necessity of making Shaksper of Stratford and Shakespeare the dramatist the same man, been led into tortuous conjecture and supposition. Still, in the light of the details he recorded, we can see the true picture more clearly, and we can only regret that, because he never penetrated the mystery of the dramatist’s concealed identity, he failed to reap the full reward of his efforts. One honors him for his truthful summing-up of one phase: “After all the careful scrutiny of clues and all the patient balancing of possibilities, the last word for a self-respecting scholarship can only be that of nescience.”

Chambers supposes that it was because of the excellence of his actors, Alleyn in particular, that Ferdinando Stanley’s company gave six performances at court in the winter of 1591-92. We know it was because of his connection with the great court-dramatist, Lord Oxford. He says the important fact is that, in 1592, Ferdinando Stanley’s company began to act Shakespeare’s plays at the Rose. Here we have one tangible result of the liaison between Ferdinand and Prospero. But soon, lured further along the dazzling path of speculation to the land where everything is seen backwards, he suggests that the debut of “William Shakespeare” is closely connected with the Fifth Earl of Derby. We base our contention that it was quite the other way round upon the authority of the dramatist himself, in The Tempest.

Oxford may have had Ferdinando serve an apprenticeship, as Prospero insists upon Ferdinand’s eating coarse food and performing menial chores about the island (the theatre), before pronouncing him worthy of a share in producing the plays. He saw the alliance as a charming love-story, and no doubt the meeting of Ferdinand and Miranda was the beginning of a happy association on Lord Oxford’s part no less than Ferdinando’s. Certainly it was a source of joy to him when the Fair Youth became Ferdinand and could not be kept away from Prospero’s magic island, to which a strange “wrack” had driven him. When Prospero sees that Ferdinand and Miranda have fallen in love, he says (I.2.438-9):

. . . delicate Ariel,
I’ll set thee free for this!

He was to make the adored Fair Youth–prototype, together with his own former self, of Sebastian, the “adored” youth of Antonio, in Twelfth Night, who had survived a “wrack”–his heir in the theatre; hence the two “hair-heir” puns:

So safely order’d, that there is no soul–
No, not so much perdition as an hair,
Betid to any creature in the vessel
.. . which thou saw’st sink (I.2.29-32);


Not a hair perish’d;
On their sustaining garments not a blemish. (I.2.217-18.)

Far-fetched as this may seem to a present-day reader, the reference is to the Fair Youth, the heir, and had necessarily to be guarded. A fuller explanation will be forthcoming. Suffice it for the moment to say that Ferdinand’s words to Prospero (IV.1.122-4),

                Let me live here ever:
So rare a wonder’d father and a wise,
Makes this place Paradise,

would have given great happiness to the poet of the Sonnets when spoken by him who inspired so many of them.

Before setting Ariel free and releasing his enemies;, Prospero says (V.1.21 et seq.):

Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply,
Passion as they, be kindlier mov’d than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick,
Yet with my nobler reason ‘gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. . . .
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
. . . Go, release them, Ariel.

The haughty young feudal lord, who swore with “some device” to “pay despite his due,” has, by the time this is written, grown in wisdom; his “nobler reason” has asserted itself, and he has discovered that “virtue” is more to be prized than “vengeance.”

Let us not burden our remembrances
With a heaviness that’s gone,

says Alonso to Gonzalo (V.l.l99-200); and Prospero soliloquizes (48-57):

. . . graves at my command
Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let them forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure; and, when I have requir’d
Some heavenly music,–which even now I do,–
. . . I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

This is the man–Jaques, Prospero, they are one and the same–who, many years before the revision of The Tempest, had written, “All the world’s a stage,” and who now, shortly before the end of his life, it must surely be, so movingly says (IV.1.148-58):

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. Weare such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

But Prospero has remembered that he must deal with Caliban; and he continues:

                          Sir, I am vex’d:
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled.
Be not disturb’d with mine infirmity.
If you be pleas’d, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk,
To still my beating mind. . . . Ariel, come!
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
We must prepare to meet with Caliban . . .
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, are all lost, quite lost;
And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers. (158-92.)

All this part belongs perforce to a late date: Prospero is old. Oxford will also speak, in a letter toward the close of the ’90’s, of “mine infirmity.” The Puritans’ opposition had grown tougher and uglier. So had his difficulties with regard to his pirated plays–the actors’ memory versions, and so on. He was weary of frustration.

It was because of this that a further meaning was injected into several of the Stephano-Trinculo-Caliban scenes: their machinations on the island now symbolizing certain specific doings in the theatre with regard to the plays, which by then had come to be known as “Shakespeare’s.” Although to speak of this here is premature, we hope the reader will be indulgent enough to suspend judgment until corroborative evidence can be introduced.

During the 1590’s, after the pseudonym had been adopted, a young provincial appeared in London who had a name so similar to it, coupled with a disposition so brash and acquisitive, that he proceeded to pass himself off as the author. He seems to have done a good deal of strutting round, growing intoxicated with success; and undoubtedly many simple and credulous persons took him at his own valuation. In several passages we see a presentment of this man as Stephano, the butler, combined with Trinculo, the jester.

Caliban. Thou shalt be lord of it [the island, or the theatre], and I’ll serve thee. (III.2.62.)

Presently, quite as Hamlet the King is, while sleeping, robbed of his kingdom and his life, Prospero is threatened with the loss of his:

Caliban. Why, as I told thee, ’tis a custom with him
I’ the afternoon to sleep: there thou mayst brain him,
Having first seiz’d his books ….
Or cut his wezand with thy knife. Remember
First to possess his books.
.   .   .    .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
. . . Burn but his books;
He has brave utensils,–for so he calls them,–
Which, when he has a house, he’ll deck withal:
And that most deeply to consider is
The beauty of his daughter; he himself
Calls her a nonpareil. . “. (III.2.92-105.)

This could hardly be made plainer. Catch him unawares, “brain him”–a significant expression–and be sure to “possess his books”: i.e., his manuscripts; he, being a nobleman and high official at court, cannot publicly protest. He has “utensils”–properties–with which he’ll equip a theatre of his own when he has one. But the most important consideration is of course “the beauty,” or value, “of his daughter,” the plays. He himself well knows their worth, says Caliban. And Oxford did know they were unsurpassed, “nonpareil.” Caliban suggests cutting “his wezand” with a knife: another significant expression, for it means rendering him speechless.

Prospero-Oxford is aware of the tiresome conspiracy afoot to rob him of credit for the authorship of the plays which he loves so much.

Prospero. I had forgot that foul conspiracy
Of the beast Caliban, and his confederates
Against my life. (IV.1.l39-41.)

The plotters go to his cell and steal his “utensils.” Caliban says to the impostor, Stephano (who, by the way, has his counterpart with the same name in the first version of Jonson’s Every Man In His Humour):

Seest thou here,
This is the mouth o’ the cell: no noise, and enter.
Do that good mischief, which may make this island
Thine own for ever, and I, thy Caliban,
For aye thy foot-licker.
Stephano. Give me thy hand: I do begin to have bloody thoughts.
O king Stephano! O peer! O worthy Stephano! look,
what a wardrobe here is for thee!
.   .   .   .   .   .   .  .  .  .   .    .   .    .   .
Stephano. . . . Mistress line, is not this my jerkin? . . . now, jerkin,
you are like to lose your hair and prove a bald jerkin.
Trinculo. Do, do: we steal by line and level, an ‘t like your grace.
Stephano. I thank thee for that jest; . . . wit shall not go unrewarded while I am king of this country. . . . (IV.1.215-43.)

Many times shall we be given this story of the upstart who tried to “steal” the plays and be known as the author, in order to make him– sell “king of this country” –the world of the theater. According to Jonson and other playwrights, he even dressed as a courtier and gave himself courtier’s airs. And here we have:

O king Stephano! O peer! [A doubly significant word.] look what a wardrobe is here for thee!

Even the “jerkin” which was hanging on the line was to lose its true “hair.” The man who was stealing it may well have been bald: he is always pictured so. “We steal by line and level,” he puns; and justly, for he first practiced against the authentic dramatist by pirating his plays, publishing actor’s memory versions (this Caliban’s part in the enterprise)–which is literally to steal by “line” and by “level” (parallel passages)–and palming himself off, in his new wardrobe, as the author.

The Lord Great Chamberlain of England could not prosecute this man and his printer–or actor–confederates publicly, as well they knew. Prospero solves this difficulty by giving them private pangs, pinches, and cramps.

Prospero. You’d be king of the isle) sirrah?
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .    .   .   .    .   .    .   .   .   .   .    .   .   .
(Pointing to Caliban.) He is as disproportion’d in his manners
As in his shape.–Go, sirrah, to my cell;
Take with you your companions: as you look
To have my pardon, trim it handsomely.
Ay, that L will; and I’ll be wise hereafter,
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I, to take this drunkard for a god,
And worship this dull fool! (V.1.287-97.)

To an Elizabethan like the Earl of Derby, who was the husband of the conjurer’s flesh-and-blood daughter, all this would have been so clear as to seem extremely dangerous. The Tempest was published for the first time in the 1623 Folio, and Derby may have edited it. Whoever had the final decision in the matter of the great hoax, intended that, for a time at least, the easily befuddled public should continue to believe the impostor the king of the magic island. They must have supposed, however, that one day the trick would be understood and the true identity recognized.

Upon seeing The Tempest performed today, one is left with the conviction that it is a poignant memorial to a supreme magician.


1 When his brother became king, in 1574, Alençon was made duc d’Anjou, but he continued to be called by his former name.

2 Hidd. All.; pp. 417-18.

3 pp. 316-20.

Contents | Chapter Forty-Three