Shakespeare in Stratford and London: Ten Eyewitnesses Who Saw Nothing - Part 3
by Ramon L. Jiménez
Another eyewitness is the poet and dramatist Michael Drayton, who was born and raised in Warwickshire, only about twenty-five miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. It is hard to imagine that Michael Drayton was unaware of Shakespeare. The two were almost exact contemporaries. They both wrote sonnets, and many critics have even found the influence of Shakespeare in Drayton’s poetry (Campbell 190-1). Also, they both wrote plays that appeared about the same time on the London stage in the late 1590s. In fact, in 1599 Drayton, along with Anthony Munday, Robert Wilson, and Richard Hathaway, wrote a play—Sir John Oldcastle—that was supposed to be a response to Shakespeare’s plays about Falstaff (Chambers 1:134).
In 1612 Drayton published the first part of Poly-Olbion, a poetical description of England, and a county-by-county history that included well-known men of every kind. In it were many references to Chaucer, to Spenser, and to other English poets. But in his section on Warwickshire, Drayton never mentioned Stratford-upon-Avon or Shakespeare, even though by 1612 Shakespeare was a well-known playwright. It seems that Drayton never connected the writer to the William Shakespeare he must have known in Stratford-upon-Avon.
How do we know he knew him? Many supporters of the Stratford theory think so. Samuel Schoenbaum wrote that it is “not implausible” that Drayton and Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson as well, had that “merry meeting” reported in the 1660s by John Ward, the vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon (Schoenbaum 296). In fact, more than one scholar has found evidence that Michael Drayton was the “Rival Poet” of the sonnets. But we have better evidence than that.
Drayton’s life is well-documented. He had a connection to the wealthy Rainsford family, who lived at Clifford Chambers, a couple of miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. Drayton had been in love with Lady Rainsford from the time she was Ann Goodere, a girl in the household in which he was in service in the 1580s. She was the subject of his series of love sonnets, Ideas Mirrour, published in 1594. Although she rejected him and married Henry Rainsford in 1595, Drayton hung around their household and made himself a friend of the family. He apparently never stopped loving her, and from the early 1600s until his death in 1631 he made frequent visits to their home at Clifford Chambers, sometimes staying all summer.
The Shakespearean scholar Charlotte Stopes was certain that Shakespeare would have been “an honored guest” at the Rainsford home because of the family’s literary interests, but there is no record of such a visit (Stopes 1907, 206). But even if Shakespeare may never have visited the Rainsfords, Dr. John Hall, the man who married his daughter certainly did. Hall was the Rainsfords family doctor and once treated Drayton for a fever, probably at the Rainsford home. The doctor made a record of it in his case book, and even noted that Drayton was an excellent poet (Lane 40-1). His treatment for Drayton’s fever was a spoonful of “syrup of violets,” but he did recover.
Another reason that Drayton must have been aware of a playwright named Shakespeare was that in 1619 Sir John Oldcastle, the play Drayton had written with three others, was printed by William Jaggard and Thomas Pavier with Shakespeare’s name on the title page (Chambers 1:533-4). This is certainly something an author would notice.
It is very probable that if Drayton thought that Dr. Hall’s father-in-law was the famous playwright and poet, he would have written or told someone about him. But there is no mention of Shakespeare anywhere in his substantial correspondence. In all his writings—the collected edition is in five volumes—despite his mention of more than a dozen contemporary poets and playwrights, Drayton never referred to William Shakespeare at all until more than ten years after Shakespeare’s death. When he finally did, he wrote four lines about what a good comedian he was. It is unclear whether he was referring to him as a playwright, an actor, or in some other capacity.
Campbell, Oscar and E. G. Quinn, eds. The Reader's Encyclopedia of Shakespeare. New
York: MJF Books, 1966.
Chambers, E. K. William Shakespeare, A Study of Facts and Problems. 2 v. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1930.
Stopes, Charlotte C.. Shakespeare’s Warwickshire Contemporaries. Stratford-upon-
Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1907.
Lane, Joan: John Hall and his Patients. Stratford-upon-Avon: The Shakespeare
Birthplace Trust, 1996.