Critiquing the Critique – 9

Arguing that most of Sonnets 27-126 contain “no evident connection” to the events of the Essex Rebellion of February 8, 1601 and, too, that some of the sonnets “manifestly cannot be about either,” Kositsky and Stritmatter continue:

“For example, Sonnets 71-74 are all meditations on the poet’s imminent death.  In these and other sonnets, the poet repeatedly emphasizes the fair youth’s surviving him, a curious emphasis indeed if the youth is living in the Tower  under a death sentence.”

A little earlier, in Sonnet 66, Oxford recorded his reaction to the decision in March 1601 to spare Southampton’s life, the price being his loss of any hope for the crown.  Now, however, the younger earl faces the prospect of spending his life in the Tower; and Sonnets 71-74 are arranged AFTER this reprieve, when Oxford’s fear that he might outlive his own son is replaced by the reality that he, a generation older, will most likely die first.  He also uses these same sonnets to record the necessary sacrifice his own identity, both as Southampton’s father and as author of the magnificent “Shakespeare” works, which he had dedicated to Southampton:

When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
Sonnet 71, lines 10-11

My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
Sonnet 72, lines 11-12

Right here we have incontrovertible evidence that the poet of the Sonnets is deliberately predicting, and recording, his own obliteration upon his death.

“Furthermore, many sonnets in the hundred-sonnet sequence [27-126] address the youth as an object of consolation to whom the poet turns when distressed by other circumstances:

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
Sonnet 30, lines 13-14

“Why would the poet be consoled by, or find joy in, the idea of his beloved if that beloved is incarcerated?”

Would a suffering father not turn to his own son for consolation?  Regardless of the tragic situation for Southampton, he finds joy in the truth of him as a prince.

“This couplet and many others make no sense of the context as defined by Whittemore and Boyle.”

I say it’s the other way around: the context of THE MONUMENT allows that couplet and all the others to make sense for the first time!

“Both writers create the illusion of such a connection only through the adroit selection of certain words and phrases with no regard for their immediate or larger context as parts of sonnets or sonnet sequences.”

THE MONUMENT demonstrates in every line that the sonnets are written simultaneously on two entirely different levels of meaning, one fictional and universal or timeless, the other nonfictional and specific:

And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name
Sonnet 76, lines 7-8

The first level is that of the “noted weed” or familiar costume of love poems; the second level is the true story being recorded.  Therefore he is ALMOST — i.e., not quite directly — revealing his own “name” or identity as well as the story.

“We have already considered Sonnet 27.  Let us now examine the evidence Whittemore presents for linking subsequent sonnets to Southampton’s imprisonment.  He states:

“Identifying with the younger earl’s plight, [the poet] records in 29 that he himself is ‘in disgrace with fortune (the Queen) and men’s eyes’ in the same way Southampton is suffering in the Tower.”

“However, a close reading of the sonnet shows that the poet is not in any way identifying with ‘the plight’ of the addressee, but talking of his own disgrace, which is again compensated for by his pleasant thoughts of the youth”:

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising)
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate,
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Sonnet 29, lines 9-14

But when these sonnets are viewed as chronological entries of a diary, they can be read IN RELATION TO EACH OTHER; and then it becomes obvious that Oxford is expressing a range of different and even contradictory emotions WITHIN THAT CONTEXT OR FRAMEWORK.

Yes, in Sonnet 29 he finally thinks of Southampton and gains comfort. He continues this theme until, in Sonnet 34, he turns to the matter of Southampton’s own guilt and disgrace as the ‘offender’ whose crime has affected Oxford’s own life; and here he makes it plain that it’s the son’s offense that produces his own wretchedness:

Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief’
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss;
Th’offender’s sorry lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence’s loss.
Sonnet 34, lines 9-12

And in the couplet that follows, Oxford once again finds comfort in his thoughts of Southampton:

Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds,
And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds.
Sonnet 34, lines 13-14

The basic situation is a familiar one: the father is made angry and distraught (and finds himself disgraced) by the “ill deeds” of his son, but he simultaneously still values the son and their relationship above all else.

This emotional conflict is expressed fully in the next verse, in which Oxford quite plainly identifies with Southampton’s plight:

Sonnet 35

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both Moone and Sunne,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

All men make faults, and even I, in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing their [thy] sins more than their [thy] sins are:

For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense;
Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,
And ‘gainst my self a lawful plea commence;
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.

So the comment about Sonnet 29 (“the poet is not in any way identifying with ‘the plight’ of the addressee, but talking of his own disgrace”) must be seen in relationship to the other “entries” of this diary; and in this case, just five sonnets later we come to Sonnet 35 and Oxford’s virtually total identification with Southampton’s plight.

“Whittemore’s evidence connecting Sonnet 30 to the Privy Council trial of Essex and Southampton is even less credible:

‘Oxford records in 30 that the Privy Council will summon him to the Sessions or Treason Trial of Essex and Southampton to sit as the highest ranking earl on the tribunal of peers who will judge them.’

“Here Whittemore mistakes a metaphorical use of the words sessions and summon for a literal one. The ‘sessions’ to which the poem refers are the poet’s own imaginative sessions of ‘sweet silent thought’ and the ‘summoning’ is not of the session, but of a ‘remembrance of things past.’ Although legal metaphors do permeate this sonnet (and many others), there is no mention here of a trial, except perhaps in the most oblique Proustian sense (i.e. a psychological ‘trial’ at which the writer is defendant, advocate, and judge).   Moreover, even if one understood ‘sessions’ and ‘summon’ to be literal rather than metaphorical, the direct link to the Southampton trial would still be un-established.  Although Whittemore does not acknowledge the fact, these terms apply to many different kinds of trials, not just capital crimes such as treason.”

On the most immediate level the legal terms “sessions” and “summon” in this sonnet are metaphorical – of course!   But when the same sonnet is viewed within the context that Oxford knows he will be summoned to the treason trial or “sessions” of Southampton as a peer sitting in judgment, the same words leap from the page with additional meaning and specific reference.

(“This sessions,” begins King Leontes in act 3, scene 2 of THE WINTER’S TALE, and he’s referring specifically to a treason trial.)

THE MONUMENT places Shakespeare’s Sonnets within a new context that yields a new perception of their meaning.  In 400 years no other suggested context has been able to make sense of the form and content of the entirety of the 154 sonnets; but it’s only by such means that these verses can begin to be understood.

“Compounding these implausibilities, Whittemore attempts to identify Southampton as one of the ‘precious friends hid in death’s dateless night.’ (30.6) As the ‘friends’ are described in the third person and the youth in the second person, this is clearly not a viable reading.”

Oxford uses the third person for Southampton (and his friends, if you will) in the main body of Sonnet 30 and then, only in the ending couplet, turns to address Southampton in the second person:

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend…

If the word “friends” is in the third person, can the poet be identifying Southampton?  Take the opening line of the Sonnets:

From fairest creatures we desire increase
Sonnet 1, line 1

The poet can be viewed as referring to all the fairest creatures of the world, but more specifically ALSO to the singular Fair Youth of the Sonnets as one of them.   (He’s the “fairest creature” or “most royal child.”)  This is the third person but, as the critique writers themselves know, Oxford is addressing just one person, Southampton — a point generally accepted.

“Additionally, the youth cannot be one of the ‘precious friends,’ as they are already dead.”

The opening lines of Sonnet 30 are:

When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.

Then can I drown an eye (un-used to flow)
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night…

Viewing Southampton as an accused traitor who will probably be executed, it would be difficult to describe him with more lyrical tenderness and sadness than to place him among “precious friends hid in death’s dateless night.”

Essex and Southampton are facing a joint trial — the two friends who, on instructions of Secretary Robert Cecil, will be found guilty by unanimous verdict and sentence to death.

“He [Southampton] is, instead, exactly as in Sonnet 29, providing solace for the poet’s ‘losses…and sorrows’ — acting, in other words, as a replacement for those already gone. When the poet calls the addressee ‘the grave where buried love doth live’ in Sonnet 31, his meaning is transparent and has nothing to do with the imprisonment or imminent execution of the addressee; rather, the youth has become the repository for the poet’s lost loves.  This reading is without ambiguity, for the poet continues:

THEIR images I loved I view in THEE,
And thou, ALL they, hast ALL the ALL of me.

Sonnet 31, lines 13-14 (emphases in first line added by the critique; in the second line by me)

In the final line of Sonnet 31, quoted above, Oxford is simply saying that his love for Southampton covers all those he has loved in his life and whom he carries within him.  (As Hamlet says to his friends, “Your loves, as mine to you.” – 1.2.273)  ALL his loves (and those he has loved) are within himself’; and, because Southampton claims ALL of Oxford’s love, Oxford and his loves are ALL within his son, echoing Southampton’s own motto “One for All, All for One”.

This meaning is somewhat similar to that of Oxford’s dedication of LUCRECE to Southampton:  “What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in ALL I have, devoted yours.”  (emphasis added)


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