dye is on me
Which makes my whitest part black.
VIII. I. 1. 208
After years of deep cogitation, Mr. Alden Brooks, M.A., Harvard, has
come up with his long-awaited study of the Shakespeare authorship problem.
It is an expansive tome, embracing some seven hundred pages, and offers
an entirely new solution to the greatest of literary mysteriesone
that may be designated as a combination of the "group" and
Under the Brooks' treatment, "Mr. William Shakespeare" as
an individualized creative force disappears, and we are told instead
of a sort of Elizabethan assembly-line, operated by Thomas Kyd, Robert
Greene, George Peele, Thomas Lodge, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nash,
Samuel Daniel, Barnaby Barnes, Ben Jonson and otherswith the young
Earl of Southampton democratically joining the hired hands now and again
to turn out a bit of piece-work on his own account.
The promoter, organizer and financial agent of the business is the
shrewd and hustling Will Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon. As an entrepreneur,
Will develops unique genius equaling in rough and ready energy, trickery
and rapaciousness any fictional character of the type evolved by Dickens
or Mark Twain. And the veteran model-maker or "Great Reviser"
that Will employs to help him plan and perfect the masterpieces of drama
and poetry that flow from his shop is the courtier-lyricist, Sir Edward
Dyer. Poor Dyer needs the money very badly and his understanding with
his employer is that his services must never be acknowledged: although
one day he himself inadvertently tips the whole arrangement off to Brooks
(representing alert posterity) by inserting his own nameCapitalizedinto
the seventh line of Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 111:
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand.
And almost thence my nature is subdu'd
To what it works in, like the Dyer's hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew'd . . .
Cutting through the verbose, involved and tenuously conjectural fabric
of the Brooks argument, this is the gist of his case as it appears in
Will Shakspere and the Dyer's Hand. 1
The Shakespearean student, seeking new light on a vexed subject, may
for a while sit in pop-eyed wonder before the legerdemain of Master
Brooks ere he thinks to ask:
Where is the contemporary documentation to back up these broad and
sweeping claims? And who and what was this alleged "Great Reviser"Sir
Edward Dyerin real life?
The realistic questioner will soon find that the one recognized authority
on the life and writings of Dyer is the British scholar, Ralph M. Sargent,
who in 1935 published a thoroughly documented account of this Elizabethan
diplomatist's career under the title of At the Court of Queen Elizabeth:
The Life and Lyrics of Sir Edward Dyer.
Carefully perusing Prof. Sargent's work in conjunction with the Brooks
volume, the information-seeker cannot help but note the many key points
at which the Harvard M.A. diverges sharply from the well-defined outline
of Dyer's recorded documentation. In instance after instance, Brooks
is obliged to pull his "Great Reviser" along by main strength
in following paths charted only in Brooks' own elastic imagination.
Thus at the very outset of this alleged identification of Dyer with
the greatest plays that Anglo-Saxon culture has produced, we find there
is really no contemporary warrant for the assumption that Dyer had any
skill at all in the highly specialized art of playwriting. No record
can be produced to show that this courtier-lyricist was considered a
dramatist by any contemporary, nor has his name ever before been mentioned
in connection with any public theatrical enterprise. One of Dyer's possible
lyricsthe so-called "Song, in the Oak"appears
to have been sung at an outdoor entertainment for the Queen at Woodstock
in 1575. But that is all. And certainly one song does not make a Shakespeare
any more than one amateur drawing-room lyric would make a Noel Coward
Alden Brooks has the temerity to claim that because Dyer has never
been known to anyone before this as a playwright, he "must have
been" the peerless Bard; but the futility of such an "argument"
This is what the foremost contemporary literary critics have to say
of Sir Edward's known talents as a poet:
The Arte of English Poesie (1589): . . ."Master Edward
Dyer for Elegie most sweet, solemn, and of high conceit."
Mere's Palladis Tamia (1598): . . . "these are the most
passionate among us to bewail & bemoan the perplexities of Love,
Henrie Howard Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyat the elder, Sir Francis
Brian, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edward Dyer, Spencer,
Daniel, Drayton, Shakespeare, Whetstone, etc."
Henry Peacham's The Compleat Gentleman (1622), lists Dyer
fifth among the outstanding poets of Elizabeth's reign, in
the following company: "Edward Earle of Oxford,
the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix,
the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund
Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others. . ."
Observe that none of these authorities refer to Dyer as a dramatist.
He is, indeed, specifically characterized as an elegist and a writer
of love lyrics. Peacham's placement of Dyer as a link between Sidney
and Spenser is appropriate enough, for other recorded circumstances
show that to be exactly where Dyer belongs. He was by no means the first
or outstanding figure; and no man would know this better than Henry
Peacham, whose reputation as an authority on the fine arts of the Shake-spearean
Age cannot be questioned. 2 It
must also be borne in mind that Peacham never once mentions the name
"William Shakespeare" in The Compleat Gentleman or
in any other of his many works, although he quotes directly from the
plays in The Worth of a Peny and elsewhere, and is the only English
artist of that period (1578-1640) who can be shown to have made a contemporary
illustration of a Shakespearean play. This quaint sketch of priceless
value, depicts the plea of the Queen Tamora for the lives of her sons
in Titus Andronicus. It is endorsed "Henricus Peacham, 1595."
During the present century, it was found among the Elizabethan manuscripts
of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat. 3 It is
thus apparent that Peacham had real personal interest in the Shakespearean
works and in specifying his favorite poets of that age, we could expect
him to take appropriate means to indicate his partiality for the Bard.
It is the contention of the proponents of Lord Oxford as the true "William
Shakespeare" that Peacham does exactly, this in The Compleat
Gentleman. Oxford and Buckhurst head his list as the two dramatic
poets of all-time historical interest, while Dyer serves the purpose
of connecting Sidney's art with Spenser's. Every Elizabethan poet that
Peacham lists in 1622 was dead at that time. So was William of Stratford.
Yet the name of "Shakespeare" as a personal entity is conspicuously
absent. Was this because he was a public dramatist? Well, hardly, in
view of the fact that both Buckhurst and Samuel Daniel had been known
as public playwrights, while Oxford had been listed first in
Meres' Palladis Tamia (1598) among the playwrights specified
as "the best for Comedy among us."
These facts would seem to be of vital significance in identifying the
real "'Shakespeare," but they mean nothing at all to Master
Brooks. He entirely ignores the statements of the author of The Arte
of English Poesie and of Francis Meres, qualifying Dyer as an elegist
and lyricist (while Oxford is distinctly listed as "best"
or "first" of all the Court poets by the same authorities).
As a matter of fact, throughout his book, The Arte of English Poesie
is not even mentioned by Brooks. Neither is Henry Peacham nor The
Compleat Gentleman. This is obvious evasionthe opposite of
scientific scholarshipand immediately sets Brooks down as a "special
pleader"unwilling to let the jury consider all of
the first-hand testimony affecting his own client.
Worse than this, he distorts alleged "evidence" to his particular
ends, beyond all patience. In this connection, let us examine more closely
his reproduction of the line from Sonnet III in support of his claim
that the writer of this poem herein openly reveals his name as "Dyer."
Brooks stakes much on this claimthe title of his book, no less.
It is, therefore, little short of amazing to find what amounts to deliberately
misstated and suppressed fact.
Brooks uses only a part of Sonnet 111 as it originally appears
in the 1609 Quarto:
O For my sake doe you with fortune chide,
The guiltie goddesse of my harmfull deeds,
That did not better for my life prouide,
Then publick meanes which publick manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receiues a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu'd
To what it works in like the Dyers hand,
Pitty me then, and wish I were renu'de,
Whilst like a willing pacient I will drinke,
Potions of Evsell gainst my strong infection,
No bitternesse that I will bitter thinke,
Nor double pennance to correct correction.
Pittie me then deare friend, and I assure
Euen that your pittie is enough to cure
On page 639 of Will Shakspere and the Dyer's Hand, Brooks writes
of the above sonnet:
There is a clear association here between the Poet's name and the
"Dyer's hand." It is not the word "fortune" that
is capitalized, nor the words "goddess," "nature,"
but alone the word "Dyer."
To refute this misstatement, all that is necessary is to read on beyond
"Dyer" to the noun "Eysell" (eisel, early Saxon
for vinegar) which is also capitalized.
I believe there is a school of thought that may argue from this that
the Bard was really of German extraction.
But why does Mr. Alden Brooks put his name to statements that are so
easy to disprove? Shall we say he is merely careless and just did not
bother to read the whole of Sonnet 111 before writing the above statements?
Many other evidences of carelessness pervade the book. For instance,
Brooks refers no less than three times to Hall, the satirist, as John
Hall when he really means Joseph Hall, later Bishop of Exeter and Norwich
and author of Virgidemiae, a book all students of the Shakespearean
authorship mystery should certainly know well enough. For therein Hall
brutally attacks the greatest concealed poet of the age under the designation
of "Labeo." 4 Besides
miscalling Hall, Alden Brooks indexes Elderton the Shakespearean ballad-maker
as T. Elderton, whereas his given name was William.
These examples of slapdash workmanship are unfortunate enough, but
certainly the printer cannot be blamed for the really atrocious exhibitions
in bad taste and faulty scholarship that Master Brooks displays when
he undertakes to dispose of the Earl of Oxford as a claimant to Shakespearean
honors. The editorial board of Charles Scribner's Sons should also come
in for a certain amount of censure here for allowing so much misinformation
and so many brash statements bordering on outright libel to reach the
stage of cold type.
Brooks frankly sets out on page 518, et seq., to present Oxford
as an utterly worthless, brainless and insignificant figure in order
to have Dyer appear vastly superior to the Elizabethan scene. He finds
it necessary to his argument to swallow without examination the counter-charges
of "treason" and "criminal" practice which the notorious
Spanish agents, Lord Henry Howard and Sir Charles Arundel made against
"this monsterous Earell" following their own arrests for high
crimes and misdemeanors in December 1580, on information supplied
by Oxford. 5 History has
long since trebly corroborated and underscored every statement regarding
the dangerous disloyalty of Howard and Arundel which Oxford made to
the then incredulous Queen. But it seems in Brooks' view that this precious
pair of Elizabethan quislings were really reputable and unprejudiced
patriots, after all; and that the counter-charges of "treason"
and "horrid murder" that they hurled back at Oxford to save
their own necks, are to be accepted as gospel. The Earl, thereupon,
becomes the real traitor in Brooks' version of this historic case. Our
heartless author actually makes Oxford serve a sentence of nearly three
years in the Tower of London for a purely imaginary crime!
As every reader of the NEWS'LETTER knows, this is an unpardonable distortion
of easily ascertainable fact. There is simply no excuse for anybody
who styles himself an "Elizabethan expert" to undertake an
alleged serious study of the character of the 17th Earl of Oxford these
days with so little sense of responsibility to his readers. If full
and amply documented dated records, sufficiently corroborated
from official sources to leave no possibility of doubt regarding practically
every detail of the episodes in which the poet Earl of Oxford took part
during the period between December 1580, and June 1583 were not available
for Brooks' examination, we could be more charitable to his shortcomings
as a writer on the authorship mystery. But by ignoring all this factual
documentation in order to present a fictional characterization of the
man he must misrepresent in order to make Sir Edward Dyer into a dramatist,
Brooks writes himself down as thoroughly untrustworthy.
The truth is, after exposing Howard and Arundel in December 1580, Oxford
was held in the Tower for a day or twobut no longeras a
material witness. Even Arundel himself enviously testifies to Oxford's
immediate release. At the same time, no one can produce any official
evidence that the Queen's government seriously countenanced any of the
counter-charges of "treason" that Howard and Arundel had made.
It is also true that in March or April 1581, Oxford was again sent to
the Tower for getting his dark-eyed mistress, Anne Vavasor, with child.
But the records are explicit in stating that the Earl was released from
prison for this infringement of Elizabethan etiquette about two months
later, on June 8, 1581. At the time of his enlargement, a letter was
dispatched from the Privy Council to Sir William Gorges. Lieutenant
of the Tower, expressly informing him that Oxford must not be subjected
to any indignity upon quitting the Tower, as he had not been committed
"upon any cause of treason or any criminal cause." 6
So we see that the madcap Earl did not spend more than eight or
nine weeks in prison, all told, and that he was officially absolved
of "any cause of treason."
But this documentation does not appeal to the author of Will Shakepere
and the Dyer's Hand. He proceeds to develop a set of ersatz facts
and circumstances of his own manufacture in order to make Sir Edward
Dyer become the directive collaborator of John LylyLord Oxford's
well known secretary-stewardin the creation of three or four of
the Lyly comedies, such as Endymion, Sapho and Phao and Gallathea.
This, says Master Brooks, is how Dyer made his start as an active dramatist:
". . . December 1580, the Earl of Oxford lost the Queen's favor
and lost it so disastrously under accusation of treason that
he was cast into the Tower.
"With his patron imprisoned in the Tower under grave accusation
of treason, Lyly would have every reason to seek other employment.
Indeed, his first thought would have been to sever himself from all
connection with one now publicly accused of being a traitor.
Possibly the finger of suspicion had even begun to stretch toward
himself, the traitor's secretary. Edward Dyer was not only
active man of letters and long standing friendhad they not exchanged
poems, discussed Euphues together and a hundred other matters?Edward
Dyer was also allied in some influential way with Walsingham. One
could take no better refuge than to engage oneself to his service.
Then too, on the other hand, to place one's pen at secretive and unworldly
Dyer's behest was not to contract oneself too bindingly or openly.
Should Oxford one day be able to clear himself of the accusation
of treason, as seemed none the less in a fair way to be possible,
then there would always be opportunity, when the storm blew over,
to come forth from one's obscurity, greet one's noble lord at the
prison gates, and return to his lordly generosity and patronage.
"December 1580, Edward Dyer engaged the services of John Lyly.
Since Oxford was not pardoned and freed from prison until June 1583,
it is logical to suppose that Dyer directed Lyly's pen from December
1580 until June.1583!" (My exclamation point and italics).
Brooks goes on to explain in greatand purely imaginarydetail
how this alleged alliance of Lyly with Dyer accounts for the remarkable
number of Shakespearean touches to be met with in the Lyly comedies.
Not content with making a traitor out of Oxfordwho later commanded
his own ship at the repulse of the Spanish ArmadaBrooks strips
the literary Earl of his attested secretary, who is artificially transformed
thereby into a pretty despicable traitor on his own account.
"So then, with Oxford locked up in the Tower on charge of
treason" . . . Dyer switches the full propaganda value of
the Lyly comedies to the account of the Earl of Leicester, Oxford's
unsleeping rival. Months pass into years as this treachery proceeds
"However, like many another schemer who imagines that the traces
of his duplicity have been well hidden, Lyly overlooked one possibility.
It never came to his mind that someone in the know might deliberately
denounce him. And denounced he was. A malevolent voice whispered to
Lady Oxford and Lady Oxford carried the word to Oxford in his confinement
(still in the Tower) that the secret author of recent Court plays,
so favorable to the Leicester cause and, incidentally, so scandalously
and even sacrilegiously devised, was none other than supposed-loyal
secretary John Lyly."
Note how far afield Brooks wanders from the true chronology here. In
the early summer of 1582, when he has Oxford mouldering in the Tower,
the Earl was, actually at home, recovering from serious wounds suffered
in his duel with Thomas Knevett during March of the same year. His devoted
wife, with whom he had been living, following a reconciliation in December
1581, may have complained to Oxford "in his confinement" during
June 1582, of the inability of the secretary-steward, John Lyly, to
stave off a hornet's-nest of creditors who were making things disagreeable
at this time. But we may rest assured she had only to penetrate the
"confinement" of Oxford's private bedroom or study to register
such complaintsnot the Tower of London.
Moreover, if Master Brooks had only taken the time to look into Feuillerat's
documented biography of John Lyly (whose reputation Brooks slanders
so needlessly) he could hardly have missed Feuillerat's detailed and
dated account of the rapier-and-dagger vendetta that Lyly's patron.
Lord Oxfordtogether with his swordsmen-retainerscarried
on throughout the winter and spring of 1582 with the partisans of Oxford's
unfortunate mistress (a la Montague-Capulet). But Brooks does not bother
with such hampering items as accurate chronology. He prefers his imaginary
picture of the poet Earl under bolt and barwith Lyly ratting to
Leicester's camp under Dyer's direction.
Let us repeat: in view of all the documentation of unquestionable authenticity
that has been published of late years, proving that Oxford was imprisoned
in 1580-81 for a few weeks only by his irritated and jealous
Queen, and from June 1581 to June 1583 debarred by her command from
the precincts of the Court as a punishment for having broken the
Seventh Commandment, Alden Brooks' fantastic interpretation of the fictional
events which he attributes to the same critical period of 1580-1583
must be accorded a place among terrible examples of historical misinformation.
Disregarding all of the evidence proving Oxford was not considered
a traitor by Queen Elizabeth or her Privy Council which has been published
by present day students of the literary Earl's career, Brooks could
still have easily checked upon his own unwarranted conclusions before
rushing into print. Murray's English Dramatic Companies would
have shown him that Oxford could not possibly have been publicly "accused
of treachery to the state" during 1581-83 for the good and sufficient
reason that the playwriting peer's theatrical company is recorded as
touring England during these same years. "The Earl of Oxford's
Players" appear in town registers as filling engagements (with
the official approval of municipal authorities) at Norwich in 1581,
at Coventry in November 1581 and November 1582; at Dover in 1581; at
Ipswich in 1581 and 1582; at Gloucester in May 1582; at Bristol in February
1583; at Abingdon June 2, 1583; and also at Southampton and Exeter in
the early months of the latter year.
It can be taken as an absolute certainty that the burgesses of important
English centers such as these would never have given official sanction
to the public appearance of any group of playersno matter how
talentedwho wore the livery and contracted their engagements in
the name of an accused traitor to the state.
So much for Brooks' efforts to account for the beginnings of Edward
Dyer's alleged career as a dramatist by shamelessly bedaubing the reputations
of these two known and amply recorded play-wrights of the dayLord
Oxford and his personal secretary, John Lyly.
Contrary to Master Brooks's determined efforts to present his Great
Reviser as the only Elizabethan rightly fitted to wear the true Bard's
mantle, the authoritative commentators on Dyer's literary activities
are explicit in placing him with the one definitely anti-Shakespearean
group of the period. This consisted of Philip Sidney, Dyer, Edmund Spenser,
Fulke Greville (later Lord Brooke), Thomas Drant and Gabriel Harvey.
The letters of Spenser and Harvey comment at length on the plans and
purposes of these men to found their own school of English literature.
Writing to Harvey in October 1579, Spenser says:
"As for . . . Master Sidney and Master Dyer, they have me, I
thank them, in some use of familiarity.
. . . And now they have proclaimed in their Areopagus (clique) a
general surceasing and silence of bald rymers and also of the very
best too: 7 instead whereof,
they have, by authoritie of their whole Senate, prescribed certain
laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse:
having had thereof already great practise, and drawn me to their faction."
The rules and regulations for the writing of English poetry which Sidney
and Dyer tried to enforce would have prevented the development of Shakespeare's
particular talents, it is now universally agreed. Spenser soon saw the
folly of endeavoring to shackle the vigorous new spirit of Elizabethan
literary expression in the classic moulds of any dead language. and
struck out for himself. But Sidney, unfortunately for his reputation
as a critic, (though undoubtedly with the full approval of his close
friend, Dyer) put the creative principles advocated by their Areopagus
into an essay entitled An Apologie for Poetrie where anyone may
judge for himself just how anti-Shakespearean was the point of view
maintained by this priggish clique. Let it suffice to say that Sidney's
rules for dramatic constructions had not advanced beyond those of Aristotle:
demanding rigid adherence to the unities of time, place and action.
Plays such as those of "Mr. William Shakespeare," which violate
the old classic laws with reckless impunity are treated with scorn;
particularly those that contain a multiplicity of scenes, covering long
passages of time; tragedies representing realistic history, andgrossest
of absurdities"plays (that) be neither right tragedies nor
right comedies: mingling Kings and Clowns." In reading Sidney's
diatribe on the alleged faults of the budding Elizabethan drama, one
receives the strange impression that somehow or other Sidney had seen
some of "William Shakespeare's" characteristic early works
before 1581, when the Apologie for Poetrie appears to have been
written. The Bard, as all stage managers have found out, dotes on multiplicity
of scene and change of time. Also, he dramatizes history realistically
enough to outrage any pseudo-classicist. And as for hybrid tragicomedy,
"mingling Kings and Clowns," no more flagrant examples could
be cited than the two parts of Henry IV with Falstaff and Prince
Hal interchanging roles. As I believe Mrs. Eva Turner Clark has already
pointed out elsewhere, Sidney actually describes contrasting scenes
from Twelfth Night in the following sarcastic comment:
"Now ye shall have three Ladies, walk to gather flowers, and
then we must believe the stage to be a Garden. By and by, we hear
news of a ship wreck in the same place, and then we are to blame,
if we accept it not for a Rock."
Sir Philip appears to have had in mind Olivia's garden and the sea-coast
of Illyria upon which Viola's ship has been wrecked.
Two things are quite certain from these instances: first, that Sidney
and his school had no taste for, nor appreciation of, drama built upon
the imaginatively untrammeled lines that Shakespeare follows; and secondly,
that as Sidney's intimate friend and co-founder with him of the Areopagus,
dedicated to the "surceasing and silence" of all Elizabethan
poets who do not conform to a narrow interpretation of classicism, Edward
Dyer himself, obviously could not have been the kind of writer who was
particularly disliked by the lawgivers of the Areopagus.
Prof. Sargent emphasizes the fact that Sidney was Dyer's closest confidant.
Brooks quotes and requotes Gabriel Harvey's statement that Sidney and
Dyer were "the two very diamondes of her maiesties courte for many
special and rare qualities."
But when the author of Will Shakspere and the Dyer's Hand goes
on to argue from these unquestioned literary associations that Edward
Dyer was the real Shakespeare, logic has already flitted out the window.
For who but the Bard himself overwhelmingly demonstrates the barren
hollowness of the pet ideas of Sidney, Dyer, Harvey, Greville and their
camp-followers regarding the future of the English drama? Master Brooks
simply cannot be allowed to hoard his cake and eat it!
Moreover, he is entirely blind to the fact that the Earl of Oxford
("in the rare devices of poetry . . . the most excellent among
the rest") 8 was the acknowledged
leader of the rising group of realistic, Shakespearean dramatists and
harum-scarum university wits, such as Thomas Churchyard, Anthony Munday,
John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Nash and others who took delight in
breaking all the silly laws of composition that the founders of the
Areopagus had so pompously promulgated.
Sidney's differences with Oxford, it now appears, were violent merely
upon the rhetorical plane; their so-called "murderous hatred"
of each other has been exaggerated out of all proportion; for Sidney's
beloved sister, the Countess of Pembroke, 9
was later on the friendliest of terms with the Earl. In 1597 she tried
to bring about a marriage between Oxford's daughter, Bridget Vere, and
her eldest son, William Herbert, later Earl of Pembroke; while Oxford's
youngest daughter, Susan, did become the wife of Philip Herbert, Earl
of Montgomery, the nephew and namesake of the same Sir Philip Sidney
that Alden Brooks declares Lord Oxford seriously plotted to "murder."
It is hardly necessary to point out the fact that Shakespeare's First
Folio is dedicated to these two "incomparable brethren"one
of whom was the poet Earl of Oxford's son-in-law.
Gabriel Harvey, makes a very unconvincing witness indeed for Sir Edward
Dyer as the iconoclastic Shakespeare. Harvey's enthusiasm was expended
on creative talent of a different type. He is never more than luke-warm
and usually quite offensively critical and condescending in his several
references to the mysterious Bard's plays and poems. So when we find
this Cambridge doctor of Latin rhetoric praising the neo-classicists,
Dyer and Sidney, as the "two incomparable and miraculous Gemini,"
and holding up their "delicate and choice elegant poesy" as
the very pattern for other English poets to follow, the Shakespearean
connotations that Brooks draws from Harvey's remarks are somewhat less
than convincing. From Harvey's letters to Edmund Spenser, we know that
the Cambridge pundit both feared and disliked the type of witty Shakespearean
satire that emanated from the group of comedians sponsored by the Earl
of Oxford. In one of his letters, the egotistical Gabriel expresses
real apprehension lest he himself may be held up to ridicule on the
stage. This fear seems to have grown out of Harvey's own daring burlesque
of the literary Earl of Oxford in a truly extraordinary set of the classic
hexameters which the egregious pedant affected. In his Speculum Tuscanismi,
Harvey lampoons Oxford as an Italianated English fop and teller of tall
travelers' tales, who besides being "a brave Mirror" of fashion
and "in Courtly guiles a passing singular odd man," is "a
fellow peerless in England"significantly enough
Not the like discourser for Tongue, and head to be found out,
Eyed like to Argus, eared like to Midas, nos'd like to Naso. 10
Overlooking its startling shortcomings as "poetry," Harvey's
satire is of great value as a firsthand caricature of the fabulous 17th
Earl of Oxford, for the Shakespearean connotations here are immediate
and unmistakable. Harvey will also live in literary history as the first
recorded English observer to openly designate the poetical peer as a
"shake-speare." In an oratorical address that he delivered
in welcoming Oxford to Cambridge University in 1578, Harvey criticized
him for devoting so much of his time to "bloodless books and writings
that serve no useful purpose," and urged him eloquently to take
up a military career because, "thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance
shakes a spear." The Harvey-Oxford-Shakespeare evidence is
much too extensive to be included here. It is, however, a most amusing
narrative and too clearly documented to leave room for doubt as to its
authenticity. Let us merely say that the real Shakespeare did take ample
revenge upon Harvey for the Speculum Tuscanismi satire by burlesquing
that garrulous rhetorician most unmercifully in Love's Labor's Lost.
Harvey's nickname, often used to designate him in The Shepheard's
Calendar, is Hobbinol. Under the appropriate variation of Holofernes,
11 Harvey can be easily
identified as the pedant in Shakespeare's comedy. We have space here
to point out but one of a great many allusions to Harvey's pet foibles
which give the Holofernes characterization its lifelike cutting-power:
Harvey, in Foure Letters and Certeine Sonnets (1592), an attack
upon Robert Greene, deceased, and Thomas Nash, defender of the playwright's
A ma is a man though he have but a hose upon his head: for everie
curse, there is a blessing, for every malady, a remedie, for every
winter, a sommer: for everie night a day. . . .
In Love's Labor's Lost, Moth, the page, introduces Holofernes,
Yes, Yes! he teaches boys the Horn-book. What is 'Ab' spelt backward,
with the horn on his head?
Holofernes: 'Ba,' puericia, with a horn added.
Moth: 'Ba.' most silly Sheep with a horn. You hear his learning!
When Alden Brooks undertakes to prove by Sir Edward Dyer's own signed
or otherwise identified writings that the courtly lyricist was the prodigal
and versatile genius whose achievements revolutionized English literature,
his case breaks down most lamentably. Esau's hand, as well as Esau's
voice is missing. Any reader of average intelligence who knows the Bard's
works can see for himself how lacking in forcefulness and originality
the Dyer poems are. The point need not be labored, for the lines produce
their own effect. And a very quiet, contemplative siesta this turns
out to be, without a single bugle-call to action or even a six-penny
skyrocket to draw the eyes aloft. Best of the elegies is, of course.
"My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is." But the originality of this
philosophical commentary can hardly be allowed in view of Prof. Sargent's
frank admission that the poem is in the main an English paraphrase from
Seneca's Thyestes. Our own John Burroughs struck higher in the
same vein with "Serene I Fold My Hands and Wait." And by the
time we have finished a characteristic Dyer selection such as "Amarillis"which
Brooks himself finds a foot or two short of epic proportionsI
am sure every open-minded reader will be perfectly willing to agree
with Sargent's honest and adequate estimate of this professional courtier's
"'Yes, for a lyricist, Dyer is remarkably earthbound. But amongst
the swelling chorus of all Elizabethan poets, he strikes a rich, lingering
What more need be said? Only this: Shakespeare was not a minor poethis
was the major voice of his age, a voice so vigorous and so vibrant
with unmistakable overtones and ringing, metaphors that we can be absolutely
certain he must have betrayed himself many times over had lie written
the three hundred or more lines of poetry, plus the two thousand words
of prose correspondence that are ascribed to Dyer. In the Sonnets
the Bard is disturbed lest his pseudonymity be penetrated because "every
word doth almost tell my name." Why, then, doesn't the same thing
happen here? Why does Alden Brooks, after exhausting every subterfuge,
fail so signally to present authentic Shakespearean thought, imagery
and phraseology from Dyer's writings? The answer is a very simple one.
Because Mr. Brooks has tried to palm off the wrong collection of lyrics
and personal letters. Those filed under the name of Edward de Vere,
17th Earl of Oxford, contain all the Shakespearean parallels that this
Charles Wisner Barrell.
1. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, Feb. 1943, $5.
The volume contains no footnotes or appendix references to authorities
consulted, no mention of any original researchnot even a bibliography.
2. Dr. Samuel Johnson drew heavily upon Peacham's
Compleat Gentleman in compiling definitions for his famous dictionary.
3. Sir E. K. Chambers, The Library, Series
4. Vol. V, pp. 326-30. back
4. This name Labeo to characterize some great man
who has demeaned himself in Hall's eyes by writing Venus and Adonis,
has bothered Baconians for generations. Brooks sees that it obviously
does not fit Dyer. But the appellation applies perfectly to Lord Oxford.
He always signed himself "Edward Oxeford" or "Edward
Oxenford" and his few verses in anthologies and manuscript collections
bear the initials "E.O." The prefix "Lab" means
to blab. So Hall presents him as Edward Oxford the Blabber, ending
his satirical attack on Labeo with:
Who list complain of wrongèd faith or fame
When lie may shift it to another's name? back
5. State Papers, Domestic, Elizabeth and Addenda,
Vols. 2 & 8. back
6. Ward, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, pp. 213-14.
7. This is a plain reference to Oxford, who was hailed
by Webbe and other critics as the "most excellent" of the
Court poets. Sidney's and Dyer's personal antagonism to the Earl is
amply recorded. back
8. Webbe, A Discourse of English Poetrie (1586).
9. Ward, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, p. 329-30.
10. Publius Ovidius Naso, the full name of the Latin
poet Ovid to whom Francis Meres (1598) compares Shakespeare.
And why, indeed, Naso, but for smelling out the
odoriferous flowers of fancie?
Holofernes the pedant in
Love's Labor's Lost, IV.2.112. back
11. Holofernes is also the name of the pedant who
teaches Gargantua his letters in the first book of Rabelais. back