The Case for Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke

 Ben Jonson’s Eulogy (2a)
 To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name

         Ben Jonson

Section 2a: (1 - 6) Jonson states his predicament of not being able to openly reveal the Author’s identity, nor praise the Author, as he had wished.

TO draw no envy
(Shakespeare) on thy name,
    Am I thus ample to thy Booke and Fame :
While I confesse thy writings to be such,
    As neither
Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.                    
‘Tis true, and all mens suffrage. But these wayes
    Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise :

Analysis of Lines 1- 6  ________________________________________

TO draw no envy
(Shakespeare) on thy name,
    Am I thus ample to thy Booke and Fame :

To draw [attract] no envy [ill-will, jealousy, blame] (Shakespeare) on [upon, unto] thy name. [a) To attract no ill-will or jealousy upon your true name, Mary Sidney—which would occur if I revealed you to be “William Shakespeare” the Author; b) to avoid attracting envy upon your penname, "Shakespeare," which I might do if I reveal you, an aristocratic woman, to be the true Author of the plays; c) To draw "no-envy" (or blandness) upon your name, i.e., to keep your name—both your penname and your real namewithout the true merit they deserve] Am I thus ample to [Am I thus wholly dependent upon, and limited to, writing about] thy Book [the plays you have written in the name of “Shakespeare”] and Fame [what others have written about you—both as “Shakespeare” and as Mary Sidney (the famous poetess, patron of poets, and sister of Philip Sidney). Thus, I am not able to openly name you, nor address this eulogy to you directly (as I would have wished), nor am I able to write anything about you by which you could be positively identified as the Author; all my praise must be in the form of oblique references to what others have written about you and the things by which you are already known.]

    This, the first and most significant line pair, pivots on the word, “name.” The clear implication is that the name of the Author is different from the fame (or famous name) which has come to be associated with the plays.  Jonson is stating, in definitive language, that “Shakespeare” is a penname, and not the Author’s real name; and the implication is that Jonson is barred from openly praising the Author (or saying anything with respect to her true name or identity) but must rely upon what is already known about the author’s work, and what has been written with respect to the name “Shakespeare.”

     It appears that Jonson is complaining about this predicament and if it were up to him, he would have openly named and praised the Author.  Thus Jonson must have been bound to secrecy by someone else—either Mary Sidney herself, or by her son, one of the patrons of the First Folio, William Herbert.

     In keeping with the Sidney tradition Mary Sidney most likely requested—by direct request or in her will—that all her plays be published in a Folio edition, but that she not be named as the Author. It could also be the case that Mary left nothing about this in her will and that her son, William Herbert, knowing his mother’s wishes (or possibly acting on his own behalf) directed Jonson not to name his mother as the author.  The implication in this second scenario would be that William Herbert did not want his mother named as Author in order to protect his family name.  Attaching one’s name to poetic and more artful expressions was somewhat acceptable in aristocratic circles but not to plays.  Certainly Ben Jonson, who knew the virtue of printing one’s plays in a folio edition (and who published all his plays in 1616) would not see Mary Sidney, publishing all her plays under her own name, as bringing any envy (ill-will or jealousy) to her name—but his sentiments might not have been shared by Mary’s eldest son.  Jonson, it seems—despite a request from Mary Sidney herself or her son William Herbert—wanted to reveal the Author’s true identity but was barred from doing so.  Unlike Mary Sidney who went against her brother’s dying request (that none of his written works be published) and published all his (Philip Sidney's) works, Jonson was not in a position to go against the wishes of Mary Sidney or William Herbert.  However, being a literary man, and skilled in the art, he was not bound from praising the Author in such a way as to openly hide her identity yet secretly reveal it.   Thus, Jonson, could follow the Author’s wish (that her identity not be revealed) yet at the same time follow his own wish (to openly praise the Author).  Had William Herbert demanded that her mother’s identity remain more hermetically hidden he would not have allowed Jonson to include such a revealing poem in the First Folio. Herbert, being an accomplished poet himself, as well as Lord Chamberlain, knew exactly what Jonson was doing, and thus afforded Jonson the leeway to suggest the Author’s identity without actually revealing it.  (This may have been the one term that Jonson insisted upon when he agreed to oversee the editing and production of the First Folio, and write its eulogy).  It appears that Herbert’s simple intention was to keep his mother’s name hidden (as she requested) but in deference to Jonson—and in light of Jonson’s strong desire to reveal the Author’s name (against the Author’s wishes)—Herbert allowed Jonson to write his eulogy, which revealed the Author’s identity (to everyone who knew her) but kept it hidden to the general reader.

     One way that Jonson used to reveal the Author’s identity was to reference various written works (the Author’s “Fame”) which included remarks about “Shakespeare” (in terms of his work, but never about him as a person) and which also made either direct or indirect reference to Mary Sidney.  Jonson was a clever man and used his art to effectuate his purpose; he did not resort to hidden codes or numerical ciphers.  However, one possible cipher that Jonson could have used in the first line would be a simply cipher for the word “envy” which is pronounced, “n.v.” (and which is an abbreviation for the Latin term, nobilis ver, “noble truth.”)   Thus, another level of meaning, of the first line, could have been: To draw [attract, assign] no n.v. [i.e., nobilis ver, “noble truth”] (Shakespeare) on [upon, to] thy [real] name.  In other words: So as not to reveal the true nobility of your name—and expose your identity—I will only refer to you by your works and your famous penname.


envy (a): ill-will, resentment:
Jonson is suggesting that some kind of “ill-will” or “resentment” would result if he revealed the Author’s true identity or name.  The ill-will might have come upon Jonson because the Author, requested that her name not be revealed (as it was not in vogue for a noble woman, or man, of the time to publish plays in his/her name.) or because Jonson made a promise to the Author’s family (i.e. her sons, who were the patrons of the First Folio) not to reveal their mother’s name as the true Author.

envy (b):  a codeword for the Latin abbreviation n.v. which means, nobilis ver (nobilis, noble + ver, truth).  More literally it means: noble true; noble truthfulness, nobility and truth—and by extension, that which is outstanding, esteemed, distinguished, or that which stands out.  Thus, the first line might mean: to draw no “noble and deserved truth,” “outstandingness,” or “recognition” to thy real name—or, so as not to reveal your true (and noble) name.

The term nobilis ver, abbreviated as n.v. most commonly carried the meaning of “a nobleman.”  An engraving made of Mary Sidney, in 1618, contains an expression of similar intent and meaning:  NOBILISS ET VIRT[UOU]SS— “Noble and Virtuous.”

(Shakespeare): Jonson’s askew placement of “Shakespeare,” in parenthesis, suggests that the name “Shakespeare” is parenthetical, and not essentially related to the true name of the Author.  The name, similarly placed in parenthesis, also appears in the opening line of the poem by J.M., found in the prefatory material of the Folio.  J.M., however, writes the name as “Shake-speare”—with a dash—which more clearly indicates that it is a pen name).

            WEE wondred (Shake-speare) that thou went’st so soone
            From the Worlds-Stage, to thy Graves-Tyring-roome.

    In accord with the initial strategy of misdirection, Jonson could not openly expose “Shakespeare” as a pen name, and that is why he spelled it as “Shakespeare” and not as “Shake-speare.”  He and William Herbert decided to preserve the anonymity of the name by attributing it to real person, Shakspere of Stratford.  (This is very similar to a document that you want to keep totally confidential: you cannot reveal the contents of the document nor even reveal that the document is confidential—as that would inspire a lot of curiosity, and perhaps some effort to obtain the document itself.   Thus, to keep the confidentiality of the document, you cannot mention its existence at all).  Thus, attributing the penname to a real person (since dead and forgotten) is the best way to assure that the penname is not recognized as a penname—and this would do much to preserve the anonymity of the true Author.

name: Jonson’s use of the word “name” in the first sentence (and as the first rhyming word of his eulogy) highlights its pivotal significance.  The gist of Jonson’s eulogy is about the difference between the Author’s name (her true name and identity) and the Author’s fame (the Author’s pen name—the name by which the Author’s works are known). 

While I confesse thy writings to be such,
    As neither
Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.

While [apart from the caveat I mentioned in the previous line, about not being able to reveal your true name] I confess [I will now state openly that] thy writings [what you have written, under the name of “Shakespeare”] to be such as neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much [to be so great that neither man nor muse can praise your plays too highly]. 

‘Tis true, and all mens suffrage. But these wayes
    Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise :

‘Tis true, [What I say is true] and all men’s suffrage [and everyone would attest to this—that your writings cannot be praised too much].  But these ways [this use of oblique references and metaphors, where I am not able to reveal your true identity, but only praise you indirectly] were not the paths [is not the way, nor the words] I meant unto thy praise [I would have praised you, if it were up to me.]. [Rather, I would have meant to praise you directly, both in reference to your work and to you as a person—and revealing your real name.  This form of open praise is the form that would have bestowed upon you the honor and recognition which someone of your greatness deserves.]    

Ben Jonson’s Eulogy (2b)

What could hurt her more?

  Section 2: (7 - 16): How the Author’s plays have been corrupted

For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,

    Which, when it sounds at best, but eccho’s right;

Or blinde Affection, which doth ne're advance 
    The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ;

Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
And thinke to ruine, where it seem’d to raise.

These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore,
    Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more?
But thou art proofe against them, and indeed
Above th’ill fortune of them, or the need.   

    Jonson’s references in this section are vague and inconclusive (and may have been understood by those “in the know” during Jonson’s time).  Thus, without clear “inside knowledge” this section remains open to a wide range of speculation.  The sentiment, regardless of how one interprets the words, relates to a misuse or abuse of someone’s intended words; this could refer to Jonson’s own words, as found in his eulogy or, more likely, to Author’s plays.  Jonson’s words tell of the mismatch between the Author’s “high” intention and art (found in her original plays) and what had become of her words in the hands of those who have ‘deformed’ her plays for the “lowly” purpose of mere profit.  This debasement of the Author’s work may have been brought about by those who were blinded by ignorance (which could implicate anyone working with the corrupted plays, such as theater owners, actors, the audience, etc.); or by those who are of lowly affections (a reference to the masses who wanted only gross forms of entertainment, as could be found on the public stage); or by those who are prompted by crafty malice, such as theater-owners, who would “deform” the Author’s original plays, by cutting them down and simplifying them, thus rendering them suitable for public presentation (and profit).  (And perhaps these theater-owners thought is was some kind of praise or compliment to the Author, that her plays were deemed worthy of being edited and performed on the common stage).  Jonson made a similar complaint—about the way plays were being co-opted and ruined—many years earlier in his epigram on the “poet-ape.”  Thus, the ‘deforming’ of plays, by playhouse owners, was a common practice—and one which Jonson abhorred.
Jonson’s reference to “some infamous Baud and Whore” is probably meant to invoke the ‘seedy’ clime of the London playhouses, which was an “entertainment” enterprise often associated with pimps, whores, and usurers (all of whom conducted business in the same part of the city).  Thus, “some infamous Baud” is likely a metaphorical (or literal) reference to a theater-owner (such as Henslowe, Alleyn, or Shakspere) who “whored” out the Author’s plays for their own profit.  The term “Whore,” in this context, would likely refer to those whom the theater-owner paid to belie their craft and debase the Author’s work, so as to make it suitable for the public stage.
In order to understand the general tone of Jonson’s words, one must abandon the romantic notion that the Author was some aristocrat secretly writing plays for the public stage (and, thus, not wanting himself, or his name, associated with the “low-life” status of the public theater) or the more unlikely image, of a lone businessman-actor, quickly scribbling out plays, for profit, to meet the demands of the needy theater owners). The Author did not write plays for the public stage, nor did she cater her plays to suit the mentality of the common theater-goer.  All of the Author’s plays were written for a private, aristocratic and literary audience, who were “in the know”—and every play confirms this.  One intention of Mary Sidney’s famous literary circle (called the Wilton Circle) was to uplift the cultural and artistic expression of the English Language (through a variety of literary devices, including playwriting in the iambic pentameter meter). This intention had little to do with the needs of the public playhouses, and the theater-owners, whose sole intent was to “deform” literary works so as to make them profitable for the public stage.  None of the Author’s works were written for profit.  The Author’s plays were aimed at the highest expression of the art, while the public theaters tended toward the lowest expression.  With entirely different audiences and intentions, the plays presented on the public stage were entirely different in content, scope, language, and length, than the “Shakespeare” plays, which were written for the entertainment of a noble, educated audience.   Virtually every high school student is lead astray when he is made to believe that the common audience of Elizabethan England, who frequented the Globe and other theaters, could understand all the subtle references found in the plays of Shakespeare.  They could not.  Only a highly educated audience could.
Alexander Witherspoon (in his book on Elizabethan Drama), suggests that the intention of Mary Sidney and Wilton House was to combat the “uncouth and unlearned” plays which were generally presented on the public stage.  This may have been the case—but their combat came in the form of raising the level of their own plays.  Thus, Wilton House did not want to destroy theatrical expression but to uplift it, to transform it from mindless entertainment to a meaningful expression of human values and life.  Mary Sidney and the writers of Wilton House took a keen interest in the theatrical art form (and this began with Mary’s brother, Philip Sidney, who was especially interested in this five-act, blank-verse form).  That is why the members of Wilton House (Jonson included) had a particular distaste for the way this dramatic form (which they adored) was being ruined and “whored out” in the public playhouses.  And the Author may have (silently) taken great offense to the way her plays were being deformed—and Jonson must have been well aware of this.
In the First Folio, in the section listed as, “To the great Variety of Readers,” the “editors” (who are listed as Hemings & Condell but who, in fact, was Ben Jonson) state that the Author’s plays were “maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors.”  What is odd about this statement (written by Jonson for Hemings & Condell) is that the plays found in the Folio do not offer any significant improvement, over the plays that were previously-published in quarto.  (The Folio does, however, present over a dozen plays never published in quarto).  When compared to previous publications, the plays in the Folio were not “cur’d, and perfect of their limbes”—as stated by the “editors,” and so the reference may not be to the previously published plays (in quarto) but to the form of the plays that people saw performed in the public theater.

. . . we pray you do not envie his Friends, the office of their care, and paine, to have collected & publish’d them; and so to have publish’d them, as where (before) you were abus’d with diverse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors, that expos’d them : even those, are now offer’d to your view cur’d, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived them.
        (Hemings & Condell, From the First Folio)

It is clear from the account found in the First Folio, and other accounts by Jonson, Greene, and others, that the low-minded profiteering theater-business of London was at odds with the design and intention of high-minded playwrights who were dedicated to their art.  The following two epigrams (written around 1602) appear in sequence in Jonson’s Book of Epigrams, printed in 1616.  These epigrams relate to bauds, usurers, and play-stealers.  (Jonson’s book was dedicated to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.  Many people hold that Jonson’s epigram, “On Poet-Ape,” refers to the play-stealing practice of William Shakspere of Stratford (however this is very unlikely, since Shakspere was not associated with the Plays of Shakespeare during his lifetime). This poem may not have been directed to one person, but to the whole field of play stealing; the “poet-ape” may have been an amalgam of several people. Jonson’s epigram, “On Bawds and Usurers,” links bawdry (whore-mongering) to usury, which implicates William Shakspere of Stratford—whose major business practice was theater ownership and usury.

     LVI. On Poet-Ape.

POOR Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,
   Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
   As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
   Buy the reversion of old plays ;  now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
   He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own :
And, told of this, he slights it.  Tut, such crimes
   The sluggish gaping auditor devours ;
He marks not whose ‘twas first : and after-times
   May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool !  as if half eyes will not know a fleece
   From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece.

    LVII. On Bawds and Usurers.
IF, as their ends, their fruits were so, the same,
Bawdry and Usury were one kind of game.   

Jonson’s Dedication (of his Epigrams) to William Herbert

   “My Lord —While you cannot change your merit, I dare not change your title: it was that made it, and not I.  [This may be an inside reference to “Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” which were dedicated to “Mr. W.H.”  The earliest sonnets were written when William Herbert was a “Mr.” and not yet a lord.  However, when the sonnets were published in 1609 William Herbert was a lord yet he was titled as “Mr.”]. Under which name I here offer to your lordship the ripest of my studies, my Epigrams; which though they carry danger in the sound, do not therefore seek your shelter; for when I made them I had nothing in my conscience to expressing of which I did need a cypher.”  [When Jonson wrote the epigrams, around 1602, he did not need to hide his intended meaning by using indirect reference or metaphor—the very ciphers he was forced to use in his eulogy to the Author.  Jonson’s mention of not needing to use a cipher suggests that, in other cases, he did need to use a cipher.]

Robert Greene

    In his Groatsworth of Wit (1592), Robert Greene devoted his dying words to exposing the untoward practice of the
London theater-owners, and one individual in particular, whom he never names, but whom many scholars (mistakenly) believe to be the young start-up William Shakspere.  (A groat’s worth means a penny’s worth or a nothing’s worth). Greene bitterly complains that the work of playwrights (himself included) was being ruined; that good plays were being poorly adapted for the public stage by unscrupulous theater-owners who believed themselves capable of making such revisions. Greene penny’s worth of advice is as follows:
    "Yes trust them not : for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers [sporting himself as a playwright], that with his Tigers hart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out [speak on stage extempore, or write] a blank verse as the best of you [as well as a real playwright]: and being an absolute Johannes factotum [an absolute Jack-of-all-trades—someone who thinks he is better than everyone at everything], is in his own conceit [opinion] the only Shake-scene [the only one who can “shake a scene,” act out a scene worthy of great applause] in a country."

Many scholars interpret this “upstart Crow” to be William Shakspere, because he may have been in a position to revise plays and because of Greene’s use of the term, “Shake-scene.”  However, the connection to Will Shakspere is tenuous and unsupported at best:  “Shake-scene” was most likely a term referring to an actor who hammed it up on stage or over acted (and who thought himself to be the best actor in all of England).  This wad not likely a reference to William Shakspere, who was not an accomplished action and whose name was “Shaxbere” and pronounced “Shack” not “Shake”).  Thus, the reference to “Shake” would have been lost on the Stratford man who was not a known actor, or writer, or Jack-of-All-Trades.  In addition, Greene’s passage was written in 1592 when Shakspere was not known on the London theatre scene. It seems that he was more or less a financier who took to small acting parts (and he was afforded these parts because he was involved in the financing-production of the play and not because he was a competent actor).  Thus he could not be identified as the grand personage that Greene depicts—though it is possible.  A likely candidate for Greene’s Johannes factotum is Edward Allyne, a fellow theatre-owner and son-in-law of Philip Henslowe.

    Philip Henslowe, in partnership with his son-in-law the actor Edward Alleyn, seems to have been joint owner or manager of several theaters, including the
Rose Theatre, Bankside, in which some of the early Shakespeare plays were performed. . .  Henslowe’s partner, Edward Alleyn, [as the] the famous actor, actor-manager, theatre owner and founder of Dulwich College. . . . 
    (Evans, Shakespeare’s Magic Circle, p. 49, 51)

Philip Henslowe

  Philip Henslowe, the famous owner of the RoseTheatre, might also be implicated by Jonson’s reference to “some infamous Baud”:
    "The owner of the
RoseTheatre was Philip Henslowe, who had fingers in many pies.  He was a timber merchant, a dealer in real estate, a pawnbroker and a moneylender; he ran several inns and lodging houses which were practically brothels.  He was a dyer and a dealer in goatskins; he bought plays from authors and leased them to theatrical companies.  Dekker, Drayton, Chapman, Chettle, Day, and Rowley wrote for Henslowe, whose policy it was to keep them always in debt, in order to squeeze the largest possible output from them at the lowest rate of pay."
         (Sykes, Alias William Shakespeare?, p. 40)

   Henslowe, and other theater owners, were keen to ‘adapt’ plays so as to make them suitable for public showing, and to make the overall message of the play conform to popular sentiments of their target—and paying—audience:   In his book, Alias William Shakespeare?,  Sykes surmises that such theater-revisions were made to Henry VI:

    Now let us imagine Henslowe receiving an anonymous play about Henry VI. . .  Many scenes would make the audience think they were back in a classroom, doing their history lessons, but some of them could be cut.  On the other hand, the battle scenes would please the groundlings and the part of Talbot would suit Burbage fine.  Yes, the play is worth accepting.
    But there is one thing in it that will simply not do.  This young amateur [who wrote Henry VI] had no idea what the public wants, for he made Joan of Arc a martyred saint instead of the filthy witch a descent patriotic English audience would expect her to be.  The public would never stand for that.  There would be a riot in the theatre; there would be all sorts of trouble with the authorities. . .  So Henslowe decides to send for the Elizabethan equivalent of what Americans would call a ‘play-doctor.’
    In the final scene, Joan behaves exactly as an Elizabethan audience would have expected her to behave, with the exception of four lines which appear to have survived from the original conception of her as a martyr.  So, the doom of a witch pleased the audience and the box office receipts pleased Henslowe, but it is doubtful whether the changes pleased the author.  Probably not . . . “
           (Sykes, Alias William Shakespeare?, p. 41-42)

An Example of an Adaptation

    The printing of the First Folio began in 1621 with the delivery of four plays to the printer.  Mary Sidney was alive at that time and it is presumed that the plays delivered to the printer were “cured” and “perfected of their deformities”—which meant that they resembled the plays as originally written and not as they may have been adapted for the common theater.   The first four plays were The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Measure for Measure.  Of these plays, the only one printed in quarto edition (before their publication in the Folio) was Measure for Measure.  Most scholars believe that this play was first performed before Queen Elizabeth, in April 1597, in connection with the Order of the Garter feast.  Public performances may have followed that, though there is no record of any such performances.  The first quarto edition came out in 1602.
Our working assumption is that the play, in the Folio, resembles the “true” play as originally intended by the Author (and performed before the Queen); while the play found in the quarto edition—which is a little over half the length of the Folio version—represents the way the play had been edited (or “deformed”) to suit the temperament of the public theater-goer.  Many scholars believe that this ‘reduced and simplified version’ of the play came about by an imperfect memory-based reconstruction of the play, which was made by a few actors recalling and writing down the part they had memorized.  It is more likely, however, that the cuts were not so random (as those based upon what the actors could or could not recall) but deliberate on the part of the theater-owners, to make the play more amenable to public performance.  (The editing method might have  also be applied to Hamlet, Q1, which is just over half the length of Hamlet, Q2, and the version of Hamlet found in the Folio edition). With respect to the edits of The Merry Wives, Stephen Greenblatt writes:
"Still other verbal discrepancies between the two versions point to more general thematic differences.  Q omits F’s Latin lesson (4.1) as well as its allusion in 5.5. to the Order of the Garter ceremony.  At least the second of these cuts, both of which seem to indicate a text designed for a more popular audience than the courtly spectators aimed at by F, may well have been made by Shakespeare’s company [who???] when it put on The Merry Wives in the public, commercial theater.   Reference to rural life in Windsor and to the presence of the court are more frequent in F than in Q, which sometimes has urban allusions instead and which simply omits some elite or courtly material. . . .    Many questions remain about both Q and F.At least one intriguing possibility is worth pondering.  F may be based on and authorial manuscript that was used for the initial court performance. Q may be based on the memory of stage performances of a promptbook that incorporates revisions of the authorial manuscript for the public theater.  [However, had the play been written by an aristocrat, where players were commissioned to perform the play before a royal audience, the acting company would have obtained the entire script beforehand and would have had plenty of time to copy it—or even keep a version of it—rather than relying upon a memory-based reconstruction.   The aristocratic playwright, whose sole intention was to provide entertainment for the Queen—with no motivation of profit—would have had little reason to safeguard the content of the playbooks.  He might not care less if the play was adapted and later performed in a for-profit setting]. If both hypotheses are correct, F accurately preserves a unique, anomalous first performance; Q inaccurately preserves the rather different version used for the overwhelming majority of the performances in Shakespeare’s lifetime. . . .  Because it [Q] derives from the memory of performance, its language is less authentically Shakespearean than F’s.  But because those performances reflect and authorial revision [but more likely a revision by the playhouse owners and not the aristocratic author of the original play ], Q may be more authentically Shakespearean than F in the greater relative weight given to popular material both by excluding high-cultural scenes and by including satirical references and additional allusions to everyday life.    (Greenblatt, The Norton Shakespeare, p. 1232)

   The “deformed” version of The Merry Wives, which seems to be one of the few playhouse revisions that made it into print, suggests the style and method by which many “Shakespeare” plays were adopted.  (The reason why few playhouse versions made it into print is generally because the playhouses had no interest in publishing their adapted version of the play—only playing it for a few weeks in order to turn a profit.)  Virtually all the “Shakespeare” plays adapted for public showing were reduced in running time (to accommodate the attention-span of audience, most of whom were standing) and simplified in terms of complexity of language and content, and high-cultural scenes (all  of which would provide little meaning or entertainment for the common theater-goer).  It appears that the major intention of the theater-owner was simply to present a profitable play—for a few weeks—with no motivation to have the adapted play published.  There were no copyright laws at the time, so any playhouse could put on any play without having to pay royalties for it—which is one reason why playhouses were not quick to put plays in print.  Accordingly, few theater-adapted plays made it into print.   When, in the First Folio, Hemings and Condell (i.e., Jonson) talk about how the Author’s plays were “deformed,” they may have been referring primarily to the public performance of plays and less so of the published version of the play since the early plays (printed in quarto versions) were not significantly inferior to the “cured” versions found in the First Folio.  However, in the case of The Merry Wives, and perhaps with Hamlet (Q1), we see an example of how the Author’s plays were “abus’d with diverse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors.”

    There is no likely scenario whereby William Shakspere, with no connection to aristocratic culture or customs, no direct access to those at court, no fluency in Italian, French, and Latin (which was needed to gain access to much of the play’s source material, which had not yet been translated into English), no part of a literary circle—but endeavoring to write for-profit plays for the public theater—could have written the Shakespeare plays.  There is no record of “Shakespeare” every having been paid for writing any such play.  There is no record of a Shakespeare play having been first performed on a public stage and later adapted (or enhanced) to fit the likings of a royal audience.  Only the reverse is true: all evidence suggests that the Shakespeare plays were first performed for the delight of the Court or a private audience, some of which were later adapted to suit the needs of the public stage.  (Had the Author been writing for profit, we would have had records of public performances before royal ones.)  All evidence suggests that the Author was writing for the pleasure of a select audience, which is much different in intent from someone writing for profit, and which makes for a much different kind of play, both in terms of content, language, art, and length.
But what is the link between these royal plays, as originally intended by the Author, and the plays which were later adapted for public performance? How and why would these royal plays, not particularly suited for the common stage, find their way there so regularly?  Again, we must note that the London theaters were a for-profit business— and one which was not regulated by any ethical standards.  Theater-owners could make more profit by “obtaining” a copy of a script for free (which its aristocratic author was not concerned about selling) and adapting it to suit a common audience, rather than paying the full price of 5₤ for a newly written play.  Thus, Shakspere’s involvement with the plays (if he had any involvement at all) could have been in his “obtaining” the plays or in adapting plays, so as to make them more suitable for the common stage and more profitable for the theater-owners—though there is no record of this ever happening, either in the detailed diaries kept by both Henslowe or his partner, Edward Alleyn.  Henslowe’s diary makes direct or indirect references to the following plays: Troilus and Cressida, The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, Henry V, Henry VI, Titus Andronicus, Henry VIII, Julius Caesar, Richard II, and Richard III, but never is there any reference to them having been written by “Shakespeare” or adapted by Shakspere.  Henslowe’s records show that payment for these plays was made to other writers, who were most likely paid in connection with their adapting the play for Henslowe rather than for having written the full version of the play.  Thus, if payment for the Shakespeare plays were made to those who did not write the original play (nor the Author), then the payment must have been made for their “adapting” (and making suitable for public performance) a play that was written by someone else.  (For example, a note from Henslowe’s diary reads: “Lent unto Harey Cheattel and Mr. Dickers in part payment of their book called Troyelles and Cressida the 16 of April 1599 XX (20/-)”).  Another possibility, though unlikely, is that the plays listed in Henslowe’s diary had the same name as the Shakespeare plays, but were entirely different plays (and not adapted versions of the original).

  Edward Alleyn’s diaries were published in 1841, by their discoverer Malone, who upon review of the documents writes:
   “They contain the names of all the notable actors and play-poets of Shaksper’s time as well as of every person who helped, directly or indirectly, or who paid out money of received money, in connection with the production of many plays at the Blackfriars Theatre, the Fortune, and other theaters.  His accounts are very minutely stated, and a careful perusal of the two volumes shows that there in not one mention of such a poet as William Shaksper  in his list of actors, poets and theatrical comrades.

Analysis of Lines 7-16 

For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
    Which, when it sounds at best, but eccho’s right;

Interpretation 1: In reference to the Author’s plays

For seeliest Ignorance [For blind ignorance, such as the ignorance one has when his eyes are sealed shut] on these [the Author’s plays] may light [may see these plays, as they have been performed for the public stage—which means that the eyes of the common theater-goer will be closed to the art of the original play]

Which, when it sounds at best, but echo’s right
A) Which, when it (the artless, playhouse version of the play) “sounds at best” i.e., when the lines of this playhouse version of the play is at its best it is still, no more than noise—and only the original play (which has been obscured and is faint, and whose original intent appears as a faint echo in this playhouse version of the play) is right, is the true play.
B) The playhouse play, as presented, may sound ‘better than the original’ and appeal to the sentiments of a mass audience—but is only, at best, an echo—in terms or artisty, greatness, etc.—of the original play, as conceived by the Author. Thus, those who are ignorant (as if their eyes and were sealed shut), may look upon these adapted plays, which are mere echoes of the true play, and mistakenly think that this adapted-for-stage version is the true (or right) play as originally conceived.

Interpretation 2: In reference to Jonson’s eulogy

   For seeliest Ignorance on these
[my words] may light, [a person of willing ignorance may read my words] which, when it sounds at best, [which, when taken at face value, and sounding best, and appealing most to the sentiments of those who are ignorant of the true or deeper meaning] but echo’s right [as such, these ignorance readers will get but an echo, and miss the deeper meaning, the true “sound” which gives rise to the echo.]

[Said another way: ignorant readers may read my words, and these words may sound very good to the ear; the reader, however, should read the echo—the whisper behind the words, the unspoken words, that which the words imply—for this is the right reading, this is the reading which reveals the true identity of the Author.  The surface words of the eulogy might sound good, but the truth of what I want to say can only be heard in the echo, the indirect references about the Author].

Or blinde Affection, which doth ne're advance

    The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ;

Interpretation 1: In reference to the Author’s plays

[rather than prompted by ignorance, some may approach the plays with] blinde Affection [where the sole intent is to be entertained by a low and mindless presentation on the stage] which doth ne’re advance the truth  [this artless, public stage version of the Author’s play, does not advance, or uplift, or educate the audience (as do the Author’s original plays), nor present anything of true value] but gropes [but moves without meaningful direction, the edits being made without true sensitivity to the play, but only groping from one action scene to the next] and urgeth all  [and moves everyone along] by chance [by a play filled with unconnected scenes—intended for mindless entertainment—which does not develop in relationship to an overall dramatic arch.]

  Jonson is making a commentary on how the Author’s plays have been “deformed” so as to cater to the likes of the common theater-goer—and presented in a condition stipped of their greatness, their art, and the intention of the Author.  These pristine plays were ‘dispatched’ and made ready for public viewing; they were ‘chopped up’ (or ‘disfigured’) and only the parts that were entertaining, common, and easily understood made it to the stage. (In addition, scenes where a leading actor could ham it up on stage—or “Shake a scene”—were also included).  As such, the simplified and artless version of the play (readied for public consumption) did not move forward [ugeth] in a developmental and impelling way but presented a more disjointed and piecemeal version of the original play.  We might say that the play was “butchered.”

One way to understand Jonson’s point would be to imagine someone who writes a great movie—both in terms of content and structure—which takes the audience though a compelling emotional journey.  Now imagine someone taking the bare plot lines of the movie and ‘adapting’ it for a low-grade porn movie.  Such an adaptation would not preserve any of the ‘art’ of the movie, but simply take the gross elements of the story line and use it to promote and feature the pornography.  Likewise, when a Shakespeare play was adapted for the common play-houses, the ‘art’ was invariably removed and only the plays simplified elements were presented.

Interpretation 2: In reference to Jonson’s eulogy

   Or blinde Affection, which doth ne’er advance the truth
[Or a person may read these words with blind Affection—with a pre-conceived notion about what they mean—and thereby miss my intended meaning.  If one approaches these words with such blind affection, they will not advance toward the truth of what I am saying, nor the truth about who wrote these plays.] [Rather, someone with blind Affection] but gropes, and urgeth all by chance [he will grope amongst the surface meaning of the words and miss the deeper meaning of what my words suggest (which reveals the true identity of the Author).]

Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,

    And thinke to ruine, where it seem’d to raise.

Interpretation 1: In reference to the Author’s plays

Or crafty Malice
[Or using one’s craft for the foul purposes—such as might be the case where theater owners hire playwrights to adapt plays for public performance] might pretend [these theater owners might put forth or outwardly show] this praise [complementing the script; finding the play good enough to be adapted for the theater] and think to [and, thereby, with this intention] ruin [a good play] where it [the adaptation] seemed to raise [raised the play in terms of popular appeal, and profit, but in terms of the quality of the play, only ruined it.]    

Interpretation 2: In reference to Jonson’s eulogy

Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
[Or someone might find a clever way to misinterpret my words, and assign my praise to someone other than whom I am intending—thus giving praise to an imposter, someone who is not the true Author]. And think to [and these people only] ruin [obscure the true identity of the Author], where it [my eulogy] seemed to raise [meant to reveal the Author’s true identity.  Thus, by employing clever interpretations, one may ruin words, distort my intended meaning, and falsely assign praise to someone other than the true Author.]

   The previous six lines echo the same sentiment as expressed by Jonson in his epigram on the poet-ape [the full poem of which appeared earlier in this section]: 

seeliest Ignorance: “Tut, such crimes the sluggish, gaping auditor devours.” 
Thus, such corrupted and ‘defomed’ plays, as presented upon the public stage, is devoured [viewed with delight] by the sluggish [ignorant] auditor [theater-goer];

b) blind Affection:  “Fool ! as if half-eyes will not know a fleece from locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece.” 

Fools who watch with their eyes half shut [with blind affection] will not be able to tell the difference between a play that has been edited down (to about half the original length) and ‘deformed (with various elements mis-combined) from the original play, as written by the Author. c) crafty Malice:  “From brokerage has become so bold a thief, as we, the robbed, leave rage and pity it. At first he made low shifts. . . ” 

These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore,

    Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more?

Interpretation 1: In reference to the Author’s plays   

are [certain people who go about their business] as some infamous Baud [pimp] or Whore [such as theater owners, the pimps, and those who adapt plays for public performance, the whores] [who] should [rather than ruining the Author’s work by such artless adaptation] praise a Matron [present the Author’s work as originally conceived; honor the Muse of playwrights].  [Not doing this, going against the very one who gives you sustenance—]What could hurt her more?  

    The theater owners depend upon plays to run their business, thus the playwright is the Matron who supports their whole enterprise.  Being dependent upon a Matron (the playwright, or the muse of playwrights), these theater owners, who are on the social level of a pimp and a whore—where some theater owners (such as Henslowe) also acted as pimps)—should praise a Matron, and honor these plays (by performing them as originally conceived).  This debasement of her plays, this betrayal—what could hurt her (the Author, the muse of playwrights) more?
These harsh and cryptic lines which appear in Jonson’s eulogy were probably intended as an inside reference to persons who were known at the time.  The term Baud seems clearly directed to theater-owners, whereas Whore may be a reference to someone whom Mary Sidney supported and whom she served as matron—someone who was aligned with her highest expression of theatrical art (as promoted by Wilton House) but who then “betrayed” her by rewriting her plays for the public stage.  Such an action, such a debasing of her art—by someone whom she served as matron—hurt her more than anything else.
As explained later, Mary Sidney, writing her plays under the pen name of “Shakespeare,” never wrote plays for the public stage; the plays reached the public stage only after being shorted, edited, and “disfigured” in such as way so as to appeal to a common audience.   All of the Author’s plays were written for, and intended for, an informed, private audience. Thus the “hurt” mentioned by Jonson refers both to the hurt felt by the Author, when one of her plays was “adapted” (and ruined)—perhaps by one of her own—and the hurt suffered to the play itself by such an adaptation.

  Pimp. Most likely refers to the infamous theater-owners who whored out the Author’s work so that they could be presented on the public stage.  This could be a reference to Henslowe, Burbage, or even Shakspere.
Whore:  May refer to playwrights who were hired out by the theater-owners to make plays suitable for the public stage; refers to those who “sold themselves,” who abandoned their art and ethics in exchange for payment.

Interpretation 2: In reference to Jonson’s eulogy

A) These [Those who misinterpret my words, who whore out my words to further their own agenda] are as [are similar to] some infamous Baud or Whore would praise [in their attempt to praise] a Matron [for a pimp or whore—being uncouth and uncultured—would not have the proper words by which to praise a matron.]   What could hurt [distort, harm] her [my words, my intended meaning] more?  
B) These [my words] are as [like those of] some infamous Bawd or Whore should [would] praise a Matron [and not fit enough to praise the Author].  [These words I write as directed and not as I want to write them.  I must “cover up” my true praise of the Author, keep everything under wraps—like some infamous pimp or whore.] What could hurt her more?  [Hurt the Author is terms of her true glory, in terms of her true and deserved reputation. Thus, not revealing the Author’s true identity, and her true genius, is most hurtful to her;  assigning her art, and her plays, to William Shakspere—which is a false assignation—hurts her more than anything else in terms of her lasting glory and fame.]

  The implication of this interpretation is that Mary’s son, William Herbert, did not want his mother’s name revealed, and directed Jonson to edit the plays and write the eulogy, but not reveal the Author’s true name.  (It could also have been that Mary Sidney herself did not want her name revealed, as “Shakespeare”).  Herbert may have wanted to distance himself from the name “Shakespeare” which not only included the plays but was also associated with “Shakespeare’s Sonnets.”  The “only begetter” of the sonnets was, “Mr. W.H.” whom most scholars identify as William Herbert.  Hence, if the name “Shakespeare” was revealed to be the playwriting penname of Mary Sidney Herbert, then William Herbert would be positively identified as “Mr. W.H.” of the sonnets—which was something William Herbert did not want.  This would be like opening old wounds which Herbert took pains to keep closed.  Most scholars hold that Herbert was the one who suppressed all publications of “Shakespeare’s Sonnets”—and he did this so completely that the sonnets remained in relative obscurity for 100 years.  Understanding Herbert’s involvement with the sonnets will show why he did not want this collection published, why he adamantly suppressed the publication, and why he wanted to distance himself from the name, “Shakespeare.”  In theory, the main sonnet collection, (sonnets 18-126) and the poem included in the publication, called A Lover’s Complaint, were both directed to (or about) William Herbert.  The main sonnet collection, of 108 sonnets, (which represents the classic number of sonnets for a complete collection, and which was, for example, the number of sonnets found in Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella) was written to William Herbert by a woman desperately in love with him—the most likely candidate being his cousin Mary Wroth.  (During the time of the publication of the First Folio, 1623, Herbert and Wroth were living together; they had two illegitimate children together).  Herbert did not want these intimate sonnets publicly revealed.  The scathing poem, A Lover’s Complaint, was by and a woman whom Herbert betrayed and the poem gave explicit details of his betrayal.  Again, this was something that Herbert did no want revealed.   The most likely writer of A Lover’s Complaint, was Mary Fitton, the woman whom Herbert impregnated and betrayed exactly as described in the poem.  (Note: Brian Vickers found numerous parallels between the wording of A Lover’s Complaint and the known works of John Davies of Hereford.  Davies had no reason or motive to write such a poem. Mary Fitton may have drawn inspiration—or actual lines—from Davies’s work; or Davies may have helped Fitton with her poem—but he did not write the poem.  It may be noted that Davies was on good terms with both Mary Sidney and William Herbert, and he—working as a secretary for Mary Sidney and a calligrapher for the Sidney family—may well have known the true identity of “Shakespeare.”  If Davies had any involvement with the poem, it may serve to explain his cryptic epigram, which was written in 1610, a year after the sonnets were published.  [See Questions & Answers for a more detailed explanation of Davies’s epigram, entitled, “To our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare.”   

Jonson: A Reference to Himself?

   Though unlikely, Jonson’s reference to a pimp (and a whore) could be a self-deprecating reference to himself—himself feeling like a pimp (and a whore). Jonson may be admitting that he “sold out,” that he did not honor the Author as he should have—which is hurtful to her and her memory.  Thus, these lines may be read as and apology to the Author—for not honoring her as she should be honored.

But thou art proofe against them, and indeed

    Above th’ill fortune of them, or the need.

But thou art proof against them [But you and the body of work you have produced is proof enough, it stands in and of itself as something great and monumental, and it is not diminished by those who have ‘disfigured’ your plays] and indeed [thou art] above the ill-fortune [negative influence and blame]of them [those who have ‘disfigured’ your plays for cheap entertainment and profit (and also those who do not recognize the value of your plays, having mistaken publicly-presented plays for those which you originally intended)]. Or the need [of them][for you are above the need to gain approval; you do not write your plays out of need, for profit—as someone writing for the public theater would have to do—but for the sheer artistry of expression.  The great work you have produced is proof enough as your work stands triumphant in its own right]

And indeed [thou art] above the ill-fortune of them [the ill-fortune of the ignorant masses who cannot read the hidden message in my words and recognize (and appreciate) that you are the Author.  These ignorant masses are those who read my words and believe that they refer to someone other than you]. [And you are above] the need [of them, in that the great work you have produced is proof enough; your work remains great even though the greater world may know that you are the true Author.]

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