The Polesworth Circle
In a period when a well educated gentleman or lady was expected to be adept in the arts and sciences, it might not be a surprise that Sir Henry Goodere took an interest in music and literature. However, the degree to which he pursued these interests is remarkable, gathering at Polesworth Hall some of the finest minds of the late 17th Century.
The Polesworth Circle, as it became known, was, in its day, quite possibly the greatest focus of cultural activity outside of London. Among those who visited the Hall were the architect, Inigo Jones, John Donne (who, for a long time wrote to Goodere on a weekly basis), and the dramatist, Ben Jonson (who collaborated with Inigo Jones on numerous court masques between 1605 and 1612).
Sir Henry's patronage was influential in the early lives of numerous musicians and writers. Perhaps the most famous "son" of the Polesworth Circle was the poet Michael Drayton. Born in the village of Hartshill (near Nuneaton), Drayton's father was a tenant farmer working on land owned by the Gooderes. At the age of ten, Michael came to Polesworth as a page at the Hall and was later educated at the school. Famous as a lyricist and "sonneteer" (and, ultimately, Poet Laureate), Drayton would frequently visit Polesworth in later life, staying at the Hall.
It has also been suggested that a similar relationship existed between Sir Henry and England's most famous literary figure, William Shakespeare. In his book, A Chapter in the Early Life of Shakespeare, the Cambridge Professor, Arthur Gray, presents an argument for the young William having spent eight or nine years from his tenth birthday being trained and educated at Polesworth Hall.
No documentary evidence for this has yet come to light. Donne, for instance, in his many letters to Sir Henry, makes no mention of Shakespeare. However, Donne makes no mention of Drayton, either, and there is no doubt over Drayton's education at Polesworth. However, Henry Goodere had extensive connections with Stratford-upon-Avon, and almost certainly knew William's father, John. A prominent merchant, the elder Shakespeare was High Bailiff and later Chief Alderman of the town.
A strong advocate of Professor Gray's ideas, the Vicar of Polesworth, Fr. Philip Wells, has summarised the theory in his essay, William Shakespeare - Educated at Polesworth?.