Part Two of Reason No. 35: The Unique “Centuries” of Sonnets by Watson (with Oxford’s help) and “Shakespeare”

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On the title page of Hekatompathia or Passionate Century of Love by Thomas Watson (1582), dedicated to Edward Earl of Oxford, the reader is informed about the architecture of the “century” of one-hundred sonnets:  “Divided into two parts: whereof, the first expresseth the Authours sufferance in Love: the latter, his long farewell to Love and all his tyrannie.”

The two parts have eighty and twenty sonnets respectively.  Part One comprises Sonnets 1 – 80 and Part Two comprises Sonnets 81 – 100:

1————————-80 81———100

When we get to Sonnet 80 at the end of the first part, we are told that the next verse, Sonnet 81, beginning the second part, is shaped “in the form of a pillar” that quite obviously makes it unique and gives it considerable importance:

Sonnet 81 of Watson's sequence, in the form of a pillar, starting Part Two (81-100); and Shakespeare's Sonnet 107 is also the eighty-first verse of his "century," starting Part Two (107-126)

“All such as are but of indifferent capacity, and have some skill in Arithmetic, by viewing this Sonnet following compiled by rule and number, into the form of a pillar, may soon judge how much art and study the Author hath bestowed in the same.”

While working on The Monument it became apparent that the one hundred and fifty-four verses of SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS (1609) contain the same architecture.  The first step is to remove the epilogue of the Bath sonnets, 153-154; and then separate the main body of one hundred and fifty-two sonnets by means of the two envoys, Sonnets 26 and 126.

The result is a central sequence of a hundred sonnets between two series of twenty-six:

1—–26 27—————————-126 127—–152

It came as a surprise to me, after completing The Monument, to find that Edgar I. Fripp in Shakespeare, Man and Artist of 1938 had already discovered the same hundred-sonnet sequence and even related it to Watson’s earlier sequence:

“Centuries or ‘hundreds’ of literary pieces were in fashion,” Fripp wrote, citing “hundreds” of songs, sonnets, prayers, sermons, hymns, flowers, emblems, medical facts and so on.  “The Hekotompathia or Passionate Century of Love by Thomas Watson, otherwise a century of passions, may have served as a model for Shakespeare’s century of sonnets,” he continued, adding, “Shakespeare’s Sonnets 27-126 are a century.”

But Fripp had seen no significance in Watson’s dedication to Oxford, who had helped with the manuscript; nor had he realized that Shakespeare’s century is itself divided into two parts, exactly as Watson’s century is divided, that is, Part One with eighty sonnets and Part Two with twenty:

Thomas Watson: 1———————————-80 81————-100

Shake-speare’s: 27——————————–106 107————126

Sonnet 107 is the eighty-first verse and the “pillar” that begins Part Two. 

And of course Sonnet 107 is both unique and important as the so-called “dating sonnet,” viewed by most critics as celebrating the release on April 10, 1603 of Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” in the Tower.  Sonnet 107 also refers to the death of Queen Elizabeth, the “mortal Moon,” a few weeks earlier on March 24, 1603, when King James VI of Scotland was quickly proclaimed King James I of England – without the civil war around succession that had been both predicted and feared.

As shown in The Monument, the eighty sonnets of Part One begin with Sonnet 27 upon Southampton’s arrest on the night of February 8, 1601 and continue until Sonnet 106 upon his final night in the Tower on April 9, 1603; and the twenty sonnets of Part Two begin with his liberation on April 10, 1603 and continue with one sonnet per day until Sonnet 125 upon the Queen’s funeral on April 28, 1603 followed by Sonnet 126, the envoy of farewell.

So it appears that Watson’s century of 1582 had “served as a model” for Shakespeare’s century even more closely than Edgar Fripp had known.  And given that Oxford had been so intimately involved in the Watson sequence, we might logically conclude that he repeated its structure in the Shakespeare sequence.

In other words, if “Shakespeare” was borrowing from Watson, as now seems clear, then the view here is that he was borrowing from himself!

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  1. Inspiration for Pascal’s triangle?

    • Perhaps! Here I reprint a comment from my colleague William Ray –
      As an aside, the structure of the Sonnets is an architectonic testimony to the tragic non-reality on earth of what had been justly divined in heaven, i.e., the heir of the monarch (Southampton) by right should be divinely royal as the true successor. The first 26 sonnets correspond to the age of the Prince before the judgment of his being imprisoned as a traitor. (He wished to replace Cecil, not Elizabeth.) He was imprisoned for 26 months.The last 26 sonnets (127-52) preceding the two-sonnet coda (153-4) correspond to the Sonnets 1-26 prelude to crisis-and the 100-Sonnet sequence. The main numerological symbolism is in the 100 between those pillars, a 100-sequence being a literary usage at least from Erasmus. Embedded as an inner sonnet-sequence are the 26 sonnets between Sonnet 77 and Sonnet 102 which contain 365 lines to represent a royal or eternal Year. That Year concept is spaced on either side by two 24′s, for hours in a day, Sonnets 53-76 and Sonnets103-26. Shifting from Time to vassalage reference, the five pledges of eternal fealty in the entire Sonnet sequence occur 26 sonnets apart: starting with Sonnet 29, then 55, 81, and 107. Five was considered the royal number, mid-way between l and 9. There is a yet more abstract ‘Time’ related symbolism, conveyed by the total lines in the Sonnets and Lover’s Complaint-2484-corresponding to the Platonic Great Year, or for all intents and purposes the Age in a quasi-astrological sense. The Event was placed within the fullness of Time, by way of numerological symbolism packed together to honor a never-Kingship on earth. Without the history, this complicated Elizabethan apostrophe would be reasonably interpreted as a poet’s rage, or as T.S. Eliot put it an ‘autobiography of a foreign man in a foreign tongue which will never be translated’. With the history however, it is an aesthetic artifact about and remnant shadow upon HIstory or, to adopt the author’s own word, a monument to what never was nor could be. We cannot call the Kingship history, since it never happened. It was left instead on the lonely spiritual terrain of legend and art.
      William Ray

      • WOW!!! You got my cabala going!!! Hank, I did “check in” with Giordano Bruno on numbers. The site below is interesting with one personal caveat: Georg Cantor is closer to Bruno on infinite and the higher ordered infinities (the power of aleph) then the website indicates. The website, in part because of the chosen context, makes Bruno out to be more a materialist, or materialistic, which is not exactly right.

        (Also, there is a Bruno connection to our author, from “This Star of England” by the Ogburns, page 650: “One of the most interesting circumstances connecting Hamlet (`Hamlet’ is in italics-sf) with the middle 1580’s is the sojourn in London of Giordano Bruno from 1583 to ’86, where he was under the patronage of `certain prominent noblemen.’ For Tschischwitz is quoted by Dowden as having found in Hamlet (the play-sf) indications that the dramatist was acquainted with the philosophy of Bruno. (the footnote here points to Dowden’s `Shakspere, His Mind and Art’; note, p.118; cit. Shakspere-Forschungen-I. Hamlet Halle, 1868.)) Further point is added by the fact that Bruno became a professor at Wittenberg.”)

        (There’s also a 12 year old paper by Julia Jones, “The Brave New World of Giordano Bruno” where she mentions the Bruno-Hamlet connection” and then there is
        And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
        There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
        Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

        Horatio had just returned from Wittenberg)

        With that, the website:

        Every scientific theory has a philosophical history, one that should not be forgotten. I’ve traced questions about infinity backward to philosophers such as Lucretius, Zeno, and Parmenides. Since learning of it, I have not forgotten the story of the brilliant and passionate Giordano Bruno, the Italian philosopher who lived only four hundred years ago. Each philosopher posed questions still valid today. Each was a visionary on the subject of infinite worlds and forever time. Bruno, however, lived in the time of the inquisition.
        Giordano Bruno

        The Italian Philosopher Giordano Bruno was sixteen years older than Galileo. Bruno primarily taught the skill of memory but also espoused all throughout Europe the doctrine that there are an infinite number of other worlds. In 1584 Giordano wrote a thesis entitled “On the Infinite Universe and Worlds.” Bruno argued that if a person believes it logical that even one other world likely exists, that it reasonably follows that all other worlds exist. Giordano writes:

        We are not compelled to define a number, we who say that there is an infinite number of worlds; there no distinction exists of odd or even, since these are differences of number, not of the innumerable. Nor can I think there have ever been philosophers who, in positing several worlds, did not posit them also as infinite: for would not reason, which demands something further beyond this sensible world, so also outside of and beyond whatever number of worlds is assumed, assume again another and another?

        Bruno’s conception of infinities is not like that of Georges Cantor, the mathematician. Bruno described equal infinities within other infinities:

        Whatever is an element of the infinite must be infinite also; hence both Earths and Suns are infinite in number. But the infinity of the former, is not greater than of the latter; nor where all are inhabited, are the inhabitants in greater proportion to the infinite than the stars themselves.

        His writings clearly portray a strong sense of a unity to being and eternity, or infinite time, as he writes:

        Everywhere is one soul, one spirit of the world, wholly in the whole and in every part of it, as we find in our lesser world also. This soul…produces all things everywhere; so that for the generations of some even time is not required…

        And we find in Bruno’s writings that his view of a holistic infinite universe was intertwined with his belief and view of one perfect God.

        Therefore the perfect, absolutely and in itself, is one, infinite, which cannot be greater or better, and than which nothing can be greater or better. This is one, everywhere, the only God, universal nature, of which nothing can be a perfect image or reflection, but the infinite.

        However, Bruno’s moving faith in a unity of God and nature did not save him from the ecclesiastic members of the Christian Catholic inquisition, who considered his beautiful vision to be heresy. In 1591 Bruno returned home to Italy where a man named Mocenigo made accusations of heresy that brought Bruno to the attention of the inquisition. He was imprisoned for over six years in Rome and then brutally burned to death early in the year 1600, after repeatedly refusing to recant his beliefs. It was perhaps the most gross crime ever committed in order to limit the definition of reality. However, it may be that such crimes, and the fortitude of Giordano, wizened and forged the resolve of men like Galileo who would weaken the power of the inquisition, eventually leading to a new light of human understanding shined by scientific discovery.

        Everything Forever; Learning to See and Model All Possible Universes

  2. We pantheists in the World Pantheist Movement consider Bruno to be one of our forerunners.

  3. Agreed. And in the back of our mind we feel the heat of the fiery Bruno.

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