Late last year I serialised my discoveries as to Shakespeare’s so-called ‘lost years’ (18 parts) in which I showed how the bard toured Europe with William Stanley (1585-87), the latter being the Handsome Youth of the sonnets, in which a Turkish noblewoman they met in Constantinople was the Dark Lady. Throughout 2015 I have been working on Shakespeare’s earlier years, & made a number of other important discoveries which placed Shakespeare at the English College in Douay & also in East Lancashire, 1576. En route I have even found his handwriting on certain manuscripts hitherto unconnected to the bard. Having returned to Edinburgh & its wonderful National Library, I have embarked on my second Shakespearian series which begins the noo.
The problem with the Shakespearean problem is that there are too just many problems, & with these problems comes speculations & their inevitable academic cul-de-sacs. If a speculation is based on falsehood, then the trains of thought can only lead to nowhere, or the secluded maisonettes on said safe little cul-de-sacs where Shakespearean scholars sit & drink tea waffling on about their theories.
For me, one of the most glaringly obvious errors appertaining to Shakespereana is the juvenile handling of the ‘The Sacred Testament’ found in the rafters of Shakespeare’s dad’s roof on Henley Street, Stratford. Found in the 18th century, and transcribed by the scholar Edmond Malone, that our bard at some point in his life read the Testament can be of no doubt, based upon the strikingly similar parallels between Article I of the Testament and the Ghost’s words in Hamlet
I may be possibly cut off in the blossom of my sins, and called to render an accountof all my transgressions externally and internally, and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever
Cut off even inthe blossoms of my sin, Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d, No reckoning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head: O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!
In Hamlet, the ghost is the main protaganist’s father, to whom Shakespeare may have been making some Freudian nod. But let us not drift into the metaphysics of Shakesperean composition just the noo.
After Malone handled the Testament, it went mysteriously missing, leading later scholars to announce it as a fake. Instead, several copies of the text to be found in the 20th century… one was in English, while a Spanish version was also found in the British Museum in 1923, drawn up by Carlo Borromeo, the cardinal of Milan who died in 1585. It is at this point that academia entered a cul-de-sac.
It has been presumed that the testament of Borromeo arrived in Britain in the hands of the Jesuit missionary Edmund Campion, who had visited Borromeo in 1580. It was also presumed that Campion had made a copy of the Testament, which he distributed on his return to Britain that same year, & that it came into the hands of Shakespeare’s father via Thomas Cottam. He was a missionary who travelled with Campion, & whose brother, John, was headmaster of the Kings School in Stratford in 1580….
There is no physical evidence at all for the Testament having been distributed by Campion. When in June 1581, William Allen, rector of the English College at Rheims wrote to Alphonsus Agazarri at the English College in Rome, reporting that Father Robert Parsons in England, ‘wants three or four thousand or more of the testaments, for many people desire to have them,’ it is incredible to not think that this would be the Douay-Rheims New Testament in English, which would be distributed throughout England en masse the next year. For these we have a definite physical presence.
Returning to John Shakespeare’s Testament, the English translation had been printed in 1635, with the Spanish version by Borromeo being printed in Mexico City in 1661. Analyzing this scanty evidence, I believe that the Testament drawn up by John Shakespeare, which was HANDWRITTEN, could well have been one of the earliest versions. The key section in the Testament reads
Item, I, John Shakspear, do in like manner pray and beseech all my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks, by the bowels of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that since it is uncertain what lot will befall me, for fear notwithstanding lest by reason of my sins I be to pass and stay a long while in Purgatory, they will vouchsafe to assist and succour me with their holy prayers and satisfactory works, especially with the holy sacrifice of the mass, as being the most effectual means to deliver souls from their torments and pains; from the which, If I shall by God’s gracious goodness and by their virtuous works be delivered, I do promise that I will not be ungrateful unto them, for so great a benefit.
If we are to take this passage literally, & there is no reason to create a conspiracy theory as to not do, then when John Shakespeare pluralizes ‘parent’ we must assume the Testament was made before 1561. This was the year his father Richard, died; with his mother, Abigail nee Webb, passing away in 1595. This allows us to make the following timeline;
1557 – John Shakespeare marries into the pro-Catholic Arden family
1558 – Queen Elizabeth I comes to the throne – establishes the Protestant church
Early 1559 – Daughter, Joan, dies in infancy… possibly alluded to in the Testament’s, ‘calling to mind the uncertainty of life and certainty of death.‘
Before 1561 – John Shakespeare creates his Catholic Spiritual Testament
1580 – The Testament comes to Borromeo via Edmund Campion
1635 – An English version is printed
1661 – A Spanish version is printed
The only speculation I have made is that Campion gave a copy of John Shakespeare’s Testament to Borromeo in 1580, through whom it would be disseminated to Mexico a century later. What all this actually does really is to give us our first credible link between Shakespeare’s family & the Jesuit Edmund Campion,BEFORE 1580 - a decisive connection that is just about to open up the first two decades of Shakespeare’s life….