“The Living Record” – Chapter 32 – How a Powerful Sonnet can be reduced to the note on a Hallmark Card…

Within the one-hundred-sonnet center (27-126) of Oxford’s “monument” of verse, Sonnet 37 opens the second of ten chapters containing ten sonnets apiece.

Imagine, if you will, that it’s written by a father (Edward Earl of Oxford) to his beloved son (Henry Earl of Southampton), who is also his prince whom he regards as the rightful heir to Elizabeth on the throne — and who will go on trial tomorrow morning, 19 February 1601, for high treason and surely will be found guilty and sentenced to death.

(I’ve deliberately emphasized some of the words pointing in the direction of Southampton’s royal identity; and I’ve emphasized “all” identifying him by pointing to his motto One for All, All for One):

Sonnet 37

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite,
Take ALL my comfort of thy WORTH and truth.

For whether beauty, BIRTH, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these ALL, or ALL, or more,
ENTITLED in thy parts do CROWNED SIT,
I make my love engrafted to this store:

So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed,
And by a part of ALL thy GLORY live.

Look what is best, that best I wish in thee;
This wish I have, then ten times happy me.

These words are used in relation to kingship in the Shakespeare plays:

“Weigh you the WORTH and honor of a king” – Troilus & Cressida, 2.2

“Wrong not her BIRTH, she is of royal blood” – Richard III, 4.4.

ENTITLED: “Having as rightful claim to” – Katherine Duncan-Jones
“Will you show our TITLE to the crown?” – 3 Henry VI, 1.1

“There to be CROWNED England’s royal king” – 3 Henry VI, 2.6

“Long mayst thou live in Richard’s seat to SIT” – Richard II, 4.1

“And threat the GLORY of my precious crown” – Richard II, 3.3

Other words indicate Southampton’s royal blood: TRUTH, BEAUTY, WEALTH, WIT, STORE, SUBSTANCE, ABUNDANCE, BEST, HAPPY…

On the eve of Southampton’s trial at which Oxford must sit as senior judge, he uses this sonnet to defiantly “shout” the fact of their father-son relationship and the fact of his son’s royalty and right to the throne.   He writes it in blood, so to speak, from the terrible position of having been “lamed” or made ineffectual by Queen Elizabeth’s “dearest spite” — her most motherly malice toward the son who attempted a palace coup.

It’s difficult to figure how anyone reading Sonnet 37 as a “love poem” can explain the author’s intentions.  On a whim I picked up my copy of “No Fear Shakespeare” and, turning to Sonnet 37, found that the editors actually do say the poet is attributing “princely attributes” to the younger man; but they go on to explain that the poet is merely engaging in “this fantasy of mine” that enables him to “live off part of your [the younger man’s] glory.”

In other words, without the real-life context the “No Fear” editors are forced to reduce the powerful, painful lines of Sonnet 37 to the most trivial kind of theme — something to be found on a Hallmark card!

Well, here’s a good example of how “context” makes all the difference — in terms of knowing the identity of the author and the younger man, as well as the circumstances within which this intensely autobiographical sonnet was being written.

Editor Duncan-Jones adds that in her view the author actually “enjoys” what she translates as “the happiness of being well deceived” — as opposed to a father trying to keep from suffering an emotional breakdown over his royal son’s tragedy!

I think about how students are being taught to reduce these powerful, meaningful sonnets to such inconsequential, frivolous stuff … and it makes me kinda mad, you know?

Cheers from Hank

Published in: Uncategorized on May 17, 2009 at 7:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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