Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Significance of Sir Oliver Mar-text in As You Like It by Maureen Duff

Sir Oliver Mar-text1 is a minor character in the play As You Like It. He appears in Act III, sc. iii and is mentioned in Act V, sc. i. He has only three lines of dialogue. As there is already a major character called "Oliver" in the play, it is odd that there is also a minor one with the same first name. 2

In the first of the two scenes Touchstone, the clown, attempts to marry Audrey within the Forest of Arden. Sir Oliver Mar-text, a vicar summoned to marry them, is exposed by a witness, Jaques, as not being up to the task.  As a result, the marriage is halted until a more suitable vicar and place are found. In the second scene, Touchstone refers to Sir Oliver as "a most wicked Sir Oliver" and "a most vile Mar-text" before he turns his attention to seeing off a romantic rival, William, a "countryman," who lives in the Forest.

Some of those interested in the Shakespeare authorship question have wondered if Sir Oliver Mar-textʼs highly unusual name has a special significance. For example, Daryl Pinksen and Sam Blumenfeld both point out that "Marlo" can be read within the name. Blumenfeld goes further and wonders if "Mar-text" is a shortened form of "Marlowe's text," as does Calvin Hoffman and A.D. Wraight.3 "Marlo" is a known variant of the name "Marlowe."4

In the second of the two scenes, Touchstone and William compete for Audreyʼs hand. It has been suggested that a dim-witted character such as Audrey is an allegorical figure standing for the "auditors" or audience.5 Itʼs easy to guess who William might be. Touchstone dismisses William as vulgar and unlearned, and therefore unfit to marry Audrey. However, Touchstone (a pseudonym for Marlowe?) emphasizes his own fitness for the position of husband in classical form, viz ipse = he himself.6

I was struck by the introduction into the text of the Latin ipse and further by the description of Sir Oliver Mar-text as "wicked" and "vile" and therefore needing to be changed in some way – as an anagram, for example? As the two scenes are connected, this seemed to suggest that the name "Sir Oliver Mar-text" might hold a cryptic message in Latin. My knowledge of Latin is elementary, but I quickly saw that moving one of the two "iʼs" in the name into "text" made "texit" (3rd person, present tense) from texere = to compose.

I now had "Marlowe composes"; but what about the remaining six letters: s i r and v e r ? If this was a Latin anagram, the phrase must make sense and the grammar must fit exactly. At that point, I had a brief conversation with my uncle, Dr. William Anderson, research chemist and Latin scholar. It shortly became clear to us both that "Sir Oliver Mar-text" resolves into a straightforward Latin sentence with a meaningful English translation:

MARLO VIR RES TEXIT and the basic English translation:

So, why is a Latin anagram here at all? Who was it for? In 1598 William Shakespeare was identified in print for the first time as the author of the plays.8 Marloweʼs own name placed cryptically among the characters of As You Like It would serve as consolation for the real playwright. At least he would know it was there, even if no one else did.

I therefore suggest that the significance of Sir Oliver Mar-text is that it represents Christopher Marloweʼs claim to authorship of As You Like It - and possibly some of the other works attributed to Shakespeare.

© Maureen Duff, October 2010

Post-Script, October 2011

Appendix B of David Mateer's publication, "New Sightings of Christopher Marlowe in London," is a transcript, in the original Latin, of the charges brought against Christopher Marlowe by James Wheatley for the non-return of a horse. In it, "Marlowe" is twice spelled "Marlo." This shows that in 1589, "Marlo" was already a known Latin form of the poet's last name. (David Mateer, New Sightings of Christopher Marlowe in London, Early Theatre 11.2 [2008]: Article 2)

Thanks to Dr. W. Anderson and Peter Farey for their invaluable comments.

Maureen Duff was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and was educated at the University of Glasgow (MA, English Literature and Philosophy). She has worked in the entertainment industry for many years, first as a theatrical agent, then as a casting director in films and television. She worked for Director Richard Attenborough on Closing the Ring and Director Danny Boyle on several films, including The Beach and 28 Days Later. Her filmography can be found on the imdb. She has won or been a finalist in several UK national magazine writing competitions, notably winning a trip for two to Hawaii for a short story entitled "Krakatoa, East of Java." She once cast As You Like It for the Northcott Theatre, Exeter. She lives and works in London.

1 In the First Folio, 1623, Sir Oliver Mar-text was hyphenated and "Oliver" was spelled "Oliuer." At this time, "u" and "v" were the same letter but were sometimes written differently depending on position in a word.
2Oliver de Boys, son of Sir Rowland de Boys.
3Pinksen, Daryl. 2008. Marlowe's Ghost. p. 125.
Blumenfeld, Samuel. 2008. The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection. p. 295.
Hoffman, Calvin. 1955. The Man Who Was Shakespeare. p. 176.
Wraight, A.D. The Story That the Sonnets Tell. p. 342.
4Farey, Peter. 2002. "The Spelling of Marloweʼs Name." "Marlo" appears on the original title page of one of his plays (The Jew of Malta).
5Ben Jonson refers in "On Poet-Ape" to the "sluggish gaping auditor." A.D. Wraight: The Story That the Sonnets Tell, p. 341. Daryl Pinksen's Marloweʼs Ghost, pp. 118-121.
6Act V, sc. i
Touchstone: Give me your hand. Art thou learned?
William: No, sir.
Touchstone: Then learn this of me: to have, is to have; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other; for all your writers do consent that ipse is he: now you are not ipse, for I am he.
7According to Lewis & Shortʼs Latin Dictionary (1879, Impression of 1958, Clarendon Press, Oxford):
VIR (noun, nom, or voc, sing) = man, brave man, man of principle, hero, husband.
RES (noun, accus, plu), = things, facts, truths, subject matter; (in a literary context) events, acts, stories, histories.
TEXIT (verb, 3rd person, present) = he weaves; makes; (in a literary context) contrives, composes.
Collins Gem Latin Dictionary (1996) also lists these English meanings of the Latin words, showing their common usage.
8Loveʼs Labourʼs Lost was the first play to be published under the name "William Shakespeare" in 1598. As You Like It was written between late 1598 and early 1600 but "staied" from publication at the Stationers Register in May 1600. It was not seen in print until the First Folio, 1623.
For the first time in print, an independent author, Francis Meres, in Palladis Tamia (1598), named William Shakespeare as the "honey-tongued" author of twelve plays, two poems and a collection of "sugared" sonnets.
Daryl Pinksenʼs Marloweʼs Ghost (pp. 65-67) gives a list of the plays and dates of their publication.  Who wrote Shakespeare? Emmerich Anonymous
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Monday, October 4, 2010

The Tanner of Wingham by Peter Farey

In his introduction to William Urry's (1988) Christopher Marlowe
and Canterbury
Andrew Butcher wrote: "Furthermore, it seemed to Urry that the detailed local knowledge of East Kent which occurs in Henry VI Part II was certainly of a kind which Marlowe might have possessed and used. In describing Alexander Iden, Best, Wingham tanner, Emmanuel, the clerk of Chartham (or possibly Chatham), and Dick, the Ashford butcher, the dramatist seemed to be drawing on a knowledge of individuals who were demonstrably known to those living in Canterbury and its hinterland."

I don't know anything about the others, but it seems to me that Urry may well have had a point regarding that tanner's son:
Holland: I see them, I see them! There's Best's son, the tanner of Wingham. (2H6 4.2.21)
Mid-way between Canterbury and Wingham, which are about six miles apart, lies the parish of Bekesbourne. It is there that on 19 March 1582 (today's calendar) Joseph Best, the son of John Best, was christened. One may reasonably assume that he was a brother to Thomas Best, also baptized in Bekesbourne some three years earlier, on 22 February 1579. There was a Margaret Best (John's sister?) too, who had married John Silcock on 14 October 1566 in Goodnestone, which is less than two miles from Wingham. All of this information is from the International Genealogical Index of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Marlowe would have been two years old when Margaret was married. He was about fifteen - and only recently first recorded as a pupil at the King's School Canterbury - when Thomas arrived, and at Cambridge aged eighteen when Joseph was born. The Marlowes were at this time living in the parish of St. George, the Canterbury parish next to the city gate leading to Bekesbourne and Wingham.

We don't know whether this John Best was a tanner, of course - although Canterbury's "Old Tannery" isn't that far from "Best Lane" - but I quite like to imagine the young Kit Marlowe collecting leather for his shoemaker father from the Bests at Wingham and in a brief period away from school even visiting them around the time when his friend John’s wife was giving birth to young Thomas.

© Peter Farey, October 2010

Peter Farey, a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, 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." He was also a founding member (with Derek Jacobi) of the UK's National Youth Theatre. Click here to reach Peter's website.    Sam Riley Marlowe Burgess Emmerich Anonymous

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