Sunday, August 14, 2011

John Davies and the Swallow by Peter Farey

The 2010 edition of The Oxfordian contained an essay entitled The Swallow and the Crow in which Sabrina Feldman presented a very interesting case for a hitherto unconsidered candidate for being the true author of Shakespeare's works - Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. Whilst most of us will be familiar with why a Crow might be relevant to this subject, I must confess that the Swallow referred to in the title was new to me.

It turned out to be a reference to the poem Orchestra, or, A Poeme of Dauncing by John (later Sir John) Davies. Davies was five years younger than Marlowe and came from a fairly similar background, his father being a tanner. Educated at Winchester and at Queen's College, Oxford, apparently without taking a degree, he then became a law student, mainly at Middle Temple, and was called to the bar in 1595. He is described as having a "flamboyant and tempestuous personality" - like someone else we know? Although too early at Middle Temple to have associated with Marston the playwright or Manningham the diarist, Davies may well have been - along with most Inns of Court students - an enthusiastic playgoer during his time there (1588-95), which included the period directly coinciding with Marlowe's rise to fame.

Orchestra was registered with the Stationers' Company in 1594, but the earliest extant copy of it is dated 1596, which could therefore include later additions to the original. The work runs to 131 stanzas,1 but it is just the last four which concern us here. In these, he wishes that he could write as well as Homer, Virgil (of Mantua), Chaucer (Gefferie), Spenser (Colin), Daniel (Delia), or his "sweet Companion" - presumably Richard Martin, to whom the whole poem is dedicated. He wishes he might mingle his brain with theirs to be able to write as well as them. Then he moves on to Sir Philip Sidney (Astrophell) and another unnamed, and so far unidentified, poet whom he calls "the Swallow."

Yet Astrophell might one for all suffize,
VVhose supple Muse Camelion-like doth change
Into all formes of excellent deuise:
So might the Swallow, whose swift Muse doth range
Through rare Ideas, and inuentions strange,
And euer doth enioy her ioyfull spring,
And sweeter then the Nightingale doth sing.

O that I might that singing Swallow heare
To whom I owe my seruice and my loue,
His sugred tunes would so enchant mine eare,
And in my mind such sacred fury moue,
As I should knock at heau'ns great gate aboue
With my proude rimes, while of this heau'nly state
I doe aspire the shadows to relate.

So who was this Swallow, and why was that sobriquet chosen? It was clearly someone whom it would have been inappropriate to identify as easily as the others. Sabrina Feldman argues that it was Lord Buckhurst, but offers no explanation for the choice of nickname. Yet there is one characteristic for which swallows are well-known, and which is mentioned by both Aristotle ("One swallow does not make a summer") and Shakespeare ("daffodils / That come before the swallow dares") - they arrive back from overseas in late spring or early summer.

An identity thought by most Marlovians to have been adopted by Marlowe upon his first return from exile overseas was that of one Monsieur Le Doux who apparently arrived (back?) in England in the late spring or early summer of 1595.2

Under the protection of the Earl of Essex's spymaster Anthony Bacon, Le Doux spent the rest of the year at the home of Sir John Harington (later Baron Harington of Exton) at Burley on the Hill, in Rutland. There he was employed as tutor to the Haringtons' young son, another John. He left Burley at the end of January 1596, however, and returned to London to receive instructions from the Earl of Essex concerning travel across Europe to collect intelligence on his behalf. Le Doux nevertheless seems to have spent most of the following month in London. Although Essex issued a passport for him on 10 February it doesn't appear to have been used, and another was issued on 20 March. By 5 April he was overseas, however, and the last definite news we have of this Monsieur Le Doux is a letter dated 22 June 1596 sent by him from "Mittelburg," that is Middelburg, the capital of the province of Zeeland, in the Low Countries.

We know that in 1592 Marlowe had been in Flushing, not far from Middelburg, and Charles Nicholl has suggested3 that he may have used this as an opportunity to get the first edition of his translations of some of Ovid's Amores printed, as the title page says that they were printed "at Middleborough," the town had a thriving printing industry, and the material would have been quite unlikely to get past the rather strict censorship then in operation in England. We do not know exactly when the printing was done, however, and it could certainly have been as late as 1596, when a surviving Marlowe may well have been not in Flushing this time but in Middelburg itself.

The interesting thing from the point of view of this paper, however, is that it wasn't just Marlowe's work contained in the volume printed there. The title page of the first edition reads "EPIGRAMMES and ELEGIES by I.D. and C.M." The "I.D." is of course John Davies, and this is what the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has to say about it: "About the same time as he wrote and published Orchestra, [i.e. in 1596, when Le Doux was in Middelburg] Davies went into print with a number of epigrams, notorious for their 'roughness, even coarseness'."

To conclude: if Le Doux really was Christopher Marlowe returning from overseas in late spring or early summer 1595, and if he used the occasion of his visit to Middelburg in 1596 to get the shared volume of his and Davies's work printed there, then he must also be by far the most likely candidate for the mysterious "Swallow" so admired by Davies in his poem Orchestra, which was printed that very year. Conversely, this possibility must in itself add support to the case for Le Doux being a surviving Christopher Marlowe.

© Peter Farey, 2011

Peter Farey, a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, was also a founding member (with Derek Jacobi) of the UK's National Youth Theatre. Click here to reach Peter's website.    S
am Riley Marlowe Burgess Emmerich Anonymous
1Orchestra may be found here.
2See A. D. Wraight's Shakespeare: New Evidence, 1996, and my A Deception in Deptford
3Charles Nicholl, "At Middleborough: Some reflections on Marlowe's Visit to the Low Countries in 1592" in Darryll Grantley and Peter Roberts (eds.) Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture, 1996. Emmerich Sam Riley

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