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Shakespeare and his fellows : an attempt to decipher the man and his nature online

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When the strange story of the midsummer night
had been told over, and the lovers had come, full
of joy and mirth, Theseus asks

What masques, what dances shall we have
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bed-time f*

A paper is handed to him, showing how many
sports were ripe, and of these he was to make
choice. Theseus rejects ' The battle with the
Centaurs ' and ' The riot of the tipsy Bac-
chanals.' He is then tendered

The thrice three muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.

Of this he says —

That is some satire, keen and critical,
Not sorting with a nuptial ceremony.

To our endless content he then makes choice of

A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe ; very tragical mirth,

to be played by hard-handed men that work in

* Midsummer Night's Dream, V. i. 32.



The reference to the thrice three mourning
muses has been accepted as an unmistakable
reference to Spenser's poem, entitled The Teares
of the Muses, in which each of the Nine laments
the decay of the branch of letters over which
she presides.

There was a special propriety in the tragic
death of Spenser being mourned by the thrice
three muses. He was the darling of the muses,
the ' poet's poet.' These words of Charles Lamb
describe the position in the literary world which
was held by Spenser after the publication of
the first part of the Faerie Queene. Then by the
mourning muses the scene in the Abbey is recalled
when the weeping poets cast into Spenser's grave
their elegies and the pens with which they were

For the intimate friends of Spenser the words
of Shakespeare would have a special meaning.
They mourned the loss, not only of a great poet,
but of * Learning late deceased.' Lodovick
Bryskett, in his cottage near Dublin, appealed to
Spenser to favour the company with a discourse
of philosophy, ' knowing him to be not only
perfect in the Greek tongue, but also very well
read in Philosophie, both morall and naturall.
For, of his love and kindness to me, he encour-
aged me long sithens to follow the reading of the



Greeke tongue and offered me his helpe to make
me understand it.'

The variety and extent of Spenser's learning,
which was known to those who were admitted
to his friendship, has of later years been realised,
as the result of a careful study of his writings.

' Except Milton, and possibly Gray, Spenser
was the most learned of English poets, and signs
of his multifarious reading in the classics, and
modern French and Italian literature abound in
his writings.' *

What more fitting theme for a ' satire, keen
and critical,' than the death in beggary of one
like Spenser, the darling of the muses, the
favourite of the Queen, and high in office ; the
pompous funeral in Westminster Abbey ; the
broad pieces, gifts well meant but all too late ;
the poets with their elegies, deploring in good
set terms the loss of him whom they suffered to
die — from want of thought and not of heart, we
may well believe — neglected and uncared ? Well
might Theseus reject the theme as ' not sorting
with a nuptial ceremony.'

Professor Masson, in his Shakespeare Personally,
notes a certain respect in which Shakespeare
differed from his contemporaries. ' What do

* ' Life of Spenser,' in the Diet. Nat. Biography, by Professor J .W.
Hales and Sir Sidney Lee.

4 1


we find them, one and all, doing — Spenser,
Chapman, Drayton, Daniel, Nash, Donne, Ben
Jonson, Marston, Dekker, Chettle, and other
known poets and dramatists of rank, besides the
small fry of professed epigrammatists, like Owen
and John Davies, of Hereford ? Writing verses
to or about each other, commendatory poems on
each other's works, mutual invectives and lam-
poons, in prologues to their plays or otherwise,
epistles and dedications of compliment to eminent
noblemen and courtiers, epitaphs on noblemen or
ladies just dead, and comments in a thousand
forms on the incidents of the day. In the midst
of all this crossfire of epistles, epigrams, and
poems of occasion, stood Shakespeare ; coming
in, too, for his own share of notice in them — for
just a little of the invective and for a very great
deal of the eulogy. But he would not be brought
to return a shot. . . . From occurrence litera-
ture of any kind Shakespeare seems to have
systematically shrunk.' *

Even the death of Elizabeth, a theme wel-
comed by other poets of the day, is unmarked by
a line by him. This was noted as strange by
Chettle, who in England's Mourning Garment
(1603) wrote

• Shakespeare Personally, by David Masson. Edited and arranged
by Rosaline Masson.

4 2


Nor doth the siluer-tonge'd Melicert
Drop from his honied muse one sable teare
To mourne her death that graced his desert
And to his laies opened her royal ear.
Shepheard, remember our Elizabeth
And sing her Rape, done by that Tarquin, Death.

That Shakespeare departed from his custom
when he introduced into A Midsummer Night's
Dream a reference to the death of Spenser, shows
how profoundly he was moved by the personality
of the man, the beauty of his poetry, the extent
of his learning, and the tragedy of his death.
The death of Marlowe is the occasion of one
other reference to an event of the day to be found
in his works. But Spenser exerted no such
influence on the development of the art of Shake-
speare as was due to Marlowe. There is no
passage written by Shakespeare in which we
catch the faintest echo of the poetry of Spenser.
There is indeed one speech which, but for
Spenser, would not have been written. It is a
reminiscence of Spenser ; not of the poet, but of
the Irish official.

Spenser was not only a great poet, he was also
an Irish official, with a clear and definite Irish
policy. It was the policy of his patron and
friend, Arthur Lord Grey, of Wilton. Lord
Grey was recalled in 1582, two years after his



appointment as Lord Deputy ; but Spenser
remained constant to his political creed, and
throughout his life it was his mission, with
chivalrous loyalty to defend the policy and
vindicate the memory of Grey. This he did in
immortal verse in the fifth book of his Faerie
Queene, and in indifferent prose in his View of the
Present State of Ireland, written in 1587, after
the death of Grey. This is the policy that
Shakespeare, with his marvellous power of con-
densation, has expressed in four lines, put into
the mouth of Richard, when departing for
Ireland :

Now for our Irish wars :
We must supplant those rough rug-headed kerns
Which live like venom where no venom else
But only they have privilege to live.*

Whence did Shakespeare derive this policy :
War, to be followed by the supplanting of the
native Irish ? And how comes he to speak of
them with contempt as ' rough, rug-headed
kerns,' and with hatred, as venom that had
escaped expulsion at the hands of St. Patrick ?
Questions to be asked — for Shakespeare is wont
to put into the mouths of characters in his
dramas an expression of his personal feelings

• King Richard II., II., i. 155.



and experiences, and if a different explanation
of this passage can be found it would be welcome.
When Spenser came to London with Raleigh
in 1589 he brought with him three completed
books of the Faerie Queene. What he calls ' his
whole intention in the course of this worke '
had been long since thought out, and he was then
at work on the next succeeding books, the
Legends of Friendship and of Justice. Spenser
was always ready to take his friends into his
confidence as to the literary work in which he
was engaged, often far in advance of its com-
pletion. He had read the early books of his
poem to Raleigh in Kilcolman castle, and ' some
parcels ' of the Faerie Queene had been seen by
some of the company assembled in Bryskett's
cottage near Dublin — a prelate, a lawyer, four
soldiers, and ' M. Smith, apothecary.' If
Spenser was willing to expound his intention
to this assembly, he was not likely to be more
reticent in the company of the Shepherds who
served Cynthia, and when Aetion, or another,
put to him a question which has been repeated
throughout the centuries to succeeding genera-
tions of Irish officials on their visits to London,
and asked him to give the company his view of
the present state of Ireland, we know what view
he presented, and if he did not show them some



parcels of his forthcoming fifth book, what he
said was understood and treasured by at least
one of his hearers.

The view set forth in the treatise written in
1587 is presented in allegorical form in the fifth
book of the Faerie Queene. The legend of
Artegall, or of Justice, is the story of Arthur
Lord Grey's mission to Ireland, his policy and
his recall. The allegory in many parts of the
poem is obscure, and the riddle is not easily
solved. It is generally difficult, and often
impossible, to discover the counterparts in real
life of the allegorical personages of the poem.
But in regard to two we are left without doubt :
the Faerie Queen is Elizabeth, and Artegall,
Arthur Lord Grey.

A letter from the author to Sir Walter Raleigh,
' expounding his whole intention in the course
of this worke,' is prefixed to the edition of the
three books published in 1581. The Faerie
Queen by whose excellent beauty when seen in
a vision King Arthur is ravished, and awaking
sets forth to seek her, is Faerie land, is Glory.
* In that Faerie Queene I mean glory in my
generall intention, but in my particular I con-
ceive the most excellent and glorious person of
our soveraine the Queene, and her kingdome in
Faerie land.'



The Faerie Queene was to be ' disposed into
twelve books, fashioning xn. morall vertues.'
Of each virtue a knight is the patron, whose
adventures form the legend of the book. This
is the general intention. The particular inten-
tion as to the Faerie Queen is to identify her
with Elizabeth, and as to Artegall to identify
him with Arthur Lord Grey. Artegall is sent
by the Faerie Queen (Elizabeth) to rescue Irena
(Ireland) from suffering under the power of
wrong (Grantorto). Armed with Chryseas, the
keen sword of Justice, and accompanied by Talus
and the iron flail of force, Artegall puts an end
to wrongdoing. He then abode with fair Irena,
when his study was to deal Justice.

And day and night employ'd his busie paine
How to reform that ragged common-weale

But, ere he coulde reforme it thoroughly

He through occasion called was away

To Faerie Court, that of necessity

His course of Justice he was forst to stay

And Talus to revoke from the right way

In which he was that Realme for to redresse ;

But envie's cloud still dimmeth vertue's ray.

So having freed Irena from distresse

He tooke his leave of her then left in heavinesse.

This was the doing of ' two old ill favour'd
Hags,' Envie and Detraction —



Combyned in one
And linct together against Sir Artegall

• • • • •

Besides, into themselves they gotten had

A monster, which the Blatant Beast they call.

Disregarding the assaults of Envie and Detrac-
tion, and the barking and baying of the Blatant
Beast, Artegall

Still the way did hold
To Faerie Court ; when what him fell shall else
be told.

This is the story of the recall of Grey. He
died in 1593, and the rest is silence.

It is not difficult to supply the explanation of
the policy of Arthur which was given to the
listening Shepherds, when the poet, as was his
wont, explained the general and particular inten-
tion of the Legend of Justice. But for this we
must turn to the View.

Spenser's Irish policy, like that of Richard II.,
began with war, and ended in ' supplanting.'
In the View Eudoxus suggests that the reforma-
tion of the realm might be effected by ' making
of good lawes, and establishing of new statutes,
with sharpe penalties and punishments, for
amending of all that is presently amisse.'
Irenasus, by whom Spenser speaks, says —
< 48


But all the realme is first to be reformed, and lawes
are afterwards to be made for keeping and continuing it
in the reformed estate.

Eudox. How then doe you think is the reformation
thereof to be begunne, if not by lawes and ordinances ?

Iren. Even by the sword ; for all these evils must
first be cut away by a strong hand, before any good can
be planted.

Later on Irenaeus develops his scheme of
supplanting. ' All the lands will I give unto
Englishmen I will haue drawne thither, who shall
haue the same with such estates as shall bee
thought meete, and for such rent as shall eft-
soones be rated ; and under every of those
Englishmen will I place some of those Irish to
be tennants for a certaine rent, according to the
quantity of such land as every man shall have
allotted unto him, and shalbe found able to
wield, wherein this speciall regard shall be had,
that in no place under any land-lord there shall
be many of them placed together, but dispersed
wide from their acquaintance, and scattered
farre abroad thorough all the country.'

Thus would the tribal system be broken up,
and the kerns could no longer ' practice or con-
spire what they will.' Rough and shag-headed
they were in the eyes of Spenser, for he wrote
of their ' long glippes, which is a thicke curled



bush of hair, hanging downe over their eyes, and
monstrously disguising them, which arc both
very bad and hurtful.'

In the View Spenser recalls how when ' that
good Lord Grey, after long travell and many
perilous assayes, had brought things almost to
this passe that the country was ready for refor-
mation,' the Queen ' being by nature full of
moving and clemency,' listened to the complaint
against Grey, that ' he was a bloodie man, and
minded not the life of her subjects no more than
dogges,' and ' all suddenly turned topside-
turvey ; the noble Lord eft-soones was blamed ;
the wretched people pitticd ; and new counsells
plotted, in which it was concluded that a general
pardon should be sent over to all that would
accept of it, upon which all former purposes
were blanked, the governor at a bay, and not
only all that great and long change which she
had before beene at quite lost and cancelled,
but also all that hope of good which was
even at the doore put back and cleane frus-

This is a prose version of the story of Grey's
recall as it is told in the fifth book of the Faerie

If Shakespeare did not derive from converse
with Spenser the Irish policy which he put into



the mouth of Richard, I know not from what
contemporary source it was borrowed.

But why does Richard speak with hatred of
the native Irish, as the only venom which had
escaped expulsion by St. Patrick ? In a book
well known to Spenser — for he quotes from it
more than once in his View — Stanyhurst's
Description of Ireland, printed in Holinshed's
Chronicles (1577), tne writer, telling how ' Saint
Patricke was moved to expell all the venemous
wormes out of Ireland,' quotes from the
Dialogues of Alanus Copus these words : ' Dici
fortasse inde a nonnullis solet nihil esse in
Hibernia venenati praeter ipsos homines.'
Stanyhurst quotes these words with indignation.
But Spenser may well have treasured them with
different feelings, and repeated them to his
friend. He admired the natural beauties and
the abundant resources of Ireland, and found
' sweet wit and good invention ' in her bardic
literature, but it must be acknowledged that
his feelings towards the native Irish were such
as might have found expression in the saying
recorded by Alanus Copus. Whether Shake-
speare learned this saying from Spenser, or from
Stanyhurst, whose description, with other parts
of Holinshed, he had studied with care, matters
not. It is not to be taken as the result of his


E 2


own experience, but as a saying that might with
dramatic propriety be attributed to Richard.

The poetic element in the character of the
second Richard was noted by Coleridge and by
Professor Dowden. To Sir Walter Raleigh,
Richard is poetry itself. ' It is difficult to
condemn Richard without taking sides against
poetry. He has a delicate and prolific fancy,
which flows into many dream-shapes in the
prison ; a wide and true imagination, which
expresses itself in his great speech on the mon-
archy of Death ; and a deep discernment of
tragic issues, which gives thrilling effect to his
bitterest outcry.' It may be deserving of a
passing note that it is to this most poetic of
kings that Shakespeare attributes the ruthless
policy of warfare and supplanting which was
that of his friend, the poet's poet, Spenser.

Spenser was attracted to Shakespeare by the
quality in his nature, to which, in his days, the
word ' gentle ' was applied, not less than by
the high thoughts invention, and heroic strain
of a muse which gave promise of an eagle flight.
It was this quality, so early apprehended by
Spenser, that won for Shakespeare throughout
his life the love of his fellows. By bearing
this fact in mind as we trace his relations with
them, strange errors and misconceptions may be



avoided. And after his death this was the
thought uppermost in the mind of Ben Jonson,
when he wrote of the portrait prefixed to the
folio of 1623

This figure that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut.



Shakespeare by his will left ' to my fcllowcs,
John Hcmyngcs, Richard Burbagc, and Henry
Cundcll xxvj's viii d a peece to buy them ringes.'
A good many years before, Burbage, with Kempe,
had gloried in the triumph of ' our fellow
Shakespeare ' over the University pens, and
over Ben Jonson too ; and some years after the
death of Shakespeare Ben Jonson told how the
players, in their devotion to the memory of their
fellow, regarded as a ' malevolent speech ' one
that Ben Jonson had intended as literary criti-
cism, when he expressed a wish that Shakespeare
had blotted a thousand lines.*

The pride of the players in the success of their
fellow Shakespeare as a dramatist, outstripping
even the great Ben Jonson, was unalloyed by any
feeling of jealousy. He had become rich and
famous in the literary world. He had been
the subject of courtly favour and of the patronage
of the great, before he retired to his native town
to end his days in affluence and repute, a gentle-

• Timber, or Discoveries made upon Men and Matter.



man of coat armour. But his was not a nature
to be spoiled by success, and his last thoughts
were not for powerful patrons or literary mag-
nates, but for his fellow players, John Hem-
ing and Henry Condell, with Richard Burbage
the impersonator of his greatest characters.

The world owes much to the good fellowship
between Shakespeare and the players, which
endured throughout his life. For seven years
after his death Mr. William Shakespeare's
Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies were pub-
lished ' according to the True Originall copies '
by John Heming and Henry Condell. Richard
Burbage had died in 1 619. In dedicating them
to the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, who
had ' prosequuted both them, and their Authour
living with so much favour,' the editors write :
i We have but collected them, an office to the
dead, to procure his orphanes, guardians ; with-
out ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame ;
only to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend
& Fellow alive, as was our Shakespeare, by
humble offer of his player to your most noble

Heming and Condell were not altogether blind
to the priceless literary value of the gift that
they were presenting to the world. But the
thought uppermost in their minds was piety



towards the man whom they loved. That
piety was recognised as the motive by which
they were impelled, we learn from verses prefixed
to the First Folio, written by Leonard Digges,
a fair representative of the literary world of the

Shakespeare, at length, thy pious fellowes give
The world thy workes.

- Shakespeare had been dead for seven years,
and the world of letters gave no sign. The
greatest treasures of English literature, perhaps
of all literature, were either tossing about in the
Globe theatre, or circulating in imperfect copies
surreptitiously obtained, and, for all the literary
world cared, they would have so remained. And
yet at that time the literary world of London
included Jonson, Drayton, Camden, Fletcher,
and such lesser lights as Leonard Digges and
Hugh Holland, each of whom was in some way
connected with Shakespeare or his works. It
did not occur to Shakespeare's literary fellows
that it might be worth while to edit in a collected
form the plays that had been printed in pirated
and inaccurate editions, or to make some inquiry
about the dramas in manuscript that were at the
mercy of the players at the Globe. The assist-
ance of any one of these men would have saved



the pious editors of the First Folio from the
manifest and glaring errors which mar the text
of the Folio, and have blinded the eyes of many
generations of critics to the true position of that
edition, and to its claims upon their attention.

There is some foundation for the suggestion
that Shakespeare had intended to give his
dramas to the world in a collected form, brought
out with the care that he had bestowed on his
poems, and that his work was cut short by death.
The editors of the Folio in their dedication ask
for indulgence, the author ' not having the fate,
common with some, to be exequutor to his owne
writings,' and in their address to ' the great
variety of Readers ' these words occur : ' It
had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to have
bene wished, that the Author himselfe had liu'd
to haue set forth, and overseen his owne writings ;
But since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he
by death departed from that right, we pray you
do not envie his Friends, the office of their care,
and paine, to haue collected and publish'd them.'
These words are consistent with the supposition
that Shakespeare's death, which was sudden and
unexpected, cut short the work in which he was
engaged of the collection and revision of his
plays. But, on the other hand, there is the
fact that he never interfered to prevent the



printing of pirated and corrupt versions of his
greatest works, and permitted the manuscripts
to remain with the managers of the Globe
Theatre, to be altered from time to time, as the
exigencies of the playhouse might require ; for
it was as acting copies, and not as manuscripts
revised and corrected for the press, that the true
originals were received at the hands of the

However this may be, the fact remains that
for the preservation and printing of these copies
we arc indebted to the piety of Shakespeare's
fellow players, and if to carelessness about the
preservation of his plays Shakespeare had added
the aggressive and unlovely personality of Ben
Jonson — ever ready, according to Drummond, to
sacrifice a friend to a jest — it is more than prob-
able that most, if not all of them, would have been
lost to the world. Of the thirty-six plays
included in the First Folio, sixteen had been
published in quarto from ' diverse stolne and
surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by
the frauds and stealthcs of incurious impostors
that expos'd them.' Among the twenty printed
for the first time in the Folio are The Tempest,
As Tou Like It, Twelfth Night, The Winter's Tale,
King Henry VIII., Coriolanus, 'Julius Ccesar,
Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and Cymbeline. -



If the literature of Shakespeare criticism could
find its way to the Elysian fields, in no part would
Shakespeare be more concerned than in what
has been written of his fellows, Heming and

He would not quarrel with Mr. Churton
Collins's criticism of the text of the First Folio —
' words the restoration of which is obvious left
unsupplied, unfamiliar words transliterated into
gibberish ; punctuation as it pleases chance ;
sentences with the subordinate clauses higgledy-
piggledy or upside down ; lines transposed ;
verse printed as prose, and prose as verse ;
speeches belonging to one character given to
another ; stage directions incorporated in the

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