Reason No. 26 to Believe that Oxford was “Shakespeare”: L’Envoy to “Narcissus” by Thomas Edwards in 1595

Reason No. 26 adding to the circumstantial evidence that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” involves a strange little poem published in London…

The 1882 Roxburghe Club limited edition of "Cephalus and Procris" and "Narcissus" (1595)

More than two decades ago I was in the microfilm room at a college library looking through a thick volume printed for the Roxburghe Club of London in 1882.  The volume featured an Elizabethan book of two narrative poems, Cephalus and Procris and Narcissus, translated from Ovid by the otherwise unknown Thomas Edwards.  It was registered in 1593 and printed in 1595, just after “Shakespeare” made his debut on the dedications of Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594 to the Earl of Southampton.

Attached to Narcissus was an “envoy” or postscript in several stanzas of verse, identifying major poets by characters in their works: “Collyn Clout” for Spenser; “Rosamond” for Daniel; “Leander” for Marlowe; and “Adon”  [Adonis of “Venus and Adonis”] signifying Shakespeare.

This was followed immediately atop the next page, as “L’Envoy” continued, by reference to a poet “in purple robes distained … whose power floweth far” with his “bewitching pen” and “golden art” that should make him “the only object and the star” of England’s writers.

So who was this poet said to be the best of all?

I turned to the Appendix to see what various scholars had to say – and to my surprise, one identified “the star” as Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford while another said “the star” must be a further description of Shakespeare…

Leaning back at the microfilm machine, I mused: If these two scholars of the late nineteenth century had been in the same room, one identifying Oxford and the other pointing to Shakespeare, wouldn’t it have occurred to them that maybe they were both talking about the same man?  If so, they’d have solved the authorship question then and there!

Here in modernized English is the stanza praising Shakespeare as “Adon” followed by the stanzas praising the poet who “should have been … the only object and the star”:

Adon deafly masking through

Stately troupes rich conceited,

Showed he well deserved to,

Love’s delight on him to gaze,

And had not love herself entreated,

Other nymphs had sent him bays.

Blackfriars Playhouse: Oxford acquired the sublease and transferred it to John Lyly, his secretary and stage manager

Eke in purple robes distained,

Amidst the Center of this clime,

I have heard say doth remain

One whose power floweth far,

That should have been of our rhyme

The only object and the star.

Blackfriars Playhouse

Well could his bewitching pen

Done the Muses’ objects to us;

Although he differs much from men

Tilting under Frieries,

Yet his golden art might woo us

To have honored him with bays.

[The stanza about “Adon” and the two stanzas to “one whose power floweth far” both end with “bays” – perhaps intended as a way for readers to link all three stanzas praising a single poet.]

In the Appendix notes, Roxburghe Club editor W.E. Buckley reported how one scholar identified Oxford and the other pointed to Shakespeare:

Edward Dowden (1843-1913)

“If ‘purple robes’ may mean a Nobleman’s robes, it gives some colour to the conjecture of Professor [Edward] Dowden, that Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have been intended, ‘as his reputation stood high as a Poet and Patron of Poets …

“Dr. B. Nicholson is of opinion that these two stanza must be connected with the preceding one in which Adon, that is, Shakspere, is described.”

Buckley noted that The Arte of English Poesie had named Oxford “first among the crew of courtly makers” and that Edmund Spenser had written a dedicatory sonnet to the earl in The Faire Queen of 1590 “in which he speaks of ‘the love that thou didst bear To th’Heliconian Nymphs, and they to thee.’  His ‘power flowed far’ as he was Lord High Chamberlain of England.  He had contributed to The Paradise of Dainty Devices, signing E.O. or E. Ox. [1576] and to The Phoenix Nest in 1593.  One of his poems is a vision of a Fair Maid (‘clad all in color of a Nun and covered with a Vail’) who complains of love and gets Echo answers of ‘Vere.’  In another (referred to by Edwards?), Oxford represents himself as ‘wearing black and tawny’ and [having] ‘no bays’ …”

[Prior to John Thomas Looney’s identification of Edward de Vere as “Shakespeare” in 1920, orthodox scholars felt free to mention him in a positive light without worrying about giving any ground to Oxfordians in the authorship debate; that is, they tended to be honest and straightforward – unlike much of what we see today!]

And here in the midst of these notes came another surprise from Editor Buckley, referring to the English literary antiquary Thomas Coxeter (1689-1747): “He [Oxford] was said by Coxeter to have translated Ovid, which would connect him with Narcissus, but no one has ever seen his Ovid.”

[We might wonder which Ovid works Oxford was “said to have translated,” given that his maternal uncle Arthur Golding is credited with the 1567 Latin-to-English translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses that became Shakespeare’s most beloved classical source.)

The street fighting in "Romeo and Juliet" is a mirror image of the "tilting" at Blackfriars involving Oxford's men

An important contribution to work on the Narcissus L’Envoy was done by Dr. Roger Stritmatter in an article printed in the Fall 2006 (70) issue of Cahiers Elisabethains, a leading French journal of Elizabethan studies, and reprinted in the Winter 2007 edition of Shakespeare Matters, the newsletter of The Shakespeare Fellowship, under the title “Tilting Under Frieries”: Narcissus (1595) and the Affair at Blackfriars.

Stritmatter introduced new evidence that “allows definitive identification of the phrase ‘tilting under Frieries’ as reference to a notorious series of Blackfriars street fights (1582-85) involving Oxford’s retainers.”  The fighting, in which Oxford was wounded and lamed for life, “left an indelible impression in the popular imagination of the era,” he writes, citing a series of documents (transcribed by Alan Nelson  for his Oxford biography Monstrous Adversary) confirming that Oxford’s men in spring 1582 were definitely “tilting under frieries” at Blackfriars.

“The significance of this finding, identifying Oxford as the poet with the ‘bewitching pen’ who ‘should have been’ – but cannot be – the ‘only object and the star’ of the chorus of the Elizabethan poets, should not be underestimated,” Stritmatter observes.

“Without doubt, the 1582-83 Oxford-Knyvet affair at Blackfriars was the most striking instance of ’tilting under Frieries’ during the thirty-seven years of Elizabeth’s reign that informed the imagery and diction of Edwardes’ enigmatic poem.  Before the fray had ended, a literary peer of the realm had been lamed for life, and followers of both factions wounded or killed.  The concealed poet of ‘bewitching pen’ and ‘golden art’ – whose men were in 1582 notoriously ’tilting under frieries’ – is none other than the still controversial Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).”

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Blackfriars is interesting for another reason. It has functioned as a lodge for the Scottish Rite Freemasons. See “History of Freemasonry” by Robert Freke Gould (1886) for some background, albeit obviously no mention of the P2-Grand Orient business to the “suicide” of Roberto Calvi in 1982.

    “Claims have been made that factors in Calvi’s death were the Vatican Bank, Banco Ambrosiano’s main shareholder; the Mafia, which may have used Banco Ambrosiano for money laundering; and the Propaganda Due or P2 clandestine Masonic Lodge.” (wikipedia)

    Our author would have been in the middle of some pretty big stuff back in Merry Old England; freemasonry would have been one of them.

    On Spenser being referred to as “Collyn Clout”, that makes sense in a late 16th century writing given the Star Chamber stuff which was used against nobility as well as commoner. In “Cymbeline”, the character Cloten is the son to the queen by a former husband. Cloten is a clod and gets his just desserts.

    • Thanks, Sander. Great stuff!

  2. Mr. Whittemore,

    I’m truly inspired by your literary work. As a young budding writer, I have a few questions. How can I contact you via email?

  3. This is extremely important work– thanks for posting it.

    One minor addition– a further example of de Vere’s penchant for variety in his subscriptions (i.e., literary signatures) is his using “E.Oxf.” in at least one of the ten editions of Paradise of Daintie Devises.

    • Much appreciated, Richard. I guess he wanted to make sure we knew it was him:-)

      This reminds me of questions I’ve had about the usual Oxfordian statement that Oxford stopped putting his own name on poems after 1576, when Paradise was first printed. But what about subsequent editions with his name and The Phoenix Nest in 1593? I think that was signed E.O.
      Best wishes and thanks for your own good work on all this…Hank

  4. Great post, which of course will lead us on to certain street fights in the streets of Verona…

    Knyvet = Tybalt ?

  5. Hank, thanks for the excellent post and the recognition of the Cahiers Elisabethain article.

    • You’re welcome, Roger. Your work in this field is truly astonishing in its breadth and depth, and I would hope it has become apparent to all truth-seekers that we are all in your debt for these labors. Thanks!

  6. Again, very nice entry, Hank. Will be citing you in the SAA project. Do you have a page number in Buckley for that quotation of Coexeter. That’s an interesting link that deserves more attention for what it is is saying, given all the other reasons for suspecting Oxford’s role in that Golding translation. think what the Stratfordians would do with evidence like that. We’d already be planning for the centennial of the discovery that the Oxfordians were wrong.

    I also love that line, ‘to my surprise, one identified ‘the star’ as Edward Vere Earl of Oxford while the other said ‘the star’ must be a further description of Shakespeare…..


    • Thanks! I’ll send that page number to you when home tonight. I loved doing that research. Much appreciate your comments.

      Sent from my iPhone


    • Hi Roger, hoping you received the info and the link that I sent by email. Let me know when you can. Thanks again. Keep up the great work!

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