1. “JACKSON, Henry, s. Henry, of Oxford, mercer; scholar of CORPUS CHRISTI COLL. 1 Dec. 1602, aged 16; B. A. 20 June, 1605; M. A. 28 March, 1608-9, fellow 1612, B. D. 18 June, 1617, rector of Meysey Hampton, co. Gloucester, 1630, until his death 4 June, 1662; buried in the chancel. See [Anthony à Wood’s Athenae Oxonienses ] i.pp.xli, li, & iii.577; & Foster’s Index Ecclesiasticus.”
Such is the listing for Henry Jackson in Joseph Foster’s catalogue of the members of the University of Oxford, 1500 - 1714. NOTE 1 Jackson is remembered for seeing posthumous works by Richard Hooker and John Rainolds through Joseph Barnes’ press, but his greater claim to history’s attention rests on a Latin letter of September 1610, written to his friend D[ominus]. G. P. The letter itself does not survive, but the four extracts presented here were made by a subsequent Fellow of Corpus Christi and incumbent in the rectorship of Meysey Hampton (a living controlled by the College), William Fulman [1632 - 88]. Very creditably, Fulman recognized the letter’s importance and excerpted what he regarded as the crucial matter, which is preserved in the Corpus Christi library, Fulman Papers, fol. 83v - 84r. The excerpts were published with an extensive commentary by Geoffrey Tillotson in the Times Literary Supplement for Thursday, July 30, 1933, p. 494. At least partial translations have subsequently appeared elsewhere, NOTE 2 but I do not believe the Latin text has been reprinted. For the convenience of modern scholars, it is worthwhile to make it available in the Philological Museum.
2. Jackson’s letter attests a visit to Oxford by Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, in 1610. There is reason to think that the King’s Men were at Oxford in August, NOTE 3 so it seems reasonable to suppose they were there late in the month, and Jackson wrote at the beginning of the next. He writes of performances of Shakespeare’s Othello and Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist on that occasion, although use of the plural tragoedias in the third extract indicates that other plays were also performed. Maybe he did not write about them because he did not see them. In the first and third extracts he speaks of the “theater,” but fails to identify the performance venue. From other sources we know that the troupe had been hired by the municipal government, so in all likelihood the plays performed at the town hall. NOTE 4 University men were not supposed to attend professional performances, but Shakespeare was popular and Jackson’s pleno theatro suggests that plenty attended. NOTE 5
3. This does not mean that all University men were equally well-disposed towards these performances. Jackson clearly counts himself among the “pious and learned men” who took umbrage at the lampoon of Puritans in The Alchemist in the figure of Tribulation, and was offended by the play’s Biblical allusions. This theatrical burlesque of hypocritical Puritans may have hit uncomfortably close to home: several University comedies, after all, dealt in the same brand of humor and were probably meant to make the more straightlaced members of the academic community uncomfortable. Among the plays in the Philological Museum, Robert Ward’s Fucus sive Histriomastix and William Johnson’s Valetudinarium deal in this kind of humor. But Jackson’s testimony goes to show that many in the audience did not share his view, and in the second extract he reports with evident disgust that even clergymen came flocking to the performance as eagerly as anybody else. And Jackson himself reacts to Othello with straightforward enjoyment, for he obviously shared in the audience’s general reaction to the murder of Desdemona that he describes in the fourth extract.
NOTE 1 Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses (repr. Nendeln, 1968) II.794.
NOTE 2 Cf., for example, Martin Wiggins, “The King’s Men and After,” in Jonathan Bate and Russell Jackson, Shakespeare: An Illustrated Stage History (Oxford, 1996) 32f.
NOTE 3 Cf. the itinerary of the King’s Men published by E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, 1923) III.371.
NOTE 4 Cf. John R. Elliott and Alan Nelson, Oxford in the Records of Early English Drama series (Toronto, 2004) II.615.
NOTE 5 Shakespeare was no stranger to Oxford. The title page of the 1603 quarto Hamlet (The tragicall historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke by William Shake-speare. As it hath beene diuerse times acted by his Highnesse seruants in the cittie of London: as also in the two vniuersities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where) mentions a performance of that play there. The author of a recent Shakespeare biography, Park Honan, relates a tradition that Shakespeare was in the habit of returning to Stratford annually, most probably in the summer when the theaters were closed (Shakespeare, A Life, Oxford, 1998, 225f.) In traveling between London and Warwickshire he would naturally pass through Oxford, and after 1601 he stayed with his former London friends John and Jennet Davenant, who had moved to Oxford and leased a wine shop on Cornmarket Square from New College (318 - 21). Honan also states (330), although without supplying documentation, that the King’s Players arrived at Oxford on October 9, 1605, but the REED volume cites evidence for August 5.