The Living Record – Chapter 33 – “The Pain Be Mine…”

Edward de Vere Lord Oxford, nearly 51, presides on February 19, 1601 in the lofty gloom of Westminster Hall as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal of 25 peers sitting in judgment of Robert Devereux Lord Essex, 34, and Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton, 26, on trial for high treason for the abortive Essex Rebellion eleven days earlier.

Along with the others, Oxford has no choice but to render the inevitable verdict of guilt (dictated by Secretary Robert Cecil, now in complete control of the government), thereby sending both earls back to the Tower to await their imminent executions.

Oxford has condemned Southampton, his unacknowledged royal son by the Queen, to virtually certain death.

Following is his immediate reaction to the trial and its outcome – in number 38 of the Shakespeare sonnets, arranged as one sonnet per day from number 27 on the night of the rising on February 8th up to now.  Note how the father writes to praise his son as a prince, holding back his emotions until the very last line, where he finally expresses the terrible “pain” within his heart and beneath his words:

Sonnet 38
(19 February 1601)

How can my Muse want subject to invent
While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?

Oh give thyself the thanks, if ought in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight:
For who’s so dumb, that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?

Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.

If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

(Italics added)

We’ll get back to this sonnet in the next chapter; for now I’d like to call attention to the words I’ve highlighted:

VERSE = These sonnets, i.e., all 154 of them as consecutively numbered

ARGUMENT = Topic and theme, i.e., Southampton, his royal blood and the coming succession to Elizabeth on the throne

INVENTION = method of writing, i.e., using words to convey two separate stories simultaneously, one fiction and the other nonfiction

I think it’s significant that at upon the tragic events of the trial on this day, Oxford uses these three crucially important words, which will reappear in 76, explaining his invented method of double-image writing, and in 105, upon Elizabeth’s death in 1603.  Both sonnets are addressed to his royal son:

Sonnet 76

Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?

Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?

O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument:
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:

For as the Sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.

Sonnet 105

(Demonstrating the “method” described in 76)

Let not my love be called Idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an Idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be,
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.

Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.

Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words,
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.

Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three, till now, never kept seat in one.

Well, here we have the author himself explaining what he’s up to in this personal record for posterity…

Cheers from Hank

Published in: Uncategorized on June 2, 2009 at 12:02 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m a huge fan of The Monument, but I wonder if I came upon these blog post arbitrarily If I would be intrigued or put off; the argument of you book seems to rest in context and accumlation (it’s a complicated argument). If you’re preaching to the choir then these posts serve their purpose, but in regard to those curious and open-minded readers flipping around the internet, I wonder if the notion out of context of the your books seem eccentric. If I just came across the post, and had no idea about the insights of The Monument, I think I’d find it unconvincing. There’s too much left unexplained. And I say this as a fan.

    • You have a good point and I’m not sure what if anything to do about it. Eventually there is some way at WordPress to get the chapters into regular book format, by arrangement; but that’s not the answer either. Also I’d like to make it easier to make these comments and for readers to find them. If any readers have a suggestion or comment about it, please chime in. I’ll give it due thought, Malvolio — and thanks!


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