“One Whose Power Floweth Far”: Re-Posting No. 26 of 100 Reasons why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

A thick volume printed for the Roxburghe Club of London in 1882 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 the “Shakespeare” name had made its 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”  for Shakespeare.

This was followed immediately 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.

Who was this poet, said to be the best of all?

In the Roxburghe appendix, one scholar identifiedthe star” as Edward de Vere while another said it must be a description of Shakespeare! If those two scholars of the late nineteenth century had been in the same room at the same time, one identifying Oxford and the other pointing to Shakespeare, might it have occurred to them that maybe they were both talking about the same man?  If so, they would have solved the authorship question then and there.

Here, in modernized English, is the stanza praising Shakespeare as “Adon,” followed by those 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.

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. [Emphases added.]

[Note that the first stanza about Adon, and the second of the next two stanzas about “one whose power floweth far,” conclude with “bays” – perhaps intended as a way for readers to link all three stanzas in their praise of a single poet.]

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 (1589) 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, Oxford represents himself as ‘wearing black and tawny’ and [having] ‘no bays’ …”

Prior to John Thomas Looney’s identification of de Vere in 1920, orthodox scholars could mention him in a positive light without worrying about giving any ground in the authorship debate. Buckley also referred to a statement made by the literary antiquary Thomas Coxeter (1689-1747): Oxford was said by Coxeter to have translated Ovid, which would connect him with Narcissus, but no one has ever seen his Ovid.”

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, who introduced new evidence allowing “definitive identification of the phrase ‘tilting under Frieries’ as referring 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 the earl’s men were “tilting under frieries” in spring 1582 at Blackfriars. Stritmatter further observes:

“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. 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.”

The “Envoy to Narcissus” is an example of how, soon after publication of Venus and Adonis and the first appearance of the “Shakespeare” name in print, writers were already dropping hints about the presence of an author – in fact the “star” among them – who had chosen to withhold his identity. The chatter was growing from the start.

[This reason, with tremendous help from Editor Alex McNeil, as well as Brian Bechtold, is now no. 31 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford).


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