“To Play the Watchman Ever for Thy Sake” – Sonnet 61 of the Living Record of Southampton




Sonnet 61

“To Play the Watchman Ever for Thy Sake”

14 March 1601

Oxford records his attempt to keep Southampton in his mind’s eye at all times, as events lead either to his son’s execution or to a reprieve.  His royal son must wake each new day “elsewhere” — in the Tower — and yet Oxford continues to “play the watchman” and stand guard to protect Henry Wriothesley’s life. 

1 – Is it thy will thy Image should keep open                   

2 – My heavy eyelids to the weary night?                        

3 – Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken,

4 – While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?

5 – Is it thy spirit that thou send’s from thee

6 – So far from home into my deeds to pry.

7 – To find out shames and idle hours in me,                  

8 – The scope and tenure of thy jealousy?

9 – O no, thy love, though much, is not so great.

10 – It is my love that keeps mine eye awake,             

11 – Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,

12 – To play the watchman ever for thy sake.              

13 – For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,       

14 – From me far off, with others all too near.

Southampton in the   Tower 1601-1603

Southampton in the Tower 1601-1603


THY WILL = your royal will; is it your royal will that the image of you should keep open; IMAGE = your royal image; “if in the child the father’s image lies” – Lucrece, 1753; “our last king, whose image appeared to us” – Hamlet, 1.1.81


MY HEAVY EYELIDS = my weary, painful eyelids in the dark; “How heavy do I journey on the way” – Sonnet 50, line 1, Oxford recalling his sorrowful ride away from Southampton in the Tower, where he told his son of the bargain to save his life by giving up all claim to the throne; “And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,/ Looking on darkness which the blind do see” – Sonnet 27, lines 7-8; “And heavily from woe to woe” – Sonnet 30, line 10; “When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade/ Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!” – Sonnet 43, lines 11-12; “But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe” – Sonnet 44, line 14

And find our griefs heavier than our offences” –  2 Henry IV, 4.1.69

“A heavy reckoning for you, sir” –  The Gaoler in Cymbeline, 5.4.157

WEARY = “Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed” – Sonnet 27, line 1, Oxford’s first response to the Rebellion, on the night of February 8, 1601, when Southampton was imprisoned with Essex in the Tower; “for to tell truth I am weary of an unsettled life, which is the very pestilence that happens unto courtiers that propound to themselves no end of their time therein bestowed” – Oxford to Burghley, May 18, 1591; NIGHT = opposite of the “day” of golden opportunity prior to the Rebellion

I still do toil and never am at rest,

Enjoying least when I do covet most;

With weary thoughts are my green years oppres’d

– Signed “Lo. Ox” in Harleian MS


DESIRE = royal command; “From fairest creatures we desire increase” – Sonnet 1, line 1, emphasizing the royal “we” of the monarch


SHADOWS LIKE TO THEE = the shadows that cover you,  showing your likeness; “Save that my soul’s imaginary sight/ Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,/ Which like a jewel hung in ghastly night,/ Makes black night beauteous and her old face new” – Sonnet 27, lines 9-12; “What is your substance, whereof are you made,/ That millions of strange shadows on you tend?/ Since every one hath, every one, one shade,/ And you, but one, can every shadow lend” – Sonnet 53, lines 1-4; MOCK MY SIGHT = mock my eyesight, taunting me with this inner vision of you


THY SPIRIT = your soul; your royal blood, which is spiritual; like a mystical vision; “and do not kill/ The spirit of love” – Sonnet 56, lines 7-8, i.e., the unseen essence of royal blood; “My spirit is thine, the better part of me” – Sonnet 74, line 8; SPIRIT = also Sonnets 80, 85, 86, 108, 129, 144; Essex wrote to Elizabeth in 1597 calling her “the Spirit of spirits” (Weir, 427); THAT THOU SEND’ST FROM THEE = Southampton sends his spirit and illuminates Oxford’s inner vision: “Save that my soul’s imaginary sight/ Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,/ Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)/ Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new” – Sonnet 27, lines 9-11

The Tower of London

The Tower of London


SO FAR FROM HOME = Southampton, in the Tower; INTO MY DEEDS TO PRY = to spy on my activities, carried out behind the scenes, on your behalf; “Or on my frailties why are frailer spies” – Sonnet 121, line 7; “Watch thou, and wake when others be asleep, to pry into the secrets of the state” – 2 Henry VI, 1.1.250-251


TO FIND OUT SHAMES = to learn the disgraces that I suffer, by taking responsibility for your disgrace; “If thy offences were upon record, would it not shame thee, in so fair a troop, to read a lecture of them?  If thou wouldst, there shouldst thou find one heinous article, containing the deposing of a king” – Richard II, 4.1.230-234); IDLE HOURS = time spent pleading for you in vain; “I … vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour” – dedication of Venus and Adonis in 1593 to the Earl of Southampton; “That never am less idle lo, than when I am alone” – Oxford poem, signed E.O., in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576

Had he done so, himself had borne the crown,

Which waste of idle hours hath quite thrown down – Richard II, 3.4.65-66


SCOPE = “Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords” – Sonnet 105, line 12; that to which the mind is directed; “shooting wide, do miss the marked scope” – Spenser, The Shepherd’s Calendar, November, 155; SCOPE AND TENURE = the purpose and “tenor” or meaning; Q has tenure, a common spelling of “tenor” at the time, but tenure is probably the intended word, as it relates to the “lease” of Southampton’s royal blood, i.e., tenure refers to the manner of holding lands and tenements, a subject with which Oxford was extremely familiar, having inherited no less than eighty-six estates; THY JEALOUSY = your curiosity; your apprehension; your state of being suspected as a traitor or being a “suspect traitor” in the eyes of the law; “Rumor is a pipe blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures” – 2 Henry IV, Induction 16; concerned about; “So loving-jealous of his liberty” – Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.182


THY LOVE, THOUGH MUCH = your royal blood, though abundant; IS NOT SO GREAT = is not as great as it is within Oxford’s vision of him, as father


MY LOVE = my royal son; i.e., it is the fact that you are my royal son that keeps me from taking my own life, keeps me awake; AWAKE = in a state of vigilance; alert, alive, attentive, watchful; “It is not Agamemnon’s sleeping hour: that thou shalt know, Trojan, he is awake, he tells thee so himself” – Agamemnon in Troilus and Cressida, 1.3.252-254; “I offered to awaken his regard for his private friends” – Coriolanus, 5.1.23; “The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept … Now ‘tis awake” – Measure for Measure, 2.2.91-94; “Watch thou, and wake when others be asleep, to pry into the secrets of the state” – 2 Henry VI, 1.1.250-251


MINE OWN TRUE LOVE = my own true royal son; (“a son of mine own” – Oxford to Burghley, March 17, 1575; “Not mine own fears nor the prophetic soul/ Of the wide world dreaming on things to come/ Can yet the lease of my true love control” – Sonnet 107, lines 1-3); TRUE = Oxford, Nothing Truer than Truth; “you true rights” – Sonnet 17, line 11, to Southampton; MINE OWN: Sonnets 23, 39, 49, 61, 62, 72, 88, 107, 110; (“Rise, thou art my childMine own…” – Pericles, 5.1.213-214, the prince, realizing that Marina is his daughter); MY REST DEFEAT = destroy my inner peace; “His unkindness may defeat my life” – Othello, 4.2.150; “The dear repose for limbs with travail tired” – Sonnet 27, line 1; “That am debarred the benefit of rest” – Sonnet 28, line 2; “Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad” – Sonnet 140, line 11, to Elizabeth in the Dark Lady series, with ill-wresting echoing ill-resting. s


TO PLAY THE WATCHMAN EVER = to constantly keep guard and protect; EVER = E. Ver, Edward de Vere; Oxford used “ever” in the same glancing way in his plays, such as these instances in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

Horatio: The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever.

Hamlet:  Sir, my good friend, I’ll change that name with you.  (1.2.162-163)

FOR THY SAKE = for your royal life here and now; for your eternal life, recorded in these sonnets filled with your royal blood


FOR THEE WATCH I = for you I keep watch; “Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you” – Sonnet 57, line 6; “Therefore I have entreated him along with us to watch the minutes of the night, that if again this apparition come, he may approve our eyes and speak to it” – Hamlet, 1.1.29-32; WHILST THOU DOST WAKE ELSEWHERE = while you – Southampton – exist in the Tower; WAKE = echoing the “wake” related to a funeral; “There is no doubt that the poor, especially in the more remote counties of England, continued the old custom of the wake, or nightly feasting before and after a funeral.  Shakespeare uses the word in connection with a night revel in Sonnet 61: ‘For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere.’” – Percy Macquoid in Shakespeare’s England, Vol. 2, 196, p. 151; Oxford knows Southampton is in the Tower, of course, but he cannot know exactly where or if, for example, Southampton has been taken to the Privy Council room in the Tower for questioning, to one of the torture rooms, or even to the place of execution; the situation is still volatile, with Cecil having the power of life or death and holding the threat  of legal execution over him; so the echo of a “wake” preceding a funeral is quite apt.


FROM ME FAR OFF = Southampton, far from him, behind the high fortress walls; WITH OTHERS ALL TOO NEAR = with guards and other prisoners alike; with some of the latter, arrested for the Rebellion, who may urge you to escape or to attempt another revolt; those so physically near you that, despite their wakefulness, they are blind and cannot protect you (or save your life); but Oxford as his father is “nearer” to him than they are, and he is helping him more than they can help; “You twain, of all the rest, are nearest to Warwick by blood and by alliance” – 3 Henry VI, 4.1.133-134; “as we be knit near in alliance” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, his brother-in-law, February 2, 1601; “Whereby none is nearer allied than myself” – Oxford to Robert Cecil in May 1601; ALL = Southampton

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21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Hank,
    I’ve discovered something in sonnet 145, which is a special one, with it’s shorter lines. This sonnet is all about ‘hate’. And then look at these lines:

    ‘Was used in giving gentle doom,
    And taught it thus anew to greet:
    ‘I hate’ she alter’d with an end,
    That follow’d it as gentle day ‘

    The initial letters say, rhyming to hate: WAIT.

    What is your opinion about this being a mere coincidence?

    • For myself, sandy1121, it’s curious. But according to Whittemore, Sonnet 145 marks Southampton being free from execution. What would be the wait, then? Waiting for he to get out alive from the Tower?

  2. Hi Francisco,
    well, I don’t know. There might be more answers, what you write is imaginable either.

  3. In King Henry V, there are three soldiers, one of them with the name of Bates. These three soldiers are waiting for the battle next they, and for their inevitable death. And interestingly, in the very next sonnet, 146, the initial letters, just reading BACKWARDS, give the name BATES:
    Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
    Eat up thy charge? is this thy body’s end?
    Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
    And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
    Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross.

    • Well, Sonnet 146 is somehow important. I see it as marking Elizabeth’s last days and her still hot head not naming a heir to her throne. Like Bates, both Elizabeth and Southampton were waiting each others death, But as Sonnet 145 marks Southampton’s freedom from execution, the only one who is left to die is Elizabeth.

      Meanwhile, Bates appears in “Henry V”, which was perfomanced in 1599, before the Essex Rebellion and the events of the Dark Lady’s Sonnets… or was Oxford using Bates from 1599 to represent in Sonnet 146 Elizabeth, who was in a similar situation like the character, by backwording his name?

      • Hi Francisco,
        I still don’t know. Just after your natural question I thought: if Oxford really wanted to make a sign with ‘WAIT’ then somewhere around that sonnet there should by a sign as to ‘what for to wait’ or ‘whom to wait’. Now I don’t have the time to analyze Henry V and the role (and possible implications of Bates), but your ideas seem to be really interesting. And of course I’m waiting eagerly for Hank’s opinion.
        What a crime story, guys 🙂

      • Yes, it’s all about her not naming an heir to the throne. I think this explains the fury to be found in those sonnets to her.

        Francisco, I love that insight that now “the only one who is left to die is Elizabeth.” And think of the poignancy of lines 7-8, for example: “Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,/ Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?” There was so often the phrase “issue of her Majesty’s body” that it cannot be a coincidence of language. Her body existed to perform that one function, produce an heir, and now this is the end of that body? This is what it’s purpose has been? To destroy yourself and your dynasty? And the final couplet about “death once dead, there’s no more dying then,” indicating the finality of it all. In a way it’s very similar to themes of sonnet 1 – telling the fairest creature, i.e., the most royal child, that he is destroying himself and the world – “To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.”

        In The Monument I quote from Richard III about “charge” – “We heartily solicit your gracious self to take on you the charge and kingly government of this your land.”

  4. Sandy, some shall call us mad ones, but I look at us as truth seekers. Now, we just have to know what this “wait” and “Bates” are and mean 😛

  5. Hi Francisco,
    yes, I don’t think we do anything shameful or childish 🙂 There’s a Secret Story (not like Pat Metheny’s 🙂 ), and from fragments, from letters and words we try to put together the truth. No less, no more.

    Anyhow, look, the ending of sonnet 146 still adds something to the Bates-idea:

    Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
    Eat up thy charge? is this thy body’s end?
    Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
    And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
    Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
    Within be fed, without be rich no more:
    So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
    And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

    That is from backword it says: as (W) Bates.

    The W might say WAITS… Then put together it would say:
    Wait as waits Bates.

  6. Hank, does your comment mean that you can imagine that it was Oxford’s intension to hide WAIT and BATES in those sonnets?

    • I can imagine it, but not able to have a strong opinion…yet.

  7. In The Monument Hank makes it clear that in sonnet 140 Oxford is threating the Queen that he will grow mad and will publicly reveal the truth about her and their son. And interestingly, the initial letters of the following lines of this sonnet:

    The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
    If I might teach thee wit, better it were,
    Though not to love, yet, love, to tell me so;
    As testy sick men, when their deaths be near,
    No news but health from their physicians know;

    say: TITAN. Which might be a direct reference to Titania, the (Fairy) Queen – so obviously linking the sonnets to the Queen Elizabeth.
    If I’m right, this might be the first written proof of this connection.

    • Wow, Sandy, that’s a good one! It reminds me of the one in S 76, W-A-T-S-O-An – which I believe asks us to hark back to the Passionate Century of Love by Watson, dedicated to Oxford, with it’s 100 consecutively numbered sonnets. And here he puts Watson’s name at the center of his own century, 76-77.

      Are you going through all the sonnets looking for these:-)?

      • Thank you for your kind answer. Well, not for all, but great part. If Oxford had something to hide, it must be there somewhere in and between the lines. You opened my eyes, don’t be surprised if I keep it open 🙂 ‘Wait’ and ‘Bates’ might be a (very strange) coincidence, but Titan – well, I’m more and more confident that it’s intentional.

  8. I have a theory about S 145 that I would like to share; that it is not a Shakespeare Sonnet at all. My guess is that it could have been written by Wriothesley. It’s actually not a very good poem (and not a sonnet!) and it seems to me that it speaks with the voice of the youth. What do you say about that, Hank?

    • Mikael, it’s a very interesting thought that had not occurred to me. But already in my view it speaks in Southampton’s voice, at least as if he himself is speaking; and, too, we now know that Southampton wrote a 74-line poem to the Queen while he was in the Tower, at some point after the trial of Feb 19, 1601 up to his reprieve from execution, which apparently came on or around March 19, 1601. [There was never any official announcement or record of the reprieve; biographer Akrigg reports that crowds appeared on Tower Hill to see him beheaded up to as late as March 25, but eventually it was understood that he would not be executed.] However Southampton’s poem, consisting of thirty-seven rhymed couplets in iambic pentameter, same 10 line beats as the sonnets, does not (in my view) have even the quality of S 145. I know that some orthodox scholars want to take it away from “Shakespeare,” but if you read it to yourself, or aloud, you can feel it flowing (like a song?) and that in fact this is a very good piece of work — almost disguised as a bad poem! I realize, as you say, it is “not a very good poem” in one sense, but in another sense it’s actually masterful, because, while appearing to be a little ditty (about Anne Hathaway:-), it is in fact the profound response of relief from one whose life has been spared. (I am reminded of “Ring Around a Rosey,” etc., which appears to be a slight little nursery rhyme, but in fact, if I recall, is about the victims of pogrom, i.e., massacre of Jews.)

      But you bring up a new and interesting point, which is that, given Southampton’s long poem to the Queen, perhaps he did write S 145 or perhaps he wrote one version and Oxford improved upon it, or some other combination. From my end, I see this little non-sonnet as being a wonderment, since it seems to be a “silly little love song,” as Paul McCartney said, while actually containing immensely powerful emotions and meaning.

      Meanwhile you’ve opened a new angle and widened the path of exploration.

    • Hi Mikael,
      really an interesting idea. As you can see I’ve been thinking about this sonnet either, and I appreciate every new thought about it 🙂

      • Just correcting you, Mikael, like Whittemore said, the quality of Shakespeare/Oxford’s verse doesn’t remeber that of Southampton. It could have been written by him but is improbable.

        One more thing, Sonnet 148 IS a sonnet. The number of syllabes by verse in sonnets can be varied. The three most common verses are alexandrine (12 syllabes), decassilabics (10 syllabes) and octassilabics (8 syllabes). If there be 14 verses, a rhyme scheme, melody and a number of syllabes per verse then you have a sonnet 🙂

  9. Hank and gents:
    I have an idea. There are pieces which I will enlist here and try to connect them. Maybe the puzzle doesn’t fit still, maybe I’m wrong, but I find these things really interesting. I’m eager to read your comments.

    When Hamlet says:
    “I will find where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
    Within the center.”

    , surely Oxford refers to the sonnets at the center, just as Hank writes it in The Monument. However, there’s one more center in the sonnets, JUST AND ONLY ONE: in sonnet 146:
    “Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
    My sinful earth these rebel powers that thee array;”

    Look, what says Polonius at the very same place:
    ” I’ll follow the clues and uncover the truth, even if it’s at the very center of the earth.”
    It’s hauntingly the same as that written in the sonnet. And Oxford -as if trying to emphasize- writes two times the “my sinful earth” expression.

    So, apart from the sonnets 76-77, I think there must be some truth here, at THIS center. Don’t forget that 145-146 are the sonnets where I previously found the WAIT and BATES initial letters.

    Now, I found a homepage, where the given names and abbreviations of the english names from the interval between 1450-1650 are enlisted:


    Here one can find that Elizabeth was abbreviated as Eliza, with the important remark that FOR THE QUEEN ONLY.

    Look once more at the lines in this sonnet 146:
    “Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
    Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?”

    I’m not sure how they pronounced Eliza, but I well can imagine, that Oxford did the most what he could do without losing his head: to hide the name of Elizabeth here: a lease – Eliza.

    If so, and Eliza was used exclusively for the queen, then the name could point to no other women than the Queen herself.

    I’m uncertain, but I think it’s better to write it than not to write it. Perhaps peaces can be used by you – I do hope so.

    • “The center”? Only if there’s a link between Sonnets 145-146 and 76-77 but they were written in different times o.O…

    • OMG, of course I wanted to write: pieces 🙂

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