Sonnet 107: A Discussion with Stephanie Hughes

Here’s my initial response to Stephanie Hughes over at her informative blog POLITICWORM about Sonnet 107:

Dear Stephanie –

Thanks for writing up this informative blog entry about the Shakespeare sonnets and Sonnet 107 in particular.  As usual you’ve provided your readers with important information and insights.  Yes, we differ on key points, but I’m glad to see several areas where we’ve come to the same conclusion.  Let me first list them:

We agree that most of the Shakespeare works come from Oxford’s own experiences and emotions.  Not to say the plays are “autobiographical” in the strict sense, but that, as you say, the emotions and insights come from the circumstances, relationships and events of his particular life, along with other elements ranging from the classics to flights of pure fancy. 

Perhaps we agree that the sonnets represent his most directly autobiographical writings under the Shakespeare name, in that he uses “I” presumably to speak for himself about the specific circumstances and events in which he was involved, with specific individuals being addressed and described.

We agree that Edward de Vere 17th earl of Oxford is the author.

We agree that Henry Wriothesley 3rd earl of Southampton is the younger man known to us traditionally as the friend or fair youth.

We agree that the sonnets were published in the order that Oxford intended.  You feel it’s the case “for the most part” while I feel the arrangement is exactly what he intended.

It seems clear, you say, that “the Poet’s desire is less sexual than emotional, the desire of a man for a son,” and I agree but for different reasons.  I think we can temporarily leave aside our different views of the relationship between Oxford (b. 1550) and Southampton
(b. 1573) and continue to explore Sonnet 107 together. 

SONNETS 1-17: 1590
We agree that Oxford wrote the first seventeen sonnets to urge Southampton into a marriage with his daughter Elizabeth Vere, granddaughter of Southampton’s guardian William Cecil Lord Burghley.

SONNET 107: 1603
We agree – and most scholars have felt the same – that Sonnet 107 is referring to the release of Southampton from the Tower by King James on April 10, 1603 – after two years and two months in the prison.

These are some of the places where we agree, even though we differ greatly about what was actually going on.  I’m intrigued by certain statements you make:

You ask aloud what desire [motive] could have kept Oxford writing to Southampton: “My answer,” you write, is “a simpatico-son-in-law and a theater patron with solid credit.” 

Well, I disagree – and I’d ask you how you explain the urgency and stridency of those first seventeen sonnets to the seventeen-year-old earl.  The lecturing tone, the paternal tone, the desperation – “Make thee another self for love of me” – would seem equivalent to the proverbial smashing of a gnat with a sledgehammer.  Also, in my view the idea that Oxford wrote any of these intensely felt sonnets in order to gain patronage for his writing, is simply not credible.  I feel it cheapens Oxford’s character not to mention the sonnets themselves.

To me it’s ironic, Stephanie, that you land on this climactic verse only to decide that it’s really not so good and even that it “sounds like someone else wrote it.”  I don’t think most sonnet experts would agree with that.  Robert Giroux, for example, felt that the first four lines are by a mature poet at the very top of his game.  Here again, my feeling is that this is a way for you to avoid coming to terms with the circumstances behind the writing.

Let me ask some questions:

Do you really feel Oxford did not write Sonnet 107?  If so, we should stop this discussion right away.  (That’s a joke, but it does have some truth in it, eh?)

If Oxford exulted that Southampton had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” but now the “mortal Moon” is dead and “my love looks fresh” (out of the Tower, for one thing), don’t you think he would have written a sonnet in reaction to Southampton’s tragic involvement in the Essex Rebellion? 

If he writes about the younger earl’s liberation of 1603, wouldn’t he have written about his arrest and incarceration in 1601?
Do you think any of the sonnets placed earlier than 107 are about Southampton’s imprisonment?

Do you think Oxford abandoned Southampton (in terms of writing to him) all during his prison time, only to wax eloquent over his release?

Why, in Sonnet 107, while expressing joy over Southampton’s freedom, would Oxford directly mention Elizabeth – the Moon – and refer to her indirectly as a tyrant?  Many scholars feel the couplet refers to the late queen as a tyrant:

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

Why would Oxford promise Southampton a monument (“in this” or in this sonnet or these sonnets) and, in the same breath, refer to the crests and tombs of kings?

The final line appears to refer to the great brass tomb of Henry VII, grandfather of Elizabeth and founder of the Tudor dynasty, and she is being laid to rest temporarily in the shadow of that tomb.  What is the connection between Southampton and Elizabeth that would cause Oxford to write these bitter lines?

I’m no expert on stylistics and various attempts to date the sonnets or any other writings of that era, but I do know that I’m skeptical in many areas.  For example, it’s assumed that if Oxford wrote a play in 1593 and then wrote a sonnet with similar words or stylistic and rhetorical elements, he must have written the sonnet around the same time period.  I say this is not very scientific and has very little validity if any.  But that’s another discussion.

I’ll stop here for now.  Thanks for the discussion.


Published in: Uncategorized on February 16, 2010 at 5:09 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hank and others interested in the rest of this discussion, see – comment-639


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