The Authorship Question
The Catholic Question
Cast of Characters
The Author's Mind
Edmund Campion
Edmund Campion as Shakespeare
The Works
Coincidence or Clue
The Devil's Advocate
Notes and References
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What were these losses alluded to in the play’s prologue and therefore probably assumed by the writer and company to be familiar to the audience? No suggestions have been offered for performances of TNK but one can be put forward for the 1566 performance at Oxford. As the audience crowded into Christ Church Hall to watch the play performed for the Queen a staircase collapsed and three people were killed and many others injured. Our spectator quoted above, John Bereblock of Exeter College, describes the event:

This untoward happening, although touching everyone with
sadness, could by no means destroy the enjoyment of the occasion.
Accordingly, taught by the misfortune of the others to be more
careful, all turn again to the play. (Chiljan, p.3)

Master Richard Edwards is traditionally considered the author of the 1566 play but a number of interesting details throw doubt on this attribution. Edward’s previous play titled Damon and Pithias shared similar thematic concerns with the friendship between two young men from Ancient Greece but was considered by spectators to be considerably inferior to Palamon and Arcite. Accepting this was the case scholars are mystified as to why there is evidence of a revival performance of the less worthy play in 1568 and why editions were later printed in 1571 and 1582 but no printed edition of the superior play survives. The evidence in the prologue points to Palamon and Arcite being a new play:

New plays and Maidenheads are near akin

Edward’s biographer Leicester Bradner wonders how his subject could have found the time to pen a new drama when he was so busy organizing the entertainment for the Queen’s visit in the months leading up to the event. The above quote could imply it was the dramatist’s first effort but Edwards had already been writing plays for at least five years.

A quote from the prologue of TNK defies the conclusion that the play was a collaborative effort. These lines muse on Chaucer’s reaction if the play is poorly received:

Chaucer of all admired.....
And make him cry from underground, Oh fan me
From the witless chaff of such a writer
That blasts my bays....

It appears there was a single writer of the play which is supported by a later observation by Leonard Digges in 1640 that all Shakespeare “doth write is pure his own”. (ibid., p.1)

The only explanation that ties all these pieces together is Chiljan’s conclusion that the play Palamon and Arcite performed at Oxford in 1566 was one and the same with Shakespeare’s The Two Noble Kinsman. William of Stratford aged two years in 1566 could not have been the author. John Fletcher must also be excluded from the authorship though it is likely he filled out the middle section of TNK with a noticeably inferior subplot some time during the early 1600’s.

Who was the single dramatist who penned one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays in 1566?

Could it have been the 26 year old Oxford scholar Edmund Campion lauded at the time as one of the university’s leading writers and orators. In addition to speaking and debating in front of the Queen did Campion also compose the play that was to be the main event and showcase of her visit?

Echo of Campion’s Trial Speech in The Winter’s Tale

 Peter Milward states that it has been conjectured that the character Hermione echoes part of Campion’s defense speech in the following words in The Winter’s Tale:

Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ‘Not guilty’. (4.3..2)

It could well be that William of Stratford had read the transcripts of the trial and adapted Campion’s words for his play. It could also be the case that Campion penned the words first in his play and later adapted them as relevant to his own personal situation at the trial.


Shakespeare , St Etheldreda’s and The Phoenix and the Turtle

In a pamphlet titled Shakespeare and St Etheldreda’s Ely Place Peter Bridgeman addresses “a number of links between the world’s greatest poet and an inconspicuous church hidden away behind Holborn Circus” (p.1)

St. Etheldreda or St. Audrey as she is more commonly known died of a tumour in her neck in Ely in 679 AD. The tumour was a symptom of the plague which devastated the monastic community she had established. Bridgeman notes that Etheldreda “attributed the neck tumour to divine punishment for her youthful fondness for costly necklaces”.

The following line in The Winter’s Tale (4.4.241) refers to the saint, tawdry being a corruption of St Audrey:

Come you promised me a tawdry-lace and a pair of sweet gloves

 Bridgeman identifies the reference as being to the lace necklaces which were sold at the annual St. Audrey’s fairs and were particularly popular during medieval times as a cure for illnesses of the throat and neck.

Another reference to St Etheldreda’s and the Palace , home to the London bishops of Ely, can be found in Richard III (3.4. 31-33):

My lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,
I saw good strawberries in your garden there.
I do beseech you send for some of them.

When Richard III was supposedly written in 1591 the See of Ely had been vacant since 1580 when Queen Elizabeth had a disagreement with the Anglican bishop Richard Cox who had refused to grant the palace to one of the Queen’s favourites, Christopher Hatton.

A nearby property, Southampton House, was owned by Campion’s friend Henry Wriothesly, the second Earl of Southampton, and was a London centre for Catholic culture. One of Southampton’s employees was Swithun Wells, tutor to the Earl’s son who was also named Henry and was to become the third Earl. Swithun Wells is one of the Catholic martyrs commemorated in the lines of statues along the interior walls of St. Etheldreda’s. Another of these martyrs, Mistress Anne Line, is thought by many to be, along with her husband, the subject of Shakespeare’s mysterious metaphysical poem The Phoenix and the Turtle.

It is my belief that the subjects of this poem who “lived in married chastity”, could quite well be St. Etheldreda herself and one of her husbands. The first husband, Tondbert, King of South Gyrwe, granted his wife the Ely estate and allowed her to live as a nun during the three years they were married. After the death of Tondbert, Etheldreda was married again to the young Egfrith who also permitted his wife to live a life of chastity and who worshipped her saintliness and assisted her in her good works. After twelve years Egfrith, now King of Northumbria, demanded his conjugal rights but Etheldreda was determined to live a celibate life, fled her home and relocated to her lands at Ely where she established a monastic community. According to the legend:

On the first day of her flight, Etheldreda was all but overtaken
by her husband. She arrived at a headland, Colbert’s Head, jutting
into the sea, and her pious intention was protected by the tide, which
at once rose to an unusual height around the rock, making the place
inaccessible to her pursuers. Egfrith resolved to wait till the ebbing
waters should leave the path open to him, but instead of going down
in a few hours, the waters remained at high tide for seven days. The
baffled pursuer then realised that a power greater than his had taken
Etheldreda, and her vow, under his protection. So he gave up the idea
of compelling her to come back to him and returned home.

Born and raised in London during the Catholic reign of Queen Mary, Edmund Campion would have been very familiar with St Etheldreda’s church, Ely Place and the story and cult of St. Etheldreda. As mentioned earlier, it is possible that Shakespeare’s epic poems were dedicated to the second Earl of Southampton not the third, and owing to the close association of the second Earl with Ely Place it is possible The Phoenix and the Turtle was also penned by Campion with the intention of dedicating it to his friend the second Earl.

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