The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.307 Monday, 19 September 2016
Date: September 16, 2016 at 12:54:08 PM EDT
Subject: MV Dialog
BASSANIO AS ESSEX [cont.1]
5. The wealthy Andrew and the diamond gone.
SALARINO My wind, cooling my broth,
Would blow me into an ague when I thought
What harm a wind too great might do at sea.
I should not see the sandy hour-glass run
But I should think of shallows and of flats.
And see my wealthy Andrew docked in sand
Vailing her high top lower than her ribs
To kiss her burial. Should I go to church
And see the holy edifice of stone
And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks,
Which, touching but my gentle vessel’s side,
Would scatter all her spices on the stream,
Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks,
And in a word, but even now worth this,
And now worth nothing?
SHYLOCKE Why, there, there, there, there, a diamond gone
cost me two thousand ducats in Franckford….
In mid 1596, the English launched a major amphibious attack on Cadiz, Spain’s main port. Charles Howard, the Lord Admiral, commanded the naval forces. Essex organized the fleet and commanded the land forces.
The English expected to find an Armada-style force. Instead, they found 30 - 40 mercantile vessels preparing to sail for the Indies and guarded by only a few galleys and four galleons, which were called the Four Apostles. The English fleet, with many more men-o’-war, attacked. Two Apostles went aground and two were captured. One of these was the San Andres, later renamed the Andrew and added to the English fleet of war ships.
Instead of securing the valuable mercantile vessels, the Lord Admiral refused a ransom of 2 million ducats and demanded 4 million. Refusing to paying such a sum, the Spanish scuttled the merchant fleet, and 12 million ducats worth of cargo lay on the bottom of the bay.
The English sacked and burned Cadiz, making off with whatever plunder they could find. On their way back to England, a contingent of English soldiers, led by Essex, attacked the Portuguese town of Faro — which they also sacked and burned. The inhabitants took to the hills, carrying what little treasure they possessed. Essex looted an excellent library of the local bishop, and lated donated its contents to his friend Thomas Bodley for his library at Oxford.
Speaking of Bodley. Essex lobbied Elizabeth to appoint him as her Principal Secretary. However, Elizabeth appointed Robert Cecil to the post instead. Essex lost — again — to the Cecils.
Essex arrived back in England around the end of August 1596. He felt that he had achieved a great victory, and prepared a propaganda document extolling his heroic actions, entitled A true relation of the action at Cadiz the 21st June, under the Earl of Essex and Lord Admiral, sent to a gentleman in Court from one that served there in good place. Elizabeth got wind of its existence and issued an order prohibiting anyone from publishing it.
In addition, much of the plunder that the English had captured never made it to the Queen, who had invested £ 50,000 to finance the expedition. One of these items of booty was a huge diamond, intended for the Queen but never delivered. The Queen barely covered her expenses. Essex walked into her court, expecting praise but receiving a tongue-lashing.
(from Lacy, Robert, Earl of Essex)
Shakespeare has Salarino mention the Andrew at line 26, and has Bassanio enter only 30 lines later. His description of the lost cargo would have called to mind the valuable cargo lost when the Spanish scuttled their mercantile ships. The diamond lost that Shylock mentioned may have referred to the diamond intended for the Queen. These were each actual events associated with the Earl of Essex, and of which the London populace would have been aware when MV was first performed sometime in mid-1597 to mid-1598.
Essex came back sporting a full square beard that he hoped would set a fashion. I imagine that the actor playing Bassanio had such a beard, and also wore some courtier-clothing that had previously belonged to Essex. (Elizabeth required her courtiers to wear new clothing. The courtiers would give the old clothing to their servants, who would sell it to the playing companies.) We have no evidence of anything related to performance, so this speculation is more speculative than most.
6. A scholar and a soldier.
NERISSA Doe you not remember Ladie in your Fa-
thers time, a Venecian, a Scholler and a Souldier that
came hither in companie of the Marquesse of Mount-
In Il Pecorone, Giannetto was neither a soldier nor a scholar.
Essex graduated from Cambridge as a Master of Arts while still a teenager. While at court he composed poetry and took part in dances. He also attended many plays. In addition, he was an excellent and enthusiastic jouster. By late 1596 he had been a soldier (with Leicester), a captain (in France), and a commander (Cadiz). He was contemptuous of those of his fellow courtiers who were not soldiers and who did not participate in the jousts.
[to be continued]