School of Night

In the autumn of 1591, Elizabeth I issued a proclamation against the priests and Jesuits of the Catholic Seminary. The English Jesuit Robert Persons reacted to this by writingElizabethæ Angliæ reginæ hæresim Calvinianam propvgnantis sævissimvm in Catholicos sui regni Edictvm, which stated that Walter Raleigh would be appointed a member of the Privy Council and would introduce his atheistic policy in England. The English summary of Person’s work is entitled An Advertisement Written to a Secretary of My L. Treasurers of, England, by an English Intelligencer as He Passed through Germany towards Italy. This does not discuss Raleigh’s possible membership of the Privy Council, but asserts:

"Of Sir Walter Raleigh’s school of atheism by the way, […] and of the diligence used to get young gentlemen to this school, wherein both Moses and our Savior, the Old and New Testament are jested at, and the scholars taught among other things to spell God backward."1

The term "school of night" came from Shakespeare’s Love Labour’s Lost:

"O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons, and the school of night;
And beauty’s crest becomes the heavens well." 2

This quote is about Rosaline’s black hair. Neither from this nor from the drama does it even appear that the School of Night represents a real place, an actual association or suchlike.3

In 1903, Arthur Acheson suggested that the term could refer to a circle around George Chapman, whom Acheson believed to be Shakespeare’s rival.4 In the 1930s and 1940s, the existence of the School of Night was considered a proven fact to which little objection was raised.5 According to Muriel C. Bradbrook, it was an illustrious association that met regularly at Durham House, Raleigh’s city residence.

"Ralegh was the patron of the school; Thomas Harriot, a mathematician of European reputation, was its master. It probably included the earls of Northumberland and Derby, and Sir George Carey, with the poets Marlowe, Chapman, Matthew Roydon and William Warner. They studied theology, philosophy, astronomy, geography and chemistry: and their reputations differed as widely as their studies."6

This group ignored all conventions and precautions.

"[…] that the school did not disclose its opinions to the generality: that it enjoyed scandalzing the godly and confounding the dogmatic; that it was provocative and irreverent, out of deliberate policy or natural devilment or both."7

It sounds like freedom, revolution, suspense, mystery, intrigue – if the School of Night hadn’t existed, it would have had to be invented. And that is exactly what you have, or as Lindsay Ann Reid puts it: the School of Night drifted from the explicitly conjectural to speculation presented as probability to probability presented as historical certainty.8

As no evidence could be found for the existence of the group or a connection of all its alleged members to each other, science banished the School of Night back to the realm of myth and legend around the middle of the 20th century. Just at that moment, who would have guessed, it was discovered by the Marlovians.9 However, the School of Night could only develop its real potential in fictional literature, where it clearly belongs.10

Acheson, Arthur. 1903. Shakespeare and the Rival Poet: Displaying Shakespeare as a Satirist and Proving the Identity of the Patron and the Rival of the Sonnets. London: John Lane.
Bayard, Louis. 2012. The School of Night: A Novel. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Bradbrook, Muriel C. 1936. The School of Night: A Study in the Literary Relationships of Raleigh. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Harkness, Deborah E. 2012. Shadow of Night. Vol. 2. All Souls Trilogy. New York: Viking.
Hoffman, Calvin. 1955. The Man Who Was Shakespeare. London: Parrish.
Wall, Alan. 2001. School of Night. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Whelan, Peter. 2003. The Accrington Pals. The School of Night. The Herbal Bed. Vol. 1. Methuen Contemporary Dramatists. London: Methuen.

  1. Webb (1969), 10↩︎
  2. Love Labour’s Lost. IV,3,254↩︎
  3. Strathmann (1941)↩︎
  4. Acheson (1903)↩︎
  5. Reid (2014)↩︎
  6. Bradbrook (1936), 8↩︎
  7. Bradbrook (1936), 14↩︎
  8. Reid (2014)↩︎
  9. Hoffman (1955); Wraight and Stern (1993)↩︎
  10. Whelan (2003); Wall (2001); Bayard (2012); Harkness (2012)↩︎

Aktualisiert am 10.05.2024

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