The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0194 Tuesday, 21 March 2006
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: Tuesday, 21 Mar 2006 01:15:25 EST
Subject: 17.0165 Chettle, Greene, Shake-scene
Comment: Re: SHK 17.0165 Chettle, Greene, Shake-scene
Dennis Taylor raised some issues in which I've long had interest:
>I would like to see Chettle's famous description of Shakespeare,
>"his uprightnes of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his
>facetious grace in writing", etc. kept in the biographical canon.
>But Lukas Erne's "Biography and Mythography: Rereading Chettle's
>Alleged Apology to Shakespeare," ES (1998), p. 430-40, disputes
>the applications of Chettle's description to Shakespeare. Has Erne's
>attack been "accepted"?
That isn't quite the right question. Erne's article is well done, but is
in many respects a rehash, as he reports himself. To judge by last
century's biographers (some of whom were aware of the argument) we
cannot expect the 'canon' to change in substance, even though Erne is
likely correct. We should rather ask whether the controversy will even
be acknowledged. As Greenwood noted 90 years ago:
If these biographers fairly stated the terms of the document, and
gave their reasons for supposing that Shakespeare is alluded to
therein, there would be no reason to complain . . . . The mischief
is that they state what is merely their 'interpretation' as though
it were an historical fact, and the ordinary reader . . . naturally
believes it to be so.
In 1916 Greenwood criticized Lee's bracketed history: ". . . because
myself have seen his [i.e., Shakespeare's] demeanour . . . ." Yet in
1985 Honigmann's _Lost Years_ we find, "[As for the other, i.e.,
Shakespeare] myself have . . ." The same scholar/historian's earlier
_Impact_ reads, "The other [i.e. . . .], whome at that time . . ." This
book demonstrates the importance of Chettle's words to biography, where
Honigmann quotes not in full, but partially on ten or more occasions:
"Davis, like Chettle, thought Shakespeare's demeanour easy, gentlemanly,
unagressive . . ." So has Erne had an effect on the latest wind-tunnel
experiments? Park Honan, outdated in 1998, obviously missed Erne:
Chettle's arm has been twisted, it seems. Persons of higher than
ordinary standing, or 'divers of worship', had spoken to him about
the playwright. Just who they were is unclear, but Shakespeare
had been attracting very smart young bloods of rank.
I don't know about Chettle's arm, but his words have been twisted. In
his 2004 _Will in the World?_, Greenblatt is not much better:
How Shakespeare responded to the attack tells us a great deal
about him . . . . As for himself, Chettle averred, it is well known
that he always "in printing hindered the bitter inveighing against
scholars." "Scholars"-so Shakespeare was now being treated
as if he had, after all, attended university.
"Scholars." I don't oyveigh against them, but if Chettle spoke of Peele
we learn absolutely nothing about Shakespeare. Doesn't the reader
deserve at least a footnote on that possibility? Akroyd, Holland, and
Duncan-Jones, I believe, went to the primary source (Schoenbaum) for
>I can think of two objections to it, that Peele (Erne's choice for
>Chettle's object of description) remains a less likely Greene target
>than Shakespeare ("the onley Shake-scene in a countrey").
The question lies in the meaning of the lines: "a letter written to
divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken . . ."
The letter was written to Marlowe, Nashe, and Peele, two of whom must be
the offended addressees. A target not included in this group will not
qualify without convincing argument. The only post-Erne publication I've
seen arguing this issue is by GGW editor D. Allen Carroll ("Reading the
1592 Groatsworth Attack on Shakespeare", Tennessee Law Review, v. 72,
If the apology is directed to Shakespeare, then clearly he is a man
of good character. . . . The "qualitie" in the "qualitie he professes"
probably referred to his acting. . . . "Divers of worship" would have
referred to several of the rank of gentlemen . . . .
A problem exists, however, with this interpretation . . . .For most of
us, though with some unease, "[t]he grieved parties were, [as] the
context makes clear, Marlowe and Shakespeare" [Schoenbaum]
No evidence suggests that Nashe or Peele were ever actors.
Moreover, the criticism leveled at these two playwrights does not
match, either in degree or kind, that directed toward Marlowe and
Shakespeare. Why would Nashe or Peele have expected an apology
at all? There is another kind of evidence here, one . . . I tend to
When Chettle turns from the first to the second . . . he provides a
direct clue to his name: "The other, whome at that time I did not so]
much spare . . . " There it is, in a transparent play on his name.
"Shake" appears in the midst of the attack, but not "spare," which is
subsequently supplied in the middle of the apology . . .
Why "one or two"? . . . I am not sure. Certainly Marlowe and Peele
were both gentleman scholars, but there was motive for saying "one
or two" if Shakespeare was the one praised. By blurring the social
distinction and lumping together two playwrights-one a gentleman
(Marlowe) and one not (the actor Shakespeare)-he can flatter
Shakespeare . . . If such was indeed Chettle's motive, then the
apology does not seem to have succeeded. . . . Whatever the case,
Chettle must have known that "one or two" is a phrase often used
tonally-not meant to be considered too closely, so that he might be
able to slip it by the casual observer . . . . This phrase cannot easily
be construed to deprive the world of such a magnificent tribute to the
actor and playwright . . . (291-94).
I have sympathy for anyone (including myself) attempting to tackle this
topic as it scrambles around the backfield. Carroll's 1994 edition does
not justify naming the second playwright as Shakespeare. His effort to
do so at a later date may be commended, but one also may suppose that
Erne influenced Carroll's response, if only indirectly. Certainly,
Erne's citation of "of worship" as referring to "gentlemen" fits
Carroll's description better than his 1994 "several noblemen."
To say that "If the apology is directed to Shakespeare, then 'quality'
refers to acting," then argue that "Peele was not an actor," is to beg
the question. If the apology was not directed to Shakespeare, then
'quality' was in reference to someone else. This seems rather to be
arguing that 'quality' referred to acting with an exclusivity that is
not warranted by surviving usage, as Erne notes (& may be noted further).
Erne is also correct to say that "Nashe did take offense" at "a scald
trivial lying pamphlet." It is too late to ask whether he should care.
Even if the "who would leave his glove at the scene?" non-argument were
granted, Greenwood is right to observe:
I think that is an assumption which we are not entitled to make.
Men very frequently take offense [not me] when it seems very
unreasonable . . . . Greene makes a solemn address to them
. . . and we know that many people strongly object to being
preached at, even by an ecclesiastic, and still more by a layman"
Comparing insults does not narrow the field. One may offend another
deeply and not give a hoot, but regret a minor slight to yet another.
While I agree with Carroll that GW teems with ambiguity, suggestion that
'spare' in KHD may be trusted as a reference to Shakespeare is more than
a little weak. Remember, these are the arguments behind the
justification for not listing the arguments. Can they deny the
probability established by Erne's plain reading of the apology?
Carroll argues of 'one or two' that the phrase "cannot easily be
construed to deprive the world of such a magnificent tribute to the
actor and playwright". I suggest that he is the one doing the construing
of a phrase "not meant to be considered too closely", that Carroll
himself is not sure of. Tributes, magnificent or not, are not
transferable by fiat.
>Also Chettle's reference to "schollers" is too grammatically
>ambiguous to exclude Shakespeare; Chettle says that his
>defense of scholars is well known, and now he turns to the
>objects of Greene's attack who may or may not be scholars.
Chettle's reference is parenthetical, but sandwiched between lines
relating to 1) the "base-minded men, all three of you", who were all
university scholars (as was Greene, for whom Chettle apologizes) and 2)
the complainers, including Marlowe. Erne effectively argues that
Shakespeare is not likely to be referred to as 'scholar.'
>Incidentally, does anyone know what defense of scholars Chettle
>is referring to?
I don't recall a citation and find none in my references at home. To
'converse' is not necessarily meant as today. Chettle's usage appears to
mean 'working in the printing trade.' His offer of proof would then be
other than his own written work.
>PS I quickly checked the SHAKSPER postings, and there seems
>to be a tendency to assume that Chettle wrote the Greene attack;
>but I believe Erne deals with this.
The opinion that Chettle is responsible for the 'lying pamphlet' is not
an assumption but a carefully argued case paralleling the 'apology'
issue. Though gaining acceptance more rapidly, it does so with two
riders. First, one may acknowledge the probability but deny it without
argument. Second, one may accept Chettle's authorship but continue to
refer to the author as "Greene" because "it doesn't matter." Erne cites
but does not deal with this issue:
A long time after Chettle diverted attention from himself and
made his contemporaries believe that GGW and the prefixed
letter were indeed composed by Robert Greene, scholarship
has voiced doubts as to the truthfulness of Chettle's claim . . . .
Austin's and Carroll's arguments seem to support my case.
Could we expect Chettle to be the author of both the attack
on . . . and the apology to Shakespeare? I choose not to
problematize questions of authorship in this article lest they
unnecessarily obfuscate my argument.
We have no way of knowing whether Chettle convinced anyone of his
innocence. The letter was not exactly prefixed. The case is much
stronger than "voiced doubts." Nevertheless, in Erne's _Literary
Dramatist_, where he criticizes Richard Dutton for ignoring his busting
of the 'apology mythography,' Erne doesn't say a word about Chettle's
authorship of GGW, referring only to Greene as its author, presumably
not to mythographize, but as a nonobfuscatorian.
The strong prima facie case for Chettle's forgery was effectively told
by Chauncey Sanders in the thirties, but the facts almost speak for
themselves. The copy was in Chettle's hand. The book was entered at his
'peril.' Most importantly to my mind, the very friends addressed in GGW
pegged it for a forgery. They were in a better position to judge, in
Notably, Carroll and John Jowett strongly endorse Warren Austin's 1969
computer analysis that finds Chettle the likely author. Given the hard
road of stylometric studies, it is important to realize the relative
power of a style comparison between just two candidates. What may be
questioned are the extent of the forgery and the validity of GGW as any
reflection of Greene's opinion. Neither is likely to be fully determined.
But Erne's point is on target. If Chettle wrote the vicious attack on
Shakespeare, would he so easily be motivated to apologize for it? If he
inadvertently offended one of 'Greene's' addressees (while purposely
attacking Marlowe); in the process bringing suspicion on himself as the
perp, wouldn't his apology make sense? In other words, it may matter if
Chettle wrote the letter. After Honigmann cites Austin's 'suggestion,'
he adds: "I prefer the older view; the authorship of GGW, however,
scarcely affects my argument" (Impact, 134). "Preference" is itself no
argument and analysis should accompany the view that literary forgery
doesn't matter. Greenblatt shows some awareness of the issue in his
He had left behind him enough material to enable a hack
printer and sometime playwright, Henry Chettle, to bring out
a posthumous book. [GGW}, rushed into print before the
corpse was fully cold, was probably mostly written by Chettle
or by someone collaborating with Chettle . . . But it carried
the marks of Greene's own seething resentments (212).
As Carroll shows, Greene's previously published material was ingeniously
used to mimic Greene, taking advantage of Greene's own habit of
borrowing from himself. But Greenblatt leaves the impression that Greene
had more to do with the book, and that is more than Greenblatt can know.
I believe most of the biographers, before and after Erne's article,
simply relied on standard sources for their retelling of the GGW affair.
For that reason they cannot be faulted for getting the story wrong.
However, scholars caught the errors long ago. Because publications have
been slow to address these problems, a forum such as this has a chance
to discuss them with clarifying effect.
Gerald E. Downs
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