“Proving His Beauty by Succession” – Queen Elizabeth in the Sonnets (Continued)…

Queen Elizabeth appears throughout SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS of 1609.  Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, employs a conventional form of romantic poetry to preserve for posterity a real-life story that is not at all romantic but political.  In this slice of contemporary history within the Elizabethan poetry, otherwise unavailable to future historians,  Oxford reveals the reasons behind his obliteration as the author of the Shakespearean works – not just the reasons for his use of the pen name, which began in 1593, but also the why’s and how’s of his subsequent and enduring erasure from the official record.

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This is the thirteenth item on our expanding list of ways in which the queen appears as the woman (or dark lady) of the Sonnets.

“History is written by the winners,” George Orwell wrote; and Oxford in Sonnet 123 yells at “Time,” that is, at the official record being written by those who engineered the royal succession after Elizabeth’s death in 1603: “Thy registers and thee I both defy … For thy records and what we see doth lie…”  He knew the false history written by the winners of the political power struggle would become a widely accepted lie, a myth, so he constructed a “monument” of verse containing the truth for future generations: “And thou in this shalt find thy monument, When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.” (Sonnet 107)

(When J.T. Looney “identified” the author in 1920 as the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, he was standing the Stratfordian fairy tale on its head. The true story is just the opposite of the popular legend that is still being celebrated.  It resides not in Anne Hathaway’s cottage but, rather, at the Royal Court of Elizabethan England — thinly disguised as the Royal Court of Denmark, where Prince Hamlet fights until his dying breath and begs his friend to tell the world what really happened:  “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown shall live behind me! If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity awhile, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, to tell my story.”)

Now we focus on line 12 of Sonnet 2: “Proving his beauty by succession thine.”   De Vere was fully aware of the reverberations of succession.  He was inserting a political bombshell within the landscape of what may appear to be a bisexual triangle — concealing yet revealing his dangerous subject matter within the “noted weed” (Sonnet 76) or familiar costume of the poetry of love.

There’s an interesting angle on that line of Sonnet 2 in a 2015 book by the late John M. Rollett: William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby, which I highly recommend (despite our different candidates for “Shakespeare”).  When John and I spent a day together at the British Library in September 2000, we shared our mutual conviction that words and phrases throughout the Sonnets are intentionally royal and dynastic.

The poet tells the younger man in Sonnet 2 (which I believe was written circa 1591*) that his use of “beauty” will be praised if he has a “fair child,” thereby “Proving his beauty by succession thine.” This line, Rollet writes, is “introducing what seems to be the main theme of these ‘dynastic’ sonnets, that of ‘succession.’ It is interesting to learn,” he continues, “that this sonnet was the one most frequently copied out into common-place books in the thirty years following publication [in 1609].”

No less than eleven manuscript versions of Sonnet 2 have been found, “suggesting that it had a particular appeal or significance for readers at the time,” Rollet writes, adding that in those three decades after 1609 the Stuart kings James I and Charles I “had proved themselves lamentably inferior to the Tudors as rulers, and maybe people were speculating on how things might have turned out differently.” **

As mentioned before in this series, the phrase “beauty’s Rose”*** at the outset of Sonnet 1 amounts to an announcement that the overall theme of the forthcoming sequence is a plea for the preservation and continuance of Elizabeth’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose: “From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die.”

And so that theme continues in Sonnet 2, with “beauty” signifying not only Elizabeth herself, but, as well, her Tudor blood within her own successor, who will pass on the “warm blood” of the final line to his own child:

1 When forty Winters shall besiege thy brow,

2 And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,

3 Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,

4 Will be a tottered weed of small worth held:

5 Then being asked where all thy beauty lies,

6 Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,

7 To say within thine own deep sunken eyes

8 Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.        

9 How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,

10 If thou couldst answer, ‘This fair child of mine

11 Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,

12 Proving his beauty by succession thine.

13 This were to be new made when thou art old

14 And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

+   The Monument sets forth a structural design opening with twenty-six sonnets (1 – 26) corresponding to the years 1591-1600.  (The first seventeen also correspond, numerically, with the first seventeen years in the life of Henry Wriothseley, third Earl of Southampton, up to 1591; the next nine correspond with the years 1592-1600, making a total of twenty-six.) The Monument explains the real-life story of the Sonnets in terms of three individuals: the author (Oxford), the fair youth (Southampton) and Elizabeth (the dark lady), with Oxford’s pen name (“Shakespeare”) mistaken by tradition for a so-called rival poet.

++ Some of the early sonnets (1-26) may have begun circulating in manuscript during the 1590s. (Francis Meres in 1598 wrote of the author’s “sugared sonnets among his private friends.”)  The remaining 100 sonnets of the fair youth series (nos. 27-126) correspond with the years 1601-1603 and were not circulated in manuscript; they, along with the rest of the quarto, remained underground until 1711.  [However, a bogus edition in 1640, thoroughly mangling the 1609 quarto, represents an extension of the 1623 Folio effort to obscure the true story.  And this version is another source of some manuscript versions, which have many variations from the authentic text of 1609.]

+++ “Rose” is both capitalized and italicized in the 1609 quarto.

The list to date, compiled by sonnet number:

In the Fair Youth series:

1 – Sonnet 1: “Beauty’s Rose” – the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose

2 – Sonnet 2: “Proving his beauty by succession” — the succession to Elizabeth 

3 – Sonnet 19: “The Phoenix” – the Queen’s emblem

4 – Sonnet 25: “The Marigold” – the Queen’s flower

5 – Sonnet 76: “Ever the Same” – the Queen’s motto in English

6  – Sonnet 107: “the Mortal Moon” – Queen Elizabeth as Diana, the chaste moon goddess

7 – Sonnet 125: “Were’t Ought to Me I Bore the Canopy” – Elizabeth’s funeral

In the Dark Lady series:

8 – Sonnet 128: “Those Jacks that Nimble Leap” – recalling the Queen at her virginals

9 – Sonnet 131: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes” – to a monarch

10 – Sonnet 151: “I Rise and Fall” – the courtier as sexual slave to his Queen

11 – Sonnet 152: “Thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Echo of Oxford’s sonnet to Elizabeth

The Bath Epilogue:

12 – Sonnet 153: “Against Strange Maladies a Sovereign Cure” – the Queen’s touch

13 – Sonnet 154: “Sleeping by a Virgin Hand Disarmed” – the Virgin Queen

 

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