SHAKESPEARE, THE EARL AND THE JESUIT
Ephesus, Rome, and London
On the evening of December 28, 1594, several months after the wedding of the Dowager countess of Southampton to Sir Thomas Heneage (on the second of May) and the entry of Lucrece in the Stationers’ Register (a week later), Shakespeare’s company performed a version of The Comedy of Errors at the Christmas Revels of Gray’s Inn. It has been suggested that the earl of Southampton sponsored the performance, seeing to the construction of the “Stage . . . and Scaffolds,” arranging for the admittance into the great hall of the “Company of base and common Fellows” who acted in the play, and paying them for their trouble. The association of Southampton with the Comedy at this time (even though it may have been written two or three years before its staging at Gray’s) should lead us to inquire whether there were some special interest for him in the work, as in Venus and Adonis, in Lucrece, and (depending on the play’s date) as there were or would be in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If Southampton had such an interest, did Shakespeare rely in some way on Robert Southwell’s writings, as he did in composing those poems and that play, to inspire it? Since, as it now appears, the author of Lucrece had a rationale for introducing Catholic elements into his Roman tragedy, the Catholic overtones of the play he fashioned out of Roman comedy may have served just as deliberate a purpose.
T. W. Baldwin, who wrote more than any other scholar of his day or ours about The Comedy of Errors, discovered what he judged to be two distinct attitudes toward Catholicism embodied in the play. Three years after completing an edition of the Comedy in 1928, Baldwin published a monograph, William Shakespeare Adapts a Hanging, in which he took great pains to demonstrate that the playwright had witnessed in 1588 the execution of William Hartley, a Catholic priest hanged in Finsbury Fields not far from the Theatre, where Shakespeare may then have been working. Baldwin saw in Hartley and his plight inspiration for the character and fortunes of the Comedy’s Egeon, the Syracusan merchant nearly beheaded for coming into Ephesus illegally, and felt that Shakespeare’s sympathetic portrayal of a figure modeled on a Catholic martyr testified to the author’s broad-mindedness. Certain that Shakespeare “retain[ed] the attitude of the government in its treatment of the religious struggle, of which Hartley was a victim,” Baldwin believed nevertheless that the playwright recognized the priest’s essential nobility and in the play “removed” his character from the religious to the commercial sphere to allow that virtue its due. If Shakespeare could appreciate Catholic heroism, however, he seemed to lack all tolerance of Catholic superstition. Baldwin thought it probable, as he later wrote in another study of the Comedy, that Dr. Pinch, the exorcist who is ridiculed in the play, revealed his creator’s scornful attitude towards the Catholic exorcists who had created a great stir in England in the 1580’s--priests like the English Jesuit William Weston, made notorious by Samuel Harsnett in his Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603), a book of which Shakespeare would make liberal use in writing King Lear. Since Baldwin’s contentions, occasionally noted but rarely taken seriously, are pertinent to our line of inquiry, their validity should be reviewed; and whatever truth they contain should be related to the evidence already accumulated about Shakespeare’s connections with the world of Robert Southwell.
The passage in The Comedy of Errors that set Baldwin’s mind on a scene of execution or martyrdom is from Act 5, in which, after Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio seek asylum in a priory, and the Abbess keeps their pursuers from them, the Duke of Ephesus is about to pass before the abbey with his prisoner Egeon en route to the captive’s decollation. An Ephesian merchant announces that
the Duke himself in person
Comes this way to the melancholy vale,
The place of death and sorry execution,
Behind the ditches of the abbey here.
Through a meticulous comparison of the topography of the scene presented by Shakespeare with that of the locale of Holywell Priory as it was in Shakespeare’s day (the abbey gate opening onto a street that led to a vale, where in October of 1588 two Catholic priests were executed; the vale lying behind the ditches of the abbey, and the ditches running on the side opposite the direction from which a procession to the place of execution would approach), Baldwin demonstrated that the playwright had in mind a particular London site with specific “melancholic” associations. The place would have been familiar to Shakespeare because not many yards from the Priory were the Shoreditch playhouses, the Theatre and the Curtain, surely known to him at this time. According to John Aubrey’s seventeenth-century information, Shakespeare once lived in Shoreditch. And whether or not he witnessed the executions that gave the vale an atmosphere of bloody tragedy, he might well have known of an event that the government had assigned to the site to advertise more widely than usual, in the wake of the Armada, its legal ruthlessness towards those who would deny its legitimacy as a spiritual as well as a temporal power.
Baldwin thought it likely that Shakespeare had witnessed the event itself, considering that no other explanation could account for the resemblances between the circumstances and demeanor of William Hartley, one of the priests hanged in the vale (Finsbury Fields), and those of the play’s Egeon. The “hapless” merchant was a victim caught in the international animosities bred by a war of trade, which led both Syracusans and Ephesians to pass (in “solemn synods”) a law that prescribed death for any of the one nation who was found within the bounds of the other (1.1.11-19). This legal situation is partly analogous to the one faced by Catholic priests after 1585, in which year Parliament ruled that the very presence in England of a Catholic subject of the queen who had been ordained a priest beyond the seas after 1559 was in itself treason, the crime subject to the usual capital penalties. That Egeon was styled a “merchant” (indeed, at one point, a “reverent . . . merchant” [5.1.124]) Baldwin found significant. For although a merchant is mentioned as the father of the twins in the Argument to Plautus’s Menaechmi, the main source of The Comedy of Errors, Egeon is a character whom Shakespeare himself invented--with hints from the story of Apollonius of Tyre. Apollonius contained a storm at sea that separated a husband from his wife and child and transported the wife to Diana’s temple at Ephesus, where she became anachronistically (in Gower’s retelling of the tale) its “Abbesse” until her reunion with child and far-wandering husband. The procession of a “merchant” to a place of execution reminiscent of Finsbury Fields, haunted with the ghosts of slain priests, reminded Baldwin that Jesuit missionary martyrs like Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell had represented themselves as merchants. Southwell referred to himself as such in coded correspondence with his Roman superiors (he speaks of a trader’s [i.e., Campion’s] having “load[ed] his vessel with English wares,” and having “successfully returned to the desired port”; and he speaks of his own “business” for the “firm”). Baldwin did not find “allegory” here, recognizing that “with allegory we cannot satisfactorily account for the [narrative] result.” Egeon represents, for example, neither a particular priest nor priesthood; his sons are not a pastor’s lost flock, his wife and her abbey not the orthodox national church which he thought had vanished but has miraculously survived, in the territory of a heterodox ruler, to save and give sanctuary to her family. The playwright’s imagination merely fused, opportunistically, elements of various literary sources with fresh historical memories to produce the story of Egeon, which suggested Shakespeare’s attitude to the events that prompted it without embodying a moral.
Baldwin’s extensively argued case for seeing in the Comedy’s “melancholy vale” a superimposed image of the area around Holywell Priory is impressive and difficult to discredit. His proposal that a specific political execution associated with that site inspired the nearly tragic tale of the play’s Syracusan merchant is reasonable. Without good reason, however, Baldwin largely suppresses the religiously derived connotations of Egeon’s plight and leaves it remote from other elements in a play that, like Lucrece, is oddly rife with religious allusion.
Since The Comedy of Errors is conspicuously Plautine, we might expect it to have a pagan setting; and indeed, in the first scene Egeon blames his misfortune on the merciless “gods” and the Duke laments the hostility of “the fates” (1.1.98-9, 140). But everywhere else the vintage is modern, Christian, and specifically Catholic. History and geography are of the late sixteenth century; France’s wars of religion are prominently mentioned by characters who know modern European countries, America, and the Indies (3.2.95-138). Antipholus of Syracuse identifies himself as “a Christian,” and a merchant measures time by “Pentecost” (1.2.77; 4.1.1); we hear biblical references to Adam, Noah, and to the Prodigal Son, to “angels of light,” Satan, and other “devils” (3.2.106; 4.3.13-19, 49, 55-6, 71). Exorcism of evil spirits is attempted through prayers to “all the saints of heaven” (4.4.57). From the Catholic world of the play are Syracusan Dromio’s “beads” and sign of the cross (2.2.188); Adriana’s promise to “shrive” (offer absolution to) him for his good service (2.2.208); and of course the Abbess and her priory (5.1). More important than these local religious references, however, is the play’s general tide of allusion to the history and writing of St. Paul, in particular to episodes in the Acts of the Apostles and to passages in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.
Scholars have noted a number of verses in the nineteenth chapter of Acts that Shakespeare seems to have had in mind as he composed his comedy. It is there recorded that “Paul when hee passed thorow the upper coasts, came to Ephesus” spending “two yeeres” preaching to “all . . . which dwelt in Asia . . . , both Jewes and Grecians” (1, 10). Egeon having spent “Five summers . . . in farthest Greece [and] Roam[ed] clean through the bounds of Asia . . . , coasting homeward, came to Ephesus” (1.1.134). Paul’s Ephesus was the home of “certaine . . . vagabond Jewes, exorcists,” who undertook to expell “evill spirits” from the possessed by invoking the name of Jesus, and who, because they lacked divine authority for their work, were themselves attacked by the demons and “wounded” (13, 16). The Ephesus of Duke Solinus also has a professional, inauthentic exorcist, Dr. Pinch, a “conjurer” (4.4.47), who invokes “the saints in heaven” in vain to drive “Sathan” out of the Ephesian Antipholus, and for his troubles is “bound,” has his beard singed then quenched with “puddled mire,” and is “with scissors nick[ed] like a fool” (5.1.170-75). Paul’s preaching brought him into conflict with devotees of Diana, whose celebrated “temple” stood in Ephesus (24-30). Reading of this temple probably reminded Shakespeare of Gower’s Ephesian abbey, with its abbess, thus inspiring the Comedy’s story of shipwreck and separation that ends in the priory of the Abbess Aemilia.
From the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul’s words about casting off “the olde man . . . , [to] put on the newe man” (4:22) lie behind the play’s “Old Adam new apparell’d” (4.3.13-14); and the apostle’s famous exhortation to his church, “Take unto you the whole armour of God . . . , having on the brestplate of righteousnes . . . , the shield of faith” (6:13-16), is Syracusan Dromio’s precedent for self-congratulation: “if my breast had not been made of faith, and my heart of steel, / She had transform’d me” (3.2.145-6). When Luciana declares to her sister that men “Are masters to their females, and their lords” (2.1.20, 24), she echoes the apostle’s injunction, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the wives heade” (5:22-3). Adriana’s sense of oneness with her husband (the two are “undividable incorporate” [2.2.122]) derives from a common New Testament axiom, which is repeated in Ephesians: “a man [shall] leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twaine shalbe one flesh” (5:31). The quarrels in the Comedy between masters and servants have a Pauline relevance: “Servants, be obedient unto them that are your masters. . . . And ye masters doe the same things unto them, putting away threatning” (6:5, 9; cf. Errors 2.2.20-49; 4.4.15-39).
The association of Paul and his Ephesus with the events and characters of the Comedy is, we may believe, something much more than the playwright’s attempt (in accordance with his diminishment of the Plautine courtesan’s role in the story, and his introduction into the plot of an idealistic romantic element) to infuse a pagan work with Christian piety. The parallels between Paul and Egeon, the English makeover of Ephesus--with its priory, its taverns (Phoenix, Porpentine, and Centaur), its penal laws, and its up-to-date, schoolmasterly exorcism (to be considered in detail later)--may have had an ideological purpose which Baldwin’s research and analyses have misconstrued.
Baldwin was quite definite that Shakespeare’s portrait of Egeon owed much to biblical writings about and by Paul, and to a great extent he was correct. In The Compositional Genetics of The Comedy of Errors, he carelessly claimed that “the wanderings of Aegeon . . . were transformed into terms of Paul’s missionary journeys”: it is simply not true, for example, that Paul “passed through Syracuse from Ephesus on his way to Rome,” for Ephesus was not a stop on his fourth and last sea voyage. Yet Syracuse, Ephesus, and Corinth were all cities important at different stages in the life of the apostle, and these are the cities which figure dramatically in the Comedy’s first scene, as Egeon recounts his journey “in farthest Greece . . . , through the bounds of Asia,” “carried towards Corinth,” and coming to “Ephesus” (1.1.132-4, 83). The description of Egeon’s shipwreck, while indebted to the Aeneid, is, as Baldwin claimed, at least as reliant on the account of Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27.
Since Baldwin recognized the affinity between Paul and Egeon as travelers and as victims of shipwreck, it is strange that he failed to see further resemblances, and implications, to which his own interpretation of the Comedy might have pointed. If Egeon the merchant is in some sense a literary avatar of Hartley the missionary priest, both men may be seen as anti-types of the missionary Paul. Egeon was imprisoned in Ephesus, Hartley in Ephesus/London; Paul wrote to the Ephesians from prison--as “an ambassador in bonds” (6:20). Egeon was condemned to be beheaded; Hartley was hanged, but generally “treasonous” English priests were decapitated after being hanged according to the law’s letter; and according to tradition, beheading was the fate of the apostle Paul. A consistent allegorical link between Egeon and Paul can go nowhere. The imperfect analogy, however, between the martyred English missionary and the martyred missionary apostle is hinted at in the play’s actions and allusions in ways that might encourage Catholics to see the likenesses between these two historical figures, neither of whom appears in the comedy. The similarities may have political implications of great moment.
As we have noted, Baldwin thought that Shakespeare’s admiration and pity for Hartley were more than offset by the playwright’s certainty that the English government’s handling of the Catholic question was appropriate. Baldwin found that Duke Solinus spoke Shakespeare’s own mind when he told the condemned merchant: “we may pity, though not pardon thee . . . ,” for to “disannul” the laws would be against a prince’s “oath,” and “dignity” (1.1.97, 142-4). The scholar believed it “notorious that Shakespeare’s attitudes on political matters [were] always those of a patriotic, almost an ultra-patriotic Englishman”; and he considered that the playwright’s external conformity to the prescriptions of the Protestant state-church revealed his sincere conviction that the Catholic “martyrs” who died in defiance of the Queen’s “supreme” authority in spiritual matters were justly punished. But whatever the evidence for Shakespeare’s chauvinism, his acquiescence to the state’s ecclesiastical laws proves little about the state of his conscience in an age of conflicting casuistries that allowed varying degrees of conscientious dissimulation, in circumstances that often forced individuals beyond casuistry into a reliance on private judgment when no other recourse seemed adequate. As proof of Shakespeare’s convinced adherence to the English church Baldwin offered his standing as godfather to William Walker in 1608, at which he would have been required to, and apparently did take Protestant communion. Baldwin was unaware that Hamnet and Judith Sadler, who gave their names to Shakespeare’s twins and were probably their godparents, later appeared on a list of recusants, prompting a recent historian to ask, “had Shakespeare in 1585 knowingly chosen crypto-Catholics for his twins’ godparents, or did this pair convert later?” Conversion may or may not have come later; in any case it is conceivable that a godparent with Catholic sympathies might participate in a religious ceremony without the slightest hint of the religious conviction that the ritual was supposed to identify. Indeed many “Church papists” had their children baptized in Protestant churches, because the Roman church recognized the validity of such baptisms, and because “the taint of illegitimacy blighted infants whose baptisms were not officially registered.”
It is best, then, not to read The Comedy of Errors in light of a set of the author’s “assumed” beliefs that the play might seem to contradict. We should not take for granted that he approved of the law condemning to death a merchant (or a priest) for his mere presence on Ephesian (or English) soil. We should consider it possible that the associations obliquely made through the play of a missionary priest with the archetypal Christian missionary were meant as a compliment to the former and to his mission, not just as a sign of sympathy for a noble man in his suffering. And we may examine the other Catholic elements of the play with an open mind.
One of these elements is exorcism. As has been mentioned, Baldwin’s survey of various episodes of this ritual in England of the late 1580’s led him to conclude that the Comedy’s unfortunate Dr. Pinch (transformed from the Menaechmi’s medicus into an exorcising schoolmaster) represented the Catholic priests whose folly and supposed wickedness Harsnett would expose at the beginning of the next century. The play does not, in fact, well accommodate such an interpretation. The art of dispossession was hardly a Catholic monopoly in late sixteenth-century England. Some Protestants showed themselves susceptible to its mysteries, even the martyrologist John Foxe, who expelled the devil from a student of law in 1574. The most notable of the Puritan exorcists was John Darrell, who began his career as an unordained preacher and assumed his struggles with the foul fiend in 1586, when he treated a young Derbyshire woman (without complete success) and wrote an account of the incident for Puritan readership. Darrell resumed his exorcising career in the 1590’s, when his notoriety brought him into conflict with the authorities and subjected him to the scornful pen of Harsnett in A Discovery of the Fraudulent Practises of One John Darrell (1599). He gained a regular ministerial position in 1598. It has been speculated that Shakespeare had Darrell in mind when in Twelfth Night, the Clown, wishing that he were “the first to have dissembled in such a gown,” assumes the Genevan black clerical costume before approaching the imprisoned Malvolio, whom he accuses of being afflicted by the “hyperbolical fiend” (4.2.1-6, 25). If Dr. Pinch, a lay schoolmaster, may be said to resemble anyone (his name is tantalizingly close to that of R. Phinch, a Protestant assailant of Catholic “conjurations” in his book of 1590, The Knowledge or Appearance of the Church), it is such a lay conjurer as Darrell was at the beginning of his career, not a Catholic priest. We may recall that the nineteenth chapter of Acts, which helped to inspire Shakespeare’s introduction of exorcism into the Comedy, distinguishes between genuine and bogus exorcists, between Paul and the Jews of Ephesus who adjured devils by “Jesus, whom Paul preacheth” (13). Lay usurpers of clerical authority, “freelancers” like Pinch and Darrell, resemble the vagabond exorcists, their actions not necessarily an embarrassment to a church. Indeed, it is the Catholic abbess and her “order” that offer a sane, salutary alternative to the foolishness of Pinch’s conjurations. “Be patient,” the abbess tells Adriana. Unaware of the “errors” that have driven Adriana’s husband to distraction, she determines by shrewd questioning that Antipholus (the one she is told about) is probably not possessed. She sees at least the partial truth that he has been “scar’d . . . from the use of his wits” by the “jealous fits” of his wife (5.1.85-86), and grants the man whom she believes to be angry and bewildered (his brother in fact) sanctuary in the priory:
I will not let him stir
Till I have us’d the approved means I have,
With wholesome syrups, drugs, and holy prayers,
To make of him a formal man again:
It is a branch and parcel of my oath,
A charitable duty of my order. . . .
That Shakespeare placed charity and stern common sense so conspicuously in the abbey suggests that, if he were aware when writing the Comedy of the bizarrerie of Catholic exorcisms in the 1580’s, he did not consider these isolated instances a defining mark of institutionalized superstition and deviousness in the church. Perhaps he knew of the official policy of the English mission that “In these times exorcism is not to be practised except very cautiously, prudently, and rarely, because it does not always have effect, for not even the Apostles themselves could cast out all devils” (cf. Matt. 17:16-21; Luke 9:39-43). He was certainly aware that Southwell did not find thrilling the power of the exorcist. “We never read,” Southwell said in his Epistle of Comfort, that the Apostles “rejoyced at their power over devils . . . , which well declareth how muche they prised theire persecution, more than their authoritye. And therefore Christ sayde Beati estis not for commaunding devils. . . : But beati estis cum maledixerunt vobis homines, & persecuti vos fuerint . . . propter me. You are blessed when men hate you, and persecute you . . . for my sake” (105r). Southwell, although he believed in diabolic possession and that “Gods Saints [were given] greate authoritye” over devils (EC, 69v, 165r, 178r), was himself an Egeon, not a Pinch. Shakespeare would read years later Harsnett’s mockery of credulous supernaturalism and cruel authoritarianism in the priests and “demoniacs” of Dedham and elsewhere; and he would register his reactions in King Lear; but in the early 1590’s his Comedy of Errors was rather kind in its allusions to priest and church. Perhaps his own inclination made it so; perhaps Southampton found this kindness, as well as the play’s hard comic brilliance, attractive for presentation at Gray’s Inn.
In a government survey of the state of religious conformity at the Inns of Court in the late 1570’s, Gray’s and the Inner Temple had the highest percentage of “known and suspected catholics.” Through the eighties, Gray’s, which was strongly represented in its membership by men from Catholic Ireland, Lancashire, and other northern locales, continued to show up in reports as hospitable to popery, a place where priests were thought to have been sheltered and where masses were said. It was from Gray’s Inn, where he had converted several fellow members, that Henry Walpole, an admirer of Edmund Campion, left to join the Jesuits (in 1584), then to become a fellow prisoner in the Tower with Robert Southwell, and an executed “traitor” not long after Southwell’s death. Swithin Wells, a schoolmaster with longstanding connections with the Southampton family, had a house in Gray’s Inn Fields (an area noted for its “conferences” of “seminaries & Catholics”), where the pursuivant Topcliffe arrested a company at mass, and outside of which Wells and the priest Edward Gennings were hanged in 1591. Some of the Inn’s members who would view The Comedy of Errors three years later, including the earl of Southampton himself, may have witnessed the bloody event. Even in 1594, as Southampton must have known, a play like the Comedy at Gray’s would likely speak to some in the audience who were, as the saying went, “popishly affected.”
Did Southwell help it speak? Given what we have learned thus far about Shakespeare’s reading, it would seem strange if the Jesuit had not done so. Southwell wrote bitterly about the “Statute” that prefigured the law in Ephesus that almost cost Egeon his life: “we [are] allwayes arraigned and Cast upon the Statute of Coming in England. . . . To avouch us Traytors for coming into England or remayning here, is an Iniury without ground . . .” (HS, 30). Blessing Paul’s missionary “cheynes,” he mentioned the shipwreck in Acts 27, which, as Baldwin has shown, had features in common with Egeon’s (EC, 105v). And Southwell’s writings are much echoed in the exchange between the Duke and Egeon in the play’s first scene, the Jesuit’s voice mingling with others (of Plautus, Virgil, the author of Acts, and John Gower) that have contributed to the total effect.
In poetry and in prose, Southwell is forever making use of metaphorical “tempests” of one kind or another. In his Epistle of Comfort, addressing “the reverend priestes” who like the “reverent merchant” Egeon were under sentence of death, he exhorts them to courage by declaring that the troubled sea of the world is well left behind for the “safe porte” of eternity. From this part of his Epistle and its surrounding contexts, with its figurative storms and literal stress (centered on fols. 112r-117v), we can find much of the language and imagery that appears at the opening of the Comedy. We have already seen Shakespeare’s recollection of these same pages in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Titania describes her pregnant votaress gazing on the beach at the “traders on the flood.” In the Comedy, Egeon draws from Southwell’s material in narrating the loss of his wife, son, and servant in a shipwreck.
Errors 1.1.48-119 Epistle of Comfort
[She] soon, and safe, arrived where I
was. 115r: quicklye landed in a safe porte
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . in the self-same inn, 112r-v: the travayler[s] Inne . . . the marchant . . .
A mean woman was delivered woman great with childe . . .
Of such a burthen . . . . the tyme of her deliverye . . . burden
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Yet the incessant weepings of my wife, 113r-114v: alwayes . . . weepe. . . wife;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And piteous plainings of the pretty babes, 117v: [man] beginneth his course with
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
[We] Fast’ned ourselves at either end 102r: fastened; 107v: ende; 96v: mast
And floating straight, obedient to the stream, 117r: the streame kepeth on an unflexible
Was carried towards Corinth course; 116r: caried; 132r; Cor[inthians]
114v-115r: attayne dyverse shores . . . by
healpe of a selye plancke . . . , by some
fragment of the broaken shippe
At length the sun, gazing upon the earth, 116r-v: earth . . . sunne;
Dispers’d those vapours that 116v: vapoure that soone vanisheth; 106v:
offended us; offenders
And by the benefit of his wished light 115v: benefitt; 121v: wished; 120v: lighte;
The seas wax'd calm . . . . 115v: altered their stormes into a calme wind
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
We were encount’red by a mighty rock, 117v: with divers encounters; 115v: mightye
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114v: beaten with the billowes against the
And therefore homeward did they bend their 117r: home . . . keepeth on . . . course;
Thus have you heard me sever’d from 120r: severeth from the worlde . . . , their
my bliss, Parradise
That by misfortunes was my life 128r: misfortune; 136v: lamente that our
prolong’d inhabitance [i.e., life] is prolonged
Of special note is Southwell’s picture of shipwrecked passengers saved by fragments of their vessel. In Plautus’s Menaechmi, the twins are separated by kidnapping; and in Gower’s Confessio Amantis, Apollonius’ wife, presumed dead, is sent away from a ship in a chest that floats to Ephesus. Shakespeare here preferred Southwell to his other sources.
The Comedy of Errors opens with the entrance of the Duke, Egeon, a Jailer, Officers (assumed by editors to be present), and other Attendants. Within the space of a few pages, Southwell had spoken of “Dukes” (116r), an “Officer” (121v), a “Jayler” (128r), and “Gedeon” (134r), perhaps unwittingly suggesting to the playwright how to populate his opening scene. Commentators have usually considered that Shakespeare derived the name “Egeon” from the Aegean Sea which the merchant had relentlessly traversed in search of his sons. A less simple possibility--though a quite plausible one if Baldwin’s thesis about the missionary behind the merchant is true, and in view of what can otherwise be shown about the reliance of the Comedy on Southwell--is that “Egeon” is derived anagrammatically (“E[d]geon”) from “Gedeon” (that is, Gideon; cf. “Caliban” and “cannibal”). In the Epistle of Comfort this Judge of Israel is presented as a model for the church’s missionary “Captaynes” (98r, 134v), ready to suffer heroically to overcome the false religion of Baal. Such a derivation would be appropriate to the conceptual seriousness of Egeon’s story (he would hardly be “Thamesian” or “Atlanticus” were his watery venue different), placing him in a category different from that of characters whose names immediately announce their comic flatness (“Pinch,” or “Dromio” [“Runner” or “Messenger”]). And it would of course strengthen the case for the drama’s religious subtext. Other names conceivably suggested by Southwell’s works appear in the play: the Epistle of Comfort has “Angell” and “angelus” in proximity with a goldsmith (76v, 82r) (cf. “Angelo, a goldsmith,” a character of Shakespeare’s invention). An Epistle unto his Father (a work with other connections to the Comedy) has, along with a “goldsmith,” a “Baltazar” and a “merchant” (6, 7, 12) (cf. “Balthazar, a merchant”). Names, of course, are much less important than situation and action; but Shakespeare does seem on more than one occasion (especially in Titus and Measure for Measure, it will be seen) to have had help with nomenclature from Southwell.
The Comedy’s first scene has in it nothing at all of the comic. It introduces us to a condition of commercial warfare so bitter that each Prince of the rival powers, Syracuse and Ephesus, will put to death anyone found in his city who was born in the other’s. Ephesian merchants have already been killed in Syracuse (1.1.7-9). In Ephesus, the merchant Egeon is about to lose his life, guilty of nothing more than his provenance. The Duke of Ephesus expresses regret that a man of such hapless dignity as Egeon must endure the full rigor of a law that, in the absence of a huge ransom, requires his death; but princely majesty would be wounded by a pardon, and, it is implied, wars are not won through weakness. These fictions are based on no source, unless the source be history itself, in which case they allude to the religious conflicts that divided Catholic and Protestant Europe in the sixteenth century. Indeed, Shakespeare refers later in the play to the French wars of religion, when “France” is described as “arm’d and reverted, making war against her heir” (3.2.123-4), thus alluding to the Catholic League’s struggle against the Protestant Henry of Navarre, whom Henry III had designated his successor in 1589. Passionate politics in Syracuse and Ephesus may remind one of religious strife within England itself. Curiously, Duke Solinus speaks of the “jars” between his city and Syracuse as “intestine,” and of the Syracusans as “seditious” (1.1.11-12), as though the wars were internecine--that is, as in the reign of Mary Tudor, when English Protestant “heretics” were executed and large numbers went into exile as unwelcome on their native soil; as in the equally bloody (though more protracted) tenure of Elizabeth, when laws alienated Catholics remaining in England and, as in the play, prescribed the slaughter of merchant-priests who dared to set foot there.
Southwell, the self-styled “merchant,” would fall victim to the later regime’s “Statutes,” against which he protested not only in the Humble Supplication, but inferentially in the Epistle unto his Father (written in 1588 or ’89): in particular, he would be condemned according to the law of 1585 that made it treason for any of Elizabeth’s subjects who had been ordained “beyond the seas” after the Act of Uniformity 1559 to be in England without taking the Oath of Supremacy. In the Epistle he introduces a premise that provides some basis for the tale of Egeon. This story is always seen as arising out of the saga of Apollonius of Tyre (upon which Pericles would later depend); but it needs a supplement. Apollonius, like Egeon, is separated from his wife and child at sea and after many years is reunited with both, the wife having become “Abbesse” in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. But in Apollonius there is no war of merchants (Apollonius himself is a prince), no bloody laws to threaten them, no years of searching for a lost family (for the Prince believes his wife, and later his daughter, to be dead). Southwell, on the other hand, is a son, acting also on behalf of his siblings (EF, 19), who desperately seeks his father, to redeem him from the sin of schism and his soul’s death. The “engraffed laws” of the missionary’s country, however, which he has violated at risk to his own life, force him to live “like a foreigner” in his own land (EF, 3-4). In his mind family roles are fluid, for he is not only a son to his parent, but a spiritual “father”--indeed, a “brother” as well (EF, 6-7). He thus combines in himself the offices of both of the Comedy’s seekers: father outlawed and condemned in search of his son, brother in search of brother. His imagination is filled with the threat of “storms,” with dangerous sea voyages, ships that threaten to be “dash[ed] . . . upon the rocks,” safe ports and harbors (EF, 9, 18), and a voyage filled with “error” that ends in a holy “sanctuary” in the “city of refuge” (EF, 18). That sanctuary is the Catholic Church, which is “a fold and family” (EF, 12), or, like the Comedy’s abbess in her priory, a “mother” (EF, 18). Aemilia, both nun and nurse, would heal, she says, “with the approved means I have, / With wholsome syrups, drugs, and holy prayers,” performing the “charitable duty of my order” (5.1.103-7)--much as Southwell the priest tells his father that he would bring him, out of the “duty of piety” and the fire of “charity” (EF, 4), “spiritual substance to enrich you . . . , medicinable receipts against your ghostly maladies . . . that my drugs may cure you, my prey delight you” (5) (cf. EC, 21v: “Where God purposeth to heale . . . , he ministreth bitter sirroppes”). By Aemilia’s estimate, she has gone “Thirty-three years . . . in travail / Of . . . my sons (5.1.401-2), like the “three and thirty years in pain” that Christ, says Southwell, wandered “for the behoof of our souls” (16).
The political and religious motifs at the Comedy’s beginning and end may be said, then, to have been evoked by Southwell. Between these points there are further signs of his influence. In act 2, scene 2, for example, when Adriana believes that her husband has taken “Some other mistress,” she muses nostalgically on a more romantic time:
The time was once, when thou unurg’d wouldst vow
That never words were music to thine ear,
That never object pleasing in thine eye,
That never touch well welcome to thy hand,
That never meat sweet-savor’d in thy taste,
Unless I spake, or look’d, or touch’d, or carv’d to thee.
Her words are
reminiscent of Southwell’s description of the captive judgment of a
knight in love with his lady:
The colours that like her seme fayrest, the meate that fitteth her taste sweetest, the fashion agreable to her fancie comlyest . . ., her sayinges oracles. . . . whatsoever pleaseth her, beit never so unpleasante semeth good, & whatsoever cometh from her beit never so deare bought and of little valew, is deemed pretious. . . (EC 34v).
Adriana’s husband eventually bridles at his wife’s accusations, threatening her:
with these nails I’ll pluck out these false eyes
That would behold in me this shameful sport.
Southwell had reported the sufferings of the Roman Regulus, stuck full of “nayles” to save his honor, and of Hasdrubal’s wife, who at the conquest of Carthage “rather chose to burne out her eyes . . . then to beholde her husbandes miserye” (EC, 126v).
The play’s comic foolery also owes something to Southwell’s texts, most notably when Dromio of Syracuse offers some of the more dense and cryptic banter in the Comedy, asking his master if he had seen the arresting officer:
Master, here’s the gold you sent me for. What, have you got the picture of old Adam new-apparell’d?
S. Ant. What gold is this? What Adam dost thou mean?
S. Drom. Not that Adam that kept the Paradise, but that Adam that keeps the prison; he that goes in the calve’s-skin that was kill’d for the Prodigal; he that came behind you, sir, like an evil angel, and bid you forsake your liberty.
are biblical, of course, but they appear in a patchwork of texts from
Southwell. In Marie Magadalens Funeral Teares, in a
Adam’s fortunes in Genesis, the interlocutor reflects on the symbolic
significance of post-Edenic clothing:
When Adam had sinned in the garden of pleasure, hee was there apparelled in dead beastes skinnes, that his garment might betoken his grave . . . (46v).
That Adam so “apparelled” is also associated with a “prison” is explained by Southwell’s observation, on the previous page, that “Adam was . . . taken captive by the divell [just as] in a Garden Christ was taken prisoner” (46r). “Keepers of prisons” are mentioned in The Epistle of Comfort on 92v, “Pardayse” on 95v, “Adames garment of dead beasts skinnes” (again) on 118v, the “divell” (cf. “evil angel”) on the same page, an arresting “officer” on 121v, “sheepes skinnes” and “gotes skinnes” on 126r, “libertye” and “the prodigall Sonne” on 133v. All of the materials of Dromio’s imaginative conceit thus come from two parts of Southwell’s cabinet, combined exotically by the playwright’s imagination.
Southwell is “in” The Comedy of Errors, then, alongside St. Paul, hidden behind Plautus, Gower, Gascoigne, Lyly, and others, and party to what has usually been considered a “farce”: either farce pure, simple, and weightless, or a “weird,” imperfect fusion of different literary forms, like “farce and romance,” that only recently has been interpreted with an attitude of high seriousness. For some commentators, “there is [in the play] nothing really to think about--except, if one wishes, the tremendously puzzling question of what so grips and amuses an audience during a play with so little thought in it.” At the other extreme, a critic has claimed for it the status of “a signal text of early modern culture.” Surely there must be a less drastic approach to judging the play that is more true to its modest excellences than either dismissal or sublimation.
That the Comedy contains “serious” elements is undeniable. But they may be of no greater moment than its absurd coincidences, slapstick aggressions, and antic word play which as provocations to laughter need no higher justification. Farce may contain grave issues without allowing them gravity. It can be powerful enough to enfeeble and make of no account even the “tragic” actions that it enfolds--as when in the film Easy Street Charlie Chaplin gasses a nemesis by forcing his head into a street lamp. The indifference of farce to meaning may seem like licensed escapism: “Melodrama and farce are both arts of escape,” claims Eric Bentley in a classic essay, “and what they are running away from is not only social problems but all other forms of moral responsibility.” Or it may point to interpretive and psychological principles of a different order. “Like dreams,” says the psychoanalytical critic, farce may couple “a functional denial of significance with often disturbing and highly significant meaning.” To the postmodernist this may be a solemn truth, subverting meaning, revealing “the impossibility of discovering any single core of fantasy that ‘governs’ a text.” More historically-minded readers, however, will wonder if Shakespeare wrote The Comedy of Errors as the kind of farce that in the purity of its modern or postmodern definitions would be free from various kinds of “responsibility” or in thrall to the pyrrhonic compulsion to undermine coherence and certainty.
In contrast to the breezy amorality and comic callousness of Plautus’s Menaechmi, Shakespeare’s play seems steeped in pieties that refuse to let the recklessness of farce have its way. Egeon’s recounting of his losses may belong in a fairy tale, but unlike the death of the Syracusan merchant mentioned perfunctorily in the Roman play’s Prologue, the threat to his life, with its contemporary political resonance, seems both real and calculated to create a pathos that cannot be entirely forgotten or laughed away. There is no love in Plautus’s Epidamnum, no serious reflection on the mysteries of personal identity and marital union. Menaechmus the “Citizen” finds his wife a mere nuisance and does not object when at the end of the play his servant proposes to auction her off with his slaves and other chattels. Shakespeare’s Antipholus and his wife, transported to an Ephesus rich in biblical history, have a troubled marriage, but the solutions to their difficulties are prescribed in the Pauline teaching on hierarchy and reciprocity, and on the mystical union of two in one. Lines such as the following do not have the flavor of farcical impertinence:
How comes it now, my husband, O, how comes it,
That thou art then estranged from thyself?
Thyself I call it, being strange to me,
That, undividable, incorporate,
Am better than thy dear self’s better part.
Ah, do not tear away thyself from me;
For know, my love, as easy mayst thou fall
A drop of water in the breaking gulf,
And take unmingled thence that drop again,
Without addition or diminishing,
As take from me thyself and not me too.
The Dromios are beaten by their masters, as in a farce, but the violence is not free from St. Paul’s moral strictures sent to the masters of Ephesus: “Servants, be obedient unto them that are your masters. . . . And yee masters doe the same things unto them, putting away threatening . . .” (Ephes. 6:5-9). Even the buffeting and burning of Dr. Pinch, farcically irresponsible as it is, derives from the “wounding” of the false exorcists in Acts 19, and therefore is not wholly without moral significance.
If The Comedy of Errors will not sit well in the blithe pointlessness of farce, how will it be allowed the serious points it seems determined to make without depriving it of its essential character, which is comic? “Serious” readings of the play have tended to lose sight of its comic dimension. In Barbara Freedman’s Lacanian interpretation, for example, the Comedy tantalizingly offers an “allegory” of psychic division and integration: it can “be read as a play with and upon redemption: it demonstrates how one redeems (recovers) oneself by redeeming (making payment on) one’s debts as one redeems (goes in exchange for) one’s alter ego, and how one is thereby redeemed (released) from bondage only to share in the fruits of redemption (as rebirth).” This master narrative turns out to be only a tease, however, for “farce” ultimately “displaces meaning” and replaces the “‘pure sense of life’ celebrated by Western narrative comedy” with a mockery of “the ego’s interest in representations that suggest unity, purposiveness, and integrity.” Patricia Parker, like Freedman, finds in the play “fragmentation,” “multiplicity” and an indeterminacy that frustrates a reader’s desire for order and holistic meaning. But she places the play’s “disjunctions” in historical contexts rather than in relation to “a panhistorical experience of Lacanian méconnaissance.” What she finds incompatible are the play’s dense tissue of biblical allusions, generally pointing to the Protestant version of salvation history culminating in the Redemptive Apocalypse, and the action’s firm setting in the world of the marketplace, where the “metaphorical language of debt and redemption on which the Church’s master narrative depended” was becoming inadequate to the slippery realities of “social exchange and verbal coinage,” in a theater of the world “whose meanings were contradictory and unstable.” The Comedy then is read as a “post-Christian” drama in which the bible becomes only “a source of metaphors for dramatic structure, detached from belief and homiletic piety.”
These interpretations, committed to and directed by sober deconstructive formulas, either turn comedy sour or ignore it altogether. They discern in the play an allegorical impulse, which they define only to proclaim misleading. A more straightforward allegory has been read into the work by Donna Hamilton, whose Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England finds the playwright consciously engaged with the “church-state politics” of his time, in The Comedy of Errors as elsewhere. The “historical context” out of which she supposes the Comedy to have been written is much more specific than Parker’s early modern “marketplace.” It is the conflict between the political and ecclesiastical authorities of the English state-church and the nonconformist Protestants whom the Elizabethan Settlement had left unsatisfied. In traditional allegorical terms, Adriana is said to represent the established English church, wrongly accusing her husband Antipholus (the nonconformist) of infidelity. The play’s physical violence is seen as a theatrical “literalisation” of the language of violence spewed out in the Marprelate controversy, now presented “in such a way as to display hierarchy senselessly victimizing the disempowered.” The comedy’s resolution, bringing the state’s ruler and an entire family together within the bosom of a “church,” proposes a model of ecclesiastical unity different from the “status quo,” a new order in which “brother and brother” walk “hand in hand, not one before another” (5.1.425-6), suggesting an abridgement of hierarchy’s privileges. Comedy is thus given its due as “parodic” criticism as well as tendentious idealism. And Shakespeare emerges from Hamilton’s study as a tolerant liberal “opposing absolutist tendencies.”
This analysis is rife with difficulties. It discovers a sustained allegory while making use of only a small number of characters and details that might underlie it. Ignoring the play’s Catholic setting and allusions, it arbitrarily chooses the lay and rather helpless wife Adriana to represent the authoritarian English church, leaving unclear her relationship to the Abbess Aemilia, an explicitly authoritative (and of course Catholic) ecclesiastical figure who supersedes the jealous wife’s (church’s?) authority without being shown to “represent” anything. The “nonconformist” Antipholus, wrongly accused of infidelity and thus allegorically a victim of misguided religious authoritarianism, is yet one of the drubbers who perpetrate the violence that victimizes the “disempowered,” a class to which the allegory would have him belong.
Hamilton’s instinct seems sound, however, that in The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare undertook to speak serio-comically about divisive social, political, and religious ideals. As we have seen, the shadow of religious (disguised as mercantile) warfare looms over the play from its beginning. In its gray light, the zany “errors” of accident and comic misprision may remind a sensitive audience that “Error” of a different kind, religious and grandiose, has invited the sword that keeps apart wife and husband, brother and brother. As a number of recent commentators on the Comedy have observed, Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesians, which Shakespeare has resolutely insinuated into the play, were not only to domestic love and harmony, but to a unity that transcended the largest and most formidable of boundaries. Freedman and Parker have stressed the relevance to the Comedy of Ephesians 2, which proclaims the salvation of Gentile and Jew alike and the unity of both in Christ:
For [Christ] is our peace, which hath made of both one, and hath broken the stoppe of the partition wall . . . that he might reconcile both into one body by his crosse, and slay hatred therby. . . . Now therefore yee are no more strangers & forreiners. . . .
Arthur Kinney has found equally relevant passages in Ephesians 4:
There is one body, and one Spirit . . . There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptisme, One God and Father of all. . . . we [shall] all meete together in the unitie of faith . . . unto a perfit man . . . let not the sunne goe downe upon your wrath . . . Let all bitternesse, and anger, and wrath, crying, and evill speaking bee put away from you. . . .
The sun does not go down on the wrath of the Ephesians and Syracusans in The Comedy of Errors. In compliance with biblical ideals as well as with the neo-Aristotelian prescription of temporal “unity,” the final scene takes place when the “dial points at five” (118) just before the happy resolutions and reunions. The conclusion, celebrating the re-establishment of family ties more than the fulfillment of personal desires, also, under the religious auspices of the Abbess, reconciles Ephesian ruler, “merchants,” and citizens with the men of Syracuse whose blood the “rigorous statutes” of both “towns” had been designed to spill.
Is it legitimate to think here, along with Paul’s desire for unity between Jew and Gentile, of Shakespeare’s vision of reconciliation between Protestant and Catholic? We have already seen enough of his interest in religious controversy to judge that such an idea is not incredible. Nor is the thought too heavy to derive from a play like the Comedy which relies extensively not only on texts that are cleverly daft but on Scripture, the earnest prose of a Jesuit missionary, and the tragic history of the times. Yet why should such a solemn issue be subjected to what might seem the indignities of comic treatment? Why should many of the zealous words of Paul and Southwell be placed (as they are) in the mouths of the clownish Dromios? The ideal of political and religious unity cannot be said to emerge in a “darke conceit” of allegory that flows beneath the comedy. Egeon may seem allegorically a priestly merchant, but other merchants in the play seem only businessmen; the bloody statutes may summon up thoughts of an historical allegory, but in such a narrative the Duke and the Abbess would be on unhistorically good terms, since the priory sits untroubled in Ephesus; the Antipholi are brothers kept apart but not, as they would be in religious strife, alienated.
Critics are sensible to see in The Comedy of Errors, however cunningly crafted it is, fragments of thought, conflicting tones, resolutions that feel partial or have no right to be true. But they are wrong to see in these features the irresponsibility of farce. Farce, says Freedman, is “just the opposite of a . . . fantasy of wish fulfillment, and in this sense opposes the adaptive functions of both dream and comedy.” The Comedy of Errors seems in fact more than anything else a public exercise in wish fulfillment. The dream it dreams is not an allegorical vision (which is no dream at all) but a patchwork of ideals that slip in and out of tragedy, in and out of hilarity and weirdness. Its characters need not all nor always be emblematic, for the constancy is in the wish, not in the figments that embody it. The wishful idealism is real. It is also irresponsible, but only because brute facts are too hard against it. To treat the ideals with frivolity is neither to deny their worth nor to escape from them, but to keep them alive in a part of the imagination where cruel and sober censors (whether psychic or political) will hardly bother to look.
To place them in a world both sad and silly is also to admit that waking as well as dreaming is so. A pure idealism must contend with this fact, especially that ideal of domestic and religious peace which Paul fervently preached to the Ephesians and which seems to be embodied in the play. In the world to which Shakespeare’s Comedy was addressed, the Pauline hope might seem a preposterous wish, whose fulfillment was fatally threatened by the fierce, even vicious certainties of religious competitors, by the confusions of identity which religious conflict as well as accident might produce, and by the follies of love and lovers--all of which bespeak something of the tragi-comic “madness” that the play’s characters continually find in one another. That such madness disappears too easily at play’s end in a festival of recovery, renunion, and reconciliation has led suspicious commentators to challenge the completeness of the comic achievement, as they note that one marriage is left only doubtfully reconstructed and another one only an indefinite possibility. Yet it is possible to assume that “at its ending The Comedy of Errors admits its own artificiality, its participation in [the] special realm of fairy tale,” not in order to offer ironic criticism of things as they are, but to hope with a deliberate foolishness that they might be better.
And from the play, what might Southampton and the Catholics at Gray’s Inn have inferred was a “better” politics? That the bloody policies of both “synods” (1.1.13) might be terminated. That Catholic “merchants” not be considered criminals by virtue of their mere presence on English soil. That the false demonizings and vain exorcizings of the misunderstood “other” might cease. That the state might live in concord with a “mother” church that would have, like the Abbess in the territory of Duke Solinus, a site of its own authority. And that she might freely speak, as Aemilia does, “Whoever bound him, I will loose his bonds” (5.1.340)--words which would remind Catholics above all of Christ’s committing of the “keys” to Peter with the promise, “whatsoever thou shalt binde upon earth, shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). In the years following the Armada, hopes for Protestant accommodation with Catholics on such terms were as fantastic as the “fairy tale” ending that Shakespeare created in the knowledge that it would be recognized as such. Neither the English government nor Catholic authority represented by Robert Southwell was as conciliatory as Shakespeare’s play; but there was an audience for stories of wild unlikelihood like this one, an audience who knew how to find in the unsystematic and comic presentation of a religious sub-text political fancies that they were glad to entertain as anodynes for distress. Shakespeare of course wrote not only for spectators such as these, yet he had professional and personal incentives to keep them in mind.
The Comedy of Errors was performed at Gray’s Inn on December 28, 1594; that is, on the feast of the Holy Innocents, children who according to the Gospel of Matthew were victims of Herod’s savagery and in Robert Southwell’s mind the first Christian martyrs (Matt. 2:16-18; “The flight into Egypt,” 13-18). Shakespeare’s fantasy of wish fulfillment forestalls martyrdom, but only through a Duke’s arbitrary decision to refuse a ransom and suspend the law, which in the final common happiness is not changed (Err 5.1.390-91). For those who did not live in a comedy and whose consciences made them liable to the cruelty of magistrates and laws that art’s magic could not attenuate, Shakespeare also had in his repertoire a different kind of martyrial drama, one that did not imagine redemption. It too offered only partial truths, but different and unconsoling ones, about the condition of those facing the threat of religious” violence. Its comedy was brutal rather than benevolent, portraying a culture of martyrdom nowhere informed or supported by love or any other genuine religious impulse. Shakespeare saw fit to publish this other piece in 1594, perhaps to capitalize on its great popularity as a work for the stage, perhaps to add to the portfolio of works on personal, political, and religious themes that he had put together in that year.
Titus Andronicus, as the title page of the First Quarto indicates, seems to have been written first for performance by the players of the “Earl of Darbie,” or Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange (who assumed the more exalted title in 1593). Like Southampton, Derby was guarded in expressing his religious opinions; but he was based in Catholic Lancashire, had numerous Catholic relatives, and was thought by some Catholics to be sympathetic to their cause. As Andrew Gurr has suggested, it is likely that playwrights of Shakespeare’s time were sensitive to the “religious allegiance” of their companies’ patrons. A reading of Titus from a political and religious perspective will show it to have contained a great deal to interest an ambiguously Catholic Derby, and at least as much to intrigue the conflictedly Catholic Southampon.
Scholarship has found in Titus a “larger number of significant parallels [with] Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, especially the latter, than [with] any other works of Shakespeare.” Similarities in subject and language between Titus and Lucrece are often adduced in arguments about the play’s date of composition, but they may point to meaning as well as fact. If the “subject” of Lucrece is as surreptitiously ideological as has been proposed in this study, its affinities with the play should alert us to elements in Titus that may be fraught with the same kinds of significance.
Titus Andronicus is gory like a public execution; it is imbued with the politics of religious warfare as well. A most striking piece of evidence about its political character resides in a scene which has seemed to many little more than comic relief--even though it ends with a clown’s being dragged off to the gibbet. By the fourth act of the play, Titus has a mind as steeped in blood as any of Shakespeare’s other characters. An inveterate soldier, he has lost more than twenty of his sons in warfare and has killed one of them himself. He has ordered the ritual sacrifice of a son of his enemy, an action that prompts a cycle of revenge and counter-revenge. Two of his own sons have been executed for a murder they did not commit. His daughter has emerged from a wood, “her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out, and ravish’d.” Titus has given up one of his hands in a vain attempt to save the lives of his falsely accused boys. When he learns that his daughter has been raped and mutilated by the sons of the Empress, the Goth Tamora, he becomes desperate for “justice,” but in such an antic way that he turns into an impresario of comic horror. One of his most puzzling schemes is to send a message to the Emperor Saturninus through a “Clown,” who had been going, with pigeons in hand, to one of the tribunes of the people to settle a domestic dispute. Titus diverts him:
Tit. Sirrah, come hither, make no more ado,
But give your pigeons to the Emperor.
By me thou shalt have justice at his hands.
Hold, hold; mean while here’s money for thy charges.
Give me pen and ink. Sirrah, can you with a grace
deliver up a supplication?
Clo. Ay, sir.
Tit. Then here is a supplication for you; and when you come to him, at the first approach you
must kneel, then kiss his foot, then deliver up your pigeons, and then look for your reward. I’ll be
at hand, sir, see you do it bravely.
Clo. I warrant you, sir, let me alone.
Tit. Sirrah, hast thou a knife? Come let me see it.
Here, Marcus, fold it in the oration,
For then hast made it like an humble suppliant.
When the Clown approaches Tamora and then Saturninus with letters and pigeons, the Emperor reads and immediately orders his guard to take the suppliant away “and hang him presently” (4.4.45).
It is quite probable that Shakespeare found inspiration for this strange episode in the story of Richard Shelley, a Catholic layman who, in 1585, put into Queen Elizabeth’s hand “at such time as she walked in her parke at Greenewitch” a petition on behalf of his persecuted co-religionists, and for his efforts “was promptly thrown into prison by [the Queen’s minister] Walsingham and left to die there” without trial. Shelley was the third son of John Shelley of Michelgrove, Sussex, and Robert Southwell’s first cousin, once removed; Richard was related (by his sister’s marriage) to the Gages and to the earls of Southampton, and through his great grandmother, Alice Belknap, distantly by blood to Shakespeare. Southwell referred to his cousin’s fate in his own attempt at such a petition, a pamphlet written in late December of 1591. Its title was An Humble Supplication to Her Majestie, its purpose to defend English Catholics against scurrilous accusations made against them by a government proclamation and to protest against the unjust treatment of Catholic clergy and laity under the regime’s penal laws. One is immediately struck by the parallel between Shelley’s and the Clown’s naive and hapless innocence in delivering their messages (both asking for redress of grievances), by their similar fates, and by the apparent allusion to Southwell’s piece in Titus’s “supplication” and “humble suppliant.” But there is much more to connect the play, the pamphlet, and the political context.
When the Clown wishes on Empress and Emperor the blessings of “Saint Steven” (4.4.42), he unwittingly associates himself with the Christian protomartyr (Acts 7: 55-60). When he swears “by [our] Lady” (48), he evokes a Catholic world which like the anachronism in Lucrece seems deliberately, at various points, worked into the play’s pagan Roman setting. Titus prays to Jupiter and Pluto, sends his sons across Styx, imagines diving into Acheron, and sanctions human sacrifice to infernal manes (4.3.13-54; 1.1.96-103). But his world also features, besides the Clown’s saints, “priest and holy water” for wedding ceremonies (1.1.323), “hermits in their holy prayers” (3.2.41), “popish tricks and ceremonies” (5.1.76), “limbo” (3.1.149), and a “ruinous [that is, “ruined”] monastery” (5.1.21). The word “martyr” and its cognates appear in Titus more than in any other work of Shakespeare; and there are signs that he intended them to have a special significance for his contemporaries, especially for those who would have had an interest in, even if they had not been able to read, Southwell’s Humble Supplication.
The influence of the Jesuit’s petition on the play is discernible in more than in the similar fates of Shelley and the Clown. Just before the Clown’s fatal mission, Titus, pretending to ask for justice from the heavens, had messages sent to the Court on arrows, one of which had gone into “Virgo’s lap” and another “beyond the moon” to Jove himself (4.3.65-67). The vision here is doubled. “Virgo” is both Astraea (the goddess of Justice who has left the earth [4.3.4]) and the decidedly unvirginal and wicked Empress Tamora (in the Court where the arrows really land); “Jupiter” is both god and the undivine Emperor Saturninus (who in the next scene enters carrying the shafts in his hand). Southwell seems to have suggested to Shakespeare at least part of these theatrics. Defending “Priests and Catholiques” against the vilifications of government word-smiths, which he compared to “arrows” shot at the innocent, Southwell warned the Queen that because of their outrageous messages those same “arrows [might] hit [her] Majesties honor in the way” (2). That is, they might land in the lap of the “Virgin Queen,” and (to continue with Shakespeare’s image, which implies what Southwell says later in his essay) would certainly travel beyond the “moon” (Elizabeth as the virgin “Diana” or Ralegh’s “Cynthia”) to God himself, who knew the injustice of their accusations.
Southwell pleaded with Elizabeth that she show herself on earth an agent of justice at least, and more, a source of mercy. He liked to believe that she measured her “Regality more by will to save then by power to kill” (25). The idea (a common one, of course) is paralleled in Tamora’s early prayer to Titus that he “Draw near [the gods] in being merciful: / Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge” (1.1.118-119). More significant, Elizabeth was addressed by the politic Jesuit as a “mighty . . . Princesse . . . the only shoot-anker of our last hopes,” (1). The Gothic-Roman ruler was styled, even by a vengeful Titus, as a “proud empress, mighty Tamora”; she wished to have rather than to be an “anchor” in a stormy world (4.4.38). The Jesuit describes his fellow Catholics as “at the bottome of a helples misery” (1), just as Titus complained that his “sorrow” was “deep, having no bottom,” there being no reason for his “miseries” (3.1.216, 219). A list of simple verbal echoes, mere quirks of memory, might be extended. There are, however, more impressive and intriguing parallels than these, pointing to political issues that Southwell considers openly but Shakespeare only in dramatic obliqueness.
Well into his
recalls that the first British ruler to be converted to Christianity
Lucius,” and laments that after the fourteen hundred years since his
which Catholic Christianity had flourished in England, “all Monasteries
[were] now . . . buried in their owne ruynes” (29).
The play’s “ruinous
monastery” (5.1.21) of course comes to mind, but more
son Lucius, who becomes Emperor in the final scene. Shakespeare’s
Lucius is a
warrior from ancient Rome, and at the same time a Roman Catholic. The
villain Aaron is willing to accept Lucius’s promise to save his child
as he says,
I know that thou art religious,
And hast a thing within thee called conscience,
With twenty popish tricks and ceremonies,
Which I have seen thee careful to observe. . . .
(Compare Southwell’s emphasis on the moral fastidiousness of English Catholics, which their enemies were alert to take advantage of: “many that see, are willing to use the awe of our Consciences for their warrant to tread us downe” .)
Why the telescoping of centuries and the blurring of distinctions between antique and contemporary “Romans”? Jonathan Bate has argued that a “Reformation” theme is embedded in the play, a theme meant to illustrate the concept, as Samuel Kliger has studied it, of the translatio imperii ad teutonicos (the transfer of empire to the German peoples):
The translatio suggested forcefully an analogy between the breakup of the Roman empire by the Goths and the demands of the humanist reformers of northern Europe for religious freedom, interpreted as liberation from Roman priestcraft. In other words, the translatio crystallized the idea that humanity was twice ransomed from Roman tyranny and depravity--in antiquity by the Goths, in modern times by their descendants, the German reformers.
At a time, Bate declares, when Elizabeth’s age and childlessness had made “the issue of succession” most urgent, and “the preservation of the Protestant nation” a deep concern, Shakespeare wrote into his play a form of reassurance: The Goths who accompany Lucius into a Rome that is really England “are there to secure the Protestant succession,” to ensure that the monasteries would stay ruined, and that no more Lavinias would be mutilated to provide matter for another Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
Although there may be good reasons for imagining the Goths as Protestants, it is difficult to credit this interpretation of their role in the play. One can hardly forget that the Goths Demetrius and Chiron, with the connivance of their Gothic mother, were Lavinia’s butchers; that the young woman was a “Roman” martyr as Tamora’s son Alarbus was a Gothic one; that the Queen of the Goths had the atheist Aaron as a paramour; and that it was the “popish” Lucius (like an Elizabethan Catholic exile in flight from a persecuting government then returning to overthrow it) who won over the Gothic army, not they who converted him. Shakespeare may well have composed Titus with the irenic sentiments expressed by the King in the last act of 1 Henry VI: “I always thought / It was both impious and unnatural / That such immanity and bloody strife / Should reign among professors of one faith” (5.1.11-14). If so, he presents a picture of reconciliation under Roman auspices--even if the reconciler Lucius (who first proposed the “sacrifice” of Alarbus [1.1.96-100]) is hardly an ideal peacemaker. And if a strain of historical allegory is to be seen in the play, it must be read in the context of its Catholic sources, Southwell’s Supplication and (as will be shown) his other writings.
In Titus Andronicus, clouds of irony and cynicism darken the glory of the martyr’s sacrifice. To understand more about Shakespeare’s attitude towards the “fools of Time” (as he calls martyrs in Sonnet 124), it is necessary to anatomize that most sanguinary drama in the light offered by Southwell’s Epistle of Comfort, a work more extensively devoted to the theme of martyrdom than is his Humble Supplication and much less infused with worldly prudence. Since Southwell addresses the work to those marked for martyrdom themselves and not to those who have the power to take away their lives, he sees no need to speak diplomatically to or about the Queen whose ministers command the courts, the torture chambers, and the sites of execution. The political establishment as a whole appears unprincipled and barbaric, and in God’s good time, Southwell is sure, will reap what it has sown. His purpose is not primarily, as in the Supplication, to win toleration or a respite for the afflicted, but to confirm them in their determination to give up their property, their freedom, or their blood. He makes little of the delights of earthly existence and much of its tribulations. In the warfare which is life, he declares, “How muche more ought we to glorye in our martyrdomes, and not only condemne, but highlye prayse our heavenly Captayn, for exposing us to these bloody frayes” (132v). In the scale of virtues,
All must of force yelde to martyrdome, whose glory is unvalewable, whose measure infinite, whose victorye unspotted, whose vertue honourable, whose tytle inestimable, whose triumph exceding great. To our blood the gates of heaven flye open, with our blood the fyre of hell is quenched, in our blood our soules are beautifyed, our bodyes honoured, the divel suppressed, and God glorified.(159v)
Not the least consequence of this sacrifice is that martyrs “shedd their bloode . . . for newe offspring to arise” (145r)--their blood is the seed of the Church.
It should be clear by now how well Shakespeare knew this book. Indications that it made its way into Titus are of several kinds. Of the names and titles found in the play, for example (only three of which are in the eighteenth-century chapbook which may or may not derive from a source for Titus), the following appear in the Epistle, sometimes fully spelled out, sometimes abbreviated, sometimes implied as the praenomen of a Roman character: Aaron (11v); Titus, Lucius, Quintus, and Marcus (64v-66r); Valentinus (81v); kings of the Goths (86v) (cf. Queen of the Goths); Mutius (that is, Mutius Scaevola, the loss of whose hand is more notorious than that of Titus’s extremity [124r])--as well as the “Saint Steven” so important to the Clown (123v, 137r, 156v, 163r, 164v). This list is even more impressive than the one from Plutarch’s Life of Scipio Africanus, usually considered a “source” of Shakespeare’s nomenclature. The Epistle’s grouping together the names of the Andronici in close proximity, and its mention of the ruler of the “Gothes” and of Mutius the handless are especially noteworthy. Its allusion to Aaron is intriguing as well; for if one may detect in the name of Titus’s Moor a reminiscence of Marlowe’s Jew of Malta (the name of Ithamore in that play, who in some ways resembles Shakespeare’s Moor, may derive from Ithamar, son of the biblical Aaron [Numbers 4:28]), Southwell’s reference to the biblical priest is pertinent to Shakespeare’s tale in a different way. In his Epistle he tells of the “murmuring” of Aaron and his sister Miriam against Moses for marrying an Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12), thus perhaps helping to associate the priest’s name with the play’s miscegenation.
There are a number of scattered passages in which Titus echoes the Epistle. Southwell describes the emperor Constantine’s kissing the scars of martyrs (155r), as Titus kissed the wounded mouth of his “mart’red” daughter (3.1.81, 120). The Jesuit maintains that the “swordes” of persecutors, which have disemboweled saints for centuries, have but “plowed and tilled” the Church rather than destroyed it (123v, 149v, 157v). Aaron threatens with his sword to “plough . . . the bowels” of anyone who would harm his child (4.2.87). Southwell reports that “Flaccus the Prefect,” after he had martyred a bishop, was “stroken by an Angell [and] did vomit out his intrailes” (200v; preceded by “For why” [that is, “because”] on 199r). In an agony of grief Titus cries out: “For why my bowels cannot hide her woes, / But like a drunkard I must vomit them” (3.1.230-31).
The most striking set of parallels is to be found between the Epistle’s language on a few pages that begin at Chapter 7, and that of the scene in Titus of the violated Lavinia’s discovery by her uncle Marcus (2.4). The astonished Marcus (“If I do wake, some planet strike me down, / That I may slumber an eternal sleep!”) asks his niece to
Speak . . . what stern ungentle hands
Have lopp’d and hew’d and made thy body bare
Of her two branches, those sweet ornaments. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why dost thou not speak to me?
Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,
Like to a bubbling fountain stirr’d by the wind,
Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips,
Coming and going with thy honey breath.
Be sure some Tereus hath deflow’red thee,
And lest thou shouldst detect him, cut thy tongue. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And notwithstanding all this loss of blood,
As from a conduit with three issuing spouts,
Yet do thy cheeks look red as Titan’s face. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Shall I speak for thee . . . ?
. . . . . . . . . . .
Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopp’d,
Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
One hour’s storm will drown the fragrant meads,
What will whole months of tears thy father’s eyes?
With many of these words and images Southwell defines the stern necessities of the martyr’s lot. “The loppinge time has come,” he says to those who will soon know the sight of their own “blood and slaughtered limmes”; the “branches . . . of full growth are lopped”; bodies are “hewed” so that the tree of the Church may sprout more abundantly (93v-94r, 126r). Changing the metaphor, as Shakespeare does, the Comforter declares, “Your veynes are conduittes, out of which [God] meaneth to drive the streames” (93v), and the streams become a scarlet river: “martirdome is the ryver Jordan” (141r). Now is the time, “whyle this wind [of crisis] is stirring,” when the winnower comes with his fan to separate chaff from wheat (97r-v)--or rather from “sweet roses,” for such are martyrs (114v), sweet with “Sampsons honicombe . . . , taken out of the Lyons mouth” (94v). Southwell even speaks of two women of the ancient world whose tongues, like Lavinia's, were torn out (though by themselves). (124r, 177v). A host of other words are shared by the two passages, among them: “plannetes,” “eternall,” “sleepe,” “sterne” (a homograph), “ornamentes,” “buble,” “fountaine,” “cutt,” “tongues,” “bloodye . . . losse,” “face,” “storme . . . drown,” and (comparable to the “oven” of the heart turned to “cinders” by suppressed grief), “the chimneye of our fleshe” wherein the flame of virtue, hidden in the “ashes” of “memorye” may be “quenched” by our iniquity. The phrase “whole months” occurs only here in Shakespeare’s works, probably because he read “whole monethes” in that part of the Epistle which contributed so much else to Marcus’s aria (98v.)
More evidence of the Jesuit’s influence on Titus can be provided from the Jesuit’s poems and other prose. According to the OED, Shakespeare’s “a wilderness of tigers” in Titus 3.1.54 was the first use of “wilderness” with the metaphorical meaning of “A mangled, confused, or vast collection or assemblage of persons or things” (cf. MV 3.1.122-23). In fact, Southwell anticipated the playwright in the Epistle unto his Father (1588-9), where he had written of a “wilderness of serpents” (EF, 17). Titus contains the only occurrence of the word “unjustice” in Shakespeare (the Quarto reading); “unjustice” is also in Marie Magdalens Funeral Teares (32r). The phrase “sandy plot” is found in Shakespeare’s Titus as well as in the ballad about Titus Andronicus; it also appears in Southwell’s “A Phansie turned into a sinner’s complaint” (129), suggesting that the ballad’s expression derived from the play, which reflects Shakespeare’s memory of Southwell’s poem. Also comparable are the expressions “we are but shrubs, no cedar we” (Tit 4.3.46) and “Our Cedar now is shrunk into a shrub” (SPC, 743).
The effect of Southwell’s writings on Titus is of such extent and quality that one must imagine Shakespeare deliberately seeking them out for inspiration; and he had to seek them where they were to be found. It must be assumed that the Humble Supplication, distributed in manuscript and not printed until 1600, was available to the playwright only through the Catholic underground. The Epistle of Comfort had been printed without license on a secret press by Southwell himself; it was eventually taken into “custody” by the government, and, like the Supplication, must have come to Shakespeare surreptitiously--perhaps through the Southampton circle, for Southampton House was a known depository of Catholic books. Surely the martyrs about whom he took the trouble to read were no mere “grist” for his “mill.” He wrote of them with some admiration and sympathy, if also with consternation. He also wrote of martyr-makers, however, and in such a way as to complicate his development of the entire theme of martyrdom.
In Titus Andronicus the lords of state are unprincipled and vicious, but they are not the only martyr-makers. It is Roman piety, “cruel” and “irreligious,” expressed in “Roman rites,” that creates the first sacrificial victim:
Alarbus’ limbs are lopp’d
And entrails feed the sacrificing fire,
Whose smoke like incense doth perfume the sky.
Alarbus’s execution, combining features of Mary Tudor’s burnings for heresy and Elizabeth’s disembowellings and quarterings for “treason,” is appalling from either perspective; and it is ultimately the doing of Titus, “surnamed” (only in Shakespeare) “Pius” (1.1.23). The name is Virgilian, like Lavinia’s; but it is also papal. The militant Pius V was the pope who excommunicated the English queen in 1570, beginning the transformation of the English Catholic Community into a church of martyrs. Like Titus, then, he believed in the necessity of sacrificing his children to maintain the purity of Roman principle. A figure of great austerity and reformist zeal, Pius had been before his election to the papacy Inquisitor General of Christendom. As pope he contributed his own forces to the European victory over the Turks at Lepanto, as Titus’s military prowess saved Roman civilization from the depredations of the Goths. Like Titus, Pius was at his election offered, but unlike Titus did not reject, the white “pallium” (Shakespeare’s [and Peele’s] “palliament” [1.1.182]), a form of which popes had come to wear (as some believe) in imitation of the Roman Emperors. And as Titus saw his son Lucius off into exile, from which he might return to recover Rome from criminals and infidels, Pius encouraged his British sons into exile on the Continent, that they might recall their brothers and sisters, now ruled by heretics and politicians, to communion with Rome.
Titus is not Pius, of course, but suggests him, revealing some affinities between ancient and modern “Romanness.” And it is the suggestiveness of plot, character, and allusion rather than any set of allegorical correspondences which indicates that Shakespeare’s mind in composing Titus Andronicus was engaged by the bloody history of Europe’s and especially England’s religious conflicts. Hence the extremes of mutilation in the play, not hyperbolically expressive but mimetic of the tortures inflicted in houses and dungeons, of the hacking and hewing at Tyburn and elsewhere, and of the inquisitorial fires. Hence the veiled reference to “limbo” (3.1.149) (a prison where many Catholics died after their arrests); and the allusion to a dispute, at least as old as that between Tyndale and Thomas More, between Catholics and Protestants over the difference between “charity” and “love” (4.2.43). Hence the “ruinous monastery” and (so styled by the atheist Aaron) the “popish tricks and ceremonies” (5.1.21, 76).
Ovid and Seneca, one might say, provided a public playwright political cover with their convenient analogs, in the tales of Philomela and Thyestes, of the hatred and gruesome slaughter that Shakespeare needed no literary tradition to know. It would have been rash for him to make more explicit than he did his sympathy for the martyred and his contempt for an unprincipled state and its “martyrquellers” (as Southwell called them [EC, 212v]). Even so, the play that he wrote must have spoken with a special force to a certain part of his audience, moderate lay Catholics who might have seen the play even in its initial productions by the acting company of Lord Strange. For many of them, who wished to preserve an integrity of conscience but did not yearn for the glory of martyrdom, both the Machiavellianism of the Goths and the austere Romanitas of Titus were cause for dismay, reminding them of the religious politics of their own time. Fully aware of their government’s manipulations, oppressions, and butcheries, they also knew that Rome was fierce and bloody in its ideals, that its martyrs were sometimes, like Lavinia before her ravishment (2.3.66-84), self-righteous, or like the Clown in his opportunistic use by Titus, naive . These Catholics listened to Roman voices like Southwell’s and knew them to be sincere. The Jesuit missionary risked his life every day for the doctrine he preached and was to “witness” to it himself by his own martyrdom. But his ideal was preternaturally hard:
a gloryous martyr of our dayes . . . , having well understood, when the sentence of his condemnation was red that he should be drawen upon a hurdle to the place of execution, then hanged till he were halfe dead, afterwarde unboweled, his head cut of, his body quartered, his quarters boyled, and sett upp in such and such places, he turned unto the people, & with a smiling countenance sayd, And all this is but one death (EC, 123v).
In some sense Titus’s dry laughter after his daughter’s martyrdom, his sons’ execution, and his own mutilation (“I have not another tear to shed” [3.1.264, 266]) is a perverse analog of the religious and almost incomprehensible joy in Richard White’s “smiling countenance.” It is the first stage of Titus’s transformation from a Roman of antique, inflexible, and alarming principle into the maniacal revenger who at play’s end is a feral comedian little better than the criminals he wittily disgusts and slaughters. The old Roman’s sufferings evacuate his soul, to make room not for beatific grace, but for a savage prosecutorial passion. When he kills his already “mart’red” daughter, whether or not to annul her shame (as he says) and to kill his own sorrow (5.2.46-7), the act, as Hamlet would say, has “no relish of salvation in it.” Southwell would surely not have endorsed Titus’s murders and his proleptic mockery of the Eucharistic feast. “Their mother daintily hath fed,” gloats the satisfied avenger, “Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred” (5.3.61-2)--as after Christ’s death the Virgin Mary, Southwell noted in a poem, would “drink” in the sacrament her son’s “dearest blood” and eat his flesh too (“Sinne’s heavie loade,” 31). The cook who grinds, bakes, and serves the flesh, blood, and bones of criminals is no different from persecutors of the early Christians, who turned them, as Southwell reported, into “the wheate of Christe . . . to be ground with the teeth of wilde beasts” so that they became “pure and cleane bread” (EC, 197v). As a priest of Christ, Southwell could not but affirm his master’s injunction to forgive one’s enemies. Catholics, he promises, will pray “for their good that torment us” (HS, 35); saints, “Though they be stroken . . . , stande not to reveng” (EC, 114v).
A priest, however, who lives daily with the thought of his own torture and death and who must frequently endure the report or sight of what he considers the judicial brutalization and murder of the innocent may not always remember the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount. Southwell warns the persecutors who send God’s servants to heaven that there they shall be “continuall soliciters with God for revenge against theyre murderers” (EC, 199v). This kind of revenge is only justice, he believes. And he finds in the Old Testament a vision of a punishing God adequate to his own anger, a God whose thoughts are as fierce as those of Titus, though the deity seems to have a better right to them:
You which feede in blood, and lifte upp your eyes to your uncleanesse, & shedd innocent blood: thynke you to possesse the lande by inheritance? Nay rather I will deliver thee over unto blood and blood shall persecute thee. . . . Yea and I will meat [that is, “feed”] the enemyes of my church with theyre owne flesh, and they shall be dronken with theyr owne bloode, as it were with newe wyne (Ezekiel 33: 25-26; 35:6; Isaiah 49:26-27; EC, 209v-210r).
Southwell is scrupulous to leave “revenge” in the hands of the Lord. But history shows that the Lord may work in the world through fallible or wicked human agents--or allow crazed ones to have their way in it. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. Those insane with grief or grievance will sometimes try to find sanction in religion for the violent redress of their wrongs, as the Gunpowder Plot would prove. Not all, then, who suffer for “truth” or “justice” will become martyrs; some will become only psychological and political casualties, and perhaps executioners themselves. Shakespeare knew this very well, and would understand the problem even more deeply in writing Hamlet. He saw both martyrs and the “merely” persecuted as victims of a war in which one side found the shedding of blood expedient and the other a moral retaliation or heroic sacrifice. In either case, despite the fervor and even the exaltation of the parties, he seems to have felt that their attitude towards the spilling of blood was either too casual or too enthusiastic. The comic tone that informs much of the violence in Titus--in the visual jokes made of severed limbs, for example, the silly debate about who will deprive Titus of his hand, the cartoonish glee that Titus shows in his role as “pasty” chef--is intended to protest complacent acceptance of butchery, doing or receiving it, in the name of anything. An audience may laugh at the spectacle of Lavinia’s carrying away in her teeth the severed hand of her father, not because the action is pointlessly and cruelly farcical, but because the characters seem too much at home in a world of quotidian horrors and are blind to their own preposterousness. From this point of view (and of course there are others in the play, more sympathetic to those who suffer), Titus is a tragic satire.
When The Comedy of Errors was performed at Gray’s Inn at the end of 1594, Robert Southwell had only a few weeks left to live. He would be given no pardon, like Egeon, but would suffer, on the twenty-first of February, the kind of butchery that a tragedy like Titus almost made too absurd to seem real. In the eighth chapter of his Epistle of Comfort, he had celebrated the “prison” not only as a place of honor for those who “suffered in a good cause,” but as a haven of safety from a pernicious world, as a cage where birds (as Shakespeare would recall in writing King Lear) could sing more than their “naturall note, both sweetlyer and oftener, then abroade,” as a “paradyse where God him selfe delighteth to walke and taketh pleasure in the constancye of his afflicted servantes” (100r-v, 103r). That this stern vision arising from an absolute faith required a radical simplification of mind Southwell must have known as he enunciated it. After he himself had been tortured and imprisoned for almost a year, he was allowed to write a letter to Robert Cecil, in which his miseries led him to ask for a merciful release, either from jail or from life. He was dignified in his request (though naively calculating in asking Cecil to recall the favors that he had done in Italy for the powerful counselor’s nephew). The letter conveyed, however, a sense that principle could not always have its way with flesh and blood, and when it could, only with the greatest difficulty. The doomed priest knew, as did Southampton and Shakespeare, that the sometimes conflicting claims of life and conscience were often too complex for the terrifying simplicities of doctrine to resolve.
After Southwell died, Shakespeare did not forget him. The Jesuit’s writings left their mark on Shakespeare’s work even to the end of the playwright’s career. It is more difficult to demonstrate but not less true that Shakespeare continued to address Southampton after the earl had settled the affairs of his young adulthood, assumed a radical political stance with his friend the earl of Essex, and survived the crisis of his treason. If Southampton listened to the playwright’s words, he heard among them those of their executed kinsman.
To Chapter 3
. See Stopes, Southampton, 70-72. Southampton had been admitted a member of Gray’s Inn as early as 1588, when he was only 14 (Rowse, Southampton, 51). Stopes claims, however, that in 1594 he “might still be reckoned among the students; he could not have risen higher than an inner barrister, and there is no record that he had risen so far” (71). The account of the Christmas revels at the Inn in 1594-5, published as Gesta Grayorum in 1688, reports that on the evening of the performance “there was a great Presence of Lords, Ladies, and worshipful Personages, that did expect some notable Peformance at that time.” And it specifically places the earl of Southampton at another “Entertainment,” of “the 3d. of January,” six evenings later. (Greg, ed. Gesta Grayorum: or the History of the High and Mighty Prince Henry, Prince of Purpoole, 20, 25).
. See Dorsch, ed., The Comedy of Errors, 1-6. For evidence of a date of composition after the publication of Nashe’s Four Letters Confuted (1592), see Tobin, “Dr. Pinch and Gabriel Harvey,” 23-25.
. P. 135.
. See On the Compositional Genetics of The Comedy of Errors, 37-56.
. See Baldwin, Hanging, 21; and G. R. Elton, ed., The Tudor Constitution, 434.
. Bullough, in Sources, reprints the relevant passages from Gower’s Confessio Amantis (1.50-54). According to Baldwin, a “trade war” in Gascoigne’s Supposes suggested the one found in the Comedy (Hanging, 141); but I find little in Supposes to warrant the suggestion.
. Baldwin, Hanging, 139-40; and Pollen, ed., Documents Relating to the English Martyrs, 301-3. The assumption by priests of a “merchant’s” identity was a ploy widely known.
. Hanging, 141.
. Genetics of the Comedy, 158, 151.
. Genetics of the Comedy, 248-9.
. Modern scholars have doubted Paul’s authorship of Ephesians, but Shakespeare, of course, would not.
. Hanging, 135-139.
. Hanging, 135-8.
. See Schoenbaum, Life, 286. The question is Ian Wilson’s, in Shakespeare: The Evidence, 320-1.
. Walsham, Church Papists, 85. Catholic clergy (though with some disagreement among themselves) protested the sinfulness of such practices, calling upon the laity to baptize their own children, and even to refrain from the practice of taking the newly baptized to an “heretical” church for the formal ceremonies that would obviate legal and hereditary problems. The protests were lodged because the practice was apparently common (See Holmes, ed. Elizabethan Casuistry, 99; also John Bossy, The English Catholic Community:1570-1850, 132-5).
. See Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 481-2.
. Brownlow, ed., Harsnett, 53-4.
. Milward, Shakespeare’s Religious Background, 148-9; Brownlow, ed., Harsnett, 60.
. Baldwin, Genetics of the Comedy, 40.
. D. P. Walker has noted that a schoolmaster assisted priests in the exorcism of a young French girl from Vervins in 1566 (Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries, 22). In England, however, as Harsnett everywhere makes clear in his Declaration, Catholic exorcisms were meant to emphasize the special character of clerical authority and power; and this was probably the rule everywhere.
. Holmes, ed., Elizabethan Casuistry, 89-90.
. See Brownlow, ed., Harsnett; also Murphy, Darkness and Devils: Exorcism and King Lear; Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations, 94-128.
. Wilfrid R. Prest, The Inns of Court under Elizabeth I and the Early Stuarts, 176-8. See also Geoffrey de C. Parmiter, “Elizabethan Popish Recusancy in the Inns of Court,” 1-60. Donna B. Hamilton, wishing to emphasize the Puritan character of the Inns, and of Gray’s in particular, refers to Prest’s conclusion that there were at the Inns (taken as a whole), in the half-century before 1640, “‘a relative scarcity of Catholics and High-Churchmen’ and an ‘an overwhelming preponderance of puritans (broadly defined), among those whose preferences can be classified,’” (Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England, 62). She fails to consider, however, Prest’s analysis of the “Papist” presence at Gray’s, and Parmiter’s study of the same subject.
. See Challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests, 591-92; CSPD, 1581-90, 448; Yates, A Study of Love’s Labour’s Lost, 29-33. Challoner writes of Wells: “for his skill in languages and for his eloquence, [he] was desired by the most noble Earl of Southampton [the second earl], a most constant professor of the Catholic faith, to live in his house, as he did, much to his own commendation for several years” (591). According to government reports, Wells was lodging in Southampton House in Holborn, just opposite Gray’s, at about 1587. By 1591, he had his own residence in Gray’s Inn Lane. Yates thought it “probable” that for a time he was the young Southampton’s tutor (31). Wells apparently had been an observer of the exorcisms at Denham house in 1586 (see Brownlow, ed., Harsnett, 79, 168). Swithin’s brother Gilbert was one of the executors of the second earl’s will (Akrigg, Southampton, 16n).
Under government interrogation in 1587, Wells spoke of George Cotton of Warblington (father of Southwell’s friend and cousin John) as his cousin (The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Ven. Swithin Wells”). He may then have been related not only to Southwell, but to Shakespeare and Southampton. See the genealogical chart in Chapter 1.
. See Chapter 1.
. Bullough, Sources, 1.38, 50.
. See The Riverside Shakespeare, Textual Notes, 136.
. See, for example, Foakes, ed., The Comedy of Errors, xxix-xxx.
. See Judges 6-7.
. A “jeweller” in Menaechmi is only mentioned, having no role in Plautus’s play.
. See Elton, ed., The Tudor Constitution, 418-32; Devlin, Southwell, 305-306.
. Her arithmetic is contradicted by numbers in others parts of the play, but such inconsistency is not uncommon in Shakespeare.
. Shakespeare may have been writing his Comedy at least partly in 1591 (as many believe). Perhaps it is only an oddity that the Protestant Elizabeth had in that year been on the throne for thirty-three years, attempting to keep Rome’s children from their mother; that in the same year, Southampton was eighteen years old (the age at which Antipholus of Syracuse “became inquisitive / After his brother” (1.1.125-6); that in the same year, Southwell, subject to Ephesian-like penal laws, had been five years seeking to recover souls in England, as Egeon had spent “five summers” roaming in search of his son (1.1.132). In 1594, when the Comedy was performed at Gray’s Inn, Southwell himself was thirty-three years old.
. Compare also Adriana’s exhortation, later in her speech, “Keep then fair league and truce with thy true bed, / I live dis-tain’d, thou undishonoured” (145-6) with Southwell’s lines on Joseph’s doubts about his betrothal to Mary: “was our sacred league so soone forgot . . . ; / Could such a spouse be stain’d with such a spot?”(“Josephs Amazement,” 38-40).
. Southwell’s phrasing adds elements lacking in Menaechmi: “Apollo commaunds me that I should rende out hir eyes” (Warner’s translation, in Bullough, Sources, 1.31).
. The “calve’s-skin” is the uniform of the new Adam, the bailiff, “a fellow all in buff,” a “hound that . . . carries poor souls to hell” (4.2.36, 39-40). In fact, he has brought Antipholus to “Tartar limbo, worse than hell” (4.2.32). Hell is here a debtor’s prison. But “limbo,” as Catholics in an audience would know well, was also a place where priests were imprisoned (see Caraman, ed., The Other Face: Catholic Life under Elizabeth I, 224, 243). Southwell, speaking in the Epistle of Comfort of “the dungeons of Saintes,” proclaims that God sanctifies them, thereby defeating the devil, who usually keeps them for his “hell houndes.” (100v).
. Paul Jorgensen, ed., The Comedy of Errors, Introduction.
. Quiller-Couch and Wilson, eds., The Comedy of Errors, xxiv.
. Jorgensen, ed., The Comedy of Errors, 55.
. Patricia A. Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins, 56.
. See Bentley, The Life of the Drama, 221-2.
. Life of the Drama, 255.
. Barbara Freedman: Staging the Gaze: Postmodernism, Psychoanalysis and Shakespearean Comedy, 103-4.
. See above.
. Staging the Gaze, 100, 104, 107.
. Shakespeare from the Margins, 80, 75, 81, 82.
. Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England, 67, 78, 80-3, 60, xii.
. See Freedman, “Egeon’s Debt,” 381, and Staging the Gaze, 101; Parker, “Elder and Younger: The Opening Scene of The Comedy of Errors,” 326-7, and Shakespeare from the Margins, 56-7.
. See “Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors,” 50; also, Vincent Petronella, “Structure and Theme through Separation and Union in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors,” 481-87.
. See MacCary, “The Comedy of Errors: A Different Kind of Comedy,” 525-36.
. Staging the Gaze, 105-6.
. See MacCary, Comedy of Errors, 525; and his chapter on the play in Friends and Lovers: The Phenomenology of Desire in Shakespearean Comedy; also Freedman, Staging the Gaze, 102-3.
. Anne Barton, Introduction to The Comedy of Errors in The Riverside Shakespeare, 82.
. J.C. Maxwell, ed., Titus Andronicus, xi, xxiii. The Quarto’s title page also advertises that Titus had been played by the companies of the earl of Pembroke and the earl of Sussex. Some scholars have suggested an amalgamated Strange/Pembroke/Sussex production (Jonathan Bate, ed., Titus Andronicus, 74-77). In any event, the play’s subject matter would have been of most interest to Lord Strange.
Brian Vickers has summarized and complemented arguments made over the last century that parts of Titus reveal the hand of George Peele (Shakespeare, Co-author, 148-243, 449-73). Vickers proposes that the play is a “collaboration” (161) rather than Shakespeare’s reworking and continuation of a fragment by the older playwright. The unity of the play, however, not just as a dramatic action but as a thematic conception, suggests that Shakespeare was responsible not only for most of the play’s scenes but for its rationale--no matter what the nature of the “co-authorship.” (See Ralph Berry’s review of Vickers’ book in Review of English Studies, 685). Although the Quarto of 1594 was published anonymously, Titus was considered Shakespeare’s by Francis Meres in 1598; and Meres surely voiced the view general at that time that Shakespeare was the play’s “author.” There had been no attempt to signal collaborative effort, as there had been when Marlowe and Nashe (with Marlowe’s name given prominence) were identified as co-authors of Dido: Queen of Carthage on the title page of the 1594 edition. One can imagine, even assume, that Shakespeare would modify parts of the play for which he may not have been primarily responsible. Thus, the reference to “priest and holy water” (1.1.323) (which made Dover Wilson wonder why Peele would describe a pagan temple as “a Catholic church” [Titus, 107], may be one of the “Catholic” anachronisms purposefully introduced by Shakespeare into the play, mostly in scenes indubitably his.
Signs of Southwell’s influence are almost entirely in those scenes which Vickers and others ascribe to Shakespeare rather than to Peele (Peele’s “share” being discerned in 1.1, 2.1-2, and 4.1). Important to Shakespeare’s purpose in the play, however, are at least two passages from 1.1 that may be Peele’s or derive from him. In the first, the word “palliament” (1.1.182) as I point out below, may have had allusive significance. Peele perhaps invented the term in 1593 for use in his poem The Honour of the Garter, apparently combining the Latin words “pallium” (a Greek mantle) and “paludamentum” (a Roman military cloak), though he did not clearly understand what either a pallium or paludamentum was, calling the “palliament” a “chaperon” or hood (see Baldwin, On the Literary Genetics of Shakespeare’s Plays: 1592-1594, 404-12). Since it is not clear that the author of the first act in Titus intended to refer to a hood rather than a “toga candidata,” (Baldwin, 411), one must wonder if Peele were responsible for both usages. At any rate, Shakespeare, in a maneuver that would have required only slight modification of Peele’s text, seems to have assured the “palliament” a suggestive meaning by giving Titus the surname of a pope, who like the emperor, wore a “pallium” (see below). The second passage contains the sacrifice of Alarbus. As it appears in the first quarto, this episode seems to have been (pace J. S. G. Bolton, Marco Mincoff, and MacDonald Jackson, cited and supported by Vickers, Co-Author, 452-55; cf. Bate, ed., Titus Andronicus, 99-103) an addition to, or at least a revision of, the original text (see The Riverside Shakespeare, 1097-98). Alarbus’s name is missing from the original stage directions at line 69, which announce the presence of only “two” sons, Chiron and Demetrius. Some of the episode’s language echoes passages in Peele’s works (Vickers, Co-Author. 177-78), but the words “Religiously,” “Roman rites,” and “incense,” appropriate to the sixteenth-century religious context to which the play as a whole refers, are not in the parallel material. Even in a “Peelean” scene, Shakespeare’s hand may be present. See, below, the discussion of 1.130-45. On other questions raised by Vickers’s study see below, Chapter 4, n. 48.
. See Klause, Phoenix and Turtle, 222, 230n61.
. The Shakespearian Acting Companies, 34-35.
. Maxwell, ed., Titus, xxiv.
. Metz, Shakespeare’s Earliest Tragedy: Studies in Titus Andronicus, 121.
. Bald, ed., Humble Supplication, 45, 72.
. See The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Shelley, Richard.”
. See the genealogical chart in Chapter One.
. Some editors have suspected compositorial problems in the text of 4.3.95-107, believing that a “false start” failed to be removed in printing. Eugene Waith in his edition of the play would eliminate the lines that refer to “supplication,” leaving only those in which Titus speaks of an “oration”--and thus discarding a purposeful allusion (Titus Andronicus, 211-12). Jonathan Bate has noted, on the other hand, that the entire passage has worked well in performance (102).
. In the eighteenth-century chapbook version of Titus’s story, which many scholars believe derives from Shakespeare’s major “source” for the play, arrows are shot randomly into the air without messages attached. Shakespeare is likely to have had Southwell’s word-carrying and virgin-queen-seeking shafts in mind, whether or not he was thinking of a different tale. For various reasons, I agree with the conclusions of Mincoff, Hunter, Jackson, and Bate (see Bate, ed., Titus Andronicus, 83-85) that the play preceded the chapbook narrative’s source; but I will not here assume the priority of one or the other work.
. For example:
[criminal] words and actions . . . remitted I do remit these young men’s heinous faults
languish in . . . lingring Combers ; languishing away . . . ling’ring languishment
poore Farmers . . . Cattell poor men’s cattle
are drawen nearer to the brinke I have no strength to pluck thee to the brink
[“brink” appears elsewhere in Ss only in Timon
. Kliger, The Goths in England, quoted in Bate, ed., Titus Andronicus, 20.
. Bate, ed., Titus Andronicus, 20-21.
. See Klause, “Politics, Heresy, and Martyrdom,” portions of which have been, in modified form, incorporated into this essay.
. Bullough, Sources, 6.25. If the play is the product of collaboration, the influence of Southwell indicates that Shakespeare may have been responsible for at least many of the characters’ names. “Bassianus” and “Saturninus,” however, appear in Herodian’s History of Twenty Roman Caesars, a source which Brian Vickers believes connects Titus with George Peele (Shakespeare, Co-Author, 189-91; see also G. K. Hunter, “Sources and Meaning in Titus Andronicus, in J. C. Gray, ed., Mirror up to Shakespeare, 171-88). Roman praenomina are, of course, everywhere in the ancient Roman historians. Aaron, Gothic rulers, and St. Steven are not.
. Bullough, Sources, 6.20.
. As Bate points out, in Golding’s Ovid, Pyramus’s “bloud did spin on hie / As when a Conduit pipe is crakt” (Titus Andronicus, 188). Critics have commented on the Ovidian character of this speech. But it breathes the air of contemporary as well as ancient Rome.
. Fols. 96v, 101r, 116v, 96v, 103v, 118r, 106v, 96r, 108v, 101r, 124r, 105v, 119v. In an earlier part of the Epistle, Southwell describes as an inspiration for martyrs the body of Christ hanging on the cross: “[he] openeth five fountaynes, gushinge out with his innocent blood . . .” (26v). Compare Lavinia’s bleeding “fountain” and her “conduit with three issuing spouts.”
. Bald, ed., ix-xvii, 47-49.
. Devlin, Life of Robert Southwell, 145.
. See Chapter Two.
. On the historical points, see Meyer, England and the Catholic Church under Queen Elizabeth; Cross and Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.
. Caraman, ed., The Other Face: Catholic Life Under Elizabeth I, 224, 243.
. Thomas More, The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, Louis A. Schuster, et al., eds., The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, 8.199-203. The distinction is recognized in Marie Magdalens Funeral Teares, A4r.
. See Brownlow, “Shakespeare and Southwell,” 27.
. See “Southwell: His Letter to Sir Robert Cecil, Now Earl of Salisbury, and Lord Treasurer of England,” in Brown, ed., Two Letters, 77-85.
. On plays written in the aftermath of Southwell’s death, see Klause, “King John” and “Historical Religion in The Merchant of Venice.”
|Copyright © John Klause 2013.|