Friday, December 24, 2010

The pen, the spear... and the temptation - part 2

Earlier this month, I blogged about a tantalizing piece of Oxfordian evidence that was divulged this year in an endnote (!) to a paper on a different subject.

The evidence consisted of a book published in 1604 written by someone who knew Edward de Vere. In his 1604 book, the author made an elegiacal reference to an unnamed individual who "with one hand [holds] a speare... and with the other [holds] a pen."

The year of de Vere's death, in other words, the book might seem to record a contemporary remembering the recent passing of "Shake-speare."

My initial response to this find was -- like discovering an incredible new album or book or movie -- excitement... to the point of growing a bit starry-eyed about the material itself.

It was, in the words of the old journalist's saw, "too good to check."

And here is where a wiser version of me would have sat on it for a time. And spent some time researching it and thinking about it before making any public statement about it one way or the other.

Because once I was able to investigate it, the whole thing rapidly crumbled into nothing.

And so I record the following notes on one that got away as a reminder to myself -- and anyone else who cares to join along -- how important it is for Oxfordians to be their own harshest critics. Certainly, go ahead: Entertain that wild-eyed notion about what so-and-so said about this or that. But then go back and play devil's advocate. Far better to catch yourself in an error -- or, at least, be called on the carpet by one's peers -- than to be dragged through the mud after an opponent discovers the mistake.

Barnaby Riche was a professional soldier, eight years older than Edward de Vere. Riche had fought in Irish military campaigns in 1573 and 1599 and in France and the Low Countries at various times in Queen Mary and Elizabeth's reigns.

In 1581, he wrote a book of stories and satire in which he bid, as the title suggests, Farewell to the Militarie Profession. Shakespeare scholars know it as the book containing a possible source for Twelfth Night: Riche's story "Apolonius and Silla." Trace back the source of Riche's story, though, and one finds the commedia dell'arte performed on Twelfth Night in the Italian town of Siena (Gl'Ingannati). It's a longer and more twisted tale than is worth getting into here. For more detail, The Atlantic magazine from 1902 has an extended discussion of Twelfth Night's possible intermediate sources. (In the final analysis, one really only need know this: De Vere traveled to Siena, and in fact wrote a letter to his father-in-law from Siena just two days before Twelfth Night of 1576. It's a fair bet de Vere saw enacted onstage the original Italian version of Twelfth Night.)

Some Oxfordians might also know Farewell as another source: In his book, Riche goes on at length about an effeminate and Frenchified dandy that he sees on the streets of London. Some Oxfordians have presumed Riche was talking about de Vere here.

In my first draft of "Shakespeare" By Another Name, I presumed that too. However, I cut it out in the final draft. I owe a more careful and sober look at Riche's book to the (now sadly departed) Oxfordian researcher Peter Moore. There is, Moore patiently pointed out, practically nothing in Riche's description of the fop that would specifically identify him as Edward de Vere.

So it also is with Riche's 1604 book A Souldier's Wishe to Britons Welfare. The book is dedicated to King James's son Prince Henry. The original endnote that set this jolly train in motion earlier this month might seem to suggest that the "pen" and "speare" reference was found in the dedication. But it is not.

After an unremarkable dedication to Prince Henry, Riche launches into a long dialogue between two soldiers, Captain Pill and Captain Skill. The former is a greenhorn and the latter a leathery old vet. As military historian Paul Jorgensen summarizes Riche's fictionalized dialogue, "Throughout the book the pattern of discourse scarcely varies. Pill offers his respectful opinion on a military subject; Skill counters it with his more learned judgment."

On page 61, then, we get to Pill and Skill's exchange in question. (I've modernized the spelling and punctuation here.)

Pill wonders, "When shall arts prevail and flourish then?" To which Captain Skill replies, "When kings become philosophers again."

Pill says, "That time is come, and God be thanked... But now if the goodness of a prince may promise a gracious consideration to the well deserving, England is made happy in him whose name is already consecrated to immortality, whose magnificence equalled with virtue, is able with Caesar, with one hand to hold the spear in the rest and with the other to hold the pen, whose imperial seat is no less renowned by Mars than beautified by the Muses." (My emphasis)

Just for starters: Riche's Captain Pill is clearly talking about someone who holds the scepter of power, who sits on an "imperial seat."

In other words, Riche is probably talking about Prince Henry. Perhaps King James himself. (There was by the time of Henry's untimely death in 1612 a full-blown cult that recognized in the Stuart heir to the throne a platonic ideal philosopher-king -- one who if he had lived to inherit the kingdom would have carved out an entirely different trajectory for the English speaking world than that of his foolish brother Charles I, whose controversy-plagued reign played no small role in sparking the English Civil War in 1649.)

In any event, that Riche is not talking about de Vere comes clear in just the phrase preceding the "spear/pen" fragment: De Vere was many things, but a Casear he was not.

So we return good Captains Pill and Skill to the obscurity whence they came. As with Riche's other possible Oxfordian reference, from 1581, a closer examination of the full text reveals a simple and straightforward fact. There's no de Vere here.

(Thanks here also goes to the careful and diligent researcher C.P., who also emailed his own analysis of the 1604 Riche "evidence," drawing the same conclusion that nothing in it pertains to Edward de Vere.)

Creative Commons photo by striatic

5 comments:

Marie Merkel said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for taking a hard look at Prechter's enticing footnote. Even if it didn't pan out, it was an idea worth floating, simply for calling attention to Barnaby Riche, whose work Shakespeare obviously knew.

Did Peter Moore write about the fellow with the "great fan of feathers" in his "Lame Storyteller"? If so, can you tell us what page? I've been flipping - slowly - through the book but can't find it. Chances are Moore is right; he so often is. And yet, Riche calls attention to the rider wearing "so womanish a toye" - which does echo Gabriel Harvey's "womanish", in those hexameters written at about the same time.

Also, you seem to suggest that we can bypass Riche's "Farewell" as a source for "Twelfth Night" because de Vere wouldn't have needed it, having probably seen the original in Siena. Yet even if you could show us his ticket-stub, so to speak, isn't it still possible and perhaps even likely that de Vere would have read Riche's stories as well?

Cranfill's edition of "Farewell" gives some intriguing examples of Shakespeare's knowledge and use of the book, as well has Riche's influence on the London theatre world. His famous signature, "Yours in the waie of honestie" on his letter to London's Gentlewomen, became an in-joke and tag-line, used by Mistress Quickly (MWW, II, ii. 72-75). Even the anonymous author of "The Weakest Goeth to the Wall" - played by Oxford's men in 1600 - used one of Riche's tales.

After reading Nicole Doyle's posts on her "Bringing Forth Deformed" blog, I came to the same conclusion as you and C.P. on the probable owner of that "spear" and "pen". And yet, (once again!) the context surrounding the passage remains intriguing, and just possibly related to Shakespeare, since Dr. Pill and Dr. Skill seem to be continuing a conversation begun by Macmorris and Fluellen in "Henry V".

oldie said...

If Oxfordians ought to practice being hard on themselves, surely this should apply to their readiness to dismiss a claim as to instigate one?

This is the bsuiness end of the quotation:
"England is made happy in him whose name is already consecrated to immortality, whose magnificence equalled with virtue, is able with Caesar, with one hand to hold the spear in the rest and with the other to hold the pen, whose imperial seat is no less renowned by Mars than beautified by the Muses."

At the time the book was published (not necessarily when it was written) Prince Henry was ten years old. The tone is not one of optimistic expectation, but present (or past) achievement, which scarcely applies to a ten-year-old, however precocious. Nor does "Mars" apply terribly well to King James, who got an attack of the vapors when he saw cold steel.

Perhaps one does need to look elsewhere.

Mark said...

Hello, Marie. I'm not aware of any published writings of Peter Moore in which he argues against the "footcloth nag" incident (from Riches' Farewell to Militarie Profession) as having anything to do with Edward de Vere. It was a private communication that he shared that insight with me.

As for Farewell as a Twelfth Night source, I don't mean to suggest this 1581 book is completely irrelevant to the play. But the direction of influence may be exactly backwards: I argue in SBAN (as have others before me) that the story of Twelfth Night is consistent with a 1580-'81 timeframe -- right when there's a taunting mention of a play being written by EO and performed at court. If so, then perhaps we should also be open to the possibility that Riche was the borrower and Twelfth Night (or an early version thereof) was the borrowed-from.

Mark said...

I admit, "oldie," the argument for Prince Henry is not the strongest. He was, as you say, a young shaver at the time. The most obvious occupant of that "imperial seat" which distinguishes the mystery individual was of course James.

But you say there's no way anyone would compare him to the god of war Mars?

With all due respect, that is incorrect. King James himself, in fact, made such a comparison.

Here's part of a sonnet James wrote when he was King of Scotland (spelling modernized, published in Essays of a Prentise in the Divine Arte of Poesie, 1584):

If Martial deeds, and practice of the pen
Have won to ancient Greece a worthy fame
If battles bold and books of learned men
Have magnified the mighty Roman name
Then place this prince, who well deserves the same
Since he is one of Mars' and Pallas' race
For both the gods in him have set in frame
Their virtues both, which both, he doth embrace

oldie said...

I stand corrected.