Whose Hand in Sir Thomas More?
Ironically the chief prosecution witness at Campion’s trial, Anthony Munday has been posited as the author/one of the multiple authors of the pro-Catholic play Sir Thomas More, and his handwriting identified as one of several in a surviving manuscript copy of the play. Others believe the play is one of the Shakespeare apocrypha and that a couple of extant pages of the original play are written in the hand (Hand D) of the bard himself. It does not seem logical that Munday could be the author of a play that is so sympathetic to the eponymous Catholic hero and to John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, both of whom were executed for their refusal to recognize the spiritual supremacy of Henry VIII. However, it is possible that Munday copied the play for the Catholic movement sometime prior to 1581 when he was working as an agent provocateur amongst the English Catholics in Rome. Recusant manuscripts were kept in circulation in this manner i.e. the meticulous copying by hand of Catholic literature which was then distributed amongst the faithful.
Thomas Merriam (2005, p.2) notes how in the 1999 Revels edition of the play:
This begs the question of who could have so immersed himself in the play’s sources other than one of the Catholic recusants. Recent evidence has been mounting that the family of William of Stratford was Catholic and recusant, but would this busy actor and theatre entrepreneur have had the time and motivation to immerse himself so totally in recusant manuscripts and sufficient literary talent to transcribe their minutiae into the Sir Thomas More Play? Edmund Campion, however, would have most likely studied the manuscripts assiduously and his literary ability is unquestioned. A Jesuit play of the same name has been traced to the English College in Rome. If Campion did indeed write the play during the 1570’s, this would explain how Munday could have had access to it and been willing to copy it before he began his own aggressive anti-Catholic literary career post 1581.
A Reference to Campion in Twelfth Night and the Connection to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 121.
In Act IV Scene II of Twelfth Night the clown refers to Campion as follows:
C. Richard Desper identifies the niece of King Gorboduc as no other than Queen Elizabeth I due to her relation to her father’s brother King Arthur. The clown’s lines seem to be referring to how Campion was refused the use of pen and ink at his trial but was able to speak eloquently on the religious imperative of giving his first allegiance to God. Desper also notes the similarity of the line attributed to the hermit ‘that that is is’ to the line “I am that I am” which appears in Shakespeare’s Sonnet no. 121, a poem which Desper considers is about a good man unjustly perceived as an evil person.” The above lines also seem to refer to Campion’s fellow missionary Robert Persons and his directory The Spiritual Exercises which outlines practical ways to demonstrate one’s first allegiance to God.
Could this speech of the clown have been inserted at a later date in Campion’s play to give a cryptic clue as to the real identity of the author of Shakespeare’s dramas and sonnets? Is it acknowledging that Campion wrote the lines about his devotion to God in the sonnet in addition to speaking them at the trial in the Tower?
The Sea Coast of Bohemia
Throughout the centuries of Shakespeare scholarship many critics have postulated that the dramatist must have travelled to the continent because his knowledge of the languages, manners and geography of Europe, especially Italy is so detailed and intimate in nature. Stratfordian scholars, finding no evidence that William of Stratford ever left the shores of England, have surmised that this comprehensive knowledge was acquired in conversations with travellers, merchants and sailors or overheard in the noisy taverns and streets of London. They like to cite Shakespeare’s mention of the coast of Bohemia in The Winter’s Tale as proof positive that he had no first hand experience of European shores. Our contemporary understanding is that Bohemia comprised the lands of the present day Czech Republic and Slovakia and was also therefore a landlocked country in Shakespeare’s time. However, the dramatist’s mention of a coastline of Bohemia actually displays what could be a knowledge of Bohemian history and geography far superior to today’s Shakespearean scholars and indeed to the majority of Elizabethan writers, travellers, sailors and merchants.
During the reign of King Ottakar II the Bohemian empire stretched as far as the Adriatic Sea. Brenda James (2005, p.1) observes how “the documented life of the King of Bohemia during this expansion of his empire ran a course strangely parallel to that of Polixenes, the Bohemian King in Shakespeare’s play”. James notes linguistic, historical, mythological and literary references in The Winter’s Tale which identify characters and settings with the story of King Ottakar.
The privately educated Ben Jonson was known to have scoffed at Shakespeare’s ‘Coast of Bohemia’, another instance in his mixed catalogue of admiration and scorn for the great author. Oxford graduate Robert Greene, however, seems to credit the accuracy of Shakespeare’s knowledge in his novel Pandosto by also describing the kingdom of Bohemia as extending to the shores of the Adriatic. ( James, p.3) An interesting fact about the Bohemia of Shakespeare’s time was the phenomenon of the spring floods which saw the Danube regularly overflowing its banks “joining the rise of the Elbe and creating a veritable sea around the area, a ‘sea’ in which the smaller vessels of the 16 th century have occasionally been wrecked”. (ibid.)
If one was to consider then the true identity of the author of The Winter’s Tale one would begin by seeking an Oxford graduate with historical knowledge of the Bohemia of the thirteenth century, an Englishman who may have travelled to Bohemia and personally experienced the inland sea created by the flooding of the Danube. The name of Edmund Campion would surely loom large in a list of possible candidates able to supply the intricate plot details of The Winter’s Tale. Campion’s reputation as the outstanding Oxford scholar of his time, his travels in Bohemia and his seven year tenure at the Jesuit University in Prague eminently qualify him as a serious candidate for the authorship of the play.