3.5.3. Greene-Oxford-Shakespeare. Summary

In 1584 the author Robert Greene (1558-1592) dedicates his narrative Gwydonius, The card of fancy to the Earl of Oxford.

William Shakespeare uses the plot of Greene’s novel Pandosto, The Triumph of time (1588) for his romance The Winter's Tale. (Pandosto in turn goes back to Chaucer’s The Clerk's Tale.)

The hero of Greene’s Arcadian novel Menaphon (1589) - Melicertes or Maximius - is an aristocratic poet, a second Simonides. Most likely Greene indended the figure of Melicertes to be a tribute to the Earl of Oxford.

The first edition of Menaphon was induced by an introduction from the young satirist Thomas Nashe (1567-1601) in which a reference is made to the tragic hero Prince Hamlet.

It is a common practice now-a-days amongst a sort of shifting companions that run through every art and thrive by none, to leave the trade of Noverint [scriveners] whereto they were born, and busy themselves with the endeavours of Art, that could scarcely latinize their neck-verse if they should have need; yet English Seneca read by candle-light yields many good sentences, as Blood is a beggar, and so forth, and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches[1]. But O grief! tempus edax rerum [time that devours all things], what's that will always load? The sea exhaled by drops will be dry in continuance, and Seneca let blood line by line and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage, which makes his famished followers to imitate the Kid in Aesop

In Menaphon, Greene usurps one of Oxford's poems:  "What thing is love? It is a divine power". (See 5.2.4 The poems, No. 109.)

What thing is love? It is a divine power
That reigns in us: or else a wreakful law,
That doomes our minds, to beautie to encline:
It is a starre, whose influence doth draw
   Our heart to Love dissembling of his might,
   Till he be maister of our hearts and sight.

Love is a discord and a strange divorce
Betwixt our sense and reason, by whose power,
As mad with reason, we admit that force
Which wit or labour never may devoure :
   It is a will that brooketh no consent;
   It would refuse yet never may repent.

Love's a desire, which, for to wait a time,
Doth lose an age of years, and so doth pass
As doth the shadow sever'd from his prime;
Seeming as though it were, yet never was;
   Leaving behind naught but repentant thoughts
   Of days ill spent of that which profits noughts.

It's now a peace and then a sudden war,
A hope consumed before it is conceived;
At hand it fears, and menaceth afar;
And he that gains is most of all deceived.
   It is a secret hidden and not known,
   Which one may better feel than write upon.

Shakespeare weaves a variation of this poem into his tragedy Romeo and Juliet (I/1).

Love is a smoke rais'd with the fume of sighs;
Being purg'd, a fire sparkling in lovers'eyes;
Being vex'd, a sea nourish'd with lovers' tears.
What is it else? A madness most discrete,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.
Farewell, my coz.

The author Henry Chettle (c.1560-c.1606) writes (in Robert Greene's name) an annex to Greenes Groatsworth of Wit (Nov. 1592), titled: “To those gentlemen, his Quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making plays”, in which he has a loud mouthed actor (most likely Edward Alleyn) deliver the very important line:

Yes, trust them not, for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a Player's hide supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you, and, being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.

In Strange Newes (1593) Thomas Nashe bears witness to the friendship between Robert Greene and Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (alias Will. Monox):

I and one of my fellows, Will. Monox (hast thou never heard of him and his great dagger?) were in company with him [Robert Greene] a month before he died.

In 1603, Henry Chettle writes Englands Mourning Garment, in which he refers to Shakespeare with the Arcadian name ‘Melicertes’.

O, saith Thenot to Collin [=Chettle], in some of those wrongs resolve us, and think it no unfitting thing, for thou that hast heard the songs of that warlike Poet Philesides [Sidney], good Meloebee [Samuel Daniel?], and smooth tongued Melicert [Shakespeare], tell us what thou hast observed in their sawes [= sayings], seen in thy own experience, and heard of undoubted truths touching those accidents; for that they add, I doubt not, to the glory of our Eliza.

Elliot Browne (1873) says: “The character [Melicertes] was evidently a favourite with Greene, who has put into his mouth the best poetry in the book. There are certainly some points of resemblance between Melicertus and the traditional idea of Shakspeare. Melicertus is a great maker of sonnets, and after his poetical excellence, the leading quality ascribed to him is the possession of a very ready and smooth wit, which enables him to shine in the euphuistic chaffing-matches with which the work is interlarded.”



[1] "yet English Seneca read by candle-light yields many good sentences, as Blood is a beggar, and so forth, and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches".  In original spelling: “yet English Seneca read by candle light yeeldes manie good sentences, as Bloud is a begger, and so foorth: and if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning, he will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should say handfulls of tragical speaches.”

In Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy (I/3) which was written  between 1586 and 1589, the VICEROY OF PORTUGAL speaks the words:

My breach of faith occasion'd bloody wars;
 those bloody wars have spent my treasure;
 and with my treasure my people's blood -