Continuing the weekly serialization of
Damian Beeson Bullen’s
THE CHISPER EFFECT
In which a number of the world’s greatest mysteries are finally solved
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In the last chapter we saw how the young Shakespeare was a companion for the slightly older nobleman, William Stanley, on a tour of the Continent in the middle of the 1580s. We last saw them in Venice, where I am convinced that somewhere within the vaults of the Venetian Archives lies some hitherto undiscovered reference to Shakespeare. He would have been included in a list of passengers made by the ship, or perhaps a list of arrivals/departures organized by the Venetian authorities. It is after scribbling his name down in such a log-book that he sailed out across the sultry seas of the Adriatic. Before him, a glassy liquid pane was sprinkled with white sails which puffed like clouds across the drifting blue waters. By Shakespeare’s side was Stanley, perhaps hand-in-hand in a gay kinda way, who together turned to face Venice as it slowly dwindled & merged into a thin, green line.
Shakespeare crosses the Adriatic
That Shakespeare took to the whale-roads is reflected by an extremely accurate knowledge of both the sea & its sailing terms. Most scholars presume he got this from books, but seeing as Sir Henry Mainwaring released the first nautical dictionary only in 1644, this avenue may be precluded. Of Shakespeare’s sealore, AF Falconer declares that he, ‘must have learned it first hand for there was no other way,’ adding that the bard possessed, ‘an understanding of naval ceremony, naval strategy & the duties & characteristic ways of officers & men.’ One passage in particular contains a highly obscure sailing term;
Believe me, sir, she is the goodliest woman
That ever lay by man: which when the people
Had the full view of, such a noise arose
As the shrouds make at sea in a stiff tempest
‘It is a puzzle,’ writes WB Whall, ‘how Shakespeare, unless he had been a sailor, could have known enough of sea life to write such a magnificently apt simile as this. It could not have occurred to anyone who had not been at sea. The shrouds are the heavy ropes of the rigging which supports the masts of a ship on neither side so that they can carry sail.’ Another naval accuracy comes in Hamlet’s, ‘methought I lay worse than the mutinies in the bilboes,’ with the latter word being sea-slang for leg-shackles. One also gets the feeling that Shakespeare experienced a ship-wreck for himself. His plays are littered with them, as in;
After our ship did split,
When you and those poor number saved with you
Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,
Most provident in peril, bind himself,
Courage and hope both teaching him the practise,
To a strong mast that lived upon the sea;
Twelfth Night 1:2
Across the Adriatic lies the thousand-islanded lands of Croatia, or Illyria in more antique times. This locality is mentioned ten times by Shakespeare who set his Twelfth Night there, most likely after he had experienced the port of Ragusa, today’s Dubrovnik. That the term for that city’s ships – Argosies (after Ragosies) – was used by Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Henry VI, Part III and The Taming of the Shrew, may be based upon this visit. As one reads our Bard’s references to Illyria’s coasts, sailors, pirates, tall population & robust wines, one senses the snatch of time Shakespeare had with the country as he sailed south through the Adriatic.
Stanley & Shakespeare reach Egypt
Leaving ‘Illyria,’ our party sailed on to Egypt, & the sweaty flesh-pots of its capital, Cairo. While in this city they would have sought out the principle headquarters of the Levant Company, from which office emanated the tendrils of pre-imperial trade into the ports & courts of the eastern Mediterranean. Powerful cities such as Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Jerusalem, Damascus & Aleppo had all become secure stopping stations for the Levant Company, as was Constantinople, where Company man William Harborne had become the de facto English ambassador to the Ottomans. Within two decades the East Indies Company would be formed, the majority of its nucleus members being Levant Company men, & one could say that British India has its true roots in these Elizabethan mercantile expeditions to the east.
The connection between Stanley & the Levant Company begins with Barry Coward, author of a book on the history of the Stanley family, who states, ‘from 1584 to 1593 Earl Henry borrowed as he had never done before… the loans raised by Earl Henry & his son, Ferdinando, were all raised by bonds pledging a cash surety, made with important London merchant financiers, like John lacy, Richard Martin, Peter Vanlore, Michael Cornleius, William Cuslowe, Nicholas Mosley, & Sir Rowland Hayward.’ A key link here is Richard Martin, a two-time mayor of London & one of the founding members of the Levant Company in 1581. Earl Stanley’s financial embroilment with such a fellow could well have led to him sending his son to check in the family’s investments in the new markets.
Stanley’s journey to Egypt is given more details by Thomas Aspen, who records; ‘afterwards he proceeded to Egypt, and with the assistance of a native guide, went to reconnoitre the River Nile. Whilst on their journey, a large male tiger suddenly appeared from behind a thicket, and with a hideous howl came rushing towards them. Sir William had two pistols, and discharged one as the tiger was making a spring at them. Unfortunately he missed his aim, and it was only by dexterously stepping aside that he eluded the grasp of the ferocious brute. Before the animal had time to take another spring, Sir William drew a second pistol, discharged the contents into the tiger’s breast, and as it reeled drew his sword and killed it.’ That our party visited the River Nile allows us to look deeper into one of Donne’s sonnets.
See, sir, how, as the sun’s hot masculine flame
Begets strange creatures on Nile’s dirty slime,
In me your fatherly yet lusty rhyme
For these songs are their fruits—have wrought the same.
But though th’ engend’ring force from which they came
Be strong enough, and Nature doth admit
Seven to be born at once; I send as yet
But six; they say the seventh hath still some maim.
I choose your judgment, which the same degree
Doth with her sister, your invention, hold,
As fire these drossy rhymes to purify,
Or as elixir, to change them to gold.
You are that alchemist, which always had
Wit, whose one spark could make good things of bad.
This sonnet’s opening lines really do invoke a definite sense of witnessing the Nile at first hand. The decisive evidence comes with the sonnet being placed among a sequence dedicated by Donne to a certain ‘E of D,’ implying William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby. Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s own time in Egypt is reflected by two unusual eye-witness accounts found in two of his earliest plays;
Thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog
An Egyptian that had nine hours lien dead who was by good appliance recovered
Shakespeare writes sonnets to Stanley
Just as Donne was writing deliciously sensuous sonnets to & for Stanley so, it seems, was Shakespeare; with Egypt as likely a place as any to craft his lines. What happens on the Grand Tour stays on the Grand Tour, & here was our bard in Egypt, where the demands of a young family had been replaced by yearnings to see pyramids & sail the love-barges of Cleopatra. He was also traveling with a prominent member of his country’s royal family, & as we have discerned from the secret back story behind Venus & Adonis, Stanley actually fancied him. Sleeping your way to the top has always been a way to get ahead, & in Shakespeare’s case he did not seem to mind if it was with a member of the opposite sex. Indeed, on his return to England, Shakespeare never sired another child, implying perhaps he became fully LGBT on the Grand Tour.
It is Shakespeare’s love for Stanley that provides an important keystone in the dissemination of the many mysteries behind Shakespeare’s famous sonnet sequence. The form chosen for these poetical lovegasms is a short, 14-line photo-poem capable of storing some of the most refined & musical expressions of human thought. That Shakespeare was writing sonnets at such an early stage in his career was opined by his greatest biographer, & most ardent analytics, Sydney Lee, who said; ‘in both their excellences & their defects Shakespeare’s sonnets betray their kinship to his early dramatic work.’ Lee made comparisons of the sonnet’s bipolar passages, their, ‘highest poetic temper,’ & their, ‘unimpressive displays of verbal jugglery,’ comparing them with similar instances in the early plays.
Shakespeare’s sequence seems to be a collection of several individual sonnet-clusters, with each set of creative pulses being eternally crystalized & unified by generally gorgeous iambic pentameter. The exact order in which these mini-sequences were written is beyond the remit of this book, but a general impression is most definitely given by them of Shakespeare’s homosexual love for a young aristocratic man – but who? That the fellow is a member of the upper echelons of the aristocracy is suggested by sonnet 125, which begins, ‘were it ought to me I bore the canopy.’ The ceremonial material in question is that carried over the head of the incumbent monarch by England’s leading noblemen, in procession to Westminster Abbey & the coronation.
Over the past two centuries, the Bard’s corpse has been argued over & dissected so much, that hardly anything remains of the man: his flesh & bones have been shredded, flung & scattered across the ever-expanding wastelands of Shakespearean criticism. The one bonus of all these efforts is that the Elizabethan Age has been scrutinized to a near infinite degree by scholars hoping to turn up some precious new nugget of biographical detail concerning the Bard. There have been successes & among this vast sea of uncertainty one may find the following island of logical thinking;
A few years down the road, & increasingly mindful of Haines’ caution to Buck Milligan that Shakespeare’s sonnets are, ‘the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance,’ I nonetheless came to conclude from the evidence I accumulated that not only was Barnfield’s Ganymede the sixth Earl of Derby, William Stanley, but also that Barnfield published poems from 1594 (including over twenty homoerotic love sonnets) were in dialogue with some of Shakespeare’s own homoerotic sonnets to his Fair Youth... we hardly have reason to be very surprised if, after all, Shakespeare’s beloved & revered male addressee might turn out to be William Stanley
This passage was written by Leo Daugherty who, after surviving such a process of intense academic endeavour with his wits intact, stated in his brilliant book, ‘William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield & the Sixth Earl of Derby’ that he had made, ‘conclusions of some enormity.’ The crux of his excited proclamation was that the identity of the Handsome Youth was a certain Elizabethan nobleman called William Stanley. That this was the same man who we have just placed in a holiday romance fashion with Shakespeare soared into my own theorizing like a bolt of divine lightning. It makes sense,especially when the ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnet series was noted by Shakespeare for the blackness of her skin, a woman most likely to be encountered abroad.
Shakespeare joins the Levant Company fleet
We have now placed Shakespeare firmly among the buccaneering world of corsairs that constituted the Elizabethan navy, where men like Drake, Hawkins & Raleigh were the x-factor style idols of the day. Our young bard is about to board one of the Levant Company ships, with all five vessels having just made successful trading operations in Turkey, Egypt & Syria. Three of the ships had met up in the Egyptian port of Alexandria: The Toby, the Susan & the Edward Bonaventure; & by the June of 1586 they had combined with the remaining two Company ships off the Greek island of Zante. One of these was Company flagship, the Merchant Royal, under ‘acting Admiral’ Edward Wilkinson. The second vessel was the William and John, both of which ships had been dealing in Tripoli.
All five ships would have combined together for security reasons – the journey through the Straits of Gibraltar, a stone’s throw from hostile Spain, would be too treacherous for one or two vessels traveling on their own. It was a prudent move, for a very real danger was imminent; two separate squadrons of Spanish & Maltese galleys had left the Straits of Gibraltar & were hunting down the English like hungry, prowling wolves. Shakespeare must have been invigorated to the infinite degree at the prospect of very real military action.
The Battle of Pantelleria
Deep in the middle of a sultry summer, Shakespeare found himself sailing west through the Mediterranean as a passenger of the Levant Company fleet. After safely bypassing Malta, they were suddenly intercepted by a squadron of eleven Spanish and Maltese galleys under Don Pedro de Leyva. The engagement took place off the island of Pantelleria on the 13th July, a five-hour running battle which saw the massive devastation of Spanish ships like some prophetic glimmer of the Armada. A Venetian ambassador to Rome, Giovanni Gritti, recorded;
Between Sicily & the island of Pantalara the galleys of Naples & of Sicily fell in with nine English galleys returning form Constantinople, full of merchandise, & although they attacked the English ships they failed to take them. The galleys have returned to Naples for reinforcement & will sail again to search for the English. They have sent news of these English to Genoa, so that they may be on the look out for them in the waters of Corsica & Sardinia
After five hours of fighting it was all over & the Spanish galleys had been battered into submission. On the English side only two sailors had died, & handful more of men being wounded. The tough English sailors had simply outmaneuvered, & more importantly, outgunned the Spanish in battle. Remembrances of Shakespeare witnessing such a brutal sea-battle lies scatter’d throughout this plays. AF Falconer writes how he, ‘distinguishes between various types of ordnance & gun, understands how they work & are managed, & is familiar with gunnery terms & words of command.’ We can see for ourselves in examples, such as
The nimble gunner
With linstock now the devilish cannon touches
Like an overcharged gun, recoil
And turn the force of them upon thyself
2 Henry VI
What’s this? a sleeve? ’tis like a demi-cannon
What, up and down, carved like an apple-tart?
Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare visits Linosa
While stopping for provisions & water round about the time of the Battle of Pantelleria, Shakespeare took a stroll along the island of Linosa – anciently ‘Aethusa.’ In a great moment of creative fusion, the island became embedded in his mnemonic vaults, ready for the right moment to become the setting of one of his poems or plays. This eventually occurred when Shakespeare was writing the Tempest, which was the last to be performed publically in his lifetime. Linosa is an extremely pretty island, its three lofty cones being the spiky remnants of ancient volcanoes. In Shakespeare’s time Linosa was deserted, like the other islands of the Pelagian archipelago in which it lies. Of a possible Tempestesque shipwreck on the island, GD Gussone wrote; ‘before 1828 some travelers going to Linosa found three human skeletons on those mountains which, in his opinion, where the remains of men who were perhaps thrown by a storm on to the island and that miserably perished for lack of food.’
Linosa’s position between Sicily & Tunisia fits neatly with the geography of the Tempest, in which Alonso, King of Naples, washes up on a deserted island on his way to see the King of Tunis. The island also plays host to the witch Sycorax, banished there from Tunisia’s neighbor, Algiers. The true Syrocrax is mentioned in John Ogilby’s ‘Accurate Description of Africa,’ in which she advises, soothsayer fashion, the commander of Algiers not to surrender the city to Emperor Charles V in 1541. The citizens did as they were bidden, & the fleet of Charles V was destroyed in a ‘terrible Tempest.’ Unfortunately for Syrocrax, ‘to palliate the shame and the reproaches that are thrown upon them for making use of a witch,’ she was exiled in a pregnant state on Linosa, & was perhaps one of the skeletons found on the island. According to the Tempest, she was dead by the events of the play, but her son Caliban was still alive. His character was probably based on a real meeting with Shakespeare, whose bones were laid to rest by his mother’s on the mountains.
Shakespeare in Algiers
After the battle of Pantelleria, the Company fleet headed for Algiers in order to restock supplies & make any necessary battle-repairs. These movements fit neatly into the itinerary of William Stanley, who according to the Garland visited ‘the King of Morocco and his nobles all / Then went to the King of Barbary.’ A connection between Stanley & North Africa comes through the Barbary Company, formed in 1585. The Queen herself had invested in the project, alongside Stanley’s father. The Levant Company connection is tentative, but the presence of William Stanley at this particular emporium provides a stronger suggestion that he may have been working for his father: details on contracts needed to be fine-tuned, perhaps, or accounts checked.
Despite suffering little in losses & damage, the battle of Pantelleria would have shredded the nerves, & it is at this point that Stanley would have ordered his young charge, John Donne, to make his way back to England in the relative the safety of the armed Company merchantmen. With the help of a thick sea-mist, this little fleet avoided the waiting Spanish at Gibraltar, & would soon be happily unloading their wares at the London docks. John Donne would eventually return to the service of the Earl of Derby, where on the 13th May 1587, the Derby Household Books included a ‘Mr John Downes’ alongside the same six waiters who appeared on the 1585 retinue list with a certain ‘Mr John Donnes.’
Shakespeare visits John Dee
According to the Garland, Stanley made a great geographical leap from Algeria to Russia, in order to spend some time with John Dee. This esoteric fellow was an extremely famous Elizabethan alchemist & academic from Manchester, & thus would have been a neighbor to the Stanleys in his youth. Memories of their relationship survives in Dee’s recording keeping, while Derby was instrumental in getting Dee appointed a director of Christ’s College, Manchester. The Garland’s account of the meeting is a factochisp for Dee’s actual residence at Trebona in Bohemia (in the modern-day Czech Republic), during which time he was making contact with the court of the Russian Tsar, but from hundreds of miles away. This is a perfect example of the Chisper Effect in action, of how the truth will distort into an alternate reality in which the main quintessence is still present. The quickest route for Shakespeare & Stanley to get from Algeria to Bohemia would have been by sailing up the Adriatic to Trieste. From there it would have taken an extra week of tough overland, Brokeback Mountain riding for Stanley & Shakespeare to reach Bohemia, during which time he may have etched the opening to sonnet 33;
Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye
There is also this passage from Anthony & Cleopatra which seems to invoke the Alpine crossing;
On reaching Dee, the arch-magus would have filled them in on recent developments, of how at first he had been a valued guest of the court of Rudolf II, an intellectual hotbed centered on Prague. PJ French states, ‘Dee’s world view was thoroughly of the Renaissance, though it was one which is unfamiliar today, one of a line of philosopher-magicians that stemmed from Ficino & Pico della Mirandola & included, among others, Trithemius, Abbot of Sondheim, Henry Cornelius Agrippa Paracelsus. etc…. Like Dee, these philosophers lived in a world that was half magical, half scientific.’ Unfortunately, Dee fell on the wrong side of Rudolf, & after being banished from Prague was given shelter at in the household of Vilém of Rožmberk, in the town of Trebona. Shakespeare’s own brief stay in the region can be traced via three separate plays;
(i) Measure for Measure is set in Vienna.
(ii) The Winter’s Tale is set in ‘Bohemia’ in which Trebona is situated.
(iii) ‘The old hermit of Prague,’ is mentioned in Twelfth Night.
Also in Prague at that time was a copy of Titian’s Venus & Adonis – or perhaps even the original – commissioned by the Holy Roman Emporer, Charles V (d.1558), as discerned through a letter written by F. Mueller, the correspondent in Italy for the court of Bavaria. Now held in the Galleria Nazionale of Palazzo Barberini in Rome, what marks it out from all the other V&As painted by Titian (there were many copies made, usually completed by his students) was the hat which was worn by Adonis. In Shakespeare’s poem we actually have various mentions of such a hat, as in, ‘with one fair hand she heaveth up his hat,’ & ‘therefore would he put his bonnet on.’ It is possible that Stanley & Shakespeare were living the swancy-fancy life of art connoisseurs at this point & making an effort to study the work of evidently their favorite painter. Indeed, on their Italian itinerary they may have seen copies of the painting at the Palazzo Mariscotti in Rome, or in the possession of the Barbarigo-Guistiniani family in Padua
Shakespeare sketches the Tempest
At this point in the Stanleyan Grand Tour the first outlines of the plot & structure of a play called the Tempest appeared in Shakespeare’s notebooks. It was first performed in public in 1611, yet a proto-version could have been one of the earliest creations of his blossoming mind, especially when the Tempest is the first play one comes to when entering the First Folio. A clue might be found in five consecutive lines of the Garland, where we observe quite succinctly the setting of the Tempest (Barbary is North Africa) & its principle subject Prospero, a dead-ringer for John Dee.
Within the Court of Barbary,
When two full years Sir William had been,
Into Russia he needs must go,
To visit the Emperor and his Queen,
One Doctor Dee he met with there
Where Prospero had his Ariel, Dee declared he possessed a benevolent angel called, ‘Uriel, the angel of light.’ One imagines Shakespeare actually hearing Dee discussing Uriel during our party’s stay in Trebona. Such an early date for the proto-Tempest is unwittingly hinted at by Sydney Lee’s; ‘the influence of Ovid, especially the Metamorphoses, was apparent throughout his earliest literary work, both poetic & dramatic, & is discernible in the ‘Tempest.’’ This play reflects the early experiences Shakespeare enjoy’d with Commedia dell’Arte; which sometimes featured a magician, his daughter & supernatural attendants. CDA also contained archetypical clowns known as Arlecchino and Brighella, on which the Tempest’s Stephano and Trinculo are clearly based, while its lecherous Neapolitan hunchback has a perfect correspondence in the Tempest’s Caliban. the Tempest is also one of only two of his plays that utilise the Classical Unities – a dramaturgical tradition of setting a play in a single place & time, with the other being the very early Comedy of Errors. Coincidence or not, CoE is set in the eastern Mediterranean, the same part of the world where Stanley & Shakespeare went next…
Shakespeare tours the Levant
As the year 1587 dawned, Shakespeare & Stanley were just beginning to celebrate two exciting & adventure-packed years together on the road. They were also celebrating leaving wintry Bohemia for the sun swathed south, where the Garland tells us;
But one three years Sir William would stay,
Within the Emperor’s court so freely,
And then Sir William he would go,
To Bethlehem right speedily,
Likewise to fair Jerusalem,
Where our blessed Saviour Christ did die
He asked them if it was so,
They answered and told him aye.
This is the Tree, the Jews then said,
Whereon the Carpenter’s son did die;
That was my Saviour, Sir William said,
For sure he died for the sins of me.
After their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, our lads set off north towards Turkey, calling at Tripoli in the Lebanon for supplies, perhaps even a little Levant Company networking. Our party would have next sailed west, docking for a while at the ports of Cyprus. This visit later inspired Shakespeare to bescene a portion of his tragedy, Othello, on the island. The official setting is given in the text as only a ‘sea-port’ of Cyprus, & a ‘hall in the castle,’ with local tradition stating Shakespeare was describing the heavily fortified medieval citadel at Famagusta. It is while staying at this fortress that Shakespeare may have heard the local story of Francesca de Sessa, a dark-skinned Venetian officer serving in Cyprus known as ‘Il Moro.’ Here, place & person were planted in Shakespeare’s vernal imagination, waiting for them to catch the creative fire & begin to shoot upwards into existence. When it did, the play would be given further gloss by raiding Cinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi (1565), which Shakespeare had read in Italian. This pattern of development continues throughout most of Shakespeare’s continental plays: when metapoetic travelogues are liberally sprinkled with the plots of foreign authors.
Shakespeare in Ephesus
From Cyprus our party pass’d on to Turkey, & one play in particular contains memories of their visit. In the Comedy of Errors, a Sicilian merchant called Egeon is imprisoned in the ancient city of Ephesus. The city played an integral part in the early days of Christianity, being one of the seven churches addressed by the Book of Revelations. Fifteen centuries later, the Christian church was usurped by the Islamic Ottomans, when this once well-populated & sophisticated city became locked in a terminal decline. Its river, the Caystros, was steadily silting up into malarial swamps, leaving the once bustling harbours of Ephesus far inland. Population levels were plummeting; a century before Shakespeare’s visit, the city was said to contain 2,000 souls, but numbers had halved by the time our Bard reached the city. By 1824 both town & citadel were abandoned completely except for the wild animals wandering its time-haunted streets.
It is time now to focus our investigation on a situation central to the plot of the Comedy of Errors is an imprisonment of Egeon. Appearing only in the first & final acts, framing the traditional story, & the threat of death hangs over him throughout the play. In light of the Stanleyan Grand Tour, it seems easy to notice the tallies between Egeon & Stanley, who was also imprisoned in Turkey. Thomas Aspen writes; ‘after paying a visit to Palestine, he journeyed to Turkey, and had a narrow escape of becoming a victim to the bigotry of the followers of Mahommed. In a discussion with one of the Paschas he defended Christianity and the Bible, and denounced the religion propounded in the Koran as false and deceptive. He was arrested for “blasphemy against the religion of Mahommed,” and after being kept a long time in a filthy and dismal prison, a date was fixed for his execution, but a lady interceded on his behalf, and three days before the appointed time he was liberated.‘ That ‘dismal prison’ was not situated in Ephesus, however, but in Constantinople; a city towards which our suntann’d party traveled next.
Shakespeare sees Mitylene
‘Shakespere’s own muse his Pericles first bore,’ said the great poet of Restoration England, John Dryden. As the young Shakespeare was sailing along the shores of western Turkey, he was already jotting ideas down for the play, ‘Pericles.’ At one point he was reclining lazily in a boat, anchored in the harbour of Mitylene, a moment which transchispered itself into the play, where one of the stage directions reads;
On board Pericles’ ship, off Mytilene. A pavilion on deck, with a curtain beofe it; PERICLES within, reclining on a couch, unkepty clad in sackcloth. A barge lies beside the Trian vessel
The uneven writing of Pericles suggests its first two acts were co-written. As early as 1709, Nicholas Rowe was suggesting, ‘there is good Reason to believe that the greatest part of that Play was not written by him; tho’ it is own’d, some part of it certainly was, particularly the last Act.‘ The second author’s identity is unknown, but Pericles does contain a number idiomatic Lancashire expressions such as would be native to Stanley, like ‘keep thee warm.’ What is slowly emerging is the idea of Stanley & Shakespeare collaborating & composing the prototypes of a number of the canon’s early plays.
Shakespeare visits Constantinople
Our Grand Tourists have now reached the furthest limits of their travels, finding themselves at the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Only two years before their arrival, an Elizabethan traveler called Henry Austel had recorded his own visit to the ‘most statelie City of Constantinople, which for the situation & proude seat thereof, for the beautiful & commodious havens, & for the great & sumptuous buildings of the Temples, which they call Moschea, is to be preferred before all Cities of Europe.’ It had only been a decade or two since the Ottoman Empire had reached its high-water mark, but defeats at Malta & Lepanto ensured the Turks would never dominate the world. Instead they would have to trade their way to success, & in the wake of the Italian financial crash of the 1570s it was the English merchants who dealt directly with the Grand Turke. As he walked around its capital, Shakespeare would have marveled at the minarets & markets, & as he wander’d under sultry Turkish suns & star-studded Oriental moons, may have penned the following sonnet to Stanley.
Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay’d,
To-morrow sharpen’d in his former might:
So, love, be thou; although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
Else call it winter, which being full of care
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wish’d, more rare.
The key allusion is to the Greek myth of Hero & Leander, the two passionate lovers were separated by the Hellespont, today’s Dardandanelles, near which Constantinople lies. Leander would swim each night across the straits to make passionate love to his beloved Hero, as in the sonnet’s, ‘where two contracted new / Come daily to the banks, that, when they see / Return of love, more blest may be the view.’ Yet more support for a Shakespearean visit to the area can be found in Othello, where a person’s relentless nature is compared to the strong one-way currents found at the Hellespont.
Like to the Pontick Sea,
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne’er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on
To the Propontic and the Hellespont
We have already learnt of Stanley’s incarceration in Turkey on trussed up charges of Blasphemy. The Garland tells us;
Sir William was taken prisoner,
And for his religion condemn’d to die.
Before I’ll forsake my living Lord,
My blessed Saviour and sweet Lamb;
Sweet Jesus Christ that died for me,
I’ll die the worst Death that e’er did man.
Farewel Father, and farewel Mother,
And farewel all Friends at Latham-Hall,
Little do they know I am a Prisoner,
Or how I’m subject unto thrall.
More details are given in the Brief Account, in which this we are told that a certain ‘bashaw’ (pasha) who attempted to entangle Stanley in religious controversy. The Lancashire lad was shrewd at first, until the Pasha cunningly declared Christianity to be a fable; ‘your prophet is an imposter, your profession hypocrisy.‘ Stanley countered with a spirited defence, on which he was swiftly arrested by ‘a band of janissaries’ & cast in a prison, three yards square. Stanley’s imprisonment would last for 5 weeks, without bread or water, & suffering the constant torments of an insolent jailor, while all the time the Pasha was using his ‘utmost influence’ to bring Stanley ‘to the gibbet.’ These events seem to have taken place in September 1587, as discerned thro’ the mention of a lunar eclipse in sonnet 107;
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
On the 16th September, 1587, the Moon was shadowed in a deep partial eclipse, lasting 3 hours and 7 minutes, when 76% was shrouded in darkness. Thus, it was after this event, when ‘the mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,’ that Shakespeare’s love for Stanley became ‘forfeit to a confined doom,‘ ie imprisoned in a Turkish prison awaiting death. Fortunately for the lads & their love, a heroine was just about to ride to their rescue, whose entrance into the story may just even settle the greatest Shakespearean mystery of them all… the identity of the mysterious ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets. Was she in fact a Turkish noblewoman?
A Lady walking under the prison wall,
Hearing Sir William so sore lament,
Unto the Great Turk she did go,
To beg his life was her intent
A Boon, a Boon, thou Emperor,
For thou’rt a Lord of great command;
Grant me the life of an Englishman,
Therefore against me do not stand,
For I will make him a husband of mine,
Whereby Mahomet he may adore;
He’ll carry me into his own country,
And safely thither conduct me o’er.
The Lady’s to the Prison gone,
Where that Sir William he did lie;
Be of good chear, thou Englishman,
I think this day I’ve set thee free;
If thou wilt yield to marry me,
And take me for to be thy bride;
To take me into thy own country,
And safely thither to be my Guide.
I cannot marry, Sir William said,
To ne’er a Lady in this country;
For if ever on English ground I tread,
I have a wife, and children three.
This Excuse serv’d Sir William well,
So the Lady was sorry for what he did say,
And gave him five hundred pounds in gold,
To carry him into his own country;
But one half year Sir William would stay,
After from prison he was set free;
According to the Brief Account, while in Constantinople, Stanley had endeared himself to the family of an influential Turk, whose wife & daughter had become greatly concerned about his incarceration. The daughter – who is clearly mentioned in the Garland – managed to get an interview with the Sultan, & eventually secured Stanley’s freedom. As she turned up at the prison, the Brief Account tells us, it was with ‘the most rapturous emotions’ that Stanley ‘beheld his female deliverer.‘ She found him in a most sorry state indeed; his body was decimated, his eyes were sunken, his cheeks were pallid & his mind was maddened by thoughts of imminent execution. Instead, at the eleventh hour he was saved from the gibbet by the ‘romantic gallantry’ of a ‘worthy family.’
The Dark Lady
It is clear there was a Turkish woman very much in love with Stanley at the same time as was Shakespeare. This back-story reflects itself with neatness onto the dramatic sub-structure of the sonnets, in which a Dark Lady courts both Shakespeare & the Handsome Youth, who we have already associated quite clinically with Stanley. Metric reminiscences of this ménage a trois are found in sonnets 127–152, where Shakespeare & Stanley are shown to be in love with the same dark-skinned woman, who appears to have had some kind of amorous relations with both men. Sonnets 127 & 130 are fine reflections of Shakespeare’s internal torment at falling for an exotic beauty;
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
A little of the Dark Lady’s personality can be discerned by a deeper reading of the sonnets. She is painted as a most promiscuous creature, who ‘robb’d others’ beds revenues of their rents,’ & ‘in act her bed-vow broke.’ The latter could mean she was married, or perhaps the vow was simply made to her various lovers during her affairs. We also see her described, in sonnet 128, as something of a musician;
How oft when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st
There is one stand-out sonnet in the Dark Lady series, number 135, which seems to have been written by one William for another. Leo Daugherty states, ‘virtually all editors & other scholars believe to constitute wordplay referring not only to Shakespeare’s own given name but also probably to his addresses as well.’ It reads;
Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in overplus;
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will
Sonnet 136 is a similarly gentle play on the fact that the Dark Lady is love in with two different men called William, or Will;
If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;
Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove
Among a number one is reckoned none:
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy store’s account I one must be;
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me for my name is ‘Will.’
There are two sonnets in the series which contain elements of Stanley’s Turkish captivity. The metaphor of imprisonment in sonnet 133 hints at the dire straits in which Stanley had found himself;
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail:
And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.
Sonnet 144 contains some excellent & appropriate Christian allegories attached to the ‘two loves’ of Shakespeare, which paint Stanley as an angel & his tempter – the Dark Lady – as an infidel ‘devil’ wanting to ‘corrupt’ the ‘purity’ of Stanley’s sainthood.
Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still;
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend
Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell:
Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
The same sonnet also yields a clue as to how Stanley escaped prison, for when we read ‘whether that my angel be turn’d fiend / Suspect I may, but not directly tell,’ we can identify a correlation to the forced conversions of Christians in the eastern Mediterranean. Only by relenting from his proud Christian stance, & embracing Allah, would his life be saved. Stanley was a member of a family of survivors, & clearly did what was needed to secure his freedom. One can only imagine the joy felt by Shakespeare on his release. The darling Turkish family did not realise so much at the time, but by securing Stanley’s freedom they set in place a series of events that would one day lead to the creation of the First Folio.
Shakespeare sails home
In the noble houses of Elizabethan England, the ‘household book’ would record the toings & froings of visitors to the estate. The vast majority of these have been lost, but at Knowsley, however, one of these little diaries miraculously survived the ravagings of time, written down with meticulous energy by the Stanley steward, William Ffarington. Crucially, the book supplies us with information for the three-year period between 1587 & 1589, providing the precise date for Stanley’s return to Knowsley… December 1587. With the lunar eclipse occurring in September, we are given a three month window for Stanley to be freed from prison & to travel between Constantinople & Lancashire. Intriguingly, in one of Lorenzo Bernardo’s dispatches, we hear of an English Catholic gentleman who was acting quite suspiciously bout Constantinople in that very time period.
November 11th: An English gentleman arrived here on board the ships ‘Salvagna.’ He says he is a Catholic; that he left England at the end of May with the intention of going to Jerusalem, but on his arrival here he changed his mind, & after staying a few days he left for Patras, there to embark on board an English ship for England. This roused great suspicions, & I succeeded in keeping him under observation
Whoever that mysterious Catholic was, if he had been on the trail of Stanley he was too late; for he & Shakespeare were already scudding the sea-lanes home. In the age of Elizabethan sail, Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind had a top speed of 8 knots, about 9.2 mph. With the port of London lying 3627 nautical miles from Constantinople, the voyage would have taken about 19 days of unbroken sailing. Slowing down the ship to the speed of a merchant vessel, perhaps 4 or 5 knots, the same voyage would have taken just over a month. Ample time for Stanley to return to Lancashire by December. It is on this voyage that Shakespeare would have gained his knowledge of the Bay of Portugal (the Bay of Biscay), an unusually deep body of water that would have been unsoundable by the plumbing methods of Shakespeare’s time. Memory of the Bard’s time on the Bay can be found in As You Like It;
ROSALIND: O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But it cannot be sounded: my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal
The long hours of tedium that a sea-voyage entails provided a perfect atmosphere in which Shakespeare could compose his poetry. As our two lovers home, sharing than beautiful bunk of theirs, it is possible that Shakespeare found a serene moment to compose yet another sonnet of the series to his ‘Handsome Youth.’ Of these, there is one sonnet in particular that can be accurately dated to the Stanleyan Grand Tour we have been painting.
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride;
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen;
Three April pérfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah yet doth beauty, like a dial hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived.
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
If the twelve seasons mentioned begin with that of winter 1584-85, then it is the three Mediterranean ‘hot Junes’ of ’85, ’86 & ’87 which Shakespeare spent with Stanley which are meant. This means the sonnet was composed at the end of autumn, 1587, just as they were sailing home.
Stanley spends Christmas in Lancashire
In the year of 1587 the plague came to the good folk of Lancashire. This was bad, but the return of our gallant & sun bronzed adventurers cheered up the county no end. Stanley, especially, would have cut a dashing image; 25 years old, fully tanned & full of exciting tales from his travels. He may even have taken his great friend Shakespeare with him to Lancashire. Our young bard was 23, fresh from a Grand Tour, & flush with the creativity that would soon manifest itself as some of the greatest plays the world has ever seen. As our party arrived at Knowsley, Shakespeare’s knapsack would have contained the manuscript copies of his & Stanley’s co-written plays, such as Titus Andronicus, & Pericles. They may even have been performed that Christmas at Knowsley when the Household Books record ‘Sir Thomas hesketh plaiers.’ No evidence exists for these players having performed the early Stanley-Shakespeare plays, but it certainly feels right, & if so, the events surrounding their debut as playwrights were recorded in December 1587;
On fryday my Lord the earle came home from cowrte & the same night came my Lord bishoppe, mr stewarde mr recyver mr foxe, on saturday Sir Thomas hesketh plaiers went awaie
This could well have been the performance that won the newly-emerging dramaturgical Shakespeare his first laurels of appreciation. As the English entered the fateful year of 1588, in the North at least, the name of a brilliant young playwright was being swirled around the dinner-tables of the gentry. The first sailings of the flower-garlanded galleon that was England’s true bard had just been seen at Knowsley, where Stanley’s brother Ferdinando must have been impressed. Taking the bardic baton from his brother, Ferdinando would later that year drag our boy back to London, & into the realisation of his prenominate destiny.
During my Chispological studies, I have found the common recourse of academics refusing to accept the euhemeristic nature of historical accounts is generally, ‘that would make a good film,’ before closing all dialogue & pretending the facts don’t exist. The thing is, Shakespeare’s tour of Europe would make a damn thrilling blockbuster; there are sea-battles, death-row prisons, duels, magicians & a sordid love triangle – its got everything really. It is no wonder that after travelling Europe in such a fashion that the young Shakespeare, verteux – as the French say – & amorous – as the French do -, would find his mind & spirit filling with so much poesis it would take years to spill onto the page. How it became such stellar poetry was down, of course, to his flowering genius, which surely was nourished & did thrive in the fertile bedsoil of the Stanleyan Grand Tour. We can now also acknowledge that the dramatic continental output of the Shakesperean ouvre is in all essence a grand & brilliant creochisp of the Swan of Avon’s especial flight abroad.
Next Wednesday, 17/01/17
The Ripper Gang
THE CHISPER EFFECT
Chapter 1: Chispology
Chapter 2: Princess Scota
Chapter 3: The Ithica Frage
Chapter 4: The Jesus Jigsaw
Chapter 5: Asvaghosha
Chapter 6: Dux Bellorum
Chapter 7: Dux Pictorum
Chapter 8: The Holy Grail
Chapter 9: The Mandylion
Chapter 10: Shakespeare’s Grand Tour
Chapter 11: The Dark Lady
Chapter 12: The Ripper Gang