Friday, April 3, 2009

The Davies Epigrams and the Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection by Bastian Conrad

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

© Bastian Conrad, April 2009

Click here to reach Prof. Bastian Conrad's German Marlowe site.

Click here for our December 2008 Q and A with Prof. Conrad.

Daryl Pinksen assisted with the translation of this article.

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MauveExcel said...

this is becoming one of my favorite websites, thanks for all you guys do.

Anonymous said...

interesting, more to the reasonable doubt pile.

Dave Herber said...

The interpretation is intriguing because there are some additional elements to this that perhaps are more than just coincidental.

The key for me is why did Davies compare 'Shakespeare' to Terence (Publius Terentius Afer) of all people? Why not compare him to Euripedes, Sophocles or Aristophanes, arguably greater poets/playwrights. If Shakespeare were Sshakespeare, by 1610 when Davies wrote Scourge of Folly, his list of plays was 30+ and his 'reputation' had already been well established.

Is there a greater connection between Terence and Marlowe than there is between Terence and Shakespeare? And was Davies referring to this in a very oblique way?

LJordan said...

a great observation by Dave, why not Sophocles?

doc5467 said...

The questions as to why Davies would compare Shakespeare to Terence rather than Euripedes, Sophocles or Aristophanes are rather odd. Davies in this epigram is clearly focusing on Shakespeare as a COMIC writer with great WIT. Those are not qualities associated with the two great Classical tragedians named in the questions. As to Terence rather than Aristophanes, the Elizabethans had considerable fondness for Terence, over both his fellow Roman Plautus and the older satirist Aristophanes. Terence was the model for writing comedies, and his six surviving plays were considered the height of comic playwriting abilities.

I can't name a single comedy by Christopher Marlowe. Can anyone? Aside from the farcical elements in Dr. Faustus based on tweaking the Pope's nose and other such "sophisticated wit", I do believe your man wrote nothing whatever like Terence's plays.

Ros Barber said...

It is a common misrepresentation of Marlowe that he couldn't be funny. We know there were comic scenes in Tamburlaine - the printer Richard Jones admits to having cutting them out, saying " I haue (purposely) omitted and left out some fond and friuolous Iestures, digressing (and in my poore opinion) far vnmeet for the matter...they haue bene of some vaine conceited fondlings greatly gaped at, what times they were shewed vpon the stage in their graced deformities: neuertheles now, to be mixtured in print with such matter of worth, it wuld prooue a great disgrace to so honorable & stately a historie."

Faustus as you point out has comic scenes; The Jew of Malta can be played as a farce. Like Marlowe's plays, the early Shakespeare plays aren't exactly chock-full of comedy - the Henriad, King John, Titus Andronicus, Richard III - the earliest comedy is either Comedy of Errors or Taming of The Shrew (depending on whose dating you go with) and the latter existed in an earlier version ("A Shrew")... which may, some scholars have suggested, been Marlowe's.

There is a great deal of wit (and one might say out and out comedy) in Hero and Leander. Marlowe was considered a wit in his day, and there are contemporary reports to back that up: Thomas Thorpe calls him “that pure, Elementall wit Chr. Marlow”, and Thomas Heywood writes that he was “renown’d for his rare art and wit.” He was friends with, and influenced by, Thomas Nashe and Thomas Watson - both famously witty men. One only has to read the accusations in the Baines Note to appreciate Marlowe in full comedic flow. This commonly held belief that Marlowe wasn't capable of writing comedy just doesn't hold water. It is part of what Lukas Erne calls Marlowe's "mythography".

Daryl Pinksen said...

Hey doc, let me address your concluding non-argument.

If we look at the Shakespeare plays written prior to 1594, i.e., closer to the dates of composition of the Marlowe plays, we have Henry VI, Part I,II, and III, Richard III, and Titus Andronicus.

The Comedy of Errors, the earliest Shakespeare comedy, may have been written before or after Richard III and/or Titus Andronicus, quite possibly after. Let's assume for the sake of argument that it was after.

This would mean that the first five Shakespeare plays would not include a single comedy.

Let us further suppose that Shakespeare and Marlowe were two separate writers.

Now let us suppose that Shakespeare died in 1593, before the Comedy of Errors was written.

What would you now proclaim? "I can't name a single comedy by William Shakespeare. Can anyone?"

Would this prove that Shakespeare could not write a comedy? Or simply that Shakespeare did not write a comedy prior to his death? Hindsight is 20/20. Try and imagine the situation without it.

I'm weary of having to explain this distinction. Yes, there are real problems with the Marlowe-wrote-Shakespeare theory. This is not one of them.

Carol L said...

In the prologue to Adelphi: The Brothers by Terence the concept of the public author of a play being a 'frontman' for the actual author is discussed. Maybe Davies is alluding to this?

"...Nam quod isti dicunt malevoli, homines nobiles eum adiutare, assidueque una scribere"

"...For as to what these malevolent persons say, that men of noble rank assist him, and are always writing in conjunction with him"



Anonymous said...

Your linking together of the three epigrams is interesting. I, too, have been thinking along the same lines. I cannot agree with the "friendly" interpretation of Epigram 160, however; I detect a dismissive tone, and if the second line is understood as if the semi-colon were to be omitted it even takes on a threatening aspect. The last two lines of the previous epigram is surely based around the idea of somebody reaping profit from the sowing, by another, of "Honesty" which, if understood in horticultural terms, was also known as "Money plant." "The Scourge of Folly" was published about 1611, the year when the last of Shakespeare's plays appeared, according to most authorities. Was Davies suggesting to "No-body" that the gravy train was at an end, and warning the person that had hitched a ride on it that they could be dealt with should circumstances...such as when a person starts to tell too much of what they know about another person's affairs...deem necessary?
I make no bones about the fact that I believe epigram 159 to be addressed to William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby who, I believe, was the author of most of the "Shakespeare" canon. Davies was an intimate of the Derby household (see the poem addressed to "the right noble and most gracefull Lady, Alice, Countesse of Derby, my good Lady and Mistresse" in his "To Worthy Persons") and suggest that the "neere-deere wel-knowne friend; Some-body." was Stanley, the "good Will" of epigram 159. It seems significant to me that Davies does not dedicate any of his poems or epigrams to William Stanley with whom he was closely acquainted, even though many eminent figures of the day are honoured in his works. Unless, of course, Davies addressed the Earl as "Our English Terence Mr. Will: Shakespeare." It is interesting to note Davies does not use the double-dot abbreviation elsewhere in his work and that Stanley signed his letters as Will: Derby.