“Every Portrait Painted with Feeling is a Portrait of the Artist, not of the Sitter” – Oscar Wilde

It seems almost everything is likely to summon up some reflection upon the nature of Shakespeare, man and artist.  For example, this weekend in our town of Nyack, NY we paid a visit to Hopper House, the birthplace of artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967), and noticed a sketch he had made at the age of nine.  It’s a portrait of himself viewed from behind (an unusually sophisticated perspective for such a young boy), and the feeling it conveyed was one of isolation, aloneness, loneliness amid the vastness of beach, water and universe:

Hopper Boy

Then we looked at some of Hopper’s mature work, which immediately made us realize that his portraits of other people conveyed that same isolation and aloneness.  Ah, yes, of course, we thought – he was drawing and painting others, but in some fundamental way they were all (again and again) portraits of himself:

hopper manAnd so, too, I thought, Shakespeare’s “portraits” or characters created for the stage must have reflected aspects of himself – some more fully than others, but all of them parts of his own makeup.

In our public library we took out a few books, among them Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker by Thomas Kunkel (2015), and on a separate page before the table of contents was a quote from Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

Then the next day, Sunday, we looked at The New York Times Book Review and its front-page review of Bearer of Witness: The Complete Works of Primo Levi, edited by Ann Goldstein, and saw that the reviewer, Edward Mendelson, quoted Levi as saying, “If I hadn’t had the experience of Auschwitz, I probably would not have written anything.”  He emerged from Auschwitz with a “need to tell,” to bear witness, because the memories “were burning inside me.”

Such is not the traditional conception of the Stratford man as Shakespeare, given that his life as actor-writer is free of virtually any record of interactions with others.  On the other hand, such would have been very much the case with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, given the multitude and diversity of his recorded experiences with others.  Only a man with a “need to tell” would have written the Shakespearean tragedy of Hamlet, I thought, and in many ways the character of the noble Prince must have been a portrait of his creator.

Such were some Bard-musings of the weekend…

The Dark Lady is Identified in the Sonnets as Elizabeth I of England – (1)

Elizabeth I 1533 - 1603

Elizabeth I
1533 – 1603

The Shakespeare sonnets involve three real-life individuals: the author, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford; the friend, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton; and the dark lady, Queen Elizabeth I of England.  There is a fourth character [the “rival poet”] who is not a person but, rather, Oxford’s pen name — “Shakespeare” — which he can attach publicly to Southampton while he himself must remain silent.

Oxfordians have had many candidates for the Dark Lady, but this is only because some continue to view the Sonnets as recording a “love” story rather than a political story involving Southampton’s role in the “succession crisis,” which led to his death sentence as a traitor followed by the Queen’s sparing of his life, and, after a confinement of more than two years in the Tower, his release and pardon by King James. Once this context of the Sonnets is perceived, it becomes immediately clear that the so-called dark lady must be Elizabeth, who was only “dark” or “black” because of her negative view of Southampton — her imperial “frown” that cast its shadow of shame and disgrace upon him.

Once Elizabeth is recognized as the treacherous, powerful female of the Sonnets, she can be seen being identified throughout the  sequence of Sonnets 1 to 154. Following are just two examples, rooted in documents of the time:

Elizabeth to Leicester July 19, 1586 CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

Elizabeth to Leicester
July 19, 1586


In Sonnet 76 the author states by way of a rhetorical question that he writes in all these lines of the sequence “still” or always “all” about just “one” topic, which is “ever the same” – the Queen’s recognized motto, Semper Eadem, which she occasionally signed in English as “ever the same.”

“Why write I still all one, ever the same…”

A good example is provided by a letter from “E. R.” (Elizabeth Regina) written on July 19, 1586 to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was acting as her lieutenant general in the Low Countries, signed, “As you know, ever the same, E.R.”  [See Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Beth Rose: Elizabeth I: Collected Works, University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 283]

If in fact Edward de Vere is writing these words, it’s a given he’s quite aware of referring to the Queen by means of her motto. Oxford knew many things about his sovereign mistress, without question, and was incapable of using her motto without doing so deliberately.  He was recording her presence in the Sonnets and it was intentional.

Marigold Flower

Marigold Flower


In Sonnet 25 he refers quite explicitly to her Majesty as one of the “Great Princes” who can remove all glory from her favored subjects by a simple “frown” of royal disapproval – and in the process he brings in the Queen’s own flower, the marigold, again identifying her without question. (Oxford’s personal secretary John Lyly wrote in Euphues his England, dedicated to Oxford in 1580, about Elizabeth:  “She useth the marigold for her flower, which at the rising of the sunne openeth his leaves, and at the setting shutteth them…”)

“Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread,

“But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,

“And in themselves their pride lies buried,

“For at a frown they in their glory die…”

To be continued…

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