"The small, seemingly inconsequential details are what constitute the unique fingerprint. The plays ascribed to William Shakespeare were written by a man who knew of a fat alewife called Marian Hacket in the village of Wincot near Stratford-upon-Avon (she is mentioned in the induction to The Taming of the Shrew and parish records reveal the historical reality of the Hackets of Wincot)." - Jonathan Bate.
Thanks to Daryl Pinksen, we have seen that Jonathan Bate's arguments concerning the uniqueness of the eddies below Stratford's Clopton Bridge (in his essay from Shakespeare's Face, 2002) are without substance. Immediately after Bate refers to this, he moves on to dandelions: "In one of his loveliest songs, the dramatist writes,'Golden lads and girls all must,/ As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.' In Warwickshire vernacular dialect, a dandelion is a 'golden lad' when in flower, a 'chimney-sweeper' when ready to be blown to the wind. This is no lord's memory. It belongs to a local country boy in a Warwickshire field."
This is a very appealing idea. After all, the head of a dandelion does look rather like a chimney-sweep's brush, doesn't it? Think Mary Poppins! Unfortunately for this theory, however, the Oxford English Dictionary makes it clear that in Shakespeare's time a "chimney-sweeper" was the lad who climbed up inside the chimney to clean it, a practice which continued right up to their replacement by the sweep's brush in about 1805. The local country boy in a Warwickshire field (as elsewhere) may well have used this term for a dandelion head some time after that happened, but there is no way that Shakespeare could have.
When Jonathan Bate writes of the Warwickshire references in The Taming of the Shrew, however, he is probably right. There was a hamlet of Wincot (now marked only by Wincot Farm, apparently on the site of a former manor house) about four miles south of Stratford. Wincot was on the border of two parishes - Quinton and Clifford Chambers - and a "Sara, the daughter of Robert Hacket" was baptized in Quinton church on 21 November 1591. That the Hostess who starts off The Taming of the Shrew by throwing Sly out of her ale-house was based upon a Marian Hacket of Wincot, and that there was also a Cicely Hacket (her daughter?) working there as a maid at the time seems very likely.
In the same speech, Christopher Sly also says that he is "old Sly's son of Burton-heath," which most scholars take - not unreasonably - to be Barton-on-the-Heath, a village about 16 miles south of Stratford, where Shakespeare's aunt Joan Lambert lived. Later on he is said to have talked of Stephen Sly, and there was indeed a Stephen Sly living in Stratford in 1615. Sly's mention of a "thirdborough" is also interesting. According to Brian Morris, quoting in the Arden (2) edition of the play Dalton's Country Justice (1620), "There be officers of much like authority to our constables, as the borsholders in Kent, the thirdborow in Warwickshire, and the tythingman and burrowhead or headborow, or chief-pledge in other places." Sly also apparently mentioned a "John Naps of Greece," which it is thought might mean "Greete," not far from Stratford, but this may be taking the search for Stratfordisms a bit too far?
Nevertheless, the associations with the area around Stratford seem fairly clear, and we would be wrong to ignore them. So what about the character Christopher Sly himself? For me the description he gives of himself as "by education a cardmaker, by transmutation a bearherd" is conclusive. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a card-maker was "one who makes cards for combing wool" and a bearherd the "keeper of a bear, who leads him about for exhibition." What an extraordinary juxtaposition! Yet there is someone we know whose childhood was spent in the home of an occasional dealer in wool (his father, John) and who, after a complete change of circumstances, did some work for a man (Philip Henslowe) who owned and ran a bear-baiting arena. It was, of course, William Shakespeare. That he also describes himself as a pedlar (OED 2 fig. "A person who deals in an abstract commodity") and a tinker (also "applied to itinerant beggars, traders, and performers generally") does no harm to the identification either. An Act of 1597 referred to "All Juglers Tynkers Pedlers and Petty Chapmen wandring abroade." It therefore seems beyond doubt that, for whatever reason, Christopher Sly in some way represented the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare. Furthermore, the name "William" is even obliquely suggested by the fact that the real name of one of the most probable actors in The Taming of the Shrew was William Sly, and that Christopher Sly says that his family "came in with Richard Conqueror."
Some time between 1594 (when a play called The Taming of a Shrew was first published) and 1623 (when The Taming of the Shrew was), some interesting changes were made to what was in most of its essentials the same play. Amongst these was the addition of all the items mentioned above. When considering the possibility that the supposed death of Christopher Marlowe in 1593 was faked, but that whatever he wrote or said after that was strictly controlled (and using the "front" William Shakespeare), it is naturally of interest to see what other changes seem to have been made. Could any of them in some way represent what Shakespeare would have seen happening to Marlowe?
The first is, of course, the title. It does suggest that the play is now concerned with a specific and identifiable individual, rather than just a typical example of the shrewish type. (We tend to think of a shrew in this context as being female, incidentally, but this was not always so. The OED gives us "A wicked, evil-disposed, or malignant man; a mischievous or vexatious person; a rascal, villain" and quotes Dekker: "Such as were shrewes to their wiues.")
As in the earlier version, the Lord wonders if the "body" they have found is dead, and is told that it is not. In the later one, however, he says (rather unnecessarily): "Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image." It makes some sense, perhaps, if we know that Sly (Shakespeare) is about to be presented as the "image" of the supposedly dead Marlowe.
The location of the play Sly watches is changed from Athens to Padua which, according to the Marlovian version of events, may well have been one of Marlowe's first stopping-places in Italy. The names are also made more obviously Italian, of course, but one may nevertheless notice that the name "Kate Minola" is interestingly similar to that of "Kit Marlowe"(or "Morley" or "Marlin" as he was also called at times).
One of the first things offered to the new "Lord" Sly is a painting of: "Adonis painted by a running brook,/ And Cytherea (Venus) all in sedges hid," and according to Marlovians it was, of course, Venus and Adonis which was the very first piece of art given to Shakespeare to present as his own work.
In both versions of the story the "Shrew" is persuaded - by force majeure and initially against her will - to stop saying whatever she feels like saying, and to conform to whatever her husband requires of her. She will now say that what (to her) is obviously the sun is the moon, or whatever he wants it to be. Within the Marlovian context, we can see that Marlowe would, also because of irresistible pressure on him, no longer be able to say what he wanted to say in his works, but must (whether he agreed with it or not) now toe the party line.
There is an interesting change in what Kate tells us is the reason for her obedience, however. In The Taming of a Shrew it is because (she says) her husband must be obeyed because he is a sort of proxy God to her. She says:
The King of Kings the glorious God of heaven;
Who in six days did frame his heavenly work,
And made all things to stand in perfect course.
Then to his image he did make a man,
Old Adam, and, from his side asleep,
A rib was taken, of which the Lord did make,
The woe of man so term'd by Adam then,
Woman for that, by her came sin to us,
And for her sin was Adam doom'd to die,
As Sara to her husband, so should we,
Obey them, love them, keep, and nourish them,
If they by any means do want our helps,
Laying our hands under their feet to tread,
If that by that we might procure their ease,
And for a precedent I'll first begin,
And lay my hand under my husband's feet.
In The Taming of the Shrew, however, a new imperative has appeared. Instead, she speaks of "thy lord, thy king, thy governor." The precedence of the political over the divine is inescapable:
Thy husband is thy Lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign: one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance. Commits his body
To painful labour, both by sea and land:
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands,
But love, fair looks, and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the Prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband:
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving Lord?
It is hard for me not to see this as Marlowe insisting that he has now learned his lesson, is demonstrating how his works can be used to support the idea of an essential obedience to the monarchy, and that he has every intention of toeing the party line from now on!
One of the most puzzling things about the change from "a Shrew" to "the Shrew," however, is the loss of any conclusion to the Christopher Sly tale. It cries out for the resolution, which was there in every le dormeur éveillé story preceding it, where the subject awakes to find himself back in the "real" world in which the story started. May I suggest that this is being used (since nature hates a vacuum) to point out that the true story was indeed still unresolved at the time of the First Folio's printing, or at any time before that? This omission leaves an unsatisfactory void which I suspect is fully intentional, since Shakespeare's "return" could be achieved only by a pardon of Marlowe and the public acknowledgment of his role as the ghost-writer. The absence of such a scene in the First Folio could also in part be a comment on the fact that, with Shakespeare's death, such a return to things as they had been was no longer possible.
One may wonder, I suppose, why Shakespeare would have apparently portrayed himself, or allowed himself to be portrayed, as a drunken beggar. This leads me to think that while the other changes may have happened very much earlier, the Warwickshire references (of which as far as I know there is no evidence before the First Folio) may not have been included until after William's death in 1616. For example, is it possible that the alleged "merry meeting" of Shakespeare with Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton might have played a part?
© Peter Farey, June 2009
Peter Farey is the 2007 recipient of the Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize, administered annually by The King's School in Canterbury for a "distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe." Click here to reach Peter's website.
For more on the mysterious Induction in The Taming of the Shrew, click here for a piece by Isabel Gortázar in the Marlowe Society Research Journal (Vol. 6, 2009).
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