- Eulogies for William Shakespeare, 1616-1640
- Other Playwrights vs. Shakespeare
- Other Nondramatic Poets, and the Question of Social Rank
- Other Not-so-Mysterious "Silences"
William Shakespeare died in Stratford on April 23, 1616, according to the
inscription on his monument, and was buried in Holy Trinity Church two days
later, according to the church register. The reaction to
Shakespeare's death -- or rather, the alleged lack of it -- has long been a
prominent feature in antistratfordian arguments. Oxfordians claim that
the death of William Shakespeare of Stratford went completely unnoticed in
England, and they see this "fact" as evidence that he was not a famous
playwright; after all, wouldn't the death of such a famous man as
Shakespeare evoke an immediate torrent of praise? The Beginner's Guide
on the Oxfordian web site says that "in an age of copious eulogies, none
was forthcoming when William Shakspere [sic] died in Stratford," and goes
on to note several further examples of alleged contemporary indifference to
the Stratford man's demise.
As with other Oxfordian arguments, this one is based on a combination of
factual distortion and ignorance of context. First of all, the claim that
Shakespeare's death evoked no eulogies will be puzzling to any Shakespeare
scholar -- of course there were eulogies for Shakespeare, the inscription
on his monument and the famous poem by Ben Jonson being only the best known
of many. What the Oxfordians apparently mean is that there were no
eulogies printed for Shakespeare within a year or two of his death, a fact
which they find suspicious. But there is nothing suspicious about this at
all. Printed eulogies in Shakespeare's day were only for socially
important people like nobility and church leaders; posthumous eulogies for
poets circulated in manuscript, only reaching print years later,
if at all.
The seven years before the first printed eulogies to Shakespeare appeared
in the First Folio is actually remarkably fast, unprecedented for an
English playwright, and the number of tributes written to the Bard is more
than for any of his contemporaries before Ben Jonson 20 years later.
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As a point of reference, consider the eulogies we do have for Shakespeare
from the 25-year period after his death, including references to his death
in poems not entirely devoted to him (I have modernized spelling in the
extracts given below).
To sum up: four years after Shakespeare's death, he was included in a
printed tribute to England's greatest deceased poets; sometime in the first
seven years after his death, a monument was erected to him in Stratford,
and another poem, widely circulated in manuscript, suggested that he should
have been buried in Westminster Abbey; seven years after his death, a
massive edition of his plays was published along with four eulogies, the
longest and most affectionate of them written by England's poet laureate;
around the same time (and possibly earlier) another manuscript eulogy was
circulating; and over the next twenty years a dozen new eulogies appeared
in print, including three in the second edition of his plays and three in
an edition of his poems.
- William Basse wrote a poem entitled "On Mr. Wm. Shakespeare, he died in
April 1616" (thus he was very clearly referring to the Stratford
Shakespeare). Basse was suggesting that Shakespeare should have been
buried in Westminster Abbey next to Chaucer, Beaumont, and Spenser
(Chambers, II, 226):
Renowned Spenser, lie a thought more nigh
We don't know exactly when this poem was written, but: a) it was certainly
written after Beaumont's death in February 1616, and b) it was certainly in
existence by the time of the First Folio in 1623, since
Ben Jonson's eulogy
alludes directly to Basse's, and responds to it. Basse's poem circulated
widely in manuscript, as evidenced by the fact that over two dozen
seventeenth-century manuscript copies have survived (these are listed in
Wells and Taylor, 163). It was also printed five times in the seventeenth
century, the first time in the 1633 edition of Donne's Poems.
To learned Chaucer, and rare Beaumont lie
A little nearer Spenser to make room
For Shakespeare in your threefold, fourfold tomb.
To lodge all four in one bed make a shift
Until Doomsday, for hardly will a fifth
Betwixt this day and that by fate be slain
For whom your curtains may be drawn again.
If your precedency in death doth bar
A fourth place in your sacred sepulcher,
Under this carved marble of thine own
Sleep rare tragedian Shakespeare, sleep alone,
Thy unmolested peace, unshared cave,
Possess as lord not tenant of thy grave,
That unto us and others it may be
Honor hereafter to be laid by thee.
- John Taylor, the Water Poet, has a poem in The Praise of Hemp-seed
(1620) in which he includes Shakespeare among famous dead English poets who
live on through their works:
In paper, many a poet now survives
Or else their lines had perish'd with their lives.
Old Chaucer, Gower, and Sir Thomas More,
Sir Philip Sidney, who the laurel wore,
Spenser, and Shakespeare did in art excell,
Sir Edward Dyer, Greene, Nash, Daniel.
Sylvester, Beaumont, Sir John Harrington,
Forgetfulness their works would over run
But that in paper they immortally
Do live in spite of death, and cannot die.
- The monument to Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford was in
place at least by the time of the First Folio in 1623, since Leonard Digges
refers to it in his poem in that volume (see below). On the front of the
monument is a two-line Latin inscription:
Ivdicio Pylivm, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
This is followed by the well-known poem in English:
Terra tegit, popvlvs maeret, Olympvs habet
(In judgement a Nestor, in wit a Socrates, in art a Virgil;
the earth buries [him], the people mourn [him], Olympus possesses [him])
Stay passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Oxfordians are forced to dismiss this monument as a hoax engineered by
conspirators. However, there are numerous 17th-century references to the
monument, all of which say it is in memory of William Shakespeare, the
famous poet born in Stratford.
Read if thou canst, whom envious death hath placed,
With in this monument Shakspeare: with whom
Quick nature died: whose name doth deck the tomb,
Far more than cost: sith all, that he hath writ,
Leaves living art, but page, to serve his wit.
Obiit anno do. 1616
Aetatis 53 die 23 Apr.
- Of course, there is Jonson's
in the First Folio (1623), "To
the memory of my beloved, Mr. William Shakespeare, and what he hath left
us." Jonson is also thought to be the most likely author of the poem
the reader" opposite the engraving on the title page, signed "B.I." (Ben
- The First Folio prefatory material also contains poems by
the lines and life of the famous scenicke poet, Master William
Leonard Digges ("To
the memorie of the deceased author
Maister W. Shakespeare"), and
most likely Digges's friend James Mabbe ("To
the memorie of M. W. Shake-speare"). Digges was the stepson of
Shakespeare's Stratford friend Thomas Russell, and kept close ties with
Stratford to the end of his life. The only surviving letter in his hand
(written in 1632, three years before his death) tells of the "mad relations
of Stratford" and contains a jesting description of William Combe, brother
of the Thomas Combe to whom Shakespeare bequeathed his sword in his will.
(Hotson 1937, 251.)
- In a copy of the First Folio now at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the
following poem is written in a hybrid secretary-italic hand from the 1620s:
Here Shakespeare lies whom none but Death could Shake,
The same hand has on the same page transcribed the verses from
Shakespeare's monument ("Stay passenger why go'st thou by so fast") and his
grave ("Good friend for Jesus' sake forbear"), so he is obviously referring
to William Shakespeare of Stratford. (Evans 1988)
And here shall lie till judgement all awake,
When the last trumpet doth unclose his eyes,
The wittiest poet in the world shall rise.
- Appended to Michael Drayton's Battaile of Agincourt (1627) is an elegy
called "To my most dearely-loved friend Henery Reynolds Esquire, of Poets &
Poesie," in which Drayton gives his opinion of various English poets, both
deceased and living. Of Shakespeare he says:
Shakespeare thou hadst as smooth a comic vein,
Fitting the sock, and in thy natural brain,
As strong conception, and as clear a rage,
As any one that traffick'd with the stage.
- The Second Folio of Shakespeare's works (1632), in addition to the
eulogies from the First Folio, contains three additional ones. The first
of these, "An Epitaph on the admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare,"
was unsigned in the Folio, but later appeared in John Milton's 1645 Poems
with the date 1630. The second eulogy, also unsigned, is entitled "Upon
the Effigies of my worthy Friend, the Author Maister William Shakespeare,
and his Workes." The third, signed only with the initials "I.M.S.," is a
well-written 77-line poem called "On Worthy Master Shakespeare and his
- Thomas Heywood, in his Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels (1635), goes
through a long list of his fellow playwrights and affectionately notes the
nicknames they had been known by. Of Shakespeare, he writes:
Mellifluous Shake-speare, whose enchanting quill
Commanded mirth or passion, was but Will.
- Sir William D'Avenant's Madagascar, with other poems (1638), contains
an ode entitled "In Remembrance of Master William Shakespeare."
- Thomas Bancroft's Two Books of Epigrammes, and Epitaphs (1639) contains
two short poems entitled "To Shakespeare" and "To the same."
- The anonymous Wits Recreations (1640) has an epigram entitled "To Mr.
- The 1640 edition of Shakespeare's Poems contains Basse's poem noted
above, plus three new eulogies: Leonard Digges's "Upon Master William
Shakespeare, the Deceased Author, and his Poems" (obviously written years
before, since Digges himself had died in 1635); John Warren's "Of Mr.
William Shakespeare"; and the anonymous "An Elegie on the death of that
famous Writer and Actor, M. William Shakespeare" (which must have been
written before 1637, since it speaks of Ben Jonson in the present tense).
Note that three of the four eulogies in this volume must have been
circulating in manuscript for a number of years before 1640.
To anyone familar with seventeenth-century poetry, this is a very
impressive group of tributes, virtually unmatched for any other
contemporary poet or playwright. But, someone might object, these eulogies
were spread out over decades; why wasn't there an immediate torrent of
praise for the man we now recognize as the greatest writer in the English
language? Such a question, while understandable from our twentieth-century
perspective, reveals an ignorance of seventeenth-century practice. In
Shakespeare's day only "important" people (e.g. noblemen, or at least
knights) were eulogized immediately in print, and as hard as it may be for
us to believe, playwrights were simply not considered important enough for
such an honor. Many of them were clearly admired by their fellow
playwrights and poets, but our evidence for this generally comes from many
years after their deaths, and is in virtually every case much less than
what we have for Shakespeare.
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Consider the most prominent playwrights of Shakespeare's day, and compare
the reactions to their deaths with the reaction to Shakespeare's.
The only two English playwrights before Shakespeare whose deaths received
any significant notice at all in the printed record were Robert Greene and
Christopher Marlowe, but in both cases this notice was primarily negative,
and had nothing to do with their play writing activities. There are some
interesting similarities between the two men: both were notorious figures
(Greene for his hedonistic lifestyle among the dregs of London society,
Marlowe for his homosexuality and heretical opinions) whose notoriety
increased after their deaths, and both died relatively young (Greene at 34,
Marlowe at 29) while under the threat of legal action (Greene was about to
be sued for libel by Gabriel Harvey, while Marlowe was under suspicion by
the Privy Council for alleged blasphemous writings). Because of their ill
fame, both men also were mentioned in print numerous times in the few years
after their deaths -- they died within nine months of each other -- but
mostly in the context of attacks rather than eulogies.
- A good example is Francis Beaumont, half of the famous and popular
dramatic team of Beaumont and Fletcher. Beaumont retired from the stage in
1613, around the same time as Shakespeare, and the two men died in the same
year, 1616, though Beaumont was 20 years younger. Beaumont was buried in
Westminster Abbey, but without any monument or even an inscription
indicating where his grave is, and we know nothing about his funeral.
Other than the record of his burial, the earliest notices we have of
Beaumont's death are Taylor's poem in The Praise of Hemp-seed and Basse's
MS eulogy to Shakespeare -- the same two poems which contain the earliest
mention of Shakespeare's death. (Charlton Ogburn asserts in The
Mysterious William Shakespeare (112) that there was a "shower" of praise
for Beaumont upon his death, but this shower appears to be a product of
Ogburn's fantasies; no contemporary evidence for it exists.)
printed eulogy specifically for Beaumont was "An epitaph upon my dearest
brother Francis Beaumont," in the posthumous edition of his brother Sir
John Beaumont's poems; this did not appear until 1629, thirteen years
after his death and six years after the Shakespeare First Folio. Beaumont
received passing mention in a few poems over the years (most of them
alongside Shakespeare and/or Fletcher), and the anonymous Wits
Recreations (1640) contained a short poem entitled "To Mr. Francis
Beaumont and Mr. John Fletcher gent." It was not until 1647, though, that
the next eulogies specifically for Francis Beaumont appeared in print: the
First Folio of Beaumont and Fletcher's works, printed in that year,
contained George Lisle's "To the memory of my most honored kinsman, Master
Francis Beaumont," John Earle's "On Master Beaumont (written thirty years
since, presently after his death)," and Richard Corbet's "On Master Francis
Beaumont (then newly dead)." As their titles indicate, the last two of
these had been written three decades earlier, and had presumably been
circulating in manuscript all that time. By the time they finally appeared
in print, more than a dozen such eulogies to Shakespeare had been
- Beaumont's writing partner, John Fletcher, was not eulogized in print
until 1639, fourteen years after his death; in that year, the quarto of
Fletcher's play Monsieur Thomas contained a 20-line poem by Richard Brome
entitled "In Praise of the Author and His Following Poem." The following
year saw the publication in Wits Recreations of a short epigram to
Beaumont and Fletcher as a team, noted above; seven more years then passed
before the publication of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher Folio, which
contained many poems in praise of Fletcher. Our only account of Fletcher's
death comes from John Aubrey, writing some 50 years later (Aubrey, 22);
compare our only account of Shakespeare's death, written some 45 years
after the fact (cf. note 1).
- Thomas Middleton died in 1627, but it was not until thirteen years later
that he was eulogized, in the same 1640 collection (Wits Recreations) that
contained poems to Shakespeare and Beaumont and Fletcher. Middleton had
been briefly mentioned, along with a dozen other Elizabethan and Jacobean
playwrights, in Thomas Heywood's The Hierarchie of Blessed Angels (1635).
- John Webster is last heard from alive in 1625, and while some scholars
think he was dead by 1634 (because Heywood in The Hierarchie of Blessed
Angels speaks of him in the past tense), others think he lived on until
1637. We just can't tell for sure, because nobody bothered to say anything
about his death in print, or in any datable document such as a diary or a
- John Ford suddenly disappears from the literary record in 1639, but no
record of his death has been found, and nobody is sure when he died. The
1640 collection Wits Recreation contains a poem to Ford written in the
present tense, but this doesn't necessarily mean he was still alive, since
the poems to Shakespeare, Chapman, Middleton, and Jonson (all long dead)
are also in the present tense.
- John Marston's death in 1634 appears to have gone completely unnoticed by
Caroline men of letters. I have been unable to find any seventeenth-century
eulogies to him at all, or even any significant mentions of him by name
after his death.
- Thomas Heywood's death in 1641 was also completely unnoticed, as far as
the literary record goes.
- Henry Chettle is last heard from in 1603, and while he may well have died
in the plague epidemic of that year, the first clear indication that he was
dead is Thomas Dekker's 1607 pamphlet A Knight's Conjuring, which
mentions Chettle as following Thomas Nashe into the Elysian Fields of
heaven (Jenkins, 28).
Greene and Marlowe were special cases because of their public notoriety,
but their deaths received by far the most notice of any English
playwright before Shakespeare, and for 20 years afterwards.
- Greene's squalid final days were gleefully recounted by his enemy Gabriel
Harvey in a pamphlet rushed into print a week after his death, and over the
next few years several more critical works appeared, such as Greenes Newes
both from Heaven and Hell (1593). The one work which might conceivably be
called a eulogy was Greenes Funeralls (1594), a relatively favorable
(though woodenly written) 17-page pamphlet of poems; but the anonymous
author (possibly Richard Barnfield) mentions only Greene's prose works,
which were his claim to fame, and gives no indication that he knew that
Greene was a playwright. Indeed, no other writer during Greene's lifetime
had ever mentioned his play-writing activities or alluded to any of his
plays, and these plays were all published posthumously, beginning in 1594.
- Charles Nicholl in The Reckoning discusses the reactions to Marlowe's
death in considerable detail. The first of these was in George Peele's
The Honour of the Garter, written less than a month after Marlowe's
murder and published later that year, which contains a brief mention of the
"unhappy end" of "Marley, the Muses darling." Then, despite some possible
oblique references, four years
passed before anyone mentioned
Marlowe's death again in print. Beginning in 1597, a series of hostile
accounts appeared -- by Thomas Beard (1597), Francis Meres (1598), and
William Vaughan (1600) -- which saw Marlowe's violent death as divine
retribution for his blasphemous ways.
The playwright who finally broke the pattern, and who finally surpassed
Shakespeare in the number of eulogies he received after his death, was Ben
Jonson. As Oxfordians (e.g. Ogburn, 112) are fond of pointing out, Jonson
was honored within a year of his death in 1637 by a volume of elegies
(Jonsonus Viribus). But this volume did not appear in a vacuum; its
existence was the result of a number of converging factors which had not
been present when Shakespeare died 21 years earlier. For one thing, the
professional theater had been steadily growing in respectability, and by
the 1630s plays were almost considered literature by some people. Although
Jonson was at least as well known for his nondramatic poetry and his court
masques as for his plays, he had done the unheard-of by including his plays
alongside his other poetry in the Folio edition of his 1616 Works. While
this move was ridiculed at the time, in retrospect it was a major step in
making plays more respectable as reading material, a process which was
helped tremendously by the publication of the Shakespeare First Folio in
1623 and the Second Folio in 1632. Then, too, Jonson was a relentless
self-promoter and flamboyant personality who cultivated a band of proteges
(the "Tribe of Ben") to carry on his poetic legacy.
Even with all this going for him, though, the volume of tributes to Jonson
nearly didn't come off. Doctor Brian Duppa, Dean of Christchurch, had been
gathering manuscript elegies for Jonson, but Sir Kenelm Digby had to write
Duppa to urge that the collection be printed, or else it would have
followed previous custom and remained in manuscipt (Bradley and Adams,
201). The unprecedented publication of Jonsonus Viribus in 1638 seems to
have made the idea of printed eulogies for playwright-poets respectable,
and a small flurry of such tributes followed in its wake. As noted above,
the next three years saw eight published poems honoring Shakespeare, at
least three of which had actually been written years before; the first two
printed tributes to Fletcher; and a number of other tributes in such
collections as Wits Recreation.
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As noted above, only people who were relatively prominent in the
Elizabethan social hierarchy -- those who had at least been knighted or
were prominent in the Church -- were generally honored with printed elegies
soon after their death. Professional playwrights, including Shakespeare,
were overwhelmingly middle class, and thus it is not surprising that none
of them were so honored until Jonson's followers set a precedent in the
late 1630s. When we look at nondramatic poets, matters are a little more
complicated: since poetry was considered a respectable avocation for a
gentleman of means, some poets were in fact prominent on the social scale,
while others were middle class like Shakespeare. Comparing the two groups
is instructive, and illustrates very well that social position, not poetic
ability, was the primary factor in determining how the deaths of
Elizabethan poets were memorialized.
First, consider Sir Philip Sidney and John Donne. Both of these men were
outstanding and innovative poets, and both were honored with printed
eulogies within a few years of their deaths. However, they also share a
number of characteristics which differentiate them sharply from Shakespeare
and his fellows. Neither was a professional poet; all of Sidney's poetry
and the vast majority of Donne's circulated only in manuscript and was
published posthumously; and the relatively little of Donne's poetry which
did reach print during his lifetime was published anonymously. Most
importantly of all, both men were high in the Elizabethan social order, and
well-known for reasons having nothing to do with poetry; they would have
undoubtedly been eulogized even if they had never written a line of verse.
Sidney and Donne are the best-known examples, but a couple of lesser poets
of high social standing active during Shakespeare's lifetime were also
eulogized in print:
- While Sidney is today best remembered for his poetry, at the time of his
death almost all of this poetry remained unpublished, and he was much
better known as a courtier, diplomat, military hero, and embodiment of the
Renaissance man. Within a year of Sidney's untimely death at the age of
32, seven volumes of memorial verse appeared, including one collection from
Cambridge and two from Oxford. These eulogies from immediately after his
death make almost no mention of his poetical works, and in fact most of
them are little more than hackwork. (The lot of them were reprinted in
facsimile by Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints in 1980, edited by A. J.
Colaianne and Bill Godshalk.) The eulogies for Sidney which have any
poetic merit were not published until the 1590s and later, presumably after
circulating in manuscript; the best-known of these, Spenser's Astrophil,
was not published until 1595, nine years after Sidney's death.
- Like Sidney, John Donne is most famous today for his poetry, but in his
own lifetime he was best known to the general public as a churchman and
Dean of St. Paul's, an important position in Jacobean London. During his
lifetime, several of his sermons and other theological writings were
published, but his verse remained in manuscript except for a few
anonymously printed poems. The year after Donne's death in 1631, a small
quarto volume entitled Death's Duel was published, containing his last
sermon along with eulogies by two of his fellow divines, Dr. Henry King and
Dr. Henry Hyde. The following year, Donne's collected poems were finally
published, along with a group of ten eulogies; the second edition in 1635
added three more. Some of these eulogies praise his poetry, but as a whole
they are more concerned with his reputation as a learned preacher. Given
that Donne had been relatively unknown and without steady employment before
finally receiving Holy Orders in his early forties, it seems rather
unlikely that he would have received such posthumous tributes because of
his poetry alone.
When we turn to poets who were not as high in the social order, though, a
different picture emerges.
- Sir John Beaumont was a poet like his brother Francis, but instead of
writing for the rabble at the public theater, he cultivated friends at
Court (his wife was related to the ill-fated Duke of Buckingham) and was
eventually created a Baronet. The one poem of his published during his
lifetime, The Metamorphosis of Tabacco, was printed anonymously. One
year after Sir John's death in 1628, his son John Jr. brought out a
collection of his poems entitled Bosworth-Field: With a Taste of the
Variety of Other Poems. This included 13 eulogies Beaumont had written
over the years for various people (including his brother Francis), as well
as ten eulogies for Beaumont himself. Two years later, in 1631, William
Colman's La Danse Macabre, or Death's Duel included a 24-line poem
entitled "An Elegie upon the Honorable Sir John Beaumont, Knight Baronet."
- Fulke Greville had been a prominent courtier for decades, and was created
Lord Brooke in 1621. He wrote some poetry and several plays, but these
remained in manuscript until after his death (with the exception of his
play Mustapha, printed anonymously in 1609). Two years after Greville
was murdered in 1628, Martin Peerson's Mottects or Grave Chamber Musique
contained a "Mourning Song on the Death of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke."
(Greville had been Peerson's patron.)
In light of the major role of social position in determining the extent of
posthumous eulogies, it's instructive to compare Shakespeare with Edward de
Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who Oxfordians believe was the "real" author of
Shakespeare's plays. Oxford's death in 1604 really did go virtually
unnoticed, even though he was the type of socially promenent person who
could be eulogized in print. No poetic tributes to him were published in
the years immediately after his death, or indeed during the entire
seventeenth century, nor is there any record of any particular mourning
outside of his immediate family. Oxford was occasionally mentioned in
print over the next few decades, always with the requisite praise for one
of his rank, but without any indication that he had been a great writer.
(See Terry Ross's article on Oxford's Literary Reputation for more
details.) The eulogy argument is an uncomfortable double-edged sword for
Oxfordians; if there should have been more tributes upon William
Shakespeare's death, as Oxfordians argue, then certainly we should expect
some tributes upon the death of Oxford, whom they depict as a jewel of
Elizabeth's court and the greatest writer in England. Yet such tributes
were not forthcoming, perhaps because Oxford was remembered not as a great
writer, but as a nobleman who had wasted his considerable promise and
bankrupted his estate.
- First, consider Edmund Spenser. Spenser was unquestionably regarded by
his contemporaries as the greatest English poet since Chaucer; in fact, he
was compared to Chaucer so often that it almost became a cliche.
(Interested readers can consult Wells 1972 for examples.) Unlike the other
three men, Spenser's fame was entirely due to his poetry (he was a civil
servant all of his adult life), and unlike them his work had been published
during his lifetime. Yet despite his much greater reputation as a poet, he
received a small fraction of the printed eulogies that Sidney and Donne, or
even Beaumont, had received. There was no organized collection of tributes.
Instead, there was a poem by John Weever in 1599; a poem by Nicholas
Breton, a Latin epitaph by William Camden, and a non-elegiac poem by
Francis Thynne in 1600; a Latin poem by Charles Fitzgeoffrey in 1601 that
doesn't actually refer to Spenser's death; three references to the death of
"Collin" (Spenser's alter ego) in 1602-03; a two-line Latin poem by John
Stradling in 1607; a couple of other passing references to Spenser in the
past tense; and nothing else in the ten-year span after Spenser's death.
This motley collection was by far the greatest collection of tributes to an
untitled English poet, within five years after his death, until the Jonson
volume nearly 40 years later; yet it is far surpassed by the organized
tributes to Sidney, Donne, and Sir John Beaumont.
- Samuel Daniel was one of the most respected and best-known poets of
Shakespeare's day; he was Poet Laureate under Elizabeth, and his works went
through many editions during his lifetime. After Daniel died in 1619, the
first notice of his death in the printed record is John Taylor's 1620
tribute to deceased English poets (quoted above), which also contains the
first datable mention of the deaths of Shakespeare and Francis Beaumont.
collected works were published in 1623, edited by his brother John, but
this volume contains no eulogies for the author. In fact, not a single
eulogy for Samuel Daniel appeared in print during the entire seventeenth
century, though he was mentioned along with other poets in several poems
(such as Drayton's Battaile of Agincourt ).
- Michael Drayton was another of the most popular poets of his day, a year
older than Shakespeare. He died late in 1631, but the exact date is not
known. Ogburn (112) repeats a story that Drayton was honored with "a
funeral procession to Westminster escorted by gentlemen of the Inns of
Court and others of note." However, it turns out that the source for this
story is an undated manuscript note by the antiquary William Fulman, who
was born in 1632 -- the year after Drayton died (Newdigate, 219). By the
standards Ogburn applies to posthumous stories about Shakespeare, he should
have dismissed this Drayton story out of hand. No original poems in
Drayton's honor appeared in print in the decade after his death, but two
works did reprint the verses from his tomb in Westminster Abbey: the fifth
edition of Camden's Remaines, with supplementary material by John
Philipot (1637) and our old friend Wits Recreation (1640).
- Though George Chapman had written plays, he was best known in literary
circles for his nondramatic poetry, particularly his translation of Homer.
Chapman has the distinction of being the only nontitled poet between
Spenser (1599) and Jonson (1637) to be eulogized in print within a year
after his death. One year after his death in 1634, the second edition of
his friend William Habington's Castara contained a poem in Chapman's
memory. That was it, though; the only other posthumous poem to Chapman that
I've been able to find in the seventeenth century is one in Wits
Recreation that refers to him in the present tense.
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In addition to the alleged lack of eulogies, Oxfordians point to other
sources which they claim were mysteriously silent on Shakespeare's death in
1616. However, as with the eulogies, a little examination reveals that
Oxfordians have badly distorted the facts and their context. The
"Beginner's Guide to the Shakespeare Authorship Problem" on the Oxfordian
web page says that "William Camden in his book Remaines had praised the
author 'Shakespeare', but in his Annales for the year 1616 Camden omits
mention of the Stratford man's death. Also, in the list of Stratford
Worthies of 1605 Camden omits the Stratford man's name, even though Camden
had previously passed on Shakspere's application for a family coat of
arms." These two sentences contain a number of major inaccuracies and
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- Camden's Annales only covered the reign of Elizabeth; the first three
books, published in 1615, covered 1558-1588, and the fourth book, published
posthumously in 1627, covered 1589-1603. Since Shakespeare died in 1616,
it's hardly surprising that a narrative which only goes up to 1603 should
make no mention of the event. What the anonymous author of the Beginner's
Guide probably meant to say was that John Stow's Annales, not Camden's,
fails to mention Shakespeare's death in 1616. Stow first published his
Annales in 1580, covering the entire history of England up to that year;
later editions, appropriately updated, were published in 1592, 1600 and
1605. In the latter year Stow died at the age of 80, but that did not mean
the end of his Annales: ten years later, in 1615, Edmund Howes came out
with an updated edition which carried the narrative forward through 1614.
It was in this edition that Howes listed contemporary poets, including "M.
Willi. Shakespeare gentleman," but since Shakespeare's death was not to
come for another year, we obviously shouldn't expect Howes to mention it.
The next edition of the Annales did not appear until sixteen years later,
in 1631. Sure enough, in the section on 1616, Shakespeare's death is not
mentioned. But this is hardly surprising, because Stow/Howes do not
mention the deaths of any poets or playwrights -- the only people whose
deaths they mention are noblemen, bishops, and criminals who had been
executed. They do not mention Spenser's death in 1599, or Beaumont's in
1616, or Fletcher's in 1625, or Marlowe's in 1593, or any of Shakespeare's
illustrious contemporaries. (Stow does note the death of Sir Philip Sidney
in 1586, but he was primarily known at the time as a courtier, war hero,
and diplomat, and only incidentally as a poet.)
- There was no list of "Stratford Worthies of 1605," by Camden or anybody
else. What the anonymous author is apparently referring to is the 1607
edition of Camden's Britannia, as cited by Ogburn and various other
Oxfordians. To begin with, the first edition of this work was published in
1586, written entirely in Latin, with the full title of Britannia, sive
florentissimorum regnorum Angliae, Scotiae, Hiberniae et insularum
adjacentium ex intima antiquitae chorographica Descripto ("A description
of features, to the earliest time of the powerful kings, of England,
Scotland, Ireland, and the adjacent islands). As the title implies, it was
a work of antiquarian scholarship, intended to give the history of the
various areas of the British Isles, and not intended as a guide to the
contemporary literary scene, or indeed any contemporary scene. After the
first edition of 1586, further editions of Britannia came out in 1587,
1590, 1594, 1600, and 1607 (the only one Ogburn notes); an English
translation by Philemon Holland appeared in 1610, with a second edition in
In discussing Stratford,
Camden mentions John de Stratford,
the fourteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury, and Hugh Clopton, the
fifteenth-century Lord Mayor of London who built the bridge over the Avon
(and who also built New Place). There is absolutely no reason to expect
Camden to mention Shakespeare here; he only occasionally mentions living
people (none below the rank of knight) and then only if they are
descendants of some illustrious person from the past and/or if they live in
some historic castle or manor which he's describing. Thus, after
describing Hugh Clopton and the bridge he built in Stratford, Camden writes
a bit about Clopton's lineage and notes (in the 1607 edition) that his most
direct living descendants are two sisters, one of whom is married to Sir
George Carew, Vicechamberlain to Queen Anne. Camden's Remaines of a
greater work concerning Britain, the first edition of which was published
in 1605, was intended as a supplement to Britannia, containing material
not appropriate to an antiquarian work, including a discussion of
literature. Here Camden does mention Shakespeare along with nine other
If there is anything unusual about the reaction to William Shakespeare's
death in the historical record, it is the relative abundance of tributes to
him, and the speed which with they reached print. The poetic tributes in
the First Folio were completely unprecedented for an English playwright, or
for a non-noble poet; even Spenser, whose contemporary reputation was much
greater than Shakespeare's, did not receive such an organized tribute,
though a few poems in his memory were printed within a year of his death.
In addition to the First Folio, at least two manuscript elegies to
Shakespeare circulated (both of which tie him to Stratford), and a steady
stream of poetic tributes followed over the next two decades. The reaction
to Shakespeare's death, far from being mysterious, was about what we should
expect for a Jacobean Englishman of his social standing who had made a
reputation as one of the most popular poets and playwrights of his day.
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We don't know anything about Shakespeare's funeral, but it must have
been reasonably elaborate, given that he was buried in the church proper
rather than in the churchyard, and that a monument in his honor was put in
the church. The only local anecdote about his death which has come down to
us was written down 45 years later by John Ward. Shortly after he became
vicar of Stratford in 1661, Ward wrote in his diary that "Shakespear,
Drayton and Ben Jhonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard for
it seems Shakespear died of a feavour there contracted" (Chambers, II,
250). We have no way of knowing whether this anecdote is true, but it was
obviously the story going around Stratford several decades after the fact,
and it seems plausible enough.
Thomas Nashe in The Unfortunate Traveller has a discussion of the
Italian playwright Pietro Aretino which some (including Nicholl) have seen
as an oblique tribute to Marlowe, though this is a matter of conjecture
since his name is nowhere mentioned. "Gorgon," a poem by Gabriel Harvey
published late in 1593 as an appendix to his New Letter of Notable
Contents, has generally been taken to be about Marlowe's death, though it
does not mention him by name either. Nicholl, however, argues persuasively
that the poem is actually about the death of Peter Shakerley, a well-known
eccentric habitue of St. Paul's churchyard whose name does appear in the
poem, and who died days before it was written.
In 1695 Edward Gibson published another English translation of Camden's
work, with additions; Gibson does mention Shakespeare in his section on
Stratford, since by then Shakespeare was history rather than news.
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(Note: For titles published before 1640, I have given their number in the
Short Title Catalogue for easy reference)
Anon. 1593. Greenes Newes Both from Heaven and from Hell. London: A.
Charlwood. [STC 12259] [Facsimile reprint along with Barnfield 1594,
Sidgwick & Jackson, 1911]
Anon. 1640. Wits Recreations, Selected from the Finest Fancies of Modern
Muses. London: R. Hodgkinson for H. Blunden. [STC 25870] [Facsimile
reprint, Scholar Press, 1990]
Anon. 1996. "Beginner's Guide to the Shakespeare Authorship Problem." World
Wide Web http://www.shakespeare-oxford.com/guide.htm
Aubrey, John. 1949. Aubrey's Brief Lives. Ed. by Oliver Lawson Dick.
London: Secker & Warburg.
Bancroft, Thomas. 1639. Two Books of Epigrammes, and Epitaphs. London: I.
Okes for M.Walbancke. [STC 1354]
Barnfield, Richard. 1594. Greenes Funeralls. London: J. Danter. [STC 1487]
Beard, Thomas. 1597. The Theatre of God's Judgements. London: A.
Beaumont, Francis. 1640. Poems: by Francis Beaumont, gent.. London: R.
Hodgkinson for W.W. and L. Blaikelocke. [STC 1665]
Beaumont, Francis, and John Fletcher. 1647. Comedies and Tragedies.
London: H. Robinson and H. Moseley.
-----. 1854. The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher. Ed. by Alexander Dyce.
Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co.
Beaumont, John. 1602. The Metamorphosis of Tabacco. London: F. Kingston
for J. Flasket. [STC 1695]
-----. 1629. Bosworth-Field: With a Taste of the Variety of Other Poems.
London: F. Kyngston for H. Seile. [STC 1694]
-----. 1869. The Poems of Sir John Beaumont, Bart.. Ed. by Alexander B.
Grosart. Printed for private circulation.
Camden, William. 1615. Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum Regnante
Elizabetha, ad Annum Salutis MDLXXXIX. [STC 4496]
-----. 1627. Tomus Alter Annalium Anglicarum, et Hibernicarum, regnante
Elizabetha. [STC 4496.5]
-----. 1586. Britannia sive florentissimorum regnorum, Angliae, Scotiae,
Hiberniae chorographica descriptio. London: R. Newbery. [STC 4503]
-----. 1587. [2nd edition]. London: R. Newbery. [STC 4504]
-----. 1590. [3rd edition]. London: G. Bishop. [STC 4505]
-----. 1594. [4th edition]. London: G. Bishop. [STC 4506]
-----. 1600. [5th edition]. London: G. Bishop. [STC 4507]
-----. 1607. [6th edition]. London: G. Bishop & J. Norton. [STC 4508]
-----. 1610. Britain, or a Chorographicall Description of the Most
Flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the Ilands
Adjoyning, out of the Depth of Antiquity. (translated by Philemon Holland)
London: G. Bishop & J. Norton. [STC 4509]
-----. 1637. [2nd edition]. London: F.K., R.Y., and J.L. for A. Heb. [STC 4510]
-----. 1695. Camden's Britannia, newly translated into English: with large
additions and improvements. (Translated by Edward Gibson) London: F.
Collins for A. Swalle.
-----. 1605. Remaines of a greater worke, concerning Britain. London: G.
Eld for S. Waterson. [STC 4521]
-----. 1614. [2nd edition] London: J. Legatt for S. Waterson. [STC 4522]
-----. 1623. [3rd edition] London: N. Okes for S. Waterson. [STC 4523]
-----. 1629. [4th edition] London: A. Islip for S. Waterson. [STC 4524]
-----. 1637. [5th edition; additions by John Philipot] London: T. Harper
for J. Waterson. [STC 4526]
-----. 1657. [6th edition; additions by John Philpot]. London: Simon Miller.
Chambers, E. K. 1930. William Shakespeare: A Study of the Facts and
Problems. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Colaianne, A. J., and William Godshalk, eds. 1980. Elegies for Sir Philip
Sidney (1587): facsimile reproductions. New York: Scholars' Facsimiles and
Colman, William. 1632. La Danse Macabre, or Deaths Duel. London: W.
Stansby [STC 5539]
Daniel, Samuel. 1623. The Whole Works of Samuel Daniel Esquire in
Poetrie. London: N. Okes for S. Waterson.
D'Avenant, William. 1638. Madagascar, with other poems. London: J.
Haviland for Thomas Walkly. [STC 6304]
Donne, John. 1632. Deaths Duell. London: T. Harper for R. Redmer and B.
Fisher. [STC 7031]
-----. 1633. Poems, by J. D. With elegies on the authors death. London:
M.F. for J. Marriot. [STC 7045]
-----. 1635. [2nd edition]. London: M.F. for J. Marriot. [STC 7046]
Drayton, Michael. 1627. Bataille of Agincourt. London: A. Mathewes for W.
Lee. [STC 7190]
-----. 1941. The Works of Michael Drayton. Ed. by J. William Hebel.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Duppa, Brian, ed. 1638. Jonsonus Virbius. London: E. Purslowe for H.
Seile. [STC 14784]
Evans, Robert C. 1988. "'Whome None But Death Could Shake': An Unreported
Epitaph on Shakespeare." Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988), 60.
Fletcher, John. 1639. Monsieur Thomas. London: T. Harper for J. Waterson.
Greville, Fulke, Lord Brooke. 1870. The Works in Verse and Prose Complete
of the Right Honorable Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke. Ed. by Alexander B.
Grosart. Printed for private circulation.
Grosart, Alexander B. 1869. "Memorial-Introduction" in Beaumont 1869.
-----. 1870. "Memorial-Introduction" in Greville 1870.
Gurr, Andrew. 1996. The Shakespearean Playing Companies. Oxford: Oxford
Habington, William. 1635. Castara. 2nd edition. [STC 12584]
Harvey, Gabriel. 1592. Three Letters, and Certaine Sonnets. London: J.
Wolfe. [STC 12899.5]
-----. 1593. A New Letter of Notable Contents. London: J. Wolfe. [STC 12902]
Herford, C.H., and Percy Simpson, eds. Ben Jonson. Volumes I & II: The Man
and His Work. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Heywood, Thomas. 1635. Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels. London: A.
Islip. [STC 13327]
Hotson, Leslie. 1937. I, William Shakespeare. London: Jonathan Cape.
Jenkins, Harold. 1934. The Life and Works of Henry Chettle. London:
Sidgwick & Jackson.
Jonson, Ben. 1616. The Workes of Benjamin Jonson. London: W. Stansby.
Meres, Francis. 1598. Palladis Tamia, or The Wits Treasury. London: C.
Burbie. [STC 17834]
Milton, John. 1645. Poems of Mr. John Milton, both English and Latin,
Composed at Several Times. London: R. Raworth for H. Mosedey.
Nashe, Thomas. 1594. The Unfortunate Traveller. London: T. Scarlet for C.
Burby. [STC 18380]
Newdigate, Bernard. 1941. Michael Drayton and His Circle. Oxford: Basil
Nicholl, Charles. 1992. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe.
Harcourt Brace & Company.
Ogburn, Charlton. 1992. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: the Myth & the
Reality. 2nd edition. McLean, VA: EPM Publications.
Peele, George. 1593. The Honour of the Garter. London: A. Charlwood for
J. Busbie. [STC 19539]
Peerson, Martin. 1630. Mottects or Grave Chamber Musique. London: W.
Stansby. [STC 19552]
Shakespeare, William. 1623. Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories,
and Tragedies. London: I. Jaggard and E. Blount. [STC 22273]
-----. 1632. [2nd edition]. London: T. Cotes for R. Allot. [STC 22274]
-----. 1640. Poems. London: T. Cotes for J. Benson. [STC 22344]
Spenser, Edmund. 1595. "Astrophil." In Colin Clouts Come Home Again.
London: T. Creede for W. Ponsonbie. [STC 23077]
Stow, John. 1580. The Chronicles of England. London: R. Newberry for H.
Binneman. [STC 23333]
-----. 1592. Anneles of England [2nd edition of the above]. London: R.
Newberry. [STC 23334]
-----. 1600. [3rd edition]. London: R. Newberry. [STC 23335]
-----. 1605. [4th edition]. London: G. Bishop and T. Adams. [STC 23337]
-----. 1615. [5th edition, continued by Edmund Howes]. London: T. Adams.
-----. 1631. [6th edition, continued by Edmund Howes]. London: R. Meighen.
Taylor, John. 1620. The Praise of Hemp-seed. London: E. Allde for H.
Gosson. [STC 23788]
-----. 1637. A Funerall Elegie, in Memory of the Rare, Famous, and Admired
Poet, Mr. Benjamin Jonson, Deceased. London: E. Purslowe for H. Gosson.
Vaughan, William. 1600. The Golden-Grove, Moralized in Three Books.
London: S. Stafford. [STC 24610]
Ward, B. M. 1928. The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604. London: John
Wells, William, ed. 1972. Spenser Allusions in the Sixteenth and
Seventeenth Centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor. 1987. William Shakespeare: A Textual
Companion. Oxford University Press.
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