Sunday, July 10, 2011

Famous William Shakespeare of Stratford - 4

Shakespeare in Stratford and London: Ten Eyewitnesses Who Saw Nothing  -  Part 3
by Ramon L. Jiménez

Thomas Greene

Our third eyewitness connects Michael Drayton and William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon even more closely. In the 1603 edition of one of Drayton’s major poems, The Barons’ Wars, there appeared a commendatory sonnet—a Shakespearean sonnet—by one Thomas Greene.ii   Also in 1603, the bookseller and printer William Leake published a poem by this same Thomas Greene titled A Poet’s Vision and a Princes Glorie. In seventeen pages of forgettable verse, Greene predicted a renaissance of poetry under the new King, James I. (For more than twenty years, beginning in 1596, William Leake was the holder of the publishing rights to Venus and Adonis [Chambers 1:544].)

Orthodox scholars agree that this Thomas Greene was none other than the London solicitor for the Stratford Corporation, and the Town Clerk of Stratford-upon-Avon for more than ten years (Dobson and Wells 173). He had such a close relationship with the Shakespeares that he named two of his children William and Anne. He and his wife and children lived in the Shakespeare household at New Place for many months during 1609 and 1610 (Schoenbaum 282). He was also the only Stratfordian contemporary of Shakespeare to mention him in his diary. This was in connection with the Welcombe land enclosure matter, where he referred to him as “my cosen Shakspeare” (Campbell 272).

Thomas Greene was also a friend of the dramatist John Marston, and they were both resident students at the Middle Temple during the mid-1590s. Yet nowhere in his diary or in his letters that have survived, does Thomas Greene—apparently the author of a Shakespearean sonnet himself—even hint that the Shakespeare he knew was a poet. What a shame that Greene made no comment in his diary about a book called SHAKE-SPEARE’S SONNETS, with its strange dedication to “our ever-living poet,” that was published in London in 1609, about the time he was living in the Shakespeare household. Nor does he mention in his diary the death of the supposedly famous playwright in the spring of 1616. Mrs. Stopes wrote that “It has always been a matter of surprise to me that Thomas Greene, who mentioned the death of Mr. Barber, did not mention the death of Shakespeare.” For this she offered the astounding explanation—“Perhaps there was no need for him to make a memorandum of an event so important to the town and himself” (Stopes 1907, 89). Thomas Greene’s failure to make any note of his friend’s dramatic genius is especially unusual because he knew him so well, and he was a published poet himself.

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Note: This is the same Thomas Greene mentioned earlier in the posts on Marston and Hall. Since Greene and Marston were friends, Marston had an excellent source for assessing William Shakespeare of Stratford.
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ii The text of the sonnet appears in v. 2 of Michael Drayton: Complete Works, J. W.
Hebel, K. Tillotson, and B.H. Newdigate, eds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1961.

Chambers, E. K. William Shakespeare, A Study of Facts and Problems. 2 v. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1930.

Dobson, Michael and Stanley Wells. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford:
OUP, 2001.

Schoenbaum, Samuel. William Shakespeare, A Compact Documentary Life. New York:
OUP, 1977.

Campbell, Oscar and E. G. Quinn, eds. The Reader's Encyclopedia of Shakespeare. New
York: MJF Books, 1966.

Stopes, Charlotte C.. Shakespeare’s Warwickshire Contemporaries. Stratford-upon-
Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1907.

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