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Eliminating Essex: Richard II and the Diverse Poetical Essays

  • James P. Bednarz
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Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)

Abstract

After 1594, with the exception of ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ in the Diverse Poetical Essays appended to Love’s Martyr, Shakespeare would never again address his work to a patron in print. Why then would a writer who had committed himself almost exclusively to playwriting and acting make this exception in 1601 in allowing his already famous name and outstanding literary talent to add lustre to a book dedicated to the relatively obscure Sir John Salusbury? Before considering the most credible reasons for his contribution to Love’s Martyr in the next chapter, it is first necessary to clear a path for such analysis by eliminating the mistaken hypothesis, based on the specialized studies of Alexander Grosart and William H. Matchett, that ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ constitutes a post-mortem defence of the earl of Essex’s alleged fidelity to the queen, following his execution on 25 February 1601.1 Because although for some contemporary scholars, such as Duncan-Jones, this thesis has been discredited for over a century, for others it has lately regained so much respectability that in 2004 Patrick Cheney observed that although ‘interpretations continue to be dizzying’, ‘recent critics’ have ‘reached something of a consensus about what seemed to be the eye of the storm — the identity of the conjoined avian principals. The phoenix and turtle, who love each other, die, leave no posterity, yet warrant civic mourning among the purified elect, appear to allegorize Queen Elizabeth and the earl of Essex, who have put the national succession in jeopardy through the unfortunate tragedy of their star-crossed conjunction’.

Keywords

Large Estate National Succession Partisan Politics Privy Council English History 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See the introduction to Robert Chester’s ‘Loves Martyr, or Rosalins Complaint’ (1601), ed. Alexander B. Grosart (London: Trübner & Co, 1878), lvii, and William H. Matchett, The Phoenix and The Turtle (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1965), 110. Matchett strangely speculates that Love’s Martyr is a pro-Essex tract so dangerous that it was suppressed, even though its meaning had been sufficiently obscured ‘to avoid outspoken treason’ (160).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Patrick Cheney, Shakespeare: National Poet-Playwright (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 175.Google Scholar
  3. See also Cheney’s ‘The Voice of the Author’ in Shakespeare and the Middle Ages, ed. Curtis Perry and John Watkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 11–12, and Reading Sixteenth-Century Poetry (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2011), 276, where ‘the most durable candidates’ are said to be Elizabeth and Essex.Google Scholar
  4. Matchett’s theory is endorsed by G. P. V. Akrigg, Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 251–2, and Walter Oakeshott, ‘Loves Martyr’, The Huntington Library Quarterly 39 (1975): 35. Ian Donaldson even annotates the poetry of Ben Jonson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 675, n10, by writing that ‘Matchett argues plausibly for a return of Grosart’s identification of the phoenix and the turtle with Elizabeth and Essex’,Google Scholar
  5. and Arthur Marotti, John Donne: Coterie Poet (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), 325, n45, agrees that ‘Loves Martyr connects the phoenix with the deceased Essex’. David Riggs in Ben Jonson: A Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 364, n6, recommends Matchett for understanding Salusbury’s bond to Essex. ‘If the couple really were Elizabeth and Essex’, Gerald Hammond teases readers of Fleeting Things: English Poets and Poems, 1616–1660 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 101, Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s verses in Love’s Martyr ‘would be doubly important’. John Roe, in The New Cambridge Shakespeare: The Poems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 42, observes that the theory ‘continues to command a small following’, yet cites only Anthea Hume, ‘Love’s Martyr, “The Phoenix and Turtle”, and the Aftermath of the Essex Rebellion’, Review of English Studies 40 (1989): 48–71, who reckons the English people to be the ‘true’ and Essex to be a ‘false’ turtle. Surveying the theory’s broader contemporary acceptance, we should mention Alzada Tipton’s ‘The Transformation of the Earl of Essex: Post-Execution Ballads and “The Phoenix and Turtle”‘, Studies in Philology 99 (2002): 57–80, which traces the glorification of Essex to Shakespeare’s poem. It presents one of the most detailed examinations of Love’s Martyr on record. The study that has done most to keep the Grosart-Matchett hypothesis alive is Richard C. McCoy’s ‘Loves Martyrs: Shakespeare’s “Phoenix and Turtle” and the Sacrificial Sonnets’, Religion and Culture in Renaissance England, ed. Claire McEachern and Debora Shuger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 188–208. The Year’s Work in English 78 (1997): 327 especially praised McCoy’s essay for its ‘historically specific local readings’.Google Scholar
  6. Germaine Greer, Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 16,Google Scholar
  7. and Peter Hyland, Shakespeare’s Poems: An Introduction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 199, offer it as a possibility.Google Scholar
  8. Lynn Enterline, ‘“The Phoenix and the Turtle”, Renaissance Elegies, and the Language of Grief’, Early Modern English Poetry: A Critical Companion, ed. Patrick Cheney and Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 152, states that in current criticism ‘generally the phoenix is taken to signify Queen Elizabeth and the turtle, more tentatively, the earl of Essex’.Google Scholar
  9. Tom MacFaul, Poetry and Paternity in Renaissance England: Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 157, also assumes the theory is possible.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Michael Schoenfeldt, The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 150, n5, however, indicates a shift of direction in objecting that while ‘the most common suggestions align the phoenix with Queen Elizabeth and the turtle with the earl of Essex’, they are solely a ‘literary idea’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 4.
    Helen Hackett, Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 137.Google Scholar
  12. 5.
    Interest in the Globe performance was piqued by the Evelyn May Albright-Ray Heffner debate about the connection between Shakespeare’s play and Hayward’s History. Their exchange includes: ZZ Albright, ‘Shakespeare’s Richard II and the Essex Conspiracy’, PMLA 42 (1927): 686–720;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heffner, ‘Shakespeare, Hayward, and Essex’, PMLA 45 (1930): 754–80;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Albright, ‘Shakespeare’s Richard II, Hayward’s History of Henry IV, and the Essex Conspiracy’, PMLA 46 (1931): 694–719;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heffner, ‘Shakespeare, Hayward, and Essex Again’, PMLA 47 (1932): 898–9;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. and Albright, ‘Reply’, PMLA 47 (1932): 899–901.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. See also Richard Dutton, Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Drama (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991), 117–27, and Charles R. Forker’s introduction to the Arden 3 Richard II (London: Thomson Learning, 2002), 1–22. The subject has recently been revived by Blair Worden, ‘Which Play Was Performed at the Globe on 7 February 1601?’ The London Review of Books, 10 July 2003: 22, and ‘Shakespeare in Life and Art: Biography and Richard IT, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson: New Directions in Biography, ed. Takashi Kozuka and J. R. Mulryne (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 23–42; Paul E. J. Hammer, ‘Shakespeare, Richard II, the Play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex Rising’, Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008): 1–35; and Jonathan Bate’s chapter 14, in Soul of the Age, A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare (New York: Random House, 2009), 279–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 8.
    Gary Taylor, ‘William Shakespeare, Richard James and the House of Cobham’, Review of English Studies 38 (1987): 354.Google Scholar
  19. 10.
    See James P. Bednarz, ‘Biographical Politics: Shakespeare, Jonson, and the Oldcastle Controversy’, The Ben Jonson Journal 11 (2004): 1–20,Google Scholar
  20. and Paul Whitfield White, ‘Shakespeare, the Cobhams, and the Dynamics of Theatrical Patronage’, in Shakespeare and Theatrical Patronage in Early Modern England, ed. Paul Whitfield White and Suzanne R. Westfall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 64–89.Google Scholar
  21. 11.
    J. H. Walter (ed.), King Henry V (London: Methuen, 1954), xi. For evidence that this passage refers to Essex in 1599,Google Scholar
  22. see James P. Bednarz, ‘When did Shakespeare Write the Choruses of Henry V?’ Notes and Queries 53 (2006): 486–9, and ‘Dekker’s Response to the Chorus of Henry V in 1599’, published in Notes and Queries in March of 2012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. See also Charles Cathcart, ‘Guilpin, Shakespeare, and a Scourge of Wire’, Notes and Queries 54 (2007): 307–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 12.
    Worden, ‘Shakespeare in Life and Art’, 36, notes the earl of Rutland was hawking. Essex was ‘in bed, and all in a sweat after tennis’. Of the group that attended Richard II, Gelly Meyrick (with Henry Cuffe) was hanged, disembowelled and quartered on 13 March 1601. Blount (with Sir Charles Danvers) was beheaded five days later. Blount admitted that ‘if we had failed in our ends, we should, rather than have been disappointed, even have drawn blood from herself [i.e. the queen]’ (quoted from H.M.C.S., 10: 38, by Robert Lacey, Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus [London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971] 316). Lee was executed on 17 February for planning to force the queen to sign a warrant for Essex’s release.Google Scholar
  25. 13.
    Hammer, ‘Shakespeare, Richard IT, 1–35. For a superb treatment of the development of the Essex faction, see Hammer’s The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics: The Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585–1597 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), especially Chapter 7, ‘My lord of Essex his men’.Google Scholar
  26. 14.
    A pattern for the intervention is set out in The State of Christendom, a manuscript first published in 1657, which is linked to the Rising by Alexandra Gajda, ‘The State of Christendom: History, Political Thought, and the Essex Circle’, Historical Research 81 (2007): 423–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 15.
    Augustine Phillips’s testimony is quoted from E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), 2:325.Google Scholar
  28. 16.
    David Bergeron, ‘Richard II and Carnival Polities’, Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 33–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 17.
    Evelyn May Albright, ‘Shakespeare’s Richard II and the Essex Conspiracy’, PMLA 42 (1927): 686–720. Textual parallels between Hayward’s and Shakespeare’s works are now routinely cited as examples of the play’s impact on the history’s composition.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. See, for example, James Shapiro, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), 136–9.Google Scholar
  31. 19.
    Quoted by Richard Dutton, Licensing, Censorship, and Authorship in Early Modern England: Buggeswords (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2000), 172, from CSPD 1601, 499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 20.
    Cyndia Susan Clegg, ‘Archival Poetics and the Politics of Literature: Essex and Hayward Re-visited’, in Studies in the Literary Imagination 32 (1999): 115–32,Google Scholar
  33. and Rebecca Lemon, Treason by Words: Literature, Law, and Rebellion in Shakespeare’s England (Ithaca: Cornell, 2006), 23–51.Google Scholar
  34. 24.
    Leeds Barroll, ‘A New History for Shakespeare and His Time’, Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 444. Bate, Soul of the Age, 256, however, suggests that ‘since “ordinary” was also the term for a fixed price’, forty shillings above their ‘ordinary fee’ might perhaps have been twelve pounds, instead of the usual ten, for a court performance.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 25.
    Louis Montrose, The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), 73.Google Scholar
  36. 38.
    F. J. Furnivall, ‘On Chester’s Love’s Martyr: Essex is not the Turtle-Dove of Shakespeare’s Phoenix and Turtle’, New Shakespere Society Transactions 5–7 (1877–9): 454.Google Scholar
  37. 41.
    Colin Burrow, Shakespeare: Sonnets and Poems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 86. The drive to identify the Phoenix biographically nevertheless remains as robust as ever. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, in their introduction to Shakespeare: The Sonnets and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 2009), xxi, contend that: ‘It is hard to imagine Chester’s phoenix as anything than a symbol for Queen Elizabeth’. Since Salusbury’s mother was also associated with the phoenix, Duncan-Jones, in Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His Life (London: Thomson Learning, 2001), 142, sees a more general allegory, wherein the phoenix ‘does not represent any single woman, but rather symbolizes the female Tudor line, alluding occasionally to Elizabeth, but more often to Salusbury’s mother and daughter’.Google Scholar
  38. 42.
    Hackett, Shakespeare and Elizabeth, 134. Alluding to ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’, Hackett acknowledges that ‘those who have written most eloquently about this reticent and haunting poem have eschewed the quest for a key’ (135), noting that this ‘consummately enigmatic poem particularly incites deciphering, but at the same time firmly rebuffs it’ (137). See also Michael Dobson and Nicola J. Watson, England’s Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 90–4, for the origin of the influential ‘secret history’ of Elizabeth and Essex.Google Scholar
  39. 43.
    Katherine Duncan-Jones and H. R. Woudhuysen (ed.), Shakespeare’s Poems (London: Thomson Learning, 2007), 94 and 140. This position, with which I agree, implicitly rejects the reasoning behind Anthea Hume’s ‘Loves Martyr, “The Phoenix and the Turtle”, and the Aftermath of the Essex Rebellion’, Review of English Studies 40 (1989): 48–71.Google Scholar
  40. 44.
    Mervyn Evans James, Society, Politics and Culture: Studies in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 424, states that ‘the groups of peers, heads of gentry families, younger sons, and army officers’ who gathered around Essex, ‘had few of the characteristics of the old-style feudal affinity’, since he lacked the landed resources necessary for a ‘regional revolt’. His family, nevertheless, had a long connection with south Wales.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 45.
    For biographical background on Salusbury, see A. D. Carr, ‘Salusbury family (per. c. 1454-c. 1684)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); and Katherine Duncan-Jones and H. R. Woudhuysen (ed.), Shakespeare’s Poems, 95–107.Google Scholar
  42. 46.
    Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare, 138. See W. R. B. Robinson, ‘Sir Roland Veleville and the Tudor Dynasty: A Reassessment’, Welsh History Review 15 (1991): 351–67. Salusbury in 1597 named his own bastard son, by Grace Peake, ‘Velivel’, Brown notes in Poems by Sir John Salusbury, xvi.Google Scholar
  43. 49.
    Robert Lacey, Robert, Earl of Essex: An Elizabethan Icarus (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971), 251, and Akrigg, Shakespeare, 112.Google Scholar
  44. 50.
    J. E. Neale, ‘Three Elizabethan Elections’, The English Historical Review 46 (1931): 209–38. See also Brown, Poems by Sir Robert Salusbury, xv-xxiii.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 51.
    Brown (ed.), Poems by Sir John Salusbury, xvii, n3, mentions that Owen, who had served with Essex in Ireland, is ‘frequently mentioned as one of his trusted lieutenants’ and that ‘his movements were closely watched by government informers shortly before the Essex rising’. His death is recorded in Robert Parry’s Diary. See also Paul E. J. Hammer, ‘A Welshman Abroad: Captain Peter Wynn of Jamestown’, Parergon: Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies 16 (1998): 59–92, esp. 65–71, 79–81, 82. Brown (xvii) notes that Richard Trevor, who had aided John after his assault on Owen in March 1593, was his enemy by 1601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 53.
    Simon Adams, Leicester and the Court (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 240, and E. A. J. Honigmann, Shakespeare, the ‘Lost Years’ (Totowa: Barnes and Noble Books, 1985), 93.Google Scholar
  47. 56.
    Frank Kermode, Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne: Renaissance Essays (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971), 194.Google Scholar
  48. 57.
    A. H. Dodd, ‘North Wales in the Essex Revolt of 1601’, The English Historical Review 59 (1944): 366.Google Scholar
  49. 58.
    See Robert Shephard, ‘Court Factions in Early Modern England’, The Journal of Modern History 64 (1992): 721–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© James P. Bednarz 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James P. Bednarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Long Island UniversityUSA

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