Edmund Spenser’s Teares of the Muses (1590)
But that same gentle spirit from whose pen
Large streams of honnie and sweete Nectar flowe
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himself to mockerie to sell
And he, the man whom Nature self had made
To mock her self, and truth to imitate,
With kindly countered under mimic shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
is also dead, and in color drent
In this poem Spenser appears to be saying that a great and gentle-natured poet, dead at the time the Teares of the Muses was written, did not choose to live like most other men but rather was sitting in a cell i.e. a room in a monastery, refusing to become the object of scorn and to sell himself like others had done.
Thomas Edwardes’ L’Envoy to Narcissus (1594)
Eke in purple roabes distained
Amid’st the Center of this clime
I have heard saie doth remaine
One whose power floweth far
That should have bene of our rime
The only object and the star
Well could his bewitching pen,
Done the muses objects to us
Although he differs much from men
Tilting under Frieries,
Yet his golden art might woo us
To have honored him with baies.
Here Thomas Edwardes reinforces Spenser’s image by telling of a poet who should have been considered the best of all the contemporary poets, who wore purple robes (the puce coloured robes of the Jesuits perhaps?) and was “distained”. This poet is said again to differ from other men, the reason being that he lived in a “friery” i.e. a monastery, yet his poetry was so brilliant he should have been greatly honoured.
Richard Barnfield’s A Remembrance of Some English Poets (1598)
And Shakespeare thou, whose hony-flowing Vaine,
(Pleasing the World) thy Praises doth obtaine.
Whose Venus, and whose Lucrece (sweete, and chaste)
Thy Name in fames immortall Booke haue plac’t
Liue euer you, at least in Fame lieu euer:
Well may the Bodye dye, but Fame dies Neuer
In this poem the poet Shakespeare is actually named and appears to be dead at the time Barnefield’s poem is printed. It is stated that the name of Shakespeare will live on forever due to the quality of his verse.
William Barksted’s Mirrha Mother of Adonis (1607)
But stay my Muse in thine owne confines keepe
& wage not warre with so deere lov’d a neighbor
But having sung thy day song, rest &sleepe
preserve thy small fame and his greater favor:
His song was worthie merit (Shakspeare hee)
sung the fair blossome, thou the withered tree
Laurell is due to him, his art and wit
hath purchast it, Cypres thy brow will fit.
Again this poem seems to speak of Shakespeare as if he were dead and repeats the theme of his meritorious verse, far superior to that of others, and worthy of fine accolades.
Note: The dates on which poems were first printed and found themselves in public circulation in Elizabethan times were often quite a deal later than the dates the poems were actually written. Therefore if Spenser’s poem had been written in the 1580’s the dead Shakespeare could not have been William of Stratford, the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon or indeed any other known contender. Only Edmund Campion had died before this date.
Many Stratfordians have asserted that the use of past tense to refer to those still living was common in poems of the time . They explain Spenser’s reference to Willy’s being dead of late as meaning that he had stopped writing. Leaving the question of past and present tense aside, the Stratfordians have no explanation for why two poems refer to Shakespeare as a monk or friar.