3.4.4. Thomas Edwards, Narcissus, 1593

 

The first author to mention Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (1593) is a man of whom most of us will not have heard – Thomas Edwards, perhaps a younger brother of the musician and poet Richard Edwards (1525-1566).[1] The literary efforts of the amateur poet weren’t taken seriously by his contemporaries.

The earliest reference to Cephalus and Procris is an entry in the Register of the Stationers' Company from 22, October 1593 (Arber Transcript, II. 639). - The single copy dates from 1595. It was discovered in 1878 in the Peterborough Cathedral Library and edited by William E. Buckley in 1882.

By way of an epilogue to his affected Narcissus Thomas Edwards writes twelve strange verses. In the first four he apologizes for his “slow Muse”. With the remaining eight stanzas he expresses his fervent admiration for some of his literary contemporaries: Stanzas five and six are directed at the famous shepherd “Collyn” – Edmund Spenser and his Faerie Queene (1590). Stanza seven praises “Rosamonde”, i. e. Samuel Daniel, the author of the romance The complaint of Rosamond (1592) along with the poets “Amintas” (Thomas Watson, †1592) and “Leander” (Christopher Marlowe, †1593).

The following three stanzas are dedicated to “Adon”, meaning the author of Venus and Adonis. Edwards calls him a man “in purple robes” that “differs much from men tilting under friaries”.

What did the philologists do when they realized that this discovery from 1878 couldn’t be “undiscovered”? First they pricked up their ears (like dogs when the doorbell rings), then they leaned back in their chairs and said: “We can’t be sure to whom Edwards was referring in verses 9 and 10.”

 

CEPHALUS & PROCRIS.

NARCISSUS. Aurora musae amica.

LONDON Imprinted by Iohn Wolfe. 1595.

 

Narcissus, L’Envoy

 

1

Scarring beautie all bewitching,
Tell a tale to hurt it selfe,
Tels a tale how men are fleeting,
  All of Love and his power,
Tels how womens shewes are pelfe,
  And their constancies as flowers.

Scarring [wounding] beauty (all bewitching)
Tells a tale to hurt itself,[2]
Tells a tale how men are fleeting
  All of Lovè and his power,
Tells how women‘s shows are pelf [dust],
  And their constancies as flowers.[3]

2

Aie me pretie wanton boy,
What a sire did hatch thee forth,
To shew thee of the worlds annoy,
  Ere thou kenn'st anie pleasure:
Such a favour's nothing worth,
  To touch not to taste the treasure.

 

Aye, me pretty wanton boy [= Adonis],
What a sire [forefather] did hatch thee forth
To show thee of the world’s annoy,
  Ere thou kennest [knew] any pleasure:
Such a favour's nothing worth
  To touch nòt to taste the treasure.

 

3

Poets that divinely dreampt,
Telling wonders visedly,
My slow Muse have quite benempt,
  And my rude skonce have aslackt,
So I cannot cunningly,
  Make an image to awake.

 

Poets that divinely dreamt,
Telling wonders visedly [advisedly],
My slow Muse have quite benempt [taken away],
  And my rude sconce have aslaked,[4]
So I cannot cunningly
  Make an image to awake.

 

4

Ne the frostie lims of age,
Uncouth shape (mickle wonder)
To tread with them in equipage,
  As quaint light blearing eies,
Come my pen broken under,
  Magick-spels such devize.

 

Ne the frosty limbs of age,
Uncouth shapè (mickle [great] wonder)
To tread with them in equipage [order],
  As quaint light blearing eyes [images],
Come my pen broken under,
  Magic-spells such devise.[5]

 

5

Collyn was a mighty swaine,

In his power all do flourish,

We are shepheards but in vaine,

  There is but one tooke the charge,

By his toile we do nourish,

  And by him are inlarg’d.

 

Collyn was a mighty swain,[6]

In his power all do flourish,

We are shepheards but in vain;

  There is but one took the charge,

By his toil we do nourish [maintain],

  And by him are enlarg’d.

 

6

He unlockt Albions glorie,

He was tolde of Sidneys honor,

Onely he of our stories,

  Must be sung in greatest pride,

In an Eglogue he hath wonne her,

  Fame and honor on his side.

 

He unlock’d Albion’s glory,

He was told of Sidney’s honor,[7]

Only he of our stories [epics]

  Must be sung in greatest pride;[8]

In an Eglogue he hath won her,

  Fame and honor on his side.[9]

 

7

Deale we not with Rosamond,

For the world our sawe will coate,

Amintas and Leander’s gone,

  Oh deare sonnes of stately kings,

Blessed be your nimble throats,

  That so amourously could sìng.

 

Deal we not with Rosamond,[10]

For the world our saw [saying] will coat [pass by];

Amintas and Leander’s gone,[11]

  Oh dear sons of stately kings,

Blessed be your nimble throats

  That so amourously could sìng.

 

8

Adon deafly masking thro

Stately tropes rich conceited,

Shew’d he well deserved to

Loves delight on him to gaze,

And had not love her selfe intreated,

Other nymphs had sent him baies.

 

Adon deftly masking [acting] through

Stately tropes rich conceited,[12]

Show’d he well deservèd to

  Love’s delight on him to gaze,

And had not love [Venus] herself entreated,

  Other nymphs had sent him bays.[13]

 

9

Eke in purple roabes distain’d,

Amid’st the Center of this clime,

I have heard saie doth remaine,

One whose power floweth far,

That should have bene of our rime

The only object and the star.

 

Eke [moreover] in purple robes distain’d [tinged],[14]

Amidst the Center of this clime [county],[15]

I have heard say, doth remain

  One whose power floweth far,

That should have been of our rime

  The only object and the star.[16]

 

10

Well could his bewitching pen

Done the Muses objects to us,

Although he differs much from men

Tilting under Frieries,

Yet his golden art might woo us

To have honored him with baies.

 

Well could his bewitching pen

Done the Muses’ objects to us,[17]

Although he differs much from men

  Tilting [brawling] under Friaries;[18]

Yet his golden art might woo us

  To have honor’d him with bays.

 

11

He that gan up to tilt,
Babels fresh remembrance,
Of the worlds-wracke how twas spilt,
And a world of stories made,
In a catalogues semblance
Hath alike the Muses staide.

 

He that gan up to tilt [combat]
Babel’s fresh remembrance [19]
Of the world’s-wrack, how ‘twas spilt,
  And a world of stories made
In a catalogue’s semblance,
  Hath alike the Muses stayed [strained].[20]

 

12

What remaines peerelesse men,
That in Albions confines are,
But eterniz'd with the pen,
In sacred Poems and sweet laies,
Should be sent to Nations farre,
The greatnes of faire Albions praise.

 

What remainès peerless men,
That in Albion’s confines are,
But etèrniz'd with the pen
  In sacred Poems and sweet lays,
Should be sent to Nations far,
  The greatness of fair Albion’s praise.

 

 

NOTES:



[1] “perhaps a younger brother of the musician and poet Richard Edwards”: Charlotte C. Stopes (1921) writes:

“We all know of Richard Edwards, the collector, and chief contributor to the Paradise of Dainty Devices. He was the eldest of many brothers. His musical powers recommended him first to Mary, then to Elizabeth. He appears in one of the Court Lists as ‘Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.' In this list he was associated with a ‘Thomas Edwards’ in 1558. Richard was made Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal in 1561, and thereafter developed his dramatic talents. He so delighted the Queen with his performance of Palamon and Arcite at Oxford in September 1566, that she promised him a substantial reward. She was not prompt enough, and the poet died in the following month. It is supposed he left no child. In December of that year (1566) Thomas Edwards received a patent for the office of Vibrellator or Gunner in the Tower. This was not a very important or responsible office, but it was often granted as a sort of little pension to courtiers who required some money-help. It is just possible the grant was given to Thomas as the brother of Richard Edwards, as a remembrance of the promised reward…. Among the Loseley papers is a bundle of private family letters. Queen Elizabeth highly favoured Sir William More of Loseley, and was very fond of his daughter Elizabeth, probably her godchild. She must have been about 40, when the Queen made her Lady-in- Waiting. She writes delightedly to her father about the kindness she received from everybody. She was then Lady Woolley by her second marriage to Sir John Woolley. Her father fell ill, she wanted to go and nurse him, the Queen was very unwilling to let her go, but finally consented. - One of Lady Woolley's friends at Court wrote to tell her of the nice things the Queen had said about her after she left, and that friend signed himself 'Your most humble servant, Thomas Edwards. From the Court, March 1594.' So here was a man of the name at the very time Cephalus and Procris was coming out, living at Court, having access to the Queen and able to repeat her conversation.” (Charlotte C. Stopes, Thomas Edwards, Author of ‘Cephalus and Procris’, The Modern Language Review XVI, 1921.)

[2] “beauty (all bewitching) / Tells a tale to hurt itself”: Edwards refers to his epic poem Narcissus.

[3] Tells a tale how men are fleeting / All of Lovè and his power, / Tells how women‘s shows are pelf, / And their constancies as flowers”: This refers to the story of Cephalus and Procris.

[4] “And my rude sconce have aslaked”: [Poets] have my ignorant head abated.

[5] “As quaint light blearing eyes,/ Come my pen broken under, / Magic-spells such devise”: W. E. Buckley (1882) comments: "These lines are obscure. May it be that the two former refer to himself; ‘eyes’ meaning ‘images’ (as above: ‘I cannot cunningly make an image to awake’), my imaginations are broken, imperfect, hazy (‘light blearing’), my pen cannot ‘turn them to shape’ as the true ‘poet's pen’ does — while ouch as I have just spoken of, and whom I am now about to enumerate, ‘devise magic-spells" that charm and delight by their perfect realization of the poet's imaginings."
[6]Collyn was a mighty swain”: There is the marginal note "He thinks it the duety of every one that sails to strike main-top before that great and mighty Poet Collyn."

[7] “He unlock’d Albion’s glory, / He was told of Sidney’s honor”: In Spenser's letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, prefixed to the Faerie Queene, we read: “In that Faery Queene I mean glory in my general intention, but in my particular I conceive the most excellent and glorious person of our sovereign the Queen, and her kingdom in Faery land.” - The Shepheard's Calendar is entitled to the “noble and vertuous Gentleman, most worthy of all titles both of learning and chivalry, Master Philip Sidney”.

[8] “Only he of our stories / Must be sung in greatest pride”: Refers to Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590). Later on  Edwards says: “One [=Adon] …that should have been of our rime / The only object and the star.” That implies that that both “Collyn” and “Adon” are on equal terms.

[9] “In an Eglogue he hath won her, / Fame and honor on his side”: The fourth Eglogue of Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender (1579) which is specially in praise of Queen Elizabeth.

[10] “Deal we not with Rosamond”:  W. E. Buckley (1882) comments: “Edwards refers here to Samuel Daniel, whose Delia, contayning certayne Sonnets, with the Complaint of Rosamond, was printed three times in 1592, and twice in 1594. - Does the word ‘deal’ involve a punning allusion to Delia?”

[11] “Amintas and Leander’s gone”: Thomas Watson, the author of the Latin epic Amyntas (1585), died in 1592; Christopher Marlowe, the author of Hero and Leander, was murdered in 1593.

[12] “Adon deftly masking through / Stately tropes rich conceited”: ‘Masking’ was used before for acting, so it may here indicate both his acting, and the skill with which he makes his characters move through his plays with appropriate sentiments.

[13] “he well deserved to / Love’s delight on him to gaze, / And had not love herself entreated, / Other nymphs had sent him bays”: With Venus’s beloved Adonis in mind, it is said of “Adon”, the author of Venus and Adonis, that he also deserves the love of Venus. Probably Edwards means Queen Elizabeth as Venus Coelestis who, according to Ficino, “dwells in the highest, supercelestial zone of the universe.”

[14] “Eke in purple robes distain’d”: Faced with the fact that stanzas 9 and 10 do not fit the person of Will Shaksper, orthodox literature analysts have detached them from verse 8 - postulating that “Adon” did not write them. They then tried to find another author. Among others the following candidates have been suggested:  1) Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, 2) the Earl of Essex, 3) the Earl of Oxford, 4) Sir Robert Dudley, 5) Michael Drayton, 6) Francis Bacon, 7) Fulke Greville or 8) Ferdinando Stanley, Earl of Derby. - Edward Dowden (1843-1913) supports the theory that ADON is identical with the Earl of Oxford:

“Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have been intended, as his reputation stood high as a Poet, and Patron of Poets. Puttenham names him first among the crew of courtly makers; his poems are almost all amorous (not ‘tilting under Frieries’). Spenser has a Sonnet to him, in which he speaks of ‘the love that thou didst bear To th' Heliconian Nymphs, and they to thee.’ His ‘power flowed far,’ as he was Lord High Chamberlain of England. He had contributed to the Paradyse of Dainty Devyses, signing E. O. or E. Ox., and to the Phoenix Nest in 1593.”

Stanzas 9 and 10 cannot be separated from stanza 8 for the simple reason that no instructive key word is given for the author in question. Edwards speaks of Collyn =Spenser, Rosamonde =Daniel, Amintas =Watson, Leander = Marlowe und Adon =Shakespeare. Verses 9 and 10 would have had no meaning for the contemporary readers without a key word. Therefore it is clear that the name “Adon” also applies for stanzas 9 and 10.

Thomas Edwards compares the purple robe of the poet to the blood soaked robe of fair Adonis. But “in purple robes” may be also applied to a member of the Legal Profession. - The Earl of Oxford was a member of the Great Chamber at Fotheringhay castle which met on 12 October 1586 to reach judgement over Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland.

[15] “Amidst the Center of this clime”: W. E. Buckley (1882): “Politically, socially, and as connected with literature, London would be the centre then as now.”

[16] “That should have been of our rime / The only object and the star”: See note 8.

[17] “Well could his bewitching pen / Done the Muses’ objects to us”: Well could his pen have done the Muses’ objects to us.

[18] “Although he differs much from men / Tilting under Friaries”: W. E. Buckley (1882) comments:

“A Friary is a Monastery or Convent of Friars, and after the suppression of the several Orders the name remained, when Theatres had taken the places of the buildings previously set apart for the Religious Life. At any rate this had happened with the Black Friars. Hence ‘tilting under Frieries’ may refer to acting, as in plays there are opposing forces, a Richard and a Richmond in array one against the other, or may include writers for the stage, who bring about mock combats and spectacles, just as tilting is an imitation of the encounters in warfare.”

As Charles W. Wallace comprehensively documented in The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare (1912), under the direction of Richard Farrant and William Hunnis the building known as Blackfriars was used for rehearsals and for experimental stagings of new productions for the court theatre. In the years 1583 and 1584 John Lyly used “Blackfriars” as a theatre and the Earl of Oxford footed his rent bill. Three of the productions staged were; Lyly’s Campaspe, Lyly’s Sapho and Phao and Peele’s The Arraignment of Paris. –   And for what reason Shake-speare should not have “tilted under Friaries”? - Because “that gentle Spirit” did not appear on the stage of the popular theatre. The Lord Great Chamberlain of England did not grace the public stages, nor did he perform under the roofs of Blackfriars Theatre.

Blackfriars was also home to the fencing school of the famous Italian master; Rocco Bonetti († 1587). It is quite likely that his colleague “Jeronimo” continued to run the school until 1592. According to George Silver, Paradoxes of Defense (1599), signor Rocco commonly boasted about his being able “to hit any Englishman with a thrust, just upon any button in his doublet”, a feat which may have been remembered by Shakespeare in the characterisation of his duellist Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, humorously dubbed by his opponent Mercutio “the very butcher of a silk button”(II/3).

[19] “He that gan up to tilt / Babel’s fresh remembrance”: Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas (1544–1590), a Huguenot courtier and poet, wrote the Semaines ('Weeks'), two epic poems which freely expand on the account in the Book of Genesis of the creation of the world and the first eras of world history. - Du Bartas’ translator was Joshua Sylvester (1563-1618) who published The Battail of Yvry, The Triumph of Faith, and some portions of the ‘Divine Weeks’ (The Sacrifice of Isaac and The Shipwracke of Jonas) in 1592.  In 1593 there came out a collection of such pieces as had been so far translated, each with separate titles. No perfect copy of this is known, but it must have included the two pieces mentioned by Thomas Edwards, which he calls ‘The World's Wrack’ and ‘Babel’ (= Babylon).

[20] “He that gan up to tilt / Babel’s fresh remembrance …Hath alike the Muses stayed”: But alike to whom? - To the poet alluded to in the three previous stanzas (8-10), i.e. to “Adon” = William Shakespeare = Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who is (1) "in purple robes" tinted; (2) "one whose power floweth far;" (3) one of  "a bewitching pen;" (4) of a "golden art;" (5) one that "differs much from men tilting under Friaries;" (6) one who is "amidst the center of this clime;" (7) one that "ought to have been the only object and the star of our rime."

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