“The Living Record” – 11

We are nearing the end of the ninth decade since J. T. Looney in 1920 identified the true “Shakespeare” as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604); and despite a ton of research with overwhelming evidence in its support, the so-called Oxfordian theory has failed to reach anything like a general audience.  Most folks still think we must be snobs or conspiracy nuts or both, as well as screwballs.

Most have probably bought into the line that, since Oxford died in 1604, he could not have produced the “Shakespeare” plays that were (supposedly) written after then.  Well,  sure, some things were probably inserted in various plays after Oxford died; but the idea that “Shakespeare” kept writing up until about 1611 is based on the fact that William Shakspere of Stratford continued to live until 1616 — and surely he could not have stopped writing for more than a decade!

Of course, this is begging the question — assuming the truth of the very point being raised!

The standard biography has it that, in about 1612, after howling the tortured lines of King Lear, tearing them from his soul, he calmly put down his pen and retired.  He dropped the creative life and set about putting his business affairs and properties in order and, without caring a jot that half (eighteen) of his plays had not yet been printed, he lived quietly during the next four years without writing another word until his death.

Does that sound right?  Not to me.  I’d think that the author of those amazing poems and plays would be trying to improve and polish his writings right up until his last breath.  And I’d say that’s exactly what Oxford did, putting the last touches on Hamlet, which was published in its full authorized version just months after the earl had died in June of 1604.

Most people have also bought into the line that, since we have the plays themselves, what does it matter who wrote them?  Well, doesn’t it matter that we know who wrote The Sun Also Rises or Long Day’s Journey into Night or The Glass Menagerie?  Doesn’t it matter that we know about the lives of Ernest Hemingway and Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams?  Doesn’t this knowledge deepen and expand our perception of their works?

I don’t really think I need to answer these rhetorical questions, except to express the hope that we can still value knowing the truth, if only just for the sake of knowing it.

So, if the Oxford theory is true, why has it so utterly failed to gain popular support?  One answer in my view is that most people are discouraged at the outset from looking into the matter for themselves.  So they seldom if ever read about Oxford’s life and his documented relationship to the Shakespeare works — such as the fact, for example, that John Lyly, whose writings in the 1580’s are among Shakespeare’s recognized contemporary sources, was Oxford’s longtime private secretary and stage manager.

At the very least, therefore, Edward de Vere and “William Shakespeare” were linked to each other indirectly through John Lyly.

So I think people are generally turned away by the jeers and taunts that are based (in my view) on false impressions of Oxfordians and the Oxford theory itself, plus general lack of information.  How is it, for example, that those who love the character of Hamlet could not be interested in the character and life of Edward de Vere, one of Shakespeare’s own contemporaries, a great peer of the realm whose interests and relationships and actions are virtually a mirror image of those of the Prince of Denmark?

Hamlet is engaged to the chief minister’s daughter, Ophelia; Oxford was married to the chief minister’s daughter, Anne Cecil.  Hamlet causes a play to be performed at Court in front of the monarch; Oxford had play companies performing at Court in front of Queen Elizabeth.  Hamlet deliberately puts on an “antic disposition” to disguise his real thoughts and feelings; Oxford wrote lines actually suggesting the very same thing, such as, “I am not as I seem to be,/ For when I smile, I am not glad,” and throughout his life he was an eccentric, mysterious figure  like Hamlet.

How is it that most teachers and students can avoid looking into the history of this Hamlet-like earl who was regarded as “best for comedy” and “most excellent” among poets in the 1580’s leading to the abrupt appearance of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s?  Doesn’t it stand to reason that the author was drawing at least somewhat upon his own life’s experience?

I think there’s another, more important reason why the Oxford theory hasn’t caught on with the crowd: the failure to offer a plausible motive for his use of a pen name, along with a plausible explanation for how and why the truth could have been covered up so completely.  Oxfordians have been unable to agree on the “story” of what created the Shakespeare authorship mystery in the first place and of what sustained it.

In the fall of 1998, after a decade of studying the Sonnets, I had concluded that the story must involve royal politics – that it’s about the existence of an unacknowledged prince who deserved by blood to succeed his mother,  Elizabeth, the legendary Virgin Queen.  I had agreed with the basic premise of Percy Allen in the 1930’s and of Dorothy & Charlton Ogburn in the 1950’s that Oxford was the father of Elizabeth’s child raised as Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, to whom “Shakespeare” publicly pledged his love and duty.

But I, too, had been unable to discover the basic story.

The truth, I strongly felt, was in the Sonnets.  Try as I might, however, it seemed impossible to “read” the 154 verses correctly and to learn what the author had set down by means of some kind of special language.  And while I was struggling to find that language, the Oxford movement itself was (as it still is) completely divided on the true nature of the Sonnets.  One half agreed that there was a “royal” story with Oxford writing to Southampton as his son by the Queen; the other half felt that Oxford recorded a homosexual relationship between him and Southampton (and that this was the source of the “disgrace” and “shame” he expressed in the Sonnets).

Two very different stories!  Edward de Vere had the “means” and the “opportunity” to write the Sonnets (as the prosecutors would put it), but Oxfordians could not agree about his “motive” for writing them.

Two very different histories!  I felt then, as I do now, that support for Oxford as “Shakespeare” will come eventually not from the English and Drama departments but, instead, from the History department.  Take a look at any history book about the Elizabethan reign and you will see that “Shakespeare” (if he’s mentioned at all) is never a flesh-and-blood person, but, rather, a disembodied voice speaking and commenting on real events through the lines of his literary and dramatic creations.  The historians have very little to lose by finding the truth, but literary scholars and teachers (who support the traditional Shakespeare of Stratford) must feel, deep down, that they have just about everything to lose.

In the next chapter I’ll explain why I feel the Sonnets have nothing to do with a gay relationship between Oxford and Southampton the Fair Youth; and why the verses are not even recording a “love story” involving the two men with a so-called Dark Lady.  I’ll give my reasons and then continue my account of discovering the Monument Theory of the language, structure and contents of the Sonnets, involving a “royal story” that emerged within a context I had never expected.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 30, 2008 at 3:41 am  Comments (1)  

“The Living Record” – 10

Our premise, based on strong evidence and supported by many scholars, is that the younger man urged to propagate in Sonnets 1-17 must have been the Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), to whom “Shakespeare” dedicated Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594). But no commoner could have lectured and even scolded the proud young lord as this poet does, to cite just one example, in Sonnet 1: “Pity the world, or else this glutton be,/ To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee!”

Hey, this is tough stuff!  This haughty nobleman of vast possessions, this earl swiftly rising at the Court of Elizabeth in her Majesty’s highest favor, becoming therefore a prominent figure in England and even on the world stage, would have run his sword through the guts of that poet!

Sir George Greenwood in The Shakespeare Problem Restated of 1908 remarked that no scholar had yet succeeded in satisfactorily explaining the Sonnets.  “And I venture to say,” he added, “that such success will never be obtained on the assumption that they were written by Shakspere of  Stratford.”

He continued:

“The idea that this young provincial actor was writing a succession of impassioned odes [in the early 1590’s] to the young Earl of Southampton, urging him to marry at once and become a father ‘for love of me’ [Sonnet 10] appears to me, in the absence of anything like cogent evidence to that effect, simply preposterous.”

The background to these early sonnets is that Southampton was being pressured to marry the granddaughter of his guardian William Cecil, the great Lord Burghley (the most powerful man in England, perhaps even more powerful than the Queen, who relied upon him absolutely).  But what could the Warwickshire lad possibly have had to do with such matters of high statecraft and political influence?

As Walter Begley wrote in Is It Shakespeare? of 1903:

“Why should he, of all people, write a series of elaborate ‘procreation’ sonnets in order to induce a young nobleman of high prospects to marry the granddaughter of the highest dignitary in the kingdom?  What was Burghley to Will Shakespeare or he to Burghley?”

“The real problem of the Sonnets,” Greenwood concluded in 1908, “is to find out who ‘Shake-speare’ was … That he would be found among cultured Elizabethan courtiers of high position, I can entertain no doubt.”

A dozen years later John Thomas Looney published his landmark work ‘Shakespeare’ Identified in Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford:

“Shakespeare’s work of poetic self-expression is, of course, the Sonnets.  The idea that these poems are fantastic dramatic inventions with mystic meanings we feel to be a violation of all normal probabilities and precedents … We are not told who the particular young man was; but the general assumption is that it was Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.  This is not only a reasonable supposition, but it would be unreasonable to suppose that it was anyone else …

“Now, as to the man who wrote the sonnets … Throughout the whole series he assumes the attitude of a matured man addressing a youth … We find that the first sonnets of the first set are assigned generally to about the year 1590, when Oxford was just forty years of age …  Behind him there lay a life marked by vicissitudes in every way calculated to have given him a sense of age even beyond his forty years.

[‘When forty Winters shall besiege thy brow’ – Sonnet 2]

“He was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older … [and] the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.  Both 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 had done as a patron of literature and the drama.

“Then just at the time when these sonnets were being written urging Southampton to marry, he was actually being urged into a marriage with a daughter of the Earl of Oxford [and granddaughter of Burghley]; and this proposed marriage Southampton was resisting …

“This furnishes the vital connection between the Earl of Southampton and the Earl of Oxford … To have urged marriage as a general and indefinite proposition upon a youth of seventeen, with the single aim of securing posterity for the youth, would have had something fatuous about it.  In connection with a definite project of marriage, from one who was personally interested in it, the appeal comes to have, at last, an explicable relationship to fact.”

Just as Sonnets 1-17 had been linked to the specific marriage arrangement being pressed upon Southampton in 1591, so  Sonnet 107 had been linked already to the great events in the spring of 1603, i.e., the death of Elizabeth, the succession of King James and the release of Southampton from the Tower. Back in 1866 the brilliant Gerald Massey had written in The Secret Drama of Shakespeare’s Sonnets Unfolded:

“Sonnet 107 will show us that Shakespeare did find a call for secure congratulations when James had restored Southampton of his liberty [on April 10, 1603] … The sonnet contains evidence beyond question – proof positive and unimpeachable – that the man addressed by Shakespeare in his personal sonnets has been condemned in the first instance to death, and afterward to imprisonment for life, and escaped his doom through the death of the Queen.”

Looney expressed his amazement at finding that Oxford, his new candidate for the authorship, had been forced to head the Tribunal of Peers in 1601 and to find Southampton guilty of high treason [for his leadership role in the failed Essex Rebellion], thereby sentencing him to die by being hanged, drawn and quartered — the very young man to whom, if Oxford was in fact the man writing as “Shakespeare,” he had publicly pledged his “love … without end,” adding, “What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have devoted yours.”

No wonder, then, that once Southampton was freed after having been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” Oxford would have written the triumphant opening lines of Sonnet 107:

Not mine own fears nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.

NEXT: Even now, nearly nine decades after Looney’s identification of De Vere in 1920, and even with this clear identification of Southampton as the younger man of the Sonnets, the Oxfordian community is divided over the relationship that would have existed between Oxford and Southampton.  Were they gay lovers and close friends?  Or were they father and son (or, more correctly, father and royal son)?  This deep (and deeply emotional) division was my starting point in November of 1998, when the first elements of the Monument Theory of the Sonnets began to appear.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 28, 2008 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  

“The Living Record” – 9

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) was in the best position of anyone in England to write the Shakespeare Sonnets:

THE POET SURREY
Oxford’s uncle was the late Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), who (with Sir Thomas Wyatt) wrote the first English sonnets in the form to become known as the “Shakespearean” form.

OVID’S ‘METAMORPHOSES’
Another of Oxford’s uncles was Arthur Golding, credited with translating Ovid’s  “Metamorphoses” into the English version of 1567 used by Shakespeare.

OXFORD’S SHAKESPEAREAN SONNET
Oxford at 23 in 1573 wrote the first sonnet of the Elizabethan reign in the “Shakespearean” form — entitled “Love Thy Choice,” expressing devotion to Queen Elizabeth I

CONSTANT TRUTH
Oxford expressed themes of “constancy” and “truth” in his early sonnet that Shakespeare would express in the same words:

“In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – Oxford sonnet to Queen
“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Sonnet 152 to Dark Lady

BATH SONNETS
Oxford was with Queen Elizabeth and her Court during her three-day visit in August 1574 to the City of Bath, the only visit of the reign, and Shakespeare reflected this visit in the Bath verses, Sonnets 153-154.

OXFORD & SOUTHAMPTON
Oxford shared some basic circumstances with Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, whom most commentators have identified as the younger man addressed in the long opening series of Sonnets 1-126:

* MARRIAGE PROPOSAL: Sonnets 1-17
Oxford in the early 1590’s was the prospective father-in-law in negotiations with William Cecil, Lord Burghley for seventeen-year-old Southampton to marry fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Vere (whose birth in 1575 caused Oxford to deny his paternity and separate from his marriage to Burghley’s daughter Anne Cecil); and most commentators have perceived Sonnets 1-17 as urging Southampton to accept that marriage proposal.

* ROYAL WARDS
Oxford was the first royal ward of Elizabeth raised in Cecil’s custody and Southampton was the eighth and final “child of state” raised under Cecil’s guardianship.

* CECIL PRESSURE
Oxford was pressured into marrying Burghley’s daughter in 1571, entering a Cecil family alliance; and a generation later Southampton was pressured to marry Burghley’s granddaughter in 1590-1591, but he refused to enter a Cecil family alliance.

Oxford’s footprints leave a trail throughout the lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnets:

ACTING & THE STAGE: “As an imperfect actor on the stage” – Sonnet 23
Oxford patronized two acting companies, performed in “interludes” at Court and was well known for his “comedies” or stage plays.

ALCHEMY: “Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy” – Sonnet 33
Oxford studied with astrologer Dr. John Dee, who experimented with alchemy, and both men  invested in the Frobisher voyages. (Dee was probably a model for Prospero in The Tempest.)

ASTRONOMY: “And yet methinks I have astronomy” – Sonnet 14
Oxford was well acquainted with the “astronomy” or astrology of Dr. Dee and was praised for  his knowledge of the subject.

BIBLE: “No, I am that I am…” – Sonnet 121
Oxford wrote to Burghley using the same words in the same tone (the words of God to Moses in  the Bible) to protest his spying on him.

CUP: “And to his palate doth prepare the cup” – Sonnet 114
Oxford’s ceremonial role as Lord Great Chamberlain included bringing the “tasting cup” to  the monarch.

CLOTHES: “Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill” – Sonnet 91
Oxford was the “Italianate Englishman” known (and mocked) for wearing new-fangled clothing  from the Continent.

FIVE CENTURIES: “O that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the Sunne”
– Sonnet 59
Oxford’s earldom extended back five hundred years to the time of William the Conqueror.

FLOWERS: “Of different flowers in odor and in hue” – Sonnet 98
Oxford was raised amid the great gardens of William Cecil, whose well-known gardener imported  flowers that had never been seen in England — accounting for Shakespeare’s vast knowledge  of flowers.

Forty WINTERS: “When forty winters shall beseige thy brow” – Sonnet 2
Oxford was forty years old in 1590, when most commentators feel the opening sonnets were  written.

HAWKS: “Of more delight than hawks or horses be” – Sonnet 91
Oxford was a falconry expert who wrote youthful poetry comparing women to hawks “that fly  from man to man.”

HIGH BIRTH: “Thy love is better than high birth to me” – Sonnet 91
Oxford was hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain, highest-ranking earl of England by birth.

HORSEMANSHIP: “Then can no horse with my desire keep pace” – Sonnet 51
Oxford was an expert horseback rider and two-time champion of her Majesty’s tiltyard.

HOUNDS: “Some in their hawks and hounds” – Sonnet 91
Oxford was steeped from childhood in this favorite pastime of the nobility.

JEWELRY:  “As on the finger of a a throned Queen,
The basest Jewel will be well esteemed”
– Sonnet 96
Oxford gave the Queen “a fair jewel of gold” with diamonds in 1580.

LAMENESS:  “Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt” – Sonnet 89
Oxford was lamed during a street fight with swords in 1582.

LEGAL KNOWLEDGE: “To guard the lawful reasons on thy part” – Sonnet 49
Oxford studied law at Gray’s Inn and served as a judge at the treason trials of Norfolk,  Mary Stuart and Essex.  His personal letters are filled with evidence of his intimate knowledge of the law.

LUTE: “Mark how one string, sweet husband to another” – Sonnet 8
Oxford was an accomplished musician and wrote music for the lute.

MEDICINE: “Potions of Eisel ‘gainst my strong infection” – Sonnet 111
Oxford’s surgeon was Dr. George Baker, who dedicated three books to either the earl or his  wife Anne Cecil.

MONUMENT: “And thou in this shalt find thy monument” – Sonnet 107
Oxford wrote to Thomas Bedingfield in 1573 that “I shall erect you such a monument…”

MUSIC: “Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly” – Sonnet 8
Oxford was patron of John Farmer, the musical composer, who dedicated two songbooks to him,  praising his musical knowledge.

NAME: “My name be buried where my body is” – Sonnet 72
Oxford wrote in his early poetry that “the only loss of my good name is of these griefs the  ground.”

PHYSICAL SKILL: “Some glory in their birth, some in their skill” – Sonnet 91
Oxford challenged all comers in Palermo, Italy to combat with horses and weapons of any kind, but there were no takers.

VIRGINALS: “Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds” – Sonnet 128
Oxford was an intimate favorite of the Queen, who frequently played on the virginals.

WATER: “Myself bring water for my stain” – Sonnet 109
Oxford was “water-bearer to the monarch” at the Coronation of King James on July 25, 1603, in his capacity as Lord Great Chamberlain.

WEALTH: “Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth…”

Oxford had inherited great wealth in the form of many estates, but he lost most of this wealth during his lifetime.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s exactly the kind of linkage to the poet’s life that we should expect to find in such emotionally charged, intensely personal and autobiographical writing…

Published in: Uncategorized on December 23, 2008 at 2:58 pm  Comments (5)  

“The Living Record” – 8

Scholars have created a potential time frame for the “story” recorded in the Sonnets.  Assuming that sonnets 1-126 addressed to Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton are in chronological order, the time frame covers a dozen years from 1591 to 1603:

1591: Sonnets 1-17: Southampton Urged to Propagate

The poet writes 17 sonnets commanding 17-year-old Southampton to beget an heir of his bloodline.  In effect he’s supporting Queen Elizabeth and William Cecil Lord Burghley, who are pressuring the young earl to marry Burghley’s 16-year-old granddaughter Lady Elizabeth Vere.  She is the eldest daughter of 40-year-old Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford.

The poet uses a paternal tone to praise and flatter, lecture and scold, sounding like a father addressing his beloved and very special son:

Thou that are now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding!

Relatively few individuals are involved:

1) Elizabeth – the reigning monarch
2) Burghley – the real power
3) Southampton – royal ward in Burghley’s custody
4) Lady Vere – Burghley’s granddaughter
5) Oxford – Southampton’s prospective father-in-law

1603: Sonnet 107: Southampton Released from the Tower

The poet celebrates Southampton’s liberation by King James, following Elizabeth’s death on 24 March 1603. The earl had been imprisoned since the failed Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601, for which he had been convicted of high treason (with Oxford heading the tribunal) and sentenced to die.  Essex was executed, but Secretary Robert Cecil (son of the late Burghley) kept Southampton in the Tower until the succession of James.

The poet concludes by promising the newly freed earl:

And thou in this shalt find thy monument
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

The individuals involved are much the same:

1) Elizabeth – the “mortal Moon” who has died
2) James – the newly proclaimed monarch
3) Robert Cecil – most powerful man in England
4) Southampton – liberated from the Tower
5) Oxford – the senior judge at the trial

Nowhere on these lists does the poet himself appear.  He’s invisible!  But it’s reasonable to infer that he must be one of the individuals involved in the story…

A generation apart, Oxford and Southampton had both been royal wards in Burghley’s custody.   Oxford had a personal stake in 1591 as Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.  At the 1601 trial, Oxford and the other peers were forced by Robert Cecil to find Southampton guilty; in 1603, after Cecil engineered the succession, James freed Southampton and showered both him and Oxford with the highest favor.

There is a subtext connecting the situations in 1591 and 1603, but history has never found it.  Our prediction is that this story is to be found in “the living record” of Southampton set down by Oxford, who had used the pen name “Shakespeare” to publicly support the younger earl:  “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end…”


Published in: Uncategorized on December 20, 2008 at 5:49 am  Leave a Comment  

“The Living Record” – 7

In 1859, some four decades after Nathan Drake had made the first suggestion of Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of  Southampton as the fair youth of the Sonnets, a researcher identifying himself in The Athenaeum as “W. C. J.” noted that suggestions of Southampton’s motto ONE for ALL, ALL for ONE appear throughout.  The author adapted this motto “in different ways with considerable poetic and idiomatic license,” he added, citing three examples:

Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing,
Whose speechless song, being many seeming one.       Sonnet 8

And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.                          Sonnet 31

Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.                                Sonnet 105

Charlotte Stopes wrote of the Sonnets in 1922: “The twined threads of biography and autobiography are there on which to string the pearls of Shakespeare’s thought; and these twined threads can only be woven to fit Henry the third Earl of Southampton.  Shakespeare had no second dream; all his songs and praises were addressed ‘to one, of one, still such, and ever so.’ This was but a variant of Southampton’s motto.”

(The word “all” is used 118 times in the Sonnets; “one” appears thirty-nine times; and “alone” (combining ‘all’ and ‘one’) is used seventeen times.  Echoes of “one” are in “none” and  “won” and “wondrous.”)

Sonnet 105 is one of the two “instructional” verses cited in Chapter 5; and it’s loaded with further echoes of Southampton’s motto:

One thing expressing leaves out difference…
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument…
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three, till now, never kept seat in one.

The other “instructional” verse, 76, contains the most important line of the entire sequence:   “Why write I still all one, ever the same.”

By inserting the earl’s motto, the poet was stating in both 76 and 105 that Southampton is the “one” subject of the Sonnets.

(The phrasing of “all one, ever the same” also incorporates Queen Elizabeth’s motto “Semper Eadem,” which she translated as EVER THE SAME.)

FOOTNOTE: Why did it take more than two centuries after the 1609 printing of the Sonnets for someone to suggest Southampton as the fair youth?

*  The  quarto of the Sonnets was suppressed and copies went underground until 1711; then it was not until 1780 when Edmund Malone observed that 1-126 must be to/about a male, not a female.

*  Scholars recognized that William of Stratford, a commoner, could not have had an intimate association with the Earl of Southampton.  Neither a friendship nor a love affair was possible.

* Therefore, given the assumption that Stratford Will was “Shakespeare,”  scholars had to rule out  Southampton as the “fair youth.”

Yet in 1817 Nathan Drake followed his own common sense and identified Southampton as the younger man. But this tended to rule out the Stratford man as the poet, leading to the “authorship question” that continues today.

Meanwhile the use of the mottos is evidence of a possible “special language” at work in the Sonnets…

Published in: Uncategorized on December 16, 2008 at 5:13 am  Comments (3)  

“The Living Record” – 6

The poet creating SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS appears entirely confident that future readers will know the name of the beloved younger man.

He promises him in 81:  “Your name from hence immortal life shall have.”

The younger man’s “name” will always be remembered; the poet refers in 36 to “thy name”; in 80 to “your name”; in 89 to “thy sweet beloved name”; in 95 to “thy budding name”; and in 108 to “when first I hallowed thy fair name.”

He had introduced himself as “William Shakespeare” on the dedications of Venus and Adonis in 1593 and The Rape of Lucrece in 1594 to Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton (1573-1624).  Never again would he dedicate anything to anyone else, thereby uniquely linking Southampton to “Shakespeare” for all time.

So it’s easy to figure Southampton as the younger man whose “name” will have “immortal life.”

First to suggest him was Nathan Drake, in 1817, observing that the Lucrece dedication and Sonnet 26 are virtually the same.   Here is the former, with my emphases added:

“To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton … The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end: whereof this Pamphlet without beginning is but a superfluous Moiety.  The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored Lines, makes it assured of acceptance.  What I have done is yours, what I have to do is
yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.
Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship, to whom I wish long life still lengthened will all happiness.  Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

(“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” D. Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, adding, “Further proofs of their friendship must be sought in the Sonnets.”  Robert Giroux wrote in 1982 that Sonnet 26 is “a private and more personal expression” of the dedication.)

Sonnet 26
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written ambassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit.
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it;
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul’s thought (all naked) will bestow it:
Til whatsoever star that guides my moving
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tottered loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect.
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

“Duty” appears twice in the dedication and three times in Sonnet 26.  In his  dedication to Southampton the poet wishes his own “worth” were greater; in the sonnet he hopes to be “worthy”.   In one his duty is “bound to your Lordship”; in the other his duty is “strongly knit” to him.

Having pledged his love “without end” to Southampton, could “Shakespeare”  pledge the same thing in Sonnet 26 to anyone else? We think not.  But that’s just the beginning of the evidence that Southampton is, in fact, the younger man whose “living record” has been preserved for us in the Sonnets.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 13, 2008 at 4:22 am  Leave a Comment  

“The Living Record” – 5

In both Sonnets 76 and 105 the author speaks of “my verse,” referring directly to his sequence of consecutively numbered poems.  I made the tentative assumption that in fact he’s using these two verses to explain not only how he’s writing the Sonnets, but also, in the same breath, to give us the means of reading them.

In both 76 and 105 we learn that he’s writing solely to/about the beloved younger man known to us as the fair youth.  In 76 he asks rhetorically:  “Why write I still all one, ever the same” — he writes “still” or eternally “all” about “one” topic which is “ever” or always “the same.”

I hypothesized that he meant us to take him literally; that the special young man (whose name he never mentions) is the reason for the existence of the entire masterwork:  “O know, sweet love, I always write of you,” he tells him in 76, and it could not be stated any clearer.  And while writing to the fair youth, of course, the poet is indirectly informing us about what he’s doing.

In 105 he’s even more insistent:  “Since all alike my songs and praises be/ To one, of one, still such, and ever so … one thing expressing, leaves out difference.”

Given our earlier hypothesis that the entire sequence amounts to one unified literary work, now we must also assume (for the time being) that the younger man is the focus not only of the Fair Youth series 1-126 but, also, of the Dark Lady series 127-152 and the Bath epilogue 153-154.  All the verses, from 1 to 154 throughout, are written because of him and only with him in mind.

(“Wait a minute,” you may ask.  “You’re saying the Dark Lady series is not about the Dark Lady?”  Well, sure, it’s about her — but only in terms of her relation to the fair youth.  He writes to/about his treacherous dark Mistress solely because of her effect upon the younger man.)

I considered this an important “instruction” from the author, who is creating “the living record” of the fair youth within a “monument” of verse for “eyes not yet created” in the distant future — that is, for those of us here and now, even four hundred years later.  It’s all to him and for him.  And the  question to be answered, of course, is why.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 12, 2008 at 2:12 am  Leave a Comment  

“The Living Record” – 4

One of the hypotheses in the previous chapter contains a prediction: that since the poet is creating his “monument” of the Sonnets for future readers, he must have made sure we could comprehend him.  He must have inserted “instructions” of some kind for us to follow in order to read his message and follow his story.

I started looking through the sequence to see where the author tries to explain his method of writing; and soon it became apparent that he spends a great deal of time referring to his own verses, to the point you can say that a big topic of the Sonnets is … the Sonnets.

By way of example –

Sonnet 17:   Who will believe my verse in time to come…
Sonnet 19:   My love shall in my verse ever live young…
Sonnet 21:   O, let me, true in love, but truly write
Sonnet 26:   To thee I send this written ambassage
Sonnet 38:   Eternal numbers to outlive long date…
Sonnet 55:   The living record of your memory…
Sonnet 60:   And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand…
Sonnet 63:   His beauty shall in these black lines be seen…
And they shall live, and he in them still green.

And so on, all through, making clear that in fact the poet is hell bent on describing his own sonnets from all angles – trying to tell us how to view them, how to recognize what he’s saying, how to translate his words…

Moreover it didn’t take very long to land on two particular sonnets – 76 and 105 – in which he talks specifically about his method of writing.

Most important is Sonnet 76, which, though it did not occur to me right away, is at the center of the main body of the sequence (Sonnets 1-152), where the author really does explain how he writes the truth and conceals it at the same time.  That is, he creates two very different stories – one fiction, the other one nonfiction – running simultaneously.  And then in Sonnet 105 he actually demonstrates how his method works.

Here are both verses by themselves, without comment for now:

Sonnet 76

Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument:
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the Sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.

Sonnet 105

Let not my love be called Idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an Idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be,
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words,
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three, till now, never kept seat in one.

We’ll return to these two sonnets again and again, since they contain all we need to know about the poet’s subject matter and his method of both concealing and revealing it.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 10, 2008 at 4:07 am  Leave a Comment  

“The Living Record” – 3

In various ways the author of the Sonnets expresses utter confidence that his “monument” will continue to exist after other kinds of memorials have crumbled to dust.

These are not offhand pronouncements; they are compelling declarations of commitment on behalf of the younger man to whom he is writing; and I chose at the outset to assume that he’s absolutely serious:

So long as men can breath or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 18

Not marble nor the gilded monument
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 over-turn,
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; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
Sonnet 55

Or I shall live your Epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten,
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
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 vertue 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

Based on these pronouncements, here are some initial hypotheses:

* The poet was writing for readers in the future, like us.
* Therefore he must have made sure we could comprehend him.

* The monument must have a deliberate design or structure.
* The living record must have a consistent language.

* The one-hundred-and-fifty-four sonnets are autobiographical.
* The verses are arranged the way the poet intended.

* There are three basic series:

Fair Youth (1-126)
Dark Lady (127-152)
Bath Visit (153-154).

*Within each series, the sonnets are in chronological order.
*The verses are akin to the pages of a diary recording real events in real time.

* The orthography of 1609  reflects the author’s intentions.

* The poetical sequence comprises one unified masterwork whose parts all function together in service of the entire opus.

All these are tentative assumptions or premises, of course, but they form a foundation upon which to proceed.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 9, 2008 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

“The Living Record” – 2

With an opening premise that the Sonnets contain the answer to the Shakespeare “authorship” question, I looked through the one hundred and fifty-four verses to see if the poet deals with his identity; and in fact he does, stating that his “name” must be hidden from the world:

O if (I say) you look upon this verse,
When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse…
Sonnet 71

My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
Sonnet 72

The printed name “William Shakespeare” was already popular, without any discernible “shame” attached to it, so that the poet’s actual name must have been different.  In effect, the author is telling us that “Shakespeare” is a mask behind which he must remain concealed.

Elsewhere he states that “every word” of the sonnets serves to “almost” (but not quite) reveal his actual “name” or identity:

Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name…
Sonnet 76

Meanwhile, continuing to address the beloved younger man known to us as the Fair Youth, he states that he himself must “die” to the world – if not forever, then apparently for a very long time:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.
Sonnet 81

The real man is suffering from some monstrous disgrace, metaphorically comparing the reputation of his own name to that of someone who has been branded or marked as a criminal:

Thence comes it that my name receives a brand.
Sonnet 111

In the verses to the treacherous woman known to us as the Dark Lady, however, the poet tells her flatly:

Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lov’st me for my name is Will.
Sonnet 136

Isn’t Will Shakespeare hereby stating his name?

Well, now, I submit that this poet of all poets would never write that his name is Will if in fact his name was Will.  This particular poet, of all poets, would never express himself directly in such a mundane,  unimaginative manner.  Such banality was beneath him.

I suggest this is the real man indicating “Will” as his pen name...

Published in: Uncategorized on December 5, 2008 at 2:57 am  Comments (3)  
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