Historicising Shakespeare’s Richard II:
Current Events, Dating, and the Sabotage of Essex
Fitter, Chris. "Historicising Shakespeare’s
Richard II: Current Events, Dating, and the Sabotage of Essex". Early
Modern Literary Studies 11.2 (September, 2005) 1.1-47 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-2/fittric2.htm>.
“I am Richard 2d. Know ye not that?”
- Queen Elizabeth’s moment of shattering candor with the bureaucrat and jurist
William Lambarde as they pored over antiquarian records in her Privy Chamber
at Greenwich on the 4th of August 1601 -- not to mention Lambarde’s
apparently pat comprehension of her allusion (“Such a wicked Immagination
was determined and attempted by a most unkind Gent, the most adorned Creature
that ever yr Matie made”) -- have long driven scholars of Richard II
to historical research: unearthing numerous analogues between the monarchic
regimes of Richard and Elizabeth on the one hand, and between power-hungry
super-courtiers Bullingbrooke and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex on the
other. In furthering this project, I suggest, it is critical to establish
the play’s precise date if we would recuperate political overtones and connotations
activated in the earliest productions. The present essay accordingly presents
three, interlinked arguments. First, on the basis of several intriguing possible
parallels between the drama and current events, it challenges the accepted
but uneasy guesswork dating of the play to 1595. Second, it argues the further
importance of these topical echoes, whether envisioned by Shakespeare or not,
as impacting political response in early audiences to major events within
the play: responses crucial to evaluation of Essex-in-Bullingbrooke. Finally,
resituating Richard II primarily in the year or so that it first was
staged (circa 1596) rather than in the very different conjuncture of the Essex
revolt (February 1601), it will suggest that while the drama’s earlier apparent
allusions to certain current events help establish a seemingly celebrative
evocation of the wildly popular Essex -- a figure so frequently posited by
critics as an object of Shakespearean admiration -- that subsequently, the
drama effects, with characteristically sardonic Shakespearean reversal (and
in a strategy not dissimilar to that of Parsons’ Conference about the Next
Succession of 1594) a calculated assault on the controversial earl’s standing.
- Drawing demonstrably upon Samuel Daniel’s The First Fowre Bookes of the
Civile Warres (registered on 11 October 1594 and probably on sale some
time the following year), and appearing in first quarto in the Stationers’
Register on 29 August 1597, Richard II clearly was written and first
staged between these dates. Sir Edward Hoby’s famous letter of December 1595
inviting Sir Robert Cecil to supper where “K. Richard [shall] present him
selfe to your vewe” 
cannot be taken to refer to Shakespeare’s play, however, for Hoby had commissioned
in 1593 a series of historical portraits depicting Constables of Quinborough
Castle in Kent (of whom he was one) beginning with Edward III: so his letter
may indicate a recent acquisition. Even were a play indicated, it could have been Richard
III, Woodstock, or indeed any play featuring a King Richard. Indeed
as Shapiro reasoned, “it might be argued that [Hoby’s] bare reference to ‘King
Richard’ implies he was writing before Shakespeare’s Richard II was
known, for after it had been performed a few times it would presumably have
been necessary to distinguish between Shakespeare’s plays about the two Richards,
as Francis Meres did in Palladis Tamia (1598).”
Although “Such uncertainties should wonderfully encourage scholarly agnosticism”,
the view seems current still that Richard II dates from 1595. For this dating, however,
we have absolutely no dependable evidence, and given the demolition of the
argument from the Hoby letter, indeed no argument. Richard II could
have been written at any point up to a matter of weeks before the registering
of the first quarto.
- On the basis that Elizabethan drama in general and Shakespeare in particular
were, in their very nature assiduously topical, “the abstract and brief chronicles
of the time”, we may be able by matching close textual reading to events of
1595-97 to date the drama more closely through moments of apparent allusion.
On the basis of several such instances, Richard II emerges as quite
possibly dateable, I suggest, to some point following April 1596, and possibly
even to early 1597. The case, we shall see, is by no means conclusive; yet
even in its dubiety it retains critical importance, because a number of charged
circumstances of late 1595 and 1596 will -- whether by authorial design or
force of subsequent coincidence -- have been read into the text by audiences
from 1596 on, as well as by readers of the early quartos (published in August
1597, and twice in 1598).
Chronos as bardolater? National events as popular optic
- Two incidents of national resonance that would appear to be reflected in
Richard II are the 1595 Accession Day tournament and the fall of Calais
in April 1596.
- Since Albright, Chambers and Campbell pioneered recognition long ago of the substantiality
of the Richard / Elizabeth and Bullingbrooke / Essex parallels, modern criticism
has been cognisant in general terms of the martial figure of the earl adumbrated
in the challenging profile of Bullingbrooke.
That Shakespeare chose to open his version of the deposition of Richard II,
however, with Bullingbrooke’s stylized and highly rhetorical chivalry -- ceremoniously
hurling down his gage, challenging his foe with lengthy declamation (“by that,
and all the rites of knighthood else / Will I make good against thee, arm
to arm”, 1.1.75-76) -- may possibly have been stimulated by something more
particular: concern to render Essex almost instantly apparent to contemporary
audiences through evoking the extraordinary Accession Day tilts of November
- The earl’s celebrated personal courage at Lisbon and Rouen (1589 and 1591-92)
had typified, as his most authoritative biographer suggests, “the ritualised
posturing which Essex performed in the tiltyard.” Essex in war was aware that
“he was participating in the greatest theatre possible -- as Sir Walter Ralegh
remarked of the battle of Cadiz: ‘the best wilbe that ther was 16,000 witnesses.’”
 Essex was a longstanding
virtuoso of the lists, featuring, indeed, as principal challenger in 1588,1590,
1594 and 1596; and on these last two occasions he took on all-comers. 
Yet the Accession Day tournament of November ’95 stood out nationally, as
something dramatically new: a deliberate coup de théâtre staged
by Essex to present himself to England as more than just a chivalric hero:
“He used a public occasion intended for glorifying the Queen to spell out
his own political credentials.”
- Before thousands of spectators, packed into the tilt-yard at Whitehall palace,
Essex not only jousted, but centred the occasion upon himself through a rhetorical
set-piece that in Hammer’s words “became the talk of London.” Performed both
before and after the supper break, Essex’s mini-drama presented a hermit,
a soldier and a secretary who each besought him to follow their profession,
only to be rebuffed as the earl -- in whom all three personae existed -- proclaimed
through his squire exclusive devotion to the love of the Lady Philautia, representing
Elizabeth. Though ostensibly designed as public profession of loyalty to the
queen in the wake of Parson’s book A Conference about the next succession
to the crowne of Ingland (glaringly dedicated to Essex in terms treasonably
suggesting him Elizabeth’s heir), the tournament set-piece in fact alienated
a queen who felt herself marginalized by the nobleman’s publicity-seeking
rhetoric. (“The queen sayd that, if she had thought their had bene so much
sayd of her, she wold not have bene their that night, and soe went to bed.”
) To the Cecils,
too, the grand display must have seemed breathtakingly brazen: not least because
the relentless appetite for political decoding of London audiences ensured
that the figures of hermit and secretary were construed as caricatures of
Burghley and Robert Cecil -- principal rivals of the dramatic earl. Essex’s
drama, however, as Hammer points out, had been designed not only for Elizabeth
but “to appeal over her head to the assembled ranks of courtiers and citizens.”
Manuscripts of the set-piece were circulated; Hilliard’s miniature of the
earl in tournament dress seems to have commemorated the occasion; and several
ballads were published in the days following the event -- possibly produced
and distributed by Essex’s friends.
- The opening scenes of Richard II may recall the occasion in a number
of ways. The co-existence of stylized knightly professions of honor, fealty,
and desire for “chivalrous design of knightly trial” (1.1.81), with the presence
of a ‘Marshal’ (line 204), impose even upon the first scene that framework
suggestive of the tilt-yard supplied again in the third scene as the setting
for ritual combat. Overtones of Essex in the representation of Bullingbrooke
-- ritualistically chivalric, unmanageable in his insistent rhetorical vehemence,
hurling himself to his knees before his sovereign in a moment strongly evocative
of the November set-piece
Lord Marshal, let me kiss my sovereign’s hand
-- are matched by the cool responses of the monarch. Referring somewhat disdainfully
to the young nobleman’s “boisterous late appeal” (1.1.4), characterizing him
wearily as “high-stomached” (1.1.18), the sovereign responds initially with
dry detachment to Bullingbrooke’s self-dramatizing passion (“How high a pitch
his resolution soars!”, 1.1.109), but subsequently with some irritation as
he finds himself unable to command events (“We were not born to sue, but to
And bow my knee before his majesty
- There is a major problem, however, with dating the play accordingly to some
point following November 1595: the key details of this scene are to be found
in the edition of Holinshed’s chronicle (1587) that we know Shakespeare to
have used. In Holinshed lie the knightly professions of the two noble rivals;
the tiltyard-like setting of “a great scaffold erected within the castell
of Windsor” where the king sat with great prelates of the realm; the refusal
to come to accord; the king’s irritated response; the appointment of a day
of combat; and the king’s sudden intervention to prevent the fighting. Even
the ‘marshal’ derives from Holinshed, for when Bullingbrooke and Norfolk refuse
conciliation, Richard creates the Duke of Surrey “marshall of England” on
the spot, for the purpose of arresting the two and standing pledge for their
- It may accordingly seem wilful to suggest that Richard II here evokes
contemporary parallel. Yet in the aftermath of the November tilts – witnessed
by thousands, and commemorated with ballads and the circulation of the Essex
text, not to mention with the continuing popularity of Essex through 1596-97
as the nation’s leading military hero crusading against the Spanish enemy
– the parallels between elements of the opening of the play and the surprise
extravaganza of aspiring knightly professions at the Accession Day of 1595
must, given their number, surely have been evident to Shakespeare: and to
almost anyone who knew of the November tilts. Basic analogies between the
Accession Day sensation and the play’s first scene include the tiltyard framework,
chivalric protestation of loyalty, denigration of a rival, a contest of wills
between prince and paladin, and the ensuing sidelining of the monarch. The
king finds himself ironically bested by the incorrigible force of grand aristocratic
display much as a displeased Elizabeth had found herself upstaged at Whitehall.
A burning, declamatory chevalier steals center stage from a worried monarch
in the very action of professing loyalty (“Tend’ring the precious safety of
my Prince, / And free from other misbegotten hate”, 1.1. 32-33).
- Further, Shakespeare suppresses a number of elements in Holinshed that,
by coincidence or otherwise, would have jarred with suggestion of the tournament
episode. The creation of Surrey as Marshal of England, to stand pledge for
Bullingbrooke and Mowbrays; the creation of Aumerle as Constable; the withdrawal
of the sovereign, on hearing the rival’s accusation, to “commune with his
councell”; and the subsequent
announcement not by monarch but by Bushy, on behalf of king and council, of
the day of combat: all these disappear. The omissions can be put down, of
course, to artistic streamlining of the action. But certain overtones of Essex’s
character, peculiar to the text, are added: for instance the paladin’s passionately
[Gloucester’s] blood, like sacrificing Abel’s, cries
Likewise, the note of hysteria evident in Bullingbrooke, as in the promise
rather to bite off his tongue and spit it bleeding in his adversary’s face
than withdraw his accusations, is Shakespeare’s creation (1.1.190-95). And
the Earl of Essex, was, of course, a descendant of the murdered Duke of Gloucester
for whom Bullingbrooke seeks vengeance.
Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth
To me for justice and rough chastisement;
And by the glorious worth of my descent
This arm shall do it or this life be spent.
- Richard II’s latest editor, Charles R. Forker, deduces that Shakespeare’s
usage of Daniel’s Civile Warres means that “the play could not have
been composed earlier than the latter part of 1595.”
This would place composition within a few months, at most, of the Accession
Day spectacle. It would accordingly seem unconvincing, I suggest, to impute
to sheer coincidence Shakespeare’s dramatization of an inflammatory scene
in the lists between an Elizabeth-like monarch and an Essex-like figure in
precisely the period (September - December 1595) when such an encounter actually
and explosively happened. Rather, given Shakespeare’s track record of legitimating
critique of current events by swooping on ‘toxic parallels’ with chronicle
given the established Elizabethan analogising of the queen with Richard II
and Bullingbrooke with Essex, it would seem more probable that Richard
II was influenced by and thus composed later than the November tilts,
and may thus derive from some point in 1596.
- Woven into the first scene and reappearing in act four come angry references
to infamy at Calais. News reached England at the beginning of April 1596 that
the Spanish were besieging Calais, held by England’s ally, Henri IV. Immense alarm was
generated, as a port so close could provide devastating military advantage
should it fall to Philip II; and the booming of cannons could be heard in
Dover. Certain Londoners, including the queen, claimed to be able to hear
the artillery barrage of the desperate battle. Essex and Lord Admiral Howard
had troops already assembled in Plymouth for an attack on Spain, and Elizabeth
commissioned their deployment in a relief expedition. On April 3, a spy-ship
sent by Essex reported back that Calais’ harbour was still open, and English
troops could be easily landed to engage the Spanish. “On 9 April, Good Friday,
orders went out to the Commissioners of Musters in the south east to have
6,000 men with arms in Dover by Sunday night at the latest”, writes Lacey.
“The Mayor and aldermen of London were listening to the Good Friday sermon
at St Paul’s Cross when they got the order to raise a thousand men. By eight
o’clock that evening, they had assembled that number.” Next morning, to the angry astonishment
of her Privy Council, Elizabeth canceled these instructions: Henri IV had
not agreed to the request that the English could remain in a liberated Calais.
The impromptu London troops went home. When reports arrived on Easter Sunday,
however, that Calais had not fallen and yet could be saved, “Elizabeth cancelled
her previous cancellation.” London’s Lord Mayor and aldermen were again commanded
to a levy: and they responded by locking the doors on their packed parish
churches until their quotas were filled. “By noon 1,000 Londoners were again
under arms -- and by sunset most were marching toward Dover.” A row now developed between Essex and Howard over
command seniority: and the queen once more canceled the expedition. On April
14 she yet again changed her mind, and the expedition was yet again on. Essex
spent all day on the 15th embarking troops at Dover. By evening,
however, dispatches confirmed the worst fears as to why the guns had fallen
silent across the water.
- “The shambles of Calais”, writes Hammer, “ . . . showed Elizabeth at her
worst as a wartime leader, issuing contradictory orders and adopting a stop-go
approach which drove even Burghley to despair.” Essex, however, emerged from the
crisis in full luster. Throughout the twelve days of the Calais fiasco, he,
like the Lord Admiral, had contributed deeply to military expenses. Essex
armed fifteen hundred soldiers, supplied one hundred lancers, and paid the
wages of a thousand men. As his army lingered at Plymouth through May, waiting
for the queen to authorize a strike against Spain, he found himself paying
paid twelve hundred and fifty pounds a week -- for a month -- to maintain the
army. His “promptness in paying his men”, moreover, was “quite untypical of
When his ships returned from the counter-expedition against the Spaniard in
late July and early August, he was greeted as ‘the hero of Cadiz’. As bonfires
burned, bells rang, and citizens banqueted in London on August 8 as a day
of public thanksgiving, Essex used the jubilation to urge Elizabeth to retain
his troops for the recovery of Calais. When she proved indifferent, he urged
members of the London Corporation to press the queen on the project, with
such success that they offered to fund a Calais expedition largely themselves.
- Both the Calais and Cadiz affairs had generated tension between monarch
and nobleman. Elizabeth knew herself scorned for her vacillation, even without
Essex’ letters pleading practical action; and she countered Essex’s attempts
at a self-glorifying propaganda campaign when she forbade publication of the
tract he had hastily composed on the voyage home from Cadiz, and restricted
to London the nation-wide celebrations he had solicited from Archbishop Whitgift.
- Whether or not Shakespeare had already written the play, such developments
could not but color reception of any performances of Richard II taking
place from April 1596 on, for several years. The details of the drama’s exchange
over Calais come, once more, from Holinshed. Yet in these circumstances, the
play’s very mention of Calais (let alone its association with a dark royal
disgrace which outraged Bullingbrooke-Essex) would have evoked contemporary
public anger towards a wayward, incompetent monarch; and would have heightened
the drama’s contrast of undependable crown against the driving man of action
embodied in Essex’s whole line of behavior, and in his urgent letter to Elizabeth
of late April or early May -- “princes that ar once in warr, if theie doo littel,
must suffer much”: a line that could stand as the caption
to the close of the Barkloughly Castle scene. Further, the denunciatory fury
of Bullingbrooke towards Mowbray would have accrued overtones celebrative
of Essex: for Bullingbrooke contemns the Duke as failing to pay the Calais
troops, reserving instead eight thousand nobles to himself (1.1.88-91). “Through
the false passage of thy throat thou liest!” shrieks Mowbray in insufficient
retort. “Three parts of that receipt I had for Calais / Disbursed I duly to
his highness’ soldiers” (1.1.125-27). Behind the accusation here would loom
the figure of the generous earl, so concerned for the well-being of his troops
that he had disbursed his own funds to see them paid: an association that
would only heighten audience response to a rightfully incensed Bullingbrooke-Essex
at this point, locked by high principle into a battle of will with shadowy
sovereign and caterpillars of the court. It is precisely the kind of dramatic
moment that may have stood out in the mind of the earl or his followers in
1601, when the play was chosen as the curtain raiser to their own rebellion.
There is also the possibility that Richard’s astounding command in scene three
to call off the duel between Bullingbrooke and Mowbray (a detail faithful
to Holinshed) -- a reversal abrupt, exasperating, and all the more surprising
since the crown itself had set it in motion -- may have jolted audiences with
recollection of Elizabeth’s stop-go-stop policy at Calais, by which the London
masses had been repeatedly stirred, levied, then frustrated.
- Shakespeare’s references to Calais were made, perhaps, overwhelmingly probable
by his sources: not only Holinshed, but the anonymous play Thomas of Woodstock
(deriving probably from the mid-1590s and greatly influenced by 2 Henry
VI), whose sequel Richard II has in some degree fashioned itself
to be. Yet
Holinshed is starred with geographic allusions ignored by the dramatist. A
list of those place names that Shakespeare found, and chose to omit, in Holinshed’s
section on the Richard II events (and leaving aside the other sources
Shakespeare consulted), includes Shrewsbury, Brainsford, Windsor (twice),
Almane [Germany] (twice), Eltham, Holborn, Langley, Brittany, St. Albans (twice),
Doncaster, Evesham, Conway, Rutland, Nantwich, Newcastle, the Isle of Man,
Stafford, Lichfield, Dantry, Northampton, Dunstable, Leeds Castle in Kent,
and Sterling. In this context, Shakespeare opts to specify Calais, however,
in both act one and act four (1.1.126; 4.1.13). Further, Shakespeare omitted
such elements in Holinshed’s Calais exchange as Mowbray’s insistence that
Calais was still well-governed, Mowbray’s claim that he had retained certain
funds in recompense for his journey to Germany on his sovereign’s behalf,
and the crown’s noting that the Calais troops remained unpaid. Shakespeare’s
version thereby becomes more economical, but also prunes certain elements
inapplicable to the circumstances of 1596.
- Even were the play the product of 1595, the tiltyard analogy would have
supervened upon dramatic meaning in performances following November of that
year, and the Calais parallels from the following April: and their impact
on perceived political significance would have been no less the powerful for
the coincidence. Whether their origin was in fact Shakespearean intentionality,
or whether history itself strengthened Shakespearean identification -- Chronos
as bardolater -- this set of parallels will have conferred resounding allegoric
resonance. Exceedingly few among the thousands in Shakespeare’s audiences
would have known how much in the play derived from Holinshed; whereas the
events of November 1595 and of 1596 we have described will have formed a determining
popular optic through which much in Richard II must have been viewed
by the many. Magnifying and enriching the Elizabethan analogues of the Ricardian
story, and doubtless contributing to the exceptional popularity of this play,
this optic becomes important for assessing what Elizabethans -- among them
Essex himself and his followers -- made of the play’s politics at the time
that the quartos went on sale; and indeed, on the night before the Essex revolt.
The Calais references’ apparent evocation of disastrously unfit monarch as
against angered crusading nobleman, patriotic and generous, along with the
opening scenes’ seeming celebration of the wronged and noble tiltyard hero,
may well have helped emphasize to Essex’s supporters at the juncture of 1601
the pro-Bullingbrooke elements in the drama.
- A subtler political critique, however, emerges with another topical field:
the theme of Englishmen as intrepid travelers. On September 5 1595 Sir Walter
Raleigh returned from his exploration of the Orinoco basin in Guiana, bearing
fabulous tales of cannibals, men whose heads grew beneath their shoulders,
and directions through shrieking jungle and churning swamp to El Dorado. He
rushed out a sensational account, The Discoverie of the large, rich and
beautifull Empire of Guianna, published early in 1596; and dispatched
his friend Lawrence Keymis in January 1596 to locate the gold mine in Guiana
of which he had learned.
Almost concurrently, two other legendary English travel-adventurers, Francis
Drake, the circumnavigator of the world, and John Hawkins, pioneer Guinea
coast slave-trader and commander of the Victory against the 1588 Armada,
died and were buried at sea (Hawkins November 1595, Drake January 1596) in
the ill-starred Panama expedition. Survivors straggled home in April and May
with tales of desperate hand-to-hand fighting with the Spaniard. Drake in
particular had been “enveloped” in “the haze of patriotic myth” even in his
own lifetime; and it was claimed
that in the furious cannon exchanges at San Juan in November his stool had
been blasted away from under him. The national epic continued. Even
as Raleigh’s fantastical Discoverie hit the streets, he was planning,
with the dashing Essex, to carry the war to the homeland of the national foe
in the Cadiz expedition: sailing on 30 May 1596 and returning to festivities
- The high tide of these events would seem to have been the spring and summer
of 1596, when the glamorous constellation of Raleigh’s Discoverie,
news of Drake’s and Hawkins’ fighting deaths, and the mounting of the Cadiz
expedition must have created, in certain London circles at least, a wistful
and rock-jawed mood of patriotic pride, contemplating an unquelled tradition
of veteran English venture. This mood must have been part at least of the
reason why even the queen was unable wholly to ban public rejoicings over
the Cadiz attack in August. It is hard to see what in 1595, at least prior
to Raleigh’s return in September, could have prompted a like patriotic buzz.
The concurrence of such events with Richard II’s celebrative motif
of English travel-heroics may be less than coincidental. Mowbray’s response
to Bullingbrooke’s challenge -- “[I would] meet him, were I tied to run afoot
/ Even to the frozen ridges of the Alps, / Or any other ground inhabitable,
/ Wherever Englishman durst set his foot” -- solicits symmetrical patriotic
hubris: Bullingbrooke will fight Mowbray “Or here or elsewhere, to the furthest
verge / That ever was surveyed by English eye” (1.1.63-66, 93-94). Gaunt’s
sceptered isle panegyric hymns English kings “Renowned for their deeds as
far from home / For Christian service and true chivalry / As is the sepulchre,
in stubborn Jewry” ( 2.1.53-55). England is “dear for her reputation through
the world” (2.1.58). Holinshed, for once, offered no original of the motif
in these protagonist’s speeches.
- When, however, these two burning noblemen learn that, exiled by Richard,
they actually must set English feet on foreign soil, the braggadocio of fearless
English roving abruptly disappears. Mowbray laments turning from “my country’s
light, / To dwell in solemn shades of endless night”, just as Bullingbrooke
will insist that “every tedious stride I make / Will but remember me what
a deal of world / I wander from the jewels I love” (1.3.170-71, 256.1-3).
Whether due to Shakespeare’s humane scepticism of facile nationalism, the
playwright’s relish of dramatic volte face, or the psychologist’s
intrigue in human instabilities (“Thou art not certain, / For thy complexion
shifts to strange effects /After the moon”), this heroic motif of Englishmen
braving travels, now thrown into sudden reversal, might be thematically negligible:
were it not for the remarkably sustained and prominent treatment we will see
Shakespeare accord it in focusing Bullingbrooke.
- For tellingly, here is yet another Essex parallel: and it offers in itself,
the sensational tiltyard friction and Calais debacle quite aside, a sturdy
case for post-1595 composition of the play. The earl, as Paul Hammer notes,
was in the habit of encouraging young noblemen to travel; and when the Earl
of Rutland departed for a lengthy continental tour in October 1595, Essex
wrote him no less than three letters of encouragement and guidance for the
experience. The last of these epistles on making the best use of a tour was
revised for rhetorical sophistication by members of Essex’s secretariat (including
probably Francis Bacon), sprinkled with humanist erudition, redated to January
1596, and then passed out in manuscript that year as Profitable instructions.
“In this highly polished form, the Rutland letter was circulated in and around
the Court, ultimately gaining a widespread currency.” Many manuscript copies
survive; and it was eventually published, in 1633. Praising foreign travel
as stimulus and trial in the cultivation of “unmoveable constancy and freedome
from passions”, “active strength” of disposition, “true Fortitude”, reason
and knowledge, whose culminating goal is “clearnesse and strength of Judgement”,
the tract aimed to showcase the new self-image of the earl, who had been admitted
to the Privy Council in 1593. No merely ‘boisterous’ martial
youth, Essex was seeking now to appear as steady statesman, judicious counselor,
flower of humanist learning. “Hys lordship is become a newe man”, reported
a follower, Anthony Bagot, “cleare forsakinge all hys former youthfull trickes,
cariinge hym sealf with very honorable gravyty and singulerly lyked of, boath
in parliament and at [the] counsayle table.” Like the mini-drama
of the November tournament, and the ‘True relacion’ of the Cadiz expedition
Essex would seek to publish in August 1596, the letter of travel advice formed
part of an audacious propaganda campaign: “nothing less than a demonstration
of Essex’s credentials to helm the ship of state.” Indeed, since Lord Burghley
had also penned, two decades previously, a letter of travel advice to the
previous Earl of Rutland, Essex’s action was also “an implicit challenge to
the old lord treasurer.”
- The public persona emerging from the letter -- this freshly minted paragon
of politic sagesse, mellifluously sententious, at ease in smiling equilibrium
-- would seem reflected in Bullingbrooke’s similar and remarkable shift in
identity, when he returns from banishment in act two a very different creature
from the turbulent militant who would spit his tongue bleeding in his enemy’s
face. Northumberland compliments him that “your fair discourse hath been as
sugar, / Making the hard way sweet and delectable . . . / [your company] hath
very much beguiled / The tediousness and process of my travel” (2.3.6-7, 11-12).
Hotspur, now introduced to Bullingbrooke, will look back bitterly on the accomplished
but instrumental self-fashioning of the ambitious nobleman here, recalling
“a king of smiles” purring forth a “candy deal of courtesy” (Henry IV Part
One, 1.3.244, 247).
- Like Essex’s Profitable instructions, Shakespeare’s Bullingbrooke
proves prompt with traditional wisdom on countering the misfortunes of travel.
On first being banished, he responds “This must my comfort be / That sun that
warms you here, shall shine on me, / And those his golden beams to you here
lent / Shall point on me and gild my banishment” (1.3.138-41): a stock motif
of exile consolation rhetoric, descended from classical Stoicism, circulated
in Renaissance proverbial collections, and taken as fit archangelic consolation
by Milton in Paradise Lost for an Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise.
Essex’s letter and Bullingbrooke’s rhyming couplets alike disclose a firm-minded
man of letters, versed in the proper wisdoms on daunting travel and mental
- Further, in a move which diminishes the likelihood of pure coincidence,
Shakespeare reprises the thematic and extends it, remarkably, across forty-seven
lines (1.3.258-305  ). Only the first quarto, published in August 1597,
saw a point to supplying this lengthy exchange of views on travel / travail
(for the pun see line 262): so extensive is the passage, and so apparently
needless was it deemed in after years, that the four later quartos and the
folio of 1623 all omitted the discussion.
- That discussion, however, engineers the opening of Shakespeare’s sly turn
against Bullingbrooke-Essex. As soon as king and courtiers have left the stage,
the ‘private’ Bullingbrooke, alone with father and friends, abandons the topos
he had drawn on -- the rhetoric of the universal patria -- whose sententiae
his father now approvingly echoes: “All places that the eye of heaven visits
/ Are to a wise man ports and happy havens” ( 1.3.275-76). Bullingbrooke now,
however, refuses adamantly the logic of that venerable wisdom theme, which
urged fortitude in the reconceptualization of exile, even when Gaunt persists
with it: “Teach thy necessity to reason thus . . .” (277). In terms of the
standard perspective taught by the humanist adagia, Bullingbrooke’s
vein of counter-reasoning is a kind of heresy: resolutely materialist. “O
who can hold a fire in his hand / By thinking on the frosty Caucasus? / .
. . Or wallow naked in December snow / By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?”
(294-95, 298-99). Epistemologically, it is of a piece with Bullingbrooke the
agent of demystifying worldly force, dethroning the Richard whom no celestial
angels guard. Yet the contrast is abrupt with Bullingbrooke’s earlier, ‘public’
responsiveness. The mask of humanist fortitude has slipped; beneath is revealed
an implacable self-pity, bitterly impatient of the foolery of classical tropes.
- Exposing the hollowness of the earlier pose was suggestive. Where parallel
with Essex was perceived, its logic would be to undermine the earl’s credit
with the very classes he had hoped to woo by circulating his Profitable
instructions. “Unmoveable constancy” has gone to the winds. Adversity
encountered, the courtly young propagandist of travel advice rejects all such
high perspective. Passionately despising his conventional earlier trope (“This
must my comfort be . . .”, 1.3.138ff), the man who would ‘helm the ship of
state’ becomes he who switches his rhetoric at convenience: humanist or materialist,
courtly or populist, as mood or need served.
- As with the earlier overtones of the Accession Day tilts and infamy at Calais,
the topical thematic of travel-adventure perspectives may have been analogy
retrospectively conferred: supplied with Puckish twinkle by an obliging zeitgeist.
Yet it furnishes one more hint that we might reallocate the drama to 1596;
and in that year -- whatever the play’s originary date -- to the eyes of the
courtly, of Essex-watchers, and of Londoners eager to be in the know, sardonic
parallel will have been swooped upon.
- There are other elements in the drama that might be taken to point towards
a late 1596 -- or even early 1597 -- date of composition. Gaunt’s lines in his
sceptered isle speech on England’s “silver sea / Which serves it in the office
of a wall / Or as a moat defensive to a house / Against the envy of less happier
lands / . . . the triumphant sea / Whose rocky shore beats back the envious
siege of watery Neptune” (2.1.46-49, 61-63) may carry overtones of English
impunity against the Spanish Armada; and if so, sounds more like the second
armada, wrecked by gales in October 1596, than the 1588 fleet destroyed in
part by naval action. Again, “What news from Oxford?” (5.2.52) would have
resonated mightily in the wake of the Oxford rising at Enslow Hill in November
1596, when a carefully planned uprising was foiled. The conspiracy had been
organized in the conditions of intensified class hostility following the century’s
worst harvest in 1596, the persistence of enclosures, and the transport of
grain during the dearth to London. The world, said the rising’s guiding
spirit, Bartholomew Steere “would never be well untill some of the gentlemen
were knockt downe” Around three hundred men were expected
at the Oxfordshire rendezvous, to commence leveling egregious local enclosures
then march to London and join with its apprentices, who had rebelled in the
summer. At the appointed time and place, however, only ten to twenty appeared
A dozen of them here have ta’en the sacrament
-- and these dispersed in disappointment, to be arrested following a tip off.
And interchangeably set down their hands
To kill the king at Oxford
To Oxford, or wher’er these traitors are.
They shall not live within this world, I swear,
But I will have them if I once know where.
- Fearing widespread rioting in the hungry midlands, the government determined
to make an example of the Oxford protestors, whose leaders were taken to London
for months of interrogation, then torture. Finally tried in June 1597, they
were, thanks to Attorney-General Sir Edward Coke’s twisting of the law, executed
for treason. Holinshed, again,
furnishes the original, in the plot of the Abbot of Westminster and Aumerle
to kill Henry IV during jousting at Oxford. In Holinshed, however, the plotting
takes place at the Abbot’s house in Westminster; and when the rebels, who
rise at Oxford, flee, they are finally beaten at Cirencester. The drama presents
neither the Westminster plotting nor the Cirencester battle, consigning them
to passing reference; but, suggestively, it makes five references to
Oxford, four of them to rebellion there. The last two are clumsily insistent:
My Lord, I have from Oxford sent to London
The heads of Brocas and Sir Bennet Seely,
Two of the dangerous consorted traitors
That sought at Oxford thy dire overthrow
It is difficult to know what to make of the clunky repetitiveness of the last
line, if arch further import is not being underlined. (The June 1597 trial
of the Oxford rebels, incidentally, would have helped account for the excision
of the deposition scene in Q1, published two months later.) Such highlighting
could easily have been, of course, Shakespeare’s late-year interpolation.
- If it is to Shakespearean intentionality that we owe the second armada and
the Oxford rising overtones, the composition date for Richard II must
have been winter 1596 or spring 1597. A corroborative hint (and it is no more)
is a letter from Raleigh to Robert Cecil of July 6 1597, written probably
from Plymouth 
where Raleigh and Essex were preparing a fleet for what would be the Azores
Voyage. “I acquainted my Lord Genrall [Essex] with your letter to mee”, recounts
Raleigh, “and your kind acceptance of your entertaynment. He was also wonderfull
merry at your consayt of Richard II. I hope it shall never alter, and whereof
I shalbe most gladd if it is the trew way to all our good, quiet, and advancement,
and most of all for her sake whose affairs shall truely fynd better progression.”
The letter is guardedly cryptic, for relations between Essex and Cecil continued
strained beneath a temporary accord; but it appears that Cecil may recently
have seen a performance of Richard II (“your entertaynment”), and that
he had passed on to his friend Raleigh (who felt close enough to Cecil to
have made a bequest to him in his will in June ) a “consayt” concerning contemporary
parallel with the story of Richard II. Frustratingly, we can only speculate
here: but it seems that the conceit both referred unflatteringly to Elizabeth
(whose affairs Raleigh hopes will find “better progression”), and qua
Bullingbrooke to Essex: whose emphatically mirthful response, implicitly disavowing
parallel, Raleigh hopes but apparently doubts to be sincere (“I hope it shall
never alter”). Raleigh, Essex’s long-time rival, has experimentally conveyed
to Essex the implied accusation; and Essex’s laughing attempt to ridicule
the Bullingbrooke analogy as so much nonsense (“wonderfull merry”) has not
allayed those dark presentiments of a career that would not conduce to “all
our good, quiet, and advancement.”
- That this ‘entertainment’ of the story of Richard II, which Cecil has recently
seen in July 1597, was Shakespeare’s play, recently opened and causing a stir
that has reached the Secretary’s ears, can only be speculation; but this would
certainly fit with that dating through reflected current events which we have
pursued. One argument against such dating is that it would have been anomalous
to publish a play (August 1597) so shortly after composition. Yet Shakespeare,
and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, appear to have been under remarkable financial
strain at this point. This was a ‘starvation year’, threatful even to those
-- such as London’s lower classes -- not immediately at risk: diminished theatrical
takings were inevitable. Moreover, the lease for the Theatre -- where Richard
II probably first played -- expired in April 1597, and could not be renewed;
and following the Isle of Dogs scandal, all London theaters
were ordered closed by Privy Council decree on 28 July 1597 (though the Rose
somehow managed to ignore the ban). Further, the Blackfriars chamber that
Burbage had bought for the Chamberlain’s Men in February 1596 and paid to
refurbish was firmly closed to their usage by the City Fathers. In September
1597, the Chamberlain’s Men were driven on provincial tour. That Shakespeare
had bought New Place in May must have sharpened the personal bite of economic
pressure. It was thus short of cash and deprived of a playhouse that the Chamberlain’s
Men, as Gurr has noted, sold the playbook of Richard II, along with
Richard III, I Henry IV and Love’s Labour’s Lost. 
- In summary, a number of current events between late 1595 -97 are perhaps
reflected in the drama. Two of these apparent allusions -- to Essex’s unexpected
and unwelcome self-dramatization at the Accession Day tilts, so strenuously
commemorated by his circle, and to royal scandal at Calais -- retain importance
for Shakespeare scholars as (re)conditioning Richard’s reception, whether
the play dates from 1595 or otherwise. For Shakespeare’s audiences from April
1596 onward will have decoded allusion in the former to the earl’s dauntless
chivalric image, and will have nosed contemporary royal scandal in the latter,
whether or not compositional dating allowed. These ‘echoes’, moreover, help
us make sense of the play’s construal by the Essex conspirators, years later,
as subversive of Elizabeth. Yet by themselves, I think, neither of these instances
offer a strong case for designed topical echo and a post-1595 date of origin.
The existence and extensiveness of the drama’s debate on the adagia of travel
affect, however, supply far more compelling evidence. The remarkable prolongation
of that discussion would seem to have been quite unwarranted unless it glanced
at Essex’s celebrated letter on the topic circulating in 1596 -- particularly
since the passage was to be excised by all versions of the play, quarto and
folio, after the 1597 quarto.
‘Sky-aspiring and ambitious thoughts, / With rival-hating envy:’ 1596 vs.
- The tendency of most literary criticism to focus Shakespearean historicity
in terms of general structures of thought and sensibility, or of decade-long
period characterizations (‘the late Elizabethan world’, ‘post-Armada England’
etc) has conduced to political analysis of Richard II in broad terms
of the 1590s. Yet where the erratic career of the Earl of Essex is concerned,
no easy ‘1590s’ homogeneity existed. Notwithstanding Essex’s vagaries, however,
and despite the intense, calculated topicality of the drama, to the best of
my knowledge, critics have never assigned consideration to the impress of
differing political implications stamped by the almost polarized conjunctures
of the play’s first emergence circa 1596 and its pre-rebellion reprise by
the rebels in February 1601.
- In 1600-01, Essex, still popular despite military failure in Ireland, had
taken on the status of an outrageously maltreated hero: economically ruined,
dogged by creditors, publically disgraced in open tribunal, abandoned by many
prudent friends (such as Bacon), cast off by Elizabeth, discredited by former
rivals, and exiled from court. For readers of Richard II at this point
(three quartos having sold in 1597-98), such circumstances would centralize
the Bullingbrooke-Essex of act two: the victim figure undone by caterpillars
of the court. In the eyes of supporters, malevolent ruination enveloped the
nobleman’s rebellion in something approaching legitimacy: rectifying an otherwise
irreversible grievance, it was a stratagem of very survival. Its Essex surrogate
a wronged hero destitute of alternative, a revived public performance of
Richard II now made excellent sense to the earl’s faction. Though the
echoes of Essex’s magnanimity and Elizabeth’s infamy in the affair of Calais
might by this time have been lost, those of the longstanding tiltyard virtuoso
would still have rung clear. Moreover, several biographical developments further
sharpened the Shakespearean analogy. Essex, like Bullingbrooke, was recently
returned (September 1599) from ‘exile’: for as Kingsley-Smith notes, exile
was the way a posting to Ireland was widely conceived, and ‘banishment’ was
how Essex’s own letters described his stay there.
Like Bullingbrooke’s, further, the return was illicit, since-- as the ensuing
commission of inquiry (June 1600) made punitively public -- this had contradicted
the Queen’s express instructions not to return until so permitted by her.
In the financial aftermath of the royal humbling, Essex was also now enduring
conditions, in Bullingbrooke’s words, “leaving me no sign, / Save men’s opinions
and my living blood, / To show the world I am a gentleman” (3.1.25-27). Royal
violation of the earl’s dignity was the more outrageous, for supporters, given
his now (literally) peerless stature: for in 1597 he had become Earl Marshal,
a rank that made him a kind of official commander in chief of the kingdom,
and leader of the aristocracy. “Evidently determined to make full use of all
its powers”, Essex had at once instigated researches into the precise authority
and privileges of the position. The new status would have conferred
immeasurably greater constitutional resonance to the principled assurance
of Bullingbrooke’s stand: “I am a subject, / And I challenge law” (2.3.132-33).
As Essex had written to Lord Keeper Egerton, when Elizabeth boxed his ears
in 1598, “What I owe as a subject I know, and what as an Earle, and Marshall
of England: to serve as a servant and a slave I know not.”
Demanded, following his revolt, by what authority he had acted, he replied
“that he was earl marshall of England, and needed no other warrant.” Publication of Hayward’s
history of Henry IV in February 1599 revived comparison of Essex with Bullingbrooke,
and sold a remarkable 1,500 copies. A second edition
in late May sold some five to six hundred copies before confiscation. Infuriated
by Hayward’s history, Elizabeth told Bacon it was “a seditious prelude to
put into the people’s heads boldness and faction.” The awkwardly haunting
analogy with Bullingbrooke may have helped prompt Essex’s defensive letter
to the queen of May 1600: “already they print me, & make speak to ye world,
and shortly they will play me in what form they list upon ye stage.”
- When the drama was written around 1596, by contrast, the earl’s rising star
had been almost incomparably brilliant. In Hammer’s summation, “The ‘newe
man’ of 1593 grew by 1596 into ‘the great earl’”. Following Cadiz, in particular,
Essex was he for whom the bells of celebration tolled. Edmund Spenser applauded
him that year as “Great Englands glory and the World’s wide wonder”
(Prothalamion, 146); and in his View of the present state of
Ireland, written probably in the same year and circulating in manuscript,
Spenser declared of Essex “such an one I could name uppon whom the ey of all
Englande is fixed and our last hopes now rest.” The panegyric perspective
was widely shared. Essex was now an influential Privy Councillor, repeatedly
indulged royal favorite, national military champion, master of “the greatest
single intelligence apparatus in England”, friend and host to
a European-wide network of noblemen, and industrious architect of a propaganda
campaign placing himself in the brightest heaven of invention. Such conditions
would seem to augur, in Spenser’s words, “Joy . . . of thy noble victory,
/ And endlesse happinesse of thine owne name / That promiseth the same” (Prothalamion,
152-54). To write in such circumstances, therefore, a play that intelligibly
signaled the notion of Essex, in the name of personal grievance, honor and
popular acclaim, displacing Elizabeth, could but damage the standing of the
earl in courtly and politic eyes, associating the man and his qualities with
treason in the most brazen degree. Shakespeare’s highly extended description
of the triumphant London entry of Bullingbrooke-Essex following Richard’s
deposition -- “all tongues” crying out praise, “greedy looks of young and old
/ Through casements dart[ing] their desiring eyes”, the great nobleman bending
low on horseback to thank them humbly as he passed the streets (5.2.5-21)
-- may have echoed Essex’s ecstatic reception in London and the public thanksgiving
for his Cadiz victory in early August 1596: yet another reason for suspecting
a dating later than 1595. Notwithstanding
the frequently negative characterisation of its reigning monarch, the very
creation and public performance of such a play while Essex still gleamed at
the zenith of national pre-eminence was, like Parsons’ Conference,
richly incriminatory in suggestion.
- Richard II arrived, moreover, at a time when the great earl, growing
embattled, became vulnerable. Despite the strenuous efforts toward gravitas
and diplomacy, deep cracks were appearing in the facade of the ‘new man’ by
1596. “I live in a place where I am howerly conspired against and practised
uppon”, Essex enthused to Bacon in the mid-1590s.
The atmosphere at Elizabeth’s court in the 1590s was already “electric with
paranoia”, as Lacey Baldwin Smith styles it; but Elizabeth’s discovery in May 1595 that the earl
had fathered a son upon Elizabeth Southwell four years previously so deeply
incensed the queen that some thought Essex’s hold on her irreparably broken.
The ageing queen, moreover, was hypersensitive to expectations of her passing
-- she arrested the bishop of St. David’s in March 1596 for a court sermon
implying her death to be imminent -- and her neurosis provoked outbursts at
any who intrigued over the succession. Correctly suspecting Devereux to be
in secret contact with James VI, she became inflamed by the earl’s ambition,
exploding in the summer of 1596 over his “wilfulnes and rashnes, alleaging
that [he] would not be ruled, and that she would brydle and staie [him].”
Further, Devereux’s escalating competition with the Cecils between 1593 and
July 1596 over filling the Secretaryship was now hardening rivalry into faction.
The polarization actually sharpened with Essex’s return from Cadiz, which
“raised the tensions at Court to a new pitch” in the wake of “shattering criticism”
of his handling of the expedition. The queen was made livid by his creation, contrary
to her instructions, of large numbers of new knights (twenty-eight at Rouen,
and now at least thirty-eight at Cadiz): a process, ominously, that both undermined
her personal authority as sovereign, and established a special bond between
himself and proven fighting men.
Vast amounts of booty from the Cadiz expedition, furthermore, had disappeared
into the hands of the soldiers, and a furious Elizabeth seized back as much
of it as possible, appointing an inquiry, under the Cecils, to establish blame.
Although the indignant earl was cleared, many of his dispossessed followers
appealed to him for help, so that he must, as Hammer puts it, “have felt that
all his friends and followers were under siege.” Flushed at the dizzy altitude of
supreme national pre-eminence, Essex could be seen to be teetering.
- Under these conditions of deepening mutual ambivalence between crown and
popular superhero, Devereux’s circle was quietly affirming limited monarchy.
In 1595 Essex’s secretary Henry Wotton wrote for the earl’s eyes a commentary
on Philip of Spain’s conduct which expressly contradicted divine right theory,
arguing the popular foundation of princely power. Kings, he wrote, “remember
not their maker on earth; for the people and peers of the realm are their
makers next unto God.”
Essex’s later outcry in mid-1598 -- “Cannott princes erre? Cannott subjectes
receive wrong?” -- thus derived, as Hammer notes, from a consciously held political
theory, and suggests that Bacon was right to hold these words against the
earl at his treason trial in 1600. Certainly, it was from 1595 that Essex embarked on
his propaganda crusade to recruit popular forces to his banner, with the Accession
Day display, the Profitable Instructions on travel, then the True
Relacion of the Cadiz adventure.
- Great England’s Glory was thus already vulnerable as clandestine overreacher:
and the suspicion that this might be so had already been brilliantly disseminated
by Essex’s enemies, the Jesuits. Appearing in 1594, Robert Parsons’ Conference
about the Next Succession openly discussed whether “princes may for good
cause be deposed”, and praised the deposition, among others, of Richard II,
as bloodless, constitutionally enacted by parliament, and beneficial to national
interest. Its dedication, sensationally, was to Essex: “no man is in more
high and eminent place or dignitie at this day in our realme then your selfe
. . . .and consequently no man like to have a greater part or sway in deciding
of this great affaire.” The ensuing stir struck fear into
Essex, whom Hammer argues to have known of the book months before the queen.
When finally she learned of it, Elizabeth, at the end of October 1595, arrested
the Earl of Hertford (mentioned by Parsons as a possible successor), then
confronted Essex with the work. “The shock drove him to his sick bed” for
over a week.
“At his comming from Court”, reported Rowland Whyte to Robert Sidney, “he
was observed to looke wan and pale, being exceedinglie troubled at this great
Piece of Villanie donne unto hym.”
On his recovery, the queen decided to vindicate him publicly, assigning him
to answer on her behalf all her foreign correspondence; and it was at this
point (November 1595) that Essex reciprocated, nominally at least, with the
tiltyard mini-drama of devotional service. One impresa designed for
the occasion depicts him, indeed, as an eagle soaring above “the Dartes and
boultes” fired at him by the envious.
Yet the Achilles heel had been publicly bared; and, as Whyte’s letter noted
of Parsons’ Conference, merely “To wryte of these Things are [sic]
dangerous in so perillous a Tyme.”
- And this is precisely what Shakespeare now did. Inflaming the worst
suspicions with its unmistakable overtones of Essex in Bullingbroke,
Richard II, circa 1596, must have amounted, I suggest, to a kind of Parsonesque
counter-propaganda assault on the earl’s personal integrity and his political
career. It was “of an Intent surlie”, as Beale reasoned of the Parsons stratagem,
“to bringe him [Essex] in Jalousye and Disgrace here.”
What thou art, God, thou, and I do know,
And all too soon I fear the king shall rue . . .
- If Essex chose to display the soaring eagle impresa in the tournament,
it would have been hard to miss the suggestive echo in Richard’s fears of
civil rebellion as “eagle-winged pride / Of sky-aspiring and ambitious thoughts”.
Essex’s followers may have hoped, as Parsons implied, for Essex’s role as
kingmaker or even successor, upon the ageing queen’s death. But an act of
usurpation by Essex against a living monarch, carried through with the murderous
ruthlessness so clearly implied in the play, could not possibly, for mid-1590s
audiences, have looked justified. At very best, it would appear profoundly
problematic, and to most, a monstrous ingratitude and excess of ambition.
Any suggestion of Bullingbrooke would have to be determinedly laughed off,
as described in Raleigh’s letter of July 1597. It is even possible that Francis
Bacon may have had Richard II in mind when, in October 1596, he confidentially
warned Essex that he could never fully win the queen while maintaining active
military stature and directly courting the affections of the commons. “I demand”,
insisted Bacon, “whether there can be a more dangerous image than this represented
to any monarch living, much more to a lady, and of her Majesty’s apprehension.”
- Given the vicissitudes of his relationship with Elizabeth, as late as February
1599 Essex would on occasion shrink from the Bullingbrooke association: for
as Cyndia Clegg suggests, it was the earl himself -- presented at Whitehall
and Richmond by printer John Wolfe with copies of Hayward’s Henry IV,
with its dangerous dedicatory epistle to himself –– who asked his friend Archbishop
Whitgift to have the epistle removed. Preparing feverishly for the Irish campaign,
but overwrought as Elizabeth’s letters patent officially commissioning him
its leader failed to appear, Essex was in no position to risk antagonizing
the queen. Even when, in 1601, his revolt came, Essex, calling
desperately on the London masses to aid him, dared not summon them to aid
deposition of the queen. He cried out, confusedly, “For the Queen! For the
Queen! A plot is laid for my life!”
Had Essex been aware of the play in the mid-1590s, he must logically have
shrunk from it as hostile exposé.
- It is thus, in summary, clear that we must challenge on historical grounds
the widely held belief that, as the drama solicited by Essex’s supporters
on the eve of their rebellion, Richard II must have offered considerable
and conscious support of Essex - Bullingbrooke. By 1601, the figure of the
earl implicated in Bullingbrooke had undergone, I would argue, a conjuncturally
mediated transformation of identity, metamorphosed from the insatiable covert
Machiavel, salient in 1596, to the provoked victim-hero, centralised by 1601.
By the latter date, circumstances had supervened with consummate irony upon
authorial intentions. Shakespeare the adept of historical texts spliced to
urgent topicality had his own, now ‘historical’, text worked to contravention
of his purposes.
- Shakespeare’s work elsewhere reinforces this interpretation. As Hamlet,
for example, charming and populist Essex became by turns a pathologically
unstable and lethally arrogant figure. More speculatively, I have suggested
elsewhere that Essex may have been glanced at in the aristocratic super-hubris
of aspiring York in 2 Henry VI, as “the dog who howled at the moon.”
And yet another drama suggests quite clearly Shakespeare’s profound antipathy
to the crusading earl at the level of basic values. In 1594 Essex had showcased
the primacy of his new intelligence network and impressed the court with his
manipulative deadliness by accusing, indicting and securing execution of Roderigo
Lopez, the queen’s physician. Dr Lopez was a Jew, and it appears that during
the contentious period of his prosecution, Essex’s friends helped by fanning
the flames of anti-semitism in London. As Dr Lopez continued to plead his innocence on
the scaffold, the Christians howled him down, volleying racist insult as he
was castrated, disemboweled and quartered. Shakespeare’s response, it seems,
was The Merchant of Venice’s exposure of Jewish anger as the
product of relentless Christian persecution, and the elevation of Shylock,
the stock scheming Jew, to tragic stature. The play’s humanitarian retorts
to the Lopez affair include Portia’s incisive lines:
Ay, but I fear you speak upon the rack,
Where men enforcèd do speak anything.
Merchant’s allusions date it to some time following July 1596, and
almost certainly to the autumn of that year.
If my conjecture is correct that Richard II dates from late 1596 or
early 1597, then the two plays, with their appalled scepticism about the great
earl’s values, must have been written almost in tandem, within twelve months
of each other.
- Shakespeare’s motivation for freezing the career of the hot and headlong
young nobleman in a lucid frost of maximal suspicion must remain, of course,
conjectural. If, as Honigmann and Wilson persuasively argue, Shakespeare had
been the ‘William Shakeshafte’ of Hoghton Tower, subseminarian and erstwhile
acquaintance of the martyred Campion, then any lingering Catholic solidarity
would logically involve hostility to the crusading champion of militant Protestant
imperialism. Shakespeare may even have met Robert
Parsons, during his teenage spell as Jesuit trainee, for Parsons had accompanied
Campion some way in their secret mission to England in 1580. Further, Essex’s
destruction of Lopez had additionally and gleefully secured the ruin of moves
towards English peace with Spain: and the guarantee that the lives of hundreds
more English commoners would now be lost could scarcely have cheered the dramatist
of wartime underclass suffering, compassionately presented in both parts of
Henry IV and in Henry V. In fact, as Mervyn James details, Essex
was both the epitome and hero of the traditional aristocratic honor code:
autocratic, turbulent, contemptuous of common law and commoners. Had Essex had his way, then, in
John Guy’s words, “the earl would confidently have extended to England during
Elizabeth’s war years -- and perhaps longer -- methods of government more readily
adopted in Ireland: a direct (i.e. violent) approach to administration through
resort to martial law, arbitrary taxation, and military rather than civil
patronage.” It is, after all, one of the fundamental structural
ironies of Richard II that the self-proclaimed proponent of constitutionality
-- “ I am a subject, / And I challenge law” (2.3.132-33) -- seizes the throne
by naked force of arms, threatening immensity of violence:
If not, I’ll use the advantage of my power,
And lay the summer’s dust with showers of blood
Rained from the wounds of slaughtered Englishmen.
- Nor was Shakespeare’s perspective on Essex unshared. Many at court would
have been delighted by any damage done to the anarchically competitive Devereux
through his public representation as machiavellian Bullingbrooke. The Cecils,
pressured by Essex into the role of primary antagonists, would quietly have
enjoyed what they might have seen as payback, among other things, for Essex’s
attempt to displace them in the Accession Day mini-drama. The Earl of Pembroke
-- a possible former patron of Shakespeare, whose men had performed 2 Henry
VI and Titus Andronicus -- was stung by Essex, despite family ties,
into relations of “sharp acrimony” by late 1595. Shakespeare’s former patron, Ferdinando
Stanley, Lord Strange, had been likewise alienated, instigating just before
his death (in April 1594) a lawsuit against Essex, following assault by Essex’s
retainers on in his deer park at Lathom.
Finally, a hostile exposé of Essex would also have pleased William Brooke,
Lord Cobham, who became Lord Chamberlain between August 1596 and March 1597.
Cobham’s recent appointment as Chamberlain in fact deepened the pro-and anti-Essex
factionalism at court: for between Essex and Cobham’s son, Henry (brother-in-law
and intimate of Robert Cecil) there existed “a notoriously personal animosity.”
“Both sides were now on edge,” 
in Hammer’s phrase. Shakespeare’s relations with the Brookes, of course, are
famous for the playwright’s apparently offending them, through the pillorying
of Sir John Oldcastle -- an ancestor of William Brooke’s wife -- who had to
be renamed Falstaff. Yet, as Schoenbaum points out, the offence may have been
unintended, and a disclaimer was safely in place for the Epilogue to part
two of Henry IV. 
It is surely possible, I suggest, to see Richard II ’s indictment of
the Brookes’ most hated enemy in the light of placation, as with the name
change. Indeed, a full-gun
broadside against Essex would have been especially welcome in late 1596 and
1597, when the earl was desperately caricaturing Henry at court -- ultimately
unsuccessfully -- to prevent his inheriting from his ailing father the wardenship
of the Cinque Ports, traditional inheritance of successive Lords Cobham. (William
Brooke died in March 1597, and Henry finally succeeded to the wardenship in
September.) Lord Cobham had maintained his own company of actors in his younger
years, so there was reason to believe he would take lively interest in theatrical
representation of his towering court foe. Shakespeare’s company, moreover,
had become particularly vulnerable on Cobham’s assumption of the Chamberlainship,
for the company, passing to Lord Hunsdon, son of the previous Chamberlain,
was no longer ‘The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’. Bereft now of the status of royal
household patronage, and “piteously persecuted”, according to Thomas Nashe,
by the Lord Mayor and Alderman, Shakespeare’s beleaguered
company may reasonably have deemed it urgent to win the favor of the new Lord
Chamberlain with a personally appealing coup de théâtre in a time of professional
and economic peril. This explains, I think, the customary mild puzzlement
that “If Lord Cobham bore a grudge against his predecessor’s company of
players, he concealed it. All four of the calls to Court during the Christmas
festivities of 1596-97 were for Lord Hunsdon’s Men, and they were still in
favour at Shrovetide, when again they were the only company to perform for
- In conclusion, Richard II’s injurious representation of Essex in
1596 would seem to have married Shakespeare’s skeptical political vision and
aggrieved humanitarian sympathies to an urgent professional expedience. The
displacement of Essex, autocratic, scheming, and belligerent, might make possible
ravaged England’s return to peace and prosperity: a pruning policy in accord
with the transparently allegoric words of the gardener on ruinous monarchic
indulgence, in a scene wholly invented by Shakespeare:
We at this time of year
Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit trees,
Lest, being over-proud in sap and blood,
With too much riches it confound itself.
Had he done so to great and growing men,
They might have lived to bear, and he to taste,
Their fruits of duty.
. British Museum Additional Manuscript 15,664. f.226.
. Quoted in E.K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of
Facts and Problems, 2 volumes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), 2.320-21.
. On the Hoby letter see I.A. Shapiro, ‘Richard II or Richard
III or . . .?’, Shakespeare Quarterly 9, no.2 (1958), 204-06; David
M. Bergeron, ‘The Hoby Letter and Richard II: a Parable of Criticism’,
Shakespeare Quarterly 26 (1975), 477-80.
. Shapiro, ‘Richard II’, p.205.
. Samuel Schoenbaum, ‘Richard
II and the Realities of Power’ in Shakespeare and Others (Washington,
DC: Folger Books 1985), p. 84.
. Asserted, for example, by the New Cambridge editor Andrew Gurr,
Richard II (Cambridge, 2003), pp.1 and 55-56; by Stanley Wells and
Gary Taylor, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1987), pp.117-18; and endorsed, unargued, by Stephen Greenblatt et
al, The Norton Shakespeare (New York: Norton, 1997), p.3379.
. Evelyn Albright, PMLA 42 (1927), 46 (1931) and 47 (1932), debated
by Heffner, PMLA 45 (1930); E.K. Chambers, William Shakespeare 1.353;
Lily B. Campbell, Shakespeare’s Histories: Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy
(1947; rept.1968, San Marino, California: Huntingdon Library), pp.168-212.
. In the interests of authenticity I return to the original, Shakespearean
spelling, ‘Bullingbrooke’, employed in the Quarto and Folio versions and reflecting
Elizabethan pronunciation, in preference to the modern ‘Bolingbroke’, taken
from 18th century editions, which fails the necessary rhyme at
. See Paul E. J. Hammer, The Polarisation of Elizabethan Politics:
the Political Career of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, 1585-1597
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 231-34, 399; quotations
from pp. 232 and 232. In the interests of clarity, I should emphasise that
although I have borrowed heavily on this excellent work for biographical data
on Essex, all application of such information to Richard II is my own.
Hammer is not a literary critic; and his book’s sole reference to Shakespeare
is one footnote (p.147 n. 189), noting Essex’s friend Sir Roger Williams to
be sometimes taken as a model for Fluellen in Henry V.
. Hammer, Polarisation, 200-03.
. Hammer, Polarisation, p.353. My account
is based on Hammer, pp.144-47.
. Rowland Whyte, Center for Kentish Studies, MS
1475, C 12/26, cit. Hammer, Polarisation, 146
. Hammer, Polarisation, p.146.
. Holinshed’s account of the material under discussion
here is substantially reproduced in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources,
pp.387-94; quotation from p.391.
. Charles R. Forker, Richard II, 3rd
Arden edition (London: Arden, 2002), p.114 (italics supplied). Further, the
dense network of continuities between Richard II and the Henriad (Forker
118-120) complements a composition date somewhere in 1596 or 1597. If we accept,
with most scholars, that 1 Henry IV was composed when Cobham was Lord
Chamberlain, then Richard II’s sequel derives from some point between
August 1596 and March 1597.
. See, for instance, Chris Fitter, ‘Emergent Shakespeare
and the politics of protest: 2 Henry VI in historical contexts’ in
English Literary History 72 (2005), 129-158.
. My account is based on Hammer, Elizabeth’s
Wars (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp.193-94; Lacey,
Robert, Earl of Essex (New York: Atheneum 1971), pp.140-49; and Hammer,
Polarisation, pp.250, 254.
. Lacey, Essex, p.141.
. Lacey, Essex, p.142.
. Hammer, Elizabeth’s Wars, p.194.
. Hammer, Elizabeth’s Wars, pp.193, 231.
. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.254-55.
. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.252-57.
. British Library, Cotton MS Titus C VI, fol.172,
cit. Hammer, Polarisation, p.250.
. Woodstock, somewhat
heavy-handedly, references Calais as location of the Duke of Gloucester’s
murder no less than six times: a fact that in itself may account for the Shakespearean
. Raleigh Trevelyan, Sir Walter Raleigh
(New York: Henry Holt, 2002), pp.215-50, 260-63. For the mythopoeic textures
of the Guiana experience, see also Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory
(New York: Knopf, 1995), pp.307-20. That Shakespeare came to know, or know
of, The Discoverie is clear from a line in The Merry Wives
(c.1597-98): “She is a region in Guina, all gold and bounty” (1.3.59-60).
. Wallace MacCaffrey, Elizabeth I: War and Politics
1588-1603 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p.112.
. Trevelyan, Sir Walter Raleigh, p.257.
. Measure for Measure, 3.1.23-25.
. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.150-51.
. Robert, late Earl of Essex, Profitable instructions;
Describing what Speciall Observations are to be taken by Travellers in all
Nations, 1633; quotations from pp.34, 41, 47, 66.
. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, L.a.45;
cit. Hammer, Polarisation, p.120.
. See Paul J. Hammer, ‘Myth-Making: Politics, Propaganda
and the Capture of Cadiz in 1596' in Historical Journal 40 (1997 ),
. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.183; 149-51;
. See Chris Fitter, ‘Native Soil: the Rhetoric
of Exile Lament and Exile Consolation’ in Milton Studies 20 (1984),
. I give Peter Ure’s Arden numbering for this passage,
as the Norton does not enumerate the lines here, cut in all quartos save Q1.
. Compare, for instance, As You Like It,
. On Shakespeare’s reflection of the consequent
popular disaffection, see, for Richard II, Aaron Landau, ‘“I Live With
Bread Like You”: Forms of Inclusion in Richard II’ in Early Modern
Literary Studies 11.1 (May 2005) 3.1-23 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-1/richard.htm>
, and for Romeo and Juliet, Chris Fitter, ‘“The Quarrel Is Between
Our Masters and Us Their Men”: Romeo and Juliet, Dearth, and the London
Riots’ in English Literary Renaissance 30.2 (Spring 2000), 154-83.
. Cit. Roger B. Manning, Village Revolts: Social
Protest and Popular Disturbances in England 1509-1640 (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1988), p.224. I follow Manning’s account of the Oxford rising, pp.221-29.
. Manning, Village Revolts,
. The letter claims to be from Weymouth, but a
subsequent letter from Cecil to Essex asserts it to have derived from Plymouth.
See Raleigh Trevelyan, Raleigh, pp.292-93.
. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, Elizabeth
1595-97, vol. 264, art.10; cit. Albright, ‘Shakespeare’s Richard II
and the Essex Conspiracy’, p.698.
. Trevelyan, Raleigh, pp.295-95.
. Even Lukas Erne, who argues that the Chamberlain’s
Men pursued “a coherent strategy to get their playwrights plays into print”,
believes that normally the company waited “roughly two years” before seeking
publication: Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2003) pp.80, 84.
. Andrew Gurr, ‘Money or Audiences: the Impact
of Shakespeare’s Globe’ in Theatre Notebook 42 (1988), p.7.
. The identity of the
play commissioned by the Essex conspirators is known to us through the subsequent
notes of the authorities, prosecuting Essex in Star Chamber and calling in
Augustine Phillips to explain to the Privy Council the Lord Chamberlain’s
Men’s action in staging the playing “of King Henry the Fourth, and of the
killing of Richard the second” (Calendar of State Papers (Domestic) 1598-1601,
p.575. Notes earlier drafted, probably by Robert Cecil, for the disciplinary
tribunal in July 1600 following the Irish fiasco, referred to Essex as permitting
the printing of “that treasonable book of Henry the Fourth” by Hayward, and
as applauding enthusiastically at “the playing thereof ” (Calendar,
p.455). Some critics and historians have therefore argued that the drama in
question may not have been Shakespeare’s Richard II at all. Thus Leeds
Barroll, ‘A New History for Shakespeare and his Time’ in Shakespeare Quarterly
39 (1988), pp.441-64 argued for resolute uncertainty in the matter: an almost
wilful agnosticism lately resumed by Blair Worden (The London Review of
Books 10 July 2003, p.22), hostile to New Historicism’s attentions to
Richard II as exemplar of theatrical subversiveness, and drawing on
his own conviction (Shakespeare Survey 44 , pp.1-16) that Shakespeare’s
politics (“always descriptive, never prescriptive”, p.7) are ultimately inascertainable
– Shakespeare, like Hamlet, “will preserve his mystery” (p.16). However, we
know for sure that the play in question was (1) performed at the Globe; (2)
acted by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men; (3) thus known to have been in their
repertoire; (4) considered “old” (as Augustine Phillips pleaded) in 1601.
Further (5), no other known contenders for the role of Essex rebellion curtain-raiser
seem probable: Thomas of Woodstock does not feature the royal overthrow,
and the Essex entourage would hardly seek to cast upon Londoners Falstaff’s
spell of gluttonous self-preservation, enveloping Shakespeare’s Henry IV
plays. Seeking to discredit the Richard II identification, Heffner
in 1930 could only gesture vaguely to the possibility that there may perhaps
have been some pageants, performed somewhere, that had featured Henry IV (Ray
Heffner, ‘Shakespeare, Hayward, and Essex’ in PMLA 45 , pp.754-80).
The rather desperate case against Shakespeare’s Richard II being the
offending curtain raiser seems to depend, however, upon the drama’s designation
by Cecil as the playing of the “book of Henry IV”: a case overlooking the
facts that (1) titles were not standardized in this period; and (2) both Cecil’s
jottings and the Star Chamber proceedings were concerned with Hayward’s book,
Henry IIII, as a demonstrable source of sedition favourable to and
dedicated to Essex. Hayward was already in the Tower and under questioning
when Cecil drafted his notes, so the drama alluded to would very naturally
have been considered as the play about Henry IV, rather than that about Richard
II. But Augustine Phillips, representing the actors themselves, called the
drama performed at the Globe the “play of the deposyng and kyllyng of Kyng
Rychard the second” (deposition of 18 February 1601; text given in Chambers,
William Shakespeare, 2.325).
. Jane Kingsley-Smith, Shakespeare’s Drama of
Exile (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp.65, 73.
. Richard C. McCoy, The Rites of Knighthood:
the Literature and Politics of Elizabethan Chivalry (Berkeley and
Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), p.90.
. William Camden, Annales or the History of
the Most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth, trans. R. Norton
(London: 1635), p.494.
. William Barlow, A Sermon Preached at Paules
Crosse, on the First Sunday of Lent, Martii i, 1600. With a short discourse
of the late Earle of Essex, his confession and penitence, before and at the
time of his death, quoted in Mervyn James, Society, Politics, and Culture:
Studies in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1986),
. Louis Montrose, The
Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Poetics of the Elizabethan
Theatre (London: University of Chicago Press, 1996), p.69, suggests that
Essex was courting the Bullingbrooke analogy at this point by deliberately
waiting two weeks before notifying the Archbishop of Canterbury of the seditious
epistle to himself in Hayward: a point compellingly repudiated by Cyndia Clegg’s
reconstruction of Essex’s circumstances in those weeks: see note 70 below.
. Sir Francis Bacon his Apologie, in certaine
imputations concerning the late earle of Essex (London, 1604), p.10.
. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Elizabeth,
. Hammer, Polarisation, p.137.
. Works of Spenser: A Variorum Edition,
ed. E. Greenlaw et al, 10 vols., (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1932-57), vol.
9, pp.428-29; cit. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.136-37.
. Hammer, Polarisation, p.191.
. I know of no contemporary
description of Essex’s London entry following Cadiz. However, a sermon by
Dr. William Barlow at St. Paul’s Cross, August 8th, praising Essex’s
achievements and ranking him among the greatest of generals, received loud
applause; and Stowe records that on that day bonfires burned while Londoners
celebrated in “drinking, banketting & other waies rejoycing” (John Stow,
A summary of the chronicles of England, London, 1598, STC no. 23328,
p.450). Essex himself landed on the 10th, reaching the court on
the 12th (Harrison, Life and Death of Robert Devereux, pp.126-28).
Hammer shrewdly muses “It would be interesting to know who footed the bill
for this merriment -- perhaps the City of London?” Polarisation, p.254,
. Lambeth Palace Library, London MS 660, fol. 281;
cit. Hammer, Polarisation, p.320.
. Lacey Baldwin Smith, Treason in Tudor England:
Politics and Paranoia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), p.199.
. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.320-321, 3233;
quotation, cit. p.323, from Lambeth Palace Library, MS 657 fol.109.
. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.352, 371, 337.
. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.222-224.
. Hammer, Polarisation, p.365.
. Quoted in Hammer, Polarisation, p.338.
. Hammer, Polarisation, p.339.
. ‘Robert Doleman’, A Conference about the Next
Succession to the Crowne of Ingland (1594, Short Title Catalogue of Books
no.19398), sig. 2-3; cit. Hammer, Polarisation, p.139.
. Hammer, Polarisation, p.145 n.179.
. Arthur Collins, Letters and Memorials of State
(London, 1746), p.357-58; cit. Campbell, Shakespeare’s Histories, p.179.
.This impresa, however, along with the other
ten designed for Essex by Wright, may not have been used on the occasion:
Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination
1558-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1999), pp.128-31.
. Collins, Letters and Memorials, p.358.
. Letter by Robert Beale to Sir Robert Sidney,
September 25 1595; cit. Campbell, Shakespeare’s Histories, p.180.
. James Spedding, The Letters and Life of Francis
Bacon, 7 vols. (London: 1857-59), vol. 2, p.43.
. Cyndia Susan Clegg,
Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge University
press, 1997), pp.202-04, 207. Clegg thinks, however, that Essex’s request
for the epistle’s excision was because “he would not want his name associated
in any way with a history representing an English monarch’s failure in Ireland”
. Quoted in G.B. Harrison, The Life and Death
of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (New York: Henry Holt, 1937), p.287.
. Chris Fitter, ‘Emergent Shakespeare and the Politics
of Protest: 2 Henry VI in Historical Contexts in English Literary
History 72 (2005), 129-158.
. M. Hotine, ‘The Politics of Anti-Semitism: The
Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice’, Notes and Queries
236 (1991), p.38.
. Salerio’s “I should think of shallows and of
flats, / And see my wealthy Andrew dock’d in sand” (1.1.26-27; I give the
Arden version) alludes to the capture during the Cadiz expedition of the rich
Spanish prize, the Andrew, which became one of the largest ships in
Elizabeth’s fleet, and nearly ran aground on the sands and flats off Chatham.
See John Russell Brown’s edition of The Merchant of Venice (London:
Arden, 1964), p.xxvi; and Ian Wilson, Shakespeare: the Evidence (New
York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1993), p.215.
. E.A.J. Honigmann, Shakespeare: the ‘Lost’
Years (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985); Richard Wilson,
Secret Shakespeare: Studies in Theatre, Religion and Resistance (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 2004).
. Essex’s “semi-public support for toleration”
of domestic Catholics may have modified aversion to his Protestant crusading
in the eyes of some Catholics, as Hammer notes (Polarisation,
pp.174-78); but Essex’s position could give way to pragmatism, as when in
late 1595 he moved to dissociate himself from Father Thomas Wright (the Jesuit
who had surrendered to Essex’s protection and provided him with intelligence
on Spanish military preparations) because he feared accusations of “crypto-popery”:
Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination
1558-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1999) p.133.
. Mervyn James, ‘At a Crossroads of the Political
Culture: the Essex Revolt 1601' in Society, Politics and Culture: Studies
in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986),
pp.416-65, esp. pp.429-33.
. John Guy, Tudor England (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1988), p.443.
. Hammer, Polarisation, p.285.
. See Hammer, Polarisation,
p.292, especially note 128. Richard II is perhaps haunted by Lord
Strange’s death. Ian Wilson, Shakespeare: the Evidence, p.201, suggests
its echo in the royally murdered Gloucester leaving a vengeful dowager, for
Strange was possibly poisoned by Burghley.
Further, I find that Strange’s vast debts, estimated by one source as around
six thousand pounds, had bequeathed his dowager prolonged litigation over
the Stanley estate: see Barry Coward, The Stanleys: Lords Stanley and Earls
of Derby 1385-1672 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983), pp.37,
41-49. The pathos was not lost, I suggest, on Shakespeare the former protégé,
and perhaps is echoed in the dowager Duchess of Gloucester’s lines on her
newly desolate family home: “Alack, and what shall good old York see there
/ But empty lodgings and unfurnished walls, / Unpeopled offices, untrodden
stones, / And what hear there for welcome but my groans?” (1.2.67-70).
. Hammer, Polarisation, pp.358, 363-64,
. Samuel Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare; A
Compact Documentary Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p.194.
. After all, Shakespeare’s later possible jibe
at their family, in the character ‘Brooke’ in Merry Wives came after
William Brooke’s death, when the Chamberlainship had safely passed to another
family: Richard Dutton, Mastering the Revels (Iowa: University of Iowa
Press, 1991), p.103.
. Thomas Nashe, letter to William Cotton circa
September 1596, cit. E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1923), vol. IV p.319.
. Peter Thomson, Shakespeare’s Professional
Career (1992; rpt. Cambridge University Press, 1994), p.118.
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