“The Living Record” – 12

Shakespeare’s sonnets comprise the most intensely sustained poetical sequence the world has known.  On the premise that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (b. 1550) was writing to Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton (b. 1573) about real events in their lives, we have a stark choice:  Was this a love story? Or was it a political story?

The gay view is that Oxford and Southampton shared a friendship that developed into a homosexual love affair; but Oxford’s mistress, the Dark Lady, stole Southampton away; and then another writer, the Rival Poet, also stole Southampton away.  But Oxford forgave the younger earl and vowed to make him live forever in this “monument” of verse.

In his book Alias Shakespeare, published in 1997, columnist Joseph Sobran brought the Oxford case to a far wider audience than usual while arguing that the Sonnets record a gay relationship between two earls a generation apart, Oxford and Southampton; and this, he wrote, is what provoked the “guilt” that led to the long-term cover-up of Oxford’s identity.

Sobran noted that “sodomy” was “a montrous sin and a capital crime,” adding, “This ensured that any expression of what we call homosexuality would have been extremely guarded … He [Oxford, the poet] speaks of some unnamed ‘shame,’ ‘disgrace,’ and ‘scandal’ – ‘blots’ that taint not only him but by association the youth as well … It appears that the greatest passion of our greatest poet was a furtive homosexual love. [Emphasis added.] Did this forbidden passion lead the poet to adopt the pen name by which we have confusedly known him, hoping to glorify Southampton forever while his own real name lay ‘buried’?”

I disagreed with Sobran then, as I do now, starting with the “procreation” sonnets (1-17) that had caused C. S. Lewis to muse in 1954:

“The incessant demand that the man should marry and found a family would seem to be inconsistent … with a real homosexual passion … It is indeed hard to think of any real situation in which it would be natural.  What man in the whole world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married?”

(In the early 1590’s, Oxford was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law; and in the “royal” or “political” view, he was writing as his father.)

The sonnets contain no sensuality – and no eroticism – such as can be found, for example, in Venus and Adonis.  There are “bawdy” lines, and some passages are highly charged with sexual imagery, but many interpretations of the “love story” come more from imagination than from what the author intended.

We see what we want or expect to see; for example, the opening lines of Sonnet 35:

No more be grieved at that which thou has done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both Moone and Sunne…
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense…

Is Oxford telling Southampton to stop feeling guilty over having participated with him in anal sex?

I argue that Oxford is referring to the disgrace suffered by the Tudor Rose blood within Queen Elizabeth (“Moone”) and Southampton (“Sunne” – her royal son), because of the earl’s “sensual” or irrational “fault” or treason in the Essex Rebellion of 1601; and that Oxford is using the same language he uses in the context of his plays of royal history, such as Richard II:

“O loyal father of a treacherous son!  Thou sheer, immaculate and silver fountain, from whence this stream, through muddy passages, hath held his current and defiled himself!”

Southampton was co-leader of the Essex rebellion of 1601; Oxford headed the tribunal at the treason trial; and these are real events of biography and history.

Any “love” story had to happen during the 1590’s.  Oxford remarried in 1591, to Elizabeth Trentham, a Maid of Honor at Court;in 1593 she gave birh to a male heir to the Oxford earldom (named Henry, the first Henry of the De Vere line); Southampton became romantically involved with Elizabeth Vernon, a younger Maid of Honor, by 1595; he was on the Islands Voyage against Spain in 1597; he impregnated Elizabeth Vernon and then married her in 1598, when she bore his daughter; he went off on the Irish campaign in 1599…

How would Oxford and Southampton have time or opportunity or even motive to be  sexually involved with each other?  In entanglements with a never-identified mistress and a never-identified writer?  With Oxford recording it in terms of law and religion and royalty to express the most profound spiritual suffering? And finally promising to create “the living record” of Southampton for in posterity?

I intend to show how the lines of the story are drawn much clearer and simpler – that Oxford was writing to his royal son by Queen Elizabeth, the Dark Lady, who refused to acknowledge him as her heir … that because of its biological context this story of father, mother and son necessarily involves sex … that the Rival Poet was not any real individual, but, rather, the pen name “William Shakespeare,” which Oxford had adopted to publicly support his son … and that the time frame of the story is mostly during the period of 1601 to 1603 when  Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

In short, there’s a reason why the Sonnets comprise the most intensely sustained poetical sequence the world has known.  Oxford was recording an unfolding story that was both personal and political at once.   And overall he was writing about nothing less than the struggle over  succession at the end of the Elizabethan reign and the future direction of England — the very topic he had dealt with so mightily in his plays chronicling the nation’s royal history.  And finally Oxfod used the Sonnets to tell why he agreed to bury his identity during his own lifetime and for generations beyond his death.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 1, 2009 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

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