Skip to main content

Court poet, didn't know it

A bit of sleight of hand in the film Anonymous moves the publication of Venus and Adonis from 1593 to 1599. I rather enjoyed the scenes in the printing house but the redating is significant, not accidental. Because the progression in Shakespeare's career is, in itself, telling evidence against The Earl.

Venus & AdonisIn 1593, with the playhouses shut and only a few modestly successful plays under his belt, Will Shakespeare had the makings of the greatest court poet in history. He had the business of patronage sorted out and a very successful, lucrative book in print. Venus and Adonis was quite possibly the best poetry book since Caxton printed The Canterbury Tales, much more appealing to popular taste than the work of his rivals (Chaucer excepted, of course), with its sexy language and titillating love-making. Furthermore, he repeated the feat without much apparent effort and got another successful book out almost no time after the first, The Rape of Lucrece. Great title.

He was all set for a comfortable life, hob-nobbing with the court composers and painters of his time with all his bills paid.

Yet at this point, before his reputation as a dramatist was made, the author of the plays chose a life in the theatre instead. Preferring independence to sycophancy, his own choice of pursuit and pastime rather than following the court herd at the bidding of his betters and the entrepreneurial, creative, frustrating, risky, noisy, dirty, smelly, unhealthy Elizabethan theatre rather than the sedate and comfortable life at court.

This is exactly what Will from Stratford was busy with for the next five years, as we know for certain from contemporary records.

For Will 1594-1599 were the years of his meteoric rise to success and international renown.

What Oxford was busy with for the next five years was the exact opposite. A comfortable life at court on someone else's dime was all he wanted. Low on funds, having already wasted much of his inheritance and unpopular with his peers at court after his failure to do as he was ordered in the Armada campaign, the down-at-heel aristocrat spent the same five years trying to chisel an income out of the tin mining trade. Not by doing any work. Not by risking any of his own cash or labour. What he tried to do was to get someone to allow him to take a percentage for no better reason than he was an awfully good chap. If anyone had agreed with his self-assessment, he might have succeeded, as this was how aristocrats made a living.

No one did agree and no living was forthcoming.

For Edward, 1594-1599 were years of shame, abject failure and frustration.

So what insane motivation made Oxford think of putting someone else's name on Venus and Adonis?

Given the plan he was following to improve his income and fortunes, through what possible kaleidoscope does NOT leapfrogging the likes of Sydney, Raleigh and Spenser look like a good career move?

Share this post

Disqus comments