“The Living Record” – Chapter 27 – “To Him That Bears the Strong Offence’s Loss”

So I looked again at the verses proceeding from Sonnet 27 through a new pair eyes, a different lens; and within the context of the aftermath of the Essex Rebellion, certain words or phrases leaped off the page with new meaning.

Once Sonnet 27 is seen as Oxford’s response to Southampton’s imprisonment on the night of Feb. 8, 1601, for his co-leadership of the failed Essex Rebellion that day, we can imagine him in the darkness of his home using “my soul’s imaginary sight” to envision his royal son in the Tower “like a jewel hung in ghastly night.”

With Sonnet 28 on Feb. 9th we can comprehend why Oxford, the grieving father, feels that “day’s oppression is not eased by night,” but, rather, that “day by night and night by day [is] oppressed.”

In Sonnet 29 on Feb. 10th he joins Southampton “in disgrace with Fortune [Elizabeth] and men’s eyes” while suffering the “outcast state” of a traitor along with his son; and he continues to “trouble deaf heaven [again, the Queen] with my bootless cries and look upon my self and curse my fate.”

This is strong stuff — but now, for the first time, the weight of the words can be seen and felt as equal to the weight of the underlying situation.

On Feb. 11th the Earl of Oxford is “summoned” to be the senior judge at the upcoming “sessions” or treason trial of Essex and Southampton; and imagine looking at Sonnet 30 within the context of that same day and reading:

“When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past…”

Coincidence? Well, it’s virtually certain that Oxford’s royal son has lost not only his honor and freedom and the crown itself, but, also, very likely he will lose his  life by execution; and we find the father weeping “for precious friends hid in death’s dateless night” — an apt description!

In Sonnet 31 on Feb. 12th we find Oxford thinking of “buried” friends and asking “how many a holy and obsequious tear hath dear religious love [reverence for his royal blood] stolen from mine eye.” He goes on to speak of “things removed that hidden in thee lie” — the truth of his son now to be permanently hidden from the world — and he tells Southampton outright:

“Thou art the grave where buried love [royal blood] doth live!”

Still addressing his son, he begins Sonnet 32 on Feb. 13th with the words “if thou survive” and then imagines his own death.  Oxford tells Southampton that “when that churl death my bones with dust shall cover,” he should still believe his father had hoped that “a dearer [more royal] birth than this his love had brought to march in ranks of better equipage” — that is, he had wanted his son to be “better equipped” as Elizabeth’s rightful heir by blood to succeed her on the throne as King Henry IX.

Immediately following this wish that his son had a “dearer birth,” Oxford uses Sonnet 33 on Feb. 14th to look back at the birth of “my Sunne” [his royal son] who had been his own for just “one hour” before “the region cloud” [Elizabeth Regina and her dark cloud of shame] had hidden him away [as a changeling child].  Here in the depths of darkness and despair, with his son in the Tower facing death, Oxford looks back and tells his heartbreaking story, cramming it with royal imagery:

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy:

Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing to west with this disgrace.

Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow,
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.

Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth:
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

And in Sonnet 34 on Feb. 15th he records his terrible sorrow over this loss, likening himself to a Christ figure while telling Southampton:

Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss;
Th’offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence’s loss.

The Christ imagery fits when we realize that Oxford, suffering this “loss” as the father of a rightful king,  is going to pay “ransom” for his son’s life and freedom — by sacrificing his own identity as Southampton’s father and, too, as the writer “Shakespeare” who had dedicated his work to Southampton.

And the son pays with his tears:

Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds,
And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds.

Now the flow of this real-life drama accumulates increasing power to the point that, in my view, there can be no more doubt as to the rightness of this biographical and historical context — regardless of how radically different  from the traditional context it happens to be.  From here we embark on great waves of thoughts and emotions within an amazing nonfiction story dressed as fiction — a story produced with a “double image” that carries its “universal” meaning on the surface while the intended, specific meaning runs in parallel.

Can you feel the enormity of this shift?  I know — the change of focus is so huge that it’s difficult to believe or accept.  But can you imagine the feeling of beginning to comprehend the powerful, real-life drama that exists beneath these immortal words?  The dawning realization that this is, in fact, the voice of the real, flesh-and-blood man who was Shakespeare, speaking to us through words set down four centuries ago…

Published in: Uncategorized on February 28, 2009 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

“The Living Record” – Chapter 26: “By Day … By Night … Daily … Nightly.”

Presenting itself was the possibility that the eighty verses prior to Sonnet 107 (marking Southampton’s release from the Tower on 10 April 1603) were all written during the more than two years of his previous confinement.  And these eighty verses, Sonnet 27 to Sonnet 106, cover more than half the full sequence of one hundred and fifty-four sonnets…

This was not an idea on anybody’s radar screen.  It was not a view that orthodox Shakespeare scholars were prepared to accept; neither was it an idea that many Oxfordians (proponents of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare”) were ready to accept.  For that matter, even I wasn’t prepared.

The prospect, however, was that Oxford had recorded a real-life story with a definite beginning (Sonnet 27 upon the failed Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601 and Southampton’s imprisonment that night as a traitor) and a very specific ending (Sonnet 106 upon his final night in the Tower on 9 April 1603).  These were two clear events on the calendar of English history; and in between, presumably, was some great tormenting personal drama.

The question was how to proceed from here.  Glancing over the eighty verses, I could identify two that seemed to refer to specific dates:

Sonnet 97

How like a Winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

Sonnet 104

Three Winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow Autumn turned…

What dates these sonnets might refer to were unclear; however, Sonnet 97 seemed to indicate that one year of Southampton’s confinement had passed, in which case it was marking 8 Febuary 1602.

(In my view Oxford was referring to the Queen’s “pleasure” or command; and “fleeting” was in fact an expression for “imprisoned,” echoing the Fleet Prison.)

This would appear to make things rather top-heavy, I thought.  It meant the first seventy verses (Sonnets 27 to 96) must correspond with the first year of Southampton’s imprisonment.   Seventy in one year? But how so?

Looking back at Sonnet 27, I opened the Arden Sonnets of 1997 edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones and quickly found her opening comment for that verse: “This is the first of a series of five sonnets.” (It’s a widely shared view.)   In other words, Nos. 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31 comprise a short string of verses, one following the other.

Looking closer, I began to realize that Oxford must have been writing and/or arranging the sonnets day by day or night by night, from Southampton’s arrest onward.  In the first two verses, this suggestion seemed to stand out:

Sonnet 27

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for my self, no quiet find.

Sonnet 28

But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger.

If this perception was true, it meant Oxford had begun to record Southampton’s predicament with one sonnet for each day/night of the younger earl’s imprisonment; and at some point, staring at this tentative conclusion, it felt as though a door was opening, a doorway into the very intimate truth of these sonnets — Oxford, suffering terrible grief over the situation, was creating a daily record of his royal son in the Tower, and, yes, here are his inmost thoughts and feelings, yes, this is the real man who was  “Shakespeare” starting to create the most intensely sustained poetical sequence the world has known, and now, quite possibly, we’re on the brink of finally learning why…

Published in: Uncategorized on February 26, 2009 at 4:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Thanks for the Nod…

I want to thank Alex for his kind words about our work at the “Healing Philosophy” blog site at


A link is provided on our “Blog Roll” at right.

Cheers from Hank

Published in: Uncategorized on February 25, 2009 at 4:02 am  Leave a Comment  

“The Living Record” – Chapter 25: “Like a Jewel Hung in Ghastly Night”

Imagine the city of London more than four hundred years ago on the night of Feb. 8, 1601, after the failure of the Essex rebellion.  Smoke rises from bonfires in the streets; armed soldiers stand guard at the corners and gates with burning torches; leaflets proclaim that the great popular Robert earl of Essex, the Queen’s general and favorite, has committed treason; word spreads that all the jails are filled with captured rebels; Essex and his twenty-six-year-old boon companion, Henry earl of Southampton [co-leader of the failed rising] are being held in some secret place before a boat will take them after midnight through Traitors Gate into the Tower of London, to be confined until their joint trial and, most certainly, their executions.

Imagine, too, that fifty-year-old Edward earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England and highest-ranking peer, has been at Whitehall Palace all day and into the evening, trying desperately to speak with sixty-seven-year-old Queen Elizabeth.  He needs to plead with her to help Southampton, their royal son, who had hoped to remove Principal Secretary Robert Cecil from his ability to control the coming succession.  But now the young earl, an unacknowledged prince who should rightfully succeed his mother upon her death, is in Cecil’s  grip and beyond Oxford’s reach and even beyond that of Gloriana herself.

Now finally imagine Oxford this night returning on horseback to his home in Hackney, several miles away; and in the darkness of his room, trying to settle down and sleep, his thoughts flying to Southampton imprisoned in his room high up in the Tower.  Now all Oxford’s hopes for his son [and for England itself] are gone; and the popular young earl has lost not just the crown but also his liberty and honor and likely even his life.

And now, or soon, Oxford starts a diary recording his efforts to prevent his son’s execution and gain his freedom. Whatever bargain or deal he can make with Cecil, his former brother-in-law, will have to be made quickly and certainly before the Queen dies and he loses all leverage.  He begins on a note of sheer exhaustion from his “travail” or labors today, ending with the sad trip home; and he reports how, right away, the thoughts in his head travel to his royal son in the prison fortress:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travail tired,
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind when body’s work’s expired.

These thoughts are on a kind of holy “pilgrimage” to Southampton in the Tower; they keep his eyes wide open, staring at the darkness the way blind people do:

For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee
And keep my drooping eye-lids open wide,
Looking on darkness, which the blind do see.

But now he sees his son in his imagination.  He envisions the prince, who had been “the world’s fresh ornament” or England’s rightful heir to the throne, as a bright “jewel” hanging in the “ghastly” or terrifying black night of the Tower as well as Oxford’s own room; and so the blackness of the night, and of the world, is restored to its former bright youth and beauty — reflecting his son’s mother Elizabeth, from whom Southampton has inherited his own “beauty” or royal blood:

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.

[In the traditional view, the actor Shakspere of Stratford is away on tour and misses his beloved Southampton, but in that case the word “ghastly” seems to me to be quite overdone, a form of hyperbole of which “Shakespeare” is never guilty.  In this much different context, however, his use of “ghastly” fits the bill.  As Hamlet might say, it suits the word to the action.]

Having labored for Southampton physically and emotionally in the daytime and now working his mind for him at night, trying to think of what to do, Oxford equates himself with his son. The tragedy has affected them both in equal measure:

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for my self, no quiet find.

Within this newly perceived framework of time and circumstance, Sonnet 27 has finally found what I believe to be its correct context, where it comes alive in a completely new dimension; and in my view we can finally begin to appreciate the immortal writer’s power and skill in this verse.

It’s not what I might have expected.  If you had asked me how the father of a son with royal blood would react to this dire situation, I probably would have predicted far more “obvious” expressions of distress; I could not have envisioned what we have in Sonnet 27, which, I’d say, can be seen now as the masterpiece of steadily growing emotional power that this verse has been all along.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 18, 2009 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

“The Living Record” – 24 – “Ghastly Night”

The author of the Sonnets plunges us into the painful heart of “darkness” at Sonnet 27, where he introduces “shadow” and “black” amid the insistence of “night” … “night” … “night,” apparently late on the night of Feb. 8, 1601, when Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton was arrested for his co-leadership of the so-called Essex Rebellion, which had collapsed that day in utter failure.  After midnight he and Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex were taken through Traitors Gate and imprisoned behind the high walls of the royal fortress known as the Tower of London.

My working premise was that the Sonnets comprise a dangerous diary created by Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, in the form of conventional poetry; and that Oxford was recording the life of Southampton, his royal son by the Queen, according to Elizabeth’s constantly withering body, leading to her death and the end of her reign and the moment of succession, when the fate of her Tudor dynasty (and of England itself) would be determined.

And now it struck me that the actual beginning of the diary was here and now, on this tragic night when his son had been arrested as a traitor and had lost not only his honor and liberty but also most probably his life, not to mention the crown; in other words, this famous “collection” of 154 verses as we know it would never have been created if the terrible events of that day had not occurred.

Just below this numbered verse was Sonnet 26, a recognized “dedicatory epistle” reflecting the 1594 dedication of Lucrece by “William Shakespeare” to Southampton.  “The first section of the Sonnets ends with an envoy, Sonnet 26,” A. L. Rowse wrote in 1964, adding, “The sonnet reads like an envoy to the whole of this first section, Sonnets 1-26.”

But the placement of this “envoy” can’t be a coincidence, I thought; in fact Oxford could be starting the diary right here at Sonnet 27 — his immediate reaction to Southampton’s tragedy on Feb. 8, 1601; and then he could attach the opening string of twenty-six sonnets later on.  In terms of the real-life dramatic story that he was compelled to set down for posterity, Sonnet 27 would have been Sonnet 1.

In the previous verse, Sonnet 26, he pledges his “duty” to Southampton, addressing him as a subject “in vassalage” to his sovereign; and he expresses the hope that one day Southampton (as a prince) will “bestow” his “good conceit” upon him:

Till whatsover 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.

“Suddenly we are all adrift,” Gerald Massey wrote in 1866, referring to the abrupt transition from Sonnet 26 to Sonnet 27, “because the spirit of the verses so obviously changes.”

The reason, in my view, was that [according to the light vs. dark words of Oxford’s special vocabulary for the Sonnets] the Queen’s imperial frown now cast its dark ugly cloud and shadow of disgrace over their unacknowledged royal son, reducing him to “a jewel hung in ghastly night” in the Tower:

Sonnet 27

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travail tired,
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired.
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eye-lids open wide,
Looking on darkness, which the blind do see.
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for my self, no quiet find.

So we have two fixed entities:  (1) the historical record of Southampton’s imprisonment on the night of Feb. 8, 1601 and (2) the words and thoughts and feelings expressed in the fourteen lines of Sonnet 27.  These are specific entities; they are verifiable; they cannot be altered; and for what appears to have been the first time, ever, I placed these two entities side by side — or, if you will, I placed one entity like a stencil over the other.

And when the two single entities were put together — the contemporary history and the universal poetry — there appeared a third, completely new entity, in the form of a story that had been right there all along…

Published in: Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

“The Living Record” – 23 – And Now the Picture Changes…

Flipping backwards from Sonnet 107 recording Southampton’s release from the Tower on April 10, 1603, on down the numbers, I asked: “Is he still in the prison fortress at this point?  Is this before, or after, his arrest on February 8, 1601?”

Within the 1601-1603 time frame are real and specific dates of contemporary history:

FEB 7, 1601: The conspirators cause Richard II to be played at the Globe.
FEB 8, 1601: The Rebellion fails; Essex and Southampton are taken to the Tower.
FEB 11, 1601: Oxford is summoned to be senior judge at the upcoming trial.
FEB 17, 1601: Essex and Southampton are formally charged with high treason.
FEB 19, 1601: The joint trial of Essex and Southampton winds down to its foregone conclusion; Oxford and the other peers on the tribunal have no choice but to render a unanimous “guilty” verdict; Essex and Southampton are sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

I pause here to record J. Thomas Looney’s account in 1920 identifying Oxford as the writer who, at forty-three in 1593, adopted “Shakespeare” as his final and most glorious pen name.  Looney could not have imagined that the bulk of the Sonnets might be recording events during Southampton’s imprisonment, but he was astonished that his theory had led him to an entirely new perception of the trial.  If in fact Oxford was the great poet and dramatist who had dedicated his work to Southampton, then the trial on Feb. 19, 1601 in Westminster Hall became the stuff of high drama worthy of Shakespeare himself:

“In the year 1601,” Looney wrote, “there took place the ill-fated insurrection under the Earl of Essex; an insurrection which its leaders maintained was aimed, not at the throne, but at the politicians, amongst whom Robert Cecil, son of Burghley, was now prominent.  Whether Edward de Vere approved of the rising or not, it certainly represented social and political forces with which he was in sympathy…

“In order to stir up London and to influence the public mind in a direction favorable to the overturning of those in authority, the company gave a performance of Richard II, the Earl of Southampton subsidizing the players.  In the rising itself Southampton took an active part.  Upon its collapse he was tried for treason along with its leader Essex; and it was then that Edward de Vere emerged from his retirement for the first time in nine years to take his position amongst the twenty-five peers who constituted the tribunal before whom Essex and Southampton were to be tried.

“It is certainly a most important fact in connection with our argument [of Edward de Vere as the author of Shakespeare’s works] that this outstanding action of Oxford’s later years should be in connection with the one contemporary that ‘Shakespeare’ has immortalized…

“It is clear, from the point of view of the problem of Shakespearean authorship, that the famous trial of the Earl of Essex assumes quite a thrilling interest.  Standing before the judges was the only living personality that ‘Shakespeare’ has openly connected with the issue of his works and towards whom he has publicly expressed affection: Henry Wriothesley … and sitting on the benches amongst the judges was none other, we believe, than the real ‘Shakespeare’ himself…”

Well, yes … and the events continue:

FEB 25, 1601: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex is executed by beheading.
MARCH 5, 1601: Five other conspirators on trial are found guilty and sentenced to die.
MARCH 13, 1601: Two conpsirators are hanged, drawn and quartered.
MARCH 18, 1601: Two conspirators are beheaded on Tower Hill.
MARCH 19, 1601: It appears Southampton has been spared from execution.
FEB 8, 1602: First anniversary of the Rebellion.
FEB 8, 1603: Second anniversary of the Rebellion.
MARCH 24, 1603: Queen Elizabeth dies; King James succeeds her.
APRIL 5, 1603: James sends ahead orders for Southampton’s release.
APRIL 10, 1603 (Sonnet 107): Southampton leaves the Tower.

Here are very real and specific events on the record; this is not imagined biography or imagined history.  And continuing back down below Sonnet 97, while  keeping in mind the real-life crime, trial, prison, death sentence, etc., the results are startling … for example:

Sonnet 96: Fault
Sonnet 95: Shame
Sonnet 88: ATTAINTED
Sonnet 84: Confine … Immured
Sonnet 82: ATTAINT
Sonnet 75: All Away
Sonnet 72: Death … Shame
Sonnet 71: Mourn … Dead
Sonnet 70: Blamed … Suspect … Suspect
Sonnet 68: Second Life on Second Head
Sonnet 67: Why Should He Live
Sonnet 66: Disgraced … Disabled … Tongue-tied …
Sonnet 65: Mortality … PLEA … GATES OF STEEL
Sonnet 64: Fell Hand … Buried … Loss … Confounded
Sonnet 63: Drained His Blood … I Now Fortify … Cruel Knife
Sonnet 60: Our Minutes Hasten To Their End
Sonnet 57: Watch the Clock for You
Sonnet 55: Death … Ending Doom … JUDGMENT
Sonnet 53: Shadow … Shade … Shadows … Shadow
Sonnet 51: OFFENCE … Where Thou Art … EXCUSE
Sonnet 50: Heavy … Bloody … Grief
Sonnet 48: BARS … WARDS (guards) … LOCKED UP
Sonnet 47: Thyself Away
Sonnet 45: Absent … Oppressed
Sonnet 44: Where Thou Dost Stay
Sonnet 41: LIBERTY … Commits … Where Thou Art
Sonnet 40: Blame
Sonnet 39: Separation
Sonnet 38: Pain
Sonnet 33: Disgrace … Stain
Sonnet 32: If Thou Survive
Sonnet 31: Obsequious Tear … Dead … Grave … Buried
Sonnet 30: SESSIONS (trial) … SUMMONS (to trial)
Sonnet 29: In Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes … OUTCAST STATE
Sonnet 28: Day by Night and Night by Day
Sonnet 27: Like a Jewel Hung in Ghastly Night

Here is where the darkness and bleakness and suffering begin; before Sonnet 27 is an opening segment of twenty-six verses (Sonnets 1-26) with an entirely different tone of voice.  A great terrible shadow falls over the diary at Sonnet 27; and before even beginning to examine this new landscape, I was reeling from the possibility … the incredible possibility … that prior to Sonnet 107 upon Southampton’s release on April 10, 1603, Oxford was using all eighty verses from Sonnet 27 to Sonnet 106 to record events during the earl’s two years and two months of imprisonment in the Tower of London.

Eighty sonnets … more than half the entire sequence of one hundred and fifty-four! A shift of time frame on such a scale had never occurred to me; in fact it took my breath away.  And now the picture changes, I thought.  Of course, much work had to be done to test this new perception …

Published in: Uncategorized on February 14, 2009 at 4:23 am  Comments (1)  

“The Living Record” – 22 – Mind the Gap!

Sonnet 104 has done more than any other verse to play havoc with attempts to date the Sonnets and to blind us to the correct time frame of Sonnets 1 to 126.  When this long opening series is viewed as a chronological diary of Southampton’s life, it first appears that Oxford recorded in Sonnet 104 that just three years have passed since he first laid eyes on the younger earl:

Three Winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride;
Three beauteous springs to yellow Autumn turned,
In process of the seasons have I seen;
Three April perfumes in three hot JUnes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh which yet are green.

Stratfordian and Oxfordian commentators alike have figured that the “three years” cannot be dated any later than 1596, i.e., no later than three years after “Shakespeare” had dedicated Venus and Adonis to Southampton in 1593, by which time the two must have met.   Such was the thinking of the great Shakespearean scholar E.K. Chambers in 1930; and such was also the thinking of the distinguished Oxfordian researcher Gerald H. Rendall in his Personal Clues in Shakespeare Poems and Sonnets of 1934.

Calling Sonnet 104 “a controlling landmark” for dating the verses, Rendall concluded there must be a significant “gap” in Oxford’s chronicle — of no less than seven years! — from Sonnet 104 in the spring of 1596 to Sonnet 107 in the spring of 1603.

“All who allow that ‘the mortal Moon’s eclipse’ [in Sonnet 107] signifies the passing of the great Queen in March 1603 must admit the existence of some such break,” wrote Rendall, who also called this lapse of seven years within Oxford’s diary an “intermission.”

Whether a gap, a break, or an intermission, to many critics it was an embarrassment — to the point that some went off seeking new candidates (such as William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke) to replace Southampton as the Fair Youth of the Sonnets.  Otherwise how do we explain that Shakespeare (or Oxford as “Shakespeare”), having professed such profound love “without end” to Southampton in his 1594 dedication of Lucrece, could stop writing to him for a period of seven years?

How could he avoid writing to or about Southampton during his 1601-1603 imprisonment in the Tower, only to burst back in Sonnet 107 to celebrate his liberation by King James on April 10, 1603?  Isn’t this the height of insincerity?  Of hypocrisy?

Moreover “Shakespeare” was such a brilliant “storyteller” that he surely would have avoided such a gap if only for the sake of his narrative or dramatic structure.  One of my premises was that Oxford had ultimately fashioned the “monument” of the Sonnets into a single, unified masterwork of literature, containing a coherent recorded story.   So if  Southampton’s liberation was the high point, how could Oxford have failed to anticipate, to prepare for, and to lead up to that dramatic climax?

How could he have failed to write to or about the younger earl [especially if Southampton was his and Elizabeth’s unacknowledged royal son] while the latter languished in the Tower for two years?

How could Oxford fail to record Southampton’s arrest on the night of February 8, 1601 for his co-leadership of the failed Essex Rebellion?

In terms of Oxford’s emotional responses and artistic impulses alike, such a lapse made no sense.   If he wanted to express Southampton’s liberation in Sonnet 107 with any dramatic effectiveness, wouldn’t Oxford have to place him in confinement inside the Tower fortress beforehand?

Given these questions, I decided to ignore the conventional wisdom that Sonnet 104 indicates a lapse of three years and, instead, I started “back down the ladder of time” with the premise that Southampton must still be in the Tower prior to Sonnet 107, i.e., he must still be imprisoned in Sonnets 106, 105, 104, 103… And if I keep going back downward in number and time, I thought, I’ll eventually find the starting point of the “prison years” when Southampton was arrested and taken to the Tower and then convicted of high treason and sentenced to die…

I had three general criteria for sonnets that appeared to be covering Southampton’s imprisonment: the presence of (1) “dark” words expressing bleakness and pain, reflecting her Majesty’s negative imperial view of him as well as Oxford’s own fears for their son, who was blackened by disgrace;  (2) the presence of prison language; and (3) legal terminology reflecting the trial of Essex and Southampton on February 19, 1601 and the sentencing of them to be hanged, drawn and quartered…

Sonnet 106: wasted time … Ladies dead
Sonnet 105: never kept seat in one
Sonnet 104: three winters cold … beauty’s summer dead
Sonnet 103: poverty … disgrace
Sonnet 102: weak … sweets grown common
Sonnet 101: Both truth and beauty on my love depend…
(Which can be seen as a cry of desperation: “Both Oxford and Elizabeth depend on my royal son.”)
Sonnet 100: Where art thou, Muse … Dark’ning thy power…
Sonnet 99: condemned … stolen … fearfully … shame … despair … death
Sonnet 98: absent … Yet seemed it Winter, and you away … your shadow
Sonnet 97: How like a Winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen?
What old December’s bareness everywhere!

Here I noted Sonnet 97 as a possible “dating marker” within the chronology; and later I would realize that “pleasure” referred to “Her Majesty’s pleasure” or command and that “fleeting” was then slang for “imprisoned,” echoing the Fleet Prison...

Meanwhile there was still a long way to go back down…

Published in: Uncategorized on February 12, 2009 at 7:57 pm  Comments (2)  

“The Living Record” – 21 – Final Days

If Sonnets 1-126 as a sequence happened to be a well-constructed play, then Sonnet 107 would be its dramatic climax — the moment when Southampton walked freely out of the Tower after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.”  And starting with this high point of Sonnet 107 are the final twenty verses proceeding to 126.

So Oxford’s record of Southampton’s life continues past the death of Queen Elizabeth and the succession of King James. She died on March 24, 1603 and Southampton gained his freedom on April 10, 1603, but the story goes on — to where?  Well, I think the numerical structure leads to the inescapable conclusion that Sonnet 125 marks Elizabeth’s funeral procession on April 28, 1603, when the “canopy” of state was borne over her effigy and coffin on the way to Westminster Abbey:

Wer’t ought to me I bore the canopy,
With my extern the outward honoring,
Or laid great bases for eternity…
Sonnet 125


Elizabeth’s funeral procession on April 28, 1603

(Artist unknown; British Library ms. Add. 35 324, fol.37v)

Oxford began his chronicle hoping in Sonnet 1 that “beauty’s Rose might never die” — that Elizabeth’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose might not die when she did.  This hope ended when the House of Tudor collapsed upon her death and the Stuart dynasty began; but for her passing to be “official” she had to be buried:

“No monarch was officially dead until the day of burial when the great officers of state broke their white wands of office and hurled them into the grave.  So for over a month the old Queen’s court [had gone on] as though she were not dead but walking, as she was wont to in the early springtime, in the alleys of her gardens … At last, on 28 April 1603, a funeral procession of some fifteen hundred persons made its way to Westminster Abbey.  Nothing quite like it had ever been seen before…”
Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth

So the time line of Elizabeth’s ever-waning life extends beyond her physical death to her burial and the extinction of her dynasty; and it turns out that,  just as there are nineteen verses from Sonnet 107 to 125, so there are nineteen days from April 10th to 28th — nineteen verses matching nineteen days, followed by Sonnet 126, when Oxford bids farewell to his royal son:

O Thou my lovely Boy who in thy power
Dost hold time’s fickle glass his sickle hour,
Who hast by waning grown…
Sonnet 126

The match-up of sonnets and days could not be accidental; no, I thought, this is Oxford’s careful architecture using numbers, events and dates; and when I lined them up on a yellow legal pad, they looked this way:

Sonnet 107 – April 10, 1603 – Southampton’s liberation
Sonnet 108 – April 11, 1603
Sonnet 109 – April 12, 1603
Sonnet 110 – April 13, 1603
Sonnet 111 – April 14, 1603
Sonnet 112 – April 15, 1603
Sonnet 113 – April 16, 1603
Sonnet 114 – April 17, 1603
Sonnet 115 – April 18, 1603
Sonnet 116 – April 19, 1603
Sonnet 117 – April 20, 1603
Sonnet 118 – April 21, 1603
Sonnet 119 – April 22, 1603
Sonnet 120 – April 23, 1603
Sonnet 121 – April 24, 1603
Sonnet 122 – April 25, 1603
Sonnet 123 – April 26, 1603
Sonnet 124 – April 27, 1603
Sonnet 125 – April 28, 1603 – Queen Elizabeth’s funeral
Sonnet 126

In this context the final sequence of twenty sonnets becomes Oxford’s own solemn march to the end of his recorded story.  I did not see this match-up until later; but I include it now, before going on, because I believe it not only supports but even proves that the time line of the Sonnets is tied to the withering of Elizabeth’s life until her death and funeral and the end of her dynasty.

Now, back to that “ladder” and the climb downward…

Published in: Uncategorized on February 7, 2009 at 5:58 am  Leave a Comment  

“Shakespeare” & Elizabeth

A new book to be released soon is Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths by Helen Hackett; and no, this is not a book questioning the authorship of Hamlet or The Sonnets, but, rather, a work inspired by the overwhelming fact that the immortal Gloriana and the immortal Bard lived at the same time in the same London, in the same Elizabethan Age that was simultaneously the Shakespearean Age.

Of course they knew each other — but because of the tradition that William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon was the great poet-dramatist, the many allusions to Elizabeth throughout the works of “Shakespeare” might as well be invisible.  Given the wrong author, we have the wrong lens , the wrong framework, and so we cannot see what’s right in front us.

As Oscar James Campbell writes, “The only allusion generally accepted as referring directly to Elizabeth is in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Oberon describes Cupid’s vain attempt to ensnare “a fair vestal throned by the west”:

But I might see young Cupid’s fiery shaft
Quenched in the chaste beams of the watery Moon,
And the Imperial Votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.

Imagine the Virgin Queen – who was Cynthia or Diana, Goddess of the Moon – attending this play and hearing these lines, which would certainly feed her vanity.  Or might she have been offended somehow?  Whichever, the author must have felt himself on pretty solid footing with his sovereign Mistress, who was an absolute monarch with the power at a frown or flick of the finger to send a man to the Tower, to the rack, to the hangman.

“The relationship of the two greatest icons of Englishness has proved irresistible to novelists, artists, filmmakers, and conspiracy theorists,” we read on the Amazon book site.  “Helen Hackett deftly covers this story.  Did William Shakespeare ever meet Queen Elizabeth I? There is no evidence of such a meeting, yet for three centuries writers and artists have been provoked and inspired to imagine it.

Shakespeare and Elizabeth is the first book to explore the rich history of invented encounters between the poet and the Queen, and examines how and why the mythology of these two charismatic and enduring cultural icons has been intertwined in British and American culture.

“Helen Hackett follows the history of meetings between Shakespeare and Elizabeth through historical novels, plays, paintings, and films … Raising intriguing questions about the boundaries separating scholarship and fiction, Hackett looks at biographers and critics who continue to delve into links between the queen and the poet … [She] uncovers the reasons behind the lasting appeal of their combined reputations, and she locates this interest in their enigmatic sexual identities, as well as in the ways they represent political tensions and national aspirations.”

And I look forward to reading this book.  The irony is that in fact Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) — who, in my view, adopted the pen name “Shakespeare” — and Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603) were in fact on the most intimate terms, starting in at least by the early 1570’s after Oxford turned twenty-one and became (on the record) her Majesty’s favorite at Court.

Once we view these two giants of history in this true context, the whole underpinning of the Shakespeare-Elizabeth mythology begins to reveal itself.

Within the traditional context, however, we cannot see that the poet-playwright portrayed Queen Elizabeth over and over.  She is Venus in Venus and Adonis.  She is Silvia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  She speaks through Portia in The Merchant of Venice.  She is Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra.  She is Olivia in Twelfth Night.  She is Rosalind in As You Like It. She’s Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  She’s Cressida in Troilus and Cressida. She’s Queen Gertrude in Hamlet.

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford portrays himself as Adonis.  He is Anthony. In Twelfth Night he’s Feste the Clown or Fool — Her Majesty’s “allowed fool” at Court.  He is Touchstone, the Clown, in As You Like It.  He is Troilus. And he’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, who, like Oxford himself, puts on plays for the monarch and the Court.

There’s much more to the real story behind the myths, of course, but I wish Helen Hackett much success with this important book.  One day, when students see the true cause of these effects, they will have a terrific model to examine and learn more about “how mythologies develop.”

Meanwhile the human reality of the true story can come as something of a shock, as when we hear the Shakespearean voice in Oxford’s letter to Robert Cecil on April 27, the day before Queen Elizabeth’s funeral:

“I cannot but find a great grief in myself to remember the Mistress we have lost, under whom both you and myself from our greenest years have been in a manner brought up … In this common shipwreck, mine is above all the rest, who least regarded, though often comforted, of all her followers, she hath left to try my fortune among the alterations of time and chance, either without sail whereby to take the advantage of any prosperous gale, or with anchor to ride till the storm be overpast.”

“I cannot but find a great grief,” he writes, and we might find the same hand, same voice, in Shakespeare:

“To me and to the state of my great grief” – King John
Great grief grieves most” – The Rape of Lucrece
“And yet, love knows, it is a greater grief” – Sonnet 40
“Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief” – Sonnet 48

(These lines are supplied by the late William Plumer Fowler in his great work Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters, 1986.)

Published in: Uncategorized on February 4, 2009 at 1:05 am  Comments (2)  

“The Living Record” – 20 – “The Ladder”

Back in Chapter 8 of this “blog book” I wrote, “Assuming that sonnets 1-126 addressed to Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton are in chronological order, the time frame covers a dozen years [from Sonnets 1-17 in 1591 to Sonnet 107 in 1603].”

In 1591  seventeen-year-old Henry Wriothesley was being pressured to marry Lord Burghley’s sixteen-year-old granddaughter, accounting for Sonnets 1-17; and on March 24, 1603 the Queen died in her sleep in her seventieth year, accounting for the poet’s line of Sonnet 107: “The mortal Moon hath her eclipsed endured.” That is, the “mortal” body of Elizabeth the “Moon” goddess has succumbed, but her eternal self as a divine monarch has “endured” by passing into immortality.

So if the TIME (and Time Line) of the Sonnets is tied to the ever-waning life of Elizabeth, leading to her death and the succession, then by Sonnet 107 we have finally reached that crisis point of of the story.  The Queen is dead; the chronicle must end. Moreover, in Sonnet 107 the poet is looking back at her death, which was followed within hours by the proclamation of James VI of Scotland as James I of England, whose first official act – even before he left Edinburgh — was to send ahead the order for Southampton’s immediate liberation from the Tower.

James issued that order on April 5, 1603 and Southampton emerged from his more than two years of imprisonment on April 10, 1603.  Having languished in that royal prison fortress as a convicted traitor whose death sentence had been commuted to life as a non-person, he had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” but was now free; and this moment is the dramatic climax represented by Sonnet 107, prompting Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford to set down a single sweeping sentence covering the first four lines, a thunderous howl of triumph:

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!

(That’s my exclamation point.  Couldn’t help it.)

So here was Sonnet 107 tied to Southampton’s release, the climax of this chronicle, tied to a very real date in history (April 10, 1603), following the death of Elizabeth upon another specific date (March 24, 1603) on the calendar of contemporary history.

If this event is on an actual time line, I thought, then it should be possible to “work backward” from Sonnet 107 and “climb down the ladder” of the time line.  And since the Queen has already died before April 10, 1603, the TIME of this series of sonnets must be heading toward its conclusion, the way a stage play comes to an end soon after the climax.  So what if I just “look over my shoulder” and look at the entry of the diary that came just before this one?

I looked at the preceding verse, Sonnet 106, which begins:

When in the Chronicle of wasted time…

Well, of course!  That line is famous; it’s a line of poetry for the ages; but in fact Oxford is obviously saying that the actual TIME or TIME LINE of this CHRONICLE has been WASTED because the TIME of Elizabeth’s life has ended without Southampton’s succession!

Now I looked at the entire first quatrain of Sonnet 106:

When in the Chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of Ladies dead and lovely Knights…

Yes, again, of course!  Southampton in Sonnet 1 had been the “fairest creatures” and now in Sonnet 106 he was the fairest wights.

Elizabeth had been the “beauty” of “beauty’s Rose” in Sonnet 1 and now in Sonnet 106 she was Ladies dead

Then I glanced back down one more verse, to Sonnet 105, which is actually a solemn hymn or prayer, beginning –

Let not my love be called Idolatry…

And as editor Stephen Booth puts it, the diction of this amazing verse is “ostentatiously reminiscent of Christian doctrine” with lines 12-14 “capping the litany-like repetition of the suggestively triple Fair, kind, and true with a specific echo of the doctrine of the Trinity [Father, Son, and Holy Ghost]”:

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.

Here is the strongest suggestion of the family triangle of Southampton, Elizabeth, and Oxford, WHICH THREE, up to NOW, had NEVER KEPT SEAT IN ONE — that is, the three of them had never sat on the throne in the person of the one son, Southampton, as King.

(Echoing his motto One for All, All for One.)

(“The supreme seat, the throne majestical” – Richard III, 3.7.117)

It occurred to me that NOW must be the very moment of the Queen’s death, explaining why Sonnet 105 has such religious overtones.  (Monarchs, after all, were “gods on earth.”)

So here was the first inkling of a newly discovered time line, visualized as a “ladder” of descending numbers and dates:

Sonnet 107 = Southampton’s liberation on April 10, 1603
Sonnet 106 = ? (It would be a bit longer for this date to become clear.)
Sonnet 105 = Queen Elizabeth’s death on March 24, 1603

And here I stopped and took a deep breath, before proceeding farther down the ladder…

Published in: Uncategorized on February 3, 2009 at 4:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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