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)  

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  1. Wasn’t Cecil Oxford’s former father-in-law, not brother-in-law?

    • William Cecil Lord Burghley (1520-1598) was Oxford’s father-in-law.

      After the death of Cecil’s daughter Anne Cecil (wife of Oxford) in June 1588, Burghley became Oxford’s former father-in-law.

      Burghley’s son Robert Cecil (1563-1612) became Oxford’s former brother-in-law.

  2. You did say Robert Cecil above. I missed that. Sorry – I was reading too fast and thinking too slow.

    • No problem. It’s tough for any of us to keep track of all the various names and titles and so on. In this case, speaking of William Cecil Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil, principal secretary from 1596 to the end of Elizabeth’s reign, we are dealing with the heart of the government. And we use the names so often that I think it’s easy to forget that England was in a life-and-death struggle for survival, with the nation heading for what looked like certain civil war upon the Virgin Queen’s death. And isn’t this what the author of both Richard II and Hamlet was expressing… that he himself was at the center, by virtue of rank, family relations, longtime closeness to the monarch, etc. These matters have little importance in the context of the traditional Shakespeare legend. The choice between one and the other is huge… well, I ramble! Cheers from Hank

      • The extent of my education was, basically: “Will was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and became an actor and playwright – now memorize four speeches from Julius Caesar and be ready to recite them Tuesday.”

        I had no idea what was going on in England in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Now I can’t seem to read anything without bumping into Edward de Vere, his relatives or his friends.

        Thanks to all Oxfordians for waking up my brain!

        Best from Lu

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