Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shakespeare Evidence Review - John Davies

Next is John Davies of Hereford who, in 1610, published a volume entitled The Scourge of Folly, consisting mostly of poems to famous people and Davies's friends. One of these poems was addressed to Shakespeare:

To our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare.
Some say (good Will) which I, in sport, do sing,
Had'st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst bin a companion for a King;
And, beene a King among the meaner sort.
Some others raile; but, raile as they thinke fit,
Thou hast no railing, but a raigning Wit:
   And honesty thou sow'st, which they do reape;
   So, to increase their Stocke which they do keepe.

Response:  At first, this poem (or epigram) appears to show that Davies believed Will Shakspere, the actor, as to be also the playwright William Shake-Speare, since Terence was a Roman playwright. And the last line that says “to increase their Stocke” seems to suggest the creation of a ‘stock’ of plays that others benefited from. However, Terence was believed, both in Roman times (by Cicero) and in Elizabethan times (by Robert Ascham and John Florio) as a “Mask” for a patrician playwright (either Scipio or Laelius). And Davies would most likely be aware of this widespread belief about Terence. So why liken Will Shake-speare to Terence if not to suggest that he too was a mask for a similar hidden playwright? Others that likened Shake-Speare to an ancient author usually cited Plautus, who was generally regarded as the best Roman comedy playwright. Frances Meres does this as does Thomas Fuller. Since John Davies was a friend of Bacon’s, if he was in on Bacon’s secret, then he would go along with Bacon’s wish to keep that secret, though he may at times hint otherwise.

On the other hand again, Davies, in an earlier work, Microcosmos (1603) he wrote a poem about ‘Players’, some of whom did painting and poesy:

Players, I love ye and your Quality,
As ye are men that pass time, not abus’d:
And some I love for * painting , poesy

Then, to the left of this poem on the page are the initials W.S. and R.B. presumably standing for Will Shakspere and Richard Burbage (who was an amateur painter).

This poem seems more clearly to identify Will Shakspere as the poet “William Shake-Speare”, but on the other hand it was written 7 years prior to the one comparing Will Shake-speare to Terence. So, if Bacon was Shake-Speare, Davies may have learned of this after 1603 and kept up the secret, with possibly a hint otherwise. And again, if Bacon was Shake-Speare, and if Davies never did learn of this secret then the 1610 reference to “Our English Terence” may just have been a genuine compliment.

Interestingly, Davies, in that same The Scourge of Folly volume, wrote a sonnet to Francis Bacon:

To the royall, ingenious, and all-learned
         Knight, Sr. Francis Bacon

Thy Bounty, and the Beauty of thy Witt
Comprised in lists of Law and learned Arts,
Each making thee for great imployment fitt,
Which now thou hast, (though short of thy deserts,)
Compells my Pen to let fall shining Inke
And to bedew the Baies that deck thy Front;
And to thy Health in Helicon to drinke
As, to her Bellamour, the Muse is wont:
For, thou dost her embozom; and, dost use
Her company for sport twixt grave affaires:
And for that all thy Notes are sweetest Aires;
     My Muse thus notes thy worth in ev’ry Line,
     With ynke which thus she sugars; so, to shine.

So, here, though complimenting Bacon for his wit found in lists of Law and the learned arts, he also mentions “the Baies (bays) that deck thy front” (meaning the poet’s laurel wreath). The waters of Helicon that one would drink referred to the font of literary (especially poetic) inspiration. Davies also implies that Bacon’s Muse accompanies him for his ‘sport’ between grave affairs. Could this ‘sport’ be his hidden poetry and playwrighting?  In Bacon’s Promus (notebook) he had an entry that said “Ye law at Twick’nam for merrie tales”. N.B. Cockburn has analyzed this time of Bacon’s life and concludes that this time was between law terms that Bacon spent at his Twickenham residence for writing plays (merry tales).

In any case, there was, in the same book by Davies, one poem addressed to Will Shake-speare and another one to Bacon. But they don’t help us determine whether or not Davies believed Will Shakspere to be the author of the Shake-Speare works, or if he believed him not to be the author and was but helping to keep Bacon’s secret, assuming there was one.

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