THOSE responsible for the Annual publication, Shakespeare Survey,
announce in advance a theme for special consideration in each number.
"Shakespeare and His Contemporaries" was the theme chosen
for Vol. 14 (1961), and three of the articles are of special interest
to us. Marco Mincoff writes on "Shakespeare and Lyly". I.
A. Shapiro on "Shakespeare and Mundy" and Nicholas Brooke
on. "Marlowe as Provocative Agent in Shakespeare's Early Plays".
The three articles, taken together, have a bearing on the identity of
"Shakespeare" which was certainly not intended by the writers
"Shakespeare's debt to Lyly has never been denied," writes
Dr. Mincoff, "and it might well seem that any attempt to resurvey
the subject could be no more than the gleaning of an already well-harvested
field. Yet in fact much more than the gleaning of a few stray ears of
corn has been left for those who would apply themselves to the task
of making a fresh study of the relationship between these two authors".
Perhaps he wrote more wisely than he knew.
He goes on to say that if the Lylian type of comedy should bear the
name of any one man, "it might rather have been that of Edwards
[Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal from 1561 to 1566], who
had given an excellent example of the type nearly twenty years before
Lyly". And yet"there is something like definite hostility
towards Lyly in (Shakespeare's) choice of models for his two earliest
comedies, The Taming of the Shrew and The Comedy of Errors".
But in Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare "submitted to the
inevitable and turned at last to Lylyand with a will". In
Two Gentlemen of Verona, apparently, he tried, not very successfully
to throw Lyly off again, unless it is the earlier play and represents
a half-hearted approach, but in Midsummer Night's Dream, he returned
and made further concessions. In his later comediesthe Lylian
strains die gradually away", and, finally, "when forced to
abandon the Lylian view" (presumably because it was really too
old-fashioned) "he abandoned comedy".
When we remember that Lyly started writing plays in the early 1580s,
and stopped about 1590, when Shakespeare is supposed to have started,
it is hard to say which is the strangerShakespeare's early resistance
to Lyly, or his subsequent inability to throw him off. The combination
of the two is incredible.
In recent years a minor revolution has taken place regarding the life
and work of Anthony Mundya minor revolution certainly, even as
revolutions go in the literary world, but one which threatens to have
far-reaching effects on the dating of the Shakespeare plays, and ultimately
on the problem of Shakespearean authorship, though for the orthodox
scholars, it is at present just a question of priorities. In
the words of Dr. Shapiro:
"'Until very recently Mundy was thought to have been some dozen
years older than Shakespeare, but to have started writing for the
theatre only after Shakespeare's rise to eminence. Consequently, when
Mundy's plays present incidents or characters resembling any in plays
by Greene or Marlowe or Shakespeare, it has usually been taken for
granted that Mundy must be the imitator, not the originator. We now
know for certain that Mundy was only three and a half when Shakespeare
was born and [which is more to the point] that he was acting in public
before he was sixteen (that is, by 1576). Moreover, he was writing
for the theatre at least as early as 1584, and writing with a skill
and maturity that explains why Francis Meres later singled him out
as 'our best plotter' ".
So Shakespeare, it seems, has lost an imitator and acquired a new model.
It used to be thought that Mundy's manuscript play, John a Kent
and John a Cumber, was dated 1596, but the figure 6 turned out
to be a naught! John a Kent has some close parallels with Midsummer
Night's Dream, and Dr. Shapiro comments:
"In the past, when John a Kent was dated 1595 or 1596, these
resemblances could be held to prove that Mundy was imitating Shakespeare.
Now, unless scholars are willing to date A Midsummer Night's Dream
in 1589 or earlier, we must suppose that it was Shakespeare
who was here the imitator". (Italics mine.)
Obviously, for Dr. Shapiro, the alternative is an impossible condition,
so we must add Mundy's influence to Lyly's in Midsummer Night's Dream.
But John a Kent also contains "familiar references"
to Hotspur and Owen Glendower which (in Dr. Shapiro's opinion) point
to the existence by 1590 of a play on the reign of Henry IVin
addition to Famous Victories of Henry V, which includes some
events of the previous reignbut, of course, it could not have
The new date for John a Kent can hardly fail to affect, on palaeographical
as well as literary grounds, the dating of another manuscript play,
Sir Thomas More, the first draft of which is in Mundy's autograph,
though it has been revised and contains additions by other handsnotably
the famous Three Pages believed by some to have been written
by Shakespeare, in both senses of both words. Dr. Shapiro believes
that Mundy was the original author and not merely the scribe who copied
the play, but he does not accept as proven the identification of the
handwriting in the three pages as that of the six signatures of Shakespeare
(Shaksper, Shakspe, etc.) which are the only extant specimens of the
autograph of the Stratford player. Neither does he commit himself, here,
to any definite theory about the date of the play, or the revision.
"But," he says, "it is important to note that Mundy's
achievement in Sir Thomas More necessitated some at least of
the kind of insight and the same skill in handling source-material as
we admire in Shakespeare. Moreover, if 1593 is near the correct date
for More, Mundy can hardly have learnt any of this from Shakespeare,
though the latter may have found useful lessons in method in Mundy's
Kit Marlowe and Will Shakespeare (or Shaksper, as it is more
convenient to call him when we mean the Player) were born in the same
year, 1564, but Marlowe died twenty-three years before Shaksperassuming
that he did die, by violence and rather mysteriously at a tavern
in Deptford in 1593. He is, moreover, generally supposed to have begun
his career as a dramatist some three or four years earlier, though recently
there has been a tendency, even in orthodox circles, to push the Shakespeare
plays further back, with the result that some allowance is now made
for reciprocal borrowing. Dr. Nicholas Brooke goes so far as to "assume
general acceptance of A. P. Rossiter's judgement that Marlowe learnt
from Henry VI, and Shakespeare reclaimed the debt in RichardII".
On the other hand, "it is universally acknowledged that the effect
of Marlowe's verse is pervasive in Shakespeare's early works",
but, as Dr. Brooke points out, Shakespeare seems to reserve the Marlovian
style for Marlovian characters. Yet, in 2 Henry VI, "though
it may well be true that the verse is affected by Shakespeare's awareness
of Marlowe, it is almost curious that it is not more so. (Italics
mine.) Suffolk, Margaret and York all have Machiavel tendencies; they
might all with perfect propriety talk like the Guise. But though from
time to time they approach hyperboles of power, the Marlovian rhythm
never fully takes charge ... And this kind of influence and avoidance
remains the general fact in 3 Henry VI and in Richard III".
This is strangely reminiscent of what Dr. Mincoff had to say about Shakespeare's
belated submission to the influence of Lyly, and both critics express
Aaron in Titus Andronicus, however, "not only borrows Marlowe's
utterance, he expresses through it a summary of the distinctive attitude
which gave that utterance its greatness in Tamburlaine and Dr.
Faustus" and"if it is acknowledged that elsewhere
the verse of Titus rarely if ever suggests Marlowe in any significant
way, then it seems to follow that the Marlovian utterance is here introduced
as explicitly identified with the Marlovian ethos". Other characters
singled out as typically Marlovian are: the Princes of Morocco and Arragon,
as well as Shylock, in Merchant of Venice; Richard of Gloucester
in both 3 Henry VI and Richard III, though "Shakespeare
has developed for Richard his own distinctive utterance, which is never
precisely Marlovian"; and the quarreling nobles, Bolingbroke and
Mowbray, rather than the King in Richard II. Richard himself
does, however, echo a single play of Marlowe's Faustus, three
times in twenty-five lines, including his question, gazing at his own
reflection in the glass
"Was this the face
That every day under his household roof
Did keep ten thousand men?"
Dr. Brooke accepts this as an echo of Marlowe's mighty line:
"'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?" but
notes that Peter Ure, editor of the New Arden Richard II, is
sceptical, because "the ten thousand men derive from Holinshed".
It does not apparently occur to either that there might have been borrowing
the other way roundthat is, Shakespeare borrowing from Holinshed
(in the right context) and Marlowe borrowing from Shakespeare; yet this
is precisely the kind of evidence which is used to establish the date
of a playwithin the bounds of (orthodox) possibility. For Marlowe
to borrow from Richard II is considered impossible, because Richard
II could not have been written before 1593, and for no other reason.
The last play dealt with in this article is Julius Caesar, which
is usually dated about 1600, and of course it is in the character of
Caesar himself that "Marlovian rhetoric plays a significant part".
Dr. Brooke cites several passages, but not the words: "Yet Caesar
shall go forth" (II.ii.29), which Marlowe gives just as they standCaesar's
name and allto the Duke of Guise in Massacre at Paris.
Where did Marlowe find them?they are not in Plutarch! Of course,
he was quite capable of making them up, but in that case, they would
have been pointless. The Guise is evidently quoting someonecould
it have been Shakespeare? Once again, we are confronted with the "impossible
condition" for, if so, Julius Caesar, too, must have been
written before 1593. But let us suppose that Marlowe's Guise had anticipated
Shakespeare's Caesar. Could Shakespeare, then, have put the very same
words into Caesar's own mouth? Of course not! To make Caesar quote the
Guise impersonating Caesar would only have raised a laugh in the wrong
Dr. Brooke ends an interesting and provocative article with the words:
"Marlowe seems to have been for Shakespeare not only a great poet,
as his tributes imply, but the inescapable imaginative creator of something
initially alien which he could only assimilate with difficulty, through
a process of imaginative re-creation merging into critical parody. By
Julius Caesar that element is at a minimum, and thereafter the
process of assimilation is complete; reference to order is never again
a matter of simple confidence, never asserted without a great reckoning
with a complex of disturbing recognitions. But, however much they may
owe indirectly to Marlowe, Shakespeare's later plays never (so far as
I know) show any direct dependence. The provocative agent had taken
his seat in the Establishment".
He had, of course, taken his seat in Elysium or joined Faustus in Hell
while Shakespeare (according to the orthodox) was still at the outset
of his career.
Now, the behaviour of Shakespeare/Shaksper, in relation to his contemporaries,
as set forth in these three articles by three independent critics, is
distinctly and confessedly odd, but in all three cases, it is odd in
the same way. The "Soul of the age, The applause, delight, the
wonder of our stage"is always behind the times! The three
articles, in fact, point inexorably and despite the professed views
of the writers to the existence of a "Shakespeare" before
Shaksper, who was imitated from time to time by lesser men, each
in accordance with his lights and temperament. Shakespeare seems to
resist the influence, first of Lyly and then of Marlowe, only because
at the time the plays in question were written, Lyly and Marlowe, respectively,
were still to come, and Shakespeare had not yet reached the stage in
his own development which they were later to imitate. In this way, the
"curve" of Shakespeare's development is integrated with that
of Elizabethan drama in general and he is to be found where we should
expect to find him in the vanguard, not as a persistent imitator of
the fashion before the last. This is not to say that "Shakespeare"
had no dramatic models. Long before Lyly, there was Edwards, whose sole
surviving play, Damon and Pythias, was performed at Court, in
1566; the underplot of Taming of the Shrew is taken from Gascoigne's
Supposes, performed at Grays Inn in the same year; and Comedy
of Errors is based on the Manaecmi of Plautus, whose plays
had been performed at Court in Latin from the time of Henry VIII. For
blank verse tragedy, there was of course Gorboduc, performed
at Court in 1562 and printed (piratically) in 1565, and again in 1570.
It is a far cry from Gorboduc to Shakespeare, but then, it is
also a far cry from Gorboduc to Marlowe. Did Shakespeare need
Marlowe more than Marlowe needed him?
If "Shakespeare" was the player from Stratford, the answer
must be yes: but not if he was, for instance, Edward de Vere 17th Earl
of Oxford (1550-1604) who, incidentally numbered among his "servants"
both Lyly and Mundy, and who may have been the unnamed Lord for whose
players Kyd and Marlowe were writing "in one chamber" in 1591with
unhappy consequences for both.