“A Rose By Any Other Name…”

Stained glass emblem of the Tudor Rose

During Shakespeare’s time even a theatre was constructed on Bankside entitled “The Rose” and in previous years Henry VIIIth had a warship built called the Mary Rose which sank in the English Channel during a conflagration with the Spanish. “Oh! But what’s in a name?” Thus wrote the Bard in Romeo & Juliet adding: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Was this a cryptic phrase meant to suggest that the name of the playwright or poet mattered much less than what he offered to the public in dramatic and literary terms? In my previous essay “Creative Anonymity” I have laid out the advantage of writing anonymously in the Elizabethan era particularly if the author of the Shakespeare Canon of 1623 was himself a well-known and respected aristocrat.

The term Plantagenet was employed to describe descendants of Queen Matilda and Geoffrey Martel, Count D’Anjou – the Angevins. He derived this nickname because he wore a sprig of broom (Spartium junceum) in his cap. The name was formally adopted in the 15th century to further Richard’s claim to the throne. Henry VIth’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, however, wanted her son, Edward, Prince of Wales, to succeed his father, and in 1455 she raised an army to defend his claim, thus beginning the Wars of the Roses.

Stained glass window depicting Henry VIIth and his bride Elizabeth of York

In the 1590’s the London audience had good reason to feel exultantly patriotic and celebrate the bravery of England’s armies against its enemies in France and elsewhere having successfully repulsed the Spanish Armada in 1588 although the only original text of the play was first published in the 1623 Folio. Shakespeare is thought to be responsible for Act II, scene 4 where the supporters of the Lancastrian and Yorkist camps pick the red and white roses as a symbol of unity. He is also attributed to the battle scenes at Bordeaux where Talbot and his son die because the egregious nobles refused them any further support. It is worth noting that the plays Henry VIth Part 2 and Part 3 were first made available in octavo and quarto texts entitled “The Contention of the Two Famous Houses of Yorke & Lancaster”, “The Second Part of Henry Sixth”, and “The Third Part of Henry Sixth”. A quarto text also exists entitled “The True Tragedie of Richard of Yorke and Good King Henry the Sixth”. None of them have as yet been dated accurately, and some contention exists over whether in fact these were an earlier revision of the play Henry Vth. Also Henry was a mere nine months when his father died although the play portrays him as a youth in the beginning and about to marry towards the end of the play. This device of historical compression for the sake of dramatic effect is quite common in Shakespeare’s history plays. The capture of Rouen by Lord Talbot is also historically untrue, the portrayal of Sir John Folstaff as a coward is another falsehood which leads us to conclude that in this play and several others Shakespeare or his collaborators, either for propagandist or creative reasons, had a propensity for re-shaping history and not recording it accurately. It would seem the purpose of this drama was to instil a feeling of national pride and exultation. Shakespeare neglects to mention that the turmoil of events when Henry IVth deposed the rightful monarch Richard II was the wrath of God as was more the popular view at the time. The play also characterises Joan of Arc, though dressed as a man in armour,  as a witch and a whore, whether she was perceived in that manner by England’s populace based on prejudice or bigotry is uncertain. Her encounter with Talbot on the battlefield has overtones of misogyny and fear of the feminine with several comparisons being made to the Amazonian women found in Greek myth. Some analogies could be drawn with Queen Elizabeth donning armour to join her troops in 1588 at Tilbury to face the Spanish invasion. In the fifth act where her execution by fire occurs Joan of Arc is diminished into a nervous, vulnerable practitioner of witchcraft, invoking demons and claiming to be pregnant in order to avoid the stake. However, Joan is not the only threat to English manhood in France, the Countess of Auverne, and Margaret of Anjou whom Henry chooses to marry although the Duke of Suffolk has declared his admiration of her. The message being communicated towards the end of the play is that while men have the means and opportunity to go into battle, women or “witches” have the power to ensure legitimate inheritance of power.

Shakespeare seems to emphasize that division and disagreement in England’s realm can only lead to ultimate defeat and loss in France;

“Believe me lords, my tender years can tell
Civil dissension is a viperous worm
That gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.”

This play is punctuated with sporadic battle scenes and skirmishes which creates an exciting atmosphere as a penultimate conclusion to the “Wars of the Roses” . Finally, Henry Tudor, a descendant of John of Gaunt defeats Richard III and marries Elizabeth of York, the marriage acting as a balm to soothe the bitter enmity between those two illustrious Houses, York and Lancaster. The colours of red rose and white, favourite emblems in Edward de Vere’s poetry and plays find a noble place in his history plays. By the time the Tudor dynasty had expired in 1603, a year later the illustrious Earl died, probably of plague or fever in London, Hackney.

Richard the Second, Richard the Third & Henry the Sixth

The Duke of York asserted his claim to the throne in 1460, after having defeated the Lancastrian armies at St. Albans in 1455 and at Northampton in 1460.
In the latter year Richard of York was defeated and killed at Wakefield. In 1461, however, his son was proclaimed King as Edward IVth and shortly thereafter he decisively defeated Henry VIth and Margaret, who both fled from England. However, in 1465 Henry VIth was captured at Clitheroe and imprisoned in the Tower of London. The war was subsequently revived because of divisions within the Yorkist faction. Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, aided by George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, the younger brother of Edward IVth, made an alliance with Margaret and led an invasion from France in 1470. Consequently Edward IVth was driven into exile and Henry VIth restored to the throne. A cunning magnate, statesman and adventurer, Warwick, who was known as the “Kingmaker”, assisted Edward IVth, Duke of York in securing the English throne in 1461, but much later switched sides backing Henry VIth’s brief return. In 1471, however, Edward IVth returned and, aided by Clarence, defeated and killed the duplicitous Earl of Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. Shortly thereafter, the Lancastrians were totally defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury, and Henry VIth was eventually murdered in the Tower.

In actual fact the theatrical milieu in Shakespeare’s time was in effect a cover for extensive networks of spies, informers, intelligencers and double agents. As thoroughly illustrated by the forensic research of Thomas J. Looney in the 1920’s the only likely candidate for Shakespeare’s plays and poetry was someone who was firstly a well-educated aristocrat (having attended a university such as Oxford or Cambridge as well as one of the Inns of Court) with a huge library at his disposal, a prolific polymath/scholar, of Catholic leanings but above all a supporter of the Lancastrian cause. In a previous post entitled “Shakespeare’s Codename” I have also placed the name SHAKESPEARE under the microscopic scrutiny of numerology, known and employed at the time by spies and cryptographers employed in secret service. I also mentioned that the reference to the herb rosemary in Romeo & Juliet (and the “Dog’s Name” could in fact be an oblique reference to the Dog Rose, rosa canina? ) was a veiled reference to the arrival and demise of Mary Queen of Scots, largely because the word “ROSE” is an Elizabethan euphemism for a street prostitute. The French court was considered by English Puritans and Protestants as a promiscuous and debauched environment where perverse and incestuous engagements were rife. Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was actually sitting in on the trial of Mary Stuart at the time and, although of the Catholic faith, was not a great supporter of Mary’s covert claims to the English throne. In an exchange between Romeo and Juliet a veiled reference is made to Mary’s envy of Queen Elizabeth’s status:

The famous balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet

But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and JULIET is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious MOON,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
From her balcony she replies as follows:
O ROMEO, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy NAME;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a CAPULET.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle

Incidentally, a translation of the first line is “Oh Romeo, why is your name Romeo?”, Juliet is not asking “where” he is but why was he called by that name. It appears that Romeo is an anagram of O, Rome or possibly Moore (Thomas?). The playwright may have made an oblique allusion to Ben Jonson’s own book on English Grammar where the letter ‘R’ was compared to the sound of a dog (grrr):

“The dog’s letter hirreth in the sound, the tongue striking the inner palate, with a trembling about the teeth. It is sounded firme in the beginning of the words, and more liquid in the middle, and ends as in “rarer”, “riper”.

The intriguing and tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots can be read by clicking on the following links (Mary Queen of Scots, Part One, and Mary Queen of Scots Part Two).

However, historically it might also be an allusion to Henry IVth’s motto, along with the white rose: “Soueignex Vous de Moy”, (Remember Me) since in the art of Florigraphy the herb rosemary connotes the phrase “In Remembrance” since it was used at funerals. The earliest use of the phrase “Wars of the Roses” was coined by Lady Maria Callcott in her children’s book, “Little Arthur’s History of England” in 1835 although it did play a role in emblems and heraldry dating back to the 15th century. In fact roses were popular symbols deployed in politics, literature, poetry and art throughout Europe during the middle ages for a variety of reasons. The 14th century Italian writer and literary source for several of Shakespeare’s plays, Giovanni Boccacio employed the rose as a symbol of love and death. However, the first known royal rose in England was a white rose representing the House of York, although other aristocratic families were using both red and white roses as emblems on their coats of arms and in their architecture. In actual fact King Edward IVth, an ancestor of Richard Duke of York, used the white rose as a symbol of his kingship when he became king in 1461. It was known as the “Rose of Rouen” where he celebrated most of his victories over the French. While the red rose became a popular royal symbol from the time of Henry IVth whose pavilions were liberally decorated with red roses when he met in combat Sir Thomas Mowbray in 1398 and right through to the reign of Henry VIIth in the 1480’s. It was especially significant after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 that the red rose became prominent as a “royal badge” or emblem. By then it signified the House of Lancaster (“To avenge the White, the red rose bloomed”) denoting or perhaps strengthening the Tudor claim to royal legitimacy. This paved the way for the “Tudor Rose” in Henry VIIIth’s reign when both the white and red rose were combined to symbolise the union of both houses when Henry VIIth had married Elizabeth of York (Edward IVth’s daughter) in 1486, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Henry’s court poet John Skelton wrote:

“The rose both white and red
In one rose now doth grow”.

Thereby confirming the current state of royal affairs in England justifying and strengthening the Tudor’s dubious claim to the English throne even against numerous contestations from other illegitimate claims, for example Richard Duke of York. In this sense Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo & Juliet is an allegory of the two warring families, the House of Lancaster and the House of York are analogous to the House of Montague and the House of Capulet. Not many students of Shakespeare appreciate that under the reckless influence of Lorenzo de Medici, the Medici family even financed the Yorkist claim in the Wars of the Roses in England that ultimately led to his demise and the triumph of the fanatical Dominican monk Savonarola (1452-98) around 1494 when the Medici were expelled. Savonarola himself was eventually excommunicated by a member of the Borgia family, Pope Alexander VIth (1492-1503), then imprisoned, hanged and finally burned for heresy by his political enemies. But what is often ignored by historians eulogising on the myth of the Tudors was that as a royal Welsh dynasty they were secretly born of a widowed French Princess (Catherine de Valois) and her Welsh man-servant in the late 1420’s. It was rumoured that Catherine de Valois had firstly a clandestine relationship with Edmund Beaufort, a five years her junior before becoming acquainted with her manservant Owen Tudor. It was further rumoured that her first child, Edmund was the result of this covert union although in the end she went on to marry Owen. After her death, both boys born to Catherine, Edmund and Jasper were brought up by the Countess of Salisbury, Katherine de la Pole on the advice of the Duke of Suffolk at a Dominican Abbey at Barking. When Henry the Fifth died of dysentery in France at the age of thirty six his widow, Catherine de Valois married Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudor giving rise to the usurping House of Lancaster in the guise of their son Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Edmund went on to marry Margaret Beaufort who then gave birth to Henry Tudor who acceded the throne as Henry VIIth. When Catherine died her husband feared for his safety and life in the absence of her protection although the members of the English Council had little interest or complaint against him. But when he finally returned to Wales however he was arrested on a minor charge of neglect of duty. There is scarce evidence or record on how a Welsh man-servant became intimately acquainted with Catherine de Valois in the first place, except that the dowager Queen had inherited lands and estates in North Wales and Anglesey where Owain had grown up as a child. Strangely enough it was Sir Francis Bacon who went on to write an historical play based on Henry VIIth’s reign while he was himself imprisoned in the Tower thereby concluding the Shakespeare historical plays based on the Tudor bloodline and the House of Lancaster. However, when Edward IVth died in 1483 his brother, later to become Richard IIIrd usurped the dynastic line by killing Edward’s only two surviving sons and claiming the throne for himself. Usually, the dynastic line was passed on from father to son, never from wife to son or for that matter brother to brother. When Edward the third died it was the end of the Plantagenet line of kings in England. Indeed, the Salic Law in France forbids any royal accession from the female bloodline. In Henry IVth, Part One Hotspur declares in Act 1, scene 3:

Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field

To put down Richard, that sweet lovely rose,
An plant this thorn, this canker, Bolingbroke?
And shall it in more shame be further spoken,
That you are fool’d, discarded and shook off
By him for whom these shames ye underwent?

While Richard, Duke of York declares in Henry VIth Part Three:

I cannot rest until the white rose that I wear be dyed
Even in the lukewarm blood of Henry’s heart.

In Shakespeare’s opening sonnet the word rose is used ambiguously, the rose being that of the Tudor dynasty, a red and white rose symbolising two royal bloodlines and the central white rose inverted as a symbol of beauty and desire unrequited. The other more likely Oxfordian perspective is that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere was imploring his illegitimate son, the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley to procreate thereby continuing the Oxford family bloodline:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:

And later:

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

One of the most mysterious and enigmatic “roses” to have bloomed in Europe and from there migrating into England was that of the “Sacred Order of the Rosy-Cross” as referenced in Shakespeare’s most famous play, Hamlet, considered by many academics as largely biographical.

“Shakespeare” used the word rose in a special sense (ie: damasked) whenever he wanted to make reference to the Rosicrucian Order among whose secret members were John Dowland, John Donne, John Florio (astrologer/poet), Dr. Robert Fludd, Francis Thynne, Sir Thomas Egerton, Sir Henry Wriosthesley, Sir Charles Howard, George Carew, Sir Francis Bacon and many more besides including James 1st. Among the Grand Masters of Freemasonry per se were Sir William Herbert (Earl of Pembroke) presumed to be an unconfirmed patron of “William Shake-speare”. Furthermore, a theatre was named ‘The Rose’ and nearby the Rose Tavern was a venue where members of the Rosicrucian circle regularly met to share their experiences and discuss their work. While the general theory is that Rosicrucianism migrated from Germany into England it may have been the other way around since Michael Maeir visited England from Prague in 1611 and met with Francis Thynne and John Dowland. Thynne’s poem entitled simply “Societie” has some ambiguous references to Rosicrucianism:

“At the Rose within Newgate, there friendlie did meete,
fouer of my ould frends, each other for to greete:”

We can never be quite sure whether he is praising friendship or social bonds in society in general, or whether he is talking of a very specific, very exclusive fraternity – a ‘Masonic Club’. Dated December 20 1600, the poem is dedicated to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. The poet speaks of:

“The purple Rose which first Damasco bredd,
adorn’d with cullor gratefull to the sight”

He links the image of a society to the image of the 5-petalled rose:

“Soe two faire dowries which mann doth enioye –
true perfect love, and suer fidelitie –
firmelie preserve humane societie,
their frends assisting in ech hard annoye,
when want of ech brings noe securitie;
both which, this damask rose doth well unfoulde,
as honest hart, which fayth and love doth houlde.”

It would seem that the play “Two Noble Kinsmen” has a reference that could easily be construed as Rosicrucian when Emilia while resident and chaste in a nunnery perceives a damask rose fall from its boughs. This being taken as a sign that she should now marry (Act 5, scene 1).

Here the hind vanishes under the
altar, and in the place ascends a rose
tree, having one rose upon it.

“See what our general of ebbs and flows
Out from the bowels of her holy altar
With sacred act advances: but one rose.
If well inspired, this battle shall confound
Both these brave knights, and I, a virgin flower,
Must grow alone unplucked.”

Here is heard a sudden twang of instruments,
and the rose falls from the tree.

The origin of this scene is to be found in the story of Palamon and Arcite as related in “the knight’s tale” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Chaucer explains how:

“The fires flamed up upon the altar fair
And clear while Emily was thus in prayer;
But all at once she saw a curious sight,
For suddenly one fire quenched its light
And then rekindled; as she gazed in doubt
The other fire as suddenly went right out;
As it was quenched it made a whistling sound
As of wet branches burning on the ground.
Then, from the faggot’s tip, there ran a flood
Of many drops that had the look of blood.”
(Coghill translation)

Diana the huntress appears and explains to the bewildered Emily that:

” … the fires of sacrifice that glow
Upon my altar shall, before thou go,
Make plain thy destiny in this for ever.”

For some strange reason the play “Two Noble Kinsmen” which also resonates deeply with “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” appears to follow on from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as they both feature Theseus and Hyppolita. Professor Honigmann fully explores the question of which marriage it was intended for and arrived at the Derby marriage – William Stanley, 6th Earl, to Elizabeth Vere (daughter to the Earl of Oxford) – which took place on January 26 1595. While “As You Like It” was intended for the secret marriage of Sir Henry Wriosthesley and Elizabeth Vernon, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. It would appear that the “Rose” had already ‘bloomed’ in her womb (Thanks to Wriosthesley) and when the Queen discovered her indiscretion they were both sent to the Tower. However, the polarity found in the “Two Noble Kinsmen” is symbolised by the planets Mars (Arcite) and Venus (Palamon). And the ‘two incomparable and most noble brethren’ who appear to reflect these planets or characters were the Grandmaster of the Masonic Lodge (from 1618-1630), the 3rd Earl of Pembroke Sir William Herbert and his brother Sir Phillip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery. William Herbert along with his brother Phillip, the Earl of Montgomery to whom the Shake-speare Folio of 1623 was dedicated were close personal friends of Sir Francis Bacon (Baron Verulam) and Edward de Vere (the anonymous “Shakespeare”), a 28th degree Mason. Phillip Herbert went on to marry the Earl of Oxford’s daughter Susan de Vere while Elizabeth de Vere, who was initially proposed as wife to Henry Wriothesley, was rejected by him and went on to marry the Earl of Derby, William Stanley. The wedding was celebrated by a first performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, composed of course by her father, Edward de Vere.

From a purely etymological perspective it appears that indeed there is a lot to be derived simply from a name and that Shakespeare’s is no exception. The hyphenation of a name in Elizabethan times was reserved for place names as for example in Stratford-upon-Avon or the integration of surnames derived from two noble families, eg: Fitz-Allan. The only other use is where the name is directly connected to their status, their place of birth or their occupation, for example Sir John Old-Castle (a place), Sir John Fal-staff (an occupation-yeoman). Moreover, the etymology of the word Shax-pere or Shags-peare is undoubtedly derived from an Anglo-Saxon place, namely Saxby, found only in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire and does not describe an occupation or family connection. Where the hyphen should be placed is as follows Sax-by (Shaks-pye), the placing of the hyphen as in the word “Shake-speare” is quite significant because it divides the two words “shake” and “spear”. A bizarre coincidence and which some believe to corroborate certain authorship issues connected to the English Bible is that the words “spear” and “shake” appear in the 46th Psalm. More so since the word “spear” occurs as the 46th word from the beginning and the word “shake” appears as the 46th word from the end. Therefore the question has emerged was “Shakespeare” also involved in the English translation of the Bible? The word Shake-speare, according to researchers and academics is an ingenious play of words and a word-riddle taken from the Latin epithet for the goddess Pallas-Athene ie; Hasti-Vibrans which means literally “shaking spear”. This is the same Greco-Roman goddess that appears as Britannia, except she carries a trident instead of a spear, as an icon found on English flags, monuments, coins and other national memorabilia. She is depicted facing sideways, wearing a helmet, a goatskin (aegis) on her shoulders, carrying a shield and is accompanied by a male lion (A solar symbol denoting Apollo, patron of poets). The lion is also a symbol of strength three of which appear on the English Royal coat of arms. Pallas Athena gained prominence in the Greek pantheon for her wisdom in settling disputes justly, issuing fair and equitable laws and decrees, bestowing support or victory in battle, regulating markets, defending the underdog and prosecuting tyranny and injustices. Her totem animal was the owl and she was the embodiment of harmony and justice formulating the ethos of human civilisation.
The founder of Rome, Romulus the twin of Remus launched a spear of laurel when selecting the site of the capital. The laurel tree (L. nobilis) was sacred to Mars and Mercurius, it symbolises victory and nobility. The portrait of Shakespeare in an edition of his plays and poems published in 1640 shows him holding a sprig of laurel in his left hand re-affirming the symbolism of laurel, Mars, the good of Rome and Mercurius, patron of poets. The sword or dagger is usually associated with Mars, but the spear, resembling a pen is sacred to Hermes, the patron of writers and scribes.

The statue of England’s Britannia

The fact that Shakespeare’s history play, Henry VIth Part One was never registered at the Stationer’s Office is partially overlooked by academics. Significantly a good deal of Act 1 was actually written by the playwright Thomas Nashe and Shakespeare’s contribution occurs at Act 2, scene 4 (the Temple Garden) and in other parts of the play. The Temple Garden scene has been proved to be pure fabrication and an expression of English, romantic idealism on the final outcome of the protracted “Wars of the Roses”, in which red and white roses were never picked or for that matter employed as emblems to identify the rival houses of York and Lancaster. We also note that Shakespeare was the only playwright who expressed such an avid enthusiasm for writing plays about earlier English history featuring in particular aspects of “The Wars of the Roses” (Richard II to Henry VII). The play was probably composed during 1587-90 just after the failed Spanish invasion so must have been the consequence of celebrating England’s past, its heroes and their conquests over other rival nations such as the French. However, it is evident from the text that historical accuracy was sacrificed in favour of a sense of superior nationalism and dramatic effect in uniting the nation under threat from a foreign agency. I have already written about the impact made by Joan of Arc against the indefatigable hero Talbot in my blogpost “Shakespeare’s She-Wolves, Part Two”. In this sense these dramatic histories are really the work of a propagandist or “spin-doctor” working for the Crown and other noble families. The Maid of Orleans, La Pucelle (Fr. “The Shepherdess”) certainly received a bad press in Shakespeare’s play and was ostensibly branded as a deluded witch. Furthermore, historically the Earl of Oxford’s ancestors were actually militarily supportive of Henry Bollingbroke’s claim to the English throne during the Wars of the Roses and instrumental in defeating his enemies in France and in England.

Shakespeare’s poem “Venus & Adonis” (published 1593) is based on Ovid’s account in his own “Metamorphoses” of Aphrodite’s passion and admiration of the youth born of an incestuous liaison between Kinyras and his daughter, Myrrha. Aphrodite’s lust for the youth was so great that she hid him in a chest which she entrusted to Persephone in the Underworld but as things turned out Queen Persephone also became enamoured of the handsome youth so that both Aphrodite and Persephone brought their disputation to Olympian Zeus. The outcome of this protestation was decided by Zeus whereby Adonis was obliged to spend a third of the year with Aphrodite (Springtime), a third of the year with Persephone (Winter) and the remaining third with Zeus (Summertime). During a hunt Adonis is gored by a boar and eventually dies but was transformed into a flower, in some accounts this became the anemone (“Windflower”, anemone nemorosa) but in another account Adonis is transformed into a red rose and as Aphrodite rushed to his aid she herself stepped upon a white rose, but stained with her own blood it became a symbol of unrequited love.

The poem begins:

‘Thrice fairer than myself,’ thus she began,
‘The field’s chief flower, sweet above compare,
Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
More white and red than doves or roses are;
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life.

And then ends in the penultimate stanza she clutches the flower to her breast saying:

“Here was thy father’s bed, here in my breast;
Thou art the next of blood, and t’is thy right.
Lo, in this hollow cradle take thy rest;
My throbbing heart shall rock thee day and night;
There shall not be one minute in an hour
Wherein I will not kiss my sweet love’s flower”.

Thus weary of the world, away she hies,
And yokes her silver doves; by whose swift aid
Their mistress, mounted, through the empty skies
In her light chariot quickly is convey’d;
Holding their course to Paphos, where their queen
Means to immure herself and not be seen.

Since then scholars and botanists have been in contention to identify exactly which species of flower is referred to in Ovid. Traditionally, the flower is named as anemone nemorosa which is commonly known in the British Isles as the “Windflower”, but the passage describes it as having blood-red flowers not unlike the ripening seed clusters of the pomegranate. Apparently, A. nemerosa can also produce red-flowering corms among the white flowering species so that the woodland carpet features both red and white flowers in springtime. However, it seems that a related Mediterranean species named “Adonis aestivalis” (commonly named “Pheasant’s Eyes”, which in itself resembles a poppy) could so easily be a good candidate for the flower. Other suggestions are in actual fact Papaver somniforum, for its sleep-inducing properties since poetic references in Greek and Roman myth usually refer indirectly to the “medicinal or magical” properties of these plants despite their appearance. Another Mediterranean species named A. Purpureoviolacea is also a candidate with its purple-violet flowers. The renowned poet Ted Hughes writes in his own “Tales From Ovid” (Faber & Faber) and translates the final passage as follows:

“The circling year shall be your mourner.
Your blood shall bloom immortal in a flower.
Persephone preserved a girl’s life

And fragrance in pale mint. I shall not do less.
Into the broken Adonis she now dripped nectar.
His blood began to seethe – as bubbles thickly

Bulge out of hot mud. Within the hour
Where he had lain a flower stood – bright-blooded
As those beads packed in the hard rind

Of a pomegranate. This flower’s life is brief.
For petals cling so weakly, so ready to fall
Under the first light wind that kisses it,
We call it “Windflower”.

The Elizabethan botanist and herbalist John Gerard identifies the flower in question as a variety of fritillary from its description as “chequered” purple white (fritillaria meleagris) as the so-called “snake’s-head” fritillary which grows in damp Mediterranean meadows, flowering late spring which has pendant tulip-shaped flowers embellished with chequered purple-white petals reminiscent of the design on a snake’s scaly skin. The white checks are in fact tinged in greeny-pale yellow shades, another variety is similar but purely white (F.meleagris var. unicolor alba). The preceding stanzas describe it as having also a strange fragrance or odour:

By this, the boy that by her side lay kill’d
Was melted like a vapour from her sight,
And in his blood that on the ground lay spill’d,
A purple flower sprung up, chequer’d with white;
Resembling well his pale cheeks, and the blood
Which in round drops upon their whiteness stood.

She bows her head, the new-sprung flower to smell,
Comparing it to her Adonis’ breath;
And says within her bosom it shall dwell,
Since he himself is reft from her by death:
She crops the stalk, and in the breach appears
Green dropping sap, which she compares to tears.

The allegory of the two “warring families” resolved in a “marriage” in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet was probably taken from the classical story of the houses of the rival houses of Atreus and Thyestes where an oracle had proclaimed that the kingship of Mycenae would pass onto a son of Pelops. It is a long and convoluted story featuring revenge, incest and betrayal whereby Atreus inadvertently marries his niece, Pelopeia thinking she was a daughter of King Thesprotos. The progeny of their union was Aigisthos who was passed on to a shepherd whose goat, Amalthea suckled him as a youth. Having grown up he then told Pelopeia of her incestuous child and she then took his sword and killed herself. This left the way open for Aigisthos to overthrow Atreus and assume the kingship of Mycenae. The classical source is found in Sophocles’ plays “Atreus” and “Thyestes in Sikyon” or Seneca’s “Thyestes” as well as Euripides“Electra”. However, the sons of Atreus, Agamemnon and Menelaus go on to challenge Aigisthos when they marry Klytaimnestra and Kassandra making them kings of Mycenae and Sparta respectively. See also AeschylusOresteia trilogy the first of which is entitled “Agamemnon” and much later the “Revenge of Orestes” which features strongly in Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

On the other hand Richard II was presumably written before Henry IVth Part One, in which the character Falstaff first appears, he was previously listed in the dramatis personae as Sir John Oldcastle, but the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey (1583 Lord Chamberlain’s Men) objected to the lewd depiction of him by Shakespeare, who he knew was a good and honest man who died a Protestant martyr. By this time the Privy Council became suspicious of theatrical plays that had allusions which would give rise to street riots and spontaneous rebellions in the streets of London. This happened on numerous occasions especially whenever historical accounts were performed. The following is an account of how the Dowager Countess, Elizabeth Russell became “Shakespeare’s Nemesis” forcing the closure of the Blackfriar’s Theatre, which ostensibly gave rise to the construction of the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames. Henry Brooke, the tenth Baron Cobham whose distant ancestor was Sir John Oldcastle complained, his son, also called Henry succeeded him in 1597 and probably forced Shakespeare to change the name to Falstaff. The eleventh Baron Cobham was related as brother-in-law to Robert Cecil and to the Dowager Countess, Elizabeth Russell who petitioned the Privy Council to close the theatres in 1597 because of the onset of plague. But the real reason they closed the theatres was the danger that certain plays would arouse the populace to riot in the streets of London, as intended by the Earl of Essex in 1600 (Essex Rebellion) who paid to have Shakespeare’s play Richard III to be performed which featured the deposition of a monarch. The monarch that the Earl of Essex had planned to depose was of course Queen Elizabeth. The post of Master of the Revels was then officially occupied by Edmund Tilney (?-1610) distantly related to the Howard family he was appointed to the office of Master of the Revels in 1579, enrolling actors for the Queen’s Men in 1583 and by 1589 was advising the Lord Mayor of London on the censorship of plays. His father actually fought alongside Richard III, and in 1597 he was awarded the Master of the Revels by Queen Elizabeth although the office had been promised to John Lyly, the Earl of Oxford’s private secretary. He worked along the incumbent Master of the Revels and did not succeed Edmund Tilney (died 1610) until 1608. George Buck (1562-1622) relocated the Master’s Office to St. Peter’s Hill in 1610. His personal signature appears on all the Shakespeare plays registered after 1606.

Furthermore, Henry Carey (1st Baron Hunsdon)-1583 cousin and step-brother to Queen Elizabeth 1st was the son of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s sister and Sir William Carey although it was rumoured he was the son of Henry VIIIth. He took command in the Northern Rebellion (1569-71), made a Knight of the Garter in 1561 and governor of Berwick in 1568. He reconstituted his own players troupe in 1594 as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men with manager Richard Burbage and the playwright William Shakespeare. He was also a commissioner at various treason trials eg: Mary, Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk. His son George Carey (2nd Baron Hunsdon)-1596 succeeded his father Henry Carey serving under the Earl of Essex and undertaking missions to Scotland (1569-71). He acceded to his father’s tile in 1595 and as Lord Chamberlain in 1596. The post gave him patronage of the company of Shakespeare and the Burbages (Cuthbert) firstly at the Theatre then moving to the Globe in December 1598. On the death of Queen Elizabeth he helped his son, Robert Carey (1560-1639) to escape to Scotland with the news. He eventually became Earl of Monmouth in 1626. The other character from the Office of the Revels was Sir William Brooke (10th Baron Cobham) whose daughter Elizabeth Brooke married Robert Cecil in 1589, so Henry Brooke (11th Baron Cobham) became Robert’s brother-in-law. His son Henry Brooke (11th Lord Cobham) lived in Kent but had a residence at Blackfriar’s (as did Elizabeth Russell) he was succeeded by his son Henry (12th Lord Cobham) 1597. He opposed the return of James 1st and was accused of conspiracy in placing Arabella Stuart on the English throne. Arrested, imprisoned and questioned but was later released in 1603. His noble family also descended from the Lollard martyr, Sir John Oldcastle. The younger son of William Brooke, George Brooke (1568-1603), became 10th Baron Hunsdson, and he expected to be made Mastership of St. Cross at Winchester but the post was awarded to one of King James’ favourites instead. This rejection was probably the reason that he plotted with Lord Grey of Wilton to kidnap the King and force him to change his counsel expecting the role of Lord Treasurer. However, he was arrested in July 1603, imprisoned and executed for his involvement in the “Bye Plot”.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,