THIS STAR OF ENGLAND
Man of the Renaissance
by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn
AS SOON AS Lord Oxford was restored to full liberty and able to meet them on their own ground, he saw to it that his and the Queen’s traducers were brought to justice.
It is all too evident, since Elizabeth was receiving handsome New Year’s presents from Henry Howard and the Earl of Arundel so late as 1583, that she was still permitting herself to be deluded and flattered by these dangerous enemies. But Oxford had had more than enough of her equivocal behavior. Knowing full well that it was the love-affair with Anne Vavasor which had really set her against him and that she was allowing a serious slur to be cast upon his name merely to cloak her jealous pique, he was determined to check her laisser-aller attitude toward the real culprits, no less than to vindicate his honor. And this he succeeded in doing.
Soon, through his exertions, Lord Henry Howard was placed under restraint again, while Charles Arundel, with several frightened companions, ran away to Paris, albeit unlicensed by the Queen, “for their conscience,” as they stated, “and for fear, having enemies” in England: Arundel promptly to become a spy in the pay of the King of Spain.
It was not long before Lord Oxford was so completely cleared in the matter of the conspiracy that his enemies at court had no further weapon against him. If the Queen had entertained the slightest doubt as to the justice of his accusations, it would finally have been dissipated; for while Henry Howard was living under restraint by royal command, he wrote a book containing tacit heresies, so suspiciously treasonable that he was sent to the Fleet, where he suffered great hardship.
By now Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, had come under suspicion. Paying a visit to him in his London house, the Queen informed him on her departure that he was to consider himself a prisoner there. Two years later, suspected of overt disloyalty, he endeavored to escape from England but was apprehended, fined 10,000 pounds, and sent to the Tower, where he died after about ten years.
In 1585, Oxford received a challenge from one Thomas Vavasor, endorsed, “A lewd letter to the Earl of Oxford,” (1) which began thus: “If thy body had been as deformed [sic] as thy mind is dishonourable, my house had yet been unspotted.” Since this letter was written four years after his house had been spotted by the unfortunate love-affair, as it had doubtless been spotted before and would certainly be again by his wanton cousin’s amours, the real cause of his anger must have stemmed from his connection with the Howard-Arundel faction and Oxford’s remorseless prosecution of the traitors. The Vavasors were related to the Howards, and just now the Howard star was in complete eclipse. The writer discloses a source of his rancor when he says, “Is not the revenge taken of thy victims sufficient, but wilt thou yet use unworthy instruments to provoke my unwilling mind?”
One can only conclude that the “unworthy instruments” are the plays, and that the irate Vavasor had resented the ridicule in Much Ado About Nothing–as his use of the word “deformed” for Lord Oxford indicates–or seen himself as one of the dramatis personnae in The Tempest. From all we can now know, he may have been included in the unsavory shipwrecked group, for his venomous attitude suggests outraged vanity.
One cannot help noting again and again how consistently all documents derogatory of Oxford have been preserved, while everything in his defense–much of which would have been so eloquent–has been obliterated. This could of course be the result only of a deliberate policy in high places. No wonder he felt constrained to tell his story as fully as possible in the plays!
There is no record of a second duel with the Vavasor faction.
It was during Oxford’s banishment from court that Captain Walter Ralegh had made his meteoric rise. He had appeared before Elizabeth for the first time in January 1582, to speak for his Irish plans against the opposition of Lord Grey. One year later he held top place in Her Majesty’s favor. It may have been that, with this new and brilliant favorite to flatter her and pamper her vanity, the Queen could more easily be brought to condone her Turk’s amorous defection. The time would come when Ralegh would suffer condign punishment for loving another woman; but just now he was young, dashing, persona grata to an indulgent Mistress.
In the Osborne Memoirs, published in 1658, the author records that “a most modest expression [was] uttered in my hearing by Sir Walter Rawley, none of her [the Queen’s] least respected servants, who upon some discourse with the Duke of Buckingham, said to this purpose, That Minions were not so happy as vulgar judgments thought them, being frequently commanded to uncomely and sometimes unnaturall imployments.” (2)
In 1583, Elizabeth granted Ralegh “the use of Durham House in the Strand, conveniently near to Whitehall, and one of the largest of the riverside palaces, which for many years had been used as a royal guest-house. Here he lived in splendour . . . [with] a retinue of forty persons and as many horses always maintained there. . . . In April 1583, the Queen induced All Soul’s College, to grant him two beneficial leases. . . . In the following month he received a patent to licence vintners, by which he was entitled to half of all fines [imposed and] . . . a fee of £1 per annum from every wine-dealer in England. . . . In March 1584, a licence was given him to export a certain number of woolen cloths, a privilege extended in subsequent years.” (3)
It will be recalled that Ralegh had, at Burghley’s intercession, been the man most influential in securing Oxford’s return to favor. Fortunate himself at this time, he could afford to be generous; besides, it was to everyone’s advantage to win Burghley’s good will; and Ralegh admitted, in his letter informing the Lord Treasurer of his success on the Earl’s behalf, that this feature of the business had been the chief spur to his efforts.
The year 1583, despite his reinstatement, was a sad one in Lord Oxford’s life. It marked not only the death of his and his wife’s infant son, but also the death, after a lingering illness, of his devoted friend and ally, the Earl of Sussex, whom he had made the prototype of John of Gaunt in Richard II.
One of the first things Oxford did after his restoration to favor was to bespeak his father-in-law’s intercession for his friend and kinsman, Lord Lumley. Once a member of the Privy Council, Lumley had wrecked his fortunes and almost sacrificed his life by participating in the Ridolfi plot of 1571. Turning to the pursuits of scholarship, he became High Steward of Oxford University, an office he held for fifty years, assembling there the fine collection of books and manuscripts which constitutes the famous “Royal Library” of the British Museum. Lord Oxford was trying to re-establish a spontaneous and cordial relationship with his father-in-law at this time, and was apparently willing to wipe the slate clean and do his part. His letter to Burghley shows ‘his friendly and appreciative spirit. But it was obviously written before he had read the correspondence concerning his reinstatement.
I have been an earnest suitor unto your Lordship [he writes, June 20, 1583] for my Lord Lumley; that it would please you for my sake to stand his good Lord and friend, which I perceive your Lordship hath already very honourably performed; the which I am in a number of things more than I can reckon bound unto your Lordship, so am I in this likewise especially. For he hath matched with a near kinswoman of mine, to whose father I was always beholden. . . for his assured and kind disposition unto me. Further, among all the rest of my blood, this only remains. . . as your Lordship doth know very well, the rest having embraced further alliances to leave their nearer consanguinity.
And as I hope your Lordship doth account me now–on[e] whom you have so much bound–as I am; so be you before any else in the world, both through match–whereby I count my greatest stay,–and by your Lordship’s friendly usage and sticking by me in this time wherein I am hedged with so many enemies. So likewise I hope your Lordship will take all them for your followers and most at command which are inclined and affected to me. Wherefore I say once again–being thus bound with your Lordship–to be so importunate in the matter, I crave your Lordship’s favour in easing my Lord Lumley’s payment to Her Majesty, wherein we will all give your Lordship thanks, and you shall do me as great an honour therein as a profit of it had been to myself. In this, through your Lordship’s favour, I shall be able to pleasure my friend and stand needless of others who have forsaken me. Thus, for that your Lordship is troubled with many matters where you are, I crave pardon for troubling you.
Your Lordship’s to command,
EDWARD OXEFORD (4)
The Earl seems really to have seen Lord Burghley in a double aspect, quite as he had recently depicted him in the two characters, Antonio and Gonzalo. It is as if he separated the older man’s craft and relentless acquisitiveness from his human, hospitable, even kindly side; and while he could not forget, and was impelled to portray, the former, because it was a powerful force in his world and explained many things, including much of his own misfortune, he could still appreciate and feel affection for the latter qualities. If Burghley robs Peter, he nevertheless pays Paul, though in a different coin; and Oxford, as the dual Peter and Paul, can fairly evaluate the dual Burghley. It is curious, but one can find no other explanation for the paradox.
With the Lord Treasurer, the situation was less subtle, more concrete. He was proud of the alliance, he still hoped for a grandson who would be heir to the great Vere name. He really loved–although he craftily used–his daughter and wished her to be happy. But he could not keep his fingers in his own pockets; and never would he be able to forgive his son-in-law for seeing through him, to say nothing of dramatizing what he saw.
Of course, we should not overlook the fact that it was altogether to Oxford’s advantage–it was even a necessity–to keep in his Lordship’s good books, for in Elizabeth’s time everything was obtained by favor. The Earl had learned at the expense of bitterness and disillusion that even a great peer needed friends at court. But it is easily seen that his attitude in this case was not entirely one of policy: he had a naturally warm and sanguine disposition, and after he had paid his respects to Burghley’s meanness and deceit, he could sincerely take comfort from his better traits and his good offices.
When he writes, in the letter quoted above, of Burghley’s “friendly usage and sticking by me in this time wherein I am hedged with so many enemies,” he is simply Prospero speaking gratefully of the “honest old Counsellor,” Gonzalo, who had befriended him.
However, he was not allowed for long to trust the old sinner. Four months after he had written the letter, he found himself again having to take a stand against the Lord Treasurer’s inveterate trickery. This time, although he was obviously indignant, he was more temperate, and gave vent to his resentment only in the postscript of a letter he had written on business–something to do with an important suit in the attainment of which he needed Burghley’s support.
The Earl seems to have been hard-pressed financially at this time. In fact, between 1580 and 1585, he was obliged to sell thirty-two estates. If this were partially for the sake of maintaining his theatrical enterprises, as it must have been, Burghley would have been incensed. He not only abominated the theatre and everything connected with it, he believed with all his soul that property was the sign and adjunct of gentility and must be guarded and enhanced. To Oxford, on the other hand, virtue, honor, and brave deeds were the attributes of nobility, money only a means to an end, and property something for stewards to supervise and maintain; he makes this clear in his plays. Another tenet of his code was personal privacy and dignity. Nothing so outraged him as having busybody tactics applied to himself and his affairs. This he also makes clear in the plays, signally in Hamlet. He sustains a courteous attitude in the formal business part of the letter, but he takes a stern position in the postscript:
My Lord, This other day your man, Stainner, told me that you sent for Amis, my man, and if he were absent that Lyly should come unto you. And I sent Amis, for he was in the way. And I think very strange that your Lordship should enter into this course towards me; whereby I must learn that which I knew not before, both of your opinion and good will towards me. But I pray you, my Lord, leave that course, for 1 mean not to be your ward nor your child. I serve Her Majesty, and 1 am that 1 am; and by alliance near to your Lordship but free, and scorn to be offered that injury to think I am so weak of government as to be ruled by servants, or not able to govern myself. If your Lordship take and follow this course, you deceive yourself and make me take another course that 1 have not yet thought of. (5)
Wherefore these shall be to desire your Lordship, if that I may make account of your friendship, that you will leave that course, as hateful to us both. (6)
He wished to be friends, but on honorable terms: he would stand for. no meddling, for no underhand methods. “I serve Her Majesty, and I am that I am; and. . . free.”
The service he was performing for Her Majesty was concerned with his theatrical ventures, not only as lessee of the Blackfriars, where he was producing court comedies, and as patron of two companies of actors who toured the provinces, but as a prolific dramatist giving, through the medium of the plays, “abstracts and brief chronicles of the time” to a public which had no newspapers, forums, or other means of acquiring a general view of things or of obtaining respectable and stimulating diversion; and not only this, he was providing the elect with the truth of events in speeches and parables which, though “caviare to the general,” held the mirror up to their more intimate or esoteric activities, showing “virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” He might well say that “after your death you were better have a bad epitaph than [the players’] ill report while you live.” For the cognoscenti recognized the characters who moved so significantly through the plays, wincing when they themselves felt the screws, smiling when others did, while quick to apprehend ,the subtle commentaries and symbolical meanings implicit in the action.
As for the phrase, “I am that I am,” that came austerely from Lord Oxford’s pen. From the bottom of his heart he meant these words. The more Burghley’s meddlesome ways galled him, the more he felt goaded to give definite statement to his position. He did so now in Sonnet 121:
‘Tis better to be vile than vile esteem’d,
When not to be receives reproach of being,
And the just pleasure lost, which is so deem’d
Not by our feeling, but by others’ seeing;
For why should others’ false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood,
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No; I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own:
I may be straight, though they themselves be bevel,
By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown.
Unless this general evil they maintain,
All men are bad, and in their badness reign.
“I am that I am.” It is the same expression he had used in his indignant protest to Burghley, who had been setting “spies” upon the work his “sportive blood” constrained him to engage in, men whose “false adulterate eyes” could not wisely judge his activities any more than Burghley himself could. The use of the word “level” is of special interest, if Amis was, indeed, pronounced Aims, as we have been told it was; for it was his man Amis whom Oxford had sent to Burghley to be, as he knew, questioned. And he who “aims” his eyes at abuses “levels” his eyes at them.
The Earl refused to be judged by the old Philistine’s standards. Those men whom Burghley called his “lewd friends” were his companions and proteges in the literary field which he loved; the work Burghley condemned and undertook to spy into, Oxford was doing to “serve her Majesty,” as well as to fulfill his own genius. The Philistine’s “rank thoughts” could not make these deeds rank in the poet’s eyes. We should not be surprised if it ‘was as a result of this incident that he went so far as he did in characterizing Polonius, whom, in the early versions of Hamlet, he called Corambis, from the Lord Treasurer’s motto, Cor unum, via una, indicating that, instead of having one heart, one way–or instead of being single-hearted and direct–he was double-hearted and devious: Corambis; precisely as Oxford had shown him to be in The Tempest and elsewhere, “Old Double.” It may have been because Burghley had got wind of such a character in process of creation that he had put out a feeler. Some of Oxford’s men were employed by Burghley in espionage for the government.
During his two years’ banishment from court, so corrosive to his proud spirit, Lord Oxford had many compensations besides the fruitfulness of his own invention. The Euphuists were working together with enthusiasm, and intelligent, energetic men were joining with them under the Earl’s patronage and support. Among the number, was the talented Robert Greene, of whom his biographer, Courthope, says that his most characteristic excellence “is the poetry of his pastoral landscape and his representation of the characters of women; in both these respects he exercised an unmistakable influence on the genius of Shakespeare.”
Greene graduated from Cambridge in 1578, travelled, and then took his M.A. degree in 1581. By this time Oxford was a mature dramatist with pastoral plays, as well as a number of lovely women characters, to his account. (7) Green lived eleven years after he is said to have come to London; he was a friend and admirer of the Earl of Oxford, and he did not call him “Shake-scene” in his Groatsworth of Wit. In 1584, Green dedicated his Card of Fancy as follows:
To the Right Honourable Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxen ford, Viscount Bulbeck, Lord Escales and Badlesmere, and Lord Great Chamberlain of England: Robert Greene wisheth long life with increase of honour.
That poor little Castilian Erontino (Right Honourable) being a very unskilful painter, presented Alphonsus, the Prince of Aragon, with a most imperfect picture, which the King thankfully accepted; not that he liked the work but that he loved the art. The paltering poet Cherillus dedicated his dancing poems to that mighty monarch Alexander, saying that he knew assuredly that if Alexander would not accept them that they were not pithy, yet he could not utterly reject them in that they had a show of poetry. Caesar ofttimes praised his soldiers for their will, although they wanted skill. . . .
The classical parallels are too numerous to quote, but the author finishes thus:
And your Honour being a worthy favourer and fosterer of learning hath forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first-fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy. . . yet this I assure myself, that they never presented unto your Honour their treasure with a more willing mind than I do this simple trash, which I hope your Lordship will so accept. Resting therefore upon your Honour’s wonted clemency, I commit your Lordship to the Almighty.
Your Lordship’s most dutifully to command,
Discounting the conventional flattery, we contend that the sincere admiration and respect expressed by such men of letters is more to be trusted than the vilifications of traitors unmasked, even if this were the sole testimony available to us. Greene hardly sounds like a man writing to one who has learned from him; quite the contrary!
Angel Day, in dedicating his first book, The English Sectorie, 1586, says, after many protestations of respect:
My honourable Lord, the exceeding bounty wherewith your good Lordship hath ever wonted to entertain the deserts of all men, and very appearance of nobility herself. . . in the worthiness of your stately mind, warrenteth me . . . to recommend unto your courteous view the first-fruits of these my foremost labours, and to honour this present discourse with the memory of your everlasting worthiness. And albeit, by the learned view and insight of your Lordship, whose infancy from the beginning was ever sacred to the Muses, the whole course hereof may be found nothing much. . . [as to appear] in any sort answerable to so great and forward excellence.
It was in this year that William Webbe paid tribute, in A Discourse of English Poetry, to the Earl of Oxford’s pre-eminence “in the rare devices of poetry.”
Yet, in the face of such testimony as all this, the fiat of the Philistines has been accepted. The good that his enemies knew of him they unscrupulously erased from the record. And so successful have they been that minor writers who owed everything to Edward de Vere and could often have developed only in the glow of his genius and generous encouragement, are more famous than he is himself, while–as a final blistering irony–being credited even with furnishing the inspiration, if not the tuition and often the material, for his own transcendent art.
Not only did Lord Oxford continue writing plays throughout the period of his banishment from court, he also took an active part in their production.
There had been many complications attendant upon the lease, in 1580, of the Blackfriars Theatre, and these had increased until 1583, when it was transferred from William Hunnis to Henry Evans, who sold it to the Earl of Oxford. Mrs. Clark explains the situation as follows:
To the twelve children of the Chapel Oxford added the Children of St. Paul’s Cathedral, retained Hunnis as one of the trainers of the boys, and kept Evans as manager of the troupe. Soon afterwards the Earl made a gift of the lease to his secretary, John Lyly, author of Euphues, who was associated with Hunnis and Evans in the management of the organization, of which Oxford was the patron. [But Sir William More, the original owner, who still occupied part of the building] continued to be displeased at . . . having a theatrical company constantly within sight and hearing. (9)
After a certain amount of litigation, the enterprise was abandoned, the performances thenceforth being held in a building called the “singing-school” of the Cathedral, near St. Paul’s.
In 1583 was organized the Queen’s own company of actors, who seem to have performed exclusively at court, giving Oxford’s plays under Lyly’s (which meant Oxford’s) direction. Ward states:
Not one of Lyly’s biographers has hitherto succeeded in explaining how he could have been Her Majesty’s servant and Lord Oxford’s private secretary at one and the same time. The simplest solution is . . . that when the Queen’s Company absorbed some of Oxford’s leading actors Lyly was lent unofficially as stage-manager and coach. (10)
The patronage of the Queen did much to elevate the theatrical profession from its low, actually its vile, position, its Caliban-vulgarity. She allowed the actors wages and livery as Grooms of the Chamber. Twelve players were chosen for the Queen’s Company and were licensed by the City, on November 28, 1583, to play at the Bull in Bishopsgate Street and at the Bell in Gratious Street–a little less than six months, it will be noted, after Oxford’s return to favor and to activity at court. Two of Lord Oxford’s actors joined this company, John and Lawrence Dutton; probably others of his company were also taken on by the Queen’s, for from 1583 until 1591 his troupe became a road company.
Coventry, where religious and mystery plays had been given for a hundred years, was one of the best towns for road companies, as is proved by the Wardens’ or Chamberlains’ accounts for this period:
Earl of Oxford . . . . . . .1581. . . . . . . . . .1582 . . . . . . . . .1583 . . . . . .. . . . 1584. . . . . . . . .1585
Earl of Essex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1584. . . . . . . .
Lord Sheffield. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1583 . . . . . . . . . . 1584. . . . . . . .1585
Earl of Worcester. . . . . . . … . . . . . . . . . .1582. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . 1584. . . . . . . .
Lord Berkeley . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . 1583. . . . . . . . . . .1584. .. . .. . . .
Sir Thomas Lucy. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1584 . . . . . . .(11)
From the time the Duttons had first joined his company in 1580, until 1590,
coincidental with the dissolving of the company known as the Paul’s Boys, the Earl of Oxford’s players made regular provincial rounds each year. Their first performance at Court, given at Whitehall on January 31, 1584, was Campaspe, “Played before the Queenes Maiestie on newe-yeares day at night, by her Maiesties Children of Paules.” (12)
The warrant for payment states that the performance was by the Earl of Oxford’s players. Again on March 3, Lyly’s Sapho and Phao was produced at court, “Played before the Queenes Maiestie on Shrouestewsday, by her Maiestie’s Children, and the Boyes of Paules.” On November 25, ten pounds was paid on the same warrant as that of the New Year’s performance, for a play before the Queen “on shrovestuesdaie at nighte” by the Earl of Oxford’s Company. (13)
After a meticulous study of the records, Mrs. Clark concluded that this company, composed of Her Majesty’s Children and the Paul’s Boys, continued to present plays at court under the name of the Paul’s Boys, later a rival of the Queen’s Company, “the two appearing alternately at Court through the late 1580’s.” In the country, however, it was called the Oxford Boys, and sometimes “a second Queen’s Company,” because Her Majesty’s Children were included in it. Mrs. Clark was convinced that “from 1583, when the combination of the Children of Her Majesty’s Chapel and the Paul’s Boys was made, being sometimes called the Oxford Boys, until the dissolution in 1590 of . . . the Paul’s Boys, the company was one and the same.”
For a reason which will be presently explained, Lord Oxford’s name was not used in connection with his players after 1586. William Honing became Clerk Comptroller of the Records in 1584; and since, after 1585, the titles of the plays produced were never given, he may, either through indolence and inefficiency, though more likely in obedience to private orders, have omitted other details as well.
What could be more appropriate or more natural than the collaboration of the Queen and her chief courtier-and-dramatist in establishing the great Elizabethan theatre? The Elizabethan stage could never have become what it so brilliantly was without the sanction and sponsorship of the Queen or the genius of the Earl of Oxford–without, we might say in his own phrase, the “sportive blood” of this extraordinary pair. For they were Titans, these two. Their lives, for all their transitory resentments and seeming breaches of faith, were inextricably joined; and so was their great contribution to the life of the English nation. Each depended upon the other in the fundamentals, both intellectual and emotional, and each probably understood the other in ways that no one else ever quite understood either of them. It was partly for this reason that Edward de Vere’s name has been almost completely erased from the history of the age which he did so much to make a great and illustrious one. For it suited certain powerful Englishmen to maintain the legend of the Virgin Queen, which she herself did everything but the one thing which was essential to foster, and in order to maintain it, they strove to obliterate the memory and even denigrate the honor of this flower of the English tradition and of the English race.
In the matter of the court-production of Lyly’s plays, it is important to bear in mind that only during the period when he was employed by Lord Oxford did Lyly ever write plays at all, and also that, without the backing of a bold and influential patron, such a writer could never have dared make the obvious allusions to exalted personages and their affairs which he made in these productions. Gabriel Harvey said of Lyly that “young Euphues [sic] hatched the eggs that his elder friends laid.” (12) No outsider would have known better than Harvey the source and substance of “young” Euphues’s success.
Another pregnant statement of Harvey’s, which was not deleted from the record by the authorities, as many admittedly were, because it could be assumed that he was speaking of Lyly (“Pap-hatchet”) as a popular dramatist, when, of course, he was speaking of Lyly’s master, is quoted by a student of Lyly, who in fact made this very assumption:
You were best to please Pap-hatchet, and see Euphues betimes [i.e., Lyly and Oxford], for fear lest he be mooved, or some of his apes hired, to make a Playe of you; and then is your Credit quite undone for ever and ever: such is the publique reputation of their plays. (15)
Ward suggests that when, in 1593, Gabriel Harvey referred to Lyly as “the fiddle-stick of Oxford,” he evidently meant that he had at one time been the “passive instrument employed by Lord Oxford to play his tunes.” (That he did mean this appears from his statement that Lyly “hatched the eggs that his elder friends laid.”) “Nevertheless,” Ward adds, “in the article on Lyly which occuPies (mer two pages in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Lord Oxford is not mentioned.” (16)
Interesting testimony regarding the relationship between Lord Oxford and John Lyly is found in a letter Lyly wrote Burghley in July 1582, requesting him to intercede with Lord Oxford after some misunderstanding. The letter, too long to quote in full, begins:
My dutie (right honourable) in most humble manner remembered. It hath pleased my Lord upon what colour I cannot tell, certaine I am vpon no cause, to be displeased with me, ye grief whereof is more then the losse can be.
He wishes Burghley to speak for him, and he continues:
It may be manie things will be objected, but yf any thing can be proved I doubt, I know your L. will soone smel deuices from simplicity, trueth from trecherie, factions from iust seruis. And god is my witness . . . yat all my thoughtes concerning my L haue byne ever reuerent, and almost religious. (17)
Whether through the Lord Treasurer’s intervention or not, things were apparently soon straightened out, and Lyly returned to the Earl’s service to remain for more than ten years.
Of Sapho and Phao several critics have observed that it is a “scarcely veiled allegory in which the two lovers. . . represent Queen Elizabeth and Alençon.” To this we object that not only was the play presented after the Alençon affair was a dead issue and the Duke deceased, but it bears unmistakable marks of having been an early masque written by the young Oxford about himself and the Queen, which Lyly had been allowed to elaborate into a long (and tedious) play. This fact provides the answer to Feuillerat’s query:
Comment peut-on admettre qu’un dramatiste ait été assez audacieux pour mettre à la scene les sentiments les plus intimes les plus sécrets de la reine? (18)
Ward makes the following astute observation:
All the quartos of Lyly’s plays were published anonymously. This is most odd if we are to understand that Lyly himself was the sole author and had connived at the publication. It is well-nigh impossible to believe that a professional playwright, who was hoping to be appointed to the Mastership of the Revels, should have objected to having his name printed on the title-pages of his own plays. But if he could not claim them as entirely his own the matter became quite different. Equally incomprehensible is the hypothesis that the quartos were “pirated” and published against Lyly’s wishes. As Lord Oxford’s private secretary he would not lack the means of bringing influence to bear against the action of piratical publishers.
In any case, the Stationers’ Register shows this entry:
6to Aprillis 1584. Thomas cadman Lyllye it is granted unto him yat yf he gett ye commedie of Sapho laufully alowed vnto him. Then none of this companie shall Interrupt him to enjoye it. (19)
It is our opinion that Ward’s analysis of Lyly’s case furnishes the clue for the mystery attached to the authorship of the so-called Apocryphal plays, as well as of Edward II, Edward III, The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Spanish Tragedy (which was, as we have said, too dangerously revealing for Oxford to be suspected of any connection with it), and of another play of Lyly’s, which is not only partly by Oxford but also about him, Endymion, The Man in the Moon. Other writers may have contributed to them, and doubtless did, but they were fundamentally Oxford’s work.
In Campaspe, which was presented at court at the same time The Tempest was written, the following verse occurs:
Cupid and my Campaspe played
At cards for kisses. Cupid paid.
He stakes his quiver, bow, and arrows,
His mother’s doves, and team of sparrows;
Loses them too;
while in The Tempest, during the Masque which Ariel puts on at Prospero’s direction, Iris says, of Cupid (IV.l.99-101):
Her waspish-headed son has broke his arrows,
Swears he will shoot no more, but play with sparrows,
And be a boy right out.
Here we have the rather abrupt phrasing, as well as certain words in common. And in A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, which immediately follows The Tempest, we find:
I swear to thee by Cupid’s strongest bow,
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus’ doves. (I.1.169-71.)
In Venus and Adonis, Venus “yokes her silver doves,” as this poem comes to a close.
In Sapho and Phao we encounter the same imagery. Vulcan, forging new arrows for Cupid at Venus’s demand, sings:
My shag-haire Cyclops, come, let’s ply
Our Lemnion hammers lustily;
By my wife’s sparrowes,
I sweare these arrowes
Shall singing fly
Through many a wanton’s Eye.
And it is significant that these arrows are designed by Venus, Cupid’s “mother,” to be shot at Sapho so that she “will despise where now she doates”; thus showing Sapho and Phao the forerunners of Titania and Bottom.
The Song of Trico from Lyly’s Campaspe has the lines,
None but the lark so shrill and clear;
Now at heaven’s gate she claps her wings.
In The Tempest (III.3) Ariel enters “like a harpy, claps his wings upon the table,” etc. And there are other analogies:
It was the lark, the herald of the morn (R. and J.: III.5.6);
Hark! hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings (Cym.: II.3);
Like to the lark at break of day arising,
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate. (Sonnet 29.)
In our judgment, it is only too obvious that Oxford wrote the verses in the plays attributed to Lyly and at least supervised much of the text besides.
There are further similarities we might cite, but we shall confine ourselves to one more, this from The Merry Wives and Endymion, both belonging, ostensibly, to 1585, though we place the original versions some fifteen years earlier.
Pinch him, fairies, mutually;
Pinch him for his villany;
Pinch him, and burn him, and turn him about,
Till candles and star-light and moon-shine be out. (M. W.: V.5, song.)
Pinch him, pinch him, black and blue,
Saucy mortals must not view
What the Queen of Stars is doing,
Nor pry into our fairy wooing.
Pinch him blue
And pinch him black,
Let him not lack
Sharp nails to pinch him blue and red,
Till sleep has rock’d his addle head. (Endymion: IV.3.40.8.)
The correspondence here is rendered all the more striking by the fact that in one of his earliest plays, The Comedy of Errors, Oxford had written:
This is the fairy land: O! spite of spites,
We talk of goblins, owls, and elvish sprites:
If we obey them not, this will ensue,
They’ll suck our breath, or pinch us black and blue. (II.2.198-201.)
(Incidentally, all these early allusions to fairyland seem to add weight to our belief that the first version of The Dream was a masque, the work of Lord Oxford’s youth.)
The play, Endymion–the version which has survived–appeared in 1585, but the song was not published until I632. And that, curiously enough, was, as we have said, the case with all the lyrics in Lyly’s plays, the position of the songs being merely indicated in the text and not published until nearly fifty years later.
Ceux qui ont été les prédecesseurs des grands esprits ont contribué en quelque façon à leur éducation, leur doivent d’être sauves de l’oubli. Dante fait vivre Brunetto Latini, Milton du Bartas; Shakespeare fait vivre Lyly.
The irony of this is like the thrust of a blade. Lord Oxford created Lyly, made him live, as well as saved him from oblivion. But Lyly could not perform any part of this service for the Earl; far from it. And Bond, who produced a weighty and scholarly study of John Lyly and his works, although he admits his dramatist’s serious limitations, including artificiality, poverty of invention, deficiency of characterization and pathos, as well as of action, pronounces him “the chief master of Shakespeare”!
Such is the “tangled web” woven by those who first, in the matter of England’s greatest genius, practiced to deceive.