“Hidden in Plain Sight” is available here at Amazon.com…
“The Monument” is available here at Amazon.com…
“Hidden in Plain Sight” is available here at Amazon.com…
“The Monument” is available here at Amazon.com…
The other night I was re-reading the recently discovered poem The Earle of Southampton prisoner, and condemned, to Queen Elizabeth, written by the earl in February or March 1601, while he was in the Tower as a condemned man awaiting execution; and unexpectedly several lines of the poem seemed to leap out, reminding me of a passage in Sonnet 31 of the Shakespeare sequence of 1609. A comparison reveals that Southampton, in his “verse-letter” to her Majesty pleading for mercy, expresses virtually the same idea in the same language, as if he had Sonnet 31 with him in his prison room and was being influenced by it.
In my view this similarity provides additional support for the Monument theory, which holds that the Earl of Oxford used the Sonnets as a “chronicle” of Southampton’s ordeal in confinement. This proposed diary of “verse letters” to Southampton in the Tower begins with Sonnet 27 upon the failed Essex Rebellion on February 8, 1601 and concludes with Sonnet 106 (which refers to “the Chronicle of wasted time”) on April 9, 1603, the night before the younger earl was liberated by King James from being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” (Sonnet 107).
In the Monument view Sonnet 31 corresponds with the fifth day of Southampton’s imprisonment, when it was already clear (to Oxford, at least) that both Essex and Southampton would be convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. Two week later Oxford writes in Sonnet 45 of “those swift messengers returned from thee/ Who even now come back again assured/ Of thy fair health, recounting it to me” – referring not only to the leg ailment suffered by Southampton, who cites it in his poem to the Queen, but apparently to Oxford’s use of “messengers” riding to and from the Tower with (I suggest) copies of individual sonnets for him.
Here in modern English are the specific lines of Southampton’s poem that seemed to cry for attention, with certain key words emphasized:
Southampton to Queen Elizabeth:
While I yet breath and sense and motion have
(For this a prison differs from a grave),
Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go
As one may sith say the dead walk so.
There am I buried quick: hence one may draw
I am religious [reverent; faithful] because dead in law.
The idea expressed above by Southampton is that prisons are different from graves because prisons contain men who are still alive whereas graves contain those who are dead. On the other hand, he writes, prisons are the graves or tombs for the walking or living dead – for those who, like Southampton himself, are condemned to death by law (and who, therefore, might as well be dead).
Here is Oxford’s verse-letter to Southampton, also with certain key words emphasized:
Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts,
Which I by lacking have supposed dead;
And there reigns love and all love’s loving parts,
And all those friends which I thought buried.
How many a holy and obsequious tear
Hath dear religious love stolen from mine eye,
As interest of the dead, which now appear
But things removed that hidden in thee lie.
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies [memorials on graves] of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give;
That due of many now is thine alone.
Their images I loved I view in thee,
And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.
Oxford’s idea in Sonnet 31 above is similar to Southampton’s theme, except he pictures the imprisoned younger earl himself as the grave. Southampton is the living grave that contains his own “love” or the most important aspect or quality of his person.
The ideas are similar but different; many of the words are the same: grave, dead, buried, religious, living/live, tombs/trophies and so on – more evidence that Sonnet 31 is concerned with the same individual (Southampton) in relation to the same “dark lady” (Elizabeth) in the same situation (in the Tower, facing death) in the same time period (February-March 1601).
I offer it as striking new testimony that the Monument theory of the Sonnets is correct.
[Note: See Bill Boyle’s blog post on the Southampton Tower Poem at his Shakespeare Adventure site]
Below is one of the two letters that Henry Wriothesley the third Earl of Southampton wrote to the Privy Council soon after his trial on 19 February 1601, while in the Tower of London awaiting execution.
My view is that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford revealed his role behind the scenes in Sonnet 35, writing to Southampton: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate” or “I was your ‘adverse party’ at the trial, being forced to vote with all the other peers on the tribunal to condemn you to death; but I am also your Advocate, your legal defender, trying to save you.” [See Sonnet 35 below]
Oxford’s help behind the scenes appears to have included advising Southampton on what to write to the Council and Robert Cecil. Possibly the individual sonnets were one means by which he conveyed information to him in the Tower. And quite possibly he helped him with the recently discovered poem entitled The Earle of Southampton prisoner, and condemned. to Queen Elizabeth.
In her article on Wriothesley’s poem in the 2011 English Literary Renaissance, Lara M. Crowley recalls that while awaiting execution Southampton wrote at least two letters to the Council as well as a separate confession and a letter to Robert Cecil. His writings from this period “reflect a desperate and (quite rightly) frightened penitent. Surely these anxious outpourings were fueled by the executions of Essex and fellow conspirators and by the persistent whispers surrounding Southampton’s impending doom.” And she notes the “cumulative connections” between the earl’s prison writings and his poem to the Queen.
HENRY EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON TO THE COUNCIL:
“I beseech your Lordships bee pleased to receaue the petition of a poore condemned man, who doth, with a lowly and penitent hart, confess his faults and acknoledge his offences to her Maiestie. Remember, I pray your Lordships, that the longest lyuer amongest men hath but a short time of continewance, and that there is none so iust vppon earth but hath a greater account to make to our creator for his sinnes then any offender haue in this world. Beleeue that God is better pleased with those that are the instrumentes of mercy then with such as are the persuaders of severe iustice, and forgett not that hee hath promised mercy to the mercifull.”
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss – Sonnet 34
The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence’s cross – Sonnet 34
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are – Sonnet 35
“What my fawte [fault] hath been your Lordships know to the vttermost, wherein, howsoeuer I have offended in the letter of the law, your Lordships I thinke cannot but find, by the proceedings att my triall, that my harte was free from any premeditate treason against my souerayne…”
[We pause here to consider that Southampton, writing to the Council, refers to the Queen as “my sovereign.” Oxford uses the phrase “my sovereign” in the plays of Shakespeare thirty-four times, in each case when a character is speaking to or about a monarch. The phrase occurs in the plays of English history 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Henry V, 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, Henry VIII, Richard II and Richard III. It also occurs in The Winter’s Tale as “my sovereign mistress.”
[Oxford-Shakespeare uses it elsewhere just once, in Sonnet 57: “I (my sovereign) watch the clock for you.”
[With Southampton referring to the Queen as “my sovereign” and Oxford using that phrase consistently in the history plays in reference to a King, without ever using it within any other context, is there any possibility that he or any other poet could call the Earl of Southampton “my sovereign” within a romantic context? I think not! But if Oxford is writing this sonnet to Southampton, he would call him “my sovereign” only if he really believes him to be his prince.]
“…though my reason was corrupted by affection to my friend [Essex] (whom I thought honest) and I by that caried headlonge to my mine, without power to preuent it, who otherwise could neuer haue been induced for any cawse of mine owne to haue hazarded her Maiesties displeasure but in a trifle : yet can I not dispayre of her fauor, nether will it enter into my thought that shee who hath been euer so renowned for her uertues, and especially for clemency, will not extend it to mee, that doe with so humble and greeued [grieved] a spirit prostrate my self att her pardoninge one whose harte is without spott, though his cursed destiny hath made his actes to bee condemned, and whose life, if it please her to graunte it, shallbe eternally redy to bee royall feete and craue her pardon. O lett her neuer sufer to bee spiled the bloud of him that desiers to live but to doe her sendee [service?] , nor loose the glory shee shall gaine in the world bysacrifised to accomplish her least comandement.”
No more be grieved at that which thou hast done – Sonnet 35
To you it doth belong/ Your self to pardon of self-doing crime – Sonnet 58
“My lords, there are diuers amongest you to whom I owe particular obligation for your fauors past, and to all I haue euer performed that respect which was fitt, which makes me bould in this manner to importune you, and lett not my faultes now make me seem more vnworthy then I haue been, but rather lett the misery of my distressed estate moue you to bee a mean to her Maiestie, to turne away her heauy indignation from mee. O lett not her anger continew towardes an humble and sorrowfull man, for that alone hath more power to dead my spirites [spirits] then any iron hath to kill my flesh.
“My sowle is heauy and trobled for my offences, and I shall soon grow to detest my self if her Maiestie refuse to haue compassion of mee. The law hath hetherto had his proceedinge, wherby her Justice and my shame is sufficiently published; now is the time that mercy is to be shewed. O pray her then, I beseech your lordships, in my behalf to stay her hand, and stopp the rigorus course of the law, and remember, as I know shee will neuer forgett, that it is more honor to a prince to pardon one penitent offender, then with severity to punish mayny.”
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief – Sonnet 34
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard,
Thou canst not then use rigor in my jail — Oxford to the Queen in Sonnet 133
“To conclude, I doe humbly entreate your Lordships to sound mercy in her eares, that therby her harte, which I know is apt to receaue any impression of good, may be moued to pity mee, that I may Hue to loose my life (as I have been euer willing and forward to venture it) in her service, as yourlordships herein shall effect a worke of charity, which is pleasinge to God; preserue an honest-harted man (howsoeuer now his fautes haue made him seem otherwise) to his contry; winn honor to yourselues, by fauoringe the distressed; and saue the bloud of one who will live and dy her Maiesties faythfull and loyall subiect.
“Thus, recommendinge my self and my sute to your Lordships’ honorable considerations; beseechinge God to moue you to deale effectually for mee, and to inspire her Maiesties royall harte with the spirite of mercy and compassion towardes mee, I end, remayninge, Your Lordships most humbly, of late Southampton, but now of all men most vnhappy,
No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,
Clouds and eclipses stain both Moon and Sunne,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
My self corrupting salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are:
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,
Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,
And ‘gainst my self a lawful plea commence.
Such civil war is in my love and hate,
That I an accessory needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.
From THE MONUMENT:
THY ADVERSE PARTY IS THY ADVOCATE
THY ADVERSE PARTY = Oxford, who will sit on the tribunal at the trial and be forced to render a guilty verdict against his son; “He speaks against me on the adverse side” – Measure for Measure, 4.6.6; PARTY = side in a legal case; -plaintiff or defendant; “But dare maintain the party of the truth” – 1 Henry VI, 2.4.32; “To fight on Edward’s party for the crown” – Richard III, 1.3.138 (on his side); “My prayers on the adverse party fight” – Richard III, 4.4.191; “Thy son is banished upon good advice, whereto thy tongue a party-verdict gave: why at our justice seem’st thou then to lour?” – Richard II, 1.3.233-235 (part of the verdict); “Upon the right and party of her son” – King John, 1.1.34 (on his behalf); to Elizabeth: “And play the mother’s part” – Sonnet 143, line 12
My prayers on the adverse party fight – Richard III, 4.4.191
Besides, the King’s name is a tower of strength,
Which they upon the adverse faction want – Richard III, 5.3.12-13
“I have hitherto passed the pikes of so many adversaries” -Oxford to Robert Cecil,Oct 7, 1601
“I am very glad if it so prove, for I have need of so many good friends as I can get, and if I could I would seek all the adversaries I have in this cause to make them my friends” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, December 4, 1601
THY ADVOCATE = your defender. (“Your legal opponent is also your legal defender” – Duncan-Jones); Oxford is telling his son that, at the trial, he will have no choice but to render a vote of guilty; he is therefore an adverse party, but in his heart and behind the scenes he is acting as his son’s advocate; ADVOCATE = “One whose profession it is to plead the cause of any one in a court of justice; a counsellor or counsel … One who pleads, intercedes, or speaks for, or in behalf of, another; a pleader, intercessor, defender … Specially, applied to Christ as the Intercessor for sinners” – OED, the latter adding to suggestions in the Sonnets that Oxford is acting as a Christ figure, sacrificing himself in order to redeem the sins of Southampton
You’re my prisoner, but
Your gaoler shall deliver the keys
That lock up your restraint. For you, Posthumous,
So soon as I can win th’offended king,
I will be known your advocate – Cymbeline, 1.2.3-7
If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I’ll show’t the King, and undertake to be
Her advocate to th’ loud’st – Winter’s Tale, 2.237-39
I never did incense his Majesty
Against the Duke of Clarence, but have been
An earnest advocate to plead for him – Richard III, 1.3.85-87
“We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” – Biblical
King’s Advocate: “The principal law-officer of the Crown inScotland, answering to the Attorney-General in England” – OED
The discovery that the Earl of Southampton wrote a “verse letter” to Queen Elizabeth from the Tower, after being convicted of treason on 19 February 1601 and sentenced to death, sheds light on various aspects of the Monument theory of Shakespeare’s sonnets — perhaps the most important aspect being a view of the Sonnets as a genuine historical document in the same way that the Southampton Tower Poem is not only a literary work, but, simultaneously, part of the contemporary biographical record.
Within this view is the idea that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford created the Sonnets to contain a DOUBLE IMAGE: on the one hand, the individual sonnets are romantic love poems; on the other hand, Oxford was recording high-stakes events (for posterity) by means of addressing Southampton (the fair youth) and Elizabeth (the dark lady) in a series of thinly disguised “verse-letters” such as the one Southampton wrote to the Queen. Equally important is that both Oxford and Southampton were writing within the same real-life context of time and circumstance: the plight of the younger earl in the Tower, where he suffered the “disgrace” and “shame” of a traitor who initially faced execution and then lifelong imprisonment as a dead man in the eyes of the law.
[The Shakespeare verses arranged to correspond with the 1601-1603 context are the Fair Youth Sonnets 27-126 and the Dark Lady Sonnets 127-152]
This method of writing on two levels at once is similar to the art of double-image drawing. Take, for example, the familiar picture that depicts both an Old Hag and a Young Woman. Whether we see one or the other image depends on our prior assumptions — basically, what we’ve been told about the picture before viewing it. If we’ve been told it’s a picture of the Old Hag, that is the image we’ll see; and we’ll go right on seeing her forever, unless our perspective changes. Meanwhile, of course, the Young Woman is also right there in front of us.
The picture itself never changes; that always stays the same. What can change, however, is the perspective of an individual viewer. When we look at the drawing from a different angle, based on new information, the Old Hag suddenly disappears and the Young Woman replaces her — as if by magic.
The trick of double-image drawing is that the artist uses every line in service of both images at once; and Oxford reveals in Sonnet 76 that he’s doing the same thing, except that instead of every line he’s using “every word” to create his double image:
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name…
A major difference between the Southampton Tower Poem and the Shakespeare sonnets is that we already know the real-life “context” of the former. We know a lot about who, where, what, when and even how and why. In the case of the Sonnets, however, we were never given the real-life context; in fact, scholars have been saddled with the wrong author! Therefore the very same words (related to the law, crime, prison, etc.) in the lines of the Sonnets have been overlooked or dismissed as metaphorical and no more.
Some significant words in the Southampton poem that are also used in the Sonnets include: Blood, Buried, Cancel, Condemned, Crimes, Dead, Die, Faults, Favor, Grave, Grief, Ill, Liberty, Loss, Mercy, Offenses, Pardon, Power, Princes, Prison, Sorrow, Stain, Tears, Tombs. In Southampton’s poem these words fit snugly into the real-life context of his death sentence and, therefore, their meaning is literal and even obvious to us. But the very same words in the Sonnets, viewed within the context of romantic love poems, tend to be ignored:
Sonnet 63: When hours have drained his blood
Sonnet 31: Thou art the grave where buried love doth live
Sonnet 30: And weep afresh love’s long-since cancelled woe
Sonnet 99: The Lily I condemned for thy hand
Sonnet 120: To weigh how once I suffered in your crime
Sonnet 68: Before the golden tresses of the dead
Sonnet 68: When beauty lived and died as flowers do now
Sonnet 35: All men make faults
Sonnet 28: And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger
Sonnet 34: And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds
Sonnet 58: The imprisoned absence of your liberty
Sonnet 34: Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss
Sonnet 145: Straight in her heart did mercy come
Sonnet 34: The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief/ to him that bears the strong offense’s cross.
Sonnet 58: To you it doth belong/ yourself to pardon of self-doing crime
Sonnet 94: They that have power to hurt, and will do none
Sonnet 133: Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward/ but then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail
Sonnet 28: But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer
Sonnet 33: Clouds and eclipses stain both Moon and Sunne
Sonnet 34: Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds
Sonnet 83: When others would give life and bring a tomb
To repeat my view as expressed in The Monument: Oxford’s writing of the Sonnets uses a double image, which, on a level that usually goes uncrecognized, is equivalent to Southampton’s use of poetry for political pleading.
The Sonnets also contain a “double image” in terms of authorship. On the one hand, Oxford himself is the speaker; on the other hand, readers holding the traditional or orthodox viewpoint are under the impression that “Shakespeare” is the speaker. Oxford reveals this double-image of authorship, speaking of both himself and his pen name in Sonnet 83:
There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.
(In the traditional view, the two poets must be Shakespeare and some “rival” such as Raleigh or Chapman or Essex. I must report that even most Oxfordians remain trapped within this context of the double-image of authorship; that is, they view the speaker as Oxford in relation to a real-life “rival poet” rather than to his pen name “Shakespeare.” The actual double-image of authorship, with Oxford-“Shakespeare” as the two poets, is still difficult for many Oxfordians to see. In my opinion, of course!)
I’ll be following up with more posts covering other aspects of this remarkable discovery, including the overwhelming evidence that the attribution to Southampton is correct. As stated in the first blog post on the Southampton Tower Poem, it was found by Lara Crowley, assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University, and reported (with text of the poem) in the Winter 2011 edition of English Literary Renaissance. Professor Crowley’s article includes her transcription of the text discovered in the miscellany Manuscript Stowe 962 in the British Library. The poem is not in Southampton’s handwriting, but apparently it was copied from the original or as he dictated it in his Tower prison room.
New support for the Monument theory of the Sonnets has come from the discovery in the British Library of a 74-line poem by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, written in the Tower of London while he awaited execution for his role in the Essex rising of 8 February 1601. In this unique scribal copy of a “verse letter,” Southampton pleads with Queen Elizabeth for mercy.
My thanks to the scholar Ricardo Mena for passing on this discovery, reported by Lara Crowley, Assistant Professor of English at Texas Tech University, in the winter 2011 edition of English Literary Renaissance. The poem, entitled “The Earle of Southampton prisoner, and condemned. To Queen Elizabeth,” was found in BL Manuscript Stowe 962, which contains 254 miscellaneous folios prepared mainly in the 1620’s and 1630’s.
The “high level of accuracy” of attributions in the manuscript “enhances the likelihood” that the ascription to Southampton “proves accurate as well,” Professor Crowley writes, adding that this “heartfelt” plea to Elizabeth points to a familiarity with “specific, intimate details” of the earl’s career and health and even writing style. “Multiple references” identify Southampton as appealing to the Queen for a pardon.
The Monument theory holds that Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford arranged the Sonnets to record that he worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his freedom with a royal pardon. The theory claims that part of the price Oxford paid, forced upon him by Secretary Robert Cecil, was the permanent destruction of his identity as author of the “Shakespeare” works (“My name be buried where my body is” – Sonnet 72).
Professor Crowley offers some speculations which, when viewing Oxford-Shakespeare as helping Southampton, are striking:
“It seems possible, even likely, that someone or something else influenced Elizabeth’s decision, making one wonder if, at his time of greatest need, Southampton – a ‘dere lover and cherisher’ of poets * – composed what could be his lone surviving poem … One possibility is that the poem was composed in 1601 to mollify the Queen, but by a more practiced poet who composed the verses for Southampton to offer Elizabeth as his own … Yet the notion that Shakespeare, or any other poet, provided Southampton with the poem proves improbable. Access to the earl early in his imprisonment was restricted …”
[*Thomas Nashe, in his dedication of The Unfortunate Traveler, 1594, to Southampton]
The Monument theory is supported in a number of other ways; for one, we may now claim that all three earls – Oxford, Essex and Southampton – wrote verse in relation to this same situation of English political history:
Oxford: If he was the author of the Sonnets, then at the very least he wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating Southampton’s liberation by King James in April 1603, after the death of the Queen as “the mortal Moon” a few weeks earlier.
Essex: During his final four days in the Tower before he was executed on 25 February 1601, he wrote a 384-line poem to Elizabeth entitled The Passion of a Discontented Mind.
Southampton: Here we have Southampton, the fair youth of the Sonnets, also in the Tower with expectation of execution, writing a 74-line poem to the Queen in February or March 1601, pleading for her mercy and a pardon.
A remarkable aspect of Southampton’s verse epistle is how close he comes to a theme Oxford expressed in a letter to Cecil on 7 May 1603, alluding to a monarch’s ability to offer Christ-like mercy and forgiveness: “Nothing adorns a king more than justice, nor in anything doth a king more resemble God than in justice, which is the head of all virtue, and he that is endued therewith hath all the rest.”
More than two years earlier, Southampton wrote in his poem to Elizabeth from the Tower:
If faults were not, how could great Princes then
Approach so near God, in pardoning men?
Wisdom and valor, common men have known,
But only mercy is the Prince’s own.
Mercy’s an antidote to justice…
Southampton had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” as Oxford writes in Sonnet 107 of the Fair Youth Series; and in Sonnet 145 of the Dark Lady Series, as I see it, he describes Elizabeth’s decision to spare Southampton this way:
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom…
The phrase “Great Princes” used by Southampton also appears in Sonnet 25: “Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread…”
At one point Southampton writes that “prisons are living men’s tombs” and that “there I am buried quick” – recalling Sonnet 31, which in the Monument theory corresponds to 12 February 1601: “Thou art the grave where buried love doth live…”
He refers to himself as “dead in law,” reflecting his status in the Tower as “the late earl,” who has become legally dead.
He mentions his “legs’ strength decayed,” reflecting the fact that, while in the Tower at this early stage, he was suffering from a “quartern ague” that caused a dangerous “swelling in his legs and other parts,” as the Council reported to Sir John Peyton, Lieutenant of the Tower.
At one point near the end of the poem, he reveals his terror and dwindling hope for mercy:
Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;
And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear…
Southampton uses many words in his poem that also appear in the Sonnets, among them the following forty-seven words: Blood, Buried, Cancel, Cheeks, Chest, Condemned, Countenance, Crimes, Dear, Dead, Die, Eyes, Faults, Favor, Furrows, Grace, Grave, Grief, Groans, Ill, Lamed, Liberty, Light, Loss, Mercy, Offend, Offenses, Pardon, Parts, Power, Princes, Prison, Prisoners, Proceed, Rain, Religious, Sacred, Sorrow, Stain, Stone, Tears, Tombs, True, Vial, Worm, Worthy, Wrinkles.
A number of these words are related literally to Southampton’s situation: Condemned, Crimes, Faults, Liberty, Mercy, Offend, Offenses, Pardon, Prison, Prisoners – more evidence, in my view, that Oxford uses the same words in the Sonnets to refer to Southampton’s plight in the same circumstances.
There is much more about this discovery to be examined here, in future posts; but meanwhile, here is the text of Southampton’s poem, based on Professor Crowley’s transcription from secretary hand and put into (mostly) modern spelling/punctuation for readers of this blog:
The Earl of Southampton Prisoner, and Condemned, to Queen Elizabeth:
Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee
But with new merits, I beg liberty
To cancel old offenses; let grace so
(As oil all liquor else will overflow)
Swim above all my crimes. In lawn, a stain
Well taken forth may be made serve again.
Perseverance in ill is all the ill. The horses may,
That stumbled in the morn, go well all day.
If faults were not, how could great Princes then
Approach so near God, in pardoning me?
Wisdom and valor, common men have known,
But only mercy is the Prince’s own.
Mercy’s an antidote to justice, and will,
Like a true blood-stone, keep their bleeding still.
Where faults weigh down the scale, one grain of this
Will make it wise, until the beam it kiss.
Had I the leprosy of Naaman,
Your mercy hath the same effects as [the river] Jordan.
As surgeons cut and take from the sound part
That which is rotten, and beyond all art
Of healing, see (which time hath since revealed),
Limbs have been cut which might else have been healed.
While I yet breathe, and sense and motion have
(For this a prison differs from a grave),
Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go
As one may, sith say the dead walk so.
There I am buried quick: hence one may draw
I am religious because dead in law.
One of the old Anchorites, by me may be expressed:
A vial hath more room laid in a chest:
Prisoners condemned, like fish within shells lie
Cleaving to walls, which when they’re opened, die:
So they, when taken forth, unless a pardon
(As a worm takes a bullet from a gun)
Take them from thence, and so deceive the sprights [spirits]
Of people, curious after rueful sights.
Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been
On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:
My face which grief plowed, and mine eyes when they
Stand full like two nine-holes, where at boys play
And so their fires went out like Iron hot
And put into the forge, and then is not
And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie
Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry:
Mine arms like hammers to an anvil go
Upon my breast: now lamed with beating so
Stand as clock-hammers, which strike once an hour
Without such intermission they want power.
I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed
Like one, whose stock being spent give over trade.
And I with eating do no more ingross
Than one that plays small game after great loss
Is like to get his own: or then a pit
With shovels emptied, and hath spoons to fill it.
And so sleep visits me, when night’s half spent
As one, that means nothing but complement.
Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;
And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear:
With less than half these miseries, a man
Might have twice shot the Straits of Magellan
Better go ten such voyages than once offend
The Majesty of a Prince, where all things end
And begin: why whose sacred prerogative
He as he list, we as we ought live.
All mankind lives to serve a few: the throne
(To which all bow) is sewed to by each one.
Life, which I now beg, wer’t to proceed
From else whoso’er, I’d first choose to bleed
But now, the cause, why life I do Implore
Is that I think you [Elizabeth] worthy to give more.
The light of your countenance, and that same
Morning of the Court favor, where at all aim,
Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,
For my tears have already worn these stones.
[As mentioned, there’s more commentary on this to be posted here in the future.]
On the title page of Hekatompathia or Passionate Century of Love by Thomas Watson (1582), dedicated to Edward Earl of Oxford, the reader is informed about the architecture of the “century” of one-hundred sonnets: “Divided into two parts: whereof, the first expresseth the Authours sufferance in Love: the latter, his long farewell to Love and all his tyrannie.”
The two parts have eighty and twenty sonnets respectively. Part One comprises Sonnets 1 – 80 and Part Two comprises Sonnets 81 – 100:
When we get to Sonnet 80 at the end of the first part, we are told that the next verse, Sonnet 81, beginning the second part, is shaped “in the form of a pillar” that quite obviously makes it unique and gives it considerable importance:
“All such as are but of indifferent capacity, and have some skill in Arithmetic, by viewing this Sonnet following compiled by rule and number, into the form of a pillar, may soon judge how much art and study the Author hath bestowed in the same.”
While working on The Monument it became apparent that the one hundred and fifty-four verses of SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS (1609) contain the same architecture. The first step is to remove the epilogue of the Bath sonnets, 153-154; and then separate the main body of one hundred and fifty-two sonnets by means of the two envoys, Sonnets 26 and 126.
The result is a central sequence of a hundred sonnets between two series of twenty-six:
1—–26 27—————————-126 127—–152
It came as a surprise to me, after completing The Monument, to find that Edgar I. Fripp in Shakespeare, Man and Artist of 1938 had already discovered the same hundred-sonnet sequence and even related it to Watson’s earlier sequence:
“Centuries or ‘hundreds’ of literary pieces were in fashion,” Fripp wrote, citing “hundreds” of songs, sonnets, prayers, sermons, hymns, flowers, emblems, medical facts and so on. “The Hekotompathia or Passionate Century of Love by Thomas Watson, otherwise a century of passions, may have served as a model for Shakespeare’s century of sonnets,” he continued, adding, “Shakespeare’s Sonnets 27-126 are a century.”
But Fripp had seen no significance in Watson’s dedication to Oxford, who had helped with the manuscript; nor had he realized that Shakespeare’s century is itself divided into two parts, exactly as Watson’s century is divided, that is, Part One with eighty sonnets and Part Two with twenty:
Thomas Watson: 1———————————-80 81————-100
Shake-speare’s: 27——————————–106 107————126
Sonnet 107 is the eighty-first verse and the “pillar” that begins Part Two.
And of course Sonnet 107 is both unique and important as the so-called “dating sonnet,” viewed by most critics as celebrating the release on April 10, 1603 of Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” in the Tower. Sonnet 107 also refers to the death of Queen Elizabeth, the “mortal Moon,” a few weeks earlier on March 24, 1603, when King James VI of Scotland was quickly proclaimed King James I of England – without the civil war around succession that had been both predicted and feared.
As shown in The Monument, the eighty sonnets of Part One begin with Sonnet 27 upon Southampton’s arrest on the night of February 8, 1601 and continue until Sonnet 106 upon his final night in the Tower on April 9, 1603; and the twenty sonnets of Part Two begin with his liberation on April 10, 1603 and continue with one sonnet per day until Sonnet 125 upon the Queen’s funeral on April 28, 1603 followed by Sonnet 126, the envoy of farewell.
So it appears that Watson’s century of 1582 had “served as a model” for Shakespeare’s century even more closely than Edgar Fripp had known. And given that Oxford had been so intimately involved in the Watson sequence, we might logically conclude that he repeated its structure in the Shakespeare sequence.
In other words, if “Shakespeare” was borrowing from Watson, as now seems clear, then the view here is that he was borrowing from himself!
A reader, John, asks: “Why do you think the Dark Lady was Queen Elizabeth?” –– and because this question is so crucial to the perspective of this blog, my answer is posted here in the window of the regular blog:
It begins with the change of focus, of paradigm, caused by viewing “Shakespeare” as Oxford rather than as William of Stratford. In the traditional view, the Sonnets tell a “love story” that’s either platonic or sexually active. “Love story” is the only possibility open to the traditional authorship, if one accepts that the poet of the sonnets is recording events involving real individuals in real circumstances of his life. In this perspective the dark lady of Sonnets 127-152 cannot be the Queen; our perceptions are limited by our prior assumptions.
In the traditional Stratfordian view the triangular love relationship is based, however, on no biographical or historical evidence that makes sense of the Sonnets as recording a real-life story. No amount of contortions can help, which is the main reason why the whole thing has been such a mystery — the true story has been a mystery because, within the paradigm of the orthodox author, there’s no story in the first place – it doesn’t even exist!
Once Oxford is suggested as the author, however, new possibilities become apparent. Much of his early poetry, perhaps all of it, is about Elizabeth. His letters are filled with her presence. He was a nobleman of her Court and she was his chief focus as a courtier and servant of the state. And that applies to Southampton as well. It does not apply at all within the old paradigm, but when Oxford is seen as the author we must face the reality that his whole world has revolved around this remarkable female monarch.
Postulating Oxford as the author, I see the line in Sonnet 76, “Why write I still all one, ever the same” as not only the reflection of Southampton’s motto “One for all, all for one,” but also as indicating Elizabeth’s motto “Semper Eadem” or “Ever the Same,” which is exactly how she wrote it in English. This is something Edward de Vere knew and could never forget; he could not write “ever the same” and fail to realize he was identifying the Queen in that line as a prime subject of these sonnets. It was deliberate on his part. And we can read him stating that he writes always about just one topic, which is always the same – Southampton and Elizabeth.
A big trouble is that many Oxfordians, even most, have accepted a change of authorship paradigm without accepting various other changes that flow from it. I suppose we could come up with many analogies for this situation. Imagine, for example, switching the scene from New York to Chicago and yet still trying to hold onto the Empire State Building. That’s what so many of my colleagues seem to have done – they’ve switched the author from William of Stratford to the Earl of Oxford, yet are still trying to view the Sonnets as recording a love story involving some “mistress” or dark lady – of which the candidates have ranged from Anne Vavasour to Emilia Bassano Lanier to Oxford’s second wife, Elizabeth Trentham.
We could deal with each of those candidates, but I’d prefer not to waste time (here and now) on that negative task; but I challenge any Oxfordian to match up a real-life story involving any of these or other “dark lady” candidates with the sonnets themselves, fully and coherently.
All attempts to match up real-life circumstances and events with some such love story are doomed to failure, if only because there’s no biographical or historical evidence to support those attempts. The timing, the opportunities, all must be stretched and twisted, but even then without success. Another reason they don’t match up is simply that the language, thoughts and themes of the so-called dark lady sonnets make no sense in the “love story” paradigm. Those Oxfordians who remain even partially stuck in the orthodox viewpoint are doomed to make crucial errors of interpretation; there’s no way around it – as the saying goes, the shoe won’t fit.
It’s like the story of the emperor wearing no clothes – being unable to see and/or admit something that’s right in front of us.
A big clue to Elizabeth being the dark lady is Sonnet 25, in lines that include the Marigold, one of the Queen’s flowers.
[John Lyly, in Euphues his England (1580), dedicated to Oxford, wrote of Queen Elizabeth: “She useth the marigold for her flower, which at the rising of the sunne openeth his leaves, and at the setting shutteth them, referring all her actions and endeavors to Him that ruleth the sunne.”]
In Sonnet 25 she is indisputably the one to whom Oxford refers as “Great Princes” – and she has the ability with a “frown” to turn the world from light to dark; in an instant, she can turn her “favorites” such as Essex and Southampton from bright to black:
Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread,
But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The Sonnets begin with reference to “beauty’s Rose” (1), the very phrase used by John Davies for Elizabeth and/or her Tudor Rose dynasty; they refer to her as “the mortal Moon” (107); and if one is willing to “see” what is there on the printed page, the Queen is all over the place – the dark lady whose point of view makes all the difference.
In Sonnet 149 of the dark lady series, Oxford writes to her that he is “Commanded by the motion of thine eyes” – and, for him, this can only refer to the commanding eyes of his monarch. No other woman could ever command him by the motion of her eyes. In King John the King is told: “Be great in act, as you have been in thought; let not the world see fear and mistrust govern the motion of a kingly eye.” (5.1.45-47)
On its face, if you really think about it, the author of the Sonnets cannot be ranting and raving about a mistress because he can’t stand the color of her hair or eyes or skin. The lines would then be hyperbolic in the extreme: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,/ Who art black as hell, as dark as night” (147) – a statement that simply cannot refer to the woman’s physical coloring.
The dark lady is “dark” not because of her coloring, but, rather, because of her imperial viewpoint – and this is reinforced tremendously once one perceives that Sonnets 27 to 106 and 127 to 152 correspond with the time (1601-1603) that Southampton spent in the Tower as a prisoner condemned as a traitor. In that circumstance, the Queen’s view of him is indeed “black as hell, as dark as night.”
The dark lady series opens with 127, and we have to get to line 9 to read, “THEREFORE my mistress’ eyes are raven black,/ Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem,/ At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,/ Sland’ring Creation with a false esteem.” This is a direct statement from the author that the blackness of his mistress’ eyes is a metaphor.
[And here are those “eyes” again, i.e., that imperial viewpoint, which can slander “creation” or a child who was “not born fair” (not counted as royal) but “no beauty lack” (yet lacks no royal blood from Beauty, the Queen) — an interpretation that’s valid regardless of the so-called Prince Tudor theory of Southampton as the natural son of Oxford and Elizabeth.]
I think it’s fascinating, how we tend to hold onto the old ways of seeing things, even after having made a tremendous (and even courageous) shift of perspective by accepting the possibility of Oxford as Shakespeare. (I must follow-up this little essay with similar thoughts about the so-called rival poet, whom many or most Oxfordians continue to view as a real individual rather than as Oxford’s pen name “Shakespeare”.) The old habits of old paradigms die hard.
Edward de Vere was in the best position of anyone in England to have written the Shakespeare sonnet sequence. The known facts about the Earl of Oxford’s childhood, upbringing, education, and family all interconnect with their language and imagery. Reason No. 29 of 100 to believe he was “Shakespeare” is the evidence in the Sonnets.
Oxford was nephew to the late Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), who (with Sir Thomas Wyatt) wrote the first English sonnets in the form to be used later by Shakespeare. And he himself wrote an early sonnet of the Elizabethan reign in that same form; entitled Love Thy Choice, it expressed his devotion to Queen Elizabeth with the same themes of “constancy” and “truth” that “Shakespeare” would express in the same words:
“In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – Oxford’s early sonnet to Queen Elizabeth
“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy“ – Shakespeare’s sonnet 152 to “the Dark Lady” [Elizabeth]
The Shakespeare sonnets are plainly autobiographical, the author using the personal pronoun “I” to refer to himself, telling his own story in his own voice, so it’s only natural that he expresses himself with reference points from the life he experienced from childhood (at Castle Hedingham in Essex) onward. Much of that life-experience is captured in a single sonnet:
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their Hawks and Hounds, some in their Horse…
(Oxford was born into the highest-ranking earldom, inheriting vast wealth in the form of many estates. He was a skilled horseman and champion of two great jousting tournaments at the Whitehall tiltyard. He was the “Italianate Englishman” who wore new-fangled clothing from the Continent. An expert falconer, he wrote poetry comparing women to hawks “that fly from man to man.”)
And every humor hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest,
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me …
(Only someone who already had high birth, and who was willing to give it up, could make such a declaration to another nobleman of high birth and make it meaningful; if written to the Earl of Southampton by a man who possessed no high birth in the first place, the statement would be an insulting joke.)
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than Hawks or Hounds be,
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast.
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.
Oxford left his footprints throughout the 154-sonnet sequence:
(2) “When forty winters shall beseige thy brow” – He was forty in 1590, when most commentators feel the opening sonnets were written.
(8) “Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly … Mark how one string, sweet husband to another” – He was an accomplished musician, writing for the lute; and he patronized the composer John Farmer, who dedicated two songbooks to him, praising his musical knowledge and skill.
(14) “And yet methinks I have astronomy“ – He was well acquainted with the “astronomy” or astrology of Dr. Dee and was praised for his knowledge of the subject.
(23) “As an imperfect actor on the stage“ – He patronized two acting companies, performed in “enterludes” at Court and was well known for his “comedies” or stage plays.
(33) “Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy” – He studied with astrologer Dr. John Dee, who experimented with alchemy, and both men invested in the Frobisher voyages.
(49) “To guard the lawful reasons on thy part” – Oxford studied law at Gray’s Inn and served as a judge at the treason trials of Norfolk and Mary Stuart as well as the trial of Essex and Southampton; his personal letters are filled with evidence of his intimate knowledge of the law.
(59) “O that record could with a backward look,/ Even of five hundred courses of the Sunne” – His earldom extended back 500 years to the time of William the Conqueror.
(72) “My name be buried where my body is” – In his early poetry he wrote, “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground.”
(89) “Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt” – He was lamed during a street fight with swords in 1582.
(96) “As on the finger of a a throned Queen, / The basest Jewel will be well esteemed” – He gave the Queen “a fair jewel of gold” with diamonds in 1580.
(98) “Of different flowers in odor and in hue” – He was raised amid the great gardens of William Cecil, whose gardner imported flowers never seen in England — accounting for Shakespeare’s vast knowledge of flowers.
(107) “And thou in this shalt find thy monument” – He wrote to Thomas Bedingfield in 1573 that “I shall erect you such a monument…”
(109) “Myself bring water for my stain” – He was “water-bearer to the monarch” at the Coronation of King James on July 25, 1603, in his capacity as Lord Great Chamberlain.
(111) “Potions of Eisel ‘gainst my strong infection” – Oxford’s surgeon was Dr. George Baker, who dedicated three books to either the earl or his wife Anne Cecil.
(114) “And to his palate doth prepare the cup“ – His ceremonial role as Lord Great Chamberlain included bringing the “tasting cup” to the monarch.
(121) “No, I am that I am…” – He wrote to William Cecil Lord Burghley using the same words in the same tone (the words of God to Moses in the Bible) to protest his spying on him.
(128) “Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds“– Oxford was an intimate favorite of the Queen, who frequently played on the virginals.
(153) “I sick withal the help of bath desired” – He accompanied Elizabeth and her Court during her three-day visit in August 1574 to the City of Bath, the only royal visit of the reign; and “Shakespeare” is said to write about this visit in the so-called Bath Sonnets 153-54.
The items above amount to superficial stuff compared to extraordinary story Oxford recorded and preserved within his “monument” of verse for posterity. While writing these deeply personal sonnets, however, he could not help but draw instinctively and spontaneously upon the externals of his life as he had lived it.
Oh, I almost forgot — here in the Sonnets, as elsewhere, the author used “ever” (and “never”) as signature words:
(116) “O no, it is an ever-fixed mark/ That looks on tempests and his never shaken … If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ nor no man ever loved” – In one of his early poems he wrote: “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever? Vere.”
One of the most important reasons to believe Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” – number 28 on this list – is the central role played by Henry Wriothesley the third Earl of Southampton.
The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593 as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis as “the first heir of my invention,” followed a year later by the dedication to him of Lucrece in 1594, with an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the 20-year-old earl:
“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”
“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked Southampton to “Shakespeare” from then to now.
Most scholars agree that “Shakespeare,” in the first seventeen of the 154 consecutively numbered sonnets printed in 1609, was privately urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”
[As most readers of this blog are aware, I believe the language, tone and statements in the Sonnets make clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the elder poet, Oxford, was writing to Southampton as father to son – and, too, as father to a royal son who deserved to succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth, on the throne as King Henry IX of England. For the purposes of this post, however, all we need show is that Oxford is the most likely man who publicly pledged his devotion to Southampton.]
The trouble for traditional scholars is that there’s not a scrap of documentary evidence that “Shakespeare” and Henry Wriothesley had even met each other, much less that they might have had any kind of personal relationship allowing the author to command a high-ranking peer of the realm to “make thee another self, for love of me”!
“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in The Mysterious William Shakespeare , “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer  spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”
“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”
The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter (of record), making him in fact the prospective father-in-law; and scholars generally agree that in the “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare sounds very much like a prospective father-in-law (or father) urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him.
At the outset, therefore, Edward de Vere and Henry Wriothesley were brought together by this particular marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England with the full blessing of his sovereign mistress. And regardless of how either Oxford or Southampton truly felt about it, they both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome.
Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”
The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”
If Oxford was writing the private sonnets to Southampton, and I have no doubt of it, then we should not expect to find the two of them publicly spending much time together or even any time at all. Oxford tells Southampton in Sonnet 36, for example, “I may not evermore acknowledge thee;” in Sonnet 71 he instructs him, “Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;” and in Sonnet 89 he vows: “I will acquaintance strangle and look strange, Be absent from thy walks, and in my tongue Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell…”
[Once Southampton came to Court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford removed himself from active attendance. The two shared an important secret, a hidden story, that tied them together; and they evidently needed to stay apart, at least in public.]
Some of the historical facts are:
(Henry de Vere was born to Edward de Vere and his second wife Elizabeth Trentham in February 1593)
And there are other kinds of evidence for us to mull:
Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590’s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.
On the eve of the Essex Rebellion led by the Earls of Essex and Southampton, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s play Richard II at the Globe; and a number of historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself got permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its (as yet unpublished) scene of the deposing of the king.
Once the so-called rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of February 8, 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased.
After Southampton was released on April 10, 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a “doom” or sentence of imprisonment for life.
When Oxford reportedly died in June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published; and then all such authorized publications again ceased for the next nineteen years until the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.
For the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival with seven performances of the Bard’s plays running into January 1605. [If Edward de Vere had been the real author, and again I have no doubt that he was, the royal performances were a memorial tribute to him.] One of the festival’s stagings for King James and Queen Anne, with the Court, was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.
“I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests … further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity … and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use … What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others … So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion … “ – Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, in his prefatory letter to Thomas Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte in 1573 from Italian into English.
The 23-year-old earl created an elaborate “excuse” for publishing the work despite his friend’s wish that he refrain from doing so. This apology or justification was not meant to be taken seriously by the readers; rather it was a literary device that Oxford used to create an elaborate, lofty, amusing piece of writing while introducing Cardano’s work that has come to be known as the book Hamlet carries with him and reads on stage.
What Oxford produced was a piece of Elizabethan prose that Percy Allen described in the 1930’s as “one of the most gracious that even those days of exquisite writing have bequeathed to us, from the hand of a great nobleman … with its friendship that never condescends, its intimacy that is never familiar, its persuasive logic, its harmonious rhythms, its gentle and compelling charm.” [The Life Story of Edward de Vere as “William Shakespeare” – 1932]
Here is surely the same voice we hear in the Prince of Denmark’s words, Allen noted. Here is prose that sounds like Hamlet’s speech to the common players who arrive at the palace. As Delia Bacon had put it in the 19th century, the author of the play must have been quite like “the subtle Hamlet of the university, the courtly Hamlet, ‘the glass of fashion and the mold of form’” – a description that perfectly fits Lord Oxford in the early 1570’s, when he was in the highest royal favor at the Court of Elizabeth. [The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded – 1857]
Oxford and “Shakespeare” both argue that the possessor of a talent has a duty to use it, that anyone with a virtue has a responsibility to share it with others rather than hoard it for himself alone. The earl writes that if he had failed to publish Bedingfield’s translation he would have “murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.” By contrast his act of causing the work to be published is but a “trifle” to be overcome; and from “Shakespeare” we shall hear the same words within the context of the same theme in the sonnets to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton:
So the time that keeps you as my chest – Sonnet 52
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? – Sonnet 65
But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are – Sonnet 48
But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,
And kept unused the user so destroys it;
No love toward others in that bosom sits
That on himself such murderous shame commits. – Sonnet 9
Oxford rhetorically asks his friend to consider how it avails “a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags and never to be employed to your use?” What good are Bedingfield’s studies if he chooses to “not participate them to others”? Why would he want to “bury” his works “in the grave of oblivion?”
By new unfolding his imprisoned pride – Sonnet 52
Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty – Sonnet 58
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament [“time’s best jewel”]
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.
Pity the world! Or else this glutton be:
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee – Sonnet 1
In Venus and Adonis of 1593, the goddess Venus lectures young Adonis on the same theme using the same words:
What is thy body but a swallowing grave,
Seeming to bury that posterity
Which by the rights of time thou needs must have,
If thou destroy them not in dark obscurity – Venus and Adonis, lines 757-762
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live – Sonnet 31
Oxford enlarges upon his theme:
“What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit to another … What doth avail the Rose unless another took pleasure in the smell … Why should this Rose be better esteemed than that Rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other Rose? And so it is in all other things as well as in man. Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue through which every man desireth to be accounted of? Then you amongst men I do not doubt but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornaments of virtue…”
And Shakespeare more than two decades later:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
– Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Lose but their show; their substance still smells sweet.
– Sonnet 5
O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odor which doth in it live.
The Canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the Roses …
But for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet Roses do not so:
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odors made. – Sonnet 54
“ … wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or Physician, who, though his patient in the extremity of his burning Fever, is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body …”
And Shakespeare uses the same image:
My love is as a fever longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please:
My reason, the Physician to my love…” – Sonnet 147
And finally, to choose among many such examples, Oxford anticipates one of Shakespeare’s major themes in the Sonnets printed in 1609, the power of his pen to create a “monument” for posterity:
“Again we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more then by erecting them of Tombs: Whereby when they be dead in deed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument, but with me behold it happeneth far better, for in your life time I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say in your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone. And in your life time again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life…”
Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall Statues overturn
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth! – Sonnet 55
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.
– Sonnet 81
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent – Sonnet 107
So that’s it for No. 11 of 100 reasons why I believe Oxford wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare.
But I’m just warming up, so stay tuned!
(Significant work on Oxford’s public letter to Bedingfield has been done by many Oxfordians including, for example, Gwynneth Bowen in the Shakespearean Authorship Review [England] of spring 1967, reprinted online in Mark Alexander’s Shakespeare Authorship Sourcebook and also in So Richly Spun: Volume 5 of Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare , edited by Dr. Paul Altrocchi and yours truly. Also, as mentioned previously, Joseph Sobran included an essay on the letter in an appendix to his book Alias Shakespeare in 1997.)