The Young Shakespeare (5): Shakespeare’s Blossom


Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


Old_St._Paul's_Cathedral_from_the_Thames_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_16531

1577:  Shakespeare goes to London

In 1576, Sir John Townley was imprisoned once again for his stubborn devotion to recusancy. The authorities were coming down hard on the Catholics in Lancashire, forcing Cuthbert Mayne to return to Cornwall where he would be arrested in Probus, June 1577. For Shakespeare, the flight from Lancashire occurred with the assistance of  Sir John’s half-brother, Alexander Nowell, under whose wings he now found himself at the tender age of 13. To the modern world, Alexander Nowell should be immortally famous as the first man to discover the benefits of bottling beer. In his own day, however, he was more famous for being the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, & by proxy the ultimate boss of the St Pauls Boys troupe of actors. Their leader was a certain Sebastian Westcott, the cathedral’s organist who had converted the site’s Almoner’s hall into a playhouse.

‘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. In the Repertories of the Court of Common Council (December 8th 1575), a complaint was lodged against Westcott, who was 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. The anonymity of a cosmoplitan city was a far safer place to practice one’s secret Catholocism, a far cry from the whispering heaths of the hilly north country.

We may ask the question how Westcott could get away with being a Catholic, despite being a very public figure in the heart of the nation’s heart-beat. An explanation comes through Queen Elizabeth’s secret leniency towards the Familists, among whom the yeomen of her personal guard were to be counted.  The only time he got into trouble for recusancy was in 1577, when he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea. Luckily for him, 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.


1577: Shakespeare writes a poem for John Grange

The London that Shakespeare came to as a boy held 300,000 inhabitants, cramming into two-storey timber houses with high, gabled red rooves. Most of London lay upon the north bank of the river, but there was also Southwerke, connected to London via a single bridge across the Thames, the original London Bridge. Not far away rose the first Saint Paul’s Cathedral, stood only a stone’s throw from the Inns of Court where a certain John Grange, a ‘Student in the Common Lavve of Englande,’ was making his studies in 1577. Shakespeare would have already met John Grange the previous year in Douay, where recognizing our young poet’s talents Grange asked Shakespeare to add a few lines of poetry to his 1577 book of prose & poetry, The Golden Aphroditis.

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.

Here we can see a marked development of Shakespeare’s poetry. It is still Juvenilian, yes, but is starting to expand in scope & metre. Some 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. Yet, if another illustrious, epoch-breaking genius such as Mozart could have composed Apollo et Hyacinthus, at the age of 11, & Bastien und Bastienne at twelve, the Golden Aphroditis poem was well within the capabilities of the world’s finest poet. We may even see the young Shakespeare being described by Grange in a little anecdote appertaining to the title of his work, where ‘certen young 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.’

View of London Bridge, John Norden (1597)


1577: Shakespeare gets a job in the London theaters

Shakespeare’s first entry into the London theatre scene could be connected to Cibber’s comment that, ‘some of the players, accidentally conversing with him, found him so acute, & master of so fine a conversation, that, struck therewith, they recommended him to the house, in which he was first admitted in a very low station.’ According to William Castle, the parish clerk of Stratford at the end of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare began as a servitor, while Malone in 1780 records a tradition he was a call-boy or prompters assistant. In his Prolegomena to Shakespeare (1765), the megalithic literary giant of 18th century Britain, Dr Samuel Johnson, recalled a long-standing tradition that Shakespeare’s first taste of the London theatre world was holding the horses of the playgoers, something of the nature of a modern-day car-park attendant.

Shakespeare, standing outside a playhouse and holding the horses of the actors as they arrived

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.

The ‘terrour of a criminal prosecution’ experienced by Shakespeare might not have been the Charlecote incident, but was instead connected to his & his Lancashire hosts’ Catholicism. Either way, that horses were needed to attend the theatre points towards the Newington Butts Playhouse ran by Jerome Savage, situated more than a mile to the south of the Thames. The main patron of the theatre was the Earl of Warwick, suggesting Shakespeare got the job through familial or social connections based in Stratford. These backscratching links would run deep, for Jerome’s nephew, Thomas Savage, would in 1599 take a part share in the Globe Theatre alongside Shakespeare. Thomas Savage owned two houses which we may offer Shakesperean connections; a house in the parish of St Olave Silver Street, the same locality in which Shakespeare lodged for a time in Silver Street at the house of Christopher Mountjoy; & another which was occupied by the actor John Heminges, one of the very editors of the First Folio.


1579: Shakespeare Commences his Acting Career

The timing of Shakespeare’s arrival in London, at just that point in history when stage-crafted drama was beginning its primal blossoming, was impeccable in the sweetest sense. The burgeoning dramaturgy would penetrate the puberty of our budding dramatist at just the right moment in his development; a fusion of zeitgeist & genius that would soon mean that Elizabethan theatre & William Shakespeare of Stratford were one & the same spirit. Aubrey tells us that Shakespeare eventually outgrew his horse-tending job, & reinvented himself as an actor; ‘this William, being inclined naturally to Poetry and acting, came to London… and was an Actor at one of the Play-houses, and did acte exceedingly well.’ That Shakespeare was a boy actor  left an indelible imprint on his his art. According to Stanley Wells & Sarah Stanton, ‘Shakespeare’s 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 & another in Ceasar, young Martius in Coriolanus, William Page in Merry Wives, & many anonymous pages in other plays.’  It must be noted that int he same year that Shakespeare began to act, his Stratford nieghbour 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.


1579: Shakespeare Meets Thomas Watson (Again)

We also have living in Westminster in 1579 a certain Thomas Watson. Three years earlier he was in Douay at the same time as Shakespeare, which suggests a later encounter in London. Thomas Watson, born in St Olave Parish in 1555. Watson signed himself an Oxford man – which means that he studied at the that university at some point  confirmed by the Oxford antiquarian Anthony à Wood (Athenae Oxonienses 1691) who stated, “Thomas Watson, a Londoner born, did spend his time in this university, not in logic and philosophy, as he ought to have done, but in the smooth and pleasant studies of poetry and romance, whereby he obtained an honourable name among the students of those faculties.

Watson was a prolific poet, & in a verse preface to his Latin version of the Antone, he gives us more gloss concerning his life; ‘I spent seven or eight years far from my homeland, and learned to speak in diverse tongues. Then I became well versed in Italy’s language and manners, and also thy our tongue and ways, learned France. Wherever I was wafted, I cultivated the Muses as best I could, and Justinian was especially dear. But often Mars troubled Pallas against her will, and wars often interrupted my study. Yet I shunned the camps, save for the camps of Phoebus, which contained the pious Graces together with the Muses. Bartolus, you were a great tome. I was not permitted to carry you about, nor your legal puzzles, learned Baldus. I took up Sophocles, I taught his Muses to grow gentle. I made Latin out of his Greekish verse. Thus, though disturbed, I spent my hours a useful man, I taught Antigone how to speak Latin.’

It seems very much that Watson’s time on the continent was a surreptitious escapade in Catholic scholarship. The English College diary at Douay records on October 15, 1576, ‘Dominus Watson went from here to Paris.’ The following May he is back in Douay, where we read ‘August: on the seventh day Master Watson, Master Robinson, Master Griffith, and some others left for England because of the riots.’  It is likely that he met the Italian Jesuit Metteo Ricci during this period, for a system of local memory training he would publish as a treatise in 1585 was identical to the one used by Matteo to wow the Chinese when he was there.


1580: Shakespeare goes to Lancashire

Throughout the 1570s, a series of Anti-familist trachts had galivinsed popular opinion against the group. Come 1580, the Elizabethan government began to crack down on the Familists, which may have been the trigger for the Earl of Warwick’s pulling out of London for ‘health reasons.’ John Shakespeare himself had been summoned to the Queen’s Bench in London in June 1580 alongside 220 probable Catholics to answer for a mysterious ‘breach of the peace.’ His non-attendance was met with a heavy fine of £20.  Also that year we see the disappearance of Jerome Savage from London, possibly connected to the Earl of Warwick’s departure.

Savage’s whereabouts for the next seven years are unknown, after which, according to William Ingram in ‘The Business of Playing,’ Savage’s will tells us he had returned to London. His departure from London, however, provides a missing piece of the jigsaw of Shakespeare’s early years. I believe that the now 16-year-old Shakespeare went north with Jerome, staying with the latter’s brother, Geoffrey Savage, who had married into the minor gentry of Lancashire. Geoffrey’s wife was Jennet Hesketh of Rufford Old Hall, near Preston, the illigitimate sister of a minor gentryman called Thomas Hesketh, & described as one of his ‘bastard brethren’ in his will. So, to sumnmarize, this is how Shakespeare gets from London to Lancashire…

London Theatre – Jerome Savage – Geoffrey Savage – Jennet Hesketh

Shakespeare would next be introduced into the service of a neighbour of the Heskeths, Alexander Hoghton. Other neighbours, at Dilworth in Ribchester, were the Cottam family, of whom John, perhaps not so suprisingly, had become the headmaster of Stratford Grammar School in 1579. It seems that Shakespeare’s hometown was being used a secret sanctuary for the Jesuit Reconquista, with the Shakespeares very much a part of the chain, for Joh Cottam’s brother, Thomas, was also training to be a Jesuit priest during the very period that Shakespeare was in Douay. Indeed, when Thomas Cottam was arrested in England in May 1580, he was on his way to Shottery near Stratford with messages for the Debdale family from none other than Shakespeare’s schoolmate, Robert Debdale, who by now was a seminarian in Rome.

The Government was hot on Campion’s traial, however, & on August 2nd of that year, the Sherriff of Lancaster wrote a letter to Sir John Biron asking him to; ’cause the said houses to be searched for books & other superstitious stuff; & especially the house of Richard Houghtion, where, it is said Campion left his books & to enquire what is become of said books

Douai-Rheims_New_Testament_(1582)


1582: The Jesuit New Testament Arrives in England

In 1580, a couple of the Douay big-hitters were in England preaching the cause, namely Robert Parsons & Edward Campion. Three decades later Parsons would be associated with Shakespeare by historian John Speed (The Theater of the Empire of Great Britain 1611), as ‘this papist and his poet.’  Parsons’ father-in-law was an Arden, & related to Shakespeare, while his wife was a Throckmorton, recusants who lived 8 miles from Stratford. With Parsons & Campion came copies of a freshly translated version of the New Testament known as the Douay-Rheims.  A year later 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.’ These would be distributed throughout England en masse in 1582.

The Douay-Rheims contains great deal of latinized English words, a fore-runner of Shakespeare’s own etymylogical experiments in the language.  Nassed Shaheen lists; ‘supererogate for spend more; prefnition of worlds for eternal purpose; exin-anited for made himself of no reputation; depositum for that which is committed; neophyte for novice & prescience for foreknowledge.’ A number of passages in the plays match moments in the Rheims, such as the word ‘cockle’ (Matt 13.24-25) which appears in Coriolanus as ‘the cockle of rebellion.’

A small circumstance, but one of singular interest, indicates that when William Shakespeare made use of the Parable of the Sowers from the Gospel of St. Matthew he had the Reims translation in mind, and not either the socalled ‘Breeches’ or ‘Bishops’ Bible. Though verbal, the evidence is striking. Down to the present day all Protestant Bibles employ the word tares in speaking of the ill-weeds sown among the wheat, whereas the Catholic texts use cockle. Now, in the whole course of Shakespeare’s work the word tares is never found, but when he recalls the parable of the sowers the word cockle appears in its place, as in the Reims translation. . . . In Love’s Labour’s Lost we find : ‘Sowed cockle reaps no corn,’ and again in Coriolanus the same term appears in similar connection : ‘That cockle of Rebellion, Insolence, Sedition, Which we ourselves have ploughed for, sowed and scattered. Clara Longworth de Chambrun’s Shakespeare Rediscovered (Scribner’s, 1938)

John Henry De Groot’s ‘Shakespeare and the ‘Old Faith’ showed how the phrases ‘narrow gate,’ and ‘not a hair perished‘ were also peculiar to both Shakespeare & the Rheims. That Shakespeare used this text as well as Protestant versions such as the Geneva has always baffled scholars, but with Shakespeare’s upbringing being influenced by the non-sectarian Familists, he would have used both Bibles freely without pricking his religious conscience.


1580 – Edward Campion In Lancashire

In sonnet 124, Shakespeare refers to ‘the fools of time, which die for goodness, who have lived for crime,’ which certainly feels like the doomed reconquista Jesuits on a mission to topple Elizabeth. In 1580, Edward Campion stayed at Lapworth Park in Warwickshire, the seat of Sir William Catesby, a friend of John Shakespeare. On reaching Lancashire he stayed at the home of Alexander Houghton’s brother, Richard, in order to utilise the locality’s Catholic libraries in order to prepare tracts to argue cause. ‘The day is too short, and the sun must run a greater circumference,’ wrote Campion, before he would be able to, ‘number all the Epistles, Homilies, Volumes and Disputations,’ which lay in the Hoghton libraries.

Campion’s influence on Shakespeare may be traced through Campion’s poem in Latin on the nature of the human soul called De Anima, a concept which finds its way into such plays as Twelfth Night, Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida. There is also our bard’s familiarity with the Mulberry tree in plays such as Coriolanus and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One wonders how such an exotic and rare specimen, introduced to England by Queen Elizabeth or James I depending on which story is to be believed, would find its way into the imagery of the rustic bard Shakspeare writing in London surrounded by the dirt and grime of city streets. Later, when he retired to Stratford, he is rumoured to have planted a specimen which was later chopped down by a subsequent owner of New Place.

Campion

Campion

Campion was soon caught by the authorities, followed not long after by Thomas Cottam, leading to the Stratford council’s sacking of John Cottam from his post at the Kings School. By 1581, Catholocism would be banned outright in England, & with the execution of Campion, the Jesuit Reconquista of England was dead-in-the-water. If Shakespeare was involved in the Jesuit cause, this was the time he would have buried his head in the sand, the brutal beheadings of Campion & co. putting him off any public outpourings of pro-Catholicism for the rest of his life. Yet, we do hear a faint echo of Campion’s Trial Speech in The Winter’s Tale;

Since what I am to say must be but that  Which contradicts my accusation and  The testimony on my part no other But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me  To say ‘Not guilty’. (4.3..2)


1581: The English Government Comes Down Hard on the Familists

In 1581 a bill was introduced for the ‘punishment of the Hereticks called the Family of Love… the professors of the Familye of Love may for the first offence be whipped & for the second branded with this lettre H.N., & the third time judges a felon.‘ About this time the Queen’s Familist bodyguard are removed, while the rest went underground, so to speak. Christoper W Marsh tells us, ‘Familists were inconspicuous. Following Niclaes’s in junctions, they became part of the social fabric, obeying magistrates, serving in ecclesiastical & public offices, being good neighbours & good citizens, but remaining secretive about their religious view & usually only sharing them only within the family.’ The identities of those high-ranking Familists remains a mystery, but in 1645 John Etherington at least tells us, ‘there have been & are great doctors of divinitie, so called, yea, and some great peers.‘ Perhaps one of the peers was the Earl of Warwick, whose ‘illness’ was nothing but a cover to get him out of London, while there is one Doctor of Divinity who we have connected to Shakespeare already, described by Fuller as, ‘Alexander Nowell, Doctor of Dvinity, & Dean of St Pauls in London, born in Lancashire…’


Shakeshafte

1581 – Alexander Houghton names Shakespeare in his will

Alexander Hoghton was a clear recusant, whose brother, Thomas, had helped to fund the English College in Douay. Alexander’s will is of great interest to our research, dated August 3rd 1581, attended by John Cottam, who was an actual legate attending Alexander Houghton’s will. The timing of the will-making is important. Three days earlier, on July 31st Campion, finally gave up his secrets on the rack, while on August 2nd the Sheriff of Lancaster wrote a letter to Sir John Biron asking him to search certain houses, ‘for books & other superstitious stuff; & especially the house of Richard Houghton, wherein it is said the said Campion left his books & to enquire what is become of said books.’ It was in this quite uncertain climate that Hoghton made his will. In it we obtain a rare glimpse of the young Shakespeare.

 Item. It is my mind and will that the said Thomas Hoghton of Brynescoules my brother shall have all my instruments belonging to music, and all manner of play clothes if he be minded to keep and do keep players.

 And if he will not keep and maintain players then it is my mind and will that Sir Thomas Hesketh knight shall have the same instruments and play clothes.

 And I most heartly require the said Sir Thomas to be friendly unto Fluke Gyllome and William Shakeshafte now dwelling with me and either to take them into his service or else to help them to some good master as my trust is he will

Of Shakespeare’s variant family name, EAJ Honigmann observed that in the Court rolls of College St Mary in Warwick (1541-42), the poet’s grandfather, Richard, ‘seems to be both Shakstaff and Shakeschafte, as well as Shakspere …in the Snitterfield manor records.’ That this Lancashire ‘Shakeshafte’ is considered to be a ‘player,’ fits perfectly with our young bard having just strutted his stuff on the London boards. Of a players functions, Giovanni Della Casa, in his amply-titled, ‘The rich cabinet furnished with varietie of excellent discriptions, exquisite charracters, witty discourses, and delightfull histories, deuine and morrall’ (1616) writes;

Player hath many times many excellent qualities: as dancing, activity, music, song, elocution, ability of body, memory, vigilancy, skill of weapon, pregnancy of wit, and such like: in all which he resembleth an excellent spring of water, which grows the more sweeter and the more plentiful by the often drawing out of it: so are all these the more perfect and plausible by the often practice.

As for Fulk Gyllome, his father Thomas was from an old family of pageant organisers. The Gyllome’s were responsible for producing the mystery plays in Chester, which I have already flagged up as interesting corner of Shakespeareana in the previous post.

viol-tenor_guitar-held_Elizabethan-consort_deta


Viriathus: Scenes 5-6b


Scene 5: Tucca

Astolpas is sat on his palace throne. Enter his daughter, Tongina, & her maid

Tongina
Father… father… FATHER

Astolpas
What, what is it

Tongina
Why do you sit so, in solemn silence,
If I could learn from your quiet what ails
Your thoughts, what troubles your soul, what torments
Your waking hours, aye, what disturbs your dreams,
It would save my askings, & your replies,
But such a process is impossible.

Astolpas
My darling daughter only you can delve
Into my swampish humour & return
With objects from the murk – Minurus comes
Almost to the door, with him comes wars
I have intended all along to swerve

Tongina
Minurus, he is a damnable pest,
I hate the way he’s watched me all my life
A little girl should not be eyed that way,
& woman’s be beauty to be respected
Not gawp’d on open-mouth’d by drooling hounds

Astolpas
But he is most handsome, & very rich,
The ladies of Lusitania swoon
When enters he a room

Tongina
I find him vile
In my house his charms are invisible

Astolpas
His house a cornucopia of charms,
His city, Concordia, lovely lies
By Tagus side, I was there in my youth
A pretty place to raise a family
I know he likes you, Tongina, thinks well
Of you in every aspect

Tongina
He is vile,
& a piner on the sick bed of love,
For him I hold no interest, erupts
No song of passion imagining him
More some boring funerary dirge

Astolpas
Your mother grew to love me in the end

Tongina
Father this is not the age of Scota
Or Neferubity by Memphis known,
Given to Gaythelos in gratitude
For murdering scores of Numidians

Astolpas
Your young blood blurts out words of foolish mein
Your pride agitates against tradition
Your…

Enter Minurus

Minurus
Astolpas, old cougar, how are you

Astolpas
Welcome Minurus, as always, welcome

Minurus
My gracious respect, our stay shall be short
We only wish to sleep a night & rest
Before we return to Concordia
In glory

Astolpas
In glory you say, why so?

Minurus
We win victories over Vettius,
Aemilianus & Unimaus,
Each legionary send they against us
We send home limbless or leave to the wolves

Astolpas
It sounds a very hideous affair

Minurus
Hideous, perhaps, necessary, yes!
Join us, Astolpas, your Luccans are strong

Astolpas
I would – but their bloodshed best avoided
If they will keep that strength, not bled to death

Tongina
My father does not speak for his soldiers
Their hearts are bursting to join with the war

Astolpas
Tongina, suspend your contribution

Minurus
No, let her speak,

Tongina
My father has grown old
Wisdom, with long age, dominates one’s dreams
& Tucca dreams of glory by your side

Minurus
Tongina, into quite a woman grown,
Are you married yet at all

Astolpas
She is not

Tongina
I can speak for myself – one day I might
But tell me, you fought with Viriathus?

Minurus
Yes – many times – we left him yesterday

Tongina
Where is he now

Minurus
The Mountain of Venus

Astolpas
Chieftain, we bear witness to your courage,
While you are with us anything claim yours
Food, drink, shelter;

Minurus
Your daughter’s bridal vows

Tongina
They are not his to give

Astolpas
Be at ease, please
Let us not now debate, but celebrate,
Come, Minurus, we shall dine together
Tongina, ready yourself & join us
{Astolpas & Minurus begin to leave}
She will come around, I shall bless the match

Minurus
If only conquering hearts as easy
As beating Romans, as mounting wild mares
& riding them to battle
Exit Astolpas & Minurus

Tongina
Pompous pig

Maid
Your father said to ready for a feast

Tongina
I shall ready myself, but not for them,
Prepare a horse, provisions for three days
& meet me at the gates when rises moon.

Maid
Of course, my lady, but what drives you so
I beg the truth so nights shall find my sleep

Tongina
Promise not to tell?

Maid
Of course, I promise

Tongina
If life is to be lived most flavoursome
I go to Viriathus, with my love!


Scene 6a: The Mount of Venus

Viriathus is alone in the mountains


MOUNTAIN SONG

I feel the spirit
Blow like a breeze
Shimmer in rainbows
Skimming the trees
Glimmering waters
Snow in the corn
Glistening teardrops
The day we were born

& the way we are living
As one with the world
Is the first step to feel the divine
While the ocean’s seahorses
& riverside pearls
Are the proof of holy design

I hear the song
Soft-sung by a lark
See wide open spaces
& faces in bark
I got a feeling
I am all things
Something inside me’s
Given me wings

& the way we are living
As one with the world
Is the first step to feel the divine
When watching the wind as she
Whips up & whirls
Is the proof of holy design


Enter Tongina

Tongina
Are you he, the one we call our leader?
The mighty Viriathus as I hear,
Whose heart is fill’d with wonder for his land,
Whose mind is more a meeting place of Gods,
Are you he? I believe it to be so?

Viriathus
I care not for words, ’tis deeds I adore

Tongina
Then listen to this deed
{Tongina kisses Viriathus}
Your tongue is sweet

Viriathus
Whyever did you kiss me, woman, why?

Tongina
The hidden vent of hearing in touch’d lips,
The wagging tongue compels cheiftans to wive,
Who’ll sooth & balm his thoughts upon duress
Who’ll ease their body when its needs desire
These things shall be my purpose & my joy,
I give myself to you, & to our cause.

Viriathus
But what of love, the laughter-brimming salve
Of wedded union, without its truth,
Defective lives we lead, seeds on the seas

Tongina
Love is an unnecessary fever
The campaigning patriot learns to need
The comfort of his womanly bosom

Viriathus
Desist, temptress, the wise speak of three sorts,
Deprived utterly of better judgement;
Those ambitious of princely preferment
Those concocting poisons only to show
Their skills in the curing, then thirdly they
Whom entrust women with a secret thought.

Tongina slaps him

Tongina
Your words veil insult, take them back at once,
I shall be no fishwife, Viriathus,
Does what you see before you not promote
A certain stirring in your stern resolve

Viriathus
What is your name?

Tongina
Tongina

Viriathus
Tongina!
Your beauty mountain rose, your spirit thorns,
Roots suckling upon ancestral vapours,
I see & hear you, I feel you even,
An unexpected motion in my soul
As if some spectacular meteor
Thro’ planetary bodies starward moved.

Tongina
Then the matter is settl’d, & we too
Compatible enough to now pursue
Our sacred betrothal, we shall wed soon

Viriathus
We shall shall we?

Tongina
We shall

Viriathus
You are some soul
Your power terrifies me, but your smile
Irridiates my being, very well
Your bridal dreams I’ll make as real as this

They kiss

Tongina
I will come to you as with our custom,
Brought by my father

Viriathus
Tell me who is he?

Tongina
His name Astolpas, the wealthiest man
In Lucca

Viriathus
& you his fairest jewel
I suppose

Tongina
What?

Viriathus
I care not for riches, go, leave me now
Our contract seal’d, I wait for you a month,
Then man & wife we’ll be, we might know love,
Tomorrow, tho’, today the Romans send
Three caravans up from the southern coast,
Whom, at best time & place convenient,
We’ll intercept each amphorae in turn

Tongina
Sharpen your sword, fight well, within that month
I shall return in the train of my father

They kiss

Viriathus
Until the vows

Tongina
Until the vows

Exit Viriathus one way & Tongina the other –


Scene 6b: The Mount of Venus

Enter attendants who scatter rich carpets, exquisite workmanship, gold, silver cups, meatstuffs, wine – Enter Arco the soothsayer & several wedding guests – Viriathus enters & leans on a lance – enter Apano

Apano
Viriathus, Lord Astolpas arrives,
Tongina in his trail, her head is veil’d
As have ancestral womenfolk of ours
Since time’s commence, perhaps you should not slouch,
Better ready yourself to receive her

Viriathus
I am ready, on this lance stood steady
Need no cold throne of state to status raise

Enter Astolpas, Tongina & several guests from Tucca

Astolpas
Are you Viriathus, who has conquer’d
My only daughter’s heart, that never false
Her life has felt allured, our families
Enjoin’d forever by its beating bliss?

Viriathus
That is I & that is us, together
We shall sire the second tier of your brood
Welcome Astolpas, Welcome Tongina

Astolpas
This day the noblest I will ever know
All of Lusitania honours you
Our benefactor, saviour, highest man,
Who giveth bounty as does summer’s rain
Valiant in danger, more beloved
Than any leader in an annal’d age

Viriathus
I would like to mention but a moment
Your sending of nuptial luxuries
As if from some anointed majesty
Ceremonially sent, sickens me,
These chests emitting silver over brim
These carpets of exquisite workmanship
These spice-rich dishes of of flavoursome meat
Pure gold & silver cups, these Gaulish wines,
For these I feel only scorn & contempt
Superb, esteem’d possessions such as these
Are simple prey at the point of a spear
Tell me why Romans attending your feasts
Decline to take dominion of these things
Despite the power theirs

Astolpas
Many Romans
Have whistl’d at my wealth, but none have thought
To take, nor ask,

Viriathus
Then why would you forsake
Those who allow your property in peace

Astolpas
I have ask’d my heart a singular thought
Am I Roman or Lusitanian?

Viriathus
And it says…
{Picking up dirt}
My blood is mixed with this soil

Viriathus
That may be so, but thought bends with the wind
We might aim east but sails may bellow west,
Your city’s inconsistencies unsafe
In warfare, without solidarity

Tongina
The citizens of Tucca are with you
Thro’ my person their loyalty pervades

Viriathus
The people of Tucca are like a man
Decades beyond his first dashing dancers
Who wish’d to take two wives, the younger yank’d
His grey hairs out so he might look her age
The elder did the same to his dark locks
& left a fresh-wash’d feast-bowl on his head
Same fate awaits a city just as yours
Rome attacks her enemies, & we ours,
& so your streets deserted soon shall be.

Tongina
Be tranquil, my darling, this not the time

Astolpas
My daughter, his speech is very fitting
His common sense & concise speaking proves
What right & proper husband he shall be

Soothsayer
Then let the vows of matrimony flow

Viriathus
We are two souls more candid than the Gods
E’er granted, empire of my panting heart
Ye conquer’d, take this pledge hewn from deep faith
{Viriathus offers Tongina a love token}

Tongina
I take from your hand the prize of that faith

Viriathus
Your gentle touch inexpressibly soft,
Yet strength there is inside my beloved

Tongina
Your love a rainbow on a storm-set day
My core sings happinesses, as your charms
Brighten my smile like passing meteors

Soothsayer
You promise constancy?

Tongina
I do

Soothsayer
& you

Viriathus
I do too

Soothsayer
Truly you one soul from two

Viriathus & Tongina kiss

Viriathus
Eat, drink, sing, dance, make merry all the while,
Up into mountains ride I with my bride,
To consummate our union beneath
The gazes of the gods of stars & skies

Cheers from all / Tongina & Viriathus mount a horse

Viriathus
But recall, while you gorge on your corpses
We shall banquet only on milk & bread
& remember my clear-headed warriors
One cannot say sorry for grogginess
Rib-pierc’d by spear-tips of alerter foes
Lusitania

All
Lusitania!

Astolpas
& Viriathus

All
& Virathus

Viraithus waves & rides away with Tongina


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

Lessons in love

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
Feb 24 – 29, 2020

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Performance: five-stars S.O.D.:four-stars.png


The set for today’s play, Lessons in Love, included a green backdrop with a plush looking couch and cushions, plus a table and chairs. This comedy starred writer Kate Donnelly as Sarah a woman on the hunt for spirituality and co-writer Clare Hemphill as her friend Jackie. The two were long-time friends as indeed was Hammy Hamilton, played by Garry Sweeney, who loved to gamble and was a big football fan.

Sarah strode onto the small lunchtime stage in joggers and slipper boots, doing her Qigong and spouting forth about her long-held attitude to life and its wonders. Joined by Jackie, the two soon engaged in what was their familiar ongoing conversation about their shared life experience; all of which being filled with the passions they shared. Before long Hammy was mentioned, revealing that in fact that Jackie was engaged to him.

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Hammy’s entrance transformed the room to laughter as he made his appearance dancing a little jig to music. It transpired that Hammy had once ditched his fiancé to go and see the Scotland football team play Brazil – in Brazil! Hammy had always and still did defend the importance of the match (it was a world cup qualifying game). In an emotional scene he also admitted to have gambled an amount of money that he had borrowed from Jackie who now desperately needed it back.

Jackie confessed to Sarah that she’d been intimate with Hammy and felt that the love she bore him was big enough to forgive him, somewhat to her friend’s dismay. But the two women decided to have some fun with him first, with Jackie prancing around the stage in sunglasses and a neat leather jacket. Hammy revealed more and more of himself to us in his conversations with Jackie and as they sat together it was clear how familiar they were and had nothing to hide – in fact despite everything they had nothing but love for each other.

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There were no definitive lessons learned here, but perhaps that was the lesson in itself; that we never really can know how and why things will turn out. With vivacious performances from the cast of three, this endearing play explored the intimacy between people and the sometimes surprising way relationships work out.

Daniel Donnelly

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When the Penny Drops

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
Feb 17 – 22, 2020

Script: four-stars.png Stagecraft: four-stars.png
Performance: four-stars.png S.O.D.:four-stars.png


This week’s offering from a Play, and Pie and a Pint took place in a school room, where English teacher, Penny (Jo Freer) was at the heart of Catriona Duncan’s comedy, “When the Penny Drops”. As Penny pondered the highs and lows of her career, she was joined onstage by Michele Gallagher and Calum Moore playing multiple roles – involving multiple costume changes – with increasing manic energy that had the audience in fits of laughter.

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We found ourselves entwined in Penny’s thoughts and feelings, despair and joy, as she shared with us a lifetime of teaching children and dealing with fellow staff and parents, all of whom were capable of engendering frustration to the point of pulling hair. All ably illustrated by the cast of characters who engaged with her in a series of fast moving mini plots which at times spilled out into the aisles. Penny’s formula for coping, she told us, was complete disengagement, the ultimate safety net

The play spun its web in a marvellous mix of action and comedy, drawing you ever further towards the ultimate turning point where Penny was faced with the profound reality of the crossroads she was facing. The moment of clarity when “the penny drops” came like a slap in the face as Penny’s theory disintegrated. But really, she – and we – always knew it was going to and the penny dropping turned out not to be the catastrophe we may have expected. In our hearts we always knew she cared!

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Written by a real teacher who knew what she’s talking about and with wonderful direction by Angie Darcy, this play took us on a rapid trip through human endeavour. Teachers will recognise themselves here as will all of us who have striven for clarity and honour in our lives. An impressive hour, not to be missed!

Daniel Donnelly

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Viriathus: Scenes 3-4

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SCENE 3 – The Roman Senate

The trial of Galba

Magistrate
Good morning senators, the day’s order
Begins with Galba & his recent wars
Fought in Iberia, & the murder
Of nigh nine thousand Lusitanians
Beneath the banner of a Roman peace,
The raiser of this matter, take the floor.

Lucius
Members of the Senate, my thanks are due
In advance, when you to listen to my pleas
For justice at this most scandalous trial,
I am Lucius Libro, plebeian
Tribune, elected to speak, most dismay’d
The good name of the Romans sacrosanct
Our honour more important than is fame,
Yet this, this perfidious Praetor
This ‘Galba’ brings shame upon the Senate,
For when abroad a general of Rome
Must represent our statutory claims
Of fairness wrought from order & from law
Cato! Would you be so kind as to speak,
Inform the senators in more detail
Whom, I feel assur’d, with keenest intent
Will listen well & with a deep respect
For you, truly the wisest among us,
Who steer’d our ship of state so many storms,
What are your thoughts upon this dark affair!

Cato
So many things discourag’d me this day
From coming forward to this hoary shrine
Where my old feet have stood five thousand times –
My years, my time of life, my voice, my strength,
I felt, nevertheless, when reflecting
On such crucial matters, I had to act,
Forsooth, the roots of these desperate wars
Lie with ourselves, not thirty years ago
Iberia was a hive of honey,
Our governors bears pawing at its gold,
Extortions, epidemics, proportion’d
Exploitation grating, so to account
Call’d I Publius Furios Philus
Personally, timely castigation
That did not go unnoticed in the West –
The Lex Calpurnia was introduced
& the whole peninsular bath’d in peace,
Until Galba’s pitiless ambition
Breaking treaties slaughter’d signatories
Of what our Senate deem’d a sacred text,
So he could swim in fallible plunder,
This he distributed to his soldiers
Not very much at all I hear them say,
His friends receiv’d a little & the rest
kept for his guts; Senators, sheer murder
Was done in Lusitania, for gold
Not punishing such criminality
Will send out a devastating message
That the Roman concord mere illusion
& massacres the only terms we deal

Magistrate
Praetor Galba, the floor if you please

Galba
Fellow senators, friends & foes alike,
Whether cherishing, opposing, my deeds
Lusitania primitive remains,
Makes strange pictures to a cool spectator,
They way they live their lives like high treason
To the virtues & values of our times,
We cannot simply allow them islands
Of impish liberty, while to the north
& south & east we press Hispania
Into our satin folds, we must never
Allow their independance poet sung
Else rebellions will sprout up like weeds
In an old man’s garden, his limbs too stiff
To root them out with tools & brutal strength –
Are not till’d plots superior to scrub?
Are fruits not improv’d by cultivation?
I plotted there for progress a glory,
Safe in our sturdy shields we stow the seeds,
The ploughshares of our swords have stirr’d the soil,
& we shall grow a province from the dirt!

Magistrate
How do you plead

Galba’s brother, Gaius, brings out two boys & a girl

Galba
I refuse to answer
I’ll make instead appeals elemental
To the good faith of the people, see these
Three Children; the two youngest share my blood,
The taller boy he is the grieving son
Of Sulpcius Galus, whose dying words,
A Lusitanian spear piercing chest,
Did gurgle to me, ‘look after my boy,’
{to Cassis}
Cassius, come to me, I embrace you
As my son,
{they embrace}
If today I am exiled
Or death-condemn’d, I tearfully bestow
Upon my brother, Gaius, both my sires,
Send to his care Cassius, son of Galus,
& beg him to forever oversee
Their fatherless estates, their future tears!

Cato
Wretched Galba! I shame to hear him speak!
By such sick pretences be not disturb’d,
Exciting pity has no place in law,
Even murderers share family homes

The Senate bursts into uproar

Magistrate
Silence, in the Senate, clear, clear the floor
We shall proceed in common to the vote
Balls, if you please, black guilty, white no fault.

The senators vote by placing a ball in a bag, either white or black

Magistrate
What is the count

Magistrate’s Assistant
Galba by twenty-five

Lucius
This is law debauched, maul’d by bribery

Magistrate
Silence, Lucius, else be in contempt
& find yourself on trial at your turn,
The Senate has spoken, Galba acquitted
You are free, Praetor, take your children,
To superpraise their moral upbringing
While raising them good citizens of Rome,
With that the matter closes, let us stray
Into the streets this Feast of Saturn day!

Exit Senators


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SCENE 4 – A Valley in Lusitania

Surviving chieftans & warriors of the Lusitani meet in counsel.
With them is Arco the soothsayer

Arantonio
We cannot stay much longer in this vale

Minurus
Famine gnawing bellies no way to die

Camalo
But sallying from safety must ensure
Murderous encounters with legionairres

Audax
Over our lives hovers the flag of death
Let us send Vetilius messengers
With olive branches, apologizing
For foraging without the seal of law
& plead a dwelling, promise to obey
Rome in all things

Pisiri
It must be done

Arantonio
What else
Can we do

Camalo
We must submit

Enter Viriathus

Viriathus
We must fight,
The bad faith of the Romans never goes
They pride themselves in violating oaths

Arco
Tell us who he is who speaks so boldly

Viriathus
I am Viriathus, some may know me,
Most will not, I survived the massacre
& warrant not your petty, scowling looks
Whatever pass’d by destiny, mischance,
I am come among you, soldiers, recieve
My presence, while intimating futures
Long mused upon, of murdering Romans,
Vibrant plans of action, Vertilius
No Galba is, his soldiers can be beat.

Camalo
Tho’ words up-bubble with inspiring springs,
We are too weak to fight them, all the same

Viriathus
I disagree, I have studied that swamp
Of whinging invaders, poor imposters,
Each thuggish snout I solemnly defy
There is not a veteran among them,
Valour is difficult in a desert,
While we are nourish’d from that single pool
That urgency of liberty becomes,
Fresh spirit of our precious land distill’d,
Sup from it when misfortune approaches,
Taste the universal Lusitani,
For when all focuss’d under common stars,
Mountains amass from bursts of willpower,
Off whose steep slops torrential troubles pour,
Together we are mountains, let me lead
Whomever here would die for liberty!

Minurus
I am with you Viriathus

Audax
& I

The rest cheer

Arantonio
Your patriotic fever may bright burn
But there remains a dagger at our throats
One false step…

Arco
Let the ancestors decide

Ditalco
Bring out the prisoner

A Roman prisoner is brought on stage – Arco chops off his right hand & raises it to the sky

Arco
Holy Cariocecus – take this hand
& guide his entrails, weave them into truth

The prisoner is covered with coarse cloaks, then a knife plunged into his vitals. He drops to the floor. The soothsayer studies the fall of the cloaks

Arco
From fall of cloaks auspicious auguries,
From trailing entrails unsuspicious truth,
From draining veins futurity pulses,
Our sacred Gods choose you, Viriathus

Arantonio, Camalo, Minurus, Audax, Ditalco
Viriathus!

Camalo
What of those plans you spoke?

Viriathus
Come gather close about me, listen well,
For detail is important – every man
Shall have his job to do, some more than one;
The Romans march like an elephant mare,
Slow, clumsy, ponderous – from armour’s weight
From ignorance of our ancyent trackways,
& from horses’ inferiority –
Why fight a tusker risking ivory,
Better pepper spears from safest vantage
& spring our clever ambushes from rocks
Thro’ rows of rushing tridents, incursions
Made in the dead of night, in heat of day,
Deluding with illusions & with snares,
Corner to corner striking, make them cry,
‘There is no haven in Iberia!’
The very mercy of the law screams out,
‘Iberia rejects its conquerors!’
Carpetania, Bastitania
Rome’s allies now, let us ravage them first
Who’ll join us promptly afterwards, the rest
Will follow soon, protecting precious crops,
While in the north the Numantines should rise
When noticing our spirit has revived
With such conviction, they will not abide
The Roman yoke no longer, out of pride.

Ditalco
Hail Viriathius

Arantonio, Camalo, Minurus, Audax
Hail Viriathius

Camalo
In you Cariocecus is reborn

Minurus
Cariocecus

Arantonio, Camalo, Audax, Ditalco
Cariocecus!

With great noise and barbaric clamor, the warriors surround Viriathus dancing, beating drims & singing “Cario-Cario-Cariocecus”- shaking their long hair, waving weapons & breaking out into ritualised mock combat


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

The Young Shakespeare (4): Shakespeare’s Burnley


1576: Edmund Spenser Writes the Shepheard’s Calendar in East Lancashire


On the Moors over Burnley

On graduating from Pembroke College in Cambridge, like any other student making their first steps into the world, Edmund Spenser went home to Burnley. Proof begins with the contemporary gloss to the June eclogue of the Shepheard’s Calendar, Spenser’s first major work, written in 1576. Provided by a certain ‘E.K.,’ the gloss describes Spenser as composing his famous poem among, ‘those hylles, that is the North countrye, where he dwelt,’ adding that after the poem’s composition E.K. says Spenser removed, ‘out of the Northparts’ & then, ‘came into the south.’ The initials E.K. stand for Edward Kelly, a friend of the Mancunian Magician John Dee, who was once pilloried in Lancaster for fraud, having his ears ‘cropped’ as a punishment. On Spenser’s homelands, TT Wilkinson’s paper quotes a certain Dr Craik, who in turn is quoting Mr. F. C. Spenser, of Halifax;

Various conjectures have been formed as to the precise locality intended by ‘the north;’ but the most probable one is that urged by Dr. Craik in his elaborate work on Spenser and his Writings. In a communication to the Gentleman’s Magazine for August 1842, Mr. F. C. Spenser, of Halifax, “produces such evidence as can scarcely leave a doubt that the branch of the Spensers from which the poet was descended was that of the Spensers, or Le Spensers, of Hurstwood, near Burnley, in the eastern extremity of Lancashire ; and that the family to which he immediately belonged was probably seated [here, or] on a little property still called ‘ The Spensers,’ near Filly Close, in the ancient Forest of Pendle, about three miles to the northward of Hurstwood. The poet always spelt his surname with an s ; and it appears from the registers that it was spelt in the same manner by the family at Hurstwood ; not only in the reign of Elizabeth, but for a century afterwards ; while even at Kildwick, near Skipton, only about ten or twelve miles distant, it is spelled with a c, in the manner as did, and do, the Spencers of Althorpe.

According to the ‘Letterbook’ of Gabriel Harvey – the same gentleman to whom the Calendar is dedicated – Spenser’s home ‘shier ‘ is described as being, ‘the middle region of the verye English Alpes.’  According to Alexander Grosart’s interpretation of the corrupted text (MS BM Sloane, 93, fol 37), Harvey reads; ‘To be shorte, I woulde to God that all the ill-favorid copyes of my nowe prostituted devises were buried a greate deale deeper in the centre of the ergye then the height & altitude of the middle region of the verye English Alpes amountes unto in your shier.’ To Grosart, Harvey is referring to Pendle Hill, that great solitary heap of Earth that dominates the East Lancashire skyline, which is indeed in the ‘I’ of the English Pennines, stretching as they do from Cumberland down to Derbyshire.

It is while staying at Hurstwood, near Burnley, that Spenser created his sophisticated mini-masterpiece. The Shepheard’s Calendar is pregnant with a wide array of references, & the first real original English poetic production of any merit since Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Wishing to emulate the dorick transfusions as enacted by Theocritus in his own Roman pastorals, Spenser daubed his creation with a great deal of the lilting local patter of East Lancashire. Where John Dryden describes Spenser as a, ‘master of our northern dialect,’ Dr Grosart identified 550 words in the Calendar unique to East Lancashire & West Yorkshire. Elsewhere, TT Wilkinson, in a speech to the Historic Society of Lancashire on January 10th 1867, listed forty-five words in that ‘folkspeech’ used by Spenser that were still in circulation in his day. As I can personally attest as a Burnley boy, some of these words have survived in the locality even to the 21st century, such as;

Brag – boast proudly
Chips – fragments cut off
Clout – blow with flat of hand
Crow Over – to boast over someone
Dapper – pretty smart
Latch – temporary fastening of a door
Smirke – smile in a smugly winning manner

Wilkinson adds; ‘The Folkspeech of East Lancashire is somewhat peculiar, both in words and pronunciation, and many of its oldest terms and phrases have a close affinity to the Lowland Scotch. Both contain an admixture of words derived from the Danes and Northmen who conquered and colonized the district… Robert Chambers… in his interesting Book of Days, vol. I, p. 07, asserts that when Spenser tells of a ewe that ” she mought ne gang on ” the green,” he uses almost the exact language that would be employed by a Selkirkshire shepherd, on a like occasion, at the present day. So also when Thenot says ” Tell me, good Hobbinol, what gars thee greete ?” he speaks pure Scotch. In this poem Spenser also uses tway for two ; gait for goat (?) ; mickle for much ; wark for work ; wae for woe ; ken for know ; crag for the neck ; icarr for worse ; hame for home ; teen for sorrow all of these being Scottish terms.’

In the Calendar, Hobbinol’s mentions of wastefull hylls, bogs & glens, invokes quite accurately the East Lancashire Pennine landscape. We also have the following exchange which indicates that in the locality of the Calendar, a few Wolves were still clinging to English soil. for indeed, Pendle Forest was one of the last haunts for the English wolf.

Hobbinoll
Fye on thee Diggon, and all thy foule leasing,
Well is knowne that sith the Saxon king,
Neuer was Woolfe seene many nor some,
Nor in all Kent, nor in Christendome:
But the fewer Woolues (the soth to sayne,)
The more bene the Foxes that here remaine.

Diggon
Yes, but they gang in more secrete wise,
And with sheepes clothing doen hem disguise,
They walke not widely as they were wont
For feare of raungers, and the great hunt:
But priuely prolling too and froe,
Enaunter they mought be inly knowe.

There is a passage in the Calendar which shows how Spenser had come into contact with Sir John Townley, who is given a quiet cameo. Spenser was, let us say, a political Protestant, & his true religious sentiments seem hidden &  confused. We get the sense, then, that a religio-neutral neutral Spenser is alluding to Sir John’s enforced silence in the face of a Protestant England, & that the Shepherds mentioned by Spenser are actually Catholic priests.

Truly Piers, thou art beside thy Wit,
Furthest fro the Mark, weening it to hit.
Now I pray thee, let me thy Tale borrow
For our Sir John, to say to-morrow,
At the Kirk, when it is Holiday:
For well he means, but little can say.
But and if Foxes been so crafty, as so,
Much needeth all Shepherds hem to know.

The publish’d poem contains a woodcut for each month, painted by the enigmatic ‘E.K.,’ whose pictorial accuracy is proclaimed by Spenser in a 1580 letter to Gabriel Harvey; ‘Therin be some things excellently, and many things wittily discoursed of E.K., and the pictures so singularly set forth, and purtrayed, as if Michael Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amende the beste, nor reprehende the worst.’ When comparing the woodcuts with photographs I have made of Pendle from similar angles, even the staunchest opponents of Spenser coming from Lancashire must be rendered visibly silent.

pendle - february.

Pendle is to the left of the picture next to the guy's head - notice the lines are a match for the gouges in the flanks of Pendle in the photograph
Pendle is to the left of the picture next to the guy’s head – notice the lines are a match for the gouges in the flanks of Pendle in the photograph.

Pendle’s distinctive slope (from the south)

Pendle's very distinctive slant can again be seen to the left of the picture, next to the kirk
Pendle’s very distinctive slant can be seen to the left of the picture, next to the kirk
December

December’s woodcut – more Pendle Hill – compare with the next image…

…of Pendle by K Melling


1576: Spenser Encounters Shakespeare


 

Woodcut to the August eclogue – Willy, Perigot & Cuddy in conversation – note the hill in the far left background with the rolling arm & compare it with Pendle Hill (the hot lady is my wife)

My bird at Pendle, a couple of miles from Roughlee.

It is now time to introduce an extremely significant clue into Shakespeareana which has hitherto been unacknowledged, or even noticed. In the August eclogue, Spenser places a young shepheard boy called Willye, who is versed in French poetry, in the company of Cuddy & Perigot. On the other occasion he uses the name Willye, it seems more than clear he is talking about William Shakespeare. Saying they are the same person is matter of conjecture, however, by using a chispological factochain, we can get back from the August eclogue to the boy Shakespeare in just five recently steps, two of which have been followed in the last post. Retracing our passage, as with any factochain I will present as much supporting evidence as possible in order to strengthen the chain.

1: Willy = William Shakespeare

2: Cuddy = Cuthbert Mayne, back in England 1576

3: Cutbert Mayne in Douay, 1575/76

4: Simon Hughes in Douay 1576/76

5: Simon Hughes teaching Shakespeare in Stratford, 1575

In support we have the following nuggets;

1: Spenser would use the ‘Willye’ nick-name for Shakespeare over a decade later, when referring to the bard in a poem known as The Tears of the Muses;

Our pleasant Willie, ah! is dead of late.
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also deaded and in doleur drent.
But that same gentle spirit from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himself to mockery to sell.

Here Spenser’s ‘large streams of honey and sweet nectar,’ is reminiscent of Francis Meres own description of Shakespeare, in the Palladis Tamia: Wit’s Treasury, as ‘the witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous & honey-tongued Shakespeare.’

2: The name Cuddy is northern dialect English for Cuthbert.

3: The unique name ‘Perigot’ derives from the Périgord region of the Dordogne in France, in which a Jesuit convent was active in 1576.

4: Burnley (Reedley) was home to Robert & John Nutter, who would soon be at Douay training to be Jesuit missionaries for the spiritual reconquista of England. In fact, one sixth of all Jesuits trainees at Douay, were from Lancashire, along with another sixth from neighbouring Yorkshire. It must be noticed that in Reedley is Filly Close, where Dr Craik places Edmund Spenser’s family. Another Nutter-Spenser connection comes with Margaret Spenser of Hurstwood’s 1605 will, in which, ‘Margaret, and ffrances Nutter daughters of the said Henry,’ were inheritors.

5: In the August eclogue, ‘Willye’ is speaking in a poetic form known as the Roundelay. This 24-line form had been devised in France only in 1570, & while in Douay a young & poetically minded Shakespeare would have been keen to have kept abreast of the latest developments in the poetic arts.

PER. It fell upon a holy Eve,
WILL. Hey ho Holiday!
PER. When holy Fathers wont to shrive:
WILL. Now ‘ginneth this Roundelay.
PER. Sitting upon a Hill so high,
WILL. Hey ho the high Hill!
PER. The while my Flock did feed thereby,
WILL. The while the Shepherd self did spill
PER. I saw the bouncing Bellibone;
WILL. Hey ho Bonnibel!
PER. Tripping over the Dale alone,
WILL. She can trip it very well.

6: I cannot help but see hints of the Reformation, Counter-reformation, & even the Familists in the eclogue…

PERIGOT.
Ah, Willy, now I have learn’d a new Dance;
My old Musick marr’d by a new Mischance.

WILLY.
Mischief mought to that Mischance befall,
That so hath raft us of our Meriment:
But read me, What pain doth thee so appall?
Or lovest thou, or been thy Yonglings miswent?

PERIGOT.
Love hath misled both my Yonglings and me:
I pine for pain, and they my plaint to see.

WILLY.
Perdy and weal away! ill may they thrive;
Never knew I Lovers Sheep in good plight:

and a little later

WILLY
Thereby is a Lamb in the Wolve’s Jaws:
But see, how fast renneth the Shepherd’s Swain,
To save the Innocent from the Beast’s Paws;
And here with his Sheep-hook hath him slain.
Tell me, such a Cup hast thou ever seen?
Well mought it beseem any harvest Queen.

PERIGOT.
Thereto will I pawn yonder spotted Lamb,
Of all my Flock there nis sike another;
For I brought him up without the Damb:
But Colin Clout raft me of his Brother,
That he purchast of me in the plain Field:
Sore against my Will was I forst to yield.

In the above extract, the shepherd metaphor screams Jesuit, for in the 16th century leading Jesuit Jérôme Nadal was writing in notebooks that their task par excellence was to search for the ‘lost sheep.’

The natural conclusion is that Shakespeare & Cuthbert Mayne were staying at Townley Hall, about a mile away from Spenser at Hurstwood. They had found a relatively safe, obscure & extremely pro-Catholic corner of the country to hide. In a letter written by Bishop Downham on the 1st Feb 1575 to the Privy Council, Sir John Townley is placed alongside other notables in Lancashire who, ‘in our opinion of the longest obstanancy against religion & if by your lord’s good wisdoms they would be reclaimed, we think others would as well follow their good example in embracing queen majesty’s most goodly example as they have followed their evil example in contemprising their duty in that behalf.’ A year previously, the Privy Council had been even more condemning identifying Lancashire as, ‘the very sink of popery where more unlawful acts have been committed & more unlawful persons holden secret than any other part of the realm.’


1576 : The Protestant authorities came down hard on the Catholic Mystery Plays


While Shakespeare was buzzin’ about round Burnley, & Spenser was creating some proper smart poetry, the Protestants were setting their Reichstags on fire, turning their gorgon gaze on the the medieval Mystery plays. These early proto-plays were especially popular in Wakefield, Yorkshire, & it is to the populace of that town that the Diocesan Court of High Commission at York ordered;

In the said play no pageant be used or set further wherein the Ma(jest) ye of God the Father, God the Sonne, or God the Holie Goste or the administration of either the Sacrementes of baptism or of the Lordes Supper be counterfeited or represented, or anything plaid which tend to the maintenance of superstition and idolatry or which be contrary to the laws of God or of the realm.

This really ripped the stuffing out of the heavily iconographied Mystery Plays, a death knell that saw this once massively popular national theatre all but banished from the noble Halls & bustling market places of the land. The last play performed in Wakefield was, May 17th 1576, was the ‘commonlie called corpus christi plaie,’ after which the Mysteries were never heard in the town again.


1577 : Shakespeare Works on the Towneley Manuscript


Townley Hall

While at Townley Hall, there is evidence that Shakesepeare & Spenser were given the task of copying various Catholic ‘Miracle Plays’ recently banned by the Government. A manuscript was prepared which stored the entire cycle of 32 plays for posterity, with the press-mark on the first page of the only manuscript stating Christopher Townley (1604-74) was the owner of the book. I believe his father, Sir John, was the instrumental force behind preserving the plays for the Townleys & the other twenty or so recusant families in & around the Burnley area. The anonymous author has been monickered the ‘Wakefield Master,’ who peppers the text with local topography such as the reference in the manuscript’s Second Shepherds’ Play to Horbery Shrogeys – with Horbery being a town near Wakefield.  Scholars have calculated that the original plays – dating to about 1400  – were rewritten & added to towards the end of that century. The new plays were Caesar Augustus, The Talents, Noah, the First Shepherds’ Play, The Second Shepherds’ Play, Herod the Great, and The Buffeting of Christ.

The unique mansucript was sold by auction in 1814, & is now housed at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, & it just so happens to contain the handwriting of William Shakespeare. This is evinced by matches on the MS with the three & a half letters on Shakespeare’s will – the only samples of his formal handwriting to have survived. Orthographically speaking, we cannot use his flourish-heavy signature as proper evidence, which means all that the Bard left in his own true hand are the four letters of ‘by me’ or even ‘by mr’ that preceed a signature on his will. These letters were written in 1616, four decades after the Townley MS was created, yet individual handwriting styles are set in stone at an early stage, & linger throughout one’s life.

Of the four letters, only B, Y & M can be used to any satisfaction. At this point you can decide for yourselves by checking out the graphology below & making your own mind up, while taking into consideration that four decades would have passed between the inscriptions.

by me

Shakespeare’s ‘By Me’

 

Some Ms & Ys from the Townley MS

Some Ms & Ys from the Townley MS

A few Bs & a couple more Ys
A few Bs & a couple more Ys

The presence of some North Midland forms, rather than the northern forms, supports the Warwickshire-born Shakespeare as working on the manuscript. Spenser may have assisted at some point, for in the Cycle’s impressive Second Shepherd’s Play, a Nativity burlesque, the regular dialect is north-midlands, while that of a character called Mak heralds from Spenser’s schoolboy south. A remembrance of Spenser’s time with the Towneley manuscript seems to have inspired the Despair episode of his Faerie Queene, which contains the almost identical essence of the Cycle’s Hanging of Judas.

 While working on the Cycle, we can see how Shakespeare was to be profoundly affected by the Mystery Plays. In later years, Gloucester’s blinding in King Lear appears very much like the brutal treatement of Christ found in the Towneley Cycle, where Caiaphas is stricken with an overwhelming desire to put out the eyes of Christ: ‘Nay, but I shall out-thrist / Both his een on a raw.’ Highlighting another Shakespeare-Cycle connection, Glynne Wickham, referring to the Cycle’s ‘Deliverance of Souls,’ states, ‘in the Townley play Rybald receives his orders from Belzabub, in Macbeth, the porter’s first question is, “‘Who’s there, I th’name of Belzebubit was Rybald in the Towneley ‘Deliverance’ who cried out to Belzabub on hearing Christ’s trumpets at Hell-gate

… come ne,

ffor hedusly I hard hym call

 Thunder, cacophony, screams & groans were the audible emblems of Lucifer & hell on the medieval stage. Those same aural emblems colour the whole of II-iii of Macbeth &, juxtaposed as they are with the thunderous knocking at a gate attended by a porter deluded into regarding himself as a devil, their relevance to the moral meaning of the play could scarcely have escaped the notice of its first audiences.’

Shakespeare would continue to be influenced throughout his career by the Mysteries motifs. Dramatic actions; the providential structurality of history; the emblemeatic allusions to moralties such as Time, Death & the Wheel of Fortune; all appear in some form or another. The Mysteries were also bloody, visceral affairs; in the mid-seventeenth century the preacher, John Shaw, remembers seeing in his childhood, a Corpus Christi play, where there was a, ‘man on a tree, & blood ran down.’ Such gruesome scenes would permeate Shakespeare’s own work.


1576 – Shakespeare Dines with the Towneleys


The kitchen at Townley Hall

Burnley is one of the friendliest places on the planet, & the Townleys would have doted over this young pro-Catholic prodigy that had arrived with Cuthbert Mayne. Shakespeare in turn woul have relished the bountiful tablewhich appeared every meal time at the Hall. William Harrison, in Description Of Elizabethan England, 1577
(from Holinshed’s Chronicles), describes the quality & quantity of the available fare.

In number of dishes and change of meat the nobility of England (whose cooks are for the most part musical-headed Frenchmen and strangers) do most exceed, sith there is no day in manner that passeth over their heads wherein they have not only beef, mutton, veal, lamb, kid, pork, cony, capon, pig, or so many of these as the season yieldeth, but also some portion of the red or fallow deer, beside great variety of fish and wild fowl, and thereto sundry other delicates wherein the sweet hand of the seafaring Portugal is not wanting: so that for a man to dine with one of them, and to taste of every dish that standeth before him (which few used to do, but each one feedeth upon that mnat him best liketh for the time, the beginning of every dish notwithstanding being reserved unto the greatest personage that sitteth at the table, to whom it is drawn up still by the waiters as order requireth, and from whom it descendeth again even to the lower end, whereby each one may taste thereof), is rather to yield unto a conspiracy with a great deal of meat for the speedy suppression of natural health than the use of a necessary mean to satisfy himself with a competent repast to sustain his body withal. But, as this large feeding is not seen in their guests, no more is it in their own persons; for, sith they have daily much resort unto their tables (and many times unlooked for), and thereto retain great numbers of servants, it is very requisite and expedient for them to be somewhat plentiful in this behalf.

The chief part likewise of their daily provision is brought in before them (commonly in silver vessels, if they be of the degree of barons, bishops, and upwards) and placed on their tables, fall should nothing hurt it in such manner; yet it might peradventure bunch or batter it; nevertheless that inconvenience were quickly to be redressed by the hammer. But whither am I slipped?

The beer that is used at noblemen’s tables in their fixed and standing houses is commonly a year old, or peradventure of two years’ tunning or more; but this is not general. It is also brewed in March, and therefore called March beer; but, for the household, it is usually not under a month’s age, each one coveting to have the same stale as he may, so that it be not sour, and his bread new as is possible, so that it be not hot.


1577 : Shepheard’s Play Performed at Chester


Valiant “RedCross Knight” enters the Cave of Despair

Despite being banned in Yorkshire the previous year, one of the Mystery plays was performed in Chester in 1577. Archdeacon Rogers upon Chester recorded (Harl. MS. 1944), 1577, ‘the Earle of Darbie did lye 2 nightes at his [the mayor of Chester’s] house; the Shepheardes play, was played a the highe crosse, with other triumphes.’ Accompanying the 4th Earl that day was his son Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. If this particular version of the Shephearde’s Play was taken from the Townley MS, we gain our first possible theatrical connection between the Stanleys & Shakespeare, a relationship which we shall see has plenty of legs!

The Young Shakespeare (3): Shakespeare’s First Travels


1575: Shakespeare Taken Out of School


What comes up must come down, & in 1575 it is supposed that John Shakespeare began to tighten his belt, pulling his eldest son out of school. Rowe tells us; ‘the narrowness of his Circumstances, and the want of his assistance at Home, forc’d his Father to withdraw him from thence.’ Personally I think there’s more to the story than a simple financial one, but its difficult to prove. Whatever were the reasons, confirmation of Shakespeare’s premature departure from grammar school is found in a pleasant eulogy made by Shakespeare’s fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, which reads, ‘and though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek, from thence to honour thee I would not seek.’ Later on in the 17th century, Thomas Fuller adds ‘he was an eminent instance of the truth of that rule, poeta non fit, sed nascitur; one is not made, but born a poet. Indeed his learning was but very little.’ Shakespeare would thenforth consider himself without a higher level of schooling, for in his dedication to the Lucrece poem he considers them, ‘untutored lines.’


1575
Shakespeare at Kenilworth


We may be able to place Shakespeare in Kenilworth palace, not far from Stratford, in July 1575. The queen was visiting & her train were the Children of the Chapel, a troupe of child actors led by William Hunnis. The outlandish celebrations, especially Hunnis’ device of the Lady of the Lake, would turn up once more in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Oberon;

Sat upon a promontory
& heard a Mermaid on a Dolphin’s back
uttering such dulcet & harmoinous breath
That the rude seas grew civil at her song
& certain starres shot madly from their spheres
to hear the sea-maids music

This description matches a section in George Gascoigne’s ‘The Princely Pleasures, at the Court at Kenilworth’ (1576), where at the Station of the song of Protheus: a water pageant begins with Protheus appearing on a dolphin float with a musical consort inside: “the Dolphyn was conueied vpon the boate, so that the Owners seen to bee his Fynnes. With in the which Dolphyn a Consort of Musicke was secretly placed, the which sounded, and Protheus clearing his voyce, sang his song of congratulation.” Whether Shakespeare witnessed it first hand, or no, its presence in Shakespeariana is assured.


1575: Shakespeare Leaves Stratford


In 1575, two events conspired to propel the eleven-year-old Shakespeare out of his hometown. The first echoes the modern truanting teenager, whose idle, juvenile sporting lands them in trouble with the local authorities. In the case of Shakespeare, without the anchor of a schoolday got in with the wrong sort & conducted a spot of poaching that landed him in hot water. According to Rev. Davies our young bard, ‘was much given to all unluckiness in stealing venison & rabbits, particularly from Sir Thomas Lucy, who had him oft whipt, & sometimes imprisoned, & at last made him fly from his native county to his great advancement.’ For the rest of his life Shakespeare would remain a poacher of sorts, essentially walking into the literature canon of the known world & taking what he liked in order to toss it into whatever dramatic soup he was cooking up at the time.

A transchispering remembrance of these incidents with Sir Thomas bubble to the surface in both Henry IV pt.2 & the Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a certain vain & self-delusional character known as Justice Shallow seems very much modelled on Lucy. Where Shallow says his coat-of-arms depicted ‘luces’, i.e the fish called pikes, so did the Lucy’s of Charlecote. This was not the first time that Lucy would inspire Shakespeare’s words, as discern’d from Rowe’s account of the poaching episode,

He had, by a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag’d him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong’d to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho’ this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig’d to leave his Business and Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London

Rowe is here seguing into one story two known facts about Shakespeare’s early life, that he (i) left Stratford after getting into trouble & (ii) settled in London. Between these events I believe that Shakespeare did a lot more living. The trail begins in 1575, when Lancashire-born Simon Hunt gave up his post as Stratford schoolmaster in order to enroll at the English College in Douay, France, & train as a militant Jesuit. The First Douay-train’d Jesuits had arrive in England in 1574, cavorting from priest-hole to priest-hole, giving masses in secret to all the favorable nests of papistry, the visit of whom seems to have struck Hunt to his holy Catholic core. Accompanying him to France was a Stratford youth, Richard Debdale of Shottery, & also, we shall here conject, Shakespeare. His early blossoming in the poetic arts, such as the Familist ballads & the satire pinned at Charlecote, marked him out as a special talent. This faculty for the Muses would have defined him as the perfect student for a certain Douay Jesuit called Edward Campion, who described the imbecabillity of writing poetry (but not love poetry) during one’s youthful studies, while at the same time becoming intimate with, ‘the majesty of Virgil, the festal grace of Ovid, the rythm of Horace, & the buskined speech of Seneca.’


1575: Shakespeare Travels to London


As they traveled south towards the English Channel, Hunt & Shakespeare would have slept in an English inn or three, of which Fynes Moryson, who was acquainted with the inns of Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, asserts in his Itinerary of 1617;

The world affords not such Inns as England hath, either for good and cheap entertainments at the guest’s own pleasure, or for humble attendance on passengers… as soon as a passenger comes to an Inn the servants run to him, and one takes his horse and walks him till he be cold, then rubs him and gives him meat, yet I must say they are not much to be trusted in this last point without the eye of the master or his servant to oversee them. Another servant gives the passenger his private chamber and kindles his fire, the third pulls off his boots and makes them clean. The Host or Hostess visits him, and if he will eat with the Host, or at a common table with others, his meal will cost him sixpence, or in some places but fourpence (yet this course is less honourable, and not used by gentlemen) : but if he will eat in his chamber, he commands what meat he will according to his appetite, and as much as he thinks fit for him and his company, yea, the kitchen is open to him to command the meat to be dressed as he best likes: and when he sits at table, the Host or Hostess will accompany him, of courtesy to be bid sit down: while he eats, if he have company especially, he shall be offered music, which he may freely take or refuse and if he be solitary, the Musicians will give him the good or if they have many guests will at least visit him

Another Elizabethan traveller, William Harrison, in his Description of England, describes inns lodging up to 300 folk & their horses, with some towns having more than 12 inns. Competition such as this ensured the provision of clean & comfy accommodation accompanied by very fine food & wine. Between these oasi, travel along Elizabethan highways was a most precarious venture. Dodgy roads & bridges & the occasional robber plagued the journey, with organized gangs operating all around London. Shakespeare may even have remembered such a scene, when in Henry IV he depicts;

FALSTAFF
I am accursed to rob in that thief’s company: the
rascal hath removed my horse, and tied him I know
not where. If I travel but four foot by the squier
further afoot, I shall break my wind. Well, I doubt
not but to die a fair death for all this, if I
‘scape hanging for killing that rogue. I have
forsworn his company hourly any time this two and
twenty years, and yet I am bewitched with the
rogue’s company. If the rascal hath not given me
medicines to make me love him, I’ll be hanged; it
could not be else: I have drunk medicines. Poins!
Hal! a plague upon you both! Bardolph! Peto!
I’ll starve ere I’ll rob a foot further. An ’twere
not as good a deed as drink, to turn true man and to
leave these rogues, I am the veriest varlet that
ever chewed with a tooth. Eight yards of uneven
ground is threescore and ten miles afoot with me;
and the stony-hearted villains know it well enough:
a plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another!


1575 : Shakespeare Visits London


As they travelled to France, with what wonder did Shakespeare first view the smoky skyline of London in his first approach from the north. It was love at first sight for for a fellow who would soon enough be calling the city home. Towering over all was the original Saint Pauls Cathedral – which would perish in the Great fire of London of 1666. The rest of London was made mainly out of timber, which of course fueled that dramatic & devastating inferno. This packed city was still more or less crammed within its 15 centuries old Roman Walls, although villages peppered the countryside which would one day join up together in a seamless concrete heap.

In 1575, the profession to which Shakespeare’s destiny was intrinsically bound was in a sorry state indeed. The previous December, the puritan-dominated London common council had banned all public dramatic performances from the city, announcing;

Sundry great disorders & inconveniences have been found to ensue to this City by the inordinate haunting by great multitudes of people, specially youth, to plays, interludes & shows, namely occasion of frays & quarrels, evil practices of incontinecy in great inns, having chambers & secret places adjoining to their open stages & galleries, inveighing of maids, specially orphans & good citizens children, to privy & unmeet contracts, the publishing of unchaste, uncomely & unshamefast speeches & doings. Withdrawing of the Queen’s Majesty’s subjects from Divine service on Sundays & Holy days. 


1575 : Shakespeare Reads George Gascoigne’s ‘Posies’


While in London, Hunt took Shakespeare to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, one of only three places in the country where one could legally buy books. It was as they browsed through the printed wonders on offer that Shakespeare stumbled across George Gascoignes ‘Posies,’ released that year. Hunt bought the book for his budding wee poet, in which pages we find Gascoigne’s definition of a sonnet as being, not of the Italian model, but that made famous by the Bard himself, which consists of; ‘Fouretene lynes, every lyne conteyning tenne syllables. The first twelve to ryme in staves of foure lynes, by crosse metr & the last two rhyming togither, do conclude the whole.’

Gascoigne’s Poesies would also influence both Romeo & Juliet & Pyramis and Thisbe – the play-within-a-play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Roger Prior (Gascoigne’s Poesies as a Shakespearian Source N&Q 245 2000) has shown how the aforemention’d plays seem particularly influenced by Gascoigne’s description of a masque celeberating the marriage in 1572 of two children of Anthony Browne, the 1st Viscount Montague. In addition, Gascoigne’s poem ‘The Refusal’ seems to have given the premise behind the rivalries of both Demetrius & Lysande, & Hermia & Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


1575-76: Shakespeare Attends the English College in Douay


Like many British schoolchildren, myself included, their first trip abroad was some kind of school trip to France. Shakespeare was no different, even if his teacher was on the run to become a militant Jesuit. Douay was to be a fertile bedsoil in which our poetical prodigy suddenly found himself; heated & passionate rhetoric would have abounded on all sides, infiltrating our wee bard’s psyche with the rhythmic pulsations of intelligent conversazione. The academic atmosphere he found himself among is perfectly described by a grandee at the English College, Rev. Gregory Martin, who described how at mealtimes;

The reader from the pulpit reads aloud the portion of the old Testament which occurs in the Roman breviary at the time… so that the whole bible is easily gone through in one year. Twice a day at the end of each meal they will have the usual explanation of a chapter; only it is done more perfectly than formerly, not merely on account of the pains which Richard Bristow takes, and his knowledge which was always very great, but also because of the increased authority and maturity which is implied in the degree of doctor in divinity lately conferred on him.

That the creative sponge of Shakespeare’s young mind was occupied by Douay is suggested by Cardinal Allen, who stated, ‘we preach in English, in order to acquire greater power and grace in the use of the vulgar tongue’. Of all those listening in 1575, there was one wide-eyed boy in a corner who was acquiring that very ‘greater power & grace’ by the minute. Also boarding at the English College in 1576 while studying at the Jesuit College of Anchin, was a certain Robert Southwell, a distant cousin of Shakespeare’s as seen by the following family tree, which also shows their distant connection to the Earl of Southampton, a future patron & dedicatee of Shakespeare’s poetry.

One of Southwell’s works, entitled St Peter’s Complaint, contained a dedication changed by the Jesuit press at the College of St. Omer from, ‘your loving cousin, R.S.’ to ‘my worthy good cousin Maister W.S.’  As he lived his life Shakespeare kept his early Jesuit connection on the lowdown, showing oblique knowledge of the writings of Southwell, along with the prominent Jesuits Edmund Campion & Henry Garnet. He also seems to allude to the Jesuit martyrdoms in sonnet 124, in which he referred to the ‘fools of time, which die for goodness and who have lived for crime.’ Then, in 1611, just as Shakespeare was wrapping up his writing career, John Speed, in his ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain,’ while denouncing the Jesuit Robert Parsons accusation against proto-protestant martyr John Oldcastle, alluded to him and William Shakespeare as “this papist and his poet”.  Next comes the possession by Jesuit seminaries of early copies of Shakespeare including the First Folio found in 2015 at the library in St.-Omer that came from clearly came from the local college of Jesuits, & a quarto of Pericles owned by the same collge in 1619. 


1576: Shakespeare Returns to England


Cuthbert Mayne

After a six-month stint at the English College, the intellectual capacity of our young bard would have been swollen no end. This period was one of the first stages of a unique course of education which just so happened to create one of the greatest poets to have ever lived. His time abroad would have helped mould a mind capable of such epic feats of linguistics that would, later in his career, expand his native tongue with hundreds of loan-words from foreign languages, including French. His departure from Douay, as we shall soon intimate, was with a certain Cuthbert Mayne, who had qualified as a Bachelor of Theology on the 7th February 1576. Two months later, on the 24 April 1576, Shakespeare turn’d twelve. The following day, Cuthbert Mayne set out for England with another priest called John Payne; & let us hyperfact Shaksepeare in that small party also. On arrival in England, Mayne spent a short period in Cornwall, while Payne went to the South East. It is possible that Shakespeare went with Payne to stay with Anne, widow of Sir William Petre, and daughter of Sir William Browne, sometime Lord Mayor of the City of London, Their chief places of refuge were at Ingatestone, Essex, in whose house was a “priest hole”, & also in London. It should be no coincidence, then, that Essex was a major familist center in the 1570s. There is, however, definitive evidence for Shakespeare & Cuthbert Mayne having travelled to Lancashire together, which we shall look at in the next post.


1576: Theaters Spring up Across London


Before that trip to Burnley, in the year that Shakespeare made his first return to the capital, three theaters were built just outside the city limits of London (a fourth, the Curtain, would be built in 1577), where beaurocratic regulations did not apply. The first to be erected was the Newington Butts Playhouse, a mile south of the Thames, which stood roughly on the east side of Walworth Road near the junction with New Kent Road. The landlord was Richard Hickes, one of Queen Elizabeth’s bodyguards – the Yeomen of the Guard – most of whom were secret Familists. Hickes sublet the theatre on the 25th March 1576 to a certain Stratford man called Jerome Savage, described by his contemporary, Peter Hunningborne, as a, ‘verrie lewed fealowe’ who ‘liveth by noe other trade than playinge of staige plaies and Interlevde.’ Very much a man of the vernal Elizabethan theatre, Savage also ran a troupe of actors for the Earl of Warwick, known as Earl of Warwick’s Players.

Three weeks after the Newington Butts Playhouse began its life, a second permanent playhouse was erected at Shoreditch, called rather appropriately the ‘Theatre.’ Later that year, the third London dramahouse was built by court composer & master of the Children of the Chapel acting troupe, Richard Farrant. The location was Blackfriars, upon a section of the site of the monastery dissolved by Henry VIII. Circular & made of wood, these theaters could comfortably hold several thousand people, who would drop a penny into a box (2 for a cushion) as they entered. Later on, this box would be taken to a room, the contents emptied & leading to the phrase ‘Box Office’ of modern theater. The atmosphere created by the circular auditorium, & the closeness of the audience, manifested itself into something akin to that of a modern football match – theater was now popular entertainment, when the lowest & the highest born would rub shoulders together for a couple of hours of fantasy & drama. Just as today, they would had their opinions as to what they were watching – some of the poorer actors & productions had abuse & rotten vegetables hurled at them.

On Shakespeare’s return to England, he may have even attended one of these theatres for the first time, especially Newington Butts with its uncanny Stratford connection. I mean the first theatre in London & that periods chief playwright heralding from the same small township – on one hand quite a coinicidence, but on the other possible destiny, as the oppurtunities given to the young Shakespeare to experience the theatre woudl have fed his muses marvellously. As an early witness, he would have seen slightly over-the-top plays full of life & colour.

There is a list of props given by Blagrave (January 6, 1575) utilised by performers at the court, which gives us a good idea of what props 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.’ By 1580, Anthony Munday would berate the theatrical world with, ‘this unhonest trade of gain hath driven many from their occupations in hope of easier thrift. What success they have had, some of them have reported, finding the proverb true, that ill-gotten goods are ill spent.’ To a man who would go on to epitomise the theater itself, the reputation of actors & acting would have attracted the meagre-born William just as the luxurious lives of modern pop-stars inspire our young folk these days to learn the guitar.

Camino

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
Jan 10-16, 2020

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It was a pleasure to come back to the Oran Mor for the first play of A Play, A Pie and A Pint’s 2020 season, Camino. The stage was a welcome sight not only because of the weather (Storm Ciara was raging outside) but also because of its wonderful design. At the back was a kind of wooden blind with a bunk bed and some chairs and table making a kind of perfect space for conversation.

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Sean Hardy’s story took us half way up a mountain in Spain where two couples were making their way to the summit. Mo and Donald (Kim Gerard and Lewis Howden) seemed to be the perfect couple, celebrating 25 years of marriage and addressing each other with endearments. Helen and Ken (Irene Allan and Keith Fleming), the younger pair married 10 years, were in complete contrast – passionately arguing and fighting at every turn, not to mention finding the lovey dovey pair a bit too much to take.

Things unravelled a bit as the four struggled for survival on the perilous journey – or was it the perils of marriage? Perhaps both. Certainly the four characters encountered many dangers and challenges both physical and romantic, and dealt with them in a fast moving plot that took them here and there across the stage, opening doors and closing them as their difficulties were exposed. Again and again the same issues would come up and somehow as they climbed they found the strength and courage to confront their problems.

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There was a very entertaining stand up element in all of this which had the four characters standing in a row like an ensemble and, telling their stories in quick fire succession, drawing us in and then letting us go again. There was a sense that they were dealing with the essential things in life, things to be taken to heart, but there was more laughter than silence in the audience because it was the jokes that prevailed. As they said, when you’re climbing a mountain far from home, as with marriage, things could take any turn at any time – “What could go right?” An intriguing and laugh-, not to say thought-, provoking start to the season – well worth a visit!

Daniel Donnelly

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Viriathus: Scenes 1-2

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SCENE 1 – Lusitania / The Roman Camp

Galba is studying maps outside his tent – a group of Roman soldiers march on stage singing

EAGLES OF ROME

Fly, fly
Ye eagles of rome
Find a new home
Fly, fly

Fly, fly
Your wings are unfurled
You’ll conquer the world
Fly, fly

Enter herald with Labaecus & Talabus

Herald
The Lusitanian leaders are here
As you requested of them yesterday
Nine thousand of their subjects flood the vale
Warriors, women, old ones & children.

Galba
Praetor Servius Sulpicius Galba
at your service

Labaecus
We come in peace
Leaving mountain strongholds at your promise
Of better lands to settle on the plains
Beyond the River Durius

Galba
Welcome
Receiving acceptable submissions
Of deditio in potestatem,
Like sweet music across enamell’d stones,
Rome’s enmity soon amity becomes

Talabus
We had no choice, your enginery of war
Wrought ruin thro’ our towns as if the Gods
Colossal grains of sand shook from their suits

Labaecus
Galba we praise you, halter of carnage

Galba
Twas the simplest of conclusions to make
You were robbers only from compulsion,
Poverty & the poorness of your soil
Forcing unneccessary penury,
A needless swamp in a civilized age,
& we in Rome the height of advancement,
A blessed sunstar blest by all the gods –
Our family of nations welcomes thee.

Labaecus
We compliment your noble piety
Your generosity & your counsel;
Your name shall live forever in our songs
In them the bards our histories record
Our lineages, our greatest battles,
Our heroes, & now you ride among them
Upon the dovewhite steed we call world peace.

Enter Centurion

Centurion
It is done, we possess all their weapons

Galba
Not all – I trust you two will too comply

Labaecus
We shall

Talabus
Of course, our swords we give to Rome

Galba
Well here we are, a mighty martial race
But what force arms without a blade to wield,
Or sticks, or rocks, whate’er you primates use
When Atilius conquer’d Oxthracae
You sign’d a treaty just as this today
Alas, as soon as my predecessor
Home in Rome, your people raved as rebels
Attacking tribes we counted as allies;
Despicable, plunderous behaviours,
When they had been protected by your word.

Talabus
We protest

Galba
You protest! What? Your disgrace,
Transgressing that fair & equal treaty?
No – you were, & are yet Rome’s enemies,
For treachery to honour & to peace
You force on Rome recourse to ancyent law,
All men of military age must die,
& slaves make of the rest
{to the Centurion}
You may begin

Centurion
Sound the horns

Labaecus
O hideous perfidy

Galba
Sieze them

Talabus
Run, run Labaecus

Galba
Kill them

A fracas – Talabus is slain, Labaecus is corner’d

Galba
Wait, bring him here, I want this hound to see
His people die, open your eyes you dog
Why do they stand heroic statue still
Waiting to die

Labaecus
They cry aloud the names
of all our gods, readying to greet them,
When death grips firmly, fleeing him futile
Better to wait the fatal stroke head high

Centurion
Not all

Galba
What?

Centurion
Look, sir, some have leapt the ditch
Waving weapons preconceal’d as they steal
Horses…

Galba
Well charge them down

Labaecus
Dont waste your time
You will never catch the Lusitani
When riding bareback racing for their lives
& see the man upon that chestnut mare
His name is Viriathus, you will find
Him like a viper in your feather’d nest

Galba
Silence

Labaecus
He will avenge us

Galba
Silence him

Labaecus
Long live Lusitania

Centurion
Curse your tongue
Better that it be ripp’d out from the root

Centurion cuts out the tongue of Labaecus

Galba
Take him away, my friend in Capua
Prefers mute slaves, they do not answer back

Exit all excepting Galba, who watches the slaughter from afar


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SCENE 2 – The Mountains

Viriathus is camping in woods – enter a soothsayer, Cabruno, with a crack of a stepped on branch

Viriathus
Who goes there?

Cabruno
Be tranquil, I am of you
In spirit if not blood

Viriathus
What do you mean
Old hag?

Cabruno
I am one of the Vaccaei
& you are Viriathus, I can see,
The augurs spoke as much,

Viriathus
You read the birds
Are you soothsayer?

Cabruno
I prefer to say
A seeker & a speaker of the truth
I was found by the limitless silver
Starcoated waters of the Tartessis
In hollow of a river-rock was found
& raised by an old hunter near the dunes
By Carvoeiro’s Cape, out there was rais’d
The least proportion of Humanity,
Until I saw the light that guided me

Viriathus
Please accept my ancestral reverance

Cabruno
As you survived the Galban massacre
What will you do today

Viriathus
I do not care
For anything but air, & grass, & streams

Cabruno
Let me deliver you your destiny
Twas written in the innards of a stag
A shepherd from Cape Nerium would rise
To raise the thirty tribes which occupy
All the lands between Artabria
& Tagus, taking back what was taken
Harness eclectic Lusitania,
Prefer her own opinions to yours,
For as you tam’d wild horses in your youth,
Beneath your thighs they felt immortal steeds,
If you so ride the Lusitanians
They too shall feel noblesse & fight for you!

Viriathus
This is a path unsuited to my core,
I am a secret, solitary soul,
The woods prefer to wide-eyed drinking bouts,
I love the mountains more than woman’s looks,
Watch meteors instead of mortal tales –
No leader am for tasks you thus descry.

Cabruno
As sun appears a small disc in the sky
Yet beams out floods of light to wake all things
In golden glow, its warmth doth permeate
All fibres of existence, so can you
Inspire your people, smile & sieze the day


CARPE DIEM

Cabruno
Life is the reason for this song,
Ya won’t know anyone for too long,
Some grow rich & some stay strong,
Some are good & some go wrong,
Some men work & some men play,
While others take the time to say
Carpe Diem, seize the day…

Viriathus
If I could lead my life again I would try not to lie,
I’d care about all of my friends until the day I die,
If people thought the worst of me then I would ask them why
& then all of my dreams could be some special place to fly…

Life is the reason to my rhyme,
Yer don’t owe anyone for your time,
Some men fade & some men shine,
Some men lead a life of crime,
Some men taste the salt & pray
While others take the time to say,
Carpe Diem, seize the day…

Cabruno
Only the lonely, lonely, lonely rovers really true
& if you reach that special place I’ve saved a place for you

Viriathus
I’m tryin hard & I’m burnin real hard, I’m learnin’ how to try
So when I reach that special place I’ll elevate & fly


Cabruno
Carpe Diem, my bold youth, sieze the day

Viriathus
Why praise a phrase in Latin

Cabruno
Know you foe

Viriathus
If what you feel is truth then I shall try
If what you say is written, let me fight,
Who am I to obsticate the spirits,
With them I crave, with effective intent
My people’s paramount deliverance,
When banishing invaders forever,
This terrible delirium must end!

Cabruno
You will need training in patience, statecraft,
Strategums, study Rome’s alien thoughts,
But when vital responsibilities
Controll’d by one mind only, then these minds
Must rest in healthiest bodies possible
Else sickness denigrates the conjur’d deed

Viriathus
I am a healthy man

Cabruno
You could improve
Constitution vigorates clarity
Think of those Spartans at the famous springs
Of Thermopylae, each a thousand worth,
Sons of a strict regime, like them you’ll form
Armour impenetrable, heat & cold,
Untroubl’d be by hunger & hardship,
No match shall find thro’ all Iberia;
You shall spare no indulgence, even food
You’ll eat to live, not feed your belly’s greed,
& only with fatigue find hours to sleep,
From egotism purify your heart
& in that pearl such atmospheres arise
To witness wisest courses, exist they
At all times, awaiting to be reveal’d;
With all of this you shall obtain the crown
Of nature, far from foreign crudeties,
When all the rude waves of the roughest sea
Could never wash the laurels from your brow
Become the captain undeposable,
Become Rome’s royal antithesis, curse
That decadent pit of pedantic souls,
Grasping at pleasures that, like fetid slime,
Oozes thro fingers, grazes foul faces,
Devouring pock-marks, as heavenly Gods
Trace dissapointments in scarlet sunsets,
Left wondering how Humans lose their way.

Viriathus
I shall return our People to the modes
Of life on which our People were nurtured
When begins my training?

Cabruno
It has begun!


THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO

“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”

Interview: Damian Beeson Bullen

The Young Shakespeare (2): Shakespeare’s First Poems


1525: Shakespeare’s Family Lands


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In 1525, Richard Shakespeare, our poet’s grandfather, possessed lands at a place called Wroxall, between Coventry & Birmingham. Eight miles to the north of Wroxall lies the manor of Meriden, known to have belonged to the Earl of Derby, who possessed, according to Thomas Aspden;

The ancient seats of Lathom and Knowsley, with all the houses, lands, castles, and appurtenances in Lancashire, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Cheshire, and many in Wales ; also the manor of Meriden, in the County of Warwick, with the old seat in Cannon Row, Westminster (afterwards called Derby Court), and also the advowson of the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, in the city of Chester.

It is only a loose connection, but we can positively determine how the ‘antecessors’ Stanley & the Shakespeare were, in essence, nieghbours.


1552: Edmund Spenser Born


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Edmund Spenser was born to Lancastrian parents, but down in the nation’s capital. Spenser’s father, John, originally from the Burnley area (like me), had moved to London to seek work, appearing in the Merchant Taylor’s school annals as a free ‘journeyman, clothworker.’ In the Spenserian epoch, East Lancashire was simply teeming with Edmunds & John Spensers, the two names alternating from generation to generation, as seen in a will made by Margaret Spenser of Hurstwood in 1605;

Mary, Margaret, and ffrances Nutter daughters of the said Henry, Edmund Spenser son and heir of John Spenser, deceased, ” to him ” all my manure or worthinge,” Henry Spencer base son of John Spenser, Nicholas Towne and Grace Towne now his wife ” “one churn one Masheknoppe” ” Mary Spenser daughter of John Spenser deceased, Richard Cowcrofte to whom I am Aunt, Henry Cowcrofte of Birchecliffe, John Spenser, of Hurstwood, Ellinor now his wife, Edmund Spenser son of the said John Spenser

In the gorgeous wee hamlet of Hurstwood, near Burnley, there is a Tudor building known as ‘Spenser’s House’ still standing today. In and around Hurstwood, & at Extwistle-and-Briercliffe in Burnley, the Spensers, formerly Le Spensers, had long held property. In the Gentleman’s Magazine of August 1842, Dr Craik cites the research of a certain FC Spenser of Halifax, who declared;

The poet always spelt his surname with an s; and it appears from the registers that it was spelt in the same manner by the family at Hurstwood; not only in the reign of Elizabeth, but for a century afterwards; while even at Kildwick, near Skipton, only about ten or twelve miles distant, it is spelled with a c, in the manner as did, and do, the Spencers of Althorpe.


1557: John Shakespeare Marries Into The Arden Family


 

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Mary Arden

Shakespeare’s father turns up in Stratford on June 17, 1556, brought to court by a certain Thomas Such for the recovery of £8. He is described as, ‘John Shakyspere of Stretforde, in the county of Warwick, glover.’ After three hearings that summer, the case was eventually dismissed when Thomas Such, ‘did not complete the action he embarked on.’ A year later he marries Mary Arden in Stratford-upon-Avon, whose family were staunch Catholics under a Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. The excellent essay, To Be or Not to Be (Catholic, That is),’ by Daniel Wackerman shows how Shakespeare’s maternal grandfather, Edward Arden, ‘was said to have secretly kept his own catholic priest, disguised as the family gardener,’ adding that Shakespeare’s mother, ‘made specific mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her will, a practice long out of fashion for all save Catholics in 16th-century England.’ It seems the old faith would never really leave their son, William, whom according to the Rev. Richard Davies, the rector of Sapperton (1695), ‘dyed a papist.’


1558: Familists


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Mary Tudor died in November 1558. During her time as queen she had reversed her father’s establishment of the Protestant Church of England & ruled as a Catholic, burning a whole heap of Protestants along the way. Her sister & successor Elizabeth would re-establish her father Henry VIII’s ‘Church of England,’ which at a stroke sent Catholic families such as the Ardens into secret worship once again. In the middle of this religious schizophrenia that was western Christendom in the 16th century, one sect fluttered about like a butterfy in a hurricane, preaching peace & unity of faith. The Familists were a radical, non-sectarian religious group known as the ‘Family of Love,’ who embraced both Catholics AND Protestants – the perfect alternative for the schismatic psyche of the Tudor state.

Non-Conformist religious obsessives though they were, the Familists embraced alternative views to those of the established church, views which were in a sense, an attempt to introduce Reason into religion and more reasoned forms of religious observance to those required by the established church. As such, the early familists can perhaps be viewed as among the precursors of the coming Enlightenment. Familism began to take hold in England during the 1550s, led by a certain Christopher Vittels, who had been a disciple of the Dutch Familist leader, Henry Niclaes. Worshipping in secret, the Familists would conceal their true beliefs while putting on a show of conformity for the outside world. If they were ever outed, they would stringently deny it, realizing it was better to briefly lie & stay alive in order to continue the worship of God, rather than let pride lead them to the bonfire.


1560: John Shakespeare Signs his Catholic Spiritual Testament


 

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Henley Street

In the 18th century, in the rafters of the house on Henley Street, Stratford, was found ‘The Sacred Testament,’ a handwritten personal dedication to the Catholic faith, signed by Shakespeare’s father himself. That our bard at some point in his life encountered the Testament seems quite likely, 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 account of 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
Testament

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
Hamlet

In the Testament, where John Shakespeare beseeches, ‘all my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks,’ the pluralization of parents means the testament must have been made before 1561, the year when John’s father Richard, died.


1564: Birth of William Shakespeare


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In April 1564, just as the season of spring was beginning to flood the British Isles with scent & colour, a certain Mary Shakespeare has just given birth to a boy. Holding her hand is her husband, John Shakespeare, excited at the prospect of their baby, but nervous as to whether he would survive the rigors of infancy. Their first two swaddling baby girls had pass’d away before they could walk, & it would have been with doubtless trepidation when ‘Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere’ was scribbl’d in the Baptismal record of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church on the 26 April 1564. It turned out that John & Mary had no need to worry, even when three months later the plague struck Stratford. By the end of the year over 200 people had been buried, about one fifth of the population of the town, but thro’ fate or fortune baby Will survived the outbreak, & would eventually grow up into one of the finest young men in the kingdom.


1566: Sir John Townley imprisoned for Catholicism


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‘This countri as yett is verie backward in religion’ wrote Thomas Mead, ‘they that have the sword in there handes vnder her maiestie to redresse abuses among vs, suffer it to rust in the scabarde,’. He was talking about Lancashire, probably the most staunchly Catholic county in England. Lancashire was a superstitious, underpopulated region, where almost all of the gentry refused to accept the new religion imposed on them by Henry VIII & his daughter Elizabeth. They were more than willing to pay fines to the state rather than join a parish congregation onto which a Genevan vicar had been foisted. Of these nobles, the most prolific offender was Sir John Townley of Towneley Hall, whose gorgeous mansion was situated in the most serendipitous grounds just to the south-east of Burnley.

Anybody who did not attend the regular Anglican services was termed a recusant, & Sir John was to be imprisoned several times for his open defiance, paying over £5000 in fines throughout his lifetime in order to avoid attending the Protestants. He would worship the Old Faith in secret at Towneley Hall – now a museum & art gallery – where one can still see the secret chambers where the Catholic priests were hidden. The hall also possesses a beautiful painting of Sir John Towneley sitting with his family, which is imbibed with the following inscription, dated to 1601.

This John, about the 6th or 7th year of her Majesty that now is, for professing the Apostolic Catholic Roman faith, was imprisoned first at Chester Castle, then sent to the Marshalsea, then to York Castle, then to the Blockhouses in Hull, then to the Gatehouse in Westminster, then to Manchester, then to Broughton in Oxfordshire, then twice to Ely in Cambridgeshire; and so now of 73 years old, and is bound to appear and keep within 5 miles of Townley his house; and who hath, since the statute of 23 Elizabeth, paid into the exchequer 20 the month and doth still, so that there is already paid above £5,000. A.D. thor.


1568: The English College Founded in Douay


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The small town of Douay lies on the River Scarpe, twenty miles south of Lille in northern France. A flourishing, medieval conurbation; it had become stuffed full of English Catholics in exile, hoping to save their country from the ‘heathen’ protestant church. In1559 the town established a university, with its first chancellor being the exiled Dr. Richard Smith, former Fellow of Merton and regius professor of divinity at Oxford.

In 1568 a bunch of Lancastrian Catholics make a sideways attempt at bringing their country back under the fold of the Vatican. The plan was to train up hundreds of Jesuit priests in Douay, who would return to England as the vanguard of a spiritual reconquista. The brains behind the scheme was a certain Lancastrian Catholic called William Allen, while funding for the college also came from Lancashire, where a gentleman called Thomas Hoghton diverted profits from his Alum mines to France. In a flash Douay was filled with cardinals, scholars & would-be priests, a hectic band whose sole purpose was to reclaim English spirituality in defiance of Protestant law. There would be blood, but there would be prayer.


1568: John Shakespeare Becomes Chief Bailiff of Stratford


 

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Shakepseare’s Poppadom

The first decade of William’s life saw his father grow in influence & affluence all about their home town. In July 1565 he was elected one of the 14 alderman of Stratford, becoming chief bailiff between the autumns of 1568 & 1569. It was on his watch that the Stratford corporation paid for its first ever set of travelling actors to perform in the town, the Queen’s Players. One can imagine the very young Shakespeare observing the theatrical spectacle for the first time, a lightning bolt of electricity which would sear his soul with the sheer wonder of it all.


1569: Death of Robert Nowell


Another member of the Lancastrian Catholic community was Robert Nowell, a half-brother of Sir John Townley. Upon his death in 1569, to satisfy the requirements of the will both Sir John & Robert’s full brother, Alexander Nowell, distributed linen and woollen cloth among the poor of the parish-dwellers of Burnley. Among the ‘poor kynsfolkes’ who benefited from other parts of the will were Lyttis Nowell of Castle Parish in Clitheroe, who had married a certain Lawrence Spenser. Another Spenser to benefit would be our young poet down London, for Robert Nowell was also the headmaster of the Merchant’s School in which the young Spenser was attending. The 19th century antiquarian J McKay writes of the will;

At folio 25 there is an entry of ‘Gownes geven to certeyn poor scholler (s) of the scholls aboute London, in number 32, viz., St. Paul’s, Merchant Taylor’s, St Anthony’s Schole, St. Saviour’s Gramar Schole, & Westminster Schole. Cost of cloth, with making, xixll. Xs. Vijd.’ First on the list of the scholars of Merchant Taylors’ who recieved these gifts stands our fledgeling epic poet ‘Edmunde Spenser.’


1570+: Spenser enters Familist Circles


 

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Throughout the 1570s, the writings of the de facto Familist leader, Henry Niclaeus, were translated by Christopher Vettels & disseminated throughout England. The brains behind the move, according to popular feeling at the time, were the Jesuits, whom the Welsh clergyman Meredith Hanmer (1543–1604) declared did ‘shaketh hands’ with their ‘brethren’ the Familists, a ‘detestable’ society of ‘like antiquity… who say that God is hominified in them & they deified in God.’ That a certain Dutch poet, Sir Jan van der Noot, was among their number can be discerned through his 1576 book, ‘Das Buch Extasis,’ which contains many Familist elements. In 1569 we gain the first hint of Spenser’s own connection to the group, for as a young man he became the English translator of der Noot’s ‘Theatre for Wordlings.’ Spenser admitted to such in 1591 when he reworked & reprinted the verses under his own name, stating them as being ‘formerly translated.’ Van der Noot’s use of embletic woodcuts throughout the 1570s would also inspire Spenser’s series which decorate the months of his Shepheard’s Calendar. We may also observe that in the extreme vicinity of Pendleside – where a Lawrence Spenser who died in 1584 seems to have been the poet’s grandfather – the hamlet of Grindleton was home to one of only two known nests of Familists in the north of England.


1570 : Shakespeare Starts School


Of Shakespeare’s schooling, Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718) writes, ‘his Father…. had bred him, ’tis true, for some time at a Free-School.’ This statement comes from Rowe’s introduction to his 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s plays in which he acknowledges, ‘the most considerable part of the passages relating to this life,’ were given him by the actor Thomas Betterton (1634-1710), who had made, ‘a journey to Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remains he could, of a name for which he had so great a veneration.’ Founded in the 14th century, Stratford Grammar School is still standing today, kept in a good condition by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. In 1568, according to the chamberlain’s accounts of the town for that year, we see money being spent on ‘repairing the scole,’ ‘dressing and sweeping the scole-house,’ ‘ground-sellynge the old scole, and taking down the sollar over the school,’ which means Shakespeare’s schooling had begun just after a big paint job. He would have started attending from about the age of 6, force fed a diet of endless Latin repetitions with a heavy emphasis on the Roman writers Ovid, Plautus & Seneca. He would also have been made to learn Greek in order to study the scriptures in their original form, being drilled in the Bible until it became second nature to him. Shakespeare even gives us an accurate glimpse into his own schooldays, one expects, when in The Merry Wives of Windsor the headmaster tests the knowledge of a pupil named, appropriately, William.

Sir Hugh Evans
Show me now, William, some declensions of your pronouns.

William Page
Forsooth, I have forgot.

Sir Hugh Evans
It is qui, quae, quod: if you forget your ‘quies,’ your ‘quaes,’ and your ‘quods,’ you must be preeches. Go your ways, and play; go.


1574: John Shakespeare is Doing Rather Well for Himself


John Shakespeare’s profession, as tradition holds, was a butcher (Aubrey), a glover (official records), a wool merchant (Rowe), or most likley he was employed in all three. By 1574, enough money had been made to pay Edmund & Emma Hall £40 for two freehold houses, complete with lovely tudor-style gardens & orchards. Also in the property portfolio, the family home was still at Henley Street, while the Shaksepeare’s were still the owners of properties which Mary had inherited. John Shakespeare was also beginning to enquire about acquiring a coat of arms for his family. Coats of arms were expensive, costing between £10 and £30. As a comparison the schoolmaster in Stratford-upon-Avon was paid a salary of £20 a year. It was clear John had money.


1574 : Shakespeare Writes For The Familists

15891

When Joseph Walford Martin described certain Elizabethan references as being, ‘explicit in their charge that Familist at least incline toward Rome,’ we may now plant a hyperbasis of the pro-Catholic Shakespeares, in fear of persecution but hardly wanting to conform to the Anglian church, beginning to dabble with this new-fangled ‘Familism’ in the early 1570s. It is, then, in the year of John Shakespeare’s greatest financial prosperity that the first works of William Shakespeare were recorded for posterity. He was ten at the time, an age where massive minds such as his should have been revealing their first glimmers of genius. Only four years ago, in 2016, a certain chess player called Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu became the youngest ever International Master (the level below Grandmaster) in history, at the age of 10 years, 10 months & 19 days. It makes sense that the greatest ever writer in the English language would have shown some intimations as to his talent at an early date. If we see creative output as vegetation, Shakespeare’s would be something akin to the vast & ancient yew tree found on the Whittinghame Estate, East Lothian; with a tangled canopy of green & a root system spreading half a mile or more. Such roots run deep, & when analyzing the Shakespearean metaphysic, we must assume that his own would have ran stretched into startlingly far corners.

Starting young explains the brilliance of Shakespeare’s ouput – he would always have to find new ways to express similar sentiments, pushing him to ever better manipulations of language. At the very beginning of his career there are two ballads printed in 1574 which reflect Shakespeare’s grammar school knowledge of the Bible. Accredited to a certain W.S., each contains a number of rather neat, but not amazingly written stanzas. The ballads are packed full of semi-quotations from the bible, & it seems to be a learning tool straight from the cloisters of grammar school academe. Printed in Cologne, they made their way to Germany & into the hands of the Familist Hendrik Niclaes, who printed these along with many of his own poems that year, such as his Exhortatio, Evangelium Regni & Epistola. Margaret Healy highlights some of the influence that Niclaean teaching had on Shakespeare;

We might look again in this context at the line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 124, which seems to designate religious martyrs (those who ‘die for goodness’), rather unheroically, as ‘fools of Time.’ One’s inner spiritual state was crucial, outward appearance was mere show (it is intriguing to recall the line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 102, ‘I love you not less, though less the show appear’, in relation to this). H.N. believed that through Christ & the Resurrection every man could become spiritually regenerated & godded with god or ‘deified’ (an odd word, which appears in A Lover’s Complaint, line 84).

Almost 450 years later, only single copies of the ballads remain, housed in the Bodleian library at Oxford. The first two stanzas from each poem are given here, when the author, W.S., is named in the Latin statement; Per W.S. Veritatis Amatorem. Anno. 1574. Reading through these ballads, one can feel the youth of their composer, while also sensing the indescribable talent burgeoning with the promise of beautiful verses yet to come. Note the appearance of the initials of Henry Niklaes (HN).

A new balade or songe of the Lambes feast

I Hearde one saye:
Coma now awaye /
Make no delaye:
Alack / why stande yee than?
All is doubtlesse
In redynesse /
There wantes but Gesse /
To the Supper of the Lamb.
For Hee is now blest // in verye deede /
Thats found ad Gest // in the Mariage-weede.

THE Scriptures all /
Perfourmede shall
Bee, in this my Call /
Voyced-out by H.N. (than):
I am Gods Love /
Com from above /
All Men to move /
To the Supper of the Lamb.
For Hee is now blest // in verye deede /
Thats found ad Gest // in the Mariage-weede

Another, out of goodwill

The Grace from God
the Father hye /
Which is of Mightes most a /
The Mercye eake from Christ our Lorde /
And Peace from the holye Gost a /
Com to All // That now shall /
In Love with us agree a /
And consent // With whole Intent /
To the Loves Soscietee a

LOVE the Lorde above al-thinge /
Is the first Precept by name a:
Love thy Neyghbour as thy-selfe /
The seconds lyke the same a.
Thus wee see // Love to bee,
Written with Gods-his owne Hande a /
Toe geeve us Light // And guyde us right /
Eaven out of that darke Lande a.

It has been long-observed how the writings of the Familist, Justus Lipsius, had a profound effect on our bard’s political thought, especially his 1584 translation of the treatise De Constantia. In that text, when Lipsius quotes Petronius’ ‘the whole world is a stage-play’ we get the seedlings of one of Shakespeare’s most famous passages, As You Like It’s;

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

Elsewhere in Shakespeare’s work he embodied not just a wonderful realism but also the stirrings of a reasoned and progressive challenge to the irrationalism of established orthodoxies. Falstaff’s catechism, exposing the futility and meaninglessness of honour, war and war mongering is a lovely example of this:

Well, ’tis no matter; honour pricks
me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I
come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism.