“The Living Record” – 13B – “A Prince”

While G. Wilson Knight decided that the royal imagery in the Sonnets must be strictly metaphorical and certainly not meant to be taken literally, Leslie Hotson could not deny the “elephant in the living room” and so concluded, in Mr. W. H. of 1965, that “Shakespeare” must have been addressing a real prince in line to be King of England.

Within the traditional authorship paradigm, of course, this conclusion is impossible; it’s absurd to think that Will of Stratford could have been writing to an actual prince.  And yet!  Here is Hotson, staring at the elephant and refusing to blink!

Noting the image of the younger man as a “Sun” and a “God” and an “Ocean,” he states:

“It is well known that, following a general Renaissance practice drawn from antiquity, kings commonly figured as earthly ‘suns’ in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries … ‘Gods on earth’ was proverbially used of kings as far back as Menander, and is frequent in Shakespeare … ‘Ocean’ or ‘sea’ as a figure for king is often found in Shakespeare and his fellow-writers.

“Here, then, we have Shakespeare typifying his Friend variously as a sun, a god, an ocean or a sea: three familiar metaphors which he and his contemporaries use to represent a sovereign prince or king

“Whatever may be meant by it here in the Sonnets, the Shakespearean and Elizabethan element common to the three is certainly king, and the metaphors exhibit a consistency of reference.”

Hotson finds various usages in the Sonnets of succession, heir and issue, noting that these are terms that the same author “elsewhere applies to the paramount problems of royalty.”

He also notes the poet’s direct usage of “sovereign” and “king” to describe the beloved younger man; and this “sustained and unmistakable” royal language in the Sonnets makes it obvious that “what he sets before us is an array of powers peculiar to a king: power to grant charters of privilege and letters patent, power to pardon crimes – in short, the exclusively royal prerogative.”

And, Hotson goes on, we “need no reminder that it was to the king, and to no mortal but the king, that his dutiful subjects and vassals offered oblations; similarly, that it was only to the monarch or ruling magistrate that embassies were directed.”

He notes the poet’s use of “largess” and “bounty”, writing: “Of the first it is significant to note that in his other works Shakespeare applies largess only to the gifts or donatives of kings.  As for bounty, the poet’s attribution of this grace to kings, while not exclusive, is characteristic … In the same way we recognize grace, state, and glory typically in Shakespeare’s kings.”

And finally he points to the explicit usages in the Sonnets of “king” and “kingdoms,” all leading to a grand [and highly unorthodox] conclusion:

“Clearly these consenting terms cannot be dismissed as scattered surface-ornament.  They are intrinsic.  What is more, they intensify each other.  By direct address, by varied metaphor, and by multifarious allusion, the description of the Friend communicated is always one: monarch, sovereign prince, king …

“The harping on the same string is so insistent as to make one ask why it has not arrested attention.  No doubt everyone has regarded this ‘king’ sense as formal hyperbole and nothing more.  Any literal meaning looks quite incredible – a rank impossibility.”

So how does Hotson deal with it?  Well, first, since the younger man is a prince or king, we have to eliminate the Earl of Southampton, even though the evidence overwhelmingly points to him!  He can’t be any other young nobleman, either — leading Hotson to “discover” that the Fair Youth (who is also “Mr. W. H.” to whom the Sonnets were dedicated in 1609) must have been a student at Gray’s Inn, named Master William Hatcliffe, who played the part of the Prince of Purpoole in a pageant in 1594…

This absurd conclusion also requires Hotson to limit the chronology of the Sonnets to the mid-1590’s, thereby forcing him to deny that Sonnet 107 refers to the death of Elizabeth I (“the mortal Moon”) in the spring of 1603, when the newly proclaimed monarch, James I, immediately ordered Southampton liberated from prison — after he had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” in the Tower.

So what begins as a daring, unblinking look at the royal contents of the Sonnets winds up in that same old, frustrating Stratfordian maze, on a path that eventually leads nowhere.  But at first, Hotson’s instinct is right on target — these private verses are recording the life of a prince who deserved by blood to be king.

This vew can be entertained seriously when the Earl of Oxford is perceived as recording that Southampton was his and Elizabeth’s unacknowledged royal son who deserved to succeed her as King IX … but who, instead, was held hostage in the Tower (a prisoner convicted of high treason) until Secretary Robert Cecil could engineer the succession of James and retain his own power behind the throne.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 9, 2009 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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