Dr. John Dover Wilson’s “New” Macbeth
IS a Masterpiece Without a Master
But Oxford-Shakespeare Research Again Fills the Void
Copyright 1948 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, Winter 1947-48.
LATEST OF THE PLAYS to be issued in “The New Shakespeare” series by the Cambridge University Press under the editorial supervision of John Dover Wilson, Macbeth contains comments and notes of particular interest to students of the Oxford-Shakespeare case. (1)
Until recently Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh: co-editor with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch of this “definitive” series upon its inauguration about a quarter-century ago; and editor-in-chief for the past twelve years. Dr. Wilson is generally considered the most readable of all living Shakespearean commentators by book reviewers here and in Great Britain. He has a smooth style and enough individuality to distract attention from a weakness which would otherwise be all too apparent; namely, inability to draw logical conclusions from the materials he takes in hand. But the flashes of enthusiasm which lighten his pages have added to his popularity, where the pedestrian “stuffiness” of more skeptical scholars, such as Sir Edmund Chambers, usually fails to charm. In earlier works, notably The Essential Shakespeare (1933), Dr. Wilson has even been known to drop the role of critical historian to soar off into realms of biographical romance. His Essential Bard is not the generally accepted son of the illiterate John and Mary Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon, growing up to be the real-life replica of the “affluent and retired butcher” whose “air of stupid and self-complacent prosperity” dominates the celebrated bust in the Stratford church. Instead, Wilson plumps outright for a starry-eyed lad, synthetically conceived from the Shakespearean plays, who “received his education as a singing boy in the service of some great Catholic nobleman.” ‘Tis indeed a pretty gift of make-believe this fellow countryman of Robert Louis Stevenson possesses! But is it honest history or biography, or anything more than the type of wishful thinking that led to the outright frauds of Ireland and John Payne Collier? However the talent may be defined, Wilson frequently resorts to it whenever it becomes necessary to bridge difficulties that develop between the biographical blanks and hopeless incongruities of the Stratford person’s documentation and the undeniably real evidences of cosmopolitan learning, vast and varied life-experience, and artistic judgment, based upon leisured concentration, which are inescapably apparent in the Shakespeare writings. In fact, romantic speculation still dominates the Doctor’s approach to all problems involving the historical identity of the dramatist he undertakes to explain. Reversing Whittier’s dictum, he never fails to draw comfort from the phrase “might have been.”
Thus, while Dr. Wilson has collected many potentially illuminating facts on the creative background of Macbeth, he notably neglects to brim, home the assembled evidence of wide-ranging scholarship and technical magic to any one definitely certified personality of the age.
Certainly the scantily documented William of Stratford—”singing boy,” butcher’s apprentice, or what-have-you?—cannot be lured into focus for the task. Instead, our editor is content to leave Macbeth as another masterpiece without a master, although he credits the third-rate Thomas Middleton who paraphrased The Rape of Lucrece liberally in his Ghost of Lucrece (1600) and otherwise borrowed from the Bard as occasion warranted, with some “restoring” of the Macbeth text as we know it.
Playwright Consulted Rare Source Script
It is a pity that the matter of credible authorship is so slighted, for whoever planned and executed the classic murder drama of our language had access to much Scottish antiquarian lore and several expensive historical treatises, including Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. And this in a day when there was no such thing as a public reference library. More remarkably still, the author of Macbeth found it possible to consult an exceedingly rare manuscript, written in verse at the command of Queen Margaret of Scotland (great-grandmother of James VI) and obviously unavailable to any English dramatist not on “book borrowing” terms with some member of the royal Scots entourage.
As well he should, Dr. Wilson devotes particular attention to Shakespeare’s debt to this manuscript. His remarks can be read in full on pages XVII-XIX of his introductory chapter. They are based on the discovery of Mrs. C. C. Stopes who first discussed the matter in her Shakespeare’s Industry (1916) pp. 93, 102-3.
Students of Macbeth have long known that the actual regicide staged by the dramatist does not represent the killing of the real King Duncan by the Macbeth of history—the latter being an affair consummated under guise of an open revolt—but is taken from the records of the earlier murder of King Duff by the thane Donwald and his lady wife. The Duff regicide was in fact a crime against hospitality, in plan and execution much as Shakespeare attributes Duncan’s slaughter to Macbeth and his “fiend-like” spouse. The characterization of Lady Macbeth, as the poet works it out, is only hinted at by Holinshed in a few words. Echoing the account in Hector Boece’s Scotorum Historiae (1527-1540), Holinshed refers to Macbeth’s wife as “verie ambitious, burning in unquenchable desire to beare the name of a queene,” whose advice to her thane “lay sore upon him to attempt the thing” which led to Duncan’s elimination. Of course a great poetic genius, would not need more than a hint to build upon. And Holinshed, printed in plain Elizabethan English, was always held to be “Shakespeare’s only source” for the tragedy. But now develops the circumstance which Oxfordians will find corroborative of their stand on the authorship question:
The rare metrical manuscript called the Buik of the Croniclis of Scotland which Shakespeare studied in addition to Holinshed is in general a much more detailed and dramatically effective handling of the particular events and personalities which the Bard transmutes into the immortal measures of Macbeth. For one thing, the Buik contains considerable dialogue. The psychology of its characterizations is also realistic. In four outstanding particulars Shakespeare’s debt to the manuscript is clear-cut and undeniable.
1) The Buik’s dialogue between Donwald and his wife is strikingly paraphrased in several Shakespearean passages between Lady Macbeth and her unwilling lord. So are 2) descriptions of Donwald’s actions following his crime, which the play attributes to Lady Macbeth. 3) The metaphorical treatment of the prophecy addressed to Banquo, promising endless life to the line of Scottish sovereigns he has begotten, proves more acceptable to the dramatist than Holinshed’s remarks in kind. And 4) herein appears a seven-line characterization of Macbeth as the bemused tool of his wife’s wicked counsels which no other chronicler matches—but upon which the author of Macbeth dwells with tremendous effect!
A Royal Scottish Literary Circle
The author of this unique Shakespearean source manuscript was the Scottish poet, William Stewart, an illegitimate relative of the James Stewart who as King James IV married Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and sister of Henry VIII. A Master of Arts of St. Andrew’s, Stewart undertook at Queen Margaret’s request to translate Boece’s Latin history into idiomatic metres. The work was designed for the education of the young King James V. It was commenced in April, 1531 and completed in September, 1535. The widowed Queen who had commissioned the Buik, lived until 1540 and was unquestionably presented with a copy of the finished manuscript by the author. In 1514 she had remarried with Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, and the following year gave birth—in England—to a daughter who was christened Margaret by the great Cardinal Wolsey. This Lady Margaret Douglas soon became the favorite niece of her uncle, Henry VIII, was brought up at his Court, a “beautiful and highly esteemed” young woman of unusual charm and intelligence. Henry took considerable pains with her education, and always recognized her rights as a joint heiress in both the English and Scottish sovereignties. Following two romantic love affairs which he refused to countenance, Henry married the Lady Margaret to a third choice, Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, in 1544. Of this Earl and Countess of Lennox and some of the strange and significant events which grew out of their marriage, more anon.
Regarding Shakespeare’s use of the royally commissioned Buik of the Croniclis of Scotland, a point to emphasize is that no copy can be shown to have been read or referred to by any English author or scholar other than “Shakespeare” during the 16th century. The inventory of the personal library of James VI, who succeeded Elizabeth as James I of England, lists “the Scottis Chronicle, wrettin in hand,” together with Boece’s Latin Historiae: and what may be the same royal copy of the Croniclis was once in the possession of the Scottish scholar, Hew Craufurd, finally coming to rest among the books of George I. But the Stewart manuscript remained unprinted until 1358. On what grounds, then, do Mrs. Stopes and Dr. Wilson account for the author of Macbeth having had access to this choice item, especially prepared to edify kingly understanding?
The answer is: none. Both have left the question hanging in the air like the phantom dagger which plagues the vision of the Thane of Cawdor.
As a matter of fact, this creative riddle cannot be realistically solved by any documented consideration of the Shakespeare authorship question except the one which leads us back to the playwright Earl of Oxford. Neither the orthodox Will ‘o the Wisp of Stratford nor Wilson’s imaginary “singing boy” can at any recorded time or place be put in contact with a logically believable possessor of the Stewart manuscript prior to the writing of Macbeth; which, incidentally, Dr. Wilson now “guesses” was written “about 1599.”
But the Earl of Oxford very definitely can be so placed.
“I Do See the Very Book Indeed”
In the Cecil family papers, among a series of notes in the handwriting of Oxford’s father-in-law. Lord Burghley, detailing the Earl’s whereabouts during parts of 1574-5, it is stated that Oxford visited the Cecil country-seat of Theobalds when the Countess of Lennox and her eldest daughter were both there. (2) As previously mentioned, the Countess was the daughter of the Queen of Scotland who commissioned Stewart’s metrical Croniclis. Being the mother of Lord Darnley-Mary Queen of Scots’ murdered consort—Lady Lennox was also the grandmother of King James of Scotland and Great Britain who later listed the Stewart manuscript among his personal books. Because of her known interest in the history of the Scottish monarchy and her intimate relationship both to Stewart’s patroness and King James, it is obvious that there was no one living in England at any time during the reign of Elizabeth who can more logically be believed to have owned a copy of the Stewart manuscript than the Dowager Lady Lennox. Burghley’s notations, which evidently recall guests at Theobalds who attended dinner or supper parties in company, refer to the late summer of 1574:
19th Sept. Sunday, Lady Lennox, Earl of Oxford, Lord Northumberland, Lady Northumberland.
“’20th Sept. Monday. Lady Margaret Lennox (i.e., daughter of the Countess) Earl of Oxford. Lady Lennox, Lady Hunsdon.”
This puts our playwright at the impressionable age of twenty-four on the familiar footing of a house guest with the Countess of historic charm and notable mentality whose own life had been tragically conditioned by a series of events which have frequently been compared by historians and biographers to key developments in Macbeth. Less than a year previously Oxford had published Bedingfield’s translation of Cardan’s Comforte—now generally known as “Hamlet’s Book.” His introduction to this work of philosophy, and to Clerke’s Latin version of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (source of the characterizations of Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado) had already established his reputation as a writer of great promise: his verses were being collected by anthologists: and his enthusiasm for theatricals is especially commented upon by the Elizabethan historian of the town of Warwick. At the age of twenty, as a subaltern on the staff of his great friend, the Earl of Sussex, Oxford had also taken a hand in crushing the Rebellion of the Northern Earls (the revolt which many commentators say is adumbrated in Shakespeare s Henry IV plays). (3) The Sussex punitive expedition of 1670 had penetrated some miles north of the Scottish border to cripple the strongholds and supply lines of the adherents of the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, in whose political interests the rebellion had been organized. The Earl of Lennox, grandfather of the infant King James, was then co-operating with the English to the best of his ability. And inasmuch as his widowed Countess, at the time of her recorded meetings with Oxford in 1574, was a vehement personal enemy of her daughter-in-law, the displaced Queen of Scots, openly accusing Mary of having instigated the murder of Darnley, it is not unreasonable to believe that the aging noblewoman of tragic memories and the budding poet-dramatist who had helped scotch the revolt of the Marian Earls found topics of mutual interest to discuss at Lord Burghley’s board. With her eldest son and her husband both slaughtered as a result of the royal Scottish intrigues, there can be no doubt whatever of the predominating influence which the murderous central theme of Macbeth exerted upon the personality of the Countess of Lennox—although as a devout and forgiving Catholic she later “made her peace” with Mary, Queen of Scots. And as for young Oxford, his interest in the dramatic highlights of history, past and current, is specifically noted by his Shakespearean uncle and mentor, Arthur Golding, in the dedication of a translation of The Histories of Trogus Pompeius to the fourteen year old Lord Chamberlain of England in 1564. (4) Golding says:
“. . . it is not unknown to others, and I have had experience thereof myself, how earnest a desire your honour has naturally graffed in you to read, peruse and communicate with others as well the histories of ancient times, and thing’s done long ago, as also of the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding.”
So we see that Oxford is not only temperamentally the best documented candidate for the authorship of Macbeth that research has yet produced, but the only one it is possible to put in position to learn of Stewart’s manuscript from a probable owner.
Oxford and the Forerunner of Macbeth
Let us now consider a few other circumstances relating to the sources of the great Scottish tragedy which Dr. Wilson does not take into account.
A contemporary reference to Oxford as an actor in Court theatricals can be found in a letter by Gilbert Talbot, later Earl of Shrewsbury, and first reproduced in Nichols’ Progresses of Queen Elizabeth. This states that the poetical peer, together with three other young noblemen, appeared in a “device” before the Queen during the Shrovetide holidays of March, 1578 (New Style, 1579). Surviving documents of the Revels Office, covering the same period, report that on Shrove Tuesday, March 3rd, a play called “The history of murderous mychaell” was “shewen at Whitehall . . . by the Lord Chamberleynes servauntes.” It is now believed by many experts that this entry records the first Court performance of the anonymous drama, Arden of Feversham, which was published in 1592 by Edward White, the notorious Shakespearean play pirate. (5) The reason for this belief, fully stated by Mrs. Eva Turner Clark in her Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays, pp. 116-161, is that “murderous” Michael is a leading character in Arden. The homicide which he helped carry out on his master, a prosperous citizen of Kent, had been described in the first edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles, published in 1578; and a lurid chapbook account of the crime was printed later the same year by the aforesaid White who issued the play.
Now it happens that Algernon Charles Swinburne and other specialists in Elizabethan literature have identified Arden (“murderous mychaell”) as an “early work of Shakespeare’s.” And anyone who studies the drama should recognize it as a worthy forerunner of Macbeth, inevitably suggesting the royal murder classic in structural essentials, Shakespearean versification, thought patterns and word imagery. In particular, the appeals to the servant Michael’s cupidity or material ambition which his master’s wife uses to gain his consent to Arden’s slaying is reminiscent of Lady Macbeth’s cajolery of her husband to the deed of violence upon the sleeping, Duncan, moreover, the reactions of conscience-smitten pity which both Michael and Macbeth experience for their victims are identical and differ so little in verbal expression as to suggest either a common authorship or bold plagiarism.
Macbeth Moralizes Contemporary History
Regarding the general impression which the tragedy of Macbeth could not have helped but leave upon Elizabethan audiences, any royal Scottish murder drama staged after 1568 would ipso facto recall the murder of Darnley, titular King of Scotland. Dr. Wilson ignores this fact entirely. Also the interesting circumstance that Darnley’s assassination was directly compared by contemporary writers to the same historic Duff-Donwald crime which both the poet-chronicler Stewart and Shakespeare utilize so effectively.
Belleforest’s Histoire de Marie Royne d’ Escosse (1572) is one early account emphasizing these parallels. And the point is repeated in another French publication entitled Martyre de Marie Stuart, Royne d’ Escosse et Douariere de France, which was translated in 1587 by Adam Blackwood, following the execution of the unfortunate Queen.
Lilian Winstanley, a brilliant but strangely unappreciated modern student of Shakespeare’s allusions to contemporary personalities and events in the plays, (6) also states that certain details of the Darnley murder which reappear in Macbeth are taken from the depositions presented at the trials of those accused of the crime.
Who would be more likely to have access to such material: William of Stratford, entirely untraceable in connection thereunto, or the playwright Earl of Oxford who was reading law at Gray’s Inn when the trials of Darnley’s alleged slayers took place, who had actually been on a military expedition into Scotland in 1570, who may be assumed to have met Darnley himself at Elizabeth’s Court, who certainly knew the young man’s mother and father, and who finally sat on the jury of peers that convicted Mary, Queen of Scots of high crimes and misdemeanors in 1586?
As a matter of fact, if Macbeth is read with some comprehensive understanding of the sensational events which rocked Scotland to its foundations during the early decades of “Shakespeare’s Age,” it will be recognized—not as a possible “compliment” to King James of Scotland and Great Britain, as so many Stratfordians, as well as Dr. Wilson, view it—but as a stupendous morality piece, forcefully invoking ethical reflections upon the blood-stained panorama of passion, misdirected ambition, jealousy and murderous mis-government which culminated in the untimely elimination of both of James VI’s parents. Far from being “complimentary” to this King, the overwhelming effect of the play would be to recall vividly to his mind affairs which he was only too anxious to forget. The fact that Macbeth was first printed in the 1623-4 Folio about a year before the death of James, bears out this conclusion. And all fine-spun speculation to the contrary notwithstanding, there is absolutely no direct evidence that James ever saw Macbeth enacted at any time.
A Celebrated Biographer’s Opinion
Specific identification of the tragedy as a commentary upon contemporary Scottish history, with Lady Macbeth reproducing upon the stage psychological reactions which Elizabethan intelligence agents had attributed to the distraught Queen Mary, has been made by the late Stefan Sweig. On pages 209-11 of his Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles (1935), he says:
“Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Macbeth was created in the atmosphere Of the Mary Stuart drama; the happenings staged by Shakespeare’s imagination in Dunsinane Castle had previously been staged in fact at Holyrood Palace. In both cases, after the murder had taken place, there was the same isolation, the same oppressive spiritual gloom, the same ghastly festivals in which none dared to take pleasure and from which one after another slipped away because the ravens of black disaster were already circling round the house. Often we find it hard to distinguish whether it is Mary Stuart we are watching as she wanders by night through the apartments, sleepless, confused, tormented by pangs, of conscience, or whether it is Lady Macbeth wailing: ‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.’ Is it Bothwell, or is it Macbeth, who becomes harsher and more resolute after he has committed his crime: who more and more boldly challenges the enmity of Scotland—though he knows well enough that his courage is futile, and that ghosts are stronger than a living man? In both cases alike, a woman’s passion is the motive power, but the man is appointed to do the deed; as extraordinarily similar are the atmospheres, the oppression that lours over the tormented spirits, husband and wife chained together by the crime, each dragging the other down into the same dark abyss. Never in history or literature have the psychology of assassination and the mysterious power exerted after death by a victim upon a murderer been more magnificently depicted than in these two Scottish tragedies, one in the realm of fable and the other in that of real life.
“Are such remarkable similarities the product of chance? Have we not good ground for assuming that, in Macbeth, Shakespeare was dramatizing and sublimating the tragedy of Mary Stuart? … This much is certain, however, that only those who have studied and understood the psychology of Lady Macbeth after the murder of Duncan will be able fully to understand the moods and the actions of Mary Stuart during those dark days at Holyrood—to understand the torments of a woman strong of soul, who was yet not strong enough to face up to the darkest of her deeds.”
Supporting Characters in the Play
Perhaps no one has observed before this that Shakespeare assigns roles to certain titled characters in Macbeth with whose Elizabethan counterparts Oxford was personally acquainted. There was, for instance, actually no Scottish Lord Lennox at the historical Court of Macbeth. Yet Lennox has a part in the tragedy which carries him from opening scene to final curtain. In naming this character it seems certain that the playwright was thinking of the Scotland of his own day, and of the Lord Lennox, father of Darnley, who had been Regent of Scotland for his infant grandson James at the time of his murder at the hands of a malcontent bearing the suggestive cognomen of “Cawdor.” It is also not without interest that “Lady Lenox” is mentioned in the First Folio version of Macbeth at the opening of Act III, Scene 1. Her speeches are now given to Lady Macbeth. Such a slip indicates either that the author of the play had a Lady Lennox too much in mind when he wrote, or that such a character was actually given a part in the original handling of the play.
Oxford would be the playwright who would also come most naturally by another piece of information which rather stumps Dr. Wilson when he remarks that “Shakespeare . . . somehow or other learned that the Setons were the royal armour-bearers” of the northern realm.
Shakespeare’s Seton is one of the few adherents of Macbeth to remain loyal to the end. He helps the harried monarch to his armour for the final bout with Macduff; and it is also Seton, as Chamberlain of Macbeth’s household, who brings the latter word of his Queen’s death—thereby calling forth the famous “To-morrow and to-morrow” reflections upon mortality.
No Seton has been documented as holding the joint offices of royal Armour-bearer and Household Chamberlain in medieval Scotland. But the 5th Lord Seton of Mary’s reign did so. He is particularly noted by historians because of his unshakeable loyalty to that unhappy sovereign. It was at his house that Mary found protection when both the Catholic and Protestant forces combined against her; and Seton and his half-sister (the “Mary Seytoun” of the old ballad) helped the Queen in her final escape across the English border. This Lord Seton died in 1585. There can be little doubt that he was the prototype of Macbeth’s Seton. Sir Walter Scott also features him as a character in The Abbot.
When Was Macbeth Written?
As all realistic evidence indicates that Macbeth is a stern indictment of Scottish misgovernment, and one which would help justify Elizabeth’s heavy hand of correction, it is quite impossible to agree wit h Dr. Wilson that the play could have been written as late as 1599; for at that period the English government was taking pains to placate the Scots. As for the so-called “complimentary” references to James as the alleged descendant of Banquo who would rule the combined kingdoms of Great Britain, it was Queen Mary herself who, in presenting her new-born son at Court, said to Sir William Standen: “This is the Prince who I hope shall first unite the two kingdoms of England and Scotland.” Moreover, the orthodox claims that the composition of the play took place in 1605-6 because the Porter mentions an “equivocator” in his speech during the knocking at the gate of Dunsinane, were exploded long since. The theory that this “equivocator” must refer to Father Garnet, superior of the order of Jesuits in England, who was tried and condemned for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and who admitted his adherence to the ancient practice of “equivocating” or quibbling upon words in answering his accusers, is by no means conclusive. Cairncross in The Problem of Hamlet (1936) repeats the findings of Knight and others that “The Jesuits and their doctrine of equivocation . . . were familiar in London at least since the arrival of Campion and his friends in 1580; and were particularly associated with treason in the Babington Plot in 1586.”
Therefore, Dr. Wilson’s “very daring guesses” which bring the play’s creation back to 1599—while a move in the right direction—cannot be maintained in the face of Macbeth’s marked unsuitability as an olive branch to James of Scotland.
A bit of earlier documentation, much worthier of Wilson’s attention, is the entry in the Stationers’ Register (Arber Transcript) under date of 27 August, 1596 which shows that an effort had been made some time previous by a prominent member of the same band of literary pirates who were then issuing stolen and paraphrased versions of the genuine Shakespeare plays, to cash in on Macbeth. This entry states that “Thomas Millyngton was . . . fined ii/s. vi/d. for printing a ballad contrarye to order, which he also presently paid. Md.—the ballad entituled the ‘Taminge of a shrewe’; also one other ballad of ‘Macdobeth’.”
On February 6th of the same year, Thomas Millington, with Edward White and John Danter, had managed to wangle a license to issue the anonymous First Quarto of Titus Andronicus. Again on March 12th, we find him associated with another enterprising play-pirate named Thomas Creede in putting forth the corrupt memory version of 2 Henry VI under the title of The First Part of the Contention, &c. By 1600 he had also secured control of the True Tragedy steal of 3 Henry VI which had been published by other “injurious imposters” in 1594-5. Altogether, Thomas Millington ranks well to the fore among the school of sharks who specialized in making off with any scraps of the real Shakespearean product which could be converted to their nefarious needs.
No copy of Millington’s ballad versions of the Taminge of a Shrew or “Macdobeth” has survived, and the conclusion must be that all of the copies printed “contrarye to order” were destroyed by the Stationers’ Court. But in 1600 the famous Shakespearean dancer-comedian, William Kemp, makes a significant reference to the latter ballad. This occurs in Kemps Nine Daies Wonder, an account of his overland dance from London to Norwich, wherein he warns “the impudent generation of Ballad-makers not to fill the country with lyes of his neuer done actes.” One of these quill-driving parasites he describes as “a penny Poet whose first making was the miserable stolne story of Macdoel, or Macdobeth, or Macsomewhat.”
These references indicate Shakespeare’s play as the basis of the 1596 suppressed Millington ballad, or “miserable stolne story,” for no other Elizabethan work is known by a title which comes anywhere near matching “Macdobeth” as closely as this does the great Scottish tragedy. The variation in orthography from the Bard’s title is, in fact, not so marked as that which Stewart allows himself in the Croniclis, where he sometimes calls the Thane of Cawdor “Makobey.” Also, it is entirely in character for Kemp, the veteran Shakespearean clown, to compare the dangers he himself faces in entering the field of authorship with those which the great playwright-patron of his acting company has experienced at the hands of literary thieves. In the opening paragraph of his warning to these rascals in the Nine Daies Wonder, Kemp addresses the plagiarists under the generic term of “Shakerags.”
Exactly when Macbeth was written will, in the opinion of this reviewer, never be known, unless some unquestionable first-hand documentation comes to light in the future. But all basic circumstances and records now available being duly considered, we are justified in assigning the composition of the tragedy to the period oi Queen Elizabeth’s harshest dealings with Scotland—climaxed by the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in February, 1587. The 1578-88 decade would seem most logical.
But from about 1590 onward to the end of Elizabeth’s reign, her political policy was against stirring up the antagonism of her northern neighbors by publicizing the homicidal governmental anarchy previously rife there, which is the theme of Macbeth, and which the play’s stage presentation or publication would have continued to emphasize. To avoid just such contingences, a strict censorship was maintained upon both the theatre and the printing-press. We have excellent evidence of the latter in the Stationers’ Court action against the piratical Millington, and the suppression of his “disorderly” ballad of “Macdobeth.”
Finally, the general circumstances and contemporary records whereby the early composition of the Shakespeare murder classic is so realistically indicated, also show the playwright Earl of Oxford to be the most credible author of Macbeth. Should Dr. Wilson be inclined to scoff at this conclusion, we respectfully refer him to the evidence which proves Oxford’s literary nickname of the Shakespearean era to have been “Gentle Master William” (7) —and to much other ammunition of equally revolutionary caliber in the Oxfordian arsenal.
1. Macbeth: The New Shakespeare Edition. Edited by John Dover Wilson, Cambridge University Press, Macmillan Co., New York, 1947. $2.50.
2. Calendar MSS, Marquis of Salisbury., XIII, 144; Ward. p .117.
3. Ward, pp. 40-48.
4. Ward, pp. 23-4.
5. Quarterly, Vol. VII p. 24.
6. Winstanley, Macbeth, King Lear and Contemporary History (1922).
7. Quarterly, Vol. V. No. 4 (October, 1944) $1, postpaid.