Queen Elizabeth was Likened to Venus at Court on January 1, 1584 — in “Campaspe” — Attributed to John Lyly, the Earl of Oxford’s Secretary and Stage Manager

venus-and-adonis-cvr

Venus and Adonis was published in 1593, marking the first appearance of “William Shakespeare,” and we might ask whether the upper-class readers, not to mention Queen Elizabeth’s nobles and courtiers, might have been tempted to view the goddess Venus as representing Her Majesty – or, perhaps more dangerously, whether Elizabeth might have viewed herself in this portrait of Venus by the heretofore unknown poet.

Campaspe

Less than ten years earlier, Elizabeth was addressed from the stage at court and likened to Venus. Here is the opening footnote by Joseph Quincy Adams in 1924 for Campaspe: Played Before the Queen’s Majesty on New Year’s Day [1584] at Night by Her Majesty’s Children and the Children of Paul’s:

“John Lyly, who had attained great fame by his two novels, Euphues the Anatomy of Wit, 1578, and Euphues and his England, 1580, was presented by the Earl of Oxford in the summer of 1583 with the lease of Blackfriars Hall, where the royal boy-choristers and the singing children of St. Paul’s Cathedral were accustomed to present their plays – mainly designed for Court performance – before the general public. At once Lyly set himself to the task of writing plays, and within a few weeks had Campaspe ready for the stage.”

Whoa! Let us pause, just a moment, to realize that Lyly could not have penned Campaspe in two months, much less two weeks, and that it’s far more reasonable to conclude that his employer, 33-year-old Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, had written the play himself. We may never know the exact nature of their “working relationship,” but the fact is that Lyly never wrote a single play either before or after his employment by Oxford.

The play (set in Athens) had two Epilogues, one for the “Blacke-Fryers” audience (attending dress rehearsals) and the other, more important one, for the Queen and members of the Court. The latter epilogue, delivered by one of the children or perhaps by many or even all of them, was spoken directly to Elizabeth:

“We cannot tell whether we are fallen among Diomedes’ birds or his horses; the one received some men with sweet notes, the other bit at men with sharp teeth. But, as Homer’s gods conveyed them into clouds whom they would have kept from curses, and as Venus, lest Adonis should be pricked with the stings of adders, covered his face with the wings of swans; so we hope, being shielded with your Highness’ countenance…”

Elizabeth attending a play at the royal court

Elizabeth attending a play at the royal court

Queen Elizabeth was the “divinely ordained monarch” — up there among the gods, a goddess; and in the Epilogue for Campaspe, performed at Court on the night of January 1, 1584, she was openly associated with Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. We might ask how she could not have seen herself in the portrait of Venus by “Shakespeare” in 1593, less than a decade later…

THE FULL EPILOGUE

“We cannot tell whether we are fallen among Diomedes’ birds or his horses; the one received some men with sweet notes, the other bit at men with sharp teeth. But, as Homer’s gods conveyed them into clouds whom they would have kept from curses, and as Venus, lest Adonis should be pricked with the stings of adders, covered his face with the wings of swans; so we hope, being shielded with your Highness’ countenance, we shall, though near the neighing, yet not feel the kicking of those jades, and receive, though no praise (which we cannot deserve) yet a pardon – which, in all humility, we desire.

“As yet we cannot tell what we should term our labors, iron or bullion; only it belongeth to your Majesty to make them fit either for the forge, or the mint, currant by the stamp, or counterfeit by the anvil. For, as nothing is to be called ‘white’ unless it had been named ‘white’ by the first creator, so can there be nothing thought good in the opinion of others unless it be christened ‘good’ by the judgment of yourself. For ourselves again, we are those torches – wax, – of which, being in your Highness’ hands, you may make doves or vultures, roses or nettles, laurel for a garland or elder for a disgrace [Judas was supposed to have hanged himself on an elder tree].”

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://hankwhittemore.com/2014/11/23/queen-elizabeth-was-likened-to-venus-at-court-on-january-1-1584-in-campaspe-attributed-to-john-lyly-the-earl-of-oxfords-secretary-and-stage-manager/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. While it is possible to imagine that Oxford wrote Campaspe, It is a matter of debate to say that “it is far more reasonable” that he did so than Lyly did.
    Some of us have written in the hope that we might be published. Lyly might have kept Campaspe under his bed until the day that it could be staged dawned, with that same hope.

    • Thanks for presenting another angle on it. I wish we had more information.

  2. Campaspe was one of three plays connected to Oxford performed at court during those revels. William Warner’s ‘Syrinx or A Sevenfold History’ (1584) includes this passage from the introduction, “To the Reader”:

    “And yet, let his coy prophetess presage hard events in her cell, let the Athenian misanthropos [printed in Greek] or man-hater bite on the stage, or the Sinopian cynic bark with the stationer; yet, in Pan his Syrinx, will I pipe at the least to myself.”

    Warner’s “coy prophetess” is most likely an allusion to Cassandra, the seer who rejected Apollo and became Agamemnon’s ill-fated slave at the end of the Trojan War, and that this is a reference to the lost History of Agamemnon and Ulisses, performed at court in December 1584 by the Earl of Oxford’s boys. The “Sinopian cynic” is undoubtedly a reference to the 5th century Greek cynic philosopher, Diogenes, a character in Campaspe, which was also staged by Oxford’s boys during the court revels of 1584. The “Athenian misanthropos” biting on the stage is almost certainly an allusion to a contemporary dramatic representation of a Timon narrative.

    • Great insights, Earl — thanks!

  3. It is possible that Oxford and Lyly collaborated on the ‘Lyly’ plays, which were originally published anonymously, I believe. In the case of ‘Campaspe’, you haven’t mentioned the main character Alexander the Great. Between 1581 and 1584 Oxford is referred to with the sobriquet ‘Alexander’ some 4-5 times in dedications. As Alexander has to give up his wayward lusts and loves in the play, it seems to me that this play may have been his peace offering to Queen Elizabeth after his disgrace over the Vavasour affair (1581 to 1583). My essay on this was published in the De Vere Society Newsletter, vol.19,no2 in July 2012.
    Jan Cole, DVS, U.K.

    • Thanks very much. I look forward to reading your essay and commenting on it here! For what it’s worth, I have imagined Oxford dictating scenes and dialogue while Lyly transcribes. In the case of Thomas Watson, who likens Oxford’s influence to that of Alexander, we have another working relationship in which the lines of authorship appear to be blurred. Thanks again for the comment.

    • Even this maybe a funny reference to Alexander’s cutting the Gordian Knot, connected to te OX-chart.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: