“Strange Shadows on You Tend” – Sonnet 53 – The Living Record – Chapter 48

DAY TWENTY-SEVEN: SOUTHAMPTON IN THE TOWER
Sonnet 53
Strange Shadows On You Tend
6 March 1601

Now, with Essex dead and the other conspirators also condemned, time grows short for Southampton’s fate to be decided.  The great shadow of Elizabeth Regina’s imperial frown, the “region cloud” of Sonnet 33, spreads over Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton in the Tower.  The tone of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is of increasing worry even as he writes in praise of his son, whom he likens to Adonis of “Venus and Adonis,” the 1593 poem dedicated to him by “Shakespeare.”

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,

And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new.

Speak of the spring and foison of the year,
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear,
And you in every blessed shape we know.

In all external grace you have some part,
But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

(Following is an edited “short” version of the treatment of Sonnet 53 in my edition THE MONUMENT):

The Tower of London, where Southampton was held captive until James of Scotland became King James I of England

1 WHAT IS YOUR SUBSTANCE, WHEREOF ARE YOU MADE,
YOUR SUBSTANCE = your inner reality, i.e., your royal blood; “No, no, I am but a shadow of myself: you are deceived, my substance is not here” – 1 Henry VI, 2.3.49-50;

2 THAT MILLIONS OF STRANGE SHADOWS ON YOU TEND?
MILLIONS = countless; expressing, by exaggeration, the outrageousness of the “stain” or “disgrace” that has covered his royal son; SHADOWS = the darkness cast by the Queen’s dark cloud or negative view; (“But the world is so cunning, as of a shadow they can make a substance, and of a likelihood a truth” – Oxford to Burghley, July 1581); “Which, being but the shadow of your son, becomes a sun and makes your son a shadow” – King John, 2.1.499-500; TEND = “attend” or wait upon him as those who attend upon a king; “They ‘tend the crown” – Richard II, 4.1.199; echoing the “tender” (or offer) for acceptance by which Oxford has offered to pay “ransom” for his son’s life.

Title Page of "Venus and Adonis" (1593), by which "Shakespeare" entered the stage of history by his dedication to Southampton inside the book

3 SINCE EVERY ONE HATH, EVERY ONE, ONE SHADE,
EVERY = E. Ver, Edward de Vere; ONE = Southampton, his motto One for All, All for One; EVERY ONE = father and son together; EVERY ONE, ONE SHADE = you and I suffer together under the shadow that is cast over you; Note: “one” occurs six times in this sonnet, “every” occurs three times, “none” twice.

4 AND YOU, BUT ONE, CAN EVERY SHADOW LEND.
AND YOU, BUT ONE = and you, Southampton; ““Since all alike my songs and praises be/ To one, of one, still such, and ever so” – Sonnet 105, lines 3-4; EVERY = E. Ver; “But Henry now shall wear the English crown and be true King indeed; thou but the shadow” – 3 Henry VI, 4.3.49-50

5 DESCRIBE ADONIS AND THE COUNTERFEIT
ADONIS: the young god of Venus and Adonis, i.e., Oxford is referring to his own narrative poem  that he dedicated (as “William Shakespeare”) to Southampton in 1593; Adonis (symbol of male beauty) was once Oxford’s self-portrait (based on the Queen’s attempts to seduce him as a young man in 1571-73, if not earlier); but now Henry Wriothesley is the young Adonis in relation to his mother, Elizabeth, who remains Venus, goddess of Love and Beauty; COUNTERFEIT = likeness; that which is made in imitation of him; portrait of him; “But who can leave to look on Venus’ face … These virtues rare, eche gods did yield a mate./ Save her alone, who yet on th’earth doth reign,/ Whose beauty’s string no god can well distrain” – Oxford poem, published in 1576, writing of Elizabeth, who “doth reign” on earth as Beauty

6 IS POORLY IMITATED AFTER YOU:
POORLY IMITATED = inadequately portraying you

7 ON HELEN’S CHEEK ALL ART OF BEAUTY SET,

Southampton in the Tower (with his cat)

HELEN’S CHEEK = Elizabeth, pictured as Helen of Troy, most beautiful of women; “Within this there is a red/ Exceeds the damask rose;/ Which in her cheeks is spread,/ Whence every favor grows” – Oxford poem in The Phoenix Nest, 1593, writing of Elizabeth; ALL = Southampton; OF BEAUTY SET = expressing your “beauty” or blood from Elizabeth;“What thing doth please thee most?/ To gaze on beauty still” – Oxford poem, part of which appeared in The Arte of English Poesie, 1589

8 AND YOU IN GRECIAN TIRES ARE PAINTED NEW:
GRECIAN TIRES = Greek headdresses or attire; PAINTED NEW = recreated (given new birth) in these private sonnets

9 SPEAK OF THE SPRING AND FOISON OF THE YEAR,
SPRING = time of royal hope; Ver; FOISON = abundant royal blood, kingly bounty

10 THE ONE DOTH SHADOW OF YOUR BEAUTY SHOW,
ONE = Southampton, his motto; SHADOW OF YOUR BEAUTY = the ghostlike appearance of your royal blood from the Queen

11 THE OTHER AS YOUR BOUNTY DOTH APPEAR,
YOUR BOUNTY = your royal bounty; “I thank thee, King, for thy great bounty” – Richard II, 4.1.300; “

12 AND YOU IN EVERY BLESSED SHAPE WE KNOW.
EVERY = E. Ver, Edward de Vere; BLESSED = divine, sacred, godlike, royal; “Look down, you gods, and on this couple drop a blessed crown” – The Tempest, 5.1.201-202;  “A God in love” – Sonnet 110, line 12; “Likely in time to bless a regal throne” – 3 Henry VI, 4.6.74;

Secretary Robert Cecil, who agreed to spare Southampton and release him with a royal pardon -- once James was securely on the throne and he, Cecil, retained his power; the price, for Oxford, was loss of his son's crown and loss of his identity as "Shakespeare"

13 IN ALL EXTERNAL GRACE YOU HAVE SOME PART,
ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One; EXTERNAL GRACE = show of royalty; “The king is full of grace and fair regard … this grace of kings” – Henry V, 1.1.22, 2 Prologue. 28;

14 BUT YOU LIKE NONE, NONE YOU, FOR CONSTANT HEART.
NONE = opposite of “one” for Southampton; LIKE NONE = like no other; NONE YOU = none like you; also, you are now a nobody; CONSTANT HEART = eternal royal power, with a heart that pumps your royal blood; always noble and royal; “our friends are true and constant” – 1 Henry IV, 2.3.17; “Crowned with faith and constant loyalty … constant in spirit, not swerving with the blood” – Henry V, 2.2., 5, 133; “Therefore my verse to constancy confined,/ One thing expressing, leaves out difference” – Sonnet 105, lines 5-8; “In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – Oxford’s sonnet in “Shakespearean” form, to Queen Elizabeth, early 1570s

As you can see, Oxford does not use a “code” or any other kind of obscure language.  The words related to royalty and kingship are drawn from his own plays of English royal history, plays issued under the “Shakespeare” name; seeing them clearly in these lines is a matter of perception; and once you see them, you know that their presence in the Sonnets cannot be accidental.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very interesting, Hank. I enjoy reading your blog when I get the opportunity.

    I invite you to look at an alternative interpretation of the sonnet at

    http://groups.google.ca/group/ardenmanagers/browse_frm/thread/ce57821d67900dc4?hl=en#

    You’ll find it on Peter Groves’ second post to the thread. If you’re not too busy, let me know what you make of it.

    I found it intriguing. I’ve never thought of Sonnet 53 in those terms before.

    Lynne

    • Thank, Lynne. I am traveling and can’t use the laptop as I’d like, but will follow up your suggestion and report back. Much appreciated. Hank


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