“A Father to His Secret Bastard Son .. The Poet’s Mistress Being Obviously the Boy’s Mother” — Charles Wisner Barrell, 1942

As readers of THE MONUMENT know, in my view there can be no doubt that the so-called Dark Lady of the Sonnets is Queen Elizabeth herself; and, in turn, that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford is creating this “monument” of verse to preserve the truth that Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton was his son by the Queen and, therefore, deserved to succeed her on the throne as King Henry IX of England.

By the early 1940s, the brilliant researcher Charles Wisner Barrell concluded that Anne Vavasour, who gave birth in 1581 to Oxford’s illegitimate son named Edward Vere, was the Dark Lady – a mistaken view that forced him to believe, incorrectly – that TWO younger men are being addressed in the Shakespeare sonnets: Lord Southampton and the illegitimate son of Anne Vavasour.


Ironically, however, these incorrect conclusions enabled Barrell to recognize some fundamental truths about the relationships in the Sonnets. Barrell concludes, for example, that Oxford and the Dark Lady are the father and mother of the young man “whose ‘face fills up the lines’ of at least forty-two of the poems.” The latter “is specifically described over and over again as bearing the closest possible relationship to the writer of the Sonnets, both physically and spiritually,” Barrell wrote, citing lines of Sonnet 22 by way of example:

For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, by of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from fairing ill.

Barrell goes on to say that although the poet and this younger man “bear a ‘single name’ and share an ‘undivided love’ – THE POET’S MISTRESS BEING OBVIOUSLY THE BOY’S MOTHER – there is between them a ‘separable spite.’ Their relationship must be kept secret to avoid a public scandal!”


Of course the real reason, according to the evidence in The Monument, is that Queen Elizabeth has refused to acknowledge Southampton as her son and heir. She has forced him to suffer “a bastard shame,” as Oxford writes in Sonnet 127, at the start of the Dark Lady series. Nonetheless Barrell was able to cite Sonnet 36, for example, to demonstrate the father-son relationship:

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one…
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,

Nor thou with public kindness honor me,
Unless thou take that honor from thy name:
But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

“It would be difficult to find clearer expression of a heartbroken father’s renunciation of the open pride of parenthood in a charming and worth son born out of wedlock!” Barrell wrote, using the exclamation point as emphasis. He also cites Sonnet 39:

O how thy worth with manners may I sing,
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring?
And what is’t but mine own when I praise thee?

Even for this let us divided live,
And our dear love lose name of single one,
That by this separation I may give
That due to thee which thou deserves alone.

“It is surely one of the most amazing anomalies of English literature that this realistic acknowledgment of a father’s relationship to his bastard son was not sensed by the earliest students of Shakespeare’s autobiographical poems,” Barrell wrote, calling this father-son relationship “one of the most dramatic and magnificently written personal tragedies in all literary history.”

I wish Barrell could have discovered for himself the far greater tragedy, in Oxford’s eyes, that his son by the so-called Virgin Queen was “in sleep a King, but waking no such matter,” as he describes him in the final line of Sonnet 87.

The point here, however, is that even Charles Barrell, who was unable to realize that Elizabeth is the Dark Lady of the Sonnets and the Mother of Southampton, the Fair Youth, could see plainly that the crucial relationship expressed in the sonnets was that of a father and his beloved son whom he could not name.

(“Shake-Speare’s” Own Secret Drama; Part 2: by Charles Barrell; American Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, Volume 3, no. 2, February 1942; the five-part series reprinted in Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare, Volume 2, “Nothing Truer than Truth,” Paul Hemenway Altrocchi and Hank Whittemore, 2009.)

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