Euphuistic Tradition in Edward de Vere’s Innocent Women Characters
By Charles Graves
The commonality of Immogen (Cymbeline), Hermione (A Winter’s Tale), Desdemona (Othello) and Hero (Much Ado About Nothing) was feminine marital or pre-marital chastity. Of course, many of Edward de Vere’s plays dealt with other feminine aspects. If we consider women’s cleverness, for example, we immediately find several examples, beginning with Viola in Twelfth Night, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Elizabeth in All’s Well That Ends Well, etc. The four main female characters in Love’s Labour’s Lost were also models of ingenuity. Of course, Macbeth’s wife, Cordelia’s sisters in King Lear or Hamlet’s mother were painted rather darkly.
Katherine was a shrew and some other women had odd roles such as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing or Ophelia in Hamlet.
Some of the most clever women were in men’s clothing for example Rosamond in As You Like It, or Viola in Twelfth Night.
A few women showed resistance to others’ ideas about whom they should marry such as Hermia in love with Lysander in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream or Juliet with her Romeo. And one mythical feminine personage (Titania) fell in love with a donkey’s head after being drugged.
But here we have taken occasion to mention those plays where women’s marital chastity was at stake.
This appears to have been a major theme of the Euphuists, a literary movement to which Edward de Vere belonged, along with his private secretary John Lyly (the author of Euphues and His England), Robert Greene (in his Pandosto - a model for A Winter’s Tale) Thomas Lodge (in his Rosalynd - a model for As You Like It).
What was Euphues’ view of women, the model for our discussion? Euphues quit his colleague Philautus over a misunderstanding about his views on English women (cf. pp. 320-332 reprint by Hard Press of Edward Arber’s edition of Euphues and his England 1580). Philautus could not believe a man could have such a high view as Euphues did, extolling women, and he considered, no doubt, that Euphues was probably hiding his sensuality about women. But then Euphues separated himself from Philautus (who was courting an English woman Camilla) because he believed Philautus would never understand his ambiguous position about women.
Apparently, Edward de Vere also had ambiguities in his views about feminine nature and this was represented in his plays as seen above.
One major aspect of this ‘ambiguity’ was that a woman could befriend a man, not her husband or finance, without ‘loving’ him in a sensual mode.
Of course, some might ask here, how does this discussion about women help us to contradict the ‘Stratfordian’ view of authorship. One element in Oxfordian favour is that historical record proved Edward de Vere’s relations with John Lyly, Robert Greene and Thomas Greene at ‘Fisher’s Folly’ (cf. Mark Anderson ‘Shakespeare’ By Another Name, Gotham Press 2005, pp. 229-232) whereas William Shakespeare is not noted either in correspondence or in publicity as friendly with the Euphuists. William was, apparently a relatively happy married man with no apparent extra-marital episodes with other women. No scandal about him was noised about at court as were the cases of Edward de Vere vis à vis the presumed infidelity of Anne Cecil or Edward’s dallying with Anne Vavasour. This latter had earned him the Queen’s wrath, an illegitimate child (‘Edward Vere’) and a few months in the Tower of London prison.
This prison experience helped Edward de Vere write Measure for Measure, whereby Claudio would be prosecuted for his pre-marriage sexual relations with his fiancée. William Shakespeare in all our available records was never involved in such matters. So the Stratfordians imagine that Shakespeare could plan many scenes and write about them, when he personally never had experience of such material. This fantasy still pervades the Stratfordian’s cause.
But marital innocence of women – how did Edward de Vere understand it? As far as we know Anne Cecil was innocent of the innuendoes of infidelity brought against her by Rowland York or others. Elizabeth Trentham, Edward’s second wife, was a quite maidenly kind of woman and wife. As for Anne Vavasour, she was punished by the Queen for her affair with Edward de Vere, and perhaps she was the ‘dark lady’ of Edward’s Sonnets.
So Edward de Vere was in a very good position to write about the theme of marital infidelity. And from what we can read in his plays, he was a great supporter of women’s propensity to chastity in or before marriage.
What we see in Cymbeline is Immogen, a king’s daughter, married to a commoner (Posthumus) who had been exiled by his father-in-law (i.e. Cymbeline). Posthumus went to Rome and there, in an evening’s wager with Giacomo, extolled his wife’s (Immogen’s) marital fidelity, and this wager meant the winner was to be paid. Apparently, such wagers had been commonplace in the French court.
But Posthumus lost the wager as Giacomo, having traveled to Britain and staying at Cymbeline’s court, proved that he had been in Immogen’s bed (he had managed to be placed in her room in a coffer and had observed her asleep). But Posthumus believed him and lost the wager about his wife’s fidelity. Fortunately, Immogen took advantage of a pending war between Rome and Britain and (with Posthumus arriving and secretly fighting on Cymbeline’s side) the plan of Giacomo was foiled and she regained her husband Posthumus.
What A Winter’s Tale reveals on these matters was that Hermione, wife of Leontes, ruler of Sicily, was suspected by her husband of loving his good friend Polixenes, the ruler of Bohemia. She was carrying her husband’s child at the time and when it was born this was revealed to the king. He ordered his vassals to take the new baby across the sea and leave it on a deserted place in Bohemia. He believed it was Polixenes’s bastard. Then it was reported that his heir, a son, had died because of chagrin over these matters, and also that his wife Hermione had died from grief. This story repeats the contemporary tale of Pandosto by Robert Greene, where the Bohemian king Pandosto’s jealousy concerning his wife Bellaria and her supposed liaison with visiting Sicilian king Egistus brought about similar catastrophic events.
Edward de Vere’s version appears more powerful than that of Robert Greene; the speedy arrival of jealousy in King Leontes of Sicily’s mind and the quick execution of his revenge. Both completely overlooked Hermione’s genuine welcome to his boyhood friend, the king of Bohemia. This kind of relation between woman and man was reflected somewhat in Desdemona’s innocent conversations with Claudio in the play Othello. In A Winter’s Tale, Edward de Vere illustrates clearly the Euphuesian idea that women can be friends of men without any sexual complications. But apparently the kings of Bohemia or Sicily and Othello, the Moor of Venice, had never heard of such an idea.
In A Winter’s Tale, the unexpected death of his wife and his son (his heir) turned Leontes, king of Sicily, upside down with remorse for his stupid jealousy - and yet even after such remorse no recourse was possible. Paulina, his wife’s lady-in-waiting, provided a solution: keep Hermione alive secretly. As for the (girl) baby deposed on the beach of Bohemia, it was found by a local shepherd and brought up as the shepherd’s own child. She was ‘Perdita’ (the ‘lost one’). She fell in love with a visitor to her father’s farm who was, it turns out, the king of Bohemia’s son Florizel. Learning at a rural feast that his father opposed any marriage with a farmer’s daughter, Florizel and Perdita fled for refuge at the court of the king of Sicily.
This move unraveled the mystery of Perdita’s birth (she had been left on the beach of Bohemia with some personal documents showing her to be a Sicilian princess). When the Bohemian king chased his son and her girlfriend to the court of Sicily he was reconciled to his youthful friend the king of Sicily. Note here that Edward had spent time in Sicily in the early 1570s and perhaps had crossed over to Bohemia (present-day Croatia) while he was spending time in Venice.
In this story Paulina, who had kept the queen Hermione hidden, presented her as a ‘statue’ for the others to see, and when this so-called statue became alive the circle of restoration was full. Then Perdita, the Sicilian princess, married Florizel, the heir of Bohemia, and this filled the void left by Leontes’ jealousy and the death of his son.
The tragic side of this phenomenon was to be seen in Othello, the Moor of Venice, whereby Desdemona, also a victim of untoward jealousy, was strangled by her jealous husband. Iago, of course, was the initiator of Othello’s jealousy and relations between Desdemona and Cassio (Othello’s lieutenant) had been entirely of a friendly nature which Othello had not managed to believe.
Another type of instigator was Don John in Much Ado About Nothing. Acting behind the scenes he managed to make it appear that Hero (cousin of Beatrice) was having an affair just before her long-awaited and highly publicized marriage to Claudio. Everyone fell in line with the universal castigation of Hero for her pre-marital infidelity, only Benedick and a few others believing in her innocence. As she was entirely innocent and Don John’s scurrilous plan was uncovered, the play could have a happy ending. Even misogynist Benedick could marry man-despising Beatrice.
In all these four dramas, the blots upon marital chastity were, in the end, erased. Was it an Euphuist notion, that the author in all these cases placed males as the culprit working against women’s honour? For Immogen, the instigator was the Roman dandy Giacomo; for Hermione, it was her husband, the king Leontes; Desdemona’s downfall was caused by Iago and Othello; and that of Hero was plotted by Don John. Some women characters in most cases helped the innocent women - such were Paulina in A Winter’s Tale who hid her rejected mistress until the situation cleared; in Othello it was Iago’s wife Emilia, who turned the tables on her own husband Iago; and in Much Ado About Nothing it was Margaret, waiting gentlewoman to Hero, who revealed the malicious plot of Don John.
While men in these plays did not understand the Euphuistic view of women, the women understood and came to the aid of their own sex. If the mystery of the Euphuistic view of women still remains, read Euphues and his England, and the passage in it where Euphues extolls English women. Edward de Vere had no doubt read this and apparently believed in it.
A concluding word about William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew was somehow related to him - we remember the scene and personalities in its Prologue which occurred in a Warwickshire setting. Christopher Sly the tinker insisted to the innkeeper the morning following his dream (where he experienced fame and sensuality) that he would gladly return home (in Warwickshire) since he had learned ‘how to tame a shrew’. If Sly represented William Shakespeare then the implication would be that Anne Hathaway (his wife) was a shrewish woman.
But this problem was solved as Christopher Sly, after living in a dream world as Edward’s front man, he – William Shakespeare, de Vere cousin - had the means to supplement his income and satisfy his shrewish wife. Here is a literary indication that William Shakespeare was given financial security (which might satisfy Anne) in return for allowing Edward de Vere’s plays to be published under his name. By these strange means, William became a ‘gentleman’.
18 June 2017
Annexe: How Edward de Vere was related to William Shakespeare through the Trussell family of Billesley, Warwickshire
at Billesley 1166
There were two main lines of Trussel from which both Edward de Vere and William Shakespeare were descended. But Edward’s line left Billesley after 1307 and went to Eston Mauduit, Northants. and nearby and this continued down to Edward’s grandmother’s time.
Edward’s grandmother, Elizabeth Trussell, was contemporary with Avery Trussel of Billesley who had 10 children. Elizabeth’s father Sir Edward Trussell had held Bilton, Warwicks., 20 miles n.e. of Billesley and he had, perhaps, visited his Billesley cousins. So Edward de Vere would have been acquainted with the Billesley Trussels. It had been the home of his own ancestors soon after the Norman Conquest (1086). William Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden had no doubt heard from her mother Anne Trussell about their distant cousins the Earls of Oxford, who had a group of Players. When the group performed at Stratford Upon Avon (a few miles east of Billesley) in 1583, Mary Arden could have contacted the Earl of Oxford, her distant cousin, to see if there would be a place, as actor, for her son, William Shakespeare. The Throckmortons were also Mary Arden’s ancestors and some of them were friends of Edward de Vere (cf. research of Jan Cole of the de Vere Society (U.K.) and her speech at the April 2015 meeting of the de Vere Society in Oxford).
Percy Allen and Mrs. C.C. Stopes, writing in the early 20th century, noted the relation of Mary Arden to the Trussels and Throckmortons. But these authors made a faulty genealogical connection of the Trussels vis à vis Edward de Vere and William Shakespeare. Our analysis makes the relation much more distant. However, because of the limited nature of the Trusells in general, Edward de Vere would certainly have been aware of his Billesley connections. My analysis would make Edward de Vere an eighth cousin of William Shakespeare through the Trussel line (see above).
ADENDA TO 27 ESSAYS
Photograph: Hedingham Castle, Essex, by Derek Voller