“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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