A Further Comment on Oxford’s Choice of Poetry (the Sonnets) to Carry His Message to Readers in the Future

Here is an additional comment related to the previous blog post about David Gontar’s insight, in his new book Hamlet Made Simple,  into the reason for the existence of the Sonnets:

In that post I failed to emphasize Professor Gontar’s statement, “By electing to employ the medium of poetry, which well the poet knew would be perused by later generations, strata of broader significance were entailed.”   Within this statement is perhaps the best answer to the question, “Why did Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford use poetry (sonnets) as a means of preserving a true story for posterity?”

Southampton in the Tower(8 Feb 1601 - 10 April 1603)

Southampton in the Tower
(8 Feb 1601 – 10 April 1603)

The answer is that, if his truth were to have any chance of surviving, it would need to be conveyed within the most deeply felt lines of which Oxford was capable of producing.  He knew the power of poetry, of great poetry, and knew it has the potential to live forever; and it does seem that he believed he was achieving such poetical heights, as when he wrote the following sonnet — which, I contend, could be written only to a prince:

Sonnet 55

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of Princes shall out-live this powerful rhyme,

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues over-turn,    

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.

‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth!  Your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

So, till the judgment that your self arise,

You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

In the act of communicating this promise to Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton, during the younger man’s first forty days (February-March 1601) in the Tower of London, the Earl of Oxford, father of Southampton, was also revealing his intentions to those of us who might read those lines in the future.  He made the same promise to Southampton in Sonnet 81:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,

When all the breathers of this world are dead.

You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen!)

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Come to think of it, the above lines express the reason for the existence of this blog site.

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Hank,
    I just want to add: I think Oxford did hide himself in sonnet 55:
    ‘That wear(e) this world out to the ending doom’ – that Vere….

    • Sandy, I only wish we could communicate with the earl and have him tell us what’s what:-)

      • Yes, we knew much more – maybe everything. But surely your Monument would sell much worse 🙂 I rather wish: you have the power to find out as much as possible about the Earl’s intentions. My faint hope is that we could add some thin hairs to it…

  2. Curious, Whittemore. Is curious how the Poet is obsessed with immortallity. Time is a strong matter in the Sonnets. Sonnet 55, Sonnet 81 and Sonnet 18 are the best example of this. While in Sonnet 18, Oxford is worried about Southampton’s royal blood/beauty but in Sonnet 55 and Sonnet 81 he is cleary worried about Southampton’s life and how is death could kill is beauty and love/royal blood from the documents and History itself.

    • Yes, it’s amazing. In the first place Time is the time left in the reign, the time till succession, which is unknown, because Elizabeth could die any moment. Once the rebellion fails and Oxford knows the game is over, and that he must make a bargain to save Southampton’s life, Time becomes the ongoing record that will survive in the future. Time has beaten Oxford, but now Oxford is making a mighty effort to conquer Time by means of these sonnets, or I should say this sonnet sequence with its careful structure, along with the lines of poetry. He must make sure they survive, and can do that only if he makes them great, universal, etc. Time, the historical record, is a liar; people in the future will be told lies; but he is preserving truth.

      You know how he says to Time, in 123, “For thy RECORDS, and what we see, doth lie” — well, he is building his own record, within this moment, and in 55 he calls it “the living RECORD of your [Southampton’s] memory.”

      • To be honest, I think the Time of Sonnet 1-19 is differente from the Time that appear in the secret century of Oxford’s sonnets (27-126). I think the first is allogoric and the second is Robert Cecil himself. What do you think. Sorry my bad portugueses 😛

      • I see what you mean, Francisco. I had always thought it represented Elizabeth, because technically she is the one refusing to tell the truth, i.e., to name Southampton; but it really is Cecil in charge, isn’t it… He is the extension of the queen since he has the power … and, too, he will produce the records upon which history will be written. The future direction of England was in the power of Robert Cecil and he used it.

        My colleague Bill Boyle has proposed that the “great reckoning in a little room” was the confrontation between Oxford and Cecil right after the rebellion…

        (Act 3 Scene 3 of As You Like It, which was played in late 1603 at Wilton House, I believe.)

        Good thinking, Francisco!

  3. Yes Whittemore. Cecil was almost in controll behind the scenes of the Rebellion. Don’t forget that “each hand hat put on Nature’ power/fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face” in Sonnet 127. Which means that, now the Queen (Nature) is weak because of her age (and after Essex’ beheading, she enter in a depression), so Cecil (each hand, or everyone with power that is close to the Queen) has the power to decide who’s Elizabeth’s heir (“fairing the foul” is a reference to James Stuart, who isn’t fair because he is not a Tudor; the “art’s alse borrowed face”, in my point of view, is just there to give strength to the second image of “beauty”.

    And (once again) yes, you’re right. We have record of a “As You like It” to be performed at Wilton House in 1603. Is there some connections between the characters of such play to reality?

  4. Hi Hank,
    the sonnet 99 with the 15 lines is extreme, we all know 🙂
    But the word ‘third’ only once, in this sonnet can be found, as you show it in the Monument – 3rd Earl of Southampton. Probably according to Oxford’s intentions the sonnet number 3*33 ‘hides’ as many times as only possible this important number.

    • Wow, Sandy, that’s amazing. And guess what, although I did identify “A third” as Southampton, it somehow escaped me that it related to “third” earl of Southampton! And the rest of it is quite good, I’d say, perhaps really explaining the 15 lines to mark no. 99 as 3 x 33. And it won’t be long before 105 and “Three themes in one…”

      • Hank, it’s moving… I did find this possible explanation of the 15 lines either when realizing the ‘magical’ number 3, but I thought: if you yourself don’t come up with it, I myself won’t mention it, given the great number of guessing I do here regularly 🙂
        Thank you again for your kind words.

  5. Hank,
    for quite a time I was thinking, which way could possibly try Oxford to hide the name of Southampton between the lines of the sonnets? Of course any direct reference would’ve been unimaginable. Even the word ‘South’ would have been too straightforward, I guess. It seems that ‘third’, however, in a seemingly neutral line was masked enough to catch attention 🙂
    But let’s see, where’s South: between East and West. What if Oxford did try to hide South(ampton) this way? Did he write any sonnet where he wrote in close lines about the Sun (Son) of Heaven AND East and West? Yes! Sonnet 132 – another one in the 33-line: 99 + 33 = 132 !

    ‘And truly not the morning Sun of Heaven
    Better becomes the grey cheeks of the East,
    Nor that full Star that ushers in the Even
    Doth half (!!) that glory to the sober West, ‘

    South: half between East and West. And then comes:
    ‘As those two mourning eyes become thy face’

    And between those eyes of East and West there are you yourself, South(ampton).

    I can’t know it for sure. But it’s allegoric enough for Oxford to use it for his (possible) purpose. I can’t rule it out – given (again) the circumstances, when he had to hide everything and had to use that little weaponry of poetry left to him. I’m eager to know your opinion.

    • Hi Sandy — there is a lot of logic to it, but impossible for me to tell. I am more sure of the more obvious things, such as “all one” for the motto etc. But will study it more. Thanks.

      • That’s more than enough for me 🙂 There might be things/assumptions which we believe or regard to be possible, but wouldn’t write about it say in a serious book like The Monument.

  6. Hi Sandy,

    I don’t think we should go by numberology. We are Oxfordians, not Baconians. I think we should look better at the verses without looking at words and try to find numbers.

    For example, in Sonnet 116 the “ever-fixed mark”, in my opinion, is Southampton. “Ever” is an anagram to “Vere” and an acronym to “Edward (de) Ver(e)” and the “mark” is Southampton. Oxford left Southampton, his son, as his mark. Southampton is, against everything, Oxford’s son and mark forever. My view of Sonnet 116 is that Southampton is Love/Royal Blood itself (like he would be in Sonnet 153 and 154). Southampton had been through very cruel situation (Essex Rebellion’s fail) but he “looks on tempest and is never shaken” (he had survived to death penality) and he’s “the star to every wand’ring bark/Whose worth’s unknown” (During the Essex Rebellion, England was through a dinastic crisis: Elizabeth was about to die and she didn’t had an heir. Southampton “worth’s unknown” is his right to be king and “the every wand’ring bark” is England in the middle of dinastic “chaos”).

  7. Hi Francisco, thank you for being so careful 🙂 But dealing with the numbers when discussing the sonnets is not something from the devil. Just remember the 12 lines in sonnet 126 : 12 6 pairs of lines. Or Hank’s great observation that the word ‘monument’ can be found in three sonnets, the difference between them 26-26. Or the counting of the words in the dedication of the sonnets – in The Monument you can find the facts about it.

    S, it’s no worse that say discussing who was Time at different phases: in the first 17 sonnets and then later on. In itself each topic might be fascinating, and worth to discuss. Yes, sometimes we err, then sometimes we do come up with something new… this is the way it is.
    I learn very much from you, thank you for your contribution 🙂


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