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.

“A Pleasant Conceit of Vere Earl of Oxford, Discontented at the Rising of a Mean Gentleman…” – Malvolio in “Twelfth Night” as Christopher Hatton – Part One of Reason 68 to Believe Oxford was Shakespeare

In 1732 the antiquary Francis Peck published a book called Desiderata Curiosa or a Collection of divers Scarce and Curious Pieces relating chiefly to matters of English History, consisting of Choice Tracts, Memoirs and so onThis was Volume I, which ended with a list of items to be included in Volume II, among them an intriguing manuscript described as “A pleasant Conceit of Vere Earl of Oxford, discontented at the Rising of a mean Gentleman in the English Court, circa 1580.”  (Note: the list is not online, but survives in the volume in the British Library.)

DESIDERATA CURIOSAEdward de Vere was thirty in 1580 and had served for a decade as the highest-ranking nobleman at the Court of Elizabeth.  He had enjoyed Her Majesty’s continuous royal favor, with gossip in the early 1570s that he was the Queen’s lover.  During that decade, however, he had been increasingly “discontented” at the “rising” in fortune of his rival Sir Christopher Hatton, Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard, whom he regarded with disdain as “mean” – inferior by birth, as a commoner, but also in terms of his conniving and duplicitous character as well as his mawkish personality.

Christopher Hatton      1540-1591

Christopher Hatton

Peck noted that the “pleasant conceit” by Oxford (likely a satire for the stage) was within the sixteenth-century collection of Abraham Fleming, one of the earl’s secretaries and literary protégés.  Was it in Edward de Vere’s own hand?  Or perhaps Fleming had copied it from his master’s original manuscript or from dictation.  Given that Oxford would be cited in the 1580s as “best for comedy,” it appears this was one of his plays and he was making fun of Hatton, strictly for the merriment of the Queen and insiders at the court.  Alas, however, Peck never published his second volume and those papers from Fleming’s folders are missing.

Only after 1920, when John Thomas Looney identified Edward de Vere as “Shakespeare,” would anyone have likely wondered about the earl’s “pleasant conceit” in relation to the Shakespeare plays.  Only then would anyone have realized, surely with sudden excitement, that the earl’s “pleasant conceit” must have been the earliest version of Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, and that the character of Malvolio is no less than a blistering, hilarious caricature of Christopher Hatton!

twelfth-nightOne of the amazing aspects of the Shakespeare authorship question is that within each play is an entire world, which, however, remains invisible until returned to its true context of time and circumstance.  Suddenly the curtain opens on Twelfth Night and we see the world of the English royal court in the 1570s and 1580s.  Now we can see Malvolio-Hatton in relation to Olivia, who represents Queen Elizabeth, and Edward de Vere portraying himself as Feste, the jester or clown in service to Olivia-Elizabeth, who calls him her “allowed fool” – an expression, Eva Turner Clark wrote in 1931, which “Elizabeth probably applied to Oxford, for he would never have dared to include the many personal allusions in his plays had not the Queen permitted, even encouraged, him to do it.”

Traditional scholars still view this comedy as written circa 1600, with a performance at the Middle Temple in 1602 recorded as “a play called Twelve night or what you will.”  But it was never published in quarto and appeared in print only as part of the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623 – a sign it was one of Oxford’s “comedies” that began, in its earliest form, as a “private” entertainment at court.  As such it would have contained material that, if printed too soon, would have been embarrassing to either Elizabeth or King James and to various noble families whose relatives had been satirized.

Elizabeth & Courtiers

Elizabeth & Courtiers

I have often imagined the performances during the 1570s and 1580s within those Elizabethan palaces – Whitehall, Richmond, Greenwich, Nonsuch, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, and so on – as being staged for a small but powerful group of “cousins” who have been stranded there by a snowstorm (or some other disruption) for several days.  In that context, Oxford was providing much needed entertainment by mercilessly “roasting” many of these same well-known individuals, among them Hatton and even the Queen as well as himself; and much later he would have revised these political satires, adding new layers of material, for public consumption.

This is just the beginning of Reason No. 68 to believe Oxford was Shakespeare; more to follow.

Endnote:  Oxfordian researchers have done a ton of work on the subject of Twelfth Night in the context of its authorship as by Edward de Vere, in works such as:

Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays (1931) by Eva Turner Clark; third revised edition by Ruth Loyd Miller, editor, in 1974, pp. 364-392

This Star of England (1952) by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn, pp. 266-294

Shakespeare by Another Name (2005) by Mark Anderson, pp. 69; 153-156

De Vere as Shakespeare (2006) by William Farina, pp. 82-87

(Other sources to be added in Part Two)

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