In the April of 1577 Shakespeare turn’d 13, & became a bona fide tantrum-throwing precocious teenager. I also believe that it is in this same year that he enter’d the world of the London theatre for the first time. The main piece of evidence for this is the printing, in 1577, of a book of prose & poetry called The Golden Aphroditis by John Grange. In the title to the book he calls himself a ‘Student in the Common Lavve of Englande,’ which places him at one or more of the four Inns of Court in London. The connection between the capital-based Grange & Shakespeare comes through the following introductory poem to his book;
W.S. in Commendation of the author begins
Of silver pure thy penne is made, dipte in the Muses well
They eloquence & loftie style all other doth excell:
Thy wisedom great & secrete sense diffusedly disguysde,
Doth shew how Pallas rules thy minde, & Phoebus hath devisde
Those Golden lines, which polisht are with Tagus glittering sandes.
A pallace playne of pleasures great unto the vewers handes.
Thy learning doth bewray itselfe and worthie prayse dothe crave,
Who so thee knew, did little think such learning thee to have.
Here Vertue seems to checke at Vice, & wisedome folly tauntes:
Here Venus she is set at naught, and Dame Diane she vauntes.
Here Pallas Cupid doth detest, & all his carpet knightes:
Here doth she shew, that youthfull impes in folly most delightes.
And how when age comes creeping on, with shew of hoary heares,
Then they the losse of time repent, with sobbes & brinish teares.
Thou Ambodexter playste herein, to take the first rebounde,
And for to shew thy minde at large, in earth doth the same compound.
So that Apollo Claddes his corps all with Morycbus clothes,
And shewes himself still friendliest there, wher most of all he lothes.
Scholars have wondered whether W.S. was William Shakespeare based upon the juvenilian feel to the poem, but its sheer earliness has left many doubters. But our Shakespeare is different, & the mention of Virtue & Vice a clear nod to his work, in 1576-77, with the mystery plays of the Townley MS. At this juncture we should also remember for a moment another epoch-breaking genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who composed his first opera, Bastien und Bastienne, at the age of twelve. Excellent poetry is not beyond the ability of the teenage mind; some of Arthur Rimbaud’s stuff as a paltry 15-year-old is quite phenomenal, while in recent times (Feb 2014), a short Palindromic was composed by 14-year old American Jordan Nichols, which pricked the twittersphere 100,000 times in 24 hours. Readable both backwards & forwards, it is a piece of pure genius in a lad only a year older than Shakespeare would have been if he was the WS of the Golden Aphroditis poem. It reads;
Our generation will be known for nothing.
Never will anybody say,
We were the peak of mankind.
That is wrong, the truth is
Our generation was a failure.
We actually succeeded
Is a waste. And we know
Living only for money and power
Is the way to go.
Being loving, respectful, and kind
Is a dumb thing to do.
Forgetting about that time,
Will not be easy, but we will try.
Changing our world for the better
Is something we never did.
Was how we handled our problems.
Was a joke.
We knew that
People thought we couldn’t come back
That might be true,
Unless we turn things around
(Read from bottom to top now)
That the Shakespeare I am painting in these blogs is WS is supported by the fact that John Grange was an attendee of the same Roman Catholic seminary at Douay in which we have earlier placed our fledgeling bard! Grange clearly moved in the same circles, & it is possible he is referring to Shakespeare himself in a little anecdote appertaining to the title of his work, where ‘certen yong Gentlemen, and those of my professed friendes, … requested me earnestly to haue it intituled A nettle for an Ape, but yet (being somevvhat vvedded as most fooles are to mine ovvne opinion vvho vvould hardly forgoe their bable for the Tovver of London) I thought it good (somevvhat to stop a zoilous mouth) to sette a more cleanly name vpon it, that is, Golden Aphroditis.‘
Connecting Grange to Shakespeare in ’77 gives our wee bard a direct spike into the heart of London, where the Inns of Court were but a walking distance from the Blackfriars Theatre. Built by court composer Richard Farrant the previous year, Blackfriars was one of three permanent playhouses erected in 1576 (a fourth, the Curtain, would be built in 1577), the second being sited a mile south of the Thames at Newington, while the third – the appropriately named ‘Theatre’ – was raised at Shoreditch. Also used as a playhouse was St Paul’s Cathedral, where a troupe known as ‘St Pauls Boys’ thrived upon the middle-Elizabethan vogue for boy actors. In Elizabethan England, watching such cherubs play out serious-minded drama was one of the main past-times of the upper classes & intelligentsia. If Shakespeare was in London in 1577, he would have been 12 or 13, which means if he was there in a theatrical context, he would have been a member of one of the boys troupes. According to Andrew Gurr in his ‘Shakespearian Playing Companies,’ in the 12 years prior to 1576, more than 40 plays by boys had been performed at court, & although there is no direct evidence, the placing of Shakespeare in one of these companies proves to be the long-looked for link in the biographical chain of our poet’s lost years.
Having shown that Shakespeare was at Townley in 1576, & then London the next year, the simplest way to move him ‘dahn sahf’ comes through Alexander Nowell, the half-brother of Sir John Townley. Let us recall how Robert Nowell, Alexander’s full brother & the attorney of the Court of Wards, was the very gentleman who provided financial support for another poet, the young Edmund Spenser. Upon Robert’s death in 1569, both John & Alexander became the executors of his will, & distributed linen and woollen cloth among the poor of the parish-dwellers of Burnley to satisfy the requirements of the will. It is no stretch of the imagination, then, to move Shakespeare from John Townley in Burnley to his brother in London.
Alexander Nowell was not only the first man to discover the benefits of bottling beer, but also the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, & so by proxy the ultimate boss of the St Pauls Boys. For me, Alexander provides the vital link between the young Shakespeare & the long-standing tradition that the young Shakespeare’s first taste of the London theatre world was holding the horses of the playgoers, which had something of the nature of a car-park attendant. It must be noted that the version of the story we have heard has flown along a two century-spanning chain of chispers (chinese whispers), as in;
Sir William Davenant (actor)
Nicholas Rowe (actor)
Alexander Pope (a poet)
Dr Newton (editor of Milton)
The main points of the tale are that when Shakespeare came to London he earned money by holding the horses of gentlemen outside the theatres, & excelled in the efficiency of his keeping. The story goes that on the success of his business, he employed other young lads to help him who became known as ‘Shakespeare’s boys.’ Samuel Johnson’s version, as found in his Prolegomena to Shakespeare (1765) reads, ‘in the time of Elizabeth, coaches being yet uncommon, and hired coaches not at all in use, those who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, went on horseback to any distant business or diversion. Many came on horseback to the play, and when Shakespeare fled to London from the terrour of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those that had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance. In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man as he alighted called for Will. Shakespeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will. Shakespeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakespeare finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will. Shakespeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, “I am Shakespeare’s boy, Sir.” In time Shakespeare found higher employment, but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakespeare’s boys.
By the time the story was written down properly for the first time, in Theophilis Cibber’s Lives of the Poets, 1753, it has pass’d thro’ six different re-tellings, opening up the possibility of corruption. Looking at the number of mouths which the story has passed through, we should witness at least a few chispological changes en route. It is likely the truth behind this tale is that Shakespeare was part of a company of boy actors to which he was initially & genuinely attached in the role of a horse-holder. The key facts, though, are Shakespeare’s holding go horses outside a theatre, & the key word ‘BOYS.’ For me, this connects Shakespeare’s to the acting troupe Saint Paul’s Boys, for the dean of St Pauls was our own Alexander Nowell, & the cathedral only a stone’s throw from the Inns of Court where John Grange made his studies. Then, what was the ‘terrour of a criminal prosecution’ that had driven Shakespeare to London. Knowing his Catholic sentiments, one expects it should be connected to this, & indeed Sir John Towneley was imprisoned in 1576 (he was in & out of jail for recusancy between 1573 and 1594). This would also explain why Cutbert Payne removed himself from East Lancashire & returned to Cornwall, where he would be arrested in June 1577.
The leader of the St Paul’s mob was a certain Sebastian Westcott, the cathedral’s organist who converted the cathedral’s Almoner’s hall into a playhouse. In the Repertories of the Court of Common Council (8 Dec 1575), a complaint was lodged against Westcott, who is admonished for not communicating, ‘with the Church of England’ & that he ‘kepethe playes & resorte of the people to great gaine & peryll of the Coruptinge of the Chyldren with papistrie.’ A perfect place, then, for the son of John Shakespeare to go. At least as far as the authorities were concerned Alexander Nowell was a staunch Protestant, but nothing is clear cut in the religious conflict of those days, & for him to keep on an obvious & obstinate heretic at the cathedral suggests a hint of papal compliance.
‘Master Sebastian’ as he was more famously known, was an avowed Catholic who had arranged the music for the formal restoration under Queen Mary of Catholicism at St. Paul’s, in November 1553. Somehow the guy got away with being a Catholic despite being a very public figure in the heart of the nation’s heart-beat. Are we seeing here another aspect of Elizabeth’s familist-inspired secret leniency. Coincidentally, the only time he got into trouble fro recusancy was in 1577, when he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea, but the Queen missed her customary Christmas plays by the choristers of St. Paul’s, which led to Westcott’s release the following March. If you could please the queen with a good enough play, it seemed, even the vile phantom of Rome would be tolerated.
In later posts we will be looking at the homosexuality of Shakespeare, but until then it is perhaps as a part of the St Paul’s Boys troupe that Shakespeare would have had his first taste of same-sex, well, sex. WR Gair, in his ‘Children of Paul’s: The Story of a Theatre Company, 1553-1608’ writes; ‘As far as the boys themselves were concerned Philip Stubbes in 1583 had already suspected them (& players generally) of numerous fleshy offences; they ‘in their secret conclaves (Covertly)…play the Sodomits or worse… the dramatists were well aware of the homosexual appeal of the youth & beauty of the Children of Paul’s.’
That Shakespeare was a boy actor never left his art; according to Stanley Wells & Sarah Stanton (The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage), ‘Shakespeares dramatic persona include more boys than any other major body of drama: Sir John’s page in Henry IV, Merry Wives & Henry V, one ‘young Lucius’ in Titus & abother in Ceasar, young Martius in Coriolanus, William Page in Merry Wives, & many anonymous pages in other plays.’ But Shakespeare eventually began to become a young man, & at some point in the late 1570s, I believe that Shakespeare made a move south of the river to the Newington Theatre. In the next blog I shall elucidate my reasoning a little more clearly. For now, let us examine these pointers as to why Shakespeare crossed the water.
1 – The Newington, which was still standing in 1594 (according to Henslowe’s diaries) was built by Richard Hickes near the entertainment district of St. George’s Fields. Hicks was a member of the Queens’s retinue, described as a ‘yeoman of the guard’ in 1558/59. In the last post I stated how the Queen’s yeoman bodygaurd were Familists, & it is through this connection that we can see Shakespeare’s own Familist roots being replanted at Newington.
2 – In 1576, Hicks sublet the theatre to a certain Jerome Savage, who is a most important link in the Shakespeare chain. Hick’s son-in-law Peter Hunningborne described Savage as ‘a verrie lewed fealowe‘ who ‘liveth by noe other trade than playinge of staige plaies and Interlevdes.’ Like Shakespeare, Savage was Stratford man, & ran a troupe of actors for the Earl of Warwick known as Earl of Warwick’s Player.
3 – The Newington Playhouse was a mile south of the Thames, & it is likely that this distance was covered by men on horseback – connecting to the horse=holding Shakespeare.
For the benefit of future students, here follows a list of the performances made at court by both The Children of Pauls & the Earl of Warwick’s Men from 1577 onwards;
February 18 : The Irish Knight, by Earl Warwick’s servants, on Shrove Monday.
February 19 : The History of Titus and Gisippus, by the children of Paul’s, on Shrove Tuesday.
Dec. 26. : At Richmond. An invention or play of The three Sisters of Mantua on St. Stephen’s day was enacted by Warwick’s servants.
Jan. I. A History of the Four Sons of Fabius on New Year’s day by the Earl of Warwick’s servants.
Jan. 4. : A moral of the Marriage of Mind and Measure on the Sunday after New Year’s day by the children of Paul’s.
Feb. 2. ” The history of .. by the Earl of Warwick’s servants; still at Whitehall
Mar. I. : The history of the Knight in the Burning Rock, on Shrove Sunday, by the Earl of Warwick’s servants
Mar. 18. payment – “To the Earl of Warwick’s players for a play ” that should have been played on Candlemas day
Jan. I : A History of the Four Sons of Fabius on New Year’s day by the Earl of Warwick’s servants.
Jan. 3. : The History of Scipio Africanus on Sunday after New Year’s day by the Children of Paul’s.
Jan 6. ” A story of Pompey on Twelfth day. Children of Paul’s.
Stephen Gosson, in his The School of Abuse 1579, describes the theatrical experience as being; ‘In our assemblies at plays in London, you shall see such heaving, and shoving, such itching and shouldering to sit by women: such care for their garments, that they be not trod on: such eyes to their laps, that no chips light in them: such pillows to their backs, that they take no hurt: such masking in their ears, I know not what: such giving them pippins to pass the time: such playing at foot-saunt without cards: such tickling, such toying, such smiling, such winking, and such manning them home, when the sports are ended, that it is a right comedy to mark their behaviour, to watch their conceits, as the cat for the mouse, and as good as a course at the game itself, to dog them a little, or follow aloof by the print of their feet, and so discover by slot where the deer taketh soil. If this were as well noted as ill seen, or as openly punished as secretly practised, I have no doubt but the cause would be seared to dry up the effect, and these pretty rabbits very cunningly ferreted from their burrows. For they that lack customers all the week, either because their haunt is unknown, or the constables and officers of their parish watch them so narrowly that they dare not quetch, to celebrate the sabbath flock to theatres, and there keep a general market of bawdry. Not that any filthiness in deed is committed within the compass of that ground, as was done in Rome, but that every wanton and his paramour, every man and his mistress, every John and his Joan, every knave and his quean, are there first acquainted and cheapen the merchandise in that place, which they pay for elsewhere as they can agree.’ Full of life & colour, there is a list of props given by Blagrave (January 6, 1575) utilsed by performers at the court, which gives us a good idea of dramaturgical acoutrements were used in that period, being : ‘Monsters ; Mointains ; Forests; Beasts; Serpents; Weapons for war, as Guns, Dags, Bows, Arrows, Bills, Halberds, Boarspears, Fawchions, Daggers, Targets, Pllaxes, Clubs; Heads and Head pieces; Armour counterfeit; Moss, Holly, Ivy, Bays, Flowers; Quarters; Glue, Paste, Paper, and such like; with Nails, Hooks, Horsetails, Dishes for Devils’ eyes. Heaven, Hell, and the Devil and all: the Devil, I should say, but not all. ; ^I2, 14s. 4d.’
That same year – 1579 – was an interesting one for Shakespeare’s future, I believe, for it was when his Stratford neighbour Richard Field, arrived in London to begin his career as a book-printer…. which would lead a decade & a half later to him publishing Shakespeare’s long poems, Venus & Adonis & Lucrece. Also that year saw the earliest inklings of Spenser’s great epic, the Faerie Queene; In the letter to Harvey of April 2, 1580, he writes: ‘Nowe, my Dreames and Dying Pellicane being fully finished … and presentlye to bee imprinted, I wil in hande forthwith with my Faery Queene, whyche I praye you hartily send me with al expedition, and your frendly letters and long expected judgement wythal, whyche let not be shorte, but in all pointes suche as you ordinarilye use and I extraordinarily desire.’
The FQ is divided into books in which different knights go in search of different virtues, & it may only be a coincidence, but on Shrove Tuesday, 1579, the Earl of Warwick’s players performed ‘The history of the Knight in the Burning Rock.’ On January 6th, 1581, we also hear of ‘A story of Pompey’ performed by the Children of Paul’s. The next year the play was performed at the Theatre, where it was given the name ‘the history of Caesar and Pompey’ by Stephen Gosson in his ‘Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582).’
if a true Historie be taken in hand, it is made like our shadows, longest at the rising and falling of the Sunne, shortest of all at hie noone. For the Poets driue it most commonly vnto such pointes, as may best showe the maiestie of their pen, in Tragicall speaches; or set the hearers a gogge, with discourses of love; or painte a fewe antickes, to fitt their owne humors, with scoffes & tauntes; or wring in a shewe, to furnish the Stage, when it is to bare; when the matter of it selfe comes shorte of this, they followe the practise of the cobler, and set their teeth to the leather to pull it out.
So was the history of Caesar and Pompey, and the Playe of the Fabii at the Theater, both amplified there, where the Drummes might walke, or the pen ruffle, when the history swelled, and ran to hye for the number of ye persons, that shoulde playe it, the Poet with Proteus cut the same fit to his owne measure; when it afoorded no pompe at al, he brought it to the racke, to make it serue. Which inuinciblie proueth on my side, that Plays are no Images of trueth, because sometime they hādle such thinges as neuer were, sometime they runne vpon truethes, but make them séeme longer, or shorter, or greater, or lesse then they were, according as the Poet blowes them vp with his quill, for aspiring heades; or minceth them smaller, for weaker stomakes.
Cesar & Pompey was played at the Theatre alongside the ‘Playe of the Fabii,’ surely the ‘History of the Four Sons of Fabius’ played by the Earl of Warwick’s servants on New Years Day 1579. In 1580, a text called ‘A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres’ tells us;
The writers of our time are so led awaie with vaineglorie [*Against Auctors of plaies], that their onlie endeuor is to pleasure the humor of men; & rather with vanitie to content their mindes, than to profit them with good ensample. The notablest lier is become the best Poet; he that can make the most notorious lie, and disguise falshood in such sort, that he maie passe vnperceaued, is held the best writer. For the strangest Comedie brings greatest delectation, and pleasure. Our nature is led awaie with vanitie, which the auctor perceauing frames himself with nouelties and strange trifles to content the vaine humors of his rude auditors, faining countries neuer heard of; monsters and prodigious creatures that are not: as of the Arimaspie, of the Grips, the Pigmeies, the Cranes, & other such notorious lies. And if they write of histories that are knowen, as the life of Pompeie; the martial affaires of Caesar, and other worthies, they giue them a newe face, and turne them out like counterfeites to showe themselues on the stage. It was therefore aptlie applied of him [*The best thing at plaies is starke naught], who likened the writers of our daies vnto Tailors, who hauing their sheers in their hand, can alter the facion of anie thing into another forme, & with a new face make that seeme new which is old. The shreds of whose curiositie our Historians haue now stolen from them, being by practise become as cunning as the Tailor to set a new vpper bodie to an old coate; and a patch of their owne to a peece of anothers.
Two decades later, the play seems to have been acted out in the mid 1590s by the Admiral’s Men (Henslowe’s Diary) while a play called ‘The tragedie of Cesar & Pompey – or Cesars revenge,’ was entered on the stationers register in 1606, & printed next year. Donna N. Murphy, in her The Marlowe-Shakespeare Continuum, gives many similarities between the Faerie Queene & ‘Cesar’s Revenge,’ such as the archaic expression ‘for to’ used 80 times in the FQ & over 30 in CR.
The simplest solution to the riddle is that Spenser, in 1579, after his handling of the Townley mystery plays, had turned his muse to the theatre, but a diplomatic placing in in Ireland in 1580 soon nipped that in the bud, & left him free to focus solely on his poetry. Indeed, the same phrase ‘for to’ is found in another anonymous Elizabethan play, The moste famous Chronicle historye of Leire king of England and his Three Daughters, which was performed at the Rose Theatre on 6 and 8 April 1594 (Henslowe) entered into the Stationers’ Register that May & printed in 1605. The title page declares that the play ‘hath been diverse and sundry times lately acted.’ It was about that time that Shakespeare would pick up the play, add a subplot about Gloucester, Edgar, and Edmund, & make King Lear his own. However, the ‘for to’ phraseology gives a possible 1579-ish date for the original play, which links it to Spenser’s FQ. Is it a coincidence, then, that in Canto 10 of Book II of the FQ, we get the Lear story in microcosm;
Next him king Leyr in happie peace long raind,
But had no issue male him to succeed,
But three faire daughters, which were well vptraind,
In all that seemed fit for kingly seed:
Mongst whom his realme he equally decreed
To have diuided. Tho when feeble age
Nigh to his vtmost date he saw proceed,
He cald his daughters; and with speeches sage
Inquyrd, which of them most did loue her parentage.
The eldest Gonorill gan to protest,
That she much more then her owne life him lou’d:
And Regan greater loue to him profest,
Then all the world, when euer it were proou’d;
But Cordeill said she lou’d him, as behoou’d:
Whose simple answere, wanting colours faire
To paint it forth, him to displeasance moou’d,
That in his crowne he counted her no haire,
But twixt the other twaine his kingdome whole did shaire.
So wedded th’one to Maglan king of Scots,
And th’other to the king of Cambria,
And twixt them shayrd his realme by equall lots:
But without dowre the wise Cordelia
Was sent to Aganip of Celtica.
Their aged Syre, thus eased of his crowne,
A priuate life led in Albania,
With Gonorill, long had in great renowne,
That nought him grieu’d to bene from rule deposed downe.
But true it is, that when the oyle is spent,
The light goes out, and weeke is throwne away;
So when he had resigned his regiment,
His daughter gan despise his drouping day,
And wearie waxe of his continuall stay.
Tho to his daughter Rigan he repayrd,
Who him at first well vsed euery way;
But when of his departure she despayrd,
Her bountie she abated, and his cheare empayrd.
The wretched man gan then auise too late,
That loue is not, where most it is profest,
Too truely tryde in his extreamest state;
At last resolu’d likewise to proue the rest,
He to Cordelia him selfe addrest,
Who with entire affection him receau’d,
As for her Syre and king her seemed best;
And after all an army strong she leau’d,
To war on those, which him had of his realme bereau’d.
So to his crowne she him restor’d againe,
In which he dyde, made ripe for death by eld,
And after wild, it should to her remaine:
Who peaceably the same long time did weld:
And all mens harts in dew obedience held:
Till that her sisters children, woxen strong
Through proud ambition, against her rebeld,
And ouercommen kept in prison long,
Till wearie of that wretched life, her selfe she hong.