Shakespeare's darkest and most disturbing play
anatomizes the consequences of blind
ambition sustained by faith in anarchic nature. "If chance will crown me," declares Macbeth,
"chance will have me king (1.3.143). Macbeth might have been reading Edward de Vere's
Geneva text of the historical books of Samuel, in which the annotator has carefully noticed the
dialectic between the force of chance and the idea of divine grace, underlining the Genevan note
(f) attached to I Samuel 6.9 which testifies that "The wicked
attribute almost all things to fortune
and chance, wheras in dede there is nothing done without God's providence and decree
(emphasis added: Genevan 1570). That it was the author of Macbeth,
and not the Scottish
conspirator himself, who derived the moral from the marked verse, is indicated by a singular fact
of no small importance: the aptness of the allusion depends entirely upon the reader's awareness
that Macbeth is one of "the wicked" who "attribute all things" -- even the coronation of a King --
In an earlier chapter we encountered the idea, written by de Vere in the margins of his Geneva
Bible at Wisdom 18.21, that "prayer is the weapon of the Godly. Like so many idioms and ideas
extant in de Vere's own handwriting (see Fowler 1986), the idea is copiously iterated at the lexical
level in the Shakespeare canon. When, for example, Queen Margaret declares that "his champions
are the prophets and the apostles,/His weapons holy saws of sacred writ, his study his tilt yard (II
Henry VI 1.3.61), she has in mind the principle, written in the margins of de
Vere's bible, that spiritual devotion can be a sublimation of the aggressive
instinct and substitute for military confrontation.
This thought also forms a strong and sustaining thematic pattern in the
de Vere Bible annotations. De Vere seems to have entertained a pious belief
Figure Twenty-Nine: I
Samuel 14.1 note (l) in
de Vere STC 2106.
that victory comes not through armor, or even through chance as Macbeth believes, but through
humble devotion to the divine will. We see the theme, for example, marked in the note (a)
adjoining I Samuel 14.1, which contrasts the saving grace of God to the power of armor (figure
twenty-nine). The moral throws an ironic light on the confrontation between Mowbray and
Bolingbroke in the first act of Richard II, in which Warwick appeals to the "grace of God" while
Bolingbroke enters the lists "in armour":
And by the grace of God and this mine arm,
To prove him, in defending of myself
A traitor to my God, my king and me:
And as I truly fight, defend me heaven!
[The trumpets sound. Enter Henry Bolingbroke,
appellant, in armour, with a herald.]
Also marked in the de Vere Bible is the note (f) attached to II
Samuel 16.10 in which Zerviah curses David (figure thirty). The
underlined phrase "humbleth himself to his rod" is reflected in two
passages in Shakespeare¹:
And presently all humbled kiss the rod
(Two Gentlemen 1.2.59)
Wilt thou .
Take correction mildly, kiss the rod,
And fawn on rage with base humility.
(Richard II 5.1.31-33)
The marked note is far closer to these Shakespearean passages than the alternatives proposed by Shaheen (1989 117) of Proverbs
22.15 and 23.13¹.
Figure Thirty: II Samuel
16.10 note (f).
If God had judged David by external qualities, he could not have become King of Israel. In
subsequent chapters of the book of Samuel, on the other hand, David confronts a Philistine
military machine of impressive dimensions but conquers it with a shepherd's weapon --
slingshot. The narrative teaches that victory comes not by means of weaponry but by the grace of
God. Surely the confrontation between puny David and the
technocratic miracle of Goliath is among the most memorable
passages in the annals of literary history. But how often do
readers remember the carefully specified size of Goliath's
gargantuan spear? In II Samuel 21, when David confronts
the Philistines in battle, the narrator takes careful note of the -
-comically gigantic already in the second millenium b.c.e.?--
dimensions of the military hardware which the Philistines
brought to wage war against the people of the book, including
the size of Goliath's spear. The annotator underlines the
measurement -- comparing the spear to "a weaver's beam"² --
in scarlet ink (figure thirty-one). At issue is the principle
previously underlined in the marginal note at I Samuel 14 and
in the text of I Samuel 16.7. God is not impressed by the size
of Philistine armaments. He judges his subjects by intrinsic
piety and awards victory to the meritorious.
Falstaff, recounting his amorous adventures in Ford's household to Master Brook, remembers
the underlined comparison of Goliath's spear to a weaver's beam:
I will tell you: he beat me grievously, in the shape of a woman; for in the shape of a man,
Master Brook, I fear not Golias³ with a weaver's beam, because I know life also is a shuttle.
(Merry Wives 5.21-
This peculiar coincidence was among the first preliminary indications supporting the theory
detailed in the present document to receive wide public currency by being covered in the
September 1993 GTE teleconference on the authorship controversy. It is also the only factual
question conceded by orthodox critics of the present study. Responding to the GTE
teleconference in a 1993 Folger library pamphlet, Roasting the Swan of Avon, Bruce Smith admits
The phrase also occurs at I Samuel 17.7 and I Chronicles 11.23 and 20.5.
F's peculiar spelling, according to Shaheen (1989 30), is not found in any extant 16th
century Bible, but only in Chaucer's Man of
Laws Tale and Have With You To Saffron Waldron (1596) by Thomas Nashe.
I follow the Riverside text, which is primarily based on F. The so-called "bad quarto" of Merry Wives omits the reference, along with
most of the Bible references listed by Shaheen (1993 132-146). Of thirty-four Bible references in the play listed by Shaheen, only
eight occur in Q.
Figure Thirty-One: II Samuel 21.16-20
in de Vere STC 2106, showing sequence
of marked verses on Philistine military
power. Photo retouched to reflect original
that "this obscure reference to an equally obscure passage in II Samuel 21:19-20 turns out to be
underlined (albeit faintly
) in the Earl of Oxford's Bible (60).
As Kirsten Poole has more recently observed (1995), Falstaffs allusion to I Samuel 21.19 is
not an isolated literary coincidence but part of a larger pattern of Biblical allusion and wit.
Falstaff is in fact an enthusiastic quoter of scripture who happily ridicules his own non-conformist
inclinations. He cites from Genesis, Exodus, 2 Samuel, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Matthew, Mark,
Luke, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and I Thessalonians, among other books. He mocks, while
precepts of Puritan theology. Of the fifty-four biblical references identified
by Shaheen in 1 Henry IV, almost half -- twenty-six in all -- issue from Falstaff's mouth (Shaheen
In the "weaver's beam" passage from Merry Wives, Falstaff actually amalgamates two distinct
I Samuel 21.19 and Job 7.6
. In an illuminating instance of Falstaff's self-
reflexive parody of Puritan religiosity, the fat knight apparently associates these two verses by
virtue of their common reference to the Puritan vocation of weaving. As one who himself wishes
he "were a weaver" so that he could "sing psalms" (I Henry IV
2.4.130), Falstaff pursues this
popular Puritan trade. His likening of Goliath's spear to a "weaver's beam" therefore represents a
transference of scriptural image perfectly suited to his persona as a self-parodying follower of late
Falstaff is no David the shepherd-warrior; indeed he was associated in the popular
imagination with the cowardly Sir John Fastolfe, whose unmanly retreat from battle and
abandonment of Talbot is parodied in 1 Henry VI
(3.2; 4.1). Could we imagine a more apt
example of those "immortal jests" with which Tom Nashe assured Gabriel Harvey Oxford would
maul him, if he should resume his theatrical writing?
Surprising as it might seem, Harvey seems to have viewed Falstaff as a parody of himself
and his own Puritan sympathies. The son of a Saffron Walden rope maker, Harvey and his
, were both known sympathizers of the radical Puritan pamphleteer Martin
Marprelate. Marprelate's rambunctious, polyvocal, libellous 1588-89 diatribes against the
Anglican Bishops are identified by Poole, among other critics, as the local staging ground for
Falstaff's wit: "The Henriad reenacts issues of discursive and political control presented by the
Marprelate controversy. Within the plays themselves, Falstaff assumes a voice and a role similar
What Smith means by "albeit faintly remains a mystery. Evidently, according to orthodox Shakespeareans, 400 hundred year old
ink is not supposed to fade.
An instance, in other words, of the principle of convergence discussed above in the chapter "Five Levels of Evidence, except that in
this case only one of the two relevant verses is marked in the de Vere Bible.
My dayes are swifter than a weaver's shittle, and they are spent without hope (G). Not marked in the de Vere Bible.
Richard authored almanacs and attempted to intervene in the Marprelate pamphlet wars in his piously neutral tract, The Theological
Discourse of the Lamb of God (1590) and, anonymously, Plain Perceval.
to that of Martin Marprelate, becoming a swelling carnival force that threatens to consume Hal's
'princely privilege' (74).
With this in mind, it is indeed startling to find Harvey in 1593 echoing Falstaff's line in
his anti-Nashe tract, Pierce's Supererogation, a riposte to Nashes Strange News
(1592) of the
previous year . This pamphlet, as we have seen, was published with a dedication to Oxford;
Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Divell (1592), a prosoposeia based on the conceit of
Oxford as "Pierce Penniless" appealing to the Devil to restore his bankrupted finances
in the same year. Unlike Falstaff, Harvey does fear Goliath with a weaver's beam, and he seems
to equate this Goliath with a stage-writing associate of Nashe's whom Elizabeth Appleton (1985)
has identified as Harvey's old friend from his days at Cambridge College, Edward de Vere.
Harvey, it will be recalled (Ward 1928 156-160; Ogburn 1984 43-44), had in the 1570's been a
close associate of Oxford's. He had vied with John Lyly for the coveted post of personal secretary
to Oxford and in his 1578 encomium at Audley End coined the phrase "vultus tela vibrat" to
denote the congruence of the Earl's literary and martial aspirations. By 1593, however, Harvey is
loudly complaining about the indignities to which he has been exposed in stage lampoons by
Lyly, Nashe and Oxford:
I am threatened with a Bable, and Martin menaced with a Comedie: a fit motion for a Iester,
and a Plaier, to try what may be done by employment of his facultie: Bables & Comedies are
parlous fellows to decipher, and discourage men, (that is the Point) with their wittie flowtes,
and learned Ierkes; enough to lash any man out-of countenance. Na, if you shake the painted
scabbard at me, I have done: and all you, that tender the preservation of your good names, were
best to please Pap-hatchet
, and fee Euphues
betimes, for feare lesse he be mooved, or some
One of his Apes hired, to make a Playe of you; and then is your credit quite un-done for ever,
and ever: such is the publique reputation of their Playes. He must needes be discouraged,
whome they decipher. Better, anger an hundred other, then two such; that have the Stage at
commaundement, and can furnish-out Vices, and Divels at their pleasure. Gentlemen, beware
of a chafing-penne, that sweateth-out whole realmes of Paper, and whole Theatres of Iests.
(Grosart II 213: italics
Martin Marprelate had finally driven a sharp wedge between Oxford and his old Cambridge
college friend Gabriel Harvey. As Elizabeth Appleton argued as long ago as 1984 (Appleton
1984), impressive circumstantial evidence implicates Oxford as the mysterious Anglican
propagandist who not only took up the cudgels against Martin under the nom de plume Pasquill
Cavaliero of England but also organized and supervised Anglican propagandists such as Lyly and
Oxford's close association with Nashe during this period is acknowledged by McKerrow, who writes that "the quarrel between Nashe
and the Harveys seems in its origin to be an offshoot of the well-known one between Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and Sir Philip
Sidney in 1579 (73). One can hardly agree, however, that the conflict between Oxford and Sidney, which Ward has shown was short-
lived and not, in itself, particularly consequential, was the cause of the 1589 dispute. That there was a real split within the aristocracy,
in which Sidney was allied with the Puritan sympathizing Aeropagites who surrounded his uncle the Earl of Leicester, is undeniable.
At issue in 1589, actually, was Oxford's authorship of several Anglican broadsides against the Puritans, published under the nom de
plume "Pasquill Cavaliero of England" (see Appleton 1985).
I.e., Oxford (see, on this matter, Ogburn 1984 673-75).
Nashe. Harvey's sympathies,
on the other hand, lay with Martin and the Puritans. Indeed,
Harvey's attitude towards Oxford during this period can only be characterized as flawed by deep
and perhaps unconscious ambivalence. While he clearly scorns Nashe and Pap-Hatchet (Lyly) for
their anti-Martinist activities, he lives in respectful fear of Oxford -- the mastermind of the stage
by whom Lyly and Nashe were apparently still employed in early 1593 and who in this passage
goes by his allegorical identification of "Euphues. It is Oxford
-- aka Euphues
who must be
placated, "lest he be mooved, either to write himself or to hire "one of his apes to make a
Playe of you. The distinction between Oxford and "his apes is vital to apprehending the
significance of a passage in which Harvey evidently quotes from an early staged version of Merry
Wives of Windsor while addressing Nashe:
Never silly mans expectation so deluded with contrary events upon the Stage, (yet Fortune
sometime is a queint Comedian, far beyond the Supposes of Ariosto) as these Strange News
have cooney-caught my coniecture; more deceived, then my Prognostication of the last yeare,
which hapned to be a true Prophet of some dismall Contingents. Though I never phansied
Tautologies, yet I cannot repeat it enough: I looked for a treaty of pacification: or imagined
thou wouldest arme thy quill, like a stowt champion, with the compleat harnesse of Witt, and
Art: na, I feared the brasen shield, and the brasen bootes of Goliah, and that same hideous
speare, like a weavers beame: but now it is onely thy [Nashe's] fell stomacke, that blustereth
like a Northern winde: alas, thy witt is as tame, as a duck; thy art as fresh as sower ale in
summer; thy brasen shield in thy forehead; thy brasen bootes in thy hart; thy weavers beame in
thy tongue; a more terrible launce, then the hideous speare, were the most of thy Power
equivalent to the least of thy Spite.
(282-83: italics added)
Here Nashe is seen as a Pygmy marching alongside the "Goliath" Oxford. Just as Harvey had
earlier invoked the name Shakespeare in his phrase vultus tela vibrat he here pictures Oxford
as Goliath with his hideous spear -- i.e. his intimidating pen.
It is not my purpose here to dwell at length on the chronological implications of this evidence
for the early existence of a version of Merry Wives containing Falstaff's allusion to the "weaver's
beam, a subject deserving its own monograph. Here it may suffice to indicate that the quoted
passage supplies prima facie evidence "from sign" for the prior existence of such a text, for the
Harvey is explicitly registering a complaint about being satirized on the public stage;
Falstaff has repeatedly and with good reason been identified by modern critics as a
character in part inspired by the Marprelate scandal of 1589;
For a discussion of the theory that Lyly's Euphues was based on Oxford, see Ogburn (1984), pp. 673-75. Abundant additional
the Harvey-Nashe pamphlets supports Ogburn's inference.
One of several direct references to Nashe's 1592 anti-Harvey pamphlet.
A stemma of the known texts exhibits the following progression, indicating that some
variant of Merry Wives
must intervene between I Sam. 21.19 (or alternative
Biblical sources) and Harvey's text:
Goliath the staffe of whose speare was like a weaver's beam
I fear not Golias
with a weaver's beam
(Merry Wives of Windsor, F 5.1.21, composition date unknown; italics
I feared the brasen bootes of Goliah
And that same hideous speare, like a
(Harvey's Pierce's Supererogation,
In other words, the concept of fearing the weaver's beam found in Merry Wives of Windsor
(F) but not in the Ur-text of I Sam. 21.19 (or any known Biblical variant) is copied in
1593 tract. Barring the discovery of a common antecedent source in which Goliath's weaver's
beam is "feared," the simplest explanation for the known evidence is that Harvey read, or more
likely observed a performance of, an early version of Merry Wives of Windsor. Imagining himself
to be lampooned in the character of Falstaff -- just as descendants of Sir John Oldcastle thought
was the original of Falstaff -- Harvey rushed into print to distinguish himself as one who
did fear "Goliath" -- i.e. "Shakespeare" -- with his weaver's beam.
Falstaff's reference to the weavers beam parodies the Biblical ideal, to which reformation
propagandists often appealed, of pious prayer
weapon. The idea occurs often enough in
Shakespeare to be included in our list of
Shakespeare Diagnostics as item #75, although the
proximate source is often in doubt. It occurs in
several places in Paul's letters to the Ephesians and
Thessalonians, one of which --
is marked in the de Vere Bible (figure
thirty-two). Most frequently commentators have
Or, conceivably, an unknown text on the same stemma.
For a discussion of this spelling, see Shaheen 1989 30.
The line does not occur in Q1 (1602).
Because the most likely route of transmission is an oral one, and because in any case the reader of F is not witnessing the original
spelling of any text Harvey might hypothetically have read, Harvey's variant spelling "Goliah" may safely be ignored as an irrelevant
Figure Thirty-two: Thessalonians 5.5-8 in de Vere
listed parallels to the marked verses from Ephesians 6.14-17: "Stand therefore, and your loines
girde about with veritie, and
having on ye brest plate of righteousness take the shield of
faith .And take the helmet of salvation, & the sworde of the Spirit, which is the word of God
(G. 1570: emphasis added). The pre-text for both
New Testament passages, also marked in the de Vere
Bible, has been overlooked by these critics (figure
Carter cites three references
His champions are the prophets and the apostles,
His weapons, holy saws of sacred writ.
(II H6 1.3.57-
We will our youth lead on to higher fields
And draw no swords but what are sanctified.
II H4 4.4.3-4)
What, the sword and word-
Do you study them both, master Parson?
(Merry Wives of Windsor 3.1.44-45)
Noble adds a fourth reference:
What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just
And he but naked, though locked up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.
(II H6 3.2.232)
Shaheen has a fifth:
Turning the word to sword and life to death
(II H4 4.2.10)
The juxtaposition of realia
to mere accidence,
discussed in chapter Eleven (and later, in
further detail, in chapter Twenty), is mirrored also in the historical books of Samuel in the
annotator's marking of a Genevan note which states that victory is not won by military armor
(accidence) but conferred by the grace of God, whose divine will is substantive (realia). Many
annotations in these chapters of the Bible reflect the annotator's interest in this same moral and
suggest a religious conviction which contrasts markedly with the moral nihilism of Macbeth's
deification of chance. Furthermore the annotator associates the doctrine of spiritual victory with
For details consult Diagnostic #75 in appendix B.
Figure Thirty-three: Wisdom 5.16-20 in de Vere
Figure Thirty-four: I Samuel 26.12 in de
Vere STC 2106.
two potent symbols he discovered while reading the historical
books of Samuel. In I Samuel 26 David and Abishai come
upon Saul asleep in his encampment in the dead of night.
Once again, Saul is at David's mercy and David refuses to take
advantage of the situation by killing his enemy. Instead -- in a
passage carefully marked by the annotator (figure thirty-four)-
he steals the pot of water and the spear lying at Saul's head.
In this narrative, David silently translates the impulse to
regicide into a symbolic game. Instead of killing Saul he
counts coup against him, scoring a moral victory which appeals to the piety of his political
constituency. Just as Hamlet spares the life of the praying Claudius or "Shakespeare" slanders
William Cecil (as Polonius) instead of literally killing him, David refuses the opportunity for "an
eye for an eye" revenge and instead appropriates the symbols of Saul's royal power. He makes a
silent symbolic gesture -- just as Shakespeare substitutes art for regicide. This marked passage in
the de Vere Bible is mercilessly parodied in The Tempest (II.1) when
Antonio and Sebastian
attempt to murder the sleeping King Alonso to make themselves king over Calibans island.
Anti-Stratfordians have usually derived the name "Shakespeare" from the classical tradition
of Minerva as the "spear-shaker" (see pp. 34-35). Here, in his Geneva Bible, Edward de Vere
underlines the corresponding derivation in sacred history. The water stands for life in the desert,
the spear for the spiritual vocation of the ascetic warrior --
for whom "prayer" --
sometimes literature -- "is the weapon of the godly."
An explicit conclusion is in order. In this chapter we have seen that Edward de Vere marks in
his Geneva Bible two out of three prominent scriptural sources for the Protestant ideal of
weapons of faith, an idea reflected in a number of passages in the Shakespeare canon. He also
annotates a verse, Wisdom 18.21, with the concept written in his own hand that "prayer is the
weapon of the Godly. Because of the wide distribution of this idea in Renaissance theology it
would be a mistake to draw any definitive conclusions from such coincidences in vacuo. More
significantly, however, we have discovered de Vere's marking of the scriptural precedent for
Falstaff's parody of the same concept, which comically draws upon an underlined passage in II
Samuel which refers to the giant size of Goliath's spear. It is difficult to believe that any open-
minded reader can remain un-impressed by this extraordinary -- almost comical --
between Shakespeare's Bible references and the documentary record of the de Vere Geneva Bible.