OTHER portions of Hamlet which appear to contain historical
reminiscences are the scenes connected with Polonius.
If the account of the murder, for instance, be carefully compared with
the saga on the one hand, and with Scottish history on the other, it
will be found, I think, that it shows hardly any resemblances to the
one but very close resemblances to the other.
The saga reads:
Feng was purposely to absent himself, pretending affairs of great
import. Amleth should be closeted alone with his mother in her chamber,
but a man should first be commissioned to place himself in a concealed
part of the room and listen heedfully to what they talked about. For,
if the son had any wits at all, he would not hesitate to speak out
in the hearing of his mother or fear to trust himself to the fidelity
of her who bore him. The speaker . . . zealously professed himself
as the agent of the eavesdropping. Feng rejoiced at the scheme and
departed on presence of a long journey. Now he who had given this
counsel repaired privily to the room where Amleth was shut up with
his mother, and lay down skulking in the straw. But Amleth had his
antidote for the treachery. Afraid of being heard by some eavesdropper
he at first resorted to his usual imbecile ways and crowed like a
noisy cock, beating his arms together to mimic the flapping of wings.
Then he mounted the straw and began to swing his body and jump again
and again, wishing to try if aught lurked there in hiding. Feeling
a lump beneath his feet he drove his sword into the spot and impaled
him who lay hid. Then he dragged him from his concealment and slew
him. Then, cutting his body into morsels, he seethed it in boiling
water and flung it through the mouth of an open sewer for the swine
to eat, bestrewing the stinking mire with his helpless limbs....
When Feng returned nowhere could he find the man who had suggested
the treacherous espial; he searched for him long and carefully, but
none said they had seen him anywhere. Amleth, among others, was asked
in jest if he had come across any trace of him, and replied that the
man had gone to the sewer but had fallen to its bottom and been stifled
by the floods of filth, and that then he had been devoured by the
swine that came up all about the place. [Saxo Grammaticus]
The Hystorie of Hamblet gives substantially the same tale; it
says that Hamlet cut the body into pieces, boiled it, and then cast
it into an open vault or privy, so that it might serve as food for the
Now, here there is one point of resemblance with Shakespeare's Hamlet;
that is the motive given to the eavesdropper who is to report Hamlet's
confidences to his mother, but all the rest is entirely unlike.
What has Shakespeare's Hamlet in common with this grotesque clown who
crows like a cock, and with this hideous barbarian who boils the body
of his victim and then throws it through a sewer to the pigs?
Turn now to Scottish history and see what it says of the murder of
Signor David became the queen's inseparable companion in the council
room and the cabinet. At all hours of the day he was to be found with
her in her apartments.... He was often alone with her until midnight.
He had the control of all the business of the state.... Darnley went
one night between twelve and one to the queen's room. Finding the
door locked he knocked, but could get no answer . . . after a long
time the Queen drew the bolt . . . he entered and she appeared to
be alone but, on searching, he found Rizzio half-dressed in a closet....
Darnley's word was not a good one but that was what he said. . . .
Darnley desired the dramatic revenge of killing Rizzio in the queen's
presence.... The conspirators ascended the winding stairs from Darnley's
room . . . Darnley entered . . . supper was on the table . . . the
queen asked Darnley if he had supped. [Froude]
So the scene proceeds; Rizzio calls loudly for help, but he is stabbed;
Darnley's dagger is left in the body so that he may be clearly incriminated,
the body itself is dragged down a staircase and flung upon a chest....
The queen lamented bitterly for him: "Poor David! Good and faithful
servant. May God have mercy on your soul."
Afterwards, we may remember, Darnley was reconciled to the queen and
showed or affected to show bitter repentance for his share in the murder.
The Lords Politic sat for several days to consider the murder; but,
since they feared to accuse anyone, nothing was done.
Now, here, we surely have far closer resemblances to the scene in Hamlet
though, as in the other parallels, the scene is dramatised by isolating
and concentrating; two scenes are run into one, the scene where Darnley
alone discovered (or said he discovered) Rizzio, and the scene of the
We have the discovery by the hero alone, we have the stabbing with
the hero's weapon in the dead man's body. We have the queen's bitter
lament for the "good old man" [Act IV., i.] and for the "rash
and bloody deed." Hamlet disposes of the body "by a staircase,"
and the staircase played a principal part in the Rizzio murder.
We may also observe that Hamlet's gruesome remark about Polonius being
"at supper, not where he eats but where he is eaten," [Act
Iv., iii.] seems like a macabre reference to the Rizzio murder where
the victim also was found "at supper"; the same may be said
of the remark that "a certain convocation of politic worms are
e'en at him," which, again, looks like a macabre reference to the
wearisome and futile sittings of the "Lords Politic" in considering
the murder. Any of these references might be accidental if it stood
alone; it is, as always, the combination which is the convincing
We may observe that the intimacy of Polonius with the queen is really
close; he is not, like the eavesdropper in the saga, a person with whom
she has no intimate concern; he is a genuinely trusted councillor.
It may be said that the Rizzio murder belongs to Darnley and not to
James I, but it had a close and vital connection with the group of historic
events, and was in itself, a thing which probably determined the choice,
magnificent dramatic material.
We may also observe that the whole scene is, as it were, set apart
in the play and stands detached from the main action. There is, again,
the statement that Hamlet repents his deed, for, according to the queen
" he weeps for what is done," and she, at any rate, desires
to shield and protect him. All this is foreign to the saga, but does
occur in the history. Darnley professed penitence and the queen did
protect him. I may also point out that the other reference to the Rizzio
murder occurred in the first scene where the ghost appeared to Hamlet,
and in this scene with the queen the ghost appears again. There is,
apparently, a logical and dramatic connection between the two.
Moberley has a note on the lines:
"Indeed this councillor
Is now most still, most secret and most grave
Who was in life a foolish prating knave."
He observes that they are almost exactly the same words used by the
porter at Holyrood, when Rizzio's body was placed on a chest near his
But we do not, I think, dispose of the historical resemblances in the
character of Polonius by saying that his death resembles that of Rizzio's.
It has more than once been pointed out that he shows a likeness to Burleigh,
and this, also, appears to be true. We may observe that Burleigh died
in the year 1598, shortly before Hamlet was produced; he had
died at the advanced age of seventy-eight, and was thought by many to
have been in his dotage; even Elizabeth in her wrath occasionally accused
him of dotage. [Martin Hume, Burleigh.]
Burleigh had been the bitter enemy of Shakespeare's patronsEssex
and Southampton, and it was generally believed that the Cecils between
them had lured Essex to his ruin. The popular mind also ascribed to
Burleigh enmity against the Scottish succession.
Now, if Burleigh were the bitter enemy of Shakespeare's friends, if
he were very generally unpopular and mistrusted, if he were believed
to be an enemy to the Scottish succession, Shakespeare might very naturally
represent him as another of the main enemies of his philosophic prince,
and that is what he appears to have done, for the resemblances between
Burleigh and Polonius seem too great to be ascribed to any form of accident.
In the first place we may note that the original form of the name was
Corambis and not Polonius, and that Corambis does suggest Cecil and
Polonius, throughout the play, stands isolated as the one person who
does really enjoy the royal confidence; he is an old man, and no other
councillor of equal rank anywhere appears. This corresponds almost precisely
with the position held by Burleigh; he had, for the greater part of
his reign, been among Elizabeth's chief councillors, and the death of
Walsingham and others left him isolated in her service, surviving almost
all the men of his own generation.
Cecil was a man of learning, and Polonius obviously desires to be esteemed
as such. Cecil had been closely associated with some of the chief classical
scholars of the day, Cheke for example, and Polonius makes a boast of
his classical learning: [Act II., ii.] "Seneca cannot be too heavy,
nor Plautus too light."
Cecil, in his youth, had played a prominent part in Cambridge, and
was proud to remain connected with the university, and Polonius also
alludes to his life in the university and his taking part in the university
plays. [Act III., ii.] I did enact Julius Caesar; I was killed i' the
Capitol; Brutus killed me."
We may also remember, in this connection, that when William Cecil died,
he was still Chancellor of the University of Cambridge; there can be
no doubt both from Hamlet's question, and from his reply, that Polonius
liked to associate himself with the university as Cecil did.
Cecil had one romance, and one romance only, in his life, that was
when he married a penniless brideMary Cheke, the sister of the great
Greek scholar; the marriage was vehemently opposed by his family, but
Cecil espoused her in secret.
Now, according to his own account, Polonius also had experienced a
romantic love-affair in his youth: "truly in my youth I suffered
much extremity for love, very near this." [Act II., ii.]
This particular speech has nearly always been considered as a pure
absurdity; but it would be even more ironically amusing if the audience
believed it literally true.
Again, Burleigh's eldest sonThomas Cecilwas a youth of very wayward
life; his licentiousness and irregularity occasioned his father great
distress and, during his residence in Paris, his father wrote letters
to him full of wise maxims for his guidance; he also instructed friends
to watch over him, and bring him reports of his son's behaviour. So
Polonius has a sonLaerteswhom he suspects of irregular life; Polonius
provides that his son, when he goes to Paris, shall be carefully watched,
and that reports on his behaviour shall be prepared by Reynaldo.
I will place side by side the parallels that seem to me most pertinent,
pointing out first that there is no resemblance whatever in the
Amidst his manifold public anxieties Cecil had to bear his share
of private trouble.... Thomas, his only son by his first marriage
with Mary Cheke was now (1561) a young man of twenty, and in order
that he might receive the polish fitting to the heir of a great personage,
his father consulted Sir Nicholas Throgmorton, the Ambassador in Paris,
in the Spring of 1561, with the idea of sending him thither. A subsequent
recommendation of Thomas Windebank, the young man's governor, to the
effect that it would be well to accept Throgmorton's offer, although
Sir William Cecil was loath to trespass on his friend's hospitality,
"in order that the youth might learn, not only at table but otherwise,
according to his estate," leads us to the conclusion that Thomas
Cecil had not hitherto been an apt scholar . . . from the first it
was seen that the father was misgiving and anxious. Cecil was a reserved
man, full of public affairs; but this correspondence proves that he
was also a man of deep family affections, and above all, that he regarded
with horror the idea that any scandal should attach to his honoured
name. In his first letter to his son he strikes the note of distrust..
. . "He wishes him God's blessing, but how he inclines himself
to deserve it he knows not." None of his son's three letters
he explains, makes any mention of the expense he is incurring. . .
. To Windebank the father is more outspoken. How are they spending
their time, he asks, and heartily prays that Thomas may serve God
with fear and reverence. But Thomas seems to have done nothing of
the sort, for, in nearly every letter, Windebank urges Sir William
to repeat his injunctions about prayer to his son.... But the scapegrace
paid little heed.... Rumour of his ill-behaviour reached Sir William,
not at first from Windebank. In March 1562 an angry and indignant
letter went from Cecil to his son, reproaching him for his bad conduct.
There was no amendment he said, and all who came to Paris gave him
the character of "a dissolute, slothful, negligent and careless
young man and the letter is signed 'your father of an unworthy son.'"
[Martin Hume, Burleigh.]
A week later Cecil writes: "Windebank, I am here used to pains
and troubles, but none creep so near my heart as does this of my lewd
son.... Good Windebank, consult my dear friend Sir Nicholas Throgmorton,
to whom I have referred the whole.... If ye shall come with him (i.e.
Thomas) to cover the shame, let it appear to be by reason of the troubles
there." [Martin Hume, Burleigh.]
We may compare this with Hamlet? [Act II., i.]
POL. Give him this money and these notes, Reynaldo.
REY. I will, my lord.
POL. You shall do marvellous wisely, good Reynaldo,
Before you visit him, to make inquire
Of his behaviour.
REY. My lord, I did intend it.
POL. Marry, well said; very well said. Look you, sir,
Inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris;
And how, and who, what means, and where they keep,
. . . . . . . . . . . and finding
By this encompassment and drift of question
That they do know my son, come you more nearer,
Than your particular demands will touch it:
. . . . . . . . . . . put on him
What forgeries you please; marry, none so rank
As may dishonour him; take heed of that;
But, sir, such wanton wild and usual slips
As are companions noted and most known
To youth and liberty.
REY. As gaming, my lord.
POR. Ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing, quarrelling,
Drabbing: you may go so far."
Now, surely we notice here an essentially similar situation to the
one given in Burleigh's life; the father an immaculate, all-wise councillor
at home, the spendthrift son leading a licentious life in Paris, and
anyone who knows the father encouraged to give reports on the son's
behaviour which the father anticipates, with only too much justice,
will almost certainly be evil reports.
Cecil wrote a number of maxims for the guidance of his son, and these
maxims show a remarkable likeness to those given by Polonius to Laertes.
"If his own conduct was ruled," says Martin Hume, "as
some of his actions were by the maxims which in middle age he had
laid down for his favourite son, he must have been a marvel of prudence
and wisdom. Like the usual recommendations of age to youth, many of
these precepts simply inculcate moderation, religion, virtue and other
obviously good qualities; but here and there Cecil's own philosophy
of life comes out, and some of the reasons for his success are exhibited.
"Let thy hospitality be moderate . . . rather plentiful than
sparing, for I never knew any man grow poor by keeping an orderly
table.... Beware thou spendest not more than three of four parts of
thy revenue, and not above a third part of that in thy house."
"Beware of being surety for thy best friends; he that payeth
another man's debts seeketh his own decay."
"Be sure to keep some great man thy friend, but trouble him
not with trifles; compliment him often with many, yet small gifts."
"Towards thy superiors be humble, yet generous; with shine equals
familiar yet respectful; towards these inferiors show much humanity
and some familiarity, as to bow the body, stretch forth the hand and
to uncover the head."
"Trust not any man with thy life, credit or estate, for it is
mere folly for a man to entrust himself to his friend."
We may compare with this Polonius [Act 1., iii.]:
"Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy psalm with entertainment.
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't, that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."
Martin Hume sums up Burleigh's proverbs by saying:
"Such maxims as these evidently enshrine much of his own temper,
and throughout his career he rarely seems to have violated them. His
was a selfish and ungenerous gospel, but a prudent and circumspect
Exactly the same might be said of Shakespeare's Polonius. This particular
fact, that the maxims of Polonius strongly resemble those of Burleighwas
pointed out by George Russell French in 1869.
Again, one observes the omnipresence of Polonius; he manages everything,
he interferes in everything, he keeps everything in his own hands. This
was certainly true also of Cecil, who had a passion for detail:
"Everything seemed to pass through his hands. No matter was
too small or too large to claim attention. His household biographer
says of him that he worked incessantly, except at meal times when
he unbent and chatted wittily to his friends, but never of business.''
Cecil had a peculiar method of drawing up documents touching matters
of state: thus he would consider all the reasons for and against a particular
action, stating its advantages and disadvantages in the most elaborate
way and with meticulous care of detail. It is in just the same close
and elaborate way that Polonius displays his ideas before the king.
Everything is surveyed, not a detail omitted. [Act II., ii.]
"He repulseda short tale to make . . .
Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,
Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension,
Into the madness wherein now he raves
And all we mourn for."
This is an admirable satire on the type of man who like Cecil, prides
himself on the logical, methodical development of detail.
Cecil was emphatically a man of peace; in politics it was his great
aim to keep out of war; in private life he disliked the idea of a military
career for his son Thomas, and he was a person with whom everybody found
it very difficult to quarrel; he kept the peace with Leicester, and
with Essex in spite of infinite provocation; Essex, especially, was
given to taunting and tormenting him; but, when Cecil was unable to
avoid a quarrel in any other way, he was accustomed to develop a timely
fit of gout, and retire to his own house.
We see this same trait in Polonius who carefully advises Laertes against
quarrels: "Beware of entrance to a quarrel," and who will
put up with almost everything from Hamlet in order to avoid an overt
dispute, even, as Cecil did from Essex, with the most contemptuous mocking.
Cecil employed spying and eavesdropping as political weapons to a quite
"Spies and secret agents paid by him were in every court and
in every camp . . . the English Catholic nobles were closely watched
and for a month every line the Spanish ambassador wrote was conveyed
to Cecil by Borghese. Once, early in May, the bishop's courier with
important letters for the Duchess of Parma, was stopped two miles
beyond Gravesend by pretended highwaymen who were really gentlemen
(the brothers Cobham) in Cecil's pay, and the man was detained while
the letters were sent to the Secretary to be deciphered and copied."
The Dictionary of National Biography states the matter thus:
"His life began to be threatened; assassins were bribed to slay
him and the queen: the murder of both or either, it was taught, would
be something more glorious than mere justifiable homicide. Against
the new doctrine and its desperate disciples it seemed to Cecil that
extraordinary precautions were needed, and for the next twenty years
he kept a small army of spies and informers in his pay who were his
detective police, and he used it without scruple to get information
when it was needed, to keep watch upon the sayings and doings of suspected
characters at home and abroad. They were a vile band, and the employment
of such instruments could not but bring some measure of dishonour
upon their employer."
Intercepted letters and the employment of spies were, then, a quite
conspicuous and notorious part of Cecil's statecraft, and they are certainly
made especially characteristic of Shakespeare's Polonius. Polonius intercepts
the letters from Hamlet to his daughter; he appropriates Hamlet's most
intimate correspondence, carries it to the king, and discusses it without
a moment's shame or hesitation: he and the king play the eavesdropper
during Hamlet's interview with Ophelia: he himself spies upon Hamlet's
interview with his mother. It is impossible not to see that these things
are made both futile and hateful in Polonius, and they were precisely
the things that were detested in Cecil.
It is also worthy of note that Burleigh took the utmost care not
to conduct marriage projects for his daughter in a way that might suggest
he was using her to further his own interests.
"How careful he was to avoid all cause for doubt is seen by
his answer to Lord Shrewsbury's offer of his son as a husband for
one of Burleigh's daughters.... The match proposed was a good one
and the Lord Treasurera new noblewas flattered and pleased by
the offer." [Martin Hume]
He refused it, however, because Shrewsbury was in charge of the Queen
of Scots, and he feared the suspicion of intrigues.
"A similar but more flattering offer was made by the Earl of
Essex in 1573 on behalf of his son; but this also was declined."
Cecil, in fact, was always particularly careful not to let Elizabeth
or anyone else think that ambition for his daughter could tempt him
into unwise political plans.
In exactly the same way we find Polonius guarding himself against any
suspicion that he may have encouraged Hamlet's advances to Ophelia.
"The king asks [Act II., ii.]: "How hath she received his
love?" and Polonius enquires, "What do you think of me? "The
king replies: "As of a man faithful and honourable"; Polonius
proceeds to explain that, such being the case, he could not possibly
have encouraged the love between Hamlet and his daughter; but he had
informed the latter that she must "lock herself" from the
There is a further curious parallel in the fact that when Cecil's daughterElizabethmarried
De Vere, Earl of Oxfordthe husband turned sulky, separated himself
from his wife, and declared that it was Cecil's fault for influencing
his wife against him.
"A few days later Burghley had reason to be still more angry
with Oxford himself, though with his reverence for rank he appears
to have treated him with inexhaustible patience and forbearance....
Oxford declined to meet his wife or to hold any communication with
her; Burghley reasoned, remonstrated, and besought in vain. Oxford
was sulky and intractable. His wife, he said, had been influenced
by her parents against him and he would have nothing more to do with
So, also, in the drama we find Polonius interfering between his daughter
and her lover, we find his machinations so successful that Hamlet turns
sulky, and is alienated from Ophelia for good.
Other significant details may be observed.
Cecil was a new man, and nothing annoyed him more than to have the
fact called to his attention. "The most artful of his enemies,
Father Persons, well knew the weak point in his armour, and wounded
him to the quick in his books, in which he pretended to show that the
Lord Treasurer was of base origin, his father a tavern-keeper, and he
himself a bell-ringer. We have seen in a former case that attacks upon
his ancestry almost alone aroused Lord Burleigh's anger." [Martin
Hamlet, we may remember, taunts Polonius with following a base trade,
with being a fishmonger; Polonius repudiates the idea with scorn, to
which Hamlet retorts: " Then, I would you were so honest a man."
[Act II., ii.]
There is probably more than one meaning here, but the most obvious
is a taunt at a low origin.
Again Ophelia sings songs of lamentation one of which seems obviously
intended for her father. "He is dead and gone"; she confuses
him with a religious man: "his cockle hat and staff And his sandal
shoon." [Act IV., v.]
Towards the end of Burleigh's life there was, apparently, a standing
jest about him in the character of a religious man, a hermit.
Thus, Martin Hume refers to the queen's visit to Theobalds, and to
a letter presented by a man dressed as a hermit; the letter reminded
her that the last time she came "his founder, upon a: strange conceit,
to feed his own humour, had placed the hermit contrary to his profession
in his house, whilst he (Burghley) had retired to the hermit's poor
Yet more curious parallels may be quoted. In a strange letter to Essex,
Lord Henry Howard exults that "the dromedary that would have won
the favour of the Queen of Sabez is almost enraged" (meaning Burleigh
by the dromedary), and asks the earl whether "he cannot drag out
the old leviathan and his cub" (meaning the two Cecils). We may
surely compare this with Hamlet's conversation with Polonius:
HAM. Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
POL. BY the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
HAM. Methinks it is like a weasel.
POL. It is backed like a weasel.
HAM. Or like a whale ?
POL. Very like a whale. [Act III., ii.]
When we remember that Shakespeare would, in all human probability,
have had access to the Essex correspondence shown by Essex himself,
we can see the point still more strongly.
It is hardly necessary to show, how, in the correspondence of the time,
such as that of Standen and Anthony Bacon, Burleigh is continually alluded
to with contempt. Thus Standen writes to Anthony Bacon, March 1595,
that the queen paid no heed to Burleigh, when he protested against the
expedition to Cadiz: "When she saw it booted not to stay him, she
said he was a 'froward old fool.'"
Anthony, even in his correspondence with Lady Anne Bacon, refers to
Burleigh continually as "the old man."
This is the general tone of Hamlet to Polonius. Burleigh seems to have
done his utmost to conciliate Essex, and Anthony Bacon speaks of Burleigh's
humiliation with pleasure: "Our Earl hath made the old Fox to crouch
and whine." The humiliation of Burleigh by his scornful rival was,
indeed, one of the standing jests of the court.
I may also quote in this connection Jonson's estimate of the character
"Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, stored
with observation, confident in his knowledge, proud of his eloquence
and declining into dotage . . . This idea of dotage encroaching upon
wisdom will solve all the phenomena of the character of Polonius."
Now, it does not seem to me possible that an Elizabethan audience could
overlook the resemblances between Polonius and Burleigh, they are at
once so wide and all-embracing and so minute and detailed.
We have the fact that each is a councillor, almost supreme,in his office,
isolated in his generation with no person of equal authority near him.
Each has a passion for detail, for personal management, for analysing
matters with the minutest care. Each has the habit of giving worldly-wise
maxims to a son, maxims which are full of prudence but totally lacking
in generosity and unselfishness, maxims which are sometimes almost word
for word the same. Each has a spendthrift son, who goes to Paris and
who receives many instructions from his father, a licentious son who
is watched by his father's orders, and reports upon whom are brought
home by the father's commands. Each takes the same care not to aim too
high in a daughter's marriage lest he should compromise his own position.
Each causes a separation between his daughter and the man she loves
because the daughter is believed to be completely the father's agent
and his decoy. Each has the same methods of statecraft, by intercepting
letters of the most private nature, by shameless, undignified incessant
spying, spying practiced upon all possible occasions. Each has the same
reverence for rank, the same interest in the university and university
life, the same assumption of classical scholarship, the same dislike
of quarrels, the same willingness to bear insults rather than resent
Each is insulted by being compared to various animals, a camel, a weasel,
and a whale, on one side, a dromedary, a fox and a whale on the other.
Each is made a public butt by a brilliant young man, by Hamlet in the
one case, and by the Earl of Essex in the other.
It is difficult to see how Shakespeare could have got more resemblances
into the brief space at his disposal. Add to this the fact that the
Cecils were the bitter enemies of Essex and his party, that it was the
son of Burleigh who has supposed to have triumphed over and destroyed
the unhappy Essex, and we have a motive for Shakespeare's satire of
the most powerful and cogent kind.
It does not seem to me particularly difficult to see what Shakespeare's
method is. Burleigh was just precisely one of the characters who would
interest hisShakespeare'saudience most, and who really did present
a magnificent subject for study. On the other hand, from the dramatic
point of view, Burleigh had one immense disadvantage: that nothing in
particular had ever happened to him, and that he died quite respectably
and tranquilly in his bed. The murder of Rizzio was, however, one of
the most dramatic events in recorded history; Shakespeare, therefore,
combines the character of Burleigh with the end of Rizzio. The dramatic
motive for doing so is just as clear and definite as the dramatic motive
for combining the parts of the two Bothwells in one, and calling them
We have, of course, a real parallel between Rizzio and Cecil; both
were men put in a position of supreme trust and wielding immense power
by secret and underhand methods; both were regarded as unprincipled
and intriguers, and both were objects of detestation and dislike.
Moreover, the uniting in one of the two characters stitches, as it
were, the two parts of the drama together; it brings the James I. part
into close relation with the Essex part.