The printing process of the First Folio (FF) started around April 1621,1 to be stopped on 21st October by order of the Lord Chamberlain2(Mary Sidney’s eldest’s son); by then, all the Comedies except The Winter’s Tale were already printed. According to the dates for the Frankfurt Catalogue,3 by April 1622 it had already been decided to attribute the works in the FF to William Shakespeare.
The tantalizing flight of wishful thinking that emerges from a combination of all facts and dates is that Marlowe’s friends, including Edward Blount and Ben Jonson, angered by this injustice but powerless to redress it, undertook to plant a series of clues in the Introductory Pages of the FF and in the Chancel of Trinity Church in Stratford, where William Shakespeare had been buried.
In his Introductory Poem, dedicated to my beloved, the author, Mr William Shakespeare, Jonson hails him as one who had “small Latin and less Greek,” and, in another line, as the “Soul of the Age”. In those days, when the knowledge of Latin was taken for granted in every educated person, the contradiction between those two expressions would have sounded most bizarre. Theirs was the Age of the Renaissance, the “rebirth” of classical culture. No amount of creative genius could make a man with “small Latin and less Greek” the “soul” of such an “age."
To these and other oddities, Jonson added the puzzling words: “You are a Monument without a Tomb,” a line all the more remarkable if the Tomb had been there since 1616, while the Monument was just being erected.4
In the middle of an erratic process in which the publication of the FF was delayed by more than two years, The Tragedy of Othello was registered and published, as we have seen,5 with a villain named Iago, the Spanish name for King James. At the time when this registration and subsequent publication happened, the man who was responsible for giving it the green light was Sir George Buck, Master of the Revels (MR) since 1610. But Ben Jonson had been appointed Deputy Master of the Revels (DMR) on October 5, 1621.6 If Buck had really gone mad, as was later reported, Jonson could have taken advantage of the situation.
A letter dated May 3, 1619, forbidding publication of plays owned by the King’s Men without their consent, coincides in time with the period of publication of the Pavier Collection (see Time-Schedule). Since then Walkley had obtained permission to publish three plays owned by the King’s Men, all three by Beaumont and Fletcher.7 This suggests that perhaps the Lord Chamberlain was not so much interested in controlling the publication of the King’s Men’s plays, but of Shakespeare’s plays, maybe because the project for a Folio volume was already being discussed, and Marlowe was revising the plays for it. The Comedies show plausible signs of having been revised after 1618.8
If Othello had been the old Moor of Venice, the play would have belonged to the King’s Men. That being the case, I find it difficult to believe that with more than ten unpublished Shakespeare plays, Pembroke would have made an exception precisely with Othello. However, if the text were a new one, Walkley would have been in a position to equivocate, which he seems to have done, printing on the title page that the play had been diverse times acted at the Globe and at the Black Friars, by His Majesty’s Servants.
And here is another conjecture for what it is worth: Given his standing orders about publication, once the 1Q Othello appeared in print, the Lord Chamberlain would have seen it, made enquiries, realized the imposture, declared the Master of the Revels to be insane and had both Buck and Jonson sacked; but there was little else he could do if indeed the play, being new, did not belong to the King’s Men, had been properly registered by Buck, and no attempt was being made to show it in performance. Once 1Q Othello was published Jaggard could include the full text in 1623; leaving out of the FF a recently published “Shakespeare” play would have been more suspicious than including it.
But who had the MS of Othello? After months of rumours, Sir George Buck was officially declared insane in April 1622. Following the brief appointment of Sir John Astley, Sir Henry Herbert (a relative of the Lord Chamberlain) was appointed Master of the Revels in 1623. Buck’s family was requested to deliver to the new MR all papers from Sir George’s Library, and that’s the last we see of them. Ben Jonson’s library was burnt to the ground at about the time the FF was registered. It seems that as from November 1623, all possible Shakespeare MSS that were not under the direct control of the Herbert family had gone up in flames.
Whoever, and for whatever reason (presumably in agreement with, or by order of, King James), decided to obliterate Marlowe's name for posterity, it seems the Herbert family (and that includes, of course, “The Inimitable Pair”9) were instrumental in the cover up. As Oscar Wilde would put it: to lose one manuscript may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose thirty-six looks like carelessness.10 The destruction of those two libraries could have been an accident, but in view of all the circumstances, those fires smell as rotten as the State of Denmark.
Among the Poems of Ben Jonson, there is one with the title An Execration of Vulcan, published in December 1639 or early 1640, so two years after his death on August 6, 1637. Jonson addresses Vulcan thus:
And why to me this, thou lame lord of fire,
What had I done that might call on thine ire?
The Poem has 216 lines in which Jonson mentions just about every important book or literary character (including those in the learned Librarie of Don Quixote) he might have sacrificed to Vulcan “Had I fore-knowne of this thy least desire.” The general discourse of the Poem is obscure and the following lines struck me as intriguing:
All the madde Rolands and sweet Oliveer’s;
To Merlins marvailes and his Caball losse . . .
Merlins marvailes! Well, well, well!
For all the unanswered questions, theses conjectures, when seen together with the dates of refurbishment of the Chancel, the erection of the Monument,11and the first visit of the “Poet’s” theatre friends to Stratford,"12 plus the renewal of the printing process of the FF in November 1622, seem to present us with an intriguing scenario that runs broadly between May 1619 through to the end of 1623, with a flurry of activity heavily concentrated in just under one year, from October 1621 to the summer of 1622.
Why? What had happened to justify this sudden interest in William Shakespeare six long years after his previously unnoticed death? My hunch (alas, I cannot prove it) is that Marlowe died in the last months of 1621, and his friends decided to direct our attention to the one place where, after the publication of the First Folio, “Shakespeare” would continue to be investigated: Stratford.
When that stone is rent,
And Time dissolves thy Stratford Moniment,
Here we alive shall view thee still.13
To dissolve means also to solve: When...Time solves thy Stratford Moniment. The word Moniment, spelt with i instead of u appears twice in the Introductory Pages; it would derive from the Latin Monitio, “warning.”
So, perhaps Marlowe was finally dead. This possibility is particularly suggestive in the light of a theory, apparently propounded by Washington Irving, to the effect that an Englishman whom he thought was Christopher Marlowe died in Padua14 in 1627, at the home of one Pietro Basconi or Bosconi.15 Irving is supposed to have seen the relevant letter in 1843.
I found no Basconi or Bosconi families in the Padua records. The Padovan Archivists suggested that Irving may have misread the family name and advised me to look for the Bassani family in the relevant period; there I found one Antonio Bassanio curiously enough, though I could not find details about his life. And here is a tricky one for Stratfordians: Apart from three students called Rosenkrantz, and one Ioannes Gulderstiern16 I found the family of the Ottelli, (spelt variously as Otelli, Ottelli and Othelius), which means there would have been individuals walking the streets of Padua surnamed “Otello.”
As for the date 1627, during the Renaissance and later, the digit 1, as in 1621, was often written as the alpha letter in the Greek alphabet; if Irving misread the name Bosconi in the letter he saw, he might as easily have misread the date α62α (1621) for 1627.17
So here is the chain of events again:
1616: April 23rd: William Shakespeare dies.
1619: Thomas Pavier publishes a collection of “Shakespeare” plays, which contains ten titles, of which only three are accepted as Shakespearean texts.
1619: May 3rd: The Court of the Stationers’ Company receives a letter from the Lord Chamberlain (the Earl of Pembroke), forbidding the printing of any plays belonging to the King’s Men without their consent.
1621: April: The printing of the FF gets started.
1621: May 1st: Francis Bacon is convicted of taking bribes on twenty-three charges.
1621: September 25th: The Swan of Avon, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, dies in Wilton House.
1621: October 5th: Ben Jonson is appointed DMR.
1621: October 6th: Thomas Walkley registers the 1Q Othello.
1621: October 21: Printing of the FF is stopped by order of the Lord Chamberlain.
1622: Early months: Walkley publishes the 1Q Othello under the name of William Shakespeare.
1622: March: Ben Jonson is removed from his job as DMR. Rumours start that Sir George Buck has gone mad.
1622: March 29th: The reversion of the Mastership of the Revels is granted to Sir John Astley.
1622, April 12th: Sir George Buck is officially declared insane.
1622: c. April: The refurbishment in the Chancel begins and the Stratford Monument is finally erected.
1622: c. April: The Catalogue of the Frankfurt Book Fair is being prepared including the announcement of a Folio volume with the works of William Shakespeare.
1622: May 16th: Buck is required to surrender his office, and his relatives are requested to deliver all the Revels papers.18
1622: Summer: The King’s Players visit Stratford and receive 6 shillings in compensation (solatio) for not being allowed to play in the Hall. According to Fripp, there are no other records of payments to the King’s Men in the Minutes and Accounts, between 1616 and 1622. (See Part 1 for Edgar Fripp)
1622: c. November: The printing of the FF is resumed.
1623: c. August: The Tragedy of Othello is included in the FF.
1623: Sir Henry Herbert succeeds Astley as master of the Revels. He will keep the post until 1642. During his mandate, Herbert said that many of Buck’s books and papers had been lost in a fire.
1623: November 8th: The FF is entered into the Stationers’ Register incomplete. Troilus and Cressida as well as the Introductory Pages will be included at a later date.
1623: c. November: The library of Ben Jonson is burned to the ground.19
1624: c. February: A maximum 1000, probably less than half, copies of the FF became ready for sale at one pound each.
The Earth covers him; the people mourn him; he is in Olympus.
© Isabel Gortázar, August 2010 Dead Man in Deptford Riley Burgess
Isabel Gortázar is an independent scholar, specializing in Shakespeare and Marlowe studies. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Marlowe Society (UK) and a founding member of the International Marlowe Society. She divides her time between London and Bilbao, Spain.
1W.W. Greg: The Shakespeare First Folio. (Oxford. Clarendon Press, 1955). Unless specified to the contrary, all information about the First Folio (FF) contained in this essay, has been obtained from Greg’s book, allegedly the most important work published on the subject.
2William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.
4See Part 1: "The Curious History of the Chancel."
5See Part II: "Enter Iago."
6The entry in the SR says: Thomas Walkley. Entred for his copie under the handes of Sir George Buck, and Master Swinhowe warden, The Tragedie of Othello, the moore of Venice." This seems to clear Jonson of all responsibility, but Buck was declared insane shortly afterwards.
7Greg. Op cit.
8My reasons for this conjecture are that I find information in the early Comedies on political events occurring after May 1618, which may be a coincidence, or perhaps not.
9The two sons of Mary Sidney, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, are The Inimitable Pair to whom Hemminge and Condell dedicate the First Folio, in a text that is suspected to have been written by Ben Jonson. Montgomery succeeded his brother as Lord Chamberlain in 1626, so the control of the Herbert family over Shakespeare’s plays continued after Pembroke died in 1630.
10Thirty-eight, if we count Cardenio and Pericles. My quotation is from O. Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
11As we know, the Monument was carved by “one Gerard Johnson," according to Sir William Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, published in 1656. This is a complex subject that deserves to be treated separately.
12See Part I: "The Chancel."
13L. Digges: First Folio, Introductory Pages.
14The City of Padua was part of the Venetian Republic.
15I owe this information to my colleague, John Hunt, Vice Chairman of the Marlowe Society, who obtained it from a letter written by Calvin Hoffman to a German colleague on 23/7/83. Unfortunately, the information about Irving’s trip to Padua has inexplicable errors.
16The spelling of the names varies. I am indebted to my colleague Dr. Bastian Conrad of Munich for confirming the existence of students with these names also at the University of Wittemberg.
17The “death records” in Padua are listed alphabetically; no Marlowe, Marlin, Marley or similar name, appears in those years, but he may have been using another name.
18Some of these dates I have obtained from Gwynneth Bowen: "The Incomparable Pair and 'The Works of William Shakespeare.'" Shakespearean Authorship Review (English): Autumn 1961.
19The date of this fire is not known. Sources vary between the beginning of 1624 and November 1623, the month when the FF was entered into the SR.
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