“The Living Record” – Chapter 28 – “Thy Adverse Party is Thy Advocate”

In the previous chapter we stopped at Sonnet 34; and when Oxford is seen as writing one sonnet per day starting with Sonnet 27 upon the failed Essex Rebellion on 8 Feb 1601, we arrive next at Sonnet 35 on 16 Feb 1601, just three days before the treason trial of Essex and Southampton (who both wait in the Tower).

Oxford himself has been summoned to be the earl of highest rank on the tribunal sitting in judgment; Robert Cecil has orchestrated a travesty of justice ending with the twenty-five peers having no choice but to render a unanimous verdict of guilt.  Oxford will be forced to join in that verdict, thereby condemning Southampton (his royal son by Elizabeth) to death by execution.

Viewed for the first time in this context, the words of Sonnet 35 came as a sudden shock to me.  Here is Oxford trying to comfort the prince amid the death of his Tudor Rose lineage.  He writes beneath the “clouds and eclipses” of disgrace and dishonor that now “stain” the “Moone” (his mother, Queen Elizabeth) and their “Sunne” (royal son), the “bud” of the Rose lineage that is now filled with “thorns” and a “loathsome canker”:

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:
Rose have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both Moone and Sunne,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

[“Hath not thy Rose a canker, Somerset?” – 1 Henry VI, 2.4]

Oxford takes the blame for “authorizing” Southampton’s treason — which he calls a fault, a trespass, an amiss and a sin.  He authorized it by allowing his play Richard II to be performed at the Globe on the eve of the Rebellion — depicting King Richard giving up his crown and encouraging the public to “compare” Elizabeth with that weak monarch:

All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are.

But here come the next lines with what still appear to me as a “smoking gun” in terms of evidence supporting this radically new context of time and circumstance for Sonnet 27 onward.  Now in Sonnet 35, anticipating his painful role at the trial, Oxford refers to his son’s “sensual fault” (irrational crime) and tries to reassure him that he will bring in “sense” (rational arguments) to help him.

At the trial Oxford will be Southampton’s “adverse party” by having to vote to condemn him to death; but then later he will be his “Advocate” or lawyer, working behind the scenes to save his life and offering to sacrifice himself in the process:

For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense;
Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,
And ‘gainst myself a lawful plea commence.

We can see Oxford recording his own mental and emotional torture in this tragic situation.  He must be an “accessory” in collaboration with Cecil, who wants to deprive his son of any possibility of becoming King Henry IX upon Elizabeth’s death; he must be an “accessory” in collaboration with his “sweet” (royal) son, who, by his crime, has robbed them both of the throne and the chance to shape the future course of England:

Such civil war is in my love and hate
That I an accessory needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

This verse, Sonnet 35, is packed with legal terms — faults, authorizing, trespass, excusing, fault, adverse party, Advocate, lawful plea, accessory — reflecting the specific circumstances of the moment.  This sonnet has been seen as referring to a story involving love and lust and sexual betrayal, but such a story is pure fiction, with not the slightest evidence to support it.

On the other hand, we’ve had the real-life drama of Southampton right in front of us all along, running on the bedrock foundation of documented contemporary history.

Isn’t it time for closed minds to open just a little?  Isn’t it time to take a look at what may well be the greatest “Shakespearean” story of all?

Published in: Uncategorized on March 3, 2009 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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