The Young Shakespeare (15): Upstart Crow
Discovering the fascinating truth
Of Shakespeare’s missing years
Shakespeare in Titchfield
According to Aubrey, Shakespeare had been, ‘in his younger yeares a schoolmaster in the countrey,’ but when? In 1590, Shakespeare’s ‘younger years’ are running out somewhat, & we only have two more years to go until he is a smash-hot dramatist & the talk of all London. A year later, in 1593, he is dedicating his first poetic effort, Venus & Adonis, to a young English nobleman called Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, in which he describes his ‘unpolished lines’ as being written during his ‘idle hours’. The question is, what was Shakespeare doing when he was not being idle?
The answer is he was tutoring the seventeen year old earl, who dissapears from the records between October 1590 and August 1591. He was, in fact, living in Titchfield, where his pro-Catholic mother, Countess Mary, was in residence at Titchfield House. His contact now with Shakespeare would blossom into a great friendship, with Nicholas Rowe describing how the bard;
Had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the Earl of Southampton… there is one instance so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare’s, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D’Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted, that my Lord Southampton, at one time, gave him a thousand pounds to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age has shown to French dancers and Italian eunuchs.
Finally, a possible & oblique connection between Shakespeare & Southampton is found in a 1592 letter from the Third Earl of Southampton is signed by him, but penned by somebody else. An American hand-writing expert, Charles Hamilton, has suggested the handwriting is identical to a portion of the manuscript of The Play of Sir Thomas More, which lies on solid ground enough in the world of Shakespearean scholarship to be given as the bard’s own hand.
It is now time to introduce a new dimension to the sonnets, a layer to Hisalrik if you will. We have established so far that Shakespeare wrote sonnets to William Stanley & to the mysterious Turkish lady in Constantinople. I am a sonneteer myself, & understand how indidual sonnets composed to different person may be synthesised into paeasn to a single ‘ideal’ musesource in a sequence. In the same spirit, a small number of the sonnets wer composed to Southampton, those in which Shakespeare takes on the role of the older man urging the young aristocrat to marry & have children. These are known as the ‘Procreation Sonnets,’ & are the first 17 of the entire sequence.
There is a significant back story. Thomas Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton, and father of Shakespeare’s patron, died on 4th October 1581, leaving the seven year old Henry as his only surviving son. Elizabethan law deign’d him to become a ward of the Crown, & placed him in the hands of a certain Lord Burghley who would in 1589 put huge pressure on the young earl to marry his own grand-daughter, Lady Elizabeth Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford.
The Tears of the Muses
Shakespeare’s presence in Hampshire follow’d hard on the heels of Edmund Spenser himself, who was there in 1590. The poet Samuel Woodford, who lived in Hampshire near Alton, told Aubrey that, ‘Mr. Spenser lived sometime in these parts, in this delicate sweet air; where he enjoyed his muse, and wrote a good part of his verses.’ Some of these verses were included volume of poems called The Tears of the Muses, registered on the 29th December, 1590. They were dedicated to a relation of the poet’s, Alice Spencer of Althorp, who had married William Stanley’s brother, Ferdinando. In the sheme of our survey an increasingly small world!
In one of the stanzas of Spenser’s new poem, we see the return of the same ‘Willy’ who inhabited Spenser’s Calendar.
And he, the man, whom Nature self had mad
To mock herself, and Truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under mimic shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour 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
That he is deem’d ‘our pleasant Willy‘ suggests a connection to both Alice & Edmund Spenser, one which is confirmed through bloodbond – Shakespeare’s mother was were distantly related to the Spensers – & of course the link to the Stanleys. Spenser’s description of ‘large streams of honey and sweet nectar,’ is reminiscent & contemporaneous with Francis Meres’ description of Shakespeare in the Palladis Tamia as ‘mellifluous & honey-tongued.’ That Shakespeare was dead of late indicates he is between creative periods, while the ‘cell’ mentioned by Spenser points to Shakespeare having taken up the position of tutoring the Earl of Southampton, a refrence to a house near the historic Titchfield Abbey, known as Place House Cottage, which was a schoolhouse at the time & where Shakespeare may have slept.
Shakespeare writes Edmund Ironside
The Earls of Southampton clearly enjoyed the Theatre, for plans of 1737 show a large room on the upper level of Titchfield House labelled as ‘Play House Room.’ The tradition of theatre-making at Titchfield stretched back to before Titchfield Abbey had been converted to a stately home. In 1538, one of Thomas Wriothesley’s servants wrote to him, describing how Thomas’s future wife, Jane, ‘handleth the country gentlemen, the farmers and their wives to your great worship and every night is as merry as can be with Christmas plays and masques with Anthony Gedge and other of your servants.’
During Shakespeare’s time at Titchfield he created a play call’d Edmund Ironside, in essence rapidly cobbling together a new version of Titus Andronicus for a new audience, & setting it in Hampshire – the opening scene is in Southampton – & having the Earls of Southampton as main protaganists. Edmond Ironside is a mysterious anonymous play with no records of performance in the period. This suggests it was created for private performance. The manuscript was discovered in 1865 when the British Museum purchased fifteen play manuscripts bound together into a single volume from a private library, known as Egerton 1994. The play certainly feels like it is bubbling up from a thinking Shakespeare, while scholars have suggested it was written by Shakespeare for the following linguistic reasons;
* There are 260 words that were used first by Shakespeare
* There are 635 instances of shakesperean rare words
* There are 300 usages of the very rarest Shakesperean words
* There are 700 clear parralels with the first folio
* There are 350 verbatim phrases
The most considerable echoes can be found in Titus & the Henry VI plays, & placing Shakespeare writing Edmund Ironside in Hampshire after Titus & before the histories makes perfect sense. Putting round balls into round hall kinda thing.
Creating this play would be a catalytical moment for Shakespeare – it was his first attempt at writing English history, & within days one expects, he began work on the great history cycle that would make his name & shoot his talents into the stratosphere.
Shakespeare begins the History Cycle
Shakespeare’s great sequence of history plays covers pretty much the whole of the dynastic War of the Roses, that dividing of England & Englishness which ran & ran & ran for deacdes of division, slaughter & power politics. The conflict was fought our between two royal houses, that of Lancaster & that of York, & ‘there is general agreement,‘ writes Lefranc, ‘that Shakespeare, in the historical dramas he devoted to the wars of the Roses, in spite of his usual impartiality, shows himself Lancastrian.’ This makes sense, for Shakespeare’s own great-grandfather fought at Bosworth field on the side of Henry Tudor, as suggested by Shakespeare’s father when he applied to the College of Heralds for a family coat of arms in 1596. A draft prepared by William Dethick, the garter king-of-arms, declared by ‘credible report’ that John Shakespeare’s, ‘parentes & late antecessors were for their valeant & faithfull service advanced & rewarded by the most prudent prince King Henry the seventh of famous memorie, sythence whiche tyme they have contiewed at those partes in good reputacion & credit.’
‘Shakespeare rearranged history,‘ says E. A. J. Honigmann ‘so as to make Stanley’s services to the incoming Tudor dynasty seem more momentous than they really were.’ The History plays definitely inflate the role of the Stanleys in the creation of the Tudor state, which end of course a Stanley-sponsored Shakespeare would achieve. The 1st Earl of Derby, Thomas Stanley, was created as such by Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth, which role was dramatized in Richard III. Shakespeare famously portrays Richard III as a heinous villain, which was handy for the Stanleys seeing as Thomas & his kinsman, William, both betrayed the last Plantaganet king at Bosworth. This led to the moment when the whole Tudor dynasty began, as Thomas Stanley pluck’d the crown from the dead Richard and then places it on Henry’s head.
Taking his matter from Raphael Holinshed’s ‘Chronicles of England, Scotlande, & Irelande,’ our bard wove together a wonderful piece of drama in which he ressurected history & brought it alive like no other had done before. Not long after seeing it, Thomas Nashe wrote;
How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French, to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times) who in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.
Significantly, John Talbot was also the name of William Stanley’s very good friend, John Talbot, who would be later knighted by King James at Lathom House itself.
When creating his history cycle, Shakespeare drew from his time spent with the Queen’s Players, & especially one of the plays in their repertoire, The Famous Victories of Henry V. We know it was theirs as on its publication in 1598, the play was advertised as acted by ‘her Queen’s Majesty’s Players.’ C.A. Greer points out fifteen plot elements of the Famous Victories that are to be found with greater detail in the trilogy. These include the robbery at Gad’s Hill of the King’s receivers, the meeting of the robbers in an Eastcheap Tavern, the reconciliation of the newly crowned King Henry V with the Chief Justice, the gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin, and Pistol’s encounter with a French soldier (Dericke’s in The Famous Victories).
Shakespeare Begins Romeo & Juliet
Another play that Shakespeare was working on at Titchfield is that famous tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo & Juliet. We know it was written befor 1595, & a line uttered by Juliet’s nurse gives us a credible date.
‘Tis since the earthquake now eleven years
In April 1580, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake caused extensive damage in the south-east of England and in London, two people were killed. If this is the earthquake Shakespeare is referring to, then Romeo & Juliet is being written in 1591. It is also being written the following year, as it contains nods to a 1592 romance by Samuel Daniel called The Complaint of Rosamond; the relevant passages include the description by Rosamond’s ghost of her death by poison and of Henry II’s mourning at his mistress’s bier (603-79) which remerges in Romeo’s lament over Juliet’s body (V.iii.92-115). In Daniel, a few line later, he gives us Rosamund’s epitaph;
And after ages monuments shall find, Shewing thy beauties title not thy name, Rose of the world that sweetned so the same.
We here see wordplay on Rosamund’s name – where her ‘beauties title’ (rosa mundi) is not her real name (rosa munda). These, & the word ‘sweetened’ leads us naturally to Juliet’s famous declaration;
O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title.
Romeo & Juliet would have resonated with the Southampton family, The Third Earl’s maternal grandfather, Antony Browne, was a pal of King Philip II of Spai, who created him Viscount Montague in September, 1554. Of course, Romeo & Juliet is a play which features a feud between the Montagues & the Capulets! A forbidden, homosexual love between Southampton & Shakespeare may only be speculated on – & might be a feature embedded in the play, but there is no proof as of yet.
The Premier of Shakespeare’s Battle of Alcazar
Philip Henslowe was a London businessman who built the Rose playhouse in 1587. He also kept a priceless of diary of plays & their takings which contains some of Shakespeare’s debuts. Here’s the Spring season of 1592;
19 – fryer bacone & friar bungay –
20 – muly mulloco
21 – Orlando –
23 – Don Horatio
24 – Sir John Mandeville
25 – Harey of Cornwall
26 – The Jew of Malta
28 – Clorys & Orgasto
2 – Matchavell
3 – henry Vi
4 – Pope John
4 – Bendo & Richardo
6 – 4 plays in one
8 – The looking glass
9 – Zenobia
14 – Jeronimo
21 – Constantine
22 – Jerusalem
6 – Brandymer
10 – the comedy of jeronimo
11 – titus & vespasian 3 – 4 – 0
28 – tamberlayne part 2 – 3 4 – 0
28 – the tanner of denmark –
The second of these plays, muly mulloco, perform’d on the 21st of February, & should be the same as a play first performed by Lord Strange’s Men call’d the ‘The Battell of Alcazar’ as one of the characters in the play refers to another as ‘Muly Molucco,’ a name which appears nowhere else in Elizabethan drama. The play’s proper title, as printed in its quarto edition, is ‘The Battell of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of Portugal, and Abdelmelec king of Marocco.‘
Topical references to the Armada suggest the play was written 1588-1589 & there are traces of Stanley-Shakepeare coauthorship. When in North Africa together, they would have listened to tales of the Battle of Ksar El Kebir (Alcazar), fought in northern Morocco on the 4th of August 1578. Brian Vickers shows numerous verbal echoes between the co-authored parts of Titus Andronicus & the Alcazar including a highly similar double consonantal alliteration. Macdonald P Jackson also highights how the weird formalities of the first Act of Titus have been mirrored by those of the Alcazar.
A Star is Born
In early 1592, the world at large became witness to Henry VI part 1, performed by Ferdinando Stanley’s Lord Strange’s Men. This makes Lord Strange’s Men the first acting company to be ‘officially’ associated with a Shakespeare play. After an unprecedented six performaces at court over the winter season, they began playing in the capital’s theatres, including the Rose, which had opened on February 19th, 1592. In his diary, the Rose’s theatre manager, Philip Henslowe recorded quite succinctly that on the 3rd March 1592, he had seen a ‘ne’ play called ‘Harey the vj.’ This play seems to be Henry VI part 1 by Shakespeare, for in the August of that year, in his Pierce Penniless, Thomas Nashe refers to a play he had recently seen which featured a rousing depiction of Lord Talbot, a major character in Henry VI part 1. Takings for ‘Harey the vj.’ were three pounds, sixteen shillings & eightpence, which equates to 16,444 pennies in the ‘box’ – a clear hit! I mean lets be honest, the paying public would have been amazed, there was a new kid on the block & Shakespeare had thrust himself onto the public imagination in much the same way George Lucas did with his Star Wars trilogy.
Shakespeare attacked by Greene
Shakespeare’s plays were clearly a hit, but true fame is always laced with a bit of envious spite – enter fellow playwright, Robert Greene. Writing practically on his deathbed in his Groatsworth of Wit, he vilifies Shakespeare as, ‘an vpstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Iohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.’
The reference to Shakespeare being a jack of all trades, a ‘johannes fac totum,’ could well be implying his status as Southampton’s teacher. By parodying Shakespeare’s line ‘O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide,’ (Henry VI, part 3), it is clear Greene is alluding to Shakespeare in quite jealous tones. In the same pamphlet, Greene seems to refer to Shakespeare’s participation with the Queen’s Players, on whose formation in 1583 were given the title, ‘grooms of the chamber.’ Greene writes;
It is pity men of such rare wits [Nashe, Marlowe and Peele] should be subject to the pleasures of such rude grooms
The old order was dying. Robert Greene would pass away on the 2nd September 1592, by which time a completely new form of theater was springing up about the marvellous & remarkable quill of an ‘uneducated’ Warwickshire yeoman. By the end of the year, even Greene’s publisher was climbing aboard the bandwagon, when in a preface to Kind-Harts Dreame by Henry Chettle, we find;
About three moneths since died M. Robert Greene, leauing many papers in sundry Booke sellers hands, among other his Groatsworth of wit, in which a letter written to diuers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken, and because on the dead they cannot be auenged, they wilfully forge in their concietes a liuing Author: and after tossing it two and fro, no remedy, but it must light on me. How I haue all the time of my conuersing in printing hindred the bitter inueying against schollers, it hath been very well knowne, and how in that I dealt I can sufficiently prooue. With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I neuer be: The other, whome at that time I did not so much spare, as since I wish I had, for that as I haue moderated the heate of liuing writers, and might haue vsde my owne discretion, (especially in such a case) the Author beeing dead, that I did not, I am as very, as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because my selfe haue scene his demeanor no lesse ciuill than he exclent in the qualitie he professes
With this very public apology & refutation of Greene’s attack, Shakespeare, it seems, had become the darling of the London’s Theatre world. There would be no looking back!