4a. Shakespeare and Kyd: 1589-94

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams


(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)



    Item 207 has been called (Freeman 1967, 167) 'a complimentary evocation' in connection with the late Lady Helen Branch (d. 10 April 1594), the subject of the elegy by 'W. Har.' in which these lines occur. But the reference is surely somewhat critical; and it even hints at unEnglishness or lack of patriotism, characteristics then associated with Catholicism. This is clearly conformable with the attacks on Shakespeare as Italianate if not actively papist (RS1 71, 74, 76-7, 88-9, 95, 100, etc.); he and Kyd are apparently treated as co-religionists by the Protestant faction1 headed by Greene and his crony Nashe. The latter even suggested that Shakespeare and Kyd shared rooms or lodgings, perhaps in the Westminster area, where he visited them together at candle-time (RS1 72, 77-8); and this is clearly conformable with their joint inclusion on a list (282) of poets who were fellow-lodgers or room-mates (as Kyd and Marlowe were known to have been). They are addressed by 'W. Har.' as a pair, indeed a team (RS1 60-1, 69-72, 86-93, etc); The Rape of Lucrece and Kyd's translation of Garnier'sCornélie are deliberately identified and juxtaposed. The elegist's complaint that their two authors tend to concentrate on classical antiquity (as also in Titus Andronicus) or other alien topics (such as The Spanish Tragedy), to the detriment of their own native sources, anticipates the even graver charge that they neglect or misprise their sovereign Elizabeth, as was certainly said of Shakespeare (323331). A close reading of the Parnassus plays, furthermore, (pace Potter 1995) also associates Shakespeare and Kyd together as the characters Studioso and Philomusus; they are friends, room-mates, law-students, co-religionists and fellow-travellers in every sense. Independently, the robust affirmation of 'W. Har.' that Helen Branch and indeed other distinguished English ladies are quite as elevated and admirable as any Roman dames seems to have struck home; King Edward the Third, in Shakespeare's play of that name (Sams 1996) describes his beloved Countess of Salisbury as a 'true English lady, whom our isle/may better boast of than ever Roman might of [Lucrece]'.

    If these Edward III lines, also penned c. 1594, are indeed intended as the handsome amends and apologia that they certainly seem, then 'W. Har.' was prima facie at least tangential if not chordal to Shakespearean circles. This conforms closely with the suggestion (Chambers 1930, ii, 190) that he was William Harvey, knighted in 1596, with whom the widowed Countess of Southampton 'had long been on intimate terms' (Akrigg 1968, 58, 72) by 1598, when they married. 'W.Har.' in 1594 wished to flatter noble English ladies; he was also a thoroughgoing patriot who was personally acquainted with Shakespeare and the Southampton circle, and later became a likely candidate for the famous 'Mr. W.H.' mentioned in the publisher's inscription of the Sonnets (RS1 112). His name reappears in connection with the Southampton-Essex story (Chapter 23).    

    A close connection between Shakespeare and Kyd, as first evidenced in Nashe's 1589 Preface to Menaphonwhich hits at the early Hamlet and the Spanish Tragedy, would certainly explain the surprisingly close and copious analogies between those two plays (RS1 72; Jenkins 1982, 97f). Further regions of possible overlap are well worth exploring.



1with which Marlowe as the secret agent of a Protestant state (Nicholl 1992) was professionally allied.