The Rival School of the Great Master
By Eric Miller/2001/2015
In an earlier section I noted, in passing, that so far as Elizabethan history is concerned, there were two rival schools of poetry in the 1580’s-1590’s, that headed by Philip Sidney and that headed by Lord Oxford. And, in my remarks, I noted that the theories of Sidney, contained in his In Defense of Poetry, could be contrasted with those of Lord Oxford’s “as contained in The Arte of English Poesie.” Moreover, in previous remarks, we have indicated that Lord Oxford disguised his identity in the name of “Ignoto,” and we have attributed all [or most all] surviving “Ignoto” poems to Lord Oxford, whereas previously he had only been identified as having written some of the “Ignoto” poems and not others—as Looney, who first identified Lord Oxford as “Shakespeare” opined (without analysis, evidence, or argument) on those by or not-by “Ignoto”).
In my play, Ignoto’s Farewell, I revealed not only one of Ignoto’s little known poems as a key piece of evidence of the identity of “Ignoto” as Lord Oxford, but I give a precise dating to the writing of it (or at least the time frame when it was written) as the time of Lord Oxford’s release from prison in 1581. In that poem, Ignoto reveals that he was “called great Master/In the loose rimes of every poetaster.” [see “Ignoto’s Farewell”]
While everyone with a general knowledge of Elizabethan literary history is aware of the fact that Lord Oxford was indeed identified, during the 1580’s-1590’s as the greatest comedy writer of his times (Looney, Ward, Clark, etc.), no one has produced any evidence that Lord Oxford was, in fact, considered a “great master” by the poets of the day. Indeed, the surviving record shows such little overt praise from poets of the day of this “great Master” that one is entitled to be skeptical as to the actual reputation of Lord Oxford. For certainly, he could have been considered the “best for comedy” in the minds of some literary commentators of the day without being thought of or called “great Master.” And if Oxford was called “great Master” we are entitled to ask, by whom?
For example, as there are no known surviving great comedies (nor any even so denominated) from the 1580-1590 period the “best in comedy” may fall far short of anyone at the time, considering any comedic work of that period as that of by a “great Master.” The term “great Master” if it really was applied to Ignoto or anyone during the period at issue, by “every poetaster”, surely, one would think, some evidence of the fact would have survived in the records of Elizabethan literature—and we would not have to depend upon the self-mind-reading “evidence” of commentators.
Is it possible that here, now, “objective evidence” of “Ignoto’s” reputation as a “great Master” is established?
Those familiar with the corpus of the works by or about Edward de Vere, generally appear to be unaware of a fact of singular significance, i.e., something said of de Vere by John Lyly (the most popular writer in English since Chaucer, at the time), to wit, that he, Lyly, had “an almost religious veneration for Lord Oxford.” [see Bond] This, we hold, comes very close to satisfying a praise that goes beyond the “best for comedy.” Certainly it is something more closely approaching the kind of extreme veneration one would expect devotees to have for a “great Master.” And, I, for one, have never yet heard a comic writer described in such terms in all of world literature before (perhaps saving Shakespeare himself). This is not an “allusion” to Lord Oxford, by Lyly, but a direct description of him by a famous writer who not only knew Lord Oxford well, but he was employed by him. No doubt Lyly knew his best and worst sides. As impressive to our point as this remark by Lyly is, a single example hardly qualifies for a “movement” behind the “great Master.”
In the same year as the publication of The Arte of English Poesie, we are informed by E.T. Clarke (whose remarks are not connected to anything about The Arte of English Poesie) that “Nashe, in his epistle ‘To the Gentleman students of both Universites,’ prefixed to Robert Green’s ‘Menaphon’ (1589), comments as follows on the poets of England: . . .”
Clarke then goes on to quote Nashe, at length, citing various authors for meritorious work such as Arthur Golding, Phaer, Stanihurst, Thomas Watson, Chaucer, Lydgate, George Gascoigne, along with a few others. Those here named were, in fact, the very ones cited by Ignoto in The Arte of English Poesie as among those of greatest merit, and The Arte also included a few others—not mentioned apparently by Nashe—such as Lord Vaux, and Lord Surrey and Lord Oxford himself. Interestingly, it is only Lord Oxford who is not mentioned directly.
Nashe continues in his remarks by referring to,
Sundrie other sweete Gentlemen I know, that have vaunted their pens in private devices, and tricked up a company of tafata fooles with their feathers, whose beautie if our Poets had not peecte with the supply of their periwigs, they might have antickt it until this time up and downe the countrey with the King of Faries, and dinde everie daie at the pease porredge ordinare with Delphrigus.. But Tolossa hath forgot that it was sometime sackt, and beggers that ever they carried their fardles on footback: and in truth no mervaile, when as the deserved reputation of one Roscious, [i.e., the greatest commediane of ancient Rome; hence the greatest commediane of England] of force to inrich a rabble of counterfeits; yet let subjects for all their insolence dedicate a De profundis every morning to the preservation of their Ceasar, least their encreasing indignities return them ere long to their juggling/to mediocrity, and they bewaile in weeping blankes the wane of their monarche,”
The convoluted language of Nashe may make it difficult for the reader to penetrate what he is clearly saying. E.T.Clark’s modernization of the meaning of the language may be helpful to facilitate understanding. She explained the remarks:
The interpretation of these remarks should read something like this: “Besides the poets previously named [note: Lord Oxford was not previously named], I know Gentlemen (that is, noblemen, not commoners) who have written some excellent things in private but have put them out in public under the names of others; if the work of the “taffata fooles” had not been pieced out with the brains of these private writers, they might have spent their time walking up and down country lanes with nothing to do and eating at the poorhouse. But Tolossa (a town in Spain) has forgotten that it was once sacked by an enemy, and beggars (he refers to certain poets now “on horseback”) that every where they went afoot, carrying their burdens as they walked. But it is not surprising, when we think of the reputation of one Roscious (the greatest comedian of ancient Rome), hence Nashe’s reference is to the greatest comedian of London, or writer of comedy. . .”
Clark concludes her remarks by stating that the only person
who answered this description at the moment of Nashe’s writing was the Earl of Oxford, whose ability is great enough to enrich a rabble of imitators. These insolent subjects had better say a prayer every morning for the preservation of their Cesar, for if they continue to increase the indignities they are showing him, they will soon return to their juggling and mediocrity (where they belong, he evidently believes), and they will be wailing in weeping blank verse the wane of their monarchy.”
Now, here we come to issues of “a great Master” who is being “counterfeited” or imitated by a “rabble of imitator” followers. The point is worth making—that it is just this very “great Master” himself who calls his “followers” the unflattering appellation of “poetasters.” It is a rather unusual situation that the very poets who call him Master, he calls “poetasters,”—insignificant, trifling “poets.” Apparently, our great Master considered himself plagued by these “adherents,” rather than honored and didn’t care who knew it. It appears Ignoto wanted nothing to do with all the “rabble of imitators” who invoked his name for their unwanted doings.
But it is at this point we must pause, because literary history is confused in the minds of many commentators and chronology has not been easy to sort out.
Clarke quotes the above material and comments on it primarily to make the point that Nashe’s remarks (and Clarke’s supporting quotations from Spenser’s works) allows us to date them to 1590—the period of the closing down of the Boy Players because of prohibited showing of a play about “Martin Marprelate.” She obviously intends to relate the “Shakespeare” or Lord Oxford allusions to 1590. She quotes from Spenser’s “Tears of the Muses” (1590) as well as the poem “Muiopotmos” (1590) and asks: “Who in 1590 or immediately proceeding that year, fits the description of Clarion as does the Earl of Oxford?” But after these remarks she directs the reader to the comments of Looney at page 285:
Mr. Looney has commented on these verses so fully that readers must be referred to his book. He . . .identifies “Willy,” in the “Tears of the Muses,” with “Willie,” in the dialogue between Wilie and Perigot in “The Shepherd’s Calendar,” issued by Spenser in December, 1579, and in both cases, the prototype of Willy appears to be the Earl of Oxford. Evidence that the Earl of Oxford was known as Will, or Willy, is furnished by Nash in his “Strange News,” (1592) : “I, and one of my fellows Will Monox (hast thou never heard of him and his great dagger?) were in company with him [Greene] a month before he died.” “Will Monox” is obviously a made-up name; the first part agrees with Spenser’s “Will,” and the surname is a combination of the French possessive pronoun and the first part of Oxford’s name, “his great dagger” suggest that already in 1592 Oxford was known by the sobriquet of “Shakespeare.”
I will not here dissect the entangled reasoning of Looney, suffice it to say that Looney considered that he solved the long standing literary mystery which Spenserian and Shakespearean scholars have long had in common and that is the identity of the poet referred to in Spenser’s “Tears of the Muses,” of whom he said that that “large streams of honey flowed”—words though applicable to many, but are especially to Shakespeare. The mystery arises from the fact that, as the “Tears of the Muses” was published in 1591, it was too early, chronologically, to refer to “Shakespeare”—whose name does not appear in the historical record until 1594 (with the publication of “Venus and Adonis”). And, the mystery on the other hand, is that if the famous words did not apply to Shakespeare, to whom did they apply?
Looney claims to have found a solution to the “mystery” of the identity of the mellifluous poet in his poem the “Tears of the Muses.” The “Willie” of the “The Shepherd’s Calendar” and the “Willy” the “Tears of the Muses” were one and the same, namely, Lord Oxford. Not only that, but Lord Oxford, by stating in one of the “Shakespeare” sonnets that “My name is Will” seems to have intended to reveal his identity as Lord Oxford. How does Looney accomplish his equation, Willie=Willy=Lord Oxford?
Looney concluded the person full of “large streams of honey” mentioned by Spenser in 1591 is the same “Willie” he refers to in his Shepherds’ Calendar supposedly of 1579 by connecting two ideas. In the SC (August Eclogue) Cuddie makes the statement that he will judge a poetry contest between Willie and Cuddie and tells them to begin when they will and that he will be “Sike a judge as Cuddy were for a king.” Looney hears in these quoted words, an echo of a pair of poems, one by Lord Oxford and the other by Philip Sidney, “Were I a king,” and “Sidney’s Answer” respectively. The link is in “were I a king,” and “were for a king.” If the reader will not accept this connection as conclusive, Looney does not have a case, for his other two pieces of “evidence” are equally untenable, as evidence.
Looney further tries to strengthen the above mentioned case, by further positing that in the SC the person named Perigot was actually Sidney, so that the poetry contest is between Sidney and Lord Oxford. Looney attempts to prove this by quoting the phrase “bellibone” used in SC in the phrase, “I saw the bouncing bellibone” with the “bonney bell” of the phrase, “Which is the dainter bonny belle,”—which seems almost absurd, as if it is the word (or words) “bonny bell” or “bonnibell” could possibly prove anything about the identies of the poets.
And a third piece of “evidence” even more absurd than the first two is the phrase in SC where it states that “Alas! At home I have a sire,/A stepdame eke as hot as fire.”—supposedly proving, in Looney’s view, that the Willie in that statement was also Lord Oxford because, as Looney says, “the reference to Oxford’s domestic position, to the surveillance exercised by Burleigh, and to the irascible Lady Burley is obvious.” Looney’s remark is obviously absurd. Spenser allegedly published SC in December 1579. Lord Oxford had been living away from his wife (and certainly his mother in law) for over 4 years!
Looney Hot But No Light
If analytical common sense is to rule, we cannot accept any of Looney’s arguments as having any standing whatsoever. To adopt Looney in his reasoning, his argument, and his “evidence” is disastrous to any credible commentary on the matter. Nonetheless, in this, and in a great many other cases, Looney was actually red-hot close to the truth; he could apparently feel the temperature but could not see the light. Having opted that “Willie” had to be Lord Oxford and not Sidney, Looney has to stray quite far, again, from reason to explain how it is that in an elegy to Sidney, Sidney is specifically referred to as “Willy” in “The Poetical Rhapsody”—for instance, published in 1602 but of a poem written shortly after Sidney’s death in 1588. Looney explains the error of Sidney being called “Willie” as having been done by someone years later, who, apparently looking for the name “Willie” found it in SC and decided that is the name that should go into the poem. Silly, only a person, desperate to protect a theory from which there is only contradicting evidence could ever have manufactured such a scheme of explanations. But, once again, Looney is not far wrong.
Looney did not solve the mystery as he declared, as to the explanation of the “Willy” with the “large flow of honey” and Lord Oxford, but I will endeavor to do so now.
Unknown to Looney, or any of the other Oxford commentators there is an even earlier poem, by Sidney, where Sidney himself calls, as I claim, Lord Oxford by the name of “Will” –and that is in the oldest known poem written by Sidney to be extant, i.e., “A dialogue between two shepherds, uttered in a pastoral show at Wilton,” (1577). It is the only poem in agreement with a “Willie” who was a member of nobility, a “gentle” Willie. The just named poem by Sidney is, in fact, a dialog between a “lord” who is named “Will” (note: Looney’s statement that Shakespeare’s sonnet with the line “My name is Will” says neither “Willie,” nor “Willy,” but “Will”—the only statement perfectly in agreement). The text reads:
“Will: Who bound thee?
Dick: Love my lord.
Will: What witnesses thereto?
(lines 24 etc.).
The above cited poem by Sidney (and also the second surviving poem by Sidney featuring “Amalcus,” see above—sorry “above” here refers to a previous chapter, ed.) is the first piece of evidence entered into the record that, 1) Sidney did, indeed, have a shepherd poet friend whose name was “Will” and who was also a “lord” and a counselor to “Dick”—the other poet in the dialogue who clearly represents Sidney himself. Further, we can say, based upon our other researches that Philip Sidney also had a friend named “Amalcus,”—the same who also appears in SC and there identified as a “competitor,” or actually, enemy, of Spenser’s, and later known to be an enemy of Lord Oxford. (Recall Sidney’s “Answer” to Oxford’s “Were I a king”).
Now, then, Looney also holds that the period 1579 (accepted publication of SC) to 1590 (publication of “Tears of the Muses”) was a period that saw the movement from lyric poetry into drama (as if there were no drama before 1579—despite the fact that Spenser specifically rails on the subject over and over in SC, which we shall deal with later!).
Finally the two sets of references, the one appearing in 1579 and the other in 1590, like together the opening and the closing phases of this middle period of his life. The former presenting him as a poet, and the latter as a dramatist, together help to make good the claim we have made for him: that he is the personal embodiment of the great literary transition by which the lyric poetry of the earlier days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign merged into the drama of her later years. Thus we get a sense both of the literary unity of the times, and of the great and consistent unity of his own career.
In one sense these are just words. Looney apparently doesn’t know the literary history of Elizabethan times very well, as with many of the scholars on the subject (or so it seems to me). First of all, few scholars who are competent to study the issue and who have commented on the subject believe that “Tears of the Muses” was written in 1590. That it was published in 1590 does not mean it was written in 1590. And, indeed, most of it would seem not to have been written in 1590, and the comments which Looney and Clark take to apply to 1590 actually apply to 1580—which, if true, nullifies nearly all that Looney had to say on the subject.
Recall it is Looney who sees the period of drama referred to coming not in 1580 but 1590, a decade LATER. And it is this decade-later period which Clark adopts. Thus, if Looney is a decade off, he is hardly an authority on the “literary unity of the times.” And, in fact, he is not. Yet, what are we to make of Nashe’s remarks quoted above by Clark, which we know were printed in 1590 and which clearly seemed to apply to the contemporary day. First, let us turn to the Cambridge editors of Spenser’s work on “The Tears of the Muses::
To what period this poem may belong has been somewhat disputed. On the whole, it would seem, like ‘Mother Hubbard’s Tale,’ to be early work revised, for though the allusions in the lament of Thalia refer that passage to 1589 or 1590, there are good grounds for believing that the poem first took form before 1580. Its doleful account of the state of literature, for instance, is quite at odds with that survey in “Colin Clout’s Come Home Again (or 1591) wherein Spenser deals so sympathetically with his fellow poets, and is not unlike in tone to various passages in the Calendar. One can hardly understand, moreover, how, in 1590, even as a matter of convention, he could take so dismal a view of English literature. In 1580, on the other hand, before Sidney, Greene, Marlowe, and their fellows of the first great generation had begun to write, when Spenser himself excepted, Lyly with his Euphues was the one brilliant name in English letters, such a view is quite conceivable. The matter might be argued much further, to same result.
Modern scholarship of 1999 (Penguin Classics) takes note of some of the facts mentioned by the Cambridge editors of 1907 with the following comment:
The starkness of the presentation, which some critics deem inapplicable to the cultural landscape of the 1590’s, has given rise to the suggestion that the poem must date from an earlier decade.. . The conspicuous praise of Queen Elizabeth, from whom Spenser had recently received an annual pension of fifty pounds, as both poet and patron (571-82) is doubtless intended to arouse a desire for emulation among her courtiers while obliquely castigating the current lack of courtly patronage also deplored in “Colin Clout Comes Home Againe [cf.Fox (1995].
Whether Spenser ever got his fifty pounds a year, as the editors suggest, notwithstanding, it is clear the editors are suggesting that parts of the “Tears of the Muses” was written as late as 1590, and also suggest that other parts are “inapplicable” to the cultural landscape of 1590’s. The point being, Looney was clearly unaware of the specific reservations that trained scholars had regarding the dating of the “Tears of the Muses” and with good reason. The Penguin editors were right to point out that Spenser in his 1990 publication of the “Tears of the Muses,” gave “conspicuous praise of Elizabeth” but we doubt it was “intended to arouse emulation among her courtiers” so much as to himself emulate the pattern laid down before him by Ignoto.
The reader will recall the fact that “Ignoto” wrote The Arte of English Poesie, and that it was published by Richard Field, who, as we pointed out [i.e., in a previous chapter] was “Shakespeare’s” first publisher for both “Venus and Adonis” and “Lucrece.” The point here is that while Spenser in 1590 in his “The Tears of the Muses” is praising the “honey tongued” one he is at the same time the guest of Ignoto for introduction to his “Fairy Queen” to Queen Elizabeth (for which he was allegedly awarded fifty pounds a year, per Penguin editors, supra). And was it, we ask, “The Arte of English Poetry” that gave the impetus to the courtiers praising Queen Elizabeth as the greatest of all poets? For it is first there that we hear that Queen Elizabeth is one of the greatest poets, nay, the greatest poet that ever lived. And it is just this absurd sentiment that Spenser emulates from Ignoto’s praise.
But last in recital and first in degree is the queen our Soverigne Lady whose learned, delicate, noble muse easily surmounted all that have lived before her time, or since, for sense, sweetness, and subtillitie, be it in Ode, Elegie, Epigram, or any other kinde of poeme Heroick or Lyricke, wherein it shall please her Majesties to employ her penne, even as much oddes as her owne excellent estate and degree exceedeth all the rest of her most humble vassals.
Obviously, Spenser has taken his cue from Ignoto, his host. Yet, Ignoto’s praise is uxorious enough! Spenser spends himself on the subject in complete surrender and submission, like a defeated cur groveling at the feet of the victor:
One only lives, her ages ornament,
And myrrour of her Makers maiestie;
That with rich bountie and deare cherishment,
Suports the praise of Poesie:
Ne only favours them which it professe,
But is herself a peereles Poetresse.
Most peereless Prince, most peereless Poetresse,
The true Pandora of all heavenly graces,
Divine Eliza, sacred Emperesse:
Live she for ever, and her royall P’laces
Be fild with praises of divinest wits,
That her eternize with their heavenlie writs.
Ignoto in 1589 ended his “The Arte of English Poesie” (apparently commissioned by the Queen herself) and in 1590 Spenser ends his “Tears of the Muses”, great parts of which were probably written pre-1580, with a 1590 salute to Queen Elizabeth as not only a peerless Queen, but a peerless Poet.
Now, it has only been assumed by Looney and others that Spenser’s comment in the “Tears of Muses” that Willy sits in silent cell relates to the early 1590’s. E.T. Clarke, assuming that that “silence” fell over the scene with the banning of the Boys Troope because of the prohibited showing of a play about Martin Marprelate. And the reason for the above discussion, in part, was in the fact that Looney and Clark were apparently mistaken as to the decade at issue, i.e., whether 1580 or 1590!
In my play “A Labor of Love” I reveal the historical fact that Lord Oxford in about middle 1579 retired from court to Hedingham (as I show under great psychological strain). So that as late as April of 1580 Lord Oxford was still withdrawn from court life and was engaged in study and writing—with Gabriel Harvey as his employed hand. In a letter from Harvey (who is spying on Lord Oxford for Spenser) to Spenser, Harvey states that it is still uncertain if the bird will “sing in court in November” or not. The theatre season began typically about that time in London. Further Harvey informs us that his master (an “unknown” Italianate) was a “book-worm” in the morning and a drinker in the afternoon, and was full of “strange shifts.” This period falls on the time of Sidney’s banishment from court for his impertinence to Lord Oxford, and Lord Oxford it would also at the same time came under disfavor with the Court for his mockery of Sir Hatton, and absented himself from court. The Queen, as I show, wanted him to return to Court and he would not—which accounts for Harvey’s letter to Spenser informing him that he might not return to court until September, if then, as reported above.
There is, in fact, further evidence that Lord Oxford “retired” from court either voluntarily or involuntarily, in a contemporary letter of 1579. He was to return to court, suddenly, shortly after his birthday in April 12, 1580, probably on learning of the arrest of actors of his new theatre group, the Lord Oxford Players. The point here is we have evidence that Lord Oxford was away from court at the exact time of the publication of Shepherd’s Calendar, believed to be in December, 1579.
Anyone who has carefully read Spenser’s SC would have known that there is considerable attention spent on the subject of the conflicting schools of poets, those among the Spenser group, the Aerophagos, and those belonging to a group headed by Lord Oxford himself. The spiteful enmity that had grown up between the two groups, the one of Lord Oxfords apparently full of radical firebrands, who were guilty of the most guilty of all sins, they were self-taught. E.K’s Epistle to Gabriel Harvey speaks of the different schools regard of one another:
In regard whereof, I scorne and spue out the rakehelye route of our ragged rymers (for so themselves use to hunt the letter) which without learning boste, without judgment jangle, without reason rage and some, as if some instinct of poeticall spirite and newly ravished them above the meanenesse of commen capacity. . . Nevertheless, let them a Gods name feede on theyr owne folly, so they seeke not to darken the beames of others glory.
But this was signed by E.K. on 10 of April, 1579, before another year was out, correspondence between Harvey and Spenser establishes that Sidney and his apparent co-founder, Dyer, had established the Areogphagos, a sort of Office of Literature, which banned the use of rimes altogether—in a rather mad effort to impose their Puritan beliefs upon England. In the “Three Letters” and the “Four Letters” (publications of Harvey’s & Spenser’s letters) Harvey discusses efforts to enlist Spenser in their “academy” and issues his blistering criticism of the other side, those University Wits who had the effrontery to become “self-taught” and, without further adieu, they launched their new literary experimentations.
It must be kept in mind, too, that the Areophagos was a group of Puritans who wanted to control the actions of others and the use and development of the English language so that it did not become corrupted by degenerate forces. So E.K. cries out in his Epistle which prefaces SC:
Which default when as some endeavored to salve and recure, they patched up the holes with pieces and rags of other languages, borrowing here of the French, there of the Italian, everywhere of the Latin; not weighing how ill those tongues accord with themselves, but much worse with ours; so now they have made our Eng languages a gallimaufray or hodgepodge of all other speeches. Other some, not so well seen in the Eng tongue as perhaps in other language, if they happen to hear an old word, albeit very natural and significant, cries straight away that we speak no English, but gibberish, or rather such as in old time, Evanders mother spake. Whose first shame is, that they a re not ashamed in their own mother tongue strangers to be counted and aliens.
Lord Oxford was the leader of the “University Wits” who opposed the Puritan, Areophagos, headed by Oxford’s one time enemy, Philip Sidney. C. Ogburn (1989) brings to our attention quotations from a series of three plays (1598-1602), “the Parnasus Plays” which provides a titillating passage:
Few of the university men pen plays well: they smell too much of the writer Ovid and that writer Metamorphosis, and talk too much of Proserpina and Jupiter. Why, here’s our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down, I [ay] and Ben Johnson too;. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow; he brought up Horace given the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit.
Ogburn informs us in his comments on this passage and another, which exemplifies the fact of prolix usage of classical allusions at the same time, apparently as scorning use of archaic “gibberish” that “Evander’s mother spake” and, of course, of which the Areophagos were so fond of in Spenser’s own “archaic” SC. Ogburn comments:
As for the university men talking too much of Proserpina and Jupiter as “Kempe” says, let us not that Shakespeare in his plays refers to Jupiter 30 times—and to June 19 times, to Venus (exclusive of the planet) 17 times, to Diana 50 times, to Neptune 23 times, to Mercury 15 times, to Mars 36 times, to Phoebus Apollo 42 times. Proserpine, daughter of Ceres (to whom Shakespeare refers six times) has never been invoked in lovelier imagery than in “The Winter’s Tale” (which evidently had been written by 1594 when Perdita cries: “O, Proserpina!”
Ogburn continues by telling us that what we are being told is that “Shakespeare is preeminently a university man, and that only an ignoramus would be able to believe that Shakespeare was a fellow of such as Kempe the clown.” And, this writer is persuaded that it is so. But, Ogburn has no authority for his dating of 1594 for the creation of “The Winter’s Tale.” I believe, rather that, it, too was written at the time of the late ‘70’s early 80’s rather than in the early 90’s, as others have presumed. For we see here, for example, that these very issues of language, and the revolution in the English language, that a curious situation develops—or so it seems.
On one hand, Spenser, reports that our honey-tongued poet sits in idle cell because he will not sell himself to the licentious activities being carried out in the theatres of the day. We certainly know that the SC has numerous comments on this subject in the various Eclogs about the rise of the tragic poets in the theatres of the day and running the pastoral poets such as himself out of business. At least that was the clear message of SC. In “The Tears of the Muses” however of 1590 (but, as said, as most scholars acknowledge most of it was written in 1580—because it seems to better describe the times, the literary period.
In my chapter on SC, I discuss the obvious archaic elements of language used by Spenser and his retrograde desire to push the English language back in their more Puritan medieval tongue, a movement strenuously opposed by the “university wits” who like John Lyly (Oxford’s secretary at the time) was introducing many Europeanisms into the English language, “especially Latine.” And, of course, no one is more famous for inventing a new vocabulary for the English tongue than Ignoto/Shakespeare. Ignoto, as the Poet Laureate scholar/historian (Infelice Ignoto Academico) and author of “The Arte of English Poesie,” on one hand, “for the court” and Ignoto the Outlaw, Anomos, on the other, a “university wit” who wrote plays.
We must bear in mind that the Areophagos did not have playwrights, but only “shepherd poets,” they were passé; the nation wanted something new, new language, a revolution in the English language, not, a readopting of old Chaucerianisms--championed by the Areophagos but prohibited, as Ignoto says in “The Arte of English Poesie” in his “school.” It is most interesting that Ignoto repeatedly states that he is writing for the Court, not the “university.” There were but two places to deal in the world of poetry, the Court or the University. According to the editors of the Penguin Classics the court and the university are “the two natural centers of poetic learning.” With the advent of the modern theatre and with the rise in interest in comedy and tragedy, “Colin Clout” and all his sort, including Spenser, were outmoded. Spenser laments the same in “The Tears of the Muses”:
For neither you nor we shall anie more
Finde entertainment, or in Court or Schoole:
For that which was accounted heretofore
The learneds meed, is not lent to the foole;
He sings of love, and maketh loving layes,
And they him heare, and they him highly praise.
But, we are left to wonder, at the fact that “The Arte of English Poetry,” repeatedly proclaims that it is written for the Court, not the university, is this an effort of Ignoto to through off those poetasters that who hail him as great Master, and yet have rudely imitated what in him sounded with the trumpet of nobility? Perhaps.
Spenser claims that the “honey-tongued” one left off public performances and sat is his idle cell voluntarily, we are led to believe. In a previous chapter, however, we showed with quotations from Sidney and others that Lord Oxford, Ignoto, was sentenced to silence by force of the law because he “defamed” others with his mocking wit, and because of that he was silenced—he, who Sidney called “the sweetest swan ever.” Now, Spenser, at about the same time, as we read the record (i.e., the 1580 period, not the 1590 period) in “Tears of the Muses”, that our poet “chose” to sit “in idle cell”:
All these and all that els the Comick Stage
With seasoned with and goodly pleasance graced;
By which mans life in his likest image
Was limned forth, are wholly now defaced;
And those sweet wits which want the like to frame,
Are now despised, and made a laughing game.
And he the man, whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her self, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under Mimick shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah is dead of late:
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also dreaded, and in dolour drent.
Instead thereof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scornfull Follie with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in rymes of shameless ribauldrie,
Without regard, or due Decorum kept,
Each idle wit at will presumes to make,
And doth the Learned’s taske upon him take.
But that same gentle Spirit, from whose pen
Large streames of honnie andd sweete Anectar flowe,
Scorning the boldness of such base-borne men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe;
Doth rather choose to sit in idle Cell,
Than so himself to mockerie to sell.
Indeed, we find here the very same complaint made by Harvey in his letter to Spenser—that the new breed of poets and playwrights usurped the position of the “learned” with their presuming to teach themselves, autodidacts! Ignoto obviously chose a direction away from control of poetry by the rules dictated by the Universities, though he was himself one of the so-called “university wits.” Here, too, a somewhat subtle point must be grasped. We have the situation according to Spenser above, where, indeed, apparently it is those very playwrights who were followers of the “gentle Spirit” who gave instead of wit, but “scoffing scurrility,” instead of lovely suggestive rimes, rimes of shameless ribaldry, instead of learned discourse, every idle wit pretends to be a sage. That, I think, is the essence of what is being said. But, in Spenser it was the followers who were guilty of the “defacing” and “mockery” of others. In Sidney it is the great Swan himself who is the guilty and the silenced party—giving warning, he warns, the others that poets better watch what they say or they will pay for it.
The simplest explanation seems to be that Spenser is just being diplomatic—“clever” is perhaps a better term, as the whole world knew what Sidney knew, that Lord Oxford had been silenced—by order of the Queen, it would seem, and put on ice.
We cannot leave off without pointing out a particularly important meaning in the above quoted words. In the many years that the above passages of Spenser have been analyzed and poured over for indications that the passage really referred to William Shakespeare, and could refer to no one else, and that the “kindly shade” is a reference to “counterfeiting or imitation by way of mimicry or play-acting” and to the theatre. And this fact is underlined by beginning with a reference to theatre, and, in fact, to a particular form of theatre, Comedy—it was as a Master of Comedian that Lord Oxford was known, as a lovey lyric poet, and as a “gentle Spirit” or high nobleman. All roads lead to Rome, the references by Spenser are to Lord Oxford, and were made in 1580, when he was the acknowledged master for Comedy and got chopped down for his attack on Sir Hatton, circa 1579. He was silenced. It was not voluntary at all. Again, he was as Sidney said he was in Arcadia, he was the sweet Swan of poetry.
So, far as I know, there is no evidence of Lord Oxford ever being silenced, though the law may have forbid his work to be performed or for him to use his own name. The latter it would seem is surely the case.
Here, indeed, is our Ignoto. He is a “great Master” who wrote Comedy and who had a following of poetasters, who were a unruly mob of “self-taught” ragged rimers, of whom (if we believe Spenser) was forced to disavow and repudiate the boldness of those “base-born” imitators, who had neither wit nor grace, learning, nor ordered manners—such as their Master. Such that, it seems, even in Spenser the theme is sounded of a Master who does, in fact, renounce, his unruly “poetaster” imitators.
I think it is a unique definition, a Master, who was a noble (gentle Spirit), who was a “Cesar” of Comedy, a “Monarch” (as Nashe above noted), who provided the very substance for imitation and creation, who was the Unknown, he the honey-tongued, lyric poet, who manufactured new words like hotcakes, and was an “Ovid” freak, and the creator of the “School” which opposed the Areophagos. And to all of this I will add only one last note, to conclusively establish the identity of this entity. We may also add to the list of our unique identifiers of the ‘great Master” that he played with Kings and Queens.
In the poetry of John Davies of Hereford (1610) is a poem, “To our English Terrence, M[aste]r Will. Shake-speare” we read the following words:
Some say (good Will) which, in sport do sing,
Hast thou not played some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst been a companion for a King;
And been a King among the meaner sort.
Some others rail; but, rail as they think fit,
Thou hast no railing, but, a regining Wit:
And honesty, thou sowst, which they do reap:
So, to increase their stock which they do keep.
In the records of interrogatories for the charges of treason against Lord Oxford, Arundel, in response to interrogatories regarding the whereabouts of Lord Oxford at the time, answered:
“Arundel: Lord Oxford spent all of his times playing with Kings and Queens.”
Post Script: Note on the “Autodidaktoi”
I previously mentioned, twice, I think, that E.K. in his commentary in his Epistle and notes and Harvey in his letters to Spenser bemoan the fact that the “self-taught” were taking over the function of instructing themselves and hence were subject to derision—that the foole teaches the foole, himself. Those letters of Harvey and Spenser became famous in their day when they were published in 1580 and were known to the literate world and later commented on by Nashe and others as proof that the letters were public literary property, so to say. So, we should not be surprised that the remarks of Ignoto in “The Arte of English Poesie” may well harken back to Harvey’s challenge:
The part that next followeth to wit of proportion because The Greeks nor Latins never had it in their use, nor made any observation, nor no more than we do of their feete, we may truly affirm to have been the first devisers thereof ourselves, as autodidaktoi, and not to have borrowed it of any other by learning or imitation, and thereby trusting to be holden the more excusable if anything in this our labors happen either to mislike, or to come short of the author’s purpose, because commonly the first attempt in any arte or engine artificiall is amendable, in time by often experiences reformed.
Here, then, is Ignoto’s printed reply to the charge of being an autodidact, he proudly affirms it and justifies it in the same breath, with a simple truism: the natural rhythms of the English language are not the same as the Greek or Latin, which is why new invention is necessary. And, Ignoto knows that that invention, too, is subject to change and so he continues and ends his comments with this closer:
And so, no doubt, this devise of ours be, by others that shall take the penne in hand after us.
Ignoto did not fear public censure for being an autodidact.