The Young Shakespeare (11): The Dark Lady


Discovering the fascinating truth

Of Shakespeare’s missing years


FEBRUARY 1587
Shakespeare in Cyprus

After the John Dee meeting in the Garland come three stanzas which whisk our travellers to the Holy land;

But one three years Sir William would stay,
Within the Emperor’s court so freely,
And then Sir William he would go,
To Bethlehem right speedily,

Likewise to fair Jerusalem,
Where our blessed Saviour Christ did die
He asked them if it was so,
They answered and told him aye.

This is the Tree, the Jews then said,
Whereon the Carpenter’s son did die;
That was my Saviour, Sir William said,
For sure he died for the sins of me.

In the possession of one of our party members might have lain the delightful Informacion for Pylgrymes unto the Holy Londe, published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1498. The Rough Guide of the Middle Ages, it was packed full of advice for tavellers, including the best equipment to take with them on their journey including; ‘a lytell cawdron, a fryenge panne, dysshes, platers, cuppes of glasse… a fther bed, a matrasse, a pylawe, two payre sheets & a quylte.’ The book also suggests travelling with six chickens in cages, which brings the romantic image of travelling the continent crashing down to earth somewhat.

Sailing south through the Adriatic once more, this time they hung a left at Greece & eventuslly came to dock for a while at the ports of Cyprus. This visit would inspire Shakespeare to bescene parts of his tragedy, Othello, on the island. The official setting is given in the text as only a ‘sea-port’ of Cyprus, & a ‘hall in the castle,’ with local tradition affirming that Shakespeare was describing the heavily fortified medieval citadel at Famagusta. It is while staying at this fortress that Shakespeare would have heard the local story of Francesca de Sessa, a dark-skinned Venetian officer serving in Cyprus known as ‘Il Moro.’ Both place & person were implanted in Shakespeare’s vernal imagination, waiting for them to catch the creative fire one day which would burn Othello into existence. When it did so, the play would be given further gloss by raiding Cinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi (1565), which Shakespeare had read in Italian. This pattern of development continues throughout most of Shakespeare’s continental plays: when metapoetic travelogues are liberally sprinkled with the plots of foreign authors.

In 1553, on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the diarist John Locke recorded his experiences of Famagusta, a sample of which read;

We alighted at Famagusta , and after we were refreshed we went to see the towne. This is a very faire strong holde, and the strongest and greatest in the Iland. The walles are faire and new, and strongly rampired with foure principall bulwarkes, and betweene them turrions, responding one to another, these walles did the Venetians make. They have also on the haven side of it a Castle, and the haven is chained, the citie hath onely two gates, to say, one for the lande and another for the sea, they have in the towne continually, be it peace or warres, 800 souldiers, and fortie and sixe gunners, besides Captaines, petie Captaines, Governour and Generall. The lande gate hath alwayes fiftie souldiers, pikes and gunners with their harnes, watching thereat night and day. At the sea gate five and twentie, upon the walles every night doe watch fifteene men in watch houses, for every watch house five men, and in the market place 30 souldiers continually. There may no soldier serve there above 5. yeres, neither will they without friendship suffer them to depart afore 5. yeres be expired, and there may serve of all nations except Greekes. They have every pay, which is 45. dayes, 15 Mozenigos, which is 15 shillings sterling. Their horsemen have onely sixe soldes Venetian a day, and provender for their horses, but they have also certaine lande therewith to plow and sowe for the maintenance of their horses, but truely I marvell how they live being so hardly fed, for all the sommer they feede onely upon chopt strawe and barley, for hey they have none, and yet they be faire, fat and serviceable. The Venetians send every two yeeres new rulers, which they call Castellani. The towne hath allowed it also two gallies continually armed and furnished.

The 30 in the morning we ridde to a chappell, where they say Saint Katherin was borne. This Chappell is in olde Famagusta , the which was destroyed by Englishmen, and is cleane overthrowne to the ground, to this day desolate and not inhabited by any person, it was of a great circuit, and there be to this day mountaines of faire, great, and strong buildings, and not onely there, but also in many places of the Iland. Moreover when they digge, plowe, or trench they finde sometimes olde antient coines, some of golde, some of silver, and some of copper, yea and many tombes and vautes with sepulchers in them. This olde Famagusta is from the other, foure miles, and standeth on a hill, but the new towne on a plaine. Thence we returned to new Famagusta againe to dinner, and toward evening we went about the towne, and in the great Church we sawe the tombe of king Jaques, which was the last king of Cyprus , and was buried in the yere of Christ one thousand foure hundred seventie & three, and had to wife one of the daughters of Venice , of the house of Cornari, the which family at this day hath great revenues in this Island, and by means of that mariage the Venetians chalenge the kingdom of Cyprus .

The first of October in the morning, we went to see the reliefe of the watches. That done, we went to one of the Greekes Churches to see a pot or Jarre of stone, which is sayd to bee one of the seven Jarres of water, the which the Lord God at the mariage converted into wine. It is a pot of earth very faire, white enamelled, and fairely wrought upon with drawen worke, and hath on either side of it, instead of handles, eares made in fourme as the Painters make angels wings, it was about an elle high, and small at the bottome, with a long necke and correspondent in circuit to the bottome, the belly very great and round, it holdeth full twelve gallons, and hath a tap-hole to drawe wine out thereat, the Jarre is very auncient, but whether it be one of them or no, I know not. The aire of Famagusta is very unwholesome, as they say, by reason of certaine marish ground adjoyning unto it. They have also a certaine yeerely sicknesse raigning in the same towne, above all the rest of the Island: yet neverthelesse, they have it in other townes, but not so much. It is a certaine rednesse and paine of the eyes, the which if it bee not quickly holpen, it taketh away their sight, so that yeerely almost in that towne, they have about twentie that lose their sight, either of one eye or both, and it commeth for the most part in this moneth of October, and the last moneth: for I have met divers times three and foure at once in companies, both men and women. Their living is better cheape in Famagusta then in any other place of the Island, because there may no kinde of provision within their libertie bee solde out of the Citie.


MARCH 1587: Shakespeare Sees Jerusalem

And then Sir William he would go,
To Bethlehem right speedily,

Likewise to fair Jerusalem,
Where our blessed Saviour Christ did die
He asked them if it was so,
They answered and told him aye.

This is the Tree, the Jews then said,
Whereon the Carpenter’s son did die ;
That was my Saviour, Sir William said,
For sure he died for the sins of me.

For two Catholics, a chance to visit the place where Jesus was born could not be missed. There are no traces of the visit in the plays, but instead I shall return to Fynes Moryson’ own visit to the area, whose Protestantism caused quite a kerfuffle;

These foure comming in company to Jerusalem, had beene received into this Monastery, and when they had seene the monuments within and neere Jerusalem, they went to Bethlehem, where it happened that upon a health drunke by the Flemmings to the King of Spaine, which the English refused to pledge, they fell from words to blowes, so as two of them returned wounded to the Monastery of Jerusalem. Then these Italian Friars, (according to the Papists manner, who first make the sicke confesse their sinnes, and receive the Lords Supper, before they suffer Physitian or Apothecary to come to them, or any kitchin physicke to be given them): I say the Friars pressed them to confesse their sinnes, and so to receive the Lords Supper, which when they refused to doe, it was apparant to the Friars, that they were of the reformed Religion, (whom they terme heretikes). Whereupon the Friars beganne to neglect them (I will not say to hate them): and while the two which were wounded staied for recovery of their health, and so detained the other two with them, it happened that the third fell sicke.

Elsewhere, John Locke remarks on the banning of the wearing of the colour green by the Muslaim authorities;

The 23 we sent the bote on land with a messenger to the Padre Guardian of Jerusalem. This day it was notified unto mee by one of the shippe that had beene a slave in Turkie, that no man might weare greene in this land, because their prophet Mahomet went in greene. This came to my knowledge by reason of the Scrivanello, who had a greene cap, which was forbidden him to weare on the land.


APRIL 1587

More Levantine Travels

NeapolisToMiletus

After their pilgrimage, the two men would have set off toward Constantinople,  probably  stopping off at Tripoli, Lebanon, for supplies, of which place Moryson writes; ‘The Haven is compassed with a wall, and lies upon the west-side of the City, wherein were many little Barkes, and some Shippes of Marsiles in France. The Haven is fortified with seven Towers, whereof the fourth is called the Tower of Love, because it was built by an Italian Merchant, who was found in bed with a Turkish woman, which offence is capitall as well to the Turke as Christian, if he had not thus redeemed his life. Upon the Haven are built many store-houses for Merchants goods, and shops wherein they are set to sayle. The City of Tripoli is some halfe mile distant from the Haven, to which the way is sandy, having many gardens on both sides. In this way they shew a pillar festned upon a hill of sand, by which they say the sand is inchanted, lest it should grow to over whelme the City.’ 

In ‘The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant,’ we read of another Englishman’s medical experiences of the port of Tripoli in Syria.

One eveninge, ridinge with a janesarie to the waterside, sittinge uppon my asse, in the midest of a plaine fields, I felte a paulpable blowe a good one the left shoulder, which staied me one my asse. The janesary angell ridinge before me looked backe, but nether I nor he sawe any thinge. When I came backe in my chamber some hower after, standing at a table, sowinge a little gould in my doblett (for the next day I should have gone for Alepo, my horse hire paid for and aparrell sent), I sank downe uppon a lute, that stode at the corner of my bourd, and broke it all in peces. At last, a littell recoveringe, I crept to the dore and cauled for aquavita; which was brought, and I threwe myselfe thawart the bed.

Then I fell into a Jewe doctors hands, a phesition, who purged and drewe so much blodd frome me that I was not wholie recovered of that sicknes in many monthes after. Yet I put myselfe into the shipp Hercules, full weake, and ther had the yealowe
janders, after that I had bine so weake (and recovered againe) that I was not able to stand or goe, but every time I was lifted to a cheaire, whilst John Bond and William Tett (who weare my good attendants) made my bed, I sounded [i.e. swooned] awaye, and beinge laid in bed againe I recovered : a strainge and most greviouse sicknes. I lived four monethes at least by barly water boyled thicke and thickened with suger; also stued prunes and dried apricoks put in water, and the water of them I dranke,
which did refreshe and kepe me alive. Then I fell to a little chickin broth, and so to tast the chicken etc. That Tripoli ayre at that time had infected 40 or 50 Inglishmen at least. Onely the maisters mate and four others died. The coffin was made and sett
out for me, but God prevented that busines (His name be ever praised).

It is possible Shakespeare & Stanley went deeper into the Syrian hinterland, for the city of Aleppo is mentioned in Macbeth and in Othello. In Macbeth we see the mention of a merchant trading ship –  ‘Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ the Tiger’ – while the second mention is found Othello, spoken by the man himself, who describes his killing of a Turk just as he stabs himself!

In Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban’d Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus.

Aleppo

From Syria our party pass’d on to Turkey, & there is one play in particular which contains memories of their visit. In the Comedy of Errors, a Sicilian merchant called Egeon is imprisoned in the ancient city of Ephesus. The city played an integral part in the early days of Christianity, being one of the seven churches addressed by the Book of Revelations. Fifteen centuries later, the Christians were usurped by the Islamic Ottomans, & this once well-populated & sophisticated city became locked in a terminal decline. Its river, the Caystros, was steadily silting up into malarial swamps, leaving the once bustling harbours of Ephesus far inland. Population levels plummeted so much that a century before Shakespeare’s visit, the city was said to contain 2,000 souls. By the time our Bard reached the city the numbers had halved, & come 1824 both town & citadel had been abandoned completely, except for wild animals wandering its time-haunted streets.

It is time now to focus our investigation on a situation central to the plot of the Comedy of Errors – the imprisonment of Egeon. The plotline surfaces only in the first & final acts, but the threat of death hangs over Egeon throughout the entire play. In light of the Stanleyan Grand Tour, we must notice the tallies between Egeon & Stanley, who was himself imprisoned while visiting Turkey. Thomas Aspen writes; ‘after paying a visit to Palestine, he journeyed to Turkey, and had a narrow escape of becoming a victim to the bigotry of the followers of Mahommed. In a discussion with one of the Paschas he defended Christianity and the Bible, and denounced the religion propounded in the Koran as false and deceptive. He was arrested for “blasphemy against the religion of Mahommed,” and after being kept a long time in a filthy and dismal prison, a date was fixed for his execution, but a lady interceded on his behalf, and three days before the appointed time he was liberated.‘ That ‘dismal prison’ was not situated in Ephesus, however, but in Constantinople; a city towards which our suntann’d party traveled next.

Heading out of Syria, as the young Shakespeare was sailing along the shores of western Turkey, he was already jotting ideas down for the play, ‘Pericles.’ At one point he was reclining lazily in a boat, anchored in the harbour of Mitylene, a moment which transchispered itself into the play’s stage directions;

On board Pericles’ ship, off Mytilene. A pavilion on deck, with a curtain beofe it; PERICLES within, reclining on a couch, unkepty clad in sackcloth. A barge lies beside the Trian vessel

‘Shakespere’s own muse his Pericles first bore,’ said the great poet of Restoration England, John Dryden. The uneven writing of Pericles suggests its first two acts were co-written. As early as 1709, Nicholas Rowe was suggesting,

‘there is good Reason to believe that the greatest part of that Play was not written by him; tho’ it is own’d, some part of it certainly was, particularly the last Act.‘ The second author’s identity is unknown, but Pericles does contain a number idiomatic expressions of the Lancashire dialect,such as would have been native to Stanley, such as ‘keep thee warm.’ So yet again, as we travel with Stanley & Shakespeare, the idea of them collaborating & composing the prototypes of a number of the canon’s early plays remanifests.


MAY 1587
Shakespeare Visits Constantinople

Constantinople-in-the-16th-century-centre-of-ottoman-empire

Our Grand Tourists have now reached the furthest limits of their travels, reaching the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Only two years before their arrival, an Elizabethan traveler called Henry Austel had recorded his own visit to the ‘most statelie City of Constantinople, which for the situation & proude seat thereof, for the beautiful & commodious havens, & for the great & sumptuous buildings of the Temples, which they call Moschea, is to be preferred before all Cities of Europe.’ It had only been a decade or two since the Ottoman Empire had reached its high-water mark, but defeats at Malta & Lepanto ensured the Turks would never ever dominate the world. They would now have to trade their way to global improvement, & in the wake of the Italian financial crash of the 1570s it was the English merchants who would deal directly with the Grand Turke.

As he walked around its capital, Shakespeare would have marveled at the minarets & markets, while as under sultry Turkish suns & star-studded Oriental moons may have penned the following sonnet to Stanley.

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay’d,
To-morrow sharpen’d in his former might:
So, love, be thou; although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
Else call it winter, which being full of care
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wish’d, more rare.

The key allusion is to the Greek myth of Hero & Leander, the two passionate lovers were seperated by the Hellespont, today’s Dardandanelles, near which Constantinople lies. Leander would swim each night across the straits to make passionate love to his beloved Hero, as in the sonnet’s, ‘where two contracted new / Come daily to the banks, that, when they see / Return of love, more blest may be the view.’ More support for a direct Shakespearean visit to the area can be found in Othello, where the relentless nature of individuality is compared to the strong one-way currents found at the Hellespont.

Like to the Pontick Sea,
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne’er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on
To the Propontic and the Hellespont

Joseph Mallord William Turner 'The Parting of Hero and Leander', exhibited 1837 Joseph Mallord William Turner ‘The Parting of Hero and Leander’, exhibited 1837

Embedded in Shakespeare’s description is the word ‘icy,’ a word which indicates personal knowledge. The reference does not appear in Pliny – or anywhere else despite the efforts of the best anti-shakespeareans – but is true all the same


SEPTEMBER 1587
Stanley Incarcerated

We have already learnt of Stanley’s incarceration in Turkey on trussed up charges of Blasphemy. The Garland tells us;

Sir William was taken prisoner,
And for his religion condemn’d to die.

Before I’ll forsake my living Lord,
My blessed Saviour and sweet Lamb;
Sweet Jesus Christ that died for me,
I’ll die the worst Death that e’er did man.

Farewel Father, and farewel Mother,
And farewel all Friends at Latham-Hall,
Little do they know I am a Prisoner,
Or how I’m subject unto thrall.

More details are given in the Brief Account, in which this we are told how a certain ‘bashaw’ (pasha) attempted to entangle Stanley in religious controversy. The Lancashire lad was shrewd at first, until the Pasha cunningly declared Christianity to be a fable; ‘your prophet is an imposter, your profession hypocrisy.‘ Stanley countered with a spirited defence, on which he was swiftly arrested by ‘a band of janissaries’ & cast in a prison, three yards square. Stanley’s imprisonment would last for 5 weeks, without bread or water, & suffering the constant torments of an insolent jailor, while all the time the Pasha was using his ‘utmost influence’ to bring Stanley ‘to the gibbet.’

These events seem to have taken place in September 1587, as discerned thro’ the mention of a lunar eclipse in sonnet 107;

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.

On the 16th September, 1587, the Moon was shadowed in a deep partial eclipse, lasting 3 hours and 7 minutes, when 76% was shrouded in darkness. Thus, it was after this event, when ‘the mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,’ that Shakespeare’s love for Stanley became ‘forfeit to a confined doom,‘ ie imprisoned in a Turkish prison awaiting death. Fortunately for the lads & their love, a heroine was just about to ride to their rescue, whose entrance into the story should settle the greatest Shakespearean mystery of them all… the identity of the mysterious ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets, who was in fact a Turkish noblewoman.

A Lady walking under the prison wall,
Hearing Sir William so sore lament,
Unto the Great Turk she did go,
To beg his life was her intent

A Boon, a Boon, thou Emperor,
For thou’rt a Lord of great command;
Grant me the life of an Englishman,
Therefore against me do not stand,

For I will make him a husband of mine,
Whereby Mahomet he may adore;
He’ll carry me into his own country,
And safely thither conduct me o’er.

The Lady’s to the Prison gone,
Where that Sir William he did lie;
Be of good chear, thou Englishman,
I think this day I’ve set thee free;

If thou wilt yield to marry me,
And take me for to be thy bride;
To take me into thy own country,
And safely thither to be my Guide.

I cannot marry, Sir William said,
To ne’er a Lady in this country;
For if ever on English ground I tread,
I have a wife, and children three.

This Excuse serv’d Sir William well,
So the Lady was sorry for what he did say,
And gave him five hundred pounds in gold,
To carry him into his own country;

But one half year Sir William would stay,
After from prison he was set free;

According to the Brief Account, while in Constantinople Stanley had endeared himself to the family of an influential Turk, whose wife & daughter had become greatly concerned about his incarceration. The daughter – who is clearly mentioned in the Garland – managed to get an interview with the Sultan, & eventually secured Stanley’s freedom. As she turned up at the prison, the Brief Account tells us it was with ‘the most rapturous emotions’ that Stanley ‘beheld his female deliverer.‘ She found him in a most sorry state indeed; his body was decimated, his eyes were sunken, his cheeks were pallid & his mind was maddened by thoughts of imminent execution. Instead, at the eleventh hour he was saved from the gibbet by the ‘romantic gallantry’ of a ‘worthy family.’


OCTOBER 1587
The Dark Lady

It is clear that there was a Turkish woman very much in love with Stanley at the same time as was Shakespeare. The back-story reflects itself with neatness onto the dramatic sub-structure of the sonnets, in which a Dark Lady courts both Shakespeare & the Handsome Youth, who we have already associated quite clinically with Stanley. Metric reminiscences of this ménage a trois are found in sonnets 127–152, where Shakespeare & Stanley are shown to be in love with the same dark-skinned woman, who appears to have had some kind of amorous relations with both men. Sonnets 127 & 130 are fine reflections of Shakespeare’s internal torment at falling for an exotic beauty;

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

doctorwho37

A little of the Dark Lady’s personality can be discerned by a deeper reading of the sonnets. She is painted as a most promiscuous creature, who ‘robb’d others’ beds revenues of their rents,’ & ‘in act her bed-vow broke,’ which implies she was already married, & may even have been the mother of the family, not the daughter!

There are more clues for the Turks to invesitage for we can also see the Dark Lady as described in sonnet 128 as something of a musician;

How oft when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st

There is one stand-out sonnet in the Dark Lady series, number 135, which seems to have been written by one William for another. Leo Daugherty states, ‘virtually all editors & other scholars believe to constitute wordplay referring not only to Shakespeare’s own given name but also probably to his addresses as well.’ It reads;

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in overplus;
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will

Sonnet 136 is a similarly gentle play on the fact that the Dark Lady is love in with two different men called William, or Will;

If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;
Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove
Among a number one is reckoned none:
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy store’s account I one must be;
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me for my name is ‘Will.’

There are two sonnets in the series which contain elements of Stanley’s Turkish captivity. The metaphor of imprisonment in sonnet 133 hints at the dire straits in which Stanley had found himself;

Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail:
And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

Sonnet 144 contains some excellent & appropriate Christian allegories attached to the ‘two loves’ of Shakespeare, which paint Stanley as an angel & his tempter – the Dark Lady – as an infidel ‘devil’ wanting to ‘corrupt’ the ‘purity’ of Stanley’s sainthood.

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still;
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend
Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell:
Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

The same sonnet also yields a clue as to how Stanley escaped prison, for when we read ‘whether that my angel be turn’d fiend / suspect I may, but not directly tell,’ we can identify a correlation to the forced conversions of Christians in the eastern Mediterranean. Only by relenting from his proud Christian stance, & embracing Allah, would his life be saved. Stanley was a member of a family of survivors, & clearly did what was needed to secure his freedom. One can only imagine the joy felt by Shakespeare on his release.


Shakespeare & The Turks

Throughout his plays, Shakespeare mentions the Ottomans more than 40 times, some with those accurate & obscure details which pinned him down to Italy.  We see in Henry IV Part 2 the porte exacting an ever increasing tribute form the conquered provinces,  & despotic sultans follow on from each other. We have seraglio mutes in  Henry V & Turkish euneuchs in Alls Well, but the most interesting reference is made in King Lear, directly associating the Turks with the illicit extra-marital affairs.

A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled
my hair; wore gloves in my cap; served the lust of
my mistress’ heart, and did the act of darkness with
her; swore as many oaths as I spake words, and
broke them in the sweet face of heaven: one that
slept in the contriving of lust, and waked to do it:
wine loved I deeply, dice dearly: and in woman
out-paramoured the Turk:

In Othello we learn that Shakespeare knew the Turks were the common enemy of Venice & the Saracens, that they were circumcised & that Mohammed had forbidden his followers to quarrel with one another. In the Merchant of Venice, when the Prince of Morocco proclaims his courage by saying, “by this scimitar / that slew the sophy & a persian prince / that won three fields of Sultan Solyman,” we may observe an accurate depiction of the 16th century Turko-Perisan wars.

Henry IV, Part 2, contains an interesting insight into Turkish court intrigue, when the dying king admonishes his son, ‘This is the English, not the Turkish court; Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds, but Harry, Harry.’ Its implication is that on succeeding the throne Henry IV declares says that he will not remember old grudges, opposed to the Turkish sultans – in 1574, Amurath murdered his brothers on succeeding to the throne, and his successor in 1596 did the same.

Posted on April 3, 2020, in The Young Shakespeare. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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