… “The World’s Hopeful Expectation” … “The Hope and Expectation of Thy Time” … “The Expectation of the World”

“When Parliament convened in February 1593, the queen was fifty-nine years old, her age intensifying public concern over that ‘uncertain certainty,’ the as-yet-unsettled succession on her death … Despite, or rather because of, the decisive importance of this question, it remained largely invisible on the landscape of public discourse. Elizabeth’s government was determined to see that this preoccupation had no outlet. Public discussion of the succession was forbidden, declared treason by parliamentary statute … The aim of the Crown’s policy was wholly to remove the question of royal lineage from discussion by subjects…” – Robert Lane, The University of North Carolina Press *

Henry Wriothesley
3rd Earl of Southampton

Such was the situation in 1593 when “William Shakespeare” appeared for the first time as the printed signature on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesely, Earl of Southampton, to whom he wrote:

“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.” **

The same poet would use a variation of “the world’s hopeful expectation” in his play of royal history Henry IV, Part 1, when the King chastises his wayward son, Prince Hal, for wasting his gift of blood and failing to prepare for his kingship:

The hope and expectation of thy time is ruined, and the soul of every man prophetically do forethink thy fall.” (3.2.36-38]

By pointing to “the world’s hopeful expectation” for Henry Wriothesley, the poet was consciously and deliberately proclaiming him as the long-hoped-for successor to Elizabeth, who was adamant in refusing to name anyone to follow her on the throne. “Shakespeare” had carefully selected those words, both to address the young earl directly and to publicly advertise this solution to the nation’s crisis. He was voicing his own hope for Southampton to be named the future Henry IX of England.

Robert Lane observes that a major weapon against the Crown’s suppression of public discussion was the power wielded by Elizabethan writers. Plays, for example, “provided a forum for examination of the issue in a manner sufficiently oblique to avoid government retaliation.” Lane then proceeds to focus on how Shakespeare in his history play King John “thoroughly, almost systematically” engages “the specific issues entailed in the succession crisis of the 1590s.”

Yes — and this same “Shakespeare” – Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – was so concerned about the crisis that he used the launch of his new pen name to voice his own “hopeful expectation” for Southampton as a prince. Here was Oxford’s answer to avoiding civil war over the crown; to preventing a foreigner from gaining the throne; and to finally ending the inherent danger to England caused by the Virgin Queen’s silence.

In Part 2 of Henry IV, after Prince Hal becomes King Henry V, he admits the public had viewed him as a wastrel unworthy of the Crown; but now he vows to wipe away that negative “expectation of the world” and fulfill his destiny as a great monarch:

My father is gone wild into his grave,

For in his tomb lie my affections,

And with his spirit sadly I survive

To mock the expectation of the world,

To frustrate prophecies and to raze out

Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down

After my seeming. The tide of blood in me

Hath proudly flowed in vanity till now.

Now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea,

Where it shall mingle with the state of floods

And flow henceforth in formal majesty. (5.2.123-133)

In my view, Oxford dearly hoped that in the future Henry Wriothesley would use similar words, expressing similar sentiments, about “the tide of blood” that flowed in him.

///

x “‘The sequence of posterity’: Shakespeare’s King John and the Succession Controversy” by Robert Lane, The University of North Carolina Press, 1995

xx My emphases

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