Sh, Earl, Jesuit


Oxquarry Books


Acknowledgments Introduction








Bibliography  Index   


John Klause








It was quite usual for Elizabethan earls to establish connections with Elizabethan playwrights: the earls of Leicester, Sussex, Derby, Worcester, and Pembroke, among other noblemen, patronized acting companies. It was not unusual for Elizabethan earls to know Jesuits: the second earl of Southampton ran afoul of the government by communicating with Edmund Campion; Philip Howard, the earl of Arundel, was reconciled to the Catholic church by William Weston; the earl of Essex corresponded with Thomas Wright when the priest was still a member of the Society of Jesus.[1] It was extraordinary, however, for an earl, a playwright, and a Jesuit in the England of Elizabeth to have the kind of ties shared by Southampton, Shakespeare, and Robert Southwell.

That there was such a nexus has been proposed, but only as a suggestion. One of Southwell’s nineteenth-century editors, Alexander Grosart, having found traces of the Jesuit’s poetry in Shakespeare’s works, believed that the poet-priest’s exhortations to the “finest wits” of his day to use their gifts in the service of God and virtue were directed to Shakespeare as well as others. Awaking to this possibility, which had not since been much noted, Southwell’s twentieth-century biographer, Christopher Devlin, went further. He noted (as had Grosart) that in an edition of Southwell’s works published by the Jesuit press at St. Omer in 1616, the opening to the prose introduction of earlier editions, which had been printed, “The Author to his loving Cosen,” was altered to read, “To my worthy good cosen Maister W.S.”; and a signature, not present earlier, was added: “Your loving cosen, R.S.” Finding that Southwell and Shakespeare were distantly related by both blood and marriage, and that no other kinsman of Southwell’s resembled the person addressed, Devlin thought it plausible that “Maister W. S.,” who, the introduction implies, “was a devotee of poetry and perhaps the stage,” was William Shakespeare. In support of his surmise, Devlin presented a brief case for Southwell’s influence upon English literary circles in the 1590’s, and he cited what he took to be parallels between the Jesuit’s most ambitious poem, Saint Peters Complaint, and The Rape of Lucrece. To make credible the historical connection between the two writers, he pointed to Southwell’s family ties to and probable influence with the earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, and suggested that the concluding lines from the Complaint’s poetical preface, which had urged that poets of talent turn from “stilling Venus Rose” to developing loftier themes, were a plea to the earl to encourage his “Will,” author of Venus and Adonis, toward the “graver labor” that would become Lucrece.[2]


Favour my wish, well wishing workes no ill:
I moove the Suite, the Graunt restes in your will.


There are problems with some of these conjectures. Though it may have circulated in manuscript, Venus and Adonis was published in 1593, after the imprisoned Southwell could have reacted to it in his own work; the cited parallels between the Complaint and Lucrece seem on the whole less than striking; and, as noted by the latest editor of Southwell’s poems, Nancy Pollard Brown, nothing in the edition of 1616, with its tantalizing initials, “points to any source acquired directly from Southwell or his associates on the Mission.” Devlin’s theories were thus generally ignored--until they were resurrected by his fellow Jesuit, Peter Milward, whose study Shakespeare’s Religious Background[3] rehearsed what was known or guessed about Shakespeare and persons or things Jesuitical, and augmented the list of echoes of Southwell’s works that might be heard in those of the playwright and poet.

This line of inquiry has had little impact on recent biographical studies of Shakespeare, even on those which, in the wake of Honigmann’s revisiting of the “lost years,” have emphasized the possibility of Catholic sympathies in the greatest Poet of Protestant England and, in doing so, have mentioned Southwell in passing. But suspicion about the relationship of the cousins “R. S.” and “Maister W. S.” should not be allowed to expire. There is considerably more evidence to connect Southwell and Shakespeare than has been dreamt of by his biographers, much of it involving the earl of Southampton. If the idea of this triangular relationship seems strange in itself, we should re-examine some of the efforts that have already been made to make it appear less so.

Devlin appealed to pedigrees to suggest that the three men could have been brought together not merely by chance but by family associations. He claimed, for example, that a brother and a sister of Southwell married a niece and nephew of Southampton’s father. This is quite unlikely.[4] Much more probable are the family connections Devlin posited between Southwell and Shakespeare through the descendants of Sir Robert Belknap and of Nicholas, Lord Vaux.[5] None of these genealogies, however, relates all three subjects, Southampton, Shakespeare, and Southwell. A family tree that does so can in fact be constructed, as shown in the illustration below.[6] 

Southwell family tree

Some of the lines of kinship are remote, yet they reveal a network of “cousins,” as the term was loosely used in the sixteenth century, joined together, when by nothing else, by persistent allegiance to Catholicism into the late years of Elizabeth’s reign, and beyond. As the numbers of recusants grew smaller, it became easier for relatives on the periphery of a Catholic family circle to find means of and reasons for acquaintance with those at its center.[7] If, as Honigmann and others have suggested, a young Catholic Shakespeare could make his way to Lancashire because a Catholic squire unrelated to him needed a player and tutor for his household, and a Catholic schoolmaster could recommend just the right bright man, how much more plausibly might three “cousins,” Shakespeare among them, find occasion to meet in London. There Shakespeare wrote plays, Southampton was ravenous for them (at one point, reports a contemporary, he was “going to plaies every Day”),[8] and Southwell was concerned to reform poetry as well as religion. There Southampton House was known by the government to shelter priests, and to receive Catholic visitors such as the Gages, kin to all three men, and (perhaps) Southwell’s sister, Mary Banester;[9] from this site it was not a very long walk down Chancery Lane to Arundel House, frequently visited by Southwell and perhaps his secret city residence, and not a much longer one to the dwellings of John Gage and his wife Margaret Copley, and of the Banesters--all related to Southampton as well as to Southwell (and, less closely, to Shakespeare). Out in the country, Southwell’s cousin John Shelley was in the service of Southampton’s grandfather, Anthony Browne, Lord Montagu (another protector of priests); Southwell himself may have been present at the Montagus’ residence in Cowdray when the young earl was there discussing his refusal of marriage to Burghley’s granddaughter.[10] Times and places for meeting might (as Shakespeare would say) “cohere,” if “place” cohered with “wishing.” Southampton’s father had sought out Campion; if the more circumspect son were sought after by a Jesuit cousin, his family might not, in spite of the danger, have discouraged a contact. Some believe that John Shakespeare had received his “spiritual testament” from Campion;[11] would John’s son have found reason, in Southampton’s orbit, to come to “know” a Jesuit in some way kin to himself? All of these considerations must remain in an airy realm of possibility until they are given weight by a mass of fact and interpretation.

The first facts to contemplate are those that brought Southwell from the Continent into England at an extended moment of crisis in his own life and in the lives of Shakespeare and Southampton. Robert Southwell was born in Norfolk, late in 1561, son of Richard Southwell and Bridget Copley. His father’s great uncle had married into the family of Lord Vaux, which was connected by marriage to the Throckmortons, kin to Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden. Through his own mother, who had been a companion to the Princess Elizabeth, Robert was related both to Francis Bacon and to the Cecils, and (as noted above) was a descendant as well of Sir Robert Belknap, a distant blood relative of Shakespeare.[12] The Copley home in west Sussex, probably well known to the Southwell children, stood in a “wide semi-circle” of Catholic houses inhabited by Robert’s relatives--Shelleys, Gages, and Cottons, all destined in some way to figure in the life of Shakespeare’s Southampton--and protected by the second earl of Southampton and his father-in-law, Lord Montagu.[13]

In circumstances that are not entirely clear, Southwell left England in 1576 along with his cousin John Cotton to enter the Jesuit school at Douai, where he developed a desire to join the Order. After an initial rejection, he was accepted into the novitiate at Rome in 1578. He then studied at the Society’s Roman College, became tutor and prefect of studies at the English College (a seminary that trained missionaries for the English field), and was ordained priest. Sent to England in 1586, then more fluent in Italian than in his native language, he ministered clandestinely to the spiritual needs of Catholics. His superior was Father Henry Garnet, later to be undone by the Gunpowder Plot.

With the help of the countess of Arundel, Southwell established headquarters in London but travelled throughout the country, an outlaw priest liable to arrest and execution. He set up a secret press, from which it is likely he published in 1587 the first of his English prose writings, An Epistle of Comfort, to the Reverend Priestes, & to the Honorable, Worshipful, & other of the Laye sort restrayned in Durance for the Catholicke Fayth.[14] Although his primary duties were to administer the sacraments, to preach, to confirm, and to console, he felt it part of his vocation to write poetry, more than seventy pieces of which survive: a few in Latin, most in English, several of them translations or transformations of works by the Italians Petrarch, Tasso, and Tansillo, and by the Englishmen Edward Dyer and Thomas Watson (the latter had been in residence with Southwell at Douai). It is generally believed that most of Southwell’s English verse dates from his time on the Mission, when he had recovered facility in his native language, and that poems which had circulated in manuscript were collected soon after his arrest in 1592, although selections were not published until 1595, the year of his death, with additional poems appearing in succeeding editions into the seventeenth century. The most ambitious of his poems, Saint Peters Complaint (based on an Italian original but anticipating English works like Daniel’s Rosamond and Shakespeare’s Lucrece), attempts to turn the “complaint” tradition popularized in the Mirror for Magistrates to religious ends by having the “fallen” apostle lament his denial of his Lord. Some of Southwell’s “ditties,” it should be noted, he sent to the “loving Cosen” (or, to his “worthy good cosen Maister W. S.”) who had “importune[d]” him to compose them.

Only slight hints remain about the parts of literary London in which Southwell had time to move.  He knew something of the theater (he speaks in his works of “stage players”--whose profession he calls “shameful”--and “tragedies,” and “dumb shows”). He probably knew the sonneteer Watson from the days at Douai, although there is no evidence of personal acquaintance in England. Somehow a set of Southwell’s papers came into the hands of John Trussell, a poet whose life is yet to be thoroughly investigated.[15] In 1594 Trussell published a translation of Watson’s Amintae Gaudia, and in the following year a work of his own, The First Rape of Faire Hellen, a complaint poem much indebted to Lucrece and to other works in that genre. Also in that year, the same John Trussell (we must assume) edited and contributed prefatory verses to Southwell’s prose work Triumphs over Death, making clear his admiration for the author, whose death had left the manuscript in his hands. This edition was printed by Valentine Simmes, producer of quarto versions of Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, Part II, Much Ado about Nothing, and Hamlet. Now it is possible, though not certain, that Shakespeare’s maternal grandmother was a sister of Thomas Trussell of Billesley; with a younger Thomas, an attorney, the poet’s father John Shakespeare acted on at least one business affair.[16] If John Trussell belonged to this Warwickshire family, Shakespeare might have been acquainted as a kinsman with Southwell’s editor, and in a band of association with the Jesuit himself. The evidence on this point is not substantial; nor is it so negligible as to discourage further research.

Not to be discounted either is the potential witness of the St. Omer edition of Southwell’s works  to the poet’s friendship with his cousin, “Maister W. S.” It may be technically true, as Brown says, that this text itself shows no special signs of derivation from Southwell’s own milieu; but there is no reason to assume that the Jesuit editors introduced the new material without warrant. For them to have fabricated such an uninformative identification in 1616 would have been pointless. If they knew on extra-textual grounds the identity of “W.S.,” they may have decided on their own to hint at it.[17] The Jesuits must have had some kind of source for the addition, however, just as for the many changes they made in the poem “Of the Blessed Sacrament of the Aulter” (printed by them for the first time and with the title from the extant manuscripts changed to “The Christians Manna”).  If the source for the mysterious initials was a personal one, there is none likelier than Southwell’s Jesuit colleague on the mission, John Gerard, who, having come to England from Rome in 1588, was sometimes his companion, both in London and in Warwickshire. Gerard may have been acquainted with Francis Manners, friend of Southampton and co-conspirator with him in the Essex rebellion. When Gerard finally left England in 1606, after the tumults of the Gunpowder Plot, he spent several weeks at St. Omer, and much of the next twenty years in neighboring parts of Flanders. The memoirs of his experiences in England, which his superiors asked him to write, became a primary source of information about missionary activities in the Catholic community.[18] For obvious reasons, his written discussion of the Jesuits’ personal contacts with specific individuals was limited since a protective reticence was clearly necessary; but surely he told more than he wrote. And Continental Jesuits may have believed that “Maister W. S.” could afford less anonymity if, like William Shakespeare, he had died in 1616. In 1619, St Omer’s library owned a quarto copy of The Play of Pericles, and, as has been recently discovered, the quarto of King Lear.[19] Was the author whose name appeared on the title pages known to be Southwell’s kinsman?

To his father, in 1588 or ’89, Southwell sent a letter exhorting him to return in all conscience to the Old Faith from which he had lapsed. The “Epistle” was sufficiently paradigmatic to warrant circulation and was later published (1596-7) together with another piece, A Short Rule of Good Life. In 1591 he wrote The Triumphs over Death, a letter of consolation to the earl of Arundel upon the death of his half-sister, Lady Margaret Sackville, and completed the dramatic prose meditation, Marie Magdalens Funeral Teares, one of his most popular and influential writings. At the end of the same year, in response to the prospect of new penal measures against Catholics, Southwell addressed An Humble Supplication to the Queen, portraying vividly the persecution of his co-religionists, denouncing the cruelty and bad faith of those responsible for it, protesting the loyalty of Catholics generally to their sovereign, and asking for greater toleration from a “most mercifull . . . Princesse.” The Funeral Teares was in fact licensed and published anonymously in the year of its composition; the Triumphs appeared in 1595; the Humble Supplication, though topical and “public,” was distributed only in manuscript until it was printed in 1600, long after the situation that had provoked it.[20]

Betrayed into the hands of the pursuivant Topcliffe in June of 1592 (the agent gloated in a letter to the Queen that he “never did take so weighty a man”),[21] Southwell was tortured, then held in solitary confinement for almost three years. He was finally tried, convicted of entering the country illegally as a priest of Rome and of administering the Roman sacraments, and executed by the hanging and exquisite mutilation reserved for traitors. Because of his close imprisonment, in which he was denied pen and paper, he wrote, as far as can be determined, nothing during the last years of his life but a formal letter to Robert Cecil requesting a final disposition of his case.[22]

Such, in brief, was the missionary career of Robert Southwell, deliberately shrouded in secrecy except at rare moments when he felt that a public voice was needed to console, condemn, inspire, or direct. Keenly aware of the danger he posed to those in whose company he might be found, he refrained from seeking out even those closest to him, his own family, when he detected signs of fear in them. He wrote to his father:


It is not the carelessness of a cold affection, nor the want of a due and reverent respect, that hath made me such a stranger to my native home and so slack in defraying the debt of a thankful mind, but only the iniquity of our days, that maketh my presence perilous and the discharge of my duty an occasion of danger. I was loath to enforce an unwelcome courtesy on any, or by seeming officious to become offensive, deeming it better to let time digest the fear that my return into the realm had bred in my kindred than abruptly to intrude myself to purchase their anger, whose good will I so highly esteemed (EF 3).


To invite or approach Southwell required courage. It should not be surprising, then, that signs of his relationship with anyone in England should be deeply hidden.

 Where are such indications to be looked for? The historical record deliberately kept thin by those who made the history should be tightly wrung, and complemented by an examination of texts the testimony of which can be retrieved only with the greatest difficulty. In the case of Shakespeare, a small group of his personal relationships will be inquired into; his memory will be solicited, however imperfectly it can be rescued from its traces. T.S. Eliot’s assertion that “Shakespeare read with the most prodigious memory for words that has ever existed,” though hardly susceptible of proof, must be close enough to the truth to serve as a working hypothesis.[23] Where will this searching lead? Into the realms of “source study” and “topical criticism” that have often seemed inhabited by phantoms. Shakespeare, however, saw the value of ghosts, whether or not he believed in their existence; and like Hamlet and Horatio, we might be audacious enough to speak with them. The result of this conversation will not be to reduce poems and plays to single and “definitive” meanings, but to increase the number of legitimate meanings that may co-exist within them. Put another way, a search for some of the poet’s narrowly defined purposes (Meinungen) and for possible occasions for his work will not contract their “significance,” which can remain large and manifold beyond the limits of intention, and which in fact may be enlarged by interpretations that take intentions into account instead of assuming them to be spectral and inconsequent.




The text first to be considered should be the one about which critics interested in Southwell have been most willing to vent their suspicions, Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. Devlin’s theory that Southwell had urged Southampton to discourage the author of this poem from “distilling Venus rose” and turn him toward a higher artistic enterprise has been taken up and modified by Richard Wilson, who more pointedly speaks of the priest’s “reproof” to Shakespeare for writing a poem not only erotic but political, and in its politics a “betrayal” of the recusant community. Reading the work as an allegory, in which Venus and the boar (not truly enemies) represent the martyr-makers Elizabeth and Burghley, and Adonis, the young Southampton who is set upon by both, Wilson finds the poem “a critique of martyrdom . . . a parable of its futility in the sadistic arms of a ‘hard-favour’d tyrant’ (931) and in a state ‘most deceiving when it seems most just’ (1156).”[24] Both interpreters assume that Venus and Adonis circulated in manuscript before its publication in 1593, early enough for Southwell, who had been captured in June of the previous year and kept in close confinement thereafter, to have read and responded to the poem. There is no sound reason, however, to make this assumption.

The letter that serves as an introduction to the Jesuit’s collection of poems is not an indictment, not even a friendly one, of the “loving Cosen” to whom it is addressed, and therefore no indication of the writer’s unhappiness with a particular composition for which his friend might have been responsible. Southwell complains about poets’ “abusing their talent” by “making the follies and fayninges of love, the customary subject of their base endevours”--about poets like Petrarch, Gascoigne, and Watson, perhaps, whose lyrics Southwell parodied;[25] but the letter is also a justification of his own efforts as a priest to write verse, and an invitation to “skillfuller wits” (his cousin included?) to better his attempts. The cousin, who shows enough interest in poetry to “importune” the author to “committe” the “fault” of writing poems and (one may assume) to send him copies, is someone whose “Musicke” might improve the poems that Southwell is to send. The new melodies may be those of a poet, not a musician, for Southwell speaks of music in metaphorical terms, the musical “meane” figuring a life of Aristotelian virtue;[26] and he hopes that a more gifted wit will “goe forward” with the sacred poems already written, if not “begin some finer peece.” This is not the kind of letter that a shocked or scandalized clergyman (who writes to his “lovinge Cosen” with “many good wishes”) would have sent to the author of Venus and Adonis. Shakespeare may have read the letter, however, whether it had been addressed to him or not, in one of the manuscripts of Southwell’s poetry that had circulated in England’s Catholic underground; for it is certain (as will be shown) that he was familiar with the Jesuit’s verse, and much of his prose as well, before the publication in 1594 of Lucrece, which was written after Southwell had been imprisoned and before many of his poems came into print in 1595. It is also most likely that Shakespeare had read Southwell before composing Venus and Adonis.

Southwell’s disparaging mention of Venus in the poetic preface to Saint Peters Complaint is no evidence that he knew Shakespeare’s narrative of her misfortunes.


Still finest wits are stilling Venus Rose.
In Paynim toyes the sweetest vaines are spent:
To Christian workes, few have their tallents lent.
                                                                             (The Author to the Reader, 16-18)

Southwell’s censure applies not to an individual but to all of the “wits” who have been forever (or “Still,” in Elizabethan usage) drawing puerile inspiration from the goddess. The rose distilled is an image that he had used as early as 1587 in the Epistle of Comfort (153v-154r), where, several pages later, he had condemned “the adultryes of Venus” (161v). According to standard chronologies of Shakespeare’s works, this was long before Shakespeare imagined in Venus and Adonis a “stillitory” producing a perfume “that breedeth love” (443-44), and, in the Sonnets, wrote about the “liquid” of “summer’s distillation,” and a lover’s “truth” “distill[‘d]” like “roses” (Sonnets 5 and 54).[27] Southwell’s “stilling Venus Rose,” then, may be a sign of his influence on Shakespeare rather than part of a rebuke to a “cousin” who at the time of Southwell’s writing showed no signs of needing to be scolded.[28] Such an hypothesis becomes more credible when we see how much language Venus and Adonis shares with a range of poems in Southwell’s manuscript volume.

In the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Southampton, Shakespeare declares that if his work prove “deformed,” he will “never after eare so barren a land, for feare it yeeld me still so bad a harvest.” Southwell, in “Lewd love is Losse,” uses much the same language for a different purpose, warning his reader against the empty charms of earthly pleasure: “Gleane not in barren soyle these offall eares, / Sith reap thou maiest whole harvestes of delight” (13-14). The parallels do not seem coincidental, for they are to be found in the midst of others:


               “Lewd Love”                                                                       Venus
1:                                                                          1027:
that stoupest to the lure                                         As falcons to the lure
11-12, 27, 37:                                                       793-96:
Go sterving sense, feede thou on                            “Call it not love, for Love to heaven is fled,
     earthly mast,   
True love in Heav’n, seek thou thy                        Since sweating Lust on earth usurp’d
sweet repast                                                             his name,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .             
Where . . . semblant fayre doth wayte                   Under whose simple semblance he hath fed  
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .                    Upon fresh beauty, blotting it with blame . . .”
O loath that love whose final ayme is lust                                                            

25:                                                                         752:
Selfe pleasing soules                                              self-loving nuns

Taken by themselves, these are sparse indications that one author had the other’s work in mind; but they are only the first among many.

In his poem on Herod’s murder of the Innocents (composed in his favorite stanzaic form, which is that of Venus and Adonis), Southwell describes the eerie atmosphere in which the young ones lie slaughtered:


Sunne being fled the starres do leese their light,
And shining beames, in bloody streames they drench.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
O blessed babes, first flowers of christian spring,
Who though untimely cropt[,] faire garlandes frame . . .
                                                                             (“The flight into Egypt,” 7-14)


The baroque image of starlight floating, almost drowning, in the blood of children that seems like the juice of  flowers . . . untimely cropt,” is also evoked in Shakespeare’s poem, when Venus’s eyes, which had “fled” at first sight of Adonis’s bleeding body, finally opened like “stars” and


                                    threw unwilling light
Upon the wide wound that the boar had trench’d
In his soft flank, whose wonted lily white
With purple tears, that his wound wept, was drench’d.
No flow’r was nigh . . .
But stole his blood, and seem’d with him to bleed.


Adonis himself is then transformed into a “flower,” which Venus in her grief and possessiveness untimely “crops” (1037, 1032, 1051-56, 1167-75). In another of Southwell’s poems, God is a cropper: “God doth sometymes first cropp the sweetest floure, / And leaves the weede till tyme do it devoure” (“I dye without deserte, 35-36); in Venus, “The Destinies” command the cropping, and flowers (as in Southwell’s lyric) are contrasted with weeds: “The Destinies . . . / bid thee crop a weed, thou pluck’st a flower” (945-46).

Of the many other verbal parallels to be found in the works of the two poets, the following are among the most salient--not each one in itself, for some of them are commonplace expressions, but considered as a group containing too many correspondences to allow for mere coincidence:


                        Southwell                                                        Venus
“The Virgine Maries conception,” 4:                       64-66:                                                        
shall distill the showre of grace                                                          air of grace
                                                                             .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
                                                                              such distilling showers
“Sinnes heavie loade,” Title, 5:                                430:                            
heavie loade . . . pressed thee                                I had my load before, now press'd with
3:                                                                          463:
flat thou fallest                                                     she flatly falleth down
28:                                                                        511, 516:
thou seal’st a peace with bleeding kisse                sweet seals in my soft lips imprinted,
                                                                             .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
                                                                             Set thy seal-manual on my wax-red lips.
“A vale of teares,” 2, 8:                                         749-50:
                        shrowds from the sunne,                                             thaw’d and done
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .          As mountain snow melts with the 
Which tumbleth from the tops where                    midday sun
     snow is thow’d
15-17:                                                                   268:
The hollow clouds full fraught with                         Whose hollow womb resounds like
   thundring  groans                                                       heaven’s thunder
. . . discharge their pregnant wombe
“Marie Magdalens complaint . . . ,” 23:                  601-2:
Paynted meat no hunger feeds                            poor birds, deceiv’d with painted grapes
                                                                             Do surfeit by the eye and pine the maw
“Decease release,” 17-19:                                    497-98:
My life my griefe, my death hath wrought             But now I live, and life was death’s annoy
    my joye,                                                           But now I died, and death was lively joy
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
My speedy death hath shortned long annoye
27-28:                                                                   110:
                                       the Rose,                        Leading him prisoner in a red rose chain
The cheynes unloos’d to lett the captive free
“Loves servile lot,” 12:                                           1110:
                                    [Love] offreth                    He thought to kiss him, and hath kill’d
A kisse where shee doth kill                                    him
33, 51:                                                                  196:
Her watrie eyes have burning force:                    Thine eye darts forth the fire that burneth
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .                          me
Her loving lookes, are murdring dartes
41-42:                                                                   28-29:
Like tyrant . . . / . . . salve she lends                     sovereign salve . . . / . . . doth lend
46, 53:                                                                  110-12:
[Love] chaines in servile bands                             Leading him prisoner in a red-rose chain
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .                            .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .       
Like winter rose                                                                      . . . he [was] servile
49, 57:                                                                  449:
Her little sweete hath many sowres,                       Jealousy, that sour unwelcome guest
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
                        . . . jealous fits,
Attend upon her
52:                                                                        777:
Her songs bewitching charmes                             Bewitching like the wanton mermaids’
“Content and Rich,” 9-12:                                     779-84:
My conscience is my crowne:                                  my heart stands armed in mine ear
  Contented thoughts, my rest:                               And will not let a false sound enter there,
My heart is happy in itself:
  My blisse is in my brest.                                     Lest the deceiving harmony should run
                                                                             Into the quiet closure of my breast,
                                                                             And then my little heart were quite undone,
                                                                             In his bedchamber to be barr’d of rest.
“Scorne not the least,” 15-16:                              674, 853:
The tender Larke . . .                                         the timorous flying hare
And fearefull Hare                                              .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
                                                                           the gentle lark
“Christ upon the Crosse to man,” 13-14:              100:
The stones relent . . . this depe deluge                for stone at rain relenteth
“S. Peters complaint” (Folger MS version),
35:                                                                       890:
did thy hart surprise                                            surprise her heart
SPC, 411-13:                                                       653-54:
Where fire, a love that next to heaven                   Distemp’ring gentle Love in his desire,
  doth  rest,                                                           As aire and water do abate the fire
Ayre . . . , that no distemper marres
The water, grace
580-84:                                                                                    555:
                                                face                      Her face doth reek and smoke
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .                   (and 63: “steam” [the only instance
. . . reeking hellish steeme                                     in Ss])

Since it is inconceivable that Southwell authored all the lyrics here cited after he might have read Venus and Adonis in 1592, when imprisonment ended his writing,[29] we must assume (accepting the  consensus that Venus was written not long before its publication in 1593) that Shakespeare was the debtor.  Shakespeare’s recollection of Southwell’s prose must also have produced the echoes in Venus of the Epistle of Comfort (1587) and Marie Magdalens Funeral Teares (published in 1591).[30] If these conclusions solve a problem, however, they also beget mysteries. Where would Shakespeare have obtained Southwell’s poems, none of which was to be published until 1595?  They would have come directly or indirectly from a Catholic source to which they had been secretly entrusted (from Trussell, perhaps, or Southampton’s family,[31] or the Vauxes), or even, if “Maister W.S.” was Shakespeare, from the Jesuit himself. But then why did Shakespeare make use (not all of it unconscious, surely) of Southwell’s works of piety in fashioning a poem so frankly erotic, and so heedless of the Jesuit’s stated plea that poetry be rescued from the profane and devoted to the sacred? The secular poet may have simply been opportunistic, appropriating from another author whatever seemed suitable for his purposes, just as he drew upon Holinshed, Plutarch, and Italian storytellers for his narratives, or read Thomas Nashe for exposure to a richly eccentric store of diction and imagery.[32] We must still wonder, however, why Shakespeare would have looked to Southwell specifically for literary inspiration, especially since much of what Shakespeare recalled and recast is not especially “inspired.” Another possibility is that Shakespeare drew religious writing into his pagan context in deliberate defiance of the priest’s calls for a sacred poetry, in an act, almost, of desecration. What Venus derives from Southwell, however, has a great deal more to do with imagination than with belief. The poem is risqué but not impious. It shows little resemblance to the Elegies of Donne, whose conspicuous (if relatively mild) blasphemies seem intended to distance the author from the claims of a too importunate faith. Indeed, the rather complex, ambiguity-laden morality of Venus stands in sharp contrast to the deliberately simplified immorality of Donne’s audacious pieces. If, finally, Shakespeare merely considered his Jesuit cousin too much of a puritan, Southwell’s religious rigor may be seen to have ramifications beyond its application to the sexual imagination of poets.

Questions about Shakespeare’s unstated purposes cannot, in fact, be answered without reference to his writing a poem for the earl of Southampton. His intention to do so has not always been considered obvious. Some commentators, taking too literally Shakespeare’s statement that Venus was “the first heire” of his invention, have supposed, like the nineteenth-century German scholar Karl Elze, that he “brought [the work] with him from Stratford to London, where it circulated in manuscript till Southampton accepted the dedication, and the poem then found a publisher.”[33] Nothing in Venus and Adonis, then, would answer to Southampton’s concerns except by accident. Shakespeare would have dedicated his poem to the earl with as little acquaintance with his patron-to-be as had Nashe, who would dedicate to Southampton The Unfortunate Traveler in the blind and ultimately futile hope that his bid for patronage would be accepted--not realizing that the fair “Geraldine” who was subjected to comic ridicule in the tale had been the second wife of Southampton’s great-grandfather, Sir Anthony Browne. On the contrary, Shakespeare seems to have known his man. He intended Venus and Adonis to have a broad general appeal; and it had, becoming the most popular of his works during his lifetime, promoted by its own brilliance and its participation in the fashion set for Ovidian erotic narratives by Lodge (Scillaes Metamorphosis) and Marlowe (Hero and Leander). Yet the poem clearly spoke to the condition of its twenty-year-old dedicatee, whose coming of age was rich in the dilemmas that would invite his appreciation of this seriocomic story.

Because of the analogies in language and subject matter between Venus and the first group of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, in which the poet urges an apparently unwilling young man to marry and beget an heir, and the resemblance of this situation to the plight of Adonis, who is fiercely pressured to succumb to “love” and just as fiercely resistant to it, some critical attention has inevitably been given to the possibility that Shakespeare wrote Venus and Adonis in direct address to Southampton in the midst of the earl’s connubial quandary. The poet may have anticipated or repeated (although this is not very likely) advice given in the Sonnets at a time when Southampton’s refusal of Lord Burghley’s proposal that he marry his granddaughter threatened the young man’s social and financial well-being; or Shakespeare may have sought to defend the earl against the charges of petulant self-love apparently leveled against him in the Ovidian poem Narcissus, written by Burghley’s secretary, John Clapham.[34] Whether or not Venus can be construed as an offer of “advice” or defense, and whether or not Shakespeare would have been in a position to advise a nobleman on the matters in question, it is possible that the spectacle of a contest between a voracious yet maternal goddess and the unripe, unwilling object of her desire may have interested a young man like Southampton, who saw himself pulled in many directions by his elders as he approached his majority. Shakespeare did not compose his poem as a naive allegory closely shadowing the earl’s situation. That would have been to imply not only that Southampton/Adonis was unready for the demands made upon him by elders, but also that he was morally self-satisfied (not even the fair youth of the Sonnets was so) and narcissistic, blind to the dangers of the world and not up to meeting them. Adonis is only half a sympathetic character, and a comic as well as a sentimental one. Southampton was meant to laugh at him, and to look upon Venus with bemused alarm, affection, and pity.[35] The earl knew the difference between his refusal of a marriage for which he had no taste and Adonis’s incapacity for love or lust, the difference between his own ambition to go off to the wars and Adonis’s immature predilection for the hunt. Shakespeare knew that his patron knew, and would not have dared to write so teasingly close to his experience otherwise. Southampton’s troubles, however, went beyond those encountered in the difficult game of negotiating his way out of a marriage.

Richard Wilson, though overly committed to an allegorical reading of Venus, rightly underscores the fact that Southampton was in the early 1590’s a Catholic “hope.”[36] At the age of eight Henry Writothesley had been snatched by the state from his Catholic family at his father’s death and placed in Burghley’s household to be raised as a Protestant.[37] The boy at first refused to attend the Anglican service, and his recalcitrance came to the attention of the earl of Leicester, who pressured the countess of Southampton to make her son give up his recusancy.[38] The young earl must have made his submission in Burghley’s household, and later as a student at Cambridge, where he could not have received his degree without having taken the Oath of Supremacy. External conformity, however, did not always signal a change of heart in matters of religion; the countess of Southampton’s devoutly and openly Catholic father,  did not scruple to allow the heretical service in his own house, even after Rome had made recusancy a necessary condition of fidelity to the faith.[39] Lord Montagu (like his son-in-law, the second earl of Southampton) protected the faith and the faithful so far as it lay within his power.  The third earl of Southampton might do the same if he would when he came of age, even if his public adherence to the religious laws of the Elizabethan regime made him technically a “schismatic.” He did not have to court martyrdom as his father had done to become a Catholic hero, for his grandfather had provided a different heroic model. The young earl’s defection in heart as well as in appearance could prove disastrous, however, to those who had a large stake in his steadfastness. As Laertes was to say of Hamlet, he was not free, “as unvalued persons do,” to “Carve for himself.” Southampton’s family and dependents were desperately concerned to keep him in the embrace of at least a hidden faith. 

 Questions of marriage and faith were not in fact unrelated. Southampton’s mother and grandfather must have been intensely conflicted as they dealt with Burghley about the earl’s prospective marriage to Elizabeth Vere.[40] They knew Southampton’s attitude towards the match; they understood the Catholic Church’s teaching, as expressed in the handbooks of casuistry for the English mission, that to “contract marriage with a heretic . . . is to sin mortally. Parents, therefore sin in not prohibiting such marriages”;[41] yet they realized that a family alliance with the most powerful counselor in England might help them and other oppressed Catholics to practice their religion in their own way. In 1594, the dowager countess herself would marry the Vice-Chamberlain, Sir Thomas Heneage, once a persecutor of Catholics though possibly a convert in his old age,[42] perhaps in part for the protection he might afford her circle and herself. It is not clear, then, whether the earl’s family would have tried to cultivate in him a resistance to the threats and blandishments of the Lord Treasurer or a sensible acquiescence; in any case, the solicitings from each side must have been urgent. Southampton’s ultimate refusal of Elizabeth Vere was to cost him dearly, both the five thousand pounds he would be forced to pay to his former guardian and a large wealth of good will.

If Shakespeare felt able to intrude discreetly into this situation, it was surely not as a giver of advice. Venus and Adonis charts no course of action, offering only entertainment, comic criticism, and sympathy.  Venus and Adonis flirts with allegory, but it is a mythical one in which Venus is “love” (610) and Adonis is “beauty” (1019-20), whom “the destinies” (736) doom to separation, just as Fate, “jealous” of perfect union, divides abstractly conceived lovers in Andrew Marvell’s “The Definition of Love.” Shakespeare’s poem, however, is too multifarious to allow its characters and their actions to participate fully in allegorical schemes, either the one that the poet explicitly declares or others that he might imply. Southampton, like anyone else, could enjoy the work for its dazzling transformation of an old story, its verbal, pictorial, and dramatic artistry, its sexual candor, and its complex tone infused with contradictory implications. He would not be encouraged to see Venus as a mere villain or Adonis as a simple martyr. And yet, goddess and boy were at least reminiscent of characters he knew--an exacting Queen, or a guardian, or a Mother Church who would possess a subject entirely; a hapless ward or subject trying to preserve his integrity against threats of suffocation or bloody execution.

 Among the voices demanding of Southampton submission of body and soul was that of Robert Southwell, who preached on behalf of the Roman church, as Wilson puts it, “the politics of refusal.”[43] Southwell stood with the rigorists who insisted that Catholics deny the Queen’s spiritual authority, avoid the Protestant service, and accept the penalties for their recusancy in the spirit of martyrs.[44] Shakespeare heard the preacher’s sermons and songs, and he made their words, though not in any obvious way their doctrine, resonate throughout the first poem that he addressed to Southampton. Again the question must be asked, “To what end, if any?” If Shakespeare intended to give his poem a “political dimension,” it would be natural for him to have in mind the language of a relevant political spokesman, like Southwell, although little in the set of verbal parallels between Southwell’s writings and Venus seems allusively to suggest an ideological bias. The comparison of Adonis’s death with that of the Holy Innocents is surely ironical, but whether to the diminishment of Adonis or to the disparagement of martyrdom, or to neither purpose, is not clear.[45]  Adonis’s distinction between heavenly love and earthly lust (793-804) may, as proposed by Wilson, sound “like a parody of the homely similes of Southwell” on the same subjects ( in “Lewd Love is Losse”);[46] but such a parody need not be politically inspired. What seems to constitute a true act of resistance to Southwell is Shakespeare’s choice of Venus as a subject after reading an exhortation from the Jesuit poet to the “finest wits” that they forsake her. What is the meaning of such apparent defiance of a “cousin” and a priest? Was it meant to be perceived by Southampton? Was it a straightforward personal or political gesture, and an oppositional one? In opposition, then, to whom or what? Or was it a less fraught refusal to comply with puritanical importunities? As is always the case with Shakespeare, nothing is entirely straightforward, whether dissent or agreement.




On October 6, 1594, Robert Southwell languished in the Tower, living out the final months of his life. On that day, the earl of Southampton became, as Burghley noted in his diary, of “full age.” Southampton could not celebrate just then, for he was in the midst of arranging for his friends the Danvers brothers, who had been involved in a brawl and a killing, to escape to the Continent. The onerous fine levied on him by Burghley for refusing the hand of Elizabeth Vere had soon to be paid. Earlier, the wedding of the dowager countess to Sir Thomas Heneage had taken place on the second of May, just seven days before Shakespeare’s new poem Lucrece, written for and dedicated to Southampton, would be registered at Stationers’ Hall. The year was momentous for the poet as well. In June the London playhouses were allowed to reopen after being closed for the most part during almost two years of plague. Two days after Southampton’s birthday, Henry Carey, the Lord Chamberlain, wrote a letter to the Lord Mayor of London asking that a new acting company formed under his aegis be allowed in the city (it had, along with another new group, the Lord Admiral’s Men, already performed at Newington Butts); the Lord Chamberlain’s company was of course Shakespeare’s. Would the resurrected playwright “need” Southampton’s patronage after this new commercial arrangement? If his devotion to his patron were more than mercenary, he did not have to “reason” the need, as Lear would say. Whatever his other prospects, it seems that Shakespeare continued, often privately, to address works to Southampton in this year and later--more than the poem Lucrece, and always with Southwell in the background. One of these offerings was a play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which may or may not have been written in 1594 but had much to say about Southampton’s situation at that time.

What E. K. Chambers once called the “hymeneal” character of the Dream has often evoked speculation that it originated as an entertainment produced for an aristocratic marriage, a fact that would account not only for the wedding theme but for Oberon’s elaborate blessing of the “best bride’s-bed,” of “each several chamber” of the “owner”’s “palace,” and of the future “issue” of the play’s married couples (5.1.391-420). Eleven different weddings have been seriously proposed as the play’s first occasion, among them, the marriage of Southampton’s widowed mother to Sir Thomas Heneage.[47] Critical sentiment has begun to turn against the idea that Shakespeare first wrote the comedy for private use;[48] but the Dream need not have been performed at specific wedding festivities to have in some way referred to or derived meaning from them. The Southampton-Heneage marriage could have provided Shakespeare the means to show his patron another pledge of his commitment, as well as continued understanding of the difficulties faced by the young nobleman who had attained the age of an independence heavy with social, political, and religious restriction. A number of considerations lead to the conclusion that Shakespeare made use of the event in just that way.

Of all the nuptials that criticism has associated with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the only one whose celebration could have been related to the “rite of May” observed in the play (4.1.132-33) was that of the dowager countess and the Vice-Chamberlain.[49] In the play’s mature marital couple, Theseus and Hippolyta, are intimations of the forty-one year old bride and the elderly bridegroom, even though there was little prospect in the marriage for the “children” which the play anticipated for its fictional lovers (5.1.414). Like the Duke and the Amazonian Queen, Mary Southampton and Thomas Heneage had been adversaries--in the wars of faith--but had concluded a peace that the wedding helped to solemnize. They did so at a time when the bride’s son, the earl of Southampton, faced the matrimonial crisis created by Burghley, who like Egeus in the play, insisted on a marriage unacceptable to at least one of the parties. For Southampton, it might have seemed that “The course of true love” never would “run smooth” (MND 1.1.134). Perhaps by the time of his mother’s wedding, certainly not long after it, he had become taken with Elizabeth Vernon, a relatively poor cousin of the earl of Essex and one of Queen Elizabeth’s maids of honor;[50] and whether in the first flush of  passion he intended marriage to the woman who would, after her pregnancy, become his wife, he and she might well have felt the exasperation of Lysander that love should stand “upon the choice of friends [i.e., relatives],” or the anger of Hermia that she should feel the “hell, to choose love by another’s eyes” (MND 1.1.140). The Dream, of course, makes fun of loves that are as interchangeable as glasses of the same prescription; but the humor is not on Egeus’ side. Even though love in the play is less than transcendent and eternal, the stubbornly proud parent is not right to insist that his will triumph over the determination of wayward youth. Though social codes might prescribe otherwise, the young seem in the comedy to have the greater right to be arbitrary.

The other woman in Southampton’s life, and a significant presence in the play, was the Queen herself. It has long been assumed that the playwright meant to compliment her in lines by now notorious:

Obe.    That very time I saw (but thou couldst not),
            Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
            Cupid all arm’d. A certain aim he took
            At a fair vestal throned by the west,
            And loos’d his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
            As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts;
            But I might see young Cupid’s fiery shaft
            Quench’d in the chaste beams of the wat’ry moon,
            And the imperial vot’ress passed on,
            In maiden meditation, fancy-free.


Many have taken for granted that the “fair vestal throned by the West,” “the imperial vot’ress,” was a flattering allusion to the virgin Queen, whom the playwright anticipated would have been present at a performance to receive his homage.[51] Against this reading it must be objected that Elizabeth, whom Ralegh had addressed as “Diana” or “Cynthia” herself and begun her association with the “moon,” would not necessarily have accepted as a compliment the notion that she be identified, in the play’s context, with a “vestal” and “vot’ress” of the more august moon goddess, and had nothing better to do but spend her time “in maiden meditation, fancy-free.”[52] And if Elizabeth is to be thought of as the moon itself, whose beams are “chaste,” it (and therefore she) is described by Oberon in terms that might seem pejorative: “cold” and “wat’ry” (156, 162).[53] Titania emphasizes lunar destructiveness: “the moon (the governess of floods), / Pale in her anger, washes all the air, / That rheumatic diseases do abound” (2.1.103-105). In her frigid authority the moon “Quench’d” the love that Cupid had meant for the young virgin (2.1.162), successful as Elizabeth sometimes was in attempting to control the desires and preserve the chastity of “vestal” maids of honor like Elizabeth Vernon. Rather than offering the Queen adulation, the play hints at criticism of her, which the earl of Southampton would not have been displeased to see.

The long mutual antipathy between Elizabeth and Southampton that was to culminate in the earl’s participation in the Essex Rebellion of 1601 began at least as early as 1595, when for unexplained reasons the Queen showed the promising young courtier signs of her disfavor.[54] Like every other nobleman, he understood that he could never achieve his ambitions without her blessing, which he assiduously sought. Yet Elizabeth had from his boyhood been the enemy of his faith. She had imprisoned his staunchly Catholic father several times for his unacceptable religious opinions and political actions, the final incarceration (on grounds established by the anti-recusancy act of 1581) coming just months before he died.[55] Under the wardship system, at the second earl’s death the Queen received slightly more than a third of his heir’s properties, which she farmed out to the wardship’s purchaser during the young man’s minority.[56] Another unflattering reference to the moon in the play, then, may have been directed at Elizabeth:


The.                             O, methinks, how slow
            This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires,
            Like to a step-dame or a dowager,
            Long withering out a young man’s revenue.

Elizabeth was not only Cynthia, of course, but the “Faerie Queene.” Titania, also “the Fairy Queen” (2.1.8), falls in love with an ass. The wife of Oberon was far too different from the virgin monarch of England for most in a contemporary audience to have suspected that her character was meant to wound the English Queen’s majesty.[57] A playwright might go only so far in his satirical designs. Still, a poet like Shakespeare, who thought so little of Elizabeth that, unlike many of his fellows, he refrained from writing a eulogy for her after her death, and was publicly scolded for this act of recusancy, might well have dared to give his patron the opportunity to laugh in secret at a sovereign on whom both depended but for whom neither had any real love.[58]

Another indication that A Midsummer Night’s Dream had special meaning for Southampton and his circle is its rather uncensorious references to Catholic doctrine and practice. The blessing of the bridal bed resembles the Catholic benedictio thalami;[59] and the fairies bless rooms, as in Catholic ritual, with “field-dew consecrate,” or holy-water. (5.1.403-4, 415). In a way that traditional religionists could appreciate, the play’s rather sympathetic portrayal of the spirit world violates the strict Protestant rationalism of Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft, which had dismissed Robin Goodfellow and his colleagues as the fading retinue of a dying world.[60] Hatred of “heresy,” of which something is made in the play (2.2.138-42), is not unique to Catholics, but not many non-Catholic heresimachs in Elizabethan England would also have approved of holy-water. Nor could many Protestants of the stricter sort have endorsed Theseus’s declaration that nuns (the queen was another matter) were “Thrice blessed” to “master so their blood” as to live a celibate life (1.1.74-5). Monkishly, the Duke seems to endorse a religion of “works,” assigning too much value to ascetical exertion.

At the same time, however, Theseus assumes that Hermia would not want to live a “barren sister” all her life, “Chaunting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon”; she should be “distill’d” as an earthly bride, not as a martyr (1.1.72-3, 76). There is an inconsistency here, one which Shakespeare (who could easily have bypassed the opportunity to praise heroic celibacy and thus avoided the conceptual dissonance) took the trouble to create. He did so out of material that Southwell provided.

At the beginning of the message to his cousin that prefaces his collection of poems, Southwell declares that “Poets by abusing their talent, and making the follies and fayninges of love, the customary subject of their base endevours, have so discredited this facultie, that a Poet, a Lover, and a Liar, are by many reckoned but three wordes of one signification.” In A Midsummer Night’s Dream the attitude of Theseus is similar, though his language is more succinct: “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact” (5.1.7-8). Arguing for Jesuit influence on Shakespeare, Peter Milward noted the similarity as one of several isolated shards of evidence for his contentions, but did nothing else with it. He also repeated Grosart’s theory that a line from the poem that prefaces Saint Peters Complaint, “Still finest wits are stilling Venus Rose” (16), represented Southwell’s annoyed response to Venus and Adonis. Neither Milward nor Grosart noticed that this second passage, like the first, is echoed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “earthlier happy is the rose distill’d” (1.1.76). Two such conspicuous connections between Southwell’s stern moralizings and Shakespeare’s festive comedy should prompt a search for more, and an inquiry into what they might signify.

 There is in fact much in common between Southwell’s poems and the two scenes from which the parallels have just been drawn. The “rose distill’d” is found in Theseus’s warning to Hermia that refusal to obey her father’s wishes concerning her marriage could have ruinous consequences. She would have


Either to die the death, or to abjure
For ever the society of men.
Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires,
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
Whether (if you yield not to your father’s choice)
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew’d,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chaunting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice blessed they that master so their blood
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill’d,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness.


The distraught speaker of Saint Peters Complaint imagines himself caged not in a cloister but in its antithesis, the devils’ “mew” (609); and the rest of the poem is rich with vocabulary used by Theseus, most of the words clustering in lines 76-114, 416-33, and 561-609.[61] Especially notable are  happy worldlings” (416, and 332: “earthly”): cf. “earthlier happy”), and “stilling . . . rose” (The Author to the Reader, 16; but also 561-7: “Roses . . . distill”),  In the rest of Scene 1, we might compare “crazed” (92) with the Complaint’s “crasie” (199); “this spotted and inconstant man” (110) with “spotted soule” (18); “misgraffed” (137) with “to graffe in stock of meaner sap” (700); “Swift as any shadow, short as any dream” (144) with “a shade, a dreame” (95); “collied” (145) with “coales” (250); “leagues” (165) with “league” (686); “he hath turn’d a heaven unto a hell” (207) with “From heaven . . . to . . . hell . . . estranged . . . , That . . . Angels turnes to Divells” (629, 641); “liquid pearl” (211) with “liquid pearle” (357); “perjur’d . . . oaths” (241-3) with “perjurde oathes” (528). While speaking on the same theme, the playwright’s character and the poet speak at cross purposes, one celebrating, the other denigrating “earthly” happiness; but there can be little doubt that one writer has adopted the language of the other--and not just in this scene.

At the beginning of the final act, Theseus offers his bemused comments about the “imagination” in a dialogue with Hippolyta about the kinship in folly of lover, madman, and poet:


Hip.        ‘Tis strange my Theseus, that these lovers speak of.
The.        More strange than true. I never may believe
            These antic fables, nor these fairy toys.
            Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
            Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
            More than cool reason ever comprehends.
            The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
            Are of imagination all compact:
            One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
            That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
            Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
            The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
            Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
            And as imagination bodies forth
            The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
            Turns them to shapes and gives to aery nothing
            A local habitation and a name.
            Such tricks hath strong imagination,
            That if it would but apprehend some joy,
            It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
            Or in the night, imagining some fear,
            How easy is a bush suppos’d a bear!
Hip.        But all the story of the night told over,
            And all their minds transfigur’d so together,
            More witnesseth than fancy’s images,
            And grows to something of great constancy;
            But, howsoever, strange and admirable.


Southwell’s “a Poet, a Lover, and a Liar” (from “The Author to his loving Cosen”) are not quite a perfect match for “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet”; but “The Author” sees a kind of madness in poets “possessed” by “idle” and diabolical “fansies”; and Shakespeare at least raises the idea of the poet’s mendacity at the end of the play when he has the poetical Puck, who admits that the characters have been but “shadows” or players in an “idle theme,” deny that he is a “liar” (5.1.423, 427, 435)--a comical disclaimer, as it seems to be, only if the audience were counted on to assume it false. The parallels are close enough to be given further weight by others. Theseus disbelieves “antic fables” and “toys,” shrugs off the “devils” from “hell,” deprecates the mind that can counterfeit “Helen” in a brow of “Egypt” and an “eye” that can both roll in “frenzy” and “glance” through space indefinite. Just so, but with more solemnity, Saint Peter complains of “fabling wits” devoted only to “lovers layes” (34), of the “anticke sightes” and “tales” formed in “fansies forging mold” (730-32). These too are “toyes” (The Author to the Reader, 17), although the religious poet may turn them into something exalted. The Saint’s Complaint also has “Divells” from “hell” (641, 638), a “forged Goddesse” (cf. a counerfeit Helen),  an “Egyptian” (289), “eyes” that “glaunce” (356) and spheres (eyes) full of love that in a motion “rowles” (406), and a “phrensie” allied to “fansy” (298-9). The skeptical duke (who is himself a fiction and whose story is a myth) describes how the “poet’s pen” waits on his imagination, a seething “brain” which “bodies forth” the “shapes” of “things unknown.” By supposing some “fear” in the “night” this wayward faculty turns a “bush” into a “bear.” In Southwell’s poem, the Author’s “penne” (14) writes of “body” and “braine” (279-80), of the mind’s “lying shapes” (668), its “straunge chymeraes” (728), false nocturnal fears (the “fayn[ed] frights” of dreams [728]), a “Beare” (283), and if not a “bush,” a “shrub” (618).  Hippolyta also finds “fancy’s images” unreliable “witnesse[s],” but perceives some connection between a “story . . . told” and “minds transfigur’d.” Her use of this last word (unique in Shakespeare) may have been suggested by Peter’s recollection of “Thabors joyes” (181), occasioned at Christ’s “transfiguration” on that mountain (Matt 17.2; cf. EC, 32r: “transfigured”).[62]

The reminiscences of Southwell’s poetry with which the play’s final act begins continue throughout the scene. From the shorter lyrics, “natures blots” (“Christs Childhoode” 5) are quite the same as what Oberon calls “the blots of Nature’s hand” (5.1.409). “Sinnes heavie loade” combines “over-charge” with a prayer, “take me to the skie” (1, 42); in the play we find “o’ercharged” along with Pyramus/Bottom’s declaration that he has already gone to heaven: “My soul is in the sky” (5.1.85, 303). Pyramus’s “gracious, golden, glittering gleams” (5.1.274; “gleams” is unique as a noun in Shakespeare, and “gleam’d” appears only in Lucrece) turns to parody what is ingenuous, if somewhat laughable, in Southwell’s “Seeke flowers of heaven”: “glorious gleames” and “Most glittering gold in lieu of glebe” (12-19)--aspects of flowers which, like the Dream’s “love-in-idleness” (2.1.168), contain “Life giving juice of living love” in their “sugred vaines” (13-14).

 Saint Peters Complaint offers an additional set of comparisons with the play’s fifth act. Like the mechanicals’ little drama, the poem too has “actors in . . .  tragicall mischaunces” (320), and it shares with these comical tragedians some of its rhetorical features. Thisby’s swan song shows some kinship with St. Peter’s heavy meditations.

 She poeticizes:

            Asleep, my love?
               What, dead, my dove?
            O Pyramus, arise!
               Speak, speak. Quite dumb?
               Dead, dead? A tomb
            Must cover thy sweet eyes.
               .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
               Lovers, make moan:
            His eyes were green as leeks.
               O Sisters Three,
               Come, come to me,
            With hands as pale as milk;
               Lay them in gore,
               Since you have shore
            With shears his thread of silk.
               Tongue, not a word:
               Come, trusty sword;
            Come, blade, my breast imbrue!

In his Complaint, St. Peter is fond of extolling Christ’s eyes, as he does in a fashion that would become Crashavian:


O Turtle twins all bath’d in virgins milke,
Upon the margin of full flowing bankes;
Whose gracefull plume surmounts the finest silke,
Whose sight enamoreth heavens most happy rankes,
Could I forsweare this heavenly paire of doves,
That cag’d in care for me were groning loves.


This stanza shares some of Thisby’s rhymes (love-dove, milk-silk); its “groning” matches the lovers’ “moan”; and both speakers admire their beloved’s “eyes.” The eyes of Pyramus are “sweet,” like those of Peter’s Christ, in whose “deare eyes” (also called “nectared Aumbryes” and “sweet elements”) can be read “sweet lessons” (343-4, 351, 415). The poem’s “O sister Nymphes” (589) recalls the play’s “O Sisters Three.” Peter (like Hamlet’s Claudius, later) imagines “Caines murdring hand imbrude in brothers blood” (523); Thisby asks the Fates to “lay” their “hands” in “gore,” and her sword to “imbrue” her breast. (“Imbrue” is common in Southwell, but Thisby is one of only two speakers in Shakespeare to use the word.)

In parts of the play not yet examined, we can find a small number of isolated passages to set beside portions of Southwell’s verse--for example: “Flower of this purple dye” (3.2.102) and “leaves . . . staind in beauties die” (“Seeke flowers of heaven,” 9); “thief of love” (3.2.283) and “theefes of Harts” (SPC, 324). Perhaps more interesting, because they may be relevant to the question of whether Shakespeare read Southwell’s work in manuscript, are parallels between expressions in the Dream and in poems by Southwell not included in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions: “knitteth souls” (1.1.172) and “knitteth . . . their hartes” (“Christ upon the Crosse to man,” 18); “her close and consecrated bower . . . stalls” (3.2.7-10) and “Thy sacred Stall . . . his closed bowre” (“The Complaint of the B. Virgin,” 37-40). One of these poems (in a group extant only in the Folger Library’s Harmsworth Manuscript) is an alternate and diminutive version of Saint Peters Complaint. This poem’s speaker, acknowledging that he had used “oathes” to “forsweare the truthe,” laments “breach of plighted trouth,” and cries out, “O fatal fray . . . What develish drift . . .” (4, 9, 13, 36). He sounds much like Helena when she exclaims: “When truth kills truth, O devilish-holy fray” (3.2.129).  Quince as Prologue, who announces the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisby, in giving his synopsis describes “the grisly beast, which Lion hight by name” and the “bloody blameful blade” with which Pyramus “broach’d his bloody boiling breast” (5.1.139, 147). The variant Complaint has a “hart” resisting “bloudie blades,” “a grisely Beare . . . , a ramping Lions pawe” (hence Shakespeare’s “grisly . . . Lion”?), a “breach” (the printed version has the verb “Brochte” in a different context [358]), and, for sound effects, a passel of other “b’s”: “boasting bragges before,” “bind,” “brunt,” “base,” “better,” “bewitch,” “blind,” “blasphemous,” “Boarish” (25-6, 41, 9, 16-42), with much other Quince-like affecting of the letter (“O fatal fray, o foule and filthy foile!” [13]).

The end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream brings us back to the poem in which Southwell directly addresses “the Reader” (concerning “Venus Rose” and other matters). He has written, he says, of the fallibility of “Saintes”; but “their weaknesse is no warrant to offend: / Learne by their faults, what in thine owne to mend” (5-6). Puck, we might remember, also speaking directly to an audience, begins the play’s last speech with some of the same words: “If we shadows have offended, / Think but this, and all is mended” (5.1.423-24). Both speakers resort to clichés in their rhymes, but not by coincidence if the other parallels between play and poems taken in sum are signs of “influence.”

These examples do not exhaust all the correlations between Southwell’s poetry and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but others might be better appreciated when considered with those which can be established between the Jesuit’s prose works and the play. Since some of this prose is “poetical” and some not, we might begin with the prose-poem Marie Magdalen’s Funeral Teares, published in 1591 but previously circulated in manuscript, and already seen as an influence on Venus and Adonis.[63] It sends us to Theseus’s appreciation of the “simplicity” of the players about to perform for him:


Our sport shall be to take what they mistake;
And what poor duty cannot do, noble respect
Takes it in might, not merit.
Where I have come, great clerks have purposed
To greet me with premeditated welcomes;
Where I have seen them shiver and look pale,
Make periods in the midst of sentences,
Throttle their practic’d accent in their fears,
And in conclusion dumbly have broke off,
Not paying me a welcome. Trust me, sweet,
Out of this silence yet I pick’d a welcome;
And in the modesty of fearful duty
I read as much as from the rattling tongue
Of saucy and audacious eloquence.
Love, therefore, and tongue-tied simplicity
In least speak most, to my capacity.


One of the more dramatic moments in the Funeral Teares is the appearance of the risen Jesus to Mary who has spent a considerable time in Christ’s empty tomb, grieving over his inexplicable absence. Both before and after he manifests himself, speech fails her; and, as the italics indicate, the meditation’s interlocutor defends her aphasia in many of the terms that would be spoken by Theseus:


But feare not Mary for thy teares will obtaine. They are too mighty oratours [cf. “great clerks”], to let any suite fail, & though they pleaded at the most rigorous bar, yet have they so perswading a silence [cf. “Out of this silence yet I pick’d a welcome”] . . . .They tie the tongues of all accusers. . . . This water . . . hath merited his love. . . . [Delay made Christ’s presence] so much the more welcome. . . . O loving maister . . . , thou shewest by a sweete experience, that though she paied thee with the dearest water of her eyes, yet small was the price that shee bestowed in respect of the worth that shee received. . . . Love would have spoken, but feare enforced silence. Hope frameth the words, but doubt melteth them . . . , her voice trembled [cf. “shiver”], her tongue faltered, her breath failed. In fine [i.e., in conclusion] teares issued in liew of words, and deep sighes in stead of long sentences. . . . Though wordes woulde have broken out, and her hart sent into his, the dueties that shee ought him. . . , she was seal them up al under silence by supressing speech [cf. “Throttle their practic’d accent”]. . . . (55v-60r) [also, “my . . . supplication . . . pointed with sighs” (64r); “made the period of her aspiring griefes” (66v)].


At various other points in the Dream we might note less concentrated echoes of the Funerall Teares. Not the least of these is Bottom’s attempt at Pauline eloquence, “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was” (4.1.211-14), with Southwell’s more respectable allusion to Saint Paul: “neither thy sence can discerne, nor thy minde conceive any other object,” closely folllowed by “Thy eies . . . Thy ears” (27v), and then by “My eies . . . , my brest . . . , my heart . . . , my tongue” (29v). It is obvious to every annotator that Bottom’s report of his rapture derives ultimately from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians 2:9: “The eye hath not seen, & the eare hath not heard, neither have entred into the heart of man, the thynges which God hath prepared for them that love hym” (Bishops’). Not usually noticed is that Shakespeare actually complements this scriptural passage with another, from Second Corinithians. Bottom prefaces his rhapsody about the “eye of man” with the claim, “I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass, if he go about t’expound this dream. Methought I was--there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had--but man is but a patch’d fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had” (4.1:204-11). He thus follows Paul’s similarly (but not so severely) stammering recollection of his being “caught up to the third heaven”: “I wyl come to visions. . . .  For I knew a man in Christe, aboue [fourteen] yeres ago, (whether [he were] in the body I can not tell, or whether [he were] out of the body, I can not tell, God knoweth) that he was taken up into the thirde heauen:  And I knewe the same man (whether in the body or out of the body, I can not tell, God knoweth) Howe that he was taken up into paradise, & hearde unspeakeable wordes, which is not lawfull for man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:1-4 [Bishops’]). This conflation reminds us that Shakespeare, when relying on sources, may be eclectic, even or especially within the works of a single author, so that a single passage can prove, as Kenneth Muir, John Tobin, and other scholars have noted, “polygenetic” or “overdetermined,” appearing like a thread whose several strands have come together from different skeins according to various rules or whims of association.[64] It is plausible, then, that Shakespeare’s imagination would link both scriptural texts not only because of their thematic similarity, but because of their nodal relationship in Southwell, who recalls the first in his Funeral Teares, having also quoted it, as well as the second text, in his Epistle of Comfort (190v, 103v).

That the Epistle of Comfort in some way lies behind Bottom’s speech may be inferred by another consideration. Soon after quoting from Second Corinthians, Southwell refers to an episode in the Acts of the Apostles in which Paul, bitten on the hand by a viper, “shook” it off into a fire (105v; Acts 28:5). Shakespeare, hardly by mere coincidence, alludes in the third act to the same incident, when Lysander tries to cast off Hermia with insults: “Vile thing, let loose; Or I will shake thee from me like a serpent” (3.2.260-1)--this not long after the metamorphosed Bottom has for the second time been described as “translated” (3.2.32), a word used by Southwell near his references to “the third heaven” and the “Viper” (101v), and not very long after he had spoken of an artist’s changing a “mans shape” into that of an animal (82r-v).[65]

This part of Southwell’s Epistle also sheds light upon the origins of a speech by Titania in Act Two. Protesting that she will never give up the “changeling boy” whom Oberon insists he must have, she explains why:


His mother was a vot’ress of my order,
And in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gossip’d by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking th’ embarked traders on the flood;
When we have laugh’d to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following (her womb then rich with my young squire)
Would imitate, and sail upon the land,
To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
And for her sake do I rear up her boy;
And for her sake I will not part with him.


From the Epistle of Comfort, we can actually see how the various elements of this passage coalesced in Shakespeare’s imagination. In a single sentence, Southwell writes of a “marchant . . . ever busie about his billes” and a “woman great with child . . . ever musing upon the tyme of her deliverye” (112r-v), thus providing the basic juxtaposition in Titania’s narrative of the “traders” with the “big-bellied” sails and “womb.” Circling around this central point are the words that become the language of the speech: “religious orders . . . vowed persons . . . Indies” (88r); “spice” (97r); “ayre” (117r); “night” (118r); “syde” (108v); “sitt” (117r); “sande in the shore” (116v); “marke” (117r); “A . . . shipmaister . . . setteth forth from the shore, and goeth to sea . . . , directinge his shippe to a gaynfull haven . . . lanched out of the porte” (96v); “fludd” (117v); “laughtures” (94v); “sayle” (96v); “conceyveth” (102v, for 103v); “groweth” (102v); “bellye” (113v); “wantones” (99r); “wynde” (116v); “folowe” (118r); “rich” (115v); “younge” (97v); “esquire” (126v); “imitate” (100v); “lande” (113v); “fetched” (95r); “toye” (103r; cf. “trifles”); “voyage” (115r); “dye . . . mortall” (112r); “for his sake” (104v); parte” (117r).

The classical, medieval, and contemporary sources from which Shakespeare has been shown to have drawn information, ideas, and images--most notably, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, several Senecan tragedies, Plutarch’s Lives, Apuleius’s Golden Ass, Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, and Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcrafte[66]--are of course prominent in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but Southwell often provides a companion influence. Titania’s description, for example, of the consequences in nature of the “brawls” between Oberon and herself (2.1.88-117) is sometimes read as inspired by Ovid and Seneca.[67] On the whole, however,Titania’s language is closer to that of passages in Southwell’s Epistle, which contains references to Deucalion’s as well as Noah’s flood, and to other natural calamities wrought by God in “revenging him selfe uppon sinners” (EC, 59r, 65r-66r; cf. Titania’s explanation of the weather’s fury “As in revenge” [2.1.89]). The story of “Pyramus and Thisby” with its notorious mulberry tree and “mantle . . . stain’d with blood” (5.1.142-8) is right from Golding’s Ovid. But it is possible that Shakespeare recalled the Epistle of Comfort collaterally with the Metamorphoses. Southwell’s work itself has several Ovidian moments, alluding to the story of Phaethon as well as Deucalion (68v, 65r), and telling the biblical story of Joseph’s coat in terms that could have reminded the dramatist both of Thisbe’s garment and of Pyramus’s mistake: “When Jacobe sawe the cote of his sonne Joseph imbrued with bloode, thincking that he had been devoured by a wylde beaste . . . , he cutt his garments . . .” (25v). Like Golding, Southwell has a “mantell” in his passage (25r);[68] unlike Golding, he also has the word “imbrued,” which, as already noted, Thisby uses so dramatically (5.1.344). Later, in a discussion of martyrdom, the Jesuit writes of the symbolic “bloode of the . . . mulberye” (152v), apt to remind a reader of Ovid of the white berry turned forever purple by the blood of Pyramus and Thisbe.[69] Shakespeare’s “strong imagination” need not have been very “antic” to have recalled the religious text along with the classical story.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a number of Shakespearean rarities with antecedents in Southwell’s works, some of which have already been recognized. We might notice a few more of them. The OED attributes the first printed uses of “enamel” in a figurative sense (as in, from this play, the snake’s “enamell’d skin” [2.1.255]) to Shakespeare and to Nashe. Southwell in his poem “Seeke flowers of heaven” anticipated both writers: “Their stalks [are] inameld with delight” (11). Shakespeare seems to have coined the expression “Palpable-gross” (“palpable grosse” in the Quartos and the Folio; 5.1.367), but perhaps only after reading “palpable . . . grosse” in successive sentences of the Epistle (175r-v), as he might have created Bottom’s chimerical “sucking dove” (1.2.82) with a faint memory of Southwell’s “doves” and “sucking lambs” (SPC, 437, 566). Puck’s is the only use of “neeze” (for sneeze) in Shakespeare (2.1.56). The Epistle translates it from the Book of Job: “His neesing is like the blazing of fyer, and his eyes like the eye liddes of the morning” (72v), “eyelids” being mentioned by Oberon at 2.1.170. Among Shakesepeare’s works, only the Dream (1.1.34; 2.2.21) and Romeo and Juliet (1.4. 76, 62) contain “Sweetmeats” and “spinners” (for spiders); the words appear in the Epistle (111v, 118r), in a section that, as we have just seen, inspired Titania’s speech on the changeling boy’s mother.

After this rather relentless search for signs of Southwell’s influence on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (and there are a few more to be discovered), we might consider whether his contributions are in any way relevant to an understanding of the play--at least in one of its dimensions. We should return to the shared image of the “rose distill’d” as the starting point of our inquiry.

As already noted, Southwell was distressed that the ablest of poets were forever “distilling Venus Rose,” devoting their gifts to the making of trifles. In the Epistle of Comfort, however, he sublimated the metaphor:


The swetnesse of the rose, if it be untouched soone withereth awaye with the leafe, which to day is fayre, and to morow fadeth. But put it into the still, cover it from the comforte of the Sunne, yea scorche it with the fyre, it vapoureth out most delicate water, which maye be longe preserved, & imparteth sweetnesse to whatsoever it toucheth: So that whether it be by fyer, or by naturall course, the rose wythereth: but in the firste manner, both the leafe keepeth a pleasant savour, &  distilleth from it a most sweete liquor, whereas in the seconde, bothe the leafe is lesse lykesome and the water lost. So fareth it with Gods Martyres (153v-154r).


When Theseus reminds Hermia that the “rose distill’d” is “earthlier happier” than that which, nun-like, “lives, and dies in single blessedness” (1.1.76-78), he does not truly contradict the Jesuit, for the “distill’d” martyr is obviously not “happier” on earth; nor does Theseus fully deny the biblical teaching of the book of Lamentations, “Happy is he that sitteth solitarye. . . , that carrieth the yoke” (3:27-28), which Southwell quotes in his Epistle (43v). Theseus is speaking, however, and Shakespeare is writing from the perspective of Southampton and his family; that is, from that of an Elizabethan lay Catholic aristocracy whose troubled lives and conflicted consciences had them of more than one mind about the pure heroic doctrine preached by the least temporizing of their clerical leaders--of whom Robert Southwell was one.  Was it not the vocation of aristocrats to be “earthlier happy” (or, as Southwell put it, to enjoy “earthly solaces” [EC, 51v]), and to distill their roses in the sexual delights of marriage, begetting new and orthodox members of the kingdom of heaven? Oberon prophesies the health of the wedded couples’ children:


And the blots of Nature’s hand
Shall not in their issue stand;
Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,
Nor mark prodigious, such as are
Despised in nativity,
Shall upon their children be.


Southwell had a different kind of blessing in mind for the young members of the Church Militant:


Nether doth [our heavenlye fathers] comforte consiste, to see in us a shadowe of his beautye, a sparke of his wisdome, or a resemblance of his might, riches, or glorye: but rather in seeinge in us, the scares, wemmes, and werttes of his vexations and paynes: which the more they deface us in outwarde shew, the more they beautifye us in soule . . . . The scarre of a wounde in the childes face, which he hath suffered in his fathers quarell . . . is a more edginge whetstone, of fatherlye affection in the parent, then if it were absent, because it yeldeth, a perpetuall testimonye of a dutifull and lovinge mynde. So god [is] more desirous to have us affectionate, then fortunate children . . . (EC 33r-v).


Southwell shared with Shakespeare, as we have seen, a detestation of “natures blots” (“Christ’s Childehood” 5), but the missionary priest could admire the “scares, wemmes, and werttes,” both symbolic and literal, that had religious significance. The play once more draws images of secular happiness out of the stern otherworldliness of Counter-reformation piety.

It would be too simple to conclude, however, that this piety was utterly renounced, either in the play or in the lives of the Catholics for whom Shakespeare’s comedy held special significance. “When Theseus calls “Thrice blessed” those who “master so their blood / To undergo [a] maiden pilgrimage” (1.1.74-75), he does not voice the playwright’s flattery of the Queen, to whom the rest of the play is less than complimentary; he remarks upon a distinction in Catholic teaching between the life of the “commandments” (which are to be universally observed) and the life of the “counsels” (which are works of supererogation, to be pursued by those who would, according to the injunction of Christ, be “perfect” [Matt. 19:21]). In the deep crisis faced by the Elizabethan Catholic laity, when persecution by the government could consume all their wealth, force them into prison or exile, or kill them, they were sometimes spoken to by their clerical leaders as though the difference between commandments and counsels had become blurred. The “comfort” that Southwell offered them in their troubles was only supernal; he seemed to ask them to face oppression and torture as though they were called to be perfect. Over the decades of the Queen’s reign, the aristocratic Catholic laity found different ways of responding to such calls. Some managed to accommodate themselves to Elizabeth’s regime while preserving a Catholic identity; some became “Church papists,” or crypto-Catholics; some converted to Protestantism; some lost lands, goods, freedom, or their lives.[70] As will be seen again in the next chapter, Southampton’s family offered the state both compliance and resistance; they did the same to their church. They desired to be both devout and prosperous; they did not wish to wither, collectively, like a solitary rose on a virgin thorn, or to glory in their scars. Yet they did not want a church entirely without saintly desperadoes, who risked their lives to keep the Old Faith and to some extent the Old Ways alive, who were “Thrice blessed” to “master so their blood” as to shed it. At peril to themselves, Southamptons and Montagus escorted, concealed, protected, and consulted missionary priests, and were able to practice a proscribed religion in private because of their wealth and connections. They were in a sense, then, only “twice blessed”; and they would not cross the line that separated their condition from a “higher” one.

Whatever its larger purposes as a commercial venture or as a pure act of the imagination, A Midsummer Night’s Dream embodies this well-defined attitude toward religious issues. It respects Catholic cultural and religious practice and acknowledges (for some) the legitimacy of Catholic ascetical teaching; but (like the later Merchant of Venice)[71] it celebrates “earthlier” happiness and the conciliations of comedy over the tragic, otherworldly divisiveness of the Catholic martyr’s absolute idealism. In this way the Dream shows affinities with another work usually paired with it chronologically, and also thought to have had special meaning for Southampton, Love’s Labor’s Lost.[72] In that play too (in which echoes of Southwell’s poetry have been heard)[73] an isolating asceticism is shown incompatible with the vocation and temperament of  worldly aristocrats; but in the end, a Catholic hermitage and a penitential regimen of good works are presented as temporary but salutary means of reforming a King and his courtiers. In the Dream, Shakespeare translates Southwell’s solemn “Prologue to the first Pageant of [Christ’s] Passion” (mentioned in the preface to the Jesuit’s poems) into the fifth act’s comical “Prologue” (106) and his induction to Thisby’s tragical “passion” (315), otherwise called a “pageant” (3.2.114). Southwell’s martyrial “bloode . . . of the mulberye” returns in the hilarious play of the mechanicals to its original use in an Ovidian love story (5.1.148); and love’s martyrs, Pyramus and Thisby, are made as risible in their unqualified passion as the adolescent lovers whose loyalties are transferable at the touch of a flower’s sap. The couples in the play who mock the pageant seem a bit smug, however--as a non-fictitious audience might be. In their class-consciousness they are terribly amused by the fumbling antics of the well-intentioned “players”; and in their blindness they fail to see that, deficient in constancy themselves, they might show sympathy for the mythical lovers who are portrayed as having it in the extreme. In the comedy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, martyrdom is neither to be embraced nor laughed away

In another play about Pyramus and Thisbe, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare treats martrydom for love more seriously and no less ambiguously, and again in a way that had special relevance to the Southampton circle. The playwright based his drama, of course, on Arthur Brooke’s poem, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet; but he was probably led to this book by the interest its story would have had for his patron. The Montagus were Southampton’s family on his mother’s side. In 1572, George Gascoigne wrote a masque about the Italian families of Montague and Capulet for the double wedding of   Lord Montagu’s son, Anthony Browne, to the daughter of Sir William Dormer, and of Montagu’s daughter, Elizabeth, to Sir William’s son. Gascoigne had emphasized for his employers the illustriousness of the Montagu (or Montacute) name.[74] Shakespeare underscored the insanity of a feud that, like sectarian conflict, kept families apart and led their children--both wiser and more foolish than their elders in their love, extreme in their “devout religion” even unto “idolatry”--to deaths that turned them into saints memorialized in golden statues but left to the living a sense of “woe” that was almost empty because the “poor sacrifices” that created it were unnecessary (RJ, 1.2.88; 2.2.114; 5.3.299-310). Almost empty, because martyrdom on both sides led not to vengeance but to reconciliation.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the “wall [came] down that parted” the “fathers” of Pyramus and Thisby (5.1.351-52), but, as in Romeo and Juliet, too late to forestall a tragedy. The complexly Catholic Southamptons and Montagus (if any other than the earl ever saw them performed) would have recognized in both plays their own convictions about the perniciousness of certain walls,[75] and about the grandeur and gaucherie of martyrs. Their kinsman Southwell, whose writings are extensively woven into the comedy’s fabric,[76] would never know of the play nor how much he was at issue in it. He may, however, in the days of his freedom have learned from his relatives themselves how much they were inclined to comply with his exhortations and where the lines of their opposition were drawn. Shakespeare seems to have had a special understanding of the Jesuit’s intricate relations with his patron’s family, probably receiving information from Southampton, and perhaps from his “cousin” Southwell, whose writings he would continue to read, to recall in astonishing detail, and to make central to his reflections on principles of religious and political conscience that were of considerable moment to his patron and (dare it be said?) to himself.




To Chapter 1


[1]. See Akrigg, Southampton, 15; Weston, An Autobiography from the Jesuit Underground, 12-13; Stroud, “Father Thomas Wright: A Test Case for Toleration,” 195.
[2]. See Grosart, ed., Poems of Robert Southwell, lxxxix-xci; Devlin, Life of Robert Southwell, 257-73.
[3]. Pp. 54-60.
[4]. See Life of Robert Southwell, 15. It is true, as Devlin says, that Robert’s brother Richard married an Alice Cornwallis; but she seems to have been not the daughter of Thomas Cornwallis and Katherine Wriothesley but of Thomas Cornwallis of Brome Hall, Suffolk, and Anne Jerningham. Robert’s sister Elizabeth married a Lister; but he was not the son of “Margaret” (or Mary) Wriothesley and Michael Lister. Mary’s marriage indenture (now in the Wriothesley Papers) was to “Richard Lister” (perhaps the son of Michael) (see the DNB, s.v. “Lyster, Richard,” and Akrigg, Southampton, 6n2). The “Lister” whom Elizabeth Southwell married is not for certain known. I have checked Devlin’s genealogies against a number of sources, including the old and the new Dictionary of National Biography, works on the peerage and the Parliament, and the international genealogical archive kept by the Mormon church, I have received help in searching primary documents  in archives from Patrick H. Martin.
[5]. Life of Robert Southwell, 263-64.
[6]. Anyone familiar with the history of Shakespeare’s family will recognize the controversial placement of Mary Arden in a line of descent from Walter Arden, ancestor of the Ardens of Park Hall. Whatever reservations remain among biographers and students of heraldry about this lineage, it is in all probability the correct one. Since the Shakespeare-Southwell kinship both through the Belknap and Vaux families depends on the link with Park Hall, the reasons for asserting it should be made clear.
That Mary Arden’s father was Robert Arden of Wilmcote and that her grandfather was Thomas Arden of Wilmcote is not disputed. That Walter Arden of Park Hall had a son named Thomas is certain. The Victorian genealogist George Russell French believed that the Thomases were one and the same, but French’s identification of the two has often been challenged, and by distinguished scholars such as E. K. Chambers and Mark Eccles. The most common source of doubt is the document that represents John Shakespeare’s application, in 1599, for recognition that the coat of arms he had acquired in 1596 could be impaled with the arms of his wife’s family. The document indicates that the heralds accepted the request; they sketched a divided coat with the Shakespeare “bearings” on the dexter half, the Arden on the sinister. At first the sketch contained the Park Hall Ardens’ “ermine, a fess checky gold and azure”; but this was scratched out and replaced with a different set of arms alongside, “Gules, three cross-crosslets fitchées gold, and on a gold chief a martlet gules.” This latter coat was used (without the martlet, a sign of “difference” in descent through a son younger than the eldest) by Simon, a Park Hall Arden, but also by Ardens in Cheshire, Bedfordshire, and Staffordshire. The change in arms has often been taken to mean that the Shakespeares could not establish descent from the Park Hall family and were given an old Arden coat of arms with the martlet as a difference, distinguishing Mary’s family in a general way from other cadet branches.  Different interpretations of the heraldic evidence have led to the conclusion that the case for Mary’s descent from Walter Arden is at least “not proved”--though Chambers felt that the heralds’ choice of a coat in 1599 “was good evidence” that the Ardens of Wilmcote were derived from those of Park Hall, and he merely expressed “doubt” about the derivation on extra-heraldic grounds.
It is indeed important to move outside the range of heraldic conjecture. Those who drew and revised the Arden coat in 1599 showed signs of confusion; but were they uncertain about the Shakespeares’ descent as presented, or only about which arms were appropriate to it? There is no evidence in the document on one side or the other. A number of considerations, however, establish the strong probability of Mary Arden’s descent from Walter Arden.

1) As Chambers admits, “Thomas son of Walter was still alive when his brother John’s will was made in 1526. His age would fit in with that of Thomas of Wilmcote, and he has not been located as living elsewhere.
2) Historical arguments for Mary’s connection with Park Hall were long ago advanced by Charlotte Stopes and J. S. Smart; these have often been ignored and never refuted. The scholars pointed to documents recording legal transactions in which Sir Robert Throckmorton was associated with both the Ardens of Park Hall and of Wilmcote. Stopes noted that a certain “Mayowe” transferred lands at Snitterfield to Thomas and Robert of Wilmcote and to Throckmorton ; and John Arden of Park Hall enfeoffed to “Sir Robert Throgmorton” the manor of Cudworth and other lands in Warwickshire. The son of Sir Robert, Sir George Throckmorton, acted as guardian of Edward Arden of Park Hall, who eventually married Sir George’s daughter, Mary. Smart also referred to the Snitterfield land conveyance, as well as to the fact that Walter Arden, in making a settlement upon his wife, had made use of Sir Robert Throckmorton as a trustee. Sir Robert’s friendship with residents of Park Hall and his ties with those of Wilmcote is surely evidence, in the absence of any record to substantiate a “two-Thomas” theory, that the Ardens in both places were relatives.
3) The Shakespeares claimed descent from the Park Hall Ardens; there would have been no point to the heralds’ first armorial sketch otherwise. Would Mary Arden, whose grandfather Thomas was still alive when she was a young girl, have not known the identity of his father? It seems most unlikely. And if she knew him not to be Walter Arden of Park Hall, what purpose would have been served by a fraudulent claim that might easily have been shown to be so? (Katherine Duncan-Jones’s suggestion that William in 1599 was desperate to shore up the initial claim of 1596 [which had been accepted] because that claim was “highly questionable” ignores all the evidence that it was not.)

William Shakespeare’s heirs used the arms awarded in 1596 (on the Stratford monument and on Susanna Hall’s seal). The challenge to the Shakespeare arms made in 1602 by the disgruntled York Herald Ralph Broke was answered and defeated by the Garter “king of Arms” William Dethick and the Clarencieux “king” William Camden. That no use was made of the impalement drawn in the document of 1599 does not mean, however, that the Arden arms did not belong in the Shakespeare coat. John Shakespeare died in 1601, perhaps before the grant was officially made; and William, for his own reasons, may not have submitted a new application. Confusion over the appropriate arms may have discouraged the effort involved in having them certified. It should also be noted that after 1601 the interests of John Shakespeare’s descendants were not necessarily well served by his desire to associate his arms with those of his wife’s family. Since Edward Arden had been executed for treason in 1583 on dubious grounds (Richard Wilson suspects that Arden was indeed complicit in the “Somerville” plot to kill the Queen), that single taint may not have discouraged John Shakespeare’s desire to display the Arden coat. Indeed, a “Catholic” John Shakespeare may, near the end of his life, have wished to display his connection with a martyr. His descendants could have been of another mind. The Essex conspiracy of 1601 almost touched The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and their playwright, author of Richard II and dedicator of poems to the treasonous Southampton. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 involved a number of the Shakespeares’ relatives on the Arden side: Catesby, Tresham, and the three brothers Winter, all casualties of the Fifth of November, were related to the Park Hall Ardens through Edward’s marriage to Mary Throckmorton. If William Shakespeare had once felt himself under suspicion of treachery, he and his heirs may not have wished to advertise their ties to disgraced and radical kin.
Another observation about the genealogy should be made. In the pedigree of the Gages offered by Michael Questier, the Edward Gage who married Margaret Shelley was the son of James Gage, brother of Sir Edward Gage, not of Sir Edward himself--as many other (though not all) genealogies report. See Catholicism and Community, Appendix 2. Questier’s chart seems correct, as confirmed to me by Patrick H. Martin, who has found in John Gage of Firle’s will a reference to Edward Gage of Bentley as his “cousin,” not his “brother” (the “brother” being the fifth son of Sir Edward Gage).
On the issues discussed in this note, see French, Shakespeareana Genealogica, 416-30; Stopes, Shakespeare’s Family, 24-34; Smart, Shakespeare: Truth and Tradition, 42-48; Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, 2.18-34; Scott-Giles, Shakespeare’s Heraldry, 27-40; Eccles, Shakespeare in Warwickshire, 85-86; Sutherland, “The Grant of Arms to Shakespeare’s Father”: 379-85; Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare, 82-103; Wilson, Secret Shakespeare, 104-25.
[7]. See Manning, Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex, 155.
[8]. Akrigg, Southampton, 96.
[9]. Devlin, Life of Robert Southwell, 109, 121. In Strype’s Annals, Gervais Perpoint reports in testimony that in 1586  “toward the 9th of June he went to Mr. Edward Gage his lodging in Southampton house, where he found Gages wife, and Mrs. Banister his sister, and no body else." According to the pedigree given by Michael Questier, Mrs. Banester would be Mary Gage, sister of Edward the son of James Gage. Since the Edward lodging at Southampton House is surely the Edward Gage of Bentley who was of enormous help to the Southamptons and the Montagus, Questier’s speculation seems to have some support. On the other hand, Mary Southwell was the wife of Edward Banester of Idsworth and if, as Devlin claims, Mary and her husband were living in the late '80s near Southampton House, why would she not have gone with her kinswoman Maragret Shelley to visit her kinsman Edward, who was Margaret’s spouse? Perpoint may not have been entirely accurate in his identifications. Edward and Mary Southwell Banester attended mass at Montagu House in Southwark in 1592.  See Strype, Annals of the Reformation, 4, Appendix, 153; Questier, Catholicism and Community, 81-82, 185-86, 524.
[10]. Devlin, Life of Robert Southwell, 215-19.
[11]. This theory, which in its essentials was suggested by Richard Simpson in the nineteenth century, is given detailed exposition in John Henry de Groot’s The Shakespeares and “The Old Faith,” 64-110; it is augmented by James G. McManaway, “John Shakespeare’s ‘Spritual Testament.’” Robert Bearman has recently argued that the Testament is an eighteenth-century forgery (“John Shakespeare’s ‘Spiritual Testament’). Bearman’s arguments have been informally but forcefully rebutted by Dennis Taylor and by Peter Bridgman (in postings on Shaksper: The Global Electronic Conference), and more formally by Taylor in The Shakespeare Newsletter. More could be said in refutation of Bearman’s position.
[12]. See the genealogies in Devlin, Life of Robert Southwell, 264, 5n, 263n.
[13]. Devlin, Life of Robert Southwell, 11-15; Manning, Sussex, 221-37.
[14]. Devlin, Life of Robert Southwell, 131-44.
[15]. M. A. Shaaber in, “The First Rape of Faire Hellen by John Trussell,” offers information about Trussell and provides an edition of his poem. Shaaber calls into question earlier speculations about the poet by J. W. Trotman, editor of Southwell’s Triumphs Over Death, and has in turn been corrected on some points by F. W. Brownlow in Robert Southwell, 51-56. Brownlow adds to the reasons for thinking that Trussell might have been “one channel through which Shakespeare and other interested writers could have had access to Southwell’s writing” (53).
[16]. See Charlotte Stopes, Shakespeare’s Warwickshire Contemporaries, 210, 212; Eccles, Shakespeare in Warwickshire, 42. Thomas Trussell himself had been involved with Thomas and Robert Arden and Sir Robert Throckmorton in the transfer of property noted above (see note 6 above).
[17]. Would Southwell have addressed Shakespeare as “Maister” in the early 1590’s, before John Shakespeare had been allowed his coat of arms? Gentility, it seems, preceded the grant of arms; the arms did not make the recipient “gentle.”  Thus “John and William Shakespeare did not need a grant of arms to write themselves gentleman” (Sutherland, “The Grants of Arms to Shakespeare’s Father,” 382). But usage of the term “master” was various. Compare two contiguous entries in the O.E.D., s.v. “master,” 22.a: “1612 WEBSTER White Devil To Rdr., The right happy and copious industry of Master Shakespeare, Master Dekker, and Master Heywood. 1750 B. Discolliminium 33, I could wish we might be allow'd to call him Master Charles, for most men thinke He is a Gentleman borne.”
[18]. Autobiography of a Hunted Priest.
[19]. See Schrickx, “’Pericles’ in a Book-list of 1619 from the English Mission,” 21-32; Brownlow, “A Jesuit Allusion to King Lear.” 
   [20]. On Southwell’s letters and other personal writing, see n. 22 below.
[21]. Devlin, Life of Robert Southwell, 284.
[22]. This letter is printed by Nancy Pollard Brown in Robert Southwell, S. J.: Two Letters and Short Rules of a Good Life, 77-85. For other letters, see Brownlow’s list of editions (Robert Southwell, 147). Southwell’s unpublished Latin poetry was printed by Grosart in his edition of the poems. The private Spiritual Exercises and Devotions were edited by J.-M. DeBuck and translated by P. E. Hallett. On Southwell’s translation into English of Fray Diego Estella’s Meditaciones devotissmas del amor de Dios, see Bouchard, “The Curious Case of Robert Southwell, Gerard Hopkins and a Princely Spanish Hawk,” 181-89. Concerning his lack of writing materials, see n. 29 below.
[23]. Eliot made the claim in a letter to the T.L.S., December 24, 1925, in a review of George Coffin Taylor’s book, Shakespeare’s Debt to Montaigne. The citation is from Eliot’s Inventions of the March Hare, ed. Christopher Ricks, xxvii.
[24]. “A Bloody Question: The Politics of Venus and Adonis”: 297-316, especially 299, 301, 313. A revised version of this essay has been reprinted in Secret Shakespeare, 126-43.
[25]. See Janelle, Robert Southwell the Writer, 215-16, 255-61; Martz, The Poetry of Meditation, 186-87.
[26]. Shakespeare gives a metaphorically Aristotelian meaning to the musical “mean” in Two Gentlemen of Verona 1.2.93-94, contrasting the tenor’s “mean” with the “unruly bass.” And he wrote specifically of music not just as “tunes,” but as “words”:  see Sonnet 8.1: “Music to hear” (i.e., whose words are music); Hamlet, 3.1.156: “sucked the honey of his music vows”; Winter’s Tale,  4.4.518-19: “it is my father’s music / To speak your deeds.” Southwell had advocated an Aristotelian ethic of the “mean” in his preface to MMFT.
[27]. And compare Southwell’s “finest wits distilling Venus Rose” with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 23.14: “love's finest wit.”
[28]. Alison Shell finds that there is no certain evidence for taking “W.S.” to be, or not to be “William Shakespeare.” But if the “cosen” whom Southwell addressed were Shakespeare, she considers him rebuked or, at the least, cautioned: not, in all likelihood for having written Venus and Adonis, but “out of general disapproval of Shakespeare’s imaginative writing, perhaps with a specific desire to warn [him] off erotic verse” (“Why Didn’t Shakespere Write Religious Verse?” in Kozuka and Multryne, eds., New Directions in Biography, 90). Since Southwell’s prose preface to his poetic works may well have been written before 1590, it is not clear how much of Shakespeare’s “imaginative writing” the priest could have seen; but Southwell’s cousin is known to him as one who fancies poetry.
[29]. “Decease release,” a response to the death of Mary Queen of Scots, seems close enough to the event to have been written not long after February, 1587. Saint Peters Complaint was written in several stages, over several years, and distributed over time in different versions (see MacDonald and Brown, eds., Poems, lxxxvi-xcii; Brownlow, Robert Southwell, 83-84). Southwell, except in the final confession of his priesthood and his membership in the Society of Jesus, was denied pen and ink and wrote in his breviary by making holes with a pin (so reported Henry Garnet, quoted in Janelle, Southwell The Writer, 69).
[30]. The Epistle is not as rich in resonances with Venus as is the Funeral Teares (which features a heroine as passionate in her own way as the pagan goddess and just as desperate to find a lover who has, she thinks, been lost). The following comparisons will illustrate the point, the first set suggesting the Epistle’s more limited influence.
Epistle                                                                                               Venus
          20r:                                                                              1110:
          The Devill kisseth where he meaneth to kyll                 He thought to kiss him, and hath kill’d
          72r-73r:                                                                         273-74:
          a furnace of fire . . . Out of his nostrils issueth            His nostrils drink the air, and forth again
          smoake as out of a kindled, boyling pott                             As from a furnace, vapors doth he send
          [Matt. 13:42; Job 41:20]
          192r:                                                                             19:
          Theyre plentye cloyeth not, theyre satietye                    And yet cloy not thy lips with loath’d
          offendeth not [a description of the bliss                                saciety [i.e., satiety]
          of heaven]                                                                     But rather famish them amid their plenty
          211r:                                                                            574:
          the rose . . . whose prickle woundeth                           though the rose have prickles [the only
                                                                                             instance of “prickles” in Ss]

          In the Funeral Teares, on a compact set of quarto pages (mostly between fols. 25r and 35v) is vocabulary out of which Shakespeare constructs entire passages of his poem. The poet’s recollection of Southwell is not random, for in the middle of the prose passage, Mary Magdalen is portrayed as a woman whose love is unashamedly appetitive--like that of Venus: “Thy Lord  to thy love is like drink to the thirsty, which if they cannot have, they die for drouht . . . . [A]s men in extremity of thirst [are] never able . . . to utter other word but of drink and moisture: so lovers in the vehemency of their passion, can neither thinke nor speake but of that they love, and if that be missing, every part is both an eie to watch, and an eare to listen . . . . Thy Lord is the foode of thy thoughts . . . , the onely repast of all thy desires: so is thy love a continuall hunger . . . , [a] hunger most violent” (MMFT, 34r-35r). Shakespeare may have re-read these pages as he gathered inspiration for his own.
Venus                                             Funeral Teares
          Thy mermaid's voice hath done me double                   27v-28v: voices . . . doubleth; 32r-33r:                                                          wrong;                                                                 done me wrong . . . double death
          I had my load before, now press'd with bearing:            25r, 27v: loads . . . presse; 34v: beare
          Melodious discord, heavenly tune harsh sounding,      27v: sounds . . . tuned; 28r: soundeth . . .
          Ear's deep-sweet music, and heart's deep-sore             harmonie that thy eares affected . . .
               wounding.                                                              musicke; 27r: sweete . . . sore; 33r-34v:
                                                                                             hearts . . . wound
          Had I no eyes but ears, my ears would love                  27v: Thy eies . . . Thy ears
          That inward beauty and invisible;                                26r: invisible . . . comlinesse; 28v: beutie
          Or were I deaf, thy outward parts would move            27v: outward; 36r: deafe
          Each part in me that were but sensible:                       27v: sence; 34r: every part is both an eie
          Though neither eyes nor ears, to hear nor see,             to watch, and an eare to listen
          Yet should I be in love by touching thee.                      27v: Thy eies . . . Thy ears; 28r: seest         
   and hearest; 38v-39v: love . . . touching
          Say, that the sense of feeling were bereft me,              27v: sence; 28r: feeling; 23r: bereaved
          And that I could not see, nor hear, nor touch,              28r: seest and hearest; 30r: touched
          And nothing but the very smell were left me,             
          Yet would my love to thee be still as much;
          For from the stillitory of thy face excelling                  25v: stilled [=distilled]; 28v: face; 36r:
          Comes breath perfumed that breedeth love by              excelled; 56r-v: distilling . . . face
              smelling.                                                                  25v-26v: love . . . breathed
          But, O, what banquet wert thou to the taste,                 29r: banquets
          Being nurse and feeder of the other four!                      27r: feed
          Would they not wish the feast might ever last,               29r-v: banquets . . . last
          And bid Suspicion double-lock the door                       23v: suspition; 22r: locked; 28v: doubleth
          Till, breathless, he disjoin'd, and backward drew          26v: breathed; 27r: disjoined . . . draw
          The heavenly moisture, that sweet coral mouth,            26v: sweeter . . . heaven of delightes;
                                                                                             34r: moisture;; 43v: mouth
          Whose precious taste her thirsty lips well knew,           34r: thirsty; 28v: pretious; 22r: lips
          Whereon they surfeit, yet complain on drouth:              34r: drouht; 27r: complaint; 43r: complaine     
          He with her plenty press'd, she faint with dearth            27v: presse; 43r: fainteth; 44v: faint
          Their lips together glued, fall to the earth.                      22r: lips; 24r: glue
          Now quick desire hath caught the yielding prey,           33v: desire; 26v: yeelde; 23v: praye [= prey];                                                                                                               39v: quicken
          And glutton-like she feeds, yet never filleth;                   22r: glutte; 27r, 31r: feede; 39r: feed
          Her lips are conquerors, his lips obey,                          22r: lips; 27v: conquest; 32r: obey
          Paying what ransom the insulter willeth;                         31v, 37r: ransome
          Whose vulture thought doth pitch the price so high,       30v-31v: work to the highest pitch . . .
                                                                                               price of my ransome; 31r: thought

          That she will draw his lips' rich treasure dry:                 26r-27r: dry . . . draw; 22r: lips; 28r:
                                                                                              riche spoils; 37r: treasure
          And having felt the sweetness of the spoil,                     26r: sweetenes; 28r, 35v: spoiles
          With blindfold fury she begins to forage;                       43r: blinded; 39v: fury
          Her face doth reek and smoke, her blood doth boil,       28v: face; 38r: heart boyling
          And careless lust stirs up a desperate courage,               25r, 40v: courage
          Planting oblivion, beating reason back,                           33v: beateth; 32r: reason                     
          Forgetting shame's pure blush and honour's wrack.         30r: honour

The same pages from Southwell’s book have left their mark on other parts of Venus:
                           Venus                                                                                  Funeral Teares
          771:                                                                             25v:
          kiss . . . bestowed in vain                                             teares of love . . . bestowed in vaine
          821-22:                                                                         24r-v, 29r, 33r:
          So did the merciless and pitchy night                            pitch . . . darkenes . . . night . . .
          Fold in the object that did feed her sight                        unmercifull; 24r: folding; 27r-v: feede
                                                                                               . . . object
          830-34:                                                                                    27v-28r:
              all the neighbor caves, as seeming troubled                  all sounds and voices are tuned to mourning 
  notes, and . . . the Eccho
          Make verbal repetition of her moans;                           of thy own wailings, is the cry of the
          .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .                               very stons . . ., as though . . . God to the
          And twenty echoes twenty times cry so                           rocks and woods, had inspired a a feeling of
                                                                                                thine and their common losse
          835:                                                                              27v-28v:
          marking . . . wailing notes                                            marke . . . mourning notes, and . . . wailings
          1032:                                                                            21r:
          Like stars asham’d of day                                            If the Sunne were ashamed to shew his
          1065:                                                                           24v-25r:
          her mangling eye [multiplying wounds                          so mangled a body . . . no mortall eye
          on the body]                                                                 should controll

Of the other parallels between the two works, one might serve to settle a disputed gloss on a verse from Venus (see Prince, ed., The Poems, 8).

                Venus                                                                         Funeral Teares
          94:                                                                               1v:
          She bathes in water, yet her fire must burn                  her enflamed hart resolved into uncessant
. . .
 , burning and
                                                                                              bathing between love and grief

[31]. The Southampton family friend Swithin Wells sometimes lodged in London at Southampton House (see below, Chapter 3, note 37), where a library of Catholic books was kept (Chapter 2, at note 32). As is clear from a letter he wrote from prison, Wells had access to Southwell’s Epistle of Comfort, having memorized several passages from the Jesuit’s work. Chapter 8 of the Epistle is addressed to Catholic prisoners:

If [the prison] charge you with gyves, yett are you loose and unbound towardes God . . . (101v). Lett them complayne of the difficultyes of the prison, that have fastened their affection upon worldlye vanityes. A Christian Catholicke, even out of prison hath renounced the worlde in his baptisme, and it little importeth in what place he be in the world, who by promise and profession, hath vowed never to be of it . . . (102r).  Potius mihi habetur affici [sic] pro Christo, quam honorari a Christo. I account it more honourable, saith [Chrysostom], to be troubled for Christ, than to be honoured by Christ . . . (104v). [T]heir chains will plead for us, their prisons protect us. . . . Dominus de coelo in terram aspexit, ut audiret gemitus compeditorum . . . (107v). These are the true ornamentes for Christians to bost of. This captivitye is our principall freedome, and the prisons are portes where God harboureth with us here . . . .  these are not cheynes but ornamentes . . . (109v-110r). Solus non est cui Christus comes est. . . . He is not alone (saith St Cyprian) who hath Christ for his pheere . . . “ (110v).
Compare Wells’s memories of Southwell’s consolations:

Dominus de coelo in terram aspexit ut audiret gemitus compeditorum, etc. Potius mihi  habetur affligi pro Christo, quam honorari a Christo. These, and the like, cannot but comfort a good Christian, and cause him to esteem his captivity to be a principal freedom, his prison a heavenly harbour, and his irons an ornament. These will plead for him, and the prison will protect him. . . . I [am] not alone, Solus non est cui Christus comes est--“He is not alone who has Christ in his company. . . .” I have no cause to complain of the hardness of prison, considering the effects thereof, and the rather because I fasten not my affections upon worldly vanities. . . . I renounced the world before ever I tasted of imprisonment, even in my baptism; which being so, how little doth it import in what place I be in the world, since by promise, I vowed once never to be of the world. . . . I am bound and charged with gyves, yet am I loose and unbound towards God. . . . (in Challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests, 180-81).
If Southwell’s writing was available to Wells at Southampton House, it would have been there for Shakespeare’s reading, as well.
[32]. Concerning Nashe’s influence on Shakesepeare, see especially the numerous essays of J. J. M. Tobin on the subject--for example, those cited below in Chapter 4, n. 14.
[33]. Quoted in Rollins, ed., Variorum Poems, 386.
[34]. See Rollins, ed., Variorum Poems, 472; Akrigg, Southampton, 33-34, 202-6. On the question of a late date for the Sonnets that would place them after Southampton’s contentious dealing with Burghley, and on the poems as “advice,” see below, Chapter 5, n.5.
[35]. See Klause, “Venus and Adonis: Can We Forgive Them?” 353-77.
[36]. “A Bloody Question,” 306.
[37]. Patrick M. Murphy reads Venus and Adonis as a commentary on the social, economic, and personal deviances that might attend the wardship system of which Burghley made use in rearing both the earl of Oxford (who eventually married Burghley’s daughter) and the earl of Southampton (who refused marriage to the Lord Treasurer’s granddaughter) (“Wriothesley’s Resistance,” in Kolin, ed., “Venus and Adonis”: Critical Essays, 323-40).
[38]. Stopes,  Southampton, 10.
[39]. See Questier, Catholicism and Community, 163 and n70.
[40]. In a letter that Lord Montagu sent Burghley on the subject of the marriage, he clearly seeks the powerful man’s “good will and opinion,” and says, “I . . . will be sure to frame myself (God assisting me) to your Lordship’s liking in this matter” (quoted in Stopes, Southampton, 37). Apparently he had not yet framed himself, and he would need God’s help in doing so.
[41]. Holmes, ed., Elizabethan Casuistry, 30.
[42]. See Wilson, Shakespeare: The Evidence, 182.
[43]. “A Bloody Question,” 310.
[44]. An Epistle of Comfort, chapter 12.
[45]. The opening lines of Venus and Adonis are reminiscent of verses written (and published in 1581) in memory of the martyred Edmund Campion (quoted from Alfield, ed., A true reporte of the death & martyrdom of M. Campion Jesuite and preiste, & M. Sherwin, & M. Bryan preistes). Shakespeare begins:
          Even as the sun with purple color’d face
          Had ta’en his last leave of the weeping morn . . . .
                                                                                                          (Venus, 1-2)
Compare the elegy’s painting of the scene of execution:
          the sunne drew in his shining purple face,
          the moistned clouds shed brinish tears for thoght . . . .
                                                                                                          (“What yron hart,” 15-16)
Did Shakespeare intend an ironical echo? He seems at least to have left in Venus traces of his recollection of the poem on Campion. Compare, for example, “sovereign salve” (Venus, 28) and “soveraigne salve” (“What yron hart,” 7); “her face . . . air of grace . . . dew’d with . . . showers” (Venus, 62-66) and “bedewde with grace . . . face” (“What yron hart,” 26-28).
[46]. Wilson, “A Bloody Question,” 310. In suggesting Shakespeare’s parody of Southwell, does Wilson mean to say that Venus is prior to only some of Southwell’s poems?
[47]. See Furness, ed., Variorum Midsommer Nights Dreame,  259-64; Chambers, Shakespeare, 1.358; Brooks, ed.,  A Midsummer Night’s Dream,  liii-lvii; Williams, Our Moonlight Revels: A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Theatre, 1-18. The weddings most favored by modern scholars are that of Elizabeth Vere and William Stanley, earl of Derby (January 26, 1595) and that of Elizabeth Carey and Thomas Berkeley (February 19, 1596).
[48]. See Wells, ed., A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 13-14; Colthorpe, “Queen Elizabeth I and A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: 205-7; Holland, ed., A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 111-12; Williams, Moonlight Revels, 1-18.
[49]. Harold Brooks and others have thought that this wedding, celebrated on May 2, 1594, must have antedated the play, which may contain an allusion to an event  in Scotland in August of 1594, when (in advance of Snug’s concern for the “ladies”) a “lyon” was removed from a royal entertainment for fear of frightening the guests (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, xxxiv-xxxv, lv). Whenever the play was written, it is less likely that Snug’s speech about the lion was inspired by a moment’s occurrence in remote Scotland than by a sentence in Southwell’s Epistle of Comfort: “familiaritye with Lions takeath awaye the feare of them” (118v). Shakespeare recalled the same words in writing King John (2.1.459).
“Midsummer Eve,” on which the summer solstice was celebrated, came of course later than the May “observance” that Theseus places at the time of his wedding. Shakespeare’s mingled suggestions of both festivals; but his emphasis seemed to be on the rites of “May,” which are also spoken of in 1.1.167.
[50]. The earliest recorded rumor of the relationship dates from September, 1595. See Akrigg, Southampton, 48.
[51]. Marion Colthorpe, however, doubts whether Elizabeth attended any performance of the play. “Queen Elizabeth I and A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” 207.
[52]. It is true that the vestal is “throned,” as a monarch might be; but the word may have metaphorical force--as “Enthron’d” has in Antony and Celopatra 2.2.214-15: “Antony / Enthron’d i’ th’ market-place, did sit alone.” “Imperial vot’ress” seems to mean “one vowed to an imperial authority,” like an “imperial soldier”; a “vestal” is also a vowed person. The other “vot’ress” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is clearly a subordinate figure (2.1.123). Elizabeth was sometimes thought of as a vestal (as in the famous “Siena Sieve” portrait [ca. 1580], whose icon is often considered to allude to the story of Tuccia, a vestal virgin  who proved herself chaste by carrying water in a sieve). The Queen was also, however, given vestal devotees (as in a madrigal of Thomas Weelkes, which sings of a group of vestals deserting the goddess Vesta to join the train of the “maiden Queen” Diana/Elizabeth  [The Triumphs of Oriana [1601]). The main point of logic as applied to Shakespeare’s play is that a personified moon and her devotee cannot be the same individual.
[53]. Cf. “the cold fruitless moon” (1.1.73), and the silliness about the moon in the mechanicals’ play. The moon is mentioned more in the Dream than in any other work by Shakespeare.
[54]. Akrigg, Southampton, 48.
[55]. Akrigg, Southampton, 7-15.
[56]. Akrigg, Southampton, 20-22. Lord Howard of Effingham bought the wardship from Elizabeth for “one thowsand pounds,” but, keeping the rights to Southampton’s properties, trasnferred the power over the ward’s education and marriage to Burghley.
[57]. The idea that Titania as “Fairy Queen” would dishonor Elizabeth was entertained as long ago as the nineteenth century (see Furness, ed., Variorum Midsommer Nights Dreame, 261). Jonathan Bate sees the problem in this way: “Titania is . . . frequently referred to as the fairy queen, so does this not invite her identification with Elizabeth? But the consequences of such a reading are alarming . . . . Shakespeare cannot afford to license [this] interpretation . . . . By identifying the Queen with the imperial votaress, Shakespeare denies the transgressive identification of her with Titania” (Shakespeare and Ovid, 141). The Queen, however, is “the imperial vot’ress” only in the eyes of those who must strain to see her as such.
Another “fairy queen” in Shakespeare is Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor (5.5). Katherine Duncan-Jones writes about her: “If Elizabeth I--herself learned and Welsh--ever saw [The Merry Wives] in the full form in which it has come down to us in the Folio, it is hard to believe that she was much amused by the sight of the Faerie Queene, her own Spenserian alter ego, performed by a blowsy tavern landlady” (“England’s Feast of Fritters,” 16).
[58]. For Henry Chettle’s criticism of Shakespeare for refusing to “Drop . . . one sable teare” for the dead Queen, see Chambers, Shakespeare, 2.189.
Shakespeare’s reference to Elizabeth in Henry V as “our gracious empress” ( was a politic courtesy, attached to praise for the earl of Essex. It is difficult to believe that at the end of Henry VIII, a collaborative play, the programmatic and simple-minded praise of Elizabeth uttered by Cranmer was written or applauded by Shakespeare. On implied criticisms of the Queen in Titus and King John, see Klause, “Politics, Heresy, and Martyrdom,” 225-26, and “New Sources for Shakespeare’s King John,” 418-19. On the general subject of “disrespect” for Elizabeth in her own day and afterwards, see Walker, ed., Dissing Elizabeth: Negative Representations of Gloriana.
[59]. See F. Douce’s quotation of the ceremony in Furness, ed., Variorum Midsommer Nights Dreame, 240; and J. Crehan, “Shakespeare and the Sarum Ritual,” 47-50.
[60]. See Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare,1.371.
[61]. See, for example, “abjure” (78, 585), “desires” (112), “yeeld” (113), “fathers” (180), “choyce” (76), “endure” (583), “shade” (95), “barraine” (114), “sister” (589), “faints” (598), “thrise” (102), “blisse” (= bless: 590), “maidens” (167), “pilgrim” (424), “earthly” (52, 229, 332), “withered” (430), “virgin” (433, 562), “bryars” (110; cf. “thorn”).
[62]. Suggesting the influence of Southwell’s Epistle of Comfort on Scene 1 are the following comparisons:
                            Dream 1.1                                                        EC
          8:                                                                          72v, 75r:
          of imagination all compact                                     compacted . . . imagination
          10-12:                                                                   19r-v:
          madman . . . frantic . . . / fine frenzy                     delightsome phresnie . . . franticke . . .
                                                                                       mad man
          57-58:                                                                   43v (quoting Proverbs 14):
          “very tragical mirth.”                                           Merry and tragical? laughing shalbe
with sorowe, & the endinge of our mirth,
                                                                                     shalbe prevented with mo[u]rninge

          221:                                                                      49r:
          fear . . . quake and tremble                                  tremble, quake & feare
          286-87:                                                                 6v, 8v, 17v, 18v:
          thread . . . , quail, crush, conclude                       quaile . . . crushed . . . thred . . .                                                                                      conclude . . . .

[63]. See note 30.
[64]. See Muir, The Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays, 11-13; Tobin, “More on ‘Nothing,’”: 479-80.
[65]. Near this metamorphosis in the Epistle are words important to Bottom: “rare” (82r), “expoundinge” (81v), “bottomlesse” (72r), “tongues” (= “tongs”; 82r), and “bones” (72r). Cf. “a most rare vision” (4.1.204-5); “expound this dream” (4.1.207); “It shall be call’d ‘Bottom’s Dream,’ because it hath no bottom” (4.1.215-16); “the tongs and bones” (4.1.29; “tongs” appears no where else in Shakespeare).
[66]. See Bullough, Sources, 1.367-409, and Tobin, Shakespeare’s Favorite Novel: A Study of the Golden Asse as Prime Source.
[67]. See Brooks, ed., A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 31-34, 137-9.
[68]. For Golding’s translation, see Bullough, Sources, 1.408.
[69]. In his essay “Dyed in Mummy: Othello and the Mulberries,” Richard Wilson (with the help of Patricia Parker) searches through a tangle of possible puns (on the Latin morum [mulberry], the Greek moria [folly], Thomas More [the martyr], and the inflexible Moor [Othello], whose handkerchief embroidered with blood-like strawberries was made from the silk of worms who fed on mulberry trees) for signs that Shakespeare (who thus ironically or unaccountably planted his own mulberry tree at New Place) considered a martyr for Rome (an anagram of More) to be what the Moor finally knew himself to be: “fool, fool, fool.” Wilson quotes an anecdote about the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion’s vision in a Bohemian garden: “the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a mulberry tree, and exhibited to him a purple cloth, which he understood to be the sign that he was to shed his blood for religion.” See Secret Shakespeare, 155-85, esp. 176.
[70]. See, for example, Manning, Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex;  Morey, The Catholic Subjects of Elizabeth I; Questier, Conversion, Politics and Religion in England, 1580-1625; Anstruther, Vaux of Harrowden: A Recusant Family; Gregory, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe.
[71]. See Klause, “Historical Religion in The Merchant of Venice.”
[72]. Love’s Labor’s Lost is usually dated 1594-5 (see the Chronology in The Riverside Shakespeare). Frances Yates and others have speculated that the play was written for Southampton’s circle (A Study of Love’s Labour’s Lost). More certainly, in the Christmas season of 1604-5, a performance of the play for Queen Anne was planned for Southampton House (Chambers, Shakespeare, 2.332).
[73]. See Grosart, ed., Poems of Robert Southwell, xci.
[74]. See Bullough, Sources, 1.275.
[75]. See Richard Wilson on the Montagus’ sense of “walls” to be erected and torn down in a time of the persecution of English Catholics (Secret Shakespeare, 256-57).
[76]. There are resonances of Southwell’s work in Romeo and Juliet as well, but these need not be pursued here.
Copyright © John Klause 2013.