Elizabethan playwright Robert Greene's 1592 deathbed pamphlet entitled Greene's Groatsworth of Wit is largely famous for the appearance of one hyphenated word: "Shake-scene":
Is it not strange, that I, to whom they all have been beholding: is it not like that you, to whom they all have been beholding, shall (were ye in that case as I am now) be both at once of them forsaken? Yes trust them not: for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. O that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses: & let those Apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions.
Stratfordians have long maintained that "Shake-scene" is the first mention of Shakespeare as a writer as early as 1591. Hmmm. I understand their desire to show that Shakespeare was already established in London circa 1591. They need to establish this, after all, since they maintain that Shakespeare wrote the very intricate (and dare I say very Marlovian) Henry VI, Part I--his first play--circa 1589. Pretty impressive work by a novice. Yet is this the best Stratfordians can do? No "other" mention of a theatrical Shakespeare exists at this time, and so all we have to go with is Robert Greene's "Shake-scene" amid a bitter rant about how theatre owners and actor-managers exploited him and other writers? (Greene was debt-ridden, by the way.)
Samuel Blumenfeld, in his new book The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, follows the path of A.D. Wraight (Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn, 1993) in maintaining that "Shake-scene" was the popular and scene-stealing actor Edward Alleyn, who was joined at the hip with the most influential theatre owner of the day, Philip Henslowe (see earlier post). Blumenfeld writes: "It is obvious that the Shake-scene is the actor Alleyn, the 26-year-old upstart superstar, who had achieved great notoriety as Tamburlaine, Barabas, and Faustus. He could indeed shake a scene with his bombast and at the same time become wealthy as part owner of a theatre. If we refer to Henslowe's Diary, which begins in 1591, we can see why Greene had reason to fulminate . . . In 1591, two of Greene's plays . . . were performed by Lord Strange's Men of whom Alleyn played all or most of the heroes."
And what of the "Tygers hart wrapt" line which echoes a line from act one, scene four of the Shakespeare-attributed Henry VI, Part III? Well, the quote establishes that Henry VI, Part III had to be written before Greene died in 1592. But where is the mention of Shakespeare's authorship of any plays prior to Love's Labour's Lost in 1598? Does it all hinge upon "Shake-scene"? Sorry, fellas, but that's rather flimsy. To further make the case that "Shake-scene" is Alleyn, Blumenfeld reminds us that Alleyn did play York in Henry VI, Part III and did certainly recite the "Tyger" line. And by the way, Henry VI, Part I was performed at Henslowe's Rose Theatre in 1591 by Lord Strange's Men, a group with whom Shakespeare never had any affiliation.
The under-educated Shakespeare would have been a novice playwright circa 1589, the time we think the masterful and complex Henry VI, Part I was composed (again, some novice!). And then we're supposed to believe that the under-educated Shakespeare--who had no record as a writer in the early to mid 1590s--went on to complete the highly ambitious and intricate Henry trilogy, which as a whole required an incredibly detailed, sophisticated knowledge of British history. It's all a tough sell.
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008
Click here for Daryl Pinksen and Samuel Blumenfeld's joint commentary on "Shake-scene," November 08.
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