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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Let the sky rain potatoes!

Drawing of the sweet potato
from Gerard's Herbal (1597)
The journalist Gwynn Guilford has written an exceptional article [link] recently on the enormous cultural impact of the potato.  It seems that “white people” have dominated the world because of that tuber.  Certainly, it had more than a little help from a number of other factors.

Corn, she she informs us, had a much easier time of it.

When brought back to Europe, potatoes weren’t an easy sell at first. Unlike the other important New World crop, maize, their
appeal wasn’t immediately obvious. At first, the European upper class hailed potatoes as aphrodisiacs. (This explains why Shakespeare’s perpetually horny buffoon Falstaff bellows, “Let the sky rain potatoes!”)
To keep our interest up, she includes a quote from Shakespeare that has been used to decorate more than one account about the tuber.

But, actually, Falstaff was referring to the sweet potato.  The mistake is understandable as Guilford has all but cut-and-pasted a considerable portion of the Wikipedia article on the “History of the Potato,” including its blithe ignorance of what it meant  that the first known mention of the potato is a shipping document that shows its point of embarkation as the Canary Islands.  The islands had just the right climate to grow sweet potatoes and did a booming business for the century or two that the delicacy joined bananas as their cash crops.

While the white potato (to which Guilford refers) was introduced to Europe only some 20 years later than the sweet potato it took well over a century before it even began to be a staple crop in Ireland.  This regardless that it was indeed the perfect crop for the British climate.  Even in chilly Britain, white potatoes grow like… well… potatoes.  The yield per acre is high in terms of the  number of spuds and even higher in terms of nutriment.   It is a member of the nightshade family, however, and it is said that this is the reason that it languished for so long.  People were afraid that it (and its cousin the tomato) were poisonous as the “deadly nightshade” they had learned to avoid.  Others attribute the slow dispersion of potato farming to the bitter taste.

It was the sweet potato that was considered an aphrodisiac (never the white potato).  Almost certainly because it had (like that other aphrodisiac, the cucumber) a vaguely phallic shape.  It could not have hurt the reputation that it had to be grown in the Canary Islands or Spain and shipped to upper class tables.  Those who can afford to buy expensive foods, of course, tend to enhance the aphrodisiac qualities.

As I have mentioned, in my book Edward de Vere’s RetainerThomas Churchyard: the Man Who was Falstaff, the sweet potato is just another item in Falstaff’s world, like fowling pieces, Bilbo swords, Banbury cheese, and sack, etc., that did not exist until well after the time of Prince Hal (King Henry V).  Neither did the old poet-soldier exist until well after that time.  He, like his trappings, lived resoundingly in the mid to late 16th century.

In fact, the sweet potato had only just begun to be a delicacy within the reach of splurging poets and playwrights and members of the middle classes at the time that The Merry Wives of Windsor (the play from which Falstaff is quoted) was written.  The old soldier liked to keep abreast of the new fads.

There is one more mention of the potato in Shakespeare.  This one, from the play Troilus and Cressida, is even more curious:

Thersites. How the devil Luxury, with his fat rump and potato-finger, tickles these together! Fry, lechery, fry!
The Sweet potato variety we see in Gerard’s 1597 Herbal is not a particularly apt comparison to a finger (even a nice fat male finger). Its roots, on the other hand, would have been about the right size, but we would seem to have no other record that they, too, were considered edible much less aphrodisiac.

It is difficult to avoid  the possibility that fried slices, or longer, thinner varieties, of sweet potato might have been called “potato-fingers” as early as the 1590s.  (More than one commentator is confident that the reference is common slang for the penis.)  Gerard, our only authority on the matter, has some interesting things to say that we will explore as we proceed to investigate in our second part: “Shakespeare’s Annotators and the Saga of Potato Commentary”.

  • Falstaff's Sack. August 7, 2017.  'The question Mr. Hart addresses is “Just what is sack?”.  This is not the first time the question has been addressed but his is a particularly thorough attempt at an answer.'
  • Did Falstaff Write a Poem for Lowe’s Chyrurgerie?  December 2, 2017. "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 that word, honour? air."
  • Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Leonard Digges with Context (Shakespeare Authorship and the Small World Problem, Part 1)

Oxfordian research has certainly become the obsession of many.  The search for irrefutable proof has led to the inspection under high powered microscopes of anything that might prove to be evidentiary.  The record of every birth, marriage and death that has survived to the present day is being sought out, evaluated, and given its proper place.  Every name in every variant spelling is given a genealogy, a region and location.  Every record that shows more than one name is evaluated for what it might suggest about family and social relationships.  Internet comment threads on the matters are followed as eagerly and as deadly seriously as episodes of The Game of Thrones.

Traditional scholars availed themselves more sparingly of the same sources.  Their search for relationships have handed down possible Stratford Shaksper links and methodologies to be wielded by the “Strat” (Stratfordian) Authorship effort. Thomas Russell married Anne Digges we are told.  They moved to Alderminster.  Alderminster is some 5 miles outside of Stratford-Upon-Avon.  Leonard Digges, Anne’s son, wrote one of the commendatory poems for the First Folio.  “Voila!” cry the Strafordian opposition.  “Shakespeare and Digges were personal friends.  Digges, after this fashion, establishes with certainty that the Stratford man wrote the plays in the Folio.”

I’ve recently pointed out the reasons why Digges is highly unlikely to have known Shaksper of Stratford-Upon-Avon, the propinquity of Alderminster aside, and received, by way of Stratfordian reply, that Digges was friends at Oxford with a fellow student who was a young member of the Stratford Combes family, that the King’s men performed at Oxford during Digges time as a student, that young men like Digges were great fans of the theater and especially Shakespeare, etc.

Onlookers have added that Digges was sure to have met Shaksper during his his return to Alderminster on college vacations.  But, while Thomas Russell had lived in Alderminster prior to the Digges’s move there, the Diggeses had not.  After the death of Leonard Digges’s biological father, Thomas Digges, the family continued to live in London.  The extended family was very well established there.

Upon his own father’s death, in 1559, Thomas Digges was taken in as a ward of John Dee.  As an adult, Thomas would carry on his famous father’s mathematical and astronomical pursuits.  Upon his father’s death he inherited not only wealth but friendships with all the finest intellectuals of London and its environs including Baron Burghley and his guardian John Dee.  He would also serve in parliament, and other official capacities, building still more considerable wealth and high-end social connections in and around London.

Some years after Leonard’s father died, his mother was proposed marriage by Thomas Russell, a lawyer.  As was so often the case with a widow’s second marriage, Russell’s offer was an excellent financial move.  He would be marrying up and gaining ₤12,000 and more into the bargain.  His wife’s fortune, however, was bequeathed upon the condition that she never remarry.[1]  She is said simply to have dispensed with the formalities of wedlock and moved into Russell’s house in Alderminster near Stratford-Upon-Avon. 

A Mr. David Kathman has written that the entire family moved to Alderminster[2] but there would seem to be no evidence to the effect that either of the sons accompanied her.  There is plenty to argue that, absent direct evidence to that effect, the son’s should be considered to have remained behind in London. Dudley the elder son would sue his step-father in the London courts, in future years, over the provisions of his father’s will.  He is said to have included aspersions in the legal paperwork describing Thomas Russell in the most disrespectful and insulting terms.[3]

Alderminster would have no educational facilities to even begin to compete with those available in London.  The sons’ futures would have been severely impaired by leaving the benefits and the social milieu of the city.  Upper middle class young men with the least ambition would have chosen London without hesitation.  Their mother had certainly forfeited any right to override their personal choices had she wished or the choices of a suitable adult prepared to step in as guardian.

The original will had left Dudley, the elder son, a wealthy man upon reaching 24 years of age.  He would have been able to borrow against the inheritance from the moment his father died. Leonard, the second son, was bequeathed enough to live modestly and to pay for an Oxford education.  Their mother’s household having moved, the London house would always be available to them free of charge.  Or they might have stayed with family or friends until they reached their majority and rented out the house for additional income in the meantime.

So then, context is essential.  There is little likelihood that Leonard Digges ever lived in Alderminster or traveled there during his Oxford vacations.  All signs are that he lived in Oxford and London during all of his life that he was not traveling in Europe.  There is only one occasion that we know with certainty that he visited Stratford-Upon-Avon.  He seems to have arrived at the invitation of the aforesaid young Combes who he had befriended as a fellow student at Oxford.  It was 15 years after the death of Shaksper of Stratford and the letter that tells us of his visit also informs us that he was not familiar with the place and had to ask questions of the locals in order to learn a  bit about it.  He gives no sign that he even briefly visited the house or the tomb of Shaksper.

[1] Green, Nina.  The Oxford Authorship Site.
[2] Shakespeare beyond Doubt, ed. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, 127.
[3] Green,  Palmer, Alan and Veronica.  Who's Who in Shakespeare's England,  210.  

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Did Falstaff Write a Poem for Lowe’s Chyrurgerie? (p. 2)

Much more then men they be,
And ought like Doctors be enstald:
In seats of high degree.
What doth preserve the lives of men,
May clayme due honor right,
And should be praysd by tong and pen,
as farre as day gives light,
Long studie gives a glorious crowne,
A garland deckt with flowers,
Under whose shad, of rare renomine,
The Muses makes their bowers:
To set and see whose gifts excell,
In wit and cunning skill.
Who best doth work; who doth not wel,
And who bears most goodwill
To vertue, learning, and good mind,
The muses favour those,
And gives them grace of their owne kind
great secrets to disclose,
Revives ther wits, makes sharp their sence
To judge, [            ], and know
Whose tong is typt with eloquence,
And whose fine pennes do flow,
And who the liberall art detaines,
And mortall vertue have,
In whome a hidded skill remaines:
And cunning knowledge brave.
It seemes a stranger here of late,
Hath from the gods divine,
Got credit, honour, and estate,
To please the Muses Nine.
The Surgeons of our King likewise,
Doth praese him for his skill,
His printed bookes may well suffice,
To win the worlds goodwill.
His merits far surmounts the love,
I beare to men of worth,
My pen doth but affection move,
His deeds doe set him forth.
His knowledge makes blind bonglers blush
Their boldnes bring him fame,
Vaine [Vale mine] not worth a rush,
Where Low, but showes his name.
You paultry, senceles, saucie Jackes:
That patch up wounds in post,
Trudge hence, trusse up your pedlers packs,
He cares not for your boast,
His face and brow from blot is cleere.
The Sages of our soyle,
Bids Doctor Low, still welcome here,
To your great shame and foyle.
Who well deſerves, is honoured much,
As tryall dayly showes,
Who hath good name, is wise and ritch,
And is loved where he goes.
Since of this Doctor and his Art,
Those vertues I rehearse,
I him in every poynt and part,
Salute with English verse.
Lowe, it seems, was not particular about who wrote his commendatory poems.  Presumably, Churchyard, being regularly published, was all the qualification the surgeon understood.  Lowe was too young to have been a field surgeon known to the old poet back during the day.

For all Lowe became quite famous we know little about his personal predilections, whom he might have met where, etc.  His book, however, teaches us that he is smitten with Galen even more than was common among his fellow medical men at the time.

Could Shakespeare be satiring Falstaff’s commendatory poem on a subject he can only pretend to understand?  Might that be why there would appear to be nothing written by Galen on the apoplectic deafness Falstaff attributes to him?  While in Lowe’s book similar conditions are addressed not by Galen but by Hippocrates?[1]

I decided not to include this in Edward de Vere’s Retainer Thomas Churchyard: the Man Who was Falstaff as it is a bit of a long reach (pending further information).  The many correspondences between Churchyard’s life and works and the character of Falstaff, given there, were chosen as being less speculative, more demonstrable.

Still, the coincidence is thought provoking if for no other reason than the fact that Lowe’s Discourse: of the Whole Art of Chyrurgerie was written in 1597[2] which would establish that year as the earliest date for 2 Henry IV.  Just a thought.

Page:    ◄Previous   -1-

[1] Shahan, John M.  Beyond A Doubt?, Shakespeare, 105. About Hippocrates being referred to in The Merry Wives of Windsor. “Hoeniger also suggests that Shakespeare likely knew passages from Hippocrates’ Prognostic, and speculates that Peter Lowe’s Whole Course of Chirurgerie (1597), which included the first translation of the Presages of Hyppocrates was the author’s likely source.”  This is also said of a reference in Richard II but that play was written in the late 1580s.  Presumably after Humphrey Llwyd’s translation of aphorisms from Hippocrates, Treasury of Healthe, published in 1585, and dedicated to William Cecil, Baron Burghley.
[2] Watt, Robert.  Bibliotheca Britannica lists a 1596 edition that does not seem to be verifiable by any second source.  II.618v.  “LOWE, PETER, a native of Scotland, and Founder of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow; died there in 1612.—The whole Course of Chirurgerie; wherein is briefly set down, the Causes, Signes,
Prognostications, and Curations of all sorts of Tumours, Wounds, Vlcers, Fractures, Dislocations, and all other Diseases, vsually practised by Chirurgeons, according to the opinion of all our auncient Doctours in Chirurgerie. Compiled by Peter Lowe, Scotchman, Arelian Doctor in the Facultie of Chirurgerie in Paris, and Chirurgian Ordinarie to the King of Fraunce and Nauarre. Wherevnto is annexed, the Booke of the Presages of Deuyne Hippocrates, deuyded into three partes; also the Protestation which Hippocrates caused his Scholars to make. The whole collected and translated by Peter Lowe, &c. Lond. 1596, 1597, 1612, 1634, 1654, 4tº,...

  • How Edward de Vere Didn't Depart Italy (it turns out).  July 19, 2017.  "It seemed that Pasquale Spinola must have been mistaken or misled.  There would not have been nearly enough time to visit Florence, Siena, Rome, Naples and Palermo and to return to Venice.  Such a trip took considerable time in the 16th century."
  • Edward de Vere's Memorial For His Son, Who Died at Birth May 1583.  July 5, 2017.  "The brief Viscount Bulbeck being the son of the renowned poet and playwright Edward de Vere, we might have hoped to have the text of the father’s own memorial poem.  As far as traditional literary history is concerned, no such poem has yet been discovered."
  • Shakespeare's Apricocks.  February 21, 2017.  "While he may never have been a gardener, he does seem more than superficially knowledgeable about the gardens of his day.  One detail of such matters that he got wrong, however, is as much to the point as any."
  • John Donne's"Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day".  December 13, 2016.  "Today, December 13, is Saint Lucy’s Day.  In John Donne’s time, when the old calendar was still in use, it fell upon (and was, therefore, the feast of) the winter solstice."
  • Enter John Lyly.  October 18, 2016.  "From time to time, Shakespeare Authorship aficionados query after the name “John Lyly”.  This happens surprisingly little given the outsized role the place-seeker, novelist and playwright played in the lives of the playwright William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere."

Did Falstaff Write a Poem for Lowe’s Chyrurgerie?

Not everything that might connect Thomas Churchyard with the character Falstaff went into Edward de Vere’s Retainer Thomas Churchyard: the Man Who Was Falstaff.  Some that did not can go a long way toward demonstrating how the selection process proceeded.  At the same time, looking at the “close calls” can make clear what might at some point, with the addition of further information, rise to the level of “evidence”.

Just one of Sir John Falstaff’s seemingly unaccountable characteristics, for example, is his mention of having read the ancient physician Galen of Pergamon.  Galen originally wrote in Greek but his works had long been translated into Latin by the 16th century.  Sir John says of the illness of King Henry IV:

Fal. And I hear, moreover, his Highness is fallen into this same whoreson apoplexy.
Ch.Just. Well, God mend him! I pray you, let me speak with you.
Fal. This apoplexy is, as I take it, a kind of lethargy, an't please your lordship ; a kind of sleeping in the blood, a whoreson tingling.
Ch. Just. What tell you me of it? be it as it is.
Fal. It hath its original from much grief, from study, and perturbation of the brain : I have read the cause of his effects in Galen : it is a kind of deafness.[1]
As I have pointed out in my book, Churchyard was able to read Latin well enough to do a self-serving but serviceable translation from Ovid and a few other odds and ends.

Moreover, in the Henry IV plays, the old pikeman is in the habit of using medical imagery.  Reflecting on the value of honor, he sees the injured soldier in the field in just such terms:

Fal….  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 that word, honour? air.[2]
It is not unusual that a soldier should picture the effects of the battlefield in such terms.  Somewhat less common, Falstaff describes a man’s love life with the ladies in battlefield terms.  The combatant’s pike is metaphorically… well… it shouldn’t take too much to figure out what it is.  Pikeman and pike, injured, come off the battlefield toward the surgery.

Fal. If the cook help to make the gluttony, you help to make the diseases, Doll : we catch of you, Doll, we catch of you; grant that, my pure virtue, grant that.
Dol. Ay, marry, our chains and our jewels.
Fal. Your brooches, pearls, and ouches: — for to serve bravely is to come halting off, you know: to come off the breach with his pike bent bravely, and to surgery bravely; to venture upon the charged chambers bravely,…[3] 
The Galen, though, is not the kind of reading which might occupy a soldier’s time.  Either in Greek or Latin.  Falstaff was not only a flim-flam man of the highest skills, he was a man with a level of culture not heard of among enlisted ranks.  Few among the enlisted ranks could read English at the time much less Latin.

But, his time in the wars long over, we find Churchyard writing a commendatory poem for Peter Lowe’s Discourse: of the Whole Art of Chyrurgerie. Wherein is exactly set downe the Definition, Causes, Prognostications, and Cures of all sorts of Diseases, both in generall and particular, which at any time heretofore have been practized by any Chirurgion: According to the opinion of all the ancient professors of that Science.

The Noblest Science under sunne,
That most mens lives doe save,
The art that greatest praise hath won,
Whereby great helpe we have,
Is Surgerie, for knowledge there,
In highest grace doth shine.
The skill is honoured eueriewhere,"
for specially griefes divine.
When wrath and rage makes quarrels rise;
And men in furie fight,
In Surgeon such great knowledge lies,
Greene wounds are healed streight.
Flesh cut, bloud lost, and every vaine, .
And sinnowes shronke away,
He can by art restore againe:
And comfort their decay.
The mangled bones are set and knit,
In their owne proper place,
And everie Limme in order fit,
Comes to their force and grace.
By surgeons mean who quickly sees,
The daungers as they are:
And mends the mischiefs by degrees,
with knowledge and great care.
Hath instruments to search each joynt,
Each skull or brused bone.
And can with balmes and oyles anoynt
The nerves and vaines each one.
Knowes all the nature, and each kinde
Of hearbes, of flowers, and weedes,
And can the secret vertue find
Of blossomes, leaves, and seedes.
Heales cankers, ulcers, and old sores,
Hath precious powders small
To eate proud flesh, and rotten sores, ---
And drie up humor all. ---
What griefe of body can be named,
But he can helpe in hast[e]?
Yea though the liver be inflam'd;
Or lights and lungs doe wast[e].
In time and temper he can bring
The lack of each lame part,
As though in hand he had a string,
To leade mans life by art.
Halfegods good Surgeons maybe cald,

Page:    -2-  Next

[1] 2 Henry IV. I.ii.
[2] 1 Henry IV. V.ii.
[3] 2 Henry IV. II.iv.

  • Desperately Seeking Bridget (de Vere).  August 24, 2014.  "Even most people who assert that the Earl of Oxford was the poet and playwright Shake-speare (a group to which I resoundingly belong) do not seem to know that she was engaged, in 1598, to William Herbert, soon to inherit the Earldom of Pembroke,..."
  • Check out Virtual Grub Street's English Renaissance Article Index for articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Leonard Digges and the Shakespeare First Folio

It can be quite difficult to get access to certain 17th century books.  One such book is Gerardo the unfortunate Spaniard (1622) by Leonard Digges, one of the poets who wrote a memorial poem for the Shakespeare First Folio.  It is one of only two known published works (both translations) by Digges who came from a highly respected intellectual family.  His grandfather and father wrote about mathematics and science.  His brother was highly respected in political circles.

Advocates of the Stratford candidate for the authorship of the works of Shakespeare have struggled over the years to explain why none of the persons who wrote memorial poems knew Shakespeare personally.  After exhaustive searching it turns out that Thomas Russell, one of the attorneys who drafted Shaksper’s final Will, may be the same Thomas Russell who married Digges’ mother, Anne.  As the result of subsequent reflections among the Stratford faithful, it has been declared that Russell’s role assures us beyond question that he was a close personal friend of the decedent.  No sources or examples, it would seem, are considered necessary to establish the claim as fact. 

Sometime between 1601 and 1603 the Digges family had moved from London to live with Russell in the township of Alderminster.  From that timeRussell and the Diggeses lived only 5 miles away from Stratford, the argument goes.  The Russell-Diggeses and their presumably highly intellectual connections at Court and in academia obviously became close friends with Shaksper.  It is, therefore, only reasonable to assume that the Stratford man was highly literate.  Also that Leonard’s First Folio poem was to a personal friend.

Among Stratfordians, all of this is understood to be sufficient evidence that surely the writers of the memorial poems knew Shakespeare personally however obscure their connections.  Also that Leonard was a close personal friend of Shaksper thus making clear the Stratford man’s intellectual acumen.  He was an autodidact of the first order — of an order only explicable by genius.

Regardless whether the attorney who drafted Shaksper’s Will was indeed Leonard Digges’ step-father or not, however, it is highly unlikely that Digges and Shaksper were ever friends — almost equally unlikely that they ever met.  The young Leonard left for Oxford University in 1603, the year that Anne Digges married her Thomas Russell.  This is considered to be about the time that Shaksper retired to Stratford-Upon-Avon.  In that year, Shaksper would have been 39 years of age and Leonard 15.

Upon receiving his baccalaureate, in 1606, Leonard briefly chose to reside in London.  After that he went on an extended tour of the Continent which ended around the year that Shaksper died.  Upon his return he took up residence at Oxford University.  He received his M.A. from Oxford, in 1626, based upon his attendance for many years at the finest universities in Europe.[1]

Regardless that the Diggeses lived in a village only 5 miles away, Leonard was only there, at most, during vacations and breaks from his Oxford University studies.  The inconveniences of travel being such as they were, in the early 17th century, he is likely to have remained in Oxford or to have visited London even on those occasions. Had he returned home, he remained half Shaksper’s age and is unlikely to have sought his company.  After 1606, Leonard was rarely at home or never at all.  He spent the next ten-or-so years studying at European universities.

Add to this the fact that Digges’ memorial poem includes not the slightest intimate personal note and the matter is right back where is was to begin with.  And where exactly was the matter?  The writers of the memorial poems all belonged to the stable of writers of Edward Blount, the main editor of the First Folio of the Plays of Shakespeare.[2]  Thomas Russell was chosen by Shaksper, a wily businessman, from among the lawyers in his vicinity, for the man’s professional capabilities rather than for friendship’s sake.

In the year 1622 (the year the final text of folio was being being finished), Edward Blount published:

Gerardo the unfortunate Spaniard, or a Pattern for Lascivious Lovers. Containing several strange miseries of loose affection. Written by an ingenious Spanish Gentleman, Don Goncalo de Cespides, and Meneces, in the time of his five years imprisonment.
Originally in Spanish, and made English by L. D.—
London : Printed for Ed. Blount. 1622.

The “L. D.” was Leonard Digges.  Remarkably, the connection between Blount and the Herbert brothers was active before their names appears as the dedicatees to the First Folio.

The Dedication to the Noble Brothers, William Earl of Pembroke, and, Philip Earl of Montgomery, nephews to Sir Philip Sidney, follows:

Right Noble: My Lords—

Translations, as says a witty Spaniard, are, in respect of their originals, like the knotty wrong-sides of arras-hangings : but by his wit's leave, as the fair outside could ill be seen, without help of the knots within; no more can the fame of a well-deserving author be far spread, without the labour of a translation. This made me, for the present Spanish author's sake, venture to make him speak English, and to do a public good by publishing the moral examples contained in the present tragical discourses. Now, that I presume to offer my weak endeavours to the view and protection of your Lordships, I shall no way despair of a pardon ; since the world, that takes notice of your noble good
ness, the first and best of your honoured titles, gives me assurance, that, though a stranger rather than an intruder, I shall be esteemed
To your Honors both,

A devoted Servant,

The coincidence that the names of the memorial poets, Edward Blount, Ben Jonson and the Herbert brothers are often found together around the years 1622-23 is more than simply suggestive.  As they were working on the folio project, they were demonstrably trading the customary favors in terms of commendatory poems, book publications, etc.  This system of professional courtesies is the reason a poem by Leonard Digges appeared in the Folio.  It is also the reason why Hugh Holland[4] and James Mabbe, both associated with Blount’s press at the time, were selected for the other memorials.

Much of this material is also touched upon in Leah Scraggs' exceptional essay “Edward Blount and The Prefatory Material to the First Folio Of Shakespeare”. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 79, 1 (1997), pp. 117–26.

[1] Wood, Anthony.  Athenae Oxonienses.  An Exact History Of All The Writers And Bishops Who Have Had Their Education In The University Of Oxford. 592-3.
[3] Freeman, R. Kentish poets, a series of writers, natives of or residents in Kent;..., II, 1-3.
[4] Holland and Jonson had previously exchanged favors, on other projects, and this may be a factor as well.

  • Desperately Seeking Bridget (de Vere).  August 24, 2014.  "Even most people who assert that the Earl of Oxford was the poet and playwright Shake-speare (a group to which I resoundingly belong) do not seem to know that she was engaged, in 1598, to William Herbert, soon to inherit the Earldom of Pembroke,..."
  • Check out Virtual Grub Street's English Renaissance Article Index for articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Falstaff, the Fellowship, Waugh-Bate, etc.: The Bystander #1

The Colonel pulled up his favorite chair and settled in.  Actually, it is the only other chair in the apartment.  I rarely entertain.

“I see you’ve included periodic overviews in your new book.  Don’t you think that is just a little patronizing?”

I could not help but smile.  I never can help smiling when the Colonel stops in.  I nodded toward the cup in his hand.  “Earl Grey?”

“Of course.  Caffeinated.  The ex sent me an early tin for Christmas.”  He slowly shook his head.  A gesture to prepare me for the worst.  “Decaf.”

“Did you expect her to change?”

“She delights in imagining what it does to me.  I will give it to the Salvation Army this year, I think.”

“Not everyone is the Colonel,” I said.

He stared into his cup looking for what my meaning could be.

“The overviews.  This is the 21st century.  I’m all but guaranteeing commercial failure writing about Shakespeare to begin with.  I’m told the books can be difficult to follow for those with no background.  It has been suggested that I help the reader more.”

“By the Shakespeare Brethren?”

“The Fellowship?  No.  They still pretty much spend their time talking about how Mark Twain was an authorship skeptic and what the key is to this or that cipher.”

“And slut-shaming Queen Elizabeth.”

“Goes without saying.”  I rose to go to the kitchenette and heat my coffee in the microwave.

The Colonel raised his voice as I walked away.  “You include footnotes and bibliographies.  Isn’t that enough?”

“You and I are among the last of a dying breed, I’m afraid.  There are no notes or bibliographies on the Discovery Channel.”

I received a quizzical look by way of reply.

“The Academics are busy arranging two classes a week punctuated with tax-free inbreeding conferences.  The amateur Fellows are crying foul and trying to manage exactly the same arrangements for themselves on the cheap.  I’m left trawling for unaffiliated curious minds or those heterodox types that aren’t perfectly bought in.  Much the same waters, that is to say, that the Discovery Channel and Ken Burns are fishing.”

“But what will people in any of these categories really know for their ersatz efforts?”

“I can’t see that they care.  Not enough to change, anyway.”

The Colonel raised his cup in a toast.  “To the last of the gentleman scholars.”

Returning to my computer workstation, I raised my reheated, day old coffee.  “To the last of the gentleman scholars.”

“I did watch that Waugh-Bate YouTube thing you mentioned.  Useless generalities vs. precise errors: an interesting premise.”

“I thought you might like it.”

“Bate being something of a fourth form prize holder, you might think he would care that he misrepresented Dryden and was outright wrong about Capulet and the kitchen staff.  Surely he didn’t come up with it off the top of his head.  He was reading his opening statement from a text.”

“I must admit, he had me convinced.”

The Colonel was taken aback.  “Of his ridiculous claims?” 

“Of course not.  He had me convinced that he might be poorly enough educated in certain key matters that he could sincerely believe that what he was saying was true.” 

“Capulet was chastised by his wife and Juliet’s nurse for sticking his nose in women’s business where it did not rightfully belong.  That was precisely the division of the household activities common among the upper classes both in England and Italy during the Elizabethan Era.  He was merely passing through the kitchen, as any husband might who was anxious that the preparations for the big party go well, and dallying more than the ladies felt was proper.”

“Shakespeare would hardly have been a great playwright," I added, "or a presumptive nobleman, if he wrote every character strictly to type.  That he knew that a nobleman was a human being given to individual foibles, to playful infractions, rather than an automaton strictly obedient to every social rule of his class, at every moment, means he knew more about noblemen in their private moments than was likely for a grain dealer.”

“Also, it seems that the Stratford man had never been to Elsinor Castle and Edward de Vere had never been to Elsinor Castle, therefore the Stratford man had to have written Hamlet.”  The Colonel seasoned his incredulity with the cross-eyed face which he does to remarkable comic effect.

“At any rate, it hardly mattered so long as Bate sounded like he was citing a devastating fact in his favor.  We live in the era of the soundbite.  Fact checks come long after the attention has wandered elsewhere, if they come at all.”

“What with the advent of the Stuarts, and their European tastes, pretty much everything changed about the way the nobility acted and spoke.  That being the case, Fletcher was bound to please the post-Restoration ear more than Shakespeare who they thought was a terribly talented Neanderthal.  Has the Fellowship followed up?”

“Not enough drama to attract them, I suspect.  Much more interesting to overlay a Shakespeare title page with a geometrical matrix and see what pops up.”

“By Dryden’s time educated conversation and social mores were completely changed (although he cast no aspersions whatsoever on Shakespeare’s portrayal of relationships between servants and masters).  So then, he is saying that Shakespeare’s noble characters spoke like those of an earlier age and sounded false in the ear of the Restoration theatergoer.  We’re talking some serious low-hanging fruit here.  It’s not like there wouldn’t be time to chase ciphers after the work was done.”

“They are natural talents and must go where their inspiration takes them.”

“I can certainly see your point.  It seems like there is no end of natural talents these days.  We must be onto something.”

“The Fellowship is all in a panic about Bate’s comments on computer analysis of Shakespeare’s texts, though.  He even pronounces the phrase ‘mathematical precision’ with unquestionable precision.”

“That reminds me.  My computer is getting pretty slow again.”

“I’ll see when I can schedule you in.  Have you bought the RAM expansion boards I recommended?”

“I’ve been busy reading your Falstaff book.”

“I only just published it earlier this week.”

“Before that I was preparing.  Your books require a period of attention training.  You know: all those footnotes and bibliographies and everything.”

“Soon I won’t be able to keep you on the Internet without installing the boards.”

“You’ve been putting a lot of time into understanding those analysis programs yourself, haven’t you?  By the sound of it, you haven’t found them a particularly daunting problem.  Why don’t you write a book about it?  I bet they’d buy a bunch of them.”

“Like they’re buying the book about  Churchyard being the model for Falstaff, you mean?”

“I’m sure they’ll pass the information around."  There was a savage twinkle in the Colonel's eye as he spoke.  "You should be proud of your accomplishment.”

“Yuh, right.”

“Still no reviews, I notice.  Who was the beauty who wrote that your research on the Elizabeth portrait book was exemplary and then gave you a 3-star rating, by the way?”

I only raised my eyebrows and pursed my lips.

“Well, I have to go get some pizza for the football game.  I’ll bring you a couple of slices.”

“No mushrooms.”

“What I don’t go through for the Shakespeare Authorship Question.”

“I won’t turn my nose up if they arrive together with garlic bread.”