“Why Do You Think the Dark Lady is Queen Elizabeth?” – Answer to a Reader

A reader, John, asks: “Why do you think the Dark Lady was Queen Elizabeth?” –– and because this question is so crucial to the perspective of this blog, my answer is posted here in the window of the regular blog:

It begins with the change of focus, of paradigm, caused by viewing “Shakespeare” as Oxford rather than as William of Stratford.  In the traditional view, the Sonnets tell a “love story” that’s either platonic or sexually active.  “Love story” is the only possibility open to the traditional authorship, if one accepts that the poet of the sonnets is recording events involving real individuals in real circumstances of his life.  In this perspective the dark lady of Sonnets 127-152 cannot be the Queen; our perceptions are limited by our prior assumptions.

In the traditional Stratfordian view the triangular love relationship is based, however, on no biographical or historical evidence that makes sense of the Sonnets as recording a real-life story. No amount of contortions can help, which is the main reason why the whole thing has been such a mystery — the true story has been a mystery because, within the paradigm of the orthodox author, there’s no story in the first place – it doesn’t even exist!

A portrait of Elizabeth I from the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- not quite the way she usually appears

Once Oxford is suggested as the author, however, new possibilities become apparent. Much of his early poetry, perhaps all of it, is about Elizabeth.  His letters are filled with her presence.  He was a nobleman of her Court and she was his chief focus as a courtier and servant of the state.  And that applies to Southampton as well.  It does not apply at all within the old paradigm, but when Oxford is seen as the author we must face the reality that his whole world has revolved around this remarkable female monarch.

Coat of Arms of England with Elizabeth's motto "Semper Eadem" - Ever the Same

Postulating Oxford as the author, I see the line in Sonnet 76, “Why write I still all one, ever the same” as not only the reflection of Southampton’s motto “One for all, all for one,” but also as indicating Elizabeth’s motto “Semper Eadem” or “Ever the Same,” which is exactly how she wrote it in English. This is something Edward de Vere knew and could never forget; he could not write “ever the same” and fail to realize he was identifying the Queen in that line as a prime subject of these sonnets. It was deliberate on his part.  And we can read him stating that he writes always about just one topic, which is always the same – Southampton and Elizabeth.

Oxford's lover Anne Vavasour, a Maid of Honor to the Queen who gave birth to his illegitimate son (Edward Veer) in March 1581

A big trouble is that many Oxfordians, even most, have accepted a change of authorship paradigm without accepting various other changes that flow from it.  I suppose we could come up with many analogies for this situation.  Imagine, for example, switching the scene from New York to Chicago and yet still trying to hold onto the Empire State Building.  That’s what so many of my colleagues seem to have done – they’ve switched the author from William of Stratford to the Earl of Oxford, yet are still trying to view the Sonnets as recording a love story involving some “mistress” or dark lady – of which the candidates have ranged from Anne Vavasour to Emilia Bassano Lanier to Oxford’s second wife, Elizabeth Trentham.

We could deal with each of those candidates, but I’d prefer not to waste time (here and now) on that negative task; but I challenge any Oxfordian to match up a real-life story involving any of these or other “dark lady” candidates with the sonnets themselves, fully and coherently.  

All attempts to match up real-life circumstances and events with some such love story are doomed to failure, if only because there’s no biographical or historical evidence to support those attempts.  The timing, the opportunities, all must be stretched and twisted, but even then without success.  Another reason they don’t match up is simply that the language, thoughts and themes of the so-called dark lady sonnets make no sense in the “love story” paradigm. Those Oxfordians who remain even partially stuck in the orthodox viewpoint are doomed to make crucial errors of interpretation; there’s no way around it – as the saying goes, the shoe won’t fit.

The emperor in his new clothes -- not!

It’s like the story of the emperor wearing no clothes – being unable to see and/or admit something that’s right in front of us.

A big clue to Elizabeth being the dark lady is Sonnet 25, in lines that include the Marigold, one of the Queen’s flowers.

[John Lyly, in Euphues his England (1580), dedicated to Oxford, wrote of Queen Elizabeth: “She useth the marigold for her flower, which at the rising of the sunne openeth his leaves, and at the setting shutteth them, referring all her actions and endeavors to Him that ruleth the sunne.”]

English-garden yellow marigold flowers in bloom

In Sonnet 25 she is indisputably the one to whom Oxford refers as “Great Princes” – and she has the ability with a “frown” to turn the world from light to dark; in an instant, she can turn her “favorites” such as Essex and Southampton from bright to black:

Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread,
But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.

The Sonnets begin with reference to “beauty’s Rose” (1), the very phrase used by John Davies for Elizabeth and/or her Tudor Rose dynasty; they refer to her as “the mortal Moon” (107); and if one is willing to “see” what is there on the printed page, the Queen is all over the place – the dark lady whose point of view makes all the difference.

Queen Elizabeth I of England, flanked by Tudor Roses and Eglantine - 1588

In Sonnet 149 of the dark lady series, Oxford writes to her that he is “Commanded by the motion of thine eyes” – and, for him, this can only refer to the commanding eyes of his monarch. No other woman could ever command him by the motion of her eyes. In King John the King is told: “Be great in act, as you have been in thought; let not the world see fear and mistrust govern the motion of a kingly eye.” (5.1.45-47)

On its face, if you really think about it, the author of the Sonnets cannot be ranting and raving about a mistress because he can’t stand the color of her hair or eyes or skin. The lines would then be hyperbolic in the extreme: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,/ Who art black as hell, as dark as night” (147) – a statement that simply cannot refer to the woman’s physical coloring.

The dark lady is “dark” not because of her coloring, but, rather, because of her imperial viewpoint – and this is reinforced tremendously once one perceives that Sonnets 27 to 106 and 127 to 152 correspond with the time (1601-1603) that Southampton spent in the Tower as a prisoner condemned as a traitor. In that circumstance, the Queen’s view of him is indeed “black as hell, as dark as night.”

The dark lady series opens with 127, and we have to get to line 9 to read, “THEREFORE my mistress’ eyes are raven black,/ Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem,/ At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,/ Sland’ring Creation with a false esteem.” This is a direct statement from the author that the blackness of his mistress’ eyes is a metaphor.

[And here are those “eyes” again, i.e., that imperial viewpoint, which can slander “creation” or a child who was “not born fair” (not counted as royal) but “no beauty lack” (yet lacks no royal blood from Beauty, the Queen) — an interpretation that’s valid regardless of the so-called Prince Tudor theory of Southampton as the natural son of Oxford and Elizabeth.]

I think it’s fascinating, how we tend to hold onto the old ways of seeing things, even after having made a tremendous (and even courageous) shift of perspective by accepting the possibility of Oxford as Shakespeare. (I must follow-up this little essay with similar thoughts about the so-called rival poet, whom many or most Oxfordians continue to view as a real individual rather than as Oxford’s pen name “Shakespeare”.)  The old habits of old paradigms die hard.

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The Sonnets as you interpreted them are clear and real.

    As interpreted by Shakspere’s point of view are surreal.

    The Sonnets are like the painting of “Las Meninas”: a great masterpiece full of Kings and Queens in the background while depicting a great room of silenced poetical symbols at the front.

    (Nice Queen Elizabeth’s portrait you put in your blog by the bye.)

    • Thanks, Richardo. When you have time, please inform us about your current work and plans. Best from Hank

  2. Dear Hank,
    Your work is fascinating and, for me, quite convincing. You mention that some Oxfordians still cling to the sexual love triangle theory of the sonnets. I’m remembering the suggestion put forth by Charlton Ogburn in his huge masterpiece in which Southhampton and Vavasor (raven eyes and hair like black wires, etc.) form the triangle with Oxford. I am assuming that Ogburn died before you could discuss your ideas with him and before your view of the sonnets as a whole were solidified. I imagine if he were alive he would be thrilled by your breakthrough and realize that his parents were indeed on the right track. My question then is whether there already has been some sort of Oxfordian scholarly push (like a meeting with published proceedings) to get together on this and come to some sort of agreement on the basic facts? It seems to me extremely important to emphasize that one does not need the Prince Tudor theory to accept these basic facts about the ‘characters’ in the sonnets. Oxford could have been just a strong father-figure to Southampton and pushed the marriage to his daughter and his relationship to the Queen still remains paramount (though for me personally. “he was but one hour mine” is more or less a smoking gun!). At any rate is seems to me there needs to be a multiauthored paradigm-shifting paper published which brings together in one place all of the evidence that it is Elizabeth who is the central female focus of the sonnets. (As a scientist who deals in evidence I feel like this is a no-brainer).

    • Dennis — much appreciated. What I wish I’d been able to communicate with Charlton Ogburn Jr., and his parents before him, is the post-Essex Rebellion context of Sonnets 27-126 — the “century” of sonnets, or sequence of a hundred — and Sonnets 127-152. I believe they would have seen it right away and recognized the truth of it. Once something like that is seen, what had appeared to be complicated or complex becomes very simple and clear — as I’m sure you know very well in the science field and elsewhere.

      Thanks for the suggestion about a multi-authored paper resulting from a meeting etc. — a very good idea, which I would readily accept — but I refrain from any hope for it, because at the moment the emotions runneth very high, and people are determined to stick with their various points of view regardless of evidence or common sense. Such is the argument against the so-called Prince Tudor theory that Southampton was the son of Oxford and Elizabeth, with a widespread belief among Oxfordians that the theory has been refuted by historical and biographical evidence. Not so. Well, such is the argument by Stratfordians against the Oxford theory, i.e., that it’s been refuted by various facts. Again not so.

      Of course the catch-all response when all else fails is that “we can never know” the answer or answers. Well … not so.

      Meanwhile I continue this work and appreciate any further suggestions from any corner.

      Thanks –

      ADDITION – I had meant to address the possibility of looking at the sonnets with Elizabeth as dark lady WITHOUT the Prince Tudor theory — quite reasonable, but here I am afraid the anti-PT folks would probably see it as a ploy to lure people to PT. Well, no, I’d be happy if the post-Rebellion context could be viewed on its own terms, but then inevitably comes the question of, well, what was going on? What’s the relationship between Oxford and Southampton? And so on. Therefore, we can see as much resistance here as anywhere. I know that scientists are no less adversarial. I can and do “prove” the post-Rebellion context without PT, but would it work?

      • I agree with your deductions, Shakespeare was in reality the Earl of Oxford and he was closer to the Queen than most people suspect. I also think that the Rape of Lucrece was written for her. The idea to remain anonymous was because of the upsets it would cause in aristocratic circles. But I think that Edward De Vere tried to conceal Elizabeth behind another “mask” just as he concealed his own identity behind the Stratford Man! He deliberately made sure that no one could make a link between the Dark Lady and the Queen. But there is a very interesting portrait of Queen Elizabeth in dark livery, with a face as white as lead oxide-that was her favourite cosmetic apparently and probably the cause of her eventual death-lead poisoning!

  3. Hank writes, “[I] challenge any Oxfordian to match up a real-life story involving any of these or other “dark lady” candidates with the sonnets themselves, fully and coherently.”

    In “Shakespeare Suppressed,” Katherine Chiljan thinks the Dark Lady is Anne Vasavour, which she discusses on pages 236-241. The Dark Lady is portrayed as someone with dark hair and eyes (sonnets 130, 132, 134) (p 237). The Willobie cantos seems to suggest the Dark Lady was a lady in waiting to the queen and had the initial “A” in her name (Ibid, 236-237). The Dark Lady is similar to Rosaline in “Love’s Labour Lost” who also was a Lady-in-Waiting (238). There’s a bit more. At the end of the end of the day, you always seem to be right, Hank, but Katherine Chiljan apparently doesn’t think so. I bring all this up in the spirit of debate.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, John. I’ll try to deal with this in replies here or in the blog. Anne Vavasour obviously plays a big roles in various aspects of the Oxford-Shakespeare story. Hope to get to this soon.

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