Friday, September 6, 2019

A Very Curious Portrait of Fulke Greville Who Called Himself "Shakespeare's Master" and Claimed To Have Written Antony & Cleopatra

Above: Fulke Greville, said to have been painted by Edmund Lodge in c. 1620 (image via wikicommons with no indication of source). This portrait was not painted in 1620, as advertisized. The costume is inflated with the bombast padding popular in the 1580's. The ruff collar, padded mini trunk hose (called a bum roll), and peascod doublet all indicate 1580's or early 90's. It's also obvious that this portrait has been scamped and rubbed.
The Statesmen and Favourites of England Since the Reformation (1670) by David Lloyd quotes Fulke Greville as having stated, "I am the master of Shakespeare." We are left to wonder what Greville meant by that, especially since he also claimed to having penned the play Antony and Cleopatra.

The word "master" had a specific meaning in the status of a playwright. In his "Prologue to Volpone" (1606) Ben Jonson claims that regarding the creation of his play Volpone

"Five weeks fully penned it--
From his own hand, without a co-adjutor,
Novice, journeyman or tutor."  (lines 16-18) 

In his Shakespeare and Co., Stanley Wells conjectures on what Jonson meant by the above:
These four nouns usefully define a range of the roles that a collaborator might enact.  A coadjutor would an equal collaborator, a novice a kind of apprentice, a journeyman a hack brought in perhaps to supply a comic subplot, and a tutor a master craftsman guiding a novice.
In terms of portraits, the "master" or "tutor" ran the studio and finished only the more important aspects of a portrait. The master was the overall genius who dictated style and completed the final product, the final draft. Greville was either making the claim that he was Shakespeare's teacher or that he was in charge of the final drafts of Shakespeare's plays.

Greville, I should add, was the Recorder of Stratford Upon Avon and wrote sonnets that bear a resemblance to Shakespeare's in style. A.W.L. Saunders recently published a book called Shakespeare's Master arguing that Greville wrote the works of Shakespeare. Sir Derek Jacobi blurbed it and seemed impressed. Regardless of who did or didn't write Shakespeare, Greville appears to have been a remarkable courtier who had some footprint on Shakespeare.

He and Sir Philip Sidney swore a lifelong oath to each other as school boys, and they nurtured each other's writing projects until Sidney died young in battle. Greville later became a follower of Countless Pembroke and the studio of writers she patronized. Her husband's acting troop performed Shakespeare's early plays. Greville's plans to write a true history of Elizabethan England got vetoed by Sir Robert Cecil, who wanted no such history to exist and denied him access to state papers. 

Fulke Greville died tragically after being stabbed by a servant. A doctor filled his wounds with pig fat, a folk cure. The cut became infected and four weeks later he died.

As to the portrait, which appears to have been painted in the 1580's or early 90's (and certainly not c.1620 as indicated) the sitter looks to be around 30-ish. (Greville would have been over 60 years old in 1620.) This portrait has been rubbed extensively perhaps to hide telltales along the hat, the side of the sitter's face, and whatever inscriptions etc once existed in the upper corners.
Above: portrait, called Fulke Greville (source from wikicommons) has been rubbed and extirpated to hide details along the left side of the sitter's face, his hat, and to destroy whatever inscriptions etc existed to either side of his head. Note that eye color is different and that the sitter's right eye appears damaged.
 Above: left, Fulke Greville (via wikicommons) and, right, the Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare (Folger Shakespeare Library). The Droeshout image has been reversed in this side-by-side. Many engravings were reversed images of painted portraits. We don't know if the Droeshout was reversed or not as the template portrait it was copied from has been lost.


  1. Have you been able to get hold of a copy of Saunders' book yet? I've only started looking, but it seems quite rare.

    1. It's too expensive for me! It's available for $70 and upward online. I'd love to read it, though.

  2. I heard there is a new book

    1. Do you have any information on this new book? Or who is writing it?

  3. Fulke Greville was the Leonel Sharpe's boss. Leonel Sharp seems, from a Fulke Greville site, to have acted on Greville's behalf to recruit Cambridge scholars. Sharpe wrote in the 1620's to Buckingham a letter containing Elizabeth's Tilbury speech. I think he makes a deniable claim to authorship in that letter which is full with double meanings. It is also written using the same phrases and word choices as Shakespeare e.g. war wrapt as peace. Shakespeare's works often associate the words lion (leonel) and sharp closely. Shakespeare even writes Sharpspear at least once. As do many contemporaries writing about Shakespeare. There is much more than this, but this is fairly direct evidence. It is not circumstantial nor is it based on mere parallels, for which there are many e.g. Macbeth was published shortly before Sharpe was arrested for stirring up the Scottish. My view is that Shakespeare's identity has been discovered and that the world just has to catch up.

  4. But this will be proven one way or another, I suspect. Janet M Green said that she discovered Sharpe's handwriting in the copy of the Tilbury speech. This handwriting needs to be compared with that which can be attributed to Shakespeare.