No. 10: BACK TO THE STARTING LINE
by Marie Delgado Travis
By introducing the character Threnos as“Chorus” about two-thirds intoThe Phoenix and the Turtle [as in Turtledove] (1601), the man who wrote Shakespeare wants to ensure we view his poem as a “threnody,” a lamentation for the dead.
A threnody can be rendered in many art forms: poetry, music, oration, artwork, film, etc. The word, however, is rooted in Greek drama:
A lyrical lament over the victim of the catastrophe [i.e., final event of the dramatic action] of a tragedy [Merriam-Webster Dictionary].
In calling attention to a word that crosses genre, Shake-speare implies that the playwright isn’t the only “abstract and brief chronicle of the time” (Hamlet Act II, Scene 2). An artist can engage in social commentary / criticism in any genre. And that is precisely what he does in The Phoenix and the Turtle. His “lament” over the death of two mythological birds is quite politically charged.
His poem is as the title of the anthology in which it first appeared in 1601 suggests, a “Complaint,” in the fullest sense of the word:
- a plaintive poem, a plaint, ;
- the utterance of grief, lamentation, grieving;
- an outcry against or because of injury;
- a representation of wrong or injustice suffered.[Oxford English Dictionary].
The book’s introduction explains that Rosalin is a representation of “Nature.” So it is “Nature’s Complaint” at the Death of “Love’s Martyr.”
Which brings us to Roger and Anne Line, the married couple that I and others believe inspired Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle. How do we know? Well, the poem provides various clues.
For me, the clincher was reading that Anne Line— who was canonized in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales— is the patron Saint of Widows and Childless Couples.
Anne was preceded in death by her husband, Roger, as we shall see below. And Shake-speare’s poem states:
Leauing no posteritie,
‘Twas not their infirmitie,
It was married Chastitie.
Scholar John Finnis details a number of additional clues in his article, “The Thing I Am: Personal Identity in Aquinas and Shakespeare,” Social Philosophy and Policy, Cambridge Core (2005). One of his comments is particularly striking. Interpreting Shakespeare’s lines,
Diftance and no fpace was seene
‘Twixt this turtle and his Queen
… Finnis writes at 268, fn. 50:
… the Euclidean definition of a line— length and no breath— points via “Distance and no space” to Roger and Anne Line, whose [last] name is then echoed in the next stanza’s “shine” and mine.”
Finnis also highlights the following verses:
Either was the others mine [as in gold or diamond mine]
Propertie was thus appalled [Finnis informs that a “pall” is the cloth used to cover the Chalice before and after Mass].
The above references again fit Roger and Anne Line well. They were disinherited by their affluent families for converting to Catholicism. Yet Shake-speare’s poem consoles us — obliquely, through an allegory about birds— that they found their true riches in their faith and in one another.
The couple’s sacrifices may have involved more than the the loss of material goods. In “Revisiting Anne Line: Who Was She and Where Did She Come From?” Recusant History, Vol. 31 No. 3 (May 2013), pp. 375-389., Martin Dodwell cites probate records which indicate that a certain John Line, son of Roger, was raised by his paternal grandfather, also named John. If this indeed refers to Anne and Roger’s child, he presumably was brought up as a Protestant.
At his arraignment in 1580, the young Jesuit martyr and Saint Thomas Cottam decried the abuses perpetrated against Catholics in Elizabethan England, including: “… the taking of their children from them by force, and placing them for their seduction with heretics (which violence cannot be done by the law of God, even to infidels….”
Source: Richard Challoner, Preface: Memoirs of Missionary Priests, and Other Catholics of Both Sexes, That Have Suffered Death in England on Religious Accounts from the Year 1577 to 1684, Vol. 1 (1684, published 1903).
Roger and Anne would each be apprehended by government authorities at underground Roman Catholic Masses, roughly fifteen years apart— one of many cases in which the two lovebirds were “separate,” yet “one.”
Based largely on the testimony of two of England’s most hunted priests, the Jesuits (now Saints) John Gerard and Henry Garnet in Challoner, we learn that Anne’s husband, Roger, and her brother, William Heigham [Higham] were arrested during Mass in 1586. It is unclear whether they were officially exiled, but upon their release, both men fled to the continent.
William would enter the Society of Jesus in Valloladid, Spain and live out the rest of his life as a Jesuit Brother.
Roger is also believed to have pursued religious studies in Flanders, probably with the intention of returning to England as a lay priest— hence Shakespeare’s comments regarding “distance” and “married chastity,” i.e., vows of celibacy.
Until his death in 1594, Roger sent Anne part of a stipend he received from the kingdom of Spain, as a Catholic seeking refuge in what was then still Spanish soil.
It is at this point that Father Gerard recruited the impoverished and frail widow, Mistress Anne (as he called her) to manage safe houses in and around London. There, Roman Catholic priests could hide from “foule [sic] of tyrant wing,” i.e., predatory government spies / priest-hunters, and administer the Sacraments to those of “the old faith,” and a growing number of new converts, even in the face of relentless persecution.
On Candlemas Day 1601, which honors Christ as the Light of the World (Luke 2: 32), and also known as the Feast of the Purification— a day associated with the offering of unblemished birds as sacrifice, and in particular, the turtledove (see Leviticus 14: 22; Luke 2: 24), “[shrieking] harbinger[s] … of the fiend” [i.e., the Devil, an extraordinary metaphor for Shakespeare to use], alerted authorities that a clandestine Mass was being celebrated.
To hear what a male Screech (Barn) Owl sounds like, visit
Liturgical items seized during the raid— presumably including the white surplice the celebrant, Father Francis Page, S. J. hastily threw off as he made his escape [he would be captured and martyred a year later]— were produced as evidence during Anne’s trial (26 February 1601).
It was a risk they knowingly took, for Someone far greater than themselves:
Let the Prieft in Surples White
That Defunctiue Muficke Can,
Be the Death deuing [divining] Swan
Left the Requiem Lacke His Right.
As Challoner recounts, Anne was so weak that she had to be carried into the courtroom in a chair. This did not, however, prevent her from speaking honestly and with passion— a flaming Phoenix— before the presiding judge, Chief Justice John Popham, and on the scaffold the following day:
I am sentenced to die for harbouring a Catholic priest; and so far I am from repenting for having so done, that I wish, with all my soul, that where I have entertained one, I could have entertained a thousand.
Click here for information on music composed for the St. Anne Line Mass Source: ccwatershed.org
Is it any wonder that the man who wrote Shakespeare would risk his own safety to memorialize a woman who embodied the “beautie, truth and raritie” of a Portia, an Isabel, a Rosalind— or any number of his greatest heroines.
Those rare qualities in Anne— and by extension, her fellow martyrs for Love— “in cinders lie,” Shake-speare [sic] laments. But anyone who knows the legend of the Phoenix (traditionally seen as a Christ figure), would understand the author’s secret message— they, we, will rise again with God’s grace.
Anne’s hanging at Tyburn on the 27th of February 1601, occurred just two two days after Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was beheaded at the Tower of London for his failed Rebellion earlier that month (8 February 1601).
Both events— Anne’s capture and the Essex Rebellion— though unrelated, were intertwined by their close timing— and for Anne, it is thought, prejudiciously so.
Exactly a week before Anne’s trial (if it can be called that, when the verdict is a foregone conclusion), Chief Justice Popham had presided over Essex’ joint trial with Henry Wriothesly, 3rd Earl of Southampton, his alleged co-conspirator in the Rebellion.
At the top of the list of the twenty-five peers summoned (under penalty of law) to act as jurors in the Earls’ trial were “Edward Earl of Oxford” (first name on the list, due to rank) and “William Earl of Derby” (third peer listed)— precisely the two men who may have written under the Shakespeare pseudonym, as discussed in my earliest posts (see link below).
Compare Anne Line’s testimony above with following excerpts from Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton’s arraignment and trial. Keep in mind as you read that Edward de Vere may well have dedicated “the first heir[s] of his invention,” to Wriothesley, in an unsuccessful bid to convince him to marry his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, and sire his grandchildren— and that soon after Southampton’s rejection, she married Juror No. 3. Awkward …
… for my own part, I never did know the Laws…. The first occasion that made me adventure into these Courses [the alleged Rebellion], was the Affinity betwixt my Lord Essex and me, I being of his Blood, and marrying his Kinswoman…. And if through my Ignorance in the Law I have offended, yet I humbly submit myself to her Majesty, and from the bottom of my Heart do beg Her Gracious Pardon….
And you Mr. Attorney, whereas you charge me for a Papist, I protest most unfeignedly, I was never conversant with any of that sort; I only knew one White a Priest that went up and down the Town, yet did I never Converse with him in all my life.
Source: U of Michigan Library, THE Arraignment AND TRYALL OF Robert Earl of Essex AND HENRY Earl of SOVTHAMPTON At Westminster the 19th of February, 1600[/1]. and in the 43 year of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, pp. 23, 25.
Southampton’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Elizabeth I, and he would be pardoned by her successor, James I, upon his ascension to the English throne (1603).
The quality of mercy …