“The Living Record” – Chapter 35 – “Take All My Loves”

The three sonnets numbered 40-41-42 have been viewed by most scholars as from the author to the younger man regarding the latter’s betrayal of him by engaging in a sexual affair with his, the poet’s, mistress.  Within this context, however, there is no way to identify any real-life individuals who might be involved.

Within the traditional view we cannot even know the identity of the author, much less the identities of the so-called Fair Youth and Dark Lady of the Shakespeare sonnets.   We have made-up nicknames for characters of our imagination, and that includes the poet known as Shakespeare!.

If we take the traditional view of a “love triangle,” we can forget any genuine autobiographical context; we can forget any biographical or historical information that is true.  Within the context of a “love triangle,” there’s not a scrap of evidence linking these sonnets to anything real; and because scholars have been stuck with imaginary characters in imaginary circumstances, we should not be surprised to hear them say, “Well, this is poetry, so we should just stop trying to find any connections to the poet’s life.”

Helen Vendler, author of "The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets"

Helen Vendler, author of "The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets"

Such is the view of Helen Vendler in her introduction to The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, referring to statements by Eve Sedgwick:  “It is perhaps a tribute to Shakespeare’s ‘reality-effect’ that ‘one most wishes the Sonnets were a novel,’ but it does no good to act as if these lyrics were either a novel or a documentary of a lived life.”

Well, Ms. Vendler, it must be very pleasant to stay up there in the ethereal world of rhetorical devices and literature for its own sake (and sure, we can all learn from such study), but these sonnets are personal cries from the depths of a man’s soul, and they spring from very specific human experiences!

But it’s even more than that; the Sonnets of Shakespeare are unique, written for a unique purpose.  The poet himself tells us he is trying to create “the living record” (55) of the younger man and to preserve it in a “monument” (81, 107) for “eyes not yet created” in posterity; and, Ms. Vendler, he is not doing this so the professors of Harvard can tell us otherwise and reduce these painful truths to a series of esoteric literary games!

No!  These sonnets are connected to specific events in the poet’s life in direct reaction to the unfolding of England’s contemporary royal history; and if you get the author wrong, you get the whole thing wrong.  If we start with nothing we can go nowhere.

Here is the first of these three sonnets:

Sonnet 40

Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all,
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more.

Then if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest;
But yet be blamed, if thou thyself deceivest
By willful taste of what thyself refusest.

I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong, than hate’s known injury.

Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes.

My description of this poem in THE MONUMENT is based on viewing the author as 50-year-old Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford writing to his unacknowledged son by Queen Elizabeth, 27-year-old Henry Wriothesley, 3rd earl of Southampton, who has been imprisoned as a traitor in the Tower; and it goes like this:

February 21, 1601: Anticipating Southampton’s execution, Oxford forgives him for having forfeited all hope of gaining the throne by committing treason.  That possibility of succession is gone; now, to gain his royal son’s life and freedom and honor, they must not acknowledge their father-son relationship; but at the same time, nothing can sever their true tie to each other.

Oxford uses “my loves” not in reference to any persons but to his love as a father for his son.  Also he’s referring to the “love” or royal blood that his son has “stolen” from both Elizabeth and him by committing treason.  The phrase itself is a common one:

“Your loves,” Hamlet says to his friends, “as mine to you.”

The Queen herself had “several loves” under different names, such as Venus and Diana and Astraea and so on.  Later in 1601 she will address the Commons and refer to “the largeness of your good loves and loyalties unto your sovereign.”

We’ll address all three sonnets, arguing they reflect not a “love triangle,” but, rather, the “family triangle” of Oxford, Elizabeth and their son, Southampton.  Within this context of England’s history near the end of the Elizabethan reign, as the moment of her death and the succession drew near, the real story comes alive amid specific events on the calendar of recorded history.

Meanwhile here are some of my line notes in THE MONUMENT:

A Beheading on Tower Hill

A Beheading on Tower Hill

1 TAKE ALL MY LOVES, MY LOVE, YEA TAKE THEM ALL!

TAKE = steal, take back, accept; ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One; MY LOVES = all the kinds of love I have for you; all whom I love, i.e., Elizabeth and Southampton himself

TAKE ALL MY LOVES = speaking to Southampton, referring to all his own “loves” toward him as father to royal son; also referring to the royal blood that Southampton has stolen from Elizabeth and himself, in terms of succession to the throne; “We shall not spend a large expense of time, before we reckon with your several loves” – Macbeth, 5.9.27; “You are the most immediate to our throne, and with no less nobility of love than that which dearest father bears his son do I impart to you” – Hamlet, 1.2.109-112; “Your loves, as mine to you” – Hamlet, 1.2.254;

LOVES: Elizabeth was said to have “several loves” under different names, such as Gloriana, Cynthia, Diana, Venus, Astraea, etc.; “All by several names to express several loves: yet all those names make but one celestial body, as all those loves meet to create but one soul” – Dekker, Old Fortunatus, 1599

“As I have good cause, so do I give you all my hearty thanks for the good zeal and loving care you seem to have, as well towards me as to the whole state of your country” — Elizabeth to a Parliament delegation, 1559

“It manifesteth the largeness of your good loves and loyalties unto your sovereign.” — Elizabeth to the Commons, November 30, 1601

“Therefore ‘tis not amiss we tender our loves to him” — Timon of Athens, 5.1.11-12

MY LOVE = my royal son; ALL = Southampton [ his motto “One for All, All for One”]

2 WHAT HAST THOU THEN MORE THAN THOU HADST BEFORE?

Since you already had this royal blood, what more of it do you have than before?

3 NO LOVE, MY LOVE, THAT THOU MAYST TRUE LOVE CALL:

The answer is that Southampton has no more royal blood, or none that he may announce, than he had before; here Oxford uses “love” in both primary ways at once: first as royal blood itself, then as his royal son; NO LOVE = no (more) royal blood; (“And lastly, he protested for his own part, what he had done in the business was merely for the love he bore to the Earl of Southampton” – examination of Charles Danvers, read aloud at the trial; “that what for the old love I have borne you” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, May 1601); “I do truly love you & therefore wish that every man should love you, which love in these troublesome discontented times is sooner won by clemency than severity” – Thomas Arundell, brother-in-law of Southampton, writing to Robert Cecil during this time; a treacherous letter urging Southampton’s execution so that he, Arundell, might receive certain lands – Akrigg, 129; MY LOVE = (addressing him as) my royal son; TRUE = Oxford, Nothing Truer than Truth; TRUE LOVE = true royal blood; i.e., you have no more true royal blood than you had before you stole it from us; (“your true rights” – Sonnet 17, line 11); “Your Truer Lover” = Ben Jonson signing a letter  to Camden

4 ALL MINE WAS THINE, BEFORE THOU HADST THIS MORE:

ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One; ALL MINE WAS THINE = all that I had, which was you, was already yours; MINE = “a son of mine own” – Oxford to Burghley, March 17, 1575; ALL MINE = my son, Southampton, who is “all one”; BEFORE THOU HADST THIS MORE = before you took more of it

5 THEN IF FOR MY LOVE THOU MY LOVE RECEIVEST,

Then if you receive my gift of your royal blood, in these sonnets, for yourself

6 I CANNOT BLAME THEE, FOR MY LOVE THOU USEST:

BLAME = echoing the charge of treason; “To you it doth belong/ Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime;/ I am to wait, though waiting be so hell,/ Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well” – Sonnet 58, lines 11-14, referring to his son’s royal pleasure or will; “That thou art blamed shall not be thy defect,/ For slander’s mark was ever yet the fair;/ The ornament of beauty is suspect” – Sonnet 70, lines 1-3, referring to him as a prince of Elizabeth who is a “suspect traitor”; “O blame me not if I no more can write!” – Sonnet 103, line 5, after he himself has assumed all blame for the crime; FOR MY LOVE THOU USEST = because you are using this blood; “So prosper I, as I swear perfect love … And I, as I love Hastings with my heart” – Richard III, 2.1.16-17

7 BUT YET BE BLAMED, IF THOU THIS SELF DECEIVEST

BUT YET BE BLAMED = but nevertheless, you are to be blamed (especially if you deceive yourself); “The King – the King’s to blame!” – Hamlet, 5.2.328

THIS (THY) SELF = Q has “this” self, usually emended to “thy” self; thy royal self; “Make thee another self for love of me” – Sonnet 10, line 13, i.e., beget an heir of your royal self; “Make war upon themselves, brother to brother, blood to blood, self against self” – Richard III, 2.4.62-63; “Her ashes new create another heir as great in admiration as her self” – Henry VIII, 5.4.41-42, Cranmer predicting Elizabeth will have an heir to her throne; “His royal self in judgment comes to hear” – Henry VIII, 5.2.154

8 BY WILLFUL TASTE OF WHAT THY SELF REFUSEST.

BY WILLFUL TASTE = by tasting your blood willfully, i.e., by the use of your royal will; (“willful” = “sensual” as in “thy sensual fault” of Sonnet 35, line 9); by willfully refusing to take the blame; OF WHAT THYSELF REFUSEST = of that same royal blood you have forfeited by your crime; of the crime itself; i.e., Southampton must accept blame for his treason so that he will be able to accept the bargain for his life, which will mean the extinction of hope for succession to the throne; Oxford is forcing him into this deal to save his life

9 I DO FORGIVE THY ROBBERY, GENTLE THIEF,

I DO FORGIVE THY ROBBERY = I forgive you for committing treason and thereby stealing your royal blood and claim to the succession; by his crime, robbing both England and Oxford;  “to pardon absolutely” – Schmidt; i.e., it is Oxford who is attempting to gain promise of a royal pardon for his son; “Forget, forgive, conclude and be agreed” – Richard II, 1.1.156; “Forgive me, country, and sweet countrymen!” – 1 Henry VI, 3.3.81; GENTLE THIEF = royal thief; (“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” – Sonnet 35, lines 12-14

10 ALTHOUGH THOU STEAL THEE ALL MY POVERTY:

ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One; THOU STEAL THEE ALL MY POVERTY = you are stealing what I lack, which is you and your royal claim to the throne

11 AND YET LOVE KNOWS IT IS A GREATER GRIEF

LOVE KNOWS = royal blood understands; (the common phrase “Lord knows” or “God knows”); GRIEF = (“The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground” – Oxford poem in Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576)

12 TO BEAR LOVE’S WRONG THAN HATE’S KNOWN INJURY.

TO BEAR = bearing the Cross; also, child-bearing, father to son; LOVE’S WRONG = the injury done to royal blood; LOVE/HATE = “For love is worse than hate” – Oxford poem in Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576

Whenever Buckingham doth turn his hate
Upon your Grace, but with all duteous love…    Richard III, 2.1.32-33

Made peace enmity, fair love of hate,
Between these swelling wrong-incensed peers     Richard III, 2.1.51-52

Besides, our nearness to the king in love
Is near the hate of those love not the king         Richard II, 2.2. 126-127

More grief to hide than hate to utter love Hamlet, 2.1.119

INJURY = injustice, wrong, offence, insult, crime; “My lord, you do me shameful injury, falsely (treasonously) to draw me in these vile suspects” – Richard III, 1.3.88-89; “Report thy parentage.  I think thou said’st thou hadst been toss’d from wrong to injury, and that thou thought’st thy griefs might equal mine, if both were open’d” – Prince Pericles to his daughter Marina, Pericles, 5.1.130-133; “The injury of tongues in courts and kingdoms” – The Winter’s Tale, 1.2.338; “Or do your honor injury” – Cymbeline, 2.4.80

“O let me suffer, being at your beck,/ Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty,/ And patience tame to suff’rance bide each check, /Without accusing you of injury” – Sonnet 58, lines 5-8

13 LASCIVIOUS GRACE, IN WHOM ALL ILL WELL SHOWS,

LASCIVIOUS = (“modified in any case by grace, the word is milder than it might appear … in Elizabethan England, it could mean ‘wanton, sportive’” – Kerrigan; LASCIVIOUS GRACE = addressing Your Grace, the king, as one who acted impulsively and irrationally; (“Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?” – Oxford sonnet to Elizabeth, written in the early 1570s); ALL = Southampton; ALL ILL = Oxford address his son as Lascivious Grace, in whom “all ill” or his acts of treason nonetheless appear (in Oxford’s view) to be “well” or royal; “Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds,/ And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds” – Sonnet 34, lines 13-14

14 KILL ME WITH SPITES, YET WE MUST NOT BE FOES.

KILL ME WITH SPITES = confound my purpose with the Queen’s “spite” or malice toward you and me; if Southampton is executed, Oxford will be “killed” as well, since his son is “all the better part of me” (Sonnet 39, line 2); “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” – Sonnet 37, lines 1-4; “The time is out of joint.  O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right” –Hamlet, 1.5.196-197; YET WE MUST NOT BE FOES = yet as father and son we are together and must not be enemies

Published in: Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 3:59 am  Leave a Comment  

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