An Important Announcement from Trixie the Cat!

Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code

Our Chief Agent – Stewart Trotter – has been wrapt in secret studies for many months now….

But he is finally emerging from his cell.

We may seem to be deviating from the Bard, but believe Your Cat, he will finally be…


….which he is anyway!

St. Mary le Strand used to stand in an island in the Strand….

But now the Strand has been pedestrianised, its glory has been opened to the world!

Stewart has also leant a bit of a hand…..

Like Prospero he has released the Church from its island…….

…and has made its stones live….

He has convinced the Church to tell its story to the world!

From the second week in January, 2023, you’ll be able to visit the Church and hear the story for yourself!

And see the most wonderful Sound and Light installation, courtesy of Master of Light, Tim Mitchell……

……..and Master of Sound, John Leonard….

….and all for a footling £3 Admission!

St. Mary le Strand Speaks!

Dear Visitors! Welcome! Might I be allowed to introduce myself? 

I am the Parish Church of St Mary le Strand – and I have stood on this spot for three hundred years. 

How I came to be here – stuck in the middle of the Strand – is a question I’m often asked.  I hope to answer it briefly – well, as briefly as a very old building can – but I’d advise you to take a pew.

In Queen Anne’s time – at the start of the eighteenth century – so many people in London wanted to go to Church there weren’t enough of us to go round. So a Commission was set up – composed of the great and the good – to build fifty more Churches – of which I was one of the first – and, some might argue, the best….

I am, after all, Grade One Listed….

In the space right in front of me there was a huge maypole, hung with ribbons, which people loved to dance round. 

There were theatres and taverns, and everyone was out for a good time.

It was, in short, the most notorious red light district in London.

Queen Anne – famous for her piety…..

……..wanted to raise the tone of the place – so she gave orders to build me. She also wanted to upstage the maypole – by erecting a column of stone that was even taller and putting a statue of herself right at the top….

The column was started – but never finished. Anne died before my foundation stone was laid. That’s when the troubles began.

Anne had no children – despite nineteen pregnancies – and never named her successor. So factions had formed everywhere – even in the Commission for Building Fifty Churches…

Especially in the Commission for Building Fifty Churches.

Queen Anne’s nearest relative was James Francis Edward Stuart – later nick-named ‘The Old Pretender’ – from the same Stuart family as Anne…..

But he was a Roman Catholic, and so in exile, barred by an Act of Parliament from becoming King. In spite of that, he called himself James the Third….

The Tories on the Commission favoured his succession, hoping he would turn into an Anglican. They were called Jacobites because Jacobus was the Latin name for James.

Anne’s nearest non-Catholic relation was Prince George of Hanover – a strict Lutheran Protestant.

The Whigs on the Commission favoured his succession – hoping he would learn to speak English. They were called Hanoverians because they backed the House of Hanover.

The Tory party was, as usual, hopelessly divided – so the Whigs won. Prince George of Hanover became King George the First of England.

So when they finally came to design me, everyone thought I would be very Lutheran, very Protestant, and very Plain Jane.

But just look at me! Look at my ceiling, arched like the sky!

Look at my gold, real gold, cascading down to the altar!

Look at my cherubs! Look at my star-bursts!

And if the architect had had his way, my ceiling would be awash with blue…….

……..and my walls swirling with paintings of Mary and the Apostles….

(The Chapel at Wimpole – which Gibbs designed without the constraints of the Commissioners)

A lot of people ask if I’m Roman Catholic. No – I’m an Anglican Parish Church – and proud of it.

So how did I come to look like this?

For a start, my young Scottish architect, James Gibbs, was a devout Roman Catholic – so devout he travelled to Rome to be ordained. But he left after a violent argument with the Rector of the Scots College there – and pursued his other great love – architecture.

He returned to Britain in his mid-20s and, like many young Scotsmen before him, came down to London to seek his fortune.

To begin with he starved – but within a few years he was appointed Surveyor to the Commission for Fifty Churches – then, at the age of 30 – he was given the great honour of designing me.

He had never built a public building in his life – and he won the commission in direct competition with Sir John Vanbrugh…..

– who had built Blenheim Palace and had been knighted by King George just a few weeks before.

How could this possibly have happened?


The young Gibbs was personable…….

…..and gregarious – people called him ‘Signor Gibbi’ – and he was a Jacobite Tory. But of even more use in networking, he was a Freemason. A Jacobite Freemason.

Even the Freemasons split up into Jacobites and Hanoverians…

The Earl of Mar – a fellow Scot –

Kneller, Godfrey; John Erskine (1675-1732), 6th Earl of Mar;

…….put pressure on fellow Jacobite Freemasons like Sir Christopher Wren to promote Gibbs.

Wren stacked the Commission meetings with his placemen – including his son – and pushed Gibbs’s appointments through.

In defiance of King George – who wanted all the Jewish people to leave England – Gibbs based my design on the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.  Outside, you can see I have two pillars……

……and a porch….

Inside, an inner sanctum with high windows….

….. and a Holy of Holies…..

The Temple of Solomon was special to Freemasons, for whom it represented the highest point in human civilisation.

But it was also special to the Stuart family. King James the Sixth of Scotland……

…….had built his own Temple of Solomon at Stirling Castle –

…..and when, way back in 1603, he became King James the First of England as well – he was painted as King Solomon on the ceiling of the Banqueting House in London. 

King James the Second – his grandson…..

……was pushed from the throne for being a Roman Catholic and forced to flee abroad. He compared his Stuart family to the Jews in exile. Gibbs – by re-creating the Temple – was willing the Stuarts – by magic almost – to return to the land that was rightly theirs.

But everything nearly fell apart for Gibbs.

In 1715 the Earl of Mar led a Jacobite rebellion to bring the Old Pretender back to the throne. His protégé, Gibbs, was accused of being a ‘disaffected person’. Gibbs denied the charge but worked as a Jacobite agent for Mar.

He was sacked from the Commission – now completely Hanoverian – but offered to complete me entirely for free.

This was an offer the Commission couldn’t refuse – but they lived to regret it. By not paying Gibbs, they had no control over him – so as well as bringing Jerusalem to the Strand, he brought the Vatican.

The Commission got alarmed – and demanded to see designs before they were executed – but Gibbs carried on, regardless. He covered my walls and ceiling with cheeky Jacobite symbols – and added more when the Old Pretender gave birth to the Young Pretender in 1720 – Bonnie Prince Charlie…

I’ll talk about these symbols when we next meet – but one of them I shall explain now….

The one that every visitor asks about – the triangle in the apse above the High Altar….

For Gibbs – whose Roman Catholic faith remained with him till the end of his days – the triangle’s most important meaning was the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. 

But within the Triangle are the first two Hebrew Letters of the Ineffable Name of God….

Jonathan Swift explains how Freemasonry had existed for centuries in Scotland but under a different name – Kabbalah – or Jewish mysticism. Swift also describes how the Knights Templar – when they were persecuted in Jerusalem – fled to Scotland – where they were given refuge.  In return, they fought with Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn – and defeated the English!

Legend has it that they discovered holy artefacts in a secret vault in the ruins of the Temple of Solomon

– and one was a golden triangle, inscribed with the name of God – which they called ‘the Delta of Enoch’….

The Earl of Mar decided to create a new, chivalric, ‘Order of the Temple’ – composed of the Chiefs of the Scottish Clans – dedicated to restoring the Stuarts. 

Their secret symbol was the triangle….

When he landed in Scotland, in 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie became the Grand Master of the Order….

…and on 30th September of that year appeared in Holyrood House in the full regalia of a Templar Knight…..

(A Later Grand Master of the Order of the Temple)

The rebellion failed, as everyone knows, and ended in the carnage of Culloden. But five years later, the Young Pretender returned to London – and David Hume, the Scottish philosopher……..

…….says that Bonnie Prince Charlie paid me a visit in secret…

Some modern historians have pooh-poohed this story – but I am here to tell you that it’s true – and that Signor Gibbi – by then in the last years of his hugely successful life – was waiting in the shadows to meet and honour the man he considered to be the true Prince of Wales.

And here’s a thought: if the Young Pretender had been crowned, he would have become King Charles the Third…

Anyway, that’s how I remember it all. But as I said at the beginning – I’m a very old building…

When we meet again, I’ll tell you more of my tales – but for the moment, God bless – and stay safe….

© Stewart Trotter 21 November 2022


As You Like It was written, we believe, to celebrate the wedding of Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton (‘Harry Southampton’)……

……..and Elizabeth Vernon, a poor cousin of the Earl of Essex…….

Elizabeth Vernon preparing for her wedding. Brides wore their hair down for the ceremony – and afterwards covered their bosoms. with the ruff and frontpiece depicted here. Because she never wed, Queen Elizabeth kept her front bare.

……at the end of August,1598.

It was originally given an outdoor performance in the grounds of a stately home, with its greenwood trees and brawling brooks serving as a background, but this time the stately home was NOT Place House in Titchfield.

Harry Southampton had taken up residence in Queen Elizabeth’s Court in 1595 at the age of 22. Everyone expected him to become the ageing Queen’s new lover, replacing an exhausted Earl of Essex…..

…….but he had fallen for one of her young Ladies-in-Waiting – the beautiful, but volatile Elizabeth V. The Queen was furious when she found out and banished Harry from the Court: but Harry persisted in his love-suit, and commissioned William Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet as a way of wooing her.  

Despite the play, or perhaps because of it, Harry and Elizabeth V. continued to have a stormy, off-on relationship – and at one point it was rumoured Elizabeth had run off with another man. Harry himself was ambivalent, insisting he needed time to think about the relationship – and in 1598, the Queen gave him permission to travel to Europe as a spy. Elizabeth V. responded to this with tears and tantrums – and the two ended up in bed.

By the end of August Harry was back in England, having docked at Margate to keep his visit a secret: Elizabeth V. was pregnant.  Harry wrote to her uncle, the Earl of Essex, asking for a clandestine meeting. We know from Essex’s reply on 25th August that Harry had ridden straight down to Leaze Priory in Essex – where Elizabeth V. was staying with Penelope Rich, Essex’s sister……

unknown artist; Penelope Rich (1563-1607), Countess of Devonshire; Lambeth Palace; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/penelope-rich-15631607-countess-of-devonshire-87194

– and married her on the spot.

As a consequence, Harry was on a direct collision course with the Queen, who insisted that every aristocratic wedding be vetted by her.  Harry had hoped that Elizabeth V.’s uncle, the Earl of Essex, would intercede on his behalf. But Essex himself had been banished from the court for daring to turn his back on the Queen.  We know that Harry was back in France by September 3rd because Robert Cecil wrote a letter to him on that date, telling him the Queen was ‘grievously offended’ by his coming and going so ‘contemptuously’ and his marriage to a Lady-in-Waiting ‘without her privity. She ordered Harry to return to England and wait to be summoned.

What had Harry done between August 25th and the beginning of September? We believe that, in an act of reckless bravura, Harry had thrown a wedding celebration at Leaze Priory and had asked Shakespeare to rush together an entertainment. The title – As You Like It – might well have been a dig at Her Majesty: this was something she wouldn’t like at all!

The play has all the signs of hasty composition. There are no real sub-plots, the passage of time is crudely marked with songs and deer hunts, and two of the characters even have the same name. But the rapid composition does give the entertainment a spontaneous, improvisatory quality – and a ring of truth. We believe Shakespeare has based the characters in the play – mostly exiles from the Court of Duke Frederick – on the wedding guests at Leaze Priory – mostly exiles from the Court of Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare got them to play themselves, proof positive that all the world really was a stage.

So who played what? We think John Harington……

– a friend of Harry’s who had the distinction of inventing the water-closet – played the melancholy Jacques – and that the name Jacques/Jakes is a jokey reference to his invention. Jacques is accused of being a libertine by Duke Senior – so was Harington by the Queen when he was found distributing erotic poetry by Ariosto to her Ladies-in-Waiting. Jacques is in exile from the Court: so was Harington, forced by the Queen to stay away till had translated the whole of Orlando Furioso as a ‘punishment’. Both Jacques and Harington are wry, outside observers of the absurdities of life, both are stopped from speaking the truth and both are known as ‘The Traveller’.  

Tom Nashe, the pamphleteer………

……..we believe, not only played the role of Touchstone: he wrote the part as well.  Touchstone’s words ‘roynish’ and ‘horn-beast’ appear nowhere else in Shakespeare – but they do appear in Nashe’s pamphlets. Some editors argue that Shakespeare lifted Touhchstone’s phrase ‘false gallop’ from Nashe’s Strange Newes : but it is much more likely that Nashe was Shakespeare’s gag-writer. Like Touchstone, Nashe had been banished from the Court after writing a satirical play, with Ben Jonson, about the Privy Council. Touchstone doesn’t care for living in the country – and neither did Nashe!

The part of Duke Senior – banished to the Forest of Arden – was played by the Earl of Essex – banished by the Queen to Wanstead. Both Essex and Duke Senior were very attracted to the reclusive country life – and both have a highly developed sense of chivalry and courtesy: when Orlando threatens him with violence, he invites him to sit and eat. Essex was in constant communication with King James VI who was developing these ideals at his Scottish Court – and, fully believing in ‘second sight’, encouraged the practice of rites, rituals and magic in the open air. It is thought that when he became King of England as well as Scotland, King James attended a performance of As You Like it at Wilton – the Pembroke family home.

Celia was played, we think, by Penelope Rich and Rosalind by Elizabeth V. Both were best friends in real life: Elizabeth V.’s daughter was later named Penelope and Penelope became the baby’s Godmother. Penelope, who we think played the Princess of France at Titchfield – with plays on her surname – was famously tall, as is Celia in the first mention of her height by Le Beau the First Folio edition of the play. There is also a play on her name and features in Rosalind’s phrase ‘rich eyes’: Penelope was renowned for her black eyes and fair hair….

(c) Lambeth Palace; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Elizabeth V. certainly looks tiny in the paintings of her and Orlando says she comes ‘up to my heart’ – though other mentions of Rosalind in the play suggest she was in fact taller than Celia. We believe this is because in later productions of the play, Rosalind was played by a taller boy actor, and the text hasn’t been properly amended.

Celia calls Rosalind ‘my Rose’ and ‘my dear Rose’[Shakespeare’s italics] in honour of Elizabeth V. new family name – Wriothesley – pronounced (by Harry and Shakespeare at least) – as ‘Rosely’. And she is given a coded identification when Orlando He asks the ‘thrice crown-ed queen of night’ (= the Moon = Diana = The Virgin Queen Elizabeth) to ‘survey/with they chaste eye, from thy pale sphere above/Thy huntress name that my full life doth sway’. ‘Huntress’ = Maidservant of Diana = Lady-in-Waiting to Diana = Elizabeth V.)

There is no doubt at all that Orlando was played by Harry. Orlando’s hair is described as ‘chestnut ’in the play: in the sonnets, Harry’s hair is likened to ‘buds of marjoram’.  Orlando is a bad time-keeper – so was Harry as we know from Sonnet 57 where Shakespeare describes himself as being Harry’s ‘slave’ and ‘watching the clock’ for him.

So what was Shakespeare’s intention in writing As You Like It? We think it was like a modern day Best Man’s speech – which both celebrates the bride and groom and sends them up. Shakespeare and Harry had their own love for each other – an affair that lasted, off and on, for fifteen years. Harry had a life-long weakness for lower class young men which was the source of his ambivalence about Elizabeth V. So in the play Shakespeare pours sunlight on this shadow – and dresses Elizabeth up as a pretty youth – everything Orlando could possibly want. But at the end of the day, it is Rosalind/Elizabeth V. that he wants. Shakespeare has made his mind up for him.

What of Shakespeare himself?

The tradition in Stratford was that he played Old Adam. Now Shakespeare might well have been taken with the idea of being carried in the arms of his own Lord and Patron. But the TFT thinks that he also played William – who, like Shakespeare, lives in the Forest of Arden. William has clearly taken his hat off when he speaks to Touchstone, so the audience would have seen his hair – which we know from Sonnet 73 had largely fallen out like ‘yellow leaves’ from a tree……

So when asked his age, and William replies ‘25’, it most probably brought the house down.

But there is a darkness over this sunlit play. Duke Frederick, with his capriciousness, his jealousies, his paranoias, his banishments and his suspicions – is Queen Elizabeth in drag.

Roman Catholics, like Harry and Shakespeare, hoped Elizabeth would convert to the Old Faith – and in the play Duke Frederick does.

But this was not to be in real life. Within three years of this play, the Earl of Essex was to lead a rebellion against the tyrannical Queen – and within three years he was to have his head cut off in the Tower of London.   

The brawling brook that runs runs by Leaze Priory

(A Programme Note for the production of the play by the Titchfield Festival Theatre)

The existence of Titus Andronicus is one of the strongest pieces of evidence we have that Harry, Third Earl of Southampton……..

……and William Shakespeare……..

…..visited Europe in the Spring of 1593.

The play’s first mention is in London Theatre Manager Henslowe’s diary as a ‘new’ play on 23rd January, 1594. At that time the story only existed in a chap-book, written in Italian and only available in Rome. The most simple and obvious deduction is that Shakespeare picked up the book when he was in the Eternal City – along with a lot of other Italian novellas that he recycled, uncredited, into plays.

Titus Andronicus might have been ‘new’ to Henslowe, but the Shakespeare Code believes it is one of the plays that had its first performances in Titchfield. With its pit, elder tree, horse-riding and arrow shooting, it is more suited to ‘outdoor’ performance than ‘indoor’. It is also full of references to the Earl of Southampton’s entourage.

For example, there is no ‘Aemilius’ mentioned in the source of the play, nor is there a ‘Bassianus’. But there was a dark-skinned, Jewish musician who had been involved in a love-triangle with Shakespeare and Southampton at Titchfield –  and her name was Aemilia Bassano.

Similarly, there is no ‘Saturninus’ in the source – but ‘Old Saturnus’ was the nick-name given to Southampton’s pompous guardian, Lord Burghley……..

…….who was Queen Elizabeth’s right-hand man. Shakespeare even makes a mocking reference to him in Sonnet 98:

‘Old Saturnus’ had helped Princess Elizabeth rise to the top, as Saturninus helps Tamora, Queen of the Goths, to do the same.

From you [Harry Southampton] I have been absent in the spring

When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,

Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,

That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.

The play also mirrors the political pressures on the Southampton entourage. Queen Elizabeth had refused to name her successor and people were terrified civil war would break out on her death – as it does at the beginning of Titus Andronicus.

The Countess of Southampton…….

…… and the Countess of Pembroke…….

……(at nearby Wilton) pooled resources to commission plays and poems which examined the situation – and criticised the conduct of the Queen. The Southamptons were committed Catholics and so the natural enemies of Elizabeth – but the Protestant Countess of Pembroke – who had been banned from the Court – hated Elizabeth for another reason: the Queen had destroyed her brother, Sir Philip Sidney’s, career as a soldier and politician……

…….He had been forced into the humiliation of becoming a poet….

There can be no doubt that Tamora, who is compared in the play to Phoebe and Diana and who rides a white horse – is a savage caricature of Queen Elizabeth – who was also compared to Phoebe and Diana and who also rode a white horse.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is elizabeth-at-tilbury-001.jpg

Both Tamora and Elizabeth had also experienced public humiliation: Tamora at the beginning of the play has ‘to kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain’ while Elizabeth, when a Princess, had to sit on a stone, in the rain, outside the Tower of London. Tamora takes vengeance on the Andronicus family when Titus kills her son – and Elizabeth took vengeance on the Roman Catholics in England who had tried to chop off her head.

There is also – in Catholic eyes at least – a similarity in the sexual tastes of the two Queens. Aaron describes how, when he told Tamora he had sent back the two heads of his sons to Titus…

She sounded [swooned] almost at my pleasing tale

And for my tidings gave me twenty kisses.

Tamora is sexually excited by violence in the way Catholics claimed Elizabeth was. Elizabeth had ordered two men (who had written and circulated pamphlets criticising her) to have their right hands amputated. She had set up  the block beneath the window of her bedchamber.

A Jesuit Priest called Thomas Pormont had also reported how Elizabeth’s hangman – Richard Topcliffe – boasted to him that he would fondle the Queen’s breast and ‘belly’ as he described the tortures he had inflicted on Catholics. As a reward, the Queen had presented him with ‘white linen hose wrought with white silk’.

Tamora pretends to be good-hearted but slaughters her enemies. Elizabeth – who claims she wants ‘to make no windows into men’s hearts’- does exactly the same. Her victims included Edward Arden, a relative of Shakespeare’s mother, and the Jesuit Robert Southwell, who described Shakespeare as his ‘cousin’. Elizabeth even hanged the Southampton family’s old friend and Titchfield schoolmaster, Swithin Wells, right outside the Countess’s London home.

So if the play seems overly violent it is partly because the times were overly violent. And the most violent character of all is Aaron the Moor – a caricature of Elizabeth’s lover and henchman, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester……

…… known as ‘the Gipsy’ because of his dark skin.

Leicester had died in Armada year, six years before the play – so Shakespeare was able to lampoon him without ending up hanged, drawn and quartered. For, according to a Jesuit book – Leicester’s Commonwealth – Leicester had done everything that Aaron does. He poisoned rivals, he poisoned their wives and used magic spells to get his way. He rose to power by nailing his colours to Princess Elizabeth’s mast – as Aaron does in the play to Tamora’s:

I will be bright and shine in pearls and gold,

To wait upon this new made empress.

One of the Gipsy’s poison victims had been the First Earl of Essex…….

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex 1539 – 76 (1572). Unknown 16th century. Date: 1572

….. who, like Titus, had been fighting for his country abroad.  His son, the Second Earl of Essex…….

…..was a close friend of Harry Southampton and his entourage – so would certainly have seen Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare portrays him in the play as Lucius, the son of murdered Titus – and when he shows Lucius attacking Rome it’s a hint to Essex that he should do the same in London – and over-throw Elizabeth with a foreign army.

Rome – ‘a wilderness of tigers’ – was often used in Elizabethan times as a satirical name for ‘London’ – but where in the play does the satire end and the ‘tragedie’ begin?

When Shakespeare returned to England in 1593 he encountered two more real life horrors – the murder of Christopher Marlowe in a drunken brawl in Deptford……

…… and the brutal torture of Thomas Kyd in the Tower on suspicion of atheism. Both playwrights were friends who had a pronounced influence on Shakespeare – Marlowe with his passion and his violence and Kyd with his suicides and revenge. There are whole passages in Titus Andronicus that could have been written by either of these men. But we see in the play Shakespeare struggling to find his own voice. He wanted to create a more mature form of tragedy than had existed before.

The German philosopher, Hegel……

…… thought that true tragedy springs from the conflict of two irreconcilable ‘rights’. Titus is ‘right’, in terms of his Pagan religion, to sacrifice Tamora’s son to liberate the souls of his own sons: but Tamora is also ‘right’ to seek revenge for the murder of hers.

We know from his Sonnets that Shakespeare was not above seeking revenge in real life – but his plays were ‘better’ than he was. His characters often struggle hard to forgive others and to empathise with them. Titus, for example, displays a dark certainty and terrifying grandeur as he slits the throats of Tamora’s sons and bakes their heads in a pie. But he transforms into a sublime force of nature itself when he pities his mutilated daughter:

I am the sea. Hark how her sighs doth blow;

She is the weeping welkin, I the earth:

Then must my sea be moved with her sighs

Then must my earth with her continual tears

Become a deluge, over-flow’d and drown’d;

For why my bowels cannot hide her oes,

But like a drunkard I must vomit them.

And even Aaron realises that the loving, loyal Lucius has a spirituality he lacks:

Yet for I know thou [Lucius] art religious

And hast a thing within thee called conscience,

With twenty popish tricks and ceremonies

Which I have seen thee careful to observe…

And though Aaron hates the whole of mankind, he adores the baby he has produced with Tamora. Even the most evil of people can be touched by the love for their own flesh and blood – and that, for Shakespeare, dignifies and ennobles the worst of human kind. They are, in some way, redeemable.

Shakespeare is striving to invent Christian Tragedy.

But the play has a huge, perhaps irredeemable, flaw for a modern audience. When Aaron says…..

Aaron will have his soul black like his face

…..he is equating ‘black’ with ‘bad’. And so, it seems, is Shakespeare.

But, when he was in love with the dark skinned Aemilia Bassano, he argued that ‘black was beautiful’.

He acknowledges, in Sonnet 127, that in the olden times, a black skin was not thought of as ‘fair’ – but now white skinned women so ‘slander’ their beauty with wigs and make-up that the purity of a black skin, brows and eyes has become the new ‘fair’ – and….

 ….every tongue says beauty should look so.

Aemilia was much more interested in handsome, young, rich Harry Southampton and so dumped Shakespeare. In a hurt fury, Shakespeare started to use black in the Sonnets as a term of abuse.

But the fact that Shakespeare invents an Aemilius and a Bassianus – and even gives the Moor Aaron a Jewish name – shows that Aemilia was still very much on his mind – or at least his unconscious mind.

And that part of him still found her the most beautiful woman on earth.

( A Programme Note for the production of the play by the Titchfield Festival Theatre)

In 1964, George P. V. Akrigg, a Canadian academic, visited Titchfield. He was doing research for his book, Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, and called in at St. Peter’s Church, where he noticed a ‘little guide’ to the Parish which was ‘sold at the door there’.   Written by Rev. G. Stanley Morley – the Vicar of Titchfield for nineteen years – it had been published in 1934, cost sixpence and put all of Akrigg’s research into doubt.

Morley reported there was a tradition at Titchfield that the Third Earl of Southampton’s ‘romance’ with Elizabeth Vernon – a Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth……

…….had inspired William Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet’ and that it ‘was acted for the first time in Titchfield.’

Akrigg wrote that this story was ‘too late to have any authority’ and cites the anthropologist, Lord Raglin, who pours scorn on ‘local traditions’ offered by ‘rural’ clergymen with only a ‘smattering of history’. What Akrigg didn’t mention was that Morley was a Cambridge M.A. and an Inspector of Schools – and what Akrigg didn’t know was that there was a long established tradition of staging plays at Titchfield.

Jane Wriothesley, 1st  Countess of Southampton……

Photo Ross Underwood

……hosted Christmas entertainments for the local people even before the Abbey had been converted and her husband, Thomas Wriothesly, later 1st Earl of Southampton, had been a keen amateur actor at Cambridge.

Photo Ross Underwood

Their son, the 2nd Earl of Southampton……

Photo Ross Underwood

……..married Mary Browne…….

……the daughter of Anthony Browne – who in 1554 had been created Viscount Montague by Philip of Spain, then also King of England.

Lord Montague was sent to Italy the following year on diplomatic service – and here he would certainly have learnt about the family feuds of ‘I Montecchi’ and ‘I Capuletti’ which stretched back to Dante in the fourteenth century.

By 1562, an English translation of the Italian tale had turned the families into the ‘Montagews’ and ‘Capalets’ – and when Lord Montague’s son and daughter (twin brother and half-sister of Mary Browne/Southampton) married in a double wedding, George Gascoigne wrote a masque for the event based on the old feud story. But he turned the Veronese Montagew into a Venetian for the duration because the family had ‘bought furniture of silks, etc., and had caused their costumes to be cut of the Venetian fashion’.

As Queen Elizabeth’s reign progressed, Place House in Titchfield became a centre of the arts and learning. Elizabethan aristocrats disliked living in smelly, crowded London – and the men were addicted to hunting deer, boar and hare on their estates. The women needed something to occupy their minds – so they many of them engaged in amateur acting, employing professional actors and writers – like William Shakespeare – to up their game.

Mary Southampton also employed Shakespeare as tutor to her teenage son, the 3rd Earl, Harry Southampton……

…..and commissioned him to write seventeen sonnets to celebrate her son’s seventeenth birthday and encourage him to marry Elizabeth Vere – the grand-daughter of his guardian, Lord Burghley. But there was a problem: Harry wasn’t interested in women. And there was another problem: Harry was interested in Shakespeare. We know all this from reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets – which tell us that Shakespeare wanted to keep the relationship with Harry Platonic. It seems Shakespeare had been initiated into gay life by Christopher Marlowe in London……..

……..but an affair with Harry would have clashed, to say the least, with his working brief from Mary Southampton.

Queen Elizabeth – and all her court and soldiers – went on one of her Progresses to Hampshire in 1591. Lord Montague staged an entertainment for her – in which he and his wife took part – over several days in the grounds of Cowdray Castle. In the Queen’s entourage was the beautiful, dark-skinned, mixed race musician – Aemilia Basanno – who forms the subject of the plays in the Great Barn’s Shakespeare Season. It was with her that Romeo and Juliet had its beginnings…..

Shakespeare fell madly in love with her – even though she was the mistress of the Queen’s cousin, old Lord Hunsdon…….

Shakespeare made a play for her at Titchfield by casting her as the coquettish, black-eyed Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost and himself as her wooer Berowne – an anagram of the Browne family name.

But Rosaline/Aemilia was having none of it: her cap was set at young Lord Harry – and she teased and flirted with him till he fell in love with her as well. Shakespeare in an agony of jealousy went off on tour – imagining the two of them in bed together, in the way Othello does with Desdemona and Cassio. But, in a torment of passion, he came to realise that he was more in love with the boy than the girl. Aemilia became pregnant and was hurriedly married off to a ‘minstrel’ and Shakespeare declared his love for Harry in the great sonnet, ‘Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?’.

Mary Southampton soon twigged what was going on – but Shakespeare reminded her that she, in her youth, had loved in an unconventional way. She had fallen in love with ‘a common person’ and her husband had snatched her son Harry away from her. There was war between the Southampton and Montague families – and their servants took part in street brawls so seriously they were put in jail. Compare this with the first scene of Romeo and Juliet.

When he came into his early 20s, Harry was expected to reside at Queen Elizabeth’s Court – and everyone assumed he would take over the Earl of Essex’s role as the Queen’s lover. Essex – codename ‘The Weary Knight’ – was more than happy to hand over to his younger friend. But Harry fell in love with one of Elizabeth’s beautiful, young, Ladies-in-Waiting, Elizabeth Vernon. As a consequence:

  1. Mary Southampton was thrilled as it meant the Southampton family name would continue.
  2. Essex was delighted because Elizabeth V. was his poor cousin.
  3. The Queen was furious because she was being upstaged by one of her attendants.
  4. Elizabeth V. was uncertain because she was highly strung and uncertain about her feelings and..
  5. Shakespeare was downright ambivalent. He wanted Harry to marry – but he didn’t want Harry to marry.

The combined forces of Mary Southampton and Essex persuaded Shakespeare to write a play to persuade Elizabeth V. to accept Harry as her lover. So Romeo and Juliet was born. Harry played Romeo, Elizabeth V. played Juliet, Shakespeare played Mercutio and the whole thing was staged as a wooing game at Place House.


P.S. Half a Dozen Things to Look Out for in Romeo and Juliet.

1. Everyone was worried that Harry might still have some vestigial love for Aemilia/Rosaline. That’s why Romeo is presented at first as being in love with Rosaline – but then becomes convinced that Rosaline/Aemilia is, in fact, ‘a crow’.

2. There is a coded attack on Queen Elizabeth in the play. The Virgin Queen was referred to as ‘the Moon’ so when Romeo/Harry says to Juliet/Elizabeth V. ‘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’ it is a reference to the Queen’s jealousy of her Ladies-in-Waiting – and the beginnings of the Essex/Southampton plot to overthrow the Queen.

Romeo/Harry then goes on to advise Juliet/Elizabeth V. to give up her her position as attendant to the Queen: ‘Be not her maid since she [Queen Elizabeth] is envious/Her vestal livery is but sick and green/And none but fools do wear it’.

3. Juliet/Elizabeth V. famously says: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Shakespeare, in his Sonnets calls Harry ‘my rose’ – a reference to the Southampton rose and the way Harry pronounced his family name ‘Wriothesley’. The cadet members of the family pronounced it ‘Risley’ and used this spelling in their letters. But we know from the Titchfield Parish Register that Harry pronounced it ‘Ryosely’ – and possibly even ‘Rosely’

4. Christopher Marlowe who had been killed by the time Romeo and Juliet was written – had a tremendous influence on Shakespeare’s notions of love. In his poem Hero and Leander he writes|: ‘Whoever loved who loved not at first sight?’ and Shakespeare’s play makes this idea central. Shakespeare himself, in his Sonnets, writes about the moment his ‘eye’ first ‘eyed’ young Harry.

5. Elizabeth V.’s emotional turbulence was to prove a problem for the next few years – and the relationship was nearly broken off at one point when Harry thought she was having an affair with another man. So Shakespeare creates a woman in Juliet who is CERTAIN of her love – and her passion – for Romeo in the hopes that it might rub off on Elizabeth V. herself. It did. She proved a warm and loving wife to Harry.

6. John Dryden reports that Shakespeare said that he had to kill Mercutio off or Mercutio would have killed him. Shakespeare IS Mercutio – with all his wild, dark fantasy and over-whelming love for Romeo/Harry. There are times when Shakespeare’s sonnets are filled with despair and desire for death – and the play itself – written at time of political turbulence when the Queen had imposed Martial Law – deals with a society that is consumed with violence and betrayal. Shakespeare in the play seems to be saying the only thing that is real in life is your emotions. To be authentic, you must follow them to the very end.

P.P.S. The moment this Programme Note was submitted, the most important idea came into my head! I have argued that, as a Roman Catholic, Shakespeare believed that the living could influence the fate of the dead – that’s why Requiem Masses were celebrated and the well-being of souls were prayed for. Mary Southampton and her husabnd the 2nd Earl of Southampton were ardent Catholics – but they died with their quarrel unresolved: the Houses of Montague and Southampton were still, spiritually, at war. The 2nd Earl had snatched away their son, Harry, in 1580 – and banished Mary from their house. My belief is that A Midsummer Night’s Dream – with its war between Oberon and Titania over the little changeling boy, reflects the war between Mary and her husband. And that the reconciliation of the Fairy King and Queen represents Shakespeare’s attempt at a spiritual reconciliation between the dead husband and a living wife. Similarly, I know feel that by resolving the family feud of the Montagues and Capulets, Shakespeare is attempting the same spiritual reconcilaition of the houses of the Montagues and Southamptons.


Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code

Your Cat is addressing you from a secret location in West London.

Word has just reached us that The Shakespeare Code has received its…..

350,000th VIEW!!!

Yes ……


Our Chief Agent, STEWART TROTTER…..


…….famed for his modesty even as a Schoolboy…….

……has gone to ground….

……to avoid the inevitable Press clamour.

But he has asked Your Cat to thank you all for your support and interest.

In the words of Queen Elizabeth I….

he has…..

Reigned with your loves….

Your Cat is now off for a night on the tiles……

God bless….

And ‘bye now….

Brothers and Sisters of the Shakespeare Code…

This is the third and final Interval Talk this season – a collaboration between The Shakespeare Code and….

The Season has been a huge success and has given us the opportunity of presenting entirely new material online.

We hope that this will be the start of manny collaborations with the remarkable Kevin Fraser.

‘The Taming of THE Shrew’ – the Inside Story.

On Valentine’s Day, 1598, Sir Gilly Merrick……

made a very great supper

…….at Essex House in the Strand….

Present were the Second Earl of Essex, his mother, his sisters, Lord Mountjoy and many ‘other Lords’.

Two plays were performed which kept everyone up till 1 a.m. The Titchfield Festival Theatre and The Shakespeare Code believes they were the premieres of Much Ado about Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew.

THE Shrew – not A Shrew. The Taming of a Shrew is an earlier play, written at the time of the Spanish Armada, by Thomas Kyd and William Shakespeare. We know this because Thomas Nashe tells us so, in code, in his Preface to Robert Greene’s Menaphon, published in 1589.in code, in his Preface to Robert Greene’s Menaphon, published in 1589. Nashe attacks the writers – both mere ‘grammarians’ – that is, grammar school boys – for writing a line in A Shrew about…

the icy hair that grows on Boreas chin…..

Boreas was the North Wind, and Nashe found it ridiculous that wind could have a chin.

We also know that the two grammarians were Kyd and Shakespeare because Nashe writes in his Preface about…

the Kyd in Aesop


kill-cow conceit.

John Aubrey…..

…records how Shakespeare, as a boy…..

when he killed a calf would do it in a high style and make a speech…

Nashe also tells us that Kyd and Shakespeare lodged together at Westminster……

………worked during the day as lawyers’ clerks, and wrote pamphlets and plays in the evening by candlelight. They would then starch their beards – just as Bottom does in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and make their way along the Strand into the City.

Here they would….

turn over French dowdie.

Some scholars think ‘French dowdie’ means French books.

Others, French women.

The Taming of A Shrew has a different setting to The Taming of The Shrew. We are in Ancient Athens, in the age of Plato and Aristotle, and time scheme is over two days.

Christopher Sly appears…..

….with the same name, but stays to the end of the play. He is put back into his old clothes when he is asleep and believes he has had….

the best dream he ever had in his life

He also now knows…..

how to tame a shrew.

Structurally, the old version of the play is better than the new, where Sly slips out of the action.

The Shrew is also called ‘Kate’, but her suitor is called ‘Ferando’. She decides to marry him because…

she has lived too long a maid…

….but determines to….

match him too.

She plays the lute and threatens to strike her serving-maid, Valeria.

Queen Elizabeth also famously played the lute……

…and famously struck her Ladies-in-Waiting. It soon becomes clear that the battle of wills between Kate and Ferando is a satire on the fights between Elizabeth and her first lover, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester….

Ferando feeds Kate meat from his dagger – as Tamburlaine does to a conquered king in Christopher Marlowe’s play….

….and decides to divide power between Kate and himself. She will rule one day – and he the next.

One bystander believes the two are well-matched – but another predicts Ferando will never tame Kate…

for when he has done she will do what she list..

A third adds….

her manhood is good

….promoting the ideas that Elizabeth was really a man.

But Kate does tread her cap underfoot when asked to and gioves a |Biblical rason why every woman should obey her husband:

Then to his image did God make a man,

Old Adam, and from his side asleep

A rib was taken of which the Lord did make,

The woe of man so termed by Adam then,

Woman for that, by her came sin to us,

And for her sin was Adam doomed to die,

As Sara to her husband, so should we,

Obey them, love them, keep and nourish them…

This is very much a criticism of Elizabeth. Many men, especially Roman Catholics, believed that by ascending the throne of England, and then creating herself the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Elizabeth was usurping the power and authority God had given to males.

A lot of women thought the same – including the Countess of Pembroke, living at Wilton….

She was a Protestant, but hated Elizabeth because she had destroyed the political career of her brother, Sir Philip Sidney…

Under her older husband’s name and title, she ran a company of players who performed anti-Elizabeth plays and who toured The Taming of a Shrew right up to 1596.

When Shakespeare came to re-write The Taming of a Shrew in 1598 he changed the setting of the -play from Ancient Greece to contemporary Italy.


Well, one of the reasons, we believe, was he had been there.

Henry Wriothesley – or ‘Harry Southampton’ as he signed himself –

……..wrote a letter from Dieppe to the Earl of Essex, offering his services to him. It is dated 2nd March but with no year marked.

We believe that year to be 1593 – and that Harry, Shakespeare and little Tom Nashe – now on board as a collaborator rather than a critic – travelled to the Lowlands, Spain and Italy as secret spies for Essex. This isn’t as odd as it might appear: Christopher Marlowe….

……openly gay and openly atheist – had already worked as a spy for the government and Harry Southampton was was to be officially recruited as a spy by Lord Burghley in 1598.

This trip changed Shakespeare’s life. He saw Titian’s Venus and Adonis……

and Rape of Lucrece…..

…….in Madrid and thei9r depth and psychological complexity inspired him to write two long, narrative poems based on them. He even used the same colours in his verse as Titian had used in his paitings.

Before 1593, Shakespeare hadn’t set a single play in Italy: by 1616 there were eight of them. He lifted sixteen of his plots from Italian novellas, one, at least, only available in Rome, and referred to Italy more than 800 times.

He also filled his plays with local detail – detail so accurate people thought they were mistakes. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona Valentine sails from Verona to Milan. Both cities are inland – but it was perfectly possible to do this as the two cities were linked by canals. Canals made journeys quicker and safer – and Harry later dug one at Titchfield….

The Titchfield Canal. The three mile walk from St. Peter’s Church to the Solent is one of the most beautiful in the world.

……only the second canal in England.

Similarly in The Taming of the Shrew Tranio is described as the son of a sail-maker in Bergamo. Bergamo is land-locked – but it contains two lakes and three rivers. A glance at Google will show that Bergamo boasts of ship-building industries to this day….

Shakespeare knows Lombady was called…

the garden of Italy

…as it is by the Italian Tourist Board to this day – that Padua was close to Venice and in its protection – which Mantua was not.

But the other more pressing reason for re-writing the play was the personal and polical pressure Shakespeare and Harry were under in 1598.

When the trio got back to England, they heard that Marlowe had moved in with Kyd into Shakespeare’s old Westminster lodgings. But the next thing they heard was that Marlowe was dead – killed in a gay brawl in Deptford – and that Kyd was all butm dead, tortured on the rack in the Tower of London…

An anonymous author had penned an anti-immigrant poem and pasted it on the doors of the Dutch Church in London. The secret police had ransacked the Westminster lodgings to see if Marlowe or Kit were the author. They found no evidence of this – but they did find…..

atheistical papers.

Kyd confessed on the rack that they belonged to Marlowe. This we now know to be true, but Shakespeare never forgave Kyd. The Countess of Pembroke tried to reconcile the two men, but Shakespeare was having none of it. He even mocked lines from Kyd’s big hit The Spanish Tragedy when he came to write A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1594.

Kyd died at the end of the year, with many debts unpaid. Ben Jonson…..

……who was ambivalent about Kyd to say the least – published a poem which described as….

the poet-ape who would be thought our chief

He describes how Shakespeare would….

pick and glean

…from other men’s works and….

and buy the reversion of old plays…

…that is, buy the rights to them.

It is our belief that Shakespeare bought the rights to Kyd’s plays from his family – plays that included early versions of King Lear, Hamlet, Henry V and, of course, The Taming of the Shrew.

‘Famous Kyd’ as he was known at the time and whose plays at the time were far more popular than Shakespeare’s, became entirely forgotten until he was ‘re-discovered’ by a scholar in 1773.

1594 was also the year when Henry came of age and was expected to attend Elizabeth’s court. This was an expensive business – but it gave him access to the Queen. Essex had become Elizabeth’s lover when the Earl of Leicester died in Armada year, but the two were tiring of each other – so Essex was setting Harry up as his successor.

The gentle and debonair…

….Harry soon caught the Queen’s eye – but one of her young Ladies-in-Waiting caught his. As we have seen, Harry changed the habit of a lifetime and in 1595 began to court the beautiful, but highly-strung, Elizabeth Vernon….

…a poor cousin of the Earl of Essex – with what a gossipy courtier, Rowland Whyte, described in a coded letter as…

too much familiarity.

The Queen found out and flew into a jealous fury. When Harry attempted to help her mount her horse, she refused his help. Harry flounced out of the court. He soon returned, but was never in the Queen’s full favour again.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet as part of Harry’s wooing-process – and urged Elizabeth Vernon – in code – to leave the service of the Queen…

since she is envious [that] thou her maid are fr more fair than she.

But things between the lovers started to go wrong. Harry – who was an expert jouster – wanted fame and honour which could only be truly gained in battle. The Queen did not want to risk the lives of her handsome young men – and nor didElizabeth Vernon want to risk that of her Harry. The Queen forbad Harry to accompany Essex on the Cadiz expedition in 1596: but she relented and allowed him to go on the Islands Campaign the following year.

Harry distinguished himself: he took part in a daring expedition to cut the ropes of the harbouring Spanish ships and managed to sink a man of war. He was knighted at sea by Essex – but on return received no thanks or honours from the Queen. In fact she ordered him to leave the court at the end of 1597.

But circumstances changed completely at the beginning of 1598. Whyte writes on 14th January, again in code….

I hear my Lord Southampton goes with Mr. Secretary to France and so onward in his travels; which course of his doth extremely grieve his mistress that passes her time in weeping and lamenting…

Things got much worse five days later. Whyte writes:

I heard of some unkindness should be between the Earl of Southampton and his mistress occasioned by some report of Mr. Ambrose Willoughby. The Earl of Southampton called him to account for it, but the matter was made known to the Earl of Essex and my Lord Chamberlain, who had them under examination; what the cause is I could not learn for it was but new; but I see the Earl of Southampton is full of discontentments.

Willoughby was suggesting Elizabeth Vernon was seeing another man….

In a letter to Sir Robert Sidney, Whyte describes – how after a card game with the Queen, Southampton and Willoughby – Southampton struck Willoughby near the tennis court. Willoughby responded by snatching a lock of Southampton’s shoulder-length hair.

The Queen took Willoughby’s side and banished Harry from the court – but he was back by 28th January.

On 1st February Whyte writes:

My Lord of Southampton is much troubled at her Majesty’s strange usage of him. Somebody hath played unfriendly parts with him. Mr. Secretary hath procured him Licence to travel. His mistress doth wash her fairest face with many tears. I pray God his going away bring her no such infirmity which is, as it were, hereditary to her name.

Dorothy Vernon – whose Roman Catholic father had been Elizabeth’s grandfather – had defied her parents and eloped, on horseback, with John Manners – a second son and a Protestant.

From the opera based on that event, ‘Haddon Hall’.

Whyte is implying that with Harry away, Elizabeth might ride off with somebody else.

By 2nd February, things had changed a bit…

it is secretly said that my Lord Southampton shall be married to his fair mistress, but he asked for a little respite…

On 6th February, the Queen gave Harry permission to travel for two years, with ten servants, six horses and £200. On 10th February he left with Robert Cecil on a diplomatic mission to Henri IV in France.

On 12th February Whyte writes:

My Lord of Southampton is gone and left behind him a very desolate Gentlewoman that almost wept out her fairest eyes. He was at Essex House with the Earl of Essex and there had been much private talk with him for two hours in the court below.

Two days later, Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew were performed in the very same place. It is our view that that Harry and Elizabeth had seen run-throughs of the plays before Harry left for France – and that Shakespeare, by writing them, intended to influence the course of events. The very titles suggest what Shakespeare thought of the situation- and what the solution should be!

Shakespeare had attempted to influence Harry many times before. His first seventeen sonnets were written as a commission from Mary, 2nd Countess of Southampton…

…to persuade young Harry to marry. Romeo and Juliet had been a continuation of that process.

There was ambivalence on Shakespeare’s part: part of him wanted to keep Harry for himself. But he knew that, as an aristocrat, Harry needed to produce a son and heir. Also Shakespeare’s own son, Hamnet, had died less than two years before – so Shakespeare knew how valuable family life was. In his grief, Shakespeare had even turned Harry into his own surrogate son.

Much Ado – which editors agree was first performed in 1598 – is almost a blow by blow reconstruction of what had been happening in court. Like Essex, Don Pedro and his men have returned from the wars and are trying to adjust to a peace. There is little to do and there are spies everywhere.

Like Harry, Claudio has distinguished himself in the wars – and, like Harry, falls in love. But there is a villain who wants to upset things and who persuades him that his loved one is untrue….

The play is critical of Claudio’s gullibility – as Shakespeare is of Harry’s – and the play is partly a reprimand to him. Benedick is described as Don Pedro’s jester….

…and Shakespeare also takes up this role – speaking truth to power.

But the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is also a gloss on the Harry/Elizabeth V. relationship. Both have been engaged in a war of words and both are independently minded. Shakespeare wants to show that, happy as they claim they are, they would be much happier together.

Their love is tested by Beatrice’s order to Benedick to…

Kill Claudio!

…but it holds and play ends in festival, merriment and fulfilment. It is a world where even incompetent policemen make the right arrests.

With The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare transforms a political satire into a profound examination of the battle of the sexes. Katherine and Beatrice are sides of the same coin – and both believe they are destined to….

lead apes in Hell…

….that is, die childless. Beatrice thinks he is happy about this – but Katherina knows she is not. She is clearly miserable with life and is jealous of the love her father gives to Bianca.

Petruchio knows he can make Katherina happy – but has to take her to a deep and dark place first. Shakespeare is advising Harry not to…

seek a little respite

…..from Elizabeth – that would be fatal. But to confront her head on. He must smash the carapace she has grown around herself so she can transform and grow.

This control of a woman’s destiny by a man – however lovingly intended – horrified the Feminists in the 1970s….

And when Petruchio compares Katherina to a falcon he must tame, the past really is another country. But before we dismiss this part of the play as hopelessly chauvinistic, remember that Elizabethan men loved hunting – and the animals they hunted with – beyond life and death. To train a falcon, you had to make it part of your whole being…

Falcons even appeared in the Southampton family crest…..

…..and in the Shakespeare.

Equally problematic is Kate’s last speech when she speaks about the…

painful labour both by sea and land…

…that men do while women lie….

warm at home, secure and safe.

But again it must be remembered that she is talking about a pre-industrial age when brute strenght was often a pre-requisite of work. And when Kate argues for female subservience to men, she is not, as in A Shrew, making a theological point.

She is making an erotic one.

When she describes a woman putting her hand beneath a man’s foot….

to do him ease….

….’foot’ had a sexual meaning lost on us today.

But when, in Franco Zefirelli’s masterly film of the play, you watch Elizbath Taylor kneeling before Richard Burton…..

something of this comes across.

It is impossible to say who is dominating whom….

But the important question to ask is: What effect did these plays have on Harry and Elizabeth?

Life-changing. Literally…

On 8th November, 1598, Elizabeth, by then 3rd Countess of Southampton….


…gave birth to a little girl.

Harry and Elizabeth must have made love directly after seeing the plays….

© Stewart Trotter September, 2021.

Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code…….

This the second of the streamed interval talks the Code gave…….

……. in conjunction with…

It covers ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and touches on William Shakespeare’s other Last Plays……

…….his final reflections on life.

To do this adequately, we must first study his life itself……

Stewart Trotter has constructed this from his study – and chronological re-ordering – of Shakespeare’s Sonnets…

‘The Winter’s Tale’

Simon Forman……

………the Elizabethan/Jacobean Astrologer who counted William Shakespeare’s Dark Lady amongst his clients, and who predicted the exact day of his own death – saw ‘The Winter’s Tale’ at the Globe on 15th May, 1611. His account in his journal is the first mention we have of the play.

Shakespeare was 47 at the time and living more in Stratford-upon-Avon than London. He was editing his plays for publication and, according to local gossip, drinking so heavily he would sometimes pass out.

He was also writing what turned out to be his last plays – and processing all that had happened to him in his life.

And Titchfield had given him a lot to process…..

We believe the Roman Catholic Shakespeare joined the Roman Catholic Southampton family in 1590 as ‘fac totum’ to Mary, the widowed Second Countess of Southampton….

…….teaching at the local grammar school and tutoring Mary’s teenage son, Harry.

Lord Burghley – Harry’s guardian……

……soon replaced Shakespeare with John Florio….

…….a language teacher and scholar – but also, according to Frances Yates, a Protestant spy.

Mary countered by commissioning Shakespeare to write seventeen sonnets for her son’s seventeenth birthday, urging him to take an interest in women….

Harry Southampton

Instead, gay Harry took an interest in Shakespeare…..

But Shakespeare was married with a wife, Anne, and three children (Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith) in Stratford.

As a teenager, he had wooed his older wife with ballads……

……but had later been forced to flee to London after stealing deer from Sir Thomas Lucy…

……and writing a libellous poem about him which he hung on the gates of his park.

A Catholic network sheltered Shakespeare in Westminster, where he worked as a lawyer’s clerk. In the evening he collaborated on plays with Thomas Kyd – early versions of ‘Hamlet’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Henry V’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

Shakespeare then toured the Midlands with Lord Strange’s company…..

……supplying them with Biblical and Morality plays.

But when the company returned London, Shakespeare quarrelled violently with the Mayor and was flung into the City’s Counter Prison.

Once more the Catholic network saved him – with the Titchfield appointment.

Shakespeare had been introduced to London gay life by Christopher Marlowe…..

……..exactly the same age and background as Shakespeare, but with all then arrogant advantage of a Cambridge degree.

Shakespeare determined – out of loyalty to Mary Southampton, to keep his love for her son Harry chaste.

Harry, however, had other ideas…..

Shakespeare continued to write sonnets, but now they were for his own purposes, as messages, letters, recitations and sometimes private reflections.

It is from these we can reconstruct the events of his life up to 1609 – the date of their publication, two years before’The Winter’s Tale’.

The Dark Lady – Aemelia Basanno – musician and young mistress of the Queen’s cousin old Lord Hunsdon…..

This miniature might be Aemilia, but we can’t be certain.

– visited Titchfield in 1591 as part of the Queen’s Progress to Hampshire. She stayed on, ostensibly to avoid the London plague and to be a companion to Countess Mary.

In reality she had set her cap at the handsome, and soon-to-be-rich, Lord Harry.

Shakespeare fell desperately in love with her and cast her as the sexy, dark-skinned coquette, Rosaline, in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ ……

……a play commissioned, we believe by Countess Mary – which celebrates heterosexual love, in the hope that some of it might rub off on young Harry.

Astrologer Forman – who had no professional scruples at all in his dealings with his female clients – later attempted to make love to Aemilia. She allowed him to feel…

all parts of her body willingly [and] kiss her often [but]she would not do in any wise.

Poor Shakespeare didn’t even get as far as that.

She had no interest in a prematurely balding, penniless hack…….

Aemelia pointedly looked in the opposite direction any time Shakespeare appeared. Especially if Lord Harry was around.

In desperation, Shakespeare asked Harry to plead his love-cause with her – just as Count Orsino asks his page ‘Caesario’ to woo Olivia for him in ‘Twelfth Night’

Aemilia pounced and Harry complied. He wanted to pay Shakespeare back for rejecting his advances.

Shakespeare, in an agony of jealousy, went on tour again with Lord Strange’s Men. He wrote sonnet letters every day to Lord Harry until it finally dawned on him that he was more in love with the young man than the young woman.

Aemilia, meanwhile, became pregnant and was married off to…

‘a minstrel’ –

Alfonso Lanyer – ‘for colour’ – that is, to save everyone’s reputations. She took her revenge by publishing an anonymous attack on the balding Shakespeare as….

the old player

……and on the ‘blobbering’ Harry as…..

Mr. H.W.

..that is Mr. Henry Wriothesley…..

…….pronounced ‘Rosely’ as we know from the Titchfield Parish Register.

But Shakespeare was now free to declare his love for the young man – which he did in the greatest love sonnet of all time….

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

He promised Harry he would make him immortal because his poem would be immortal.

The wily Countess of Mary, of course, found out. She herself had fallen in love with….

a common person

,…..which had led to her rejection by her late husband and her son. Shakespeare used this in his defence.

Mary’s love crossed boundaries of class. Shakespeare’s love crossed boundaries of sex.

Mary finally gave her blessing to the union. In the Spring of 1593, Shakespeare and Harry travelled across Europe to Italy – to celebrate their love and to spy for Harry’s friend, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex.

This brush with Italy, as we shall see, was to transform Shakespeare’s life and art.

Shakespeare was already involved in politics. With his collaborator, little Tom Nashe….

…he had written plays about the English Civil War – which we now call ‘The Wars of the Roses’ – at the request of the Countess of Southampton and her neighbour, the Countess of Pembroke…..

The two Marys, who hated Elizabeth, wanted the world to know what would happen if the Queen died without naming her heir.

Now, as the Earl of Essex rose in power, Shakespeare and Harry’s involvement in politics became more intense.

Essex was the Queen’s lover – but he planned to ‘unthrone’ her. He commissioned Shakespeare to write a play which exposed Elizabeth’s vacillations and weakness – ‘Richard II’ which was played as a piece of agitprop in the streets and private house of London.

The Queen got the point. She later said to the scholar William Lambarde….

I am Richard the Second – know ye not that?

Shakespeare and Harry’s relationship wasn’t all plain sailing. Harry had a penchant for lower class men – which Shakespeare predicted would lead him into political trouble…..

Shakespeare was often away on tour – a traditional time in theatre for….

playing away from home

…in every sense of the word. Also we know from John Aubrey that Shakespeare returned to Stratford in the summer months to be with his family…..

….but he hid himself away to write long, narrative poems and love sonnets to Harry.

By 1595 it was time for Harry, who had come of age, to go to Queen Elizabeth’s Court.

Here the strangest of things happened.

He fell in love with Elizabeth Vernon – a poor cousin of the Earl of Essex.

Shakespeare realised this was good for Harry and the Southampton line. He himself was, after all, a married man with children.

So he wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to encourage the match…..

…… and played the character of Mercutio to express his own, angst-ridden ambivalence.

Harold Perrineau as Mercutio in Baz Luhrman’s thrilling film version of ‘Romeo +Juliet’

But Shakespeare believed he had a spiritual affinity with Harry. It was a….

marriage of true minds…

……which would survive Harry’s new relationship – which it did for many years, even when Elizabeth gave birth to two daughters.

But, in 1596, tragedy was to enter Shakespeare’s private life.

His son, Hamnet, twin to Judith, died in 1596.

We do not even know if Shakespeare, whose company was about to open at the new Swan Theatre, was able to attend the funeral….

The Swan Theatre – with an early version of ‘Twelfth Night’ in performance.

Bodies on those days were buried with speed.

Shakespeare went off the rails with grief and had to be bound over to keep the peace.

His one consolation was that Harry was now his surrogate son.

Politics now took over. Elizabeth appointed Essex to put down the Irish rebel Tyrone, and, going against the Queen’s wishes, he made Harry his General of Horse.

Essex’s plan was to defeat the Irish, lead his victorious army back to England, join up with King James VI at the Scottish border, then march to London and push Elizabeth from the throne.

To this end, Essex commissioned Shakespeare to write ‘Henry V’, to draw parallels between himself and the brave Agincourt King…..

…….and ‘Macbeth’ – to convince the Scottish King that he had a pre-destined right to the English throne and it was correct to invade a foreign country in the thrall of tyranny.

But there were two problems:

(1) The Irish campaign proved a disaster and

(2) King James had no intention of invading England.

Elizabeth by now was an old woman.

James believed he simply had to wait for her to die in order to succeed.

Shakespeare and Nashe rapidly back-tracked: they wrote ‘Julius Caesar’ to expose the folly of rebellion…….

….and ‘Troilus and Cressida’ to expose the folly of war.

But it was too late.

Essex deserted his post, returned to England was clapped under house arrest.

Half of his entourage wanted to appease the Queen.

But the other half put on a performance of ‘Richard II’ at the Globe to stir the citizens of London to rebellion.

It was time for Shakespeare to get out of town.

We believe that he fled to the Court of the gay-friendly King James.

Both James and Shakespeare had written poems which compared their male lovers to the fabulous, exotic Phoenix bird.

While Shakespeare bonded with the King, Essex had his head cut off…..

…and Harry, whose gay promiscuity in Ireland was brought up at his trial, was thrown into the Tower of London for life.

But two years later, Queen Elizabeth died. Everything turned round.

James became King of England as well as Scotland, and Harry, as his champion, was now his hero.

Shakespeare was asked to head up James’s new company of player, the King’s men – and wear the King’s scarlet livery.

Harry fully expected to become James’s new lover. But the King preferred younger men. Harry, ravaged by disease, had also lost his looks.

Yes! That’s me, folks. Trixie the Cat!

Shakepeare, however, loved him in the way he had always loved him.

He compared this love to the eternal, holy strength of the obelisk outside St. Peter’s that both men had seen on their trip to Rome.

This obelisk – re-erected in 1586 – was thought to be the last thing St. Peter saw before he was crucified.

But things started to decline. James did not keep his promise to give freedom of worship to Catholics and Southampton, to please him, renounced his Roman Catholic faith.

But in March, 1605, Shakespeare’s world fell apart. Elizabeth, 3rd Countess of Southampton……

…. finally presented Harry with a little son, James, named after the King.

Harry wanted him to become a brave and fearless soldier. He felt his gay side had to go. And with it, William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare replied with a vicious poem – at twelve lines not even a full sonnet – stating that Harry’s neglect had left him….


…..but that Harry himself – from whom he withdrew his promise of immortality – was destined to rot and decay in a grave.

The brackets represent a gaping grave.

Shakespeare’s mental torment was compounded by the Gunpowder Plot.

Shakespeare had to face the fact that his co-religionists…..

…..including Guy Fawkes….

….who had worked for Mary Southampton’s father at Cowdray – were prepared to slaughter the whole family of his benefactor and friend, King James.

Not to mention the entire nobility of England.

Shakespeare suffered a breakdown.

He poured all his nihilistic despair into ‘King Lear’ – in which the old King – in a Godless, hostile universe – carries the hanged corpse of his daughter in his arms.

Shakespeare had lost his real son – and now he had lost his surrogate one as well.

But already…

great creating nature

…..in the words of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ – had started her work….

When Shakespeare travelled between London and Stratford, he used to stay the night at Oxford, where John Davenant, a fan of Shakespeare’s writing, owned a tavern.

John loved his beautiful wife, Jennet, but couldn’t give her children. So he asked Shakespeare to sleep with her. Exactly a year after the birth of Harry’s son, Shakespeare had his own son as well.

The Davenants christened him William – and made Shakespeare his Godfather.

Shakespeare’s mother, Mary, died in September, 1608. We believe that the Old Shepherd’s description of his caring, hospitable late wife is a tribute to her.

Also Shakespeare’s beloved daughter, Susanna, had presented her father with a granddaughter, Elizabeth, earlier in the year.

Shakespeare clearly felt the need to be nearer his family. A Stratford legal document for the following year describes him as…

nuper in curia domini Jacobi

……’recently at the Court of King James’.

This meant he was now in Stratford.

Shakespeare was to take one final act of revenge on Southampton. He published all his sonnets to him and Aemelia. He made sure everyone knew who the recipient was in a coded dedication. He called the deicatee…

Mr. W. H.

….a variation on the Dark Lady’s….

Mr. H. W.

But he included a sonnet – probably the latest – completely unlike any of the others – a religious one, addressed to his own soul. He questions why he has spent so much time and money on his clothes and body (he had grown fat)…..

…..and so little on his spirit. He determines to make up for this neglect. He wants his soul to feed on death. That way he can destroy death itself.

We believe that in his last plays – ‘Cymbeline’, ‘The Tempest’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and even ‘Henry VIII’ – Shakespeare goes on a spiritual journey.

In the words of Matthew Arnold, he attempts to….

See life steadily and to see it whole.

By this stage in his life, he knows that he is capable of all the sins that characters in the plays commit – and that murderous, destructive actions – even his own – spring from lack of self-knowledge.

Even historical figures who, in Shakespeare’s life, were regarded as enemies, in his art become friends – even Henry VIII…

…even Anne Bullen……

…..and even the corrupt Cardinal Wolsey…….

little wanton boys that swim on bladders

This many summers in a sea of glory

But far beyond their depth….

When Cromwell asks Wolsey how he does, he replies:

Why well

Never so truly, I know myself now…

Prospero in ‘The Tempest’ says of Caliban…

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.

Shakespeare acknowledges his own things of darkness as well. We know from the Sonnets he had all the thirst for power and fame that Wolsey had – and all the twisted sexual jealousies of Leontes….

Like Autolycus……

……Shakespeare wrote ballads and stole things when he was young. And when he was older, he continued to steal plots from other authors – especially Italian ones. He could well have been thinking of himself when he described the pedlar as a….

snapper up of unconsidered trifles..

Shakespeare also knows we are led by powers we do not understand.

Some ill planet reigns

….is the way Hermione describes her husband’s jealousy. But Shakespeare’s perceptions were way ahead of his time.

Now we might describe these powers as ‘the Unconscious’. Leontes and Polixenes enjoyed a boyhood love whose innocence they insist on – perhaps over insist on.

Was there an early glimmering of sexual love as well? As there was between Shakespeare and Harry first met?

Does Leontes, on meeting Leontes again, project these taboo feelings onto his wife?

What form does Shakespeare’s spirituality take in ‘The Winter’s Tale’?

Time plays a part – but it’s not everything. It is perceived differently by different people.

Nature plays a part – but again, it’s not everything. She can be destructive as well as creative – producing storms and death as fast as she produces new born babies.

Christ is mentioned, obliquely, in the play as…

the Best

……but we are not in a Christian universe. God does not involve Himself in our lives. He is a remote figure – an Oracle – who can be consulted but who stays passive.

He leaves active religion to people like Paulina who take on themselves all the spiritual responsibility for another’s soul that the old Father Confessors did – and on the whole they do it very well.

Shakespeare ultimately concludes humankind is decent, wants the best for others and is more than ready to speak truth to power.

When he lays out Sicilia and Bohemia, Shakespeare has, consciously or unconsciously, Titchfield and Stratford in mind.

We know the Sicilian Court is sophisticated because the language the people speak is sophisticated – fractured, almost, to the point of repression.

Whereas sex and feasting in Bohemia are openly enjoyed and the culture of ballad singing is a deep and natural one.

Perdita is given ravishing language as she describes the different flowers for the different seasons.

Central to Shakespeare’s examination of his own life is the passage on grating.

Perdita refuses to grow carnations and gillyvors in her rustic garden.

They are created artificially so she calls them…

nature’s bastards.

As Polixenes says in their defence……

We marry

A gentler scion to the wildest stock,

And maker conceive a bark of baser kind

By bud of noble race.

Harry Southampton had been the gentler, Titchfield scion and Shakespeare the wildest Stratford stock. Had this produced a bastard or not?

Perhaps Shakespeare himself could not answer the question.

Like Autolycus, he was a nobleman when he wore aristocratic clothes, and a countryman when he wore rustic clothes.

The problem of his identity was compounded by his profession of actor – with so many costumes to wear.

It is the final, sublime scene – when the statue of Hermione comes to life….

……that never fails to move the audience to tears.

What was Shakespeare thinking of?

We know that the Second Earl of Southampton had accused his wife of adultery and rejected her. But that had all happened more than a decade before Shakespeare came to Titchfield, and Mary Southampton had died four years before.

Isn’t it more likely that Shakespeare was thinking of his own life?

Isn’t the statue of his wife, Anne?

He had rejected her for Harry, and his own son, Hamnet had died, as Mamillius dies…

We like to think that, back in Stratford, Shakespeare had finally begun to realise Anne’s true worth – her tolerance, acceptance and patience.

And that he willed her his second bed because, unlike the first – the guest bed….

…it was the one they were finally sleeping in together.


Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code….

It is now some time since I had the pleasure of addressing you all, but Your Cat has not been idle……

Nor has our Chief Agent – Stewart Trotter…..

(No Image Available)

We have been at work on a spectacular production which, at the moment, is hush-hush……


In the meantime, The Shakespeare Code has joined forces with…….

…….which performs the plays of William Shakespeare every summer in the Great Barn….

……under the auspices of its renowned Artistic Director Kevin Fraser…..

This season, The Shakespeare Code has provided streamed interval talks for three of the Shakespeare productions –

‘The Comedy of Error’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’……

…..and over the next three posts, we shall give you the texts of all three talks. The series is entitled –


……and we start with……


It is our belief that ‘The Comedy of Errors’  was first performed in the Great Hall of Place House, Titchfield, during the Christmas period of 1591/2, as an entertainment for family and friends.

There are references in the play to the cold weather and when Adriana invites her supposed ‘husband’ to dine with her ‘above’, the Minstrels Gallery of the Hall would be an ideal setting.

There was already a tradition of Christmas entertainments. The highly cultured, and devoutly Catholic, first Countess of Southampton, Jane, was described in 1538 as….

merry as can be with Christmas plays and masques….

And her husband, Thomas Wriothesley, the first Earl of Southampton was a keen amateur actor at Cambridge.

Photo by Ross Underwood.

We believe William Shakespeare, as a fellow-Catholic, had joined the Southampton entourage in the Spring of 1590, hired by the widowed 2nd Countess of Southampton, Mary.

He was to be a tutor and friend to her sixteen year old son, Harry……..

Henry Wriothesley on the Southampton tomb at St. Peter’s,Titchfield. (1594)Photo: Ross Underwood.

……and work as a schoolteacher for the local children in the schoolroom, still standing, opposite the gates of Place House.

Lord Burghley, the Secretary of State, who was Harry’s Guardian, became suspicious that Catholics were grouping together, and placed John Florio in the household as a spy.


He replaced Shakespeare as the schoolmaster and Shakespeare took his revenge by satirising Florio as the pompous, voluble schoolmaster Holofernes in the play ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost – also premiered at Place House two years later.

Mary kept Shakespeare busy, though, by commissioning him to write seventeen sonnets for Harry’s seventeenth birthday in 1590 which urge him to take an interest in girls and marriage. She also commissioned plays from Shakespeare – as did another Mary, the Countess of Pembroke, at nearby Wilton.

The Countess of Pembroke was a Protestant, but the two women were united in their hatred for Queen Elizabeth – Mary Southampton because she persecuted Catholics and Mary Pembroke because she had destroyed the military career of her brother, Sir Philip Sidney.

Queen Elizabeth refused to name her successor – so the two Marys wanted historical plays to show the horror of the Civil War which would result. For this the country-educated Shakespeare needed help…. 

The idiosyncratic phrase….

A rag of money

……appears in ‘The Comedy of Errors’ It also appears in Thomas Nashe’s pamphlet, ‘Four Letters Confuted’. Scholars have argued for years whether Nashe stole from Shakespeare or Shakespeare stole from Nashe. The truth is neither stole from the other.  They collaborated. Shakespeare wrote the poetry and Nashe – gat-toothed, smooth chinned and tiny like a child – wrote the jokes.

Nashe thomas

In the autumn of 1591, Queen Elizabeth herself made one of her terrifying visits to the area. She lodged, first at Cowdray Castle – the home of Mary’s father, Lord Montague…….

…..then at Place House with the Southamptons. Both families were forced to vacate their homes so Elizabeth could lodge there and her soldiers smash up the wainscot in their search for ‘Papist trash’ – rosaries, crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary.  We know for certain Lord Montague celebrated illegal Latin Masses – so it is highly probable that his daughter did the same – and that both were in mortal danger.

Queen Elizabeth repaid father and daughter’s hospitality by tightening the rules against Catholics and by hanging one of Mary Southampton’s best friends – Swithin Wells – outside her London home in Holborn on 10th December.

Wells had also been a Titchfield schoolmaster. He had recruited young men to train as Catholic Priests. He had described Queen Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, as a cow….

So, when Mary Southampton commissioned a 1591 Christmas entertainment from Shakespeare and Nashe, they felt obliged to acknowledge this sad, harrowing, family event. That is why ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – unlike the source play by Plautus – starts with the looming threat of the execution of Egeon, the Merchant from Syracuse.

But Christmas for the Elizabethans wasn’t all jollity in any case.  It lasted the full Twelve Days from Christmas Day to Epiphany and the arrival of the Three Wise Men. On Christmas Day itself, Queen Elizabeth would often retire from company to pray.

‘The Comedy of Errors’ was probably performed on the 28th December, Holy Innocents Day, which commemorated King Herod’s slaughter of the little children.

So while we acknowledge Shakespeare and Nashe wrote a lively, often hilarious comedy about two identical pairs of twins (Mary Southampton herself had a twin brother, Anthony Browne who lived at West Horsley) we believe it is also a deeply Christian – and indeed Roman Catholic – work.

The writers set the play in Ephesus – unlike Plautus, who set it in Epidamnum. Ephesus was well known to a Christian audience as the place where St. Paul went to convert the inhabitants to Christianity – but found the country full of magicians, witches and conjurers.

He ordered the Ephesian Christians, in a famous letter, to be kind to one another. Husbands should honour their wives and wives should honour and obey their husbands. Slaves should work hard for their masters and masters should treat their slaves with respect. If these Christian directives are not followed, Satan and the forces of darkness would triumph.

This is what seems to happen in the play. As the ‘errors’ pile up, wives insult their husbands, husbands cheat on their wives, masters savagely beat their slaves and former friends act with horror and violence as they seem to lose their money and their property. When ‘Antipholus’ is declared possessed, it looks as though Satan really has taken over Ephesus.

All of this, of course, is instantly resolved when the mistaken identities are sorted out. But for many Catholics, Ephesus in its state of dark delusion, represented Elizabeth’s Protestant England.  The Jesuits believed – or at least said they believed – that the kingdom had been taken over by Satan when Henry VIII…..

……married Anne Boleyn……

…….whom many recusants believed to be his illegitimate daughter. And when Elizabeth came to the throne, many thought it was against Paul’s teaching for a woman to rule both a country and her male lovers – and positively blasphemous for her to declare herself ‘Head’ of the English church.  In the end, she settled for ‘Supreme Governor’.

What made the play even more immediate to its first audience was its topography. In those days the sea wall hadn’t been built at Titchfield Haven – so Titchfield really was like the Bay of Ephesus – with ships docking all the time, and countless pubs and prostitutes.

Note: ‘Titchfield Bay’

An Abbey features prominently in the play and the whole audience would know Place House had originally been a French Premonstratension Abbey before it was dissolved by King Henry. Jane Southampton, the formidable First Countess…..

Photo by Ross Underwood

……found it sacrilegious that the Abbey chapel was converted into a Master Bedroom. So they converted the Chapter House to her own private chapel.

The writers take the characters in the play on an extraordinary SPIRITUAL journey. People don’t know if they are in heaven or hell, or alive or dead. Lost brothers, husbands and wives feel they are drops bound together in a vast sea – but a sea that threatens to overwhelm them.

They all have to lose themselves and their loves – have false identities thrown upon them – before they can find their true selves and their true loves.  This is pure Catholic mysticism, as far removed from Elizabeth’s Calvinism – where everything had been predetermined by God – as could possibly be. 

There is blatant Catholic flag-waving in the play when Dromio of Syracuse says:

Oh my beads! O cross me for a sinner.

If rosary beads had been found by Queen Elizabeth’s soldiers at Titchfield, the Southamptons would have been in big trouble. But Shakespeare reaches out to fellow Catholics in the play with an even more daring piece of code.

Antipholus of Syracuse, when he falls in love with Adriana’s sister, Luciana, describes her as

our earth’s wonder, more than earth divine.

Scholars have taken this to be a compliment to Queen Elizabeth.  But Antipholus goes on to describe Luciana as a….

sweet mermaid…..

……and he asks her to…..

spread o’er the waves her golden hair

A compliment to a Queen is intended, but to a dead, Scottish, Catholic Queen who also had golden coloured hair – Mary Queen of Scots….

by Unknown artist,painting,circa 1560-1592

…….whose personal symbol was the mermaid.

In the will she made before her confinement in 1566, she left her lover, the Earl of Bothwell…..

a miniature figurine of a mermaid set in diamonds, holding a mirror and a ruby comb

The following year, Bothwell (whose heraldic crest was the hare) was accused of killing Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley.

Mary was lampooned in a poster as a crowned, bare-breasted mermaid, with her hair falling down to her shoulders, defending her lover with a whip.

Later that year, Mary was imprisoned in the Black Turnpike in Edinburgh, ostensibly to save her from the mobs who were baying for her blood.

On 16th June she appeared at her window ‘with her bodice undone, her breasts exposed and her tangled hair loose, and with ‘piteous lamentations’ made a distraught appeal for help from the citizens who had gathered below’. Even the dour Scottish Calvinist John Knox……

………(who had compared Mary Queen of Scots to Jezebel) had to admit she possessed ‘some enchantment whereby men are bewitched’.

Antipholus of Syracuse also finds Luciana’s presence ‘enchanting’ and says:

Sing, siren for thyself and I will dote;

Spread o’er the silver waves thy golden hairs

And as a bed I’ll take thee and there lie

And in that glorious supposition think

He gains by death that hath such means to die;

Let love, being light, be drowned if she sink

This is a tribute to the erotic, feminine, beauty of Mary Queen of Scots as well as Luciana.

‘Die’ for the Elizabethans was ambiguous – it could mean death or orgasm – both are here implied.  To have made love to Mary would have been bliss for a man: but to have died for her would have been bliss as well. Shakespeare here is referring to the death of hundreds of Northern Catholics in the rebellion against Elizabeth in 1569.

A plot had been hatched to spring Mary Queen of Scots from Tutbury and base her and her forces at nearby Arundel Castle……

– and the plot had largely been hatched at Place House.

So who performed the play? It is our belief that it was a mixture of professional players and aristocratic amateurs. It was customary for women to perform in private entertainments even if actresses were banned from the public stages.

Luciana would most probably have been played by the beautiful Penelope Rich……

…..the muse of Sir Philip Sidney, the great friend of the Southampton family and blessed with her famously golden hair.

Antipholus of Syracuse would have been a great, poetic part for William Shakespeare – and there are many references to his famously bald pate!  And little Nashe would have made a stunning Dromio of Syracuse. Dromio says:

I am an ape

And in ‘Strange News’ Nashe writes:

I was a little ape at Cambridge

The Courtesan in the play is flatteringly described as:

of excellent discourse,

Pretty and witty: wild, and yet too, gentle

We believe that there WAS a courtesan staying at Place House – Aemelia Bassano – who was the mistress of the Queen’s cousin, old Lord Hunsdon, who paid her forty pounds a year for her services.

She – with her family of musicians – Sephardic Jews originally from Morocco – had played on the Queen’s Progress to Cowdray and Titchfield – and had stayed on at Titchfield because the plague was raging in London.

In the 1970s A. L. Rowse identified her as the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. He was derided at the time, but more and more scholars are concluding that he was right.

We believe that Aemilia played the Courtesan – and would have raised a big laugh when she declares: ‘Forty ducats is too much to lose’.

Forty ducats is too much to lose.

The Abbess would have made an excellent part for Mary Southampton – warm, and strong and healing, who finally is re-united with her husband. Catholics believed there was traffic between the living and the dead and many of Shakespeare’s plays, like ‘Hamlet’, advance the belief. The Abbess has ‘lost’ her husband and Mary has ‘lost’ hers – both in life and in death. The Second Earl of Southampton……

Photo: Ross Underwood

……had accused her of infidelity with a ‘common person’ and thrown her out of Place House. Shakespeare wanted to suggest a reconciliation between the two souls – one dead and one still living – by his ‘most potent art’. The Abbess and Egeon meet and their relationship is restored.

The same, Shakespeare implies, will happen to the 2nd Countess and the 2nd Earl when they meet in heaven. 

But, even here, Shakespeare can’t resist a bawdy joke. Brothels were called ‘nunneries’ in Elizabethan days – as in ‘Get thee to a nunnery’ – and ‘nuns’ were (and still are in some people’s minds) prostitutes. The Abbess’s name turns out to be Aemilia, spelt (in the First Folio at least if not the Arden edition) in the same unusual way as Aemilia Bassano.

Scholars have long thought that the part of Pinch was played by John Sinclo – a character actor with a scrawny body and comically ugly face – and it has been assumed that the part was created specially for him.

But there is a puzzle. Why is Pinch called ‘a schoolmaster’ in the stage directions when there is no reference to his profession in the play?

A new study of John Florio – ‘Italus Ore, Anglus Pectore’ – by an Italian Academic, Carla Rossi – has unwittingly thrown up the answer.  Pinch in the play is described as having a ‘saffron face’ – which scholars – if they comment at all – have taken to be his skin colouring.

But Rossi, working on the Italian community in Elizabethan London, shows that when Florio returned to England at the age of 19 (his Protestant father – a convert from both Judaism AND Catholicism – had fled the persecution of Mary Tudor’s reign) he not only worked as an Italian teacher in London – he became a servant and apprentice to Michel Baynard and Gaspari Gatti – both of them silk dyers.

Saffron, of course, is used in the dyeing process and in Sonnet 111 Shakespeare describes how having to work in the theatre has ‘stained him’ in the way a dyer’s hands are stained:

Almost my nature is subd’ud

To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.

If a dyer’s hands are stained, then why not his face as well? We’ve all been made very aware by the Covid Pandemic how often we touch our faces.

Frances Yates, the great Florio scholar, shows that Florio gives his address as ‘Woster House’ – but she is unaware of the implications. Worcester House is right by the Thames (needed for water) in the parish of St. James, Garlickhythe in the heart of silk-dyeing trade

But the plot thickens! In the 1580s, before he came to Titchfield, Yates tells us he acquired a house in Shoe Lane in the parish of St. Andrews, Holborn, opposite Saffron Hill.  

Now we don’t know if it was called ‘Saffron Hill’ in Shakespeare’s day as it is not named on the famous contemporary ‘Agas map’. But John Stow later called it ‘Gold Lane’ and it is clear saffron was grown there. The Fleet River also ran nearby, in case Florio wanted to do a bit of dyeing. Dyers often worked from home.

So Pinch’s occupation as ‘schoolmaster’ didn’t need to be mentioned in the text. Everyone would have recognised who he was from his clothes and appearance. And like Holofernese, the schoolmaster in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, his face and physique is the butt of many cruel jokes. Antipholus of Ephesus describes Pinch as:

A hungry lean-fac’d villain

A mere anatomy, a mounterbank

A thread-bare juggler and a fortune teller

A needy hollow-eyed sharp-looking wretch…

Yates quotes John Eliot in his ‘Fruits’ describing Florio directly as:

an Italian Harlequin…He is crump-shouldered and crooked and hath a hawk’s nose.

But why is a schoolmaster conducting an exorcism? And why is the office sent up if we are in a Roman Catholic milieu?

Well, the simple fact is neither of the Antipholi is possessed – Pinch simply mis-diagnoses. And Pinch is not a priest. In the Catholic world, only priests can perform exorcisms, and specialised priests at that. In Elizabethan England, Protestant ‘conjurers’ like John Dee were allowed to perform this ceremony for the simple reason they spoke the language of ghosts – Latin.

Pinch ends up bound to a chair with his beard ‘sing’d off with brands of fire and ‘great pails of puddled mire’ thrown over him’ to quench [his] hair.’ Dromio of Ephesus meanwhile ‘nicks’ his hair with scissors to give him the haircut of a fool – which was identical to the haircut of a monk. There is a real danger that between the two of them, Antipholus of Ephesus and his man, will….

Kill the conjurer….

A present day audience might well find this brutal rather than funny. But we believe that the original audience would have thought that Pinch, an un-ordained interloper – and in real life a spy for Lord Burghley – had only been given his due.

The play went on to be performed, with professional actors and boys replacing the aristocratic women. The first performance we know of was at Gray’s Inn – the Inn of Court to which Harry, 3rd Earl of Southampton belonged – and just by Southampton House in Holborn – again on Holy Innocents’ Day, 28th December, 1594.

It was a night of chaos and confusion and the actors, which probably included Shakespeare, were dismissed as:

base and common fellows

The next performance we know about was ten years later for King James – again on Holy Innocents’ Day in 1604. Shakespeare was writing his plays at this time initially for aristocrats – royalty even.

They seemed to bring the best out of him – so we should be eternally grateful for the patronage he received at Titchfield.

© Stewart Trotter June 2021.

Sadly, Ken Groves – the President of the Titchfield History Society – recently died.

But at his Memorial in Titchfield’s Great Barn, it was revealed he had just finished a book, The Trio and William Shakespeare’s Erudition (August, 2019) which has been published posthumously.

The trio referred to is Shakespeare himself……

….Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton……


……and the lexicographer and writer John Florio.

Ken’s book covers the same ground as my own book, Love’s Labour’s Found – published seventeen years ago in 2002.

Indeed, Ken read my book in manuscript in 1999 and shared his genealogical charts with me, a kindness I acknowledged.

Ken’s book revisits the ideas I put forward in mine – that Love’s Labour’s Lost was first performed at Titchfield, that Shakespeare worked, wrote and taught there and formed a close friendship with Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.

But there are important differences in Ken’s use of this material.

I would, of course, have much preferred to have debated with Ken himself, but the best I can do is offer a detailed response to the most contentious of his points over several Posts.

Ken writes:

It is well known that by far the most important member of the Wriothesley family was Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl [of Southampton].

HW, as Ken calls Henry Wriothesley, fought gallantly as a soldier, especially in Ireland where he led ‘a very brave charge’ on 15th April 1599. But he fell out of favour with Queen Elizabeth, first, when he married without her permission and, second, when he rebelled against her.  He was released from the Tower by King James when he acceded to the throne of England in 1603 and, according to Anthony Weldon (1583-1648) ‘there was an apparition of Southampton being a favourite to his Majesty’.

The Third Earl of Southampton in the Tower of London.

But James preferred younger men as his lovers and Robert Cecil, James’s right hand man, was HW’s sworn enemy. So HW never achieved high office beyond the Governorship of the Isle of Wight and the Lord Lieutenancy of Hampshire – a position which he shared.

His grandfather, Thomas Wriothesley, on the other hand, was Henry VIII’s Ambassador to Brussels, Secretary to the Privy Council and Lord Chancellor.

Photo by Ross Underwood.

It was said of him that in 1542 that he ‘governed almost everything in England’. HW never came anywhere near that sort of power. His ‘importance’ comes from his relationship with Shakespeare.

Ken writes:

However it is obvious, by the actions of Henry Wriothesley the 3rd Earl and his mother Mary Browne, the 2nd Countess [of Southampton], in the mature periods of their lives, that they were not sympathetic to Catholicism

One of the reasons both HW and his friend the Earl of Essex rebelled against the Queen in 1601 was to ensure freedom of worship for Roman Catholics. According to the Venetian Ambassador, HW remained a Catholic up to 1603 (when HW was 30) and only renounced his Roman Catholicism to please the James, who declared himself Head of the Anglican Church.

On 26th February, 1605, John Chamberlain wrote to his friend Winwood: ‘eight or ten days since [ago] there were above £200 worth of popish books taken about Southampton House and burnt in St. Paul’s Churchyard’. Clearly James was unconvinced by the sincerity of HW’s conversion.

Mary Southampton, HW’s mother, was an active recusant……

….as  was her father Lord Montague, England’s leading Catholic, who celebrated the illegal Latin Mass right to the end of his life.


Her husband, Henry, 2nd Earl of Southampton, was an equally devout Catholic.

Photo by Ross Underwood.

Ken describes him as:

 ‘feeble minded’, ‘a demented Papist’ and even ‘mad’ –

…..but there is no evidence at all for this. Like many Catholics, he was in a dilemma: he had sworn to Queen Elizabeth’s Act of Supremacy in 1563 but Pope Pius V’s Bull of 1570, ‘Regnans in Excelsis’, excommunicated the Queen and forbade Catholics to obey her. He met Bishop Ross to discuss the matter and said he would prefer: t

to lose all that he had’ than be troubled ‘by a continual fear of conscience’.

Ross confessed, under torture, that he had spoken to the 2nd Earl on the Lambeth marshes – so the Earl was imprisoned from October 1571 to May 1573. Then when the martyr to be, Edmund Campion, came to England in 1580, the 2nd Earl arranged, through a highly complex network of Catholics, to meet him.  But Campion was seized, tortured and confessed to the proposed meeting, so the 2nd Earl was examined….

what Jesuits or priests he had known, where they have been harboured and by whom relieved, what letters or messages he hath received or sent unto them, and where they remain.

Two months later, at the age of 36, the 2nd Earl was dead.

We know from the English Catholic Cardinal, William Allen, that even when Lord Burghley became HW’s guardian….

…….Mary made sure her son still was ‘under Catholic masters’.

Like her husband, Mary also risked imprisonment for her faith. On 14th August, 1586, when Mary was 34, the Privy Council questioned suspected recusants about ‘their knowledge of Swithin Wells and others who were entertained in his mistress’s house.’ [i.e. Southampton House, the family’s London residence, outside the city walls in Holborn].

Wells – a great friend of Mary’s…….


Swithin Wells, later made a Saint.

……was finally hanged outside Southampton House in 1591 in an attempt to intimidate her.  But Charlotte Stopes, HW’s biographer, states that three years later – in May 1594 – ‘many priests sought refuge’ at Southampton House and concludes that Mary must have been in residence.

The fact that Mary married a Protestant, Sir Thomas Heneage, in 1594, does not mean, as Ken suggests, that she changed her faith. In fact in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which the Shakespeare Code believes was written to celebrate the marriage, Shakespeare manages to work in a compliment to the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots.

Oberon says to Puck:

……….Thou rememb’rest

Since once I sat upon a promontory,

And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back

Uttering such sweet and harmonious breath

That the rude sea grew civil at her song

And certain stars shot madly from their spheres

To hear the sea-maid’s music’

‘The Mermaid’ here is a reference to Mary Queen of Scots, beloved of Catholics, whose symbol was the mermaid.

E. Cobham Brewer wrote in 1870:


(1) The Mermaid and sea-maid, that is Mary Queen of Scots (2) On the Dolphin’s back, she married to Dolphin or Dauphin of France (3) the rude sea grew civil, the Scotch rebels (4)certain stars, the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Westmoreland and the Duke of Norfolk (5) shot madly from their spheres, that is, revolted from Queen Elizabeth, bewitched by the sea-maids sweetness.

Ken writes:

HW’s guardian, Lord Burghley, ‘tolerated Catholicism, provided that it was practised only in secure privacy’.

Toleration of Catholicism was the State’s official policy – but the reality was different. In 1583 the Jesuit Edward Rishton wrote that Elizabeth (and, by association, Burghley) ‘pretended to a moderation to mask their true intentions’ and in the same year Allen wrote that Catholics lived ‘in such slavery that they detest the Queen’.

Catholics were not safe in their own houses. On 10th August, 1578, Queen Elizabeth stayed with a Mr Rookwood at Thetford.  A statue of the Virgin Mary was found in the house which Elizabeth ordered to be burnt. Rookwood was later arrested and put in Norwich gaol until his death 20 years later. In all 22 Catholic recusants were admitted to jail after her visit.

When the 2nd Earl of Southampton died, the Privy Council ordered the Recorder to raid Southampton House, apprehend anyone who was practising against the State and search for ‘books, letters and ornaments for massing’.

When the Queen visited rich subjects on her Progresses, she would take over their homes for Privy Council meetings and her soldiers would smash up the wainscot, searching for Priest Holes.  During The Queen’s 1591 visit to Cowdray – the home of Lord Montague…..

…her Privy Council actually drew up Anti-Catholic legislation in his house: anyone aiding or abetting Jesuits would be thrown into prison. This proclamation was written by Burghley, but issued under Elizabeth’s name.

Ken writes:

‘almost all of his [HW’s] friends were Protestants’.

This is something we cannot possibly know as people kept their Catholic faith secret. In fact, William Allen, in 1583, estimated that two thirds of the English were Catholics but were frightened to make public confession of their faith.

What we do know is that many of HW’s Protestant friends, like Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, favoured freedom of worship for Catholics. Essex even held Latin Masses at his London home for recusants.

Essex House in London

The fact that HW fought against Spanish Catholics does not, as Ken suggests, make him anti-Catholic. Even Lord Montague raised a force to fight the Armada. Catholics hated the Spanish just as much as other Englishmen did.

Ken writes:

there is not one scrap of historical evidence to identify his [HW’s] name with any man (fair youth) who is part of the brilliant verses’ [of Shakespeare’s Sonnets]

This is such a heady claim, I shall devote the whole of my next Post to discussing it!


Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code….

Your Cat is pleased to announce that The Shakespeare Code has received a STAGGERING…


……and is read in an OVERWHELMING….

200 Countries!!!

The Agents of The Code….

….including Stewart Trotter, F.S.C.

….have been hard at work at a GLOBE-SPANNING, TOP-SECRET PROJECT!!!

All will be revealed soon…

But our breaking News, to be announced next week….

…is not unrelated to the play ‘EDMUND IRONSIDE’


…..and not unrelated to its AUTHORSHIP!!!


‘Bye now!