`WHAT FAME IS THIS - University of Warwick

On 1 June 1599 John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Richard
Bancroft, Bishop of London, issued a comprehensive list of secular literature
to be banned with immediate effect. Three days later, on 4 June, a number of
the works on the list were publicly burned in London. Among the books on
the original list, as well as on the list of burned books, is a tiny volume initially
referred to as ‘Davyes Epigrams, with marlowes Elegyes’.1 Some scholarly
attention has been given to this puzzling volume of verse, although
traditionally scholarship has tended to focus more prominently on
Christopher Marlowe’s translated elegies than on the satire of John Davies,
especially with regard to the supposed pornographic content of most of the
works on the Bishops’ Ban.2 Richard McCabe, however, has argued
This essay was first presented as a paper (summarising my undergraduate dissertation) at
the ‘Gloriana’s Rule: The Life, Literature and Culture of Elizabethan England’ conference,
University of Porto, Portugal, June 2003. I would like to thank Katherine Duncan-Jones,
Lisa Hopkins and Carol Rutter for their helpful contributions. Also I am grateful to the
editors, Jayne Archer and Sarah Knight, for their suggestions for revision in adapting the
paper into essay form.
A Transcript of the Register of the Company of stationers of London, 1554-1640, vol. 2, ed. by
Edward Arber (London, 1875-94); Records of the Stationers’ Company: 1576 to 1602 – from
Register B, ed. by W. W. Greg and E. Boswell (London, 1930); see also Richard A. McCabe,
‘Elizabethan Satire and the Bishops’ Ban of 1599’, Yearbook of English Studies 2 (1981), p.
188; Cyndia Susan Clegg, Press Censorship in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997), pp. 198-218. The preferred early edition of the volume is [John
Davies and Christopher Marlowe], Epigrammes and Elegies. By I. D. and C. M. (np, nd), BL
There is neither a book length study of the volume itself, nor a modern edition – although
both parts have been edited separately: Christopher Marlowe, The Complete Works, vol. 1, ed.
by Roma Gill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987); John Davies, The Poems, ed. by Robert
Krueger (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975); for perspectives on the volume, see J. M.
Nosworthy, ‘The Publication of Marlowe’s Elegies and Davies’s Epigrams’, Review of English
Studies, ns, 4 (1953), pp. 260-61; Ian Frederick Moulton, ‘‘Printed Abroad and Uncastrated’:
Marlowe’s Elegies and Davies’ Epigrams’, in Paul Whitfield White (ed.), Marlowe, History, and
Sexuality: New Critical Essays on Christopher Marlowe (New York: AMS Press, 1998), pp. 77-90;
Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (London: Vintage, 2002),
pp. 449-53; for perspectives on the Bishops’ Ban, see McCabe, ‘Elizabethan Satire’; Clegg,
Press Censorship, pp. 198-218; Lynda E. Boose, ‘The 1599 Bishops’ Ban, Elizabethan
Pornography, and the Sexualization of the Jacobean Stage’, in Richard Burt and John
Michael Archer (eds), Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England
(Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 185-200; Jonathan Bate,
convincingly for the predominantly satirical nature of most of the works, and
therefore has shifted the focus from Marlowe’s elegies to Davies’s epigrams as
the prime reason for the book’s appearance on the ban. In this essay I would
like to follow McCabe’s lead and look at the volume from the point of view of
John Davies and his epigrams, as this exercise has important implications for
the origins and dating of the volume.
Three different early editions of this publication are extant, all referred
to by their first owners’ surnames. Two of these (the Bindley and the Isham
editions) are nearly identical, with the one seeming to be a resetting of the
other. The third (the Mason) is an expanded edition. Concerning the two
related editions, the Bindley and the Isham, scholarship is at this point mostly
agreed that one of these is the first edition.3 Their respective title pages give as
a title Epigrammes and Elegies by J.D. and C.M, but apart from that they only
inform us that they were printed ‘At Middleborough’, which is presumably
Middelburg in the Dutch province of Zeeland. Both the Isham and the
Bindley contain forty-eight epigrams by John Davies, three anonymous
poems, and ten elegies by Marlowe, which are part of his translations of
Ovid’s Amores. The expanded Mason edition has a different title, namely All
Ovids Elegies. The order is also different, since it begins with forty-eight elegies
from Marlowe’s hand, an additional translation of one of the Amores by Ben
Jonson, and finally the forty-eight epigrams by Davies. The order in which the
Bindley and the Isham appeared is still disputed. There are two camps, with
the first basing its argument on manuscript evidence. This theory favours the
Bindley as the earlier edition, and is championed by Roma Gill and Robert
Krueger.4 The second theory is deeply rooted in the bibliographical, textual
and typographical study of Fredson Bowers, and favours the Isham edition.5
For the purposes of this essay I have followed Bowers’ line and treated the
Isham as the first edition, for the simple reason that the manuscript used in
the print shop is no longer extant, and thus manuscript-based argumentation
is necessarily more speculative than comparison between two extant printed
Shakespeare and Ovid (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 32; Hannah Betts, ‘ ‘The Image of
this Queene so quaynt’: The Pornographic Blazon 1588-1603’, in Julia M. Walker (ed.),
Dissing Elizabeth: Negative Representations of Gloriana (Durham NC and London: Duke
University Press, 1998).
Bindley (STC 6350): BL C34.a.28; Pforzheimer collection; Isham (STC 6350 [wrongly
identified with the Bindley]): Huntington Library 59002; Mason (STC 18931): BOD Mason
AA 207.
Roma Gill and Robert Krueger, ‘The Early Editions of Marlowe’s Elegies and Davies’s
Epigrams: Sequence and Authority’, The Library, 36 (1971), pp. 242-49.
Fredson Bowers, ‘The Early Editions of Marlowe’s Ovid’s Elegies’, Studies in Bibliography, 25
(1972), pp. 149-72.
One thing that most scholars who have worked on this volume – including Krueger, Gill
and Bowers – agree on is that the Middleborough imprint on the Isham, as well as on the
other editions, is false. It seems to me that at the moment only Charles Nicholl, in his
Virtually all of Davies’s printed epigrams were in manuscript circulation
by the mid-1590s. One manuscript, Bodleian MS. Rawlinson Poetry 212,
features a short introductory paragraph informing the reader that its epigrams
were finished, or rather ‘calculated’, by November 1594. Another ends its
sequence with ‘finis. 95’. It has been suggested that the latter manuscript
collection, referred to as the Leweston Fitzjames (BOD MS. Add. B. 97), was in
either direct or very close relationship to the manuscript/s used for printing.
The collection is named after its compiler, who entered John Davies’s Middle
Temple in November 1594, four-and-a-half years after Davies. According to
Krueger, this was around the time that the first collection of the epigrams was
in the process of composition.7 Fitzjames’s commonplace book, compiled
some time after 1595, contains forty-three epigrams appearing in a nearly
identical order to that of the printed editions, and contains material that does
not appear in the other manuscript families. It is Krueger’s belief that
Fitzjames had had access to Davies’s own papers, as some of the usages in the
sequence stand out from other material in his commonplace book, such as,
for example, the way the date is recorded: Fitzjames always uses the full four
digits to indicate a year, except in the Davies material, where he just writes
‘95’.8 Fitzjames’ commonplace book also contains the unpublished, and
probably unique text of Davies’ Epithalamion and an early version of his
Orchestra. It is thus a rich and reliable source of Davies material.
Of the six known manuscript collections,9 two contain dates that seem
to situate the completion of the printed epigrams in the period November
1594 – 1595. The other manuscripts post-date publication, but seem to be
derived solely from the pre-publication manuscripts. The Leweston Fitzjames
commonplace book may well reflect John Davies’s own presentation
manuscript(s), in the sense that the sequence of the commonplace book is so
near to that of the printed edition. This, however, presupposes that Davies
intended publication, and leads to the conclusion that the publication
revised edition of The Reckoning: the Murder of Christopher Marlowe (pp. 449-52), holds onto
the provenance of Epigrammes and Elegies as Middelburg, since this fits in with his biography
of Christopher Marlowe. He places Marlowe in the Zeeland area in the early spring of
1592, when he was arrested for counterfeiting, and links this with Davies’s short period at
Leiden University in the autumn of the same year. Therefore, their works in manuscript
must have, through some intermediary, met in the Netherlands, and the volume been
decided upon then and there. The dating of the Isham as 1592 is impossibly early, for a
number of reasons, which will shortly become clear. Instead, the common consensus has
been to approximate a date of around 1595–1596, mostly because of topical references in
the epigrams, and through the dating of those manuscripts that appear to be in the stemma
leading to publication
Robert Krueger, ‘Sir John Davies: Orchestra Complete, Epigrams, Unpublished Poems’,
Review of English Studies, ns, 13 (1962), pp. 17-28.
Robert Krueger (ed.), The Poems, pp. 378-9.
The other four manuscript collections are: BL Harley MS 1836; Folger MS V.a.399;
Rosenbach MS 1086; CL MS Kk.1.3.
coincided with, or came soon after, the composition of the copy owned by
Leweston Fitzjames. Krueger and Gill, as well as J. M. Nosworthy in earlier
articles, strengthen this hypothesis of a c.1595 publication date with the
topicality argument.10 The epigrams, they observe, are saturated with the
contemporary zeitgeist of Davies’s social surroundings. Davies’s satire is
basically aimed at the behavioural patterns of people in and around the Inns
of Court. He writes about his fellow Templars’ vices and follies, such as social
pretentiousness, stupidity, lasciviousness, gambling at the cockpit, visiting
stews, and being thrown into the debtors’ prison. Several of the epigrams even
refer directly to topical affairs, such as ‘In Titum. 6’:
Titus the brave and valorous young gallant,
Three yeeres together in this towne hath beene,
Yet my lord Chauncellors tombe he hath not seene:
Nor the New water worke, nor the Elephant.
I cannot tell the cause without a smile,
He hath beene in the Counter all the while.11
The ‘Lord Chauncellors tombe’ was that of Sir Christopher Hatton (15401591), and is a monument in St Paul’s Cathedral dating from 1591. The ‘New
Water worke’ was an engine made around 1594 to convey Thames water into
the middle and west parts of the City. The ‘three yeeres’ of the second line are
thus the three years between the building of the tomb and the beginning of
the water engine in 1594. Another epigram used for the purposes of dating is
‘In Afrum. 40’:
The smell feast Afer Travailes to the Burse
Twice every day the flying newes to heare,
Which when he hath no money in his purse,
To rich mens Tables he doth often beare:
He tels how Gronigen is taken in,
By the brave conduct of illustrious Vere:
And how the Spainish forces Brest would win,
But that they do Victorious Norris feare.
No sooner is a ship at Sea surprisde,
But straight he learnes the newes and doth disclose it,
No sooner hath the Turke a plot devisde
To conquer Christendom, but straight he knows it,
Faire written in a scrowle he hath the names,
of all the widowes which the plague hath made,
And persone, Times and places, still he frames,
To every Tale, the better perswade:
J. M. Nosworthy, ‘The Publication of Marlowe’s Elegies and Davies’s Epigrams’, Review of
English Studies, ns, 4 (1953), pp. 260-61; Gill and Krueger, ‘Editions, The Library, pp. 242-49.
All references to Davies’s epigrams are taken from Krueger’s edition, The Poems of John
We cal him Fame, for that the wide-mouth slave
Will eate as fast as he wil utter lies:
For Fame is saide an hundreth mouthes to have,
And he eates more then woulde five score suffice.
Groningen was ‘taken in’ on 6 July 1594. The victory of Sir John Norris over
the Spanish forces near the harbour of Brest took place in November of that
year. These poems are just two examples of topical epigrams, and they both
happen to relate to 1594. Nosworthy, as well as Krueger, concluded that the
printed edition must have followed very soon after the composition of these
poems and the consequent compilation of the ‘printable’ manuscripts,
otherwise the strength of the references would have been lost. This sounds
plausible, were it not that it was rather common for work to remain in
manuscript circulation for years, no matter how topical its contents. A good
example is the publication in 1660 of Benjamin Rudyerd’s account of the
1597/8 Middle Temple Christmas Revels, in which Davies’ famous attack on
his friend Richard Martin is recorded.12 Preserving topicality is thus not
watertight evidence for a mid-1590s publication of Epigrammes and Elegies.
As mentioned previously, the printed editions contain forty-eight
epigrams, of which most circulated in manuscript before publication. One
detail that advocates of a 1595-6 publication haven’t yet taken into account is
that the last two epigrams of the sequence, 47 and 48, appear in none of the
surviving manuscripts. They only appear in the printed text. Together with the
first two epigrams, which do appear in all manuscripts, and always as the first
two, epigrams 47 and 48 form a framework for, and a mirroring pattern
around, the printed sequence. I will therefore term these four the ‘Framing
epigrams’. The symmetry of these Framing epigrams, which is reflected in the
fact that epigrams 1 (‘Ad Musam’) and 48 (‘Ad Musam’), and 2 (‘Of a Gull’)
and 47 (‘Meditations of a Gull’), are paired, points towards design, and in this
case towards design by the author, since there are not only titular similarities
(which could well have been editorial) but also parallels in content. This
suggests that by the time Davies wrote epigrams 47 and 48 he was composing
with publication in mind. The notion of a framework surrounding the
sequence is never really suggested in the manuscripts, although the opening
two epigrams of the printed edition are also always the opening epigrams in
the manuscripts.
Flie merry Muse unto that merry towne,
Where thou mayst playes, revels, and triumphes see,
The house of fame, and Theatre of renowne,
Where all good wits and spirits love to be.
Cf. Benjamin Rudyerd’s account, Le Prince D’Amour or the Prince of Love (London, 1660); P.
J. Finkelpearl, ‘Sir John Davies and the ‘Prince D’Amour’’, Notes and Queries, 208 (1963), pp.
Fall in betwene their hands, that praise and love thee,
And be to them a laughter and a jest:
But as for them which scorning shall reproove thee,
Disdayne their wits, and thinke thyne owne the best.
But if thou finde any so grose and dull,
That thinke I do to privat Taxing leane:
Bid him go hang, for he is but a gull,
And knowes not what an Epigramme doth meane:
Which Taxeth under a particular name,
A generall vice that merits publique blame.
‘Ad Musam. 1’ serves as a preface to the sequence. The poet does not only
invoke poetic inspiration by calling upon the muse, but he uses the muse as a
metaphor for his own poetic work, and specifically for the collection of
epigrams the poem precedes and introduces. The poem makes use of this
conventional conceit with joking arrogance and self-assured playfulness, as is
apparent in the muse/manuscript and circulation metaphor, where the poet
sets his ‘merry’ work free into London society, hoping that it will fall into the
right hands. If not, he warns his muse to ‘disdayne their wits, and thinke thyne
owne the best.’
The sense of possible disapproval of his work is developed more
strongly in the final six lines, where he anticipates that the ‘gross and dull’ will
condemn the author of the epigrams for attacking specific characters. He
seems to dismiss this practice himself by saying that such people ‘knowe not
what an Epigramme doth meane’, but then cleverly includes a reference to the
practice in his definition of the genre: ‘Which Taxeth under a particular name,
/ a generall vice that merits publique blame.’ This is striking for the particular
moral stance it takes: namely, that there is a set of wrongs that need to be
judged severely in public, which gives these epigrams, often described as social
satire, a rather more judgmental and moralising perspective.
Peace idle muse, have done, for it is time,
Since lowsie Ponticus envies my fame,
And sweares the better sort are much to blame
To make me so wel knowne for so ill rime:
Yet Bankes his horse is better knowne then he,
So are the Cammels and the westerne hog,
And so is Lepidus his printed dogge:
Why doth not Ponticus their fame envie?
Besides, this muse of mine, and the blacke fether,
Grew both together fresh in estimation,
And both growne stale, were cast away togither:
What fame is this that scarse lasts out a fashion?
Onely this last in credit doth remaine,
That from henceforth, ech bastard cast forth rime
Which doth but savour of a Libel vaine,
Shal call me father, and be thought my crime.
So dull and with so litle sence endude,
Is my grose headed judge, the multitude.
The companion poem to ‘Ad Musam. 1’, ‘Ad Musam. 48’, is nothing if not
enigmatic. In comparison with the vibrant, strong and arrogant ‘Ad Musam.
1’, this second epigram is bitter, desperate and spiteful. Instead of the muse
being praised for her flight to the merry town of London, this time she, now
‘idle’ and no longer ‘merry’ – is told to rest and ‘have done’. One ‘Ponticus’ is
envious of Davies’s fame, and jealously claims that it must be because his
poetry is read by ‘the better sort’ that the ‘ill rime’ has gained such a
favourable reputation. Davies deals with the challenge by demonstrating that
Ponticus is himself a nobody: even performing animals are more famous than
he. The final line of this section reveals the despair of the author: ‘why doth
not Ponticus their fames envie?’. This line suggests hurt and disbelief – the
poet cannot understand why specifically he is the target of Ponticus’s envy.
This feeling is starkly expressed three lines later, when the poet asks ‘what
fame is this that scarse lasts out a fashion?’. His fame is like the fad of the
‘blacke fether’: it has ‘growne stale’, and was ‘cast away togither’. The poem
thus suggests that at the time of its composition Davies’s fame as an
epigrammatist was already waning. The only credit that remains his is the
sarcastic notion that ‘ech bastard cast forth rime […] shal call me father, and
be thought my crime.’
These two epigrams clearly reveal a dramatic shift in tone by the poet.
He starts off the sequence with an arrogant, impudent, and mischievous air
and dismisses any possible criticism of his methods by employing a defiant,
confident stance. Davies finishes the sequence by creating a sense of
incredulous disillusionment. He presents himself as hurt and offended by the
very criticism to which he so sharply and happily retorted in ‘Ad Musam. 1’.
There is thus a shift detectable between the early Davies, confidently choosing
a subject to satirise, and a later Davies, himself the object of satire. The tone
of this final epigram is not in harmony with the bulk of the sequence, which
was written approximately between 1590 and 1595. Indeed, when we consider
the biographical and social circumstances of Davies in relation to ‘Ad Musam.
48’, this epigram becomes the key which enables us to suggest a later date of
composition for the very last epigram of the sequence, and thus for the date
of publication of the earliest printed edition.
The composition, circulation and publication of the epigrams all
occurred while Davies was a member of the Middle Temple. He had entered
the Inns of Court in early 1589, and by 1595 he had already been called to the
bar – with unusual speed, when compared to the academic careers of his
fellow Templars.13 At the same time, he had also rapidly acquired a reputation
Krueger (ed.), Poems, xxiii-xlvii.
for scandalous and extravagant behaviour, since he was cautioned several
times for rioting during Candlemas along with a number of his associates. He
was part of a lively circle of people who frequented the Inns, and his epigrams
circulated among them.14 The bulk of the epigrams consist of what I have
termed ‘Revels epigrams’, as they embody the spirit of P. J. Finkelpearl’s
description of the Middle Temple revels at Christmas time:
The sexual mores that pervade the Prince d’Amour’s kingdom are nearly identical
with those we find in Donne’s libertine elegies and in some Jacobean private
theatre comedy; it is a world of amoral women, cuckolds, aphrodisiacs, whores, and
venereal disease, a world where the right true end of love is in the maximum
number of female conquests.15
To these concerns, the epigrams introduce the moral tone of the poet, who
satirises the people engaged in this way of living. Davies pokes fun at the very
people and at the very circles that he wanted to inhabit. The readership of the
epigrams became aware of this duality, as many contemporaries of Davies
refer to his work in rather negative terms. Quite soon the ‘English Martial’
was ridiculed by Everard Guilpin - whose work also appeared on the Bishops’
Ban - who wrote of Davies as a man ‘who selfe conceitedly Thinkes al men
guls, ther’s none more gull then he.’16 Davies’s old school friend at
Winchester, Thomas Bastard, wrote an epigram about the popular link
between John Heywood, the previous generation’s epigrammatist, and Davies:
Heywood goes downe saith Davie, sikerly,
And down he goes, I can it not deny.
But were I happy, did not fortune frowne.
Were I in heart, I would sing Davy downe.17
In general terms, then, Davies’ reputation was uncertain, but it reached a new
and definitive low point with the 1597-98 Middle Temple Christmas Revels.
The most notorious incident to come out of the Revels was Davies’s
violent attack on Richard Martin – a fellow Templar to whom Davies had
previously dedicated his Orchestra (1596) with a rather suggestive poem – and
his consequent expulsion.18 The incident took place on 9 February 1598, a
week after the Revels had ended. Davies entered the dining hall and, walking
up to Martin, hit him over the head and escaped. It has been suggested that
For example, the future Recorder of London, Richard Martin; fellow epigrammatists
Benjamin Rudyerd, John Owen, John Hoskins; future biographer of John Donne, John
P. J. Finkelpearl, John Marston of the Middle Temple: An Elizabethan Dramatist in His Social
Setting (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 56.
Everard Guilpin, Skialetheia or A shadowe of Truth, in certaine Epigrams and Satyres (London,
1598), A6V.
Thomas Bastard, Chrestoleros. Seuen bookes of Epigrames written by T B (London, 1598), D2V.
Krueger (ed.), Poems, p. 89.
Davies was taking revenge for what Finkelpearl called ‘a literary quarrel or one
of Martin’s cruel jests.’19 This quarrel or jesting would have had its origins in
the period between 24 December 1597 and 2 February 1598, when the
Temple was the domain of its version of the Lord of Misrule, and its weeks of
entertainments, mock arraignments, comedies and gambling.
The scene for that year’s particular Revels has been described by
Robert Parker Sorlien in his edition of the diary of John Manningham as
including ‘some of the vivid personalities, the boon companions, of the age’,
and Sorlien suggests that among them ‘the art of banter and a talent for clever
expression were assiduously, if informally, cultivated’.20 Benjamin Rudyerd no
doubt contributed strongly to that impression, with his highly coloured and
subjective account of those Revels. He persists in using the descriptive
pseudonyms for his fellow Templars that were coined during the festivities.
Upon Davies fell the dubious honour of being referred to as Stradilax: the
verb ‘to straddle’ was a direct reference to Davies’s famous waddling gait, due
to the size of his bottom.21 Le Prince D’Amour records how it was one
‘Matagonias’ who coined the name, and since John Manningham’s diary
ascribes the waddling gait/large bottom description to Rudyerd, it may well be
that Rudyerd himself was in fact Matagonias.22
Rudyerd also describes how Stradilax was keen on becoming the Lord
of Misrule during the proceedings (at the Temple the title of the Lord of
Misrule was ‘Le Prince D’Amour), but it was awarded to ‘Sir Martino’,
Richard Martin, instead. Three days after Martin’s accession Davies gave an
impromptu performance in which he declared himself Lord anyway. Judging
by this self-proclamation, he must have been desperate to show that it was
only he who could justifiably lead his companions in misrule and the
accustomed worldly cynicism. Rudyerd’s Prince D’Amour also lists a number of
literary and creative blunders by Davies – one being described as ‘so bad, that
the meanest Wit would not undertake to bring them in.’23
Apart from his Prince D’Amour, a couple of Benjamin Rudyerd’s
epigrams also refer scathingly to Davies, this time under the pseudonym of
‘Mathon’. At one point, Rudyerd writes, ‘Beleeue me matho when I speake the
Finkelpearl, ‘Prince D’Amour’, Notes and Queries, p. 301.
Robert Parker Sorlien (ed.), The Diary of John Manningham of the Middle Temple (Hanover,
NH: University Press of New England, 1976), pp. 393-94.
There is no modern edition available of Le Prince D’Amour. For this essay, I have used
secondary material by Finkelpearl, Marston, pp. 48-61; Finkelpearl, ‘Prince D’Amour’, Notes
and Queries, pp. 300-2; Krueger (ed.), Poems, xxxiii-xxxvii.
‘Matagonias’ has to my knowledge unfortunately not been positively identified. A
possibility is that the name was coined along the same lines as matamore (a poltroon, a
swagger, a bobadil), which is derived from the Spanish ‘matar-Moros’ (a slayer of Moors):
see Betty Kirkpatrick (ed.), Brewer’s Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Oxford: Helicon,
2000), p. 657; cf. matador, from matar ‘kill’. –gonias could possibly be a classicised form of
gony, ‘simpleton’ (c. 1580), which would make Matagonias a slayer of simpletons.
Finkelpearl, Marston, p. 53.
truth / thy stuff is made so ill it will not sell’. Rudyerd obviously saw no future
in the literary field for Davies. All these examples indicate a serious
undermining of Davies’s reputation during the time of the Revels, and
especially following the assault on Martin.24
Briefly returning to ‘Ad Musam. 48’, it is worth placing the poem in its
biographical context. Firstly, the character of Ponticus, the source of the
poet’s anguish and spite, could well find its source in Benjamin Rudyerd. If
this is true then together with the subject matter of most of the other poems,
this epigram also refers to Middle Temple sentiments. In the light of Davies’s
loss of face in that institution, the following lines also acquire added
This muse of mine, and the blacke fether,
Grew both together fresh in estimation,
And both grown stale, were cast away togither:
What fame is this that scarce lasts out a fashion?
One of the conclusions of reading this epigram in this way is that it cannot
have been written for a 1595 publication of the Epigrammes and Elegies. In 1595
Davies was in many ways at the height of his popularity at the Temple.
Linking the epigram to the events surrounding the 1597/98 Revels and the
attack on Martin situates it in a period between 9 February 1598 and the
Bishops’ Ban of 1 June 1599; the first edition of Epigrammes and Elegies can
similarly be assigned to the same period, which puts the Epigrammes and Elegies
more in line with the rest of the books on the Bishops’ Ban, all published in
London around 1598.
What this proposition renders problematic, however, are the
circumstances surrounding the first printed edition. A crucial question is why
was the edition printed anonymously? Closely related to that point is the
matter of the imprint of Middleborough. If we assume that Davies did not
add the final epigrams of the printed sequence until after the end of the
Middle Temple Revels, then the printing process would have taken place at a
time when Davies was an unpopular man in London literary and Templar
circles, which suggests that the person initiating the publication was Davies
himself. But where do the Marlowe elegies and the Middleborough link come
Taking the last question first, using Middleborough as a false imprint
was a natural move for somebody seeking to cover his tracks, since
Middelburg in the south-west of the Low Countries was in close proximity to
English-governed towns like Vlissingen and Briel, and was the site of a
thriving printing industry. The well-known Dutch printer Richard Schilders
set up shop there in 1579 after years of working in London; he was to print
James L. Sanderson, ‘Epigrames p[er] B[enjamin] R[udyerd] And Some More ‘Stolen
Feathers’ of Henry Parrot’, Review of English Studies, 17 (1966), p. 254.
large numbers of theological tracts by English Puritans. Apart from Schilders,
the number of printers in Middelburg grew substantially in the late 1580s,
making it possible for them to form a guild on 18 August 1590.25 I have not
examined the typographical evidence of the editions in question myself, and
have accepted the weight of scholarly opinion that it is more likely that the
editions were printed in Britain than in Middelburg.26 Seeing the publication in
the light of the events surrounding Davies in the Middle Temple Revels of
1597/98, his faltering reputation as a writer in manuscript circulation, and his
highly ambitious nature, a quick and anonymous publication in London is a
possible motive behind this mysterious imprint. As at least one of the
manuscript collections testifies, Davies’s epigrams were strongly identified
with the Inns of Court: the manuscripts’ introduction to the epigrams refers
to Davies as being from Gray’s Inn.27 As I have noted, the tone and content
of the printed epigrams share a likeness with the mores of the Middle Temple
festivities. The imprint ‘At Middleborough’ could just as well be a pun on
Middle Temple or even a double entendre, since Middleborough was also a
euphemism for a woman’s ‘nether-regions’ or ‘Low Countries’.28 For this
Middleborough /Middle Temple connection to work, the edition need not
literally have been printed at the premises of the Middle Temple. The
presence of Middleborough on the title page could reflect the origins of the
publication, as well as giving it a flavour of piracy, which would fit well with
Davies’ public persona.
If the central hypothesis of this argument is correct, namely that the
volume in the form we have it was a response to Davies’ immediate
circumstances at the beginning of 1598, then we are compelled to ask why and
how some of Marlowe’s elegies were attached to Davies’ epigrams. This
dilemma has usually been approached by questioning the pairing of Davies
with Marlowe,29 but taking into account internal and contextual evidence, and
by focusing on Ovid rather than Marlowe, a whole range of different
P. J. Meertens, Letterkundig Leven in Zeeland in de Zestiende en de Eerste Helft van de Zeventiende
Eeuw (Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers Maatschappij, 1943), pp. 418-19.
Following the detailed work of Fredson Bowers, Roma Gill and Robert Krueger.
This is BOD MS Rawl. Poet. 212, which introduces the epigrams with the following:
‘English Epigrammes much like Buckminsters Almanacke servinge for all England, but
especially for ye meridian of ye honorable cittye of London calculated by Iohn Davis of
Grayes Inne gentleman Ano 1594 in November.’
Gordon Williams, A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart
Literature (London: Atlantic Highlands, 1994); Williams mostly notes early seventeenthcentury occurrences, but the term may well have been in use before the turn of the century.
Cf. Millar Maclure (ed.), The Revels Edition of the Works of Christopher Marlowe (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1980), xxxi; Fredson Bowers (ed.), The Complete Works of
Christopher Marlowe, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 309; Charles
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 (Aldershot: Scolar, 1996), pp. 38-51.
possibilities are opened up. Of course, this does not mean that the two are
mutually exclusive, but rather that the choice for Marlowe lay in the fact that he
specifically decided to be the first Englishman to translate and publish the
Amores. If it is true that the origins of the Epigrammes and Elegies lie in the
Middle Temple, it follows that the presence of the Elegies can also be related
to the nature of the Middle Temple Revels. Apart from the licentious rakery
and rebelliousness of the Revels, which is reflected in the bulk of Davies’
epigrams, Benjamin Rudyerd’s Le Prince D’Amour records the Revels’ codes of
courtship and lovemaking: Rudyerd shifts from describing the behaviour of
the Petrarchan lover to the observance of the form of manners described in
‘laudable discourses of Love’ like Ovid’s Ars Amatoria.30 Taking this emphasis
on Ovidian love together with that devil-may-care rakish bravado rampant
during the celebrations held at the Inns of Court, a structure becomes visible
that seems to be wholly reflected in the set-up of the Epigrammes and Elegies.
Roma Gill noted in her edition of Marlowe’s work how for ‘subsequent
English poets, the Elegies introduced a new tone - a declared attitude to sexual
love that was very far from the idealized lyricism of Petrarch.’31 Gill’s
description shows how Marlowe’s translation can be linked with the demand
at the Middle Temple Revels for more Ovidian-styled lyricism in both art and
performance over old-fashioned Petrarchism.
My hypothesis is that the idea for Epigrammes and Elegies came into
being during or most probably after the Middle Temple Revels in 1597-98,
when Ovidian eroticism and epigrams ‘fully as licentious as the jokes in the
revels’32 were what the revelling Templars demanded, and Davies was still
boldly struggling to maintain dignity within his circle. The actual process,
however, was not started until after the Revels, when Davies wrote his final
epigram. This theory accounts for the two apparently conflicting sides of the
publication: on the one hand, the edition reflects the structure, texture, and
nature of the Middle Temple Revels, and may therefore have been prompted
by Middle Templars at a time when dealings with Davies were still reasonably
manageable; on the other hand, there is the disillusionment visible in ‘Ad
Musam. 48’, which actually points more in the direction of what now would
be termed as vain ‘self-promotion’. John Davies had somehow seriously lost
face during the Revels and become a laughing stock at several occasions; he
had been ridiculed by fellow epigrammatists for his arrogance, and had
ultimately been expelled from the Inns of Court. Having his work appear in
print may well have served the double purpose of getting his revenge, and
regaining his dignity. Whatever motives lay behind its publication, and
although it was produced anonymously, the fact remains that little over a year
after publication the slim Isham edition, and possibly already even the Bindley
Rudyerd, Le Prince, p. 57; Finkelpearl, Marston, p. 57.
Roma Gill (ed.), The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, vol. 1, p. xii.
Finkelpearl, Marston, p. 72.
edition, appeared alongside a number of other satirical and licentious works
on a list ordering the works to be burned within three days.
Susanna Hop is in her first year of doctoral research at the Centre for the Study of the
Renaissance. Susanna’s thesis, which is provisionally entitled ‘Participation, (Moral)
Reform and Authority in Late Elizabethan England’, will explore the relationship between
ideas of reform in Puritan treatises, satirical and Ovidian poetry, and authoritarian
impulses, including censorship. Susanna will focus on the writings of John Rainolds,
Edward Hext, and Sir Francis Knollys, John Marston, Thomas Nashe, Christopher
Marlowe, and John Donne.