“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  

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