Oxford to Southampton in the Private Sonnets & Queen Elizabeth to Southampton in the Public Dialogue of Venus to Adonis

Elizabeth I  The Phoenix Portrait circa 1575

Elizabeth I
The Phoenix Portrait
circa 1575

In the narrative poem Venus and Adonis (1593), introducing the Shakespeare name and linking it uniquely to Southampton, the author gives the goddess Venus (Queen Elizabeth) thirty-six lines of dialogue spoken to young Adonis (first Oxford, now Southampton) in the same vein as the first seventeen private sonnets —

Venus to Adonis:

“Make use of time, let not advantage slip;

Beauty within itself should not be wasted…

Seeds spring from seeds, and beauty breedeth beauty;

Thou wast begot, to get it is thy duty.”

The upshot is that, while the published poem may have been written in another form more than a decade earlier, the Earl of Oxford now adds lines enabling Elizabeth to urge Southampton to act, just as Oxford himself is urging him in private, using much the same language.  In another sense, however, both the sonnets and the poem are also reminding the Queen that she must declare herself on the matter of succession.  She must name an heir or “the world” (England) will suffer.

Sonnet 1, spoken by Oxford:

Pity the world, or else this glutton be

To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee!

Or, for example, Sonnet 9:

Ah!  If thou issueless shall hap to die,

The world will wail thee like a make-less wife;

The world will be thy widow and still [always] weep…

Henry Wriothesley  3rd Earl of Southampton circa 1594

Henry Wriothesley
3rd Earl of Southampton
circa 1594

And in the public poem, Venus-Elizabeth admonishes the young god:

“What is thy body but a swallowing grave,

Seeming to bury that posterity

Which by rights of time needs must have,

If thou destroy them not in dark obscurity?

If so, the world will hold thee in disdain,

Sith in thy pride so fair a hope is slain.”

These seventeen sonnets spoken by Oxford, as well as those thirty-six lines spoken by Venus-Elizabeth, are dynastic through-and-through.  Edward de Vere may well have originated this language in earlier days – for example, when his secretary John Lyly likened the Queen to Venus and referred to her “beauty” in Euphues his England (1580), dedicated to Oxford.  Now in 1593 the inherited “beauty” can only be the Queen’s blood or bloodline, carried by Southampton, to whom Oxford lectures as a father to his son and royal prince:

“Make thee another self for love of me,

That beauty still may live in thine or thee.”

The undercurrent of urgency is based on a situation in 1593 in which the future of England, and the existence in posterity of the relationship uniting the three main players (Elizabeth & Oxford & Southampton) — “three themes in one” as he writes in Sonnet 105 — is in danger of dying.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I wonder if Southampton’s feminization when he first came to court was designed to play up a resemblance to Elizabeth, emphasizing his *beauty*. You see that in his first portraits but then he seems to have dropped it entirely and was as masculine as any of the other courtiers.

    • It’s an interesting suggestion. I’ve had a similar thought — that the long hair, for example, was some kind of “statement” indicating he knows he’s special. Yours makes it more specific to the matter — to Elizabeth herself. He was called “fantastical” in looks/behavior. The portrait he had made of himself in the Tower, soon after his release, is another huge statement.

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