“The Living Record” – 14 – Son. 76 (C)

In the opening line of the second quatrain of Sonnet 76, the Earl of Oxford tells us he is always writing about Southampton (“all one”) in relation to Elizabeth (“ever the same”) in this poetical diary:

Why write I still all one, ever the same… *

According to our hypotheses up to now, Southampton is Oxford’s son by the Queen; so the younger earl is a prince and the “protagonist” of the chronicle.

In fact Oxford uses the first two lines of the next quatrain by telling his son the prince (and us) that he is “still” or always writing about him; and, too, that his constant “argument” or theme or topic is “you and love.”

O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument.

And he continues:

So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent.

Here is the simple answer to his special language:   “all” the best he can do (“all” indicating Southampton again) is to keep “dressing old words new” or using a variety of other words to mean the same thing. By way of example, for Queen Elizabeth (and her Tudor blood) he can use Beauty.  And to create the illusion of variety, he can also refer to her as Fortune and Heaven and Nature and Mistress and Moon and so on.

The key is consistency.  Take Fortune, for example:  on the surface, for the universal side of the double image, that word can have all kinds of meanings and reverberations; while also recording his real-life story, however, Oxford must use Fortune for Elizabeth each and every time it appears.

Is this some kind of “code” or new language?  Well, yes and no.  In actual practice, for example, the Queen was in fact referred to not only as Beauty but, also, as Fortune and Heaven and Nature and Mistress and Moon!  On the universal side, each word has its individual meaning or meanings; but on the specific side, each word signifies the Queen and the Queen alone:

Sonnet 127: But now is black beauty’s successive heir…

Sonnet 29:  When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…

Sonnet 29:  And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries…

Sonnet 2:  Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend…

Sonnet 130: My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sunne…

Sonnet 107: The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured…

Using this deceptively simple method, Oxford can write the truth and conceal it at the same time; he can keep recording his story while giving the impression that he’s writing universal poetry.

Elizabeth had made it high treason for anyone to even speak or write about any royal claim; therefore, Oxford had to give himself  “deniability.” If these verses with their treasonous subject matter fell into the wrong hands, he could say: “Oh, no, I’m not writing about any royal prince with any royal claim!  This is just ordinary stuff about beauty and love and bright eyes and dark hair — you know, poetry!  It’s harmless!”

He describes his method more concretely in Sonnet 105:

Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words,
And in this change is my invention spent

* (All emphases are mine.)

Published in: Uncategorized on January 18, 2009 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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