23. 6 September 1988 [NM] (Marlowe's influence on Shakespeare; Vickers; Oxford shakespeare; Chettle; Northumberland MS)
herewith my promised letter, though God knows when you'll get it. I hope your mother is better? Anyway you will be glad to feel you are doing what you can for her. So glad of the good news in your letter, of duetting (can there be a more inspiring pursuit?) and meeting with kindred spirits, specially Shakespearian. I wish I could have heard more about your Shakespeare festivities, who you talked to, what were the reactions to your work, what you said...But then it would take more than one evening to get through all I would like to hear about from you. (One at least to be devoted exclusively to your activities as a cryptographer.)
Since that cannot be, please if it not too much trouble, send me photocopies (or if it is, ref. numbers) of any snippets you have been publishing on Ironside or E. III or Hamlet – what of Hamlet? I'm specially interested in any new light you may cast on the relation between the different texts, unearthing your way out of mountains of absurd speculation. Or anything else. You mentioned something about Marlowe's influence on Shakespeare. Could it not be the other way round? Also particularly an article you spoke of earlier in the Sunday Times on an intermediate stage in Shakespeare's handwriting, the print-like or Italic one used in Ironside, and its relation to the other.
Among Shakespearian follies, have you seen the new series of works beautifully criticized by Brian Vickers (TLS, 26 August, p. 933)? What with 'new historicists' and Freudian interpreters still going strong, Vickers leaves only two standing on their natural legs, engaging 'freshly with a play as if it mattered to his, and our life'. I found Vickers' article very refreshing, but the general situation somewhat depressing.
I've re-read your book, and your article on the hallucinatory Oxford Shakespeare, enjoying every line of each for its own sake, and for the way you write. About Shakespeare's reference to equity, there's something not clear to me. You say (p. 218) there is no printed ref. to this concept before 1588, and then mention the first recorded criterion as Lambarde's Archaionomia, 1568, ie 20 years earlier. (By the way Hamilton pronounced Shakespeare's signature in this a forgery. Do you disagree? How complicated all this forgery business is.) I would have thought there were earlier references to equity, which was the basis of all appeals to Chancery since Wolsey. Sir Thomas Smith in 1583 (De Republica Anglorum, p. 71) explains that a man 'without remedy in the common law ... requires the chancellor according to equity and reason to provide for him and to take such order as to good conscience shall appertain'. But was he the first? Not that this invalidates what you say about Shakespeare’s play.
I found your stress of the 'butchering' Shakespeare interesting, as part of a more complex idea of him than the ever gentle and sweet – very well dealt with, I thought, by Honigmann in his interesting book on Shakespeare's Impact on his Contemporaries, where he also upholds the early authorship ideas, against the incredible inertia of set minds.
But it perplexes me to find that he refers, as everybody does (you too?), to Chettle's famous apology as made to Shakespeare, not as a mere assumption, but as if Shakespeare were actually 'mentioned in the text. Surely this would require some proof, besides likelihood, since, if we go by Chettle's words, he apologized to one or two of the three play-makers addressed somewhat rudely by Greene (presumably Marlowe, Nashe and Peele) who had been offended, and not to Shakespeare, the man Greene complained of, at all.
I enclose my letter to Hamilton, any comments from you very welcome, tho' please Eric don't bother with anything you haven't had time to look into. Tho' I find you have looked at so much! Only take up, if you will, such points among those I raise as produce some sparks in your own mind.
Now for the things I couldn't unfortunately say to Hamilton. There's no doubt his endearing enthusiasm, hopeful and wishful thinking, are what led him on to these discoveries. Nothing is ever black or white. But alas for the other side of the medal, for he has given innumerable handles to his undeserving critics, with which they will belabour him for the wrong reasons. His way of building whole castles of authoritative 'I believe's, one on top of the other, not one of them justified by evidence – beginning with 'I believe Shakespeare hated his daughter'... His emphatic pronouncements on matters he knows nothing about (see him putting Spedding and everybody else in their place about the meaning of device, which had more than one meaning, p.193). The result is one loses confidence in all his assertions, and it cannot but affect his remarks on the subject he does know about – where not entirely clear, eg. illegible marginal notes, because he's so ready to be led on by his wishes.
This applies to both Shakespeare's and Bacon's notes in the Northumberland MS. And of course to Hamilton's unhesitating assumption that Shakespeare all but wrote Bacon's essays. In fact if these corrections are Shakespeare's, they are few and unimportant (in one case erroneous), and are more likely to be, if anything, corrections from a different text dictated to him by Bacon or another. Still of course very exciting.
Had you yourself ever studied the squiggle on top right of the MS, which Hamilton describes as Shakespeare's initials (I don't see any W) but which Baconians have found in a number of books annotated by Bacon? (See enclosed page from Baconiana 84). However the Baconians are so unreliable. Bacon's library, once held by Smedley, was sold to the Folger Library and dispersed there, and enquiries have not led to finding these signs. I'm trying to follow this up, and see if any of the volumes, particularly Les Tenures de Monsieur Littleton turns up, and then the question will be, whose writing is in the margin? This book must be Law French, in which Bacon was an expert. However good a lawyer Shakespeare was, would he go as far as that?
Dear Eric, I must exhaust you further. One personal point. I had such a strong feeling, it is still with me, when you came round to say good-bye to me at Diana's, that there was something very vulnerable about you. I feel I was right. But perhaps it is because of this vulnerability that you can see and feel so much – thinking by itself is no use – and produce what you do. I hope those idiotic editors soon see the light, and declare themselves ready to publish everything you write on the spot. For me, I am so delighted that Prof. Graham Rees is reading my book, whatever he says will be useful, though I hope he wont ask me to rewrite it because I can't wait to get into Shakespeare.
With all my very best wishes
PS Was the early King Lear 1594 or before, also an early Shakespeare?
PPS Do you support E.B. Everitt's suggestion (dismissed by the Arden editor of 1 Henry IV, p. xxxv) that there was an early Shakespeare play corrupted into The Famous Victories of Henry V (1594?) It would make a lot of sense in relation to A.L. Scoufos' very interesting study of the Cobham-Oldcastle motifs in Shakespeare (ancient and contemporary woven together), tho' she herself does not resort to it. Shakespeare's Typological Satire, (Ohio University Press, 1979) cited (by hand) Scoufos p. xv on exuberant scholarship.