“The Living Record” – Chapter 30 – “I May Not Ever-More Acknowledge Thee”

Within the context of The Monument, it becomes apparent that the sequence of Shakespeare’s sonnets as we know it exists solely because of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford’s reaction to the failed Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601 and the imprisonment of his royal son, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. The heart of his one hundred and fifty-four  numbered poems begins with Sonnet 27 when he envisions the unacknowledged prince as “a jewel hung in ghastly night” in the Tower of London.

Oxford was determined to write and arrange one sonnet per day until his son by Elizabeth was either executed for high treason or spared.  In fact it would take about forty days until he was sure that Southampton’s  sentence had been reduced to life in prison, according to a deal  arranged with Secretary Robert Cecil, who was now in full charge of the Elizabethan government.

When Oxford finally worked out the architectural scheme of his “monument” of sonnets much later, he arranged exactly forty sonnets in correspondence with forty days, until Sonnet 66 on 19 March 1601 — reflecting the forty days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness, when he was tempted by the devil.

These forty sonnets/days are divided into four chapters of ten sonnets apiece.  The first chapter (27 to 36) concludes on 17 February, when the earls of Essex and Southampton are formally charged with “conspiring to depose and slay the Queen and subvert the government.”

Oxford, who has been summoned to sit as senior judge on the tribunal of peers at the upcoming trial, uses Sonnet 36 to set forth the basic terms of the bargain he is making with Cecil in order to save Southampton’s life: they must publicly bury their father-son relationship and act as “twain” or separated; taking all the blame upon himself, Oxford may never acknowledge the younger earl as his son; and by the same token, he must remain  invisible behind “Shakespeare,” the pen name to which he linked Southampton through the dedications to him of Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594:

Sonnet 36

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one;
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.

In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which, though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.

I may not ever-more acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honor me,
Unless thou take that honor from thy name:

But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

The deeply felt sorrow of these lines finally makes sense within the context of a father desperately trying to save his royal son — who, of course, must forfeit any claim as the Queen’s natural heir.  Yes, I know that the the spiteful separation stealing “sweet hours from love’s delight” sounds to our modern ears strictly like a romantic poem, but that’s just one half of the “double image” Oxford created in the Sonnets.  The other half shows a father speaking of his son as “mine,” the way Oxford wrote to Lord Burghley on March 17, 1575, about his hope for “a son of mine own” to continue his earldom.

To be continued…

Published in: Uncategorized on April 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

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