The Incomparable Pair and “The Works of William Shakespeare”
Copyright 1961 by Gwynneth Bowen
First published in Shakespearean Authorship Review (English), Autumn 1961.
IN two articles published in 1959, The Earl of Pembroke and the Fair Youth of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Studies in Philology, 56) and The Earl of Montgomery and the Dedicatory Epistle of Shakespeare’s First Folio (Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 1), Professor Dick Taylor, Jr., has given an interesting account of the prolonged struggle of the Herbert brothers to have and to hold (between them) the office of Lord Chamberlain.
William, Earl of Pembroke, first acquired the office in 1615, but he had already worked hard for it for several years before that and was bitterly disappointed when his claims were passed over in the preceding year. William was a very rich man, quite independently of court preferment, and apparently he was not ambitious, for having once attained his heart’s desire, all he wanted was to keep it—or at least, to keep it in the family. Five times he was offered promotion, and five times he refused. He could have been Lord Treasurer or Lord Privy Seal, but no—nothing would induce him to part with the office of Lord Chamberlain, except on one condition: that his brother, Philip, should succeed him, which he eventually did in 1626, when William became Lord Steward. No doubt he had Philip’s interest at heart, but there must have been some stronger motive, because in 1621 (just two years before the publication of the First Folio) an unsuccessful attempt was made to buy off Philip too. He was to be made a Privy Councillor and given a house, Hatfield Close, in Yorkshire, if William would accept the office of Lord Treasurer and give up that of Lord Chamberlain. The brothers refused. Why?
It is doubtful whether Professor Taylor could find a satisfactory answer to that question, but he does not even try. The question with which he was concerned at the time was why Philip’s name should have been coupled with his brother’s in the dedication of F. 1., and he concluded that Heminge and Condell, in 1623, were anxious to please the future Lord Chamberlain as well as the present one, whose favours the King’s Men had enjoyed for so long.
For Oxfordians, the inclusion of Philip’s name is no mystery since he was the son-in-law of the real author of the plays, and once this fact is acknowledged, it provides an answer to the other question too, as I hope to show in the course of this article.
The Lord Chamberlain, then as now, was the supreme authority in the world of the theatre. His duties were not confined to supervising Court entertainments: he also controlled the public stages—in so far as they were controllable. The detailed administration was, of course, in the hands of the Master of the Revels, but the Master of the Revels, though appointed by the sovereign, was a subordinate of the Lord Chamberlain.
When James I came to the throne, the Master of the Revels was Edmund Tilney and Tilney remained the nominal Master till his death in 1610, but there was competition for the reversion of the office, which James granted in 1603 to a certain Edward Glascock of Castle Hedingham in Essex!—the village presumably. For some reason, Glascock’s patent was “stayed” and, in any case, he died in 1604, the same year as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who, of course, had alienated the castle and estate of Hedingham to his three daughters in 1590. It would be interesting to learn more of Edward Glascock, but meanwhile I only mention his brief candidature because of his connection with Castle Hedingham.
On 23rd June 1603, the reversion of the revels office was given to George (later Sir George) Buck who is known to have been a friend and admirer of Lord Oxford. Buck acted as deputy for Tilney from quite early in the reign and succeeded him as Master in 1610.
When he first took over as acting Master, the Revels Office was in the priory of the Knights of St. John at Clerkenwell, but in 1607, the impulsive King gave this priory as a wedding present to his cousin Aubigny. Temporary arrangements were made for the Revels in the Priory of the Whitefriars, but the task of finding permanent quarters fell to Sir George Buck. The house he chose was on “Peter’s Hill”, between St. Paul’s and the river, near the Blackfriars playhouse and the Wardrobe. It was a large old house, which had been divided in two. Buck rented one section for his office: the other was the property of Sir William Hicks, formerly secretary to Lord Burghley, whose mother-in-law (B. M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford), or mother (Mark Eccles, Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans, ed. C.J. Sisson),” Mistress Julia Penn, let some or all of the rooms in 1590 to the Earl of Oxford and his men! To the north, close to St. Paul’s, was Stationers’ Hall, and to the south, on the river, just east of the Blackfriars, was Baynard’s Castle, the London home of the Earl of Pembroke.
Here, as well as in the country, at Wilton, Pembroke surrounded himself with poets and scholars; he was known as “the greatest Maecenas of learning of any peer of his time or since”. He was the patron of at least two of the men who contributed verses to the First Folio—Ben Jonson and Leonard Digges—and also of John Florio, the translator of Montaigne, who, when he died in 1625, bequeathed to the Earl of Pembroke: “all my Italian French and Spanish bookes, as well printed as unprinted, being in number about three hundred and fortie”—and made him his literary executor. If he had not asked permission, this was indeed a gross presumption and, as it happens, Pembroke did not carry out the task, but Florio must have had some reason to suppose that he was capable of doing so, or had a qualified staff at his command.
In his History of Richard III, Sir George Buck referred to Pembroke as “my most honourable good Lord” and a “true heroicall gentleman”, whose brother Sir Philip, was as near to him in noble disposition as in blood. There can be no doubt that, at least from the time Pembroke took office as Lord Chamberlain, he and Buck would be very closely associated and, between them, they enjoyed almost complete control over the output of plays, both on the stage and in print, for nearly twenty years. That is a fact, whatever Pembroke’s motives in seeking office as Lord Chamberlain.
Long before Buck’s time, it had been necessary to obtain the license of the Master of the Revels for the public performance of a play, and from about 1607 onwards, plays were usually, though not always, licensed by the same authority for publication, the license being registered at Stationers’ Hall. It is a mistake to suppose that there was no such thing as copyright in Elizabethan or Jacobean England, but it had not yet been given legal form and the copyright of a book was vested, not in the author, nor, in the case of plays, the actors, but the first publisher. The system was operated by the Stationers’ Company in their own collective interest and, from their point of view, it worked reasonably well, but authors (and the authors of plays were particularly vulnerable) had no protection against the theft and mutilation of their writings.
In the decade between 1594 and 1604 (when Oxford died), fifteen out of the thirty-six plays in F.1. had been published in quarto volumes; some more than once; some in good texts, some in bad and sonic in both; some in Shakespeare’s name and some (the early “bad quartos”) anonymously. Some were duly entered in the Stationers’ Register and some were not. Sometimes entries were made and not followed up by publication, and these are now known as blocking entries. Obviously there had been some attempt to prevent unauthorized publication, but it had not been very successful.
In the next eighteen years (1604-1622), only three first editions of any of the plays were printed—including Pericles, which for some reason was rejected by the editors of F.1. For a while, new editions of plays already published continued to appear, but after 1615 (when Pembroke became Lord Chamberlain), apart from an abortive attempt at a collection in 1619—no more Shakespeare plays were printed, whether or not they had been published before, till 1622. Then suddenly, there was not only a first edition of Othello, but a sixth edition of 1 Henry IV, a sixth edition of the bad quarto of Richard III, and a third edition (this time in Shakespeare’s name) of a play called The Troublesome Raigne of John, which was not Shakespeare’s King John as we know it. It seems that there had been fairly effective control for eleven years followed by very effective control for seven years. But in 1622, with F.1 already in the press, the controls had broken down. How are we to account for these extraordinary facts?
That Lord Chamberlain Pembroke took an active interest in the affairs of the King’s Men is admitted. It was his duty to do so, but then, he had taken infinite trouble and made considerable sacrifices to ensure that it would be his duty, and his brother’s duty after him. It is known that he forbade the authorities at Stationers’ Hall to allow any of the plays of the King’s Men to be published without their consent, which in effect, meant his own consent, assuming that he was capable of exercising his legitimate authority over them.
We may be sure that Pembroke had the full cooperation of Sir George Buck, and it was probably due to Buck’s censorship that only three Shakespeare plays were printed for the first time between 1604 and 1615—these three appeared in a batch in 1608-9. One, Pericles, was published without a license and in spite of a “blocking entry” to Edward Blount, who was later concerned in the publication of F.1; but the other two, King Lear and Troilus and Cressida, were licensed respectively by Buck and his deputy. Then on 6th October, 1621, after an interval of twelve years, the following entry was made in the Stationers’ Register:
“Thomas Walkley. Entred for his copie under the handes of Sir George Buck, and Master Swinhowe warden, The Tragedie of Othello, the moore of Venice”.
The printing of F.1. was already in hand at Jaggard’s press and Walkley was not even one of the four stationers concerned. By 1619 on documentary evidence, and if we may judge by circumstantial evidence, some years earlier, the Lord Chamberlain had expressly forbidden the publication of any of the King’s Men’s plays without their consent. That either the King’s Men or the Lord Chamberlain (whoever was responsible for the venture of F.1.) would have given their consent at this stage is unthinkable, and no loyal and honest master of the Revels, in his senses, would have acted as Buck is known to have acted. We have every reason to believe that he was both loyal and honest but—by the end of March 1622, it was said even outside the Revels Office that “Old Sir George Buc, the Master of the Revels (had) gone mad”. We may well ask: “How long had this been known, or suspected, inside the Revels Office?”
To add to the confusion, the reversion of the Mastership was in dispute. It had been granted in 1612 to Sir John Astley, but on 5th October 1621 (the very day before Buck’s blunder), it was granted to Ben Jonson, Pembroke’s protégé. It seems that the Lord Chamberlain was already aware of the urgent need of finding a suitable successor, but in the end, it was Astley who won. A warrant to swear him in was issued on 29th March 1622. On 12th April Buck was officially pronounced insane. On 16th May, he was required to surrender his office, and on the same day a letter was sent to a certain Mr. Buc (a relative) demanding delivery of the Revels books and property.
How far Pembroke could count on Astley’s cooperation, I have not been able to discover, but it is interesting to note that on 20th March shortly before Astley’s appointment (and Jonson’s disappointment), a young kinsman of Pembroke’s, Henry (afterwards, Sir Henry) Herbert, was made a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, as Buck and Astley had both been before him. This was evidently the first stepping-stone to the Mastership of the Revels and, on 20th July 1623, Henry Herbert obtained a lease of the office from Astley for £150 a year. The ascendancy of the Herbert family in the Revels Office was now complete.
Meanwhile, at Jaggard’s printing-press, by a curious coincidence, sometime before 21st October, 1621, work on the First Folio ceased—this has been proved on bibliographical evidence—and it was not resumed for a period estimated by W. W. Greg as twelve or thirteen months.
Now, the suggestion that Jaggard and his colleagues were doing a job, not for Heminge and Condell, but the Lord Chamberlain and his brother is familiar enough to Oxfordians, and it is surely a reasonable inference that their chief agent, and perhaps editor, was the Master of the Revels. From October 1621, Sir George Buck was evidently incapable of proceeding with his side of the work and his immediate successor may not have been able or willing to take it on. Besides, the necessary books were missing. Poor “old Sir George” died on 31st October, 1622, and what finally became of his office books nobody knows. Astley may never have received them, but Sir Henry Herbert, seems to have quoted from them, and Sir Henry, who had an uncanny knack of losing things, said they had been burnt. Was this an accident, or were they too revealing to be allowed to survive?
To return to our starting-point: if the Herbert brothers had intended, from the first, to put an end to the unauthorized publication of the Shakespeare plays and eventually to publish them, “cured and perfect of their limbs”, without revealing the identity of the author, their otherwise inexplicable tenacity with regard to the office of Lord Chamberlain was a necessary part of the plan. Over a number of years, they had manoeuvred themselves into a position which gave them the power to put it into practice. Some or all of the manuscripts of the plays may have been in their possession, and if any were preserved at the Revels Office—which seems likely enough—these were at their disposal. Moreover, they had at their command certain poets, Ben Jonson and his friend Hugh Holland, Leonard Digges and his friend James Mabbe, who may have helped with the editing as well as writing some rather ambiguous commendatory verses to the author.