Will Kempe – Shakespeare´s clown

When William Shakespeare wrote his plays, he didn´t do it for any random actors, but 800px-Will_Kemp_Elizabethan_Clown_Jigspecifically for his own company – first called The Lord Chamberlain´s Men and after the accession of James I The King´s Men – and most likely with the different actors in mind for specific parts in each plays.

In the company there was also a “clown”, the one to get the particularly comical parts, and the first one of these was William – or Will – Kempe.

It isn´t known for certain where Will Kempe was born, or who his parents were, but there are theories that he may have belonged to the Kempe family of the manor Olantigh in Kent.

Will Kempe started his career as an actor in Leicester´s Men, the company receiving its patronage from the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, and he is first mentioned performing at Leicester House in May 1585 together with the company and he toured with them in the Netherlands and Denmark.

Already in 1583 Leicester´s Men had begun to be slightly depleted when several of it´s members jumped ship to instead join the newly formed Queen Elizabeth´s Men, which had been created on the direct order of the Queen herself. In 1588 the Earl of Leicester died, and the theatre company, which he had endorsed, ceased to exist all together. In 1593 Will Kempe resurfaced in Lord Strange´s Men which consisted of retainers of the household of Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. It the very same year the company changed its name to Lord Derby´s Men, as Ferdinando Stanley came into his father´s title.

By this time Will Kempe had started to become known, both to the audience and his fellow actors as a great comical talent, and he stayed with Lord Stange´s/Lord Derby´s Men for only a year, and joined The Lord Chamberlain´s Men in 1594 where just that talent was put to good use in roles such as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, Peter in Romeo and Juliet and, as already mentioned, Falstaff and most likely Lancelot Gobbo in the Merchant of Venice as well as Bottom in A Midsummer Night´s Dream.

He may also have been the original Falstaff, but this is less certain. In the introduction to the 19th century print of Kempe´s own book, “Kemps Nine Daies Wonder Performed in a Daunce from London to Norwich”, which there will be more about later in his post, the Reverend Alexander Dyce also states that he most likely played the parts of Launce in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, Touchstone in “As you like it”, one of the grave-diggers in “Hamlet”, Justice Shallow in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and he supposedly also had a part in “Every Man in his Humour” by Ben Jonson, written in 1598 and performed by The Lord Chamberlain´s Men.

Will Kempe stayed with Shakespeare and The Lord Chamberlain´s only until 1599, and while the reason for him leaving isn´t documented, scholars have suggested that it was a result that William had had enough of his improvising on stage, and it has been said that Shakespeare made a reference to this conflict in Hamlet, where the following lines can be found in act 3, scene 2;

“And let those that play  your clowns speak no more than is set down for them; for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh  too.”

Others suggest that he left because he had been denied a role in Hamlet.

Kemp's_Men,_Chapelfield_Gardens_-_geograph.org.uk_-_167501After the departure of Will Kempe from the company, Shakespear´s comical roles are said to have changed, and there are indications that Will Kempe had a physical way of acting which may have been hard for his successor to follow.

His ambition was to find another outlet for his comical talent, and one way of doing so was to, in 1599, embark on a Morris dance from London to Norwich, a distance of almost 100 miles which took nine days spread over several weeks (23 days all in all) from start to finish, and resulted in a book penned by Kempe himself; Kempe´s Nine Daies of Wonder.

If searching for information of Kempe´s Morris Dance, it should be noted that the year varies between 1599 and 1600, which allegedly has to do with differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendar, and that notes may have been changed after the fact.

In 1599 Ben Jonson wrote a sequel to his Every Man in his Humour, called “Every Man out of his Humour”. This too was played by The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, the irony being that while Will Kempe was missing from the cast, he was very much present through a line in the play, alluding to his Morris dancing that very same year;

“Would I had one of Kemp’s shoes to throw after you!”

A year later he supposedly left England to tour Europe, returning in 1602, when he joined the acting company Worcester´s Men, but at the same time, he is said to during 1601 have borrowed money from the theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe.

Just as only assumptions can be made when it comes Will Kempe´s background, this is also the case for when and where he died. He is mentioned one last time in Philip Henslow´s diary from 1602, and after that there is “silence”.

Some scholars believe him to have died in the plague in 1603, when one of the biggest outbreaks occurred, but no sources exist to really substantiate this. In parish records for St. Saviour in Southwark, there is a mentioning of “A man, Kempe” which died in late 1603. There is however no way of knowing that this is the right Kempe, but facts remain that he was never heard of again after this year.

 

Sources:

 

William Kempe – Amanda Mabillard, Shakespeare Online, May 31, 2016.

http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/willkempe.html

 

A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964 – F.E. Halliday

 

The Elizabethan Stage – E.K. Chambers

 

Shakespeare A to Z – Charles Boyce

 

The Shakespearan Stage 1574-1642 – Andrew Gurr

 

literarynorfolk.co.uk

Will Kempes Nine Daies of Wonder : Performed in Daunce from London to Norwich – Will Kempe/Camden Society/Gutenberg Project

Images;

Wood carving of Will Kempe in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich – Graham Hardy/Wikimedia Commons

Will Kempe. Nine Daies of Wonder – Wikimedia Commons

Lily´s Grammar

Latin was a fundamental part of the learning in any grammar school in the 16th century, and as the name of the school from the beginning indicate; Latin grammar in particular.

Any student who ever entered this kind of school would have encountered it; Lily´s Lily´s Grammar1Grammar, written by William Lily, the first headmaster of St. Paul´s school in London.

William Lily was born in or around 1468 in Odiham, Hampshire. No much is known about his childhood, and his parents remains, at least to me, anonymous, but at the age of 18 he entered the university of Oxford, allegedly Magdalen College, for studies of the arts. It has been suggested that he chose this college due to the fact that William Grocyn, scholar and supposedly godfather of William Lily, was the reader of divinity at Magdalen College at the time.

In 1488 Grocyn went to Italy to study Greek and Latin, and it may be that this too was an inspiration to William Lily, because after graduating for Oxford he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and upon his travel back to England ended up in Rome, by way of Rhodos. In Rome he attended lectures by the Renaissance humanists Angelo Sabino, Giovanni Sulpizio da Veroli and the controversial, to say the least Guilio Pomponio Leto. From there he continued to Venice to attend further lectures, given by who is unclear.

Upon returning to England, he became one of the first scholars in Greek, together with William Grocyn and Thomas Linacre who founded the Department for Greek Studies at Oxford.

Among his friends, once back in England, could be found, apart from Grocyn and Linacre, Thomas More, Erasmus and John Colet.

William Lily is thought to have been the first to teach Greek in the city of London, first as a private teacher alongside the teaching of grammar. In 1510 John Colet, who was dean of St. Paul´s, founded St Paul´s School, and started searching for a headmaster of the school. His first choice for the position seems to have been Erasmus, who for some reason was not interested. The second choice was William Lily, who started at the school in 1512 and shaped the school into a model of classical studies.

Lily´s GrammarAt some point between his return to England and his acceptance of the position as the first headmaster of St Paul´s School, it is said that William Lily considered becoming a priest, but whether he decided against it because he met Agnes, or he had already chosen another career path when he met her, but marry Agnes he did, and during the 17 years their marriage lasted, they had 15 children together, of whom only two survived their father. Agnes herself died at the age of 37, probably in 1517.

But it isn´t primarily for his position as a pioneer for Greek learning that William Lily has come to be remembered. It is for his work “A short introduction to Grammar”, a school book in Latin which came to be in use all the way into the 19th century. The book was instigated by Colet and edited by Erasmus. After William Lily´s death parts were added, and the final result didn´t appear until 1540. In 1542 Henry VIII proclaimed it to be the only book on the subject to be used in grammar schools, and over the decades to follow, it was so widely used that it has a part of its own in four of the plays by William Shakespeare; The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, Titus Andronicus and Henry IV Part I. The book was divided into two parts, the second one being “Brevissima Institutio seu ratio grammaces cognoscendae”, which is believed to have given Shakespeare himself maybe his first contact with poetry, as the book partly consist of the poem “Carmen de Moribus.

He also wrote prose in both Latin and Greek.

William Lily died in 1522, around the age of 54 years. The reason for his death is in some sources suggested to have been the plague, which seems to have taken his wife and several of his children, but others suggest that he died from an operation having gone wrong when trying to remove an inflamed boil.

He was buried in the north churchyard of St Paul´s cathedral, destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, and his name is among those of the memorial that can now be seen the cathedral.

Sources:

Luminarium Encyclopedia Project

 Repertorium Pomponianum

 Dictionary of National Biography – Joseph Hirst Lupton

 Linacre, Thomas – Dictionary of National Biography/Sidney Lee

 Shakespeare and his world/Lily´s Grammar – Prof Jonathan Bate, University of Warwick/Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Theories of identity – the alleged Shakespeare mystery

Some subjects, in history or in our time, can be a bit like a hornets nest. It shouldn´t be touched or poked, because the risk is that you will be severely stung. But probably against better judgement, I will try to approach the theories existing around the identity of William Shakespeare.

I will yet again stress that I personally hold the very firm belief that William Shakespeare was the man born in Stratford to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, but some people don´t, and I´m curious enough to take a peak at what they actually believe, and why.

Let´s start out with the ones that has been lifted as potential candidates. Some years ago, the film Anonymous came and went, and at the bottom of the plot was the Oxfordian theory which holds as a fact that the real Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Edward-de-Vere-1575This is seemingly the most popular theory and contains a fair amount of conspiracy theory, namely that records has been falsified to protect the identity of the real author. It was first presented in the 1920 by Thomas Looney, an English writer to whom it was inconceivable that a person further down the social ladder than a nobleman could possibly create the work that William Shakespeare, the son of a glover, did.

There are no links to connect de Vere to the actual work of Shakespeare, and in absence of evidence, that absence has come to in itself be evidence for the Oxfordian following, a so called argument from silence.

The proof for the true identity of Shakespeare, according to Oxfordian theorists, are similarities between the life of Edward de Vere and Shakespeare´s plays, longer poems and sonnets. This would of course mean that a large number of his work would in fact be biographical. One also point out similarities in language, idioms and thought in Shakespeare´s work and surviving letters and poems actually written by de Vere.

In this case, one could on the other hand argue that no man is an island, and that it isn´t that rare to find similarities between two contemporary men without coming to the conclusion that they are one and the same.

That no plays exist under de Vere´s own name is taking as further evidence, as one is of the opinion that he may have been one of several writers suppressed during the 16th and 17th century, one of the “anonymous”. Edward de Vere died in 1604, at which point the world had another 12 plays penned by Shakespeare to look forward to.

This is by Oxfordian’s explained by stating that a dedication to the Sonnets implies that the author was dead previous to the publication, and that the plays written after 1604 are the work of collaborators of de Vere.

In one of the many branches of the Oxford theory one also find a love child of de Vere´s and Elizabeth I who, as an homage to his father’s nom de plume, adopted the stage name William Shakespeare.

Other circumstances considered evidence by the Oxfordian’s are de Vere´s connections to the theatre as he was a known patron, family connections as the dedications of Shakespeare´s plays are to actual or proposed husbands of de Vere´s daughters (the earls of Southampton, Montgomery and Pembroke). On the other hand, there wouldn´t have existed many other authors at the time if a few Oxfordian’s are to be believed as there are those who think de Vere was also Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, Philp Sidney, John Lyly, George Peele, George Gascoigne, Raphael Holinshed, Robert Greene, Thomas Phaer, and Arthur Golding. The author and motivational speaker Paul Streitz has even suggested that de Vere is the real man behind King James Bible.

Common for Oxfordian’s is that they disregard evidence found by historians

The theories of another author than the man from Stratford-upon-Avon started in theFrancis_Bacon,_Viscount_St_Alban_from_NPG_(2) 19th century, and the first candidate was Sir Francis Bacon, philosopher, essayist and scientist, in the Baconian theory and his reason for writing under a pseudonym should have been that being a playwright would presumably have been that this dubious occupation would have hindered him from achieving success within his other areas.

Here, as in the Oxfordian theory, William Shakespeare himself is mostly a poster boy.

This theory was introduced by Delia Bacon, American writer of plays and short stories who eventually thought she herself was a descendant of Sir Francis (which she wasn´t). The Baconian Theory seems to be a mish-mash of misunderstandings, including the 18th century pamphlet The Learned Pig which has no references to Francis Bacon at all (here I really have to bite my, if not tongue, so the fingers I write with) and research, exposed as fraudulent, conducted by the English clergyman James Wilmot.

During the 19th century it was claimed by some that Bacon through ciphers in the text of the original plays (by Shakespeare) revealed his true identity, and while de Vere was suggested as the father of Elizabeth I´s alleged son, it was now suggested that Francis Bacon himself. The father in this version would be the favourite courtier Robert Dudley, and Robert Devereux was supposedly the younger brother.

All in all, the Baconian theory is about hidden messages, secret codes and a profound contempt for the idea that someone of a humble origin could have a profound talent, and it has rightfully been dismissed by all serious academics.

marlowe-corpuschristiThere is also the Marlovian theory, where someone I find incredibly fascinating in his own right is dragged in to the attempts to prove Shakespeare wasn´t Shakespeare; the playwright Christopher Marlowe.

This theory is based on the assumption that Marlowe was not at all murdered in Deptford in 1593, but change identity and continued writing under the assumed name of William Shakespeare. The assumptions are based on alleged anomalies surrounding Marlowe´s death and the fact Shakespeare´s name was connected with any literary work for the first time two weeks after Marlowe´s death.

The death of Christopher Marlowe was however acknowledged as genuine by 16 jurors at the time, and as he was far from unknown at the time of his passing, it´s highly unlikely that he would have lived on as another person without ever having been exposed. There *are* things surrounding both his life and his death that raise questions, but the possibility that he would have been Shakespeare is not one of them.

The funny thing about this theory, which was initiated in the 1890´s by T.W. White is that it was preceded in the 1820´s by another theory presented by an anonymous writer in The Monthly Review; that Christopher Marlowe might at one point have been a pseudonym used by William Shakespeare.

Finally, the probably least known theory, and also the one to have the least life in it; the6thEarlOfDerby Derbyite theory. In this it is suggested that the “real” Shakespeare was William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby.

Introduced in the late 19th century, by the archivist James H. Greenstreet, this is a theory that has been favoured by French writers. It is based on the discovery of letters stating that Derby was “penning plays for common players”.

Greenstreet pointed out similarities in Love´s Labour´s Lost and a pageant only held at Derby´s home. Greenstreet however died at the age of 45 before he had the chance to elaborate any further on his theory.

Sources:

Seven Pillories of Wisdom – David R. Hall

 Historical evidence and argument – David P. Henige

 Shakespeare´s Fingerprints – Michael Brame, Galina Popova

 The Genius of Shakespeare – Jonathan Bate

 Hollywood Dishonours the Bard – James Shapiro, New York Times

 Forgery on forgery – James Shapiro, Times Literary Supplement

 England’s Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy – Michael Dobson & Nicola J. Watson

 The Monthly Review, Or, Literary Journal – Ralph Griffiths, G. E. Griffiths

 

 

The language of William Shakespeare

There is a scene in Black Adder where Rowan Atkinson punch William Shakespeare inShakespeare the shape of Colin Firth for the suffering he has caused endless school boys and school girls for the past 400 years, as they without result tried to find a joke in Midsummer Night´s Dream.

But while it is a recurring joke about the torment suffered primarily by English students as they were forced to read Shakespeare in school, one shouldn´t underestimate his impact on the language we all speak when we speak English, regardless if it´s as mother tongue or an acquired language later on. Surely we have all at one point stated that something or someone – maybe ourselves even – has “seen better days”? Maybe we have “come full circle” or stated that we´ve ended up with “strange bedfellows”. All of a sudden, we have without realising it, most likely, quoted William Shakespeare. It has been estimated that Shakespeare used 17 677 words in his work, plays, poems, sonnets included, and that 1 700 of those words were used for the very first time the moment Shakespeare wrote them down.

He is also considered to have borrowed freely from classical literature and languages other than English, something actually done by the entire nation during the period; it´s estimated that between 1500 and 1659, no less than 30 000 new words were added to the English language through nouns, verbs and modifiers of Latin, Greek and modern Romance languages.

quotesIn Shakespeare´s time, as well as -of course – prior to his time, English was not standardised, but as his plays became popular, it contributed to shaping a more uniform language.

Shakespeare has of course inspired other playwrights and authors, Charles Dickens and Herman Melville have been mentioned, but also more recent cultural expressions, such as lines in songs, titles of albums and films.

A few examples are given by Hepzibah Andersson in her article for BBC Culture; singer Nick Lowe, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock borrowed from Hamlet while Iron Maiden got a quote from Richard III and Mumford and Sons found a title for an album in Much Ado About Nothing.

Whether that was done unwittingly or done intentionally, I dare not say, but I can promise you that you at some point will quote Shakespeare without thinking about it. Maybe you are visited by the “green-eyed monster of jealousy”, or you simply refer to something as “gossip”, and there he is, smiling just in the corner of your eye.

 

Sources:

How Shakespeare influences the way we speak now – Hepzibah Andersson, BBC Culture

Words Shakespeare invented – Shakespeare Online

Shakespeare coined words now common currency – Jennifer Vernon, National Geographic News

 

 

April: Shakespeare Month

We have entered the month which sees the anniversary of the death of the Bard,702px-Shakespeare William Shakespeare. On April 23rd it will be 400 years since the greatest playwright of all times passed away in 1616, opening the door to all kinds of speculation about him, and even about who he was.

Personally I will hold on to the opinion that the man who wrote the plays was who he said he was, a man born in Stratford upon Avon, son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, husband of Anne Hathaway until I´m beyond even the slightest shadow of a doubt convinced otherwise.

I will how ever take the opportunity to explore the different theories of those who believe otherwise.

My ambition for this month, which will for the already mentioned reason, see more posts than normally about Shakespeare, is to be able to present both regular posts/articles as well as interviews with people who in different ways has dedicated parts or all of their lives to William Shakespeare, his work and legacy.

In the meantime, please check out these links for activities in related to the anniversary:

England

Shakespeare400

Shakespeare´s England

Shakespeare´s Globe

Shakespeare Lives

USA

World-Wide Shakespeare

The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare

Shakespeare 400 Chicago

Spain

(where they also commemorate the 400 year annivarsary of the death of Cervantes)

Cervantes and Shakespeare

And last but not least, a European compilation

European Shakespeare Festivals Network

Lady Arbella Stuart

On January 21st 1582 Walshingham receives a letter from George, Earl of ShrewsburyStuart,Arabella00 where he asks Walshingham to inform the Queen of the death of his daughter – Elizabeth Cavendish, Countess of Lenox – and that she “commend to her royal favor her infant and orphan daughter” and that the little girl now was destitute and her grandmother “taketh her daughter’s death so grievously, and so mourneth and lamenteth, that she cannot think of aught but tears”

The grandmother in question was the Countess of Shrewsbury, known to history primarily as Bess of Hardwick, and the young girl who now lacked both her parents was Arbella Stuart, second cousin to the Queen and cousin of James IV of Scotland, later also to become James I of England.

Bess_of_Hardwick_as_Mistress_St_LoHer grandmother would be prepared to fight for what she believed was Arbella´s rights, and on the 28th that same month she turned to Walshingham asking him to solicit for the same portion (pension) that had been previously been granted her daughter, to secure the young girl´s education and training in good virtues. It seems her request goes unheard this first time around, because she returns in May that same year, again making that same request, stating that the young girl´s mother on her sickbed….

Arbella was 7 years at the time, and instead of becoming a ward of the crown which was the usual for heiresses, she would stay with her grandmother at Hardwick Hall, from where she seems to have gone for occasional visits to court during the years to follow. She would eventually fall out with her grandmother whose ambition to see Arbella on the throne was greater than those of Arbella herself.

Arbella did get her education through tutors, and 10 years after the death of her Portrait_of_Christopher_Marlowemother, her grandmother Bess writes to Lord Burghley, William Cecil, of one of her grand-daughters attendants, a Morley who “hath attended on Arbell & red to hyr for the space of thre yere & a half”. The fact that he had read to her, and a later reference to him studying at the university, has led some – among others the author Charles Nicholl – to believe that Morley was the playwright Christopher Marlowe who at times has his name spelt in that way.

The Countess of Shrewsbury goes on to explain that the man in question apparently has been waiting to receive some kind of annuity from Arbella as his work there had been damaging to his university studies, and that he due to this, and due to the fact that the formidable Bess finds him suspicious, not least because of his “forwardness in religion (though I can not charge him with papistry)” she took the opportunity to fire him.

While this post really isn´t about Christopher Marlowe, it is highly interesting that Bess of Hardwick still seems to have found *something* catholic about this man, as Christopher Marlowe would at one point be suspected for being catholic.

But back to Arbella; as a great-grandchild of Henry VII through his daughter Margaret Tudor in her second marriage to Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, she had a claim to the throne – which she herself didn´t seem much interested in pursuing – and for a while she was considered as a successor to the childless Elizabeth I who was drawing towards the end of her reign and life, but it seems that from the beginning of the 1590´s, the Cecil´s preferred her cousin, James IV of Scotland (Arbella´s father had been the brother of Lord Darnley, murdered husband of Mary Queen of Scots).

George_Brooke,_9th_Baron_Cobham,_after_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerArbella´s own seeming disinterest in the throne, and the fact that another successor was in the end chosen, did not prevent others from wanting to see her on the throne. In 1603, after the death of Elizabeth I, she allegedly was the focus point in The Main Plot in 1603. The plot is thought to have been funded by Spain, and led by Henry Brook, Lord Cobham and was only discovered during investigation into the Bye Plot – a plot striving to force the implementation of religious tolerance and headed by Lord Cobham´s brother George Brooke.

The members of both conspiracies where tried together, and one of the accused wasSir_Walter_Raleigh_oval_portrait_by_Nicholas_Hilliard Sir Walter Raleigh, at the time governor of Jersey. It was alleged that the money provided by Spain would be brought here and divided between Lord Cobham and Raleigh to be used in the plot as they saw necessary. It has on one side been suggested that it´s utterly ridiculous that Raleigh, who had fought Spain during the reign of Elizabeth, not least during the defeat of the Spanish Armada, would all of a sudden turn on England in this fashion and during many years Raleigh´s involvement in the plot was considered marginal* at most, but it did send him to the Tower for the next 13 years.

Arbella herself had early on reported the invitation to join the plot to her cousin the King.

Throughout her childhood, possible marriage candidates had been discussed, and among those suggested or interested in securing her hand was Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford (a potential match infuriated the Earl´s father), Ludovic Stuart, 2nd Duke of Lennox as well as the king of Poland, Sigismund III Vasa, son of the Swedish King John III.

2ndDukeOfSomersetWhen she did eventually marry, it was after a betrothal entered in secret. In 1610, news reached the king that Arbella was planning to marry the 13 years younger William Seymour, Lord Beauchamp. This worried the King, as Arbella was fourth in line for the throne and William – being the grandson of Lady Katherine Grey and therefore descendant of Henry VII through Mary Tudor (with Charles Brandon) – sixth in line and it´s no wonder if he thought this was a prelude to an attempt at taking the throne.

Both of them however denied that any agreement existed between them, which was clearly a lie as they got married in secret on June 22nd 1610 at Greenwich Palace. This led to their arrest once the king had found out, and Arbella was kept at Sir Thomas Perry´s house at Lambeth while Seymour was brought to the Tower.

Like her grandmother, Arbella wrote letters that has survived, some of them from this period, and sometime after her arrest, Lady_Arbella_Stuartmost likely from Lambeth, she petitioned the King, asking for his forgiveness;

“May it please your most excellent Majesty

To regard with the eyes of your royal and gracious heart, the unfortunate estate, your Majesty´s handmaid, who, knowing your Majesty´s gracious favour to her to be the greatest honour, comfort and felicity that this world can afford, doth now feel any part of the contrary to be the most grievous affliction to her that can be imagined. Whereinsoever your Majesty will say I have offended I will not contest but in all humility prostrate myself at your Majesty´s feet; only I do most humbly on my knees beseech your Majesty to believe that that thought never yet entered to my heart to do anything that might justly deserve any part of your indignation……”

 However, Arbella did not only write numerous letters and petitions to the King, she did also write to her husband, and when this came to the King´s attention, he arranged for her to be moved from Lambeth into the care of the Bishop of Durham. The move was delayed due to Arbella claiming to be sick, and during this delay she and her husband attempted to escape.

The plan was to meet up at Lee in Kent, there to get on a ship heading for France. Arbella was during her escape dressed as a man to avoid detection, and it has been suggested that Shakespeare based the character of Imogen in Cymberline on Arbella. Lady_Arabella_Stuart (1)When she arrived her husband was nowhere to be found, while he had managed to get out of the Tower, he arrived too late and the two boarded different ships.

Arbella´s ship was intercepted by the King´s men just as it was about to reach Calais, and she was brought to the Tower.

Arbella would never see her husband – who would go on to be a commander during the Civil War – again or even leave the Tower.

On September 25th 1615 Arabella Stuart died from illness and malnutrition due to refusing to eat, at the age of 40.

 

Sources:

Calendar of State Papers Domestic of Elizabeth I, 1581 – 1590

Bessofhardwick.org – collected letters of the Countess of Shrewsbury

Life of Lady Arabella Stuart, Volume 1 + 2 – Mrs A. Murray Smith

Lexscripta.com

The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart – Sarah Jayne Steen

 

*History changes as new evidence is put forward and the view on Raleigh´s part has somewhat changed, but that is clearly for another post.

Grief fills the room up of my absent child – Hamnet Shakespeare

At this time 419 years ago, there is reason to think that William Shakespeare was at MTE1ODA0OTcxNzgzMzkwNzMzhome with his family in Stratford-upon-Avon. It seems he had been on tour in Kent at the time, but there is no reason to think that he may not have returned home when hearing that his son was sick.

That was an occurrence that wasn´t that common, the playwright spent most of his time in London where he had his theatre, or on the road, travelling with his company, The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, but on this day, a young boy was brought to his final resting place; Hamnet Shakespeare, the 11 year old son of William and his wife Anne Hathaway.

1024px-Shakespeare's_family_circleHe was not the only child in the family, he had an older sister, Susannah, born only six months after the marriage between William and the older Anne, but he also had a twin sister, Judith, both of the most likely named after Shakespeare´s friend and neighbour Hamnet Sandler and his wife Judith. Some scholars have suggested that the play Hamlet had lent his name from the son who passed far too early.

It has been pointed out that while for example Ben Johnson wrote heartfelt about the loss of his own son, Shakespeare himself did never really openly introduce the character of his lost child in any of his plays, and it has been suggested that since Shakespeare in reality “abandoned” his family when the twins still were just infants to pursue his career as an actor and playwright in London, only to visit on occasion, his grief may have just been brief, not least since a one out three of children at the time died before the age of 10. The explanation should have been that parents could not really “afford” to invest too much emotion into a child they may never see grown up anyway

But we all grieve differently and in an article from 2004 Stephen Greenblatt pointsHamnetDeath out that while Shakespeare during the four years that followed Hamnet´s death, wrote some of the most light-hearted plays of his production, such as The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like it, he also just the year after Hamnet´s death introduces a grief stricken mother in his play King John which includes a line that could break the heart of anyone with children in their lives; “Grief fills the room up of my absent child”.

One can of course argue that Shakespeare had hardly seen the boy since he was an infant, but as we are collectively so willing to state how little we know of Shakespeare the man, we of course know nothing of his feelings faced with the fact that he was no longer the father of a son.

Greenblatt also suggest that the grief of Ophelia´s brother in Hamlet, the play with the name so closely resembling that of the lost son, is Shakespear´s grief, that when Laertes lament the lack of ceremony at her grave, it is the Bard himself that laments the same at his son´s grave?

Only a few years after Hamnet´s death his grandfather, John Shakespeare, died, a man who is said to have had Catholics leanings in a world that had over the last decades turned more and more protestant, and one suggestion is that the play is his eulogy over both his son and his father

Sources:

The death of Hamnet and making of Hamlet – Stephen Greenblatt, The New York Review of Books

Shakespeare´s Last Will and Testament

William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life – Samuel Schoenbaum

Images: Wikipedia