New Milestone in Shakespeare Research
Contemporary Proof that the Poet Earl of Oxford’s
Literary Nickname Was “Gentle Master William”
Copyright 1944 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, October 1944.
The more outré and grotesque an incident is the more it deserves to be examined, and the very point which appears to complicate a case is, when duly considered and scientifically handled, the one which is most likely to elucidate it.
Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
To prove beyond reasonable doubt that the poet-playwright Earl of Oxford is the real man behind the mask of “William Shakespeare,” it is essential to present documentation published in his lifetime (1550-1604) showing that Oxford was known to competent witnesses by a nickname approximating the cognomen associated with the great plays and poems.
Such contemporary testimony is vital to the corroboration of all other evidence which records Edward de Vere as foremost Elizabethan Court Poet and admired author of plays—none of which was printed under his legal name or title.
In “Shakespeare” Identified, J. Thomas Looney argues persuasively that Oxford is the original of Spenser’s “Willie.” the gentle shepherd who engages in a rhyming contest with his rival “Perigot” (Sir Philip Sidney) in the August eclogue of The Shepherd’s Calendar (published 1580); and also “pleasant Willy,” the veteran writer of stage comedies
“from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow”
in The Tears of the Muses (published 1591). Moreover, Spenser’s characterizations of both “Willie” and “pleasant Willy”‘ can be shown from several other circumstances not included in Mr. Looney’s arguments to fit the Poet Earl better than any other known writer of Spenser’s acquaintance. Incidentally, Nicholas Rowe states that John Dryden held that Spenser had Shakespeare in mind in describing “Pleasant Willy.”
“This same gentle Spirit,” typifying the beau ideal of Elizabethan comedy, has been forced into retirement after years devoted to
“the sweet delights of learning’s treasure
That wont with Comic sock to beautify
The painted Theatres, and fill with pleasure
The listeners’ eyes and ears with melody.”
Spenser tells us that “Willy’s” activities have been brought to a dead end by recent puritanical interdictions against plays. In the history of the English stage it is chronicled that just such a puritanical wave of repression was precipitated in 1589-90 when the company of boy actors long patronized by Lord Oxford presented an objectionable burlesque of Martin Marprelate, the popular literary symbol of rising ecclesiastical reform. For some time following, no acting company—not even the Queen’s Men—could secure license to appear publicly in London.
So while Dryden (as well as Edmund Malone) was unquestionably correct in believing that Spenser’s “‘pleasant Willy” pictures the true Bard, the circumstance should be noted that this identification automatically debars the alleged genius of Stratford as the person intended on the score of age alone—without emphasizing the fact that Spenser carefully describes “Willy” as a highly cultured aristocrat, .scorning the boldness of such baseborn men” (Greene, Peele, Nash and others) whose ribald satires have brought his own efforts to nought.
In associating him with the pen-name of “William Shakespeare,” it will also be recalled that throughout his early manhood the Earl of Oxford enjoyed an outstanding reputation as a “spear-shaker” in the lists. In many quarters he was looked upon as the coming man of action, though he was to be effectually thwarted in all such ambitions by political and social rivals. At the same time, the young nobleman’s gifts as scholar, poet, comedian and theatrical entrepreneur—all of which are voluminously documented—unquestionably militated against his advancement in the Tudor regime. Considerable evidence indicates that the Queen sometimes refused her influence to secure Oxford certain remunerative posts for which he was well fitted in order to keep him near her as an entertainer. Thus he was thrown back upon his own mental resources at critical periods of his life and developed innate creative faculties by way of compensation.
So in July, 1578, when Gabriel Harvey as orator of the day welcomes Oxford to Cambridge University to receive an honorary degree, Harvey’s address to the nobleman—as given in full in Ward’s Seventeenth Earl of Oxford—stresses the fact that the Earl’s natural potentialities as a leader in the field of action have been neglected for literary projects.
He declares that Oxford’s fame “demands even more than in the case of others the services of a poet possessing lofty eloquence.” Then Harvey goes on to say: “For a long time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts. English poetical measures have been sung by thee long enough. . . I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts, not only of the Muses of France and Italy, thou hast learned the manners of many men, and the arts of foreign countries… O thou hero worthy of renown, throw away bloodless books, and writings that serve no useful purpose; now must the sword be brought into play, now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear and to handle great engines of war. . . Mars lives in thy tongue. Bellona reigns in thy body. . . thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear”. . .
It must be admitted by any fair-minded student of this case that an Elizabethan poet and playwright of Lord Oxford’s contemporary reputation who can be adequately documented as 1. Spenser’s master comedian, “pleasant Willy,” and 2. a voluminous writer of English measures whose “countenance shakes a spear, is a claimant to the long-disputed title of “William Shakespeare” who will not be lightly brushed aside.
I shall now offer additional evidence, more complete and circumstantial than anything heretofore printed on the vital matter of Oxford’s nickname, which should convince the most skeptical that the literary Earl was publicly addressed as “gentle Master William” by a contemporary who is also a recognized authority on personalities of the Shakespearean Age.
The evidence appears mostly in “The Epistle Dedicatorie” to Thomas Nash’s Strange News of the Intercepting Certain Letters &c. which was entered for publication on the Stationers’ Register the 12th bf January, 1593.
Nash had written Strange News to defend himself and his intimate literary and playwriting associates, especially the recently deceased Robert Greene, from a vicious attack launched against them a few months previously by Gabriel Harvey (c. 1545-1630), the same pundit-orator who had addressed Lord Oxford in 1578 as a distinguished poet who might better devote himself to active spear-shaking.
Not long after delivering his oration, Harvey applied for the post of private secretary to the literary nobleman, but was rejected in favor of John Lyly. Now Lyly, as is well known, dedicated his most important fiction, Euphues and His England to Oxford in 1579 and wrote and produced all of his sparkling Court comedies while in the Earl’s employ. Coincidently, Shakespeare’s early comedies contain many echoes of the Lyly mannerisms; and the foremost students of Lyly’s career are convinced that Lord Oxford collaborated with his secretary-stage-manager. Gabriel Harvey certainly believed that Oxford and his protégé dipped their quills in the same inkhorn; for in his pamphlet entitled Pierce’s Supererogation (1593) Harvey reminds Lyly of earlier days when he enjoyed “thy old acquaintance in the Savoy, when young Euphues hatched the eggs that his elder friends laid.”
Personal jealousy of Lyly’s success and pique with Oxford for having favored the comedy writer instead of him explains many of Harvey’s future actions. His sharply illuminating burlesque of the Earl for aping the arts of the Italian Renaissance, Speculum Tuscanismi (The Mirror of Tuscanism), appeared in 1580. (1) It is a cutting but extremely valuable caricature, written in jolting English hexameters, the opening volley in Harvey’s sniping campaign against Oxford and the lesser members of his new Shakespearean creative circle. Harvey belonged to the opposite literary camp of classicists, headed by Sir Philip Sidney, who fought all realistic innovations in English poetry. He was also an extremely egotistical and spiteful person with a full blown inferiority complex (shared by his brothers John and Richard), as the Harveys had risen in the world of scholarship and social prestige although their father—”a worthy rope-maker of Saffron Walden”— undoubtedly owed some of his prosperity to “traffic with the hangman,” as Gabriel’s critics claim.
When the “Martin Marprelate” war of pamphlets got under way in 1588-89, the Bishops of the Church of England were at a distinct disadvantage in answering the scathing attacks upon their prerogatives until they employed a group of popular writers, made up chiefly of Robert Greene, John Lyly and Thomas Nash, to answer the annoying “Martin” in his own colloquial, hard-hitting style. The Bishops had evidently followed the advice of Lord Oxford in utilizing the talents of playwrights and satirists in squelching “Martin,” for Greene, Lyly and Nash are proven protégés of the Earl.
The Harveys appear to have mixed into this vociferous debate, mainly to attract attention to their own merits; and Greene, Lyly and Nash were all held up by them as bad examples in the degeneration of current literary trends.
Greene came back at Gabriel and Richard Harvey in some biting satirical thrusts in the first printing (now lost) of his Quip for an Upstart Courtier (c. 1592); and when Thomas Nash’s spirited commentary on the ups and downs of the creative worker in England appeared in the summer of 1592 under the title of Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Devil, the Harveys were given another going over with one of Nash’s sharpest goose-quills.
Meanwhile, the gifted and versatile but lamentably irregular Robert Greene had taken to his death-bed after one midnight banquet too many of “pickled herring and Rhenish wine.”
Gabriel Harvey’s long-smouldering grudge against the red-bearded, devil-may-care satirist, whom he termed one of “the very ringleaders of the rhyming and scribbling crew,” now found opportunity to vent itself.
Hard on the heels of the undertaker, Dr. Harvey betook himself to the humble lodgings at the home of a Dowgate shoemaker, where Greene had expired, to gather fetid gossip of the sick-chamber at first hand (as he boasts) and to gloat over the “wretched passing” of this master of “impudent pamphletting, phantastical interluding and desperate libelling” Within a month or so of Greene’s burial on September 4, 1592, Harvey’s disgraceful onslaught on the unfortunate writer appeared in Four Letters and Certain Sonnets, Especially Touching Robert Greene &c. Featuring the extraordinary slogan, “The dead bite not,” this pamphlet is happily quite unique in English literature.
Harvey was a master of rhetoric at Cambridge, an authority on Latin prosody, author of the university text-books, Rhetor and Ciceronianus, and also a Doctor of Civil Law, but the Four Letters proves him shockingly bereft of the sense of decency and humanity one would expect to govern a normal university don and legal light. It is not too much to say that Harvey descends with ghoulish zest to the charnel-house and the latrine for similes with which to dishonor the dead humorist.
In his Palladis Tamia (1598), Francis Meres states the case as it must have appeared to many Elizabethans when he says:
“As Achilles tortured the dead body of Hector, and as Antonius and his wife Fulvia tormented the lifeless corpse of Cicero: so Gabriel Harvey hath showed the same inhumanity to Greene that lies full low in his grave.”
Not content with bedaubing the decreased playwright’s remains with verbal nastiness, Harvey also took occasion in the Four Letters to denounce, reprove, twit and nag several of Greene’s most gifted colleagues, such as the deceased ballad-maker and stage comedian, William Elderton, John Lyly, George Chapman, the Earl of Oxford—first by title in an inverted apology for The Mirror of Tuscanism and later under contemptuous references to his loss of social prestige through his activities as a common playwright. Finally, the enraged pedant brought his stoutest birch rod whistling about Tom Nash’s ears. Every one of these persons, it will be noted, had a recorded hand in the development of the Shakespearean stage. And it is significant to find at this early date (1592) that several portions of the Harvey diatribe are devoted to the evil influence of “pelting- Comedies (that) busy the Stage, as well as some graver Tragedies,” wherein “some old Lads of the Castle have sported themselves with their rapping babble.” (2) This obvious reference to the Oldcastle-Falstaff characterization is followed by other hits at “hypocritical Hotspurs,” as well as “gouty Devils, and buckram Giants,” these being cited as current examples of poor taste and historical distortion. Such comments upon the influences exerted by the Henry IV comedies should not be overlooked in fixing the true chronology of the Shakespeare plays. Harvey’s remarks are reproduced in the new Variorum Edition of 1 Henry IV.
When the Four Letters was published in the early autumn of 1592. Thomas Nash was out of London, as he tells us in the second edition of Pierce Penilesse, because the plague was still rife in the city and “fear of infection detained me with my Lord in the Country.” But upon his return, “with my Lord” (of Oxford), Tom appears to have set promptly to work to vindicate himself, his dead comrade Greene, Lord Oxford and their professional circle from Harvey’s libelous strictures.
This devastating rejoinder, Strange News, is a classic of invective, scintillating with wit and merciless in the skill with which Nash flays his asinine tormentor. More than that, it is one of the key documents to the Oxford-Shakespeare mystery. Study of Strange News is absolutely essential to a true understanding of the personal character of the playwriting Earl of Oxford, and of the position he occupied as a man among men in the year of grace, 1592.
I have said that Nash is a recognized authority on personalities of the Shakespearean Age. Prof. George B. Harrison, editor of the famous Elizabethan Journals, makes the flat statement in his valuable little work called Introducing Shakespeare (Penguin Books), that the collected writings of Nash (together with Greg’s edition of the Diary and Papers of Philip Henslowe) “have actually revolutionized modern notions about Shakespeare and his plays.”
No truer words have been spoken by an honest Stratfordian. But Harrison should have gone further. He should have included Gabriel Harvey’s writings in this category. For Nash and Harvey fully interpret as well as abuse each other, and in the course of their controversy give us more unconventional and graphic information about the real Shakespeare through their extensive commentaries on the poet-playwright Earl of Oxford and his bohemian companions than can be gathered from any other contemporary publications. By thee same token, we can be very sure that if there had been any person such as the conjectured genius of Stratford-on-Avon writing the same type of “pelting Comedies” that Harvey attacks with such avidity at this time, the trivial and vulnerable background of the runaway butcher’s apprentice and holder of horses would certainly have come in for thorough dissection, ridicule or apology in the course of this acrimonious and long-continued contest between the Shakespearean and anti-Shakespearean schools of expression. But William of Stratford is neither nominated nor personalized under any recognizable metaphor by either Harvey or Nash. He was patently non-existent as a literary figure so far as the evidence of the eight books (3) in which the disagreeable Doctor and lusty Tom quarrel over the relative merits of their opposing creative sects during the years 1592 to 1597.
At the same time, the Earl of Oxford is accorded extensive attention—pro and con—both under his distinguished title and under less distinguished but vastly human and entertaining descriptive references. No other living nobleman of the era is given a fraction of the same notice by these pamphleteers. The significance of this circumstance cannot henceforth be ignored by anyone who makes any pretence of understanding Oxford’s real position in the Elizabethan creative world. At the same time it makes plain the motive back of the imperative order issued to the Stationers’ Company on June 2, 1599 by Bancroft, Bishop of London and Whitgift, Bishop of Canterbury:
“That all Nash’s books and Doctor Harvey’s books be taken wheresoever they may be found and that none of their books be ever printed hereafter.”
Oxford, the Lord Chamberlain of England, had been written up disrespectfully by friend and foe alike. His activities as a common playwright and companion of “lewd” penmen had been too freely discussed. Hence, the tardy official effort to expunge the evidence, just as certain other testimony, such as the records of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, the records of the Master of the Revels and various telltale items which would fully corroborate his connection with the Shakespearean theatre were even more effectually eliminated.
In Strange News Nash makes a determined effort to arouse Lord Oxford from the creative lethargy into which “our pleasant Willy dead of late” has sunk, following proscription of his acting companies by puritanical statute in 1589-90. Young Nash wants the master-comedian to join him in giving the coupe-de-grace to the bitter enemy of their professional circle. With a gay and irreverent ruffle of drums before the public house where the brilliant veteran now spends his leisure “in idle cell,” Tom calls him out to give battle for the true Shakespearean cause.
The Epistle Dedicatorie of Strange News has never been adequately interpreted (4) nor generally understood because it is composed in the esoteric, neo-classical jargon affected by the University Wits, of which Nash is a past master. The style of expression is as typical of the rarified intellectual atmosphere of the day as the mannerisms of Oscar Wilde and his fin-de-siècle school are of the last decade of the 19th century. Likewise, identification of certain real life characters addressed and the significance of situations obliquely referred to must be inevitably lost upon the casual reader who has not made a special study of both the human and humanist elements that shaped the times.
Classically derived nicknames and strange phrases, pregnant with meaning for Nash and his contemporaries of the Elizabethan writing fraternity, require explanation to bring them within the orbit of present day understanding. Nash is an avowed satirist and incorrigible punster. But despite his prideful knowledge of the ancients, which he rarely misses an occasion to display, he is essentially contemporary—not to say modern—in his point of view, an extremely well informed and accurate historian of the Shakespearean period.
I will first reproduce The Epistle Dedicatorie in which Lord Oxford is addressed as it appears in the original printing of 1593 with sufficient modernization of spelling to make it legible to modern readers. Then we can go over the composition, paragraph by paragraph and phrase by phrase, if necessary, to discover its full import.
The Epistle Dedicatorie
[see below for commentary]
To the most copious Carminist of our time, *1 and famous persecutor of Priscian, *2 his verie friend *3 Master Apis Lapis: *4 Tho. Nashe wisheth new strings to his old tawnie Purse, *5 and all honourable increase of acquaintance in the Cellar. *6
Gentle M (aster) William, *7 that learned writer Rhenish Wine & Sugar, *8 in the first book of his Comment upon Red-noses, hath this saying: veterem ferendo injuriam invitas nonam; which is as much in English as one Cup of nipitaty pulls on another. In moist consideration whereof, as also in zealous regard of that high countenance you show unto Scholars, *9 I am bold, instead of new Wine, to carouse to you a cup of news: Which if your Worship (according to your wonted Chaucerism) *10 shall accept in good part, I’ll be your daily Orator to pray that that pure sanguine complexion of yours *11 may never be famished with pot-lucke, that you may taste till your last gasp, and live to see the confusion of both your special enemies, Small Beer and Grammar rules. *12
It is not unknown to report, what a famous Pottle-pot Patron you have been to old Poets in your days, *13 & how many pounds you have spent (and, as it were, thrown into the fire) upon the dirt of wisdom, called Alchemy: Yea, you have been such an infinite Maecenas to learned men, *14 that not any that belong to them (as Summers, and who not) but have tasted of the cool streams of your liberalitie. *15
I would speak in commendation of your hospitalitie likewise, but that it is chronicled in the Archdeacon’s Court, and the fruits it brought forth (as I guess) are of age to speak for themselves. *16 Why should virtue be smothered by blind circumstance? An honest man of Saffron Walden kept three sons at the University together a long time; and you kept three maids together in your house a long time. *17 A charitable deed, & worthie to be registered in red letters.
In his editorial notes to The Epistle Dedicatorie, McKerrow says: “In (the second edition of Strange News) for the passage ‘Yea, you have been. . . red letters,’ the following is substituted”.
Yea, you are such an infinite Maecenas to learned men, that there is not that morsel of meat they can carve you, but you will eat for their sakes, and accept very thankfully. *18 Think not, though under correction of your boon companionship, I am disposed to be a little pleasant, I condemn you of any immoderation either in eating or drinking, for I know your government and carriage to be every way Canonical. Verily, verily, all poor Scholars acknowledge you as their patron, providitore, and supporter, for there cannot a thread-bare Cloak sooner peep forth, but you strait press it to he an outbrother of your bounty:” *19 three decayed Students you kept attending upon you a long time.
Shall I presume to dilate of the gravitie of your round cap, and your dudgeon dagger? *20 It is thought they will make you called upon shortlie to be Alderman of the Steelyard. *21 And that’s well remembered; I heard say, when this last Term was removed to Hertford, you fell into a great studie *22 and care by yourself, to what place the Steelyard should be removed; I promise you trulie it was a deep meditation, and such as might well have beseemed Elderton’s parliament of noses to have sit upon.
A Tavern in London, *23 onlie upon the motion, mourned all in black, and forbare to girt her temples with ivy, because the grandame of good fellowship was like to depart from amongst them. And I wonder verie much, that you sampsownd not yourself into a consumption *24 with the profound cogitation of it.
Diu vivas in amore jocisque, whatsoever you do, beware of keeping diet. Sloth is a sin, and one sin (as one poison) must be expelled by another. What can he do better that hath nothing to do, than fall a drinking to keep him from idleness?
Fah, methinks my jests begin already to smell of the cask, with talking so much of this liquid provender.
In earnest thus; There is a Doctor *25 and his Fart that have kept a foul stinking stir in Paul’s Churchyard; I cry him mercie, I slandered him, he is scarce a Doctor till he hath done his Acts: this dodipoll, this didopper, this professed poetical braggart, hath railed upon me, without wit or art, in certain four pennyworth of Letters and three farthing-worth of Sonnets; now do I mean to present him and Shakerley to the Queen’s fool-taker *26 for coach-horses: for two that draw more equallie in one Oratorical yoke of vainglory, there is not under heaven.
What say you, Master Apis Lapis, will you with your eloquence and credit shield me from carpers? *27 Have you any odd shreads of Latin to make this letter monger a cockscomb of? *28
It stands you in hand to arm yourself against him; for he speaks against Conycatchers, and you are a Conycatcher, *29 as Conycatching is divided into three parts: the Verser, the Setter, and the Barnacle.
A Setter I am sure you are not; for you are no Musician: *30 nor a Barnacle; for You never were of the order of the Barnardines; *31 but the Verser I cannot acquit you of, *32 for M(aster) Vaux of Lambeth brings in sore evidence of a breakfast you won of him one morning at an unlawful game called rhyming. *33 What lies not in you to amend, play the Doctor and defend.
A fellow that I am to talk with *34 by and by, being told that his Father was a Rope-maker, excused the matter after this sort; And hath never saint had reprobate to his Father? They are his own words, he cannot go from them. You see here he makes a Reprobate and a Rope-maker, voces convertibiles. Go to, take example by him to wash out dirt with ink, and run up to the knees in the channel, if you be once wetshod. You are amongst grave Doctors, and men of judgment in both Laws everie day: *35 I pray ask them the question in my absence whether such a man as I have describ’d this Epistler to be, one that hath a good handsome picker-devant, and a pretty leg to study the Civil Law with, that hath made many proper rhymes of the old cut in his days, and deserved infinitely of the state by extolling himself and his two brothers in every book he writes: whether (I say) such a famous pillar of the Press, now in the fourteenth or fifteenth year of the reign of his Rhetoric, giving money to have this his illiterate Pamphlet of Letters printed (whereas others have money given them to suffer themselves to come to Print) it is not to be counted as flat simony, and be liable to one and the same penaltie?
I tell you, I mean to trounce him after twentie in the hundred, and have a bout with him with two staves and a pike for this gear.
If he get anything by the bargain, let whatsoever I write hence-forward be condemned to wrap bombast in.
Carouse to me good luck, for I am resolutely bent; the best blood of the brothers shall pledge me in vinegar. O would thou hadst a quaffing bowl, which, like Gawain’s skull *36 should contain a peck, that thou mighst swap off a heartie draught to the success of this voyage.
By whatsoever thy visage holdeth most precious I beseech thee, by John Davies’ soul and the blue Boar in the Spittle *37 I conjure thee, to draw out thy purse, and give me nothing for the dedication of my Pamphlet.
Thou art a good fellow, I know, and hadst rather spend jests than money. Let it be the task of thy best terms, to safeconduct this book through the enemy’s country.
Proceed to cherish thy surpassing carminical art of memory *38 with full cups (as thou dost): let Chaucer be new scoured against the day of battle, and Terence come but in now and then *39 with the snuff of a sentence, and Dictum puta, We’ll strike it as dead as a doornail. Haud teruntij estimo, We have cat’s meat and dog’s meat enough for these mongrels. *40 However I write merrily, I love and admire thy pleasant witty humor, which no care or cross can make unconversable. 41 Still be constant to thy content, love poetry, hate pedantism. Vade, vale, cave ne titubes, mandataq; frangas.
Robert Detobel offers an alternative view on Apis Lapis.
Loves’ Labours’ Lost and Thomas Nashe
1. See Harvey’s Three Proper and Familiar Letters (1580).
2. In Act I, Scene 2 of 1 Henry IV Prince Hal calls the Fat Knight, “my old lad of the castle.”
3. The Nash-Harvey pamphlets appeared, and should be read in the following order: (1) Nash: Pierce Penilesse (1592); (2) Harvey: Four Letters (1592); (3) Nash: Strange News (1593) (4) Harvey: Pierce’s Supererogation (1593); (5) Nash: Christ’s Tears Over Jerusalem (2nd ed. 1594); (6) Harvey: New Letter of Notable Contents (1593); (7) Nash: Have With You to Saffron Walden (1596); (8) Harvey: Trimming of Thomas Nash (1597).
4. My able colleague, Mr. Gerald W. Phillips of Surrey, England, was the first scholar to interpret The Epistle Dedicatorie of Strange News from the Oxfordian angle. His findings were published in 1936 in his study of Lord Burghley In Shakespeare. I had been working on the present interpretation, off and on, for a year or two before Mr. Phillips sent me his book. I found he had anticipated me in defining “Apis” as the sacred bull, but his explanation of “Lapis” struck me as too vague and well-bred. Altogether, Mr. Phillips devotes only one pap of his volume to the discussion of Nash’s address to Lord Oxford. I think it will be voted worthy of this more thorough analysis. C. K B.
Key to The Epistle Dedicatorie
1. “To the most copious Carminist of our time”
To the most productive poet of the years immediately preceding 1593; one who must have written more poetry than the great and industrious Spenser himself to call forth this statement. The uncommon word Carminist, which is not defined in Murray’s New English Dictionary, appears to be of Latin derivation, out of Horace, whose odes are called carmina. Ben Jonson in Timber explains the word in his remarks on poets and poetry. Sidney in the Apologie for Poetrie also refers to “the Poeme or Carmen.” In applying the adjective copious to this poet, Nash anticipates John Webster, a later contemporary of Lord Oxford, who speaks of “the right happy and copious industrie of Master Shakespeare.”
2. “and famous persecutor of Priscian”
. . . means a writer who will not be bound by scholastic rules of grammar. Priscian, the great Latin grammarian, was the recognized standard of the universities. Those who through ignorance or wilfulness violated the polite usage were said to “break Priscian’s head.” See speech of the pedant Holofernes in Love’s Labours Lost, V. 1. Priscian a little scratcht: ’twill serve. . . Oxford was no finical priscian, as his signed writings bear witness; and Shakespeare frequently invents his own grammar rules. He certainly pokes all manner of fun at the precise grammarian, Holofernes, who expresses himself very much in the style of Gabriel Harvey.
3. “his verie friend”
. . . is his true friend, the word verie being a characteristic Nash pun upon Oxford’s family name of Vere which the Earl himself puns upon extensively in a letter to his first wife. In fact, Lord Oxford’s armorial motto—now known to have been invented by himself—is a pun. Vero nihil verius is usually translated as Nothing truer than truth. But experts in the College of Heralds read it as No greater verity than in Vere. The persistent way in which the author of Shake-speare’s Sonnets applies the word truth and its derivatives to himself cannot be overlooked—“No shape so true, no truth of such account,” &c.
4. “Master Apis Lapis”
This classically derived allegorical pun appears to have stumped every editor of Strange News up to the present day. Grosart and Prof. McKerrow both read it as “Master Bee Stone” and conclude that The Epistle Dedicatorie is addressed to a certain shadowy William Beeston, a person unaccounted for beyond the uncorroborated statement that he was a brother of Christopher Beeston, an actor in the company of Lord Strange who later is styled “servant” or valet to the Shakespearean player, Augustine Phillips. John Payne Collier seems to be responsible for the statement that William Beeston was “a man of some authority on matters of poetry.” But as verification of this claim is lacking, it can be ignored as one, of Collier’s many fictions. I endorse (and amplify) Gerald W. Phillips’ 1936 definition of Apis Lapis as a punning reference to Oxford in the following analysis:
Apis here means the sacred bull of Egypt, frequently mentioned by Greek and Roman writers. Lapis can be nothing else but stone or stoned. And as a stoned or castrated bull becomes an ox, so Master Apis Lapis in Nash’s ribald pun becomes Master Sacred Ox, or the disabled and frustrated Earl of Oxford in professional mufti.
Lord Oxford is familiarly called “Oxe” in the counter-charges filed against him by Charles Arundel in 1580-81, after the Earl had turned Arundel in as a Spanish secret agent. He can also be discerned under the same “Oxe” nickname in certain published allegories of the period. In other words, Nash’s classically tortured pun on the poet can be sufficiently corroborated. What says the Bard?
“From a god to a bull? a heavy descension,” remarks Prince Hal in 2 Henry IV.
“I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass,” Falstaff protests in Merry Wives.
“Ay, and an ox too,” replies Ford; “both the proofs are extant.”
Evans, the schoolmaster, is quizzing Ford’s young son in the same comedy.
“What is lapis, William?”
“And what is ‘a stone.’ William?”
“No, it is lapis. I pray you, remember in your prain.”
5. “Tho. Nashe wisheth new strings to his old tawnie Purse“
. . . expresses a desire to see the nobleman recover some of the material prosperity he once enjoyed. Reading tawny and Oxford blue are the historic colors of the House of Vere.
6. “and all honourable increase of acquaintance in the Cellar.”
Nash hopes that Oxford will either come out of retirement or that the fun-loving world will wait upon him in a body. This phrase is an echo or sequel to some of the lines that Spenser in 1591 devoted to “our pleasant Willy” in The Tears of the Muses:
O! all is gone; and all that goodly glee,
Which wont to be the glorie of gay wits,
Is laid abed, and no where now to see;
And in her room unseemly sorrow sits . . .
All these, and all that else the Comic Stage
With seasoned wit and goodly pleasance grac’d.
By which man’s life in his likest image
Was limned forth, are wholly now defac’d,
And those sweet wits, which wont the like to frame,
Are now despis’d, and made a laughing game.
And he, the man whom Nature’s self had made
To mock herself, and Truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under mimic shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.
Instead thereof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scornful Follie with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in rhymes of shameless ribaldrie
Without regard, or due Decorum kept;
Each idle wit at will presumes to make,
And doth the Learned’s task upon him take.
But that same gentle Spirit, from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw;
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himself to mockery to mockery to sell.
Spenser’s use of the phrase, “Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late,” does not mean that the great comic dramatist pictured here is actually physically deceased as certain writers assume. Spenser’s whole context tells us that “‘Willy” has been forced into temporary retirement, just as Ben Jonson many years later says of Shakespeare “that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped.” In Colin Clout’s Come Home Again (1591), Spenser applies the figure of speech here used in connection with the dramatist to his English friends when they hear that Colin (Spenser himself) is coming back from Ireland:
That us, late dead, hast made alive again.
In fact, the use of the word dead to signify temporary inanimation is very common in Spenser’s poetry.
The “idle cell” to which “our pleasant Willy” has retired appears in Nash’s Epistle to have been the “‘cellar” basement of the Steel yard—near to Oxford Court by London Stone—where the Hanseatic merchants dispensed good Rhenish wines and all manner of excellent cheeses, pickled herrings and other continental delicacies to discriminating patrons. The Steelyard was the center of much bohemian revelry (together with the Boar’s Head Tavern, also close to Oxford’s late London residence) in the years referred to by both Spenser and Nash. Dr. Reinhold Pauli in his Pictures of Old London (1861) writes thus of the Steelyard:
“(In) the vaults which had existed here from the 15th century. . . strangers might purchase Rhenish wine, smoked ox-tongues, salmon and caviar. . . and when many noble families still lived in the city, the house enjoyed a reputation similar to that which belonged to the neighboring tavern (the Boar’s Head in which Shakespeare made the bulky Falstaff and the light-hearted Prince Henry quaff their cups of sack. It was not only the merchants who relished the good things of the Steelyard, for bishops and nobles, and even the Lord Chancellor himself, and many a distinguished Privy Councillor did not disdain to honour these vaults with their presence, or to taste the dainties of the foreigners.”
Space does not allow adequate analysis here of Oxford-Shakespeare connotations in Edmund Spenser’s characterization of “our pleasant Willy,” but it is an undeniable circumstance that striking phrases applied by Spenser to his master of comic stagecraft, such as “the man whom Nature’s self had made,” and “gentle Spirit, from whose pen Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,” are likewise applied so many time to the Bard by his contemporaries that there is no escaping the conclusion that “Willy” and “William Shakespeare” are one and the same person.
The author of The Epistle corroborates the same identification.
7. “Gentle M(aster) William”
Nash’s familiar salutation to his “verie friend” and patron must be considered testimony of outstanding importance in definitely settling the matter of Lord Oxford’s Shakespearean nickname. For if this “most excellent” of the Elizabethan Court poets and foremost comic playwright listed by Francis Meres was familiarly known to the London literati of the 1590’s as “Gentle Master William”—as this contemporary documentation proves—as well as the voluminous writer of “English measures” whose “countenance shakes a spear” in Harvey’s oration, he is unquestionably the long-sought genius who belongs to the ages!
8. “that learned writer Rhenish Wine & Sugar”
. . . who immediately suggests Shakespeare’s characterization of Falstaff as “Sir John Sack and Sugar,” appears to be William Elderton, the recently deceased ballad-writer, actor and playwright. One of Elderton’s popular ballads celebrates the taverns of London “and many like places to make Noses Red.” Hyder E. Rollins, his biographer, says that Elderton frequently used Latin phrases in his writings, just as Nash quotes them here. . . “one cup of nipitaty pulls on another” . . . means one cup of strong ale pulls on another.
9. “in zealous regard of that high countnance you shew unto scholars“
. . . fits the Earl of Oxford so realistically that it is unnecessary to labor the point. Ward reproduces the testimony of such Elizabethan scholars as Lawrence Nowell, Thomas Underdoune, Arthur Golding, Thomas Twyne, Thomas Bedingfield, John Lyly, Anthony Munday, Thomas Churchyard, Thomas Watson, Robert Greene, George Chapman, Edmund Spenser and others in various fields of learning. Oxford was more than generous to creative scholars. As Sir Sidney Lee admits, the Earl was so prodigal in his patronage of writers that he strained his own resources to do them honor.
10. “according to your wonted Chaucerism”
. . . characterizes Oxford in his own person as an admirer of Chaucer and a follower of his artistic aims. Proof of the Earl’s special interest in Chaucer appears in an old account book, itemizing purchases made for him when Oxford was a Royal Ward during 1569-70. This is reproduced by Ward (p. 33). One of the ancient entries reads: “‘To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers 2. 7. 10.
As for the mature Shakespeare, he is universally known for his “wonted Chaucerism.” The Bard not only dramatized Chaucer’s poem of Troilus and Cressida, his reflections from the early master are too numerous to list. “Chaucer” is our only author preceding Shakespeare with whom we feel thoroughly at home,” writes W. J. Long in his text-book on English Literature. And Leigh Hunt’s essay on Chaucer states: “His nature is the greatest poet’s nature, omitting nothing in its sympathy, in which respect he is nearer to Shakespeare than either of their two illustrious brethren.”
Regarding William of Stratford—his proponents sadly admit there is no extant record to show that he ever possessed a single book; not a Chaucer, nor even one of the many volumes so generously credited to his “authorship.”
11. “that pure sanguine complexion of yours“
. . . still greets us realistically today in contemporary paintings of the 17th Earl of Oxford, as well as in the other crudely disguised painting’s of the same man that have long been called “portraits of Shakespeare.” Oxford’s contemporary, Sir John Harington, describes the “Sanguine” type in his translation of The School of Salerno, a popular medical work:
The Sanguine game-some is, and nothing nice,
Loves Wine, and Women, and all recreation,
Likes pleasant tales, and news, plays, cards & dice,
Fit for all company and every fashion:
Though bold, not apt to take offence, not ireful.
But bountifull, and kind, and looking cheerfull.
Inclining to be fat. and prone to laughter,
Loves mirth, & Music, care not what comes after.
12. “both your special enemies, Small Beer and Grammar rules.”
Re-emphasizing and amplifying Nash’s earlier references to Oxford-Shakespeare as a “famous persecutor of Priscian,” these comments prove the irrepressible Tom’s keen understanding of his patron’s creative idiosyncrasies. It has been pointed out that Lord Oxford hardly ranks as a grammatical purist in his private writings. And when experts examine those issued under his professional mask, they never cease marvelling at the grammatical license which the Bard allows himself. Dr. Schmidt devotes about ten large pages of double-columned fine print in his monumental Shakespeare-Lexicon to the recording, of the great man’s struggle with grammar rules.” Not only is the relationship of the noun and its adjective frequently inverted and seemingly confounded; adverbs are used for adjectives; the usually active gerund takes on a passive sense: the abstract is used for the concrete and the concrete for the abstract; prefixes and suffixes are both royally ignored; the whole is used for a part and vice versa; with the transposition of words sometimes resulting in nothing so much as glorious verbal music. All admirers of Julius Caesar will recall the poet’s slashing double superlatives, such as “most unkindest cut”; but not so many may recall the unusual triple negative, “nor never none,”‘ spoken by Viola at the end of Scene 1, Act 11, Twelfth Night. Who can doubt the relish with which Nash’s patron wrote the scene in 2 Henry VI where Jack Cade condemns Lord Say to death for having “most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school”?
And as for “Gentle Master William Sacred Ox’s“‘ unfriendly attitude towards “Small Beer,” it is fully recorded in his plays.
“Doth it not show vilely in me to desire small beer?” asks Prince Hal in 2 Henry IV.
“And I will make it felony to drink small beer,” announces Jack Cade in 2 Henry VI.
“To suckle fools and chronicle small beer” is Iago’s cynical idea of woman’s destiny.
13. “It is not unknown to report, what a famous pottle-pot patron you have been to old Poets in your days“
Again Nash refers to Oxford’s legendary bounty and of the money he has spent in bringing out the works of his contemporaries.
14. “Yea, you have been such an infinite Maecenas to learned men“
. . . is anticipated in more formal setting by Robert Greene when he dedicates his Card of Fancy to the liberal Earl in 1584:
“Wheresoever Maecenas lodgeth, thither no doubt will scholars flock. And your Honour being a worthy favorer 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.
15. “not any that belong to them (as Summers. .) but have tasted of the cool streams of your liberalitie.”
Here Nash includes himself as an Oxford-Shakespeare protégé, for he is known as the author of The Pleasant Comedie, called Summer’s Last Will and Testament. Will Sommers, the old Court jester, is one of the leading characters in this diverting interlude, and Nash more than once in various writings refers to himself as “Sommers” or “Summers.” Mrs. Eva Turner Clark has interestingly discussed the allegorical characterization of Ver (Spring) in the same piece as founded upon the personality of Vere, Earl of Oxford. The fact that Nash enjoyed the patronage and familiar friendship of the titled playwright has, I believe, heretofore escaped the notice of professional students of the Shakespearean period (in common with many other significant circumstances). But the relationship of Nash and Oxford will be shown to corroborate much factual evidence that the Earl was the real Bard. For one thing Nash’s 1589 mention of Hamlet as a popular tragedy is thus easily explained.
16. “I would speak in commendation of your hospitalitie likewise, but that it is chronicled in the Archdeacon’s Court, and the fruits it brought forth (as I guess) are of age to speak for themselves.”
As previously noted, this passage, beginning with the words: “Yea, you have been such an infinite Maecenas“. . . and ending with the words . . . “worthie to be registered in red letters“. . . was changed after the first printing of Strange News. Nash was evidently ordered to re-cast his remarks in a hurry, and for good and sufficient reason. He had gone too far in referring to a little unpleasantness in which Lord Oxford had figured with a certain Mrs. Juliana Penn during the winter of 1590-91, together with the Earl’s proteges, Thomas Churchyard, Nash himself and one other “decayed Student”—evidently Lyly or Robert Greene.
The documentation relating to this diverting contre-temps has never before been assembled. It may be found in Ward’s Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (pp. 301-03); in Harvey’s Four Letters (Bodley Head Quarto Ed., p. 49) in that portion of Strange News now under consideration and in McKerrow’s edition of Nash’s collected works, beginning at Vol. III, p. 309.
The episode as it can be realistically recreated from these sources deserves special attention. It throws light upon the precarious conditions under which important literary figures of the Shakespearean Age lived. More than that, this clear-cut testimony from principals involved, should convince the most confirmed skeptic that the “Gentle Master William” who is rallied by Nash on the hazardous quality of his “hospitalitie” could not be any one else but Lord Oxford. We shall also find that “Gentle Master William Shakespeare” indulges in a comic take-off of the embarrassing developments referred to by Nash.
Here is a brief of the little drama:
Toward the end of the year 1590, Thomas Churchyard, the aged soldier-poet and author of the well-liked play, Shore’s Wife, who had lived under the patronage of Lord Oxford, off and on, since the 1560’s had taken furnished rooms in a house in St. Peter’s Hill, London, for himself and other writers, at Oxford’s orders. St. Peter’s Hill was the first street east of Paul’s Chain, bounded on the north by Knightrider Street and on the south by upper Thames Street. The residence that Oxford had selected for his literary retainers was owned by the mother of Michael Hicks [Not Hicks’ mother-in-law, as Capt. Ward first thought.] (secretary to the Earl’s father-in-law, Lord Burghley). This Lady, née Juliana Arthur, was then known as Mrs. Juliana Penn. She appears to have been a wide-awake woman of affairs, evidently in her early sixties. Dr. Mark Eccles in Sisson’s Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans, says that the house in St. Peter’s Hill had once belonged to the Abbott of St. Mary’s in York, later divided into two properties, one of which was Mrs. Penn’s in 1590. Subsequently, when Sir George Buc became Master of the Revels, he took over the place f or the conduct of his office. It was conveniently near to the Blackfriars Theatre and to the Wardrobe, Eccles notes. A few doors away also stood St. Bennett’s Church, the musical chimes of which Shakespeare describes so artfully in Twelfth Night.
Churchyard and his companions moved in on Mrs. Penn, evidently not favoring her with a cash advance, for on December 24, 1590, the soldier-poet found it necessary to enter into legal bond with the landlady for the payment of 25 pounds, representing the first quarter’s rent. As Oxford seems to have been unable to make good his retainer’s promise to pay, Mrs. Penn grew insistent, and about the 7th of January Churchyard sent a letter to his hostess which is still preserved in the Lansdowne Manuscripts of the British Museum (68.113):
“I have lovingly and truly dealt with you for the Earl of Oxford, a nobleman of such worth as I will employ all I have to honour his worthiness. So touching what bargain I made, and order taken from his Lordships own mouth for taking some rooms in your house. I stand to that bargain, knowing my good Lord so noble—and of such great consideration—that he will perform what I promised . . . I absolutely here, for the love and honour I owe to my Lord, bind myself and all I have in the world unto you, for the satisfying of you for the first quarter’s rent of the rooms my Lord did take. And further for the coals, billets, faggots, beer, wine, and any other thing spent by his honourable means. I bind myself to answer; ye confessing that napery and linen was not in any bargain I made with you for my Lord, which indeed I know my Lord’s nobleness will consider. . .”
The next we hear from Mrs. Penn in this connection is contained in a letter addressed to Oxford himself. Ward reproduces it somewhat differently from the Lansdowne Mss., which reads as follows:
My Lord of Oxford, The great grief and sorrow I have taken for your unkind dealing with me which no man could make me believe till I saw the deed, but all honour and virtue to be in your speech and dealing. You know I never sought an assurance at your Lordship’s hands but Master Churchyard’s bond, which I would be loth to trouble him for your Lordship’s sake. You know, my Lord, you had anything in my house whatsoever you or your men would demand, if it were in my house. If it had been a thousand times more I would have been glad to pleasure your Lordship withal. Therefore, good my Lord, deal with me in courtesy, for that you and I shall come at that dreadful day and give account of all our doings. I would be loth to offend your honour in anything; I trust I have not been burdensome to your honour, that I do know, in anything penned. But, my Lord, if it please your Lordship to show me your favour in this suit I shall be much bound to your honour, and you shall command me and my house, or anything that is in it, whensoever it shall please you. By one that prays for your Lordship’s long life and in time to come, Julyan Penne
It is now clear that most of these difficulties arose from the fact that Oxford was at this very time passing through one of the most devastating financial crises of his career—settlement of his indebtedness to the Crown, a situation forced by his old enemy, Sir Christopher Hatton, who had become Lord Chancellor. This could have been the reason why he did not at once make good his literary retainer’s bond. Many lesser geniuses have been accused of “unkind dealing” in money matters under less pressing circumstances. Be that as it may, Mrs. Penn decided not to risk further bamboozlement by smooth-spoken adventurers. She evidently regained possession of her property; while Churchyard hastily sought refuge in church sanctuary—likely enough at St. Martin-le-Grand, ancient sanctuary of the City of London. Ward gives us part of a final letter from Churchyard to his irate hostess:
“I never deserved you displeasure, and have made Her Majesty understand of my bond, touching the Earl of Oxford; and for fear of arresting I lie in the sanctuary. For albeit you may favor me, yet I know I am in your danger, and am honest and true in all mine actions. . .”
A matter such as this, whereby one of the principals was obliged to take refuge from arrest in church sanctuary would surely come before the court of the Archdeacon of London, just as Nash states in his suppressed first printing of The Epistle Dedicatorie.
. . . “and the fruits it brought forth“—particularly the testimony of the seventy-odd-year old Churchyard and the sixty-odd-year old landlady—certainly represents reactions of people “of age to speak for themselves.”
As for Nash’s own participation in this unhappy winter’s tale, he seems to have fared even worse than Churchyard. For according to Harvey’s taunts in Four Letters as well as Tom’s own admissions in Strange News, he served a term in the debtors’ prison—the Counter in Poultry Street—as a direct result of the acceptance of Lord Oxford’s “hospitalitie” and the unlawful enjoyment of Mrs. Penn’s “coals, billets, faggots, beer, wine napery and linen.” Nash appears at first to have held Churchyard mainly responsible for his disgrace, though he later absolves the ancient playwright of blame.
In his first all-out attack on Nash in the Four Letters, Harvey exclaims:
“(I) only pray him to report the known truth, of his I approved learning, & living, without favor. Otherwise, it were not greatly amiss, a little to consider, that he, which in the ruff of his freshest jollity, was fain to cry M. Churchyard a mercy in print, may be orderly driven to cry more peccavies than one. I would think the Counter, M. Churchyard, his hostess Penia, and such other sensible Lessons, might sufficiently have taught him, that Penniless is not Lawless: and that a Poet’s or Painter’s License is a poor security to privilege debt, or defamation. I would wish the burned child not to forget the hot Element. . .”
Nash’s reply to Harvey’s gloatings over Tom’s worsting by “his hostess Penia” occupies several amusing paragraphs in Strange News. The young satirist begins with a handsome apology to his old companion Churchyard, declaring that “Shore’s Wife is young, though you be stept in years; in her you shall live when you are dead.” Nash then addresses Harvey as “whoreson Ninnyhammer,” and asks the pedant whether he is “so innocent & unconceiving that thou shouldst ere hope to dash me quite out of request by telling me of the Counter, and my hostess Penia?”
“I yield that I have dealt upon spare commodities of wine and capon in my days, I have sung George Gascoigne’s Counter-tenor; what then? . . . I vow if I had a son, I would sooner send him to one of the Counters to learn law, than to the Inns of Court or Chancery.”
Nash ends his riposte with a quibble on Harvey’s spelling of Mrs. Penn’s name.
“My hostess Penia, that’s a bug’s word; I pray what Moral hast thou under it? I will depose, if thou wilt, that till now I never heard of any such English name.”
17. “you kept three maids together in your house a long time.”
In the second edition of The Epistle this phrase is changed to. . . “three decayed Students you kept attending upon you a long time.” Very likely Nash made the substitution to avoid complications with Oxford’s new wife, Elizabeth Trentham of the Queen’s Household, to whom he had been quietly married shortly after the row with Mrs. Penn. As previously noted, the “three decayed Students” seem to have been Churchyard, Nash and Lyly or Greene. Incidentally, it is significant to learn from Prof. McKerrow that in issues of Strange News subsequent to the first edition, The Epistle Dedicatorie was printed in very small type—making it difficult to decipher. In other editions it was dropped altogether. The reasons for these changes are obvious.
So here we have in the episode involving Lord Oxford’s efforts to provide board and lodging for his “men” in Mrs. Penn’s house during the cold months of 1590-91, positive, first-hand evidence that Thomas Nash was a member of the mysterious poet-nobleman’s intimate circle. Because the young writer suffered considerable inconvenience through accepting the Earl’s well-intentioned “hospitalitie,” he could not resist the temptation to rally Oxford on the affair in the dedication of Strange News. At the same time, Nash admires the great comedian whole-heartedly and understands the reasons why “Gentle Master William’s” good will outruns his means. Nevertheless, Tom’s indiscretion here had an immediate effect upon Lord Oxford’s future activities in the world of Elizabethan letters. Strange News was published early in 1593, and within a very few months of its appearance, Oxford had created an effective public mask for himself by issuing a lone narrative poem called Venus and Adonis under the new pseudonym of “William Shakespeare.” This “first heir” of the Earl’s “invention” (of the pen-name) was dedicated with misleading humility to the young Earl of Southampton, the refractory Adonis to whom Oxford had tried to affiance his eldest daughter in 1590-91. Meanwhile, Nash was obliged to seek the protection of new patrons in the persons of Sir George Carey—later Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household—and his daughter, the Lady Elizabeth Carey.
Shakespeare’s recreation of the memorable affair with Mrs. Penn is to be found in Act II, Scene 1 of 2 Henry IV, where Mistress Quickly, the Hostess, endeavors to have Falstaff arrested for non-payment of board and lodging:
“I pray ye, since my exion is enter’d, and my case so openly known to the world, let him be brought in to his answer. A hundred mark is a long score for a poor lone woman to bear: and I have borne, and borne, and borne; and have been fubbed off, and fubbed off, and fubbed off, from this day to that day, that it is a shame to be thought on. There is no honesty in such dealing. . .”
She addresses the Chief Justice:
“O my most worshipful lord, an’t please your Grace, I am a poor widow of Eastcheap, and he is arrested at my suit.”
“For what sum?”
“It is more than some, my lord; it is for all,—all I have. He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his;—but I will have some of it out again. . .”
18. “there is not that morsel of meat they (learned men) can carve for you, but you will eat f or their sakes, and accept very thankfully.”
As recast for the second printing of The Epistle, this statement again applies very aptly to Lord Oxford, whose kindness to beginners in the literary field is unusual. Harvey himself bears witness to the Earl’s bounty when the pundit was a humble undergraduate at Cambridge. And when such minor writers as Geoffrey Gates. John Brooke, Angel Day and “John Soothern” all hail Oxford as their friendly patron, the realism of Nash’s remark is authenticated.
19. “there cannot a thread-bare Cloak sooner peep forth, but you strait press it to be an outbrother of your bounty.“
Here is a tribute to the eccentric poet-nobleman that it would be well for historians and Elizabethan commentators to ponder before repeating the baseless slanders and ill-considered slurs that follow the 17th Earl of Oxford like a swarm of stinging flies through the pages of John Aubrey. Wright of Essex. Froude and lesser chroniclers, such as Alden Brooks.
That Oxford had many human failings is undeniable, and that the assets of a great earldom ran through his ink-stained fingers like water may even be considered “disgraceful” by the unco’ blood. But that he was the sympathetic “providitore” and “supporter” of the men who made the Golden Age of English literature proves the true Shakespearean scope of Edward de Vere’s heart and mind.
20. “Shall I presume to dilate of the gravitie of your round cap, and your dudgeon dagger?“
It is well known that only men of authority wore plain round caps in Elizabethan times. In a letter written to his father, Lord Burghley, a few years before this, Sir Robert Cecil comments upon Sir Christopher Hatton’s relinquishment of feathered headgear for the round black cap befitting his new station of Lord Chancellor. The Earl of Oxford is shown wearing a plain round cap in his Gheeraedts portrait now owned by the Duke of St. Albans. The “dudgeon dagger” playfully mentioned by Nash may very well be an irreverent reference to the Sword of State which was Oxford’s especial charge as Lord Great Chamberlain of England. The “round cap” and “dudgeon dagger” together could also relate to the creation of an Earl. The high points of this ceremony involved “the girding with the sword” and “the imposition of the cap of dignity.” In any event, Nash’s unconventional phraseology applies perfectly to the Earl who was known as “the best for comedy among us.”
21. “make you called upon shortlie to be Alderman of the Steelyard.”
This verifies our earlier conclusion that “pleasant Willy’s” “idle cell” was frequently the cellar of the Steelyard ordinary. The agreement between the Hanseatic merchants and the citizens of London gave the Steelyard corporation the right to elect a freeman of London as their Alderman in the City Council. Oxford, as a popular patron of the Steelyard, would qualify, in Nash’s opinion. Moreover, the Ency. Brit. states that among Anglo-Saxons, earls received the title of aldermen.
22. “I have heard say when this last Term was removed to Hertford you fell into a great studie“
The records of the Privy Council state that because of the plague, the Michaelmas law-term of 1592 was transferred from Westminster to Hertford, where the Queen also held Court. As a ranking nobleman and a favorite of Elizabeth—despite all off-standard eccentricities—it was incumbent upon Lord Oxford to attend Court. Such would not have been the case with a commoner having no Court or legal standing. Nash intimates that Oxford hated to leave his bohemian haunts where wine and good fellowship held sway. Prince Hal shows the same affinity for the atmosphere of the Boar’s Head.
The reference to Elderton’s “parliament of noses,” one of the dead ballad-maker’s choicest satires, reminds us that Shakespeare also has the same source in mind, when in Act 1, Scene 3 of Henry VIII the Lord Chamberlain remarks of certain dignitaries:
“You would swear directly
Their very noses had been councellors.”
Rollins, in his monograph on old Elderton, says: “Possibly Shakespeare created Bardolph of the huge nose with Elderton in mind. Certainly Shakespeare knew many of his songs, and quotes him with gusto.” It is equally certain that the Earl of Oxford enjoyed Elderton’s acquaintance in London when this real life Bardolph was in his heyday.
23. “A tavern in London“
. . .undoubtedly means the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap which stood just down the main highway some doors from Oxford’s old-time residence by London Stone. As a matter of fact, in enumerating the taverns of note, Elderton designates “the Bore’s head, hard by London stone.” There can be no question regarding Lord Oxford’s familiarity with the place, for as late as 1602, “upon notice of Her Majesty’s pleasure at the suit of the Earl of Oxford,” his friends in the Privy Council addressed a letter to the Lord Mayor of London, requesting renewal of permission for some of Oxford’s actors—together with the Earl of Worcester’s players—to begin a new season of performances at “the house called the Boar’s Head . . . the place they have especially used and do like best of.” This document is given in full by Chambers in Elizabethan Stage. Vol. IV, p. 335 and by Ward, pp. 325-26. We know that the Boar’s Head specified is the famous Shakespearean tavern in Eastcheap because that was the only public house of the same name large enough to meet theatrical requirements which also came under jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor of London. Two members of the Oxford-Worcester group of players in the spring of 1602 were the well-known Shakespearean actors, John Lowin and William Kemp. Kemp undoubtedly played Falstaff during this revival at the Boar’s Head. All circumstances fit together to show Oxford as the dynamic center of the whole Shakespearean “mystery.”
Here in this dedication to the madcap Earl, Nash refers graphically to the merry times that he has experienced with “the grandame of good fellowship” in the very spot that has been commemorated for the ages by his patron as the favorite haunt of Prince Hal, the Fat Knight and their motley retinue.”
24. “that you sampsownd not yourself into a consumption“
In his discussion of The Epistle Dedicatorie from the Oxfordian standpoint in Lord Burghley in Shakespeare (1936) G. W. Phillips notes that the unusual word sampsownd is taken from Chaucer, where the early poet uses it in The Pardoner’s Tale to reproduce phonetically the heavy-breathing meditation of a wine-bibber.
The implication—reiterated throughout Nash’s Epistle—that Oxford was addicted to drink at this time, seems to be well founded. The evidence of his former companion, Francis Southwell, as it appears in Latin notes appended to the 1580-81 counter-charges against Oxford prepared by Lord Henry Howard, tells the same story. Southwell excuses Oxford’s violently expressed criticism of the Queen’s singing voice (as reported by Howard) on the ground that the Earl had been drinking at the time. In his “true declaration,” Arundel calls “this monsterous, Earell” “a most notorious drunkard, and very seldom sober.” Again, both Arundel and Howard bear witness to Oxford’s luxuriant gifts as a teller of tall tales at midnight banquets. Wine patently stimulated his imagination. There is nothing startling or even unusual about this.
Despite the admirable modern example of Bernard Shaw, a great of the world’s leading dramatists and poets have been seriously given to drink at certain stages of their lives. Both Ovid and Omar wrote too much about intoxicating beverages not to have experienced their effects in abundance. And in more recent times, the unfortunate habits of Byron, Poe and Stephen Phillips cannot be forgotten.
That the real Shakespeare was a notable consumer of spirituous liquors, as well as addicted to the pleasures of the groaning board at various periods of his chequered career, should surprise and shock no one who has read his works. They were certainly not written by a penny-pinching hoarder of malt. And it is not too much to say that the numerous frustrations, disappointments and embarrassments, growing out of plain bad luck, that hampered the literary peer for years might well have driven lesser men to more desperate courses than extended bouts with the flowing bowl.
Nash’s address to “Gentle Master William” is primarily a call to action, an effort to arouse the seemingly inert genius to defend himself and his approved school of satirists from the attacks of the impossible Harvey and his ilk who would root out and destroy the pioneers of the new Shakespearean Age. From this point of view, the pert and irreverent Epistle Dedicatorie must be considered one of the great documents of literary history.
25. “In earnest thus: There is a Doctor“
Nash is merely turning Harvey’s own inelegant expressions back upon him here, as can be seen from a reading of the foul-tongued Doctor’s first sonnet on the death of Greene in the Four Letters.
26. “I mean to present him and Shakerley to the Queen’s fool-taker“
This passage is best explained by a paragraph in Meres’ Palladis Tamia (1598):
“Popular applause doth nourish some, neither do they gape after any thing but vain praise and glorie; as in our age Peter Shakerlye of Paules (the book-publishing center), and Monarcho that lived about the Court.”
Monarcho, the Queen’s fantastical Italian jester of the 1570’s, is mentioned in Act IV, Scene I of Love’s Labours Lost. Thomas Churchyard wrote his epitaph in 1580.
27. “What say you, Master Apis Lapis, will you with your eloquence and credit shield me from carpers?“
Nash’s appeal for protection here is merely a paraphrase of similar expressions openly addressed to Oxford by several Elizabethan writers, including, Spenser, Dr. George Baker and others who dedicated their works to the Earl.
28. “Have you any odd shreads of Latin to make this letter monger a cockscomb of?“
Here Nash appears to anticipate Jonson’s First Folio commentary on the Bard’s use of “but little Latin and less Greek.”
29. “arm yourself against him; for. . . you are a Conycatcher“
This not only reminds Oxford that his late protégé Greene, the acknowledged authority on “conycatchers,” has been disgracefully maligned; it is a gag upon the Earl’s own activities as a playwright and actor who has entertained and gulled the public with his pranks—just as the Second Duke of Buckingham did in the days of the Restoration.
Descriptions of the principal characters involved in that branch of conycatching or swindling mentioned by Nash, such as the “Verser,” the “Setter” and the “Barnacle,” are to be found in Greene’s Notable Discovery of Coosnage and other of his pamphlets devoted to the sly tricks of the confidence men of London.
30. “A Setter I am sure you are not; for you are no Musician”
The Setter was that confederate of swindlers employed as a decoy; usually notable for his pleasing or musical voice. In the Gadshill robbery scene of 1 Henry IV, Pointz applies the word to Falstaff:
“O, ’tis our setter: I know his voice.”
Nash absolves Oxford of being a Musician, although the Earl is known from the testimony of John Farmer the composer and others to have been highly skilled in music. The point here is that Nash is using the word in its cant, conycatching sense. Wandering ale-house musicians were sometimes allied to the petty criminal classes.
31. “you were never of the order of the Barnardines“
Card-sharpers were known as expounders of “Barnard’s Law” in Greene’s category. The Barnard was the confederate who feigned drunkenness.
32. “the Verser I cannot acquit you of“
Nash reiterates Oxford’s devotion to poetry in punning on the conycatching term.
33. “for M(aster) Vaux of Lambeth brings in sore evidence of a breakfast you won of him one morning at an unlawful game called rhyming.”
Corroborative of the remarkable realism of Nash’s gossipy treatment of his contemporaries, is my discovery among the abstracts of wills published in the Surrey Archaeological Society Collections (Vol. 12) of the following interesting entry:
“Anthony Vaux, of Lambeth. Citizen and Vintner of London. . . (will) proved 26 May, 1607.”
This proves again that Nash is writing about real people here and does not hesitate to mention most of them by their real names. It would be interesting to trace down further facts about Master Anthony Vaux and his acquaintance with the playwriting Earl of Oxford. Perhaps he was a relative of the Lord Vaux who wrote the song sung by the First Gravedigger in Hamlet.
The “unlawful game called rhyming” or capping verses was still a popular pastime in the days of Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt.
It is an arresting picture that Nash evokes for us of the titled “Verser” gambling for his breakfast with the Lambeth wine-seller in the Bard’s own priceless word-coinage.
34. “A fellow that I am to talk with“
The “fellow” is of course Gabriel Harvey. When Nash goes on to describe Harvey as the possessor of “a good handsome pickerdevant“‘ he is making satirical reference to the pedant’s beard which Tom elsewhere says looked “as though it had been made of a bird’s nest plucked in pieces.” It is natural for Nash to try to stir up his patron to take joint action with him in giving Harvey a verbal trouncing, not only because the pundit has libelled Oxford’s proteges, but because in the Four Letters he has again publicly aired his 1580 feud with the Earl over The Mirror of Tuscanism, and has gone on to attack his “pelting Comedies”—particularly the Henry IV plays—with sarcastic venom.
35. “You are amongst grave Doctors, and men of judgment in both Laws everie day“
Nash’s patron, therefore, was no ordinary citizen, but one of high rank in the social and political world. Oxford was, of course, a member of the House of Lords and enjoyed intimate contact with dignitaries of the class Nash mentions—whenever he cared to consult them.
36. “like Gawain’s skull“
Sir Gawain the Courteous, one of King Arthur’s knights.
37. “By whatsoever thy visage holdeth most precious. . . by John Davies’ soul and the blue Boar in the Spittle“
Here we have two references to the personal associations of “Gentle Master William” of prime importance in proving (1) that Nash is addressing the Earl of Oxford and (2) that Oxford and “Shakespeare” are one and the same person.
There was only one “blue Boar” of any public significance in England when Nash wrote. That had for centuries served as the crest and fighting insignia of the great Vere family of which Oxford was then the practically bankrupt head. His material misfortunes could truly be said in Nash’s vernacular to have put “the blue Boar in the hospital.” At the same time, “the spittle” here could refer to the old Hospital of the Blackfriars where Oxford had maintained the theatre for his boy actors. In A Joyfull Ballad, celebrating the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which is reproduced by Ward (pp. 293-94), after detailing various thanksgiving ceremonies, mention is made of the Queen’s visit to St. Paul’s. where
The Earl of Oxford opening then the windows for her Grace,
The Children of the Hospital she saw before her face.
The Spittle could also be the ancient Hospital of the Knights of St. John at Clerkenwell where the Master of the Revels then had his headquarters, and where Oxford as a playwright and theatrical patron had considerable interests.
It could even be Nash’s own institution which he conceives in the final paragraph of his 1589 introduction to Greene’s Menaphon:
“. . . the diseases of Art more merrily discovered may make our maimed Poets (fill) out together their blanks unto the building of an Hospital.” [While obviously a pun on blank verses, the common meaning of a blank was an unwritten piece of paper given to agents of the Crown in the reign of Richard II, with liberty to fill it out as they pleased.]
In any event, “the blue Boar in the Spittle” is a personal reference to Lord Oxford’s status in 1592-93 that will be questioned by no one familiar with the facts of his career. It makes the identification of “Gentle Master William Apis Lapis” conclusive.
That John Davies’ poem, Of the Soul of Man (the second part of Nosce Teipsum) was considered “precious” by the Earl of Oxford in 1592 is plausible enough. Davies had high connections and later was knighted and appointed Attorney-General for Ireland. He married Eleanor, daughter of George, Baron Audley. His wife was sister-in-law of the daughter of Ferdinando Stanley, Fifth Earl of Derby, a patron of “Shakespeare’s players.” There is also excellent evidence that Davies’ Soul was in existence when Nash wrote The Epistle. For in 1697, when Nahum Tate, then Poet Laureate of England, republished the poem, he included a dedication of the work to Queen Elizabeth, signed by Davies and dated “July 11, 1592.” This indicates that Tate had access to a manuscript copy which had been presented to the Queen (very possibly by Oxford) long before Davies’ complete work was entered for publication on April 10, 1599.
John Davies is one of the most important contemporary witnesses against the Stratford claimant and in favor of the Earl of Oxford as the real Bard. But his evidence is much too interesting to include in these brief notes. Born in 1569, by the age of twenty Davies had made himself persona grata to the same literary set in London that Oxford favored. He appears to have written at least one of the anti-Martin Marprelate tracts. [Sir Martin Marpeople, his Collar of Esses … offered to sale upon great necessity by John Davies, 1590.]
The Davies-Shakespeare association has long been discussed as the result of the discovery in the Stationers’ Register of the entry of a license granted to a bookseller named Eleazer Edgar, under date of January 3, 1600, for the publication of A Booke called Amours by J. D., with certain other Sonnetes by W. S. Previous to this, the rather scandalous Epigrams of John Davies had appeared in a joint volume with Christopher Marlowe’s translation of Ovid’s licentious Amores. Only the initials of Marlowe and Davies—”C.M.” and “J.D.”—had been printed on the title-page of this under-the-counter edition. But when the book was suppressed in 1599, the Bishops named both writers.
The combined work of “J.D.” and “W.S.” entered by Edgar in 1600 represented an obvious effort by the publisher to cash in on Davies’ recent notoriety by coupling his (now rare) love Sonnets with the Sonnets of Shakespeare, some of which were evidently obtainable through Davies or the same person who had turned Davies’ poems over to Edgar. The year previous William Jaggard had included two of the Bard’s authentic Sonnets in a piratical compilation of pilferings from various other poets, all boldly issued by Jaggard under the misleading title of “The Passionate Pilgrim by W. Shakespeare.”
In 1600 the reading public could be lured by only one set of “W.S.” initials, and those represented “William Shakespeare.” Likewise, the success of John Davies’ serious works such as the Soul and Orchestra, as well as the more humid Epigrams, lent unquestionable commercial value to the initials “J.D.” But Edgar appears to have been halted in his publication plans, for no book containing the contemporary verses of Davies and Shakespeare has ever turned up. Somebody of authority evidently stayed his hand.
Later on, Edgar became the publisher of the 1609 Funeral Poem Upon the Death of the Most Worthie and True Soldier, [Note the characteristic Vere pun.] Sir Francis Vere, Knight. Sir Francis, it will be remembered, was Lord Oxford’s admired cousin, to whose care the Earl entrusted the early military training of his illegitimate son by the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Sir Edward Vere. Thus, Eleazer Edgar provides a logical connection between the Vere family, Oxford-Shakespeare and John Davies, whose Soul Nash says was “most precious” to Oxford in 1593.
38. “thy surpassing carminical art of memory”
. . . is of course a reminder of the Earl’s long-standing reputation as “most excellent in the rare devices of poetry, ” openly corroborated by Harvey in 1578 and later by Webb, by the author of The Arte of English Poesie, by Spenser in The Faery Queene, by Meres, Peacham and others.
39. “let Chaucer be new scoured and Terence come in now and then“
The coupling of the names of these two art-masters of the Bard in Nash’s exhortation to “Gentle Master William” closes The Epistle Dedicatorie, as it began, on notes of very high significance. Shakespeare’s close relationship to Chaucer has been noted. As for the Terence connotations, Ben Jonson in the First Folio says that Shakespeare has outdone the Roman playwright. The Epigram by John Davies of Hereford entitled To our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare, is another of several similar comparisons.
40. “We have cat’s meat and dog’s meat enough for these mongrels,“
. . . is a paraphrase of a speech in Lyly’s comedy of Mother Bombie (produced under Oxford’s patronage), Act II., Scene 2:
“The boy hath wit sans measure, more than needs; cat’s meat and dog’s meat enough for the vantage.”
The use of these theatrical terms—later made much of by Ben Jonson in his burlesque of Oxford as the fantastic knight Puntarvolo in Every Man. Out of His Humor (1599), again emphasizes the fact that Nash’s patron has intimate stage affiliations.
41. “thy pleasant witty humor, which no care or cross can make unconversable.”
Spenser’s “pleasant Willy” is adumbrated again, more clearly than ever, while Nash’s final words to Lord Oxford seem most fitting when we bear in mind the vicissitudes of fortune through which the acknowledged master of Elizabethan comedy has passed.
So ends this chapter in the presentation of contemporary evidence that the 17th Earl of Oxford, whose “countenance shakes a spear” bore the nickname of “Gentle Master William” among his literary intimates of the early 1590’s. Gabriel Harvey’s verification of the fact will have to be taken up in a succeeding paper. Critics of the Oxford-Shakespeare case who have claimed that the literary Earl could not have been the real “Shakespeare” without the matter being known to his contemporaries may have to revise their opinions, it would seem. For under the coruscating sparkles of Tom Nash’s wit Edward de Vere here stands out clearly enough for even the myopic to see as the living personage behind the mask of “Gentle Master William.”