Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shakespeare Evidence Review - Leonard Digges

Leonard Digges

I also want to mention Leonard Digges, who had contributed the First Folio poem “To the Memory of the deceased Author Master W. Shakespeare”. It’s in his poem that the Stratford ‘Moniment’ is referenced. In the first omnibus edition of Shakespeare’s Poems (1640) there is another poem by Digges which has these lines:

Upon Master William Shakespeare, the Deceased Author and his Poems
Next Nature only helped him, for look thorow [through]
This whole Book, thou shall find he doth not borrow
One phrase from Greeks nor Latins imitate,
Nor once from vulgar languages translate,
Nor Plagiari-like from others glean;
Nor begs he from each witty friend a scene
To piece his Act with; all that he doth write
Is pure his own, plot, language, exquisite.

So today we know that this is totally laughable, especially that of having made up his own plots. And like others, Digges gives the impression that he did not think of the author Shake-Speare as very learned. As with Jonson’s lack of insight into the depth of learning in the Shake-Speare plays, together with his pangyric salesmanship and likely writing or drafting of the Hemmings and Condell contributions, we now have Digges too as not a reliable witness to the provenence of the Shake-Speare works.

And speaking of the Stratford Monument, itself filled with many controversies, the ones that stand out with me are the following:

First, the monument begins with:

which has been translated
“A Pylus in judgment, a Socrates in genius, a Maro in art."
Or as
Nestor for wisdom, Socrates for genius, Virgil for poetry”

Nestor (also known as Pylus), as described in the Iliad, was viewed as a good counselor because of the qualities he possesses as described in his introduction in Book 1 – as a man of “sweet words,” a “clear-voiced orator,” and whose voice “flows sweeter than honey”.

This can be said of Shake-Speare, but can it be said of William of Stratford? It does though compare to Ben Jonson’s description of Bacon’s speaking skills:

   One, though he be excellent, and the chief, is not to be imitated alone. For never no Imitator, ever grew up to his Author; likeness is always on this side Truth : Yet there happened, in my time, one noble Speaker, who was full of gravity in his speaking. His language, (where he could spare, or pass by a jest) was nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member of his speech, but consisted of the own graces : His hearers could not cough, or look aside from him, without loss. He commanded where he spoke ; and had his Judges angry, and pleased at his devotion. No man had their affections more in his power. The fear of every man that heard him, was, lest he should make an end”.
And as I’ve posted elsewhere, Jonson also said of Bacon, after his death:
he, who hath fill'd up all numbers ; and perform'd that in our tongue, which may be compar'd, or preferr'd, either to insolent Greece, or haughty Rome. In short, within his view, and about his times, were all the wits borne, that could honour a language, or helpe study. Now things daily fall : wits grow downe-ward, and Eloquence growes back-ward : So that hee may be nam'd, and stand as the marke, and [acme] of our language”.

Also, regarding Nestor: “Homer clearly intends his readers to perceive Nestor as an "elder statesman"-type figure worthy of respect”. This also certainly fits Bacon who was a counselor to two kings.

Finally, Bacon was compared to Nestor in one of the Elegies for him:
“For if venerable Virtue and the wreaths of Wisdom make an Ancient, you [Bacon] were older than Nestor”. Gawen Nash

As to Socrates, there is no doubt that this fits Bacon more than it ever could to William of Stratford.

And as to Virgil (Maro was Virgil’s surname), Bacon was also compared to him in another elegy: “Oh Bacon, of all of us hast thou written;  But, who shall write thy great story, who, pray, of thy life or thy death? Give place, Oh Greece! Yield thee Maro, first tho thou be in Rome’s story. Eloquence thine in supremacy; powerful of pen, great in all things,” Anonymous

Secondly, there’s the seeming riddle in the monument:
“Stay Passenger why goest thou by so fast
Read if thou canst whom envious death hath plast
Within this monument Shakspeare”

Why isn’t it a more straightforward praise of William of Stratford? Why does it ask, or command, readers to pause (‘tarry’ as Portia would say), and then suggest that the viewer not read the inscription quickly and thoughtlessly? Followed by “Read if thou canst …” Obviously this all suggests there’s “more here to the story than meets the eye”.

Finally, there’s the curious gravestone for William. As Francis Carr has said: “Here we have the only gravestone in the world of a famous person whose name has been deliberately omitted, the gravestone of the only world-famous author whose authorship has been seriously disputed”.  (Supposedly it was written by William himself, but I doubt it will be used as evidence to show that he also wrote the Shake-Speare Sonnets).

Maybe now that more persons have seen some of the evidence for Bacon’s authorship they can reconsider these items in a new light and see the curiosities in them that others have.

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