A Post Stratfordian Shake-speare Blog
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Category — Gentleman Usher

Full House: Jacks over Earls

Full House: Jacks over Earls


I need to clear up some definitions before proceeding. The word Jack has many definitions. There are three that I believe are in play here – I’ve screen-capped them from the OED below.




click definitions to enlarge

I was mistaken earlier about the Vere badge jack – it is specifically a mechanism for spit roasting meat. That is very relevant, as their are two spit turning references that are connected to theater, one from the original Gentleman Usher scene from which this blog takes its name, and the other from Histriomastix, where the players out of work due to The Poets’ War remark that they will need to learn to use the spit to get by.  Here are those references.


Gent Usher



The other two jack definitions of note are the bird, in our case the jackdaw. Notice the Cornish chough listed, that is a different specie of crow. Chough originally meant jackdaw, and that’s how Chaucer used it, as discussed in the previous post. The third definition of interest is “serving man, make attendant, laborer.”  Now the modern phrase “jack of all trades” certainly references this use – so we can say that Johannes Factotum perhaps is depicting the upstart crow as a servant of sorts. It has been my contention throughout this blog that Will Shaksper was a servant to Vere initially, and perhaps later to the crown, in service to their theatrical interests.

Putting it together, I see Groatsworth as at least a double-entendre on the definitions of jack, if not a triple-entendre; invoking the jackdaw bird, which is a mimic and thief, and the jack serving man who serves for the house of the late Jack Vere.   As we will now see, three of the various serving men we’ve identified earlier in this blog as Shaksper allusions are each labeled “Jack,” with Jack Daw carrying the full name of the thieving, mimicking crow.

Now, into Epicene and Jack Daw – some of these observations I or Rambler have made before.


I’ll start with a favorite passage, where Jonson tells us there is a conspiracy to portray Daw as a learned man of books, but he’s no such thing. We also learn he’s bought his title. That sounds exactly like Will Shaksper of Stratford upon Avon.


There’s a bit of foolery where Daw is offered to lose a limb to save his life. He says he’d be “loath to lose my Right Arm for writing Madrigals.”  It’s pointed out to him that he’d be losing a wing, not an arm, because of course he’s a jackdaw bird.  Jonson got the last laugh on this one. Shaksper in the Droeshout portrait is shown with two left arms. Looks like that right arm was cut off after all!


This passage has a long-winded (literally) speech from La Foole. The fast pace (he’s out of breath at the end) is similar to Ambler’s speech in The Devil is an Ass. But Vere allusions aren’t our topic here. Jack Daw is mentioned as a Rook, which is another species of crow – and a double-entendre as well, as to rook someone is to defraud them More thievery. Jack Daw is servant to Epicene in the play, and he’s willing to betray her. I’m citing that passage to emphasis the betrayal, which I’ll link to another Jack down the page a bit.


More foolery, and I’ve discussed this scene before. Daw and La Foole are regaling their sexual exploits. They admit they’ve shared a bed together. The bed of Ware may have been owned by Vere. Jack Daw as bedfellow to a Vere character brings us to another play – The Wisdom of Dr Dodypoll. Haunce, the servant, is a bedfellow to Lassinbergh, the painter by day, earl by night.


In addition to the bedfellow reference, and the nobleman in disguise as artist – notice the Doctor’s thick accent asking where? – “Verae? Veare?” Doctor Dodypoll is a Caius character. Rambler has written much on them.  The Doctor refers to Haunce as ‘de very fine, brave, little, Propta sweet Jack man.


Here we see that “petite Jack is madd” – remember jackdaws are small.  Notice also;

“what might I have done with this wit, if my friends had bestowed learning upon me?”

A natural wit with no learning – that’s our Shaksper!

Now on to betrayal – which brings us to Miles Metaphor (clerk to the attorney Bramble (M-B-L!)) in Jonson’s late play – A Tale of a Tub.  Here’s a reprint from an earlier post titled Shaksper Iscariot.

Jack of Lent

“Uncivil, orange-tawny-coated clerk”   “Uncivil orange” is a pun on Seville oranges. It’s also a reference to Shakespeare, who uses the same pun inMuch Ado when Beatrice tells Claudio you’re as “civil as an orange.”  The color orange-tawny has multiple meanings here I think.  The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says “The ancient colour appropriated to clerks and persons of inferior condition. It was also the colour worn by the Jews. Hence Lord Bacon says, “Usurers should have orange-tawny bonnets, because they do Judaise””   The Bacon reference is from 1625.  We know Shaksper was a money-lender. But it’s not Metaphor’s hat nor beard that’s orange-tawny, it’s his coat, his livery.  Orange-tawny was the livery color of the Earls of Oxford. (See Hank Whittmore’s Reason 52) Metaphor is clerk to the earl of Oxford, Preamble, and wears his livery coat.

“And was made of of patches, parings, shreds:” evokes Hamlet’s remark about his father “a king of shreds and patches.”  (III,iv) Perhaps Shaksper really did play Hamlet’s ghost!

“Thou, that when last thou wert put out of service,”

i,e, When you were fired from your job….

“thou didst stand six week the Jack of Lent,
for boys to hurl, three throws a penny, at thee,
To make thee a purse;”

The Jack of Lent is an effigy of Judas Iscariot that was erected at the beginning of lent, abused, and then burned before Easter, in 15th, 16th, and 17th century England.  Miles Metaphor made his purse by betraying his master after he was firedThe wiki entry for Jack O Lent is here.

In A Tale of A Tub, Jonson is telling us exactly what happened between Shaksper and his master, the earl of Oxford. William Shaksper, like Judas before him, betrayed his lord for big sack of money.  …

“Thou skum of man,” in deed, indeed.”

end excerpt

Additionally – the name Miles recalls Miles Gloriosus – a Roman play about a noted braggart. We’ll meet another braggart in the next, and final installment of this Jackdaw Series of posts.

We’ve managed to touch on three Jacks here, Jack Daw, Petite Jack, and Jack-a-Lent, as well as two earls, Lassinbergh and Oxford.  It’s a full house, Jacks over Earls!


more anon.


p.s. I’m saving the best for last.


February 26, 2015   1 Comment