How Did Oxford Build His Monument for Southampton? “The Living Record” – Chapter 42

More than a few readers have asked how Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford would have built the “monument” of the Sonnets in terms of its numerical structure.  If this was a kind of diary, wouldn’t real-life events dictate the design for him?  My answer  is that he built the structure by creating “fixed yardsticks or units” of measurement.

For example, the first seventeen sonnets (1-17) numerically match the first seventeen years in the life of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton up to 1591 — a yardstick or unit measuring one sonnet for each year.

In 1591 William Cecil Lord Burghley was pressuring seventeen-year-old Southampton to marry his granddaughter; and Oxford was using the seventeen sonnets to increase the pressure on him. (Behind the marriage proposal was the prospect of gaining Burghley’s crucial support for Southampton to succeed Elizabeth I on the throne.)  But in August 1591, when the Queen and Lord Burghley visited Southampton, he rejected any Cecil alliance in favor of one with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and the whole project blew apart — severely limiting if not obliterating his chances to become King Henry IX.

When Southampton was imprisoned on 8 February 1601 for the Essex Rebellion and faced death for high treason, Oxford strung together nine more sonnets (18-26) to cover the nine years from 1592 to 1600.  As a result, Sonnets 1-26 represented Southampton’s first twenty-six years of life up to the year before the Rebellion.

Using that fixed measurement of twenty-six sonnets, Oxford would later insert twenty-six sonnets to create the Dark Lady series (127-152) on the other side of the 100-sonnet center:

1———26   27————————-126  127———152
(26 sonnets)     (100 sonnets)                 (26 sonnets)

Upon the tragedy of the Rebellion Oxford began writing the equivalent of one sonnet per day, starting with Sonnet 27 and continuing until either Southampton’s life was spared or he was executed.  (Oxford would have written them in clusters of two or three or several at a time, then arranged them accordingly.)  His new yardstick measured one sonnet for each day.

The tension kept building until the third week of March 1601, when, without any public notice, Southampton was reprieved.  Oxford marked the event with Sonnet 66 on 19 March 1601, the very day after the final executions of other conspirators were carried out.  So the first “fixed element” of the central sequence was a string of forty sonnets (27-66) covering forty days:

Sonnets 27 – 36 = 10       (Feb 8 to Feb 17)
Sonnets 37 – 46 = 10       (Feb 18 to Feb 27)
Sonnets 47 – 56 = 10       (Feb 28 to March 9)
Sonnets 57 – 66 = 10       (March 10 to March 19)
40 sonnets = 40 days

The Queen kept her son in the Tower facing permanent confinement; but now, regardless of whatever else occurred, Oxford could write forty more verses (67-106) to create a central sequence of eighty sonnets, with 66-67 as the midpoint:

27——————–66 67———————106
(40 sonnets)          (40 sonnets)

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

Sonnet 66, lines 13-14

(He will not kill himself and leave his son “alone” in the Tower.)

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

Sonnet 67, lines 1-2

(Why should Southampton live in prison with criminals, lending them the “grace” of his royal “presence” in the Tower?)

[ADDED NOTE: Once Oxford has established forty sonnets for the forty days from the Rebellion of 8 Feb 1601 to 19 March 1601, he does NOT need to continue representing one sonnet per day; the key is that he now has the first forty sonnets as a fixed number, so from here on all he needs to do is include forty more, regardless of the time period they may represent. And at that point Oxford will have an initial “monument” of 40 + 40 sonnets.]

Later Oxford will add twenty more verses (107-126) to create the 100-sonnet central sequence of Sonnets 27-126, with a new midpoint of Sonnets 76-77:

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

All along the way, Oxford created simple measuring formulas that dictated aspects of his structure but also gave him flexibility in the completion of his final numerical arrangements.

Published in: Uncategorized on September 27, 2009 at 3:48 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Since no knows the exact sequence of the sonnets, doesn’t this affect the theory that certain ones were written in sequence to reflect certain events. Rearrange the sequence, and you have different sonnets reflecting different thoughts.

    • Joseph – I appreciate the query and the chance to explain. First, the Sonnets as printed originally in 1609 (Q) are arranged in numerical order from 1 to 154. The big question is whether this arrangement is “authorial,” i.e., arranged according to the author’s intentions and wishes. Over the past few centuries, scholars viewing the sonnets within the Stratfordian paradigm have been unable to make good sense of the printed order, so they have quite logically decided that the numerical sequence needs to be re-arranged. This has been true for Oxfordians, too, but within the Monument paradigm the original order turns out to make perfect sense.

      The “exact sequence” of the Sonnets is first of all the numerical order as printed; the question has been whether or not this sequence reflects a true chronological order. One of my working hypotheses was that the 1609 sequence is in fact “authorial” and in chronological as well as numerical sequence. (I am speaking of the sequences within the two main series, 1-126 and 127-152.) Once the historical context of the rebellion and Southampton’s 1601-1603 imprisonment (followed by his release and the Queen’s funeral) is used as the framework for the one hundred sonnets 27-126, the original order suddenly comes alive and makes perfect sense. (This is also true for the Dark Lady series 127-152, except that it’s much shorter and concludes just prior to the Queen’s death.)

      Well, I’m not sure I’ve been clear, so please return if you think I haven’t answered your question. Again, thanks for asking it. Hank

  2. Thank you, Hank, for your response.

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