“A King of Infinite Space” – No. 78 of 100 Reasons why Oxford was “Shakespeare”

"Were I a king I could command content..." Edward de Vere

“Were I a king I could command content…”
Edward de Vere

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space,” Hamlet cries out; and although he adds the caveat that this would be true “were it not that I have bad dreams,” his point is that, yes, we do have the potential to deal with terrible suffering by retreating from the world – into a nutshell, as the Prince puts it – and by ruling over the vast kingdom of the mind.

Hamlet does have the ability to endure “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” by using his sovereign power of thought. In the circumstances of the play, of course, he has literally been deprived of the crown by his uncle; at this time he cannot be the King of Denmark, but he can always be the king of his limitless mind.

"Lo thus I triumph like a king, "Content with that my mind doth bring"

“Lo thus I triumph like a king,
“Content with that my mind doth bring”

This theme appears elsewhere in writings attributed to both “Shakespeare” and Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), with frequent appearances of similar words such as “king” or “kingdom” and “mind” and “content” or “contented.” In 3 Henry VI (3.1) for example the King, in disguise, meets up with two Keepers who wonder why he talks like a king:

KEEPER: Say, what art thou that talk’st of kings and queens?
HENRY VI: More than I seem, and less than I was born to:
A man at least, for less I should not be;
And men may talk of kings, and why not I?
KEEPER: Ay, but thou talk’st as if thou wert a king.
HENRY: Why, so I am – in mind; and that’s enough.
KEEPER: But, if thou be a king, where is thy crown?
HENRY: My crown is in my heart, not on my head;
Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen: my crown is called content:
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.

No. 78 of 100 reasons to conclude that Oxford used the pen name “Shakespeare” is that he expressed the same basic ideas in similar combinations of words. The earl stopped putting his own name on any of his writings after age twenty-six in 1576, the year that The Paradise of Dainty Devices was first published (probably by his doing); but even by then his poems (or, rather, songs) often reflect the mind of Hamlet.

One such poem (“My mind to me a kingdom is”), actually a song, is often attributed (for no good reason) to Edward Dyer (1540-1607); but it’s nonetheless subscribed “Earle of Oxfenforde” in the Rawlinson manuscripts. The words were set to music under the title “In praise of a contented mind” by the great contemporary composer William Byrd (c. 1540-1623), with whom Oxford was associated. And Steven W. May cites it in Studies in Philology (1980) and The Elizabethan Courtier Poets (1999) as “possibly” by Oxford (although it seems to me that he thinks the case for him is definite):

My mind to me a kingdom is,
Such perfect joy therein I find,
That it excels all other bliss
That world affords or grows by kind;
Though much I want which most men have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave …

Content I live, this is my state,
I seek no more than may suffice…
Lo thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring…

That verse-song might as well have been penned by Hamlet himself! It comes from the same sensibility, with the same note of defiance.
Steven May assigns the following verse to Oxford without qualification:

Were I a king I could command contentWere I obscure unknown should be my cares,
And were I dead no thought should me torment,
Nor words, nor wrongs, nor loves, nor hopes, nor fears;
A doubtful choice of these things one to crave,
A Kingdom or a cottage or a grave.

In this case there is the same preoccupation with the lack of kingship, echoing lines spoken by the king in Richard II:

What must the king do now? Must he submit?
The king shall do it. Must he be deposed?
The king shall be contented
And my large kingdom for a little grave,
A little little grave, an obscure grave…

Oxford began signing his letters with a “crown signature” in November 1569 when he was nineteen; he stopped using it after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth on April 28, 1603, with the Tudor dynasty officially no more. Did he think of himself a rightful king deprived of his crown? That provocative signature would ordinarily get a nobleman in big trouble — the way Oxford’s uncle, the Earl of Surrey, had been imprisoned and executed by Henry VIII (just before the king’s death in February 1547) for provocatively altering his coat of arms. Why Oxford never got in trouble for his highly suggestive signature is an open question…

Sonnet 114 by “Shakespeare” has these lines:

Or whether doth my mind, being crown’d with yoU,
Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery?…
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up…

The anonymous verse publication Willobie His Avisa (1594) comes to its end with a long poem “The Praise of a Contented Mind” signed Ever or Never, one of Edward de Vere’s early pen names, concluding:

Of all the brave resounding words, which God to man hath lent,
This soundeth sweetest in mine ear, to say: I am content.

Oxford was a member of the House of Lords, where “Content” or “Not Content” were the formal expressions of assent or dissent (equivalent to “Aye” or “No” in the House of Commons); but in Willobie, as in works attributed to both Oxford and “Shakespeare,” the phrase “I am content” is an expression of inner peace despite the experience of painful loss — in other words, Hamlet has learned to travel “out of body” to some other dimension that may actually be the realm of madness, as he tells Laertes:

HAMLET: What I have done
That might your nature, honor and exception
Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness.
Was’t Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet.
If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away,
And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes,
Then Hamlet does it not. Hamlet denies it.
Who does it then? His madness.

In effect he becomes split apart, resulting in an appearance on the surface that’s very different from what is going on inside him, mentally and emotionally:

OXFORD: To entertain my thoughts, and there my hap to moan,
That never am less idle lo, than when I am alone.

OXFORD: I am not as I seem to be,
Nor when I smile I am not glad…

My mind to me a kingdom is
[song lyrics]

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
That world affords or grows by kind.
Though much I want which most men have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely pomp, no wealthy store,
No force to win the victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to feed each gazing eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall.
For why my mind doth serve for all.

I see how plenty suffers oft,
How hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that those that are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all;
They get with toil, they keep with fear.
Such cares my mind could never bear.

Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice;
I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look what I lack my mind supplies;
Lo, thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring.

I little have, and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have,
And I am rich with little store.
They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;
They lack, I leave, they pine, I live.

I laugh not at another’s loss;
I grudge not at another’s gain:
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
My state at one doth still remain.
I fear no foe, nor fawning friend;
I loathe not life, nor dread my end.

Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,
Their wisdom by their rage of will,
Their treasure is their only trust;
And cloaked craft their store of skill.
But all the pleasure that I find
Is to maintain a quiet mind.

My wealth is health and perfect ease;
My conscience clear my chief defense;
I neither seek by bribes to please,
Nor by deceit to breed offense.
Thus do I live; thus will I die.
Would all did so as well as I!

(My emphases are added above.)

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Poor Henry Vl, forever lacking the ‘content’ he was born to. He should Seem More, but I’m afraid that mated pair – More and Seem – are E.ver dis-joined.
    This man of divided identity should be discontented by ‘dis-content’!

    If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away,
    And when he’s not himself…
    Who does it then? His madness. (V.2 212-15)

    What is the ‘madness’ Hamlet speaks of: is it insanity? Or is it derangement? Or somehow ’caused to be disordered’ (archaic)?
    I say: de Vere is Hamlet, a Norman Dane; but his ‘true content’ is British Tudor-Seymour. This disorder is motivation enough for Hamlet and ‘de Vere’.

    No.78 has a fine collection of PT-directing evidence. I see nothing to veer us.

    • Yes, and your insights grow clearer all the time…

  2. Curious… it is me or this poem is full of monarchic words and themes??

    Anyway, with such a monarchy image in this poem (at least, it seems to me), I get curious, Whittemore: do Oxford use the Sonnets’ language (you may know the answer to this too, Mike) in his plays and other poems by his name and other pen names beyond Shakespeare?

    • Well, yes, Francisco — I believe it was a language developed over time, at least from the days of Blackfriars, Lyly, Euphues, but even from before. Ricardo Mena has found so much of this. In “Euphues his England” (1580) dedicated to Oxford but undoubtedly by him (perhaps dictated to Lyly, his secretary), the Queen is likened to many goddesses including Venus, anticipating Shakespeare more than a decade, and she is hailed as Virgin. But also she is Beauty for sure, which is a key word in this language. And so on, extending into works under other names, often the names of writers working under Oxford’s wing, and that language naturally extended to those works, too. One of the things that surprised me very much was when I was working on the Monument and searching for word usage in the other Shakespeare works — the poems, but especially the history plays, where these seemingly straightforward words, such as “bright” — for example — are used very specifically in the context of royalty: Sonnet 1 line 5 is “But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes” — and in Richard II, 3.3.68: “Yet looks he like a king: behold his eye, as bright as is the eagle’s, lightens forth controlling majesty.” So the eyes of the young man (Southampton) may be bright in color and appearance or not; they might also be dull as lead, within the royal context. It is the emergence of the double language.

  3. The sonnets’ language is a curious one. Not all sonnets speak about the thing they seem to. Thus the language is very difficult to evaluate – I suspect it’s several times subordinated to the hidden meaning.

    • More curious than the language, to me, it’s the numerology. Oxford was writtin the Sonnets to celebrate his elder bastard’s anniversary and right to be king. But when he (and his twin, Rutland), was 26, he was confined to the Tower because of the Rebellion he was. After this, we have Sonnet 27-126.

      But how could great part of the academics be so blind?? Sonnet 26-27 shows a change in the tune of the Poet which alterates the entire relationship between Poet-Youth-Reader. After this, famous and very studied Sonnets appear with this number: sonnets like 36 and 96, which have the same distic; Sonnet 126; Sonnet 116; Sonnet 46-47; Sonnet 106-107; Sonnet 86-87, etc.!

  4. Tour guides at St. John’s College, Cambridge, tell you the many carvings of portcullis and Tudor Rose are symbols of Margaret of Beaufort, mother of Henry Vll. ‘Beauty’s Rose’ (Sonnet l) is an allusion to this Beaufort connection – the direct Lancaster Line (Henry Vll = Margaret of Beaufort = John/Duke Somerset = John, Earl Somerset = John of Gaunt, Duke Lancaster) that ‘legitimizes’ Henry Tudor. ‘Beauty’ is a ‘surname fragment’ of Beaufort, and ‘Strange’ (common in ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Dream Amid Seymour’s Night’) is, likewise a corruption of the French ‘fort’ (Strange was pronounced strong or strahng in the Stanley/Derby family).
    Similar ‘metonym wells’ are Seymour, Tudor, Woodstock, Plantagenet, etc. (see the Metonym Glossary at my web-site: ‘Puzzling Life’, p.14). Interestingly, Chaucer used like literary elements in ‘The Book of the Duchess’ (~1390) to express his connection (brother-in-law) with John of Gaunt.

    I agree, ‘bright’ is ambiguous. De Vere is wary of the appearance of brightness. In ‘Midsummer’ l.l 149: “so quick bright things come to confusion”; in Love’s Labour’s lV.3 267: “since her time are colliers counted bright” – ‘colliers’, here implying coal-miners, is an imputation against the low origins of the Cecil Family; see Romeo & Juliet l.l.1-4.
    The ‘bright eyes’ of Sonnet l, therefore, may imply ‘not so bright Spies’, meaning the dull ‘Peers’/’Eyes’ within the Privy Chamber: Leicester, Burghley, & Co.

    • More and more, I like your work, Mike 😉 thanks for responding, you and Whittemore 😉 yet, now thinking, wasn’t Time too a reference to the Cecil?

  5. Francisco and Sandy,
    It appears that much of ‘Shakespeare’ has double meaning; but I wouldn’t characterize it as a double language per se – it is simply a manipulation of words that have surprisingly diverse meanings. This is called polysemy. Metonyms, like ‘time’, ‘eyes’, ‘ever’ are ‘guideposts’ that alert the reader to a shift in context so you will be attentive to alternate meanings. The ‘Consilia’ are advisories that tell the reader to be ready for metonyms and polysemy. Here’s an example of ‘Consilia’ (see the opening Chorus, Romeo & Juliet, 13-14):

    “The [matter of] ‘Witch’, if you with patient ears attend,
    What hear[ing] shall miss, ‘Ore’ effort shall strive to mend.”

    The chorus advises that the going may get tortuous, but hang in there – the writer will try to make himself understood. This is true. Somewhere in the ‘Canon’ virtually every metonym or ‘key word’ is defined.

    In general, Time indicates William Cecil; Little Time is his son.
    I believe the ideas of ‘Long Time’/’Time’s fell hand’/’Time’s delay’ is associated with the corruption of a thing. It is embodied in ‘Ever’, the ‘creature’ of Time-Cecil – enduring, but the lesser of de Vere’s double identities. Besides, it is a ‘changeling’ identity and not True.
    ‘Short Time’ is found in Seym-‘hour’ or Tud-‘hour’ (recall that ‘hour’, according to etymologists, was pronounced Ore, Or, etc.). ‘Hour’, ‘Ore’ (gold, d’or), ‘our’ are associated with Essence, or True Being. This dichotomy, often confusing, deserves study.

    Sandy, I don’t think the language is beyond comprehension; their are indications that de Vere was ‘desperate’ to be heard… his artful dissent is his lifetime’s achievement. We just have to learn his method.
    There’s nothing we can do for this writer; he’s been dead for a long time; but there’s a lot we can do for ourselves. If we develop an understanding of the ease with which powerful political bodies can manipulate information – become more skeptical, become less credulous – then time with ‘de Vere’ will have been worthwhile.

    Francisco, I don’t know who suggested Rutland was Oxford’s twin. Issues of importance to de Vere are hammered-home time and again, and I can find no suggestion of a twin brother that isn’t better explained by double identity or changeling status. I’d like to see some internal evidence, though.

    • I didn’t say that. I said Rutland was Southampton’s (lesser) twin. As far as I know, I haven’t seen people involved in Oxford’s and Elizabeth’s paternity in Southampton questining if there was another son. So I look for a possible lesser bastard fruit of this incestuous relationship, and I found in Sonnet 39 a first clue:

      “O! how thy worth with manners may I sing,
      When thou art all the better part of me?”

      “Worth”, here, means “royal blood”, and the better part that Southampton is to Oxford means he is his son (and royal heir, just like Oxford himself is). But I find “manners” quite curious. It repeats again in Sonnet 85 and Sonnet 111 in a way we can interpret as Roger Manners. He was close, very close to Southampton and was in the Rebellion too. He was in the Tower along with his close friend until he went out in 1603, some time before Southampton, and received in March, in his Belvoir Castle, James. Some time later, Southampton went free, with the death of the Queen.

      Back to Sonnet 39, we can read the first verse as “Oh, who can I proclaim you (Southampton) royal along with Rutland if you, and not him, like me, are the royal heir of the Queen?”. Because Oxford was her first born and Southampton was his, Southampton could easly inherit the throne if his father didn’t want to. I think this was the plan Oxford had in mind. But what about Rutland? Oxford answers himself in the sonnet below, where he only sing to Southampton and saying he cannot proclaim in public he to be his son and heir and prince Tudor. This happen in the rest of the Sonnets: first, he was singing his first born’s royal blood but now, both bastards are in danger inside of the Tower. Oxford choses to praise his first born, that the way I see Sonnet 39.

      In Sonnet 85, the two first verses seems to have a double meaning: “My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still/While comments of your praise richly compiled”. I read this verse as “My sonnets sings not of Rutland while it’s singing of Southampton, the first born”. And Sonnet 111 seems to reveal Rutland already was helping Oxford penning and rewritting his plays (“(…) Fortune (…) That did not better for my life provide/Than public means which public MANNERS breeds”).

      This is all a theory of mine I’m still studying. But I won’t discuss it here, not in this blog, to respect this post’s theme.

  6. Franciso, I don’t know if Manners ever lives, BUT the difference of 85 and 111 is 26 – the sonnet number discovered my Hank Whittemore. If he actually lived then by this way the author placed him by this way in The Monument as well.

  7. Francisco,
    OK, yes! There is very interesting language in Sonnets 39, 85, and 111. I’ve spent the day researching Edward and Roger Manners and can’t put it together yet; but I’ll pursue it more after the conference this week.
    I notice that Whittemore did not commit to the connection with the Rutland boys, but no doubt he considered it. One reservation I have is that Manners is not a metonym but the surname itself. In general, pertinent characters are referred to by fragments, anagrams, or corruptions of their proper names. This direct use of Manners would differ from de Vere’s usual practice.
    I do notice that ‘manner’ has two relevant translations in Latin: ‘genus’ – meaning sort, or kind; and ‘more’ – meaning ‘in the manner of’… perhaps something to throw into the mill.
    We’ll speak of this again.


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