“Let This Sad Interim like the Ocean be” – Pleading with Southampton to Remain Strong in the Tower – Chapter 51 of The Living Record

THE PRISON YEARS
DAY THIRTY IN THE TOWER
Sonnet 56
This Sad Interim
9 March 1601

Oxford records his deep sadness after meeting with Southampton in the Tower, when he had to inform his royal son of the bittersweet bargain with Robert Cecil (and the Queen) as the only way to gain a reprieve from his execution.  His reference to the Ocean (sea of royal blood) is an overt homage to Southampton as a prince or king. He urges Henry Wriothesley to go along with the bargain to save his life.

Hank Whittemore performing "Shake-speare's Treason," the one-man show dramatizing this true story told by Oxford in the Sonnets for posterity (photo by Bill Boyle)

Sweet love, renew thy force!  Be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but today by feeding is allayed,
Tomorrow sharpened in his former might.

So love be thou, although today thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fullness,
Tomorrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of Love with a perpetual dullness.

Let this sad Interim like the Ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;

As call it winter, which being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wished, more rare.

1 SWEET LOVE, RENEW THY FORCE!  BE IT NOT SAID

SWEET LOVE = royal prince; royal son; “Good night, sweet prince” – Hamlet, 5.2.366; THY FORCE = your royal power and strength; validity, as in “our late edict shall strongly stand in force” – Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1.1.11; your will to live

A contemporary drawing of Essex being executed on February 25, 1601

2 THY EDGE SHOULD BLUNTER BE THAN APPETITE,

EDGE = the cutting side of a blade, echoing the “edge” of the executioner’s axe; “But bears it out even to the edge of doom” – Sonnet 116, line 12; keenness, desire, royal will; “with spirit of honor edged more sharper than your swords” – Henry V, 3.5.38; APPETITE = your desire to live; i.e., Oxford is urging his son to go along with the bargain being made for his life, appealing to his desire to live and eventually be freed from prison

3 WHICH BUT TODAY BY FEEDING IS ALLAYED,

BY FEEDING = by being put out to pasture, so to speak; “Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly” – Macbeth, 3.2.18-19; ALLAYED = postponed (with ALL = Southampton, his motto One for All, All for One)

4 TOMORROW SHARP’NED IN HIS FORMER MIGHT.

TOMORROW = “Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind” – Sonnet 105, line 5; FORMER MIGHT = former royal power; “O’er-charged with burden of mine own love’s might” – Sonnet 23, line 8; “Thy pyramids built up with newer might” – Sonnet 123, line 2; “England shall give him office, honour, might” – 2 Henry IV, 4.5.129; “the might of it” – i.e., the might and power of the crown, 2 Henry IV, 4.5.173

5 SO LOVE BE THOU, ALTHOUGH TODAY THOU FILL

SO LOVE BE THOU = so, royal son, be your royal self, since you are you; “This is I, Hamlet the Dane!” – Hamlet, 5.1.255; “But he that writes of you, if he can tell/ That you are you, so dignifies his story” – Sonnet 84, lines 7-8; act like the king you are, and go along with this decision to save your life; in giving up the throne, you help England avoid civil war, and you will gain your life and freedom

Queen Elizabeth I

6 THY HUNGRY EYES, EVEN TILL THEY WINK WITH FULLNESS.

HUNGRY EYES = royal eyes wanting to be who he is; WINK WITH FULLNESS = close or shut because of the power of the sun or royal light; echoing the “winking” of Southampton’s royal eyes or stars or suns;

7 TOMORROW SEE AGAIN, AND DO NOT KILL

TOMORROW SEE AGAIN = stay alive and use your kingly eyes once more; KILL = destroy; echoing the execution of Southampton, still a possibility, with Oxford urging his son to accept the terms of the “ransom” and, thereby, to save himself from being killed.

8 THE SPIRIT OF LOVE WITH A PERPETUAL DULLNESS.

THE SPIRIT OF LOVE = the sacredness of your royal blood (which is the essential and vital part of you); “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame” – Sonnet 128, line 1, to Elizabeth, referring to her waste of Southampton’s “spirit of love” or royal blood; Essex in 1597 wrote to Elizabeth thanking her for her “sweet letters, indited by the Spirit of spirits”; PERPETUAL DULLNESS = eternal shame; perpetual confinement in the Tower; eternal death

9 LET THIS SAD IN’T’RIM LIKE THE OCEAN BE

THIS SAD INTERIM = this sorrowful time of your imprisonment (which hopefully is only temporary); OCEAN = kingly; royal blood“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” – Leslie Hotson, Mr. W. H., 1964
“Even to our Ocean, to our great King John” – King John, 5.4.57; “The tide of blood in me … shall mingle with the state of floods and flow henceforth in formal majesty” – 2 Henry IV, 5.2.129; “A substitute shines brightly as a king, until a king be by, and then his state empties itself, as doth an inland brook into the main of waters” – The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.94-97; poets alluded to Elizabeth as “Cynthia, Queen of Seas and Lands” – Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth, 52; “Thou art, quoth she, a sea, a sovereign king;/ And lo, there falls into thy boundless flood/ Black lust, dishonour, shame” – Lucrece, 652

The Tower: the official prison-fortress of the monarch

10 WHICH PARTS THE SHORE, WHERE TWO CONTRACTED NEW

CONTRACTED NEW = come together again; “But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes” – Sonnet 1, line 5; Oxford and his royal son, envisioned as newly contracted

11 COME DAILY TO THE BANKS, THAT WHEN THEY SEE

COME DAILY = like these verses written daily; echoing the “daily” or day-by-day experience of his son in prison; like the tide coming daily to the banks of these “pyramids” or sonnets, as in “No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!  Thy pyramids built up with newer might/ To me are nothing novel, nothing strange” – Sonnet 123, lines 1-3; “Thus they do, sir;
they take the flow of the Nile by certain scales in the pyramid” – Antony and Cleopatra, 2.7.17-18

12 RETURN OF LOVE, MORE BLEST MAY BE THE VIEW!

RETURN OF LOVE = return of royal blood; i.e., when Southampton finally emerges from the Tower, he will be alive and so will his great gift of “love” or royal blood still live; “So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,/ Comes home again, on better judgment making” – Sonnet 87, indicating “misprision” of treason as the new, lesser verdict that will allow Southampton to “come home again” as a free man; BLEST = full of Southampton’s royal and divine blessings; “the blessed sun of heaven” – Falstaff of Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV, 2.4.403

13 AS CALL IT WINTER, WHICH BEING FULL OF CARE,

WINTER = the present time, early March of 1601; this miserable time of your imprisonment and possible death; “How like a Winter hath my absence been/ From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year” – Sonnet 97, lines 1-2, corresponding with February 8, 1602, and referring to her Majesty’s “pleasure” or command; and with “fleeting” meaning “imprisoned,” echoing the Fleet Prison; “Three winters cold … /Since first I saw you fresh” – Sonnet 104, lines 3-8, corresponding to February 8, 1603, the third winter of Southampton’s confinement; i.e., this entire time of your confinement is a winter; FULL OF CARE = full of Oxford’s care for him, to save his life; “Thou best of dearest, and mine only care” – Sonnet 48, line 7

The White Tower, where Southampton was imprisoned

14 MAKES SUMMER’S WELCOME THRICE MORE WISHED, MORE RARE.

SUMMER’S WELCOME = the welcoming of the golden time of the king, of Southampton as prince, his return to freedom; “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day … And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date … But thy eternal Summer shall not fade” – Sonnet 18, lines 1, 4, 9; THRICE = related to the Trinity and also to the previously potential royal family (which is no longer possible) of Elizabeth and Oxford and Southampton; MORE RARE = more royal; “Beauty, Truth, and Rarity,/ Grace in all simplicity” – the royal family of Elizabeth, Oxford and Southampton in The Phoenix and Turtle, 1601, 53-5, being written about now in early 1601

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://hankwhittemore.com/2009/12/10/let-this-sad-interim-like-the-ocean-be-pleading-with-southampton-to-remain-strong-in-the-tower-chapter-51-of-the-living-record/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mr. W. H.: recte, 1964

    • Thanks, John. My copy of “Mr. W. H.” by Leslie Hotson states “New York – Alfred A. Knopf – 1965” on the title page, but then on the next page it indicates “Published September 1964 – Second Printing, February 1965.” Oddly enough, the section wherein Hotson does such great work on “king”-related words in the Sonnets (pp 25-56) in my copy is printed upside down. Hmmmm. Again thanks for pointing out the pub date.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: