“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 92: TERM OF LIFE … THY REVOLT
Sonnet 90: PURPOSED OVERTHROW
Sonnet 88: ATTAINTED
Sonnet 87: MISPRISION … JUDGMENT
Sonnet 84: Confine … Immured
Sonnet 82: ATTAINT
Sonnet 75: All Away
Sonnet 74: FELL ARREST … BAIL
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 58: IMPRISONED … ABSENCE OF YOUR LIBERTY … PARDON … CRIME
Sonnet 57: Watch the Clock for You
Sonnet 55: Death … Ending Doom … JUDGMENT
Sonnet 53: Shadow … Shade … Shadows … Shadow
Sonnet 52: KEY … UP-LOCKED … IMPRISONED
Sonnet 51: OFFENCE … Where Thou Art … EXCUSE
Sonnet 50: Heavy … Bloody … Grief
Sonnet 49: TO GUARD THE LAWFUL REASONS ON THY PART … LAWS … ALLEGE
Sonnet 48: BARS … WARDS (guards) … LOCKED UP
Sonnet 47: Thyself Away
Sonnet 46: DEFENDANT … PLEA DENY … IMPANNELLED … QUEST (jury) … VERDICT
Sonnet 45: Absent … Oppressed
Sonnet 44: Where Thou Dost Stay
Sonnet 42: OFFENDERS … EXCUSE
Sonnet 41: LIBERTY … Commits … Where Thou Art
Sonnet 40: Blame
Sonnet 39: Separation
Sonnet 38: Pain
Sonnet 36: CONFESS …BLOTS … GUILT
Sonnet 35: FAULTS … THY TRESPASS … FAULT … THY ADVERSE PARTY IS THY ADVOCATE … LAWFUL PLEA … ACCESSORY
Sonnet 34: DISGRACE … REPENT … OFFENDER’S SORROW … OFFENCES’S LOSS … RANSOM
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)  

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  1. […] coming days. Meanwhile, readers should check out Oxfordian Hank Whittemore’s blog where his analysis of the Sonnets is all about Shakespeare and the Essex Rebellion. His most recent post today puts Bate’s […]


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