Why is not the Basse eulogy from the 1640 Folio evidence of Stratford authorship? – Howard Schumann

Howard Schumann: In a discussion with Stratfordians, I said there was no contemporary evidence that the man referred to as Shakespeare was William of Stratford.  They responded with the following: “What about the line from William Basse’s elegy, ‘Mr. Wm. Shakespeare/he dyed in Aprill 1616′?  He says: ‘Sleep, rare Tragaedian Shakespeare, sleep alone.”  Basse actually says the guy was a tragedian and attaches a name and a date of death.  Why does that not count as evidence?”  I have been unable to find any response to this either on your website or in the books of Ogburn, Price, or Anderson. What about the Basse Eulogy?

Hughes:  Here we see the same apples vs oranges argument that we confront with 99 percent of everything the Stratfordians put forth, in which they simply ignore the central factor in our thesis, the hiding of the authorship! To them, everything published that refers to the authorship is straightforward and to be taken at face value.  Since it’s clear (to us) that William of Stratford could not possibly have written the plays, or anything for that matter, there being no direct evidence of his ability to write but the six shaky signatures on legal documents, the attribution to someone else must have been due to the need to hide the identity of the true author.  Therefore, to us, everything published by the Establishment that refers to the authorship is necessarily suspect.

The only possible reason for hiding the true author would have been because he or his family or his colleagues would have been damaged had his identity been known.  The only persons in such a position were leading courtiers.  The only leading courtier with the kind of reputation that could support such a theory is that of the Earl of Oxford, whose daughters and their husbands, by 1623, constituted the very Establishment that could easily have created a version of the authorship that would hold up to ordinary questioning.

We see that such a version,  first put forth by Ben Jonson in the First Folio, (dedicated to the Pembrokes, one of whom was married to Oxford’s daughter) is repeated and emphasized by the Basse eulogy, published in the 1640 Benson edition of Shakespeare’s poems.  To the Stratfordians, this is simply one more example of the truth, while to us it suggests that questions about the authorship were still strong enough in 1640 that a reinforcement of the cover story was required.

This would have been easy, for although William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, probable publisher of the immensely expensive First Folio, was dead by 1640, his brother, the Earl of Montgomery, was still alive.  Having taken over his brother’s post as Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household with oversight over all matters relating to Court theater, the royal company known as the King’s Men, and the publication of their plays, Montgomery, with the assistance of his relative, Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels, was in the perfect position to see to it that such a poem was installed among the requisite opening dedications.  It should also be noted that, following the death of his first wife, Susan Vere, Montgomery married the diarist Lady Anne Clifford (aka the Countess of Dorset), the patron who, in 1530, shortly after she married Montgomery, created a monument for Michael Drayton in Poet’s Corner, thus instituting that part of Westminster Abbey as the location for the burial of renowned writers.  The only ones to precede him were Chaucer, Spenser, and Beaumont.  And (we believe) the Earl of Oxford.

William Basse was a poet of some reputation during the reign of Charles I.  One of his manuscript collections was dedicated to Bridget, Countess of Lindsay, whose husband, Montagu Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsay, was the grandson of Mary Vere, Oxford ‘s sister.

For some reason Shakespeare scholars have decided that in Jonson’s 1623 Ode to Shakespeare, in which he says “My Shakespeare rise !  I will not lodge thee by/ Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie/ A little further, to make thee a room;/ thou art a monument without a tomb. . .” he was quoting William Basse, when so far as I can tell, there’s no evidence that Basse wrote his lines any earlier than 1633, when they were published as by John Donne: “Renowned Spenser, lie a thought more nigh/ To learned Chaucer, and rare Beaumont lie/ A little nearer Spenser to make room/ For Shakespeare in your threefold, fourfold tomb.”  If there’s any real reason to think that this came before the 1623 Jonson version, I’d like to know about it.

Finally, the way the title emphasizes the date of the poet’s death is really rather unpoetically peculiar: “On Mr. Wm. Shakespeare, he died in April 1616.”  Yoo hoo!  That’s the one!  The one who died in 1616!  The one from Stratford!  He did it!  He’s the man!  You know it’s true because we say so!

7 responses to “Why is not the Basse eulogy from the 1640 Folio evidence of Stratford authorship? – Howard Schumann

  1. Bridget, Lady Lindsey was the grand-daughter of Bridget Vere, Oxford’s middle daughter who married Francis, Lord Norris of Rycote in 1599. Previous to this, negotiations had been made to marry her to William Herbert, but he declined. Although Bridget & Francis were separated by c.1606, it turns out that William Basse (1583-1653) was living in the household of Lord Norris at some point. It’s thought he wrote the Shakespeare elegy c.1621 (perhaps he got the idea from Jonson, whom he knew, and not the other way round). This is about the time that Jonson was writing his ‘double-talk’ poem for the Folio. Basse also wrote verses on Lord Norris and (as you say) on Bridget Lindsey, so he must have stayed with the Norris family after Francis’s death in 1623 (by suicide) and perhaps later still.

    When one researches the poets who wrote these ambiguous elegies on ‘Shakespeare’, they turn out to be under the patronage of a Herbert or a Vere. I think they were deliberately recruited by the family to write these verses as a way of ‘backing up’ the idea that the works of ‘Shakespeare’ were those of a man of the poets’ and actors’ own social status, the ‘friend and fellow’ of Hemmings and Condell and Jonson. The ruse obviously worked….! At the same time, they left enough clues in the poems to show that the author might be someone else of a higher status. In his elegy Basse suggests that Chaucer, Spenser & Beaumont should ‘move over’ and make room for Sh. in a tomb in Westminster Abbey; he then suggests Sh. has ‘Precedence’ and refers to him as ‘Lord, not tenant’ – all this points to the author being of higher status socially than the others. It’s all ‘double-speak’….

  2. Thanks, Jan. I didn’t know that Basse lived with Oxford’s daughter Bridget and her husband. You are correct when you say that the poems in the Folios that reinforce the suggestion that Shakespeare was buried in Poet’s Corner and that he was ignorant of Greek and Latin came from a network of Oxford supporters. Leonard Digges Jr., whose poem has raised the same issues, was the son of Thomas Digges, whose father, Leonard Digges Sr., was married to Sir Thomas Smith’s wife’s first cousin, which strongly suggests that Edward and Thomas were acquainted as children, and if not then, then certainly later when Oxford was at Cecil House and Thomas was still under the patronage of William Cecil. Following the death of Thomas Digges, his widow, Leonard Jr.’s mother, married Thomas Russell, who oversaw the writing of William Shakspere’s will in 1616. And there’s a good deal more that ties these people together.

    • Thanks, Stephanie. I’ve been researching these poets and it’s becoming quite clear that they were all in the Herbert or Vere daughters’ circles. I have also found a 100-line passage in a book of pastoral poetry dated 1616 which is clearly referencing Shakespeare/Oxford as the greatest poet ever, but doesn’t name either. This was written by William Browne who wrote elegies for Susan Vere in 1629 and her son Charles who died aged 16 in 1635. I’ve written this up as an essay for DVS (UK) Newsletter and it should appear in the Spring issue next year, I hope. It’s very exciting to make new discoveries that back up our hypotheses. Regards, Jan On Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 12:54 PM, politicworm

  3. Richard F. Whalen

    Howard, Stephanie, Jan:
    The story of the “Basse” poem is fascinating. At Concordia in 2008, I delivered a paper on it that Chris Paul and I had written; I’m preparing it for publication early next year. In short, there is strong rhetorical and historical evidence that John Donne wrote the poem, which was in the first (and posthumous) collection of his poetry. The title of it does not say ‘died in 1616′. Donne, who moved in aristocratic circles, almost certainly wrote it about Oxford-Shakespeare, not Shakspere, for reasons suggested by Stephanie and Jan. The Strat who raised the issue with Howard was referring to one of the many manuscript copies. Thirty-four have been found; twenty-six do not mention ‘died 1616.’ No way to know who added ‘died 1616′ to seven of them, or when. (See Wells/Taylor Textual Companion pp.163-4.) But it seems likely that all thirty-four MS copies came after first publication of Donne’s collected poems in 1633. Again no one knows when. And there’s much more. So Howard can tell his Strat friend that Donne wrote the poem, ‘died 1616′ was not in the title, ‘died 1616′ was in the titles of only seven of thirty-four MS copies, and by 1633 some people were beginning to believe, without any valid evidence, that the man who died in 1616 wrote the WS poems-plays.

  4. Thanks, Richard. Most interesting. Of course Donne would have known Shakespeare’s identity. He was father-in-law to the real Shake-scene, Edward Alleyn and descendant of a family of Court poets and playwrights. In many ways he was Shakespeare’s truest literary heir as the most gifted poet of the following generation.

  5. The referenced phrase in Jonson’s poem in the First Folio was not a quote from this poem – it was a clear poetical response. Jonson says “I will not lodge thee..” The intent is very clear. The poet says, “Make room for Shakespeare” and Jonson responds “Not necessary” . Note that the choice and order of the poets mentioned makes the imagery quite clear. If Donne wrote it (which I do not believe) the imagery is still clear – even following its textual variance in the list of authors and other differences from the poem as attributed to Basse. If Donne was the source for these MS copies post 1633 why the variances? The poem was certainly written and circulated prior to the First Folio – at least a copy somehow got to Ben Jonson. The manuscript copies of the poem attributed to Basse are in various hands including one claimed to be his and another in the hand of Basse’s poet friend William Brown. That these circulated pre First Folio and were preserved seems rather telling. Ten copies indicate Basse was the author and a number also mention Shakespeare’s death date (as mentioned above).

    Anti-Stratfordian cynics who question the death date inclusion by some of the copyists of the Basse MS should consider their own insistence that there were no notices of Shakespeare’s death immediately afterward. Even the greatest living Stratfordian (Wells ?) would not claim there were very many – at least until the FF. The Stratford man had apparently dropped from the London scene by ca 1613 and his Facebook friends were slow to get the word of his demise – but he certainly did have friend’s – and perhaps more importantly there were theater buffs, actors and perhaps a few writers who knew the name Shakespeare as an actor (Manningham’s Diary – i.e for the joke to be funny Shakespeare the actor had to have comparable noteriety as Burbage. I make no other claim, ) and even a prominent one (Jonson’s EMIHH & Sejanus cast lists, James Coronation list of players).

    For my own amusement I recently created a high resolution poster of all the title pages of Shakespeare up to 1616 and note that only 6 appear in the period 1611-1616. After his death no new title pages appear until the infamous 1619 “False Folio” of Thomas Pavier – an event which is often suggested as the impetous for the FF project. Apparently, Shakespeare the author was not then on the London Times best seller list – even while his plays were still being performed. As a result any circulating MS of a poem such as Basse’s among Shakespeare’s “friend’s and followers” would certainly have caused the obvious questions: when, where, how, etc. That a few copyists chose to place a clarifying title on their copy is not really surprising.

    The appearance of the Basse poem in the first posthumous printing of Donne’s poems followed by its removal two years later may illustrate nothing more then the sad state of Jacobian publishing – with many false attributions, exploitation of an authors corpus, corrupt Quartos, etc. Donne may have had a copy among his papers and an eager publisher wanted to exploit the association of Donne with Shakespeare.

    Not to throw more light on this fire – I just compared a facsimile reprint of the version of the poem from Donne 1633 “An Epigraph upon Shakespeare” with a hand written copy from the University of Manchester library with the title, “On Mr William Shakespeare who died in April 1616″ and signed Mr William Basse. There are important differences: the version in Donne begins, “Renowned Chaucer lie a thought more nigh / To rare Beaumond; and learned Beaumond lie / A little nearer Spencer, to make roome / For Shakespeare in your threefold fourfold tombe.”

    The Basse MS begins as follows, “Renowned Spenser lie a thought more nigh / to learned Chaucer and rare Beaumont lye / a little neerer Spencer to make roome / For Shakespeare in your threefold fourfold tombe! ” (It is the later version which Jonson responds to.)

    For brevity I will skip other differences except to mention that the line including “Lord, not tenant” is not in the version printed in Donne. Clearly, the 1633 publisher of Donne’s poems had some embarrassing questions to answer, evidenced by its removal from subsequent editions. Absent a compelling conspiracy theory the reason for the removal seems obvious.

    Because of the way Basse’s – and not Donne’s – version lines up with Jonson in the FF, I am reasonably satisfied that Basse was the author but I would say as an authorship data point it actually doesn’t matter. The important fact is that there was such a poem “in circulation” prior to the FF which caught Jonson’s eye and contributed to the imagery of his FF poem. The curious addition of the MS titles on some copies – which specifically reference Shakespeare’s death date – at least one of which claims to be in Basse’s hand – is certainly interesting.

    In case it isn’t obvious, I am a Stratfordian, though I like to think a “gentle” one. I am personally appreciative of all the really heavy lifting anti-Stratfordian’s have done on a topic such as this one. It has made me invest many, many hours exploring the amazing landscape of our author. I did recently have a moment of panic when reading a ca 1900 Baconian book which showed a remarkable example of the bilateral cypher – which appeared to show an encoded message. Cryptography is an area in which I have some professional involvement – so I worked through the algorithm, verified the example and for a few tormented hours was a Baconian… “Fortunately” I discovered the flaw in the example – which relied on there being two clearly identified fonts in the printed text – something which examination of four high resolution images of FF pages clearly did not show.

    • Bacon is certainly an important figure in the authorship story. He didn’t write the Shakespeare canon, but he did write three others that were and still are attributed to others. He also played an important role in protecting the true author and in getting him published. Both Francis and Oxford were dedicated to the creation of an English literary tradition. As for being a Stratfordian, you won’t be able to see these issues clearly until you realize that these works had to come from a member of the Court community. No other conclusion is possible. Once you’ve made that shift, so many things come clear that there’s no going back.

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