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

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