Southampton: Shakespeare’s Patron?

OK, time for some personal commentary on my Southampton independent study project.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton; date uncertain, c. 1590

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton; c. 1590

I’ve had my nose buried in two well-respected biographies about Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, since the spring semester ended:

The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton Shakespeare’s Patron by Charlotte Carmichael Stopes and Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton by G.P.V. Akrigg.

While I’ve learned so much about this nobleman from these authors, what baffles me the most is their assumptions that Southampton was Shakespeare’s patron.

In the Elizabethan era, when a writer had secured the patronage of a wealthy nobleman, an expression of gratitude for receiving payment from the writer to the patron would typically grace the opening page.

Diana Price, in her book Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography:  New Evidence of an Authorship Problem, writes:  “Shakespeare’s two dedications to Southampton make no mention of ‘bounty’ received or ‘pay and patronage'” (143).

If we read over the wording on the dedication pages of both Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, we can confirm Price’s statement.  (click on images to enlarge)

venus & adonis dedDedication_page_of_The_Rape_of_Lucrece_by_William_Shakespeare_1594

In following orthodox authorship theory, we can view these dedications as the poet’s attempt to gain patronage; yet, nothing in the wording implies it was ever accepted.  Furthermore, there is no evidence connecting the man from Stratford-upon-Avon with SouthamptonIn fact, neither Stopes nor Akrigg were able to produce anything more than conjecture on this imaginary relationship.  Here are some examples of the writers’ assumptions I came across in my research:

Here must be introduced … the present writer’s theory of Southampton’s life, based upon long work and logical inferences. … It seems most likely that Southampton introduced himself, willing the player to come to him … because [Southampton] felt that the poet also was suffering something of what he suffered, rebellion against his fate and its limitations.  He felt he must have a private talk with this “man from Stratford,” and took him home with him to supper. (Stopes 40-41)

AND

If the present writer must add his own guess as to where and when Shakespeare and Southampton first met, he would suggest a backstage meeting in a London playhouse sometime in 1591-92.  The person who first presented Shakespeare to the Earl may have been Sir George Carew, whose marriage in 1580 to a Clopton heiress had made him a great man around Stratford … he could be expected to take an interest in a Stratford man with a mounting reputation in London.    (Akrigg 193)

Even though Akrigg had gained access to the Wriothesley Papers the late 1960s, he was no more successful at connecting the dots as Stopes had been in her 1922 endeavor.

640px-Elizabeth_I,_Procession_Portrait.

Procession portrait of Elizabeth I of England c. 1601. Attributed to Robert Peake the Elder

Now I want you to peruse the personal tone of those dedications again.  Keeping in mind the social class ideology of Elizabethan England, where class barriers existed, how do you suppose Shakespeare got away with such a public display of intimacy between himself and an earl?  When pondering this, leave out whatever romantic notions you may have acquired from Hollywood!

Take this thought one step further; assuming that Sonnets 1-17the so-called Procreation Sonnets, were directed to  the 19-year old Henry Wriothesley, what was Shakespeare’s impetus to urge this young earl to marry and procreate?

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford

Hence, we return to the Authorship Debate, and the leading candidate:  Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

If he authored the sonnets, the aforementioned poems, and perhaps other masterpieces from the famous canon we attribute to Shakespeare, what was his connection to Southampton?

(to be continued…)

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