Shakespeare’s “Mysterious Metamorphosis”

Whenever scholars or students are inclined to examine or list William Shakespeare’s literary or dramatic sources (said to be some 3,000 or more rare or unobtainable books) we notice that in just about every play and poem, in varying degrees and scale of course, we will discover numerous allusions or direct extracts derived from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and naturally to the events of Greek and Roman History and Mythology. The same conclusion could be said of the Geneva, Bishop’s or King James’ Bible and the “Book of Psalms” of course and for his history plays he no doubt would have had copies of Raphael Hollinshed’s “The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland” (2nd ed., 1587) or Edward Hall’s “The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York” (3rd. ed., 1550). The renowned Roman poet Ovid aka: Publius Ovidius Naso was born on the 20th March 43 BC at Sulmona, Abrizzi the region which was infamous for the conflict between the rival consuls, Anthony of Mutina leaving Octavian to become Augustus Caesar (Tristia, iv, 10). By the time he was a young man Anthony and Cleopatra had been routed at Actium (31 BC) and the Roman Republic had become a despotic autocracy. This historical narrative was the underlying subject of Shakespeare’s own plays “Anthony & Cleopatra” and “Julius Caesar”. Coincidentally, Ovid was a young man growing up in Rome when the messiah Jesus was still a small boy in Palestine. As his family were wealthy and prosperous he was sent to study at Rome under the leading teachers of his day, eg; Seneca and Quintillian. On graduation Ovid went on a grand sightseeing tour of the Greek islands as well as to Athens. His earliest works were “Amores”, in five books followed by the “Heroides”, the so-called “Letters of Heroines”, then the “Ars Amatoria” (Art of Love) and the “Remedia” (Remedies of Love) and a now lost tragedy “Medea”. Academics have concluded that Ovid was working on “Metamorphoses” from 1 AD onwards along with the “Fasti” (Calendar) an elegiac poem of twelve books. By 8 AD when the “Metamorphoses” was ready for publishing and he had been acclaimed as Rome’s leading poet he was unexpectedly exiled by Augustus to remote Tomis (Constanta, Rumania) for no apparent cause or known reason. Leading academics suggest it was his selections from his “Ars Amatoria” which caused Augustus to exile him faraway from Rome.

Ovid was exiled into remote Romania where storytelling, wild wolves and vultures circled overhead

Ovid’s work featured a great deal of sexual violence and incest from the two major Roman Gods Jupiter and Apollo and was therefore somewhat salacious, controversial and extremely erotic. However, he was married three times and had one daughter, having written the five books of the Tristia at Tomis as well as his “Pontus Letters” (Epistulae Pontus) he finally died in exile in 17 AD. Fortunately, Ovid had at his disposal a vast array of books from previous authors and poets such as Horace’s Odes, Virgil’s Aeneid, Homer’s Illiad as well as the works of Catallus, Callimacus, Heraclitus, Hesiod, Lucretius and Epicurus to name but a few. Therefore, the poet Ovid, like Shakespeare had his own vast array of literary sources from which he drew continuously for his own poetic works which were originally written in Latin. The translation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” that would have been available to Shakespeare was Arthur Golding’s first English translation, the first four books published by 1565, the remainder and entire corpus of fifteen books by 1567. In 1480 William Caxton had printed a prose version from a French translation which Shakespeare might have had access to. Although on consulting the “Cambridge Guide to English Literature” I discovered that the compilers state that Golding’s translation was dedicated to Sir Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester the dedication alongside the title page dates from April 1567 and states as follows:

THE XV BOOKES of P. Ouidius Naso, Entitled Metamorphosis, translated out of Latin into English meter, by Arthur Golding, Gentleman. A worke very pleasaunt and delectable.

One is curious to know why would Sir Arthur Golding dedicate his English translation of the works of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” to Sir Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester? At the time of translating Ovid’s epic work it seems that Arthur Golding was appointed as tutor by William Cecil to his young nephew, Edward de Vere who was, on reaching the age of his majority to become the 17th Earl of Oxford, Baron Bulbeck. Among the most direct inferences from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” can be found undeniably within Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”, the sonnet verses of “Venus & Adonis”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, and “A Winter’s Tale”. An acknowledged Puritan and confirmed Protestant could Arthur Golding have gone to the extremes of translating the 12,000 line Ovidian tome, which is actually longer than Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, into English iambic pentameter couplets, stretching to some 400 pages? Ovid’s original however was in hexameters throughout and some researchers criticise Golding’s translation for its poetic and dialectic distortions into Anglo-Saxon English. Furthermore, by May 1564, Edward de Vere’s uncle, Arthur Golding had dedicated “Th’ Abridgement of the Histories of Trogus Pompeius” to his 14-year-old nephew, Edward de Vere noting Oxford’s unusually in-depth interest in both ancient history and current political tides declaring openly:

“It is not unknown to others, and I have experience thereof myself, how earnest a desire your honour hath naturally graffed in you to read, peruse, and communicate with others as well the histories of ancient times, and things done long ago, as also the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding”.

Oedipus confronts the Sphinx and answers the riddle correctly

Golding’s publication was presumed to be an important literary source for “Shakespeare’s” early play “Romeo & Juliet”. This was around the same time that Edward de Vere received his honorary degrees from Cambridge and Oxford (1564-1566) and later married Lord Burghley’s daughter, Anne Cecil. Arthur Golding published the final translation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” in 1567, which was printed by Thomas Vautrollier who, when he died the Warwickshire printer, Richard Field then, working as Vautrollier’s apprentice, inherited the copyright. In actual fact Richard Field had married Vautrollier’s daughter and thereby inherited his prestigious profession and premises in Blackfriar’s. He then transferred or sold the copyright of the “Ravishement of Lucrece” to John Harrison, a bookseller at St. Paul’s having previously printed “Venus & Adonis” (1593). Whether or not Arthur Golding was really the legitimate author of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is contested by several Oxfordian academics (Charlton Ogburn, “The Mysterious William Shakespeare”) who insist that the translation of a saucy, erotic and extremely sexually violent book would not have been undertaken by such a staunch, conservative or Puritan Lord. He suspects that the real author was again Edward de Vere, who was apparently something of a child prodigy. But again on the 20th October 1571, Arthur Golding dedicated another book to the prodigious child entitled: “The Psalms of David and others, with M. John Calvin’s Commentaries”. In 1965 the author and academic John Frederick Nims from the University of Illinois, Chicago wrote in the latest re-printed edition of Golding’s “Metamorphoses” as follows:

The abduction of Hippodameia

L. P. Wilkinson, in the best book we have on Ovid, reminds us that Shakespeare echoes him as often as four times as often as he echoes Virgil, that he draws on every book of the Metamorphoses, and that there is scarcely any play untouched by his influence. Golding’s translation, through the many editions published during Shakespeare’s lifetime, was the standard Ovid in English. If Shakespeare had read Ovid so, he read Golding.”

However, J.F. Nims also believed that Shakespeare must have also read the original Latin edition as well as Golding’s excellent English translation including earlier Roman versions by Marsus Paulus (printed by Richard Field). The suspicion is that “Shakespeare” might also have read Livy’s own account or that of Dionysus of Hallicarnassus. The controversial American poet, Ezra Pound who later dismissed the academic notion that a rural farmer’s lad had become an illustrious poet and playwright says of Golding’s Opus:

“Golding’s Metamorphoses is the most beautiful in the language which in my opinion I suspect was “Shakespeare’s”.

To truly understand why Ovid was such a popular source for most budding Elizabethan playwrights and poets we should acknowledge and appreciate how the poetic milieu operated in the 15th to 16th century. It was considered a poetic conceit to take a line out of some classical or well-known author such as Ovid, Virgil, Cicero etc, and then expand on it further in one’s own work in progress. It might then be euphuistically embroidered in another poet’s style or metre as a form of disguise or camouflage. Furthermore, a line could be taken out of a well-known classical work and used either at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a poetic or dramatic work to endorse a personal proposition, whether that was social, political or aesthetic, thereby supporting or invigorating the poet’s intent or message. Or it might be that a poet or playwright might take an entire classical story or myth and then compress or reduce it down to its bare essentials. This is aptly illustrated with the cameo insert of “Pyramus & Thisbe” in the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and in “Hamlet” with the staged play “Murder of Gonzago”. This illustrated the poet’s depth of reading and study, their proficiency in emulating a known classical poet, or their ability to write in a playful manner and draw out contradistinctions, inversions and parallel the works of other poets and dramatists. Ben Jonson gave some advice on the issue of emulation and homage in poetry saying:

“The poet must convert the substance or riches of another poet to his own use. To make choice of one excellent man above the rest, and so to follow him till he grow very he, or so like him as the copy may be mistaken for the principal…Not to imitate servilely, as Horace saith, and catch at vices for virtue, but to draw forth out of the best and choicest flowers, with the bee, and turn all into honey, work it into one relish, and savour; make your imitation sweet; observe how the best writers have imitated, and follow them.”

This is why some academics have drawn the conclusion, to account for his elevated genius, that “Shakespeare” echoed, stole or imitated other contemporary dramatists and poets of the time. In actual fact the author was simply following the fashion or “literary mode” of the time to mirror or parallel the work of other poets. For example, it is no mere coincidence that “Shakespeare’s” “Lucrece” and “Venus & Adonis” came out shortly after Christopher Marlowe’s “Hero & Leander” (originally a poem by Musaeus 6th century AD). This could have been intended as a “nod and a wink” to Marlowe that he was what is known today as “woke”, purely in a literal sense of course. This poetic and literary technique or device is rarely practised today or found within contemporary theatre or poetry, at least not as far as I am aware. But I have personally done this with my own poetry, but contemporary poets on seeing the result just do not “get it”, they simply see it as blatant plagiarism and insist I should “develop my own style”. Whereas I would personally describe my “own style” as the concerted long term summation of every other poet I had read and admired and during one public performance it took an older literary scholar to identify my source as John Donne, and he was right, but the rest of the audience were left oblivious of my “poetic conceit”.

Title Page of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Although the poet Ezra Pound was not the only 20th century author, actor or artistic celebrity to have serious doubts over the “Shakespeare Authorship Debate”, since the esteemed academic J. Thomas Looney in the 1920’s published his own erudite doubts and revelations pertaining to the prolific polymath and prodigious playwright “William Shakespeare” (“Shakespeare Identified”). Among the poetic and dramatic works that also drew from the well of Ovid were an anonymous poem “Fable of Narcissus” (1560), Peend’s “Fable of Salamacis & Hermaphroditus” (1565), Thomas Lodge’s “Scylla’s Metamorphosis” (1589), Francis Beaumont’s “Salamacis & Hermaphroditus” and Clapham’s “Narcissus”. So again nothing unusual or original about an Elizabethan poet or playwright using Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” as a literary or poetic anchor. However, as many academics assume that the person responsible for the authorship of “Lucrece” and “Venus & Adonis” was a Stratford wool merchant/glover turned actor then one is tempted to ask where did William Shakspere acquire all these rare and unobtainable books and where did he learn to write poetry as well as some of his contemporaries who had learned their craft while attending a College, University or one of the Inns of Court? The conventional academic’s answer would have been his fellow countryman and printer Richard Field but we have no record or evidence that they were friends or associates and in any case the Stratford man would not have been able to invest such a large sum of money to have his poetry published on an actor’s wages. So, Where or how did he acquire the cash required to finance the publication of two poetry editions within the space of two years at the start of his career as a poet? Indeed he was still an aspiring actor and little known, and what possible motive could he have had to write so superlatively about subjects such as incest, and rape allegorically and personally which must have been close to the poet’s heart and in another sense mirror his mind but simultaneously seems to be concealing his true face? (See “The Many Faces of Shakespeare”) Who or what was the “bucolic Shakespeare” of Stratford-upon-Avon thinking about when writing the “Ravishement of Lucrece” and then dedicating it to a nobleman such as the Earl of Southampton? The answer is I think an event, or rather situation that occurred between the notorious Thomas Seymour and the young Elizabeth Tudor which the “Stratford Shakespeare” would not have been aware of or known anything about. Queen Elizabeth’s early sexual encounters at the age of sixteen with Sir Thomas Seymour had educated her to respond coolly to the advances of men and to understand their underlying motivations and expectations. She must have seen parallels in Shakespeare’s poem “The Rape of Lucrece” to her own treatment by Thomas Seymour who was climbing the aristocratic ladder first by seducing Catherine Parr and when that failed turning his attentions to the vulnerable young Elizabeth.

The combined portraits of Elizabeth Tudor and Sir Thomas Seymour

In his book, “The Mystery of William Shakespeare” Charlton Ogburn suggests that a clandestine affair took place between her and the Earl of Oxford and that this encounter was the inspiration for the poem “Venus & Adonis”. This would have portrayed Elizabeth herself as lustful and predatory especially towards younger courtiers. However, Elizabeth understood and presumed that marriage would severely undermine her supreme authority and role as Queen of the realm, and that a sexual scandal might equally do the same. Fortunately, her ministers both Francis Walsingham and William Cecil saw to it that sexual scandal did not arise or attach itself in any way to the Queen. Despite their efforts British diplomats abroad had difficulty convincing other nations that the Queen’s Court was anything but a hotbed of incest, controversy and vice. Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley and the Lord Admiral, who were all involved in the conspiracy were subsequently arrested, sent to the Tower and later executed on the 20th March 1549, the warrant being signed by Cranmer and Somerset (See “House of Treason” by Robert Hutchinson, Orion Publishing, 2009). It was a year later when it was secretly rumoured that Queen Elizabeth entertained a secret liaison with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. They had both been imprisoned at the same time in the Tower by Mary Tudor, but when released the Privy Council, under the influence of William Cecil and the guidance of Dr. John Dee, decided that Elizabeth was ready and competent enough to ascend the throne of England. I suspect the Earl of Oxford wrote “Lucrece” for Queen Elizabeth 1st at the time she was being wooed by numerous suitors, while her paramour Sir Robert Dudley was awarded the post of Captain of the Horse, and the Queen had turned her affections towards Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. No doubt Dudley would have been furious with envy and jealousy (the subject of “A Winter’s Tale”?), and perhaps Arthur Golding sought to alleviate his wrath by dedicating his translation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” to him. The Earl of Oxford was ultimately “betrayed” by Elizabeth (when wooed by Sir Walter Raleigh) and Raleigh betrayed when she was being “wooed” by Sir Christopher Hatton and Oxford in turn had an affair with one of Elizabeth’s Ladies-in-Waiting, Anne Vavasour and on discovering the maid was pregnant sent both of them to the Tower to cool off! Whenever a child was born from an illicit or adulterous union in aristocratic families to avert a scandal it was common practice to covertly transfer them to another family who would pass them off as being theirs. Usually an annual payment would be granted to compensate them for this expression of support but this was a widespread and regular occurrence in the 15th to 16th centuries. The child in question would often be referred to as a “changeling child” and it may be that “Shakespeare” had this practice in mind when casting the “Indian boy” for Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Felice Ficherelli, The Rape of Lucretia; The Wallace Collection.

But was Queen Elizabeth 1st being hypocritical because the subject of Elizabeth’s fidelity as a “Virgin Queen” as a piece of state propaganda is rarely touched upon by conventional historians because in fact it was so scandalous and inappropriate, at least in some circles of Catholic and Puritan society, as to bar or remove her from the throne legitimately. At least one perfectly good reason why the Vatican had decided to excommunicate her although her clandestine errors were carefully “air-brushed” out of English history. I suspect as many other reputable commentators have suggested that the capricious Queen Elizabeth secretly had as many as five children from differing romantic liaisons including, Sir Francis Bacon and William Hastings (Dudley’s sons), the Earl of Southampton (Oxford’s son), and the Earl of Arundel (Raleigh’s son). So Ovid’s literary obsession with sexual violence, incest and unbridled sexual lust was a veritable and viable source if you were an aristocratic poet who, freely under a pseudonym of course, made allusions about the monarch’s “sub-rosa love affairs” and their inevitable repercussions on the body politic in Europe. Therefore one can easily read “Lucrece” and “Venus & Adonis” in a totally different light and meaning given this type of historical back story.

Oedipus’s embarrassment, banishment and exile from Athens

I shall now turn to the subject of sexual orientation, or should I say sexual transformations found within Ovid’s verses and which had been enlarged upon in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. Many commentators and writers on the subject of the Sonnets have erroneously jumped on the, what I call the “Homosexual Shakespeare Bandwagon”, and assumed that “Shakespeare” was enamoured of a youth, had homosexual relations or was himself the subject of a bi-sexual relationship simultaneously with an unidentified couple. In my article “The Fair Youth of Shakespeare’s Sonnets” I have examined Oscar Wilde’s theory (“The Portrait of Mr. W.H.”) where he is convinced that William Shakespeare had an homoerotic relationship with a young man who worked in the theatre. An archive search for the youth proved to be fruitless. This is the subject dealt with in Ovid’s tale about “Orpheus & Eurydice” (Book 10) by the way. One should bear in mind that the incidence of incest or sexual scandal among the aristocracy or by courtesy of the monarchs themselves was not entirely a new or rare occurrence. Medieval English history is rife with numerous sleazy tales of indiscretions and dire chronicles of Kings and Queens who married or had sexual affairs with near or distant relatives. In particular many Queens who were predisposed to indulge themselves in incest, while scheming against their husbands and usually coupled with ruthless political ambitions were known as “she-wolves” (See for example “Shakespeare’s She-Wolves”). The lives of the Empress Matilda, Judith of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of Angouleme, Isabella of France, Catherine de Medici, Catherine de Valois and Margaret of Anjou read like today’s saucy novels (Fifty Shades of Grey) laced with blatant nepotism, casual adultery, overt greed, murder, witchcraft, incest, and diabolic treachery. Ovid’s view can be detected in the tale of Atalanta and Hippomenes whereby an obviously strong and independent woman would challenge any suitor to a race to win her hand and if they lost then they would ultimately face execution. Hippomenes manages to delay Atalanta by occasionally dropping a golden apple for her to pick up and in that way he gained an advantage and won by guile.

As Atalanta stoops to pick up the golden apple Hippomenes takes the lead and wins the race.


In Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” there was no limit to the flora and fauna as well as heavenly bodies that these mortals were transformed into for a variety of reasons. For example, they might be transformed into a bear, a wolf, various species of birds, a snake, a spider, various species of flowers or trees, and even into stone. However, if you were extremely lucky and gained the favour or mercy of the gods then you would be transformed into a star or better still a whole constellation. It seems that in order to avoid detection or undermine any resistance the gods were inclined to “disguise” themselves for example, into a close family relative or some other less threatening form in order to avert any resistance from their victims. In other cases they are simply given a potion to drink which makes them passive or oblivious to what is happening to them. We find this also occurs in many fairy tales such as say “Little Red Riding Hood” where the ravenous wolf disguised himself as Riding Hood’s grandmother in order to gain intimate access to her. The heroes and heroines of Ovid’s tales could also face deprivations and punishments from the gods such as Echo who was deprived of natural speech and could only repeat the last few words spoken to her. Therefore, a failure to heed their advice, or acknowledge their power and superiority would incur their vengeance and retribution as happened to Phaeton who insisted on driving his father’s chariot too high and recklessly until he came crashing back down to earth. Shakespeare follows suit in some sense whenever he employs the ignominious “bed-trick” in several plays to unwittingly consummate a relationship that has become stale, ambivalent or indifferent. Moreover, disguise is used by either male or female actors so that they can endorse or procure the initiative by changing their natural or assumed role. It would be safe to say that in the Elizabethan era that men’s roles had some advantage over women and conversely that women had some natural advantage over men. The practice of reversed role-play between men as women and women as men is still employed in pantomime today. It has been recorded however that some aristocratic women were allowed to act in private performances either at court or the home of some important aristocrat.

A rather romantic picture of the abduction of Helen by Paris.

The Christian clergy, eager to reinforce the edicts of the Church in matters of marriage, if nothing else, were often morally compromised by the actions and sexual proclivities of their ruling monarchs (eg: Henry VIIIth). According to the orthodox conventions of the 10th to 14th centuries women were expected to take on a passive, supportive role in matters of state and were often perceived as “dangerous” when they practised what their male counterparts often indulged in themselves as a matter of course. As always, the power of the feminine to subvert the natural order was as dangerous a phenomena then as it is considered today where contemporary orthodox society prefers to advocate or promote a form of sexual hypocrisy. Moreover, just as it is perceived today, women were often more severely castigated for their errant sexual behaviour than were the men, the latter often expected or obliged to follow a licentious or promiscuous trend. Moreover monarchs who rarely indulged themselves sexually were often suspected of being homosexual or worse still lesbian. We must re-examine the play “Twelfth Night” where its title denotes the last of the twelve carnival days of misrule (Saturnalia) led by the Fool or Clown which was traditionally a time when anything was permissible and long-held taboos and hierarchies were usually questioned, reversed or abandoned and general chaos ruled. This festival date was also similarly practised in ancient Greece and Rome. Furthermore, although considered by archivists as a tragicomedy and not a romance, the general theme seems to contradict Shakespeare’s oft quoted assertion from his Sonnets (#116):

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments,
Love is not love which alters when it, alteration finds…”.

Again, like the plot in “Measure for Measure”, this play could be called three weddings and a revelation, but for rather different reasons. The nature of the love-match alters considerably as the plot unfolds. A lot of theatrical smoke and mirrors, ambiguity as well as cross-dressing occurs in the play between the principal actors and “actresses”. It should be borne in mind that women were not employed in the public theatres during Shakespeare’s time and that all women’s parts were usually played by adolescent young boys. One might anticipate the complexities of having a woman playing a man who steals the heart of a man playing a woman? However, it was not officially published until 1623 in the first Shakespearean folio of 36 Plays. The play may have been derived from the same source as Matteo Bandello’s “La Prima Parte de le Novelle”. His work was translated into French by Francois de Belleforest (Histoires Tragiques – 1559-82). He was inspired by an earlier Italian play Gli’ Ingannati (“The Deceived”). The actual story of Apollionus & Silla was recounted by Barnaby Rich in his “Farewelle to Militarie Profession” (1581) and this probably contains the basis of the final plot in Shakespeare’s own version of “Twelfth Night”. Other more relevant sources are probably the Roman comedy by Plautus (Menaechmi – “The Twins”) which as already mentioned also influenced the plot of “A Comedy of Errors” and “Two Gentlemen of Verona” in its complex and finely crafted parallel structures. Unfortunately, towards the end of the play nearly everyone is in love with the wrong partner and various playful allusions are made with regard to homosexuality, lesbianism and transvestite inclinations. “Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens with a reference to the appearance of a new moon as the occasion for a marriage between Theseus and Hyppolyta (an Amazonian Queen), and contrary to the Valentine’s Day setting of Helen, Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius it is set in the “Merry Month of May”. May was not considered an auspicious time for marriage in Shakespeare’s time.

Bottom transformed into an Ass, the subject of Apuleius’s “Golden Ass”

“Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.”

No discourse on sexual scandal in Tudor and Stuart times would be complete without some passing reference to the practice of homosexuality. On the face of it all it was condemned by many in the Protestant and Catholic churches as wholly sinful, although tolerated by moderate factions and enjoyed privately by a minority who were known to be self-confessed hedonists and libertines. However, it is probably quite certain that amongst its secret adherents were Anthony and Francis Bacon, Sir Robert Cecil, Henry Howard, and even his majesty James Ist. Moreover the popular or commercial theatre with its financiers, originators and supporters was considered a rich breeding ground for its practice and dissemination, especially by Puritans. Clearly however the practice had been inadvertently fostered in previous centuries by educational and religious institutions such as schools, universities, monasteries and presbyteries. The re-emergence of the Boy Players at the indoor theatres (eg: Chapel Royal, Blackfriar’s and St. Paul’s) or “little eyeases” to quote Hamlet was potentially a contributing factor. Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (1593-4) incidentally portrays the death of a homosexual English King, his lover Gaveston and the paramour of his wife, Isabella. In actual fact Marlowe “sparred” in a literary sense with “Shakespeare” and together they polarised the philosophical and aesthetic debate in the English theatre over sexuality and orientation amongst other 16th century taboos.

The severity of Marlowe’s plays, their inherent anti-Semitism, their condemnation of their magical Neoplatonic sentiments suggests a man with extremely radical views, at least for the period. Today he would have been perceived as a ubiquitous innovator such as the 1970’s film-maker, Ken Russell (“The Devils”). I think that Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” was a dramatic riposte to Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus” (See “Who Killed Christopher Marlowe?”). Perhaps either by the company he frequented or his bohemian lifestyle Marlowe gained a reputation as an atheist, was accused of blasphemy and perverse beliefs by venerating villains and parodying authorities as hypocrites, bullies and bigots. Nevertheless, at College he also gained a reputation as a free-thinker, poet and translator of works by Ovid (Elegies-1585) and Lucan (Parsiphalia-1600). However, he also gained a reputation as a brawler and some critics and commentators say he was either bisexual or homosexual but I have not come across any factual evidence to support or confirm this assertion.

Narcissus beloved of himself is obsessed with his own image reflected in a pool of water

Ovid’s fifteen books in the “Metamorphoses” describes some 250 different tales from Greek sources, which time and space in this essay does not allow an in-depth description of every one. But I will endeavour to briefly gloss over those tales specifically transferred by Shakespeare either into his poetry or plays, some of which deal with unabashed or violent rape, others with deliberate or unwitting incest, and some that deal specifically with sexual exchange and transformation. If Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton was the illegitimate child of Edward de Vere then his proposed marriage arranged by William Cecil to Elizabeth de Vere would have been alarmingly close to incest. It may be the reason why the Earl was prepared to pay a fine of £5,000 (an enormous sum in those days) to renege on the betrothal to Lord Burghley. Similarly, if Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley were distantly related then the subject of incestuous relationships would implicate the sovereign, King James 1st of England too. That in turn would reflect on Queen Elizabeth 1st herself since technically she was the illegitimate child of “Henry VIIIth” which incidentally contradicts Henry’s Act of Succession.

The myth of Pygmalion where an artist’s creation comes to life

The play “A Winter’s Tale” in which a child’s lineage is inadvertently lost (Perdita) and then rediscovered could very easily be a topical narrative allusion to any one of the above incidents, quite plausibly an allusion to Elizabeth Tudor herself. Furthermore, if it was proved conclusively that Edward de Vere was the author of the Shakespeare canon then the plays and poetry would be a cause for concern by our current monarch, as well no doubt to the numerous Shakespearean Institutions in the capital such as the Globe Theatre or The Rose and at Stratford, that is the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to name but a few. That is why the BBC has strictly refrained from commenting on or making any reference to the “Shakespeare Authorship Controversy”, at least since the 1960’s for fear of offending the monarch and for compromising other Shakespeare institutions that understand the practical implications of any possible future realignment. Instead, the BBC and other theatres, companies, and screenwriters prefer to exploit “Shakespeare” with contemporary racial or sexual conventions with an actress playing a male part eg: Hamlet, or an all-female or all-black castings literally “riding rough-shod” as a dramatic gimmick instead of revealing the truth about William Shakespeare. The BBC have simply made “Shakespeare” a clothes’ horse for commenting on minority or inequality issues. But I ask myself; “would the BBC dare to broadcast or stage a play where Othello is cast as a “white woman” and Desdemona being cast as a “black man”? The question of whether any mortal man or woman can unexpectedly change their sexual orientation can be detected in Ovid’s tales about Iphis, Hermaphroditus and Tieresias. There also exist several tales dealing with sexual promiscuity/fidelity, frigidity or sexual reluctance such as Narcissus who simply fell in love with himself, and in the Oedipal myth Zeus asked the sage, Tieresias; “Who was it derived more pleasure from the sexual act – a man or a woman?”, Tieresias answered thus;

Tieresias has a sexual transformation after his encounter with coupling serpents

“If the parts of love’s pleasure are counted as ten, then thrice go to women, one only to men.” Although I would personally argue in defence of women “that if the burden of childcare were counted to ten, thrice ten go to women, thrice naught go to men!”

It seems that for his sublime and candid honesty, the enraged Hera had blinded him, oh dear I hope I do not engender the same fate for my candour. However, on another occasion he saw two serpents coupling, at first he struck the female serpent as a result of which both of the serpents attacked him, and for his error he was bizarrely turned into a transvestite. However, on another occasion seeing the same act taking place, he decided to strike the male serpent and as a result his manhood was miraculously restored. However, the Ovidian tale most notable for its incestuous content is that of Myrrha (Book 10), but not the only one (eg: Byblis & Kaunos), it follows the tale of Pygmalion & Galatea where an artist falls in love with his own realistic creation and his intense and devoted love gradually brings it to life. Therefore Myrrha is the progeny of an ivory statue and its creator, Pygmalion and this perhaps explains why Myrrha should prefer the love of her father to any potential and legitimate suitor, whereby she complains:

“If a heifer’s mounted by her father, that’s no shame; a horse becomes his daughter’s husband; goats will mate with kids they’ve sired themselves; why even birds conceive from seed that fathered them. How blest are they that have such licence.”

She believed that “Human nicety makes spiteful laws”, and is unashamed of her love and passion for her father, and eventually what of their offspring, the beautiful infant Adonis who is destined to be pursued by Venus and tragically gored by a boar? The wild boar is the heraldic animal on the coats of arms to both Sir Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, except that de Vere’s totem animal is coloured blue. I strongly suspect that the Earl of Oxford and Sir Francis Bacon were ‘hand in glove’ members of a Masonic circle and that they probably worked closely together but in secret and Oxford, while on his diplomatic missions in Europe freely operated as a spy and by all accounts to good effect. They were ostensibly, as tradition allows in Masonic circles, regarded as synonymous with the concept of the mortal (earthly) and immortal (heavenly) twins (Castor & Pollux, the Heaven/Earth polarity). See the related articles: “Sir Francis Bacon versus Edward de Vere”, “Masonic Ciphers and Symbolism in Shakespeare” or “The Secret Alchemy of Shakespeare”. By some strange quirk of destiny or fate, who can tell, it would appear that the “angelic or altruistic aristocrat” Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (a patron of numerous playwrights and poets, a supporter of Oxford’s Men and Oxford’s Boys as well as a poet and playwright) somehow transformed his true identity to one William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon and was forced into a monstrous state of creative anonymity for over 400 years. All this was done with the connivance of the Mary Pembroke circle and with the help and assistance much later of Alexander Pope, William Davenant, John Milton and David Garrick. The devious and scurrilous Will Shakspere was himself transformed from a “bucolic wheeler-dealer” into a world famous and truly illustrious poet and playwright having only produced ‘six shaky signatures’ in his entire life!

The links to my current publications, on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy; “Shakespeare’s Qaballah” and an anthology of poetry “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/8182537193
https://www.cyberwit.net/publications/1721

Website: www.qudosacademy.org

Published by Leonidas Kazantheos

In the early part of my career I have worked extensively in media, the arts and theatre as an innovator and environmental conservationist and much later took on a role as an investigative journalist and commentator on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy.

One thought on “Shakespeare’s “Mysterious Metamorphosis”

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