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…

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well, then, Hotson was wrong about the ‘mortal moon’ being the formation of the Spanish Armada, 1588, and in an old discussion with Roger, I was also wrong, with apologies for a bad reading and a quickened liver.

    • Appreciating the comment, Richard, but of course you’ve been right on so much else! And also you’re ahead of us on many other fronts, so we wish you well! John Kerrigan in his edition of The Sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint (Viking 1986) does extensive work on Sonnet 107, the “mortal moon” sonnet, and declares that line 9 “finally clinches the case for 1603” in relation to Elizabeth’s death, the proclamation of James as king and the release of Southampton from prison. “Now with the drops of this most balmy time,” Oxford writes in line 9. Balm, he notes, “was used in the coronation ceremony, and it was a familiar symbol of regal authority.” The “drops” of tears for Elizabeth are in there, too, he says.

      Hotson, of course, was saddled with Will of Stratford as the author. Apparently (and with good reason) he could not envision Will having any kind of relationship with the Earl of Southampton that the Sonnets seem to suggest. And he was right. It’s no wonder that it took more than 200 years, until 1817, for Nathan Drake to finally step forth to claim that the young man of the Sonnets is, in fact, Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton. And once that identification is made, the authorship problem comes forth big time.

      Thanks again, Richard.


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