W.S. Veritatis – Elizabethan Lyricist

Who was this W.S. who mocked the countryman who came to London to make commerce with comedy? Who was he, who claimed to be the greatest wit in London? Who was this pamphleteer behind, Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit? Whose were the plays printed besides Shakespeare’s in the 3rd and 4th Folios? Who else’s plays were published in quarto editions bearing William Shakespeare’s name during the Stratford man’s lifetime?

Looking for works published with the initials, W.S. from the middle of the 16th Century until the publication of the Third Folio in 1664(1) I hoped to find an answer. Above the earliest instance of his initials, that I found, was a couple of songs by W.S.: A New Balade or Songe of the Lamb’s Feast and ANother out of Goodwill. They were published together in a pamphlet in Cologne in 1574. At the bottom of ANother out of Goodwill, W.S. signed the pamphlet  “PER W.S. VERITATIS”. The songs are printed with dense side references expressed with archaic Biblical abbreviations e.g., Math.22.a., Esa.2a.25b., and 2Tess.1.a.2.b..

Questions arise: why was the pamphlet printed in English and in Cologne; for whom was it intended; why does a song need textual notes; how are the biblical abbreviations to be deciphered; and who was W.S. Veritatis? With the kind permission of EEBO, I present this vernacular translation of the first of the two songs.

A New Ballad or Song of the Lamb’s Feast (1574)

I heard one say:

Come now away

Make no delay:

Alack, why stand ye then?

All is doubtless

 in readiness

There wants but Gesse,

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest in very deed (refrain)

That’s found a Guest in the Marriage-weed. (refrain)

Wedding feast at Cana

Parable of the Wedding

 

The Scriptures all

Performed shall

Be, in this my Call

Voiced-out by H.N. (than):

I am God’s Love

Come from above

All men to move

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest.(refrain)

 

Make haste and speed

I am indeed

That Marriage-weed,

That those must put-on, than

Which shall be fit

Or-else permit

Down for to sit

At the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest.(refrain)

 

The Last Supper

The Supper of the Lamb – Holy Euchartist

Do not despise

This mine Advice

Ye that be wise

And lust for to eat than,

Of the living Wood,

Or heavenly food

So pure and good

In the Supper of the Lamb

For he is now blest.(refrain)

 

That Seed of Seth

Which pass through Death

(In Abraham’s faith)

To life: They only than,

Shall be set-down

With great Renown

And wear the Crown

In the Supper of the lamb.

For he is now blest.(refrain)

The Wise Virgins - prepared with their lanterns for the return of the Bridegroom

The Wise Virgins – prepared with their lanterns for the return of the Bridegroom

 

All Scripture-wise

That now surmise,

How to despise

Me, in their Wisdom, than

They shall no-doubt

(Among all Stout)

Be shut with-out

The Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest. (refrain)

 

For none I say

Save only: they

That shall obey,

Mine holy Service, than

(Which both bring-in

The Death of Sin)

May enter-in,

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest.(refrain)

 

Then all that now

In Strife do grow

And will not bow,

To my lovely Warnings, than

Must now at last

Clean out be cast

And never taste

The Supper of the lamb.

For he is now blest.(refrain)

 

Then run apace

Whilst there is Grace

Or Time and Space

So fast as ever you can

To Zions hell:

Where All that will

May eat their fill

In the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest.(refrain)

 

Neglect Me not

As they did Lot

Long past you (wot)

And perished all than:

My love peruse

Make no excuse

Lest you refuse

The Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest. (refrain)

 

When All were set

And furnished nett

(Both small and great)

So was it forseen than,

Of the Bridegroom

That there was room

For more to come

In the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest.(refrain)

 

Then must I go

To the high-ways, lo

And hedges, though

And seek them-up all than:

All Those by name

That’s Blind or Lame

And compel the same,

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest. (refrain)

 

The Lord hath swore

Long-time before

That nevermore

Such as excused them than

Should taste or eat

Of the heavenly Meat

Or Portion geat,

In the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest. (refrain)

 

For that all kings

Under Love’s Wings

(Without Grudgings)

In Peace might govern, than

Pray All: that trust

Amongeth: Just

Or have a lust

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest in very deed

That’s found a Guest in the marriage weed.

FINIS.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I

The story told by the song is a straight forward retelling of the Parable of the Wedding, as told by Jesus in Mathew 22. The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a Wedding Feast that a king (God) is hosting for his son (Jesus). The king calls his servants to celebrate with him but they choose to ignore or decline the invitation. In the worst cases the King’s messengers (prophets) were slain. So the King sent his messengers to the highways to bring all manner of people to the feast. The hall was filled but the king noticed that he was not being honoured by someone who had not dressed appropriately for a wedding. The king had him bound and thrown into darkness. The moral of the parable is that God calls many into his Salvation but few are chosen to enter.

Going to modern day Germany to publish a pamphlet in a foreign to that country was a big step, and so, a little irregular. The chief example that comes to mind is that of William Tyndale who in 1525 went to Cologne to publish his Bible. William Tyndale was eventually strangled and hung for his efforts. I suspect that something on W.S.’s pamphlet had to be very sensitive for it not to be printed in England. And it is – not in the text of the two songs but in it’s sidenotes. W.S. Veritatis, was publishing strong material for which he was risking his safety.

What, for whom and why was the pamphlet produced? The Biblical references must be understood to begin to try and answer this. The notation is old. It indicates to us which version of the Bible, then in print, Veritatis was referring to. It is most likely Henry VIII’s Great Bible.(2) This is important as it also indicates to us that he probably prepared the pamphlet in England before leaving for Germany. The Great Bible was so called, partly because it was so big. It was also known as the Chained Bible as every Church in England had one that had to be chained in place to prevent its theft. We know that the Bible being referred to is most likely the Great Bible because of the form of the abbreviations of the books. In a comparison with the Geneva and the Bishop’s Bible, it is only the Great Bible that abbreviates the book of Isaiah with Esa (for Esaiah), the Books of Thessalonians with Tess, the aprocryphal Book of Wisdom, as Sap (For Sapitentia), and Apo for Revelations (Apocalyse). Veritatis gives no verse numbers as the Great Bible had none. It’s theme/paragraphs were indicated by the book they belonged to, followed by the chapter and then the paragraph(s) indicated by a letter of the alphabet. Until the Bishop’s Bible was produced in 1568, the Great Bible of 1535 was the most commonly available.

Once the references are read a different story unfolds to the one that Jesus told. It seems that Veritatis was letting off steam or could have been making an extended plea for mercy to his monarch, Elizabeth I, from the relative safety of Europe. The refrain repeated at the end of each stanza:

To the Supper of the Lamb, For he is now blest in very deed, That’s found a Guest in the Marriage weed.

refers to Revelations 19 where the Bride is clothed for the wedding feast in the deeds of saints. It is as if he is pleading for the Bride, soon the King’s daughter (Queen Elizabeth), to do the work of a saint and be merciful. The reference to Jesus telling the story of a Monarch is noted 10 times through-out. That he is appealing to her conscience to be treated with Godly love is the intention of the last stanza. He is also judging her advisers whom he doesn’t rate worthy to partake of salvation. This is the reference to the Book of Wisdom in the Apocrypha (Sap. 6a.):

“Wisdom is better than strength and a man of understanding is more worth than one that is strong. Hear therefore (o ye Kings) and understand: o learn you they be judges of the ends of the earth. Give earthly rule to multitudes, and delight much in people. For the power is given you of the Lord and the strength from the highest: which shall try your works and search out your imagination. How that you being officers of his kingdom, have not executed true judgement, have not kept the law of righteousness, nor walked after his will. Horribly and that right soon shall he appear unto you: for a hard judgement they have they bear rule.” (3)

Throughout the song the call for guests is coupled in the side references to the idea of rejecting the guests one knows, for strangers. Was he calling for the overthrow of her ministers/advisors or just their advice in relation to him? A reference to 1 John 4a (1 John 4:1-6) talks about false prophets and the Antichrist that is among us in the world. Was he inferring that the Anitchrist was amongst Elizabeth’s court and /or advisers?

With just this little view into the side referencing a picture is drawn of how potentially dangerous this pamphlet would have been had it been printed in England in 1574. So who was the mastermind behind it?

Veritatis is a play on the family name of the Earl of Oxford, Vere. He was known for his brashness, drinking, patronage, acting troupe and poetry in his lifetime. In 1573 he was one of Elizabeth I’s favourites, despite his being married to the daughter of her chief adviser, William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Did he write songs? Apparently he did. Some of his extant poetry is suspected of actually being songs. A newsletter from Nina Green of the Oxford Authorship Site is dedicated to just this. Did he write these two, too?

Oxford made a run for the Continent for an unknown reason in July,1574. He spent three weeks on the Continent, from July 6 until he emerged in Dover on July 27. He is said to have travelled from Calais to Flanders and Bruges via,  possibly, Dunkirk. He was summoned by the Queen and physically escorted back, by Thomas Bedingfield, the translator of Cardanus Comforte.(4)  Was he able to get to Cologne in time to have the songs printed? If he had committed some crime for which he had to atone for, what was it? Could the references together with the text of these two songs tell us more?

A reference in Luke 14.b.(roughly Luke 14:10-17) is noted 7 times and talks about the man who exalts himself being humbled and the man who humbles himself being exalted. If Veritatis was the Earl of Oxford, could he have been referring to the very powerful and upwardly-mobile father-in-law of his, Lord Burghley?

Many of the references speak of keeping the true faith and of assaults on that faith. Did the lyricist, like the Earl, have leanings towards the Catholic faith? 2 Timothy 4.a (2 Tim 4:1-7) speaks of fighting the good fight and keeping the faith. Oxford would be imprisoned together with his lover, who came from a family of secret Catholics, seven years later in 1581. He would be accused of Catholicism and impregnating one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. Was history repeating itself?

In one of the longest references, the lyricist cites the whole of Romans 6. This chapter rails against human desires of the body. It is referenced in the fifth stanza, the most heavily side-noted stanza of the entire song – 10 references shared over 9 short lines. Here he makes mention of the two wives of Lamech and the two mother’s of Abram’s descendants, his wife, Sarai and his lover, Hagar. Was the lyricist speaking in a veiled way about his wife and lover? Did his lover bare him a son? Considering that Oxford was a favourite of the Queen, even the hint of such a thing, true or otherwise, was outrageous.

It would not be the first time he would make public references to his errant behaviour through a printing house. . .

Acknowledgement

It is with grateful appreciation to EEBO (Early English Books Online) for their permission to offer this vernacular translation on my blog. Consider this offering an appertizer. To appreciate the song fully, you must visit EEBO to see the musical notation and the lyricist’s dense biblical referencing.

Footnotes

(1) The Third Folio was printed in 1663. It is in the second impression of its print, in 1663, that seven extra plays were added. These included Pericles which has since been admitted into the orthodox Shakespearean Canon and 3 other plays by W.S..

(2) I compared the abbreviations to the most common bibles in use, the Bishop’s, the Geneva and the Great Bible. Read the Great Bible online here.

(3)Coverdale Myles (trans.)The Holy Scriptures of the Olde and Newe Testament; with the Apocripha, 1535.   Reprinted by: Samuel Bagster and Sons, London, 2nd Modern Edition.

(4)Anderson, Mark, Shakespeare by Another Name, Gotham Books, New York, 2005, Chapter 4: For the Making of a Man [1573-1575], pp.70-71.

Wedding at Cana

Photo credit: Nick in exsilio / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA 

The Last Supper -Broken for you

Photo credit: Lawrence OP / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The Wise Virgins

Photo credit: Lawrence OP / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Elizabeth I

Photo credit:cliff1066™ / Foter / CC BY

The Great Bible

Photo credit: FirewallJC / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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6 thoughts on “W.S. Veritatis – Elizabethan Lyricist

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