“The Sole Author of Renowned Victorie”
Gabriel Harvey Testifies In the
Copyright 1944 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, January 1944.
In the great Republic of Letters social distinctions are usually ignored by mutual consent. For the creative genius who happens to be born in the genealogical purple knows that artistic precedence depends upon no such fortuitous accident. Hence, he will hobnob on equal terms with almost any vagabond quill-driver of authentic wit and metal.
Edward Earl of Oxford has been shown to be the Elizabethan prototype of all such creative “grandames of good fellowship.”
Analysis of Thomas Nash’s 1593 dedication of Strange News to Lord Oxford—who is addressed herein as “Gentle Master William Apis Lapis,” or the Sacred Ox of his era—appears to prove this significant circumstance beyond all reasonable doubt. (1)
By the same token, in commenting upon this unconventional and indiscreet address to the playwriting nobleman, Dr. Gabriel Harvey, Nash’s opponent in their virulent paper war, fully corroborates the Nash references to Oxford’s preeminence as a “copious carminist” or dramatic poet of scope and authority; but one who is losing caste by his literary associations. Harvey’s anti-Shakespearean sneers, published in his Pierce’s Supererogation in the summer of 1593, help materially in making clear the motive for “Gentle Master William Sacred Ox’s” adoption of a less vulnerable personal mask of Warwickshire manufacture under which to pursue his creative career.
Harvey loses no time in calling Nash to account for endeavoring to enlist the aid of his aristocratic patron and fellow craftsman in giving Harvey his literary quietus. With hypocritical fervor the quarrelsome pundit assails Nash for his disrespectfully familiar invocation to “Gentle Master William” who also happens to be Lord Chamberlain of Engand:
“Be it nothing,” he shrills, “to have railed upon doctors of the university, or upon lords of the court, (whom he abuseth most infamously, and abjecteth as contemptuously as me)…”
Again referring, to the Apis Lapis dedication, Harvey darkly warns Oxford that his ancient “cap of maintenance,” a part of his Blue Boar crest, will be brought low if Nash is allowed to bandy it about in his satirical metaphors:
“Titles and terms are but words of course: the right fellow, that beareth a brain, can knock twenty titles on the head, at a stroke . . . but where Lords in express terms are magnifically contemned, Doctors in the same style may be courageously confuted. Liberty of Tongue, and Pen, is no Bondman: nippitaty will not be tied to a post: there is a cap of maintenance, called Impudency: and what say to him, that in a super-abundance of that same odd capricious humour, findeth no such want in England as of an Aretine, that might strip these golden Asses out of their gay trappings, and after he had ridden them to death with railing, leave them on the dunghill for carrion?”
It is typical of Harvey’s critical method that while ostensibly warning Oxford to beware his rash-tongued associate, he should end by indicating the Earl himself as a “golden Ass” who courts a “dunghill destiny.” With the Apis Lapis dedication still in mind, Harvey continues to berate Nash:
“I have heard of many disparagements in fellowship; but never saw so great Impudency married to so little wit; or so huge presumption allied to so petty performance . . . Terence display thy boasting Thraso anew: and Plautus address thy vain-glorious Pyrgopolinices anew: here is a brat of Arrogancy … Na, were it not, that he (Nash) had dealt politicly, in providing himself an authentical surety, or rather a mighty protector at a pinch, such a devoted friend, and inseparable companion, as Æneas was to Achates, Pylades to Orestes, Diomedes to Ulysses, Achilles to Patroclus, and Hercules to Theseus: doubtless he had been utterly undone.”
We have already proved that Nash’s “authentical surety … mighty protector … devoted friend, and inseparable companion” is the Earl of Oxford. And now Harvey himself ventures to adopt somewhat the same satirical tone that Nash has employed in referring to the nobleman who has fallen upon evil days. But being painfully devoid of any real sense of humor, Harvey’s ponderous efforts to make game of Oxford, and his recklessly loquacious satellite would be tiresome indeed if they did not provide the best of contemporary corroboration that “Gentle Master William” is actually head man and “mighty protector” of the Shakespearean creative circle which Harvey fears and detests.
Not without reason, we may be sure, does this pompous classicist compare the adventurous peer first to the fabulous giants of the antique world and then go on, as we shall see, satirically to docket him among the immortals in various fields of literature—exactly as Shakespeare has been seriously evaluated by more competent critics so many times since Gabriel Harvey’s day.
“. . . where Nash, there his Nisus, his Pythias, his Laelius, his Damides, his Archiadas, his Musidorus, his indivisible companion, with whose puissant help he conquereth, wheresoever he rangeth. Na, Homer not such an author for Alexander: nor Xenophon for Scipio: nor Virgil f or Augustus: nor Justin for Marcus Aurelius: nor Livy for Theodosius Magnus: nor Caesar for Selymus: nor Philip de Commines for Charles the Fifth: nor Macchiavell for some late princes: nor Aretine f or some late Courtesans; as his Author for him; the sole author of renowned victorie.”
In 1593, Oxford’s apparent acquiescence in an association with Nash for the avowed discomfiture of Harvey emboldens the latter to strike back in this wise.
“Marvel not, that Erasmus hath penned the Encomium of Folly; or that so many singular learned men have labored the commendation of the Ass: he it is, that is the godfather of writers, the superintendent of the press, the muster-master of innumerable hands, the General of the great field: he, and Nash, will confute the world. . . .”
Continuing in the same vein of sophomoric sarcasm, with a barbaric vulgarism thrown in to witness his nonchalance in the face of possible reprisals, Harvey finally qualifies his beratings of Oxford and young Nash with this characteristic bit of double-talk:
“. . . but no such ox in my mind, as Tarquinius Superbus: no such calf, as Spurius Maelius.”
And here we shall have to curtail this installment of Harvey’s contemporary testimony in the case for Lord Oxford as “Gentle Master William” Shakespeare. The pundit’s final similes are singularly appropriate. For the Poet Earl he ridicules and reproves (an old habit with Harvey) had lost his princely inheritance, just as Tarquinius Superbus, last legendary king of Rome, had lost his crown. Superbus was father of Tarquinius Sextus whose criminal rape of the Roman lady Lucretia had precipitated the revolt leading to the expulsion of the whole Tarquin family. Moreover, as Gabriel Harvey appears to know at this time, Lord Oxford as the real Shakespeare can very aptly be compared to the senior Tarquin, being the father of The Rape of Lucrece and the genius who has re-created the baneful character of the unhappy monarch’s offspring.
In suggesting, that Nash may be a Spurius Maelius, Harvey is warning the satirist that disgrace and death were the fruits of that promising young Roman’s efforts to win popularity and place by sensational means.
Contemporary documentation again proves the main Oxford-Shakespeare premise: that the Earl was a concealed poet of great potentiality—”the sole author of renowned victorie”; in fact, “Gentle Master William” Shakespeare himself!
1. QUARTERLY, October. 1944: New Milestone In Shakespearean Research.