John Davies of Hereford's The Scourge of Folly (c.1610) includes an epigram dedicated, “To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.” It is one of the most cited proofs of Shakespeare’s literary life as recorded by a contemporary:
EPI. 159. To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.
SOME say good Will (which I, in sport, do sing)
Had'st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst bin a companion for a King ;
And, beene a King among the meaner sort.
Some others raile ; but raile as they thinke fit,
Thou hast no rayling, but, a raigning Wit :
And honesty thou sow'st, which they do reape ;
So, to increase their Stocke which they do keepe.
Davies identifies Shakespeare with a Roman playwright, but he focuses on his career as an actor. The epigram’s curious tone has provoked much speculation about Davies's intent, but to my knowledge the piece has never been discussed within the context of the subsequent epigrams 160 and 161. When we look at the “Shake-speare” epigram in its context, surrounded by Davies's other epigrams, it seems to reveal an acknowledgment of the Shakespeare authorship problem. The first lines of the Davies epigrams 155 through 165 are as follows:
155. To my worthily disposed friend Mr. Sam: Daniell.
156. To my well accomplish'd friend Mr. Ben. Iohnson.
157. To my much esteemed Mr. Inego Iones,our English Zeuxis, and Vitruuius.
158. To my worthy kinde friend Mr. Isacke Simonds.
159. To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.
160. To his most constant, though most vnknowne friend; No-body.
161. To my neere-deere wel-knowne friend; Some-body.
162. To my much regarded and approued good friend, Thomas Marbery Esquire.
163. To my right deere friend, approued for such, Iohn Panton Esquire.
164. To my most deere Pupill. Mr. Henry Maynwarring.
165. To my bloued friend Mr. Doctor Gwin.
Epigrams 159-161 share a common feature, absent from the other epigrams. Unlike the addressees of his other epigrams, in 159 - 161 Davies chose to name the addressees with hyphenated labels: “Shake-speare," “No-body” and “Some-body." It appears that Davies meant these epigrams to be read as a group.
Furthermore, and more importantly, whereas in the other epigrams Davies praised a single, personal friend, adressing each with “To my. . .”, in epigram 160, he takes a different approach, beginning with “To his . . ." This begs the question: To whom does “his” refer? Since epigram 160 immediately follows the “Shake-speare” epigram, it suggests that “No-body” was the “constant, though most unknown friend” of Shakespeare’s.
EPI. 160. To his most constant, though most vninowne friend; No-body.
You shall be seru'd ; but not with numbers now ;
You shall be serud with nought ; that's good for you.
Davies seems to be suggesting that Shakespeare had a silent partner, a constant but unknown friend, who was concealed. This would fit the theory that a concealed poet was the source of the Shakespeare plays.
In epigram 161, Davies suggests that "Some-body" is his (Davies's) near, dear, well-known friend – but he refuses to name him. Why, if he is well-known, must the “Some-body” remain nameless in Davies’s praise? By ending his epigram with “Much Ado," a possible reference to a Shakespeare play (Much Ado About Nothing was first printed in 1600), Davies links the “Some-body” with the writer Shakespeare, as well. If the “Some-body” of epigram 161 is also the “No-body” of epigram 160, then Davies’s continued concealment suggests that the friend is concealed for a reason. Davies also implies that he knows the “No-body/Some-body” and claims this unnamed associate of Shakespeare is a dear friend of his.
EPI. 161. To my neere-deere wel-knowne friend; Some-body.
You looke that as myselfe I you should vse ;
I will, or else myselfe I should abuse ;
And yet with rimes I hut myselfe vndoo,
Yet am I some-body with much adoo.
It appears that Davies was aware that Shakespeare had a constant, though unknown friend, whom Davies also called his friend. Instead of serving as proof of the Stratford man’s authorship of his plays, epigram 159, when read in context, actually calls the Shakespeare authorship into question.
© Bastian Conrad, April 2009
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Daryl Pinksen assisted with the translation of this article.
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