"Up front it should be mentioned that Diana Price has a book, Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography : New Evidence of an Authorship Problem (2003), and responded to criticism of it with "The Mythical Myth of the Stigma of Print". This may be an elephant in the room that's hard to ignore when approaching Sackville's biography as an attribution problem. My comment is that Sackville was enormously successful with his early poem, Induction, and play, Gorboduc, which was performed with critical praise in the Inner Temple before Elizabeth, 1561; so why should he hide his elephant from the public later in life, given that it accomplished his literary purposes?" -- Bookburn
In Diana Price's 2003 book "Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography," and a subsequent internet essay, Price convincingly established that although many members of the Elizabethan court enjoyed writing poems and plays, they preferred to circulate their poetic works in manuscript among their private friends. Early English aristocrats rarely published original poetry, as to do so was apparently viewed as embarrassing, even déclassé. These aristocrats did occasionally allow their minor works such as commendatory poems, commendatory epistles, and contributions to anthologies into print, but avoided publishing their major works. A handful of noblemen including Henry Howard Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Sir Philip Sidney did write influential poetry, but their bodies of work were published posthumously. They too circulated their poetry in manuscript while alive.
The 'Stigma of Print' seems not to have applied (or at least, not with full force) to works of translation, or to religious, didactic, educational, and political works. These kinds of writings were evidently not viewed as morally suspect or frivolous, and did not carry the implication that the authors sought personal gain or public acclaim from their writings.
The 'Stigma of Print' held strongest when it came to play publishing. Not a single Elizabethan or Jacobean aristocrat is known to have voluntarily published a play under his own name throughout the period, even though playwriting was a popular activity among Queen Elizabeth’s artistically inclined courtiers.
The aristocratic 'Stigma of Print' even applies to Gorboduc, the first blank verse play in the English language and the first English play inspired by the classical Greek and Roman drama, co-authored by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton in 1561. Sackville and Norton clearly did not intend to publish their work when it was first published in the plague year of 1565. Instead, one of their acquaintances, a young man who “lacked a little money and much discretion,” printed Gorboduc surreptitiously while Sackville was “out of England, and T. Norton far out of London, and neither of them made privy.”
Note that Sackville was knighted and made the Baron of Buckhurst in 1567. When Sackville co-authored Gorboduc in 1561, wrote a commendatory sonnet for a friend's 1561 work of translation, and allowed two of his narrative poems to appear in a didactic 1563 anthology of historical poems assembled by two other friends, he had no official title other than that of a gentleman. Sackville's 1561 commendatory poem, along with his two poems in the 1563 anthology "Mirror for Magistrates," are the only three poetic works that he appears to have wished to be printed under his name.
In 1570, five years later after the unauthorized first publication of Gorboduc, Sackville and Norton apparently authorized a second edition including a preface by the printer John Day which explained the circumstances of the 1565 edition. According to Day, this earlier edition was “exceedingly corrupted,” as if the pirate who printed it “enticed into his house a fair maid and done her villainy, and after all to bescratched her face, torn her apparel, berayed and disfigured her, and then thrust her out of doors dishonested.” His claim that the 1565 edition of Gorboduc was so corrupted it needed to be republished is ridiculous, since the 1565 text is nearly identical to the 1570 text. It has a few minor misprints, such as “terrour” for “errour,” and a repeated line or two.
At least one reason -- if not the main reason -- for the 1570 reprinting of Gorboduc seems to have been the authors’ wish to place on record that they weren’t responsible for the original publication. As Day explains, Sackville and Norton “were very much displeased that she [Gorboduc] so ran abroad without leave, whereby she caught her shame, as many wantons do.” She was “somewhat less ashamed of the dishonesty done to her because it was by fraud and force.” If readers “still reproached (her) with her former mishap…the poor gentlewoman will surely play Lucrece’s part, and herself die for shame.” (Incidentally, this appears to be the first English allusion to the Roman story of Lucrece’s rape, later popularized in Shakespeare’s 1594 poem The Rape of Lucrece.)
After England's first public amphitheater was built in 1576, the public theaters became increasingly popular and came under vehement attack from Puritans and public scolds who worried about the playhouses’ effect on the public morals. In 1577 the minister John Northbrooke wrote of stage plays in his A Treatise Against Dicing, Dancing, Plays, and Interludes as being “wicked,” “detestable,” “evil,” “unprofitable,” “abominable,” and “blasphemous.” He abhorred “those filthy and unhonest gestures and moving of interlude players, what other thing do they teach than wanton pleasure and stirring of fleshly lust, unlawful appetites and desires, with their bawdy and filthy sayings and counterfeit doings.”
Northbrooke’s treatise spawned a series of sermons, letters, and tracts in opposition to the theatres. The plays were accused of being lewd and profane; the audiences were said to be full of vagrants, criminals, and whores; and the actors were painted as immoral and irresponsible. Scolding moralists continued to deplore the effects of the theatre on society until 1640, when they succeeded in closing down all the theatres in England for a generation.
Returning to the question of whether Thomas Sackville felt himself subject to an aristocratic 'stigma of print': other lines of circumstantial evidence strongly suggest that he did. When these long-ignored, previously overlooked, and newly discovered historical documents are assembled, it becomes clear that Sackville wrote many works in a variety of genres over a span of decades that were never published under his name during his lifetime, including the following:
* “Sweetly sauc’d sonnets,” mentioned by Sackville’s friend Jasper Heywood in his 1560 translation of Seneca’s Thyestes;
* A sequence of stories from English history dating back to the time of William the Conqueror, which Thomas Sackville intended to relate himself according to the 1563 Mirror for Magistrates anthology;
* Sacvyle’s Olde Age, composed around 1574, first discovered in the 1980s and first published in 1989;
* Many works about “Mighty Love” and the “sweet complaints of woeful lovers wronged,” mentioned in Sacvyle’s Olde Age;
* “Lusty ditties,” mentioned in Sacvyle’s Olde Age;
* Devotional works in honor of God, assuming Sackville followed through on his intention in Sacyvle’s Olde Age. (It is not impossible that Sackville contributed biblical translations to the King James Bible project, since he served as the Chancellor of Oxford University which housed an anonymous translation team throughout much of the translation effort);
* Sackville's Italian translations of Samuel Daniel’s romantic poetry, commended by Giordano Bruno in a letter composed between 1583 and 1585;
* Sackville's Italian translation of John Lyly’s comic novel Euphues, again commended by Bruno;
* Unknown poetic works by Sackville which inspired the writer Henry Lok to praise Sackville’s poetic craft in a sonnet affixed to his 1597 Ecclesiasticus: “But when I call to mind, your pen so blest, / With flowing liquor of the Muses’ spring; / I fear your dainty ear can ill digest / The harsh-tun'd notes, which on my pipe I sing."
* “Public” and “private” poems, which “so divinely crowned” Sackville’s name, mentioned by Thomas Campion in his 1602 Observations in the Art of English Poesie (dedicated to Sackville).
The fact that Thomas Sackville, the premiere poet of the early Elizabethan age, generated such a large and diverse body of work which he never published under his name at least raises the possibility that he might have considered presenting his works under another man’s name.
Significantly, after Sackville died he was honored as a secret/hidden poet. The early English poets followed the ancient custom of honoring the death of a poet by writing verse tributes. Sometimes these tributes were made public; other times they remained private. After Thomas Sackville’s death in 1608, he received only one public tribute as far as is known. The poet Joshua Sylvester dedicated a section of his 1608 translation of Guillaume Du Bartas’s "The Divine Weeks" to Sackville, along with a Latin anagram and an English poem. The anagram reads:
Sacvilus Comes Dorsetius
Vas lucis Esto décor Musis
Sacris Musis Celo Devotus
This translates as:
Sackville My friend, the Earl of Dorset
Vessel of Light Beautify the muses
Secretly devoted to the sacred muses
(I conceal out of love for the sacred muses)
In his attached English poem honoring Sackville, Sylvester declares that his friend has “lov’d so long the sacred sisters,” and “(sad sweetly most) thyself hast sung (under a feigned ghost) the tragic falls of our ambitious throng.” Considered as a group, Sylvester’s anagram and poem strongly imply that Sackville had been writing under an assumed name – “under a feigned ghost.” Modern literary historians would probably agree that it was Shakespeare, more than any other English poet of 1608, who had “sad sweetly most” sung the “tragic falls” of the ambitious throng.