The Rival Poet of the Sonnets is “William Shakespeare” or “Shake-speare” the Pen Name

Many of my Oxfordian colleagues do not (yet) agree with the following little essay, reprinted from my website for The Monument: “Shake-speare’s Sonnets” by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford … but I persist:

MONUMENT coverA startling discovery made possible by the Monument solution to the Sonnets is that Edward de Vere’s own pseudonym “Shake-speare” was the so-called Rival Poet of Sonnets 77-86, written while the Earl of Southampton languished as a convicted traitor in the Tower of London.

This idea — that the pen name “Shake-speare” was the Rival Poet — has been the most difficult aspect of The Monument solution to the Sonnets for many to accept. Yet, if one can step back for a moment and consider the larger picture of the Shakespeare authorship debate itself, it becomes clear why this idea makes perfect sense:

The authorship debate, at its core, posits that some unknown poet of the Elizabethan era chose to publish under a pen name while concealing his own name. Thus this assumed identity of “Shake-speare” is, in fact, an alter-ego of some sort — a natural, logical extension of the true author’s own identity.

[The name was hyphenated on many play quartos; more importantly, it was hyphenated for the printings of “The Phoenix and Turtle” (1601) and the title page of “SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS” as well as for printed signature on the narrative poem “A Lover’s Complaint” in the same quarto (1609).]

More importantly the pen name is in fact his “rival” (a word the poet never uses, in any case), since the verse published under the rival name “Shake-speare” will live forever, along with the Fair Youth (“You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen” – 81), while the Poet’s own name will be buried (“My name be buried where my body is” – 72).

This is just one more example of how The Monument addresses — and answers — just about every single question about the Sonnets raised over several centuries of criticism and commentary.

"Venus and Adonis" Dedication - 1593

“Venus and Adonis” Dedication – 1593

 

Oxford had first linked Southampton to “Shakespeare” in his very first published work, Venus and Adonis. Employing “the dedicated words which writers use of their fair subject, blessing every book,” as he wrote in Sonnet 82, he wrote dedications in both Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594), which forever linked Southampton to “Shakespeare,” and which continue to provide the primary evidence that Southampton is the Fair Youth of the Sonnets.

During his 1601-1603 imprisonment, Southampton was a “dead man” in the eyes of the law (referred to as “the late earl”) and, therefore, no poets were publicly praising him then.  Oxford’s only “rival” was his own pen name, the “better spirit” known as William Shakespeare, whose dedications to Southampton were continuing to appear in new editions of the two narrative poems:

VENUS AND ADONIS – 1593

TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE Henry Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton, And Baron of Titchfield

Right Honourable,

I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden.  Only, if your Honour seem but pleased, I account my self highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour.  But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather: and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest.  I leave it to your Honourable survey, and your Honour to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation.

Your Honors in all duty, William Shakespeare

"Lucrece" Dedication 1594

“Lucrece” Dedication
1594

LUCRECE [THE RAPE OF LUCRECE] – 1594

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE Henry Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton, And Baron of Titchfield

The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end, whereof this Pamphlet without beginning is but a superfluous Moity.  The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored Lines, makes it assured of acceptance.  What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.  Were my worth   greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship: To whom I wish long life still lengthened with all happiness.

Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare

Sonnets 77-86 comprise one of the ten “chapters” of exactly ten sonnets apiece within the 100-sonnet center of the monument.  Each of the ten sequences is similar to a “movement” or self-contained section of music within a larger composition – the way liturgical works from the 14th century onward have often consisted of many movements, each intended to be performed at a different place of worship.  [And Oxford may well have had this spiritual or religious aspect in mind when constructing the “movements” of sonnets within his “monument” of verse.]

In the traditional view of the sonnets as written by William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon, there was no possible way to perceive the “rival” of Sonnets 77-86 other than as an unnamed real-life individual who was successfully competing for the Fair Youth’s [Southampton’s] affections.  Naturally enough many Oxfordians have adopted the same perception, sending them off on a similar fruitless hunt for the Rival Poet – the Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, George Chapman, Christopher Marlowe and so on.

Once Oxford is accepted as the author, however, the whole “movement” or chapter begins to make perfect sense: Edward de Vere is using these sonnets as a way of confirming that in fact he buried his identity behind the mask of the poet “Shakespeare” linked to Southampton.

The previous “movement” of ten sonnets [67-76] expressed the death of Oxford’s “name” or identity:

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse [71)

My name be buried where my body is [72]

Oxford’s own spirit is transferred to Southampton:

My spirit is thine, the better part of me [74]

He disappears from sight, but nonetheless he “almost” reveals his “name” or identity in “every word” of these sonnets:

Why write I still all one, ever the same, And keep invention in a noted weed, That every word doth almost tell my name…(Sonnet 76)

Following this spiritual death or obliteration is Oxford’s resurrection as “Shakespeare.”  Here is an overview of the so-called Rival Poet sequence:

Sonnet 77 – Oxford dedicates “this book” to Southampton: “And of this book this learning mayst thou taste.”  He tells the younger earl that the sonnets themselves will become his own “children nursed, delivered from thy brain,” since they are “the living record of your memory” [55] and therefore, in that sense, they are alive.  In effect Southampton gave birth to these verses, so he is “the onlie begetter” of them as the Dedication of the Sonnets indicates.  “This book” now becomes “thy book” as Oxford concludes in the couplet:

These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,

Shall profit thee, and much enrich thy book.

Sonnet 78 – Oxford begins by addressing Southampton this way:

So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse,

And found such fair assistance in my verse,

As every Alien pen hath got my use,

And under thee their poesy disperse.

Southampton has been Oxford’s muse or inspiration; the younger earl has given “fair” assistance as the so-called Fair Youth [“From fairest creatures we desire increase” – Sonnet 1, where he also uses the plural to refer to a single individual]; “every Alien pen” is Oxford’s poetical way of identifying his “Shakespeare” pseudonym (“E. Ver’s pen name, which is alien or different than his real name”); and it has been used “under thee” or under Southampton name as the printed signature to the public dedications of “poesy” or published narrative poems.

A few lines later Oxford tells Southampton directly that he is the sole inspirer or “onlie begetter” of the Sonnets, i.e., the one who gave birth to them:

Yet be most proud of that which I compile,

Whose influence is thine, and borne of thee…

Sonnet 79 – Oxford writes that “an other” [another poet, “Shakespeare”] has taken his place, as he tells Southampton:

Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid,

My verse alone had all thy gentle grace,

But now my gracious numbers are decayed,

And my sick Muse doth give an other place.

Sonnet 80 – The pen name “Shakespeare” is the “better spirit” who can praise Southampton publicly while Oxford must be silent:

O how I faint when I of you do write,

Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,

And in the praise thereof spends all his might

To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.

Sonnet 81 – This is one of the towering verses in which Oxford expresses his commitment to making Southampton immortal (“Your monument shall be my gentle verse/ Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read”); and the following statement actually sums up the entire authorship issue, which is tied directly to Southampton:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have

Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.

Southampton’s own “name” will be immortal because “Shakespeare” publicly dedicated his work to him; for that alone he will live forever; but Oxford himself, meanwhile, must “die” or disappear “to all the world.”  [Clearly he is not speaking of his literal death, but, rather, of the obliteration of his identity.]

Sonnet 82 – And now comes a direct reference to the “dedicated words” or dedications by “Shakespeare” to Southampton:

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,

And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook

The dedicated words which writers use

Of their fair subject, blessing every book.

Dedicated Words = dedications of Venus and Adonis & Lucrece Writers = the writer known as “Shakespeare” Fair Subject = the Fair Youth, Southampton Every Book = E. Ver’s or Edward de Vere’s books of those two poems

Sonnet 83 – Oxford refers to “Shakespeare” in public and to himself in these private verses; “both” are Southampton’s poets:

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes

Than both your Poets can in praise devise.

Sonnet 84 – “And such a counterpart shall fame his wit,” Oxford writes, with Oxford now referring to his pen name “Shakespeare” as “such a counterpart” or copy of himself.  [This is actually a legal term; that is, a counterpart is a duplicate or copy of an indenture; and the latter is a sealed agreement, often binding one person to the service of another, i.e., binding “Shakespeare” to Southampton’s service].

Sonnet 85 – Oxford refers to the silence imposed upon him by his secret agreement with Robert Cecil, who in 1601 has already entered into a “secret (and treasonous) correspondence” with King James in Scotland, working to prepare his way to the throne upon Elizabeth’s death.  Oxford has agreed give up his identity as “Shakespeare” and remain “tongue-tied” as a result, as he writes to Southampton:

My tongue-tied Muse in manners hold her still,

While comments of your praise, richly compiled,

Reserve their Character with golden quill,

And precious phrase by all the Muses filed.

I think good thoughts, whilst other write good words…

“Other” was apparently an accepted plural form, but here it refers again to Oxford’s pen name, the “other” (or rival) poet; and it seems obvious that he intended us to read it as singular, since by contrast he uses “others” in the ending couplet:

Then others for the breath of words respect,

Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect.

Sonnet 86 – These magnificent lines bring the chapter to its end:

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,

Bound for the prize of (all too precious) you,

That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,

Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?

[The pen name “Shakespeare” has buried Oxford’s thoughts within his own brain; but from this “tomb” has come the “womb” of these sonnets, growing Southampton into “the living record” of him for posterity.]

Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write

Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?

No, neither he, nor his compeers by night

Giving him aid, my verse astonished.

[Was it “Shakespeare’s” power, which is above any height that any mere mortals have reached, that obliterated my identity?  No!  Neither he – my public pen name – nor my spirit during these nights of disgrace, giving “Shakespeare” my assistance, have stunned my verse into privacy.]

He, nor that affable familiar ghost

Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,

As victors of my silence cannot boast;

I was not sick of any fear from thence.

[Neither “Shakespeare” nor that friendly servant, my spirit that secretly crams him with information, can boast that they have caused my silence; no, I was not afraid of those things.]

But when your countenance filled up his line,

Then lacked I matter, that enfeebled mine.

[To Southampton: But when your person filled up “Shakespeare’s” lines in public, then I lost power and substance – that weakened my voice and drove me to use these private sonnets.]

After viewing this great “movement” of ten sonnets through this lens, it would seem not only difficult but impossible to make sense of them as written about any real “rival” for Southampton rather than Oxford’s own pen name that he himself had linked to the younger earl.

In effect, to save him Oxford had allowed the mask of “Shakespeare” to be glued to his face, smothering him.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Many thanks. I would add only one detail of identification, that the Lucrece dedication includes the punning phrase, “I have” four, in German vier, times. “I have” in Italian is “Ho”, pronounced “O”. I believe this linguistic trick explains the phrase’s otherwise inexplicable repetition and its almost indecently personal tone in such a document: “O” standing as the initial letter and sound of the vassal author’s title, (O)xford, four, i.e., vier/Vere, times. Even at that early stage, Oxford was using alternate means by which to hint toward his identity, while on the surface playing the unknown writer via the pseudonym.

    • Interesting! And more…

  2. The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end = EVER
    this Pamphlet without beginning = NEVER

    just saying

    • Hey, yeah, keep saying!


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