Saturday, March 05, 2011
Edward de Vere & "Shakespeare's Company" - What We Know
One way at this question is to point, for instance, to the revealing scene between the clown Touchstone, Audrey and the country lad Will in As You Like It (5.1). As Alex McNeil has argued in an article for Shakespeare Matters, it suggests an antagonistic relationship between author and front-man.
To me, though, the best answer would incorporate evidence and perspectives from outside the "Shakespeare" canon. And to this end the best alternative I've come up with -- I'm open to other suggestions -- is an answer to a slightly larger question on which we do have some guidance.
My standard response to the question above is: There's some very suggestive evidence that de Vere was working with at least one member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (a.k.a. "Shakespeare's Company") around the time of the first public performance of As You Like It.
The story begins with a book written by Lord Chamberlain's Men player Robert Armin. It's called Quips Upon Questions (1600) and is, essentially, a book of jokes. Alas, they're not terribly funny ones. But the introductory dedication is where the action's at.
Also in 1599, the final draft of As You Like It was being prepared for a public performance by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. (The date derives from contemporary references in the play to current events, such as the 1599 "Bishop's Ban" on satires.) Robert Armin is believed, for good reason I think, to have been the first actor who played the role of Touchstone on the public stage.
Summarizing, then, The actor who, it appears, first played the character Touchstone during the year he was preparing the role was spending time in Hackney working in the service of Edward de Vere. This, I think, is phenomenal evidence for at least one actor in As You Like It workshopping his role with de Vere.
It suggests a model of adapting these courtly entertainments that, according to Oxfordians, de Vere wrote for private audiences in the 1570s and '80s. And in the 1590s and early 1600s, de Vere then transformed these texts for the public theaters. It stands to reason de Vere was consulting with the players who were bringing these works to the world at large. And the Armin example is, so far at least, the closest we have to a gold standard for de Vere's relationship to the public staging of plays we today know as "Shakespeare."
Below are some excerpts from the dedication to Quips Upon Questions. Or, thanks to Google Books, you can read the whole book for yourself right here. (The Google Books edition dates to 1875, and at that time its authorship had mistakenly been attributed to another actor named John Singer. Scholars such as T.W. Baldwin and E.K. Chambers have since argued more persuasively that Robert Armin wrote Quips.)
TO THE RIGHT WORTHY
SIR TIMOTHIE TRVNCHION:
Alias BASTINADO, euer my part-taking
According to the OED, a truncheon is a "fragment of a spear" (OED 1b). And "bastinado" is a Italinate verb meaning "cudgel." Crucially bastinado is one of the verbs Touchstone uses to threaten the character Will with in As You Like It. Note that "Sir Timothie" here is Armin's "part-taking friend" -- a competitive fellow actor? Could Armin's dedicatee be none other than Will Shakspere of Stratford?
Maybe. I do confess in an earlier draft of this post I started wandering astray right about here. But stick tight.
Clunnico de Curtanio sendeth
greeting; wishing his welfare, but
not his meeting.
Right worthy (but not Right Worshipfull, whose birth or grouth being in the open feldes) I salute thy Crab-tree countenance with a low congeey, being stroke downe with thy fauour:
A-ha! Born in the fields. Crab-tree countenance. Hold on to those thoughts.
whereas (kind sir) I sometime slept with thee in the fieldes ... [and] you assured me to take my part in all dangers: I am now to make vse of your valloure, to protect me from incision, or in deede from dirrision, in which I am now to wade deepely:
So the friend will cudgel anyone who maligns Armin. I'll cut to the chase before we get to the good stuff: Armin is dedicating these verses to his fool's staff -- a kind of cudgel that often had a carving of a human head atop it. (In "Shakespeare" By Another Name's endnotes, I'd left open a possibility that Armin was dedicating this book to Shakspere. But I'm no longer convinced of that for reasons that, if they haven't been persuasive already, will appear a few paragraphs below.)
Anyway. Below is the good part.
but if I scape Monday, which is omminus to me, I shall thinke my self happie: and though Fryday be for this yeere Childermas day, yet it is no such day of danger to me; then on Tuesday I rake [sic] my Iorney (to waite on the right Honorable good Lord my Master whom I serue) to Hackney.
The money quote. To be clear, I would render it in modern spelling and punctuation as: Then on Tuesday, I take my journey -- to wait on the Right Honorable good lord my master, whom I serve -- to Hackney
In 1599, Christmas and New Year's Day fell on a Tuesday. "Childermas day" or Holy Innocents Day (Dec. 28) did indeed fall on a Friday in 1599. So whether on Christmas Day or on New Year's Day of 1600, Armin went to Hackney to work in some capacity in de Vere's household, King's Place. As noted above, it's a reasonable inference that Armin was workshopping the role of Touchstone at King's Place.
Please note that the Wikipedia entry for Armin puts forward the comical notion that Armin's "Right Honorable good Lord" in Hackney was Armin's former patron Baron Chandos "who may have been visiting ... Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford over the holidays." (There were indeed two noblemen who kept households in Hackney in 1599. The other was Baron Zouche. But please see my endnote above: Zouche was out of the country in 1599-1600.)
While we're at it, why not say that Armin was spending time with Good My Lord Santa Claus who was visiting de Vere's household over the Christmas holidays?
Guard me through the Spittle fieldes, I beseech yee, least some one in ambush endanger my braynes with a Brickbat vnsight or vnseene.
The Spitalfields were a landmark (today a placename) on the way out of London, on the road to Hackney.
Sweete Sir Timothie, kind sir Timothie, tough Sir Timothie, vse me with kindnesfe, as you shall in the like commaunde me hereafter; whose Barke I will grate like Ginger, and carrouse it in Ale, and drinke a full cuppe to thy curtesie, when I am returnd to the Cittie againe...
That's where, on reflection, I got off the "Sir Timothie" = Shakspere wagon. The mystery dedicatee had a crab-tree head and bark that Armin could grate like ginger. It's a piece of wood.
To be clear, we still lack concrete and unequivocal evidence of de Vere's relationship with Shakspere. But de Vere's relationship with the company that performed many of the mature "Shakespeare" plays -- that's a solid start.
I'd like to hear people's response to the above. Please join the discussion on the SBAN Facebook page. Or, as ever, the comment thread, below, is open too.
(This post was partly inspired by a discussion on the "True Shakespeare" page on Facebook.)
[EDITED TO ADD: As pointed out in the comments, the crucial background to all the above is cited in SBAN's endnotes, which I excerpt here. Takeaway: Some orthodox scholars (Baldwin & Chambers) discovered/reaffirmed that Armin wrote Quips and one pioneering Oxfordian researcher, Abraham Bronson Feldman (whose brilliant work I consulted & cited in some 22 separate passages(!) in SBAN), made the connection between Armin and de Vere. Here are the full endnotes from SBAN that give the background to the Armin/de Vere story.
"Clunnyco de Curtanio Snuffe," Quips Upon Questions. W. Ferbrand, London (1600). Frederic Ouvry (private edition, London (1875)) attributed Quips, upon John Payne Collier’s suggestion to John Singer. However, since T.W. Baldwin (“Shakespeare’s Jester” MLN 39 (Dec. 1924)), scholars have generally accepted the attribution to Armin, e.g. E.K. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage 2:300.
"To the Right Worthy Sir Timothie Trunchion, alias Bastinado" in Robert Armin, Quips Upon Questions, ed. Frederic Ouvry. London (1875) A2r-v; Abraham Feldman, "Shakespeare’s Jester—Oxford’s Servant" The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly 8:3 (Autumn 1947) 39-43
Re Oxford, Lord Zouche and Hackney, cf. Alan Nelson, Monstrous Adversary p. 414. Re Zouche's whereabouts in 1599-1600, cf. DNB entry for Zouche.]