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Poetry and the Realm of PoliticsShakespeare to Dryden$

Howard Erskine-Hill

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198117315

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198117315.001.0001

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(p.254) Appendix I

(p.254) Appendix I

Source:
Poetry and the Realm of Politics
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

(p.254) Appendix I

A CONNECTION between Lord Darnley’s murder and Hamlet was first proposed by Lilian Winstanley in Hamlet and the Scottish Succession in 1920. Her argument is not on the whole well conducted. While denying that Shakespeare meant to portray the Darnley tragedy in any complete and realistic sense, she does seem to strive to demonstrate a parallel, including an allusion in the murder of Polonius to the murder of Rizzio. She sometimes uses modern histories to establish what a situation looked like to Shakespeare, and she is not always convincing on the compatibility of her hypotheses. Yet when all these criticisms have been voiced she did, in my judgement at least, see the resemblance between the opening situation of Hamlet and the Darnley murder, and she did understand that it was necessary to see how the Scottish events had been portrayed in sixteenth-century propaganda. Above all, she saw the importance of Buchanan’s Detectio as a source. (In a later article Winstanley extends her argument to suggest, among other things, that something of the family history of the Earls of Essex and Leicester contributed to Hamlet. This is possible; but if so it is more likely to have been a partial source than a deliberate allusion. See Lilian Winstanley, ‘Hamlet and the Essex Conspiracy’, Aberystwyth Studies, 6 (1924), 47–66; 6 (1925), 37–50.)

Scottish poems on the Darnley murder and its aftermath, one of which is quoted by Winstanley (50) are collected in James Cranstoun (ed.), Satirical Poems of the Time of the Reformation, 2 vols. (1891), i. 30–81. Ane ballat declaring the Nobill and Gude Inclination of our King (?May 1567), a poem full of classical allusion, states:’ With Clytemnestra I do not fane to fletche, I quhilk slew hir spous the greit Agamemnon’ (11. 145–6). This and The Testament and Tragedie of Umquhile King Henrie Stewart of Gude Memorie were broadside ballads in black letter, perhaps by the famous Sempill.

In 1587, John Gordon, a Scot at the court of Henry III of France, wrote the following Latin poem about the murder of Lord Darnley:

  • HENRICI Scotorum REGIS MANES AD IACOBVM Vlium filivm
  • Discite Rectores Populorum, Discite Reges,
  • Obsignata Dei Decreta Iura tueri,
  • Et quod Naturæ, quod Gentibus omnibus æquum,
  • Seruare, ac nullo rescindere fœdera facto.
  • facitis, Vindicta manet certissima Culpam.
  • In reliquos homines quam magna Potentia Regum,
  • (p.255) Tàm Deus Imperio Reges supereminet ipsos.
  • Vna Exemplorum, si quæitis, Insula turmas
  • uggeret, æquoreo surgit, quae maxima Ponto,
  • Tot Regum, et toties fuso maculata Cruore,
  • Quos me salua licet Fortuna, recenseat inter,
  • At non Culpa Reum tamen arguit. Integer ad vos
  • Descendi, ô Maiorum Animæ. Nec credite Crimen,
  • Vxorem nimium nisi Crimen amare Marito est.
  • Tene mihi, ô Vita Coniux iucundior ipsa,
  • Averso tantum mutatam Pectore, ob Iras
  • Iustas tot Procerum, Populique indigna ferentis
  • Condonatum vnum Nebulonem! Impurane tanti
  • Cerdonis tibi Vita fuit Cytharædica tanti,
  • Regii uti Decoris Famæque oblîta, Veneno
  • Tentatum primùm, excusso mox mente timore,
  • Me ferro incautum, flammisque agressa necares!
  • Nec stetit hic scelus indignum, Bothuelius ille,
  • Dis Caput inuisum, tanti tibi criminis Auctor,
  • Qui post sacra Thori violata impunè, Mariti
  • Vxorem docuit respergere sanguine Palmas,
  • Nostros infamis thalamos calcauit Adulter,
  • Non tulit adiunctum Sceleri Rhamnusia Fastum,
  • Securos est passa diú nec ludere Amantes.
  • Nam subitò Procerum exorta Indignatio Pacem
  • Sustulit, atque nouos turbavit Marte Hymenôeos.
  • Ipse fremit Populus, quacumque vagantur et illi
  • Cincti Armis, Cædisque meæ, Infantisque tenellæ,
  • Nequicquam in Cunis tollentis bracchia Cœlo,
  • Cœlâtam Effigiem passim per Compita Miles
  • Circumgestat Ouans, et Probris Crimen acerbat.
  • Vnde Ignominia Confusus, ad Orcadas ille
  • Fugit, et hinc Cimbros delatus, turpitem actam
  • Turpiter obscuro clausit sub Carcere Vitam.
  • Illa sed extemplò dulci viduata Columbo
  • Deserit augustos conscensa naue Penates,
  • Et dubiis (famam Huperno commiserat olim)
  • Fortunam commisit Aquis Regina ferendam,
  • Et tandem inuisis Anglorum allabitur Oris.
  • Hic quoque misceret cœco quum cuncta tumultu
  • (Ausa, immane nephas, Germanam tollere ferro)
  • Penè decern et totidem vigili Custode per Annos,
  • Postquam habita est, tandem infœlix percussa securi est.
  • Anglis in Scotos tantum licuisse dolendum,
  • (p.256) Et dolui. Sed me summi Moderator Olympi
  • Longius errare hic Umbram non passus inultam.
  • Has Cineri Inferias, hæc misit Februa nostro.
  • Tàm seræ haud alias Caussas iam quærite Pœnæ.
  • At tu, de tanto superas qui parua Tabella
  • Naufragio, Mater cui vix irata pepercit,
  • Nate, Caledoni, nunc ô Spes Vnica Sceptri,
  • Si meus es, si Rectum audis, Me Disce Magistro
  • Iustitiam colere, et magnos non temnere Diuos.
  • Tu fuge Adulentum Occursus, Fuge Subdola, cautus,
  • (Quantum, Nate, potes) liuentis Spicula Linguae.
  • Quid Regno expediat, quid rerum postulet Vsus,
  • Quid Populi commissa Salus, hoc, sedulus, Vrge;
  • Cætera Rumorum Securus neglige Vulgi.
  • Frustrà etenim si quid secus audes, Nate, laboras,
  • Nec tantùm debes Maternà Morte moveri,
  • Vindicta quantum Cædis gaudere Patêrnae.
  • I. G. st. Me. Martio 1587

Geoffrey Bullough, in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (1957–75), vii, is aware of the possible reference of the plot of the old play of Hamlet to the general story of Mary, Queen of Scots, and King James VI, though what he has chiefly in mind is the expectation that James might find some way of avenging his mother’s execution. He is also well aware of the topicality of Denmark and things Danish (18–20, 40–5). He does not mention Winstanley’s book, though he includes in his volume an item tending to support her argument (125–7).

Another modern commentator aware of the possible connection between Hamlet and the Darnley murder is Roland Mushat Frye, The Renaissance Hamlet: Issues and Responses in 1600 (Princeton, 1984), 31–7.