“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  

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