Peacham's Silence about Shakespeare



In 1622, the following passage appeared in Henry Peacham's Compleat Gentleman
In the time of our late Queene Elizabeth, which was truly a golden Age (for such a world of refined wits, and excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be hoped for, in any succeeding Age) above others, who honoured Poesie with their pennes and practise (to omit her Maiestie, who had a singular gift herein) were Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others; whom (together with those admirable wits, yet liuing, and so well knowne) not out of Ennuie but to auoid tediousnesse, I overpasse. Thus much of Poetrie. (96)
Peacham's list includes, among other poets, the Earl of Oxford, while it does not include Shakespeare; some Oxfordians believe that Peacham thereby meant to suggest that Oxford was the real author of Shakespeare's works. A recent Oxfordian essay on Peacham by Peter Dickson has appeared in both the Elizabethan Review
(Henry Peacham and the First Folio of 1623) and, in slightly different form, the Ever-reader (Henry Peacham on Oxford and Shakespeare). Dickson's essay has attracted attention outside the ranks of Oxfordians: he has been quoted in the Washington Post and Time magazine, and his views on Henry Peacham have even been cited by columnist James J. Kilpatrick. Dickson claims to provide absolute, incontrovertible proof that Oxford was Shakespeare, which makes his essay suitable target for investigation. The conclusion of Dickson's essay on Peacham gives the clearest statement of his thesis and his supporting arguments:
Thus, our conclusion that Oxford was Shakespeare rests on the inescapable correlation of crucial, solid pieces of evidence which include: Peacham's personal knowledge of and association with the real Shakespeare dating back to the 1590s, the emblem/anagram in Minerva Britanna, signaling Oxford's need for concealment, Peacham's determination in 1622 to list the greatest Elizabethan poets, his simultaneous awareness and that of his own publisher (Francis Constable) concerning The First Folio prior to the completion of The Complete Gentleman, Peacham's curious decision to list Oxford's name but not "Shakespeare"; and lastly Peacham's acute awareness of the delicate situation involved in listing Oxford's name given the Howard family's sensitivities and the Court's ongoing vendetta in 1621-22 with Southampton and Henry De Vere, Oxford's son.

There is no longer any reason for anyone to have any doubt that Peacham knew that Edward de Vere and Shakespeare were one and the same man. What was true for Peacham in 1622 is also true today for us. (

The force of Dickson's argument is considerably blunted by his failure to establish that Peacham either knew or associated with Shakespeare; that Peacham knew that the First Folio was in preparation (or even that he would have cared if he had known); that Peacham had any "awareness" at all, whether acute or blunt, of the Howards' supposed feelings in 1622 about the seventeenth earl of Oxford, who had been dead for 18 years, or about the earl's poetry; or that if Peacham had known of the tribulations of Southampton and Henry de Vere in the early 1620s, he would have thought they constituted a "vendetta." Peacham himself is silent on every one of these points. Yet even if all of those claims were true, they would not either singly or in conjunction provide any reason to strip the credit for Shakespeare's works from him and award them to Oxford. What Dickson's argument boils down to is his belief as a modern admirer of Shakespeare that nobody in 1622 could have listed Elizabethan poets while excluding the author of Shakespeare's works. Therefore, according to this line of thought, since Oxford is and Shakespeare is not listed by Peacham as an Elizabethan poet, Peacham must have thought Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare. I have dealt with this common Oxfordian claim elsewhere, but the prominence of Dickson's essay justifies refuting him in detail and at considerable length.

In a related essay I have dealt with Dickson's discussion of Peacham's Minerva Britanna, and if I said nothing more, that essay would be enough to negate Dickson's overstrong claim that "there is no reason" to doubt his story. Minerva Britanna is all that Dickson uses to suggest one necessary part of his claim -- that Peacham knew that Oxford had written extensively but his name had to be "concealed" -- and lacking that link in Dickson's chain, there is, at a minimum, reasonable doubt that the story he tells us is true, and therefore the strong form of Dickson's argument may be rejected. Nevertheless, because of the attention his essay has received, it is useful to examine Dickson's other claims. Did Peacham know Shakespeare? Why did he include Oxford's name on his list of Elizabethan poets? Why did he not include Shakespeare's name? As we shall see, there is no great mystery about Peacham's list: he copied Oxford's name from a 1589 work from which he plagiarized most of his discussion of English poetry in The Compleat Gentleman; Peacham was by no means the only writer in that period who omitted Shakespeare's name from a list of notable poets -- while such an omission would be unthinkable today, it was quite common in Peacham's time. Moreover, Peacham was writing a book for gentlemen about how to be a gentleman, and even if Peacham had known and admired Shakespeare's work (and there is no evidence that he did), Shakespeare had been an actor in the public theater; he wasn't the sort of man that Peacham would have considered a true gentleman, and he would not have been a suitable man for Peacham's readers to emulate.

Did Peacham Know Shakespeare?

Dickson claims that "Peacham's personal knowledge of and association with the real Shakespeare dat[ed] back to the 1590s," yet with one exception, there is no reference whatsoever by Peacham to Shakespeare or to any work by Shakespeare listed in the Shakespeare Allusion Book or in E. K. Chambers's William Shakespeare, or in the standard biographies. More on that exception in a moment. If Peacham did indeed have "personal knowledge and association with the real Shakespeare," he left no trace of it. He does not cite Shakespeare or quote Shakespeare, as he does Spenser, Sidney, Daniel, and many other writers he admired; his poetry does not seem to be notably influenced by Shakespeare; he does not draw on Shakespeare's works, as he draws on works by Scaliger, Puttenham, and others; he does not suggest Shakespeare's works as models worth learning from, as he does works by Hooker, Daniel, Sidney, and others; he wrote no epigram on Shakespeare, as he did on Jonson and Drayton. Although there are many autobiographical passages in his works, he does not tell us that he ever met Shakespeare, or read Shakespeare, or saw any of Shakespeare's plays. In fact, if the works of Peacham were all that had survived from the 16th and 17th Centuries, we would never suspect that Shakespeare had ever existed.

With one exception:

That exception is a drawing attributed to Peacham that has generally been taken to depict Titus Andronicus. Peacham was thought to have seen the play in production or rehearsal, and to have sketched a scene from it. The problem is, there is no scene in Shakespeare's play that corresponds to the action in Peacham's drawing. There have been suggestions that Peacham is simultaneously depicting action from different parts of the play, but it has recently been strongly argued that Peacham's drawing is not of Shakespeare's play at all, but of another play of the period.

June Schlueter in her essay "Rereading the Peacham Drawing" argues that

the Peacham drawing depicts a sequence from Eine sehr klaegliche Tragaedia von Tito Andronico und der hoffertigen Kaeserin (A Very Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus and the Haughty Empress), a play performed in Germany by English actors which survives, in German, in a volume published in 1620 as Engelische Comedien und Tragedien. (Schlueter, 171)
Schlueter also suggests that this play "may well be a translation, with interpolated stage directions, of the lost titus & vespacia recorded in Henslowe's diary in 1592 (which might also be a source for Shakespeare's play)" (183). The piece of paper on which Peacham's drawing appears also has lines from Shakespeare's play, but these lines do not seem to be in Peacham's hand and do not match the action in the drawing.

Schlueter's argument is a strong one, but it will take some time before we see whether it gains broad acceptance in the field. At the very least, her article serves as a useful reminder that there may have been several different Titus plays during the period, and that the relationships between them are not clear; and her "rereading" of the drawing creates considerable doubt whether what Peacham drew was based on anything Shakespeare wrote.

Remember that Peacham never refers to Shakespeare or names any of the works. If the Peacham drawing is not based on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, then there is no connection whatsoever between Peacham and Shakespeare. What then of the first of Dickson's "crucial, solid pieces of evidence ... Peacham's personal knowledge of and association with the real Shakespeare dating back to the 1590s"? Apart from the drawing, there is no evidence that Peacham had any "personal knowledge of" or "association with" Shakespeare at all. Even if the drawing were of Shakespeare's play, Peacham's once having seen a play by Shakespeare would not establish the strong relationship between the two that Dickson imagines and that his argument requires. It isn't just that Peacham never mentions Shakespeare or his works: nobody who knew Shakespeare listed Peacham among the playwright's associates.

Alan R. Young in his study Henry Peacham tells us that Peacham wrote epigrams

to men and women whom Peacham may not have known personally but yet admired, among them Michael Drayton, William Byrd, and Alice and Ann Dudley. The epigram addressed to Ben Jonson may serve as an example: "Since more cannot be added to thy Fame
Enough tis onely to expresse thy Name". (96)

Although Dickson cites Young's book, he nevertheless imagines that Peacham "cultivated [a] relationship" with Jonson; indeed, Dickson lists Jonson among Peacham's "close friends." Peacham's epigram is the only "evidence" of this supposed close friendship, but Peacham says nothing about knowing Jonson personally; for his part, Jonson wrote no poems to Peacham and, as far as we know, never mentioned him. We can, however, be sure that Peacham read and admired Jonson, and was influenced by his writings, even if he never met the man, which is far more than we can say of any presumed Shakespearean influence on Peacham. If Peacham could write epigrams on poets such as Drayton and Jonson whom he may not even have known, where is his epigram on Shakespeare, whom, Dickson imagines, Peacham had known since the early 1590s?

Thus, like Dickson's misreading of Peacham's Minerva Britanna, this "crucial solid piece of evidence" proves to be without foundation. Except for the Titus drawing, there is no evidence that Peacham knew Shakespeare's works (let alone the man himself), and the Titus drawing cannot be considered a solid piece of evidence even for that, since it may well depict a sequence from a non-Shakespearean play.

Dickson argues that since work may have been proceeding on the Shakespeare First Folio at the time The Complete Gentleman was being produced, Peacham must have known about the great project, yet Dickson gives us no evidence that Peacham was aware of the First Folio project at all, or any reason to think that if he had heard of it he would have been interested. Peacham never mentions the First Folio, either in 1622 or later. He never mentions having been aware of it before it was published. Nobody else mentions his having been aware of it. There is, however, one book that was in press at the time that Peacham does direct the reader's attention to, at the close of his chapter on blazonry:

If you would proceede further in blazonry, and the true knowledge of the descents of our English Nobility, I refer you to that exact, just, and elaborate work of my singular and learned Friend Master Augustine Vincent, Rouge-croix, very shortly to be published; which let it be unto you (of all that have written in that kinde) instar omnium. So I refere you henceforward to your private reading and observation. (176)
The forthcoming book Peacham plugs is A discoverie of errovrs in the first edition of the Catalogve of nobility, pvblished by Raphe Brooke, Yorke herald, 1619. And printed herewith word for word, according to that edition. With a continuance of the successions, from 1619. vntill this present yeare, 1622. While Dickson and most readers today are much more interested in the First Folio than in Augustine Vincent's work, blazonry (or heraldry) was far more important in The Compleat Gentleman than contemporary drama -- which is not a topic at all; thus Peacham's recommendation of Augustine's book is fully in keeping with his own interests, even if those interests are not the ones Dickson wishes Peacham had favored.

In the sixth chapter of The Compleat Gentleman Peacham recommends another work that had not yet been published. He names several historical works by John Seldon including "his Mare clausum, though not yet printed" (51n). Seldon's work did not appear in print until 1635, but in 1622 Peacham knew of this work by "the rising Starre of good letters and Antiquitie." Thus Peacham could indeed mention books that had not yet been published. If Peacham had known about the First Folio (and there is no evidence that he did), and if he had cared (although he mentions neither Shakespeare nor any other authors who wrote for the public theaters), and if he had thought it worth mentioning to his readers (although he elsewhere cautions his gentlemen readers not to have anything to do with the public theaters) he could have said something about it -- but he did not. Despite Dickson's confidence about what Peacham should have known, we have no evidence that he in fact knew about the First Folio or that he would have mentioned it in The Complete Gentleman even if he had known.

Why Did Peacham Include Oxford?

Dickson describes "Peacham's determination in 1622 to list the greatest Elizabethan poets," but this gives a very misleading idea of Peacham's chapter on poetry in The Compleat Gentleman There is very little in the chapter about poetry in English, and not a word about dramas performed in the public theaters -- the works that for us are definitive of Elizabethan literature. Most of Peacham's chapter on poetry is devoted not to English but to classical Latin poetry. Clearly Peacham did not set out, as Dickson believes, to provide a comprehensive list of "the greatest Elizabethan poets." The purpose of his including a chapter on poetry at all, he tells his readers, is "to sweeten your severer studies" (78). After giving the standard defenses of poetry in general (familiar from Puttenham, Sidney, and many other sources), and making the traditional plea for greater patronage of poets, he says, "let us a while rest our selves in the garden of the Muses, and admire the bountie of heaven, in the severall beauties of so many divine and fertile wits" (82).

Of these, by far the most important is "the King of Latine poets, whom nature hath reared beyond imitation, and who above all other onely, deserveth the name of a Poet: I mean Virgil" (82). The longest section of the chapter is devoted not to Elizabethan English poetry, not even to English poetry at all, but to Virgil, and Peacham not only reports Scaliger's praise of the poet but offers his own translations of several passages (he could not assume that a young would-be English gentleman was proficient in Latin). The extra detail and labor, beyond the mere transcription of Scaliger, strongly suggest that Peacham's admiration for Virgil was genuine.

Then comes a discussion of lesser classical authors before Peacham moves closer to home:

But while we looke backe to antiquitie, let us not forget our later and moderne times (as imagining nature hath heretofore extracted her quintessence, and left us the dregges) which produce as fertile wits, as perhaps the other, yea and in our Brittaine. (91).
These lines, however, are Peacham's introduction not to poetry in English but to Latin verse written by such fine British poets (in Latin) as Buchanan, More, and Challoner. Peacham seems far more interested in these poets than in those who wrote in English. His appreciation of them is far more elaborate and far less reliant on a single source than his comments on English poets will be, and is, therefore, more probably based on his own judgments. His preference for Latin works by English writers even spills over into his English section, when he adds that Utopia was written in the parish where he was born.

Peacham's commentary on Latin poetry is heavily indebted to "the Prince of all learning and Iudge of iudgements, the diuine Iul[ius] Caes[ar] Scaliger" (91), whom he mentions frequently, while his remarks on English poetry are substantially taken from George Puttenham's 1589 Arte of English Poesie, a work that he never acknowledges. It is not just the list of Elizabethan poets that is filched from Puttenham, but practically the entire discussion of poetry in English, from the time of Chaucer on, has been lifted from the older work. Peter Dickson, however, believes that there is some special importance in the presence of Oxford's name and the absence of Shakespeare's. We will consider Shakespeare's absence from Peacham's list in a while, but let us here consider the question of Oxford's presence on that list. In order to do so, it will be well to consider Peacham's style of composition in his brief discussion of English poetry, which is essentially a modified plagiarism.

Peacham himself knew that he was open to the charge of plagiarism, but seems to have thought that if he plagiarized just so much and no more, then he was all right. In a chapter added to the 1634 edition of The Compleat Gentleman, Peacham quotes Lipsius on deciphering abbreviations in classical inscriptions, and then breaks off, saying, "and so for the rest which I leave that I may not be a plagiary verbatim" (Heltzel, 124). His use of Puttenham seems to have followed the same pattern. He plagiarized from Puttenham extensively, changing things just enough so that he might seem to escape the charge of being a "plagiary verbatim." If this was his intent, he failed, as his debt to Puttenham is pervasive and unmistakable in his discussion of English poets, while his departures from Puttenham and from verbatim plagiarism lead him several times into careless errors.

Here is the complete section on poetry in English from Peacham's tenth chapter (pages 94-96 in the 1622 edition). I have broken Peacham's prose into small pieces, and have added parallel passages from Puttenham's 1589 Arte of English Poesie:

PEACHAM: Of English Poets of our owne Nation, esteeme Sir Geoffrey Chaucer the father, PUTTENHAM: Sir Geffrey Chaucer, father of our English Poets,
PEACHAM: although the stile for the antiquitie, may distast you, yet as vnder a bitter and rough rinde, there lyeth a delicate kernell of conceit and sweete inuention. PUTTENHAM: Chaucer, with Gower, Lidgat and Harding for their antiquitie ought to haue the first place, ... Our maker therfore at these dayes shall not follow Piers plowman nor Gower nor Lydgate nor yet Chaucer, for their language is now out of vse with vs:
PEACHAM: What Examples, Similitudes, Times, Places, and aboue all, Persons, with their speeches, and attributes, doe as in his Canterburie-tales (like these threads of gold, the rich Arras) beautifie his worke quite thorough? PUTTENHAM: and where he sheweth more the naturall of his pleasant wit, then in any other of his workes, his similitudes comparisons and all other descriptions are such as can not be amended. His meetre Heroicall of Troilus and Cresseid is very graue and stately, keeping the staffe of seuen, and the verse of ten, his other verses of the Canterbury tales be but riding ryme, neuerthelesse very well becomming the matter of that pleasaunt pilgrimage in which euery mans part is playd with much decency.
PEACHAM: And albeit diuers of his workes, are but meerely translations out of Latine and French, yet he hath handled them so artificially, that thereby he hath made them his owne, as his Troilus and Cresseid. PUTTENHAM: And though many of his bookes be but bare translations out of the Latin & French, yet are they wel handled, as his bookes of Troilus Cresseid,
PEACHAM: The Romant of the Rose, was the Inuention of Iehan de Mehunes, a French Poet, whereof he translated but onely the one halfe: PUTTENHAM: and the Romant of the Rose, whereof he translated but one halfe, the deuice was Iohn de Mahunes a French Poet,

PEACHAM: his Canterburie-tales without question were his owne inuention, all circumstances being wholly English. PUTTENHAM: the Canterbury tales were Chaucers owne inuention as I suppose,
PEACHAM: He was a good Diuine, and saw in those times, without his spectacles, as may appeare by the Plough-man, and the Parsons tale; PUTTENHAM: our poet Chaucer doth in his Canterbury tales set forth the Sumner, Pardoner, Manciple, and the rest of the pilgrims, most naturally and pleasantly. But if ye wil faine any person with such features, qualities & conditions, or if ye wil attribute any humane quality, as reason or speech to dombe creatures or other insensible things, & do study (as one may say) to giue them a humane person, it is not Prosopographia, but Prosopopeia, because it is by way of fiction, & no prettier examples can be giuen to you thereof, than in the Romant of the rose translated out of French by Chaucer, describing the persons of auarice, enuie, old age, and many others, whereby much moralitie is taught
PEACHAM: withall an excellent Mathematician, as plainly appeareth by his discourse of the Astrolabe to his little sonne Lewes. In briefe, account him among the best of your English books in your librarie. PUTTENHAM: [no equivalent].
PEACHAM: Gower being very gracious with King Henrie the 4. in his time carried the name of the onely Poet, but his verses to say truth, were poore and plaine, yet full of good and graue Moralitie: but while he affected altogether the French phrase and words, made himself too obscure to his Reader, beside his inuention commeth farre short of the promise of his Titles. PUTTENHAM: Gower sauing for his good and graue moralities, had nothing in him highly to be commended, for his verse was homely and without good measure, his wordes strained much deale out of the French writers, his ryme wrested, and in his inuentions small subtilitie: the applications of his moralities are the best in him, and yet those many times very grossely bestowed, neither doth the substance of his workes sufficiently aunswere the subtiltie of his titles

PEACHAM: He published onely (that I know of) three bookes, which at S. Marie Overies in Southwarke vpon his monument lately repaired by some good Benefactor, lie vnder his head; which are, Vox clamantis, Speculum Meditantis,and Confessio Amantis. PUTTENHAM: [no equivalent].
PEACHAM: He was a Knight, as also was Chaucer. PUTTENHAM: And those of the first age were Chaucer and Gower both of them as I suppose Knightes
PEACHAM: After him succeeded Lydgate, a Monke of Burie, who wrote that bitter Satyre of Peirs Plow-man. PUTTENHAM: After whom followed Iohn Lydgate the monke of Bury, & that nameles, who wrote the Satyre called Piers Plowman,
PEACHAM: He spent most part of his time in translating the workes of others, hauing no great inuention of his owne. He wrote for those times a tollerable and smooth verse. PUTTENHAM: Lydgat a translatour onely and no deuiser of that which he wrate, but one that wrate in good verse
PEACHAM: Then followed Harding, and after him Skelton, a Poet Laureate, for what desert I could never heare; if you desire to see his veine and learning, an Epigraph vpon King Henry the seauenth, at West-minster will discouer it. PUTTENHAM: next him followed Harding the Chronicler, then in king Henry th'eight times Skelton, (I wot not for what great worthines) surnamed the Poet Laureat.

PEACHAM: In the latter end of King Henrie the 8. for their excellent facultie in Poesie were famous, the right noble Henry Earle of Surrey (whose Songs and Sonnets yet extant, are of swete conceipt: ) and the learned, but vnfortunate, Sir Thomas Wyat. PUTTENHAM: In the latter end of the same kings raigne sprong vp a new company of courtly makers, of whom Sir Thomas Wyat at th'elder & Henry Earle of Surrey were the two chieftaines
PEACHAM: In the time of Edward the sixth liued Sternhold, whom King Henry his father, a little before had made groome of his Chamber, for turning certain of Dauids Psalmes into verse: PUTTENHAM: Afterward in king Edward the sixths time came to be in reputation for the same facultie Thomas Sternehold, who first translated into English certaine Psalmes of Dauid,
PEACHAM: and merrie Iohn Heywood, who wrote his Epigrammes, PUTTENHAM: and Iohn Heywood the Epigrammatist who for the myrth and quicknesse of his conceits more then for any good learning was in him came to be well benefited by the king.
PEACHAM: as also Sir Thomas More his Vtopia, in the parish wherein I was borne; where either of them dwelt, and had faire possessions. PUTTENHAM: [no equivalent; Utopia, of course, was written neither in English nor in verse].
PEACHAM: About Queene Maries time, flourished Doctor Phaer who in part translated Virgils Aeneids, after finished by Arthur Golding. PUTTENHAM: In Queenes Maries time florished aboue any other Doctour Phaer one that was well learned & excellently well translated into English verse Heroicall certaine bookes of Virgils Aeneidos. since him followed Maister Arthure Golding, who with no lesse commendation turned into English meetre the Metamorphosis of Ouide, and that other Doctour, who made the supplement to those bookes of Virgiles Aeneidos, which Maister Phaer left vndone.
PEACHAM: In the time of our late Queene Elizabeth, which was truly a golden Age (for such a world of refined wits, and excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be hoped for in any succeeding Age) above others, who honoured Poesie with their pennes and practise PUTTENHAM: And in her Maiesties time that now is are sprong vp an other crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen of her Maiesties owne seruantes, who haue written excellently well as it would appeare if their doings could be found out and made publicke with the rest,
PEACHAM: (to omit her Maiestie, who had a singular gift herin) PUTTENHAM: But last in recitall and first in degree is the Queene our soueraigne Lady, whose learned, delicate, noble Muse, easily surmounteth all the rest that haue written before her time or since, for sence, sweetnesse and subtillitie, be it in Ode, Elegie, Epigram, or any other kinde of poeme Heroick or Lyricke, wherein it shall please her Maiestie to employ her penne, euen by as much oddes as her owne excellent estate and degree exceedeth all the rest of her most humble vassalls.
PEACHAM: were Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others; whom (together with those admirable wits, yet liuing, and so well knowne) not out of Enuie, but to auoide tediousnesse I ouerpasse. PUTTENHAM: of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford. Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Walter Rawleigh, Master Edward Dyar Maister Fulke Greuell, Gascon, Britton, Turberuille and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for enuie, but to auoyde tediousnesse, and who haue deserued no little commendation.
PEACHAM: Thus much of Poetrie. PUTTENHAM: [no equivalent; Puttenham, of course, has hundred of pages more about poetry].

To repeat: Peacham never mentions Puttenham, but as one can see, almost everything he says in this section derives from The Arte of English Poesie. Let us examine a few peculiarities of his borrowings.

We find Peacham adapting Puttenham's personal opinions as his own as his own -- reporting, for example, both that Skelton was poet laureate and that Peacham/Puttenham could not see why Skelton was so honored. The reader unfamiliar with Puttenham might have thought the idea was fresh with Peacham rather than borrowed from Puttenham.

But Peacham sometimes goes beyond this, taking what was a surmise in Puttenham and, in rewriting so as not to be a "plagiary verbatim," presenting it as a fact. Thus he states as a fact that both Chaucer and Gower were knights (Puttenham had merely thought they were), but in fact neither Chaucer not Gower was ever knighted, and thus Puttenham's false surmise is hardened into an absolute blunder. Of course, it's no surprise that Peacham would wish that such famous poets had been of higher social rank. Peacham's mistake was not rectified in later editions.

If deliberately departing from Puttenham's text can lead Peacham to error, so can a clumsy attempt at faithful transcription. Peacham, even when he tries, is not wholly successful as a "plagiary verbatim." Thus, copying Puttenham's remarks on Lydgate, he drops the words "& that nameles," and therefore falsely credits Lydgate with the authorship of Piers Plowman. This mistake was not rectified in later editions. Note, there is no reason to think that Peacham has looked freshly at the evidence for attribution and come to an independent judgment; rather, his plagiarism is hampered by his faulty technique.

He made another mistake in his plagiarism of Puttenham's discussion of Phaer's Aeneid. The "other doctor" who finished Phaer's Aeneid was Thomas Twynne, not Arthur Golding. Peacham seems once again to have missed some of the words in Puttenham, and as a result of his sloppiness makes a false attribution (which was not corrected in later editions), while neglecting to mention the translation that Golding was most admired for, his Metamorphoses. Peacham's departure from Puttenham does not mean that he has made an independent investigation of the Phaer-Twynne Aeneid and discovered that Golding and not Twynne was the actual completer of what Phaer began; rather, the carelessness with which he plagiarizes has caused yet another mistake.

In the list of Elizabethan poets, Peacham has the same first four names, in the same order, as Puttenham. The names are in strict social rank in terms of the status held by the poets as of 1589, the date of Puttenham's book, and the titles given the poets are those that they held in 1589, even though some of the poets were later awarded higher titles. Thus Peacham lists Thomas Sackville as "the Lord Buckhurst" rather than "the Earl of Dorset," the title Sackville had been awarded in 1604. He refers to Dyer as "M[aster] Edward Dyer," which would have been the appropriate title in 1589, but Dyer had been knighted in 1596, and Peacham should have been referred to him as "Sir Edward Dyer." Peacham was acting as a "plagiary verbatim" once again, and so he did not update the titles in Puttenham's list. Though doubtless caused by sheer carelessness, Peacham's getting the titles wrong for Sackville and Dyer was not a trivial error in the kind of work The Compleat Gentleman was meant to be. Peacham adheres in the work to the general principle that "the greater Honour must ever extinguish the lesse" (161). Thus, it would have been correct to refer to Sackville as "Thomas, Earl of Dorset" or even "Thomas Sackville Baron of Buckhurst and Earl of Dorset" (he refers to Thomas's grandson, the inheritor of his titles, as "Richard Sackvill Baron of Buckhurst, and Earle of Dorset" on page 159) but to mention the lesser honor without the greater was a considerable faux pas in a book such as this, as was listing Dyer as a gentleman rather than a knight. The only plausible explanation is that Peacham listed them by the titles that would have been appropriate in 1589 because he was merely copying them out of Puttenham, as he had already copied his discussion of English poetry since Chaucer.

Peacham lists Oxford and Paget, whose names also appear in Puttenham, but he never in The Compleat Gentleman or any of his other writings shows any familiarity with any of their verse. He does not quote either poet, he does not characterize any of their work, he does not draw examples from it, he does not seem influenced by it, so far as we can tell. In the case of Paget this is almost certainly because he was completely unfamiliar with Paget's poetry. Not one line of verse by Paget has survived, that we know of, and Puttenham seems to have been the only person to have reported having known any of Paget's verse (none of which, alas, he quotes). I know of no reference to Paget's having written verse that is independent of Puttenham, and it is most likely that his name appears in Peacham simply because it appeared in Puttenham, and Paget was of sufficient rank to be worth noting.

A number of Oxford's poems could, I suppose, have been seen by Peacham (one is quoted by Puttenham, and others had appeared in print), and it is possible that Peacham knew and admired Oxford's work, but he never mentions it elsewhere in any of his writings, he never quotes so much as a line of Oxford's verse, he never draws on it, and it does not seem to have had any influence on him. Again, the most likely reason for Oxford's appearing on Peacham's list is that he appeared on Puttenham's. Peacham, of course, never suggests that Oxford or Buckhurst or Paget or any other poets on his list was responsible for any works of Shakespeare.

Peacham's particular additions to what he stole from Puttenham are probably signs of his own taste in English poetry. Thus, although he has nothing to add to Puttenham's mentions of Oxford, Buckhurst, Paget, and Dyer, he graces Sidney with the phrase "our Phoenix," and he adds the names of Spenser (Spenser is not named by Puttenham, but he did admire The Shepheardes Calender, although he does not seem to have known the author's name) and Daniel . Elsewhere in the volume (and in his other works), Peacham mentions these three poets, but nowhere else does he mention Oxford or his writings. In his description of Mary Wroth's heraldic device, he says that she "seemeth by her late published Urania an inheritrix of the Divine wit of her immortal Uncle," i.e., Philip Sidney (161-62). In the chapter on history, Peacham recommends to his gentleman readers "the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney, whome Du Bartas makes one of the foure columnes of our language." (53). On the same page he also recommends "that first part of our English Kings by M. Samuel Daniel." In the epistle to the reader in Minerva Britanna, Peacham noted "Mr. Sam. Daniell," whose first published work had been a translation of an Italian emblem book. While Peacham knew and admired works by Sidney and Daniel, Spenser seems to have been his favorite English poet. The great majority of the marginal annotations in The Compleat Gentleman are to works in Latin and Greek, but the very first one in the first chapter is to "Spenser in his Fairy Queene" (1). For Peacham, Spenser is a classic, perhaps the only classic English poet, and his own verse is heavily indebted to Spenser.

While Peacham adds Spenser and Daniel, he also omits some names that appear in Puttenham. It is possible, I suppose, that he dropped the names out of sheer carelessness (as he dropped crucial words and lines elsewhere), and it is also possible that he dropped them merely on the principle of trying to avoid being a "plagiary verbatim," but most of the omissions make sense as deliberate rather than accidental deletions. Fulke Greville and Nicholas Breton were still alive in 1622, and Peacham says he omitted those "yet living," so perhaps that is why they were dropped. Raleigh had been executed a few years before, and perhaps it was more tactful to omit his name.

The one principle Peacham seems to have followed is the removal of every Elizabethan listed by Puttenham who was not at least a gentleman. Since Puttenham's list was in strict order of social rank, this was easy to do: it would appear that for Peacham the last three poets -- Gascoigne, Breton, and Turberville -- were of insufficient social rank to be listed in a book for would-be gentlemen. Breton, as I have said, was still alive, and perhaps was dropped for that reason as well, but Gascoigne's poetry was by any standard (other than that of social standing) of higher quality and greater importance than that of some of the names that Peacham kept, and Turberville's contributions to Elizabethan literature were certainly greater than Paget's.

Dickson finds it strange that Oxford's name is on Peacham's list, but is no stranger than the presence of Paget's name. Peacham does not say either in The Compleat Gentleman or anywhere else that Oxford or Paget wrote anything that we now attribute to Shakespeare. In fact, he has nothing at all to say about either of them, so far as I have been able to determine. His only mention of them is in his copying their names from a list in Puttenham, yet for Dickson this copying of Oxford's name out of Puttenham represents strong evidence that Peacham must have thought that Oxford, who is never mentioned again in Peacham's works, must have written the plays of Shakespeare.

When we compare the section on English poetry to other parts of The Compleat Gentleman we find a notable absence of the personal touch Peacham is capable of. Consider this famous passage from the chapter on painting:

Painting is a quality I love (I confesse) and admire in others, because ever naturally from a child, I have been addicted to the practice hereof; yet when I was young, I have been cruelly beaten by ill and ignorant schoolemasters, when I have beene taking, in white and blacke, the countenance of some one or other (which I could do at thirteen and fourteene yeares of age: beside the mappe of any towne according to Geometricall proportion, as I did of Cambridge when I was of Trinitie Colledge, and a Junior Sophister,) yet could they never beate it out of me. (107)
In the chapter on poetry we have no similar sense of a passion for English poetry, of someone who would suffer beatings for English poetry, of someone for whom such poetry is a passion. Rather, when it comes to English poetry, Peacham just opens up Puttenham and starts transcribing, changing things enough to avoid being a "plagiary verbatim" but largely subordinating his own tastes to those of his unnamed source. The reader welcomes Peacham's additions as a sign that he does indeed have his own likes and dislikes -- Peacham may have valued Chaucer's treatise on the astrolabe more than Troilus and Criseyde or The Canterbury Tales, for which he merely repeats Puttenham's views.

As has been noted, Peacham must make occasional changes that may prevent his seeming a "plagiary verbatim." One change is his introduction to the list of Elizabethan poets. He alters the tense from Puttenham's present to the past, and he calls the Elizabethan period a "golden age," but in this he is only paraphrasing a comment he had quoted earlier about a previous reign: "the daies of Henry the 8. (Which time Erasmus calleth the Golden Age of learning, in regard of so many famously learned men, it produced more than ever heretofore)" (92). When Peacham discusses the "golden age" of Henry VIII's reign he goes on at considerable length, praising several particular Latin works by More and others. For the Elizabethan "golden age" we get a bare list with no individual works named, and almost no particular praise. If we can judge by his attention and interest, Henry's age was more golden to him than Elizabeth's.

Peacham's words contradict Dickson's suggestion that Peacham meant to provide a comprehensive list of the finest Elizabethan poets. Peacham tells us that the bare list is incomplete: there are "sundry others" he could have but does not name among the Elizabethan poets who have died; if we wish to believe he was fond of Shakespeare's verse, we can imagine Shakespeare was among this group. Peacham also omits those yet living. His list is in strict order not of poetical merit but of social rank of 1589, when Puttenham wrote. Peacham tells us that he omits names not because those unnamed were less deserving, but merely to avoid tediousness -- even his reason for not listing more names is plagiarized from Puttenham. Peacham keeps every lord mentioned by Puttenham, even though it is highly unlikely that he could have known any of Paget's work, and jettisons everyone who was not at least a gentleman. Far from demonstrating what Dickson takes to be a "determination in 1622 to list the greatest Elizabethan poets," Peacham's list bespeaks incompetent plagiarizing and deliberate incompleteness.

Dickson makes much of the fact that although The Complete Gentlemen was published in three editions while Peacham lived, the name Shakespeare was never added. Yet neither were the names of any other poets, including Drayton, who had been a notable Elizabethan poet, and whom, unlike Shakespeare, Peacham is known to have admired, making him the subject of an epigram. Nor were Peacham's errors in this chapter corrected. While Peacham added material to the book, including a chapter on fishing, and rewrote some existing material, the English section of the poetry chapter continued through successive editions pretty much what it had been from the first: a fine example of Peacham's (not quite verbatim) plagiarism.

Was It Possible to Omit Shakespeare's Name from a List of the Best Poets?

As we have seen, Peacham found most of the names of Elizabethan poets in a passage in Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie and merely transcribed them. The appearance of Oxford on Peacham's list is no more surprising that is that of Buckhurst, Paget, Sidney, or Dyer. Yet he added Spenser and Daniel to the list, but not Shakespeare. Today we find it almost inconceivable that anyone would name Spenser and Daniel -- especially Daniel -- among the best poets while omitting Shakespeare, but it was not at all unusual in Peacham's time. For many readers today, Shakespeare is the only poet of that age who matters, yet at the time he was not universally considered a finer poet than Spenser or Daniel, and there is nothing particularly odd in a contemporary's listing Samuel Daniel but not Shakespeare among the finest Elizabethan poets. Daniel was considered one of the outstanding Elizabethan poets from the early 1590s, and his name often appears on lists of the great poets of his time. Shakespeare's name also appears on such lists, of course, beginning in the mid 1590s, but Daniel's name appears more often through the first two decades of the 17th Century.

We should not expect to find polls or "top ten" lists of the best poets, but we do come across many references to the best poets as those who compare favorably to the ancients, or those who have particularly graced the language. Often such lists would appear as part of a poet's lamenting his own unfitness for the task at had (e.g., "If I were a Spenser, then this would be a great poem.") Spenser, of course, was THE poet, and it was high praise to list another poet in such company, but Daniel was often listed with Spenser where Shakespeare was not.

I have scanned the Spenser Allusion Book for lists of fine poets that include Spenser and Daniel but not Shakespeare (there are, of course, some that include all three, but almost none that include Spenser and Shakespeare but not Daniel). Here are twenty examples, beginning in 1595; I have stopped with 1521, the year before The Compleat Gentleman appeared. Page numbers are from Spenser Allusions.

It may seem excessive to list twenty examples, but when I posted a shorter list on the humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare newsgroup, Peter Dickson complained of the paucity of evidence. Of the people quoted, only John Taylor ever mentioned Shakespeare elsewhere. Clearly, there was nothing extraordinary at the time about listing Spenser and Daniel as fine poets but not mentioning Shakespeare, yet Dickson insists that it would have been impossible for Peacham to have left off the author of Shakespeare's works. Dickson's error is to assume that writers of the English Renaissance must have had the same opinion of their contemporaries that we have today.

Would Peacham Have Considered Shakespeare a True Gentleman?

As we have seen, Peacham found most of the names of Elizabethan poets in a passage from Puttenham that he was plagiarizing. His including Oxford in the plagiarized passage is no more notable than his listing Buckhurst or Paget or Sidney or Dyer. While it is true that he added Spenser and Daniel, but not Shakespeare, to the names he found in Puttenham, there was nothing extraordinary about this, as we have seen twenty other examples where Spenser and Daniel are listed where Shakespeare was not. We have no reason to think Peacham ever considered listing Shakespeare (and he certainly never said that Oxford was Shakespeare), but if he had known and liked Shakespeare's works, there would still have been these factors that would militate against his listing Shakespeare in The Compleat Gentleman:

None of the poets named by Peacham wrote for the public theaters; the only nontheatrical Elizabethan works of Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, were written before he would have been considered a gentleman. One might reasonably argue that if Peacham were deliberately confining his list to Elizabethan gentleman poets, then Shakespeare would not have qualified, as his Elizabethan poetry was published before he became a gentleman. After a grant of arms to his father in 1599, Shakespeare was entitled to style himself a "gentleman," and we find him so described in a number of documents. His name sometimes appeared as "M." or "Master" Shakespeare, another sign that he was considered a gentleman.

Yet even after the grant of arms to his father, it seems clear that Peacham would never have considered Shakespeare a true gentleman. We know that Peacham considered both Spenser and Daniel gentlemen -- he referred to them using the title "M.", and both of them, unlike Shakespeare, had attended the university; in Peacham,'s eyes, education was a mark of the true gentleman in the "genuine sense":

in the genuine sence, Nobilitie is the Honour of blood in a Race or Linage, conferred formerly vpon some one or more of that Family, either by the Prince, the Lawes, customes of that Land or Place, whereby either out of knowledge, culture of the mind, or by some glorious Action performed, they haue beene vsefull and beneficiall to the Common-wealths and places where they liue. (2)
For Peacham, not everyone who by custom or law had the technical right to be considered a gentleman (as Shakespeare enjoyed after the grant of arms to his father) was one in the "genuine sense":
Neither must we Honor or esteeme those ennobled, or made Gentle in blood, who by Mechanicke and base meanes, haue raked vp a masse of wealth, or because they follow some great man, weare the Cloath of a Noble Personage, or haue purchased an ill Coat at a good rate; no more than a player vpon the Stage, for wearing a Lords cast suit: since nobilitie hangeth not vpon the aiery esteeme of vulgar opinion, but is indeed of it selfe essentiall and absolute. (3)
Peacham's comparison of someone he would not consider a gentleman in the genuine sense to an actor wearing a Lord's "cast suit" is very telling. While he never mentions Shakespeare or his works, Peacham nevertheless has some interesting things to say about (or, rather, against) actors in general. In the first chapter of The Compleat Gentleman, Peacham discusses whether those who work in various professions may still be considered gentlemen. He allows that one may be a lawyer, physician, or even, perhaps, a merchant and yet remain a gentleman, but one may not be an actor:
Sixt and lastly, touching Mechnicall Arts and Artists, whosoever labour for their livelihood and gaine, have no share at all in Nobilitie and Gentry: as Painters, Stage-players, Tumblers, ordinary Fidlers, Inne-keepers, Fencers, Juglers, Dancers, Mountebancks, Bearewards, and the like (12-13).
Remember that Peacham when he plagiarized Puttenham omitted the names of every poet whom Puttenham had not ranked as a gentleman or higher. Nobody would claim that Lord Paget was a finer or more important Elizabethan poet than George Gascoigne, but the former was a lord and the latter was not even called "Mr." by Puttenham, and was dropped by Peacham. While he added the gentlemen Spenser and Daniel to Puttenham's list, Peacham would not have considered Shakespeare an Elizabethan gentleman any more than he would have considered a juggler or a tumbler a gentleman. Rather, Shakespeare would have been someone who had "no share at all in Nobilitie or Gentry," and since nobody less than a gentleman made Peacham's list, Shakespeare's absence is no surprise.

As has been noted, Peacham listed nobody who wrote plays for the public theaters -- not even Marlowe, who was not an actor or other "mechanical artist," and who had a university education. Peacham seems to have shared something of the antitheatrical prejudice of the day. In The Art of Living in London (1642), he cautions,

so many are the occasions here offered that are ready every hour to pick your purse: as perpetual visits of vain and useless acquaintance; necessitous persons ever upon borrowing hand with you, clothes in the fashion; this or that new play, etc. (Heltzel, 245)
Peacham says it is better for a gentleman living in the city to
with all diligence follow your business. Let not vain and by-occasions take you off from it, as going to taverns, seeing plays, and now and then to worse places -- so lose your time, spend your money, and sometimes leave your business uneffected. (Heltzel, 248)
Going to the public theaters, then, is the equivalent of having your pocket picked; it is a waste of time and money, little better than going to a brothel.

If the mature Peacham warned young gentlemen against the theaters, Peacham himself had seen some plays when he was young. As we have noted, he may well have seen a Titus play, although we cannot say that he saw Shakespeare's; and when he was a schoolboy, he once saw Richard Tarlton in a play (Heltzel, 210; Peacham was born in 1578 and Tarlton died in 1588). But Peacham does not advise would-be gentlemen to see plays, to write plays, or to act in plays in the public theaters. The public theaters -- the very places where Shakespeare acted and for which he wrote plays -- were not places for gentlemen, according to Peacham.

Would the grant of arms to Shakespeare's father have persuaded Peacham that this stage-player should nevertheless have been considered a gentleman? Based on what Peacham has to say about the awarding of arms to the undeserving and the buying of titles, we would have to say "no":

Having discoursed of Nobilitie in Generall, the division, and use therof: give me leave in a word, to inveigh against the pitifull abuse thereof, which like a plague, I think, hath infected the whole world. Every undeserving and base Peasant ayming at Nobilitie: which miserable ambition hath so furnished both Towne & Country with Coats of a new list; that were Democritus living, hee might have laughing matter for his life. (The Compleat Gentleman, 15).

But the most common and worst of all, is in all places the ordinary purchasing of Armes and Honors for Money, very prejudicaill to true Nobilitie and politique government.... The French man is so bold, as to term such intruders Gentil-villaines; but I dare not use that word, lest some that challenge the first part of it, should returne me the latter. (16).

Although Peacham never mentions Shakespeare, it seems likely that he wouldn't have considered him an Elizabethan gentleman even after the award of arms to Shakespeare's father. More likely, Shakespeare the stage-player would have been considered "undeserving and base," and the awarding of arms not a reason to respect Shakespeare but a cause of laughter. Peacham's attitude brings to mind the York Herald's complaint against awarding arms to "Shakespeare the player." As a cowl does not make a monk, so the Shakespeare arms would not have made him an Elizabethan gentleman in Peacham's eyes.

It is important to remember that Peacham here is inveighing against what he considered a general abuse in the awarding of arms, and is not singling Shakespeare out. He never singled Shakespeare out for anything in any of his works. He may not have admired Shakespeare's works (if he did, he kept quiet about it). So far as I have been able to determine, Peacham never uttered any opinion about any of Shakespeare's works, and he certainly never commented on their authorship. The point of this section is that even if he had known and admired Shakespeare's works (and there is no evidence that he did, with the possible exception of the Titus drawing), there was no reason for him to add a stage-player's name to those of the Lords, knights, and gentlemen named by Puttenham.


Peter Dickson finds it inconceivable that anyone in 1622 would have omitted the author of Shakespeare's works from a list of Elizabethan poets. Dickson himself, we may be sure, would never do such a thing, but it is anachronistic for him to believe that his opinions must have been universally held 400 years ago. When viewed in context, there is nothing shocking about Peacham's including Oxford but not Shakespeare in his list. Peacham was plagiarizing from George Puttenham's 1589 Arte of English Poesie, and he copied such names as Oxford, Buckhurst, and Paget because he found them in his source. Peacham never says in any of his works that Oxford, Buckhurst, Paget, or anybody else wrote any of the works that we generally attribute to Shakespeare. So slavish was Peacham's reliance on Puttenham that he transcribed some of Puttenham's mistakes and judgments as if they were his own. His occasional errors of transcription indicate that this was not a passage to which he was giving any particular care or special attention.

As for Peacham's overlooking Shakespeare, he himself tells us that his list is not complete, and his omitting Shakespeare is no extraordinary lapse for the time. We have seen twenty other instances in which Spenser and Daniel were listed as fine poets but not Shakespeare. Despite what Dickson seems to believe, Peacham is not known to have been personally acquainted with Shakespeare: he never mentions the man, and the only possible reference to any of his works is a drawing that may well be of some Titus play other than Shakespeare's. It may be that Peacham had no particular affection for Shakespeare's works, if he knew them at all, but Dickson's argument requires that Peacham must have admired those works (which Peacham nowhere mentions or quotes) above all other writings, and he must also have thought their author was Edward de Vere, whom Peacham mentions only once, in a passage transcribed from Puttenham.

As we have seen, Peacham purged the list of Elizabethan poets that he plagiarized from Puttenham of all poets whose rank was less than "gentleman." He added Spenser and Daniel, both of whom were gentlemen, but he added no names of any poet of lower social rank. Peacham lists nobody who wrote for the public theaters, and he explicitly states that stage-players cannot be gentlemen. In any event, none of Shakespeare's works were the product of someone Peacham would have considered an Elizabethan gentleman. Peacham's mentioning Oxford but not Shakespeare in The Compleat Gentleman thus provides no justification for our stripping the credit for Shakespeare's plays from their actual author and awarding them to Oxford.

Works Cited

Chua-Eoan, Howard. "The Bard's Beard?" Time, February 15, 1999; reprinted online at,3266,19902,00.html.

Cawley, Robert Ralston. Henry Peacham: His Contribution to English Poetry. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1971.

Chambers, E. K. William Shakespeare: A Study of the Facts and Problems. Two volumes. 1930; reprinted Oxford: Clarendon, 1966.

Dickson, Peter W. "Henry Peacham and the First Folio of 1623." Elizabethan Review, Autumn 1998; reprinted online at

Dickson, Peter W. "Henry Peacham on Oxford and Shakespeare: Is the scholar's 1622 decision unimpeachable evidence for Oxford as Shakespeare?" Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter (Fall 1998); reprinted online in Ever Reader No. 7

Heltzel, Virgil B., ed. Henry Peacham. The Complete Gentleman, The Truth of Our Times, and Living in London. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1962

Kilpatrick, James K. "Willie Who?" Syndicated Column February 7, 1999; reprinted online at

Munro, John, editor. The Shakespeare Allusion Book, 1591-1700. Two volumes. New York: Chatto & Windus, 1909.

Peacham, Henry. The Compleat Gentleman. 1622; reprinted New York: Da Capo Press, 1968 (The English Experience, no. 59).

Puttenham, George. The Arte of English Poesie.

Schlueter, June. "Rereading the Peacham Drawing." Shakespeare Quarterly 50 [Summer 1999]: 171-84.

William Wells, editor. Spenser Allusions in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Compiled by Ray Heffner, Dorothy E. Mason, and Frederick M. Padelford. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.

Young, Alan R. Henry Peacham (1975).