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Whilst as fickle Fortune smiled,
Every one that flatters thee
THIS piece first appeared in a collection issued by Robert Chester, in 1601, with the title :
'Love's Martyr; or Rosalin's Complaint. Allegorically shadowing the truth of Love, in the constant Fate of the Phoenix and Turtle. A Poem enterlaced with much Varietie and Raretie; now first translated out of the venerable Italian Torquato Cæliano, by Robert Chester. With the true legend of famous King Arthur, the last of the nine Worthies, being the first essay of a new British poet; collected out of diverse authentical Records. To these are added some new compositions, of several modern writers whose names are subscribed to their several works, upon the first subject: viz. the Phoenix and Turtle.'
The interest of the collection is confined to these additions, which include verses by Marston, Chapman, Ben Jonson, and Ignoto. They are introduced by a new title-page, which furnishes some fresh details :
'Hereafter follow diverse poeticall Essaies on the former subject, viz. the Turtle and Phoenix. Done by the best and chiefest of our modern writers, with their names subscribed to their particular, works: never before extant: And now first consecrated by them all generally to the love and merit of the true
noble Knight, Sir John Salisburie. virum Musa vetat mori. MDCI.'
The significance of this slight piece, which, as indicated, is signed in Shakespeare's full name, remains an unsolved problem; but its authenticity is generally accepted. It has the air of a trifle, thrown off perhaps at the urgency of a resolute Album-maker, whose hackneyed emblematics, allegorical mystifications, and Arthurian legend-lore can have had few attractions for the Shakespeare of 1600. Critics of repute have read high romance in these cloudy symbols; and Chester himself doubtless intended to convey a very serious meaning, whether it concerned the love-affairs of Elizabeth with Essex or another, or some private history to which we have no clue;1 but the team of distinguished poets whom he persuaded to be yoked to his allegorical chariot regarded their enterprise, one surmises, as a pleasant jest, though they carried their parts through with appropriate decorum to the end.
1 Dr. Grosart, in his valuable edition (New Shaks. Soc. 1878), ardently defends the Essextheory. Mr. Lee has pointed out the resemblance between the symbolism of this poem and 'the parts figuratively played in
Sidney's obsequies by turtledove, swan, phoenix, and eagle,' as described in Matthew Roydon's elegy on Sidney appended to Spenser's Colin Clout's Come Home again, 1595 (W. Shakespeare, p. 184).