Shakespeare, Smith and Cecil

Study is like the heaven’s glorious sun
That will not be deep-search’d with saucy looks;
Small have continual plodders ever won,
Save base authority from others’ books,
These earthly godfathers of heaven’s light,
That give a name to every fixéd star,
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what they are.
Too much to know is to know naught but fame;
And every godfather can give a name.
…………………………Love’s Labors Lost: Act I, Scene 1

So spoke Shakespeare through the voice of Berowne, so sincerely that we might take it for his own sentiment.  Yet Shakespeare himself can hardly escape being labelled a scholar.  As so many commentators have shown––whether or not they have accepted their own abundant proofs––his work reveals a writer fluent in Latin and classical Greek (Greenwood 93, 98), in contemporary French (Henry V:III.3, Shaheen 361) and Italian (Grillo 125-6); one who had read and remembered a great deal of history, both the history of his own nation (Bullough 3.xi, Shaheen 360) and that of ancient times (Cantor 10); and although his plays didn’t always reflect history exactly as it happened, much must be allowed for the purposes of drama.

Shakespeare was familiar with the Bible, in particular, the Geneva Bible (Shaheen 39, Stritmatter Dust), as well as The Book of Common Prayer (51).  He was familiar with the works of ancient philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero (Baldwin 412).  He was familiar with the ancient Greek dramatists as with the Romans Plautus, Juvenal, Cicero and Virgil (Churton Collins as qtd. in Greenwood 93, 98-9); with Terence and Seneca, (Muir 18, 255-7); with his Continental contemporaries, Ronsard (Lewis 170), Ariosto (Grillo 129), and Tasso (131).  He was highly trained in techniques of rhetoric (Joseph 44-5).

He was so highly trained in the Law that, as a matter of course, he communicated easily in metaphors couched in abstruse legal terminology (Greenwood 375-6).  He knew a great deal about astronomy, or rather, astrology, which he referred to often, always in ways that showed expertise, even when he was making fun of it, or more often, of a character’s ignorance.  In terms of life experience, his knowledge of horticulture reflects the experience of one who has done (or observed) a great deal of gardening (Spurgeon 45-6).

He knew a great deal about the process of distilling (medicines, perfumes and liqueurs); images based on distilling come almost as frequently to his mind as gardening terms.  His knowledge of music is reflected in his many metaphors based on musical ideas, references to harmony and images of playing instruments; songs play an important part in his comedies.  His frequent use of terms and imagery from hawking show more than a little personal experience with that specialized sport of the nobility.

But this is simply the material he had to work with.  Beyond the material is the way he used it.  The often wildly creative use to which he puts his knowledge of languages strongly suggests that it came to him at an early age, as music came to Mozart and drawing came to Picasso from their fathers, as the use of the mallet and chisel came to Michelangelo from the stonecutters with whom he lived as a boy.  This because, as with these other geniuses, he had absorbed it in his earliest days (Winner 288-290).

This knowledge fed a fascination with words, from the science of linguistics on the one hand to the magic of poetry on the other; words, with their sound and beyond their sound, their music.  When he needed a word that didn’t exist in English, he’d take one from Latin or Greek and make an English word of it, often by replacing the foreign ending with an English ending, always with a musician’s ear, a poet’s ear, the sound as much in mind as the meaning.

And what do we see when we examine the education of Edward de Vere?  The education we have traced for Shakespeare offers every one of these quite specific requirements.

The Shakespeare-Smith connection

Here are some of the qualities presented by Mary Dewar as those of Sir Thomas Smith, a few of which we examine in more detail elsewhere.  Smith was:

  • commonly regarded as the greatest legal mind of his day;
  • regarded as a superb teacher;
  • a master of oratory and rhetoric;
  • a writer who frequently used dialogue as a device in his treatises;
  • one for whom hunting and hawking were favorite pastimes;
  • “mercurial, rash, and impetuous”;
  • “subject to nervous prostration and melancholy”;
  • one who often wrote to relieve anxiety;
  • one who “read widely in the poets and had a tendency to break into . . . verse himself”;
  • a secular person;  though a committed Protestant, in practise more inclined to turn to philosophy than to religion for answers;
  • a great Platonist;
  • a passionate gardener with a love of roses;
  • fascinated with making medicines by means of distilling the juices of plants;
  • interested in all medical techniques;
  • one who had a professional’s knowledge of astrology;
  • author of the first English document promoting the colonization of “undeveloped” lands;
  • fluent in Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Hebrew, owner of a personal library of 400 plus books
  • a “master of style and grace of language”;
  • “a brilliant and facile” writer; a “voluminous” writer;
  • one who wrote anonymously, to shape policy, not for personal fame.
  • one whose name became separated from his works.

Now let’s compare Smith’s qualities as expressed by the foregoing with what we know about Shakespeare:

  • Smith was “considered the greatest legal mind of his day.” Lawyers have written at length about Shakespeare’s intimate knowledge of the law.
  • Smith was “regarded as a superb teacher.” Our culture prizes Shakespeare as much for his wisdom as for his ability to entertain us.
  • Smith was “a master of oratory and rhetoric.” Scholars have written about Shakespeare’s mastery of rhetorical techniques, most obviously his constant use of metaphor.
  • Smith was “a writer who used dialogue as a device in his treatises.” Dialogue is, of course, the primary medium of Shakespeare’s works.
  • Smith was “mercurial, rash, and impetuous,” as are many of Shakespeare’s protagonists, particularly the early ones like Hotspur, Hal, Falconbridge, and Mercutio.  Smith was “subject to nervous prostration, melancholy,” like Hamlet, Lear and Macbeth.
  • Smith was “one who often wrote to relieve anxiety.” Shakespeare speaks frequently of the inability to sleep, while of his tendency to write poetry nothing need be said. The Sonnets reflect his need to write to “unpack” his heart.
  • Smith was one who “read widely in the poets and had a tendency to break into . . . verse himself.” Shakespeare was, well, enough said.
  • Smith was “a secular person; though a committed Protestant, in practise more inclined to turn to philosophy than to religion for answers.”
  • Scholars have argued at length over Shakespeare’s personal beliefs, but the fundamental rationale is always the philosophy of the Greek stoics.
  • Smith was “a great Platonist.” Shakespeare’s debt to Plato is common knowledge.
  • Smith was “one who greatly enjoyed hunting and hawking.”  Imagery from hunting and most particularly of hawking fill the works of Shakespeare.
  • Smith was “a passionate gardener with a great love of roses.”  Shakespeare seems to know as much about plants and horticulture as a professional gardener; his love of roses is revealed in almost everything he wrote;
  • Smith was “fascinated with making medicines by means of distilling the juices of plants”––images taken from the process of distilling are frequent in Shakespeare’s works.
  • Smith was “interested in advanced medical techniques.”  Books have been written about the fact that Shakespeare’s writing seems to reflect the highest levels of medical knowledge of his time (Davis 45-59);
  • Smith had “a professional’s knowledge of astrology.”  Shakespeare’s knowledge of astronomy and astrology was never at fault.
  • Smith “wrote the first English document promoting the colonization of ‘undeveloped’ lands.”  Shakespeare addressed the same issues (from a very different perspective) in The Tempest;
  • Smith was “fluent in Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Hebrew.”  Scholars unafraid of the truth have shown that Shakespeare was fluent in these first four languages;  others have claimed a knowledge of Hebrew as well. 2
  • Smith was considered “a master of ‘style and grace of language.’” The name Shakepeare should suffice.
  • Smith owned “a personal library of over 400 books that covered every possible topic.”  Shakespeare had a tremendously broad and ecclectic fund of the kind of knowledge that can only come from books, knowledge that he drew on for everything he wrote, particularly when seeking a metaphor;
  • Smith was “a ‘brilliant and facile’ writer.”  Again, the name is enough.
  • Smith was “a ‘voluminous’ writer.”  However brilliant, thirty-eight plays and two hundred poems is actually rather slim for a lifetime of work, but almost as many more works may well be added to the canon once it is possible to attribute to him the early works written in his style, once the limitations of the Stratford biography have been removed.
  • Smith was “one who wrote anonymously; who wrote, not for personal fame but to influence events and policy,” as did “Shakespeare” if, as we believe, he hid his true identity behind pen names and stand-ins.
  • Smith’s name became separated from his works, as did the author of the Shakespeare canon.

Cecil’s library

Scholars have long recognized in Shakespeare a number of sources, both classical and contemporary, that would have been difficult of access for most Elizabethans.  We have seen already that de Vere couldn’t have been closer to the actual writing of Shakespeare’s most frequently used source, his uncle Arthur Golding’s version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  We also know that at age nineteen he purchased several important Shakespearean sources for himself, Plutarch, the Geneva Bible and Cicero.  As Smith’s student from age four to twelve and Cecil’s ward from twelve to twenty-one, he would have had access to many, if not most, of the other sources listed by such Shakespeare scholars as Geoffrey Bullough, Kenneth Muir, and J.A.K. Thomson.

In articles published in the De Vere Society Newsletter and The Oxfordian, Eddi Jolly lists a number of titles from Cecil’s immense library, titles of works that scholars over many years have determined were among the sources for Shakespeare’s poems and plays (10-12).  Among the books she lists that were owned by Cecil that have been determined to have been sources for Shakespeare are: Plutarch’s Lives and his Moralia and Appia, both sources for Antony & Cleopatra; Boccaccio’s Decameron, a source for Cymbeline; Amadis de Gaule for A Winter’s Tale; Cinthio’s Hecatommithi for Measure for Measure; Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Cardinal Contareno’s The Commonwealth and Government of Venice for Othello; Buchanan’s Rerum Scoticarum Historia, Seneca’s Hercules Furens and his Hippolytus for Macbeth.

Cecil also owned books by those contemporaries of Shakespeare that traditional scholars see as sources, Bedingfield’s translation of Cardan’s Comforte (Hamlet); Gascoigne’s The Supposes (Taming of the Shrew); Golding’s Metamorphoses (Romeo & Juliet, Venus and Adonis, etc.); Robert Greene’s Pandosto (A Winter’s Tale); Thomas Lodge’s Truth’s Complaint (Richard II); Munday’s Zelauto: The Fountain of Fame (The Merchant of Venice).  Cecil also owned copies of Philip Sidney’s Arcadia and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (Jolly “Library” 13).

The older books would have been available to de Vere from the age of twelve on, for even after he’d left Cecil House his father-in-law’s library would still have been available to him.  The greater likelihood, of course, is that, as the Earl of Oxford, he would have owned many of these books himself, although records of his own library are lost, as is so much about him.  (The Folger does have two from Oxford’s own library: his Geneva Bible, embossed with his crest, and Guicciardini’s Historia d’Italia.) The important point is that, during his formative years, many if not most of the books that all agree were the sources for Shakespeare’s greatest plays were readily available to Edward de Vere.

2 thoughts on “Shakespeare, Smith and Cecil

  1. What do you think of the possibility that the young Devere was the translator of the first four books of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, possibly done at the very knee of his uncle Arthur Golding whose name now graces the translation?

    1. I agree that Oxford did the translation of Ovid that bears his uncle’s name, but he did not do it at Golding’s knee. He did it to entertain his friends at Court, but when it came to publishing it, needing to keep his involvement a secret, either he put his uncle’s name on it without asking permission, which would have been cruelly unfair, or his uncle agreed. Whichever was the case, it looks like it resulted in Golding’s departure from Court. From then on he never uses the Court as his address, and never again dedicates anything he publishes to Lord Burghley.

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