THE LAST PLAYS: PART 1
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
TIMON OF ATHENS
As de Vere died in 1604 and the Shakespearean play The Tempest is generally
dated about 1612 it's obvious that if both these events are correctly stated de Vere
could not possibly have written the play. And that puts an end to de Vere's
candidacy for Shakespeare. But as it appears with all matters related to the
Shakespeare identity problem, it's not as simple as that, and considerable
controversy has been centered on this problem. It seems to me the only way to
approach it is to stay with facts and try to avoid hypotheses, unsupported opinions
and so forth. The bare facts, once established should unfold the truth.
Here are the known facts:
1. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, died at Hackney (just north of London) on
June 24, 1604 and on July 6th he was buried in the church of St. Augustine. He
left no will that has been found. In the page of the parish register where the entry
was made has been written "ye plague" (Note 3). He was 54 when he died, as he
was born April 12, 1550.
2. In 1623 was published what is now called the First Folio. (To be discussed in
a later chapter). Its Preface says in part:
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies Published according
to the True Originall Copies. London. Printed by Isaac Iaggard and Ed. Blount,
After various pieces praising the author comes this:
of the seuerall Comedies, Histories, and Tra-gedies contained in this Volume
The Tempest Folio 1
There are 13 other plays under this heading, the last being The Winters Tale,
which is generally dated 1611 or 1612, so both these plays catalogued as
comedies are now conventionally dated 7 or 8 years after de Vere's death, It
would appear that the First Folio sequence is not intended to be in chronological
order, at least it bears no relation to the present day generally accepted
3. If we go back to our two lists of all the plays attributed to Shakespeare given in
chapter 22 we have the following plays dated after de Vere's death:
1605 King Lear (1605) Macbeth (1606)
1606 Anthony and Cleopatra (1607)
1607 Timon of Athens (1608)
1608 Coriolanus (1608) (Pericles 1608)
1610 Cymbeline (1609)
1611 The Winters Tale (1611)
1612 The Tempest (1611)
1613 Henry 8th (1613 with Fletcher).
The items in brackets are datings according to a second list.
4. We note that Pericles was not included in the first list. This is probably because
it's not included in the First Folio in 1623.
5. There are two factors we must consider here. First, how was the dating of each
of these plays arrived at? What is the factual evidence for this dating? Secondly,
what sources, if any are known, have been established for each of these plays
and what are the dates for these sources? If there is substantive evidence that a
particular source was used, knowing as we do that Shakespeare habitually stayed
very close to his sources in his plays, source dates will defeat de Vere's
candidacy if any of them are later than 1604. I say 1604 because if he died of the
plague he would probably have been working up to the time of his death as he
was only 54 at the time.
How do we go about establishing the factual evidence for dating these alleged
'post mortem' plays?
First, from this list for our present purposes I think we can exclude Lear because
it seems to be by Shakespeare and was probably completed before he died (Note 4).
Macbeth may also, I suggest, be excluded because it's generally said to be a very
short play, incomplete, with inconsistencies and loose ends. Macbeth was
probably left nearly enough completed to be printed later as it was.
Henry 8th I think we can ignore as it's generally said to have been completed by
another playwright, probably Fletcher.
This leaves 7 plays for us to investigate: the only mainstream play left is Anthony
and Cleopatra; the others can be divided into two groups,
1. Coriolanus, Timon of Athens
2. Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
How do Shakespearean scholars tell us they have arrived at their dating for this
play? I have relied on the New Clarendon edition (Oxford, Clarendon Press,
1962) edited by R. E. C. Houghton, Fellow and Tutor at Oxford, The preface says
Coriolanus, Winter's Tale, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra ... the language of
these plays is often difficult ... There still remained a number of lines and phrases
which no editor appeared to have tackled, but the exact meaning of which did not
seem obvious; and here the present editor has preferred to hazard a paraphrase
rather than remain silent.
Houghton's Introduction says
...the last, or almost the last, in a series which can only include the greater plays
of Shakespeare, is Antony and Cleopatra.
Houghton refers to
,, the involutions of syntax and crowding metaphors of the last plays. ...In Antony
and Cleopatra... neither situations nor style are clear or simple... ... the
consummate mastery of the language can only be felt by those who have
undergone a considerable apprenticeship both in poetry in general and to this poet
I think at this point we have to agree that this play is a mainstream play of
'Shakespeare' in his prime. Why did he write it? If it's de Vere I think we can quote
Antony is neglecting his duty and has thrown away the world for a mistress
and realize that a mature de Vere looks back on his earlier life and sees he threw
away his world - which was the Court - for a mistress he came to despise
afterwards when he saw her for what she really was, and not what he had made
her in his captivated emotional state. De Vere's disgrace was complete. For
impregnating one of the Queen's Maids of Honour he was hunted down at the
Queen's orders, imprisoned with his mistress and the child in the Tower of
London, and he was banished from the Court.
The question then remains, when did he write it? Here's Houghton again:
The date of the writing and production of Antony and Cleopatra almost certainly
lies between 1606 and 1608, the middle year being perhaps the most likely. It
must have been before May 1608, when it was entered in the Stationers' Register
as if about to be published, though no Quarto was in fact brought out. ...Those
who think that Daniel's revised edition of HIS play Cleopatra in 1607 shows traces
of the influence of Shakespeare's play date the latter in 1606 or early 1607; but it
is possible that the influence is the other way.
And Houghton continues:
More interesting than the exact month or year is the position of the play in its
author's career. A glance at the table of approximate dates of Shakespeare's plays
... will show that in the now generally agreed order Antony and Cleopatra comes
after Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, and just before Coriolanus, which is itself
followed by the so-called Romances, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, and Tempest
(ignoring Timon and the part-Shakespearian Pericles). ... Superficially this play is
more closely linked with Coriolanus than with the four great tragedies ...
I take this to mean Othello, Hamlet, Lear and Macbeth. Houghton again:
It (Antony) follows its source more closely, is more loosely constructed and less
gloomy. The great inward difference is that in Antony Shakespeare's genius took
fire, whereas in Coriolanus it did not. ... In the freedom of its syntax and the piling
up of metaphors our play heralds the style of the Romances. ... But what links our
play with the greatest tragedies is an intensity and passion hardly to be found in
the Romances. ... 'there is a certain exultation of spirit which begets a rhythm ever
more buoyant and magical and which derives directly from Shakespeare's
transfiguring of the personages he found in Plutarch.' (quoting O. Elton.)
My comment here is it's not surprising, if it's de Vere, that 'Shakespeare'
surpassed himself in the powerful emotion he poured into the Antony and
Cleopatra play, as he looked at his earlier life in retrospect. The Anne Vavasour
affair ruined his whole Court career. But once entangled with this vivacious
teenager he just could not tear himself away although he knew in advance that to
carry on with the affair would bring downfall from his high pedestal and lifetime
disgrace because the Queen's emotions were not to be thwarted. He shows us his
emotions before the fall in Tarquin's wrestling with his conscience and
overwhelming it in the Rape of Lucrece poem.
Here's what Houghton has to say about the source:
The subject of Antony and Cleopatra was not new to drama when Shakespeare
took it up. A French play, Cléopâtre Captice, by Jodelle (1552), is said to be the
first proper tragedy in that language (as, curiously enough, is a Casper's
Cleopatra of 1661 in German). The next was also French by Garnier, having Marc
Antonie as its hero, and this was translated by the Countess of Pembroke, sister
of Sir Philip Sidney, published in 1592, and ran into five editions. It is probable that
Shakespeare knew this Antonius... Its popularity probably prompted the poet
Samuel Daniel to produce his Cleopatra of 1594. ...it seems to have had some
influence on Shakespeare, since both, but not Plutarch, insist on Cleopatra's fear
of being made part of Caesar's triumph and on her reluctance to pass before
Octavia's eyes, and on her no longer being in the prime of her beauty... Daniel
issued a revised edition of his play in 1607, which 'may' have influenced
Shakespeare at one or two points.
Other sources may be dismissed even more briefly before we come to that which
is paramount. For Egypt Shakespeare may have used Philemon Holland's
translation of Pliny's Natural History, from which he had lately taken a good deal
in Othello, and he certainly had in his head the biblical references to Egypt.
Appian's Bellum Civile, which had been translated in 1578, probably made him
realize the importance of the naval power of Sextus Pompeius and rate his threat
to the triumvirs more highly than Plutarch warrants. ... But the main source for this
as for the other Roman plays is North's Plutarch, one of the great Elizabethan
books. Plutarch wrote his Parallel lives of Greek and Roman worthies in Greek in
the first century of our era, and Sir Thomas North made his translation not directly
from the Greek but from the French version of Amyot (1560), publishing his first
edition in 1579 and the second, which Shakespeare used, in 1595. For our play
the main source was the life of Antony, though the other lives he had used for
Julius Caesar also contributed something. Shakespeare followed his source far
more closely in the Roman than in his other plays, and the reason lies partly in
Plutarch and partly in North. For Plutarch was writing biography, not
chronicle-history like Holinshed, and North was a master of language. Plutarch is
the only great writer who furnished the material for Shakespeare...North made him
a national classic, and his style had such relish for Shakespeare that he retained
many of North's expressions... it will be convenient so far as possible to speak of
Plutarch for the matter and North for the language.
Shakespeare follows the language of North most closely either in unimportant
passages of fact or where North is unsurpassable. Shakespeare knew when he was well-
off! ...But... he will add a touch of more poetic phrasing than even North contains.
Later, Houghton says:
'Shakespeare,' wrote T. S. Eliot in 1919, 'acquired more essential history from
Plutarch than most men could from the whole British Museum.'
and Houghton still later:
Antony and Cleopatra is, along with the other Roman plays, among the seventeen
which were first printed in the collected edition of Shakespeare's plays in 1623,
known as the First Folio. At least we possess no earlier separate printing of this
play in Quarto form. We have therefore, only one authority for the text...
My comments and conclusions on Antony and Cleopatra, and I will try to stay with
1. The first printed edition of this play known to us is in 1623.
2. The Shakespearean editor and his professional colleagues assume that
Shaxper of Stratford on Avon was the author. This leads them to put some
emphasis on translations into the English language as sources.
3. Houghton provides paragraphs from North as a source, and from the evidence
he gives I think we can accept that 'Shakespeare' read and utilized North in his
4. However, de Vere was fluent in French and Latin, apparently could read Greek,
and was just as capable of reading Plutarch as was North, in the French
translation. So if de Vere was Shakespeare this puts an entirely different
complexion on the question of utilization of sources. Further, Plutarch died in 120
AD, and the other sources mentioned existed from 1552, 1560, 1578, 1592, 1594,
and North's translation, 1579 and a second edition in 1595. All of these dates
occur well before de Vere's death, and the most recent of them, the 2nd edition
of North, is about 9 years before de Vere's death.
5. There is no reference that I have found indicating a date for performance of this
play before 1604, the year de Vere died.
6. The evidence Houghton provides for dating the play at between 1606 and 1608
is based on the 'generally agreed' sequence in the play writing of Shakespeare,
assuming he was the man from Stratford who died in 1616. Early sources have to
be excluded on this hypothesis because Shaxper, born in 1564, would have been
too young to have used them. But this is not the case for de Vere, who was born
6. No evidence has been provided here to show that de Vere as Shakespeare
could not have first written his Antony and Cleopatra in 1596, some 10-12 years
earlier than the 'agreed' dates.
I conclude that Antony and Cleopatra could have been written by de Vere, and
further, that his authorship elucidates why the author was able to put as much
passion into this play as he did.
Let's escape briefly from the world of Shakespearean scholarship. In his History
of the Roman People, here's what historian Charles Seignobos of the University
of Paris has to say about this legendary Roman leader. (Translation edited by William
Farley Ph.D., Henry Holt, New York, 1904):
Marcius, a patrician and the bravest warrior in Rome, sur-named Coriolanus
because he had taken the city of Corioli from the Volsci, was strongly opposed to
the tribunes and the plebeians. There was a famine in Rome and the senate bought
wheat to distribute among the people. Coriolanus declared that this opportunity
must be seized to abolish the tribunate. "No wheat or no tribunes," The tribune
accused Coriolanus before the people, and he was condemned to exile.
Coriolanus went to the Volsci, whom he had conquered, and offered to lead them
against Rome. The Volsci gave him an army. He conquered the Romans,
encamped near the city, and ravaged the lands of the plebeians. The frightened
Romans sent to him first the consuls, then the priests, to beg him to spare his
country. He refused to listen to them.
The women of Rome sought out his mother, Veturia, and all together marched to
the enemy's camp. Coriolanus saw the procession coming, led by his mother and
his wife leading his two children by the hand. He went to meet them, and ordered
the fasces lowered as a mark of respect. His wife wept; his mother simply said:
"Am I speaking to my son or to an enemy?" Coriolanus, much moved, withdrew
with the Volscian army and died in exile, some say by execution, some by his own
Appendix E (Chronological table of Important events) has this entry:
488 B.C.? Coriolanus came to attack Rome with a Volscian army.
As a footnote I might add that if you go to my Edward Furlong web site you will find
my "Is Our Civilization Dying?" In chapter 6 under Rome, the Formative Phase,
there is a further explanation of tribunes and their responsibilities. A 'fasces' was
a bundle of wooden rods with an axe blade projecting at the top. This was carried
before a senior official as a symbol of authority.
Now let's see what Shakespeare did with this legend. The edition I have used for
this play is The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Cambridge University Press, 1960, edited
by J. Dover Wilson (JDW). Here are some excerpts from JDW's Introduction, with
The only substantive text we possess of Coriolanus is the one printed in the First
Folio of 1623, and since the entry of that volume in the Stationers' Register names
the play as one of sixteen "not formerly entered to other men" we may probably
assume that no quarto of it, good or bad, had appeared previously. Nor is there
any trace of it among the rather scanty references to theatrical performances
before the Restoration. Indeed that of an adaptation by Tate referred to on the
title-page of that version published in 1682 is the first record we have of stage
production in any form.
My comment. The Restoration was the resumption of the monarchy after the civil
war and 'interregnum.' This occurred in 1660.
Its early theatrical history being thus blank we must turn to the play itself for
possible clues to the date of composition.
We are now about to descend from factual evidence to hypothesis and surmise.
I don't regard this as reliable evidence. There could be additions and deletions
from the original manuscript at later dates, for topicality, and political, religious, or
other reasons. I have already shown in chapter 25, Appendix D, how I suggest
Ben Jonson, supervising the First Folio edition interpolated some of his own
writing into Hamlet. However, to give JDW a fair hearing, here's how he continues
(excerpts only from his 31 page introduction):
First then it was written after the beginning of 1605, which saw the publication of
Camden's Remaines concerning Britaine, since, as Malone observed, Menenius's
tale of the Belly and the Members, although in the main derived from Plutarch,
owes a phrase or two to Camden.
Note 1 to this chapter gives the full text of this fable as recited in the play
Coriolanus, and the passages from North, Holland and Camden which are the
alleged sources for Shakespeare. I have added my conclusions.
And second, it was written before the beginning of 1610 when The Silent Woman
appeared, because in that play Jonson pokes fun at
He lurched all swords of the garland
which Cominius says in praise of Coriolanus at 2.2.99 and Jonson would hardly
have applied this description of the superlative prowess of the hero of an epical
tragedy to the superlative intrigue of the hero in his comedy, had he not expected
the audience to recognize the parallel.
JDW then begins to drift off into other arguments such as topicality of the struggle
between rich and poor and an excessively cold winter as helping to date the play.
I suggest that we can go along with him as far as saying that as this is an unusual
phrase, stolen by Jonson, (which he was apt to do with the work of others), it was
probably written before 1610 as JDW says. But the circumstances could have
been quite different from those JDW suggests, which are mere hypotheses. Let's
invent one of our own:
Jonson was involved in the 1623 First Folio and the play had not surfaced,
apparently, before then. By 1610 many of the great Elizabethan dramatists were
dead. Jonson, younger, was very much alive. If de Vere was Shakespeare, then
his widow, Countess of Oxford Elizabeth Trentham, when moving from the
mansion King's Place in about 1608-9 may have given the Coriolanus manuscript
to a printer in Hackney who passed it on to Jonson, asking him 'what do you think
of this, will it sell well, or act well?' Jonson probably said 'no,' and either gave it
back to the printer, or the printer said 'you keep it. I have no further use for it.'
That, then, would be how Jonson came to include the play in the 1623 First Folio,
and how he became able to quote an unusual line from it in mockery.
But none of this tells us how long before 1610 Coriolanus was actually written.
Aldis Wright doubted whether Shakespeare made any use of Camden's version
(of the Belly and the Members fable)... This ignores Shakespeare's unconscious
habit of picking up from his sources and retaining in memory words that later came
in useful. Evidence of this may be found in all the history plays, whether English
or Roman, to say nothing of a play like Romeo and Juliet in which he can be
shown to have remembered to a surprising degree the actual words and phrases
of Brooke's rather wooden poem, or again of play after play in which Golding's
vocabulary keeps cropping up.
This is a surprising statement, and shows how much these three personalities,
Jonson, Shakespeare, and de Vere are tied together in some way. JDW, a
thorough Stratfordian, has I'm sure never had the de Vere connection cross his
mind. But, remarkably, without knowing it, J.Dover Wilson the established
Stratfordian Shakespearean critic, scholar and editor has provided impeccable
evidence for de Vere's case as Shakespeare, because:
1. Golding is Arthur Golding, a renowned scholar in his day. His sister married the
16th Earl of Oxford, and between them they produced the 17th Earl as a son, the
Edward de Vere who may have been Shakespeare. Arthur Golding was therefore
our de Vere's uncle, and it is said tutored him during his early youth at Hedingham
2.The boy was apparently a prodigy, worthy of such a tutor, because he was
entered at St. John's College Cambridge at the age of about 9.5 years and
received his degree about 4.5 years later. Golding was translating Ovid's
Metamorphoses at the time or later when after de Vere's father died, de Vere was
a Royal ward at Burghley's residence.
3. It's even been suggested that Golding was present at Burghley's residence and
de Vere may have had a hand in the translation, Ovid was primarily a love poet,
and some of the translation is 'racier' than Golding's regular style. J. Dover
Wilson was no Oxfordian, and he knew not of what he spoke when he said that
Shakespeare was to a surprising degree indebted in play after play to the
vocabulary of Golding.
My conclusion is that the established dating for Coriolanus has no factual
foundation, and the play could have been written earlier than proposed, No one
knows when it was written.
Why did Shakespeare write this play? JDW thinks the play is related to a struggle
between rich and poor, to the consequences of cross purposes between a strong
willed mother and a powerful but obedient son, and as a natural consequence
from his interest in Antony and Cleopatra. He says:
In Coriolanus, as in his other plays, Shakespeare is interested in dramatic art and
nothing else, and particularly here in giving effective artistic form to a type of tragic
hero he has not previously attempted to create.. ...Coriolanus falls into two distinct
movements, the dividing line being the hero's departure from Rome. ... For it is the
clash of wills between mother and son that marks the culmination of both
JDW quotes the play as follows:
... There's no man in the world
More bound to's mother, [yet here he lets me prate
Like one i' th' stocks.] Thou hast never in thy life
Showed thy dear mother any courtesy,
[When she, poor hen, fond of no second brood,
Has clucked thee to the wars, and safely home
Laden with honour.] (5.3.158-64)
and then JDW says:
The lines I have italicized are pure Shakespeare - may we not say, Shakespeare
of Stratford? - the rest is derived, slightly reworded, from North.
...Clearly the impression we are intended to receive is that of a young Hector with
an ungovernable temper...chiefly because she had deliberately encouraged him
to give way to his tantrums as a child. ...The drama of Coriolanus is built up around
two crises that arise from situations in which the hero finds himself forced to
choose between his duty as a man of honour and his duty as a son....
...Shakespeare offers no explanation to account for the volte-face which brings
Marcius (Coriolanus) to deny everything he has hitherto stood for, and worst of all
which makes him a promise-breaker and the traitor his soul loathes. Nor can one
evade the problem by saying that the dramatist found it all in North and just took
it over. For, as Palmer has shown, North's account is quite different. The Marcius
of Plutarch had no plan of destroying Rome at all.
Because I italicize all quotations, I put the italics used by JDW in his quotation
from Shakespeare into brackets instead.
This 'fable' is as old as the ancient Greek writer Plutarch (A.D. c.46-120) whose
'Parallel Lives" was about eminent Greeks and Romans, and as old as Livy, the
Roman Historian (59 B. C. - A. D. 17). If de Vere was Shakespeare he did not
have to wait for Amyot, North or Camden to publish, he was perfectly capable of
making his own translations from the original Greek and Latin. These modern scholars pin their
dating of Coriolanus to the translations, as they assume
their Shakespeare needed them. The premiss on which their dating is based
becomes valueless if de Vere was Shakespeare. Who knows, de Vere's
translation might have been available to Camden, and Ben Jonson might have
come by Coriolanus not by public performance at all (as we have no record that
there was one).
North's translation of Plutarch's Lives was published in 1579, so Coriolanus could
have been written any time later than that, if the dramatist relied on North,
although JDW asserts Shakespeare used the reprinted edition of 1595.
My view of the main theme of the play is different from that of JDW. I suggest it's
the exile of a devoted and patriotic warrior by his own lesser countrymen. This
happens to fit de Vere's life perfectly. He was 'exiled' from Court for his
misdemeanours and as a result of the actions of persons he regarded as his
inferiors : Anne Vavasour, Arundel, Howard and Southwell. The mother in this
play interferes in the plans and intentions of Coriolanus. This reminds us of how
de Vere's mother dropped out of his life, as far as we know, when she remarried
after his father's death. The mother in this play says:
...thou hast never in thy life
Showed thy dear mother any courtesy,
When his mother wants him to swallow his pride and be obliging to the Tribunes,
representatives of the plebians, until he is granted the consulship, he says she is
asking him to go against his own nature to be like a harlot (3.2.112) and finally he
...I will not do't;
Lest I surcease to honour mine own truth,
And by my body's actions teach my mind
A most inherent baseness
We might note the word 'truth' where we would say 'integrity.' Truth, we
remember, was part of de Vere's motto (Vero nihil verius: nothing truer than
De Vere's disillusionment with the Court and all it stood for was complete, He
partly patched up his ostracism by the Queen, and she took care of his basic
financial needs with her annual pension for him, but he never became again a
favourite, or prominent courtier. This we are reminded of when Coriolanus says
... so with me
My birthplace hate I, and my love's upon
This enemy town...
Then he tells his family
While I remain above the ground you shall
Hear from me still, and never of me aught
But what is like me formerly
The play begins with a mob scene. There is a famine. The mob is treated as mere
dirt. I deduce from this that what we have here is a Court play, not a theatre play
with 'groundlings' who would not appreciate this presentation by the dramatist.
There was, 1594-97, a series of poor harvests in England and the
Privy Council set price controls on grain and arranged importation of it from abroad to alleviate the
famine. This according to G.M. Trevelyan, English Social History (1946) p. 171.
The fable of the Belly and Members (Note 1) doesn't seem to me to fit very well,
also the mob is standing around while Menenius is telling the fable, and the
citizens' speeches are too long, slowing down the action. And why would a citizen
in such a scene say (of the warrior Coriolanus) 'he did it for his mother'? This may
be true in the play, but would someone say that in the middle of a mob scene? It
seems to me all this indicates the play began as an early one, and was probably
In scene 4 of act 1 Marius (later to become Coriolanus) abuses his soldiers for
falling back, much as abuse was poured on the mob.
His mother and his friends want him to stand for Consul, having captured the
enemy city of Corioli and being honoured in consequence by being called
Coriolanus. To apply for this position the custom was to put on the gown of
humility, stand in the public Forum (marketplace) and show his wounds to groups
of 2 or 3 plebians passing by him and ask for their votes. He doesn't want to do
this. He's embarrassed to show his wounds, and ask the people for their votes.
Finally he's persuaded to go through the procedure. One citizen says to him 'you
have been a scourge of our enemies, ... you have not loved the common people.'
He bristles at having to put up with this.
... Thus we debase
The nature of our seats, and make the rabble
Call our cares fears, which will in time
Break ope the locks o' th' Senate and bring in
The crows to peck the eagles,
... where gentry, title, wisdom
Cannot conclude but by the yea and no
Of general ignorance - it must omit
Real necessities, and give way the while
To unstable slightness. Purpose so barr'd, it follows
Nothing is done to purpose. Therefore beseech you - ...
...at once pluck out
The multitudinous tongue; let then not lick
The sweat which is their poison. Your dishonour
Mangles true judgement, and bereaves the state
Of that integrity which should become't
Not having the power to do the good it would,
For th'ill which doth control't.
The Tribune of the people Sicinius:
Has spoken like a traitor and shall answer
As traitors do.
Thou wretch, despite o'erwhelm thee! ...
...In a rebellion, ...
Then were they chosen; in a better hour.
Let what is meet be said it must be meet,
And throw their power i' th'dust.
Brutus (a Tribune):
Sicinius (a Tribune):
This a Consul? No,
They call in the aediles (magistrates) and the citizens come in with them
Coriolanus resists the Tribunes and 'rabble' as the aediles attempt to arrest him.
He draws his sword and defies them; the Patricians persuade them all to break
it up and tell Coriolanus to go to his house.
Then Menenius (a faithful friend of Coriolanus):
His nature is too noble for the world:
He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for's power to thunder, His heart's his mouth;
What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent;
He shall be thrown down the Tarpeian rock
With rigorous hands; he hath resisted law,
And therefore law shall scorn him further trial
Than the severity of the public power,
Which he so sets at nought.
All these are excerpts from Act 3, scene 1.
Here is Coriolanus at home speaking in Act 3 scene 2:
I muse my mother
Does not approve me further, who was wont
To call them woollen vassals, things created
To buy and sell with groats; ...
A groat was a silver coin first issued in 1351, worth about four pennies. A modern
North American equivalent would be a nickel (worth five cents, or 'pennies').
Shakespeare in his plays shows a little more kindliness towards his humble
characters, but is equally aloof in his relationship to them. De Vere became by
right a member of the House of Lords at age 21.
The mother of Coriolanus told him he should have waited until he gained the
power of consul before trying to exercise it and upset the rabble. His long-time
Repent what you have spoke.
For them! I cannot do it to the gods;
Must I then do't to them?
His mother reminds him of what he had said on honour and policy which she says
is as important in peace as in war.
In Act 3 scene 3, Brutus (Tribune)
... He hath been us'd
Ever to conquer, and to have his worth
Of contradiction; being once chaf'd, he cannot
Be rein'd again to temperance; then he speaks
What's in his heart, and that is there which looks
With us to break his neck.
Coriolanus is banished by the tribunes, and the plebeians shout
It shall be so, it shall be so.
You common cry of curs, whose breath I hate
As reek o' th' rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air - I banish you,...
... till at length
Your ignorance ...
... deliver you
As most abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows! Despising
For you the city, thus I turn my back;
There is a world elsewhere.
And Act 4, scene 1:
Farewell, my wife, my mother.
I'll do well yet.
Now we come to Act 5, scene 6
Aufidius the Volscan, the perennial enemy of Coriolanus in war who has been
worsted by Coriolanus in battle many times, describes how Coriolanus came to
him, offered to be executed by him, and how instead Aufidius took him in, gave
him the best troops, and now:
... Till, at the last,
I seem'd his follower, not partner...
So Aufidius is now plotting to destroy Coriolanus. The conspirators for
Aufidius kill Coriolanus, and Aufidius stands on his body.
I did not find the name Aufidius in the historical record, but it is, I suggest,
reminiscent of the word perfidious as shown by Aufidius.
Reflecting on this play, it seems to me that if by de Vere, it would have been
begun in the late 1580s or early 90s, after betrayal by his 'friends' Henry Howard,
Charles Arundel, and Francis Southwell. Of course, he started this by accusing
them to the Queen of treason. As a feudal Lord by birth, he would have
empathized with Coriolanus in his distaste for the lower classes, and I suggest
merely expressed some of his own views in the play, and possibly those of his
own mother. The mother was probably modelled on either his own mother, or the
Queen, or possibly in part Lady Burghley, who apparently didn't hesitate to speak
her mind to the Queen or anyone else. The wife would have been modelled on
Anne Cecil, as the wife is a pale non-entity who merely expresses dismay and
takes their two children along with her.
This play seems to me to be pedestrian in the first scene, and even the warrior
scenes are a bit flat or wooden. That's why I suggest they're early Shakespeare
(or de Vere). But Act 3 comes to life. That's when Coriolanus tries to obey the
rules for candidates for consulship, speaks his unflattering mind, clashes with the
Tribunes whose very right to people power he detests. He considers it an
aberration, but finds himself ostracized by the people and banished for his
intransigence. In Act 3, de Vere had only to be himself to carry through the
tempestuous scenes with perfect fidelity.
My conclusions on this play are:
1. No factual evidence exists for the conventional dating of Coriolanus. It could
have been earlier than supposed and written during de Vere's lifetime.
2, All the known sources are well within the lifetime of de Vere. One later
suggested source - Camden - depends on a single word - 'gulf' for 'stomach.' This
may have been inserted by Ben Jonson for the 1623 First Folio, which is the first
known printed version.
3. Coriolanus, the warrior, through pride and contempt for the plebians was exiled
from Rome, and died in exile.
4. De Vere was banished from Court and could empathize with Coriolanus and his
5. If de Vere was Shakespeare he could not release this play during his lifetime
because it would be too obvious a reflection on the Court and a reminder to the
public of his own immoral conduct which caused his 'exile,'
TIMON OF ATHENS
For this play I have used the Arden edition edited by H. J. Oliver, Methuen and
Co. Ltd. London, 1959. As the Introduction runs to 39 pages, only excerpts can be
given here. The Introduction begins:
1. THE TEXT
A. THE FOLIO
Timon of Athens is one of the eighteen plays now regularly thought of as
Shakespeare's which, not having appeared separately in Quarto during his lifetime,
were first printed, after his death, in the First Folio of 1623; and before publication
it was therefore entered in the Stationers' Register by Isaac Jaggard and Edward
Blount, on 8 November 1623, among the "Copies as are not formerly entered to