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During the century following Shakespeare’s life, the government tried to end playgoing, shutting down theaters and passing orders against plays entirely. During this moment in history when it would have been easy for the legacy of William Shakespeare to die completely, one man who remembered William Shakespeare from his childhood, would champion the cause of theater, plays, and his mentor, William Shakespeare, to carry the legacy forward to survive the era of Oliver Cromwell, and potentially serve as the reason we continue to enjoy Shakespeare today. That man was William D’Avenant. Through the course of his life D’Avenent, through his charm and ability to tell great stories, worked his way up the status ladder in London to become not only a poet laureate but also a respected theater owner and playwright who worked alongside greats like ben Jonson, John Milton,and John Donne. As a holder of the only theater patent in London D’Avenant would use his stage to showcase 10 of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works. While decidedly a devotee of Shakespeare, William D’Avenant is recorded as claiming to be the son of William Shakespeare, and many historians believe he was actually Shakespeare’s godson. Here to share with us more about the life of William D’Avenant, whose childhood overlapped with the life of William Shakespeare, is our honored guest, Ralph Goldswain.

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Ralph Goldswain lives in London, England. He is the main content writer for Nosweatshakespeare.com, which he founded two decades ago and runs in partnership with his son. He also writes short stories and has published several books about the history of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. He has been a teacher but has now retired from that. Ralph reviews books on general topics, as well as stage plays where he specialises in performances of Shakespeare’s plays.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Ralph Goldswain about :

  • William D’Avenant’s father ran an inn which is reasonably on the route from Stratford Upon Avon to London and back again. When I created a map of this route (which you can download in the show notes for today’s episode) it seemed very likely that Shakespeare could have often stopped there on his travels. Ralph, was William Shakespeare good friends with the D’Avenant family?
     
  • We know D’Avenant owned several playing companies, and worked as a theater manager, but was D’Avenant also an actor himself?
  • There has been persistent suggestion among scholars and historians alike that D’Avenant may have been more than just Shakespeare’s godson, but also his illegitimate biological son.Ralph, explain the evidence here and why that suggestion seems so plausible. 

… and more!

Join the Newsletter | Download this Map

This historically illutrated map shows one possible path between London and Stratford Upon Avon that William Shakespeare could have travelled by foot to get from his home to his workplace in London. Using primary documents and quotes from Shakespeare's plays that reference specific inns and taverns along this path, the map pinpoints where the inns were located (including the one owned by the Davenant family, where it is believed Shakespeare frequently stopped when passing by.)

As an artist & illustrator, I create historical artwork like this one regularly and each piece is posted for sale inside That Shakespeare Shop (and added to the resource library for our members). Once a month, newsletter subscribers get one of these art pieces selected from the shop (usually the latest artwork to be added that month), and sent to them completely free just to say thank you for being a subscriber. You can use this form here to join the Monthly Art Club right now to download this Road to London Map and get weekly updates on the latest episodes here at That Shakespeare Life every Monday.

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Hath my sword therefore broke through London gates,
that you should leave me at the White Hart in
Southwark?
Jack Cade

Henry VI Part II (IV.8)

I took this picture of a page from a book called “the Old Inns of England” by Charles Harper. The book is a delightful collection of many famous (and not so famous) inns in England. Well worth the read. I chose this picture to share because Shakespeare mentions the White Hart in his plays (however, he references the one in Southwark, not the one in Bath that's pictured here). You'll learn quickly that many, many, inns have the same names and it takes some doing to distinguish between them! The book The Old Inns of England is available on Gutenberg Press and you can access that here.  This image comes from the overlap of pages 253-254. Since the bookj is digital, a quick way to find it is to do a search of “White Hart” or “White Hart in bath” |

Find a hard copy of The Old Inns of Old England: Volume 2 on Amazon here.

Meeting Davenant on The Road to London

Getting to and from London from Stratford Upon Avon was not the 2 hour car ride from London that modern convenience provides. Instead, for William Shakespeare the journey would have been done on foot (possibly on horseback), and was a journey of several days. This distance is one reason Shakespeare is thought to have had regular residencies in London where he could stay several days at a time, and the reason we know that Shakespeare stayed at various inns along the path when he did travel to Stratford Upon Avon from London, or vice versa, because the sheer distance, or bad weather, were all reasons any traveller would have needed a place to stop for respit.

As Ralph explains, however, when it comes to pinpointing where Shakespeare may have stayed, we have to rely on evidence that is inconclusive. Ralph says,

“Most of the things we know about Shakespeare are only things we think we know about Shakespeare, as most of it is conjecture. There were actually two pubs called the Crown Tavern, both in the same street and we don’t know which one Shakespeare stayed in, but during Shakespeare’s lifetime, it was called the Salutation Tavern. There’s a painted room in one of them that the owner’s claim Shakespeare stayed in and they use that for tourism, but there’s no evidence of that [actually having happened]. He could have stayed there, though, and it is possible he knew the D’Avenants. John and Jane D’Avenant were Londoners…involved [in] the theater and they lived in London at the time Shakespeare was writing. They could have known him then. They had 8 children, and they all died in childbirth so they decided to leave London, went to Oxford, had 6 more children, and William D’Avenenant was one of [those six]…one of D’Avenant’s brothers, Robert, remembered being bounced on Shakespeare’s knee as a child.”

The building known as “the Crown Inn” (Or Crown Tavern) housed a series of inns, taverns, and homes for many people from it's original construction as the Pate's Inn (date unknown), until it's establishment as the Bull in in 1500, ownership by John Underhill in the 1580s, and by 1600 it was under the ownership of John Davenant, who was one of three people licensed to run a wine tavern in Oxford, which he ran from this building. There are two contemporary references that cite Shakespeare as having stayed at this location. Read more history of the Crown Tavern, the Davenant Family, and the painted room where Shakespeare stayed in this article by Stephanie Jenkins of OxfordHistory.org

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The Duke's Theatre at Dorset Gardens, on the riverfront, London's most luxurious playhouse. | This is the playhouse where D'Avenant and John Dryden staged their adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest in the 17th century. D'Avenant's persistent adaptation and performance of the works of William Shakespeare can be given significant credit for Shakespeare's works surviving through until today. The life of William D'Avenant, and indeed the entire 17th century post-Shakespeare was a difficult time for theater. Without the innovative approaches of D'Avenant and Dryden, it is unlikely Shakespeare's works would hold the prominence they do today. | Image is Public Domain, comments are by Cassidy Cash |  Image Source

Davenant Poet Laureate of England

It was during the reign of King James I, and just after the death of William Shakespeare, in the year 1616, that the office of poet laureate found it's feet in the United Kingdom. While it would not become an official office until the late 17th century with John Dryden taking office as the official first Poet Laurate of the United Kingdom, Ben Jonson would have the honor of being named the first of this position under James I. In 1616, Jonson was given money from the Jacobean government to play the role, essentially of “lead poet in the nation.” Encyclopedia Britannica calls this appointment “the origins of the modern post.” (Source :“List of poets laureate of Britain”Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 28 November 2020. Source link) After Jonson's death in 1637, William D'Avenant was appointed to this position (Charles I was King by this time).

In an article on William D’Avevnant for No Sweat Shakespeare, Ralph writes that William D’Avenant “frequently found himself in trouble.” Ralph defines that trouble as D'avenant being largely politically for the duration of his lifetime:

“A great portion of his life he was probably the most famous man in London in his time, particularly in the last 20 years of his life when he was running the theater–he was a political animal, very much a royalist. He got himself in trouble in the Civil War.

The first time he got in trouble…tried for high treason, fled to France, returned when the War started, 1643, seige of Gloucester, became knighted for that. His political activities at the seige of Gloucester. 1649, sent to Maryland as an envoy, arrested in the English channel, and locked in the Tower of London for 4 yars, sentenced to death and some of these things are little human things which are most interesting. Example, his great friend was John Milton, and famous roundhead supportere, complete opposite side of the War as D’Avenant, so he wasn’t actually executed because Milton defended him. Gondybird, famous poem, D’Avenant wrote in prison. He was pardoned in 1654, released from prison. After Cromwell’s death, George Booth’s uprising in Cheshire, adn went to france after that, returned after Charles II returned to the throne, and D’Avenant was very popular with him.”

Being in trouble all the time seems to contrast starkly with his role as poet laureate during the 17th century under Charles I. Ralph explains that when it comes to the nation's highest ranking poet running afoul of the law, there was a reason for that: 

“He actually became the poet laureate, long before his first legal trouble. He was working in the tehater land where Shakespeare had worked, and writing plays, but qualify that by saying that D’Avenant wasn’t an official poet laureate. D’Avenant got the role from Jonson. Queen Henrietta championed D’Avenant for that position, but at the time, it was not a national paid job, John Dryden was the first poet Laureate. It was a simple court position when both Jonson and D’Avenant held the post.”

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Cook, play, and dance your way through the life of William Shakespeare
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Do not assume my likeness.
Apemantus

Timon of Athens (IV.3)

britannica shakespeare davenant bust

 The Davenant Bust of Shakespeare | Description by image user Bob Burkhardt: “Portrait bust of William Shakespeare. This fine work of art derives its name from having been found bricked up in the old Duke's theatre in Portugal Row, Lincoln's Inn Fields, which 180 years before was D'Avenant's” | 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. 24, Plate II between pp. 788 and 789 | Image SourceThis image comes from the 12th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica or earlier. The copyrights for that book have expired in the United States because the book was first published in the US with the publication occurring before January 1, 1925. As such, this image is in the public domain in the United States. | This image of the D'Avenant Bust of Shakespeare is poor quality, but it was the only public domain image I was able to locate/acquire in time for this episode. To see better quality photographs, see the articles at these links: The Independent | Bath, Art, and Architecture | New York Times

Davenant saw Shakespeare as a mentor

William D'Avenant is rumored, and primary documents in the form of letters and accounts written by D'Avenant's contemporaries add fuel to the theory that William D'Avenant might have been Shakespeare's biological son. There are also persistent rumors that D'Avenant was Shakespeare's godson, but as Ralph points out, the baptismal records of D'Avenant do not indicate that precisely. Regardless of whether we can prove conclusively the reasons underneath D'Avenant's love for William Shakespeare, we can tell from D'Avenant's life that he highly regarded Shakespeare as someone he admired and sought to emulate. Ralph explains,

D’Avenant recognized Shakespeare as a kind of mentor, and he was personally a great Shakespeare fan/devottee all of his life. Collector of Shakespeare memorabilia. He collected all kinds of things from Shakespeare and Shakespeare had a portrait painted by John Taylor. [The] Chandos portrait painted by John Taylor in Shakespeare’s mid thirties. It may be that D’Avenant did actually see Shakespeare when he was a child and knew what he looked like anyway, [we know that] the first owner of the Chandos portrait was William D’Avenant. In the Duke’s Theater, all those years it was Lincoln Inn Fields, (it was pulled down and renovated in the 19th century), they found a bust of Shakespeare behind one of the walls and that is known as “the D’Avenant bust”. There are pictures of it on the internet. It looks like the Chandos portrait, whatever happened, whatever D’Avenant did, he always honored Shakespeare, put on Shakespeare’s plays, adapted them into musicals, and worked with Shakespeare’s plays alot, so when he was given the charter to run the King’s Company, the King gave him the exclusive rights to produce 10 of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and that’s an example that all through his life he honored.

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Of man and beast the infinite malady
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1673 Portrait of William D'Avenant in which you can see deformity about his nose. Ralph Goldswain shares this week that D'Avenant's face was maligned after a bout with syphilis. It would be his contraction of what Shakespeare called the “infinite malady” that would end D'Avenant's life. | William Davenant, operator of one of the first licensed theatre companies after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. From The Works of Sir William Davenant, frontispiece, printed by TN for Henry Herringman, London, 1673. | Printed by TN for Henry Herringman | Public Domain | Image Source | The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain”. This photographic reproduction is therefore also considered to be in the public domain in the United States. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or fewer.

Davenant's Nose Lost to Syphillis

William D'Avenant's portrait from the late 1630s shows a deformity about D'Avenant's face. Curious if this was a physical malady with which D'Avenant was born, or perhaps if he had suffered some injury, I asked Ralph to explain the mishapen face. Ralph explains,

“In 1630, [Davenant] unfortunately got himself into a situation where he contracted syphilis. Eventually his nose fell off. He had plastic surgery done on his nose, (Thomas Caydem treating him for syphilis). [He was] fortunate to be living with syphilis, [as the disease is] normally treated with lead and that killed most people who were treated that way. D’Avenant spent all of his time as this popular man with no nose. When he had that portrait done, there’s a tiny little nose, but it was just a stub. [An] Italian surgeon did plastic surgery, [and] he explained how he did it–he would cut a nose shape in a patient’s arm, and then take that skin around the cut, and put it on the face, so that it would grow into the face skin on the cheeks. A patient would walk around for a few months with his arm strapped to his nose until it took, then the arm was removed, [and] the flap was shaped into a nose.”

When did William D’Avenant died, it was because of syphilis. Ralph shares,

[D'Avenant] is buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey. Interesting thing here–there was a rival that he had, who was a roundhead, [and the rival] was buried in Poet’s Corner, and the Royalists who loved D’Avenant, they dug the grave up and took the body out and took this other poet somewhere else who had been buried by Cromwell, and put D’Avenant [in his place], near Ben Jonson. Jonson’s inscription [says] “Oh rare, Ben Jonson.” [and] D’Avenant says “Oh, rare, Sir William D’Avenant.” By the time Jonson died, he was regarded as even greater than Shakespeare… There is a statue of Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey next to Jonson”

 

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Cook, play, and dance your way through the life of William Shakespeare
with history activity kits that work like science labs for Shakespeare. 

Books & Resources Ralph Goldswain Recommends

Digitized version of John Aubrey's Brief Lives edited by Andrew Clark in the late 19th century is available from Project Gutenberg. You can access that digital copy here (Accessed successfully 28 November 2020)

Join the Newsletter | Download this Map

This historically illutrated map shows one possible path between London and Stratford Upon Avon that William Shakespeare could have travelled by foot to get from his home to his workplace in London. Using primary documents and quotes from Shakespeare's plays that reference specific inns and taverns along this path, the map pinpoints where the inns were located (including the one owned by the Davenant family, where it is believed Shakespeare frequently stopped when passing by.)

As an artist & illustrator, I create historical artwork like this one regularly and each piece is posted for sale inside That Shakespeare Shop (and added to the resource library for our members). Once a month, newsletter subscribers get one of these art pieces selected from the shop (usually the latest artwork to be added that month), and sent to them completely free just to say thank you for being a subscriber. You can use this form here to join the Monthly Art Club right now to download this Road to London Map and get weekly updates on the latest episodes here at That Shakespeare Life every Monday.


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