King of Shreds and Patches
An Examination of the Alleged Credentials of Sir Edward Dyer
as the “Great Reviser” of the Shakespearean Works
Copyright 1943 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, April 1943.
That dye is on me
Which makes my whitest part black.
Henry VIII. I. 1. 208
After years of deep cogitation, Mr. Alden Brooks, M.A., Harvard, has come up with his long-awaited study of the Shakespeare authorship problem.
It is an expansive tome, embracing some seven hundred pages, and offers an entirely new solution to the greatest of literary mysteries—one that may be designated as a combination of the “group” and “stooge” theories.
Under the Brooks’ treatment, “Mr. William Shakespeare” as an individualized creative force disappears, and we are told instead of a sort of Elizabethan assembly-line, operated by Thomas Kyd, Robert Greene, George Peele, Thomas Lodge, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nash, Samuel Daniel, Barnaby Barnes, Ben Jonson and others—with the young Earl of Southampton democratically joining the hired hands now and again to turn out a bit of piece-work on his own account.
The promoter, organizer and financial agent of the business is the shrewd and hustling Will Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon. As an entrepreneur, Will develops unique genius equaling in rough and ready energy, trickery and rapaciousness any fictional character of the type evolved by Dickens or Mark Twain. And the veteran model-maker or “Great Reviser” that Will employs to help him plan and perfect the masterpieces of drama and poetry that flow from his shop is the courtier-lyricist, Sir Edward Dyer. Poor Dyer needs the money very badly and his understanding with his employer is that his services must never be acknowledged: although one day he himself inadvertently tips the whole arrangement off to Brooks (representing alert posterity) by inserting his own name—Capitalized—into the seventh line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 111:
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand.
And almost thence my nature is subdu’d
To what it works in, like the Dyer’s hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew’d . . .
Cutting through the verbose, involved and tenuously conjectural fabric of the Brooks argument, this is the gist of his case as it appears in Will Shakspere and the Dyer’s Hand. (1)
The Shakespearean student, seeking new light on a vexed subject, may for a while sit in pop-eyed wonder before the legerdemain of Master Brooks ere he thinks to ask:
Where is the contemporary documentation to back up these broad and sweeping claims? And who and what was this alleged “Great Reviser”—Sir Edward Dyer—in real life?
The realistic questioner will soon find that the one recognized authority on the life and writings of Dyer is the British scholar, Ralph M. Sargent, who in 1935 published a thoroughly documented account of this Elizabethan diplomatist’s career under the title of At the Court of Queen Elizabeth: The Life and Lyrics of Sir Edward Dyer.
Carefully perusing Prof. Sargent’s work in conjunction with the Brooks volume, the information-seeker cannot help but note the many key points at which the Harvard M.A. diverges sharply from the well-defined outline of Dyer’s recorded documentation. In instance after instance, Brooks is obliged to pull his “Great Reviser” along by main strength in following paths charted only in Brooks’ own elastic imagination.
Thus at the very outset of this alleged identification of Dyer with the greatest plays that Anglo-Saxon culture has produced, we find there is really no contemporary warrant for the assumption that Dyer had any skill at all in the highly specialized art of playwriting. No record can be produced to show that this courtier-lyricist was considered a dramatist by any contemporary, nor has his name ever before been mentioned in connection with any public theatrical enterprise. One of Dyer’s possible lyrics—the so-called “Song, in the Oak”—appears to have been sung at an outdoor entertainment for the Queen at Woodstock in 1575. But that is all. And certainly one song does not make a Shakespeare any more than one amateur drawing-room lyric would make a Noel Coward today.
Alden Brooks has the temerity to claim that because Dyer has never been known to anyone before this as a playwright, he “must have been” the peerless Bard; but the futility of such an “argument” is self-apparent.
This is what the foremost contemporary literary critics have to say of Sir Edward’s known talents as a poet:
The Arte of English Poesie (1589): . . .”Master Edward Dyer for Elegie most sweet, solemn, and of high conceit.”
Mere’s Palladis Tamia (1598): . . . “these are the most passionate among us to bewail & bemoan the perplexities of Love, Henrie Howard Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyat the elder, Sir Francis Brian, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edward Dyer, Spencer, Daniel, Drayton, Shakespeare, Whetstone, etc.”
Henry Peacham’s The Compleat Gentleman (1622), lists Dyer fifth among the outstanding poets of Elizabeth’s reign, in the following company: “Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others…”
Observe that none of these authorities refer to Dyer as a dramatist. He is, indeed, specifically characterized as an elegist and a writer of love lyrics. Peacham’s placement of Dyer as a link between Sidney and Spenser is appropriate enough, for other recorded circumstances show that to be exactly where Dyer belongs. He was by no means the first or outstanding figure; and no man would know this better than Henry Peacham, whose reputation as an authority on the fine arts of the Shake-spearean Age cannot be questioned. (2) It must also be borne in mind that Peacham never once mentions the name “William Shakespeare” in The Compleat Gentleman or in any other of his many works, although he quotes directly from the plays in The Worth of a Peny and elsewhere, and is the only English artist of that period (1578-1640) who can be shown to have made a contemporary illustration of a Shakespearean play. This quaint sketch of priceless value, depicts the plea of the Queen Tamora for the lives of her sons in Titus Andronicus. It is endorsed “Henricus Peacham, 1595.” During the present century, it was found among the Elizabethan manuscripts of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat. (3) It is thus apparent that Peacham had real personal interest in the Shakespearean works and in specifying his favorite poets of that age, we could expect him to take appropriate means to indicate his partiality for the Bard. It is the contention of the proponents of Lord Oxford as the true “William Shakespeare” that Peacham does exactly, this in The Compleat Gentleman. Oxford and Buckhurst head his list as the two dramatic poets of all-time historical interest, while Dyer serves the purpose of connecting Sidney’s art with Spenser’s. Every Elizabethan poet that Peacham lists in 1622 was dead at that time. So was William of Stratford. Yet the name of “Shakespeare” as a personal entity is conspicuously absent. Was this because he was a public dramatist? Well, hardly, in view of the fact that both Buckhurst and Samuel Daniel had been known as public playwrights, while Oxford had been listed first in Meres’ Palladis Tamia (1598) among the playwrights specified as “the best for Comedy among us.”
These facts would seem to be of vital significance in identifying the real “‘Shakespeare,” but they mean nothing at all to Master Brooks. He entirely ignores the statements of the author of The Arte of English Poesie and of Francis Meres, qualifying Dyer as an elegist and lyricist (while Oxford is distinctly listed as “best” or “first” of all the Court poets by the same authorities). As a matter of fact, throughout his book, The Arte of English Poesie is not even mentioned by Brooks. Neither is Henry Peacham nor The Compleat Gentleman. This is obvious evasion—the opposite of scientific scholarship—and immediately sets Brooks down as a “special pleader”—unwilling to let the jury consider all of the first-hand testimony affecting his own client.
Worse than this, he distorts alleged “evidence” to his particular ends, beyond all patience. In this connection, let us examine more closely his reproduction of the line from Sonnet III in support of his claim that the writer of this poem herein openly reveals his name as “Dyer.” Brooks stakes much on this claim—the title of his book, no less. It is, therefore, little short of amazing to find what amounts to deliberately misstated and suppressed fact.
Brooks uses only a part of Sonnet 111 as it originally appears in the 1609 Quarto:
O For my sake doe you with fortune chide,
The guiltie goddesse of my harmfull deeds,
That did not better for my life prouide,
Then publick meanes which publick manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receiues a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu’d
To what it works in like the Dyers hand,
Pitty me then, and wish I were renu’de,
Whilst like a willing pacient I will drinke,
Potions of Evsell gainst my strong infection,
No bitternesse that I will bitter thinke,
Nor double pennance to correct correction.
Pittie me then deare friend, and I assure yee,
Euen that your pittie is enough to cure mee.
On page 639 of Will Shakspere and the Dyer’s Hand, Brooks writes of the above sonnet:
There is a clear association here between the Poet’s name and the “Dyer’s hand.” It is not the word “fortune” that is capitalized, nor the words “goddess,” “nature,” but alone the word “Dyer.”
To refute this misstatement, all that is necessary is to read on beyond “Dyer” to the noun “Eysell” (eisel, early Saxon for vinegar) which is also capitalized.
I believe there is a school of thought that may argue from this that the Bard was really of German extraction.
But why does Mr. Alden Brooks put his name to statements that are so easy to disprove? Shall we say he is merely careless and just did not bother to read the whole of Sonnet 111 before writing the above statements?
Many other evidences of carelessness pervade the book. For instance, Brooks refers no less than three times to Hall, the satirist, as John Hall when he really means Joseph Hall, later Bishop of Exeter and Norwich and author of Virgidemiae, a book all students of the Shakespearean authorship mystery should certainly know well enough. For therein Hall brutally attacks the greatest concealed poet of the age under the designation of “Labeo.” (4) Besides miscalling Hall, Alden Brooks indexes Elderton the Shakespearean ballad-maker as T. Elderton, whereas his given name was William.
These examples of slapdash workmanship are unfortunate enough, but certainly the printer cannot be blamed for the really atrocious exhibitions in bad taste and faulty scholarship that Master Brooks displays when he undertakes to dispose of the Earl of Oxford as a claimant to Shakespearean honors. The editorial board of Charles Scribner’s Sons should also come in for a certain amount of censure here for allowing so much misinformation and so many brash statements bordering on outright libel to reach the stage of cold type.
Brooks frankly sets out on page 518, et seq., to present Oxford as an utterly worthless, brainless and insignificant figure in order to have Dyer appear vastly superior to the Elizabethan scene. He finds it necessary to his argument to swallow without examination the counter-charges of “treason” and “criminal” practice which the notorious Spanish agents, Lord Henry Howard and Sir Charles Arundel made against “this monsterous Earell” following their own arrests for high crimes and misdemeanors in December 1580, on information supplied by Oxford. (5) History has long since trebly corroborated and underscored every statement regarding the dangerous disloyalty of Howard and Arundel which Oxford made to the then incredulous Queen. But it seems in Brooks’ view that this precious pair of Elizabethan quislings were really reputable and unprejudiced patriots, after all; and that the counter-charges of “treason” and “horrid murder” that they hurled back at Oxford to save their own necks, are to be accepted as gospel. The Earl, thereupon, becomes the real traitor in Brooks’ version of this historic case. Our heartless author actually makes Oxford serve a sentence of nearly three years in the Tower of London for a purely imaginary crime!
As every reader of the NEWS’LETTER knows, this is an unpardonable distortion of easily ascertainable fact. There is simply no excuse for anybody who styles himself an “Elizabethan expert” to undertake an alleged serious study of the character of the 17th Earl of Oxford these days with so little sense of responsibility to his readers. If full and amply documented dated records, sufficiently corroborated from official sources to leave no possibility of doubt regarding practically every detail of the episodes in which the poet Earl of Oxford took part during the period between December 1580, and June 1583 were not available for Brooks’ examination, we could be more charitable to his shortcomings as a writer on the authorship mystery. But by ignoring all this factual documentation in order to present a fictional characterization of the man he must misrepresent in order to make Sir Edward Dyer into a dramatist, Brooks writes himself down as thoroughly untrustworthy.
The truth is, after exposing Howard and Arundel in December 1580, Oxford was held in the Tower for a day or two—but no longer—as a material witness. Even Arundel himself enviously testifies to Oxford’s immediate release. At the same time, no one can produce any official evidence that the Queen’s government seriously countenanced any of the counter-charges of “treason” that Howard and Arundel had made. It is also true that in March or April 1581, Oxford was again sent to the Tower for getting his dark-eyed mistress, Anne Vavasor, with child. But the records are explicit in stating that the Earl was released from prison for this infringement of Elizabethan etiquette about two months later, on June 8, 1581. At the time of his enlargement, a letter was dispatched from the Privy Council to Sir William Gorges. Lieutenant of the Tower, expressly informing him that Oxford must not be subjected to any indignity upon quitting the Tower, as he had not been committed “upon any cause of treason or any criminal cause.” (6)
So we see that the madcap Earl did not spend more than eight or nine weeks in prison, all told, and that he was officially absolved of “any cause of treason.”
But this documentation does not appeal to the author of Will Shakepere and the Dyer’s Hand. He proceeds to develop a set of ersatz facts and circumstances of his own manufacture in order to make Sir Edward Dyer become the directive collaborator of John Lyly—Lord Oxford’s well known secretary-steward—in the creation of three or four of the Lyly comedies, such as Endymion, Sapho and Phao and Gallathea. This, says Master Brooks, is how Dyer made his start as an active dramatist:
“. . . December 1580, the Earl of Oxford lost the Queen’s favor and lost it so disastrously under accusation of treason that he was cast into the Tower.
“With his patron imprisoned in the Tower under grave accusation of treason, Lyly would have every reason to seek other employment. Indeed, his first thought would have been to sever himself from all connection with one now publicly accused of being a traitor. Possibly the finger of suspicion had even begun to stretch toward himself, the traitor’s secretary. Edward Dyer was not only active man of letters and long standing friend—had they not exchanged poems, discussed Euphues together and a hundred other matters?—Edward Dyer was also allied in some influential way with Walsingham. One could take no better refuge than to engage oneself to his service. Then too, on the other hand, to place one’s pen at secretive and unworldly Dyer’s behest was not to contract oneself too bindingly or openly. Should Oxford one day be able to clear himself of the accusation of treason, as seemed none the less in a fair way to be possible, then there would always be opportunity, when the storm blew over, to come forth from one’s obscurity, greet one’s noble lord at the prison gates, and return to his lordly generosity and patronage.
“December 1580, Edward Dyer engaged the services of John Lyly. Since Oxford was not pardoned and freed from prison until June 1583, it is logical to suppose that Dyer directed Lyly’s pen from December 1580 until June.1583!” (My exclamation point and italics).
Brooks goes on to explain in great—and purely imaginary—detail how this alleged alliance of Lyly with Dyer accounts for the remarkable number of Shakespearean touches to be met with in the Lyly comedies. Not content with making a traitor out of Oxford—who later commanded his own ship at the repulse of the Spanish Armada—Brooks strips the literary Earl of his attested secretary, who is artificially transformed thereby into a pretty despicable traitor on his own account.
“So then, with Oxford locked up in the Tower on charge of treason” . . . Dyer switches the full propaganda value of the Lyly comedies to the account of the Earl of Leicester, Oxford’s unsleeping rival. Months pass into years as this treachery proceeds apace.
“However, like many another schemer who imagines that the traces of his duplicity have been well hidden, Lyly overlooked one possibility. It never came to his mind that someone in the know might deliberately denounce him. And denounced he was. A malevolent voice whispered to Lady Oxford and Lady Oxford carried the word to Oxford in his confinement (still in the Tower) that the secret author of recent Court plays, so favorable to the Leicester cause and, incidentally, so scandalously and even sacrilegiously devised, was none other than supposed-loyal secretary John Lyly.”
Note how far afield Brooks wanders from the true chronology here. In the early summer of 1582, when he has Oxford mouldering in the Tower, the Earl was, actually at home, recovering from serious wounds suffered in his duel with Thomas Knevett during March of the same year. His devoted wife, with whom he had been living, following a reconciliation in December 1581, may have complained to Oxford “in his confinement” during June 1582, of the inability of the secretary-steward, John Lyly, to stave off a hornet’s-nest of creditors who were making things disagreeable at this time. But we may rest assured she had only to penetrate the “confinement” of Oxford’s private bedroom or study to register such complaints—not the Tower of London.
Moreover, if Master Brooks had only taken the time to look into Feuillerat’s documented biography of John Lyly (whose reputation Brooks slanders so needlessly) he could hardly have missed Feuillerat’s detailed and dated account of the rapier-and-dagger vendetta that Lyly’s patron. Lord Oxford—together with his swordsmen-retainers—carried on throughout the winter and spring of 1582 with the partisans of Oxford’s unfortunate mistress (a la Montague-Capulet). But Brooks does not bother with such hampering items as accurate chronology. He prefers his imaginary picture of the poet Earl under bolt and bar—with Lyly ratting to Leicester’s camp under Dyer’s direction.
Let us repeat: in view of all the documentation of unquestionable authenticity that has been published of late years, proving that Oxford was imprisoned in 1580-81 for a few weeks only by his irritated and jealous Queen, and from June 1581 to June 1583 debarred by her command from the precincts of the Court as a punishment for having broken the Seventh Commandment, Alden Brooks’ fantastic interpretation of the fictional events which he attributes to the same critical period of 1580-1583 must be accorded a place among terrible examples of historical misinformation.
Disregarding all of the evidence proving Oxford was not considered a traitor by Queen Elizabeth or her Privy Council which has been published by present day students of the literary Earl’s career, Brooks could still have easily checked upon his own unwarranted conclusions before rushing into print. Murray’s English Dramatic Companies would have shown him that Oxford could not possibly have been publicly “accused of treachery to the state” during 1581-83 for the good and sufficient reason that the playwriting peer’s theatrical company is recorded as touring England during these same years. “The Earl of Oxford’s Players” appear in town registers as filling engagements (with the official approval of municipal authorities) at Norwich in 1581, at Coventry in November 1581 and November 1582; at Dover in 1581; at Ipswich in 1581 and 1582; at Gloucester in May 1582; at Bristol in February 1583; at Abingdon June 2, 1583; and also at Southampton and Exeter in the early months of the latter year.
It can be taken as an absolute certainty that the burgesses of important English centers such as these would never have given official sanction to the public appearance of any group of players—no matter how talented—who wore the livery and contracted their engagements in the name of an accused traitor to the state.
So much for Brooks’ efforts to account for the beginnings of Edward Dyer’s alleged career as a dramatist by shamelessly bedaubing the reputations of these two known and amply recorded play-wrights of the day—Lord Oxford and his personal secretary, John Lyly.
Contrary to Master Brooks’s determined efforts to present his Great Reviser as the only Elizabethan rightly fitted to wear the true Bard’s mantle, the authoritative commentators on Dyer’s literary activities are explicit in placing him with the one definitely anti-Shakespearean group of the period. This consisted of Philip Sidney, Dyer, Edmund Spenser, Fulke Greville (later Lord Brooke), Thomas Drant and Gabriel Harvey. The letters of Spenser and Harvey comment at length on the plans and purposes of these men to found their own school of English literature. Writing to Harvey in October 1579, Spenser says:
“As for . . . Master Sidney and Master Dyer, they have me, I thank them, in some use of familiarity.
. . . And now they have proclaimed in their Areopagus (clique) a general surceasing and silence of bald rymers and also of the very best too: (7) instead whereof, they have, by authoritie of their whole Senate, prescribed certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse: having had thereof already great practise, and drawn me to their faction.”
The rules and regulations for the writing of English poetry which Sidney and Dyer tried to enforce would have prevented the development of Shakespeare’s particular talents, it is now universally agreed. Spenser soon saw the folly of endeavoring to shackle the vigorous new spirit of Elizabethan literary expression in the classic moulds of any dead language. and struck out for himself. But Sidney, unfortunately for his reputation as a critic, (though undoubtedly with the full approval of his close friend, Dyer) put the creative principles advocated by their Areopagus into an essay entitled An Apologie for Poetrie where anyone may judge for himself just how anti-Shakespearean was the point of view maintained by this priggish clique. Let it suffice to say that Sidney’s rules for dramatic constructions had not advanced beyond those of Aristotle: demanding rigid adherence to the unities of time, place and action. Plays such as those of “Mr. William Shakespeare,” which violate the old classic laws with reckless impunity are treated with scorn; particularly those that contain a multiplicity of scenes, covering long passages of time; tragedies representing realistic history, and—grossest of absurdities—”plays (that) be neither right tragedies nor right comedies: mingling Kings and Clowns.” In reading Sidney’s diatribe on the alleged faults of the budding Elizabethan drama, one receives the strange impression that somehow or other Sidney had seen some of “William Shakespeare’s” characteristic early works before 1581, when the Apologie for Poetrie appears to have been written. The Bard, as all stage managers have found out, dotes on multiplicity of scene and change of time. Also, he dramatizes history realistically enough to outrage any pseudo-classicist. And as for hybrid tragicomedy, “mingling Kings and Clowns,” no more flagrant examples could be cited than the two parts of Henry IV with Falstaff and Prince Hal interchanging roles. As I believe Mrs. Eva Turner Clark has already pointed out elsewhere, Sidney actually describes contrasting scenes from Twelfth Night in the following sarcastic comment:
“Now ye shall have three Ladies, walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a Garden. By and by, we hear news of a ship wreck in the same place, and then we are to blame, if we accept it not for a Rock.”
Sir Philip appears to have had in mind Olivia’s garden and the sea-coast of Illyria upon which Viola’s ship has been wrecked.
Two things are quite certain from these instances: first, that Sidney and his school had no taste for, nor appreciation of, drama built upon the imaginatively untrammeled lines that Shakespeare follows; and secondly, that as Sidney’s intimate friend and co-founder with him of the Areopagus, dedicated to the “surceasing and silence” of all Elizabethan poets who do not conform to a narrow interpretation of classicism, Edward Dyer himself, obviously could not have been the kind of writer who was particularly disliked by the lawgivers of the Areopagus.
Prof. Sargent emphasizes the fact that Sidney was Dyer’s closest confidant. Brooks quotes and requotes Gabriel Harvey’s statement that Sidney and Dyer were “the two very diamondes of her maiesties courte for many special and rare qualities.”
But when the author of Will Shakspere and the Dyer’s Hand goes on to argue from these unquestioned literary associations that Edward Dyer was the real Shakespeare, logic has already flitted out the window. For who but the Bard himself overwhelmingly demonstrates the barren hollowness of the pet ideas of Sidney, Dyer, Harvey, Greville and their camp-followers regarding the future of the English drama? Master Brooks simply cannot be allowed to hoard his cake and eat it!
Moreover, he is entirely blind to the fact that the Earl of Oxford (“in the rare devices of poetry . . . the most excellent among the rest”) (8) was the acknowledged leader of the rising group of realistic, Shakespearean dramatists and harum-scarum university wits, such as Thomas Churchyard, Anthony Munday, John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Nash and others who took delight in breaking all the silly laws of composition that the founders of the Areopagus had so pompously promulgated.
Sidney’s differences with Oxford, it now appears, were violent merely upon the rhetorical plane; their so-called “murderous hatred” of each other has been exaggerated out of all proportion; for Sidney’s beloved sister, the Countess of Pembroke, (9) was later on the friendliest of terms with the Earl. In 1597 she tried to bring about a marriage between Oxford’s daughter, Bridget Vere, and her eldest son, William Herbert, later Earl of Pembroke; while Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan, did become the wife of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery, the nephew and namesake of the same Sir Philip Sidney that Alden Brooks declares Lord Oxford seriously plotted to “murder.” It is hardly necessary to point out the fact that Shakespeare’s First Folio is dedicated to these two “incomparable brethren”—one of whom was the poet Earl of Oxford’s son-in-law.
Gabriel Harvey, makes a very unconvincing witness indeed for Sir Edward Dyer as the iconoclastic Shakespeare. Harvey’s enthusiasm was expended on creative talent of a different type. He is never more than luke-warm and usually quite offensively critical and condescending in his several references to the mysterious Bard’s plays and poems. So when we find this Cambridge doctor of Latin rhetoric praising the neo-classicists, Dyer and Sidney, as the “two incomparable and miraculous Gemini,” and holding up their “delicate and choice elegant poesy” as the very pattern for other English poets to follow, the Shakespearean connotations that Brooks draws from Harvey’s remarks are somewhat less than convincing. From Harvey’s letters to Edmund Spenser, we know that the Cambridge pundit both feared and disliked the type of witty Shakespearean satire that emanated from the group of comedians sponsored by the Earl of Oxford. In one of his letters, the egotistical Gabriel expresses real apprehension lest he himself may be held up to ridicule on the stage. This fear seems to have grown out of Harvey’s own daring burlesque of the literary Earl of Oxford in a truly extraordinary set of the classic hexameters which the egregious pedant affected. In his Speculum Tuscanismi, Harvey lampoons Oxford as an Italianated English fop and teller of tall travelers’ tales, who besides being “a brave Mirror” of fashion and “in Courtly guiles a passing singular odd man,” is “a fellow peerless in England”—significantly enough—
Not the like discourser for Tongue, and head to be found out,
Eyed like to Argus, eared like to Midas, nos’d like to Naso. (10)
Overlooking its startling shortcomings as “poetry,” Harvey’s satire is of great value as a firsthand caricature of the fabulous 17th Earl of Oxford, for the Shakespearean connotations here are immediate and unmistakable. Harvey will also live in literary history as the first recorded English observer to openly designate the poetical peer as a “shake-speare.” In an oratorical address that he delivered in welcoming Oxford to Cambridge University in 1578, Harvey criticized him for devoting so much of his time to “bloodless books and writings that serve no useful purpose,” and urged him eloquently to take up a military career because, “thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear.” The Harvey-Oxford-Shakespeare evidence is much too extensive to be included here. It is, however, a most amusing narrative and too clearly documented to leave room for doubt as to its authenticity. Let us merely say that the real Shakespeare did take ample revenge upon Harvey for the Speculum Tuscanismi satire by burlesquing that garrulous rhetorician most unmercifully in Love’s Labor’s Lost. Harvey’s nickname, often used to designate him in The Shepheard’s Calendar, is Hobbinol. Under the appropriate variation of Holofernes, (11) Harvey can be easily identified as the pedant in Shakespeare’s comedy. We have space here to point out but one of a great many allusions to Harvey’s pet foibles which give the Holofernes characterization its lifelike cutting-power:
Harvey, in Foure Letters and Certeine Sonnets (1592), an attack upon Robert Greene, deceased, and Thomas Nash, defender of the playwright’s memory:
A ma is a man though he have but a hose upon his head: for everie curse, there is a blessing, for every malady, a remedie, for every winter, a sommer: for everie night a day….
In Love’s Labor’s Lost, Moth, the page, introduces Holofernes, the pedant:
Yes, Yes! he teaches boys the Horn-book. What is ‘Ab’ spelt backward, with the horn on his head?
Holofernes: ‘Ba,’ puericia, with a horn added.
Moth: ‘Ba.’ most silly Sheep with a horn. You hear his learning!
When Alden Brooks undertakes to prove by Sir Edward Dyer’s own signed or otherwise identified writings that the courtly lyricist was the prodigal and versatile genius whose achievements revolutionized English literature, his case breaks down most lamentably. Esau’s hand, as well as Esau’s voice is missing. Any reader of average intelligence who knows the Bard’s works can see for himself how lacking in forcefulness and originality the Dyer poems are. The point need not be labored, for the lines produce their own effect. And a very quiet, contemplative siesta this turns out to be, without a single bugle-call to action or even a six-penny skyrocket to draw the eyes aloft. Best of the elegies is, of course. “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is.” But the originality of this philosophical commentary can hardly be allowed in view of Prof. Sargent’s frank admission that the poem is in the main an English paraphrase from Seneca’s Thyestes. Our own John Burroughs struck higher in the same vein with “Serene I Fold My Hands and Wait.” And by the time we have finished a characteristic Dyer selection such as “Amarillis”—which Brooks himself finds a foot or two short of epic proportions—I am sure every open-minded reader will be perfectly willing to agree with Sargent’s honest and adequate estimate of this professional courtier’s literary remains:
“‘Yes, for a lyricist, Dyer is remarkably earthbound. But amongst the swelling chorus of all Elizabethan poets, he strikes a rich, lingering minor chord.”
What more need be said? Only this: Shakespeare was not a minor poet—his was the major voice of his age, a voice so vigorous and so vibrant with unmistakable overtones and ringing, metaphors that we can be absolutely certain he must have betrayed himself many times over had lie written the three hundred or more lines of poetry, plus the two thousand words of prose correspondence that are ascribed to Dyer. In the Sonnets the Bard is disturbed lest his pseudonymity be penetrated because “every word doth almost tell my name.” Why, then, doesn’t the same thing happen here? Why does Alden Brooks, after exhausting every subterfuge, fail so signally to present authentic Shakespearean thought, imagery and phraseology from Dyer’s writings? The answer is a very simple one.
Because Mr. Brooks has tried to palm off the wrong collection of lyrics and personal letters. Those filed under the name of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, contain all the Shakespearean parallels that this collection lacks.
Charles Wisner Barrell.
1. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, Feb. 1943, $5. The volume contains no footnotes or appendix references to authorities consulted, no mention of any original research—not even a bibliography.
2. Dr. Samuel Johnson drew heavily upon Peacham’s Compleat Gentleman in compiling definitions for his famous dictionary.
3. Sir E. K. Chambers, The Library, Series 4. Vol. V, pp. 326-30.
4. This name Labeo to characterize some great man who has demeaned himself in Hall’s eyes by writing Venus and Adonis, has bothered Baconians for generations. Brooks sees that it obviously does not fit Dyer. But the appellation applies perfectly to Lord Oxford. He always signed himself “Edward Oxeford” or “Edward Oxenford” and his few verses in anthologies and manuscript collections bear the initials “E.O.” The prefix “Lab” means to blab. So Hall presents him as Edward Oxford the Blabber, ending his satirical attack on Labeo with:
Who list complain of wrongèd faith or fame
When lie may shift it to another’s name?
5. State Papers, Domestic, Elizabeth and Addenda, Vols. 2 & 8.
6. Ward, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, pp. 213-14.
7. This is a plain reference to Oxford, who was hailed by Webbe and other critics as the “most excellent” of the Court poets. Sidney’s and Dyer’s personal antagonism to the Earl is amply recorded.
8. Webbe, A Discourse of English Poetrie (1586).
9. Ward, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, p. 329-30.
10. Publius Ovidius Naso, the full name of the Latin poet Ovid to whom Francis Meres (1598) compares Shakespeare.
And why, indeed, Naso, but for smelling out the
odoriferous flowers of fancie?
Holofernes the pedant in
Love’s Labor’s Lost, IV.2.112.
11. Holofernes is also the name of the pedant who teaches Gargantua his letters in the first book of Rabelais.