“The Living Record” – The Execution of Southampton Draws Near – Sonnet 58 – “The Imprisoned Absence of Your Liberty” – Chapter Fifty-Three


Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604)Sonnet 58
Imprisoned Absence
Your Self to Pardon
11 March 1601

Speaking as a “vassal” or subject of a king, Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford tells Southampton that the bargain being made for his life includes gaining a royal pardon for him.  He introduces the younger earl’s “charter” or royal privilege as so “strong” that he will be able to gain this “pardon” – the same “charter” of Sonnet 87, line 3, that will give him “releasing” from prison by King James.  As a practical matter, Southampton holds his fate in his own hands, since he must decide to give up any claim to the throne.  Has he agreed to this ransom for his life or is he resisting it?  Meanwhile the Queen is still (officially) in charge and Oxford continues to suffer the “hell” of “waiting” for her either to execute their son or spare him.

Sonnet 58

1- That God forbid, that made me first your slave,
2- I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
3- Or at your hand th’account of hours to crave,
4- Being your vassal bound to stay your leisure.
5- Oh let me suffer (being at your beck)
6- Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty,
7- And patience tame to sufferance bide each check,
8- Without accusing you of injury.
9- Be where you list, your charter is so strong,
10- That you yourself may privilege your time
11- To what you will; to you it doth belong
12- Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
13- I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
14- Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624) - Actual Birth Date 1574 - Unacknowledged Son of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth,

That God, who made me your “slave” or servant from the beginning, forbids or forbade; (“But God forbid that I should rejoice, but in the cross of our Lord” – Galatians, 6:14); an image of Oxford serving his son as one who serves a god, i.e., as “a God in love” of Sonnet 110, line 12 or as “the little Love-God” of Sonnet 154, line 1; FIRST = a term referring to a general period of time in the past, as in, “Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green” – Sonnet 104, line 8; SLAVE = servant; “a person who is absolutely subject to the will of another” – Schmidt; carried over from the previous verse: “Being your slave, what should I do but tend/ Upon the hours and times of your desire?” – Sonnet 57, lines 1-2

IN THOUGHT = have it in my mind, i.e., that I should think I can determine how you spend your time, or when I may visit according to your royal pleasure; CONTROL = have power over; i.e., God forbid I should have power over you, my prince; Southampton is a prince or king with all “in his controlling” in Sonnet 20, line 7; “Can yet the lease of my true love control” – Sonnet 107, line 3; “A true soul/ When most impeached stands least in thy control” – Sonnet 125, line 14, admitting that Southampton has lost all claim to be king or have control, just before Oxford ends his diary; PLEASURE = your Majesty’s pleasure or royal will; YOUR TIMES OF PLEASURE = the times when you command me (or allow me) to visit you in the Tower

Or to ask you to give me an accounting, by your royal hand, of how you spend your hours; AT YOUR HAND = at your royal command; “Yet shall you have all kindness at my hand” – King Lewis in Henry VI, 3.3.149; “And if thy poor devoted servant may but beg one favor at thy gracious hand” – Richard III, 1.2.210-211; as when Oxford writes of the Queen having refused to acknowledge their son as her natural heir by recording that the boy “Was sleepling by a Virgin hand disarmed” – Sonnet 154, line 8; “A dearer merit … have I deserved at Your Highness’ hands” – Richard II, 1.3.156-158

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

TH’ACCOUNT OF HOURS = record of time with you; (also possibly a play on “ours,” referring to these sonnets as this “account of ours”); the “account” is also the “sum” or “store” or “treasure” or “Audit” of Southampton’s royal blood; CRAVE = beg, as to a king or superior; “Then I crave pardon of Your Majesty” – 3 Henry VI, 4.6.6-8; “Till time and vantage crave my company” – Northumberland in 2 Henry IV, 2.3.68

YOUR VASSAL = your servant; “That lift your vassal hands against my head and threat the glory of my precious crown” – Richard II, 3.3.89-90; “Your Majesty’s humblest vassal, Essex” – the Earl of Essex to Queen Elizabeth, 1600; “Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage” – Oxford to Southampton, Sonnet 26, line 1; BOUND = tied to; obliged; imprisoned; “My duty … is bound to your Lordship” – dedication of Lucrece to Southampton; STAY = wait upon; restrict; STAY YOUR LEISURE = wait until you have time to listen; wait upon your royal time; the time of which you may freely dispose; “I will attend upon your lordship’s leisure” – 1 Henry VI, 5.1.55; “the adverse winds, whose leisure I have stay’d” – King John, 2.1.57-58; “We will stay your leisure” – to Hotspur in 1 Henry IV, 1.3.254

OH = O = Oxford; ME = Oxford; LET ME SUFFER = allow me to suffer by making this sacrifice on your behalf, to save your life and gain your freedom with honor; “To weigh how once I suffered in your crime” – Sonnet 121, line 8; BEING AT YOUR BECK = I, being your servant and at your command; “Egypt, thou knewst too well my heart was to thy rudder tied by th’strings and thou shouldst tow me after.  O’er my spirit thy full supremacy thou knewst, and that thy beck might from the bidding of the gods command me” – Antony and Cleopatra, 3.11.56-61

Tower of London, where Southampton awaits execution

IMPRISONED = Southampton, imprisoned; ABSENCE OF YOUR LIBERTY = The “absence” of Southampton’s liberty is imprisoned within Oxford’s mind and heart; (it “also carries suggestions of ‘lack of the liberty of you,’ ‘lack of the privilege of unrestricted access to you” – Booth); “I cannot conceive in so short a time and in so small an absence how so great a change is happened to you” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, December 4, 1601; LIBERTY = Southampton’s freedom and even his life itself, the absence of which would mean his death (by execution); “Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits” – Sonnet 41, line 1; “Humbly complaining to her deity got my Lord Chamberlain his liberty” – Richard III, 1.1.76-77

“I am sorry to see you ta’an from liberty, to look on the business present.  ‘Tis His Highness’ pleasure you shall to th’Tower” – Henry VIII, 1.2.204-207

His liberty is full of threats to all.
Hamlet, 4.1.14

PATIENCE TAME = make my patience tame; cure my impatience; be tamed by patience; SUFFERANCE = subjugation; also, related to suffering or misery; BIDE = follow; CHECK = restriction or hindrance (from being able to see you)

ACCUSING = recalling the legal accusation of treason against Southampton; “Since that the truest issue of thy throne by his own interdiction stands accused” – Macbeth, 4.3.106-107; “Accuse me thus” – Sonnet 117, line 1, Oxford speaking after Southampton has been released and he, Oxford, has accepted all blame; INJURY = “injustice, wrong … offence … crime … anything contrary to a benefit … the wrong suffered by one” – Schmidt; “To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury” – Sonnet 40, line 12

BE WHERE YOU LIST = wherever you want to be; wherever you are or happen to be; YOUR CHARTER = your royal privilege; “What he sets before us … is not the powers of a peer, but those peculiar to a king: power to grant charters of privilege and letters patent, power to pardon crimes – in short, the exclusively royal prerogative” – Leslie Hotson, referring to the poet addressing a king; “Charter – privilege, acknowledged right – a standard, nearly atrophied, metaphor from the written document by which a privilege, right, or pardon was legally granted” – Booth; “The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing” – Sonnet 87, line 3, related to the same kingly rights that will spare Southampton from execution and finally give him “releasing” from the Tower; SO STRONG = so royal; accompanied by such royal power; “You break no privilege nor charter there” – Richard III, 2.4.54); CHARTER = “A written document delivered by the sovereign or legislature; granting privileges to, or recognizing rights of; granting pardon, to receive a pardon” – OED, citing “Maister John Hume had his charter and was pardoned by the King” (1480); and “a charter of pardon” (Francis Bacon, 1626); (therefore Oxford is saying that James of Scotland, once he ascends as King of England, will grant Southampton a pardon; which, in fact, he will do); “Is not his heir a well-deserving son?  Take Hereford’s rights away, and take from Time his charters and his customary rights” – Richard II, 2.1.194-196

YOU YOUR SELF = an emphasis on his royal identity; “This is I, Hamlet the Dane!” – Hamlet, 5.2.255-256; “But he that writes of you, if he can tell that you are you” – Sonnet 84, lines 7-8; PRIVILEGE YOUR TIME = related to the charter (or charter of privilege) of line 9; i.e., you are a king, so you may command yourself; “Such neighbor nearness to our sacred blood should nothing privilege him” – Richard II, 1.1.119-120

TO WHAT YOU WILL = according to what your Majesty desires, to what you command; to do the bidding of your royal will; TO YOU IT DOTH BELONG = the royal power belongs to you; BELONG = referring to what belongs to a king; “Disdaining duty that to us belongs” – Queen to King in 2 Henry VI, 3.1.17; “with all appertinents belonging to his honour” – Henry V, 2.2.87-88; “Doth not thy embassage belong to me” – the Queen in Richard II, 3.4.93

YOUR SELF TO PARDON = you, being a king, may pardon your royal self; (if and when Southampton’s life is spared, he will need a royal pardon or else he will remain at the monarch’s mercy; Oxford is working to gain promise of such a pardon from James, if it is arranged that he will succeed Elizabeth; CRIME = the treason of which you were convicted; “To weigh how once I suffered in your crime” – Sonnet 120, line 8

PARDON = “Say ‘pardon’, king … No word like ‘pardon’ for kings’ mouths so meet” – Richard II, 5.3.116, 118; “letters of the kings’ grace and pardon” – Henry VIII, 1.2.104; “your Grace’s pardon” – Richard II, 1.1.141); after releasing Southampton on April 10, 1603, King James will issue him a royal pardon, based on prior negotiations involving Oxford and Robert Cecil, by which Southampton agrees to give up any royal claim; at this point in time, of course, the condemned earl still hopes his mother the Queen might grant it to him: “O let her never suffer to be spilled the blood of him that desires to live but to do her service, nor lose the glory she shall gain in the world by pardoning one whose heart is without spot, though his cursed destiny hath made his acts to be condemned” – Southampton to the Council, after the trial (Stopes, 225); “A gracious king that pardons all offences” – Henry VIII, 2.2.66; “May one be pardoned and retain th’offence?” – Hamlet, 3.3.56; “You straight are on your knees for ‘Pardon, pardon!’ And I, unjustly too, must grant it to you” – Richard III, 2.2.125-126; “Subjects may challenge nothing of their sovereigns; but, if an humble prayer may prevail, then I crave pardon of Your Majesty” – 3 Henry VI, 4.6.6-8

Pardon me, God, I knew not what I did:
And pardon, father, for I knew not thee.
My tears shall wipe away these bloody marks
3 Henry VI, 2.5.69-71

“Thus in haste I crave Your Majesty’s pardon…”
– Oxford to Elizabeth, June 1599

I AM = “I am that I am” – Sonnet 121, line 9; (William or Will-I-Am or I-Am-Will); WAIT = wait upon, as a servant waits upon the presence of his king; “And’t please your grace, the two great cardinals wait in the presence” – Henry VIII, 3.1.16-17; Oxford must wait for the chance to visit him in the Tower; WAITING BE SO HELL = also the agonizing wait for the Queen to decide whether Southampton will live or die; “y’have passed a hell of Time,/ And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken/ To weigh how once I suffered in your crime” – Sonnet 121, lines 6-8; WAITING = “your waiting vassals” – Richard III, 2.1.122; “waiting in the Court” – 1 Henry IV, 1.2.67

NOT BLAME YOUR PLEASURE = not blame your royal pleasure or will; “the pleasure of the fleeting year” – Sonnet 97, line 2, referring to the royal pleasure or will of Elizabeth, who has kept Southampton in the Tower at her pleasure; “But since she (nature, the Queen) pricked thee out for women’s (her own) pleasure” – Sonnet 20, line 13, referring to Elizabeth’s royal will; “Now the cause falling out to be good, and by course of law Her Majesty’s, it is justice that Her Majesty may bestow the same at her pleasure” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, December 4, 1601; BLAME = to blame for a crime or fault; to censure or find fault with; “Or will you blame and lay the fault on me?” – 1 Henry VI, 2.1.57; echoing the blame put upon Essex and Southampton at the trial; “I cannot blame thee … But yet be blamed” – Sonnet 40, lines 7-8

But who is this man???

Is he writing a sonnet? Thinking of a topic? Running out of ideas?

“Contested Jim” — Shapiro in New York for “Contested Will”

James Shapiro spoke to an audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Sunday, May 2, 2010, about his book Contested Will and his argument that those of us who question the attribution of the “Shakespeare” works to William of Stratford are, well, not quite right in the head.

Hank Whittemore and James Shapiro, author of "Contested Will," at the 92nd Street Y in New York

Jim Shapiro is a likeable guy even as he wields the ol’ blade, with a smile, to cut us into pieces — his victims including Henry James, Mark Twain, Orson Wells, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller, and dozens of other whackos who believe that a writer writes from his own mind and heart, so that knowing about his life can help us understand the meaning of his work.

I attended with Ted Story, co-writer and director of my performance in the one-man show Shake-speare’s Treason.  I performed it in November 2008 at the Globe in London, where Shapiro was in the audience.  At the time he was still researching his book, wherein he gets to the pivotal point of his argument on page 264, by bringing up my book The Monument, which demonstrates that the Sonnets of 1609 contain a real-life personal and political story, linked with real events of contemporary English history leading to the death of Queen Elizabeth I on March 24, 1603 and the succession of James VI of Scotland as King James I of England.

Hank Whittemore with James Shapiro, who signed a copy of his book

Here is Shapiro’s pivotal point:

“The more that Shakespeare scholars encourage autobiographical readings of the plays and poems, the more they legitimate assumptions that underlie the claims of all those who dismiss the idea that Shakespeare wrote the plays.  And every step scholars have taken toward such readings has encouraged their adversaries to make even speculative claims. The recent publication of Hank Whittemore’s Oxfordian reading of the Sonnets, The Monument, offers a glimpse of  where things may be heading. Even other Oxfordians (as William Boyle, editor of Shakespeare Matters, put it when news of Whittemore’s book first circulated) saw that they were ‘undoubtedly journeying into new territory,’ one that was both ‘controversial—and risky.’  The Sonnets  could now be read not as primarily fictional creations but as  ‘documentary evidence every bit as important and potent as any letters, any or anything to be found in the Calendar of State Papers.  In fact, in some instances the Sonnets provide historical information that exists nowhere else.'”

My colleague Bill Boyle had it right – the amazing revelation about the Sonnets is that they were written to preserve an important story for those of us living in posterity.  In a nutshell, the winners of the political struggle to control the royal succession also got to control the official record and, therefore, the writing of the history – “History is written by the winners,” as George Orwell put it in 1944 – but Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, before his death in June 1604, completed the “monument” of the private Sonnets to preserve the truth for “eyes not yet created” in the distant future:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read.

Sonnet 81

And one big aspect of this truth involved the burial of the “name” or identity of the real author of the poems and plays and sonnets:

My name be buried where my body is
Sonnet 72

Try showing up at the Y and telling THAT to the group!

But try to keep telling students of this generation, and of those to come, that only the greatest writer of them all cannot be found in his work, and that we don’t need to know the man to understand his writings!

Here’s a secret:  Oxford poured his life into every corner of it!

Oh – on page 269, Shapiro writes, “Those who believe that Elizabethan plays were autobiographical ought to be able to show that contemporaries were on the lookout for confessional allusions.”  Well, the family of chief minister Polonius, which includes his daughter Ophelia and her suitor Hamlet, is a mirror image of the family of chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley, which includes his daughter Anne Cecil and her husband Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who, by means of confessional allusions in the play ‘Hamlet,’  gave us an intimate portrait of his life within that family and his emotional reactions to it.

Cheers from Hank

(Photos by Ted Story)

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