Thursday, May 22, 2014

Shake-speare and the Influence of Ronsard

Sidney Lee on Shake-spear and Ronsard

I’ve always found the best of traditional 19th century Shakespeare scholarship to be superior in all matters with the exception of the Stratford Shakespeare’s pseudo-biography.  The dedication of such scholars as Sidney Lee, Edmond Malone, Frederick Fleay, and so many others, to seek out and pore over thousands of obscure manuscripts, in a wide range of languages, was phenomenal.  Of course, there was also more to be discovered at that earlier time.

In my own search for authorship information, they have been far and away my best source on all detail not directly related to identifying the author who wrote under the name.  Often their being totally unaware that any legitimate authorship question existed also made them the best source for detail in that regard as well.  They felt no need to write wearing blinders in order to avoid “aiding the enemy”.

On the other hand, they did feel the constant need to alter their findings to make them fit the life of the man they felt to be the only possible claimant to the authorship.  What else could they do but count that biography, such as it was (or wasn’t), as an absolutely established fact to which all others must somehow eventually prove to conform.  At best (and not infrequently), they felt it a matter of personal and profession honor to state that they could not see how the evidence fit together, in light of the purported biography  and that they could only await further breakthroughs for clarification.

These pages are excerpted from Sidney Lee’s exceptional THE FRENCH RENAISSANCE IN ENGLAND: AN ACCOUNT OF THE LITERARY RELATIONS OF ENGLAND AND FRANCE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY.  As the reader will see, Lee’s observations are filled with small facts that could have been understood to argue for Edward de Vere as the author of the works of Shake-speare had Lee any idea that such a thing was possible.  De Vere is even mentioned, in passing, as sharing Shake-speare’s predilection for the French poet Ronsard.  I have taken the liberty to include a few notes of my own to highlight the relationship of these pages with de Vere.  The text is otherwise precisely as Lee published it.

More important still, the reader will learn more about the sources that helped make a great writer of Shake-speare and about the poetry of his also towering French contemporary.




Pt 1: The French Renaissance in England, pp. 220-224.

Of Shakespeare's Anacreontic adaptations probably the most striking example is met with in Timon of Athens (IV. Iii. 442-8), where the dramatist wrote:
The sun’s a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea; the moon’s an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun:

The sea’s a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
The moon into salt tears: the earth’s a thief,
That feeds and breeds by a composture stol’n
From general excrement: each thing’s a thief.
Here Shakespeare handled in his own manner a famous Anacreontic ode in its French form. The Greek verse draws a natural justification for drinking from the fact that heavenly and earthly bodies reciprocally seek liquid sustenance. The fancy was thoroughly acclimatized by the Renaissance in France, and the Anacreontic poem was popular in independent versions of Ronsard and Remy Belleau.   Ronsard's version opens thus:
La terre les eaux va boivant,
L’arbre la boit par sa racine,
La mer éparse boit le vent,
Et le soleil boit la marine;
Le soleil est beu de la lune:
Tout boit, soit en haut ou en bas.[1]
Shakespeare invests the suggestion of the reciprocal relations of sun, moon, and ocean with a poetic luxuriance which was peculiar to his genius. There is a new purpose in Shakespeare's use of the imagery. But as soon as the French and English lines are studied side by side their kinship becomes unmistakable.


The study of Ovid, chiefly in Golding's translation, is a main source of Elizabethan knowledge of classical mythology. But contemporary French feeling would seem to have largely stimulated the classical sympathies of the Elizabethan lyrists, and their mythological touches constantly pursue distinctive hints of the Pléiade. It does not seem to have been noticed that, in the year of Shakespeare's birth [sic][2], Ronsard anticipated Shakespeare's poetic version of the Ovidian story of Venus and Adonis. The evidence of literal borrowing on Shakespeare's part from Ronsard's poem on the subject may not go far. Ronsard's Venus and Adonis has a more pronounced mythological setting than Shakespeare's work.[3] Yet Shakespeare's descriptive imagery is often of Ronsardian temper. When Shakespeare's goddess tells how she conquered the god of war, ‘leading him prisoner in a red-rose chain,’ the English poet echoes a familiar line in one of Ronsard's Anacreontics.[4] In the pathetic appeal to Adonis's hounds and to Echo, which Shakespeare sets on Venus's lips, he seems to follow Ronsard's guidance. The fact at any rate that the ‘first heir’ of Shakespeare's invention should concern itself with one of Ronsard's themes, and should bear resemblance to Ronsard's treatment suggests an imaginative bond which might well develop closer relationship later.[5]

Perhaps the most remarkable of all instances of identity of fancy between Ronsard and the great English dramatist finds illustration in a classical outburst of wonderful energy in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (IV. Xii. 50-4). In that great tragedy, which shows Shakespeare's power at its zenith, Antony, on hearing the false report of Cleopatra's death, exclaims in an ecstasy of poetry, of which Plutarch gives no hint, that he will be her companion in Hades:
Where souls do couch on flowers, we’ll hand in hand,
And with our sprightly port make the ghosts gaze:
Dido and her Aeneas shall want troops,
And all the haunt be ours.
Nowhere does Shakespeare strike quite so vividly Ronsard s precise note. In his impassioned Chanson III the French poet had already greeted his mistress Hélène in the identical key.. Together he and his beloved Hélène, Ronsard declares, will pass to the Elysian fields.


Là, morts de trop aimer, sous les branches myrtines
Nous verrons tous les jours
Les anciens Héros auprès des Héroines
Ne parler que d’amours.[6]

All the divine ‘troop’ of past lovers (‘la troupe sainte autrefois amoureuse’) will come to offer greeting, and none will refuse to quit their seats for the new comers, who will ‘couch on flowers’ in midst of all:


Ny celles qui s’en vont toutes tristes ensemble,
Artemise et Didon:
Ny ceste belle Grecque à qui ta beauté semble,
Comme tu fais de nom. [7]
Puis, nous faisant asseoir dessus l’herbe fleurie,
De toutes au milieu,
Nulle en se retirant ne sera point marrie[8]
De nous quitter son lieu.


Shakespeare in his maturity was at any rate faithful to the classical sentiment which animated the poetry of the French Renaissance.


No comparative student can ignore the resemblance, whatever the precise deduction to be drawn from it, between the buoyant notes with which both Pléiade and Elizabethan schools of lyric poetry greeted the months of April and May and the floral pageantry of spring and summer. Chaucer had caught something of the same exuberance, in part at least from French lyres, more than two centuries before. But the fresh delight of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the painted meadows and in the brilliant colours of bud and blossom seems to proclaim another mark of affinity with Ronsard and his disciples. A hundred lines or stanzas could be quoted from the French poets in terms such as these:

Avril, l’honneur des prés verts,
Jaunes, pers (i.e. azure), Qui d’une humeur bigarrée
Émaillent de mille fleurs
De couleurs
Leur parure diaprée.[9]

It was of ‘ce mois Avril’ that Ronsard wrote—
Il peint les bois les forêts et les plaines[10]
with rainbow hues—

le bel esmail qui varie
L honneur gemmé d une prairie
En mille lustres s’esclatant.[11]

Shakespeare also likened ‘flowers purple, blue, and white’ to ‘sapphires, pearls, and rich embroidery’ (Merry Wives, V. v. 75) and graphically presented spring as the season—

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue[12]
Do paint the meadows with delight.
Love's Labour’s Lost , V. ii. 902-5.



Pt. 2: The French Renaissance in England, pp. 226-227.

The lyric play of amorous fancy constantly runs in a mould which, whatever its ultimate origin, was reckoned by Elizabethans among French types. Elizabethan poets were wont to speculate interrogatively on the origin of love, and all seem to ring variations on a famous sonnet of Desportes (Diane, I. xxxvii. Ed. Michiels p 28):
Amour, quand fus-tu né ? Ce fut lors que la terre
S’émaille de couleurs et les bois de verdeur.
De qui fus-tu conçeu ? D’une puissante ardeur
Qu’oisiveté lascive en soy-mesmes enserre….
De qui fus-tu nourry ? D’une douce beauté,
Qui eut pour la servir jeunesse et vanité.
De quoy te repais-tu? D’une belle lumière.[13]
To like effect runs the Earl of Oxford's popular ditty:

When wert thou born, Desire? In pomp and prime of May.
By whom sweet boy wert thou begot? By fond Conceit men say.[14]

Shakespeare's

Tell me, where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?

is in a kindred key. Shakespeare's ‘fancy’ is ‘love’.

There are indeed few lyrical topics to which the French and English writers failed to apply on some occasion or other much the same language. Juliet admonishes Romeo not to swear by the moon:

O swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,[15]
Swear by thy gracious self ,
Which is the god of my idolatry. (II. Ii. 109 sq.)

Some twenty years before, Ronsard had given a like warning to his mistress Hélène (Livre II, Sonnet xv):

Je ne veux comparer tes beautés à la lune,
La lune est inconstante, et ton vouloir n’est qu’un;…
Tu es toute ton Dieu, ton astre et ta fortune.

In a detached poem which Ronsard wrote before 1567 as epilogue of a dramatic performance at the royal palace of Fontainebleau, he played effectively on a classical figure, and gave it a new vogue (Oeuvres, iv, 184):

Le Monde est le theatre, et les hommes acteurs;
La Fortune, qui est maistresse de la Sceine,
Appreste les habits, et de la vie humaine
Les Cieux et les Destins en sont les spectateurs.
En gestes differens, en differens langages,
Roy, Princes, et Bergers jouent leurs personnages
Devant les yeux de tous sur l’eschafaut commun.

The famous dialogue on the like theme in which the banished Duke and the melancholy Jaques engage in Shakespeare's As You Like It ,II. vii. 137 seq., opens on Ronsard’s note:


Duke.   This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in
Jacq.                             All the world’s a stage,
            And all the men and women merely players.









[1] Oeuvres ed. Blanchemain ii. 286.
[2] [My note] Of course, in 1564, Edward de Vere, the young Earl of Oxford, was 14 years old, fluent in French and by all appearances a voracious reader of the popular French poetry and novels.  If Shake-speare were actually born in 1564, the question should naturally arise as to why so many of the sources for his works were written between 1560 and 1580, when he could not possibly have read them, or the languages in which many of them were written, and so many of the plays had their first (if not only) performance in the Court of Queen Elizabeth, where he could not possibly have seen them.
[3] There are signs that both the French and English poet had made some independent study of earlier poetic versions of the fable in Italian.
[4] Cf Ronsard's (Œuvres ed Blanchemain ii 285) :
Les Muses liirent un jour De chaίnes de roses Amour
Ronsard's poem was universally popular and had already been cited in 1582 by Watson as the source of his Passion lxxx1II
[5] In Ronsard's poem Mars's jealous anger leads the God of War to seek Diana's aid, and it is the divine huntress who contrives Adonis's death by means of the boar. With beautiful effect Ronsard again and again repeats with slight modification this refrain:

Hélas, pauvre Adonis, tous les Amours te pleurent,
Toi mourant par ta mort, toutes délices meurent.

Ronsard's poem closes in a key which echoes with a delightful freshness l’esprit gaulois. He slyly mentions at the end that the goddess of love, despite her wailing, soon set her heart on the Phrygian shepherd Anchises. The French poet takes leave of the theme with a reflection that women's love, like April flowers, only lives a day. Shakespeare is more loyal to the sentiment of the myth.
[6] Œuvres, ed. Blanchemain,  i. 383.
[7] Ronsard is addressing a lady named after Helen the fair Greek.
[8] This is Ronsard's final reading. The line read originally ‘Nulle, et fût ce Procris, ne sera point marrie. [i.e. grieved or offended].
[9] Belleau, Œuvres, ed. Gouverneur, ii. 43.
[10] Ronsard, Œuvres, i. 132.
[11] Ibid., ii. 342.
[12] Cowslips were known in France as ‘brayes de cocu’.
[13] Desportes adapts an Italian sonnet by Pamphilo Sasso, which was published as early as 1519 at Venice. Sasso's sonnet opens:

‘Quando nascesti, amor? quando la terra
Si reuesti de uerde: e bel colore
Dhe che sei generato? dun ardore
Che occio lasciuo in se rachiuda:’ &c.

Before Desportes’ time Sasso's poem was independently turned into Latin by the Scotsman, George Buchanan, while domiciled in France.

Quis puer ales Amor Genitor quis Blandus ocelli
Ardor Quo natus tempore Vere novo
Quis locus excepit Generosi pectoris aula
Quae nutrix Primo flore iuventa decens

(Cf. Un modèle de Desportes non signalé encore : Pamphilo Sasso, par MM. Vaganay, et Vianey, Paris, 1903.)
[14] [My note] It is interesting to find the young Earl of Oxford going to the same sources as Shake-speare.  Especially suggestive in light of the fact that we have no work from de Vere after Shake-speare appears on the stage.
[15] [My note] While this does not argue against the traditional assignment of “the inconstant moon” with Queen Elizabeth, it must be admitted that the image is taken literally from Ronsard.  Both may be correct, but the Ronsard citation is established beyond doubt with this.



More from Virtual Grub Street on Shake-speare and Edward de Vere:

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Shake-speare's Greek


Not long ago, I was treated to an Internet discussion on the likelihood of Shakespeare’s knowledge of the classical Greek language.  The participants were all self-identified Oxfordians by virtue of the fact that the location at which the discussion occurred is a Facebook group page supporting the Earl of Oxford in the Shakespeare authorship controversy.

From the standard quote, by contemporary, Ben Jonson, that Shakespeare knew “small Latin and less Greek,” the discussion quickly turned to a Greek bible theorized to have been sent from Venice, by Edward de Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford, to his wife, Anne.  While the subject of the bible was clearly a fascinating one to all involved, I found myself waiting for someone to mention a far less speculative evidence of Shakespeare’s likely knowledge of the Greek language, a fact which might argue strongly for the Oxfordian position.

I decided not to complete my own research on the subject before issuing my Edward de Vere was Shake-speare: at long last the proof for fear of making a book already chock-full with dates, titles, facts, etc., still more challenging to read.  Instead I planned to include it in a follow-up book of Oxfordian essays.  This, then, is a late draft of that essay.  I offer it, here, by way of my “comment” on the Facebook thread.

It is not at all clear from Jonson’s limited comments on Shakespeare, throughout his life, whether he was aware that the Bard may have actually translated a Greek text popular for many centuries.  Apart from a helpful 2002 article by Andrew Werth,[1] I am not aware, from any recent comments on the authorship controversy, that present scholars keep the long known fact in mind during their debates.


The fact that Shakespeare’s sonnets canonically numbered 153 and 154 are two variations of a translation from a Greek epigram by Marianus Scholasticus (to use the Latin transliteration of his name) has been “discovered” numerous times over the past 200 years.  Most notably, in 1878, Gustav Friedrich Hertzberg boldly announced to the world that he had discovered the connection.  He was quickly corrected when it was pointed out that the 1856 Epigramme der Griechische Anthologie included the text of the epigram with an accompanying note that it had been Shakespeare’s source.  In 1916, Raymond MacDonald Alden cited a still earlier mention in Henry Wellesley’s Anthologia Polyglotta of 1849.  Hyder Edward Rollins has further pointed out that Wellesley does not present it as something thitherto unknown and that a Bodleian copy of the original quarto of the Sonnets includes a hand-written marginal note entered, perhaps, by one Thomas Caldecott (1744-1833) earlier still.  From this he infers that the relationship to Marianus’s epigram was known, at least in some circles, as far back as the 18th century.

Alden’s 1916 variorum edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets identifies Marianus as “a Byzantine, probably of the fifth century.”  The source of this identification is not mentioned but there seems no reason to explore the matter further.  Rollins’s 1944 revised and expanded edition of Alden’s variorum Sonnets, however, claims that the traditional Latin imitation of the Marianus epigram was accomplished by one Regianus “[p]robably composed in the fifth century”.  This creates an issue. 

The Latin imitation of the epigram (according to Rollins’s source, James Hutton) was first published in 1590,[2] making it seem possible that Shakespeare had translated not from the Greek but from the Latin and that the sonnets must necessarily be dated no earlier than that year.  This, of course, is somewhat more in line with the storyline of the Stratford man, and, therefore, was adopted by pre-controversy Shakespearean scholars and still seems to be by contemporary Stratfordians (persons who support the identification of the Stratford man as the poet and playwright Shakespeare) who are aware of the matter.  The particular Latin text, however, bears only a passing relationship to the original Greek epigram and none to Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Rollins mentions a 1495 Florentine edition of the Palnudean Anthology, in the original Greek, as the earliest published from a European press.  What he fails to make clear is that several popular Greek reprint editions appeared between then and 1566.[3]  One of the editions was sure to have been immediately purchased for the Cambridge and Oxford University libraries and by the likes of Sir Thomas Smith (if he did not already long possess a cherished copy of the Florentine edition) and William Cecil, among others.  In fact, The Book Rarities of the University of Cambridge (1829) proudly boasts that the University libraries still hold a rare copy of Aldus Manutius’s 1521 edition: Florilegivm diversorum Epigrammatum in septem libros (listed as printed by Andreas Asulanus, Mantius’s brother-in-law).

Badius Ascensius’ Paris edition of 1531 — Florilegîvm Diversorvm, Epigramma cvm, In Septem Libres — was the reprint of choice in France at the time.  The shop of the great publisher Wynkyn de Worde was Ascensius’ outlet in the English market, the Dutch ex-patriot Gerard Freez (a.k.a. Gerard Wandsforth) at least occasionally acting as go between.   Though I’ve yet to find reference to the Florilegium, specifically relating to this connection, it is more than a little likely that Worde offered it for sale to his more discerning customers.

In what may be an interesting aside, the library catalogue for Henry Wellesley’s estate — Catalogue of the Very Extensive and Valuable Library of the Late Reverend Doctor Wellesley, Principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford (1866)— lists a copy of the M. Nicolini edition of the Anthologia Graeca published in Venice, in 1566.  This, then, strongly suggests that particular edition was the specific source of the Greek epigram of Marianus quoted in his Anthologia Polyglotta.

But, much to the consternation of “the Greek camp,” there were actually many Latin and vulgar language “imitations” of Marianus’s epigram.  Shakespeare’s sonnets are just two among them and the question arises whether he was doing a loose translation of the original or of one of the imitations (or a combination thereof).  It is difficult to imagine a more thorough review of the matter than James Hutton’s “Analogues of Shakespeare's Sonnets 153-54”.[4]  Little, if anything, has been added to the subject since.


Hutton’s summation, however, is forced upon him, as is so common, by the traditional assignment of the sonnets to the Stratford man.  Shakespeare, he avers, surely not being able to read Greek, and no intermediate version, in any language he may have picked up on the fly, explaining the sonnets close approximation of the Greek original, we must not yet have discovered some intermediate translation that served as his source.  To deny that such an undiscovered poem could exist (whether Shakespeare knew Greek or not) would involve proving a negative, a thing patently impossible.

There is, of course, at least one other explanation.  Shakespeare could have been familiar with Marianus’s epigram in the original Greek.  As for two additions he has made (one extremely minor, one ambiguous) he might well have been familiar with one or more of the popular imitations then available.  If one is referring to Edward de Vere, we might even suggest confidence that he was familiar with at least two of the contemporary imitations, which, while they cannot explain the greater closeness of the sonnets to the Greek epigram, can explain the two additions.  Of course, the additions might also simply be the product of his own invention and only coincidentally have been adopted by others as well.

In both Alden’s and Rollins’ variorum Sonnets (and Wellesley’s Anthologia Polyglotta) the original epigram is given as follows:
Tᾇδὑπὸ τàς πλατάνους ἁπαλῷ τετρυμένος ὕπνῳ
εὗδενʾʹ Ερως, Νύφαις λαμπάδα παρθέμενος.
Νύμφαι δ΄ἁλλήλῃσι, τί μέλλομεν; αἴθε δὲ ταύτω
σβέσσαμεν, εἶπον, ὁμοῦ πῦρ καραδίης μερόπων.
λαμρας δ΄ ὡς ἔφλεξε καὶ ὕδατα, θερμὸν ἐκεῖθεν
Νύμφαι Ἐρωτιάδες λουτροχοεῦσιν ὕδωρ.
Both variorum Sonnets give the following literal translation from the standard 19th century edition:
Here beneath the plane-trees, overborne by soft sleep, Love slumbered, giving his torch to the Nymphs’ keeping; and the Nymphs said one to another, “Why do we delay? and would that with this we might have quenched the fire in the heart of mortals.” But now, the torch having kindled even the waters, the amorous Nymphs pour hot water thence into the bathing pool.’[1]
Rollins also quotes a literal prose translation by Hutton which is virtually identical.

The differences from Shakespeare’s sonnets are evident.  The plane-trees are nowhere in evidence in the sonnets.  In the epigram, the Nymphs engage in conversation but not in the sonnets.  In the sonnets, lines are necessarily added, in order to arrive at the requisite number of 14, and the theme necessarily expanded as a result.  Cupid/Eros does not hand his torch to the Nymph’s, in the sonnets, but places it by his side.  Still, Shakespeare has stayed closer to the original than all but two of the intermediate versions Hutton presents by other hands.

The absence of the plane-trees is easily explained.  The original epigram was written to celebrate Venus’s Baths in the island of Cypress.  The warmth of the baths is explained by Eros torch being dipped in its waters while he lay sleeping.  The plane-trees were an actual feature of the place.

Shakespeare’s sonnets 153 and 154, on the other hand, are two versions of a poem he was working on that was, scholars have generally agreed, about the baths at Bath in England.  There are no plane-trees at that location, thus the originals have been dropped from the poems.  More on this soon.


What never seems to be remembered (or understood) by any of these fine scholars, however, is that the Marianus epigram is originally one of a pair.  The first of the pair reads as follows:
Μητέρα Κύπριν ἔλουσεν  Ἔρως ποτὲ τῷδε λοετρῷ
αὐτὸς ὑποφλεξας λαμπάδι καλὸν ὕδωρ.
ἱδρῲς δἁμβροσίοι χυθεὶς χροὀς ἄμμιγα λευκοἶ;
ὕδασι, φεῦ, πνοιῆς ὅσσον ἀνῆψεν ἔαρ
ἔνθεν ἀεὶ ροδόεσσαν ἀναζείουσιν ἀΰτμήν
;ὡς ἔτι τῆς χρυσῆς λουομένης Παφίης.
Here we remember Dr. Wellesly a final time.  He actually made a middling translation of this epigram. The Greek epigram and Wellesley’s translation appear much later in the pages of the Anthologia Polyglotta and without reference to Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Once on a time Love bathed his mother here,
First heating with his torch the waters clear.
Lo from her goddess form what dews distil!
And wake fresh odours in the mingling rill!
E’en now, such roseate fumes ascend, you’d swear
That golden Venus still was bathing there.
While I make no claim at all to improve the poetry, I will modify Wellesley’s effort just a bit in order to clarify the original text.
Once on a time Eros bathed his mother Aphrodite here,
First lit a torch to place beside waters.
The perspiration descending from her divine
Most lustrous skin mingled in the water!
Alas! The waters joined it with her breath!
Forever after, such roseate fumes bubble up
As if golden Aphrodite still was bathing here.
No one, to date, seems to have found a 15th or 16th century translation or imitation, though it is not clear just how much anyone has been seeking it out.  For my part, I have yet to find one.  This is not to suggest that I have spent considerable time searching.

If, however, the sonnets were being composed for entertainment during the process of the Queen and her Court to Bath, circa 1592, in order to enjoy its purported healing powers, this first of the pair of epigrams takes on a new importance.  Of course, Aphrodite is the Greek name for Venus.  Shakespeare would have been in the process of writing Venus and Adonis in which he identifies the Queen with Venus.  The sonnets, then, are consistent with Shakespeare’s expansion of the Venus theme  being accomplished at the time.  The Queen, entering the baths, will be reenacting the role of Venus.  Her essence will be left behind “against strang malladies a soveraigne cure”.

This can only be an enormous coincidence or Shakespeare knew both parts of the Marianus epigram-pair.  They had not been translated together that we are aware of, appeared together, during Shakespeare’s life, only in the original Greek.  There would only seem to be one instance in which they had both been included in a loose imitation and the relationship, in that imitation, was quite different in its details from the Shakespeare sonnets.  It could not have been his source.

Along the same line, Ronsard is one of two French poets Shakespeare is known to have borrowed from, at length, for his Venus and Adonis.  Sidney Lee, in his French Renaissance in England[6], finds “unmistakable” influences from Ronsard’s Stances de la fontaine d’Hélène, 1578.  Hutton mentions that in Hélène Ronsard also refers, in passing, to the epigram of Marianus.  In the allusion, Eros
…laissa son Brandon…
“Laid his brand aside,” rather than entrusting it to nymphs.  Shakespeare already showing clear signs of being influenced by the Ronsard poem, and of having borrowed some felicitous images from Ronsard for Venus and Adonis (and other works), the scholar hardly need look further afield to find Shakespeare’s source for this small detail of the sonnets.  Moreover, Ronsard never does more, in all his works, than refer to the epigram in passing.  Shakespeare’s sonnets could not possibly agree so closely with the original epigram without having been familiar with the Greek text.

All of this by way of compelling proof, the Stratfordian interest has predictably theorized a last gasp scenario in which the Stratford man can have known the Greek original without knowing Greek.  Ben Jonson, it has occasionally been claimed, probably provided him with a crib from the originals and that crib is the thus far undetected “missing link” between the Greek of Marianus and sonnets 153 and 154 of William Shake-speare.




[1] SHAKESPEARE’S “LESSE GREEK” Andrew Werth, THE OXFORDIAN, Volume V, 2002, 11-29.  Also available via The Politic Worm, http://politicworm.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/werth-lesse-greek-tox022.pdf.
[2] A Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: The Sonnets.  Hyder Edward Rollins, 1944, @ 393.
[3] In these editions, the complete original Palnudean Greek text was advertised but the book titles and commentary were in Latin.
[4] Analogues of Shakespeare's Sonnets 153-54: Contributions to the History of a Theme, James Hutton, Modern Philology, Vol. 38, No. 4 (May, 1941),  385-403.
[5] Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, John William Mackail, 1911, 205.
[6] French Renaissance in England, 222.  All of this, 220ff, is very informative about influences of Ronsard on Shakespeare.



More from Virtual Grub Street on Shake-speare and Edward de Vere: