Anthony Munday: No. 27 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (as it now appears in the book)

Anthony Munday was an actor-printer-writer-translator and anti-Catholic spy who signed himself “Servant to the Right Honourable  the Earl of Oxenford.”  Oscar James Campbell is one of many traditional Shakespeare scholars who note the following points of interest about this writer of whom Oxford was the patron:

Shakespeare contributed an addition to the play Sir Thomas More (1592), the first draft of which had been written by Munday.

Shakespeare found incidents and ideas for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594) from Munday’s play John a Kent.

Shakespeare wrote parts of  The Merchant of Venice (1596) by drawing upon Munday’s long prose romance Zelanto, or The Fountain of Fame.

Shakespeare got his general plot outline for Much Ado About Nothing (1598) from Fedele and Fortunio, an Italian play adapted by Munday.

Shakespeare received inspiration for the idyllic green world of the forest in As You Like It (1599) from a play about Robin Hood by Munday.

In the traditional view it appears that during the 1590s the Bard grabbed stuff from Munday whenever he wanted; the reality, I suggest, was the other way around. Munday was one of many writers who served as secretaries to Oxford during the 1570s and 1580s and benefited from his reckless generosity (Oxford provided money, work space, inspiration and instruction) as they developed the English renaissance of literature and drama. I suggest that in the next decade Oxford adopted plots and characters that he himself had originated and had shared with Munday and other writers under his wing.

Edward de Vere

The son of a London draper, Munday had been an actor, most likely in Oxford’s boy company and then in his adult troupe. In 1576 he became an apprentice to John Allde, the stationer whose son, Edward Allde, would later print several Shakespeare quartos. Two years later Munday journeyed to Rome “to see strange countries and learn foreign languages,” as he recalls in English Romayne Lyfe (1582), but Campbell and others state he was actually a spy sent to report on the English Jesuit College in Rome. He returned to England by 1579, when he “may have become an actor again, with the Earl of Oxford’s company,” and that year he published The Mirror of Mutability, dedicating it to his patron and including the following poem to him:

E xcept I should in friendship seem ingrate,

D enying duty, whereto I am bound;

W ith letting slip your Honour’s worthy state,

A t all assays, which I have noble found.

R ight well I might refrain to handle pen:

D enouncing aye the company of men.

 

D own, dire despair, let courage come in place,

E xalt his fame whom Honour doth embrace

 

V irtue hath aye adorn’d your valiant heart,

E xampl’d by your deeds of lasting fame:

R egarding such as take God Mars his part

E ach where by proof, in honour and in name.

 

Munday referred to Oxford’s “courteous and gentle perusing” of his writings. As B.M. Ward notes, the earl was “no ordinary patron,” since he was “willing to give both his time and attention to manuscripts submitted to him, and could be relied on to make suggestions and offer advice.” Oxford and his Euphuists aimed to refine and enrich the English language, believing in the magic of words and the power of imagery, while Philip Sidney and the Romanticists wanted to retail old stories of knighthood to make them more accessible.

Philip Sidney

In 1580 Munday dedicated his novel Zelato, The Fountain of Fame to de Vere (“By A.M., Servant to the Right Honourable the Earle of Oxenford”), praising “the rare virtues of your noble mind” and declaring that “among all the brave books which have been bestowed [upon you], these my little labours contain so much faithful zeal to your welfare as [all] others whatsoever.” He also wrote that the book was “Given for a friendly entertainment to Euphues” — revealing, in effect, that the character of Euphues stood for Oxford himself.

Munday was one of the chief witnesses against Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest who was hanged, drawn and quartered on December 1, 1581; part of Munday’s savage tract A Discoverie of Edmund Campion and his Confederates was read aloud from the scaffold at Tyrburn. His political services against Catholics were rewarded in 1584, when he received the post of Messenger of Her Majesty’s Chamber.

In his 1588 dedication of Palmerin d’Olivia, Pt. 2, a translation, Munday spoke of Oxford’s “special knowledge” of foreign languages and referred to his “precious virtues, which makes him generally beloved” and of “mine only duty, which nothing but death can discharge.” (Only the 1616 reprint containing this information is extant.) Oxford died in 1604, but Munday would never forget his master; in 1619 he dedicated all three parts of a new edition of his Primaleon of Greece to Oxford’s son Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, and spoke of “having served that noble Earl your father of famous and desertful memory” and of “your honourable father’s matchless virtues.”

[This post is now Reason 35 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

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