The Darkness of the Dark Lady is Metaphorical: “THEREFORE My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black”

The darkness of the Dark Lady in the Shakespeare sonnets has nothing to do with her physical coloring — nothing to do with her hair or eyes or skin. It’s a metaphor! The so-called Dark Lady series begins with Sonnet 127, in which the operative word is THEREFORE” in line 9 – as in “Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,/ Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem …” The failed Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601 has just taken place and Southampton is now confined in the Tower, the bird of which is the Raven.

Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger 1595

Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger 1595

The woman, Queen Elizabeth, is pictured attending a funeral – not literally, of course. It’s figurative! It’s the funeral of any hope for the perpetuation of the Tudor dynasty — the same funeral depicted by the Earl of Oxford in “The Phoenix and Turtle,” to be published later in the same year as by “William Shake-speare” (yes, hyphenated). The blackness and darkness are metaphorical! And such is the case all through the Dark Lady series (127-152). Here are notes from The Monument for the opening sonnet:

THE DARK LADY: ELIZABETH: REBELLION & IMPRISONMENT
Sonnet 127
Beauty’s Successive Heir
8 February 1601

This opening sonnet to and about Queen Elizabeth is the start of the separate Dark Lady series, running in parallel with the Fair Youth series from 1601 to 1603. Two verses of this series, Sonnets 138 and 144, were first published in 1599; but Oxford has inserted them with slight but significant revisions into this sequence. The result is a series of twenty-six sonnets (127-152) matching the twenty-six sonnets of the opening series (1-26), each flanking the series of exactly one hundred verses (Sonnets 27-126) forming the center of the one hundred and fifty-two sonnet structure. Sonnet 127 corresponds in time to Sonnet 27 – the night of Southampton’s revolt and imprisonment on February 8, 1601 – both introducing “black” into their respective sequences.

In the past the royal son was “fair” but now he is “black” with disgrace, although he remains the Queen’s “successive heir” to the throne. Elizabeth’s imperial viewpoint determines everything. At a glance, she can turn him from “fair” (royal) to “black” (disgraced). She continues to slander her own “beauty” or royal blood, which is possessed by her son, by viewing him with “a bastard shame” or consigning him to the status of a royal bastard.

Sonnet 127

1- In the old age black was not counted fair,
2- Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name:
3- But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
4- And Beauty slandered by a bastard shame,
5- For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
6- Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
7- Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bow’r,
8- But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
9- Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,
10 Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem,
11 At such who not born fair no beauty lack,
12 Sland’ring Creation with a fasle esteem.
13 Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
14 That every tongue says beauty should look so.

1 – IN THE OLD AGE BLACK WAS NOT COUNTED FAIR
OLD AGE = former times; as in Sonnets 1 – 26 up to the year 1600, before the Essex Rebellion, after which everything changed; OLD = “Wherefore, not as a stranger but in the old style” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, May (?) 1601; “For truth is truth, though never so old” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, May 7, 1603; “That I might see what the old world could say” – Sonnet 59, line 9; “O him she stores, to show what wealth she had/ In days long since, before these last so bad” – Sonnet 67, lines 13-14, “Robbing no old to dress his beauty new” – Sonnet 68, line 12; “For as the Sun is daily new and old,/ So is my love still telling what is told” – Sonnet 76, lines 13-14; “Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine” – Sonnet 108, line 7; AGE = “A generation of men, a particular period of time; the period of life at which a person has arrived; a stage of life” – Schmidt; “Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age” – Sonnet 32, line 10; “The rich proud cost of outworn buried age” – Sonnet 64, line 2; “Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure” – Sonnet 75, line 6; “For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred” – Sonnet 104, line 13; “And peace proclaims Olives of endless age” – Sonnet 107, line 8; “The age is grown so picked that the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier he galls his kibe” – Hamlet, 5.1.138-140

essex-trial-report1.jpg

BLACK = Southampton, in disgrace for treason; “It will help me nothing to plead mine innocence, for that dye is on me which makes my whitest part black” – Henry VIII, 1.1.208-209; also, as royal bastard; “A joyless, dismal, black and sorrowful issue” – Titus Andronicus, 4.2.68-73; COUNTED FAIR = accounted (i.e., his “fair” or royal blood as Elizabeth’s “treasure”) or acknowledged as royal; “From fairest creatures we desire increase” – Sonnet 1, line 1

2 – OR IF IT WERE IT BORE NOT BEAUTY’S NAME
Or even if he was accounted as royal (by me), he did not bear Elizabeth’s name (Tudor); BORE = heraldic, i.e., Southampton never bore his mother’s coat-of-arms; also related to his birth as a bastard; (“Before these bastard signs of fair were borne” – Sonnet 68, line 3); BEAUTY’S NAME = Elizabeth’s name, Tudor; i.e., he was never known as Prince Henry Tudor; (“That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die” – Sonnet 1, line 2)

3 – BUT NOW IS BLACK BEAUTY’S SUCCESSIVE HEIR
But now Southampton is Elizabeth’s immediate heir to the throne; BLACK = Southampton; BEAUTY’S = Elizabeth’s; SUCCESSIVE HEIR = one who deserves to succeed by virtue of inheritance; rightful claimant to a title; “Yet, by reputing of his high descent, as next the King he was successive heir” – 2 Henry VI, 3.148-49 (the only other Shakespeare usage of the phrase); “Plead my successive title with your swords; I am his first-born son that was the last that wore the diadem of Rome: then let my father’s honor live in me, nor wrong mine age with this indignity” – Titus Andronicus, 1.1.4-8; “To God, my king, and my succeeding issue” – Richard II, 1.3.20; “rightful heir to the crown” – 2 Henry VI, 1.3.26; “But as successively from blood to blood, your right of birth” – Richard III, 3.7.134-135; “O now let Richmond and Elizabeth, the true succeeders of each royal House, by God’s fair ordinance conjoin together, and let their heirs, God, if Thy will be so, enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace” – Richard III, 5.5.29-33; “Richer than that which four successive kings in Denmark’s crown have worn” – Hamlet, 5.2.273-274; “No son of mine succeeding” – Macbeth, 3.1.63; “They labored to plant the rightful heir” – 1 Henry VI, 2.5.80

Southampton in the Tower of London 1601-1603

Southampton in the Tower of London 1601-1603

4 – AND BEAUTY SLANDERED WITH A BASTARD SHAME
BEAUTY = Elizabeth; also, her blood that Southampton possesses by inheritance of it as a “natural issue of her Majesty’s body”; SLANDERED = brought into “discredit, disgrace, or disrepute” – OED; “But once he slandered me with bastardy” – King John, 1.l.74; “With the attainder of his slanderous lips” – Richard II, 4.1.24; SLANDERED BY A BASTARD SHAME = shame or disgrace because of royal-bastard status; (“Thy issue blurred with needless bastardy” – Lucrece, 522; also “slander” as “to charge with, accuse of, a crime or offence” = OED., citing Scotland Council of 1579: “Persons slandered or suspect of treason”); same as “The region cloud hath masked him from me now” – Sonnet 33, line 12, i.e., Elizabeth Regina’s dark cloud of shame has covered and hidden her son; “For slander’s mark was ever yet the fair,/ The ornament of beauty is suspect,/ A crow that flies in heaven’s sweetest air” – Sonnet 70, lines 2-4; “this slander of his blood” – Richard II, 1.1.113; “And that he is a bastard, not thy son” – Richard II, 5.2.106; “Out, insolent! Thy bastard shall be king … My boy a bastard!” – King John, 2.1.122-129)

“I am a bastard, too: I love bastards. I am bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valour, in everything illegitimate. One bear will not bite another, and where should one bastard? Take heed: the quarrel’s most ominous to us – if the son of a whore fight for a whore, he tempts judgment. Farewell, bastard” – Troilus & Cressida, 5.7.18-32

5 – FOR SINCE EACH HAND HATH PUT ON NATURE’S POWER
HAND = the powerful hand of Elizabeth, the absolute monarch; “Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown, and put a barren scepter in my gripe, thence to be wrenched by an un-lineal hand, no son of mine succeeding” – Macbeth, 3.1.59-63; “I’ll claim that promise at your Grace’s hand” – to the King in Richard III, 3.1.197; EACH HAND = others who have sought Elizabeth’s favor; both of the Queen’s royal hands; “If Heaven will take the present at our hands” – the King in Richard III, 1.1.120; “A Woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted/ Hast thou, the Master Mistress of my passion” – Sonnet 20, lines 1-2; Southampton at birth was “sleeping by a Virgin hand disarmed” – Sonnet 154, line 8; “From hands of falsehood” – Sonnet 48, line 4; “With time’s injurious hand crushed and o’er-worn” – Sonnet 63, line 2; “Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?” – Sonnet 65, line 11; PUT ON = assumed the royal power of the monarch and acted with that power; “For he was likely, had he been put on, to have proved most royal” – Horatio, saying that Prince Hamlet would have been a superb king, in Hamlet, 5.2.404-405; “deaths put on by cunning and forced causes” – Hamlet, 5.2.394; NATURE’S POWER = Elizabeth’s royal power as absolute monarch, whose imperial viewpoint can turn fair to black or vice versa; “O Thou my lovely Boy, who in thy power … If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack” – Sonnet 126, lines 1, 5

Robert Cecil was holding Southampton in the Tower until the Queen died and King James succeeded her, thereby keeping his own power behind the throne

Robert Cecil was holding Southampton in the Tower until the Queen died and King James succeeded her, thereby keeping his own power behind the throne

6 – FAIRING THE FOUL WITH ART’S FALSE BORROWED FACE
Giving royal favor to foul persons by her false estimation; turning truth into falsity; “To make me give the lie to my true sight/ And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?/ Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill” – Sonnet 150, lines 3-4

7 – SWEET BEAUTY HATH NO NAME NO HOLY BOW’R
BEAUTY HATH NO NAME = Southampton’s royal blood from his mother, Elizabeth, is not acknowledged; NO HOLY BOW’R = no sacrosanct dwelling place, i.e., no right to sit on the throne as a god on earth

8 – BUT IS PROFANED, IF NOT LIVES IN DISGRACE
Instead she is profaned, because our son is now disgraced and imprisoned because of his role in the Rebellion; (Booth refers to “false identities that pass for real and real ones that seem false”); Southampton’s real identity as royal prince is hidden, so it seems false; PROFANED = defiled, usurped; “Question your royal thoughts, make the case yours, be now the father, and propose a son, hear your own dignity profaned” – Chief Justice to the newly crowned King Henry Fifth in 2 Henry IV, 5.3.91-93; IF NOT = or even; LIVES IN DISGRACE = lives in disgrace as a prisoner in the Tower of London

Ravens at the Tower of London

Ravens at the Tower of London

9 – THEREFORE MY MISTRESS’ EYES ARE RAVEN BLACK
THEREFORE = “Therefore” is the key word, i.e., the Queen’s eyes are not black in color, but rather reflect her dark point of view as absolute monarch; “therefore” the viewpoint of Elizabeth, my sovereign mistress, is black; ARE RAVEN BLACK = they are “therefore” black, because the Queen’s own viewpoint, casting its shadow, has turned Southampton from fair to black; her negative attitude has turned her into the so-called Dark Lady; “By heaven, thy love is black as ebony … O paradox! Black is the badge of hell” – the king in Love’s Labour’s Lost, 4.3.243, 250; RAVEN = “Legend has it that should the ravens ever leave the Tower of London the White Tower will crumble and a great disaster shall befall England. For many centuries ravens have been known to be residents of the Tower of London” – http://www.tower-of-london.com; (Southampton is in the White Tower); “For he’s disposed as the hateful raven … For he’s inclined as is the ravenous wolf” – 2 Henry VI, 3.1.76-78; “Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge” – Hamlet, 3.2.255-256; MISTRESS: “To be her mistress’ mistress? The queen’s queen?” – Henry VIII, 3.2.95; same as the sovereign mistress, Elizabeth, of “my mistress’ eye” in Sonnet 153, line 14, and “my mistress’ thrall” of Sonnet 154, line 12; “I cannot but find a great grief in myself to remember the Mistress we have lost” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, April 25/27, 1603, referring to the Queen on the eve of her funeral

10 – HER EYES SO SUITED, AND THEY MOURNERS SEEM
MOURNERS = at a funeral, as in The Phoenix and the Turtle (published this year, 1601); the funeral of their son, Southampton, if he is executed; and the funeral of Oxford’s and Elizabeth’s royal hopes for him to succeed to the throne: “Thy end is Truth’s (Oxford’s) and Beauty’s (Elizabeth’s) doom and date” – Sonnet 14, line 14; dovetailing with Sonnet 31, line 5: “How many a holy and obsequious tear/ Hath religious love stolen from mine eye.”

11 – AT SUCH WHO, NOT BORN FAIR, NO BEAUTY LACK
AT SUCH = at her royal son; NOT BORN FAIR = not born with acknowledged royal blood; NO BEAUTY LACK = but still lacks none of his royal blood from “beauty” or Elizabeth

12 – SLAND’RING CREATION WITH A FALSE ESTEEM
SLAND’RING = Disgracing your own child and accusing him of treason; echoing “beauty slandered with a bastard shame” of line 4; (“For slander’s mark was ever yet the fair” – Sonnet 70, line 2; CREATION = created being, child; “From fairest creatures we desire increase” – Sonnet 1, line 1; “But heaven in thy creation did decree” – Sonnet 93, line 9, Oxford to Southampton about Elizabeth (heaven), who gave birth to him; FALSE ESTEEM = false view or estimation of him; (“false women’s fashion” – Sonnet 20, line 4, about Elizabeth); esteeming her son as a “false traitor” as in “To warn false traitors from the like attempts” – Richard III, 3.5.48

13 – YET SO THEY MOURN BECOMING OF THEIR WOE
So Elizabeth’s eyes mourn for her son and for the fate of her royal blood that he possesses; and therefore they are “black” in these verses of the Sonnets; WOE = (“O that our night of woe might have rememb’red/ My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits” – Sonnet 120, lines 9-10)

14 – THAT EVERY TONGUE SAYS BEAUTY SHOULD LOOK SO
EVERY = Edward de Vere, E. Ver, Ever or Never; EVERY TONGUE = the voices of others, alluding to “my tongue” or “my voice”; “And art made tongue-tied by authority” – Sonnet 66, line 9; SAYS BEAUTY SHOULD LOOK SO = says that Elizabeth (or more specifically, her blood within Southampton) appears to be in such disgrace

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://hankwhittemore.com/2015/01/13/the-darkness-of-the-dark-lady-is-metaphorical-therefore-my-mistress-eyes-are-raven-black/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: