Christopher Hatton and Malvolio: Part Two of Reason 68 Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“’I may command where I adore,’’’ Malvolio reads in a fabricated letter in Twelfth Night, assuming it’s addressed to him by the rich countess Olivia, whom he slavishly serves as both steward and hopeful lover.

“Why,” he exclaims, “she may command me: I serve her; she is my lady.”  The self-infatuated steward glances at what appears to be a coded name in the letter and says, “If I could make that resemble something in me!  Softly, ‘M.O.A.I.’… M – Malvolio.  M. – Why, that begins my name…”

Christopher Hatton      1540-1591

Christopher Hatton

“‘’In my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness,’” Malvolio reads aloud.  “’Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em …’”

The letter is signed “The Fortunate Unhappy” – echoing the Latin pen name Fortunatus Infoelix used by Sir Christopher Hatton, whom Queen Elizabeth made Captain of the Bodyguard in 1572.  At thirty-two, tall and handsome, Hatton had attracted the Queen with his dancing.  His ambition to become her lover may well have been realized, for a time; now his path was being blocked by twenty-two-year-old Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, also a superb dancer, as well as a victor of the tilt, a gifted poet and musician, a scholar and madcap earl who could not help but make fun of the competitive climbers at the royal court.

“There is no man of life and agility in every respect in Court but the Earl of Oxford,” George Delves had written to the Earl of Rutland on June 24, 1571; and Gilbert Talbot would write to his father the Earl of Shrewsbury from Court on May 11, 1573, “My Lord of Oxford is lately grown into great credit, for the Queen’s Majesty delighteth more in his personage and his dancing and valiantness than any other … If it were not for his fickle head, he would pass any of them shortly.”

In the previous October the courtier and poet Edward Dyer wrote to Hatton with advice about competing for the Queen’s most intimate favors against “my Lord Ctm” – all but certainly referring to Oxford with an abbreviation of his title “Lord Great Chamberlain” of England.  Dyer’s letter to Hatton must stand as a gross example of the cynical maneuverings of men at Court seeking Her Majesty’s favor:

“First of all,” Dyer tells Hatton, “you must consider with whom you have to deal, and, what we be towards her; who though she do descend very much in her sex as a woman, yet we may not forget her place, and the nature of it as our Sovereign … But the best and soundest way in mine opinion is “to put on another mind; to use your suits towards her Majesty in words, behavior and deeds; to acknowledge your duty, declaring the reverence which in heart you bear, and never seem deeply to condemn her frailties, but rather joyfully to commend such things as should be in her, as though they were in her indeed; hating my Lord Ctm in the Queen’s understanding for affection’s sake, and blaming him openly for seeking the Queen’s favour.

“For though in the beginning when her Majesty sought you (after her good manner), she did bear with rugged dealing of yours, until she had what she fancied, yet now, after satiety and fullness, it will rather hurt than help you; whereas, behaving yourself as I said before, your place shall keep you in worship, your presence in favour … Marry thus much I would advise you to remember, that you use no words of disgrace or reproach towards him [Oxford] to any; that he [Oxford], being the less provoked, may sleep, thinking all safe, while you do awake and attend your advantages.”

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, circa 1575 at age twenty-five

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, circa 1575 at age twenty-five

Dyer’s display of cold calculation about how to gain advantage over Oxford is remarkable.  So is his blunt description of Elizabeth’s sexual appetite and behavior.

Hatton was infatuated with the Queen, whose nickname for him was “mutton” or “sheep,” whereas Oxford was the “boar” because of the boar on his coat of arms.  During the summer of 1573, when Hatton became ill, Elizabeth sent him over to Spa in Liege (Belgium); and he wrote back to her using those nicknames to express his jealousy over Oxford having her Majesty all to himself:

“Your mutton is black … so much hath this disease dashed me … I love yourself.  I cannot lack you.  I am taught to prove it by the wish and desire I find to be with you … You are the true felicity that in this world I know or find.  God bless you forever.  The branch of the sweetest bush I will wear and bear to my life’s end.  God doth witness I feign not.  It is a gracious favour, most dear and welcome to me.  Reserve it to the sheep [i.e., Hatton himself].  He hath no tooth to bite, where the boar’s [Oxford’s] tusk may both raze and tear.”

While Oxford enjoyed his intimacy with the Queen, she would have shown him these letters; and when Hatton returned in October 1573, after five months’ convalescence on the Continent, he discovered that in fact “the boar” had done some razing and tearing in his absence.

A Hundredth Sundrie Flowres

Oxford had edited and published a book called A Hundredth Sundrie Flowres, much of which (or perhaps all) he had written himself.  (Tucker Brooke of Yale called it “the richest collection of early Elizabethan poetry.”)  Flowres opened with a 25,000-word novel (perhaps the original prose narrative in English) entitled The Adventures of Master F.I. (the initials of Hatton’s Latin pen name!) about a man in love with a mistress (whom the Court would view as Elizabeth), followed by sixteen poems signed Si fortunatus infoelix – linked to “F.I.” and now specifically identifying Hatton, who had had nothing to do with the writing of them.

The prank was so scandalizing that in 1575, while Oxford was traveling in Italy, the Elizabethan government reissued A Hundredth Sundrie Flowres in a radically altered fashion as The Poesies of George Gascoigne, obscuring the embarrassing connection to Hatton while claiming that Gascoigne wrote the entire anthology himself.  But the original text of Flowres, which has been preserved, represents an early stage of the English literary renaissance that was already begun: thirteen of the poems signed with Hatton’s pen name, but surely written by Oxford, are actually sonnets composed in the form to become known later as the Shakespearean form.

Hatton continued his rise during the rest of the decade.  In 1577 he was appointed Vice Chamberlain of the Royal Household and sworn of the Privy Council as well as knighted.  The following year the Queen formally granted him the Bishop of Ely’s house in Holborn; and such appointments, along with valuable grants with which Elizabeth showered him, prompted rumors that he was her lover.  No wonder that we have evidence of A Pleasant [humorous] Conceit of Vere, Earl of Oxford, Discontented at the Rising of a Mean Gentleman in the English Court, circa 1580, and that it was probably the first version of Twelfth Night with its caricature of Sir Christopher Hatton as Malvolio!

And this brings us back to the play on Hatton’s pen name as “The Fortunate Unhappy” that appears in the letter Malvolio reads in Twelfth Night, believing it was written to him by Olivia-Elizabeth.  In the same play as by Shakespeare, moreover, Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch refers to Malvolio as a “niggardly rascally sheep-biter – echoing Hatton’s letter to the Queen in 1573, when he referred to himself as Queen Elizabeth’s sheep in contrast to Oxford as the boar.

It appears that Oxford put himself into the character of Feste, the Clown, who serves Olivia but is permitted to take great liberties of speech.  Feste is Olivia’s “allowed fool” – which was how Oxford apparently saw himself, in relation to Elizabeth – and Malvio dislikes him just as the jealous Hatton disliked Oxford.

“I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal,” Malvolio tells Olivia, referring to Feste, but she defends her Clown to Hatton just as Elizabeth must have defended Oxford:

“O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite.  To be generous, guitless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets.  There is no slander in an allowed fool…”

For a more in-depth look at this reason to believe the Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare,” I recommend a look at the online description by Dr. Michael Delahoyde of Washington State University.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well, many men of Court wooed Elizabeth and maybe were her lovers over the decades: her stepfather, Thomas Seymour, by the end of the 40s, resulting in a pedophile affair and probably a bastard, Edward de Vere himself; Robert Dudley in the 60s, who make Elizabeth pregnant of Bacon, Essex and probably Robert Cecil; Oxford in the 70s, fathering his own half-brother with Elizabeth (i.e Southampton); Hatton and Raleigh in 80s, who to me are the models to Malvolio and Orsino.

    But Raleigh-Orsino, as I proposed, maybe a doubtful case. Do you think my words in the love triangule between Olivia-Orsino-Viola may be Elizabeth-Raleigh-Throckmorton? One this we are certain: Malvilio’s disdain toward Feste because of Olivia have is reason if we believe this triangule to be Olivia-Feste-Malvolio = Elizabeth-Oxford-Hatton.

    • Francisco, those identifications may well be correct. In the plays Oxford had much latitude to show many persons on the stage, I’d say. But I don’t know about Raleigh and Throckmorton, not because I disagree but because just not sure. In the sonnets, however, I believe he restricts identification to his “three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.” But in the plays he had a wide field of possibilities.

  2. Hi Francisco,
    these children would have taken several years of Elizabeth’s life, being pregnant… Do we have documents this much about the queen’s being ‘ill’, not being able to see ambassadors, so on. In Hank’s Monument there is a detailed period of her reign, just about the probable birth-time of Southampton, when she was taken ill, gaining weight… But he doesn’t mention any more such documents.

  3. D9o’t forget one of the most scathing critiques of Elizabeth’s reign obliquely and brilliantly presented under the radar in the “dark house scene”. Hatton was not the only target in this play.

    • Glad you mention it here, Ken. Yes, that’s a great find and Richard Desper does a fine job with it. I urge everyone to read it. It’s often a challenge to keep a focus on the point of each of these reasons:-) Thanks again.

      • Changed my entire perspective on Shakespeare with one essay. Blew my mind. No longer the “apolitical universalist”.

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