Monday, November 1, 2010

Under an Old Oak by Isabel Gortázar

Following Mike Frohnsdorff’s suggestion1 and Peter Farey’s further elaboration on the subject,2 here are my own thoughts about Oliver’s speech in As You Like It, below.

For those of us who believe that Christopher Marlowe did not die in Deptford in 1593, but lived on to write the works that have been attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford, it is imperative to try and read in those works the information that any author, but particularly one in Marlowe’s circumstances, would have included about himself, his life in exile, his friends and his enemies, in the various texts.

As You Like It is one of the Shakespeare plays in which scholars and academics have recognized references to Marlowe, including his unclear relationship with “William of Arden," although all orthodox explanations of such references remain so far unconvincing. In this respect, I agree with Farey that Oliver’s speech may be providing us with significant information. Here is the speech again:

Oliver
Under an old oak, whose boughs were mossed with age
And high top bald with dry antiquity,
A wretched, ragged man, o'ergrown with hair,
Lay sleeping on his back. About his neck
A green and gilded snake had wreathed itself,
Who with her head, nimble in threats, approached
The opening of his mouth. But suddenly
Seeing Orlando, it unlinked itself,
And with indented glides did slip away
Into a bush, under which bush's shade
A lioness, with udders all drawn dry,
Lay couching, head on ground, with catlike watch
When that the sleeping man should stir. For 'tis
The royal disposition of that beast
To prey on nothing that doth seem as dead.
(4.3.105-119)

Let me comment on these lines separately:

Under an old oak, whose boughs were mossed with age
And high top bald with dry antiquity,


There seems to be here an unnecessary emphasis on the fact that the oak is very old; in fact, its high top is bald with dry antiquity. The word “antiquity” evokes a mythical scene: According to one of the Arthurian legends, Merlin the magician was trapped in an oak tree by a sorceress; the magician was not dead but due to re-appear some day. Merlin was one of Marlowe’s nicknames, not only on account of the etymology of the name: Marl, Marlin, etc., but also because of Marlowe's identification with his creation, Dr. Faustus. About ten years later, yet another magician, Prospero (a Spanish name synonymous to Fausto), will find his spirit, Ariel, also trapped in a tree by a witch in The Tempest.

These possible references to the Merlin story, steeped in antiquity like Oliver’s tree, might be confirming the identity of our runaway friend. Also, the fact that he is asleep: in the induction of The Taming of the Shrew,3 Marlowe's absence of fifteen years is referred to as "a goodly nap."

Second Servingman
These fifteen years you have been in a dream;
Or when you waked, so waked as if you slept.

Sly
These fifteen years! by my fay, a goodly nap.

Back to As You Like It:

A wretched, ragged man, o'ergrown with hair,
Lay sleeping on his back.


These lines are describing a man that has been on the run, probably in these same woods, long enough for his hair to be o'ergrown, and his clothes in rags. Considering that in As You Like It, the woods are the hiding habitat of the outlawed Duke and his followers, the fact that Oliver seems to be hiding/living in a wood would be another pointer to his being an outlaw.

(…). About his neck
A green and gilded snake had wreathed itself,
Who with her head, nimble in threats, approached
The opening of his mouth. But suddenly
Seeing Orlando, it unlinked itself,
And with indented glides did slip away
Into a bush,


Given Frohnsdorff’s suggestion that the basic colour of ecclesiastical vestments changes to green at Pentecost (about the time of the Deptford episode), I agree with Farey that this green and gilded snake may well be a reference to Archbishop Whitgift, attempting to stop Marlowe’s heretical and seditious mouth. Apparently, the snake does not let go off his intended prey until this moment, when Oliver seems to be already an outlaw in the woods, and has obviously been on the run long enough to explain his wretched appearance.

(…) under which bush's shade
A lioness, with udders all drawn dry,
Lay couching, head on ground, with catlike watch
When that the sleeping man should stir. For 'tis
The royal disposition of that beast
To prey on nothing that doth seem as dead


Again, I agree with Farey that this lioness may be Queen Elizabeth; as we know she died in 1603 but she would certainly have been considered an old woman in 1593. However, I personally would feel much more comfortable imagining this lioness/Queen years later, allowing for the time necessary to justify the sleeping man's appearance.

While I personally cannot accept Farey’s theory that Whitgift would have agreed to Marlowe’s banishment, I can easily believe that, given the amount of people that seems to have been in the know as to Kit’s fate, Whitgift would have found out the truth within the next few years. Banishment does not stop anybody’s mouth, only death does that, and silencing heretics was as important as punishing them.

When Richard II banished Bolingbroke, that was perceived as punishment. When Romeo was banished, that was also perceived as punishment; it was Juliet who faked her death while Romeo was punished by exile. From a politico-religious point of view the accidental death staged at Deptford was no punishment in any practical sense, since it was not exemplary. In any case, the exiled life did not silence Marlowe as we know, and stopping Oliver’s mouth is what the snake seems to be intent on, until he leaves the job to the lioness.

Putting all these thoughts together, my personal reading of the speech in question is that Whitgift, having found out over the next few years that Marlowe was still alive, made sure the Queen would never allow him to come back to life, like Merlin.

The scene depicted in this metaphorical manner is covering a period between 1594 (let’s give at least a year for Oliver’s hair to overgrow and his clothes to become rags) and the first months of 1603, when both the “snake” and the “lioness” were still alive. However, the play was entered into the SR on August 4th 1600, although its publication was stayed. This suggests two possibilities: a) That Marlowe had lost his head and was cutting his own throat by writing this speech in 1599, or, b) That precisely in 1599, given Essex’s departure for, and expected failure in, Ireland, Marlowe’s situation was anyway hopeless, and he knew it, so he no longer cared which snake or lioness he might offend. (As I have said before, I believe it was the Earl of Essex who persuaded the Queen to save Marlowe’s life in 1593 and the man who gave him employment and financial support as an agent until 1599.)

A third possibility, and the one I prefer, is that this scene was revised after the Queen’s death, perhaps for that famous performance in the autumn of 1603, tantalizingly announced in Mary Sidney’s lost letter to her son, William, by then Earl of Pembroke.

I personally have no problem with that. Oliver’s is not the only speech and/or scene in As You Like It that seems to have been added after 1600 - the surmise that Marlowe, as most creative writers, may have revised his plays, adding information over the years, seems very reasonable to me.

In any case, this clue, picked up by Frohnsdorff and Farey, suggests to me that Whitgift may have been actively instrumental in preventing the Queen from “resurrecting” Marlowe before she herself died. If, as it appears by the involvement of her Coroner, William Danby, Queen Elizabeth had agreed to the Deptford scam, she must have had some plan for a future “happy ending."

Although, of course, it would not be as simple as that. I can imagine a changing scenario, with Marlowe’s release on the balance, as influence over the Queen shifted slowly, over the next five years, from Essex to Whitgift, with the Cecils swimming with the tide, as Essex insistently blotted his political copybook.

© Isabel Gortázar, October 2010

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.
Roland Emmerich Shakespeare Anonymous
1Frohnsdorff, Mike. The Marlowe Society Newsletter 18, Spring 2002, pp.31-33.
2Farey, Peter. 2010. "Christopher Marlowe: Flight or Banishment."
3See Gortázar, Isabel: The Clue in the Shrew (Revised): A Tumbling Trick.

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20 comments:

Peter Farey said...

Interesting ideas, Isabel, which I'd like to consider a bit more before commenting.

One thing that does need to be mentioned straight away since it affects your interpretation, however, is that it wasn't Orlando who was found under the oak, but Oliver himself who was found there by his younger brother Orlando.

Peter Farey

Isabel Gortazar said...

You are absolutely right; Peter; it is Oliver, not Orlando, sleeping under the tree.

I had already been warned about this by Eileen Vasey, but I was examining only the speech and not the whole scene, so I maintained the mistake. Sorry about that.

I read AYLI as being structured in sets of pairs, that coincidentally are the object of "mistakes" as determined by Orthodox Stratfordians:

The two Dukes are called "Frederick"; each of the two girls is taller than the other, and the two brothers, who undergo conversions similar to those of the Dukes, share this experience in the wood. It is as if we were getting in each of these pairs the two sides of the same coin, or two opposing aspects of the same person.

Anyway, that is another story and in no way excuses my mistake. Apologies.

Happily, all I need to do is write Oliver for Orlando, as the argument remains the same.

Isabel Gortazar said...

Peter: You write
"One thing that does need to be mentioned straight away since it affects your interpretation, however, is that it wasn't Orlando who was found under the oak, but Oliver himself who was found there by his younger brother Orlando."

My interpretation is that the man that is threatened by the snake and the lioness has been an outlaw for some time, as his hair and clothes aver, and that therefore the speech could not refer to a pre-Deptford agreement between the snake and the lioness.

How does the fact that this man is Oliver instead of Orlando affect this interpretation?

I realize we would all prefer to identify Marlowe with nice Orlando, hanging poems from the trees, but, as I said, I think there's more in the contrasting pairs than meets the eye and, in any case, if Oliver had been a "wicked Sir Oliver", he now becomes a nice guy and friendly brother,

Though aware, as it seems, that the sleeping man was Oliver, you associated him with Marlowe; the difference in our interpretations of the scene is not based on which brother is under the tree, but on when did the snake decide to hide behind the lioness.

Or am I missing something in your essay

Peter Farey said...

Isabel, you ask "How does the fact that this man is Oliver instead of Orlando affect this interpretation?"

I'm not sure that it does, but whilst neither Orlando nor Oliver is an outlaw, as you describe the man, the former is certainly fleeing from danger (as you think Marlowe was) whereas Oliver is not, and had obviously set off some time before Oliver was sent to apprehend him, meaning that he must have away longer. I had understood the reason for the man being there and the length of time he had been in the Forest to be of some relevance to your interpretation, that's all.

Of more interest to me however is your question "Or am I missing something in your essay?"

On the contrary, I think you are reading far more into my quoting this speech than you should. It was only after I had given a lengthy account of my reasons for proposing that Whitgift was a party to whatever happened to Marlowe that I drew attention to this, saying "Although I am usually reluctant to read hidden meanings into the texts... there is a passage in As You Like It (the play with so many apparent references to Marlowe) in which I cannot but believe the symbolism to be deliberate".

But I see it as symbolizing the situation rather than an event in time. In other words, during Marlowe's exile Whitgift and the Queen know that he is still alive. Whitgift would still "stop his mouth" permanently if he had his way, but defers to the Queen's decision that they will take no steps to kill him unless if he ever stops seeming to be dead. Reading anything more than that into it is in my view really not unjustified.

Peter Farey

Peter Farey said...

Oops. "Not justified" that should have been!

Peter Farey

Isabel Gortazar said...

Peter:
Luckily, Carlo has been good enough to correct my mistake.
So, back to your last comment:

"...whilst neither Orlando nor Oliver is an outlaw, as you describe the man, the former is certainly fleeing from danger (as you think Marlowe was) whereas Oliver is not..."

Isn't he?
In III, scene 1 (often an interesting place to look for information in the plays), we have Duke Frederick threatening Oliver with exile and poverty unless he finds his brother:

Duke F:
(...) Find out thy brother, wheresoe'er he is;
Seek him with candle; bring him dead or living
Within this twelvemonth, or turn thou no more
To seek a living in our territory.
Thy lands and all things that thou dost call thine
Worth seizure do we seize into our hands,
Till thou canst quit thee by thy brothers mouth
Of what we think against thee."

When this happens, Orlando has been gone a long while, yes, but he seems to have organized himself for food and company around the exiled Duke and the girls; he is even flirting with Rosalind, so hardly in a dishevelled state (I should have thought about that; these discussions are useful after all).

Whereas by the time Orlando finds him under the tree, Oliver may have been lost in the woods, desperately looking for his brother, for many months. Until/unless he finds Orlando, he is as much an exiled outlaw as Marlowe was.

Isabel Gortazar said...

"Reading anything more than that into it is in my view really not justified."

Of course. Why should we take any notice of the elaborate description made about the man's dishevelled state to mean anything?

You say:
"I had understood the reason for the man being there and the length of time he had been in the Forest to be of some relevance to your interpretation, that's all."

Precisely. You had understood correctly.

Alex said...

Isabel’s comments on Merlin are insightful and add to the magical texture of the play.

It should be noted that the oak was a traditional symbol of ancient liberties and the Golden World in which humanity lived according to nature without monarchs, laws, religion, or morality. Earlier in the play, in another animal-centered allegory, the sequestered stag sought refuge “Under an oak whose anticke root peeps out” (2.1.33). The stag’s plight mirrors that of Thomas Nashe, Marlowe’s friend and co-author of Dido, Queen of Carthage, who was in hiding from the authorities for his role in the Isle of Dogs affair and all of whose works (presumably including Marlowe’s Dido) were banned by the authorities at the time AYLI was written.

I agree with Mike and Peter’s reading of the snake. As a symbol of temptation and evil, it is not found in Lodge’s Rosalynde, the main source. The snake glances at Archbishop Whitgift trying to silence his enemies, as in the Martin Marprelate tracts: “There are almost none of God’s children but had as lief see a serpent as meet thee [Whitgift]” (The Just Censure and Reproof of Martin Junior). In Dr. Faustus (1616 text), Marlowe combines the snake and lion together (3.1.139-141): “That Peter’s heirs should tread on emperors / And walk upon the dreadful adder’s back, / Treading the lion and the dragon down.”

Approaching “The opening of his mouth” alludes to Whitgift silencing his enemies, including preachers, poets, dramatists, and satirists who voiced concerns or opposition to his doctrines and authoritarian rule. Cf. Strype's Life of Whitgift: “By his advice, that Course was taken wch did principally stop Martin [Marprelate} & his Fellow’s mouths.” AYLI's passage seems to conflate Whitgift’s original attempt to close Marlowe’s mouth in 1593 and his later attempt to ban Kit’s Ovid’s Elegies in 1599.

The lion is a symbol of the English monarchy and appears in Rosalynde but is male. In this passage, Marlowe turned it into a female, glancing at Queen Elizabeth. The image is of a mother lion that is tired from nursing her cubs. But as Elizabeth was barren and heirless, this is either an ironic reference or an allusion to Leicester, Ralegh, and Essex, her favorites at court, who have surfeited at her expense and whom she has tired of. In any case, as Elizabeth shielded the Archbishop from all criticism by Burghley and her other Privy Councilors, the lioness here shields the snake who scurries for her protection.

“With catlike watch” is another possible allusion to Elizabeth, one of whose nicknames was Cat. For example, the child’s nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle, Diddle” is believed to refer to intrigue at Elizabeth’s court. “The cat and the fiddle” may refer to Elizabeth’s toying with her Privy Councilors like a cat with mice.

“[R]oyal disposition” alludes to the lion’s monarchial demeanor and is unique to AYLI and is not found in Lodge’s Rosalynde. It reinforces the allusions to Elizabeth.

“To prey on nothing that doth seem as dead.” According to Pliny, a lion will not touch a dead corpse or slay a creature that yields in submission. “Prey” also puns on “pray,” mocking Elizabeth and Whitgift who customarily prayed together and lead a spiritually “dead” or lifeless Church.

Alex Jack

Peter Farey said...

Isabel, I was simply pointing out an error of yours, a surprising error given how significant a part the event plays in the main story. It is the same mistake you made in your comments on my "Whitgift" essay, at which time I refrained from mentioning it because it didn't seem relevant to the point you were making. This time it did, for the reasons I gave. Whether those reasons really were valid or not is neither here nor there.

Where we really part company is not over trivia like this but in your statement "...it is imperative to try and read in those works the information that any author, but particularly one in Marlowe’s circumstances, would have included about himself..."

Whilst I am more than happy to say that IF our Marlovian hypothesis is correct THEN a certain passage in a play may well be referring to it, I become very uncomfortable when people (of whom Oxfordians are a prime example) offer such correspondences as some sort of evidence in support their theory. There are simply far too many possibilities offered by Shakespeare from amongst which one can cherry-pick to be able to use any single case as offering support for anything. I would therefore consider the watching out for such connections of interest, maybe, but by no means imperative.

Peter Farey

Peter Farey said...

Fascinating comments from Alex. Thank you!

Just a passing observation about the Queen's "udders all drawn dry", which sounds highly insulting but which might be explained as her having given everything to her people?

Peter Farey

Isabel Gortazar said...

Hi Alex; thanks for your comment.

My only problem with what you say is with the following:

"The image is of a mother lion that is tired from nursing her cubs. But as Elizabeth was barren and heirless, this is either an ironic reference or an allusion to Leicester, Ralegh, and Essex, her favorites at court, who have surfeited at her expense and whom she has tired of."

Both Leicester and Essex paid much of the cost of the foreing wars and intelligence networks out of their own pockets; when Leicester was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the English forces in the Netherlands (1585), he had to mortgage part of his estate to pay for the troops, as the Queen would not give him the necessary funds. So, yes, the Queen's favour gave them power but not always money. "Surfeited at her expense" is I believe an exaggeration. Nor did she tire of Leicester and only temporarily of Raleigh.

Peter:
"Whilst I am more than happy to say that IF our Marlovian hypothesis is correct THEN a certain passage in a play may well be referring to it, I become very uncomfortable when people (of whom Oxfordians are a prime example) offer such correspondences as some sort of evidence in support their theory."

I would have thought my statement far less "Oxfordian-like" in its claim than a Latin anagram that you have been defending of late. Much though I admire the cleverness that it takes to work them out, I become extremely uncomfortable when people offers latin anagrams and ciphers as clues.

Peter Farey said...

Isabel, it is even less of an "imperative" to search for anagrams or other ciphers than it is "to try and read in those works the information that any author... would have included about himself." Nor have I ever suggested otherwise.

Finding (or stumbling across) either of these is interesting, of course, but that's all it can be unless there is further evidence which shows that the hidden message or underlying meaning was most probably placed there deliberately.

So Maureen's anagram is interesting and may well have been intentional, whether you "buy it" or not, but (like your interpretation) it does lack the supporting evidence there is, for example, in the case of the "riddle in the monument" which makes it highly probable that it was created deliberately.

Peter Farey

Alex said...

Isabel, thanks for pointing out my poor choice of words “at her expense” for Elizabeth’s relationship to Leicester and Ralegh.

One further thought about the snake. As scholars have pointed out, it alludes to Hercules’ labors with the Nemean lion and a variety of serpents, including the snakes sent by Hera to baby Hercules in the cradle and his defeat of the Hydra, Achelous, and possibly the Typhon. Earlier in the play, Orlando has been compared directly to Hercules by Rosalind (1.2.174), and there are scattered references throughout As You Like It to this legendary hero. These classical allusions would offer plausible deniability to any seditious interpretations of this passage by the censors.

Alex Jack

Isabel Gortazar said...

Thanks, Alex:
Your insight about Hercules seems to be supported by the fact that it is Orlando, in defence of his brother, who kills the lioness.

Isabel Gortazar said...

Peter:
"Finding (or stumbling across) either of these is interesting, of course, but that's all it can be unless there is further evidence which shows that the hidden message or underlying meaning was most probably placed there deliberately."

I thoroughly agree; where we don't usually agree is in what we consider "further evidence".

I don't consider that you have "further evidence" to support your extraordinary claim tha Whitgift had agreed to Marlowe's faked death, for example.

So I am comparing my conjecture to your conjecture, and it seems to me that reading the entire speech, rather than half of it, it supports my conjecture better than yours. That is all. And we might both be mistaken.

Maureen Duff said...

Hi Isabel,

Figurative speech intrigues me and I very much enjoyed the subtle and impressive analysis displayed here (and also in your richly informative Othello posts). I have one puzzle. I assume, if I may, that there was no possibility that a penny-paying theatre audience would pick up any of the hidden subtleties and so why did the author bother to write it? As you have noted, there was no certainty that it would ever be printed. I suppose he, or she, must have just hoped that it would be.

Best wishes

Maureen

Jim said...

When Marlowe created Ariel, he took away "m o w" and added an "I" to seal his name. The "mow" appears in Ariel's song. Ariel + mow = I Marlowe.

Before you can say come, and go,
And breathe twice; and cry, so, so:
Each one tripping on his Toe,
Will be here with mop, and mow.
Do you love me Master? no?

[1] Before Prospero can command airy Ariel (to come and go), he calls his name, so this song is a name riddle.
[2] "breathe twice and cry so, so" is the shocking reaction of the name riddle solved.
[3] This line spells Christopher. Each wordplay is tripping on his name's characters (that look like toes).
[4] This line spells Marlowe. ... more in goo.gl/rwQrW

Anagram affirms Marlowe in the First Folio, like Touchstone, Horatio, Macbeth, Othello. Without Marlowe's anagram, many lines are just flourishing words, which Marlowe used to record stories of his time.

Ariel was confined by the "foul Witch Sycorax, who with Age and Envy," a description sealed fully Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Touchstone condemned Oliver Mar-text, "the Vicar of the next village, who has promised" also with Oxford, whose full name is hard to complete in one short sentence.


Bartholmew can spell Marlowe. Christopher Sly having Bartholmew as his boy "wife" completes Marlowe. Besides that, Marlowe gave each of the Lord's hounds a name, but not the Lord. Marlowe dared to mock his master's other playwrights, but not the one who knew all his tricks. Each hound's name can spell a playwright.

It would be hard for Marlowe alone to operate the First Folio, monument and epitaph. Both Sly and Ariel had a master, who protected and asked Marlowe to write.

For your reference.

Isabel Gortazar said...

Extraordinary! You see what I mean Maureen?

Oxford wrote BOTH Shakespeare AND Marlowe.
Ans it's all in those anagrams!

Angels and Ministers of Grace defend us!

Isabel Gortazar said...

Now that I am at it, Alex and Peter, may I suggest that the lioness' "dry udders" might be referring to her being run out of the "milk of human kindness"?
Just a thought.

Jim said...

Marlowe wrote AYLI for Mary Sidney, not Oxford.

Marlowe recorded what happened around him, but he had no need to appear in every scene.

Oliver and catlike watch lioness is the story of Oxford's affair and his wife Anne Cecil. goo.gl/0h7bm