The So-Called “Rival Poet” of the Sonnets is NOT A REAL PERSON….

A section of the Shakespeare sonnets (78 to 86) has been known traditionally as the Rival Poet Series.  Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians alike, including most Oxfordians, still assume that this figure must be a real individual such as George Chapman or Walter Raleigh or Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.  Well, I suggest this demonstrates yet again the power of a prior assumption or a long-held belief that is taken for granted and never questioned.

The Dedication of "Lucrece" - 1594 - CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

The idea of the Rival Poet is that another writer has competed with the author successfully for the affections of the younger man known as the Fair Youth –  identified as Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), to whom “William Shakespeare” dedicated his first printed works, Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594, pledging: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.”

Never again would the great author dedicate anything to anyone else, ensuring that the names of Southampton and Shakespeare would be linked exclusively and forever.  In Sonnet 82 of the Rival Poet series, the author points directly to his public epistles to Southampton, referring to:

The dedicated words which writers use

Of their fair subject, blessing every book

Under the belief that William Shakspere of Stratford was the author,  it’s a given that the Rival Poet must be a real human being.  But once Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is postulated as the author known as “Shakespeare,” it’s not only possible but inevitable that the Rival Poet is none other than his pen name or public persona, which is getting all the attention as the writer linked to Southampton.

As mentioned above, most of my own colleagues, while convinced that Edward de Vere was the great author, still assume that the Rival Poet is a real person.  [The latest candidate of choice is the Earl of Essex.]  Yet the case for Oxford is based on the premise that in fact he’s living with a split personality!  This is seen clearly in the personal sonnets, where he himself is PRIVATELY writing to Southampton while his alter ego “Shakespeare” is PUBLICLY addressing him (in the dedications still being printed in new editions of the narrative poems).

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" - 1593

I wish my Oxfordian colleagues could entertain the thought that the “authorship question” is answered right there in the Sonnets — which Edward de Vere wrote and later compiled as a “monument” to preserve for posterity his own testimony about why and how he chose to obliterate his identity behind the “Shakespeare” mask.  What he describes in the Sonnets is NOT merely the adoption of the pen name in the early 1590’s, in which case he could have expected to be revealed posthumously, but, rather, his decision to sacrifice his identity after his death:

“My name be buried where my body is,” he writes in Sonnet 72, leading up to the “rival” series.

Oxford, addressing Southampton in Sonnet 80, offers a capsule answer to the authorship question:

O how I faint when I of you do write,

Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,

And in the praise thereof spends all his might

To make me tongue-tied speaking of your name.

The pen name “Shakespeare” is the rival who can praise Henry Wriothesley in public, while Edward de Vere must remain “tongue-tied” or silent.  (In Sonnet 66 he complains that his “art” or ability to communicate has been “tongue-tied by authority” or by official policy.)

"Knowing a better spirit doth use your name"

Would the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England and highest-ranking earl of the realm, ever, under any circumstances, call anyone else, including Chapman or Raleigh or Essex (whom he really disliked), a “better spirit”?  I think not!

“Shakespeare” is the better spirit… 

In Sonnet 81 he offers an even more direct answer, telling Southampton:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have

Though I (once gone) to all the world must die

Could that be any clearer?  He correctly predicts that Southampton will be remembered because of the Shakespeare connection; and then he says directly that, after his death, he will have to “die” all over again “to all the world”which can only mean that he anticipates his own obliteration as “Shakespeare,” who publicly devoted his labors to Southampton.

By what logic, and for what reason, would the traditional Shakespeare write such words?

This is just one piece of the puzzle among others needed to create the full picture.  I’ll be back with more such pieces, as set forth in The Monument … in Shakespeare’s Son and His Sonnets … and in Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare.

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