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“Bestow how, and when you list…”

Susan Vere, William Jaggard and the 1623 Shakespeare Folio

by Roger Stritmatter (© 1998)

This article was first published in the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter (Fall 1998).

Advocates of the Oxfordian view attributing the authorship of works published in the 1623 “Shakespeare” folio to Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, have naturally drawn attention to the fact that the folio was dedicated to, and apparently published under the patronage of Phillip and William Herbert, the two sons of Mary Sidney who were respectively de Vere’s son-in-law and a near son-in-law. Although this striking circumstance was not included among the elements of evidence adduced in J. Thomas Looney’s original book on the theory, by 1984 when Charlton Ogburn published The Mysterious William Shakespeare, the Herbert brothers are pegged, very plausibly, as “engineers of the crucial artifacts.”

In 1621, when work on the folio’s production began in earnest, these two renowned arts patrons possessed the power, the political connections and, quite likely, the requisite manuscript materials, to turn the folio into a reality. Pembroke had in 1615, after several years of angling, obtained the position of Lord Chamberlain and was therefore in administrative control of the archives of the King’s Men, formerly the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” who had acted many of the Shakespeare plays. Therefore, whether unpublished play material came from the archives of the Company or from private holdings among de Vere’s descendents and in-laws, it was Pembroke and Montgomery –and perhaps Susan Vere–who were positioned to hold final authority over any plans to publish. It was this trio, apparently, which authorized, facilitated, and subsidized the First Folio’s 1623 publication by the firm of Isaac and William Jaggard.

In evaluating the undoubtedly complicated process by which the folio came to be published, literary historians would do well, however, to avoid the great bugaboo of monocausal explanation and instead consider the potentially conflicting or converging motives of all the possible historical actors. Jaggard and other publishers may have had their own motives for seeking the laurels of publishing the works of “Shakespeare.” In 1619, two years before the publication of the folio began (during the summer of 1621), the Jaggard firm, working in collaboration with Thomas Pavier, published a series of seven Shakespearean and pseudo-Shakespearean quartos. This series of plays, known collectively as the Pavier quartos after the name of the printer Thomas Pavier, included quartos of 2 & 3 Henry VI, Henry V, Pericles, Merchant of Venice, Merry Wives of Windsor and A Midsummer Nights Dream. For reasons not well understood, as William J. Neidig documented in a remarkable 1910 article in Modern Philology, three of these plays were falsely backdated to 1600 or 1608.

This venture indicates Jaggard’s apparently mounting enthusiasm for undertaking publication of the Shakespearean plays, which by 1619 must have been viewed as a prize to be bestowed on some eager printer, who could hope not only for profit but lasting fame from the enterprise. By many accounts, however, Jaggard was not the most likely candidate for the job. It is not without some interest, therefore, that in the same year that the Pavier quartos were published, the Jaggard firm dedicated a major folio volume, ARXAIO-PLOUTOS. Containing, Ten following Bookes to the former TREASURIE of AUNCIENT AND MODERN TIMES to Phillip Montgomery and also, very pointedly, to Montgomery’s wife, the Lady Susan Vere.

The Jaggard-Vere link was brought to my attention in 1990 while working at a Northampton (Mass.) book auction at which the volume was offered for sale. Among other bibliographical links between ARXAIO-PLOUTOS and the folio, the book employs many of the same typographical devices which appeared four years later in the Shakespeare folio. Before that time, this concrete 1619 link between Susan Vere and the Jaggard firm was not known to students of the authorship question.

Incidentally, the fact that this discovery represented a completely new and unprecedented connection between the Jaggard firm and the de Vere family did not stop one major orthodox scholar whom I approached about the book from authoritatively pronouncing that there was “nothing new” about the find. This utterly untrue and deceptive claim was apparently made in attempt to splash cold water on any enthusiasm I might have felt about the potential implications of such an unambiguous 1619 link between Susan Vere and William Jaggard. Charlton Ogburn, for his part, was enthusiastically “floored” by the discovery and considered it of the highest importance.

ARXAIO-PLOUTOS is a translation and amalgamation of several works detailing the customs and cultural traditions of the Gauls, Spaniards, and Italians, to which the English Herald Thomas Milles has added material on the heraldry and customs of England. As the reproduction below shows (left), the book is prominently dedicated to Susan Vere, as well as her husband, the patron of the 1623 Folio (right).


The similarity between the 1619 dedication “To the Most Noble and Twin-like Paire…” (left) and the 1623 Folio dedication “To the Most Noble and Incomparable Paire…” is striking. It is difficult to believe that Jaggard did not have the 1619 version in mind when he designed the 1623 Folio dedication. But more importantly, it is also difficult to believe, when he wrote the 1619 dedication to the Lady Susan Vere, extolling both her and her illustrious father, that he wasn’t thinking ahead to a day in the future when there would be a Shakespeare Folio.

In fact, a close reading of the dedication suggests that Susan is the primary dedicatee of the volume; although the dedication initially makes appeal to the “most Noble Lord & Lady,” subsequent passages are directed solely to the “gracious madam” Susan Vere. The complete title-page dedication reads,

To the moft Noble and Twin-like paire,
of truely Honourable and compleat perfection, Sir Philip
Herbert, Knight of the Bath to our dread Soueraigne
King Iames, at his Royall Coronation ; Lord Baron of
Sherland, Earle of Mountgomery, and Companion in the
vnparaleld and famous Fellowship, of the
Order of the Garter

As alfo, To the truly vertuous and Noble Counteffe his Wife,
the Lady Sufan, Daughter to the right Honourable Edward Vere, Earle of Oxen-
ford, Vifcount Bulbec, Lord Sandford and of Badelefmere :
and Lord High Chamberlaine
of England, etc.

The extended praise of her father, Edward de Vere, is also noteworthy, given that it ends with an “etc.” which seems to invite filling in the following blank space with some “other honors” to which he may be entitled, but which must remain unmentioned.

In any event, the dedication itself invites both patrons to “enter into a spacious Forrest”–evidently a metaphor for the world of historical customs embodied in ARXAIO-PLOUTOS — “affording all choise of pleasing Game, either for Hawking, Hunting, Fishing, Fowling, or any other Noble exercise beside.” Jaggard goes on from this to assure his patrons that,

...an Orchard stands wide open to welcome you, richly abounding in the fairest Frutages: not to feed the eie only, but likewise to refresh the Heart, inviting you to plucke where, and while you please, and to bestow how, and when you list: because they are all yours, and whosoever else shall taste of them, do enioy such freedome but by your favor.

In this garden, Jaggard assures Lady Vere,

…you may meete with a faire Bevey of Queenes and Ladies, at diverse turnings as you walke, and everie one will tell you the Historie of her life and fortune (rare examples of Vertue and Honor) as themselves can best, truly & plainly discourse unto you. Some other also you shall see, sadly sitting under Eughe & Cipresse tress, with Garlands of those leaves wreathed about their heads, sighing out their divers disasters: whom your noble nature cannot choose but commiserate; as greeving to see a scratch in a cleare skin, and a bodie beautified by Nature, to be blemished by unkinde Destiny.

Is Jaggard, in this final passage, referring to the bounteous literary exploration of female subjectivity embodied in the “Shakespeare” canon? Certainly, his language calls to mind characters such as Ophelia, Desdemona, Cleopatra, Lucrece or Imogen –who all are made to tell “the history” of their “lives and fortunes” in a manner quite unprecedented for early 17th century England and undoubtedly quite capable of stirring considerable emotional response in a cultivated arts patron such as Lady Vere. She was one who could commiserate with the “divers disasters” of such characters, not only from literary precedent, but out of secret sympathy with her own father and other relatives who had survived the hurricane of his life.

If so, the entire address to Montgomery and his wife assumes an awesome consistency. Jaggard’s patrons are credited with being stewards of the orchard. The fruits “are all yours, and whosoever else shall taste of them, do enioy such freedome but by your favor.” These stewards are therefore urged to “…bestow how, and when you list [i.e., please].”

Have we here a public appeal to the “grand possessors”–who are in the 1609 preface to the second state of Troilus and Cressida also referred to as the “grand censors”–ultimately responsible for the inhibition of plays such as T&C? Is Jaggard signaling his flattering enthusiasm for proceeding with the folio project and requesting the approval and patronage of Montgomery and his wife, the daughter of Edward de Vere?

Whether or not the reader accepts this interpretation of Jaggard’s dedication, ARXAIO-PLOUTOS establishes a tangible and telling political link between Phillip Montgomery, his wife Susan Vere, Edward de Vere’s youngest daughter, and the folio publisher, during the period in which the political decisions leading to the 1623 First Folio publication were being made.

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