WHOM DID JOHN DAVIES MEAN IN HIS EPIGRAM ON SHAKE-SPEARE?

—    A question to David Kathman with a by-question to Professor Leahy —

 

The epigram:

To our English Terence, Mr. Will.
                Shake-speare.
Some say (good Will) which I, in sport do sing,
Had'st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst bin a companion for a King;
And, beene a King among the meaner sort.
Some others raile: raile as they thinke fit,
Thou hast no rayling, but, a raigning Wit.
            And honesty thou sow'st, which they do reape;
            So, to increase their Stocke which they do keepe.

EK Chambers noted: “The bit about the ‘companion for a King’ is cryptic”. (Shakespeare II. 21 And two other allusions ‘to the same matter would be ‘even more obscurely’ (Ibid.)). These other allusions are taken from Davis of Hereford’s The Civile Warres of Death and Fortune (1605) and Microcosmos respectively and go:

Some followed her by acting <in margin, Stage plaiers> all mens parts,
And made them Mirrors, by their acting Arts,
Wherein men saw their faults, thogh ne’er so small:
Yet some she guerdond not, to their <in margin, W.S. R.B. >  desarts;
But, othersome, were but ill-Action all:
Who while they acted ill, ill staid behinde,
(By custom of their manners) in their minde.

From Microcosmos:

Players, I love yee and your Qualitie,

And some <in margin, W.S.R.B.> I love for painting, poesie

And though the stage doth staine pure gentle bloud,
Yet generous yee are in minde and moode

Why should “companion for a King” be “cryptic”? For one who has done some reading of 16th- and 17th-  century history, the phrase “companion for a King” ought not present a difficulty, nor for the editors of the Oxford dictionary.  Looking up the meaning of the word “courtier” in the Oxford dictionary, I find this definition: “a person who attends a royal court as a companion [my emphasis] or adviser to the king or queen.” “Companion for a King” means “Courtier”.

            EK Chambers seems to have contemplated this possibility, for he adds: “I once fancied that there might have been some talk of making Shakespeare, and perhaps Burbage, Esquires of the Bath, like Drayton, at the coronation of James. But although there are Companions of the Bath now, they were only introduced into the Order in 1815, and do not represent the old Esquires, who were not so called.” (Ibid.)

Obviously, further attempts to make the phrase match the life of the man from Stratford, were abandoned.

How does David Kathman solve the problem?

The website shakespeareauthorship.com administered by David Kathman et al is not  without merits; Kathman and his fellows have been recommending themselves as time serving overseers of the orthodox creed, sometimes redressing certain conjectural excesses by “bard deniers”; however, sometimes not “overseeing” but simply “overlooking”; one example only: the denial of the existence of a stigma of print, based on a sloppy reading of Steven May’s article on it (though Steven May is perhaps not wholly innocent of this misinterpretation.)

Kathman has not yet had the opportunity to read David Ellis’ sceptical account of Shakespeare biographies, The Truth about William Shakespeare, Facts, Fiction, and Modern Biographies (Edinburgh, 2012, p.62) and more specifically on the meaning of “kingly roles” in Davies’s epigram, “the possible range is very great, especially if one thinks that all Shakespeare might have meant by “kingly”  is aristocratic”. This seems to be the most plausible meaning, at least for the phrase “been a King among the meaner sort”. Had Shakespeare been an aristocrat, he could have been a courtier, a “companion for a king” and would have had a “kingly” status among commoners.

Yet it seems doubtful that Kathman would have heeded David Ellis’s scepticism in his article “Why I am not an Oxfordian” (http://shakespeareauthorship.com/whynot.html ). His comment starts with a pat on the shoulder and a slap in the face. “For the last 150 years or so, a steady stream of writers, many of them quite intelligent but generally without training in Elizabethan literary history, have argued that William Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays and poems attributed to him, and that "William Shakespeare" was actually a pseudonym for the real author.”

My answer is that Kathman too is quite intelligent, but that he too is without training in the discipline that here matters, namely social, not literary history. It is clear that Davies of Hereford is thinking of Shakespeare as an individual and, assuming he , Davies, was an insider, he cannot have meant the Stratford man, assuming he  was privy to the Shakespeare story.

That he was privy to it can be fairly safely assumed. Davies seems to have had close ties with the countess of Pembroke and her two sons, William and Philip. It has even be argued (by Sir Brian Vickers) that the poem “A Lover’s Complaint”, appended to Shakespeare’s sonnets would have been composed by him.

Some scholars have tried to connect Shakespeare’s complaint about his status in sonnet 111 (“Fortune… /That did not better for my life provide/Than public means which public manners breeds”) with  Shakspere’s regret about his low status as actor. But the three fellows to whom he bequested a ring of remembrance in his last will, Burbage, Heminges, and Condell were in no way  [not to be included in the article: it will be interesting to know how Edmondson et al are dealing with the “successful actor” Shakespeare at the same time deploring “the quality he professes”, the profession of actor.]

The statement “companion for a King” would be doubly absurd when applied to Shakespeare of Stratford. Some orthodox scholars naively point to his profession as actor. But would Shakespeare of Stratford have been entitled to attend the king, to be "a companion for a king", had he not been an actor? Certainly not, for he was also a tradesman. Trading was regarded on as a base occupation.  "Active personal occupation in a trade or profession was generally thought to be humiliating. The man of business was inferior to the gentleman of leisure who lived off his rents, for, as Edward Chamberlayne bluntly stated in 1669 'Tradesmen in All Ages and Nations have been reputed ignoble'."[2]  As a tradesman, which he remained until the end of his life, he could never have qualified as a courtier, a “companion for a king”, Orthodox scholars seem always to have lost sight of that.

It is clear that Davies of Hereford must have meant an individual when thinking of Shakespeare and that this individual cannot have been the actor and tradesman of Stratford.

A by-question to Professor Leahy

            It is also difficult to reconcile the image of Shakespeare conferred by John Davies of Hereford with the “amalgameted” Shakespeare William Leahy seems to be looking for (William Leahy (ed.) My Shakespeare, Brighton, 2018, pp. 189 ff.). Even if one accepts that there are different hands in Shakespeare — not exactly a new insight but as old as Malone, at least for the Contention sourceplays of  2 and 3 Henry VI – John Davies of Hereford, an insider, was thinking of Shakespeare as an individual.

How does Kathman deal with this problem?

To David Kathman there can be no problem. The problem is that he skips over the problem. He does not see it.

Below the full quote:

“But what about the references to "kings" which Ogburn finds so significant in the poem? These are simply examples of Davies's playing on the name of the King's Men, the acting troupe to which Shakespeare belonged. There are two other poems in the volume addressed to members of the King's Men: "To the Roscius of these times Mr. W[illiam] Ostler" (Davies, 31) and "To honest-gamesome Robin Armin, That tickles the spleene like an harmless vermin" (Davies, 60). Both of these poems play on the word "king" just as the Shakespeare poem does: Davies asks Ostler, "where was thine action when thy crowne was riven, / Sole king of actors," and his poem to Armin mentions "kings" three times. The only other poem in the volume which mentions "kings" is the one addressed to King James himself, though the poem to John Fletcher (who wrote plays for the King's Men) plays twice on the word "reign." It appears that Davies was merely fond of wordplay, and that Ogburn's elaborate exegesis of the poem to Shakespeare -- along with his "evidence" for Oxford's stage career -- collapses when looked at in context.”

“Simply examples of Davies’s playing on the name of the King’s Men”, Kathman would like us to believe. Does he in earnest believe himself? But what about the “companion for a  king” which Kathman seems to have happily (or fraudulently?) omitted? BTW, John Davies has written another poem, a long one, about “Kings”, for the first time pointed out by Alexander B. Grosart, whose comments deserve being repeated: “I place alongside of this [namely of the Terence epigram] a very noticeable bit of one who acted just thus ‘Kingly parts in sport.’ It occurs in ‘Speculum Proditori’(A Select Husband, p.18); and I like to think this ‘man’ was Shakespeare, and that herein we have a designed supplement to the Epigram. Let the reader compare and judge: “ I knew a Man, unworthy as I am,” (John Davies of Hereford, The Complete Works, edited by Alexander Balloch Grosart. First edition in private circulation 1878, quoted from edition, New York 1967.

It is possible to check Kathman’s assessment. Is there anything in the epigrams to William Ostler and Robert Armin to suggest they might have been “companions for a king”?

The epigram to Ostler:

“This is addressed 'to the Roscius of those times, Mr. W. Ostler:'

Ostler, thou took'st a knock thou would'st have giv'n,
⁠Neere sent thee to thy latest home : but, oh !
Where was thine action, when thy crown was riv'n,
⁠Sole King of Actors? then wast idle? No:
Thou hadst it, for thou wouldst be doing. Thus
Good actors' deeds are oft most dangerous;
But if thou plaist thy dying part as well
As thy stage parts, thou hast no part in hell.”

The epigram to Robert Armin:

“To honest, gamesome, Robin Armin
That ticklest the spleen like an harmless vermin
Armin, what shall I say of thee, but this .
Thou art a fool, or knave? Both.? Fie, I miss
And wrong thee much,  since, indeed, thou art neither,
Although in shew thou playest both together.
We all (that’s kings and all) but players are
Upon this earthly stage, and should have care
To play our parts properly, that we
May at the end gain an applaudite.
But most men over-act, misact or miss
The action that to them peculiar is;
And the more high the part is which they play,
The more they miss in what they do or say
So that, when off the stage by death they wend,
Men rather hiss at them, than them commend.
But, honest Robin, thou with harmless mirth
Dost please the world, and so enjoy’st the earth
That others but possess with care that stings
So mak’st ty life more happy far than kings
And so much more our love should thee embrace
Since thou still liv’st with some that die to grace.
And yet art honest, in despite of lets
Which earns more praise than forced goodness gets.
So play thy part, be honest still with mirth,
Then  th’art in the tiring house of earth,
Thou being his servant whom all kings do serve,
May’st for thy part well played like praise deserve,
For in that ‘tiring house when either be
Y’are one man’s men, and equal in degree.
So thou in sport the happiest men do school,
To do as thou dost — wisely play the fool.”

 Is not Kathman trying “wisely to fool us”?

And then there is this other poem of Davies of Hereford to whom Grosart drew our attention and which has totally dropped out of canonized allusions to Shakespeare. The word “king” occurs repeatedly. Playfully, Master Kathman? No, be serious please! Never playfully. And always, Professor Leahy, to an individual who Grosart was probably correct to identify as Shakespeare.

We should leave Kathman’s road map and look out for another route.

And let us start with Ben Jonson’s list of shareholders (not a cast list proper as Kathman would have it). We see the name Shakespeare emerge in a spelling never used elsewhere by Ben Jonson: Will. Shake-Speare — the spelling is, in fact, unique for Ben Jonson. This reminds us of Thomas Fuller’s “Warlike sound of his Sur-name whence some may conjecture him of Military extraction) (Chambers, Shakespeare, II.245), but also of Thomas Vicars’s  “the poet taking his name from Shaking and  Spear”. So Ben Jonson might have meant the “actor taking his name from Shaking and Spear”. This then would not have been the same actor as “Will- Shakespeare” in 1598. This  Will. Shake-Speare might have been an aristocrat with a passion for playing theatre. In 1603 this would not have led to his disgrace at court, because Jonson’s Sejanus was first staged at court (see the article on “The Soul of Nero” front_content.php?idart=876 ). But on the contrary acting on the public stage would have caused such a disgrace; it would have prevented Shakespeare from becoming or remaining a “companion for a king”.

The plot is thickening… it is thickening towards its denouement when we turn to Thomas Nashe and his eulogy of an unnamed man who in 1596, after the publication of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, can hardly have been anybody else then Shakespeare.

““... to take the wall of Sir Philip Sidney and another honourable Knight (his
companion) about Court yet attending; to whom I wish no better fortune than the
forelocks of Fortune he had hold of in his youth, & no higher fame than he hath
purchased himself by his pen; being the first (in our language) I have encountered, that
repurified Poetry from Art’s pedantism, & that instructed it to speak courtly. Our
Patron, our Phœbus, our first Orpheus or quintessence of invention he is; wherefore,
either let us jointly invent some worthy subject to eternize him, or let war call back
barbarism from the Danes, Picts, and Saxons, to suppress our frolick spirits, and the
least spark of more elevated sense amongst us finally be quenched and die, ere we can
set up brazen pillars for our names and sciences, to preserve them from the deluge of ignorance.”

(“Have with you to Saffron Walden” in The Complete Works of Thomas Nashe, 5 volumes, edited by McKerrow, vol. III, p. 77).

 Nashe wishes this unnamed man the fortune he enjoyed in his youth; the man had lost this fortune. The man deserves highest praise and fame; the fame he has, Nashe tells us, deserved with his pen, but Nashe seems uncertain whether he will earn this fame for his own name. Who else than Shakespeare Nashe could have meant? Yes, but the name Shakespeare nowhere occurs in Nashe’s writings. Nowhere is Shakespeare mentioned by Nashe, whom even according to orthodox Shakespeare scholars Shakespeare would have portrayed in the character of Moth in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Instead of Shakespeare, however, another person occupies center stage. And that is Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Conclusion: If Kathman had not so stubbornly closed his eyes to the evidence supporting Oxford’s candidature for Shakespeare’s throne, had he read the pamphlets exchanged between Gabriel Harvey and Nashe… who knows if he might not have written an essay with the title “Why I am an Oxfordian”… “when the wind had been southerly”