“The Living Record” – Chapter 36 – “What Woman’s Son…”

Within the context of a perceived love triangle, the poet in Sonnet 41 appears to be accusing the younger man (Henry, Earl of Southampton) of having stolen the poet’s mistress, who seduced him.

Within the context suggested here, however, Sonnet 41 is written by a father to his royal son [the Earl of Oxford, 50, to the Earl of Southampton, 26] and corresponds to the younger earl’s imprisonment during February 1601, after being convicted of high treason for the abortive Essex Rebellion and condemned to death.

Southampton’s supporters are urging him to take new action against Secretary Robert Cecil, who has assumed virtually total power over the government, with control over the looming succession that will occur upon the Queen’s death.

Oxford warns his son that “temptation follows where thou art” (in the Tower) because others want him to try another “riot” or rebellion. The woman involved is Queen Elizabeth, mother of Southampton, who is the “woman’s son” to whom Oxford refers below.

Southampton has inherited his mother’s “beauty” or royal blood.  Oxford acknowledges Elizabeth’s “wooing” of their son, that is, she led Southampton to believe he would become king.  And “what woman’s son” [what royal heir] would turn away from such wooing until he has achieved the crown that is rightfully his?

Queen Elizabeth had led Southampton to believe that, since he possessed her “beauty” or Tudor blood, she would name him in succession as King Henry IX.

Southampton’s “beauty” or royal blood led him to commit an act of treason, but the revolt failed, thereby breaking or nullifying the “truth” of his right to the throne — a play on Oxford’s motto Nothing Truer than Truth while he accuses his son [in the ending couplet] of destroying the dynastic hopes of both parents.

Sonnet 41

Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits

When I am sometime absent from thy heart,

Thy beauty and thy years full well befits;

For still temptation follows where thou art.

Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won;

Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed;

And when a woman woos, what woman’s son

Will sourly leave her till he have prevailed?

Aye me, but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,

And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth

Who lead thee in their riot even there

Where thou art forced to break a twofold truth:

Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee,

Thine by thy beauty being false to me.

This sonnet, like all the others, produces a “double image” — on the surface it’s an emotional poem about love and betrayal, but running simultaneously is a tragic personal and political story being recorded for posterity.    To save his son from execution and gain the promise of his eventual release with a royal pardon, Oxford must forfeit his identity as Southampton’s father — and, in turn, he must sacrifice his identity as “Shakespeare,” the pen name to which he linked Southampton [with two public dedications; see below], uniquely and for all time.

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" to Southampton - 1593

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" to Southampton - 1593

Dedication of "Lucrece" to Southampton - 1594

Dedication of "Lucrece" to Southampton - 1594

Published in: Uncategorized on July 16, 2009 at 2:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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