2.2. The Harvey-Nashe Quarrel and Loves's Labour's Lost (2009)


            “The play’s the thing.” Hamlet’s words sound as familiar as “there’s no business like show business.” The play The Mousetrap within the play of Hamlet is not merely the thing. The thing has an object : to catch the conscience of the king; it is not entirely contained within its own world, it trangresses its borders and works outside its own reality. Ironically, the phrase is now being used to urge quite the opposite motion. It has become a catch phrase to intimate that it does not matter who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, whether a man with the name Shakespeare or a man who called himself Shakespeare or a Mister Nobody. We have the play, let us be silently grateful and not ask irrelevant questions. The play should be entirely understood from within itself. The play is the thing with no other object than itself.

The play Love’s Labour’s Lost is perhaps not the thing, not the whole thing. This play, especially the subplot, contains puns and jokes which some scholars would like Shakespeare never to have written. “Although its situations”, Alfred Harbage wrote,  “are conventional, there is a curious open-endedness about them which sends the fancies groping, and although all its jokes are explicable as jokes, some of them are so execrably bad as to create hope for ulterior meanings.” [1]

There was a time when many a scholar would have welcomed the play’s removal from the canon. Richard David, the Arden editor, commences his introduction with a brief survey of its reception. “‘If we were to part with any of the author’s comedies it should be this,’ wrote Hazlitt of Love’s Labour’s Lost, and his opinion was shared by most critics between Shakespeare’s day and our own. Their reason was partly the belief that this was one of the earliest of Shakespeare’s plays, if not the very earliest, a beginner’s clumsy effort, full of stilted rhyming couplets and over-elaborate puns, the characters unlifelike, and the actions constantly held up for skirmishes of what the uneducated countryman from Stratford mistakenly took for wit. Pope found the comic scenes so generally barren that he cut whole pages of them out of his text, printing them at the page-foot for those curious archaelogists who might wish to see what blunders Shakespeare made before he learnt his business.”[2]

The eel of Ely

The following dialogue between Don Armado and Moth is probably one of  the jokes Harbage would term “execrably bad.” It is, at any rate, “curiously open-ended”.  

            Armado. Pretty and apt.

            Moth.  How mean you, sir? I pretty, and my saying apt? or I apt,

               and my saying pretty?

            Armado. Thou pretty, because little.

            Moth.   Little pretty, because little. Wherefore apt?

            Armado. And therefore apt, because quick.

            Moth.   Speak you this in my praise, master?

            Armado. In thy condign praise.

            Moth.   I will praise an eel with the same praise.

            Armado. That an eel is ingenious?

            Moth.   That an eel is quick.

            Armado. I do say thou art quick in answers; thou heat'st my blood.

            Moth.   I am answer'd, sir.

            Armado. I love not to be cross'd.  (I.ii.21-32)

The meaning is clear. To Don Armado (“Sir Armed”), the Spanish miles gloriosus, his page Moth is pretty because he is of low stature, this makes him apt because it makes him quick. Moth wants to give an eel the same praise, which infuriates Armado because he feels crossed by Moth’s praising an eel for its quickness. Imitating the above dialogue, we may ask: So what, Shakespeare? Are you funny because you are Willy and therefore witty? If the play is the whole thing, this is the very thin thing indeed.

But the play is not the whole thing. The Arden editor remarks on “an eel is quick”: “There must be a topical allusion here, since Armado so much resents it.” But where do we look for the source of this topicality?

Probably few commentators would deny that the subplot of the play contains several clues to the Harvey-Nashe quarrel, Don Armado representing to a certain extent Gabriel Harvey and Moth Thomas Nashe, “Moth” being perhaps an anagram of “Thom”. Still, E.K. Chambers has warned against the hunt for real-life persons in the play. Though he concedes there might be “personal touches” of Harvey and Nashe in Don Armado and Moth, he considers the quest for “portraits” as “pressing the thing too far” and too often “beating the air.”[3] Against this, however, it can, on the one hand, be held that a number of allusions may very well supply a profile or caricature allowing for an identification without making for a full portrait; on the other hand, that beating the air might be as effective a method to catch an eel as any other.

If we can digest the following sentence from Harvey’s Pierce’s Supererogation the eel is soon on the hook:

“The Ægyptian Mercury would provide to plant his foot upon a square; and his image in Athens was quadrangular, whatsoever the figure of his hat: and although he were sometime a ball of Fortune (who can assure himself of Fortune?) yet was he never a wheel of folly, or an eel of Ely.”[4]

Harvey means the Egyptian deity Thot, a god of the moon, of reckoning, of learning, and of writing, identified by the Greeks with Mercury. The quadrangular Mercury [described by Pausanias] can skip to the black square hat of the university of Cambridge and jump to the “eel of Ely”; “mercury” suggesting the quickness of both quicksilver and eel.[5] As to whom Harvey means by “eel of Ely” there can hardly be any doubt. The goddess Fortune may turn her wheel and toss one up and down; the wheel of folly leads to disaster by inertia; but the eel keeps its fortunes smooth in changing environments. It is in water what the chameleon is on land and the turncoat in human society. The “eel of Ely” is Dr. Turncoat, as was nicknamed Dr. Andrew Perne, vice-chancellor of Cambridge and dean of Ely, Harvey’s sworn enemy, who equally flourished in the reign of the protestant zealot Edward VI, the catholic zealot Mary and the pragmatic zealot Elizabeth I. It was not this changeability which embittered Harvey, it was the fact that Dr. Perne had thwarted Harvey’s academic career: the eel of Ely had crossed Harvey. In Strange News, published early in 1593, Nashe reminds Harvey of some names he has applied to Perne, one of them being “slippery eel”.[6]

Also Don Armado’s page Moth is a sort of an eel. He is a mercurial figure, quick as quicksiver. Despite the growing animadversion between Harvey and Nashe from the fall 1592 to the summer 1593, Harvey admired Nashe’s talent and seems to have hoped to be the young man’s fatherly friend. In 1592 [in Four Letters] he attests Nashe “a delicate wit”, full of “quaintest inventions,” and a “deviseful brain”.[7] He advises him “to employ his golden talent”[8] the right way. He calls him a “springing wit” (I. 219). This patronizing attitude in 1592 and earlier resembles that of Don Armado toward his page Moth. Only would Nashe sometimes be too quick. It is not his person, Harvey writes, which caused him to write against him but his “rash and desperate proceeding against his well-willers.” (I. 220.) In 1593 only a few undertones on Nashe’s talent remain perceptible. The stress shifts to the misuse of that talent in the service of what is to Harvey base, “villain” literature. “Master Villainy became an author; and Sir Nash a gentleman.” (II. 41.) The “quaintest inventions” of 1592 have become “fresh invention from the tap” (II. 44.) in 1593.

“Well, my masters, you may talk your pleasures of Tom Nashe, who yet sleepeth secure … but assure yourselves, if M. Pennilesse had not been deeply plunged in a profound ecstasy of knavery, M. Pierce had never written that famous work of supererogation [Strange News] that now staineth all the books in Paul's Churchyard, and setteth both the universities to school… Dreaming and smoke amount alike: Life is a gaming, a juggling, a scolding, a lawing, a skirmishing, a war; a Comedy, a Tragedy: the stirring wit, a quintessence of quicksilver, and there is no dead flesh in affection, or courage. You … that intend to be fine companionable gentlemen, smirking wits and whipsters in the world, betake ye timely to the lively practice of the minion profession, and enure your Mercurial fingers.” (II. 63.)

In 1592 Harvey complains of the practice of mocking living persons in the theatre:  “... and it is the luck of some pelting comedies to busy the stage, as well as some graver tragedies.” (I. 223.) In 1593 he expresses the fear of being thrown on the stage himself: “Such an antagonist has Fortune allotted me, to purge melancholy and to thrust me upon the stage: which I must now load [equip], like the old subject of my new praise [= the old Ass].” (II. 273.)

Whom did Harvey mean? Probably not Nashe, though Nashe had in the meantime announced Harvey would be played by Will Kempe, the clown of the Chamberlain’s Men (see next chapter). Possibly he meant Shakespeare. Harvey had been thrust upon the stage before 1593. Perhaps first in 1581 in the Latin comedy Pedantius acted at Cambridge. The model for Pedantius is thought to be Gabriel Harvey, though it is possible that Harvey was likened to Pedantius after the play had been staged. But he had also been caricatured about 1585 in John Lyly’s comedy Endimion, in some aspects, particularly with respect to the subplot, comparable to Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. The main characters of the subplot of Endimion are Sir Tophas, a Chaucerian figure, a warrior-like pedant like Don Armado, and his quick-witted page Epiton. Sir Tophas is hunting the monster Ovis, which is a black sheep, a reference to grammar which is also found in Shakespeare’s play.[9] Sir Tophas dotingly loves the hag Dipsas, a personification of antiquity. “Argumentum ab antiquitate, My master loveth anticke worke”, the page Epiton says, and “Nothing hath made my master a fool but flat scholarship.” (V.ii.32 and 38). Another allusion seems leveled at Harvey in Lyly’s play:

Tophas. Then I am but three quarters of a noun substantive. But alas, Epi, to tell thee the truth, I am a noun adjective.

Epiton. Why?

Tophas. Because I cannot stand without another. (III.iii.16-19)

Harvey was this “adjective”, who in the 1570s and early 1580s could not stand without his friend Edmund Spenser, on whom he piggybacked his own ambition. But Harvey was an adjective striving to take the place of the substantive. He “would have killed Spenser poetically” if he had let him.[10] One has only to read the epistle of the “wellwiller” to his Three Familiar Letters to realize that Harvey was using Spenser’s fame for his own glory. He would have killed Nashe’s talent too.

If we step out of the play to the Harvey-Nashe quarrel and replace Don Armado with Harvey and Moth with Nashe the passage on the “quick eel” becomes transparent. Like Moth in the play Thomas Nashe seems to have been of low stature. In the anonymous The Trimming of Thomas Nash (1597; the presumed author is Gabriel’s brother Richard) he is portrayed as a little boy in chains.  Harvey is attracted by Nashe’s quick wit and praises him. But Nashe reminds him that Dr. Perne, the eel (of Ely), is also quick,[11] which immediately sets Harvey afire, because he does not “love to be crossed”. For these lines to be amusing, the public had to be aware of the travesty of Harvey/Don Armado, Nashe/Moth, Dr. Perne, dean of Ely/eel of Ely (“eel of Ely” would have suggested itself as a sobriquet of Dr. Perne). To an informed public the allusions would be witty. Alfred Harbage rightly has called Love’s Labour’s Lost a “coterie” play, written for a select informed public in the private theatre, at an Inn of Court or at court.

Thus the play itself is, without knowledge of the context in which it was presented, no longer 'the thing' for modern readers or spectators, as it had been for that segment of the Elizabethan audience, reflecting a common experience of author, player and spectator.

Costard’s broken shin

In III.i Costard is sent for in order to carry a letter of Don Armado to Jacquenetta. Moth fetches Costard and introduces him:

“A wonder, master! here's a costard broken in a shin.”

“Costard” means “head”. A head broken in a shin does excite wonder, but at first glance the pun itself does not look that wonderful. Armado’s reaction seems to carry no senseful relation to Moth’s words:

“Some enigma, some riddle; come, thy l'envoy; begin.”

Certainly, a few lines later Armado explains that an envoy “is an epilogue or discourse to make plain some obscure precedence that hath tofore been sain.” But what is this “obscure precedent”? Is it the rather unusual form “broken in a shin” for “a broken shin”? As the scene contains cross-punning between English and French words, this might be why Shakespeare chooses this curious locution. “A shin” sounds like the French échine, “backbone”. In Nashe’s Strange News we find a passage which could shed light on the use of this form. Speaking of Dr Perne at whom Harvey in 1580 had been shouting in Billingsgate manner, Nashe warns him: “He that wraps himself in earth, like the Fox, to catch birds, may haps have a heavy cart go over him before he be aware and break his back.”[12] Harvey’s insults against Dr Perne in his Three Familar Letters in 1580 did definitively break the back of his academic career. By “heavy cart” Nashe could have meant Lord Burghley, chancellor of the University. We have here a first possible, if debatable,  reference to the Harvey-Nashe quarrel in scene III.i. About the other reference of “broken in a shin” we need not doubt.

            The next work Nashe published after Strange News is Christ’s Tears over Jerusalem. It must have been published between 8 September 1593, the date of registration in Stationers’ Register, and 16 September next. The “Epistle to the Reader” contained an offer of truce to Harvey. “Even of Maister Doctor Harvey, I heartily desire the like, whose fame and reputation though, through some precedent injurious provocations, and fervent incitements of young heads, I rashly assailed: yet now better advised, and of his perfections more confirmedly persuaded, unfeignedly I entreat of the whole world, from my pen his worths  may receive no impeachment.”[13]

            Harvey bluntly rejected Nashe’s offer by return of post in a separate pamphlet dated 16 September under the title A New Letter of Notable Contents. As always, some droll poems were appended, in this case three, two of them ending with a “l’envoy”. Nashe’s offer for peace was rejected in these words: “... or accept of a filthy recantation, as it were a sorry plaister to a broken shin, that could knock malice on the head, and cut the windpipe of the railing throat?”[14] [our emphases] In this sentence we find the head “Costard” and his “broken shin”. It seems as if Shakespeare had re-arranged Harvey’s reply. 

Moth. A wonder, master! here's a costard broken in a shin.Armado. Some enigma, some riddle; come, thy l'envoy; begin.

Costard. No egma, no riddle, no l'envoy; no salve in the mail, sir. O, sir, plantain, a plain plantain; no l'envoy, no l'envoy; no salve, sir, but a plantain!

Armado.  By virtue thou enforcest laughter; thy silly thought, my spleen; the heaving of my lungs provokes me to ridiculous smiling. O, pardon me, my stars! Doth the inconsiderate take salve for l'envoy, and the word 'l'envoy' for a salve?

By naming the clown Costard (“head”), having him break a shin and ask for a plantain plaister, one connexion is established with the Harvey-Nashe quarrel, another if one accepts the pun on “a shin” and échine, ('backbone'). But the allusions do not end there. Shakespeare returns to it.

Armado. How did this argument begin?
Armado. By saying that a costard was broken in a shin. Then call'd you for the l'envoy.
Costard. True, and I for a plantain. Thus came your argument in; then the boy's fat l'envoy, the goose that you bought; and he ended the market.
Armado. But tell me: how was there a costard broken in a shin?
Moth. I will tell you sensibly.

In Moth’s “I will tell you sensibly” resounds Nashe’s reply to Harvey’s rebuttal in the epistle to the second issue of Christ’s Tears over Jerusalem:

“Thrice more convenient time I will pick out to stretch him forth limb by limb on the rack, and afield as large as Achilles’ race to bait him to death with darts according to the custom of baiting bulls in Spain.”[15]

But Moth is interrupted by Costard:

Moth. I will tell you sensibly.

Costard. Thou hast no feeling of it, Moth; I will speak that l'envoy.

              I, Costard, running out, that was safely within,

              Fell over the threshold and broke my shin.

Armado. We will talk no more of this matter.
Costard. Till there be more matter in the shin.

Harvey, the goose

No doubt, more matter in the shin is to be found outside the play.

Armado. Doth the inconsiderate take salve for l'envoy, and the word 'l'envoy' for a salve?
Moth. Do the wise think them other? Is not l'envoy a salve?
Armado. No, page; it is an epilogue or discourse to make plain some obscure precedence that hath tofore been sain. I will example it:
           The fox, the ape, and the humble-bee,
           Were still at odds, being but three.
There's the moral. Now the l'envoy.
Moth. I will add the l'envoy. Say the moral again.
Armado. The fox, the ape, and the humble-bee,
                    Were still at odds, being but three.
Moth. Until the goose came out of door,
             And stay'd the odds by adding four.

In the quatrain of the fox, the ape and the humble bee, however, it is the goose which comes out of door. The goose is Harvey.

            The association between “l’envoy” and “goose” is not merely based on the French word for “goose”, “oie”. Moreover, what senseful way leads from “broken shin” to “l’envoy”? If we stay within the borders of the play, we have to find the senseful thing in the play. We will have to grope in the dark, while the light shines outside the play in Harvey’s rejection of  Nashe’s truce proposal in his pamphlet A New Letter of Notable Contents and the odd poems with an “envoy” ending it.

“Sudden Shakespeare”[16] is clearly writing on two levels at once, in play and out of play. The l’envoy goes:

Until the goose came out of door,

And stay'd the odds by adding four.

The couplet, called the moral, refers to Nashe’s tale of the bear in Pierce Penniless. The couplet called “l’envoy” refers to the role the Harvey brothers Gabriel and Richard aimed at in the Martin Marprelate controversy.

Probably less than a week after the publication of Pierce Penniless (published 9th September 1592), Harvey warned Nashe [in Four Letters]: “... they can tell parlous Tales of Bears and Foxes, as shrewdly as Mother Hubbard’s Tale.”[17] Edmund Spenser had run into difficulties the previous year, though probably more because of the ape than the fox. In his tale Spenser had made an ape a successful courtier. Nashe’s tale of the bear in Pierce Penniless is about Leicester, who had died in 1588. It draws heavily upon an anonymous pamphlet Leicester’s Commonwealth published in 1584. In it the Earl of Leicester was accused of nearly all the evils in Pandora’s Box and, above all, of his ambition to get hold of the English throne in one way or another. In his “Epistle to the Readers” in Strange News Nashe warns his readers against doing what, actually, he is doing brazenly. His rectification represents the most common subterfuge with which authors sought to shield themselves from the charge of libel, often at the same time drawing the attention of the reader to the presence of a hidden meaning. His tale, Nashe states, was not meant individually “but generally applied to a general vice. Now a man may not talk of a dog, but it is surmised he aims at him that gives the dog in his crest.”[18] The dog was the crest of the earl of Shrewsbury; no dog plays a significant part in Nashe’s tale. But the bear was the crest of the Earl of Leicester. Leicester is sometimes spoken of as the bear in Leicester’s Commonwealth. “You know the bear's love, said the gentleman, which is all for his own paunch, and so this Bearwhelp turneth all to his own commodity, and for greediness thereof will overturn all if he be not stopped or muzzled in time.”[19] In Nashe’s fable Leicester is marked out in almost every respect but in name. He is called the “chief Burgomaster of all the beasts under the Lion”; the use of the Dutch term for ‘mayor’ higlights once more that the former governor-general of the Low Countries is meant. The lion was so fond of the bear that he turned a blind eye to his crimes; the lion is the crest of the English monarchs; it cannot have been difficult for contemporaries to identify the lion as the queen and the lion’s fondness for the bear as her complaisance for Leicester. In Leicester’s Commonwealth the earl is accused of having poisoned the Earl of Essex to marry his widow; in Nashe’s fable the bear poisons the stream from which the deer was wont to drink; the deer was the crest of the Earl of Essex. In Leicester’s Commonwealth he is accused of having murdered the Duchess of Lennox (who through the descendance from Henry VII’s daughter Margaret had a claim to the succession) during a visit at her house in Hackney; in Nashe’s fable the bear “assailed the Unicorn as he slept in his den”;[20] the unicorn was the crest of the duke of Lennox.

How closely Nashe follows Leicester’s Commonwealth in this part of his tale appears most palpably from the account of the planned marriage between Mary Stuart and the duke of Norfolk, leading to the duke’s execution in 1574, in the pamphlet and in the corresponding allegory in Nashe’s fable. “But the sum of all is this, in effect, that Leicester, having a secret desire to pull down the said Duke, to the end that he might have no man above himself to hinder him in that which he most desireth, by a thousand cunning devices drew in the Duke to the cogitation of that marriage with the Queen of Scotland which afterward was the cause or occasion of his ruin.” (Leicester’s Commonwealth, p. 64.)

Leicester would have approached the duke of Norfolk, feigning warmest friendship and highest respect, giving him a counsel “to plunge his friend over the ears in suspicion and disgrace, in such sort as he should never be able to draw himself out of the ditch again...” (Nashe, I. 65), wherein he was seconded by Sir Nicholas Throckmorton. In Nashe’s fable Norfolk appears both as “fat camel and a horse”; the horse was the crest of of his first wife, Mary FitzAlan, daughter of the Earl of Arundel, whose title and crest passed to Norfolk; the “camel” probably hints at Norfolk’s gullibility. The bear was longing for “horse-flesh, and went presently to a meadow, where a fat camel was grazing, whom fearing to encounter with force because he was a huge beast and well shod, he thought to betray under the colour of demanding homage.” (Nashe, I. 221.) The bear is advised by the ape “to dig a pit with his paws right in the way where this big-boned Gentleman should pass, that so stumbling and falling in, he might lightly skip on his back.” (Nashe, I. 222.)

In Leicester’s Commonwealth the “ape” who helped the “bear” dig the pit for Norfolk, corresponds to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton (who died in 1571). However, the ape disappears from Nashe’s tale after the bear/Leicester has trapped the horse-camel/Norfolk. Toward the end of Strange News he nevertheless suggests that the Fox might have had something to do with Martin Marprelate. “The tale of the bear and the fox, however it may set fools’ heads a-work afar off, yet I had no concealed end in it but, in the one, to describe the right nature of a bloodthirsty tyrant,... for the other, to figure an hypocrite: let it be Martin, if you will, or some old dog that bites sorer than he, who secretly goes and seduces country swains. (Nashe, I. 321). The old dog which bites sorer and seduces country swains is here probably the same as the fox in the tale, namely Thomas Cartwright, protégé of Leicester and his brother, the earl of Warwick. Cartwright, the leading Calvinist adversary of John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, had been invested by Leicester with a living in Warwick.

In Nashe’s tale the bear, seeing he cannot reach his ends by his accustomed methods, changes his tactics and “bethought him what a pleasant thing it was to eat nothing but honey”. (Nashe, I. 223.) “Honey” is a metaphor for religion. The Fox starts on a preaching tour in the country to persuade the husbandmen that they can have cheaper and purer honey than the poisoned native one by importing it from other countries like “Scotland, Denmark and some purer parts of the Seventeen Provinces.” (Nashe, I. 224.) The purer parts of the Seventeen Provinces are, of course, the Calvinist northern Low Countries not governed by the Spaniards. The principal bone of contention between the Anglican Church and the more radical Calvinists, including Martin Marprelate, was the office of bishop, which according to the Calvinists was of Popish origin and unwarranted by the Scripture. In Nashe’s fable the Fox tries to convince the people that most of their bees are drones, “and what should such idle drones do with such stately hives, or lie sucking at such precious honeycombs” (Nashe, I. 224). Nashe’s metaphor for the bishops might have been inspired by Martin Marprelate, who was used to writing “bishops” as “Bb.”.

Nashe’s representation of Leicester using Puritan preachers, symbolized by the Fox, as a tool to overthrow the established order and by this device to achieve the long sought-for hegemony, inverts the causal direction in which Leicester’s patronage of the Puritans actually worked. It rather operated as a check on radicalism in the interest of the Royal Supremacy. Leicester’s death, followed by Thomas Cartwright’s eclipse, creating a vacuum into which rushed Martin Marprelate in October 1588, a month after Leicester’s death. Today Job Throckmorton has emerged as the most likely candidate for Martin Marprelate. Other candidates have been contemplated by the contemporary authorities and modern scholars as well. One argument makes their candidature highly improbable. In his fourth pamphlet, Hay, any work for Cooper, published in March 1589, Martin himself cheerfully refutes the authorship of those who have been contemplated as authors of the Marprelate tracts. “You haue and do suspect diuers, as master Paggett / master Wiggington / master Udall / & master Penri / &c. to make Martin. If they cannot cleare their selues their sillinesse is pitifull / and they are worthy to beare Martin’s punishment,”[21] an ominous statement in the light of the subsequent fate of John Penry, who was hanged, and John Udall, who died in prison. The battleground on which Martin Marprelate chose to challenge the bishops of the Anglican church was not the open battlefield of theological dispute. In a colloquial language he harassed them in a sort of humorous one-man guerilla, a railing wrestle in which the dignitaries of the Anglican church could not engage without either forsaking their dignified countenance or being wrenched in the hip by a rollicking messenger of God. Martin justified his non-conformist procedure by appeal to the will of the Lord. “The Lord being the author both of mirth and gravity, is it not lawful in itself for the truth to use either of these ways when the circumstances do make it lawful?”[22] The bishops had to look for other means, “to purge this field of such a hilding foe” (Henry V). If Thomas Nashe was sometimes called the English Aretine, Martin Marprelate deserves to be called the Puritan Aretine. This or a similar idea might have occurred to Richard Bancroft, then chaplain of the Archbishop of Canterbury, generally thought to be the originator of the plan to engage professional writers who could meet Martin on his own ground. One of them was Nashe, another Lyly. Anthony Munday could have been another. A series of anti-Martinist pamphlets was launched, including some plays, which are no longer extant. Henceforth Martin was called “the ape”, so in a pamphlet in verses, “A Whip for an Ape”, ascribed to John Lyly:

A Dizard late skipt out upon our Stage;

         But in a sack, that no man might him see:

And though we knowe not yet the paltrie page,

    Himself hath Martin made his name to be.

A proper name, and for his feates most fit;

The only thing wherein he hath shew’d wit.

Who knoweth not, that Apes men Martins call;

      Which beast this baggage seemes as t’were himselfe:

So as both nature, nurture, name and all

      Of that’s expressed in this apish elfe.

Which I’ll make good to Martin Marr-als face

In three plaine points, and will not bate an ace.[23]

The strategy pleased neither all Anglicans nor all Puritans. Francis Bacon held that the jesting tone and the substitution of the pulpit by the public stage was unworthy of the Church. In two letters to Lord Burghley the Puritan Thomas Cartwright condemned “Martin’s disordered discourse” and expressed his “dislike and sorrow for such kind of disorderly proceeding.”[24] Thus the “fox” disagreed with the “ape” and both disagreed with the bees. “The fox, the ape, and the humble-bee/ Were still at odds, being but three.”

In 1589 a fourth party entered the lists. The party was composed of the Harvey brothers Gabriel and Richard. Early in 1590 Richard Harvey published his sermon The Lamb of God (entered in the Stationers’ Register on 23 October 1589) in an attempt, according to Nashe, “to play the Jack of both sides twixt Martin and us.” (Nashe, I. 270.) In his dedication to the earl of Essex Richard Harvey, surely with the silent assistance of his elder brother, censured both Martin and the anti-Martinist pamphleteers, the latter, however, in more contemptuous terms, being “unworthy any witty stage, and too piperly for Tarleton’s mouth. Scurrility was odious even among the heathen Romans... grave matters would be debated gravely.” (Nashe, V. 177.) He equated Nashe to Martin for “railing incivility”. Nashe would be doing for “civil learning” what Martin Marprelate was doing in religion.

Gabriel Harvey’s publication of his position in the Martin Marprelate controversy in 1593 was itself a supererogation. Martin Marprelate had published his last tract in September 1589, exactly four years before Gabriel Harvey brought his commentary to the printer. His position was in nothing different from that of his brother, only much later and longer. Again, his attitude to Martin (who had anyway decamped by then) was more friendly than to the other adversary, John Lyly, despite the fact that there was no substantial difference between him and Lyly on the religious issue. Harvey, too, deplored the scurrilous level to which the debate had been pulled down.  “Alas poor miserable desolate Church, had it no other builders, but such architects of their own fantasies, and such maisons of infinite contradiction.” (Harvey, II. 133.) And he charitably implored Martin to hold his peace. “Sweet Martin, as well Junior as Senior... and you sweet whirlwinds, that so fiercely bestir you at this instant; now, again and again, I beseech you, either be content to take a sweeter course; or take all for me.” (Harvey, II. 205.) Martin had fled into silence for almost four years.

But what then had moved Gabriel Harvey to publish this text? First of all, Harvey had sollicited in vain the office of Public Orator at Cambridge; a public orator is nothing without public, and Harvey wanted to go public. Shakespeare expresses this motive in his wonted pithiness and precision.  Harvey had decided to 'go public', simply to 'come out of door':

Until the goose came out of door,

And stay'd the odds by adding four.

How apt and appropriate! Indeed, going public was the sole cause and staying the odds by adding up to four the sole effect of Harvey’s intervention in 1593. But why the goose?

There are several ways in which Gabriel Harvey can be associated with the “goose”. First, because of his fondness of “l’envoy”, “oie” or “oye” being the French word for goose. Secondly, because of his “honking” verse. After he had been allowed to kiss the queen’s hand at Audley End in 1578, his dark complexion prompting the queen’s remark that he looked like an Italian, he composed a Latin poem “De vultu Itali” (“Concerning the look of an Italian”) which was , in fact, a variation of Virgil’s ninth eclogue. Harvey writes:

“Me also do the shepherds call a poet,

But I am slow to credit what they say.

   O may I always recollect his warning:

Don’t credit more what others say of thee

Than what thyself dost say unto thyself.”[25]


                                                “The muses made me

A poet too. There are songs of mine. The shepherd folk

Call me their bard – though I am not deluded by what they say.

I know I cannot be mentioned in the same breath with Cinna

Or Varius – a honking goose with silver-throated swans.”[26]

In Vergil’s eclogue the shepherd’s humility must be understood in social, not in aesthetical terms. Cinna, Varius, Gallus, Pollio were members of the Roman nobility and therefore accounted more “refined” than the common shepherd Lycidas.[27] For Harvey’s English poems, however, “honking goose” is a fit characterisation.

Finally, the Earl of Oxford would have a special reason to call Harvey the “goose”. In his Latin address at Audley End in 1578 he had lauded Sidney and Oxford as excellent poets. Notwithstanding, he had urged the earl of Oxford to throw away the “insignificant pen” and to accomplish heroical feats. “Pull Hannibal up short at the gates of Britain. Defended though he be by a mighty host, let Don John of Austria come on only to be driven home again. And what if suddenly a most powerful enemy should invade our borders? If the Turk be arming his savage hosts against us?”[28] When the Gaules stood at the gates of Rome, the geese grazing before the Capitol alarmed the Romans; in 1578 at Audley End the rhetorician Harvey was playing the same role – solo. Some five years after the Spanish Armada had assailed the English coast, Harvey’s military rhetoric might have called forth the name of Don Armado.

Even with the Martin Marprelate controversy being over, Harvey conserved a motive, his inmost motive, to publish his paper on the controversy. His position paper on the Marprelate affair also addressed another controversy, not on religious but on literary matters: the long-standing feud between Harvey and the Euphuists and their wider circle: John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge but also authors who cannot properly be considered as Euphuists like Thomas Watson, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe. And above all the Euphuists’ patron-poet, the earl of Oxford.

Harvey and the English literature

Apart from several scattered general declarations of allegiance to the model of the ancients, to the sacred union of poetry and virtue, in his pamphlets of 1592 and 1593, Gabriel Harvey has left us only two letters on versifying, addressed to Edmund Spenser, both published in 1580 but in two separate volumes: Three Proper and wittie, familiar Letters: lately passed betweene two Universitie men: touching the Earthquake in April last, and our English reformed Versifying – With the Preface of a Wellwiller to both and Two Other very commendable Letters, of the same men’s writing: both touching the foresaid Artificiall Versifying, and certain other Patriculars : More lately delivered unto the Printer. If it is the roots of the Harvey-Nashe quarrel we are seeking,  they are here, not in the Marprelate controversy. McKerrow remarks that the “quarrel between Nashe and the Harveys seems in its origin to be an offshoot of the well-known one between Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and Sir Philip Sidney in 1579, and to have arisen out of what may have been a simple misunderstanding of a harmless piece of impersonal satire.”[29] This assessment cannot be accepted in its entirety. Harvey’s libel “Speculum Tuscanismi” was not an “impersonal” satire. The mockery of Oxford’s Italianate and effete manners was immediately followed by an umistakably personal quip. In his Mamillia, second part, registered in September 1583, Robert Greene (possibly the Earl of Oxford himself within Greene’s work) wrote a witty reply to Harvey’s libel, a sort of  “Retro-Speculum Tuscanismi”. In “Speculum Tuscanismi” Harvey had mocked womanish behaviour, the lack of manly valour, commemorating the old times of knightly ardour:

Since Galateo came in, and Tuscanisme gan usurpe,

Vanitie above all: Villanie next her, Stateliness Empresse.

No man, but Minion, Stout, Lout, Plaine, swain, quoth a Lording:

No words but valorous, no works but woomanish only.

For life Magnificoes, not a beck but glorious in shew,

In deede most frivolous, not a looke but Tuscanish always.

Galateo is the title of Giovanni della Casa’s famous treatise on education, written in 1560, translated into English in 1576. It is difficult to understand how Harvey, who at Audley End in 1578, two years before his Familiar Letters, had claimed for himself the succession of Castiglione, Giovanni della Casa and Stefano Guazzo,  could link this treatise with the scorned “Tuscanism” or “Italianateness”.  In the satire on Harvey’s satire in Greene’s Mamillia II the situation is inverted. Here the complaint was about the decline of the old female values, the masculinity of women:

Since Lady mild (too base in array) hath lived as an exile,

None of account but stout: if plain? Stale slut not a courtress

Dames nowadays? fie none, if not new guised in all points

Fancies fine, sauced with conceits, quick wits very wily.

Words of a Saint, but deeds guess how, feigned faith to deceive men.

Courtsies coy, no vale but a vaunt tucked up like a Tuscan.[30]

In Nashe’s mind Harvey’s Familiar letters of 1580 and his pamphlets of 1592-3 were so closely interwoven that in Have With You to Saffron-Walden he four times confuses them. The 'confusion' is without doubt on purpose; to mistake one event for the other is to underscore their unity. As he does in his dedication of Strange News (1592), in which he insinuates clearly enough that Harvey’s Four Letters are a repetition of his Three Familiar Letters in 1580: “veterem ferendo iniuriam inuitas nouam, which is as much in English as, one cup of nippitaty pulls on another” (Nashe, I. 255), less freely translated, “an old injury incites a new one”. In Have With You (1596) he chooses the oblique way, conflating four times Harvey’s Four Letters of 1592 with the Three Familiar Letters of 1580:

On page 69: “... and afterward, in the year when the earthquake was, he fell to be a familiar Epistler, & made Paul’s Churchyard resound or cry twang again with four [our emphasis] notable famous letters: in one of which he interlaced his short but yet sharp judicial of earthquakes, & came very short and sharp upon my Lord of Oxford in a rattling bundle of English hexameters.” (Nashe, I. 69.) Nashe can not possibly have thought that the earthquake of 1580, on which Harvey commented in Three Familiar Letters, had happened in 1592. And in other places he is well aware that “Speculum Tuscanismi” was written in 1580.

On page 78: “I had forgot to observe unto you, out of his first four familiar Epistles, his ambitious stratagem to aspire, that whereas two great Peers being at jar, and their quarrel continued to bloodshed, he would needs... step in the one side, which indeed was the safer side... and hew and slash with his Hexameters, but hewed and slashed he had been as small as chippings, if he had not played duck Friar and hid himself eight weeks in that nobleman’s house for whom with his pen he thus bladed. Yet nevertheless Sir James Croft, the old Controller, ferreted him out, and had him under hold in the Fleet a great while, taking that to be aimed & leveled against him, because he called him his old Controller, which he had most venomously belched against Doctor Perne.” It is not certain that Nashe’s report is in all points correct, but it is known that Harvey was in Leicester’s house for a while, after having written his hexameters against the Earl of Oxford; Nashe must also have known that all this happened in 1580. In 1592, when Harvey wrote his Four Letters, Dr. Perne and Sir James Croft were dead.

On page 80: “as those ragged remnants in his four familiar epistles twixt him and Senior Immerito, raptim scripta, Nosti manum & stylum, with innumerable other of his rable routs.” (Nashe, I. 80.) Again, the letters exchanged with Spenser were published in 1580 in Three Familiar Letters, the title of the pamphlet of 1592 is “Four Letters”, but not “Four Familiar Letters”. Four Letters contains in an appendix a sonnet of Spenser but no letter. Then, only the third letter of 1580 containing the libel on Oxford is subscribed “nosti manum & stylum” [“the well-known hand  and pen”]. Finally, in 1592 Spenser no longer used the pseudonym Immerito. It is difficult to believe that Nashe was not aware of it (in Pierce Penniless, in 1592, he addresses Spenser by name, not as Immerito). But he mixes up these letters with Harvey’s Four Letters of 1592 and his New Letter of Notable Contents of 1593.

Hence, Nashe tells us that the letters of 1580 and 1592-3 are parts of one and the same story. Sidney, dead for 6-7 years, had nothing to do with it. It is the earl of Oxford who stood at the center in 1580 and 1592-3 as well. Oxford did not react in 1580, except via Robert Greene in Mamillia II. Nor did Oxford react in 1593... except via Shakespeare, who remains unnamed in the quarrel itself.

As for Harvey, let us first hear what the Arden editor has to say. He does note that there are obvious parallels between Harvey’s writings and his depiction by Nashe on the one hand, and Shakespeare’s  Love’s Labour’s Lost on the other. “Holofernes whom he more unmercifully mocks — and indeed the very name Holofernes might be one of the distortions to which Nashe subjects that of Harvey. Holofernes is attended by an obsequious clerical shadow, just as Gabriel was by his parson brother Richard. Armado pawns his linen, as Harvey was said to have done to pay his printer, and is stingy as Harvey to his dependants. The objections to each identification are equally extensive, not the least being the strength of the rival claim. To note only single difficulties in addition, Holofernes’s precise pronunciation seems as remote from Harvey (who wrote ‘dettor’ and was all for modernity) as does Armado’s romantic passion for Jacquenetta. In Love’s Labour’s Lost Harvey is still to seek.”[31]

Holofernes, though, is rather the incarnation of the pedant pure and simple, the counterpart of Sidney’s Rhombus in The Lady of May. As such he shares some features with Harvey, the English “Tubalcain” who invented the English hexameter. But it is in Armado that Harvey is fully caricaturized. He that has still to seek him, must be very loath to find him.

Even the Arden editor cannot overlook that Armado’s letters brim over with Harveian phraseology, especially the second letter of Three Familiar Letters on the earthquake:

“that the Earth under us quaked, and the house shaked above: besides the moving, and ratling of the table, and forms, where we sat...And the last final, which we are to judge of as advisedly, and providently, as possibly we can, by the consideration, & comparison of Circumstances, the time when: the place where: the qualities, and dispositions of the persons, amongst whom such, and such an Ominous token is given.” [32]

In Love’s Labour’s Lost (I.i.227-240):

The time When? About the sixth hour; when beasts

most graze, birds best peck, and men sit down to that nourishment

which is called supper. So much for the time When. Now for the

ground Which? which, I mean, I upon; it is ycleped thy park. Then

for the place Where? where, I mean, I did encounter that obscene

and most prepost'rous event that draweth from my snow-white pen

the ebon-coloured ink which here thou viewest, beholdest,

surveyest, or seest.'

It may be objected to it that in his letter Harvey simply applied the rules from Thomas Wilson’s Art of Rhetorique, but the language of the whole passage is Harvey’s, not Wilson’s.

According to Harvey himself, he had once wielded notable influence on young people. The context suggests that these young people were authors. Harvey, according to Robert Greene’s quip, was the inventor of English hexameter. It is a fact that both Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser experimented with hexametric verse. The latter even wrote Harvey: “I like your hexameters exceedingly well, that I also ensure my pen sometime in that kind : which I find indeed, as I have heard you often defend in words, neither so hard, nor so harsh, that it will easily and fairly yield itself to our mother tongue.”[33] Spenser was not writing out of mere courtesy to his friend, but nonetheless neither he nor Sidney did carry the experiment very far. Harvey, who lacked poetical talent, seems not to have understood that his failure to establish the hexameter in English poetry and himself as preceptor of English literature was due to the fact “that our vulgar Saxon English standing most upon words monosyllable, and little upon polysyllables, doth hardly admit the use of those fine invented feet of the Greek & Latins”[34] and not, as he thought, to the inimical endeavours of others: “I had no sooner shaken off my young troop, whom I could not associate as before, but they were festivally re-entertained by some nimble wights, that could take advantage of opportunity... like ambitious planets that enhance their own dignities by the combustion of their fellow-planets... Iwis [surely] it were purer euphuism to win honey out of the thistle... Tush, you are a silly humanitian of the old world.” (Harvey, Pierces Supererogation.)[35]  

Euphuism was the literary current running against Harvey. It is Lyly who was his adversary as early as 1580, it was Greene whom he attacked in 1592. It was their patron, the earl of Oxford, whom he libeled in 1580. “Needs he must cast up certain crude humours of English hexameter verses that lay upon his stomach; a nobleman stood in his way as he was vomiting, and from top to toe he all to bewrayed him with Tuscanism.” (Nashe, Strange News.)[36]  

It was Nashe, whom he attacked in Pierce’s Supererogation. We will soon learn who Nashe’s patron was.

Literature and policy

“Industry” is a key word in Harvey’s conception of society and literature. In his three pamphlets of 1592-3 he uses the word about twenty times, seventeen times in Pierce’s Supererogation alone. Harvey prefers the active to the contemplative way of life, including poetry. To throw away the useless pen is the counsel he gave to Oxford at Audley End in 1578. It is the lack of deeds he mocks in his libel on Oxford in 1580 in his Three Familiar Letters. It is certainly Oxford he means when in the second part of Pierces Supererogation, written in 1589, he writes “It is not the first time that I have preferred a Gentleman of deeds before a Lord of words: and what if I once by way of familiar discourse said?”[37] In the same pamphlet he regrets to have been compelled to use his pen in a quarrel with Nashe instead of serving “an active and industrious world.” (Harvey, II. 32.) He values mathematics for the practical results, hence, mathematics are “industrious”. (II. 74.) Policy and industry are the essence of the new age. (II. 95.) In his Four letters “industry” is contrasted with poetry, Ovid is condemned as a poet who, taking too much poetical license, is obnoxious to the order of the state: “Youth is youth: & age corruptible: better a hundred Ovids were banished than the state of Augustus endangered or a sovereign empire infected... not riot but valour, not fancy but policy must strike the stroke. Gallant gentlemen, bethink yourselves of the old Roman discipline and the new Spanish industry”. (Harvey, II. 32.) [38]

Shakespeare seems to be poking fun at it in Love’s Labour’s Lost when he has the Spanish Don Armado close one of his letters to Jacquenetta with the phrase “Thine in the dearest design of industry”. (LLL, IV.i.87). The formula is odd. The Arden editor notes that Harvey uses the word several times, but misses Harvey’s “Spanish industry” and the parodying character in Shakespeare’s play. The only instance he retains is Harvey’s praise of Sidney as “esquire of industry” (Harvey, II. 102).

Nashe would deride the expression profusely. (Nashe, III. 49-50.) And Harvey further, “One Ovid was too much for Rome; and one Greene too much for London: but one Nashe more intolerable than both.” (Harvey, II. 94.) But in “Speculum Tuscanismi”, his libel on Oxford, Harvey also rubbed Greene’s and Nashe’s patron’s nose (as will be seen) in his political credo, “Nosed like to Naso.”

Thus a literary quarrel begun with a libel of Edward de Vere. In his pamphlets Nashe pours ridicule on his adversary Harvey. In the subplot of the play Love’s Labour’s Lost Shakespeare pokes fun at him. But not once does the name Shakespeare surface in this quarrel. It is Oxford who inhabits the centre.

Nashe’s mysterious fellow-writer

An unidentified ghost frequents Harvey’s pamphlet Pierce’s Supererogation. From the very beginning he sides with Nashe, alias Pierce Penniless. He is the “old Ass” in the subtitle of Pierce’s Supererogation - A New Praise of the Old Ass. The identity of this “old ass” has attracted little to no curiosity from literary historians, though according to Harvey this “old ass” is the dominating figure of the literary world. Why has no-one ever been eager to know who this figure was? Is it because the “old ass” has been overshadowed by the gigantic shadow of 'William Shakespeare'?  But in Harvey’s pamphlet William Shakespeare is a non-entity, never named, never alluded to. The old ass, on the contrary, looms large, so large that his great mantle seems worthy only of Shakespeare. 

Harvey published his pamphlet in September 1593. He finished the preliminary pamphlet A New Letter of Notables Contents, written later but published earlier, on 16 September 1593.[39] On 21 September 1593 William Reynolds, a mentally deranged soldier, writes a letter to Lord Burghley from which it appears that by that time he had read Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. “There is another boke made of Venus and Adonis wherein the queen represents the person of Venus, which queen is in great love (forsooth) with Adonis, and greatly desires to kiss him, and she woos him most entirely, telling him although she be old, yet she is lusty, fresh & moist, full of love & life (I beleve a goodel more than a bushel full)... and much ado with red & white, but Adonis regarded her not, wherefore she condemns him for unkindness, those bookes are mingled with other stuff to dazzle the matter.”[40] Can it be possible that in the month of September 1593 the lunatic soldier Reynolds would have read Shakespeare and that the scholar Gabriel Harvey, Edmund Spenser’s friend, would have known less than the man in the moon? In the third of his Four Letters written in September 1592 he mentions several authors: “Edmund Spenser, Richard Stanyhurst, Abraham Fraunce, Thomas Watson, Samuel Daniel, Thomas Nash, and the rest”. Is Shakespeare simply lumped in with the nameless “rest”? Or among others who Harvey mentions in the same context: “the honorabler sons & daughters of the sweetest & divinest muses that ever sang in English or other language” whom he dares not name “for fear of suspicion of that which I abhor”[41], namely to meddle with the affairs of the nobility as he had done in 1580. In his New Letter of Notable Contents he names of course Nashe and Greene, and also Marlowe. In Pierce’s Supererogation, dated 27 April 1593 (the pamphlet proper) and 16 July 1593 (the prefatory matter), he mentions not only Greene, Marlowe, Nashe and Chettle but also: Thomas Deloney, Philip Stubbs, Robert Armin and 10 pages later George Gascoigne, Thomas Churchyard, Floyd, Barnabe Rich, Whetstone, Anthony Munday, Stanyhurst, Abraham Fraunce, Thomas Watson and the rather obscure Kiffin (most probably Bartholomew Griffin), William Warner, Samuel Daniel, etc.[42] It is true that he does not mention Michael Drayton, who published his sonnet cycle Idea and his epic poem The Legend of Piers Gaveston in 1593. However, the latter work cannot have been printed in September, as it was registered on 3 December 1593. Idea was registered on 23 April 1593, 5 days after Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. In September 1593 Drayton could still be seen as a newcomer with few credentials. But Shakespeare? His Venus and Adonis was immediately a great success. But to Harvey the biggest figure in the world of English literature was not Shakespeare, but the “old ass”. We have to wait some time to meet him again after the title-page. After a long-winded preface and a bulky load of commendatory poems the pamphlet proper starts on page 31. On page 40 the old ass is back:

“Happy the old father, that begat, and thrice happy the sweet Muses,

that suckled, and fostered young Apuleius... I go not about to

discover an Ass in an Oxes hide...”

So we have an old “father” or “founder”, probably the old golden ass of Apuleius, and a young ass in an Ox hide. The young ass is Nashe. Who fathered him? We will meet this ox again. We can only hope that Harvey will be less cryptic in the course of his polemic.

On page 59 the old ass is more explicitly mentioned as the companion of the young ass:

“Divers excellent men have praised the old Ass: give the young ass  leave to praise himself, and to practise his minion rhetoric upon other.”

Who were these divers excellent men who praised the old ass? Fortunately, Harvey will tell us more. On page 69:

“He that breedeth mountains of hope, and with much ado begetteth a molehill (shall I tell him a new tale in old English?), beginneth like a mighty Oxe, & endeth like a sorry Ass.”

We may understand the “new tale in old English” as the biblical new wine in the old bottles. On page 79 Harvey gains in clarity:

“Marvel not, that Erasmus has penned the encomium of folly; or that so many singular learned men have laboured the commendation of the Ass: he it is, that is the godfather of writers, the superintendant of the press, the muster-maister of innumerable bands, the general of the great field: he and Nashe will confute the world... He that has christened so many notable authors; censured so many eloquent pens; enrolled so many worthy garrisons; & encamped so many noble and reverend Lords, may be bold with me. If I be an ass, I have company enough: and if I be no ass, I have favour to be enstalled in such company.”

It should be clear by now that Harvey is not speaking of an imaginary figure. “Godfather of the press”, “muster master”, “general of the field”. He certainly could be speaking of the Earl of Oxford and those known to have been his servants or followers: John Lyly, Anthony Munday, Thomas Watson, Robert Greene, Thomas Churchyard, Nashe himself. Is there anybody else who could fit the picture? Certainly not Shakspere. And was not Melicertus, which was the pastoral name given by Chettle to Shakespeare in 1603, called by Robert Greene in his romance Menaphon the “general of the shepherds”, or the poets? We are confronted with the same problem as in the case of Melicertus. Either the “old ass” is an important, the most important precursor of Shakespeare or he is Shakespeare himself. So it seems legitimate to continue asking questions about the old ass.

Furthermore, Harvey’s report of this old ass might cause us to begin thinking about  the notion of “conspiracy”. Here is an important author and patron, often spoken of but never explicitly named. No conspiracy was at work, the social standards of the time were. Harvey does not grow weary of repeating that this old ass played a major role in English literature and was a close friend of Nashe, even his patron and spiritual father. Nashe is named. The old ass is never named. And has not Shakespeare been thought close to Nashe? But Nashe does not mention him. Was this Nashe’s “conspiracy”???

On page 121 follows a queue of convoluted sentences the meaning of which is not easy to grasp:

“He summed all in brief, but material sum; that called the old Ass, the great A, and the est Amen of the new Supererogation. And were I here compelled to dispatch abruptly, (as I am presently called to a more commodious exercice) should I not sufficiently have discharged my task; and plentifully have commended that famous creature, whose praise the title of this pamphlet professes? He that would honor Alexander, may crown him the great A. of puissance: but Pyrrhus, Hannibal, Scipio, Pompey, Cæsar, divers other mighty conquerors & even some worthies would disdaine, to have him sceptered the est-Amen of Valour. What a brave and incomparable Alexander is that great A that is also the est-Amen of Supererogation.”

The passage does not end here but a pause to gather breath seems welcome. The meaning is clouded in allusions which are soon dispelled, though, if we look back to Harvey’s libel of Oxford, “Speculum Tuscanismi”. In 1593 Harvey renews his attack against Oxford, the old ass, by attacking the young ass, Thomas Nashe. It was in “Speculum Tuscanismi” Harvey had described the earl of Oxford as “Every one A per se A, his terms, and braveries in print” and “Eyed like to Argus, eared like to Midas, nosed like to Naso,/Winged like to Mercury, fittest of a thousand to be employed,/ This, nay more than this does practice of Italy in one year. None do I name...”. “A per se A” or “A per se” is the letter A standing alone, the first letter of the alphabet, meaning “incomparable” with the connotation of the beginning. The old ass is an outstanding person; “a passing singular odd man”, Harvey calls him in his libel. The beginning and the end, after which there is nothing more, the “est-Amen”. Yet Harvey renews his strictures of 1578 and 1580. The “old ass”, too, is only “valourous” in words, not in deeds, only a “great general” in the literary world, which is why the great generals of the past  would disdain him. Literary accomplishments are vain, supererogatory, if not serving a more valourous end, so Harvey’s creed. And the ears of Midas, of course, were ass’s ears which Apollo gave Midas when he decided a musical contest between Apollo and Pan in favour of the latter. The rest of the passage should no longer present difficulties:

“Shall I say, blessed, or peerless young Apuleius, that from the swathing bands of his infancy in print, was suckled of the sweetest nurses... and more tenderly tendered of the most delicious Muses, the most amiable Graces, and the most powerful Virtues of the said unmatchable great A., the great founder of supererogation and sole patron of such meritorious clients.” 

On page 261 Harvey confirms another time that the old ass and Nashe were close fellows:

“The Ox and the Ass are good fellows”.

The phrase stands isolated amidst an enumeration of other beasts. But this enumeration coming from the pen of a consummate classicist like Harvey presents some peculiarities. Harvey seems to be sneaking round something he would fain express in a less veiled manner.  

“Virtuous Italy in a longer term of dominion, with much ado bred two

Catos, and One Regulus: but how many Sylvios, Porcios, Brutos,

Bestias, Tauros, Vitellios, Capras, Capellas, Asinios, and so forth.

The world was never given to singularities: and no such monster, as Excellency. He that speaketh as other use to speak, avoideth trouble: and he that doth, as most men do, shall be least wondred at. The Ox and the Ass are good fellows, quaint wizards...”

We should not be deceived by Harvey’s devious tactics. He feigns speaking of politics and history, of Cato and Regulus, Brutus, Vitellius, and Anisius. He so does, manifestly. But latently he also speaks of the ox and the ass and of poetry. Porcius is the family name of the two Catos, porcius means pig. Vitellius ist the name of a Roman emperor, vitellius means egg yolk, Brutus is clear enough, Capras is a family name, capra is a goat, Asinius is a Roman family name, asinus is ass. The ox is also present as bull, taurus. But most of the endings are Greek. 'Os' is not a Latin but a Greek ending. Except for taurus, no approximately analogous Greek noun exists for one of the animals. Besides, the Greek did not build their family names after the names of animals and plants as Romans did. To what other end would Harvey, the accomplished classicist,  replace the Latin ending by a Greek ending than to insinuate that he is not really speaking of the historical figures but of the “poetical animals”, the ox and the ass? And what does Harvey mean by his warning not to try to stand out from the common lot? He had already launched such a warning the previous year in his Four Letters, interestingly by citing Ovid as the wrong example the “ass and his fellow ox” would be following.

Two pages later, on page 263, Harvey, finally, refers to fully identifiable events. He compares the press to a kingdom, namely the ancient kingdom of Assyria, for the sole reason that the use of the name of this kingdom gives him the opportunity to continue his punning on “ass”. Proud of his invention he explains the pun at considerable length. Harvey writes sonnets with footnote-sonnets and tells jokes with footnotes. The king of Assyria or the press is Phul-Assar, that is “full ass” –  Nashe, of course. Another “noble King of Assyria” is “Lob-assar-duck”, who is clearly Henry Chettle. What Harvey means by this peculiar name is not clear. Harvey refers to the passage in Chettle’s tale Kindheart’s Dream where the ghost of Robert Greene appears, urging Piers [Nashe] to take up his defense against Harvey’s denigrations in Four Letters. “Pierce, more witless than penniless; more idle than thine adversaries ill-employed; what foolish innocence hath made thee (infant-like) resistless to bear whatever injury Envy can impose.” When Chettle wrote these lines (probably in November or December 1592) he might have already been setting Nashe’s reply to Harvey, Strange News, at John Danter’s printing shop. Chettle continues, “Had not my name been Kind-heart, I would have sworn this has been sent to myself; for in my life I was not more penniless than at that instant. But remembering the author of the Supplication, I laid it aside till I had leisure to seek him.” It is to these lines that Harvey refers: “Lob-assar-duck, another noble king of Assyria, has already offered fare for it, & were it not that the great Phul Assur himself had forestalled and engrossed all the commodities of Assyria... it should have gone very hard, but this redoubted Lob-assar-duck would have retailed and regrated some precious part of the said commodities and advancement.”

But then Harvey also mentions a third king of the “Ass-ar” or “Ass-ur dynasty”, the founder and father of Phul-Assur/Nashe. We would expect that this founder is the same as the aforesaid “godfather of the press”, the “old ass” and would be called “full-old ass” or something similar, but Harvey writes, “Phul Assar himself, the famous son of the renowned Phul Bullochus,” that is, “full bullock” or “full ox”. We may definitively conclude that Nashe is the young ass, the son of the old ass, and that the old ass and the ox are one and the same father of Nashe.

Taking stock once more, we see that on the one hand it has sometimes been suggested that Nashe might have had a hand in or in some way contributed to some of Shakespeare’s works, especially the plays Henry VI, Henry IV, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. A close relationship must at some time have existed between Nashe and Shakespeare. But nothing is to be learned of Shakespeare from Nashe. On the other hand, there is an author who occupies this place left vacant by Shakespeare and is called the Old Ass, alias Ox.

On page 265 Nashe is again designated as the “heir apparent of the old Ass.” And on page 322 we meet Nashe and Chettle again as members of a quintet. The other members are Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, and Apis lapis. Nashe is accused by Harvey of having “shamefully misused every friend or acquaintance, as he has served some of his favorablest patrons (whom for certain respects I am not to name), M. Apis lapis, Greene, Marlowe, Chettle, and whom not?”. But M. Apis lapis is not named either. For which “respects”? Moreover, Apis lapis is not only an author but also a patron, the patron to whom Nashe dedicated Strange News the year before. We have just met Chettle and Nashe as kings of the “Assyrian dynasty” or the press. Greene and Marlowe were not named there. They were dead by September 1593. So, it is logical to take the name Apis lapis chosen by Nashe as the third of Harvey’s “Ass-yrian dynasty of the press”, Phul Bullochus, full ox. And so Harvey authenticates the analysis of some Oxfordians[43], who have argued that Apis lapis, alias Master William, does indeed mean Master Beeston(e) but at the same time signifies “stoned bull,”  Apis meaning the sacred Egyptian bull and “stone” “stoned” or “castrated”, hence bullock or ox. Apparently, Harvey also understood it so, naming him in one place Apis lapis, in another “Phul Bullochus”.

But where is William Shakespeare? He was not absent. He was a party to the Harvey-Nashe quarrel. As William Shakespe[a]re on the title-page of Love’s Labour’s Lost.  Shakespeare must have been intimately acquainted with Harvey and Nashe. In his second letter of Four Letters Harvey speaks of the “banquet of pickled herrings and Renish wine” which would have been the immediate cause of Greene’s mortal illness. Harvey knows that Nashe was present at that “banquet”. “Alas, even his fellow-writer, a proper young man if advised in time, that was a principal guest at that fatal banquet...”[44] The phrasing implies that there were some other guests besides Nashe. Which Nashe confirms in Strange News. “I and one of my fellows, Will. Monox (hast thou never heard of him and his great dagger?) were in company with him a month before he died, at that fatal banquet of Rhenish wine and pickled herring (if thou will needs have it so).”[45] Nashe’s comment suggests that the “banquet of Rhenish wine and pickled herrings” should perhaps be understood rather metaphorically.[46] In 1593 Harvey himself several times puns on the word “ox.” But in September 1592, in his Four Letters, he dares not name this Will. Monox, he even dares not state there was a third person. So to speak, Harvey could not pronounce the word “three”. Remembering that “tapster”, “literature from the tavern”,  and “villanism” were terms which Harvey regularly applied to the kind of literature Nashe and his ilk produced, we may re-read the following passage in Love’s Labour’s Lost which Alfred Harbage and others would probably place into the category of stale jokes. The passage looks indeed pale and relatively witless... until we see Don Armado as Harvey and Moth as Nashe. Moth/Nashe teases Armado/Harvey by asking to what amounts three times one and two plus one (deuce-ace). Like Harvey in his Four letters, Armado shies away from saying “three”:

  Armado. I have promised to study three years with the Duke.

  Moth. You may do it in an hour, sir.

  Armado. Impossible.

  Moth. How many is one thrice told?

  Armado. I am ill at reck'ning; it fitteth the spirit of a tapster.

  Moth. You are a gentleman and a gamester, sir.

  Armado. I confess both; they are both the varnish of a complete man.

  Moth. Then I am sure you know how much the gross sum of deuce-ace amounts to.

  Armado. It doth amount to one more than two.

  Moth. Which the base vulgar do call three.

  Armado. True. (I.ii.34-46)

In September 1592 Harvey could not say three. In September 1593, probably encouraged by Nashe’s own pert allusions to Oxford, he feels much surer and, following Nashe’s example, alludes to Oxford with a veil through which it is still possible for us to see.

“Many are the miracles of right virtue, and he entereth into an infinite labyrinth that goeth about to praise Hercules, or the Ass, whose labours exceed the labours of Hercules, and whose glory surmounteth the top of Olympus. I were best to end before I begin, and to leave the author of Asses where I found the Ass of authors. When I am better furnished with competent provision (what provision sufficient for so mighty a province?), I may haply assay to fulfil the proverb, by washing the Ass's head, and setting the crown of highest praise upon the crown of young Apuleius, the heir apparent of the old Ass, the most glorious old Ass.” [47]

[1] Harbage, Alfred. “Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Early Shakespeare” in Philological Quarterly, XLI, 1962, p. 23.

[2] Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Arden Shakespeare, ed. Richard David, 1968, p. xiii.

[3] Chambers, E.K.: Shakespeare, I. 336-7.

[5] I have a suspicion that Harvey’s Ægyptian Mercury conceals more than Detobel was aware of. Harvey emphasizes that this “God of learning and writing” standing on a square platform is indeed exposed to the influences of Fortuna (just as “Fortunatus Infoelix” is), but must in no way be mistaken for a fool of fortune (a wheel of folly) – which hints at Nashe – or for an “eel of Ely”, with which Harvey hints at Dr. Andrew Perne. - The Ægyptian Mercury must be seen together with Harvey’s later statement:

„What locks, or bars of Iron, can hold that quicksilver Mercury, whose nimble vigour disdaineth the prison, and will display itself in his likeness, maugre whatsoever impeachment of iron Vulcan, or wooden Daedalus? - I hoped to find that I lusted to see, the very singular subject [the mercurial Nashe] of that invincible & omnipotent Eloquence, that in the worthiest age of the world, entitled heroical, put the most barbarous tyranny of men, and the most savage wildness of beasts, to silence. But holla, brave Gentlemen, and alack, sweet Gentlewomen, that would so fain behold St. Fame in the pomp of her majesty; never poor suckling hope so incredibly crossbitten [deceived] with more than excessive defection.”

In doing so, Harvey alludes to both the singular and powerful figure of an eloquent patron, who dubiously gives protection to the fool Thomas Nashe. The Ægyptian Mercury is closely connected to “Apis Lapis”, the way Nashe (in Strange News) addressed the earl of Oxenforde as an Egyptian God. In Pierces Supererogation Harvey replies:: “Might it please his confuting assship [Nashe], by his honourable permission, to suffer one [Harvey] to rest quiet, he might, with my good leave, be the grand general of Asses, or reign alone in his proper dominion, like the mighty Assyrian king, even Phul Assar [full ass] himself, the famous son of the renowned Phul Bullochus [full ox =Oxenford =Apis Lapis].”(KK)

[6] Nashe, Complete Works, ed. by Ronald B. McKerrow,  I.283.

[8] Harvey, Works, ed. A.B. Grosart, I. 217.

[9] V.i.43-53. The puns on „sheep“ and “oueia“, the Spanish word for sheep, used as a mnemonic for the vowels in Vives’ Exercitatio Linguae. F.A. Yates. A Study of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Cambridge : At the University Press, 1936, pp. 57 ff.

[10] Lewis, C.S. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1954, p. 355.

[11] Harvey’s own words, Perne was “not rash, but quick”, Works, II. 298.

[12] Nashe, Complete Works, ed. by Ronald B. McKerrow,  I.260.

[13] Ibid., II.12.

[14] Harvey, Works, I.276.

[15] Nashe, II. 181. - Is it merely fortuitous that in Love’s Labour’s Lost Don Armado is a Spaniard, that in the show of the Nine Worthies at the end of the play Don Armado represents Hector and Nashe announces he will drag Harvey like Achilles dragged Hector, or that in the same show Moth represents Hercules to whom Nashe is likened in Harvey’s pamphlets more than once?

[16] Davis, Philip. Sudden ShakespeareThe Shaping of Shakespeare’s Creative Thought. London: Athlone. 1996.

[17] Harvey, Works, I.205.

[18] Nashe, Complete Works, ed. by Ronald B. McKerrow, I.260-1.

[19] https://www.dpeck.info/write/leic-comm1.htm , Scanned and reprinted from Dwight Peck (ed.). Leicester’s Commonwealth. Athens and London: Ohio University Press, 1985, p. 6.

[20] Nashe, Complete Works, ed. by Ronald B. McKerrow, I. 223.

[21] The Marprelate Tracts. Ed. John D. Lewis. www.anglicanlibrary.org/marprelate, p. 87.

[22] Ibid., p. 83.

[23] Lyly, John, The Complete Works of, R.Warwick Bond (ed.), 3 vols., Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1902, Vo. III, p. 418.

[24] Strype, Annals, Vol. III.2, p. 67 and p. 73.

[25] Ibid., I.xl.

[26] Virgil. Eclogues. Translated by C. Day Lewis. Oxford: At the Alden Press. 1963, p. 42. The lines in the original are: “Nam neque adhuc Vario videor, nec dicere Cinna/digna, sed argutos inter strepere anser olores.”

[27] A similar attitude is adopted by Edmund Spenser in his dedicatory poems to Lord Buckhurst and Sir Walter Raleigh prefacing his Fairie Queen. To Lord Buckhurst: “But sith thou maist not so, give leave a while/ To baser wit his power therein to spend,/Whose grosse defaults thy daintie pen may file,/And unadvised oversights amend.” To Ralegh: “To thee that are the sommer’s Nightingale,/Thy soveraine Goddess most deare delight,/Why doe I send this rustic Madrigale,/ That may thy tunefull eare unseason quite?”

[28] Ward, B.M. The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604. London: John Murray. 1928, p. 158; Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare. McLean, VA: EPM Publications, Inc. 1984, p. 597.

[29] Nashe, Complete Works, ed. by Ronald B. McKerrow, V.73.

[30] Greene, Life and Complete Works, ed. A.B. Grosart, Vol. 2, p. 219. https://archive.org/details/cu31924064951456/page/n241/mode/2up

[31] Love’s Labour’s Lost, Arden edition, p. xxxvii.

[32] Harvey, Works, ed. A.B. Grosart, I. 41 and 63.

[33] Ibid., I.35.

[34] Art of English Poesie, pp. 112-3.

[35] Harvey, Works, II.227.

[36] Nashe, I.295.

[37] Harvey, Works, ed. A.B. Grosart, II.200.

[38] In his play Poetaster (1601) Ben Jonson takes a similar Augustan stand. Augustus banishes Ovid on grounds similar to those implied in Harvey’s rejection of Ovid.

[39] Pierce’s Supererogation consists of three parts. Part 1 and 3 are directed against Nashe. These parts are dated 27 April 1593 by Harvey. Part 2, a reply to Lyly’s lambasting of Harvey in the anti-Martiniest pamphlet Papp with a Hatchet, is separately dated 5 November 1589.  The prefatory matter to Pierce’s Supererogation is dated 16 July 1593. A New Letter of Notable Contents is dated 16 September 1593. It constitutes a reply to Nashe’s peace proposal in the preface to the first edition of Christ’s Tears over Jerusalem. Nashe’s work must already have been printed when it was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 8 September 1583 and published immediately afterwards, otherwise Harvey could not have responded  on 16 September.

[40] Duncan-Jones, Katherine. “Much Ado With Red and White: The Earliest Readers of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (1593) in  The Review of English Studies, New Series, Volume XLIV, Number 176, November 1993, p. 488 (modernized spelling).

[41] Harvey, Works, I. 218-9.

[42] Ibid., II. 280 and 290.

[43] Phillips, Gerald W. Lord Burghley in Shakespeare, London: Thornton-Butterworth, 1936, p. 62; Barrell, Charles Wisner. “New Milestone in Shakespeare Research - Contemporary Proof that the Poet Earl of Oxford's Literary Nickname Was "Gentle Master William", The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, October 1944; Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare. McLean, VA: EPM Publications, Inc. 1984, p. 725.

[44] Harvey, Works, I.170.

[45] Nashe, I.287-8.

[46] Rhenish wine or white wine seems to have been a drink of literati and contain an allusion to Falstaff (see next chapter); “pickle-herring” was perhaps a poor poet’s meal.

[47] Ibid., II.265.