According to some experts, A Midsummer Night's Dream may well have been written for the marriage of Sir George Carey's daughter, on 19th February 1595/6. (1) Sir George was the son of Lord Hunsdon (whose 'Chamberlain's Men' performed Shakespeare's plays) and had himself probably been, with Marlowe, a member of what is known as the 'School of Night'. As the engagement dated only from the late Autumn of 1595, the play would have been written during the winter of 1595/6, while Le Doux was at Burley on the Hill. He left Burley for London on 25th January, (2) and would therefore have been in good time to deliver the play just when it was needed, to be ready for performance at Carey's home in Blackfriars on the day of the wedding.

Two points are perhaps worth making about this date:

First: meteorological support for it comes in a letter written that summer (16th June 1595) by Lady Ann Bacon to her son Anthony, in which she reports "the weather here very boisterous, with wind, hail and rain". (3) Titania's complaint that "The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts / Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose" (II.1.107-8) had, therefore, a very topical note!
Second: the play has several lines echoing Marlowe's unfinished Hero and Leander (4) which, although of course written by then, was not published until some 3 years later.
There are a few ways in which A Midsummer Night's Dream could reflect Le Doux's life at Burley. For example:

These are relatively insignificant, however, compared with the fact that Shakespeare apparently gives his audience, within only half a dozen lines or so (IV.1.106-113), a precise location for where the play was actually written. It again concerns hunting to hounds.

Theseus: ... Uncouple in the western valley; let them go.
Dispatch, I say, and find the forester.
We will, fair queen, up to the mountain's top,
And mark the musical confusion
Of hounds and echo in conjunction.
Hippolyta: I was with Hercules and Cadmus once,
When in a wood of Crete they bayed the bear
With hounds of Sparta.
I have emphasized the relevant parts, of which the first two are fairly obvious, but why 'Cadmus'? According to the Arden edition, Cadmus was founder of Thebes, but "in legend, unheeded by Shakespeare, he belonged to an earlier epoch than Theseus and Hercules". (8) Furthermore, there is no way in which his name was ever associated with such hunting. Other than the fact that his name scans, there seems to be no good reason for choosing him. I said "seems to be", but read on. I think there was nothing 'unheeded' about the choice of Cadmus, and that this was a quite deliberate error, intended to give those 'with eyes to see' an important clue.

If so, we are looking for a location which is:

Leicestershire and Rutland have always been considered the true home of English hunting. The landscape there is particularly suited to this pursuit, especially in the east, which at the time of writing is still the territory of the Cottesmore Hunt, with the Belvoir to the north and the Quorn to the west. In the middle of the Cottesmore's area lies the Vale of Catmose (Cadmus?), and, though by no means a 'mountain', easily the highest point overlooking the Vale of Catmose from the east is the very hill on top of which stood the Haringtons' stately home - Burley on the Hill. This was, of course, the place where Le Doux spent that winter, and to which the Lord Chamberlain's (i.e. Shakespeare's) own Players apparently travelled over a hundred miles to give a single performance that Christmas. The odds against all of this happening by chance, of course, must be enormous.


Although it is clear that we are more likely to notice those things we want to see, what I find intriguing about this theory is that so many hunches do immediately find facts to back them up. (9)

Quoting William Urry, (10) A. D. Wraight tells of a story from the Canterbury of Marlowe's childhood which involved the hiding and transporting of someone in a laundry basket. (11) Such a scene, of course, features in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which Falstaff is concealed and removed from Mistress Ford's house in the same way. The discovery of Monsieur Le Doux, however, reveals even closer links with this play.

Hotson's conclusion that it was first performed at Whitehall Palace on 23rd April 1597, celebrating the election of five knights to the Order of the Garter, is widely accepted. (12) Among these knights was Sir George Carey, who had now succeeded his father as Lord Hunsdon, had become Lord Chamberlain, and was now, therefore, the patron of 'Shakespeare's' players. The fifth person elected, but blatantly not invited to this event, was Frederick, Duke of Württemberg, who apparently "kept pestering Elizabeth about an alleged promise she had made him that he would be elected".

A bit of sub-plot which really has little to do with the main story of The Merry Wives involves Sir Hugh Evans and Doctor Caius taking revenge on the Host of the Garter Inn for tricking them into nearly fighting a duel. It concerns a German Duke whose arrival, predicted by Bardolph and eagerly anticipated by the Host, no one else knows about (and who doesn't even turn up); and the stealing by three 'Germans' of some horses owned by the Host. There is very little doubt that the missing Duke is intended to be the absent Duke of Württemberg.

But what about the lost horses? To answer that, we need to look at the Duke's friend, and Governor of the port of Flushing in the Low Countries, Sir Robert Sidney. He spent much time and effort in 1597 asking to be allowed to deliver the Garter to the Duke personally, but without success. (13) He had been out of luck the previous year too, when no fewer than sixty-three horses belonging to his men had gone missing, and he had had difficulty in getting anyone else to compensate him for having to replace them. (14)

It is therefore quite certain that Shakespeare was taking this opportunity to have a satirical dig at Sir Robert as 'mine Host of the Garter'. What might be the reason for his wanting to do this, and how might he have found out about these confidential things in the first place?

The reason for doing so is very easy to find, if it is Christopher Marlowe that we are talking about. In Flushing in 1592, and probably working under cover, Marlowe had been accused of illicit coining and, unable to say what he was really doing, was packed off back to England, under guard, as no more than a common prisoner. And by whom? Sir Robert Sidney. After 'interrogation' by Lord Burghley, however, he had of course been fairly quickly released. (15)

How did he know about the horses? Well, we know they went missing some time between 6th May and 9th August 1596. (16) We also know, from a letter written by Le Doux, that he was in Middelburg, less than 4 miles from Flushing, on 22nd June, the exact mid-point between the two dates. (17) Which is more, he was in the service of two 'Germans' - Baron Zeirotine (in his passport, 'a nobleman of Germany', (18)) and the Baron's right-hand man, Henry d'Eberbach. It is presumably unlikely that they were involved in the actual disappearance of the horses, but they are almost certain to have known what happened, especially if those responsible really were German, as is quite possible.

Before leaving the Merry Wives, it is worth mentioning one more item, again involving Parson Hugh Evans. In Act III Scene 1, while preparing to fight Doctor Caius, he sings a song to keep his spirits up, which is in fact Christopher Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd to his Love. Far from cheering him up, however, it plunges him deeper into melancholy. "Mercy on me!" he says, "I have a great dispositions to cry" - a strange emotion for such an occasion - and he then starts to get the words mixed up with those of another song. These are from a hymn based upon Psalm 137, perhaps the most famous song of exile ever written:

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept when we remembered Zion".

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(1) e.g. Harold F. Brooks, ed. A Midsummer Night's Dream (1979) The Arden Shakespeare, Methuen. p.lvi. Also in Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, (et al): William Shakespeare, a textual companion (1987), Clarendon Press, Oxford, p.118.

(2) LPL Bacon Papers MS.654 f.13.

(3) Ibid. MS.651 f.206.

(4) For example:

Hero and LeanderA Midsummer Night's Dream
Thence flew love's arrow with the golden head,By his best arrow with the golden head
The air with sparks of living fire was spangled,The starry welkin cover thou anon
And night, deep drenched in misty AcheronWith drooping fog as black as Acheron
Nor that night-wandering, pale, and wat'ry starThe moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye
When yawning dragons draw her thirling carFor night's swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,

(5) LPL Bacon Papers MS.652 f.105 and MS.654 f.69.

(6) Ibid. MS.654 f.283

(7) Ibid. MS.652 f.243. "Jour ne se passe qu'on ne trotte a la chasse... il y a plus de 100 personnes couchans & levans dans la maison, 30 ou 40 chevaux & autant ou d'avantage de couples de chiens."

(8) Harold F. Brooks, op. cit. p.93n.

(9) For example, in 2 Henry VI (IV.2.23-4) there is the mention of "Best's son, the tanner of Wingham". Wingham is six miles from Marlowe's childhood home in Canterbury, where his shoemaker father lived. The young Kit would therefore have certainly known any tanners in that area. Mid-way between Canterbury and Wingham lies the parish of Bekesbourne, where, on 19 March 1582, Josephe Best, the son of John Best was baptized. One may reasonably assume that he was a brother to Thomas Best, also christened there some three years earlier, on 22 February 1579, when Marlowe was fifteen. A John Best had been baptized in Boughton-under-Blean, the other side of Canterbury, on 3 June 1560. Whether this is the same John Best, and whether either of them were tanners in Wingham, I can only guess, but it doesn't seem too unlikely, does it?

(10) William Urry, Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury (1988).

(11) A. D. Wraight, The Story That the Sonnets Tell (1995) p.326.

(12) H. J. Oliver, op. cit. pp. xlv-xlviii.

(13) My source is Louis Ule's extraordinary and rather arbitrary Christopher Marlowe, a Biography - 1564/1607 (1995) pp.403-5. Irritatingly, he quotes liberally from the correspondence of Sir Robert Sidney to support this point, but gives no references for it whatsoever. I have not as yet managed to trace these letters, but the search continues. I give credence to them only because they are quoted at length and in detail.

(14) As above, but in this case the facts are supported by the Records of the Privy Council (see below).

(15) Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning (1992) pp.234-9.

(16) According to Ule (op. cit. p.400), on 6th May 1596 and writing from the Hague, George Gilpin mentioned a successful raid in which all of the horse troops had returned in safety. Privy Council records (PRO PC2 / 21 / 360) for Monday 9th August, however, say that, through Gilpin, "Sir Robert Sydney ... hath made humble suite unto us to be answered and allowed for certaine horses he lost in service". The loss would seem therefore to have been between those two dates. Sidney apparently had to wait many months for it to be sorted out, for according to the Council records it is not until Sunday 16th January that arrangements were ordered for the repayment to him of eight guineas for each of the sixty-three horses lost.

(17) LPL Bacon Papers MS.657 f.227.

(18) Acts of the Privy Council, 31 May 1596. "Whereas the Baron of Zerotin, a nobleman of Germany, having bin here in Englande, to see her Majestie and the countrie, is now to make his retorne over the seas homeward by Flushinge..." etc.

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