The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0149  Wednesday, 29 January 2003

From:           James Conlan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jan 2003 05:45:59 +0000
Subject: 14.0119 Re: Shakespeare and Research
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0119 Re: Shakespeare and Research

I appreciate the skepticism of Takashi Kozuka's posts, for they allow a
rehearsal of the most important evidence bearing on both the possibility
that Shakespeare studied abroad and the religious affiliation of his

T.W. Baldwin's magisterial two volume _William Shakespere's Small Latine
& Lesse Greeke_ (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944) is an
exceptional study of the sort of education that a child Shakespeare's
age would have had in Stratford-on-Avon, among other places.  The
enabling assumption of Baldwin's study is that Shakespeare received an
education in this grammar school until he was eighteen.  Though he has
no evidence of this assumption, he dismisses all other possibilities:

"While there is no direct record surviving of Shakespeare's having
attended any grammar school, yet the familiarity with school texts and
especially with school ways displayed in his undoubted works furnishes
unimpeachable evidence that he had done so....Nor need we pause to argue
the question of what grammar school Shakespeare attended.  There is no
evidence whatever and hardly the possibility that it was any other than
that at Stratford, though for our present purpose it would make little
difference what school he attended" (Baldwin 1: 464).

After pronouncing that Shakespeare must have attended an English grammar
school because of the content of his plays (and, to prove it, citing
Shakespeare's satire on pedantry in _Love's Labour's Lost_, a play set
in Navarre), Baldwin fails to explain how Shakespeare acquired his
education in 1) the Italian necessary to read Cinthio's _Hecattomithi_,
2) the sort of French necessary to write _Henry V_, 3) the nautical
language necessary to write _The Tempest_'s opening scene, 4) specific
geographical details about Verona, Messina, and Venice, and 5) the
operation of the law.

To be fair, Baldwin gestures twice toward explaining Shakespeare's
education in the Continental languages; however, his evidence is
terribly brittle:

In his characterization of the texts, Baldwin points out that "before
the final third of the sixteenth century, practically all the textbooks
used in the English grammar schools, except the Latin grammar, came from
the continent" (Baldwin 1:448).  However, by his own account, these
books printed abroad were all Latin-language texts: not a single text
listed in Chapter 23, "Grammar School Texts in Shakespeare's Time"
(Baldwin 1: 494-531) had a French, Spanish or Italian title; with the
exception of Jean Veron's 1552 text of _A Dictionary in Latine and
English_, which was a trilingual text in English, Latin and French, that
by 1575 in R.  Waddington's "corrected" version, had the French removed
to increase the number of "useful" words, there is no evidence that the
grammar school children in Stratford-upon-Avon were expected to learn
modern languages at all.

Nonetheless, to shore up the possibility that the Bard learned his
languages in Stratford, Baldwin makes an analogy between Robert Field's
ability to print in several languages other than English and
Shakespeare's ability to read and write in other languages (Baldwin
1:489-90).  This analogy supposes that (a) Field's recognition of
characters required the same cognitive ability as Shakespeare's response
to and use of these characters as communicative language, and (b) Robert
Field's seven-year apprenticeship as a printer (begun at 18) was not
primarily directed at training him to perform the task of character
recognition, if not also additional training in the reading of foreign
languages. These tasks are in no way comparable.

Obviously, then, the disparity between what Shakespeare would have
learned in the Stratford Grammar School and what his plays reveal he
knew indicate that Shakespeare had to supplement his
education-especially in languages -- in a methodical way beyond what the
Stratford Grammar School could have afforded. For this reason, at a
minimum, it is worth pursuing the hypothesis that William Shakespeare
studied abroad.

In traveling to the continent to complete his education, Shakespeare
would certainly not have been unique.  It was actually quite fashionable
and thought educationally sound for English gentlemen to travel to
complete their educations.  On the value of the expense of sending young
Englishmen abroad, Sir Thomas Elyot in _The Boke named the Governour_
wrote in 1531,

"The seconde occasion wherfore gentylmens children seldome have
sufficient lernynge is avarice.  For where theyr parentes wyll nat
adventure to sende them farre out of theyr propre countrayes, partly for
feare of dethe, whiche perchance dare nat approche them at home with
theyr father; partely for expence of money, whiche they suppose wolde be
lesse in theyr owne houses or in a village, with some of theyr tenantes
or frendes; havyng seldome any regarde to the teacher, whether he be
well lerned or ignorant" (Sir Thomas Elyot, _The Boke named the
Governour_, 2 vols, ed. Henry Herbert Stephen Croft (New York: Burt
Franklin, 1967), 113).

At the time of the publication of Roger Ascham's _The Scholemaster_ in
1570, the practice of English gentlemen going to Italy was so commonly
practiced that it was one of the chief subjects on which Sir Richard
Sackville asked Roger Ascham to comment.  In his volume, Ascham
inveighed against the custom as exposing Englishmen to Italy's Circean
snares that arise in part because of the Papist influence, in part
because all Cities there were free and therefore allowed the free
expression of ideas.  Yet despite his misgivings, Ascham allowed that

"If wise men will nedes send their sonnes into Italie, let them do it
wiselie, under the kepe and charge of him who, by his wisdome and
honestie, by his example and authoritie, may be hable to keep them safe
and sound, in the feare of God, in Christes trewe religion, in good
order and honestie of living" (Roger Ascham, _The Scholemaster_ (1570)
in _English Works_, ed.  William Aldis Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1904), 225).

Ascham's opinion did not squelch the English gentleman's custom of
traveling to Italy to complete his education.  So common was the
practice of Italian study for English gentlemen in the 1590s that an
anonymous printed letter announcing the Squire conspiracy in 1599 was
addressed to an English gentleman residing in Padua. (See [Francis
Bacon], _A Letter written out of England to an English gentleman
remaining at Padua, containing a true report of a strange conspiracie,
contrived betweene Edward Squire, lately executed for the same treason
as an actor, and Richard Walpoole, a Iesuite, as deviser and suborner
against the person of the Queenes Maiestie.  London, Deputies of
Christopher Barker, 1599. [10017] (also published in German [10017.5])
On a lighter note, Ben Jonson's _Volpone_ poked fun at the English
gentle traveler who took up residence in Venice.

Roger Ascham's fear that Englishman might have brought out of Italy
"Papistrie or worse" (Ascham 229) would not have been likely to have
dissuaded John Shakespeare from sending his son abroad.  Perhaps the
most important evidence of John Shakespeare's adherence to the Old Faith
appears in Appendix I of Mutschmann and Wentersdorf's _Shakespeare and
Catholicism_ (New York: AMS Press, 1969) which contains Malone's
transcription of the "Text of John Shakespeare's Spiritual Will," signed
by John Shakespeare, which was found in the roof of John Shakespeare's
home.  Page 1 of the 6 hand written sheets, containing the first two and
a half articles of this will [otherwise based on the Borromeo Spiritual
Testament which circulated internationally in the 1580s] was missing
when Malone came to transcribe the document in 1790. Of the remaining
articles, article IV describing the practice of extreme unction as a
sacrament; article X, asking for Mary to be the executrix of the will
with his patron saint; and article XII, speaking of Purgatory and
calling on "all my dear friends, parents and kinsfolks...to assist and
succour me with their holy prayers and satisfactory works, especially
with the holy sacrifice of the Mass, as being the most effectual means
to deliver souls from their torments and pains," serve to clarify the
religious affiliation of John Shakespeare as Roman Catholic.

Unfortunately, John Jordan's [or Henry Ireland's] forgery of the first
two and a half articles led Malone and others to call into question the
authenticity of the entire document. But that result does not obtain
from the two known facts about the documents John Jordan sent to Malone:
1) John Jordan did not send Malone the first page of the will; yet 2)
John Jordan's version includes a different version of the will's first
page from the Borromeo exemplar on which the rest of the will was
modeled.  Had John Jordan been interested in forging a document that
showed John Shakespeare to be a Roman Catholic and he had a copy of the
Borromeo Spiritual Will at hand, he would have translated the first two
articles of the Borromeo will.  This John Jordan did not do, nor did he
send the first page of the exemplar to Malone, nor did he attempt to
define the text as a fragment.  The discrepancy presents two scenarios:
either Jordan suppressed the first page which spoke of John
Shakespeare's explicit "wish to live and die obedient to the Holy Roman
Church," or the first page was missing or too badly soiled for Jordan to
reproduce it, and Jordan was interested in printing a text that was
"complete." As Malone was not aware of the Borromeo exemplar on which
the five final pages of the will was structured, his reversal of opinion
on the document's authenticity was based on incomplete evidence.

Even if there were no other evidence, the fragment Malone printed is, in
and of itself, strong evidence of John Shakespeare's ongoing adherence
to Roman Catholicism.  Prior to M&W's book, E.K Chambers, G.B. Harrison,
and John de Groot had allowed the authenticity of the document [M&W
73-4]. But even those who question the document's authenticity must
agree that John Shakespeare both acted and was perceived to have acted
by his peers in alignment with the Old Faith, and he chose not to
correct this perception.

John Shakespeare's actions as Alderman of Stratford appear consistent
with the commitment to Roman Catholicism articulated in the document
found in his roof.  John Shakespeare would not have been allowed to
resign from his position of Alderman which he carried out faithfully
until 1576 when Queen Elizabeth appointed a Grand Commission
Ecclesiastical to examine offences against the act of Supremacy and to
punish those who absented themselves from service.  Subsequent to the
appointment of this Commission, John Shakespeare simply stopped showing
up to meetings of the corporation, his first of many absences registered
Account Day, 23 January 1577.  This ten years of truancy contrasted
markedly with his usual diligence in performing his office: From 1564
until this date, the attendance sheets show he had only once missed a
meeting (M&W 43).  The best explanation is that he was afraid the
Commission would ask him to swear to the Oath, an Oath that was not
administered to justices until 1579.

As John Shakespeare refused to attend corporation meetings almost
immediately after the commission was appointed, it is not surprising
that the College of Heralds associated John Shakespeare with a man whose
right to request arms was compromised by suspicions his opinions aligned
with his Roman Catholic cousins-in-law convicted of treason.  John
Shakespeare's right to impale arms with the Arden arms is less ambiguous
evidence of the Shakespeare's faith than Takashi makes out.  The Park
Hall Arden family was not the only cadet branch of the Ardens that
espoused the Catholic faith.  As Mutschmann & Wentersdorf, _Shakespeare
and Catholicism_, indicate on p.  66, the Shakespeares rejected the
"fess checky," the arms of the Park Hall Ardens (who were convicted of
treason for having a Catholic priest as their gardener) chosen for them
by the Heralds as the Arden crest they were to impale, and instead chose
the "three cross crosslets fitchees with a martlet for a difference,"
arms identical to the Catholic Ardens of Warwick and Bedfordshire, and
different from the coat borne by the Protestant Simon Arden which had no
martlet.  As far as John Shakespeare's faith is concerned, the revisions
to the crest indicate that the heralds wanted to identify the
Shakespeares with the Catholic treason of the Park Hall Ardens, and the
Shakespeares, rejecting both the treasonous association and the arms of
their Protestant cousins, responded by adopting the arms already worn by
a branch of the Arden family that was both loyal and Roman Catholic.

This is not the only instance in which the heralds gave John Shakespeare
a hard time when he requested his rightful arms.  In 1576, when the
Grand Ecclesiastical Commission was formed, John Shakespeare suspended
his application for arms; when he renewed his petition later, the
College of Arms first rendered his motto, "Non, sanz droict."  The
insulting error here suggests a hostility toward John Shakespeare on the
part of the heralds who wanted to delegitimize his rightful claim to a
heraldic coat-a desire fully consistent with the suspicion that as a
recusant, John Shakespeare did not merit this privilege of gentility to
which holding the elected office entitled him.

It should be recognized that John Shakespeare could have easily
disabused persons of these suspicions by simply showing up to
corporation meetings or to Common Prayer.  However, in the face of
social and financial pressure, John Shakespeare chose not to
conform-again, operating in apparent allegiance with the religious
commitments articulated in the document discovered in his roof.

It is not illogical to suspect that such a man as John Shakespeare would
have wished for his son to have been educated in a way both fashionable
for a gentleman and not inconsistent with his parents' faith.  For a
long time, this education could have been had locally at the Stratford
Grammar School.  The Corporation apparently had a habit of hiring
schoolmasters who were secret Catholics. Most prominent among these was
the Stratford schoolmaster from 1571-5, Simon Hunt, who joined the
Jesuit order in 1578 and became successor to Father Parsons in 1580 as
English penitentiary at Saint Peter's. For John Shakespeare, Simon Hunt
would have been a trustworthy, influential contact in Rome who might
supervise his son.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that in 1578 when William Shakespeare was
14 that John Shakespeare began to liquidate his real property in a way
not inconsistent with the possibility he was preparing to send his son
abroad.  The normative age to achieve fluency in Latin according to Sir
Thomas Elyot was about 15 (Elyot 18)).  14 was the age that students
left grammar school to become apprentices (Baldwin 1: 443), and,
according to data Baldwin collected for Stratford students from 1567 to
1579, it was not uncommon for students to enter Oxford at the age of 14
(115 boys) or 15 (135 boys) though the largest plurality entered at 17
(247 boys) or 18 (306 boys) (Baldwin 1:
487).  To suppose that William Shakespeare was bright enough to achieve
sufficient fluency in Latin at 14 or 15 sufficient to enable him to
begin the next phase of his education is hardly a stretch of the

Whatever the case, John Shakespeare began liquidating his property in
late 1578, a process he continued through 1580, in a way today not
uncommon among U.S. parents today trying to fund their children's
college educations.  On 12 November 1578, the John Shakespeares leased
86 acres in Wilmcote to Thomas Webbe and Humfrey Hooper-"two unknowns
who may have lived in different dioceses"; on 14 November 1578, the
Shakespeares mortgaged their house Asbies at Wilmcote to brother-in-law
Edmund Lambert of Barton-on-Heath; on 15 October 1579, they sold their
share in the Snitterfield property inherited from Robert Arden to nephew
Robert Webbe for forty pounds sterling.  Furthermore, on 3 May 1580,
when John Shakespeare tendered mortgage money for Asbies to his
brother-in-law Edmund Lambert, Lambert refused to accept it, saying that
John Shakespeare owed him other money (M&W, 47). The evidence here is
unambiguous: from 1578-1580, John Shakespeare not only liquidated much
of his real property, he also borrowed money from family members, money
which he spent.

A decision to send William Shakespeare abroad could have been encouraged
by the sort of religious education he was getting in Stratford.  At the
height of the Grand Ecclesiastical Commission, from 1578 (or perhaps as
early as 1575) to 1579, the school was led by the Protestant Thomas
Jenkins, M.A., an Oxford graduate who had taken orders in the Anglican
Church. This schoolmaster at Stratford appears not to have been fully
supported by the corporation: Unlike other schoolmasters at Stratford,
Thomas Jenkins paid rent for his chamber which, according to the
foundation, ought to have been free, and in 1579, Jenkins was given 6
pounds to resign by the Corporation to allow John Cottam to become the
next schoolmaster.  John Cottam, who with his wife often appeared on
recusant rolls (Baldwin 1:483), was the brother of Thomas Cottam who was
executed as a seminary priest in 1582, about which time John Cottam was
dismissed from Stratford.

A decision to send William abroad, however, could also have been
motivated by John Shakespeare's own fear of persecution.  Mutschmann &
Wentersdorf interpret John Shakespeare's liquidation of his property as
evidence he was afraid of the Grand Ecclesiastical Commission and trying
to hide his property.  Yet one wonders what sort of advantage a fearful
John Shakespeare would have achieved from translating his real property
into ready cash except that ready cash was more useful were he planning
to absent himself from Stratford for an extended period of time.

The possibility that John Shakespeare escorted his son abroad for a time
is not beyond the pale.  On 29 January 1578, a levy was raised to
support the militia's enforcement of Supremacy laws; John Shakespeare's
assessment (3s.  4d.) was only half that of his fellow Aldermen.  John
Shakespeare did not pay this assessment.  His non-payment of this levy
was excused; he was likewise let off for the fine for his absence on
Election Day, 3 September 1578, and for his lack of support for the poor
relief that year.  Mutschmann & Wentersdorf credit this leniency to
respect the corporation of Stratford felt toward him; but Bardolatry may
here inflect their understanding of the principles of English tax law.
Others have suggested that this expense meant John Shakespeare himself
had fallen on hard times, yet he still held other lands.  A more
credible explanation for this leniency could be that the corporation
knew that Alderman Shakespeare may have maintained property in the
Stratford area but he personally was not residing in the region.

Evasion of the Grand Ecclesiastical Commission by travel appears
consistent with the social relations John Shakespeare established in
this period.  By June 1580, John Shakespeare was able to choose as
guarantors for his appearance before the Queen's Bench in Westminster a
Nottingham hatmaker, John Audley; Thomas Cooley of Stoke
(Staffordshire); and two other guarantors from Worcestershire, one from
Kidderminster, the other from Elmley.  None of them appeared, and all
forfeited their bond.  He and his guarantors John Audley, Thomas Cooley,
and the two guarantors from Worcestershire forfeited 160 pounds sterling
for their non-appearance at court (Mutschmann & Wentersdorf 50).  It is
an interesting fact perhaps explained by ship-borne travel that these
individuals from different parts of England with different guild
affiliations met and established such firm relations so as to agree to
post bond for each other, each absolutely certain that none of the
others would appear.

As a traveling John Shakespeare would not have been able to attend
Common prayer in Stratford every month, he would have accumulated fines
to be collected at his next appearance at church.  Refusal to appear
until the debt was forgiven would have increased the fines, offering a
fitting excuse for never having to return to church again.  "The First
Recusancy Certificate returned by the Warwickshire Commission at Easter
1592," (Appendix 2 in Mutschmann & Wentersdorf, _Shakespeare and
Catholicism_) lists John Shakespeare on the recusant rolls for the
parish of Stratford-upon-Avon (p. 399); on the second recusancy
certificate returned by the Warwickshire commission at Michaelmas 1592,
he is listed as one of nine about whom "It is said that these last nine
come not to church for fear of process for debt" (p. 401). Schoenbaum
and others have supposed this fear was of the sheriffs; however,
sheriffs could have found him in his home.  Given the jurisdiction, the
fear of process is more likely to have been for a debt to the parish for
non-attendance at church rather than a private suit.

To the argument that no evidence has yet been recovered proving that
Shakespeare did in fact travel abroad, I might point out that Baldwin,
Chambers, Wilson and Schoenbaum all concede that there is no evidence
that William Shakespeare studied at Stratford.  The marriage license
issued 27 November 1582 is the earliest evidence of Shakespeare's
residence in England after his baptism in 1564.  At this stage of the
collection of the evidence, theories about Shakespeare's education are
based wholly on logical inference.  Allowing that Shakespeare studied
abroad makes sense in relation to the nature of his works, the custom of
gentlemen, his family's religious allegiances, and his family's
financial transactions about the time he should have been completing his
grammar school program.  That said, I recognize logical inference is not
proof: the evidence I have here assembled is intended chiefly to
encourage further archival study of a possibility that, to my knowledge,
has never been entertained.  While I would not be surprised if some day,
in an archive in Venice, Rome, Verona or Messina, a receipt recording a
transaction between William or John Shakespeare and a local merchant
turned up, dated sometime between 1577 and 1582, I anticipate that other
ancillary questions will need to be answered should such evidence be

Best to all,
JP Conlan
Department of English
University of Puerto Rico

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.