“‘Gainst Death and All-Oblivious Enmity Shall You Pace Forth!” – Sonnet 55 – The Living Record – Chapter 50 – Words to a Prince

Sonnet 55
The Living Record of Your Memory
8 March 1601

“This is a continuation of Sonnet 54” – Dowden, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, 1881

Southampton in the Tower 1601-1603: Is he not presenting himself here as a prince?

With his son still facing execution, Oxford vows to create “the living record” of Southampton to be preserved “in the eyes of all posterity.” Along with Sonnet 81, this verse is a declaration of his utter commitment to making sure the truth about Henry Wriothesley will be known by future generations.  The “living record” of him (the story of his royal life until the fate of the Tudor dynasty is sealed) will be preserved for future readers within the tomb of the monument.  The tomb contains a womb of verse in which he is still “living” and growing in real time with this diary, the outcome of which remains

(“This is clearly addressed to a prince” – Ogburn & Ogburn, This Star of England, 1952 – and I hereby add my complete agreement.  In fact we can hear Oxford in the first two lines saying, in effect, that his son – Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton – is a prince who will have a monument outliving those built for all OTHER princes.)
Not marble nor the gilded monument(s)
Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues over-turn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.

‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.

So till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.


GILDED MONUMENT(S) = gilded tombs of English monarchs, many made of marble; most modern editors emend “monument” to the plural, but in fact Oxford used the singular on other occasions:

“Again we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more than by erecting them of tombs: Whereby when they be dead indeed, yet make we them live, as it were, again through their monument.  But with me behold it happeneth far better, for in your lifetime I shall erect you such a monument that, as I say, in your lifetime, you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone.  And in your lifetime, again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life whereby I may declare my goodwill…”
Oxford’s Prefatory Letter to Cardanus’ Comfort, 1573

A beheading on Tower Hill

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read        Sonnet 81, lines 9-10

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ creats and tombs of brass are spent    Sonnet 107, lines 13-14

Ever belov’d and loving may his rule be;
And when old time shall lead him to his end,
Goodness and he fill up one monument!        Henry VIII, 2.1.92-94

This grave shall have a living monument.     Hamlet, 5.1.297


PRINCES = Kings or Queens, including Elizabeth, who referred to herself as Prince of England; THIS POWERFUL RHYME = this monument of the Sonnets, which contains your “power” as a prince or king: “O Thou my lovely Boy, who in thy power” – Sonnet 126, line 1; “The King with mighty and quick-raised power” – 1 Henry IV, 4.4.12


YOU SHALL SHINE = like a king; “Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine” – Sonnet 33, line 9; MORE BRIGHT = more royally; “A substitute shines brightly as a king” – Merchant of Venice, 5.1.94 “Yet looks he like a king; behold, his eye, as bright as is the eagle’s, lightens forth controlling majesty” – Richard II, 3.3.68-70; “Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine, his honour and the greatness of his name shall be” – Henry VIII, 5.5.50-52, Cranmer, speaking of a future son and royal heir of Queen Elizabeth (in a passage that has been thought to refer to King James, but the context of the speech clearly refers to an “heir” to arise from the Queen’s blood and ashes; IN THESE CONTENTS = in what is contained in these private verses written according to time; “The phrase carries a suggestion of ‘in this coffin’” – Booth; “That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,/ Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew” – Sonnet 86, lines 3-4; “Within thine own bud buriest thy content” – Sonnet 1, line 11, i.e., his substance or royal blood


THAN UNSWEPT STONE, etc. = than stones that crumble in the course of time; “I will not ruinate my father’s house, who gave his blood to lime the stones together” – 3 Henry VI, 5.1.85-86; SLUTTISH = unclean, nasty; TIME = the ongoing withering of Elizabeth’s mortal life, i.e., mortal time


WHEN WASTEFUL, etc. = when destructive wars overturn the statues of defeated kings


BROILS = conflicts, disorders, wars; alluding to possible civil war over the throne; and to avoid such calamity for England he is counseling his royal son to renounce the crown


NOR/NOR = neither/nor; “Now have I brought a work to end which neither Jove’s fierce wrath/ Nor sword, nor fire, nor fretting age with all the force it hath/ Are able to abolish quite” – Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XV, 984-986, as translated (1567) by Arthur Golding, uncle of Edward de Vere, who may have produced the translation himself


The Sonnets are to become the living record of Southampton, for posterity; the verses are the womb in which he is reborn and grows; this diary, which is recording his life in real time and preserving it for future generations; LIVING = the dynamic nature of these verses, which are being written in relation to the calendar of the reign, i.e., the diary is aimed at the royal succession upon the death of the Queen, but exactly when she will die is unknown; (in fact she will die when Southampton is still in the Tower and James of Scotland will succeed to the throne, so the diary will continue until Elizabeth’s funeral, marking the official end of her Tudor dynasty); “Save men’s opinions and my living blood” – Richard II, 3.1.26


ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One; ALL OBLIVIOUS = forgetful of you; “So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and ensevel your works in the grave of oblivion” – Oxford’s Prefatory Letter to Cardanus Comfort, 1573, addressed to translator Thomas Bedingfield; ENMITY = contempt for you and your royal blood


SHALL = echoing “all” for Southampton; PACE = step, march, walk; echoing the stately, formal pace of a king, in majesty; SHALL YOU PACE FORTH = shall you emerge in glory as king; FORTH = as in “setting forth” in the 1609 dedication of the Sonnets; FORTH = “out from confinement or indistinction into open view” – Schmidt; “Caesar shall forth” – Julius Caesar, 2.2.10; “an hour before the worshipped sun peered forth the golden window of the east” – Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.118-119; also, to bring forth is to beget, procreate; YOUR PRAISE = recognition and praise of you as king; “The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise” – Sonnet 38, line 14, upon the trial when Southampton was convicted of high treason and condemned to death; STILL = always, eternally; FIND ROOM = find the place where your throne is; ROOM = room to be who he is; freedom from imprisonment and freedom from censorship or obliteration of his identity as prince; “Grief fills the room up of my absent child” – King John, 3.3.93; “To take their rooms ere I can plant myself” – 3 Henry VI, 3.2.132


EVEN IN THE EYES = in the very eyes of subjects; ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One; ALL POSTERITY = the entire world in generations to come; descendants; succeeding generations, future times; “Now that Henry’s dead, posterity, await for wretched years” – 1 Henry VI, 1.1.47-48; “Methinks the truth should live from age to age, as ‘twere retailed to all posterity” – Richard III, 3.1.76-77; “Beauty, Truth and Rarity,/ Grace in all simplicity,/ Here in cinders lie./ Death is now the Phoenix nest,/ And the Turtle’s loyal breast/ To eternity doth rest./ Leaving no posterity,/ ‘Twas not their infirmity,/ It was married chastity” – The Phoenix and Turtle, 1601, as by “William Shake-Speare”, lines 53-61

The father, all whose joy is nothing else
But fair posterity                The Winter’s Tale, 4.4.410-411


That continue to the end of the world; “And we’ll wear out in a walled prison packs and sects of great ones that ebb and flow by the moon” – King Lear, 5.3.17-19, glancing at Elizabeth, the Moon goddess; also Southampton is “the world” itself, as Gloucester depicts the King: “O ruined piece of nature, this great world shall so wear out to naught” – King Lear, 4.6.130-31; ENDING DOOM = the Last Judgment; end of the Tudor Rose dynasty; “Thy end is Truth’s and Beauty’s doom and date” – Sonnet 14, line 14; echoing the possibility that Southampton will be executed and/or left in prison for life; “Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” – Sonnet 107, line 1

“And all the world shall never/ Be able for to quench my name” – Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XV, 990-991, translated by Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding (1567) or by the young earl himself


TILL THE JUDGMENT = the rendering of you (the Audit of Southampton’s royal blood, in the future, to be forecast in the envoy, when nature’s final accounting “though delayed, answered must be, and her Quietus is to render thee” – Sonnet 126, lines 11-12); as opposed to the judgment of the tribunal at the trial; “So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,/ Comes home again, on better judgment making” – Sonnet 87, lines 11-12, when the judgment has been changed for the better from treason to misprision of treason; “His royal self in judgment comes to hear the cause betwixt her and this great offender” – Henry VIII, 5.2.154-155; THAT YOURSELF ARISE = that you ascend to the throne, rising like the sun, in the eyes of people in the future, i.e., in posterity; (“Till the decree of the judgment-day that you arise from the dead” – Dowden); a Christ-like Resurrection of the royal son or Sunne: “Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine” – Sonnet 33, line 9; “For as the Sun is daily new and old” – Sonnet 76, line 14


YOU LIVE IN THIS = you continue to live in this monument of verse, growing in the womb of its tomb, by time recorded in this diary; you and your life and your blood are preserved; THIS = this verse; “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” – Sonnet 18, lines 13-14; AND DWELL IN LOVERS’ EYES = and live in the eyes of your parents and all others who will appear, as subjects and friends, to adore you as king; “I tell thee, fellow, thy general is my lover” – Menenius Agrippa in Coriolanus, 5.2.14; IN LOVERS’ EYES = “You will be read by persons who will love you, though dead, as men love you in life” – Tucker.

Leslie Hotson observes in Mr. W. H., 1965, that the image of the Fair Youth is that of a “Sun” and a “God” and an “Ocean.”   And he states:

“It is well known that, following a general Renaissance practice drawn from antiquity, kings commonly figured as earthly ‘suns’ in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries … ‘Gods on earth’ was proverbially used of kings as far back as Menander, and is frequent in Shakespeare … ‘Ocean’ or ‘sea’ as a figure for ‘king’ is often found in Shakespeare and his fellow-writers.

“Here, then, we have Shakespeare typifying his Friend variously as a sun, a god, an ocean or a sea: three familiar metaphors which he and his contemporaries use to represent a sovereign prince or king … Whatever may be meant by it here in the Sonnets, the Shakespearean and Elizabethan element common to the three is certainly king, and the metaphors exhibit a consistency of reference.”

He finds various usages in the Sonnets of succession, heir and issue, noting that these are terms that the same author “elsewhere applies to the paramount problems of royalty.” He notes that in Sonnet 9 “his Friend dying a bachelor without issue will leave the world his widow, contrasted by the poet with every private widow – that is, the widow of ‘a private man’ as distinguished from a ruler, a king.

Hotson reads  Sonnet 14 in which “again Shakespeare presents his friend as a prince” whose fortune he is unable to foretell.   He also notes the poet’s direct usage of sovereign and king to describe the Fair Youth.

This “sustained and unmistakable” royal language in the Sonnets, writes Hotson, makes it obvious that “what he sets before us” is an array of powers “peculiar to a king: power to grant charters of privilege and letters patent, power to pardon crimes – in short, the exclusively royal prerogative.”  And in other verses we “need no reminder that it was to the king, and to no mortal but the king, that his dutiful subjects and vassals offered oblations; similarly, that it was only to the monarch or ruling magistrate that embassies were directed.”

Hotson notes the poet’s use of largess and bounty, writing: “Of the first it is significant to note that in his other works Shakespeare applies largess only to the gifts or donatives of kings.  As for bounty, the poet’s attribution of this grace to kings, while not exclusive, is characteristic … In the same way we recognize grace, state, and glory typically in Shakespeare’s kings.”

And finally he points to the explicit usages in the Sonnets of king and kingdoms.

“Clearly these consenting terms … cannot be dismissed as scattered surface-ornament.  They are intrinsic.  What is more, they intensify each other.  By direct address, by varied metaphor, and by multifarious allusion, the description of the Friend communicated is always one: monarch, sovereign prince, king.

Of course Hotson was unable to find such a prince — a convincing one, at any rate; and the reason, I would argue, is that he was looking at the sonnets (and at the contemporary history) with the wrong author in mind!

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Jonathan Bond’s new book – the De Vere Code http://www.deverecode.com which reveals evidential proof that Edward De Vere/Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s sonnets please find attached some press information and if you are interested I will get a review copy sent to you today. Jonathan, who studied maths and philosophy at London and Cambridge Universities was always fairly interestd in the authorship debate but then as he began looking into it discovered that there was indeed a cypher/code hidden in the dedication to the sonnets which prove De Vere’s authorship. Bond explains in detail in theb book how he cracked the code. I have put a review copy in the post to you.

    Elizabethan’s used code all the time, as society was extremely restrictive in what people, especially noblemen who were close to the Queen, could say and do and it was commonplace to “hide” the true identity of people and send secret messages in code in tht period. This was especially true regarding the code because the “fair youth” referred to in the sonnets was a man and these are very obviously love poems and it would have been unacceptable for a member of the Court to declare his love for another man, so his identity and the recipients of the sonnets identity was hidden in code which Bond has discovered and reveals in the book.

    There are many famous supporters of the theory that De Vere was the true author of the sonnet, many who have signed a document supporting this theory, http://www.doubtaboutwill.com including Sir Derek Jacobi, Tim Piggott Smith, Fiona Shaw, Michael York and other leading actors and Brunel university has a MA which examines the authorship question.

    Jonathan Bond and Mark Rylance are both available for interview and below is Mark Rylance’s quote in support of the claims of the book.

    I hope this is of interest.

    Best wishes,

  2. what kind of enemity is it ?

    • On one level it’s simply hate as opposed to love, i.e., the non-acceptance or non-recognition of Southampton as heir as opposed to the recognition or acceptance of it. In more visceral terms it’s the hatred, animosity, hostility of the powerful (Cecil) who seek to cause “all oblivious” non-recognition, i.e., total forgetfulness — same metaphorically as Oxford saying, “I, once gone, to all the world must die” — i.e., he must be forgotten by the world. The same enmity is also oblivious or unaware of Southampton’s worth in the first place; it is going to forget “all” or everything that came before — erase the truth, the truth as Oxford sees it, from the record and therefore from the recorded history as it will be told and retold. But Oxford promises that this diary of sonnets, this living record of him [a different kind of recorded history] will in fact survive. “You live in this,” he tells him at the end — inside the poetry, within the diary that is like a “womb” growing him as time continues to shorten the distance between now and the moment of the queen’s death.

  3. Why stop at Shakespeare? How could the son of a perpetually broke Irishman acquire such an expansive knowledge of classical learning, philosophy, and linguistics? No, Joyce was obviously one of Lady Gregory’s bastards! Same for that son of a drunken publican Bernard Shaw!

    • Hi Paul – thanks for the comment. I don’t think it’s a matter of whether any writer “could” have created the Shakespeare, but more of a case whether he “would” have done so. (In the “could” have department, you might look at Shakespeare’s detailed familiarity with Italian geography and places, where the Stratford man never traveled=; etc.) Joyce would not have written a Hamlet-like play; Shaw would not have written Lear; nor “would” the Stratford man have written those works, or at least not out of any deep personal wellsprings of which we are aware; but Oxford did have biographical experiences that possibly “would” have compelled him to write those plays. More to the point, we have detailed literary biographies of Joyce and Shaw, in which we can see the links between their lives and their writings; but not really so with traditional Shakespeare biographies. I felt the say way in the beginning; you might open the door to taking a peek at what’s in this authorship/Oxford part of the library. Again, appreciate your (passionate) response.

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