Tag Archives: William Shakespeare



Dear William,

I’ve posted your response in EDMUND SHAKESPEARE, THE EARL OF OXFORD, FALSTAFF AND THE HOLLOW CROWN comments. Please understand though, despite admiring a spirit in your article, I do think “THY TEST IS EVER HAM” and that what ensues from trying to prove what you think self-evident is hugely distortive of so much other evidence, and pointless arguing with too, because the holes in it are so enormous. Despite some arguments about the datings of both The Tempest and Winter’s Tale, there is no doubt they were written well after Oxford’s death in 1604. Are you seriously arguing those were not by the “Shakespeare” of the cannon?

That, and so many other things, including work on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark here, just make it rather silly, I’m afraid, though everyone is tantalised by possibilities, and leaves some space for them too, like those Latin signatures in the visitors book in The English College in Rome. Sure, Sacred Cows get handed down the generations, hence constant re-inventings and re-interpretations of Shakespeare, as history itself is dialogue between past and present, or assumptions over-write very valuable arguments about who anyone really is, even what consciousness is, especially with such an artist. That’s the difficult nature of any biography supposedly telling it as it was. I would argue Shakespeare far more complex than the “sweet” or “gentle” image, though as a man in life I think he was, but as an artist during the business of writing, he was indeed Everyman, hero, villain, or real human being, as Bloom argues he “invented the Human”. It is why it is so essential not to invade or judge artists during the process of their work, because then they are engaged in archetypal processes that summon everyone’s consciousness and experience.

But reinterpretation itself is natural, as we all rediscover the world from birth to grave, especially from an age only coming into official records. Is it wrong to observe that you argue it so strongly because Shakespeare’s spirit and plays support your or Emerson’s observations about the nasty world, or what might have happened in some regard to Oxford, but that Will can still be what the evidence proves, the boy then man from Stratford? I also strongly suggest any search demands not highly speculative textual clues at all, but only a hunt in archival records for missing letters, facts and a potential confusion of dates. There any real proof would lie, and it is not there at the moment, very clearly highlighted by, though not dependent on, Oxford’s death in 1604. Just a year after Elizabeth had died and James ascended, who, with his interest in witchcraft, Macbeth seems written to profoundly appeal to. While King Lear very possibly writes a brother, Edmund, certainly the strife of families, in years that saw John Shakespeare die in Stratford, then Mary Arden, all over its pages. Edmund Shakespeare, a player, died in Southwark in 1607 and his burial at 20 shillings suggests the payment by his now succesful playwright sibling. I’ve stared and stared at the original documents and records. Then there is Charles Nichols on Shakespeare’s time on Silver Street, also after 1604, and his appearance in court in the Bellot Mountjoy case, that has a theatrical milieu written all over it too. I kindly suggest you admire Oxford for who he was, but give up the rest as a bad lot, though it’s been stimulating, and would be more so if there were real evidence.

best wishes, DCD

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Contrary to one of the uncorroborated statements expressed in this article, the establishment theory does NOT provide so much more evidence than others. The reason that the authorship debate exists is precisely that hardly any evidence exists at all. Where is the evidence for Mister Shakspere’s (spelling of the Stratford man) superb education? The writer of the plays had ample knowledge of court proceedings, geography, the legal system, Italy, languages, the classics. Where did the glove-maker’s son obtain his education and his insights? A vivid imagination is not enough! Not for Shakespeare and not for any other writer, playwright or poet alive today or yesterday.

Always great to have a voice added to William Ray’s but the so-called ‘establishment’ theory DOES provide much more evidence than others, although the details and records are indeed sparse, on the edge of recorded and administrative records, as we have said elsewhere. It is the record on the Stratford Shakespeares, William’s birth, the poems and plays, historical research into the Globe, comments by contemporaries and near contemporaries, and biographical suggestions from the plays too, that make the picture of William Shakespeare from Stratford so much more real and convinving than other ‘theories’, which have to remove all that too to support their own snippets of ‘evidence’. As for and ‘superb’ educational standards, not an adjective we are aware of using, that is a slightly different argument about what Shakespeare was being taught in a local grammar school, and at home, or where he ‘travelled’ in his mind and experience, perhaps for real, perhaps in imagination, perhaps as a tutor, and indeed how deep his mastery of Latin or Greek went. As many writers have suggested, for such a mind and such a genius, it did not demand years of ‘scholarship’, indeed Shakespeare is often opposed to the road of the scholar.


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An editor at the FT suggested the story of Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund might be ‘flogging a dead horse’. With only six records of his life, over four hundred years ago, who exactly are you searching for anyway, and does it matter? It perhaps matters most in building up a record and portrait of Southwark and London at the time, especially with many players living in the area. But apart from a birth record, and the assumption that Edmund would have shared many of the peripheral experiences William did, back in Stratford, then a death at only 27, with an infant son dying 4 months earlier, as Susanna was being married in Stratford, there is nothing else. A potential biography of ‘an unrecorded life’ indeed! There is a rather weak and unconvincing portrait that is supposed to be Edmund Shakespeare, but how else might you look for Shakespeare’s Brother?

One answer might be the plays, and two images that conjure how brothers and especially youngest brother’s were moving inside the poet and playwright’s psyche. There is that Edmund of King Lear, who rails against the ‘monster custom’, scorns astrology, and branded a bastard, like real Edmund’s ‘base born’ son, engages in the ambitions and cruelties of Lear’s eldest daughters. Edmund of Lear is much the ‘new man’ of an increasingly competitive London world and the striving ambitions of the City of London. But there is almost the diametrical opposite to that character, a youngest son, and that is Orlando, of As You Like It. Although ostensibly set in France, there is so much in the play that speaks of Shakespeare’s attitude to nature, and, of course, with those forests of Arden echoing a Shakespeare family name, of Shakespeare’s movement between country and city, court and commoner.

It is very interesting how Orlando is the hero, in relation to his disposessing elder brothers, and maintains some intrinsic spirit as ‘old Sir Roland’s son’, which is almost about a vision the poet has of full manhood. Well built, muscular, brave, he also has the poet’s heart, and gets perhaps the finest girl in all of Shakespeare, Rosalind. Sensing something about the real Edmund Shakespeare then, and his eldest’s brother’s journey too, perhaps it speaks very loudly of the playwright’s own guilt, and responsive idealization of his youngest brother, whose journey in dangerous London was one that seems to have ended in a kind of tragedy. Although tragedy, like comedy, is the stuff of theatre and drama and maybe Edmund’s life was not so bound up with his brother’s. Yet it is very likely that the by then 40-year-old playwright paid that ’20 shillings’, to bury his brother Edmund in St Saviour’s Church, with an honouring ‘forenoon toll of the great bell.” But what is so fascinating about the research is that it begins to build up a gritty portrait of many London lives, and beyond that, in his mirrors up to nature, it is Shakespeare above all who provides ways of evoking what potentially moves inside us all.

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As part of the project here on Edmund Shakespeare, as promised, we are blogging the treatment that preceded a partially completed novel, but then the detailed research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark that should really build a history of an ‘unrecorded life’.

Apparently a script was read in Stratford last year that reached the Cohen Brother’s desk on Richard Shakespeare and another in the pipeline about Susanna.



It is spring, 1596, and a handsome 16 year old lad we mistake for Will Shakespeare, is trying to escape a life at home in provincial Stratford, rattling along the road to dreams and greatness in London. His thoughts are mixed with a montage of the opening of two theatres in Bankside and Blackfriars, where a children’s troupe becomes the Queen’s Choir, and of groundlings, nobles and critics, and the thunder of applause, or the pelt of vegetables. In London, Edmund Shakespeare arrives, and makes for the Curtain Theatre, in Shoreditch, walking in with the reverence of going into a church, to see the aging Edward Alleyn rehearsing the Prologue of Henry V – ‘Or may we cram, Within this wooden O, the very casques, That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, Pardon! Since a crooked figure may, attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work…’

Edmund’s brother William, now 30, is in the middle of writing a new history, as a member of thrilling young troupe of actors, Lord Strange’s Men. The process of acting, rehearsing and rewriting, all together, is clear, but two years after they were closed because of plague, the theatres are open again, although the City of London has just banned them within its mile wide limits, and business is moving south, indeed London is on the move. The players are now in the hands of one of the ‘Liberties’, and, dangerously, South of the River, the influence of the just ascended Bishop of Winchester, Thomas Bilson, on payment of an annuity to Elizabeth of £400, in a world where offices were bought. A hawk against Catholic recusants, like Shakespeare’s own Grandfather Edward Arden, and hugely ambitious, Bilson ‘carried prelature in his very aspect’, a defender of the notion Christ descended into hell, the ‘Decensus Controversy’, not to suffer in sympathy with the ‘damned’, but to wrestle the keys of heaven from the devil.

We see the Bishop dining in his great hall in Southwark, a dead ringer for Antonio, in Measure for Measure, but it hides his Court’s apparent acceptance that a human hell can be maintained in London, with the Bishop of Winchester’s brothels, and the Clink prison next door, where the prisoners have to fund their own incarceration. The Church is much in play, at a time when the Elizabethan Religious Settlement is crucial, the Book of Common Prayer insisting children must be baptised, the first Sunday after their birth. While the likes of Arden had been executed for plotting against Queen Elizabeth, as his Catholic Son-in-law, John Sommerville, had been racked, and executed in The Tower. The Tower too looms over the whole drama, both literally and metaphorically for the high-born, a warning to over ambition. Elizabeth’s is an attempt at a more tolerant time, and stability too, but religion is a dangerous political tool, and eyes are everywhere still.

William Shakespeare is on the cusp of huge success though, with his plays starting to appear four years before, in 1592. It has already been a roller-coaster ride, and Edmund gives blessings, and a gift from their mother, Mary Arden, as we hear the line from the theatre, ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….’ Will tries to persuade his baby brother against the dangerous, murderous and filthy city though, despite his affection for Ed, and the scheming, paranoid court.

He tells him simply to go straight home, to the healing countryside. To pretty Silvia, a local girl he grew up with, and they all thought Ed would marry. To go back to their mother, Mary Arden, and the pastoral ‘Forest of Arden’, of Stratford and Warwickshire, to get married, and make gloves! Ed’s loves are hunting deer, sitting by the mill chase, stealing apples, and running wild, and the seasons, blossom-fall, high summer, barren trees, blasted heaths, and deep snow will be much in evidence. We see they were the young Shakespeare’s loves too, and it is a constant theme of town versus country, hard city versus healing nature, as countrymen and women flood in along the Canterbury road, Chaucer’s road, at Borough, to make their ‘fortunes’ in town.

‘The theatre, Ed,’ Will asks Edmund, warily, ‘is the plague in your blood too?’, warning him too how hard it is to really make it as a player, because they are vain and fractious, jealous and backbiting, and in love with the ‘bubble reputation’. Perhaps he should go and see Gilbert, their brother also doing business in town. Edmund comments that Will is losing his hair.

To be continued…

Shakespeare’s Brother is in Copyright to David Clement-Davies and Phoenix Ark Press 2102 All RIghts Reserved

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The Edmund Shakespeare Blog

The end of Charles’s Nicholls’ The Lodger is very good on Shakespeare’s supposed swan song, The Tempest, when Prospero drowns his ‘bookes’ and breaks his staff. As both he and Peter Ackroyd point out, it was not his actual writing end, before his death in 1616, (the Earl of Oxford had died in 1604) and so instead Nicholls quotes Theseus’s lines from another little-read collaboration – The Two Noble Kinsmen

“O you heavenly charmers
What things you make of us! For what we lack
We laugh; for what we have are sorry; still
Are children in some kind. Let us be thankful
For that which is, and with you leave dispute
That are above our question. Let’s go off
And bear us like the time.”

Appropriate words for Phoenix Ark Press, perhaps! As Nicholls says, that does not mean that The Tempest was not his greatest swan song, but then, as so much in Shakespeare is about the art and artifice of theatre itself, and generative language too, Prospero is much about the magical engagement of the poet magician’s own psyche, meeting the intractable threat of real life and politics. The appeal beyond fragile art too, not half so real or true as when fact and fiction meet.

There were about 15 permanent theatres in London at the time, and the remains of The Curtain were uncovered in work on the London Olympics. But in the story of William and many other players, like his youngest and virtually unknown brother Edmund Shakespeare, that astonishing flowering of poetry and theatre in London and Southwark was soon to be swept away by the Puritans, and Civil War, or find its channels in other more aristocratic rivers. Closed winter theatres, like the one Shakespeare and The Globe sharers were developing in Blackfriars, brought more expensive seats, the introduction of candlelight, one day to become ‘the limelight’, and so changed the shape of playwriting too, into formal acts. Theatre also moved towards London’s ‘West End’ – the City was pushing that way – with theatre’s like Beeston’s Cockpit, and developing Drury Lane.

But by the 1640’s The Swan theatre in Paris Gardens in Southwark, built by Francis Langley, was described as hanging down its head “like a dying Swan.” The Globe, that had burnt down in 1613 and was rebuilt, had gone by 1642. Later reformers would associate the site with a Baptist meeting-house, but if, for the morally minded, the ‘sinful miasmas’ of the theatres had been happily expelled, what really drove the development of the area now was the hugely lucrative brewing business, as individual ‘taps’ were driven out, and everything went through the guts of kings, beggars and London Citizens alike. So those ‘player’s fictive worlds were vanishing under their entertaining feet!

If Shakespeare, during the Reformation, did turn away from Marlowe’s darker revolts and investigations, that fiery playwright spy, to the purposeful prosperity of secular theatre and sought futures, perhaps he also echoed Dr John Dee’s turning from alchemy and the occult too. It seems that in writing about London, a skillful fiction writer like Peter Ackroyd, who wrote a novel about John Dee, has himself touched the potential darkness of that imagining. Shakepseare’s astonishing alchemies are of the heart, most interested in working effects on an audience, so he is always concerned with real love, and the effect of the play in engaging with life. Summoning too though those mythic ‘Gods’ of a classical imagination and belief, powerfully real forces inside such a psyche, before any pseudo ‘science’ of psychology had been invented, but knowing in The Tempest, and the flow and tide of time, that everything dissolves in the end, except the play itself:

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

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London is about to host an Olympics, but there is also a Cultural Olympics going on and a Shakespeare fest too. There is useful work being done at the moment mapping Elizabethan London, and Southwark. It is work that a lay student can join in with too and an example is the use of the so-called ‘Agas Map’ Click here. A little doubtful here of ‘Virtual Reality’ or ‘interactive history’, often supposed facts and dates too, it still helps readers imagine the ground, four hundred years ago.

To start imagining Bankside though, go there today, and visit Sam Wanamaker’s Globe Project, which stands near the area of old ‘Paris Gardens‘, a Liberty, where Francis Langley’s Swan Theatre once stood, a Bull and Bear baiting arena, and the Royal Barge house on the Thames, that the landlord and impresario Philip Henslowe franchised and re-equipped. Just South East of the modern Globe, parallel with the Thames, runs dreary modern Park Street, which more or less follows the line of old Maid Lane, which for a time became the Broadway or Shaftesbury Avenue of its day. It was on Maid Lane that Henslowe put up his Rose Theatre, and in 1599, the Burbages, with Will Shakespeare a sharer, The Globe. It is possible that another figure involved in the theatres, Jacob Meade or Maide, a prominent waterman, like so many in the district, took his name for Maide Lane.

The Elephant Tavern, perhaps referenced in Twelfth Night, stood on one Maid Lane corner, as did The Vine, in a group of properties called Hunt’s Rents. The Vine included, as did many monastic and also tavern properties, a brewhouse, in a celebrated brewing area by the river, and a ‘messuage’ of land, tenements, stables and gardens. So it was like hundreds of taverns located in Southwark. It was bequeathed in the Online will of Edwarde Hunt, to his ‘beloved wife Mary’, who was pregnant, in 1588. It is uncertain when it went up, but a Vyne is mentioned in the 1530’s, and it belonged to a John Le Hunte, under Henry VI. Or rather to that Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, connected to St Margaret’s Church, granted rights to buy Land and properties by the King of up to Twenty Marks. In the Token Books of Southwark Cathedral, registers of locals buying church tokens handed in to prove communion attendance, Edmund Shakespeare’s name appears at the Vine in 1607. He died that freezing December and was buried on the 31st, though the furiously chill weather extends the possible time of fairly rapid burials. Alan Nelson and his colleague Professor Ingram have been listing all the names in the Token Books to put up on line.

They include the likes of Edmund Shakespeare, Phillip Henslowe, and Edward Alleyn, several actors and some characters who appear in other references to Shakespeare. Keep walking East passed the modern sites of The Rose and Globe excavations, and you get to the point Park Street turns right and South. It was once called Deadman’s Place. If you had gone South West four hundred years ago you would have got to St Margaret’s Cross, where St Margaret’s Church once stood, dissolved during the Reformation, to become a local prison. We think Deadman’s Place is linked to land called, in one document, Lord Farrar’s Place, that St Margaret’s Church bought up for a new burial ground and sepulchre.

Above the Park Street bend, at the modern wine mecca Vineopolis, begins what was once the Liberty of The Clink, running along Clink Street, where London’s oldest prison stood, passed the remains of Winchester House, the London palace of the Bishop of Winchester, and you get to St Saviour’s Dock, where the Golden Hinde replica is, Winchester Street and then Southwark Cathedral. We can now prove that Phillipe Henslove lived in a house that was effectly No 5 Bell Alley, just before Clink Street, on the edge of the Church Square, probably part of another tavern and tenement complex, like The Vine, or the nearby Green Dragon Inn.

Henslowe lived in Southwark for over 20 years, but for several years his Son-in-law the famous actor Edward Alleyn moved in with him. Both were to become Wardens of St Saviour’s Church, for a time. Both were also involved in something called The Great Enqueste. It began with the Coronation of James I, into many affairs, but in Southwark coalescing about complaints against the Church Vestrymen and local administration, that is its own important and fascinating story. Here we think, because the Wardens oversaw legal agreements and purchases, it was very important in the Shakespeare story, and may have been one of the reasons William Shakespeare moved out of the area again. If Charles Nicholls is right about the dates surrounding Shakespeare’s sojourn on Silver Street, around Elizabeth’s death, then it makes sense, if a rival like Henslowe came more to the fore as a Southwark Man, with the Queen’s death.

The topography of the area has of course changed enormously, with the rise in height, the crowding of concrete buildings, and above all the movement of London Bridge, west by over fifty yards. But what remains is the dominating space of St Saviours Church, Southwark Cathedral, and the fact that Bankside, once Stewside, has not moved at all, unlike the North Shore. Olympic visitors disgorging next week at London Bridge Tube Station, or people trying to get away from it all, and rediscover an extraordinarily interesting and important area, threatened by buildings like the Shard and the activities of Thames Water, may find it difficult to imagine. But perhaps the coming blogs and precise details will help. In the meantime, here is a picture of JJ Visscher’s famous engraving of 1616, the year both Shakespeare and Henslowe died.

Let the eye dwell on the bottom shore, across the river from the old wooden, walled City of London. To the right is the small church of no longer standing St Olaves, the spire of which Peter Ackroyd says is mentioned more than any other in Shakespeare’s Plays, although London then had five St Olaves. Go West to the old covered London Bridge, famous throughout Europe, then to the large church of St Saviours, originally St Mary’s Overies, now Southwark Cathedral. Keep going left and you get to Winchester House or Palace, in the Clink Liberty, and then you get to Maid Lane, where the round bear gardens and theatres stood. In time we will pinpoint where Edmund Shakespeare was staying in 1607. (The panorama is taken from Wikepedia. If there are any copyright issues please contact the blog.)


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You can read some of the arguments about a Stratford vs supposed Oxford camp, around Shakespeare authorship, mostly in the comments under the post EDMUND SHAKESPEARE, THE EARL OF OXFORD, FALSTAFF AND THE HOLLOW CROWN, in William Ray’s and our notes. First little Phoenix Ark should declare an edge of ‘prejudice’ and that is all instincts here are towards Rowe, Aubrey and the ensuing Shakespeare tradition, of Stratford Will Shakespeare. Not as blind followers of any tradition though, and not without interest in other authorship ‘theories’. Then we would say that there is not a significant Oxford camp, in a theory dreamt up in the troubled 1920s and that any onus towards proving anything lies most assuredly there.

But if anyone starts to trumpet the research they do, Phoenix Ark want to suggest the value, even the singular importance of the Edmund Shakespeare story, in Southwark, to the debate. If a link can be made, and it has not been yet, between a London Hunt family, that owned The Vine in Southwark, where 27 year old Edmund Shakespeare was staying in 1607, (in the tenement rooms of one Edward Woodroofe, and perhaps his wife, probably at least, from the Southwark Cathedral Token Books) and the Stratford Hunts, it is at least suggestive. We tracked The Vine back to The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, linked to St Margaret’s Church, and founded under Henry VI, in the name of John Le Hunte, Peter Averne and others. But in a highly interconnected world, perhaps Shakespeare’s player brother, young and ultimately tragic Edmund, came to London to stay with people already known in Stratford. That has yet to be proved.

Southwark though, and especially St Olave’s Church, no longer there, but the spire of which is mentioned more than any other in Shakespeare’s plays (Ackroyd), also has strong Wessex ties. But there too, among many players and writers, is another actor in the Shakespeare family. Indeed the tradition of acting families was to emerge out of the Shoreditch, Southwark, and London circles. The significance of brothers in the plays is its own field of study, though echoes in fiction do not absolutely prove historical fact. But beyond any authorship debate, what is wonderful too are the vivid bits of evidence about lives and deaths in Southwark, so evocative of extraordinary times and a world that still raises marvellous passions.


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Henry IV part II, last night, in the BBC’s Shakespeare series The Hollow Crown, was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Set in the contemporary clothes it was meant to be, with that very gritty sense of real people, and real history, it brought everything alive. The acting was superb across the board, but despite Jeremy Irons, and Tom Hiddleston’s great and sensitive Henry V, the very unhollow crown went to Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff.

The cleverness, maturity and scope of that performance, never tumbling into just the comic caricature, was extraordinary and marks him out as one of the greats. Just to pick up a little argument here, apparently he does not think Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, or anyone else except complex Will Shakespeare, but perhaps leading actors like Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance and Simon Russell Beale should argue it out for us, from the actors viewpoint.

But something else that TV production proved, in its perfect handling of settings, people and the text, was that Shakespeare inhabited that kind of environment in London, out of comparatively recent history, that had not changed a great deal. But forget the Olympics, this Shakespeare fest, both plays and the commentaries, is proving a jewel in a country’s sometimes tarnished cultural crown.

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ps with a respect for not mouthing other’s opinions we added an ‘apparently’ Simon Russell Beale does not think Shakespeare was Oxford

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All cough in ink, all think what other people think,” Yeats

It is not the acceptance of the absolutes of ‘worthy’ scholarship or ‘establishment’ theory, even if Prince Charles did put his face on the Shakespeare Birthplace website in reply to Anonymous, upholding the very merry Shakespeare industry and RSC land, that makes an ‘attack’ on the Oxford authorship theory for Will Shakespeare important, but because it is an irritating sideshow. In fact, the supposed authority of the scholars on a Stratford Shakespeare can be just as irritating, since documentary evidence is so thin, and truths lost to the veils of time. Half of the reason for scholarly tentativeness seems to be you might get your head bitten off, but in terms of the supposed authority of established truth, of course Shakespeare has been reinvented and rediscovered for four hundred years. As history is a dialogue between past and present. So he has been co-opted as protestant path finder, a staunch monarchist, pure revolutionary, the voice of Brit propaganda, or simply the God of the word.

Perhaps that’s why it is important to resist received authority too, especially when setting out to make discoveries. When trying to present ideas on Edmund Shakespeare to one major publisher, and also bringing up the three signatures in the Catholic English college in Rome, the only comment was ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ Because the Reformation itself still carries such deep echoes. But if a person’s ‘faith’ or lack of it can be a private and intimate thing, or should be, there is much evidence for Shakespeare’s involvement with prominent Catholics, as a society mutated from ‘Catholic’ to ‘Protestant’. So the ‘truth’ carries deep felt echoes and controversies, but is also defended so hotly because there is gold in them there hills. Though it is circumstantial, the residence in his last days of Edmund Shakespeare, Will’s youngest brother, living at The Vine in Southwark, ties into the London Hunt family’s involvement, under Henry VI, and the likes of Peter Averne, with the very Catholic Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption in Southwark. Perhaps the overriding point though is that Southwark itself is such a fascinating area and an absolute fault line for London politics and the Reformation too. It does irritate too, much as facts are a guide, when the new voice of American literalism swings onto the scene, if it loses Peter Ackroyd’s sense of the intrinsic mysteries of identity, creativity but above all a shifting English language.

St Margeret’s Church, where the Brotherhood began, was thrown down by Henry VIII and turned into a prison, and its parishoner’s transferred to the large St Saviours, previously St Mary’s Ovaries, now Southwark Cathedral. But at that Cathedral, five minutes walk away, there Becket had preached, there too Bloody Mary staged heresy trials against Protestants, and nearby at St Thomas’ ‘hospital’ they produced the first English language bible, in the form of the Vulgate. It lay on the Canterbury Road, real and metaphorical, running down towards the continent. It was filled with Protestant Dutch, many involved in the tavern-brewing business that swallowed up the district, but also notable for many years for Catholic dissenters, especially under the Jacobites. The Bishops of Winchester there were at the heart of Henry’s divorce and ensuing Reformation battles, but also excerised their power and protection in the liberties, until the Puritans and the Civil War closed them down in London, and the theatres too. So exactly the place, with it taverns, brothels and theatres, used but complained about by the City of London across the water, or local ‘respectable’ folk, to encourage the stews of free thought and creativity. A place to be wary of too. Evidence suggests Will did not live there all the time, in that ‘Domus et Aliorum’, also living in St Helen’s, at the Bishop’s Gate, Silver Street or Stratford, but he may have lived and worked there for ten years and more, and the place has been underestimated in its significance. Go back to the source, though the ‘source’ of Shakespeare’s mind and art is another thing, the different ‘countries’ he journeyed to, as is what we are really talking about when we talk of his ‘identity’. It was Bulgakov who wrote the life of Mr Moliere, Shakespeare’s only comparative rival in Paris, but doubting the easy validity of documentary biography, believed an artist had to inhabit an artist to get close. To do that with a mind like Shakespeare’s, through the currents of his time, can be a slightly dangerous exercise and you might do better just to enjoy the work!

Arguments can be followed in Shakespeare’s Brother, posted experimentally above.


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THE BAIT, by John Donne

COME live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines and silver hooks.

There will the river whisp’ring run
Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the sun ;
And there th’ enamour’d fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be’st loth,
By sun or moon, thou dark’nest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest ;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes’ wand’ring eyes.

For thee, thou need’st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait :
That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,
Alas ! is wiser far than I.

It is just a pet theory here, but might be fun in talks about Shakespeare or Southwark. John Donne, soldier, poet, father of 12, and preacher, must have been a constant Southwark visitor and his daughter Constance married the actor manager Edward Alleyn, who lived with his father-in-law Philip Henslowe there, and became a warden at St Saviours. In trying to fictionally imagine London and Southwark of the time though, first in a film script, that Charles Dance promised to comment on and never did, though SKY thought it good (!), then a novel about Edmund Shakespeare, William’s unkown youngest brother, Donne’s poem The Bait suddenly sang of the area. It was part of that little poetic contest between Marvel and Marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd, but there is one line that sounds with brothel tenements and taverns in Southwark, and that is ‘windowy nets’, quite apart from the running river that speaks of the Thames. Then there are those sleeve-silk flies, factually accurate, but perhaps also redolent of an area swarming with Walsingham’s spies, in Elizabethan cuffs, or others betraying themsleves, or each other.

It was of course London’s most thriving tavern, brothel and theatre district, and Elizabethan or Henretian brothels, there for centuries, were also called the “stewes”. The medieval word seems to have dropped out of usuage during the Reformation, as it became better known as Bankside, but there has also been debate about the derivation of that term. Whether it stemmed from the Scandinavian for a stove, or the medieval ‘”stewes’, or Pike and carp fish ponds, that still existed in Southwark. The obvious link is the second, for many fishy reasons, and of course London bridge was a great centre for those fisherwomen, hawking their catch out of Billingsgate, with their pretty or lewd songs. If you are trying to imagine what the Shakespeare’s saw there at the time, in the face of the sturdy, power seeking City of London across the water, Fishmongers Hall stood right opposite St Saviours, now Southwark Cathedral. The Thames too, only beginning to touch the days of mass Urban pollution, long before the silted or darkened waters of Dickens, was a broad river many fished. Wand Mills had also grown up right along its banks to feed the new, and often Dutch, hop brewing trade in London, that spread down into Surrey and Kent. There, just a little food for Elizabethan thought and reality.



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