Nonsense from the Washington Post

I strongly recommend that you leap over to Mark Anderson’s blog under the title of his book Shakespeare by Another Name (the modern biography of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as author of the works attributed to “Shakespeare”) and take a look at Mark’s wonderful response to an article about alleged portraits of the Bard in today’s Washington Post Sunday Magazine.

Mark has enough patience to respond to several points with wisdom and humor.  I don’t have such patience right now.  I mean, he quotes the author of the piece, sports columnist Sally Jenkins, that the authorship debate “is not really a controversy so much as a campaign by conspiracy-minded amateurs to prove that someone more visually appealing wrote the plays.”

I can’t respond.  Not now.  Imagine the British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney, author of “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1920) reading such a statement!  I mean, just listen to how he opens the Introduction to his ground-breaking work:

“As a much graver responsibility attaches to the publication of the following pages than is usual in the case of treatises on literary subjects, it is impossible to deal with the matter as impersonally as one might wish.  The transference of the honour of writing the immortal Shakespeare dramas from one man to another, if definitely effected, becomes not merely a national [British] or contemporary event, but a world event of permanent importance, destined to leave a mark as enduring as human literature and the human race itself.  No one, therefore, who has a due sense of these things is likely to embark upon an enterprise of this kind in a spirit of levity or adventure; nor will he feel entitled to urge convictions tending to bring about so momentous a change as if he were merely proposing some interesting thesis.  However much the writer of a work like the present might wish to keep himself in the background he is bound to implicate himself so deeply as to stake publicly his reputation for sane and sober judgment, and thus to imperil the credit of his opinion on every other subject.  It would therefore have been more discreet or diplomatic to have put forward the present argument tentatively at first, as a possible or probable rather than an actual solution of the Shakespeare problem.  The temptation to do this was strong, but the weight of the evidence collected has proved much too great and conclusive to permit of this being done with even a fair measure of justice either to the case or to my own honest convictions.  Only one course was open to me.  The greater responsibility had to be incurred…”

Later in the same Introduction he writes:

“At the beginning it was mainly the fascination of an interesting enquiry that held me, and the matter was pursued in the spirit of simple research.  As the case has developed, however, it has tended increasingly to assume the form of a serious purpose, aiming at a long overdue act of justice and reparation to an unappreciated genius who, we believe, ought now to be put in possession of his rightful honours; and to whose memory should be accorded a gratitude proportionate to the benefits he has conferred upon mankind in general, and the lustre he has shed upon England in particular.”

I doubt if Ms. Quinn could have read these words before going ahead to write that the authorship debate is “a campaign by conspiracy-minded amateurs to prove that someone more visually appealing wrote the plays.”

The irony, folks — oh, the irony! — is that only someone devoted to the truth of Shakespeare and his writings will become seriously involved in the effort to know the real life portrait, the real human face, of this towering figure.

Look at Mark Anderson’s blog of today and maybe, as I did, you’ll read it and laugh and weep all at once.

Critiquing the Critique – 8

The Kositsky-Stritmatter critique of the Monument theory of the Sonnets continues by acknowledging that “at least at the beginning of the final segment [107-126], Whittemore is fortunate enough to enjoy the authority of the many other scholars who date Sonnet 107 to spring 1603 and regard the phrase “the mortal moon hath her eclipse endured” to be an indication of Elizabeth I’s death on March 24. It is entirely plausible, therefore, that the line, “Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” refers to Southampton’s imprisonment.”

Hooray.  I’m gratified that Lynne and Roger agree that I “enjoy the authority” of other scholars on the matter of Sonnet 107 — although, to tell the truth, I’ve never sought any such enjoyment.  I’m grateful that scholars since the mid-nineteenth century have dated 107 to spring 1603 and acknowledge my debt to them.

“But one sonnet does not a monument make, and the possible context of 107 presents another problem. If, as Whittemore contends, it is written to celebrate Southampton, it precedes a sonnet that seems likely to refer to his imprisonment or execution. In Sonnet 112 the poet speaks of the youth as one who is

‘so strongly in my purpose bred/
That all the world besides me thinks y’are dead.'”

(Sonnet 112.13-14)’

The above couplet expresses the terrible fact that Southampton’s claim to the throne will never exist in the eyes of the world (contemporary England, at least) except in Oxford’s own view.  Such is the consequence of the deal with Secretary Robert Cecil and King James that saved Southampton’s life and now has gained his freedom.

I might add that when Oxford wants to express something literally, such as his fear that Southampton may literally die, he seldom does so directly by using a word such as “die” or “dead.”  Earlier, for example, fearing that Southampton will soon have his head cut off, he expresses it this way in Sonnet 63:

For such a time do I now fortify,
Against confounding Age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.

Sonnet 63, lines 9-12

By contrast, the couplet of Sonnet 112 would be far too direct or literal if used in relation to Southampton’s possible death.  Using the word “dead” would have been far beneath Oxford’s standards of poetical expression within the Sonnets of Shakespeare, which are intended for “eyes not yet created” (81) in posterity.

“To us,” K-S continue, “the ‘Essex rebellion’ reading of this couplet [of Sonnet 112] is plausible – although other interpretations also are.”

Well, I’m glad they think it’s plausible; and if so, why doesn’t this encourage them to open the doors of their minds some more?

“However, identifying the line as being about Southampton’s imprisonment under sentence of death has an unfortunate consequence for Whittemore’s ‘monument’ thesis.  If both 107 and 112 are about the Essex Rebellion, and if 107 truly marks Southampton’s release from the Tower, then it follows that the sonnets are not arranged in chronological order, a finding which undermines, if it does not destroy, Whittemore’s ‘monument.'”

This kind of circular argument is one reason I’ve not bothered to reply to their critique until now  — now that it’s possible to “blog” about it, piece by piece.  “Undermines, if it does not destroy” — oh, baloney.

“In fact, with the possible exception of 107, 112, and 124, a close reading of Sonnets 27-126 reveals no evident connection to the events of the rebellion and Southampton’s imprisonment…”

Such connections abound within the context of the contemporary history; and if we read the lines within that context, the same sonnets become powerful reactions to the imprisonment, trial, death sentence, the execution of Essex, the iminent death of Southampton, his reprieve from execution and so on.  Just for example:

Oxford, who sat on the tribunal at the trial and had to condemn Southampton to death, writes to him in Sonnet 35:  “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate [legal counsel].”

He writes in Sonnet 52 of “imprisoned pride” and in Sonnet 58 of the “imprisoned absence of your liberty,” adding to Southampton that “to you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.”

There are dozens of such allusions, but most do not reveal any “evident connection” to Southampton’s crime and imprisonment.  And while Oxford never uses the name “Essex” or the word “rebellion,“ in Sonnet 92 he does speak of  “thy revolt” and the list of legal terms along with words related to crime and prison is staggering.

Many of these sonnets are timeless and universal; but like Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, they need to be read or heard within the correct context.  Standing alone, without the context of ‘Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,’ that famous speech has no evident connection to any events of the play.  Without having the play in which it appears, we could never read that soliloquy and know who was speaking, much less what Hamlet’s circumstances were. The answer to the biographical and historical meaning of that soliloquy, and of the Sonnets, is context-context-context!

To be continued…

Contesting Shapiro — !

Just a reminder that James Shapiro’s book about the Shakespeare authorship debate — Contesting Will — is scheduled to be published by the spring of next year and that we’re looking forward to it.  In fact, we’re going to make Jim’s book a bestseller, if we can!  We’re going to make 2010 The Year of the Shakespeare Authorship Crisis – Resolved! — and we’ll show how each and every argument for the traditional Will is based on sheer irrational belief — a kind of religious belief, you might say!   And we’ll show how Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford takes his place at last. 

I know, we Oxfordians are called snobs, conspiracy nuts; we can’t seem to realize that “we have the plays, so what does it matter” and so on … yes, yes, we know, and we’re waiting to reply point by point and win the day!  Next year will be the time when the Tipping Point for the Shakespeare Authorship Debate is reached.  I predict victory for us at last.  Stay tuned here for updates, folks, as we gear up for the great battle to come!

Critiquing the Critique – 7

The sequence of 154 consecutively numbered sonnets is arranged according to an amazingly elegant design; and in responding to the Kositsky-Stritmatter critique of the Monument theory of the Sonnets, I must pause to emphasize some crucial points in that regard.  Perhaps the most important one is that Edward de Vere had no plans to create any such sequence or structure until some time after Southampton, his son by the Queen, was arrested on the night of February 8, 1601 and confined in the Tower to await trial for high treason. 

Certainly prior to that date Oxford had written all those sonnets to be included later and numbered 1 to 26; certainly by then he had written the two sonnets to be numbered 138 and 144 within the Dark Lady series to Elizabeth, these having appeared (in slightly different form) in The Passionate Pilgrim of 1599; and finally, without question, he had written the pair of Bath sonnets (to be numbered 153-154) at a much earlier time — in fact, the Bath “epliogue” to the Sonnets is actually the prologue, related to the royal visit to the City of Bath, with Oxford accompanying the Queen and Court, in August 1574, the year their royal son was born.

But otherwise the impulse to construct a “monument” came only after Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower facing virtually certain execution.  At that point Oxford began to write the equivalent of one sonnet per day until Southampton was either beheaded or spared.  Oxford himself was summoned to be senior judge on the tribunal of twenty-five peers at the trial of Feb 19, 1601, when Essex and Southampton were found guilty and sentenced to death (this outcome was a foregone conclusion, demanded by the all-powerful Secretary Robert Cecil).  Essex was executed six days later, on Feb 25; five conspirators were put on trial on March 5, all being found guilty and sentenced to die; two were hanged, drawn and quartered on March 13; and two others were beheaded on March 18.  (The fifth, a government informant, was quietly set free.)

At least a week more went by until London citizens realized that Southampton had been spared; after March 25 they stopped appearing at Tower Hill to watch his execution; but because Oxford had made a bargain with Cecil, his former brother-in-law, he knew that outcome beforehand.  And this enabled him to arrange exactly forty sonnets (27 to 66) corresponding with the forty days from Feb 8 to May 19, 1601, the very day following the last of the executions

Oxford’s response is Sonnet 66, a virtual suicide note, listing the reasons he would prefer to die if not for the fact that he would be leaving his son “alone” in the Tower — leaving him to be quietly murdered. 

Whether he learned of Southampton’s reprieve on exactly the fortieth day doesn’t matter; the point is that he consciously arranged these forty sonnets to reflect forty days, deliberately mirroring the forty days that Christ spent in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. *

Now, regardless of whatever might happen in the future, Oxford knew he could write forty more sonnets to balance the first sequence of forty.  This eighty-sonnet sequence was to be the original monument; and Sonnets 66-67 would be at the center of it.

Sonnet 66 concludes with Southampton, his life having been spared, now facing life in prison:

Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that to die, I leave my love alone.

Sonnet 67 opens with Oxford crying out to ask why his son should live with criminals:

Ah, wherefore with infection should he live
And with his presence grace impiety…

And, several lines later, asking why he should live at all (in such a state):

Why should he live?

The second forty sonnets (67-106) cover the remainder of Southampton’s imprisonment.  Having completed and arranged the first set of forty sonnets corresponding to those initial forty days in real time, he could afford to arrange the next forty in any way he chose. 

It turned out that Southampton spent two years and two months in prison, from Feb 8, 1601 thru April 9, 1603, which Oxford covers with exactly eighty sonnet in a forty-forty structure. 

Yes, the heart of the Sonnets, and the reason for the existence of the monument, is this stretch of eighty consecutive sonnets (27-106).  Yes, more than half the one hundred and fifty-four verses of the entire sequence are written to and about a man in prison!

Oxford expanded this initial sequence with twenty more verses — and he would have used no more nor less than twenty, regardless of real time. 

In any case he used the twenty sonnets to cover Southampton’s release from the Tower on April 10, 1603 (marked by Sonnet 107) thru Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28 (marked by Sonnet 125) plus the envoy of Sonnet 126; and at that point he finally had the hundred-sonnet sequence, with 76-77 now in the center.  


1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”

Sonnet 76: 

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?

To be continued…

Published in: Uncategorized on August 23, 2009 at 5:45 pm  Comments (5)  

Critiquing the Critique – 6

“I will find where truth is hid,” Polonius vows, “though it be hid indeed within the centre.”
Given that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford’s motto was Nothing Truer than Truth, and that he actually referred to himself as Truth, the King’s chief minister was also vowing that Oxford himself and his own truth could be found within the center — in this case, within the center of his “monument” of sonnets built to preserve “the living record” of Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton, his unacknowledged royal son by the Queen.

Sonnets 76-77 are at the exact center of the hundred-sonnet center 27-126, creating the fifty-fifty arrangement that Kositsky and Stritmatter declared to be missing. 

Oxford in Sonnet 76 describes his “invention” or special language that restricts his topic to “all one, ever the same” while “dressing old words new” (exchanging one word for another to mean the same thing, the way Elizabeth is not only Beauty but also Heaven, Fortune, Nature, Moon, etc.) to create the illusion of variety while unfolding the story.  (All One, Ever the Same) is a combination of Southampton’s motto One for All, All for One and Queen Elizabeth’s famous motto Ever the Same, with Ever echoing Edward Vere or E. Ver):

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.      
Sonnet 76, lines 5-12

In Sonnet 77 he dedicates “this book” to Southampton as “thy book”:

And of this book this learning mayst thou taste…

These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
Shall profit thee, and much enrich thy book

Sonnet 77, lines 4, 13-14

These two verses create an “entranceway” into the Monument; and to repeat, their positioning divides the hundred-sonnet central sequence exactly the way kositsky-Stritmatter describe their wish:

27——————–76 77——————–126
    (50 sonnets)                     (50 sonnets)

Moreover the hundred-sonnet central sequence is divided into exactly ten segments of ten sonnets each, equivalent to distinctly separate chapters of a novel or nonfiction book of ten chapters of equal size…

To be continued…

Published in: Uncategorized on August 22, 2009 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Critiquing the Critique – 5

Lynne Kositsky and Roger Stritmatter continue by describing the structure of the Sonnets according to the Monument  theory this way:

“Using Sonnet 107 as the marker, Whittemore divides the hundred-sonnet sequence (27-126) into two segments:  The first segment of eighty sonnets (27-107) is said to correspond to the three years spanning Southampton’s February 8, 1601 arrest to his April 10, 1603, release; the second segment (107-125) covers the period from Southampton’s release to Elizabeth’s April 28 funeral, with Sonnet 126 added on as an ‘Envoy’ to Southampton.”  

This description needs a little fixing:

The first segment of eighty sonnets (27-106) corresponds to the twenty-six months of Southampton’s imprisonment from Feb. 8, 1601 to April 9, 1603, his final night in the Tower. 

The second segment of twenty sonnets covers the nineteen days (107-125) from Southampton’s release on April 10, 1603 to Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28 plus the ‘envoy’ (126) to Southampton. 

These two segments of the hundred-sonnet central sequence consist respectively of eighty and twenty verses, with 107 as the high point of the narrative. 

“But this division conceals, and partly competes with, Whittemore’s further qualification about the Sonnet structure: Sonnets 27-86 (60 sonnets), according to Whittemore, are written at the rate of one per day and are said to cover the period beginning with Southampton’s imprisonment.  [Sonnets] 87-106 (20 sonnets) apparently cover the next two years of confinement; while 107-126 (the final twenty sonnets) match the twenty days between Southampton’s release and the Queen’s funeral if one includes the ‘Envoy.'”

The first sixty sonnets (27-86) are ARRANGED TO CORRESPOND WITH sixty days.  There’s no need to imagine Edward de Vere writing exactly one verse per day; that would be absurd.  Instead he would have written two or three or more sonnets at a single sitting, then gone back and arranged them in numerical and chronological order. 

Meanwhile, there’s no way in which the eighty-twenty division “conceals” or “competes with” any other aspect of the structure.  The design is much more intricate than I have indicated.  The first thing Oxford does, for example, is write and arrange FORTY SONNETS MATCHING FORTY DAYS from the failed Essex rebellion of Feb. 8 to May 19, 1601, the day immediately following the final executions of convicted conspirators.  AT THAT POINT he includes his response to the sparing of Southampton’s life.  We might well expect an expression of relief; instead we find the amazing Sonnet 66, a virtual suicide note in reaction to the fact that from here on (according to the bargain with Secretary Robert Cecil) his royal son has relinquished any claim to the throne. 

So Oxford lists the reasons he wants to die:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry…
[Here he includes the reasons]
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that to die, I leave my love alone.
Sonnet 66

He won’t kill himself and leave his son “alone” in the Tower; and I can’t help adding that “alone” is an abbreviated form of Southampton’s motto “One for All, All for One”.   And yes, Oxford consciously and deliberately inserted the word “alone” right here, at the end of this sonnet.

At that point, with forty sonnets (27-66) in hand, and his son in prison for “life” or an unpredictable period of time, Oxford will first write forty more (67-106) with 66-67 at the exact center.  So an initial structure, dictated or suggested by real events in real time, is EIGHTY sonnets — and he has yet to build anything like the final structure of the Sonnets; that task will come much later.

So now the Kositsky-Stritmatter critique continues with remarks which, however sincere, are unfortunately based on wrong assumptions about the Monument theory:

“It is unfortunate that the rules governing the sequence change. Why, for instance, may one poem in the second segment cover many days or even months, while each poem in the first and third segments describes only one day?”

The short answer is that such variation is precisely how a narrative operates.  For example, a novelist might spend just a few pages covering years or decades, but then spend a hundred pages to cover just a day or two.  The form of the work is dictated by the shape of its content, to paraphrase the artist Ben Shahn. 

“The inconsistency is troubling and Whittemore provides no coherent justification for it. He even seems unaware thata justification is required.   If Shakespeare set out to write a hundred sonnet ‘center’ to his ‘monument,’ surely the rules would remain the same throughout? Anything else appears arbitrary.”

Well, there are no “rules” as such.  And the only “arbitrary” factor is life itself, which the diary or chronicle serves to reflect.  No one suggests that the poet set out originally to create a hundred-sonnet central sequence.  

The original writing would have had no “rules” in terms of the number of sonnets produced in reaction to ongoing events.  The poet could only build the final structure of the monument at some later point, after most of the events had occurred.  Much of the incredible intensity of the Sonnets comes precisely from the fact that Oxford could never predict the future.

What becomes clear is that Oxford had set out to record his reactions to events as they unfolded and led to the Queen’s death and England’s date with succession, when the fate of Elizabeth’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose would be determined.  Oxford had no way of knowing WHEN the Queen would die; all he knew was that the moment would have to arrive.  As Hamlet puts it, “The readiness is all.”

“And if each poem in the final segment describes one day, how would the poet know in advance that these daily poems would number twenty, thus bringing him to the convenient hundred he needs to construct the monument?”

I suspect that Roger and Lynne know better than to ask such a question, the answer to which is elementary.  Of course the Earl of Oxford could not be certain of anything in advance.  As it happened, there were nineteen days from Southampton’s release on April 10, 1603 to Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28, 1603.  Oxford included one sonnet per day, or nineteen verses, and with an envoy they added up to twenty sonnets.  But there was plenty of room, afterward, to juggle some of the previous sonnets to create the 100-sonnet central sequence.

To construct his elegant monument, Oxford had to work with SOME FIXED DATES  for sonnets that determined his arrangement of OTHER sonnets.  For example, the Rebellion of February 1601 dictated that Southampton [born in 1574 rather than 1573] was twenty-six years old at the time; and therefore, the opening sequence of the final form of the Sonnets, using one verse for each year of his life, necessarily consists of twenty-six sonnets, i.e., Sonnets 1-26.  Then, to balance this segment equally on the other side, Oxford had to create the Dark Lady series (127-152) with exactly twenty-six sonnets.  Within the much looser timing of the verses within that series, he had room to manipulate the numbers.     

“These ‘sub-groupings’ also disturb the symmetry of the hundred sonnet center, which we might expect to consist of fifty and fifty sonnets rather than sixty, twenty, and twenty.”

Ah, but from another perspective Oxford did precisely what Roger and Lynne suggest, that is, he created the structure of the 100-sonnet central sequence to consist of EXACTLY fifty and fifty sonnets, at the very midpoint of which are the all important “instructional” verses Sonnets 76-77.

To be continued…

Published in: Uncategorized on August 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Critiquing the Critique – 4

The Oxfordian team of Kosistky-Stritmatter, challenging the “Monument” theory of the Sonnets, continues to comment on Sonnet 27:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travail tired,
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired.
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eye-lids open wide,
Looking on darkness, which the blind do see.
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for my self, no quiet find.

The critique continues:

“The significant point here is that it is the poet who is or has been away. The addressee has neither been removed nor arrested.”

Such has been the traditional assumption.  From these lines alone it’s not really possible to tell which person is “away” from the other; but once we view the eighty sonnets from 27 to 106 as written to Southampton while he’s in the Tower, we see phrases such as:

“Absence of your liberty … where thou art [twice] … where thou dost stay … where you may be … where you are … the imprisoned absence of your liberty … where you list … thou dost wake elsewhere … all away … thou away … you away.”

Sounds to me like the younger man is away!  Also sounds like his liberty has been removed and he’s imprisoned!

“And although it may be true that the image of the jewel ‘hung in ghastly night’ (27.11) is, in the most general sense, consistent with the charged emotional atmosphere of the events Whittemore describes, mere consistency is hardly enough to confirm his interpretation, unless other, more compelling, corroborative evidence can be cited.”

In that regard I have produced THE MONUMENT, an edition of the Sonnets demonstrating such compelling, corroborative evidence throughout the sequence.

“Establishing a break at Sonnet 27 produces the illusion of structural coherence, but the division, alas, is arbitrary.  Sonnet 26 begins to develop the theme of the poet’s absence, referring to the ‘written ambassage’ that the poet has sent to the fair youth.  In fact, Vendler calls 26 ‘the first epistolary sonnet’ (148), suggesting that the poet may already be traveling.”

In the Stratfordian tradition the poet is a busy actor who travels with a company of players, so his reference to “whatsoever star that guides my moving” may seem to suggest such traveling.  But once Oxford is viewed as the poet, the “star” is first of all the one adopted by the Veres as a badge in their coat of arms.   And within the Monument theory the “star” is also Southampton’s royal eye, as in Sonnet 49:  “And scarcely greet me with that sunne thine eye” or in Sonnet 14:  “But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,/ And, constant stars, in them I read such art…”

In any case Sonnet 26 is clearly an “envoy” to the opening sequence (1-26) in the same way that Sonnet 126 is the “envoy” ending the entire Fair Youth series.

Sonnets 26 and 126 are prominent “markers” along the string of sonnets, creating the structure of one hundred verses (27-126) in between two smaller sequences of twenty-six sonnets apiece (1-26 and 127-152), followed by the two Bath sonnets as epilogue.  I marvel that this elegant structure wasn’t seen generations before now.

“In Sonnet 27, it is the poet’s thoughts that ‘intend a zealous pilgrimage’ to the addressee. The thematic continuity [linking Sonnets 26 and 27] is obvious, calling into question the basis for identifying Sonnet 27 as a break of any kind, let alone one marking an event as dramatic as the imprisonment of the Earl of Southampton.”

The “thematic continuity” from Sonnet 26 to Sonnet 27 is only “obvious” if one chooses to think it so.  Otherwise it’s imaginary.

When we look at the two sonnets, what’s obvious is the dramatic change of mood from 26 to 27.  The former is a “written ambassage” or secret message intended only for a monarch; an ambassador of the Court memorizes the message and delivers it to a king or queen in person, orally.  Oxford, writing to Southampton as a subject speaking “in vassalage” to his prince, can only use words on the page, so his “ambassage” must be a “written” one.

I suggest that Sonnet 27 represents an abrupt change of mood and the most fitting response to Southampton’s tragic situation that we might imagine, that is, Oxford now plunges into the darkness of Southampton’s crime and disgrace and virtually certain death.

Published in: Uncategorized on August 15, 2009 at 4:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Critiquing the Critique – 3

The Kositsky-Stritmatter critique of the Monument theory of the Sonnets continues, stating that the monument’s numerical design “depends on the one structural innovation of moving the first break from sonnet 17 to sonnet 26.”

My reply is that there has never been such a perceived “break” after Sonnets 1-17 in the first place, at least not in terms of structure; instead those seventeen verses are viewed simply as all of a piece, all dealing with the single subject of marriage and procreation.

The real innovation of the Monument theory is the break between sonnets 26 and 27, which creates a one-hundred-sonnet central sequence flanked by two smaller sequences of twenty-six sonnets apiece.  The critique continues:

The Tower of London - Where Southampton is "like a jewel hung in ghastly night" facing execution for high treason

The Tower of London - Where Southampton is "like a jewel hung in ghastly night" facing execution for high treason

“Whittemore’s justification for the innovation is that the sonnets can be mapped onto a chronological framework which accords with the events of the Essex Rebellion and the imprisonment and liberation of the Earl of Southampton. Within this schema, Sonnet 27 represents the February 8, 1601 imprisonment of Southampton.”


The continued reference to “the innovation” is again misleading.  In any case, number 27 begins the one-hundred-sonnet central sequence and, yes, it is Oxford’s response to the imprisonment of Southampton, his royal son by Queen Elizabeth.

“Unfortunately, this superficially attractive schema suffers from a number of obvious defects. First, Whittemore is forced to entirely disregard the discrete nature of the marriage sonnets (1-17) as a group.”

Not so.  The structure presented by the Monument theory includes 1-17 as the so-called marriage sonnets, urging Southampton to bow to the pressure upon him to marry Lord Burghley’s granddaugher Elizabeth Vere (who may or may not have been Oxford’s biological daughter).

The Monument theory agrees with scholars who suggest that the seventeen sonnets reflect Southampton’s age of seventeen in 1591, i.e., there is one for each year of his life up to then.  The theory also poses that the next nine sonnets up to number 26 are arranged to reflect the next nine years of Southampton’s life up to age twenty-six in 1600.

“Second and more important, although Whittemore’s prose is engaging and the story dramatic, the evidence in 27 that allegedly connects it to Whittemore’s historical narrative simply evaporates on close inspection. This is in no discernible way a sonnet about an arrest or imprisonment, but a lyrical meditation by the poet, who has been traveling and in his evening rest imagines the continuation of his physical journey to the addressee.”

The authors refer to “the poet” as if they do not agree that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford is writing these sonnets to Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton.  Referring to Oxford as “the poet” apparently serves their purpose here by moving us away from any specific reality.

How do they know that this abstract poet has been traveling?  Oxford refers to his limbs that are “weary with TOIL” and “with TRAVAIL tired,” but “travail” can mean “work” as easily as “travel.”

For the sake of argument, however, let’s say Oxford was in fact traveling.  Where?  When?  Why?  What’s the reality?  There is no answer except the statement that Sonnet 27 — in which Oxford envisions Southampton as “a jewel hung in ghastly night” — is in no discernible way about the younger man’s arrest and imprisonment in the Tower.

If the subject matter revolves around his traveling, why does he express such profound grief?  Why is he “looking on darkness, which the blind do see”?  Why is it “ghastly” night?

Katherine Duncan-Jones writes that Sonnet 27 “is the first of a series of five sonnets in which the poet meditates on his friend.”  I suggest a quiet reading of these five sonnets, up to number 31, within the context that Oxford is writing to his royal son who now faces virtually certain execution.  Now the outpouring of emotional darkness begins to make sense:  “disgrace … outcast state … precious friends hid in death’s dateless night … losses … sorrows … Thou art the grave where buried love doth live…”

In my view, Oxford probably had been at Whitehall Palace on the day of the Essex rebellion, trying to help his son, and returned on horseback that night to his Hackney home several miles away.  Then, in the darkness of his room, trying to settle down and sleep, he envisioned Southampton as a prisoner in the Tower “like a jewel hung in ghastly night.”

I must stop here and continue again soon…

Published in: Uncategorized on August 12, 2009 at 4:15 am  Comments (2)  

Critiquing the Critique – 2

“A Critique of the ‘Monument theory'” by Lynne Kositsky and Roger Stritmatter (2004) continues with my comments inserted:

“No critique of the Whittemore-Boyle “solution” to the sonnets would be complete without some reference to the highly selective use of reference materials used to construct the theory. Although many relevant influences are noted regarding subjects such as the date of Sonnet 107, neither Whittemore nor Boyle acknowledges the debt that both writers owe to previous scholars who have analyzed the structure of the sonnets.”

My answer:

This critique was written several months before my book THE MONUMENT was published in April 2005.  The writers were reacting to an article of mine in the previous newsletter, which was hardly the place to provide the history of scholarship on structural elements of the Sonnets; but my book does acknowledge a debt to scholars for comments on these four segments.  Cited in this regard are G.P.V. Akrigg, Sir George Greenwood, Helen Vendler, G. Wilson Knight, Leslie Hotson, Charles Barrell, Andrew Werth, George Wyndham, J.M. Robertson, A.L. Rowse, Robert Giroux — to name just some of them.

The critique continues:

“Traditionally, scholars identify four significant parts: 1-17 (fair youth/marriage sonnets), 18-126 (fair youth sonnets), 127-152 (dark lady sonnets), 153-154 (mythological coda). From this it can be seen that two of the four segments which serve to define Whittemore’s monument are traditional (127-152 and 153-154) in the sense of being acknowledged by many Sonnet scholars.”

My answer:

If the writers had had the book in hand, perhaps they would not have bothered with this particular criticism.  I would never attempt to take credit for identifying those four segments, especially since they’re part of the foundation upon which the Monument theory builds.


“Contrary to [Bill] Boyle’s claim that ‘all commentators have struggled with’ but ‘none have solved’ the question of whether the 1609 Q is in an authorial order, many commentators, including Stephen Booth, have argued that until a better order can be discovered, the best premise is that the order is in fact authorial.  We see nothing in Whittemore’s analysis which materially contributes to this question.  Asserting that the Sonnets are in a chronological order does not constitute evidence to resolve this question.”


Of course many scholars have suggested that the sonnets are in authorial order and that 1-126 are also in chronological order.  Those were two of my hypotheses.  After putting together a number of such tentative assumptions, however, I arrived at a completely new “macro view” of the 154-sonnet sequence.  Out of this came the Monument theory to explain the language and structure of the Sonnets along with the “story” recorded by the poet.

Because these results have continued to yield new evidence and insight in their support, it can be asserted with more confidence than ever that the hypotheses (including those of authorial and chronological order) have been confirmed.

Boyle correctly claimed that no previous scholar had “solved” the question of chronological order.  Meanwhile the Monument theory goes much farther than heretofore by uncovering a barely concealed chronicle that matches real events in England as they occurred in real time on the calendar.  There has never been any such complete “solution to” the Sonnets and I doubt there will be another one — certainly not one with an equivalent relationship to the known events and dates of biography and history.


“The Whittemore ‘monument’ depends on the one structural innovation of moving the first break from sonnet 17 to sonnet 26. By making this change, Whittemore produces the one hundred sonnet sequence (27-126) which forms the ‘center and centerpiece’ of the monument. It is customary when introducing an innovation into scholarly discourse to provide a thorough justification for the change in emphasis as well as to explain what elements of the case are based on the authority of other scholars.”


Sonnets 1-17 have been viewed for more than a century as the separate “marriage-and-procreation” segment opening the entire sequence.  But I did not “move” any “break” after Sonnet 17; instead, the novel idea for me was that a complete break occurs between Sonnet 26 and Sonnet 27.

This came as a total surprise to me.  At the time, before the theory itself began to come into view, I was “moving back down the ladder” from Sonnet 107, following what I called the “dark” words (black, night, shadow, etc.) until I came to Sonnet 27.  The next verse below that is Sonnet 26, which has no such darkness in it.

(I knew that Katherine Duncan-Jones and others have called Sonnet 26 a “dedicatory epistle”; therefore, I was both surprised and pleased to find its presence in this position.)

So that was how the “break” between 26 and 27 first appeared to me. Only then did I look again at the literature of the Sonnets to see how scholars have treated this aspect of the numerical structure.  In my book I cite various critics (such as Gerald Massey, who noted the 26-27 break in 1866) and their insights, which lend support to the Monument theory; and I suppose these citations comprise  “elements of the case” that are “based on the authority of other scholars.”

(To cite another example, Rowse asserts that Sonnet 26 is an “envoi” that brings the opening twenty-six verses [1-26] to their conclusion.)

I might add that the “authority” of traditional or orthodox scholars, who view the Stratford man as the poet-dramatist, can only go so far…

Published in: Uncategorized on August 9, 2009 at 5:36 pm  Comments (3)  

Critiquing the Critique – 1

This is just an introduction to my point-by-point answer to “A Critique of the ‘Monument theory'” by Lynne Kositsky and Roger Stritmatter, PhD. in the Fall 2004 issue of Shakespeare Matters, the newsletter of the Shakespeare Fellowship, then edited by William Boyle.   At the time my 900-page edition of the Sonnets entitled THE MONUMENT has not been released and was set to appear in April 2005.

Let me start with the very first paragraph, which sets the theme and tone of the piece:

“Hank Whittemore’s summer 2004 Shakespeare Matters article, ‘Authorize Thy Trespass With C0mpare,’ promises to supply a simple, comprehensive solution to the enigma of the sonnets:  ‘Reading the sonnets becomes as clear and uncomplicated as reading a signed, dated letter to a known addressee about the events of the day,’ writes editor Bill Boyle in his accompanying essay.  Whittemore’s solution, believes Boyle, ‘is absolutely correct’ and makes ‘crystal clear what was once mysterious and opaque.’  Like many Shakespearean students, we would love to receive the definitive enlightenment promised by these bold words.  Regrettably, however, the Whittemore solution to the sonnets fails to live up to Boyle’s advance publicity.”

Well, there you have it, the opening shot across my bow.  It’s a very good example of a sophisticated and funny put-down.   They are merely “students” in this Shakespearean world and they would “love to receive the definitive wisdom promised by these bold words.”  Well, I am not so sure.  I don’t know how much they would really love the definitive wisdom, but let us believe them for now, since I do plan to give them a fresh helping of it.

(Lynne has inserted a comment after the previous post, on Sonnet 42, and I intend to respond to that one and others.   I don’t have the comment in front of me right now, but one point she makes is that a reader cannot take up a given sonnet, number 42 in particular, and assert that it refers to this or that person or place or situation when, in fact, no such identifications exist.

(Strictly speaking I agree.  For example, many or most scholars agree that Sonnet 107 refers to the great events in the spring of 1603; that the younger man who had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” is the Earl of Southampton; that “the mortal Moon” is Queen Elizabeth, known as Diana, goddess of the Moon, who has recently died; that the phrase “crown themselves assured” refers to the crowning of Jame I; and that “peace proclaims Olives of endless age” refers to the peaceful succession, a transfer of power without civil war, and perhaps to the King’s plans to make peace with Spain.

(And none of the individual names — Southampton, Elizabeth, James, much less the author who claims victory over his own death — are specified.  So without getting into this comment any more right now, I’d just cite the widespread view of Sonnet 107 as an example of what I believe can be applied to every single other sonnet.)

Cheers from Hank

Published in: Uncategorized on August 6, 2009 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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