Once again logic reasoning has ended up in deep trouble. By repeating lines 1, 2, 7 & 8, Thomas Morley’s music for OMM resulted in a song of exactly one-hundred words. RVW reduced his partsongs to thirty-three lines. And Francis Bacon was a close friend of George Herbert. Taken into account that about 1600 he also must have been in touch with that “illiterate player”, as the Baconians prefer to call the man from Stratford, this information is better not published before 2013 at least; as if it is not enough to annoy the RVW-society, I now risk another death warrant from the Stratfordians for discrediting their hero as well.
The next fatwa will doubtlessly come from the Baconians I presume. But art demands sacrifices; there is a price to be paid for confronting people with inconvenient facts. Unnecessary facts for all that. It is even less difficult to unravel the mystery of the partsongs, if all damaging information is carefully circumnavigated.
Combining their words is all it needs. But the almost invisible clues Vaughan Williams has planted so carefully in his music, have to be exposed to his admirers – and this music was all it needed to make me one – in good order. If only to learn what it means to live for one’s art, whatever the consequences may be.
The ultimate clue must have been a performance of the partsongs in the presence of the King himself. To arrange such an event was the greatest of all challenges the artist would have faced when indeed deciding to write his music in an imitative style. In earnest or jokingly, it must be a thrilling experience to tell a reigning monarch straight into his face that he lacks virtue, and will be kicked out from office for it in near future.
The available information on his personality testifies that Ralph Vaughan Williams never could have been contemplating such action in earnest. But pushing his imitation to the limit, he must at least have tried everything to get the king within hearing distance of his singers – that dedication letter simply must be somewhere – being the only way to go through the experience of risking his neck. In his case the public disgrace would of course have been the worst part of the prosecution, but what about the original authors of these subversive songs?
George Herbert made a political career under James I. Being Scottish, this king could never depend on the loyalty of all his courtiers. Their dislike of the foreign ruler resulted in the mischievious leaking of ‘first hand information’ from Royal Court to the man in the street. Causing the king to enter history as a practising homosexual. A piece of knowledge recent research has given some reason to distrust.
Still more recent research, however, has thoroughly outed James I; his affair with the Duke of Buckingham has recently been exposed in full detail by the BBC. Without any doubt about the interpretation of the evidence.
Under these circumstances Herbert would certainly have put his head at stake by releasing his contribution to the cycle. In the end Virtue was never published before 1633. Just as RVW’s Sweet Day was kept off the market untill all danger of backfiring was over.
So there is no reason at all to regard the cycle as an assault on James I. Edward VII’s reputation was to Herbert no concern either, let us therefore focus our attention on the sixth of January 1601, when it was perhaps composer Thomas Morley himself who set RVW an example by conducting in the presence of his sovereign the one and only
ELIZABETHAN PART of the SONG.
Twelfth-Night was most likely first performed at Royal Court as the conclusion of its 1600 Christmas-revels. The central character in the play is the Countess Olivia. Though she is not the heroïn, her relations with the other characters are motivation and pilot of every development. Her position as the spider in the web closely resembling that of Elizabeth I at Court.
As a matter of fact, her high birth, wisdom, and her habit to send suitors packing, has caused scholars to accept Olivia generally as a portrait of the Virgin Queen. Supposedly intended to grant her for the durance of the play, through Olivia’s youth and beauty, the illusion of being still as young and attractive as a couple of decades ago. To enhance the identification of the Queen with Olivia, Olivia’s suitor Duke Orsino was sitting next to her all the time. The year’s guest of honour being Italian diplomat Don Valentino Orsino, Duce di Bracciano.
For this very reason Shakespeare Studies does not take an identification of Twelfth-Night for granted as the play that was performed at Court that day. The presence of Duke Valentino Orsini is usually regarded as evidence that Shakespeare started his work on the play featuring his namesake somewhere during 1601. But the name Orsino may instead have replaced the play’s Duke original name during rehearsals..
Olivia being portrayed as a much junior lady, is strong evidence she is indeed modelled after the Queen. In all her life, Elizabeth I never allowed any portrait to bear testimony of her to grow old. And no mirror either. She preferred to fend off reality with increasingly thick layers of priming, which in time turned her gradually into a caricature of her original appearance. But any hint in that direction could trigger her wrath, so she got nothing but flattery instead. Evidently Twelfth-Night made in her sixty-eight year no exception, that is to say; no exception but O Mistress Mine, whose closing line tells her straight into her face:
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
Youth cannot be preserved.
A punchline that really hurts. Provided it catches the attention of the vain lady. Occupied as Elizabeth was by keeping track with the story, this unexpected mockery of her person must have escaped her attention. Otherwise the trial might have been the most famous part of the author’s biography. And nobody would ever have dared to use this song once more unobtrusively against a head of state.
Now attention must focus on the fact that most of RVW’s imitative surprise assault is composed on words written after the queen’s death, making ‘Elizabethan’ in ‘Three Elizabethan Part Songs’ definitively referring to the person, rather than to her era. And suddenly the punchline is nothing but the final sneer from a song that is in every respect ‘Edwardian’.
Of all impossibilities featuring in this article, this one hits the ceiling. Every historian will drop from his chair when this message comes home. Ralph Vaughan Williams, however, was no historian, and unconcernedly used three ‘Private-Part-Songs’ to connect the legendary ‘Virgin Queen’ to her not over-virtuous successor by their parts of death. For obvious reasons the composer was unable to copy the exact timing of the playwright, who wrote Mistress three years before the Queen ended her mortal days, but he could reverse this timing on Edward VII, and consequently published in 1913.