Oxford to Queen Elizabeth as Dark Lady: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes”

This is the second chapter of a series about how the Sonnets identify Elizabeth I of England as the so-called Dark Lady, who is “dark” or “black” only because of her negative imperial attitude and actions:  “In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,” he tells her in Sonnet 131.

Elizabeth Tudor

Elizabeth Tudor

For those of us who conclude that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare, one particular phrase in the so-called Dark Lady sequence confirms that the powerful, deceitful woman in question is none other than the Queen.  That phrase is comprised by line 12 of Sonnet 149:

“Commanded by the motion of thine eyes.”

Here is Gloucester in 1 Henry VI (1, 1):

“England ne’er had a king until his time.

Virtue he had, deserving to command.”

G. Wilson Knight declares in The Mutual Flame (1955) that the Sonnets “regularly express love through metaphors from royalty and its derivatives, using such phrases as ‘my sovereign … thy glory … lord of my love … embassy of love … commanded by the motion of thine eyes.’”

If William of Stratford is the author, he cannot be addressing the Queen in these private, personal sonnets — to understate it.  His use of royal language would necessarily be metaphorical.

Oxford, however, is a high-ranking nobleman at the royal court, accustomed to speaking directly with her Majesty, and therefore he cannot be using such language when addressing any female but the Queen.

For this proud Earl, so keenly attuned to the meaning and power of words, to suggest that any woman other than her Majesty might “command” him would be unthinkable.

Elizabeth is the absolute monarch whom he has pledged to serve; now, toward the end of her life and reign, she has crushed all his hopes for a Tudor succession.  Having pledged his undying loyalty, however, he is compelled to continue in her service even though he has come to despise it:

“What merit do I in my self respect

That is so proud thy service to despise,

When all my best doth worship thy defect,

Commanded by the motion of thine eyes?”

(Emphases added)

“Thy service” echoes Oxford’s own postscript to William Cecil Lord Burghley on 30 October 1584: “I serve her Majesty, and I am that I am,” while also echoing his words to the Queen herself, in a letter of June 1599, while trying to help her avoid losing income on a tin-mining venture: “I beseech Your Majesty, in whose service I have faithfully employed myself … to give commandment that the order of your preemption be not altered…”

[Oxford often did write to Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer of England and chief minister to the Queen, the most powerful man in the realm, signing off as “Your Lordship’s to command,” but otherwise any such address by him was to Elizabeth.  Characters in the plays of various types and in various contexts might be “commanded” metaphorically, but the Sonnets are personal and direct statements in real life, from a specific writer to a specific person; and the authorship question poses a choice between two entirely different contexts, Stratfordian or Oxfordian.  The latter perspective, with de Vere as author of the Sonnets, compels the same words on the page to be viewed within a very different framework.]

Meanwhile the slightest “motion” of the monarch’s eye, indicating disapproval, is all it takes to send any subject (regardless of rank) to the scaffold.  The Sonnets are filled with such powerful eyes – ninety of them, in various forms – and Shakespeare knows their authority, as the Bastard advises his sovereign in King John (5.1):

“Be great in act, as you have been in thought;

Let not the world see and fear mistrust

Govern the motion of a kingly eye!

The bottom line is that if Oxford is Shakespeare the Dark Lady can only be Elizabeth Tudor, his sovereign mistress.

Recapping to this point:

  1. “Ever the same” in Sonnet 76 is how Queen Elizabeth translated her motto.
  2. “Marigold” in Sonnet 25 is her Majesty’s flower.
  3. “Commanded by the motion of thine eyes” in Sonnet 149, if from Oxford’s pen, must be to the Queen.

Sonnet 149

Canst thou O cruel, say I love thee not,

When I against my self with thee partake?

Do I not think on thee when I forgot

Am of my self all tyrant for thy sake?

Who hateth thee that I do call my friend?

On whom frown’st* thou that I do fawn upon?

Nay, if thou lour’st on me, do I not spend

Revenge upon my self with present moan?

What merit do I in my self respect

That is so proud thy service to despise,

When all my best doth worship thy defect,

Commanded by the motion of thine eyes?

But, love, hate on, for now I know thy mind,

Those that can see thou lov’st, and I am blind.

  • Frown’st recalls how, in Sonnet 25, even those “favorites” of “Great Princes” can be plunged into disgrace and ruin by the sudden loss of their favor, “For at a frown they in their glory die” — another reason why Sonnet 149 can be addressed by Oxford only to the Queen.  In these lines he is saying his “love” or loyalty to her is so great that he supports her even when it means to “partake” with her “against my self.”  Such is the bitter end of the entire Dark Lady series, in the final line of Sonnet 152, when he accuses her of forcing him to “swear against the truth so foul a lie” — the truth being his own motto and identity, which he has betrayed because of her.  He has become “all tyrant” for her sake, a traitor to himself, by joining her in failing to tell the truth about Southampton, their unacknowledged royal son, who remains in prison so long as she lives and will not succeed her on the throne.

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