Thomas Dekker & The Witch of Edmonton

A while back I collected a complete set of Thomas Dekker’s plays published by Cambridge Press. I bought the books individually for maybe $25 to $30 dollars each. The complete set of four books is worth around $250. In the meantime, it’s possible to buy a complete edition of Dekker’s plays for your Kindle for all of $3.36. That’s a great deal. I’ve been buying all of Delphi’s editions—Webster, Beaumont & Fletcher, Marlowe, and Jonson. That said, all of these editions come without annotation (including my Cambridge set), but for just over 3 dollars, so be it.

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I’ve always been partial to Dekker and since I have the books, I’ve finally started to read and reread his plays. He was a congenial spirit with a true gift for poetry. Just about everybody, probably without knowing it, has heard Dekker’s poetry in the Beatle’s song “Golden Slumbers”, for which Dekker was never credited. Tragically, Dekker spent most of his life in debt and even spent seven years in debtor’s prison—a painfully long time given the short life spans of Elizabethans. He wrote no plays during this time and though he didn’t possess the genius of a Shakespeare or Marlowe, his imprisonment was nonetheless a literary loss. Dekker was among the most gifted of Elizabethan playwrights in terms of his poetic gifts, the “sweetness” of his verse (both of which naturally appeal to me), and his congenial and boisterous portrayals of London life. His faults are those of poor craftsmanship in terms of plot and plot devices. The one play, entirely his own, in which he beautifully ties together plot and subplot into a satisfying whole is the Shoemaker’s Holiday—a well-loved play even in its own time. Dekker had a love for the common man and a sharp eye for the hypocrisies of wealth and power, only further whittled to a razor’s edge by his imprisonment and concomitant suffering—from which he never seems to have fully recovered.

But on to The Witch of Edmonton. This was a later play that was a collaboration with Ford and Rowley. The play is generally considered among the finest of the era. I didn’t pick it for that reason, but simply because I’ve heard the play mentioned so many times. The play was based on real events—the institutionally sanctioned murder of a woman accused of being a witch. Of course, Elizabethan Jurisprudence didn’t see it that way. They saw the protagonist, Mother Sawyer, as a real witch in league with the real devil, who had somehow been the cause of a woman’s suicide. I expected to read a play celebrating the law’s triumph over the evils of a witch in league with the devil. Instead, I was surprised to read something very different. All things considered, she couldn’t have asked for a more sympathetic portrayal; a portrayal generally credited to Thomas Dekker. I say all things considered because Dekker, Ford an Rowley weren’t about to question or challenge the authorities or her execution (all plays were censored and pre-approved by the Master of the Revels). Dekker dutifully portrays her as being in league with the devil (in the shape of a dog) but having made that concession he otherwise makes very clear where his sympathies lie.

Mother Sawyer’s first appearance is in Act II Scene i:

And why on me? why should the envious world
Throw all their scandalous malice upon me?
'Cause I am poor, deform'd and ignorant,
And like a Bow buckl'd and bent together,
By some more strong in mischiefs than my self?
Must I for that be made a common sink,
For all the filth and rubbish of Men's tongues
To fall and run into? Some call me Witch;
And being ignorant of my self, they go
About to teach me how to be one: urging,
That my bad tongue (by their bad usage made so)
Forespeaks their Cattle, doth bewitch their Corn,
Themselves, their Servants, and their Babes at nurse.
This they enforce upon me: and in part
Make me to credit it.

Dekker didn’t have to begin Sawyer’s introduction like this. He could have begun far less sympathetically, with a women driven by malice. Instead, we see that she’s been abused and accused of crimes she hasn’t committed. Immediately following this speech, the character of Old Banks enters. While she collects sticks with which to warm herself, Old Banks, the landowner, unleashes a tirade of abuse.

O Bank. Out, out upon thee, Witch.
Sawy. Dost call me Witch?
O Bank. I do, Witch, I do: and worse I would knew
I a name more hateful. What makest thou upon my ground?
Sawy. Gather a few rotten sticks to warm me.
O. Bank. Down with them when I bid thee, quickly;
I'll make thy bones rattle in thy skin else.
Sawy. You won't, Churl, Cut-throat, Miser: there they
be. Would they stuck cross thy throat, thy bowels, thy
maw, thy midriff.
O. Bank. Sayst thou me so? Hag, out of my ground.
Sawy. Dost strike me, slave? curmudgeon, now thy
bones aches, thy joynts cramps, and convulsions stretch
and crack thy sinews.
O. Bank. Cursing, thou Hag! take that, and that.

So, what we have is a crippled old woman trying to keep herself warm and a landowner berating her, then beating her for it. Curiously, when Mother Sawyer later asks the devil to kill Banks, the devil answers that he can’t because Banks “is loving to the world,/and charitable to the poor. Now men/ That, as he, love goodness, though in smallest measure, / Live without compass of our reach.”

Now that’s obviously not true. Banks was neither loving nor charitable to the clearly impoverished Mother Sawyer. Two reasons for this moment come to mind. First would be the Master of the Revels or the Elizabethan censor. Whether Dekker believed it or not, he had to parrot the party line as concerns Banks. But that Dekker didn’t have much sympathy for Banks is made clear in the opening scene. Second, consider who it is that praises Banks—the Devil himself. Though it pleaseth the censor, we the audience have no reason to believe the devil. Indeed, the very opening of Act II belies the devil’s assertions. Why would the devil refuse to harm Banks? Well, he’s the devil and the play had to be somewhat true to its source.

Why I like this passage is that it reveals that even during those times there were those who were sensible to the cruelty and absurdity of witch trials and the accusations substantiating them. We tend to think that people before our own enlightened times weren’t themselves enlightened, but Dekker’s portrayal is almost feminist in its sympathies. Isn’t it obvious, he all but says, that such women as Mother Sawyer are being targeted because they’re poor, misshapen in some way, and easily bullied?

Dekker’s own experience with the hypocrisies of the law are brilliantly dramatized in Act IV. In Scene i we see a villager come in crying, “Burn the Witch, the Witch, the Witch, the Witch.” This is soon followed by all on stage crying, “Hang her, beat her, kill her.”

I find this is no accident. Just a minute or two later, while Mother Sawyer is defending herself before the Justice, the audience is presented with this exchange:

Sawy. A Witch? who is not?
Hold not that universal Name in scorne then.
What are your painted things in Princes Courts?
Upon whose Eye-lids Lust sits blowing fires
To burn Mens Souls in sensual hot desires:
Upon whose naked Paps, A Leachers thought
Acts Sin in fouler shapes than can be wrought.
Just. But those work not as you do.
Sawy.                 No, but far worse:
These, by enchantments, can whole Lordships change
To Trunks of rich Attire: turn Ploughs and Teams
To Flanders Mares and Coaches; and huge trains
Of servitors, to a French Butter-Flie.
Have you not City-witches who can turn
Their husbands wares, whole standing shops of wares,
To sumptuous Tables, Gardens of stoln sin?
In one year wasting, what scarce twenty win.
Are not these Witches?
Just.                      Yes, yes, but the Law
Casts not an eye on these.
Sawy.                    Why then on me,
Or any lean old Beldame? Reverence once
Had wont to wait on age. Now an old woman
Ill favoured grown with years, if she be poor,
Must be call'd Bawd or Witch. Such so abus'd
Are the course Witches: t'other are the fine,
Spun for the Devil's own wearing.
Sir Art.                  And is thine.
Sawy. She on whose tongue a wirlwind sits to blow
A man out of himself, from his soft pillow,
To lean his hand on Rocks and fighting waves,
Is not that Scold a Witch? The Man of Law
Whose honeyed hopes the credulous Client draws,
(As Bees by tinkling Basons) to swarm to him,
From his own Hive, to work the Wax in his;
He is no Witch, not he.
Sir Art.                   But these Men-Witches
Are not in trading with Hells Merchandize,
Like such as you are, that for a word, a look,
Denial of a Coal of fire, kill Men,
Children and Cattel.  

Now this is as fine an exchange as I’ve read in Elizabethan theater. The second interlocutor, Sir Arthur Clarington, is hardly a respectable claimant to ethical or moral behavior. In the play’s subplot, he has lecherously fornicated with the maid in his own household and, at the play’s end, is held to be largely responsible for the events of the play. Says the Justice: “you have indeed been the instrument that wrought all their misfortunes”. In Sir Arthur’s comments to Mother Sawyer, we have the pot calling the kettle black.

More interestingly, I don’t think it’s accidental that Dekker begins this scene with the crowd’s chants that Mother Sawyer should be killed. This entirely undercuts Sir Arthur’s claim that “these Men-Witches” cannot with a word or look “kill Men”. Indeed, this is precisely what all these Men-Witches were doing at the scene’s opening. They are, with words and looks, calling for Mother Sawyer to be killed. While she is accused of her accomplishing her aims by means of the devil, the others accomplish their aims by means of the law. And I can’t help but read Dekker’s critique of the law and its hypocrisy in these lines.

And think of our own times, when we have a corrupt President who, with the aid of a corrupted Department of Justice and a corrupt Party willing to shield him, has placed himself above the law. It could equally be said of him that the ‘law casts not an eye on him’. Think also of Mother Sawyer’s critique, in essence, of the One Percent.

Have you not City-witches who can turn
Their husbands wares, whole standing shops of wares,
To sumptuous Tables, Gardens of stoln sin?
In one year wasting, what scarce twenty win.
Are not these Witches?

Then as now, conspicuous consumption at the expense of the poor was blessed by the law, the law being an arm of those conspicuously consuming. Mother Sawyer represents not just Dekker but anyone and anyone of us who are not just blamed but abused for our own misfortunes.

In Act V Dekker drives home the point he’s making, and goes further by contradicting the claim made by Sir Arthur that these “Men Witches / Are not trading with Hell’s Merchandize”.

Clow. It seems you Devils have poor thin souls [...] where
do you borrow those Bodies that are none of your own? [...]
Dog. Why wouldst thou know that? fool, it availes thee not.
Clow. Onely for my mindes sake, Tom, and to tell some of my
Friends.
Dog. I'll thus much tell thee: Thou never art so distant
From an evil Spirit, but that thy Oaths,
Curses and Blasphemies pull him to thine Elbow:
Thou never telst a lie, but the Devil
Is within hearing it, thy evil purposes
Are ever haunted; but when they come to act,
As thy Tongue slaundering, bearing false witness,
Thy hand stabbing, stealing, cozening, cheating,
He's then within thee: thou play'st, he bets upon thy part;
Although, thou lose, yet he will gaine by thee.

In other words, the notion that Men-Witches aren’t also trading in Hell’s Merchandise, or the hypocrisies of the law for that matter (though Dekker doesn’t dare state this outright), is utter self-delusion. The devil is “within thee” too, he plainly states.

What I haven’t discussed is the subplot by John Ford. This involves a bigamous young man, Frank Thorney, who murders his second wife, Susan, in order to escape with his first wife (the first wife being the maid with whom Sir Arthur had had an affair before she married the young man). The subplot is less interesting, for modern readers, but well-handled by Ford. The scene in which Frank murders his second wife is particularly heartless given her devotion to him, but it’s telling that the characters within the play have more sympathy for him (who is hanged along with Mother Sawyer) than for Mother Sawyer. Apparently, bigamy and cold-blooded murder (even if influenced by the devil) was worse than being a witch who caused another women to take her own life.

All that said, the finest and perhaps only poetry in the play, though brief, can be found in those passages. Susan, who Frank will murder, says to him:

You, Sweet, have the power
To make me passionate as an April-day:
Now smile, then weep; now pale, then crimson red.
You are the powerful Moon of my blood's Sea,
To make it ebb or flow into my face,
As your looks change.

Though the subplot was written by Ford, this particular instance feels more like Dekker than Ford. It’s entirely possible that Dekker touched up some of Ford’s verse as they pieced the play together. As I read more of these plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, I’ll continue to share my impressions.

Double Falsehood Revisited

Mea Culpa

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

Ideally, I try not to be hide bound about the rightness of my opinion, preferring to find out whose opinion is right. Whenever I make a mistake, better to correct it or have it corrected (whether I like it or not). If evidence conflicts with my beliefs, then beliefs must change. So, in the spirit of keeping this blog honest, I’m revisiting my last two posts on Double Falsehood: Double Falsehood • It’s not Shakespeare and the second Double Falsehood • Tho. Dekker & Tho. Middleton?. My efforts in both these posts were rewarding (in terms of what I learned by writing them) but I made some mistakes and new information (to me) deserves to be aired.

Tho. Middleton or John Fletcher?

I thought I made a good argument for Middleton, as far as it went. I still do. Some evidence does indeed suggest Middleton, but the stronger evidence suggests Fletcher. Keeping Middleton in the running might be reasonable at the outset (when considering possible authors) but the probable author is Fletcher. The evidence supporting Fletcher comes from an article by Stephan Kukowski entitled The Hand of John Fletcher in Double Falsehood.

Among the reasons for crediting Fletcher, the most compelling is a habit of Fletcher’s composition called elocutionary afterthought. At gutenburg.org, you can find an E-Book of Charles Mills’ publication, Francis Beaumont: Dramatist. Beaumont and Fletcher were the Simon and Garfunkel of the Elizabethan era. Once they met and began to collaborate, they changed the history of British theater. So much so that during the decades immediately following their deaths, their plays were considered superior to Shakespeare’s and Jonson’s. Naturally, a book on Beaumont is going to say something about Fletcher—first and foremost, how does one differentiate their collaboration? What parts of a play are Fletcher’s, what parts Beaumont?

Interestingly, Mills offers us the following passage. I include most of it because that seems simplest. I’ve bolded the passages which most plainly parallel passages in DF.

Here we have blank verse, distinctively Fletcherian with its feminine endings and its end-stopped lines. But, widely as this differs from the earlier rhythm of The Faithfull Shepheardesse and its more lyric precipitancy, the qualities of tone and diction are in the later play as in the earlier. The alliterations may not be so numerous, and are in general more cunningly concealed and interwoven, as in lines 2 to 4; but the cruder kind still appears as a mannerism, the “fire and fierceness,” “hopes,” “hang,” and “head.” The iterations of word, phrase, and rhetorical question, and of the resonant “all,” the redundant nouns in apposition, the tautological enumeration of categories, proclaim the unaltered Fletcher. The adjectives are in this spot pruned, but they are luxuriant elsewhere in the play. The triplets,–“this man, my son, this nature,”–“admit,” “admit,” “admit,” find compeers on nearly every page:

Shew where to lead, to lodge, to charge with safetie,–[163]

Here’s a strange fellow now, and a brave fellow,
If we may say so of a pocky fellow.–[164]

And now, ‘t is ev’n too true, I feel a pricking,
A pricking, a strange pricking.–[165]

With such a sadness on his face, as sorrow,
Sorrow herself, but poorly imitates.
Sorrow of sorrows on that heart that caus’d it![166]

In the passages cited above there happen to be, also, a few examples of the elocutionary afterthought:

You come with thunders in your mouth _and earthquakes_,–

As arrows from a Tartar’s bow, _and speeding_.–

To this device, and to the intensive use of the pronominal “one” Fletcher is as closely wedded as to the repetition of “all,”–

They have a hand upon us,
A heavy and a hard one.[167]

To wear this jewel near thee; he is a tried one
And one that … will yet stand by thee.[168]

Other plays conceded by the critics to Fletcher alone, and written in his distinctive blank verse, display the same characteristics of style: _The Chances_ of about 1615, _The Loyall Subject_ of 1618 (like _The Humorous Lieutenant_ of the middle period), and _Rule a Wife and Have a Wife_ of the last period, 1624. I quote at random for him who would apply the tests,–first from _The Chances_,[169] the following of the repeating revolver style:

Art thou not an Ass?
And modest as her blushes! what a blockhead
Would e’re have popt out such a dry Apologie
For this dear friend? and to a Gentlewoman,
A woman of her youth and delicacy?
They are arguments to draw them to abhor us.
An honest moral man? ‘t is for a Constable:
A handsome man, a wholesome man, a tough man,
A liberal man, a likely man, a man
Made up by Hercules, unslaked with service:
The same to night, to morrow night, the next night,
And so to perpetuity of pleasures.

(….)

Finally, from _Rule a Wife_, a few instances of the iterations, three-fold or multiple, and redundant expositions. In the first scene[171] Juan describes Leon:

Ask him a question,
He blushes like a Girl, and answers little,
To the point less; he wears a Sword, a good one,
And good cloaths too; he is whole-skin’d, has no hurt yet,
Good promising hopes;

and Perez describes the rest of the regiment,

That swear as valiantly as heart can wish,
Their mouths charg’d with six oaths at once, and whole ones,
That make the drunken Dutch creep into Mole-hills; …

and he proceeds to Donna Margarita:

She is fair, and young, and wealthy,
Infinite wealthy, _etc._

Now compare these example to the two found in the Fletcherian portions of DF:

……………….This is a fine Hand,
A delicate fine Hnd, – Never change Colour;
You understand me, – and a Woman’s Hand (DF 4.I.168-70)

And dare you lose these to becomer Advocate
For such a Brother, such a sinful Brother,
Such an unfaithful, treacherous, brutal Brother? (DF 5.I.16-18)

To my knowledge (and reading), there are no comparable examples in Middleton. Of all the reasons for believing that Theobald might have had a manuscript (of some kind), this is, for me, the most compelling. This mannerism is obviously typical of Fletcher. Given that Theobald initially tried to pass off DF as entirely Shakespeare’s (and if he fabricated the entirety of the play) why on earth would he so cleverly and cunningly imitate Fletcher? It makes no sense. I find it easier to believe that Theobald did, indeed, have a manuscript on which he based DF.

But why is Fletcher’s probable hand so evident and Shakespeare’s so lacking?

Why Fletcher Survived

Kukowski, the writer of The Hand of John Fletcher in Double Falsehood, is sympathetic with the possibility that Theobald might have had a manuscript, but speculates that it was already a later revision of an Elizabethan original. Kukowski writes (in reference to a Davanant revision of the Shakespeare/Fletcher collaboration, The Two Noble Kinsmen):

It is interesting that Davenant’s revision of this play left not a line of  the passages most confidently ascribed to Shakespeare intact, although several of Fletcher’s passages survive with only minor alteration. Thus, even if Theobald is being scrupulously honest, he may well have had his possession no more than an already much adulterated version of Cardenio.

This, in  a nutshell, encapsulates the reasoning of those Shakespearean scholars willing to concede that Double Falsehood might have been a revised Cardenio. An unidentified author, like the Restoration dramatist Davenant, might have already “improved” the Shakespearean portions. Why would Restoration revisionists single out Shakespeare rather than Fletcher? Shakespeare’s style was considered too turgid for the stage – too figurative and opaque. In a book called Shakespeare Improved , by Hazelton Spencer, Spencer sums up Davenant’s editorial intervention this way:

…by far the largest number of D’Avenent’s explicable alterations are due, apparently, to his zeal in elucidation . Shakespeare’s text seemed full of obscurities in language and thought, and for the sake of making it transparent to the audience at Lincoln’s Inn Fields the Laureate was willing to sacrifice metre, imagination, or anything else. [p. 169]

And in an earlier passage Hazelton writes:

The Restoration adapter was not trying to restore his text, the professed aim of the long line of later tamperers, but to improve it. From changing a phrase  in order to make its meaning clearer, to changing it because one things of a better phrase, is an easy step/ D’Avenent took it with complete aplomb.

He regarded Shakespeare, I imagine, almost with affection; but he was the victim of his age. The cocksureness of the Restoration intelligentsia is almost incredible. The England of Elizabeth seemed barbarous to the England of Charles II, though less than sixty years had elapsed between the great queen’s death and the accession of that graceless king. In the presence of the masterpieces of old drama, the Restoration critics (all but Rymer) experienced a certain awe; they recognized vaguely a grandeur that was not characteristic of their own art. Dryden wrote:

Out age was cultivated thus at length,
But what we gain’d in skill we lost in strength.
Our builders were with want of genius curst;
The second temple was not like the first.

The Restoration temples were constructed, supposedly, according to the French rules for classical architecture; squared by these, the Elizabethan monuments were seen to be abounding in errors. Thus the critic and adapter of Shakespeare in the later seventeenth century, though he might sincerely enough protest his admiration for the whole, found, when he actually came to consider details, so many faults crying for correction, that while he eulogized in general he had little but condemnation in particular. He was to concede greatness of soul to Shakespeare, but neither a civilized taste nor a competent craftsmanship.

That this D’Avenent’s view is shown by the character of his alterations. [pp. 145-146]

Fletcher’s verse, being much easier, more mellifluous, less figurative and rhetorical than Shakespeare’s, was far more likely to survive, in part and in whole, the restoration scalpel. For this reason, and due to prior example, it makes sense that Double Falsehood could have been a restoration revision of  Cardenio; and that Shakespeare’s poetry would have been heavily edited while Fletcher’s verse remained relatively intact.  Most interestingly, Theobald claimed that Davenant’s prompter, John Downes, was likely to have transcribed Double Falsehood. This doesn’t mean Davenant ever saw the play, but as with so much else surrounding DF, the information gives ground for speculation. [Double Falsehood, p. 85]

Anyway, that’s the theory.

It gives little reason to include Double Falsehood (DF) in Shakespeare’s canon (any more than any other Restoration revision Shakespeare). The passages, if they ever were Shakespeare’s, are no longer.

Why, then, do scholars care?

For the same reason that a few fossil fragments pique the curiosity of paleontologists. If DF is indeed the lost Cardenio, then at least we know what Cardenio might have been like. If the Fletcherian parts can be shown to be, in all likelihood, by Fletcher, than that circumstantially (if only slightly) strengthens the case for Shakespeare (who was known to have collaborated with Shakespeare around this time). If the remaining text were by Middleton (as I suggested) then the case for Shakespeare is mildly weakened.

  • Shakespeare collaborated with Middleton in the writing of Timon of Athens. In the now (what I consider) unlikely event that Middleton were shown to be the author of DF, Acts III-V, Shakespeare still wouldn’t be out of the question. A Fletcher ascription, however, does make Dekker (more on that next) less likely.

Fletcher Matters

Since the non-Fletcherian parts of DF are so hopelessly mangled, the best evidence for Shakespeare is to identify DF as Cardenio by, in part, showing that Acts III-V are by Fletcher. And that is exactly what Brean Hammond, in his introduction to Double Falsehood, emphasizes. Hammond writes:

With Theobald’s own further alterations engrafted upon DF, what we now have is a palimpsest or pentimento — at all events, nothing that is straightforwardly Shakespeare-Fletcher. Nonetheless, sophisticated recent analysis of authorship based on linquistic and stylistic analysis lends support to the view that Shakespeare’s hand, and even more plainly Fletcher’s, can be detected in the eighteenth-century redaction. [p. 6]

Hammond doesn’t tell us what sophisticated recent analysis he is referring to. Fletcher? Yes. Shakespeare? I remain very skeptical and I think Brean overstates the case for Shakespeare when he compares the stylometric

Elizabethan Dramatist John Fletcher

evidence to that supporting Fletcher. To my knowledge, none of the Shakespearean scholars (with an established reputation in stylometrics) have demonstrated reasons for favoring Shakespeare. Brian Vickers, author of ‘Counterfeiting’ Shakespeare, writes:

“There is the doubtful tradition that Lewis Theobald acquired the manuscript, adapting it for his own Double Falsehood (1727), but the arguments claiming that Theobald’s text preserves something of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s original seem to me unconvincing.”

Ward Elliot and Robert Vaenza peg Double Falsehood with 11 Discrete Rejections. This puts DF far outside the realm of Shakespearean authorship (on another planet they would say). (To be fair, it appears that they didn’t examine the “Shakespearean” portion separately.)

Only MacDonald Jackson believes that ‘the case for supposing The Double Falsehood to preserve something of the Shakespeare-Fletcher Cardenio is quite strong’. Whether Jackson is basing this statement on stylometrics or Hammond’s claims is unknown. That said, Jackson’s endorsement is qualified. On the last page of the introduction to the Arden edition of Double Falsehood, Brean adds the following:

Yet the concentration of diverse Shakespearean characteristics in, for example, 1.3.53-6 brings Jackson out on the side of [Shakespeare’s] presence in the play. Jackson reserves the right, however, to test a hypothesis that what Theobald owned was a collaboration between Beaumont and Fletcher  rather than Shakespeare and Fletcher. [DF, p. 160]

By the close of the introduction, Hammond himself seems to qualify his earlier confidence. He writes:

“The evidence for Shakespeare’s hand is, as we know, much scantier — in truth very scanty.”

The best evidence for Shakespeare appears to be Fletcher.

William Shakespeare or Tho. Dekker?

One of the theories I advanced in my previous posts was that the playwright Thomas Dekker was as good a candidate for the “Shakespearean” parts of DF (if not better) than Shakespeare. After writing the posts, I received the following correspondence from Matthew Partridge, one who was involved in a production of Double Falsehood. He wrote:

I have recently been involved in a production of “Double Falsehood”, which has got me interested in the whole debate around Shakespeare’s authorship of the play. I was intrigued by the two posts on Double Falsehood in your blog Poem Shape. While I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusions, since it is possible to find examples of Shakespearean imagery that corresponds with each of your categories, and examples where he clumsily repeated a word in a speech, they were still thought provoking.

I asked him for examples and he provided them. So, let’s go over them. (This probably won’t interest most of my readers unless, like me, you peculiarly enjoy forensic poetry.) I present Mr. Partridge’s responses, not to argue with them, but so that a reader can more easily weigh the validity of my previous posts.

eyes & their beams

Here’s what I wrote:

Hope’s methodology contributes to identifying authorship, but can’t be the final word (as he himself would assert). There are other reasons for my thinking that Dekker is behind the first two acts. Consider beams. It was as commonplace during Elizabethan times, that the eyes saw by projecting beams. Poets were quick to make use of this conceit, except for Shakespeare. Only once, in his Sonnet 114, does Shakespeare play on this conceit. There are 25 usages of beams in his plays but not one of them is in the context of the eyes’ beams. The beams are always in reference to the sun, the moon, or candles – always in reference to an object that gives off light. By contrast, consider the following from Double Falsehood (Act I Scene i:

Eyes, that are nothing but continual Births
Of new Desires in Those that view their Beams.
You cannot have a Cause to doubt.

This flies against Shakespeare’s practice. (My theory is that Theobald probably would have kept the imagery of the original author, who I believe to be Dekker, while dolling it up with figurative language.) However, Dekker did make use of this conceit in his imagery (from The Shoemaker’s Holiday):

Why, tell me, Oateley : shines not Lacy’s name
As bright in the world’s eye as the gay beams
Of any citizen ?

The Honest Whore Part I:

If ever, whilst frail blood through my veins run,
On woman’s beams I throw affection…

Partridge was able find one other example of the use of “beams” in Shakespeare’s plays. I too, however, found another example of beams in Dekker’s play Old Furtunatus (see below). More importantly, he found further examples wherein Shakespeare played on the conceit. Here are his examples (all comments are his):

Love’s Labour’s Lost has a direct reference to “eye-beams”.

So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not / To those fresh morning drops upon the rose / As thy eye-beams, when their fresh rays have smote / The night of dew that on my cheeks down flows:” (LLL.4.3)

Additionally, a lot of the imagery involving women and light centres around the brightness/lustre of their eyes.

Her eyes, like marigolds, had sheathed their light (Rape of Lucere)

For she hath blessed and attractive eyes. / How came her eyes so bright? Not with salt tears (MND.2.2)

‘if you can bring Tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye (WT.3.2)

How and which way I may bestow myself / To be regarded in her sun-bright eye. (TGV.3.1)

The ape is dead, and I must conjure him / I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes (RJ.2.1)

Although it involves a slightly different context, the following extract from Henry V also refers to eyes, lustre and breeding in a way that closely parallels Double Falsehood.

That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not / For there is none of you so mean and base / That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.(H5.3.1)

So, I was flatly wrong in my assertion that Shakespeare never played on this conceit. I was right, however, to the extent that Shakespeare’s use of the word beams in reference to eyes is exceedingly rare: once in his sonnets and once in the entirety of his plays. Does any of this diminish my argument for Dekker? No, but it ups the chances for some small vestige of Shakespeare. On the other hand, the reference to beams could just have easily been an interpolation by a Restoration poet or Theobald’s own meddling. We’ll never know until Cardenio is found.

the image cluster of heat, cold, the eye, frost, burning, kindling, thawing, sun/Hyperion

Double Falsehood

Jul. I do not see that Fervour in the Maid,
Which Youth and Love should kindle.  She consents,
As ’twere to feed without an Appetite;
Tells me, She is content; and plays the Coy one,
Like Those that subtly make their Words their Ward,
Keeping Address at Distance.  This Affection
Is such a feign’d One, as will break untouch’d;
Dye frosty, e’er it can be thaw’d; while mine,
Like to a Clime beneath Hyperion’s Eye,
Burns with one constant Heat.  I’ll strait go to her;
Pray her to regard my Honour:  but She greets me.–

Now here is Dekker from Shoemaker’s Holiday:

And for she thinks me wanton, she denies
To cheer my cold heart with her sunny eyes.
How prettily she works, oh pretty hand!
Oh happy work! It doth me good to stand
Unseen to see her. Thus I oft have stood
In frosty evenings, a light burning by her,
Enduring biting cold, only to eye her.
One only look hath seem’d as rich to me
As a kings crown; such is loves lunacy.
Muffled He pass along, and by that try
Whether she know me.

In response to these parallels, Partridge offered his own. He wrote:

There are plenty of extended Shakespearean image clusters related to heat, cold, burning etc. Three examples are:

To flaming youth let virtue be as wax, / And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame / When the compulsive ardour gives the charge / Since frost itself as actively doth burn (Hamlet.3.4)

His falchion on a flint he softly smiteth, / That from the cold stone sparks of fire do fly; / Whereat a waxen torch forthwith he lighteth, / Which must be lode-star to his lustful eye; / And to the flame thus speaks advisedly, / ‘As from this cold flint I enforced this fire, / So Lucrece must I force to my desire. (Rape of Lucere)

‘Such devils steal effects from lightless hell; / For Sinon in his fire doth quake with cold, / And in that cold hot-burning fire doth dwell; / These contraries such unity do hold, / Only to flatter fools and make them bold: / So Priam’s trust false Sinon’s tears doth flatter, / That he finds means to burn his Troy with water.’ (Rape of Lucere)

Some shorter instances:

Thou wouldst as soon go kindle fire with snow / As seek to quench the fire of love with words. (Verona.2.7)

Gods, gods! ’tis strange that from their cold’st neglect / My love should kindle to inflamed respect.(Lear.1.1)

A largess universal like the sun / His liberal eye doth give to every one, / Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all, (H5.4.Pro)

Against love’s fire fear’s frost hath dissolution. / The eye of heaven is out (Rape of Lucere)

The following extract from Henry V is also notable since it (1) involves an image cluster of heat, sun & frost (2) is an instance of Shakespeare using the word “frosty” (3) is an example of Shakespeare clumsily repeating a word – (in this case “frosty”).

Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull, / On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale, / Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden water, / A drench for sur-rein’d jades, their barley-broth, / Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat? / And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine, Seem frosty? / O, for honour of our land, Let us not hang like roping icicles / Upon our houses’ thatch, whiles a more frosty people / Sweat drops of gallant youth in our rich fields! (H5.3.5)

Similarly, as well as involving heat, burning, sun and eye, the lines below also associate dew with coldness.

From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels: / Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye, / The day to cheer and night’s dank dew to dry (RJ.2.3)

My illustration of the image cluster wasn’t so much meant to exclude Shakespeare, but to demonstrate that this sort of image cluster was also typical of Dekker. (I have a soft-spot for Dekker – the most poetic dramatist after Shakespeare.) Whereas some patterns of thought can be atypical, I meant to show that the imagery of DF could also be found in Dekker’s work. So, while the imagery doesn’t exclude Shakespeare, it also doesn’t exclude Dekker. To balance the many examples from Shakespeare, here are some more by Dekker (notice the combination of eyes, burning, and night):

Come therefore, good father, let’s go faster, lest we come too late: for see, the tapers of the night are already lighted, and stand brightly burning in their starry candle-sticks: see how gloriously the moon shines upon us.

[Both kneel.]

1st O. Man.
Peace, fool: tremble, and kneel: the moon say’st thou?
Our eyes are dazzled by Eliza’s beams,
See (if at least thou dare see) where she sits:
This is the great Pantheon of our goddess,
And all those faces which thine eyes thought stars,
Are nymphs attending on her deity.

Here’s another example from Dekker:

The same sun calls you up in the morning, and the same man in the moon lights you to bed at night; our fields are as green as theirs in summer, and their frosts will nip us more in winter: our birds sing as sweetly and our women are as fair…

Dekker’s extent plays are far fewer than Shakespeare’s, and so finding a commensurate number of examples from Dekker isn’t possible.

of dew & flowers

Here’s what I wrote:

When Shakespeare associates dew with flowers, it is refreshing and always life affirming. When searching through Fletcher’s plays, I notice that his imagery also revolves around dew’s restorative powers. Not so, Dekker. Dekker’s associations with Dew are cold and frequently associated with death and illness…

Partridge countered with the following examples:

There are a few Shakespearean juxtapositions of dew, plants and coldness/sadness/death.

And that same dew, which sometime on the buds /Was wont to swell like round and orient pearls / Stood now within the pretty flowerets‘ eyes / Like tears that did their own disgrace bewail.

The herbs that have on them cold dew o’ the night / Are strewings fitt’st for graves. Upon their faces. (Cym.4.2)

Sweet flower, with flowers thy bridal bed I strew / O woe! thy canopy is dust and stones / Which with sweet water nightly I will dew / Or, wanting that, with tears distill’d by moans / The obsequies that I for thee will keep / Nightly shall be to strew thy grave and weep. (RJ.5.3)

Compare these examples with DF:

O Kiss, sweet as the Odours of the Spring,
But cold as Dews that dwell on Morning Flow’rs!

And Dekker:

a sensible cold dew
Stood on thy cheeks, as if that death had wept
To see such beauty alter. [The Honest Whore Part 1]

The frosty hand of age now nips your blood,
And strews her snowy flowers upon your head,
And gives you warning that within few years,
Death needs must marry you… [Old Fortunatus]

I was wrong to write that Shakespeare’s associations with dew and flowers are always life affirming. I might more accurately have written that the preponderance of these associations are life affirming.

women & light

Here’s what I wrote:

Double Falsehood

Th’Obscureness of her Birth
Cannot eclipse the Lustre of her Eyes,
Which make her all One Light.

The Honest Whore Part 1

Those roses withered, that set out her cheeks:
That pair of stars that gave her body light…

Notice the appearance of eyes in both passages. In fact, the habit of thought is almost identical. In both cases, the eyes/that pair of stars give light/Light to her body.

Furthermore, if I search through a Shakespeare concordance, nowhere does Shakespeare equate a woman’s beauty (or body) with light. In fact, Shakespeare usually associates femininity and lightness with… well… being a light-brained wench. The imagery is much more typical of Dekker.

Mr. Partridge countered with the following examples:

Associations of female beauty with light are relatively common in Shakespeare.

‘Tis but her picture I have yet beheld / And that hath dazzled my reason’s light / But when I look on her perfections, (TGV.4.2)

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. (R&J.2.2)

For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes / This vault a feasting presence full of light. (R&J.5.3)

Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light. /O, if in black my lady’s brows be deck’d, (LLL.4.3)

‘Fair torch, burn out thy light, and lend it not / To darken her whose light excelleth thine: (Rape of Lucrece)

My statement that “nowhere does Shakespeare equate a woman’s beauty (or body) with light” is wrong. In fact, I just rechecked my concordance and can’t fathom what I was thinking. I apparently wasn’t? I’d like to blame it on something. What remains though, is the strong parallel between the habit of thought in DF and Dekker’s passage. The parallel by no means diminishes Shakespeare as a possible source, but it also stands in agreement with Dekker.

the fox & her den

Here’s what I wrote:

Spurgeon also points out that Dekker comes nearest to Shakespeare in his imagery of sport and game. Consider the following from Double Falsehood:

Cam. I profess, a Fox might earth in the Hollowness of your
Heart, Neighbour, and there’s an End.

(Notice the anthimeria of earth, probably an addition by Theobald.) None of Shakespeare’s fox imagery seems drawn from actual experience and none refer to the fox’s den or desire to hide. Shakespeare’s references to the fox are more symbolic. Dekker’s fox imagery, on the other hand, seems drawn from real experience:

The Honest Whore Part 1

Faugh, not I, makes your breath stink like the
piss of a fox.

The Honest Whore Part 2

But the old fox is so crafty, we shall hardly hunt
him out of his den.

The Noble Spanish Soldier

Young cub’s flayed, but the she-fox shifting her hole is fled. The
little jackanapes, the boy’s brained.

Partridge responded with the following examples:

There are 37 references to foxes in Shakespeare’s works. Most of them either relate to (1) a predator (2) someone untrustworthy (3) a bad smell. Given the context it seems that Camillo is clearly comparing Don Bernard’s (un)trustworthiness to that of a fox.

There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune; nor no more truth in thee than in a drawn fox (H4-1.3.3)

Suspicion all our lives shall be stuck full of eyes; For treason is but trusted like the fox, (H4-1.5.2)

O’ the t’other side, the policy of those crafty swearing rascals, that stale old mouse-eaten dry cheese, Nestor, and that same dog-fox, Ulysses, is not proved worthy a blackberry: they set me up (Cressida.5.4)

false of heart, light of ear / bloody of hand; hog in sloth, fox in stealth (Lear.3.4)

Or at the fox which lives by subtlety (Venus)

In this case, I think my observations hold up. Shakespeare’s references to fox strike me as largely symbolic while Dekker’s seem more drawn from experience. Also, Shakespeare more readily associates the “den” with lions. I couldn’t find an example of Shakespeare meantiong the fox with his “den”. In DF, the den is implied in the phrase “Hallowness of your heart”.

swiftest wing

Here’s what I wrote:

Consider this passage from Caroline Spurgeon’s Shakespeare’s Imagery:

We have seen that Dekker, alone of these five other dramatists, shows in his images something of Shakespeare’s sympathy with the poor and oppressed, especially with prisoners. There is one characteristic seen in another group of images altogether -that of birds- which I may just mention, as it emphasizes this point. This is the quite remarkably large number of images he has from ‘wings’: soaring and riding on wings, being transported on the wind’s swift wings, escaping by putting on ‘winged feet’, clapping on swift wings and the like… ¶ Next to those of Shakespeare, Dekker’s images… seem more alive and human, more charged with his personality and direct experience that those of any other of the dramatists here analysed… [p. 40]

Double Falsehood

Jul. Fear not, but I with swiftest Wing of Time
Will labor my Return…

Mr. Partridge offered a number of examples from Shakespare:

The three word phrase “swiftest wing of” appears in Macbeth

thou art so far before / That swiftest wing of recompense is slow / To overtake thee.

Shakespeare also associated “wing” with swiftness/time in Henry V

Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies / In motion of no less celerity / Than that of thought.(H5.3.Pro)

He also associated love with wing in Hamlet

I would fain prove so. But what might you think, / When I had seen this hot love on the wing—(Ham.2.2)

Shakespeare also associates “swift” with time

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets, And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time, (Son.19)

Experience is by industry achieved / And perfected by the swift course of time.(TGV.1.3)

And why not the swift foot of Time? had not that / been as proper? (ASYL.3.2)

Let him have time to mark how slow time goes / In time of sorrow, and how swift and short / His time of folly and his time of sport; (Rape of Lucrece)

‘Mis-shapen Time, copesmate of ugly Night / Swift subtle post, carrier of grisly care, (Rape of Lucrece)

As in previous examples (those which have held up), I wasn’t so much claiming that this imagery didn’t appear in Shakespeare, but that another Shakespeare critic, Caroline Spurgeon, had especially noted and appreciated its presence in Dekker.

oaths & exclamations

I picked up a copy of MacDonald P. Jackson’s Studies in Attribution: Middleton and Shakespeare. It was from his work that I concluded that some of the language in the latter three acts of DF were more typical of Middleton than Fletcher. That evidence remains unchanged despite the stronger evidence, in isolated cases, for Fletcher. (The appearance of Middletonian contractions, such as on’t, to’t or h’as/sh’as are not typical of Fletcher. However, their appearance may be due to revision by a Restoration author or may simply be a statistical anomaly. It may also, just to add to the speculation, be because Middleton touched up the original Cardenio? — certainly within the realm of the possible.) Lastly, Dekker, like Shakespeare,  shows a preference for hath and doth. We find the language in the first two acts of DF.

Jackson devotes a chapter to differentiating between Middleton and Dekker. One of the ways he does so is by Dekker’s favored use of oaths and exclamations. For example: in God’s name, alack, sblood, O God, God so, God’s my life, sheart, Godamercy, zounds, by God, God’s my pittikins, tush, snails, marry gup, plague found you, God bless him.

None of these oaths and exclamations appear in the first two acts or anywhere else in the play. That argues against Dekker (or they could have been removed by revision). Is there anything else? Jackson writes:

Dekker does not use by this light, berlady, or with a vengeance in the six plays of his undoubted sole authorship, but I notice that both by this light occur in The Merry Devil of Edmonton, a play which has been attributed to Dekker on a fair accumulation of internal evidence.

In DF, by our light appears in the second act:

D. Bern. Mad; Mad. Stark mad, by this Light.

Is this evidence for Dekker? Maybe. It could also be evidence for Shakespeare, since Shakespeare also preferred this oath. Interestingly, The Merry Devil of Edmonton was thought, by some, to be by Shakespeare and has long been included in Shakespeare “apocrypha”. Dekker’s poetic imagination is similar, in some ways, to Shakespeare’s.

the verdict

The argument for Dekker is diminished once Fletcher is assigned the latter three acts of DF. There are, to my knowledge, no other collaborations between Fletcher and Dekker. While there may be hints of Dekker in the first two acts, those same hints could also be construed as evidence for Shakespeare. If the choice were between Dekker and Shakespeare, and if one accepts Fletcher’s presence in the last three acts, then the evidence more strongly suggests Shakespeare than Dekker. I go where the evidence goes (if reluctantly). So, hat’s off to Mr. Hammond. As he himself states, any attempt to identify the progenitors of Double Falsehood must end with caution.

My thanks to the blog Shaksyear, his post Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Baked Beans, Spam, Egg, Sausage, and Double Falsehood: Hasn’t Got Much Shakespeare in It (Part 1 of 3), for prompting me to finally write my own re-visitation.

Also, I am especially grateful to Matthew Partridge for his corrections and response.

Let’s all hope Cardenio shows up.