Chasing Down an Allusion


I started this blog as a process journal for my research on Shakespeare, aka de Vere, first taking on Essex, to whom I will shortly return. My journey this last year has been fascinating to say the least. My take on a passage from Kevin Spacey’s series, House of Cards, with its Shakespearean themes, goes like this: unlike the Underwoods’ rather Macbethian marriage, which Claire says is not always happy, “but never dull,” my world has been “happy and never dull.” This may be because I am not looking to rule the free world like the guy with initials FU and the cufflinks to match. Discovery is never dull.  Research is discovery. And research does not happen in a bubble. I am indebted to the kindness and support of other well-regarded Oxfordian scholars, particularly that of Dr. Roger Stritmatter, of Coppin State, without whose patient and expert guidance this study would never have happened.

Well, in the course of discussing another scholar’s research and observing its evolution, I made my first possibly genuine, albeit, tiny literary discovery. It involves Ben Jonson,


Ben Jonson

who is a formidable subject. He is hardly taught to undergraduates, let alone graduate students, and he may be, next to Shakespeare, one of the most misunderstood writers, ever. But if you learn to read him carefully and with an open mind (even to issues of authorship) Jonson’s is an awe-inspiring creative and rhetorical mind.  I found an allusion to Shakespeare in one of Jonson’s paratexts (dedications, prefaces and other matter added to a text when it is published as a book) that apparently no one had ever noticed before. In my excitement to work on this, I gave Essex a long span of months off, and began a different kind of work.

This presented, eventually, some daunting tasks:

  • Prove that what I found was, indeed an allusion. IOW Look to my methodology. This is all the more complicated by there being an overlap of only a few words (not nouns) between Jonson and Shakespeare’s passages.
  • Combat post-structuralist ideas that negate the importance and justification of authorial intention; I had to learn more about the concept of intertextuality and the attempts of the new critics (who are now old hat) to squelch such analysis of literature.
  • Show that allusion and intertextuality were things Ben Jonson did by detailed contextualization which meant understanding his classicist rhetoric and poetic, as well as Jonson’s writerly tendencies, the many related works, and the history of all terms involved.
  • Gain a thorough understanding of the Shakespearean play Jonson alluded to as well as the context, genre and rhetorical situation in which “Honest Ben” probably alluded to said play.
  • Develop a more thorough understanding of Classical and Elizabethan into Jacobean rhetoric and rhetorical reading (especially Jonson’s and Shakespeare’s) as well as the way in which Jonson’s readers would have approached his paratext.
  • Understand the history behind the progression of texts involved and their relation to early modern politics.
  • Of course, as usual, this involved finding and ‘digesting’ most of the existing scholarship on especially the finer points above.
  • Figure out how to explain all of the above and prioritize the key points.

I did a fair job of getting this together for a decent conference presentation, (not without technical difficulties, but a sound improvement over my previous effort) which I will now attempt to develop into a paper. I’ve now been told I need to work especially hard on the play passage in question and how it supports my claim that Jonson alludes to it, in other words, more about the context. Luckily, literary interpretation is possibly one of my better skills, at least it is what I was trained to do in graduate school.

In the next installment, I will provide (at the very wise request of a colleague who saw my presentation) some resources I have found helpful in putting together literary conference presentations and what I have learned from my first two as well as from watching my more seasoned colleagues’ excellent work.  Also, I will describe any progress I have made on working toward the paper, and hopefully, its publication. All of this would not be possible without the guidance of my excellent friends and my best of all possible mentors.  As I like to say, in closing, Yours in all things E.ver,  Finis.

© Michelle Maycock 2014

Much Ado about Essex

Let me freely admit that I know my title here derives from the fairly bawdy joke that is the great comedy’s title and Shake-speare’s mea culpa for scandal. After long but incomplete study, I realized that I had been ‘had’ by a couple of commentators whose arguments I at first bought into. The joke was on me. So turn about is fair play, and I hope to turn the joke inside out by taking my sweet time and continuing to carefully figure out what I can about the puzzle that is Essex and his relation to another equally puzzling earl, come what may…Yes, I am very bad. But that may be good.

I took a long hiatus from writing this blog to work on my paper, the one I had started talking about here, for the Toronto edition of the Shakespeare Authorship conference. I had started this as a process journal for my research which it shall continue to be though, I am not really sharing any breakthroughs or findings which I will share when my paper is published.

Some Observations for Novice Oxfordians about Researching Authorship Issues and Figures for whom history may be somewhat distorted, particularly here, Essex.

When I first started, I realized that the usual methods of historical literary research would not work as well for this inquiry. I was taught to read backwards…To go back and read the critics and historians until their work seems obsolete in the face of new work. But I found out that the following basic research skills, which most scholars use, are doubly important when working to verify or discover early modern information:

  1. You have to go back to the early critics or historians and look at their sources. If you have limited resources, you may not ever get to look at primary sources, but many are now available online through libraries and EEBO.
  2. Read forward and backwards through all historians and literary historians; this should often include traditional scholars and authorship scholars and bloggers on both sides of the pond. Read everything on your topic. Use the academic databases, and Google. Oxfordian works can be found by using the search terms “authorship” and “Oxfordian.” I just downloaded all of the publications online from the DeVere Society, the Shakespeare Fellowship, and SOS. Now all will be combined for those last two. Once you save the pdfs on your own computer, the local files are searchable for key words. Be creative with your search terms. It is important to look at new scholarship even if orthodox. New materials do resurface or are reappraised.
  3. Read all footnotes and find any seemingly pertinent source yourself, then peruse the new source, especially for topics you feel you don’t have the strongest argument. —–Make a note of each source you get w who cited it and what you wanted to look into. You may have to wait to read or obtain the book and you need to remember why you needed it. If you find you need a book longer, make a copy of the parts you need. Look up everything. If an object or book is mentioned, look it up and you just might find that it exists in the British Library or a museum and you can see it for yourself.
  4. You can’t trust anyone to be 100% correct–especially scholars you number among your friends–this is called objectivity. Ask your fellow scholars. They do not mind answering questions on FB or email if you are genuinely doing the work.
  5. Just when you think you know something, you probably don’t–keep looking!
  6. Read everything any mentor or expert tells you to read immediately. They might be sending you a curve that you need to know about or giving you a clue to a treasure or the location of a needle in a haystack.Do not overestimate the ease of recommended reading or sources (they may be trying to teach you something or point you to a problem you need to solve). Working through sources is hard, but I found something new around every page, so it was motivating to keep working.
  7. Most things in authorship studies happen earlier than anyone thinks they did. But this is really hard to prove. You can’t guess about dating. Read the arguments for the various dating rationales.
  8. Read orthodox criticism, but also read to understand their theoretical basis– It is usually fairly revealing. Also look for outliers. Find out why they are doing what they do. Who else uses the theorists they cite? What is their reputation? Note that you often can actually trust some experts who have been discredited by people hostile to authorship issues. Reviews can be helpful. If a book is highly criticized, it may be that they actually had something new that makes their detractors very uncomfortable, and it may be groundbreaking.
  9. Do not avoid difficult texts or texts that need to be translated. There are people out there glad to help you with this aspect of research with valuable knowledge and skills.
  10. In Elizabethan discourse, you can safely bet that all writings may have multiple meanings and that nothing is necessarily literally true. I knew this to be true in theory, but this project research political intrigue made it all too clear to me how deep this runs. They wrote in code at several levels of interpretation to avoid being pinned down about saying things that could get them censored or frowned upon by people whose patronage decided their place in society and their ethos. Learning to understand why and how this works is part of the learning curve for anyone new in or returning to this field.

© Michelle Maycock 2014

Summertime….and the reading is easy…Breight fini.

This post is interim, but I’m going to post it before I take off some time to do more reading.

Reading about spies, wars and political struggles in Breight’s Surveillance Militarism and Drama flies in the face of the orthodoxy that would like us think that a commoner could have written covertly as Shakespeare did under such a regime. Breight’s handling of matters surrounding R2 is minimal, but he does do good work on tracing examples of Cecilian policy through the Henriad. He does not make many points about Shakespeare as a political figure, but he does show that some formerly confusing things about Falstaff and Hal’s actions are clearly consistent with the political realities his book depicts, which I would attribute to someone with insider status in the Cecilian state with a bone to pick. Breight is particularly helpful in giving a new understanding all of the plays from the perspective of realpolitik, what was really going on politically and militarily.

The main thing Breight does for Oxfordians is to corroborate the extremity of Cecilian oppression and censorship, and show what happened in England that made the secrecy surrounding Oxford’s mission as a writer so complex and dire. Breight demolishes the myth of Merrye ole England and details Cecil then Burghley’s methods of surveillance and patronage and tendency toward repeated antagonism, usually blamed on Catholic aggression in order to send the surplus commoners and undesirable elements of society off to war without sufficient provision, enlisting the upper orders as incompetent but greedy henchmen ala Falstaff. It seems to me from reading Breight, that the plays seem to have served as the circuses especially when, eventually, there wasn’t much bread. Breight traces the origins of empire back to the earliest days of Cecil’s  debut in government. We have heard of Cecil the evil puppet master, and if Breight’s research holds, it was on a grander scale than most have imagined.

I also read a new article that led to me something else I needed to find and read, another contribution to Essex lore ala R2 and a continuing controversy, a  2013 article by Jason Scott-Warren, of Cambridge, called “Was Elizabeth I Richard II?: The Authenticity of Lambarde’s ‘Conversation’” which directly disputes’ Jonathan Bate’s view of Lambarde, which ended up in Soul of the Age. The usual Bate and switch may be another example of Stratfordians trying to water down period nasties that have been interpreted “ideologically” which means, in part, by anyone, including authorship doubters, saying Shakespeare had an agenda. I am a little on the periphery of this party, so I have to go back and see more about what Bate was responding to, but Scott-Warren does a good job of summarizing the current work, including Hammer, whose take I have discussed previously. He argues with new evidence that the Lambarde exchange remains as meanful as we thought it was, despite Bate’s efforts to disqualify it.

What does this have to do with popularity?

Breight shows the how the commoners were oppressed and murdered wholesale, which makes clear the growing dissatisfaction with Elizabethan and then Jacobean governments under the Cecil-style administrative regime. Shakespeare has become an idolic figure of republicanism/democracy as Will-of-(but-really-not-of) the world, but the whole scenario looks a little different, sympathetic but somewhat contradictory from an Oxfordian point of view.

I do realize I have a chicken/egg dynamic in analyzing the evolution of the term “popularity,” and I plan to deal with that. By reading some of Dickinson’s book on Essex and Chivalry, I have learned a lot about how Essex saw the world, and more about how he assumed the dark mantle of Sidney’s chivalric legacy that totally conflicted with the political system of the new men under Elizabeth. The fake knight had replaced the real in court, but the military reality created abroad was all too real.

Some things I learned: I knew Essex had his own spy network, but Breight explains specifics about how this was complicated by double agents reporting to the PC.

Propaganda was flowing in all directions through the new media of printing and through the unprinted, maleable plays, and the truth was bent so badly out of shape we may never get an entirely clear picture of events surrounding Marlowe (one might suspect that Breight is a Marlovian), Essex, Oxford and others. But if we look at the double-dealing patterns of Cecilian influence and manipulation of people and popular opinion, through the examples of Breight and others, a lot of things begin to make sense.

Works Cited

Bate, Jonathan. Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare. New York: Random House, 2009. Print. 249-86.

Breight, Curtis C. Surveillance, Militarism, and Drama in the Elizabethan Era. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1996. Print.

Dickinson, Janet. Court Politics and the Earl of Essex, 1589-1601. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012. Print.

Hammer, Paul. ‘Shakespeare’s Richard II, the play of 7 February 1601 and the Essex Rising’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 59 (2008), 1–35 (18).

Scott-Warren, Jason. “Was Elizabeth I Richard II?: The Authenticity of Lambarde’s ‘Conversation’”  Review of English Studies (2013) 64 (264): 208-230 Oxford Journals. Web. 15 Jun 2013.

© Michelle Maycock 2014

Reimagining Early Modern Popular Politics — Embarking again

What am I doing now?

Popularity books

Having done a fairly thorough lit search, I have found that so much has written recently on Elizabethan popular politics as evidenced by Shakespeare’s plays and by other authors and genres as well, that it is a pretty rich niche within Shakespeare scholarship. The trend is to work more to redefine the whole Shakespearean rhetorical situation and includes the “rehabilitation” of the crowd, which is consistent with a view recent expressed by my generous commenter to this blog, psi, who said re the political dodginess of the history plays,  “Elizabethan audiences habitually looked for parallels between historical (or mythological) narratives and the events of their own lives.” Also, many are analyzing the political and social contexts and genres–including the differences between public and private political expressions (which bring to mind the closet dramas, which I did not remember existed until I was talking to a local friend who did her dissertation on one, by transcribing it for the first time), commonplace books,  as well as the tensions that surround the authorship questions about pseudonyms, anonymity and censorship.

This quest brought me back to a book that I have to get from interlibrary loan and had started to read last year, Breight’s Surveillance, Militarism, and Drama in the Elizabethan Era. This was recommended to me by a fellow doubter online. (Please identify yourself, if you read this and that was you!) While it was not received well in some circles, partially because he allies himself with Oliver Stone at some point and invites the ‘conspiracy’ connotation, his historiography is interesting because it is grounded in archival research. So I am going to reread and reappraise this source while I still have it.

Also, the scholar I visited in my last post, Doty, is working on his book (there is also his diss to look at to see how he got where he is now) and has a more recent article mainly about politics and the plays’ audiences that figures in the characterization of the idea of “popularity” and how it plays out in the theatre. For the time being, I may have to narrow all of this to sources relevant to Essex, particularly RII, or I will never finish a short paper on the way to what could easily be a book.

Another idea that has occurred to me is how often some people I have talked to forget how new this brand of plays were as a medium and a genre, and how we often look at the reality surrounding them without remembering that aspect. Policy and enforcement regarding the plays and the theaters was a work in progress as well, written and under constant revision by somewhat conflicting authorities. In this chaos, much staging got to happen, it seems, because it is not possible always to fight fire with fire (candle allusion acknowledged). The plays were ‘the thing.’ I once wrote about how early novelists propagandized to promote their new genre and its culture at the same time they were developing them, and that aspect of the plays certainly comes into the equation here.  And so, off I go to read about the history of the histories (and the trouble they got some writers into), the history of the word “popularity,” and the history of what was happening in the theaters. However “abstract and brief,” these chronicles point to this genre and cultural phenomenon’s evolution as well as that of its premiere author’s various stances and status. Looking at this trend in popularity scholarship explains a lot about what people are currently thinking about the theoretical author of the plays and how they might be (or not quite) getting it right.

Works Alluded to

Breight, Curtis C. Surveillance, Militarism, and Drama in the Elizabethan Era. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1996. Print.

Doty, Jeffrey Steven. “Popularity and Publicity in Early Modern England.” Dissertation. The University of Iowa, 2008. ProQuest. Web. 19 May 2013

Doty, J. S. “Shakespeare and Popular Politics.” Literature Compass, (2013) 10.162–174. Wiley Online Library Web. 20 May 2013

© Michelle Maycock 2014

“Publicity” and the Plays that Comment on Essex’s Ambitions

A Discussion of Jeffrey S. Doty’s “Shakespeare’s Richard II, “Popularity,” and the Early Modern Public Sphere.” Shakespeare Quarterly 2010

Doty returns what he feels is the neglected theater to the discussion of the early modern public sphere as a context in which political rhetoric played to all levels of society. In arguing that “in Richard II, Shakespeare draws attention to how the commons see, judge, and participate, both cognitively and emotionally, in political life,” Doty makes interesting points that can be transformed by changing the identity of the author, and show the complex nature Shakespeare’s cautionary tales of ‘power gone wrong’ aimed at the people, the Queen and her council, Essex’s friends, and the ambitious Earl himself.

The central issue of Doty’s analysis is the evolution of the concept of “popularity” and how Shakespeare’s plays Richard II and Henry IV Part I develop and comment on this then new, controversial and dually defined concept. Doty explains, using a quotation about publicity copied within the theater into a playgoer’s commonplace book as a starting point, that these plays invited analysis of the function of power in the public political sphere. He posits that these audience thought-processes were informed by the emotional appeals the factions’ politicians and peers were making in public, and by Shakespeare by holding up Richard, Bolingbroke and the commoners for judgment by the audience. He analyzes the interpretations of Bolingbroke as the allegorical Essex as a figure inspiring “popularity.” I take it a bit farther to say that Essex made himself a bit of a celebrity (I have to research that term) and I am also wondering when “notorious” came into the vocabulary.  Doty captures the playwright’s interesting and, I think, evolving orientations with respect to his audiences in the public sphere, ones in which he seems to propagandize less, and to weigh the force of a theater-going public’s judgments about affairs of state even more. Pointing out that Richard rises in sympathy as he falls, examining Bolingbroke’s Essex-like trajectory, and analyzing the depiction of commoners’ reactions both within the play and in the theater crowd, Doty seems to confirm Hammer and others’ assessment that the plays criticize both sides, Essex and his enemies, point out the weaknesses of the various factions’ positions, and support the Queen herself as she formerly was, before the privy council faction held sway.

I learned much from this article, from common-placing theory to the origins of the term “popularity,” which it has inspired me to possibly explore further when I have time to do the reading pointed out to me through this article and the literature search it inspired, because there are some new books to peruse. I also need to analyze the OED entries for “popularity,” as Doty has a tendency to use passive voice and drop the subject who was using the term; this may be because we just don’t know that much. But at the beginning of reading the article, I copied the OED entries, and it seems that there are some interesting attributions to consider.  Doty was very helpful in making statements about Shakespeare the politically-involved commoner, that could easily be rewritten and argued against to inform an Oxfordian version, of a more autonomous, rhetorically sophisticated Shakespeare who was seemingly more and more able to offer a more informed, seasoned and objective critique of the power struggles of the 1590s. That he could do this without being hauled in on sedition was a function of his rather more unique position as the masked earl behind works the crown was long accustomed to. I have more work to do on this article; but I wanted to get down my impressions, as other things may have to intervene.

Jeffrey S. Doty. “Shakespeare’s Richard II, “Popularity,” and the Early Modern Public Sphere.” Shakespeare Quarterly 61.2 (2010): 183-205. Project MUSE. Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <>.

© Michelle Maycock 2014