Some of the Evidence that Oxford Sent Copies of His Sonnets to Southampton in the Tower — And that They Influenced Southampton in Writing His Poem to Queen Elizabeth

Continuing our discussion of the poem entitled The Earl of Southampton Prisoner, and Condemned, to Queen Elizabeth, written by Southampton in his Tower of London prison room during February-March 1601…

Inside Traitors Gate, where Southampton and Essex were brought by boat around midnight into the Tower of London, on the night of February 8, 1601

In the 74-line poem he begged the Queen for mercy, which was granted in the third week of March 1601; and as suggested in The Monument, the forty Shakespeare sonnets 27 to 66 were written in correspondence with the forty days and nights of that tense time.

Was Oxford sending copies of individual sonnets to Southampton?  Because he was the highest-ranking earl of the realm, or for other reasons, was he able to have manuscript copies delivered to the younger earl in the Tower?

(In Sonnet 45 he writes of “those swift messengers returned from thee/ Who even now come back again assured of thy fair health, recounting it to me.”  Southampton was ill in the Tower at that time, with painful swellings in his legs; and in his poem to the Queen he refers to “my legs’ strength decayed.”)

The Tower of London

It would seem that Southampton was influenced by these specific sonnets, given that he used key words (in one form or another) to be found in that same forty-sonnet sequence.  Here is a partial list of such correspondences:


Sonnet 63: When hours have drained his blood

Southampton:  Like a true blood-stone, keep their bleeding still


Sonnet 31: Thou art the grave where buried love doth live

Southampton: There I am buried quick…


Sonnet 30: And weep afresh love’s long-since cancelled woe

Southampton: To cancel old offenses…


Sonnet 58: Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime

Southampton: Swim above all my crimes


Sonnet 31: As interest of the dead

Southampton: As one may, sith say the dead walk so


Sonnet 54: Die to themselves.  Sweet Roses do not so…

Southampton: Cleaving to walls, which when they’re opened, die


Sonnet 35: All men make faults

Southampton: Where faults weigh down the scale…


Sonnet 31: Thou art the grave where buried love doth live

Southampton: (For this a prison differs from a grave.)


Sonnet 34: Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief

Southampton: My face which grief plowed…


Sonnet 50: For that same groan doth put this in my mind

Southampton: Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans


Sonnet 34: And they are rich, and rich, and ransom all ill deeds

Southampton: Perseverance in ill is all the ill


Sonnet 58: Th’imprisond absence of your liberty

Southampton: But with new merits, I beg liberty


Sonnet 34: Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss

Southampton: Than one that plays small game after great loss


Sonnet 34: To him that bears the strong offense’s cross

Southampton: To cancel old offenses


Sonnet 58: Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime

Southampton: So they, when taken forth, unless a pardon


Sonnet 65: But sad mortality o’ersways their power

Southampton: Without such intermission they want power


Sonnet 52: By new unfolding his imprisoned pride

Southampton: Prisons are living men’s tombs…


Sonnet 34: Th’offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

Southampton:  Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been


Sonnet 33: Suns of the world may stain, when heaven’s sun staineth

Southampton: In lawn, a stain/ Well taken forth may be made serve again


Sonnet 34: Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds

Southampton: For my tears have already worn these stones

So much of our ability to understand the Sonnets and to feel their emotional weight depends upon the context in which they are viewed.  Are they homosexual love poems within a bisexual love triangle?  Or are they private, highly sensitive messages, in poetical form, written during a time of tremendous grief and danger?

The former view has no documentary record to support it, while the latter view (expressed on this blog site) has an underpinning of contemporary history supporting it at every twist and turn: the failed Essex rebellion of Feb 8, the trial on Feb 19, the execution of Essex on Feb 25, the trial of other conspirators on March 5, the execution of two men on March 13, the execution of two more men on March 18 and so on.

Now the Southampton Tower Poem places yet another historical and biographical fact in evidence.

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