“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  

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