The Fabric of His Life Woven through the Sonnets – Reason No. 29 of 100 Why Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Edward de Vere was in the best position of anyone in England to have written the Shakespeare sonnet sequence.  The known facts about the Earl of Oxford’s childhood, upbringing, education, and family all interconnect with their language and imagery.  Reason No. 29 of 100 to believe he was “Shakespeare” is the evidence in the Sonnets.

Oxford was nephew to the late Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), who (with Sir Thomas Wyatt) wrote the first English sonnets in the form to be used later by Shakespeare.  And he himself wrote an early sonnet of the Elizabethan reign in that same form; entitled Love Thy Choice, it expressed his devotion to Queen Elizabeth with the same themes of “constancy” and “truth” that “Shakespeare” would express in the same words:

“In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – Oxford’s early sonnet to Queen Elizabeth

“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy – Shakespeare’s sonnet 152 to “the Dark Lady” [Elizabeth]

The Shakespeare sonnets are plainly autobiographical, the author using the personal pronoun “I” to refer to himself, telling his own story in his own voice, so it’s only natural that he expresses himself with reference points from the life he experienced from childhood (at Castle Hedingham in Essex) onward.   Much of that life-experience is captured in a single sonnet:

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their Hawks and Hounds, some in their Horse…

(Oxford was born into the highest-ranking earldom, inheriting vast wealth in the form of many estates.  He was a skilled horseman and champion of two great jousting tournaments at the Whitehall tiltyard.  He was the “Italianate Englishman” who wore new-fangled clothing from the Continent.  An expert falconer, he wrote poetry comparing women to hawks “that fly from man to man.”)

And every humor hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest,
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me …

(Only someone who already had high birth, and who was willing to give it up, could make such a declaration to another nobleman of high birth and make it meaningful; if written to the Earl of Southampton by a man who possessed no high birth in the first place, the statement would be an insulting joke.)

Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than Hawks or Hounds be,
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast.
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.

Woodcut of Elizabethan astronomy or astrology

Oxford left his footprints throughout the 154-sonnet sequence:

(2) “When forty winters shall beseige thy brow” – He was forty in 1590, when most commentators feel the opening sonnets were written.

(8) Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly … Mark how one string, sweet husband to another” – He was an accomplished musician, writing for the lute; and he patronized the composer John Farmer, who dedicated two songbooks to him, praising his musical knowledge and skill.

(14) “And yet methinks I have astronomy – He was well acquainted with the “astronomy” or astrology of Dr. Dee and was praised for his knowledge of the subject.

(23) “As an imperfect actor on the stage – He patronized two acting companies, performed in “enterludes” at Court and was well known for his “comedies” or stage plays.

(33) “Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy” – He studied with astrologer Dr. John Dee, who experimented with alchemy, and both men invested in the Frobisher voyages.

Elizabeth woodcut of distillation by "alchemy" to find the imagined "elixir" to prolong life"

(49) “To guard the lawful reasons on thy part” – Oxford studied law at Gray’s Inn and served as a judge at the treason trials of Norfolk and Mary Stuart as well as the trial of Essex and Southampton; his personal letters are filled with evidence of his intimate knowledge of the law.

(59) “O that record could with a backward look,/ Even of five hundred courses of the Sunne”  – His earldom extended back 500 years to the time of William the Conqueror.

(72) My name be buried where my body is” – In his early poetry he wrote, “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground.”

(89) “Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt” – He was lamed during a street fight with swords in 1582.

Queen Elizabeth - the Armada Portrait, 1588 - she loved those jewels!

(96) “As on the finger of a a throned Queen, / The basest Jewel will be well esteemed” – He gave the Queen “a fair jewel of gold” with diamonds in 1580.

(98) “Of different flowers in odor and in hue” – He was raised amid the great gardens of William Cecil, whose gardner imported flowers never seen in England — accounting for Shakespeare’s vast knowledge of flowers.

(107) “And thou in this shalt find thy monument” – He wrote to Thomas Bedingfield in 1573 that “I shall erect you such a monument…”

(109) “Myself bring water for my stain” – He was “water-bearer to the monarch” at the Coronation of King James on July 25, 1603, in his capacity as Lord Great Chamberlain.

Title page of The New Jewell of Health (1576) by Dr. George Baker, dedicated to Oxford's wife Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford

(111) Potions of Eisel ‘gainst my strong infection” – Oxford’s surgeon was Dr. George Baker, who dedicated three books to either the earl or his wife Anne Cecil.

(114) “And to his palate doth prepare the cup – His ceremonial role as Lord Great Chamberlain included bringing the “tasting cup” to the monarch.

(121) “No, I am that I am…” –  He wrote to William Cecil Lord Burghley using the same words in the same tone (the words of God to Moses in the Bible) to protest his spying on him.

(128) “Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds– Oxford was an intimate favorite of the Queen, who frequently played on the virginals.

Courtiers of Queen Elizabeth - entertaining her with lute

(153) “I sick withal the help of bath desired” – He accompanied Elizabeth and her Court during her three-day visit in August 1574 to the City of Bath, the only royal visit of the reign; and “Shakespeare” is said to write about this visit in the so-called Bath Sonnets 153-54.

The items above amount to superficial stuff compared to extraordinary story Oxford recorded and preserved within his “monument” of verse for posterity. While writing these deeply personal sonnets, however, he could not help but draw instinctively and spontaneously upon the externals of his life as he had lived it.

Oh, I almost forgot — here in the Sonnets, as elsewhere, the author used “ever” (and “never”) as signature words:

(116) “O no, it is an ever-fixed mark/ That looks on tempests and his never shaken … If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ nor no man ever loved” – In one of his early poems he wrote: “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?  Vere.”

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very fine summary, Hank. I was happy to be reminded of Dr. Baker’s dedications, as I am presenting on the Shakespeare authorship question to a group of ER docs attending a conference next month. I’ll be taking a medical approach to the SAQ, including the author’s very frequent use of fainting and sudden death from high emotions, and his representation of resuscitation (in Pericles) proving the author was familiar with both Hippocrates and the Corpus Hermeticum.

    • Thanks, Earl — great angle, the medical approach, and I don’t think anyone has done it before. Wish I could be there. Meanwhile, I’m almost at no. 30. Yay!

  2. Hank,

    Why do you think the “Dark Lady” was Queen Elizabeth? Most writers I read seem to think it was Anne Vasavour, who had dark features and with whom Oxford had an affair.

    John

    • John, I’ll get back to you — I just wrote a lengthy reply that got wiped out by accidentally pressing a single key. Not sure if I can retrieve it. Will try to redo later. Best, Hank

      John, hello again –I’ve rewritten the reply and putting it up on the main blog page. Thanks for the question!

  3. Hank, I asked for and received your Monument book for my 50th birthday a year ago. To get it in Hungary was a task indeed:) But I have it, and I’ve read it through. I’ve learned about 30 sonnets by heart, both in english and in hungarian. I’m completely convinced that what you’ve discovered is, is the truth, perhaps truer than truth 🙂

    It’ s a great work, congratulation. I hope once I’ll have the chance to meet you personally and shake your hands. You’ve solved about the greatest mistery in humankind’s history.


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