“Were I a king…” — “Had I no eyes…”

 

Were I a king I might command content;

Were I obscure unknown would be my cares,

And were I dead no thoughts should me torment,

Nor words, nor wrongs, nor love, nor hate, nor fears;

A doubtful choice of these things which to crave,

A kingdom or a cottage or a grave.

– Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, written before 1586 – the year of the death of Philip Sidney, who had “replied” to Oxford; unsigned in Song and Psalms, 1594, published by John Mundy … six lines, ten beats per line (ababcc)

Had I no eyes but ears, my ears would love

That inward beauty and invisible.

Or were I deaf, thy outward parts would move

Each part in me that were but sensible.

Though neither eyes, nor ears, to hear nor see,

Yet should I be in love by touching thee.

– William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis, 1593, lines 433-438; published by Richard Field … six lines, ten beats per line (ababcc)

So who copied whom?

///

WERE I a king I might command content;

Were I obscure unknown would be my cares,

AND WERE I DEAD, no thoughts should me torment,

NOR words, NOR wrongs, NOR love, NOR hate, NOR fears;

A doubtful choice of these things which to crave,

A kingdom or a cottage or a grave.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, by 1586  

HAD I no eyes but ears, my ears would love

That inward beauty and invisible.

OR WERE I DEAF, thy outward parts would move

Each part in me that were but sensible.

Though NEITHER eyes, NOR ears, to hear NOR see,

Yet should I be in love by touching thee.

– William Shakespeare, 1593

///

Of course both were by Oxford, who probably wrote the first version of Venus and Adonis in the 1570s or early 1580s ….

 

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Long time without commenting, Whittemore.

    It is just me or does ‘Were I a king’ antecipates the extremely depressed and famous ‘To be or not to be’? The first poem is a very short space compared to Hamlet’s monologue, but Oxford is still able to explore very well the concept of being dead or unknown: he doesn’t seem to have been in the mood to be an earl, a rich man, a human, a thing, when he wrote ‘Were I a king’. He’s leaning towards what would be better: to be alive and rich, alive and poor, or dead.

    Do you think we could interpret the poem this way? I don’t found ‘Venus and Adonis’ the best comparison but ‘To be or not to be’ kinda reminds me of this.

  2. Hi Francisco, I hope all is well with you and your work. I agree with you and may have thought the same, though not so clearly. Yes!

    • I’d like to add, Whittemore, the possibility of Oxford being a man haunted by bipolar disorder. This would justify both records of him as a man of huge pride, living on his high horse, and the man from his poems who tries to do what he likes but he can’t (“Fain would I sing, but fury makes me fret”… anhedonia, probably) and have a self-destructive ego (Sonnet 66, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Timon’, ‘King Lear’, etc.).

      Maybe you could research about the matter of bipolar disorder yourself. Given that both of us are avid readers of Oxford as himself, as some other pen-name (Shakespeare, specially), maybe you would be surprise of the perfect match the earl and the Bard make with the maniac and depressive spectrum of bipolarity 😉

  3. I see it completely differently. After his alleged dath in 1604, he spent, as I suspect for 17 years in exile. The exact place I suspect as well. So, he died twice, and between these deaths he had ample time to write the sonnets and the dramas with that feeling, you mention.

    • Hi Sandy, long time without talking to you, also.

      I don’t won’t to bethe psychologist here, because I have an interess on the area but I’m not, nor do I plan to become one in a near future. Yet, I’d say many Shakespeare’s characters fit bipolar disorder (specially Type II) and reflecting this to the sonnets (and with some sadness of mine for writing in this circle, I don’t buy anymore the PT Theory… but I still think Oxford wrote them from the botton of his heart), I’d say our ealr had bipolar disorder, or at least a life-long depression.

      I’ve also read elsewhere an essay which promotes the idea of Oxford as an earl who suffer from alcoholism. If he was bipolar, as I believe, this wouldn’t be surprising, given the tendecy of this kind of people to substance abuse.

      Also, Hamlet’s behaviour fits very well bipolar disorder, but I believe some may have already read this or heard this elsewhere. Hamlet isn’t just mad: he has maniac episodes in and out of the stage (like when he grabs Ophelia by her wrists in her father’s backs), and he comes to a state of hallucination (like when he kills Polonius); though the play is dominated by his depressive mood and mixed state. Oxford knew well too much how bipolar disorder worked for a man of his time…

      • Hi Francisco,

        I just want to add that you can trust the PT theory. I found the way -among severeal others- he “placed” his son in The Monument.


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