Daily Archives: December 11, 2014

Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (final part)


We have now come to our last post, in which I would like to begin by setting the appropriate scene. William Stanley was an Oxford man, & had grown up with the tradition of plays being acted out over the festive season. MJ Davis writes; Christ Church & St Johns were the two colleges where drama flourished most. At Christ Church there was a decree that two comedies & two tragedies – one of each in Greek &, the others in Latin – wee to be acted during the Christmas season each year. Whereas Cambride excelled in comedy, Oxford excelled in tragedy, with Seneca’s plays prominent towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign.’  In the same fashion, over the Festive season at Lathom Hall 1588-89, two different plays were acted to a great pantheon of northern dignitaries; The Household books tell us

29 December – 4th January
Sondaye Mr Carter pretched at which was dyvers strandgers, on mondaye came mr stewarde, on Tuesday the reste of my lords cownsell & also Sir Ihon Savadge, at nyghte a play was had in the halle & the same nyght my Lord strandge came home, on wednesdaye mr fletewod pretched, & the same daye yonge mr halsall & his wiffe came on thursedaye mr Irelande of the hutte, on frydaye Sir Ihon savadge departed & the same daie mr hesketh mr anderton & mr asheton came & also my lord bushoppe & sir Ihon byron
This tells us that ‘a play was had in the halle’ on New Years Eve, on the very same night ‘Lord strandge came home.’ When Four days later Thomas Hesketh also arrives at Lathom, we suddenly have together in the same place the man who employed Shakespeare early in his career as a musician, & the man whose acting company performed his first plays. The list of visitors includes some of the most important men in the north of England, including the Bishop of Chester, William Chanderton & Sir John Byron, an ancestor of the poet Lord Byron. It is clear that they came to see a play, for the next entry in the household book reads;
5th January to 10th January
sondaye mr caldwell pretched, & that nyght plaiers plaied, mondaye my Lord bushop pretched, & the same daye mr trafforth mr Edward stanley, mr mydleton of Leighton came on Tuesdaye Sir Richard shirbon mr stewarde my Lord bushoppe Sir Ihon byron & many others departed, wednesdaye my lord removed to new parke, on frydaye mr norres & mr tarbocke & mr Tildesley came & went
The key information here is that a second play was performed on the evening of 5th January – epiphany night – a time known among Christians as ‘Twelfth Night.’ This play is clearly inspired by the Continental adventure, & shares familial patterns with the Comedy of Errors. A major source for Twelfth Night is the Italian play, Gl’ Ingannati, as mentioned in the 1601 diary of John Manningham;
Feb. 2.–At our feast wee had a play called ‘Twelve Night, or What you Will,’ much like the Commedy of Errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni. A good practise in it to make the steward beleeue his Lady widdowe was in love with him, by counterfayting a lettre as from his Lady in generall termes, telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparraile, etc., and then when he came to practise making him beleeue they tooke him to be mad.”
Most scholars imagine this to be the first performance of Twelfth Night – but I would like to propose that it was first played at Lathom in January 1589. The previous year was a leap year, & indeed the play contains a reference to the Leap Year rule, that is to say the time when women rule, as in;

                     Praise we may afford 
To any lady that subdues a lord (4-1)

The name Twelfth Night, by the way, has nothing to do with the play’s contents, & more to do with the date & occasion it was first played. Samuel Pepys writes; ‘Dinner to the Duke’s house, & there saw ‘Twelfth-Night’ acted well, though it be but a silly play, & not related at all to the name or day (Jan 6th 1662).’ I believe that Twelfth Night was originally called Love’s Labours Won, whose sole mention comes in the 1598 Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury, by Francis Meres. The passage basically tells us what Shakespeare had produced by that time;

As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece his sugared Sonnets among his private friends…. As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage…. for Comedy, witness his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labours Lost, his Love Labours Won, his Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his Merchant of Venice; for Tragedy his Richard the 2, Richard the 3, Henry the 4, King John, Titus Andronicus, and Romeo and Juliet. 
The presence of Loves Labour Lost right next to Loves Labours Won suggest that they were originally played in sequence, which fits in perfectly with the festivities at Knowsley.  I now believe Loves Labours Won was preceeded a few days earlier at Knowsley by Loves Labours Lost, for there are several in-jokes within the play  that indicate it was written for the Stanleys. The play also contains several references to the eagle, an important Stanley symbol, from its presence on the family crest to the Eagle Tower at Latham. An example includes;
 What peremptory eagle-sighted eye
Dares looke upon the heaven of her brow
That is not blinded by her majestie (4-3)
Earl Henry would have loved to have heard about his beloved Navarre, while Ferdinando would have been amused by his name being used as the main character in the play. Meanwhile, all present would have noticed that Malvolio was based upon the steward of the Derby Household, William Farrington. The play also contains a masque – the Nine Worthies – identical to the one played annually at nearby Chester. This masque gives us a firm link to William Stanley, whose tutor, Richard Lloyd, actually wrote ‘A brief discourse of the most renowned acts and right valiant conquests of those puissant Princes called the Nine Worthies.

That Love’s Labours Lost, is one of Shakepeare’s earliest plays was recognized early on.  Charles Gildon wrote in 1710, ‘since it is one of the worst of Shakespeare’s Plays, nay I think I may say the very worst, I cannot but think that it is his first.’  Elsewhere, Alfred Harbage writes, ‘I think that this play is more likely than any other to suggest the avenues of investigation if there is ever to be a ‘breakthrough’ in our knowledge of Shakespeare’s theatrical beginnings,’ with Harley Granville-Barker adding, ‘It abounds in jokes for the elect. Were you not numbered among them you laughed, for safety, in the likeliest places. A year or two later the elect themselves might be hard put to it to remember what the joke was…. it’s a time-sensitive play for a very specific and select audience. Once we figure out who that audience is, we’ll know when the play was first written. ‘

Love's Labour's Lost
Love’s Labour’s Lost

That Shakespeare wrote Loves Labours Lost in that period would explain how the Dark Lady of Turkey found her way into the play, when the black beauties of a certain ‘Rosaline’ are described.

FERDINAND – By heaven, thy love is black as ebony.
BIRON – Is ebony like her? O wood divine!
A wife of such wood were felicity.
O, who can give an oath? where is a book?
That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack,
If that she learn not of her eye to look:
No face is fair that is not full so black.
FERDINAND - O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons and the suit of night;
And beauty’s crest becomes the heavens well.
BIRON – Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light.
O, if in black my lady’s brows be deck’d,
It mourns that painting and usurping hair
Should ravish doters with a false aspect;
And therefore is she born to make black fair.
Her favour turns the fashion of the days,
For native blood is counted painting now;
And therefore red, that would avoid dispraise,
Paints itself black, to imitate her brow.
DUMAIN -To look like her are chimney-sweepers black.
LONGAVILLE - And since her time are colliers counted bright.
FERDINAND - And Ethiopes of their sweet complexion crack.

In Loves Labours Lost, the same-sex relationships & the arrival of a woman on the scene which divides the group is an almost mirror image to the story of the sonnets. The composition of  the play would have taken place not long after Shakespeare had experienced the turmoil of his Turkish menage a trois. There is also an extremely famous sonnet reading scene, which shows how much the art form was on Shakespeare’s mind at the time. Examples include;

So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not
To those fresh morning drops upon the rose,
As thy eye-beams, when their fresh rays have smote
The night of dew that on my cheeks down flows:
Nor shines the silver moon one half so bright
Through the transparent bosom of the deep,
As doth thy face through tears of mine give light;
Thou shinest in every tear that I do weep:
No drop but as a coach doth carry thee;
So ridest thou triumphing in my woe.
Do but behold the tears that swell in me,
And they thy glory through my grief will show:
But do not love thyself; then thou wilt keep
My tears for glasses, and still make me weep.
Did not the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye,
‘Gainst whom the world cannot hold argument,
Persuade my heart to this false perjury?
Vows for thee broke deserve not punishment.
A woman I forswore; but I will prove,
Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee:
My vow was earthly, thou a heavenly love;
Thy grace being gain’d cures all disgrace in me.
Vows are but breath, and breath a vapour is:
Then thou, fair sun, which on my earth dost shine,
Exhalest this vapour-vow; in thee it is:
If broken then, it is no fault of mine:
If by me broke, what fool is not so wise
To lose an oath to win a paradise?
So that is us done with Shakespeare’s youthful adventures. By the winter of 1588-89, he finds himself firmly established with the establishment, & also bubbling with apropensity for sheer genius.  I really do now hope that my wee dozen & a half blogposts will help to restore William Shakespeare’s reputation as, his reputation as, well , William Shakespeare.  Knowing now how he acquired his sources, there really is no reason to suspect that somebody else wrote his works.
Merry Christmas

Shakespeare’s Grand Tour (part 17)

17 – London



This will be my penultimate post on Shakespeare’s Grand Tour – I mean once you get home, the tours over right? But as Ive said before, the legacy of his travels are still being felt today, such as the very words half the world speaks that were enriched by the foreign words that Shakespeare heard as he wandered Europe with William Stanley. We last left them together at Knowsley Hall, where the Christmas festivities of 1587 had seen Thomas Hesketh’s players in the area – one imagines them working with Shakespeare, who would have been one of the principle actors of the play they performed for the Earl of Derby. Impressing Ferdinando, Stanley’s brother, Shakespeare soon found himself in London, writing plays, it seems, for Ferdinando’s acting company – known as the Lord Strange’s Men.




This was a time of great national importance, for all through the first half of 1588. he Spanish had a massive army waiting on the French coast, poised to invade England, & a huge fleet sailing up the Channel in order to help them do it. Cue Sir Francis Drake cutting short his bowling match, Queen Elizabeths stirring speech at Tilsbury, some rather brutal & desperate naval battles, the fireships at Calais which broke up the Armada, & the subsequent securing of English freedom. This victory seemed to operate as some kind of catalyst to national greatness, the age was galvanised with promise & energy, & it was into these exciting times that Shakespeare  stepped, perhaps feeling a motivation that would one day find its way into Macbeth, as in; ‘I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which oerleaps itself, & falls on the other (1-7).’




The same year also sees the sole mention of Shakespeare in all his ‘lost years,’ an indirect mention of him being his father’s son in a legal case presented before the Queen’s Bench in London. It took place about Michalemas (September 29th), & concerned John Shakespeare’s remortgaged property at Wilmcote. Edmund Lambert’s son, John, had taken on the property, but had refused to pay £20 that Lambert owed him. This saw John bring a ‘bill of complaint’ against him, naming William as a partner in the suit.

…et quod dictus Johannes Shackespere et Maria vxor eius, simulcum Willielmo Shackespere filio suo…”

“…idem Johannes Shackespere et Maria vxor eius, simulcum Willielmo Shackespere filio suo…

Clement's Inn
Clement’s Inn


What is absolutely fascinating about the case, is that of all the attorneys in London John Shakespeare could have chosen, he selected John Harborne, the son of William Harborne, the ambassador in Constantinople where we have just placed William Shakespeare. In the past, scholars have brushed over John Harborne, imagining there to be no relevance in the quest for the historical Shakespeare, much in the same way the anti-shakespearians (as i now call the anti-stratfordians) completely ignored the Garland of William Stanley. That Harborne’s father was an ambassador in Constantinople would have been irrelevant, for the academic community scoffed at Shakespeare’s presence in Italy, let alone Turkey. Instead, it is through him that we gain even more support for the Shakespeare – Stanley – Constantinople chain, & inspires us to be more alert about every person connected to Shakespeare, for their may be evidence yet lurking in their own back stories which can help to colour in our great dramatist’s life. For example, John Harborne was trained at Clement’s Inn & seems to be the figure of Justice Shallow in Henry IV Part 1, who is said to have studied law at Clements. One passage in particular relates to our investigation


By yea and nay, sir, I dare say my cousin William is
become a good scholar: he is at Oxford still, is he not?


Indeed, sir, to my cost.


A’ must, then, to the inns o’ court shortly. I was
once of Clement’s Inn, where I think they will
talk of mad Shallow yet.
Where Justice Shallow refers to ‘my cousin William’ who is at Oxford and who ‘must then to the Inns of Court shortly,’ we gain a complete match for William Stanley, also an Oxford man, that ‘good scholar’ who enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn in late 1588.


Lincoln's Inn
Lincoln’s Inn


While in London, Shakespeare would have been in his poetic element, buying books from St Pauls (one of only three places in the country where it was allowed) to feed his muse, he would have happily embraced a life as a dramatist. In 1588, he began to convert all the materials he collected, & all the observations he made whilst traveling, into theatrical gold dust. He may have had a mind burgeoning with ideas, even a few rough sketches of scenes & storylines, & a number of drafted passages of poetic speech. What he needed now was focus, & perhaps he had conversed with George Puttenham, whose Arte of English Poesie was entered at Stationers’ Hall in 1588. WL Rushton has identified over 200 literary links between the Puttenham’s Arte & the works of Shakespeare, showing how the bard must have read it. Shakespeare may even have read the work in manuscript, for there is one passage in particular that seems to be the Shakesperian manifesto;

There were also poets that wrote openly for the stage, I mean plays & interludes, to recreate the people with matters of disport, & to that intent did set forth in shows & pagaents common behaviours & manner of life as were the meaner sort of men, & they were called comical poets, of whom among the greeks Meander & Aristophanes were most excellent, with the Latins Terence & Plautus. Besides those poets comic there were others, but meddled not with so base matters: for they set forth doleful falls of unfortunate & afflicted princes, & were called poets tragical. Such were euripedes among the others who mounted nothing so high as any of them both, but in based & humble style, by manner of dialogue, uttered the private & familar talk of the meanest sort of men, as shepherds, haywards & such like

He was probably inspired also by the growing popularity of playwrights, especially Thomas Kyd, whose Spanish Tragedy had just taken London by storm, & Christopher Marlowe, the writer of such fantastic pieces as  Dido, Queen of CarthageTamburlaine the Great, &  Doctor Faustus.The keen-eyed Shakespearian scholar, TW Baldwin, also places Shakespeare in London, 1588, writing the Comedy of Errors, highlighting allusions in the play to the Armada & Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, which was also published in 1588. Baldwin also highlights a passage in the play which seems to describe Finsbury Fields, one of the sites of London’s public executions;

The Duke himself in person
Comes this way to the melacholy vale
The place of death & sorry execution
Behind the ditches of the abbey here

In the 16th century, Finsbury Fields were indeed seperated from Holyrood Abbey by ditches. Baldwin goes on to say, ‘It would appear that on Saturday morning, October 5, 1588, William Shakespeare attended the execution of William Hartley, seminary priest, in Finsbury Fields, near the Theatre & Curtain; & there received certain impressions which shortly afterward appeared, transmuted by the magic of his imagination, in the Comedy of Errors.’ In the locality stood both the Theatre & the Curtain playhouses, in which Lord Strange’s Men performed their plays in 1588 & 1589. This particular company was under the patronage of a certain Ferdinando, the very brother of William Stanley, whose curious name came from being a member of parliament for the barony of Strange (pronounced strang).


The Curtain Theatre
The Curtain Theatre

For the Christmas of 1588, however, both Ferdinando & Shakespeare were back in Lancashire, I believe, for the true unveiling of Shakespeare’s first solo compositions, the plays we now know as Love’s Labour’s Lost & Twelfth Night