Saturday, March 05, 2011

Edward de Vere & "Shakespeare's Company" - What We Know

One frequent question I find when giving talks on the Shakespeare authorship mystery is "What was Edward de Vere's relationship with Will Shakspere?" It's a good question for which "I don't know" is not a very satisfactory reply.

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.

Armin's book dedication talks about the comic actor's heading out to serve "the right Honorable good Lord my Master ... [in] Hackney." And in 1599, when these words were written, there was only one person who fit this description (i.e. both a resident of Hackney and a nobleman befitting the "Right Honorable good Lord" honorific) -- Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

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.)

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.]


jhm said...

The "barke" and "ginger" don't fit in any way obvious to me, but my train of thought made "part-taking" to be, aside from the role playing sense, to be a play on 'partaking,' ergo drinking companions—or a drinker and his personified quaff. Perhaps some cider or ginger-mulled allusions could fill the story (which I must confess is mostly unintelligible to me, if strict logical consistency is a requirement).

The wooden club seems a better fit for protection on a journey than a drink(ing) companion, but one might need to lean on a stick in either case.

Rambler said...

Mentioning Bronson Feldman's name in the context of the Armin discovery would have been nice.

Mark said...

Good point, oldie. All such references are in my book's endnotes, which I excerpted in the first draft of this post that I alluded to. I reintroduced them above. Thank you!

JHM: I originally took "part-taking" to mean a fellow actor. But I like the "partaking" reading.

Logical consistency isn't Armin's strength, no. In one part of the dedication he suggests "Sir Timothie" is back in London, and in another part, "Sir Timothie" is guarding Armin on his journey up to Hackney. Can't have it both ways, Mr. comic!

Sonja Foxe said...

I just acquired your book -- in awe of your obsessively scrupulous scholarship.

I'm an astrologer -- I can do a chart comparison of deVere (thx for birth data -- any idea of time?) and Will

Sonja Foxe said...

I did indeed do the horoscopes ... there are a lot of similarities (kindred soul connection) sympathetic/empathetic ... both have taurus suns and venus in same sign ... deVere could not have cast a more brilliant choice for an actor 14 years younger to play himself ...

Similarities close enough, where Will could have done some of his own editing of deVere's work, apres 1604

I have felt for a while that the sonnet "When in Despair ..." was written in contemplation of Kit Marlowe

Also adds dimension to "When I have Fears that I may cease to be ..."

Shakespearelover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tru Leigh said...

I also would like a birth time for Edward De Vere. The November 2013 issue of "Dell Horoscope" magazine features a lengthy article on Shakespeare, which rankles me. I would like to compare the two natal charts. As William Shakespeare's actual birthdate is unknown, it's hard to make an accurate comparison. The article uses his baptismal time. Hardly worthy of such as extensive analysis of WS's birth chart. On the other hand, if we can get even an approximate birth time of De Vere, learned astrologers can find a lot of synchronicities between the people in his life, and the events of his life. Thank you.

Sonja Foxe said...

The New Year ... as I understand it ... eg the changing of the calendar year from 1565 to 1566 occurred March 25, not January 1. I don't know if January 1 was celebrated as the New Year, but I try to keep a weather eye on the months January - March 24 which are most scrupulously written 1565/66