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Raised on Robbery

At the beginning of A Tale of a Tub, Squire Tub rises early on Valentines Day determined to stop the scheduled marriage of Audrey Turf to John Clay. He’s summoned the vicar, Chanon Hugh and as well as Tub’s man Basket Hilts to carry out his plot.  The plot is a faked, staged robbery. No robbery occurs, but Hilts goes to Constable Turf and alleges that he witnessed a robbery at St. John’s Wood where a certain Captain Thums was relieved of his monies. The vicar, goes to another town and disguises himself as Captain Thums and prepares to corroborate Hilt’s account. Clay is doomed, as it will be two words against one. Hilts asks the Constable to raise a ‘hue and cry’ to search for accomplices in a process that is sure to disrupt any wedding, to say nothing of the aspersions cast on Clay’s character as another deterrent to the nuptials.

The robbery-as-practical-joke is reminiscent of the Gad’s Hill incident that involved Vere’s men in 1573. That incident was mirrored in two plays, the Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, an anonymous title perhaps from the 1570s or 1580s, and again in Shakespeare’s  Henry the Fourth Part One act II, scene ii. Hank Whittemore’s blog has an account of all three here.  Oxfordians have long realized that the Gad’s Hill robbery and its mirror in Henry IV Part One are a strong link between Vere and Shakespeare. In constructing a robbery-as-prank devised by Squire Tub early in A Tale of a Tub, Ben Jonson is effectively linking Squire Tub with both Vere and Shakespeare.

Now, just in case we missed this obvious connection when the plot first unfolds, Jonson drives the point home when Hilts identifies Clay as one of the robbers based on his clothes.

“HILTS. Troth no: there were so many o’ un, all like
So one another. Now I remember me,
There was one busy fellow, was their leader;
A blunt squat swad, but lower than yourself,
He’d on a leather doublet, with long points,
And a pair of pinned-up breeches, like pudding bags:
With yellow stockings, and his hat turned up
With a silver clasp on his leer side.

DAME TURF. By these
Mark is it should be John Clay! Now bless the man!”


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By these marks, it is Malvolio!  Is there a better way to identify the victim of a Shakespeare prank than to cloth him in yellow stockings? Jonson makes sure we know who this prankster Squire Tub  is!

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