Shakespeare in Stratford and London: Ten Eyewitnesses Who Saw Nothing - Part 7
by Ramon L. Jiménez
Sir Fulke Greville
A sixth eyewitness is Sir Fulke Greville, later Lord Brooke, whose family had lived near Stratford for more than two hundred years, and who must have known the Shakespeare family. He was born in 1554 at Beauchamp Court, less than ten miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, in the vicinity of Snitterfield, the home of Richard Shakespeare, grandfather of William. He was related to the Ardens, the family of Shakespeare’s mother, and displayed the arms of the Arden family on his own coat-of-arms (Adams 451).
Fulke Greville was a man of importance in Warwickshire. In 1592 he, Sir Thomas Lucy, and five others were appointed to a Commission to report on those who refused to attend church. In September of that year, the Commission reported to the Privy Council that nine men in the parish of Stratford-upon-Avon had not attended church at least once a month. Among the nine was John Shakespeare, father of William (M. Eccles 33). Throughout his life Fulke Greville sought preferment at court, and eventually became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Treasurer of the Navy. On the death of his father in 1606, Fulke Greville was appointed to the office his father had held—Recorder of Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon, and remained in it until his death in 1628. In this position he could hardly have been unaware of the Shakespeare family.
Fulke Greville was also a serious poet and dramatist. During the late 1570s he composed a cycle of 109 poems, forty-one of which were sonnets, and two decades later wrote three history plays. But he was one of those noblemen who disdained appearance in print, and in fact refused to allow any publication of his work while he was alive. The only work of his that appeared during his lifetime was an unauthorized printing of his play Mustapha in 1609. This was the same year that SHAKE-SPEARE’S SONNETS was published—probably without the permission of its author, supposedly his neighbor down the road.
Greville preferred the company of poets and philosophers, and his closest friends were the poets Edward Dyer and Philip Sidney. Greville was also acquainted with John Florio, Edmund Spenser, and Ben Jonson. Another poet and playwright William Davenant, who claimed to be a godson, or maybe a son, of William Shakespeare, entered Greville’s household as a page when he was eighteen (ODNB). Greville corresponded with the poet and playwright George Chapman (Crundell 137), who was mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598, as was William Shakespeare, as one of the best English playwrights. Greville was a patron of Samuel Daniel, the poet and playwright from nearby Somerset who dedicated "Musophilus,” probably his finest poem, to him in 1599. Both Chapman and Daniel were about the same age and from the same class as William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Greville’s plays have never been performed, and he is best known today for his biography of Philip Sidney, in which he wrote about both himself and Sidney, and their twenty-year friendship. A number of letters both to and from Fulke Greville have survived. Yet nowhere in any of Fulke Greville’s reminiscences, or in the letters he wrote or received, is there any mention of the well-known poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, who supposedly lived a few miles away.iii Charlotte Stopes wrote: “It is always considered strange that such a man should not have mentioned Shakespeare” (1907, 171). Fulke Greville has been described as “one of the leaders of the movement for the introduction of Renaissance Culture into England” (Whitfield 366). Yet so far as we know, Greville never made any connection between the resident of the nearby town and the dramatist who bore the identical name and who, more than any other, used Renaissance literary sources for his plays—William Shakespeare.
Adams, Joseph Q. A Life of William Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1923.
Eccles, Mark. Shakespeare in Warwickshire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
Whitfield, Christopher: “Some of Shakespeare’s Contemporaries in the Middle Temple—
III.” Notes & Queries 211 (1966) 363-69.
iii In Statesmen and Favourites of England since the Reformation (1665), David Lloyd asserted that Greville wished to be “known to posterity” as “Shakespeare’s and Ben Johnson’s master.” But he cited no evidence to support the claim, and it is generally considered to be a fabrication. See Chambers 2.250.
Stopes, Charlotte C.. Shakespeare’s Warwickshire Contemporaries. Stratford-upon-
Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1907.
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Note: The DNB says Fulke Greville had “a close personal intimacy with Francis Bacon” and “maintained friendly relations [with Bacon] to the last”. It was in a letter to Greville that Bacon wrote:
“ . . . For to be, as I told you, like a child following a bird, which when it is nearest flyeth and lighteth a little before, and then the child after it again, and so in infinitum, I am weary of it; as also of wearying my good friends”.
The use of the same image is noted by John Nichol, Bacon, Vol I. p 43 : It is interesting to find in Shake-speare's Coriolanus a near transcript of it : "I saw him run after a gilded butterfly; and when he had caught it, he let it go again, and after it again; and over and over he comes, and up again," Act I, s.iii.
Bacon was also closely connected to the Antiquarian Society which included George Carew, Baron of Clopton near Stratford-up-Avon and also Earl of Totnes of the same Clopton near Stratford-upon-Avon. A letter from Greville to Francis Bacon in 1591 indicates Greville and Francis Bacon were close and old friends. Certainly that friendship was formed while young Francis Bacon was growing up in Burghley House, and included Philip Sidney.