SHAKESPEARE, OXFORD, CATHOLICS, MIDDENS AND SCHOOLING WITH IVOR BROWN

The Edmund Shakespeare Blog

That little 1949 edition on Shakespeare by Ivor Brown certainly underlines gaps in my knowledge, which are probably wide as a church door, but it’s very clear the Stradfordian-Oxfordian clash is in full swing by the time it came out, five years after the war. Indeed the book seems written to defend against it, though, with apologies to passionate William Ray, Brown reminds how it was all good-natured stuff, with a shared love of the times. So, if genius cannot perhaps come from quite ‘anywhere’, but needs the soil of some culture, certainly reading and writing, Ivor Brown underlines the grandeur of the Arden line, if Shakespeare’s family were a dispossessed branch, financial crises, but the town prominence of John Shakespeare and that fight for a Coat of Arms, even if Shakespeare winked at it. He also pours a dung heap of scorn on the contempt the Oxfordians then hurled at a supposedly illiterate household, because it had a midden outside. The communal dung heap was a feature of country towns, and he also points out that the demonstrably literate Adrian Quiney also signed his name with a cross, as did John Shakespeare, on the same document. That x marking a spot was a common Elizabethan practice, particularly perhaps among people who did not especially like signing documents, or trust the law.

He’s very interesting on the lack of information about any schooling, and again, having spent my own little time going blind trying to read Elizabethan records, while evoking the Stratford Shakespeare you must underline the sparsity and sometimes difficulty of evidence too. No record of Shakespeare exists between a baptism and a wedding, but then why would there need to be any? If there is not a ‘mountain of evidence’ though, there is a comparative mountain, compared to Bacons and Oxfords, though I owe time to a Cardan grille! But one name comes up again in the book, Simon Hunt, a teacher at the Stratford Grammar School, who ended his days a Jesuit in Rome. I have made no connection yet between the London Hunts, owners of The Vine where Edmund Shakespeare was staying when he died, a Phoenix discovery linked to the reign of Henry VI, thank ye very much, and any Stratford Hunts, whether Simon, or Richard Hunt, the Vicar and Oxford man who owned the book with the latin inscription talking of Shakespeare as a ‘Roscius’. I think it’s a valuable area of enquiry though, in that intensely interconnected Elizabethan world, so do join the blog, if you can add to the scholarship. (Then I’ll write a book and make some money out of it, buy a fine house and live like the earl of Oxford!)

As for a Catholic trail that might echo out of a Catholic school master, as one Catholic friend said hopefully at Stoke Abbot last weekend, “then everyone was a Catholic”. Well, yes, perhaps, because ‘is the pope a Catholic’? You might ask it of the Barberinnis, those hungry Princes of the Church, or indeed Pope Leo X, who said ‘it has served us well, this myth of Christ’. As for any myth of Shakespeare, I have my own notions about his beliefs, out of highly secular though also magical plays, but also his affections for prominent Catholics, and connections with them too. There is that Blackfriars Gatehouse, and if there was any intimacy with the London Hunts, pure surmise, there is now that Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, somewhere in the background, founded at St Margaret’s Church in Southwark. But above all there is Southwark as a place of independence and free thought, on both sides, but a vivid London Reformation fault line.

St Margaret’s had been thrown down, though who knows what became of the Brotherhood. But anyway, the Fraternity, like the Bishops of Winchester, seems much involved in local property ownership, of taverns and perhaps brothels, since Alan Nelson said in his lecture that local lore suggested The Vine was a tavern-brothel. Alan Nelson is right in saying there is no evidence, but you just have to look at Cowcross Street, Clerkenwell,Shoreditch, described in The Lodger, something of Soho today, but especially Southwark then, to understand what taverns often were, or how close it all was. “It all happened here,” said one lady, talking of Bankside and beaming at me from the Globe reception, while the theatre too is that place of putting on and taking off clothes. Ooh la la.

DCD

PA PRESS

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