Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Wins “Dark Lady” Debate

The Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1575 – National Portrait Gallery, London

On Sunday (October 14), during its annual conference convened this year in Oakland, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship held a three-way debate about the identity of the so-called Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Each of us agreed in advance that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is the author and that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton is the so-called Fair Youth, leaving the identity of the woman open for debate. John Hamill argued for Penelope Rich; Katherine Chiljan made her case for Anne Vavasour; and I supported Queen Elizabeth, who won by a secret-ballot vote of the membership in the audience. Each of the others made a formidable case, in his or her 20-minute opening presentation, making for an afternoon session of special excitement. Here, in full, is the overview I gave at the outset:

Making sense of the Sonnets can begin with the realization that these intensely personal lines were set down by the highest-ranking earl at the royal court – and that the beloved younger man is also a member of the court. But finding the story in the sonnets becomes possible only by also identifying the right woman.

Even if we knew nothing of the author, it’s clear this woman is someone of incredible importance to him, and wields enormous power over him – a woman with whom he’s been involved in a long, complicated relationship – whom he’s believed in and defended, even when she has failed to live up to his belief in her – a woman for whom, in the end, he has sacrificed the truth and betrayed himself.

I’d like to present evidence that the powerful, dominating woman we call the Dark Lady can only be the same powerful, dominating woman who pervades the lives of both those earls, and who pervades so much of Oxford’s writing – from his own early Shakespearean sonnet professing his devotion to Queen Elizabeth to his portraits of Venus and the Phoenix, Cleopatra, Titania, Olivia, Portia, Silvia, Queen Gertrude, and more. His final words to this powerful, deceitful, inscrutable woman sum up their long relationship that has now, in the end, drained his soul and left him in bitter disillusionment:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost;/ For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,/ Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,/And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,/ Or made them swear against the thing they see./For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,/To swear against the truth so foul a lie.”

Has there ever been a more wretched confession of shattered illusion and self-betrayal?

Three themes about Queen Elizabeth as Dark Lady:

First, context: Identifying the queen allows us to locate the time frame and historical circumstances for these sonnets – a context every true story must have.

Second, metaphor: The darkness of the woman is not literal but metaphorical; and the metaphor is inseparable from Elizabeth and her imperial frown.

Third, language: Oxford employs the same words to and about the Dark Lady that he’s already used to and about the queen, and used exclusively for her.

Context: The overall context is that Oxford desperately wanted the Sonnets not only published and eventually read, but also, hopefully, understood – by readers in the future. The Sonnets are for “all posterity” and “eyes not yet created,” even when “tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.” So there must be an important story here, for us. He’s playing the long game, which means the story must transcend all strictly personal issues, no matter how deeply felt. It must involve some major situation to be recorded by English history. Given all we know about Shakespeare, the story must also involve some great issue of his own time; and the most pressing issue was the urgent need for an uncontested – and, therefore, peaceful – royal succession.

The vital publishing life of Oxford’s Shakespeare plays coincides with this growing alarm: What will happen if the queen dies before naming her successor? The great issuance of Oxford’s plays under the Shakespeare name occurred in the final years of her life, up to her death. The man was still trying to guide and protect her and his country.

And the contents of his revised history plays reflect this intensifying crisis. The British author Peter Lake aptly titles his recent book “How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays.” His recurring theme is that Shakespeare was using history to raise awareness of the current crisis and ways of dealing with it. Elizabeth’s urgent responsibility was to put a successor in place, to avoid civil war and even possible takeover by a foreign power. But she could not – or would not – carry out this responsibility, and finally the tension boiled over in the Essex Rebellion of early 1601.

The rebels began by paying for a special performance of Oxford’s play Richard II, which Elizabeth knew was about her and the possibility of her being deposed, even killed. The earls were hoping to prevent Robert Cecil from further manipulating the queen to ensure his own survival. Oxford had portrayed Cecil as the hunchbacked tyrant Richard III; and now the secretary was terrorizing Elizabeth (“They were planning to kill you!”) and keeping her under his firm control. For Oxford, after a lifetime of service to queen and country, it was all crashing down with his cunning former brother-in-law maintaining total command of England. As James of Scotland put it, Cecil had made himself “king there, in effect.”

Now the context begins to reveal itself. Our goal, in my view, has always been to read these autobiographical sonnets to and about the Dark Lady (nos. 127-152) in conjunction with events that must comprise the framework and foundation of Oxford’s story. And once we see Elizabeth as this woman, it becomes clear that the story unfolds between the two most important events: the failed rebellion of 1601 and the queen’s death two years later in 1603. These moments, destined to be marked by history, are the two bookends. Then, from one to the other, the sonnets and events begin to illuminate each other and to bring the story to life.

It begins with Sonnet 127 on that tragic night when most young nobles of Elizabeth’s court have been jailed on charges of having plotted against her life. The age of “Gloriana” has come to an end. It’s over – and “therefore” the eyes of their sovereign mistress have turned “Raven black.” The ravens had become dread symbols of executions on the Tower Green. When Anne Boleyn was decapitated, it was said that “even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements, gazing eerily at the strange scene: a queen about to die!”

Now two former favorites, Essex and Southampton, are both set to die on that same Tower Green, so it’s no wonder the aging queen is in “mourning” as at a funeral. After the head of Essex is cut off, the beloved Fair Youth is next, and now his fate is also up to Elizabeth.

Imagine Oxford’s emotional turmoil over this tragic situation! He might even blame himself. All three of them – Southampton, Oxford, Elizabeth – are suffering. And so Oxford addresses the queen in words echoing those of Christ on the cross: “Of him, my self, and thee, I am forsaken, a torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.” What other kind of situation would compel this proud nobleman and great author, who hated hyperbole, to liken his own suffering to that of Christ?

Back in 1911, the legal expert Edward White declared that Sonnets 133 and 134 “clearly refer to the confinement of Southampton in the Tower” and “express the poet’s desire to go his bail by substituting his person for that of his friend, in jail.” It’s Elizabeth who has Southampton in her prison, so Oxford begs her: “Prison my heart … but then let my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail. Who ere keeps me, let my heart be his guard; thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.” In other words: “I will not let you execute him in my prison!”

White also declared: “The poet proffers to forfeit himself as security for Southampton.” Oxford tells the queen: “So now I have confessed that he is thine, and I my self am mortgaged to thy will. My self I’ll forfeit so that other mine thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.”

Now he begs her Majesty to relieve his suffering by executing him instead: “O call me not to justify the wrong that thy unkindness lays upon my heart … Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.” An old saying was that “monarchs have killing looks.” They kill, literally, with their eyes.

Waiting in the Tower, Southampton writes a lengthy poem to the queen, trying to save his life – the only poem by him that we know of. (Before Essex was executed, he, too, had written a poem to her Majesty while in the Tower. So clearly poetry was an important means of communicating with the queen – which makes three earls and former royal wards, each writing verse for Queen Elizabeth in relation to the very same dire circumstances.) In Southampton’s poem, discovered just several years ago, the earl reminds Elizabeth: “Only mercy is the prince’s own.” Only the monarch can deliver mercy; and when she does spare his life, a relieved Oxford responds in Sonnet 145: “Straight in her heart did mercy come.”

But time to settle the succession is running out; nor does Elizabeth seem to care about the ultimate fate of Southampton, who might be left to die in the Tower as a condemned traitor in perpetual confinement. So Oxford wails in amazing lines such as these in Sonnet 147: “Past cure I am, now reason is past care,/ And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.” His continued loyalty to the queen stands at complete odds with her failure to name a successor and protect England from chaos and bloodshed.

James of Scotland has a blood claim, but with complications. He’s a foreign king, born on foreign soil, technically not qualified, and even more deeply unqualified in his character, not to mention that he’s also the willing pawn of Robert Cecil. For all that, however, he does have a claim; but still Elizabeth refuses to name him.

In the end Oxford delivers those final bitter words to the dying female monarch who has always been the most important person in his life: “And all my honest faith in thee is lost.” And now we can see the metaphor of the queen’s darkness.

Oxford established the metaphor in Sonnet 25: “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.” Elizabeth’s favorite courtiers behave like her flower, the marigold, all opening to the warm light of “the sun’s eye” – her sovereign eye; but with just a frown casting her shadow of royal displeasure, their glory dies in darkness. That’s the metaphor, set forth by Oxford himself, and it’s inseparable from Elizabeth.

Of the twenty-six sonnets in this series, only five involve her darkness, and each time it’s a variation of that same metaphor:

In the opening sonnet (127), after eight lines, he reports: “Therefore” – “Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,” – the raven, harbinger of death – “her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem” – the eyes of mourners at a funeral. It’s a metaphor. In 130, “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Back in those lines about the marigold, the queen’s eye was the sun; now, because of her imperial frown and negative view, the sunlight has disappeared. All is dark.

How the queen looks at someone or something is also what she does; and in 131 he tells her: “In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds.” In 132 her eyes have “put on” black, again in mourning; but if her eyes are already black, why would she have to put it on? Finally, in 147, she’s “as black as hell, as dark as night.” And that’s it for the darkness, all metaphor, all tied to the power of the queen’s negative view that turns day into night.

And now the language, to and about the queen:

For example, in 134: “I my self am mortgaged to thy will.” In a letter to Cecil about the queen, he promised not to “contradict her will.” A common saying was, “Others debate, but the king wills.”

In 140 she has “tongue-tied” or silenced him, the same as when his art is “tongue-tied by authority.” Well, the queen is authority; and she’s the only one who can tongue-tie or officially silence him.

He writes to her in 149 about being in “thy service.” He had told Burghley, “”I have engaged myself so far in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light.” What other woman has he ever served? Also in 149 he’s “commanded by the motion of thine eyes.” In a private memo he urged the queen to give her “commandment.” And in King John he wrote about “the motion of a kingly eye.”

In his early sonnet about the queen, Oxford had blared forth his “love” and “constant truth” on her behalf. He was loyal and consistently honest. Now, as she nears death, he writes about her side of that commitment: about “thy” love, “thy” truth, “thy” constancy – the same three words; but in the end, she has had no love or truth or constancy. She has betrayed him and England itself; and therefore he has sworn falsely, all his life, by supporting and praising her.

Recall him telling how he has engaged himself in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light; but now all his honest faith in her is lost. He admits he has had to “swear against the truth so foul a lie.” What other woman could force this strong-willed man of high rank, for whom truth was the most sacred value, to swear against it for her sake?

Soon after Oxford died the following year, 1604, came the printed full Hamlet. He must have labored to revise and expand this magnum opus right up to his last breath. In the final scene, Fortinbras comes down from the north to rule Denmark amid its royal wreckage, just as Cecil triumphantly brought James down from the north to rule England its crippled royal court. Hamlet bemoans his “wounded name” and implores Horatio to “tell my story.”

Five years later, 1609, the Sonnets are published for posterity; and I have no doubt they contain the story Horatio promised to tell the “yet unknowing world” about “how these things came about.” Here is Edward de Vere’s most personal voice – his own story – and the most direct revelation of his authorship.

Here is Oxford’s cry that his own wounded name “be buried where my body is.” Here is the truth of the great author at the royal court of England; his devotion to Southampton; his long, conflicted relationship with the queen; his fury and despair over her failure to protect his beloved isle, not to mention her unwillingness to liberate Southampton. Here is his confession of misguided loyalty and self-betrayal for her sake; and his swift disappearance within the black hole of official anonymity: “I, once gone, to all the world must die.”

Only when Queen Elizabeth is recognized as the powerful “dark lady” will the context, metaphor and language of the Sonnets enable Oxford’s untold story to finally come into focus – for posterity, for history, for us.

“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Oxford to Elizabeth I (the Dark Lady) in Sonnet 152, Echoing His Own Early Sonnet to the Queen

Another  way in which Elizabeth I can be seen in the Sonnets appears in number 152.

Sonnet 152 contains key words that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford had used in a much earlier sonnet to/about her.     oxford11

In about 1573, when he was twenty-three, Oxford expressed his devotion to the Queen by asking himself a series of rhetorical questions; the unspoken answer, in each case, was “Elizabeth.”

    Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?

    Who made thee strive in honor to be best?

    In constant truth to bide so firm and sure…

    Love then thy choice wherein such choice doth bind

(Emphases added)

(Only Elizabeth, the divinely ordained monarch, could bestow “grace” upon him.)

The three words/concepts emphasized above – constant, truth, love – are clustered within a single line of Sonnet 152:

    For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,

    Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy

Following is the full sonnet by Oxford, one of the first of the Elizabethan reign written in the form to become known as “Shakespearean,” again with added emphasis on those three key words or concepts:

    Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?

    Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?

    Who filled your eyes with tears of bitter smart?

    Who gave thee grief and made thy joys to faint?

    Who first did paint with colors pale thy face?

    Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?

    Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?

    Who made thee strive in honor to be best?

    In constant truth to bide so firm and sure,

    To scorn the world regarding but thy friends?

    With patient mind each passion to endure,

     In one desire to settle to the end?

       Love then thy choice wherein such choice thou bind,

      As nought but death may ever change thy mind.

                                           Earle of Oxfenforde

eliza.jpg

In Sonnet 152 he speaks decades later to the same sovereign Mistress, using some of his same words; but now Oxford turns those earlier lines upside-down.

Now he expresses profound feelings of betrayal and heartbreak.

In the earlier sonnet, above, he reveals his pure belief in the Queen despite whatever “tears of bitter smart” she has caused him to shed.

But now, below in Sonnet 152, he writes that “all my honest faith in thee is lost” — an unambiguous statement of his disillusion and desolation.

The pure faith in his sovereign Mistress has given way to shattered faith and raging fury.

He is angry not only at Elizabeth and her lies but at his own complicity in them — angry at himself for his continued loyalty to a royal liar.

The simplicity of the early sonnet by a young, idealistic courtier-poet has given way to the complex maturity of an experienced master whose spirit, like that of Hamlet, has been beaten down to the point of near insanity:  “Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,” he tells her in Sonnet 147, “And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.”

In the final line of Sonnet 152, he has ultimately betrayed “truth” or himself,  echoing his motto Nothing Truer than Truth and winding up with “lie” as his final word to the Queen he once had loved:

                                 Sonnet 152

    In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn,

    But thou art twice forsworn to me love swearing;

    In act thy bed-vow broke and new faith torn

    In vowing new hate after new love bearing:

    But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,

    When I break twenty? I am perjured most,

    For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,

    And all my honest faith in thee is lost.

    For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,

    Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,

    And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,

    Or made them swear against the thing they see.

       For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,

       To swear against the truth so foul a lie.

Without the identification of Edward de Vere as the author of Sonnet 152, we are deprived of the equally crucial knowledge of Elizabeth Tudor as the “dark lady” whose dark or negative viewpoint has turned the world, England, from day to night.

The Queen, to whom the younger Oxford was so devoted, has forced him to “swear against the thing” he sees.

To maintain his continued service to her, he has adopted a state of “blindness” toward her false public image.

Southampton in the Tower: 1601 - 1603

Southampton in the Tower: 1601 – 1603

He has allowed her to break “two oaths” – one made to him, and one made to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, the “fair youth” of the Sonnets.

Sonnet 152 is a bitter cry of emotional pain, recorded not for contemporary eyes, but, rather, for “eyes not yet created” (Sonnet 81) in posterity — for those of us who, because his “monument” to Southampton has survived, can read his words today.

Without the knowledge that Oxford is writing to Elizabeth, the scope and depth of this personal suffering is inexplicable.

Without Elizabeth identified as the so-called dark lady, the lines of Sonnet 152 seem inflated, fatuous, hyperbolic.

This suffering on Oxford’s part begins to explain the resounding silence of “Shakespeare” upon the Queen’s death.

There’s much more to come in this compilation of ways the Queen appears in the Sonnets; meanwhile, here is the list to date, arranged according to the sonnet numbers in the 1609 quarto:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Were’t Ought to Me I Bore the Canopy” – the Funeral of Elizabeth I, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets

“On 28 April 1603, more than a month after her death, Elizabeth’s body was taken in procession to Westminster Abbey. It was an impressive occasion: the hearse was drawn by four horses hung with black velvet, and surmounted by a life-size wax effigy of the late Queen, dressed in her state robes and crown, an orb and scepter in its hands; over it was a canopy of estate supported by six earls.” – Alison Weir, The Life of Elizabeth, 1998

Our continuing demonstration of Elizabeth I of England in the Sonnets now includes the clear reference to her funeral procession in Sonnet 125:

Were’t ought to me I bore the canopy,

With my extern the outward honoring…

No, let me be obsequious in thy heart…

funeral of Eliza

“Canopy – a cloth covering, carried tent-like over the head of a dignitary in a ceremonial procession … Through its relation to ‘obsequy,’ ‘funeral,’ obsequious had the specialized meaning ‘dutiful in performing funeral rites,’ and invites a reader to think of the canopy as borne in a funeral procession.” – Stephen Booth, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 1977

Sonnet 125 occurs immediately before the “envoy” at the end of the long opening sequence to the so-called Fair Youth, whom we identify as Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.  As noted in The Monument, there are nineteen sonnets and nineteen days from Sonnet 107 on 10 April 1603 (when Southampton was released from the Tower) to Sonnet 125 on 28 April 1603, the date of Elizabeth’s funeral (when the end of the Tudor dynasty was official) – or exactly one sonnet per day, and surely not a coincidence.

The bitterness of “Shakespeare” toward the Queen reflects Oxford’s own bitterness toward the female monarch he had served, adding to our evidence that Elizabeth is also the Dark Lady of Sonnets 127 to 152, wherein he rages at her in lines such as those at the end of Sonnet 147: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.”

“If, then, we take Sonnet 125 as being the Earl of Oxford’s expression of his private feelings relative to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, we can quite understand his not troubling to honor her with any special verses (under his own name or that of “Shakespeare”).” – John Thomas Looney, “Shakespeare” Identified, 1920

Sonnet 125

Wer’t ought to me I bore the canopy,

With my extern the outward honoring,

Or laid great bases for eternity

Which proves more short than waste or ruining?

Have I not seen dwellers on form and favor

Lose all and more by paying too much rent

For compound sweet; Forgoing simple savor,

Pitiful thrivers in their gazing spent?

No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,

And take thou my oblation poor but free,

Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art,

But mutual render only me for thee.

   Hence, thou suborn’d Informer, a true soul

   When most impeached stands least in thy control.

(The “suborned informer” is Time itself, or the Official Record created by those in power, who are liars; and Oxford is saying: No, Time, you will not crush me, because this “monument” containing the Truth will endure and be triumphant.)

(Oxfordians have had some discussion of whether Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was officially entitled to “bear the canopy” during Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession. In my view, however, that discussion misses the essential point – that Oxford is using this great occasion as a clear “historical marker” within his “monument” of verse for posterity, and, too, using it as the allegorical or metaphorical basis upon which to record his true thoughts and feelings for future generations.  The end of the Tudor dynasty is, in fact, the end of his story.)

The List to Date:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sleeping by a Virgin Hand Disarmed” – Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, Dark Lady of the Sonnets

Elizabeth I with a crescent moon jewel in her hair with three pearl droplets on her forehead -- Nicholas Hilliard miniature circa 1595-1600

Elizabeth I with a crescent moon jewel in her hair with three pearl droplets on her forehead — Nicholas Hilliard miniature circa 1595-1600

Thus was I sleeping by a brother’s hand

Of life, of crown, of Queen at once dispatched.

(Hamlet, 1.5.74-75)

And so the General of hot desire

Was sleeping by a Virgin hand disarmed.

(Sonnet 154, lines 7-8)

These two sets of lines are obviously similar, even in their poetical structure; each line of each pair contains ten syllables or beats, achieving the same rhythm.  And the similarities continue.

The first set is spoken by the Ghost of Prince Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, who is telling his son how the current monarch, King Claudius, murdered him and stole not only his life but both his crown and his widowed queen.

In the second set, from the so-called Bath sonnets at the end of the sequence, the poet refers to “the General of hot desire,” who is also “Cupid” and “the boy” (Sonnet 153) as well as “the little Love-God” (Sonnet 154); and this boy-spirit has been “disarmed” or rendered unable to defend himself.

The overall similarity of “sleeping by a brother’s hand” and “sleeping by a Virgin hand” is even more striking in light of the fact that Shakespeare loves to depict a monarch’s “hand” as the agent of his or her rule, as when King Louis of France [1423-1483] in 3 Henry VI tells Queen Margaret: “Yet shall you have all kindness at my hand…” (3.3.149).

The hand of the monarch is godlike in its power for good or evil – in Hamlet it’s the murderous hand of King Claudius and, in Sonnet 154, it’s the cruel hand of the Virgin, who is also called “the fairest votary,” mirroring “the Imperial Votaress” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  She is Titania, Queen of the Fairies, widely recognized as a representation of Elizabeth I of England, the Virgin Queen, as noticed as early as 1607 in The Whore of Babylon by Thomas Dekker, writing about “Titania, the Faire Queen, under whom is figured our late Queen Elizabeth.”

This is the tenth posting of an ongoing series on Elizabeth as the “dark lady” of the Sonnets.  In fact it becomes possible to see her as the only real-life woman within these consecutively numbered “little songs” published in 1609.  The Queen’s presence in Sonnet 154 has been seen long before now; for example, by Sir George Greenwood in The Shakespeare Problem Restated of 1908:

“In Shakespeare’s version (of the original Greek epigram, as expressed by both Sonnets 153 and 154), it is not ‘amorous nymphs’ but ‘nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep,’ and it is not nymphs generally, but one of them that is said to take up the ‘heart-inflaming brand.’ This nymph is described as ‘the fairest votary,’ and in the companion sonnets as ‘a maid of Dian’s.’  Who is meant?  I cannot doubt that this ‘fairest votary’ is the same as ‘the Imperial Votaress’ of the Midsummer Night’s Dream, against whom ‘Cupid’s fiery shaft’ was launched in vain, being ‘quenched in the chaste beams of the watery moon’ – and we all remember that famous portrait of Elizabeth as Diana with the crescent moon on her brow.”

Katherine Duncan-Jones writes in the Arden edition of the Sonnets that Shakespeare “allows for a possibility that Cupid’s assailant is Diana herself.”  In that case, the “boy” or “Cupid” of this unified masterwork is the so-called fair youth, Henry Wriothesely, third Earl of Southampton, whose assailant is Queen Elizabeth herself.

For what I believe is the only coherent explanation of this reading, we must move into the realm of the so-called Prince Tudor theory — the conclusion that Southampton was Oxford’s own son by the Queen, born in May or June of 1574.  In that realm, the two Bath sonnets of 153-154 refer to the one and only visit of Elizabeth and her court to the City of Bath, which occurred in August of her 1574 summer progress, when Oxford was traveling with her; and then we are presented with an allegorical representation of the Queen’s negative or “dark” attitude toward her royal son, who had been born just months before.

Queen Elizabeth has “disarmed” the boy-child with her own monarch’s “hand” or royal power, by refusing to acknowledge him (which Oxford surely viewed as a form of regicide) while going off on her progress that year as if no such birth had ever happened:

And the Imperial Votaress passed on,

In maiden meditation, fancy-free …

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2.1.163-64)

Queen Elizabeth as the Dark Lady: “Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap to kiss the tender inward of thy hand”

“Prominent among these favorites was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford … He was an agile and energetic dancer, the ideal partner for the queen, and he had a refined ear for music and was a dexterous performer on the virginals.” – Carolly Erickson, “The First Elizabeth” (1983)

How oft, when thou my music music play’st

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds

With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st

The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap           

To kiss the tender inward of thy hand…

(Emphasis added)

Queen Elizabeth's Virginal

So begins Sonnet 128, the second verse of the Dark Lady series (127-152); and with Oxford viewed as the author, it is plainly about Elizabeth I, who was fond of playing on her virginals – a musical instrument of the harpsichord family, with “jacks” or wooden shafts that rest on the ends of the keys. The presumption here is that Oxford, an expert musician, composed pieces that he and the queen would play together:

Oxford had been jealous of Sir Walter Raleigh, a “jack” who had leaped into the court’s attention in 1580, when he went to Ireland to help suppress an uprising. He soon became a favorite of the queen, and in 1587 he was knighted and appointed Captain of the Queen’s Guard.  Later he helped the government bring Essex to his tragic ending upon the failure of the Essex Rebellion and was said to gloat at the time of the earl’s execution.

“When the news was officially announced that the tragedy was over, there was a dead silence in the Privy Chamber, but the queen continued to play, and the Earl of Oxford, casting a significant glance at Raleigh, observed, as if in reference to the effect of Her Majesty’s fingers on the instrument, which was a sort of open spinet, ‘When Jacks start up, then heads go down.’ Everyone understood the bitter pun contained in this allusion.” – Agnes Strickland, “The Life of Queen Elizabeth” (1910), p. 674, citing “Fragmenta Regalia: Observations on the late Q. Elizabeth, her times and favorites,” Sir Robert Naughton (1641)

[The Monument views the chronological arrangement of the Dark Lady series as beginning with Sonnet 127 on the night of the Rebellion on February 8, 1601; in this context, Sonnet 128 would follow upon the execution of Essex a little more than two weeks later on February 25, 1601.  The placement is a perfect fit within that context of the contemporary history.]

The lines about “those Jacks that nimble leap/ To kiss the tender inward of thy hand” recall a letter from Essex to Elizabeth in 1597: “And so wishing Your Majesty to be Mistress of all that you wish most, I humbly kiss your fair hands.”

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh

Francis Bacon apparently recalled the same incident with the virginals (or perhaps one that occurred much earlier) in “Apophthegemes New and Old” (1625): “When Queen Elizabeth had advanced Raleigh, she was one day playing on the virginals, and my Lord of Oxford, & another Noble-man, stood by. It fell out so that the Ledge, before the Jacks, was taken away, so the Jacks were seen [i.e., making them visible]; My Lord of Oxford and the other Noble-man smiled, and a little whispered.  The Queen marked it, and would needs know what the matter was?  My Lord of Oxford answered that they smiled to see that ‘when Jacks went up, Heads went down.’”

The actual occasion of the incident matters little in terms of its placement in the Dark Lady series or its relationship to Sonnet 128. The point is that there is, in fact, documentary evidence that the Queen and Oxford were together while she played on the virginals and he came up with his now-famous, spontaneous quip about the leaping jacks being like Raleigh, an upstart “jack” at the royal court.  To express his bitterness at Raleigh in relation to the execution of Essex, there was no better allusion than this one.  [In addition, all recollections of the quip have the same rather obvious allusion to an execution-by-beheading.]

Sonnet 128

How oft, when thou my music music play’st

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds

With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st

The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap

To kiss the tender inward of thy hand…

Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,

At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand.

To be so tickled they would change their state

And situation with those dancing chips,

O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,

Making dead wood more blest than living lips.

Since saucy Jacks so happy are in this,

Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.

The list of ways in which Queen Elizabeth permeates the Sonnets of Shakespeare continues to grow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Darkness of the Dark Lady is Metaphorical: “THEREFORE My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black”

The darkness of the Dark Lady in the Shakespeare sonnets has nothing to do with her physical coloring — nothing to do with her hair or eyes or skin. It’s a metaphor! The so-called Dark Lady series begins with Sonnet 127, in which the operative word is THEREFORE” in line 9 – as in “Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,/ Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem …” The failed Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601 has just taken place and Southampton is now confined in the Tower, the bird of which is the Raven.

Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger 1595

Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger 1595

The woman, Queen Elizabeth, is pictured attending a funeral – not literally, of course. It’s figurative! It’s the funeral of any hope for the perpetuation of the Tudor dynasty — the same funeral depicted by the Earl of Oxford in “The Phoenix and Turtle,” to be published later in the same year as by “William Shake-speare” (yes, hyphenated). The blackness and darkness are metaphorical! And such is the case all through the Dark Lady series (127-152). Here are notes from The Monument for the opening sonnet:

THE DARK LADY: ELIZABETH: REBELLION & IMPRISONMENT
Sonnet 127
Beauty’s Successive Heir
8 February 1601

This opening sonnet to and about Queen Elizabeth is the start of the separate Dark Lady series, running in parallel with the Fair Youth series from 1601 to 1603. Two verses of this series, Sonnets 138 and 144, were first published in 1599; but Oxford has inserted them with slight but significant revisions into this sequence. The result is a series of twenty-six sonnets (127-152) matching the twenty-six sonnets of the opening series (1-26), each flanking the series of exactly one hundred verses (Sonnets 27-126) forming the center of the one hundred and fifty-two sonnet structure. Sonnet 127 corresponds in time to Sonnet 27 – the night of Southampton’s revolt and imprisonment on February 8, 1601 – both introducing “black” into their respective sequences.

In the past the royal son was “fair” but now he is “black” with disgrace, although he remains the Queen’s “successive heir” to the throne. Elizabeth’s imperial viewpoint determines everything. At a glance, she can turn him from “fair” (royal) to “black” (disgraced). She continues to slander her own “beauty” or royal blood, which is possessed by her son, by viewing him with “a bastard shame” or consigning him to the status of a royal bastard.

Sonnet 127

1- In the old age black was not counted fair,
2- Or if it were it bore not beauty’s name:
3- But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
4- And Beauty slandered by a bastard shame,
5- For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
6- Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
7- Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bow’r,
8- But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
9- Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,
10 Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem,
11 At such who not born fair no beauty lack,
12 Sland’ring Creation with a fasle esteem.
13 Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
14 That every tongue says beauty should look so.

1 – IN THE OLD AGE BLACK WAS NOT COUNTED FAIR
OLD AGE = former times; as in Sonnets 1 – 26 up to the year 1600, before the Essex Rebellion, after which everything changed; OLD = “Wherefore, not as a stranger but in the old style” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, May (?) 1601; “For truth is truth, though never so old” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, May 7, 1603; “That I might see what the old world could say” – Sonnet 59, line 9; “O him she stores, to show what wealth she had/ In days long since, before these last so bad” – Sonnet 67, lines 13-14, “Robbing no old to dress his beauty new” – Sonnet 68, line 12; “For as the Sun is daily new and old,/ So is my love still telling what is told” – Sonnet 76, lines 13-14; “Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine” – Sonnet 108, line 7; AGE = “A generation of men, a particular period of time; the period of life at which a person has arrived; a stage of life” – Schmidt; “Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age” – Sonnet 32, line 10; “The rich proud cost of outworn buried age” – Sonnet 64, line 2; “Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure” – Sonnet 75, line 6; “For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred” – Sonnet 104, line 13; “And peace proclaims Olives of endless age” – Sonnet 107, line 8; “The age is grown so picked that the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier he galls his kibe” – Hamlet, 5.1.138-140

essex-trial-report1.jpg

BLACK = Southampton, in disgrace for treason; “It will help me nothing to plead mine innocence, for that dye is on me which makes my whitest part black” – Henry VIII, 1.1.208-209; also, as royal bastard; “A joyless, dismal, black and sorrowful issue” – Titus Andronicus, 4.2.68-73; COUNTED FAIR = accounted (i.e., his “fair” or royal blood as Elizabeth’s “treasure”) or acknowledged as royal; “From fairest creatures we desire increase” – Sonnet 1, line 1

2 – OR IF IT WERE IT BORE NOT BEAUTY’S NAME
Or even if he was accounted as royal (by me), he did not bear Elizabeth’s name (Tudor); BORE = heraldic, i.e., Southampton never bore his mother’s coat-of-arms; also related to his birth as a bastard; (“Before these bastard signs of fair were borne” – Sonnet 68, line 3); BEAUTY’S NAME = Elizabeth’s name, Tudor; i.e., he was never known as Prince Henry Tudor; (“That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die” – Sonnet 1, line 2)

3 – BUT NOW IS BLACK BEAUTY’S SUCCESSIVE HEIR
But now Southampton is Elizabeth’s immediate heir to the throne; BLACK = Southampton; BEAUTY’S = Elizabeth’s; SUCCESSIVE HEIR = one who deserves to succeed by virtue of inheritance; rightful claimant to a title; “Yet, by reputing of his high descent, as next the King he was successive heir” – 2 Henry VI, 3.148-49 (the only other Shakespeare usage of the phrase); “Plead my successive title with your swords; I am his first-born son that was the last that wore the diadem of Rome: then let my father’s honor live in me, nor wrong mine age with this indignity” – Titus Andronicus, 1.1.4-8; “To God, my king, and my succeeding issue” – Richard II, 1.3.20; “rightful heir to the crown” – 2 Henry VI, 1.3.26; “But as successively from blood to blood, your right of birth” – Richard III, 3.7.134-135; “O now let Richmond and Elizabeth, the true succeeders of each royal House, by God’s fair ordinance conjoin together, and let their heirs, God, if Thy will be so, enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace” – Richard III, 5.5.29-33; “Richer than that which four successive kings in Denmark’s crown have worn” – Hamlet, 5.2.273-274; “No son of mine succeeding” – Macbeth, 3.1.63; “They labored to plant the rightful heir” – 1 Henry VI, 2.5.80

Southampton in the Tower of London 1601-1603

Southampton in the Tower of London 1601-1603

4 – AND BEAUTY SLANDERED WITH A BASTARD SHAME
BEAUTY = Elizabeth; also, her blood that Southampton possesses by inheritance of it as a “natural issue of her Majesty’s body”; SLANDERED = brought into “discredit, disgrace, or disrepute” – OED; “But once he slandered me with bastardy” – King John, 1.l.74; “With the attainder of his slanderous lips” – Richard II, 4.1.24; SLANDERED BY A BASTARD SHAME = shame or disgrace because of royal-bastard status; (“Thy issue blurred with needless bastardy” – Lucrece, 522; also “slander” as “to charge with, accuse of, a crime or offence” = OED., citing Scotland Council of 1579: “Persons slandered or suspect of treason”); same as “The region cloud hath masked him from me now” – Sonnet 33, line 12, i.e., Elizabeth Regina’s dark cloud of shame has covered and hidden her son; “For slander’s mark was ever yet the fair,/ The ornament of beauty is suspect,/ A crow that flies in heaven’s sweetest air” – Sonnet 70, lines 2-4; “this slander of his blood” – Richard II, 1.1.113; “And that he is a bastard, not thy son” – Richard II, 5.2.106; “Out, insolent! Thy bastard shall be king … My boy a bastard!” – King John, 2.1.122-129)

“I am a bastard, too: I love bastards. I am bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valour, in everything illegitimate. One bear will not bite another, and where should one bastard? Take heed: the quarrel’s most ominous to us – if the son of a whore fight for a whore, he tempts judgment. Farewell, bastard” – Troilus & Cressida, 5.7.18-32

5 – FOR SINCE EACH HAND HATH PUT ON NATURE’S POWER
HAND = the powerful hand of Elizabeth, the absolute monarch; “Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown, and put a barren scepter in my gripe, thence to be wrenched by an un-lineal hand, no son of mine succeeding” – Macbeth, 3.1.59-63; “I’ll claim that promise at your Grace’s hand” – to the King in Richard III, 3.1.197; EACH HAND = others who have sought Elizabeth’s favor; both of the Queen’s royal hands; “If Heaven will take the present at our hands” – the King in Richard III, 1.1.120; “A Woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted/ Hast thou, the Master Mistress of my passion” – Sonnet 20, lines 1-2; Southampton at birth was “sleeping by a Virgin hand disarmed” – Sonnet 154, line 8; “From hands of falsehood” – Sonnet 48, line 4; “With time’s injurious hand crushed and o’er-worn” – Sonnet 63, line 2; “Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?” – Sonnet 65, line 11; PUT ON = assumed the royal power of the monarch and acted with that power; “For he was likely, had he been put on, to have proved most royal” – Horatio, saying that Prince Hamlet would have been a superb king, in Hamlet, 5.2.404-405; “deaths put on by cunning and forced causes” – Hamlet, 5.2.394; NATURE’S POWER = Elizabeth’s royal power as absolute monarch, whose imperial viewpoint can turn fair to black or vice versa; “O Thou my lovely Boy, who in thy power … If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack” – Sonnet 126, lines 1, 5

Robert Cecil was holding Southampton in the Tower until the Queen died and King James succeeded her, thereby keeping his own power behind the throne

Robert Cecil was holding Southampton in the Tower until the Queen died and King James succeeded her, thereby keeping his own power behind the throne

6 – FAIRING THE FOUL WITH ART’S FALSE BORROWED FACE
Giving royal favor to foul persons by her false estimation; turning truth into falsity; “To make me give the lie to my true sight/ And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?/ Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill” – Sonnet 150, lines 3-4

7 – SWEET BEAUTY HATH NO NAME NO HOLY BOW’R
BEAUTY HATH NO NAME = Southampton’s royal blood from his mother, Elizabeth, is not acknowledged; NO HOLY BOW’R = no sacrosanct dwelling place, i.e., no right to sit on the throne as a god on earth

8 – BUT IS PROFANED, IF NOT LIVES IN DISGRACE
Instead she is profaned, because our son is now disgraced and imprisoned because of his role in the Rebellion; (Booth refers to “false identities that pass for real and real ones that seem false”); Southampton’s real identity as royal prince is hidden, so it seems false; PROFANED = defiled, usurped; “Question your royal thoughts, make the case yours, be now the father, and propose a son, hear your own dignity profaned” – Chief Justice to the newly crowned King Henry Fifth in 2 Henry IV, 5.3.91-93; IF NOT = or even; LIVES IN DISGRACE = lives in disgrace as a prisoner in the Tower of London

Ravens at the Tower of London

Ravens at the Tower of London

9 – THEREFORE MY MISTRESS’ EYES ARE RAVEN BLACK
THEREFORE = “Therefore” is the key word, i.e., the Queen’s eyes are not black in color, but rather reflect her dark point of view as absolute monarch; “therefore” the viewpoint of Elizabeth, my sovereign mistress, is black; ARE RAVEN BLACK = they are “therefore” black, because the Queen’s own viewpoint, casting its shadow, has turned Southampton from fair to black; her negative attitude has turned her into the so-called Dark Lady; “By heaven, thy love is black as ebony … O paradox! Black is the badge of hell” – the king in Love’s Labour’s Lost, 4.3.243, 250; RAVEN = “Legend has it that should the ravens ever leave the Tower of London the White Tower will crumble and a great disaster shall befall England. For many centuries ravens have been known to be residents of the Tower of London” – http://www.tower-of-london.com; (Southampton is in the White Tower); “For he’s disposed as the hateful raven … For he’s inclined as is the ravenous wolf” – 2 Henry VI, 3.1.76-78; “Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge” – Hamlet, 3.2.255-256; MISTRESS: “To be her mistress’ mistress? The queen’s queen?” – Henry VIII, 3.2.95; same as the sovereign mistress, Elizabeth, of “my mistress’ eye” in Sonnet 153, line 14, and “my mistress’ thrall” of Sonnet 154, line 12; “I cannot but find a great grief in myself to remember the Mistress we have lost” – Oxford to Robert Cecil, April 25/27, 1603, referring to the Queen on the eve of her funeral

10 – HER EYES SO SUITED, AND THEY MOURNERS SEEM
MOURNERS = at a funeral, as in The Phoenix and the Turtle (published this year, 1601); the funeral of their son, Southampton, if he is executed; and the funeral of Oxford’s and Elizabeth’s royal hopes for him to succeed to the throne: “Thy end is Truth’s (Oxford’s) and Beauty’s (Elizabeth’s) doom and date” – Sonnet 14, line 14; dovetailing with Sonnet 31, line 5: “How many a holy and obsequious tear/ Hath religious love stolen from mine eye.”

11 – AT SUCH WHO, NOT BORN FAIR, NO BEAUTY LACK
AT SUCH = at her royal son; NOT BORN FAIR = not born with acknowledged royal blood; NO BEAUTY LACK = but still lacks none of his royal blood from “beauty” or Elizabeth

12 – SLAND’RING CREATION WITH A FALSE ESTEEM
SLAND’RING = Disgracing your own child and accusing him of treason; echoing “beauty slandered with a bastard shame” of line 4; (“For slander’s mark was ever yet the fair” – Sonnet 70, line 2; CREATION = created being, child; “From fairest creatures we desire increase” – Sonnet 1, line 1; “But heaven in thy creation did decree” – Sonnet 93, line 9, Oxford to Southampton about Elizabeth (heaven), who gave birth to him; FALSE ESTEEM = false view or estimation of him; (“false women’s fashion” – Sonnet 20, line 4, about Elizabeth); esteeming her son as a “false traitor” as in “To warn false traitors from the like attempts” – Richard III, 3.5.48

13 – YET SO THEY MOURN BECOMING OF THEIR WOE
So Elizabeth’s eyes mourn for her son and for the fate of her royal blood that he possesses; and therefore they are “black” in these verses of the Sonnets; WOE = (“O that our night of woe might have rememb’red/ My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits” – Sonnet 120, lines 9-10)

14 – THAT EVERY TONGUE SAYS BEAUTY SHOULD LOOK SO
EVERY = Edward de Vere, E. Ver, Ever or Never; EVERY TONGUE = the voices of others, alluding to “my tongue” or “my voice”; “And art made tongue-tied by authority” – Sonnet 66, line 9; SAYS BEAUTY SHOULD LOOK SO = says that Elizabeth (or more specifically, her blood within Southampton) appears to be in such disgrace

“A Father to His Secret Bastard Son .. The Poet’s Mistress Being Obviously the Boy’s Mother” — Charles Wisner Barrell, 1942

As readers of THE MONUMENT know, in my view there can be no doubt that the so-called Dark Lady of the Sonnets is Queen Elizabeth herself; and, in turn, that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford is creating this “monument” of verse to preserve the truth that Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton was his son by the Queen and, therefore, deserved to succeed her on the throne as King Henry IX of England.

By the early 1940s, the brilliant researcher Charles Wisner Barrell concluded that Anne Vavasour, who gave birth in 1581 to Oxford’s illegitimate son named Edward Vere, was the Dark Lady – a mistaken view that forced him to believe, incorrectly – that TWO younger men are being addressed in the Shakespeare sonnets: Lord Southampton and the illegitimate son of Anne Vavasour.

Sonnet-First-Page

Ironically, however, these incorrect conclusions enabled Barrell to recognize some fundamental truths about the relationships in the Sonnets. Barrell concludes, for example, that Oxford and the Dark Lady are the father and mother of the young man “whose ‘face fills up the lines’ of at least forty-two of the poems.” The latter “is specifically described over and over again as bearing the closest possible relationship to the writer of the Sonnets, both physically and spiritually,” Barrell wrote, citing lines of Sonnet 22 by way of example:

For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, by of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from fairing ill.

Barrell goes on to say that although the poet and this younger man “bear a ‘single name’ and share an ‘undivided love’ – THE POET’S MISTRESS BEING OBVIOUSLY THE BOY’S MOTHER – there is between them a ‘separable spite.’ Their relationship must be kept secret to avoid a public scandal!”

SonnetsDedication

Of course the real reason, according to the evidence in The Monument, is that Queen Elizabeth has refused to acknowledge Southampton as her son and heir. She has forced him to suffer “a bastard shame,” as Oxford writes in Sonnet 127, at the start of the Dark Lady series. Nonetheless Barrell was able to cite Sonnet 36, for example, to demonstrate the father-son relationship:

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one…
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,

Nor thou with public kindness honor me,
Unless thou take that honor from thy name:
But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

“It would be difficult to find clearer expression of a heartbroken father’s renunciation of the open pride of parenthood in a charming and worth son born out of wedlock!” Barrell wrote, using the exclamation point as emphasis. He also cites Sonnet 39:

O how thy worth with manners may I sing,
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring?
And what is’t but mine own when I praise thee?

Even for this let us divided live,
And our dear love lose name of single one,
That by this separation I may give
That due to thee which thou deserves alone.

“It is surely one of the most amazing anomalies of English literature that this realistic acknowledgment of a father’s relationship to his bastard son was not sensed by the earliest students of Shakespeare’s autobiographical poems,” Barrell wrote, calling this father-son relationship “one of the most dramatic and magnificently written personal tragedies in all literary history.”

I wish Barrell could have discovered for himself the far greater tragedy, in Oxford’s eyes, that his son by the so-called Virgin Queen was “in sleep a King, but waking no such matter,” as he describes him in the final line of Sonnet 87.

The point here, however, is that even Charles Barrell, who was unable to realize that Elizabeth is the Dark Lady of the Sonnets and the Mother of Southampton, the Fair Youth, could see plainly that the crucial relationship expressed in the sonnets was that of a father and his beloved son whom he could not name.

(“Shake-Speare’s” Own Secret Drama; Part 2: by Charles Barrell; American Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, Volume 3, no. 2, February 1942; the five-part series reprinted in Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare, Volume 2, “Nothing Truer than Truth,” Paul Hemenway Altrocchi and Hank Whittemore, 2009.)

“Why Do You Think the Dark Lady is Queen Elizabeth?” – Answer to a Reader

A reader, John, asks: “Why do you think the Dark Lady was Queen Elizabeth?” –– and because this question is so crucial to the perspective of this blog, my answer is posted here in the window of the regular blog:

It begins with the change of focus, of paradigm, caused by viewing “Shakespeare” as Oxford rather than as William of Stratford.  In the traditional view, the Sonnets tell a “love story” that’s either platonic or sexually active.  “Love story” is the only possibility open to the traditional authorship, if one accepts that the poet of the sonnets is recording events involving real individuals in real circumstances of his life.  In this perspective the dark lady of Sonnets 127-152 cannot be the Queen; our perceptions are limited by our prior assumptions.

In the traditional Stratfordian view the triangular love relationship is based, however, on no biographical or historical evidence that makes sense of the Sonnets as recording a real-life story. No amount of contortions can help, which is the main reason why the whole thing has been such a mystery — the true story has been a mystery because, within the paradigm of the orthodox author, there’s no story in the first place – it doesn’t even exist!

A portrait of Elizabeth I from the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- not quite the way she usually appears

Once Oxford is suggested as the author, however, new possibilities become apparent. Much of his early poetry, perhaps all of it, is about Elizabeth.  His letters are filled with her presence.  He was a nobleman of her Court and she was his chief focus as a courtier and servant of the state.  And that applies to Southampton as well.  It does not apply at all within the old paradigm, but when Oxford is seen as the author we must face the reality that his whole world has revolved around this remarkable female monarch.

Coat of Arms of England with Elizabeth's motto "Semper Eadem" - Ever the Same

Postulating Oxford as the author, I see the line in Sonnet 76, “Why write I still all one, ever the same” as not only the reflection of Southampton’s motto “One for all, all for one,” but also as indicating Elizabeth’s motto “Semper Eadem” or “Ever the Same,” which is exactly how she wrote it in English. This is something Edward de Vere knew and could never forget; he could not write “ever the same” and fail to realize he was identifying the Queen in that line as a prime subject of these sonnets. It was deliberate on his part.  And we can read him stating that he writes always about just one topic, which is always the same – Southampton and Elizabeth.

Oxford's lover Anne Vavasour, a Maid of Honor to the Queen who gave birth to his illegitimate son (Edward Veer) in March 1581

A big trouble is that many Oxfordians, even most, have accepted a change of authorship paradigm without accepting various other changes that flow from it.  I suppose we could come up with many analogies for this situation.  Imagine, for example, switching the scene from New York to Chicago and yet still trying to hold onto the Empire State Building.  That’s what so many of my colleagues seem to have done – they’ve switched the author from William of Stratford to the Earl of Oxford, yet are still trying to view the Sonnets as recording a love story involving some “mistress” or dark lady – of which the candidates have ranged from Anne Vavasour to Emilia Bassano Lanier to Oxford’s second wife, Elizabeth Trentham.

We could deal with each of those candidates, but I’d prefer not to waste time (here and now) on that negative task; but I challenge any Oxfordian to match up a real-life story involving any of these or other “dark lady” candidates with the sonnets themselves, fully and coherently.  

All attempts to match up real-life circumstances and events with some such love story are doomed to failure, if only because there’s no biographical or historical evidence to support those attempts.  The timing, the opportunities, all must be stretched and twisted, but even then without success.  Another reason they don’t match up is simply that the language, thoughts and themes of the so-called dark lady sonnets make no sense in the “love story” paradigm. Those Oxfordians who remain even partially stuck in the orthodox viewpoint are doomed to make crucial errors of interpretation; there’s no way around it – as the saying goes, the shoe won’t fit.

The emperor in his new clothes -- not!

It’s like the story of the emperor wearing no clothes – being unable to see and/or admit something that’s right in front of us.

A big clue to Elizabeth being the dark lady is Sonnet 25, in lines that include the Marigold, one of the Queen’s flowers.

[John Lyly, in Euphues his England (1580), dedicated to Oxford, wrote of Queen Elizabeth: “She useth the marigold for her flower, which at the rising of the sunne openeth his leaves, and at the setting shutteth them, referring all her actions and endeavors to Him that ruleth the sunne.”]

English-garden yellow marigold flowers in bloom

In Sonnet 25 she is indisputably the one to whom Oxford refers as “Great Princes” – and she has the ability with a “frown” to turn the world from light to dark; in an instant, she can turn her “favorites” such as Essex and Southampton from bright to black:

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.

The Sonnets begin with reference to “beauty’s Rose” (1), the very phrase used by John Davies for Elizabeth and/or her Tudor Rose dynasty; they refer to her as “the mortal Moon” (107); and if one is willing to “see” what is there on the printed page, the Queen is all over the place – the dark lady whose point of view makes all the difference.

Queen Elizabeth I of England, flanked by Tudor Roses and Eglantine - 1588

In Sonnet 149 of the dark lady series, Oxford writes to her that he is “Commanded by the motion of thine eyes” – and, for him, this can only refer to the commanding eyes of his monarch. No other woman could ever command him by the motion of her eyes. In King John the King is told: “Be great in act, as you have been in thought; let not the world see fear and mistrust govern the motion of a kingly eye.” (5.1.45-47)

On its face, if you really think about it, the author of the Sonnets cannot be ranting and raving about a mistress because he can’t stand the color of her hair or eyes or skin. The lines would then be hyperbolic in the extreme: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,/ Who art black as hell, as dark as night” (147) – a statement that simply cannot refer to the woman’s physical coloring.

The dark lady is “dark” not because of her coloring, but, rather, because of her imperial viewpoint – and this is reinforced tremendously once one perceives that Sonnets 27 to 106 and 127 to 152 correspond with the time (1601-1603) that Southampton spent in the Tower as a prisoner condemned as a traitor. In that circumstance, the Queen’s view of him is indeed “black as hell, as dark as night.”

The dark lady series opens with 127, and we have to get to line 9 to read, “THEREFORE my mistress’ eyes are raven black,/ Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem,/ At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,/ Sland’ring Creation with a false esteem.” This is a direct statement from the author that the blackness of his mistress’ eyes is a metaphor.

[And here are those “eyes” again, i.e., that imperial viewpoint, which can slander “creation” or a child who was “not born fair” (not counted as royal) but “no beauty lack” (yet lacks no royal blood from Beauty, the Queen) — an interpretation that’s valid regardless of the so-called Prince Tudor theory of Southampton as the natural son of Oxford and Elizabeth.]

I think it’s fascinating, how we tend to hold onto the old ways of seeing things, even after having made a tremendous (and even courageous) shift of perspective by accepting the possibility of Oxford as Shakespeare. (I must follow-up this little essay with similar thoughts about the so-called rival poet, whom many or most Oxfordians continue to view as a real individual rather than as Oxford’s pen name “Shakespeare”.)  The old habits of old paradigms die hard.

“Do Not So Much as My Poor Name Rehearse … My Name Be Buried” — An Answer to “Why” the Earl of Oxford Used the “Shakespeare” Pen Name

On one of our Internet-based forums discussing the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the “Shakespeare” poems and plays, I recently found my thoughts pouring onto the paper about Oxford’s use of the pen name.  Here’s an edited version:

In my view we Oxfordians make a big mistake by trying to explain “Shakespeare” in conventional authorship terms, that is, by saying Oxford  used the pen name “because he was a nobleman who loved to write poems and plays, but, because it was a disgrace for a noble to take credit for such writing, he adopted a pen name.”

A Portrait of "The Two Henries" circa 1619 -- demonstrating the close tie between Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, and Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, son of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

I think we Oxfordians also make a mistake saying Oxford used the pen name “because he had lampooned highly placed figures such as William Cecil, Lord Burghley, chief minister to Queen Elizabeth, and exposing his own identity meant exposing them as well.”

The story is much bigger than that.

The fact is Oxford had published songs or poems under his own name, publicly, in the collection Paradyse of Dainty Devices of 1576; and he had advertised his writing earlier in his prefaces to The Courtier of 1572 and Cardanus Comforte of 1573. He had used names of living or deceased persons and fictional names.  He had written anonymously, too.

He had done this through his most productive years in his twenties and thirties, and not until age forty-three in 1593 did he adopt the Shakespeare pen name.

I say we Oxfordians might acknowledge the obvious, that Edward de Vere’s s adoption of “Shakespeare” on Venus and Adonis in 1593 and Lucrece in 1594 was different than all the other cases.  In this instance he linked the pen name by dedication to a person, that is, to Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton.  It’s clear that in this case Oxford’s motive in using the pen name  “Shakespeare” was TO CALL ATTENTION TO THE EARL OF  SOUTHAMPTON PUBLICLY, which he did with dedications to him on those two sure-fire bestsellers.

The Earl of Oxford's initials E.O. are on the cover page of The Paradyse of Dainty Devices, 1576, with Edward de Vere's early poems and songs among the collection

We Oxfordians would do well to acknowledge that the case for Venus and Adonis and Lucrece as somehow “anti”-Southampton has NOT been made.  Those who have claimed that either the dedications or the poems carried negative intentions toward Southampton have FAILED TO MAKE THEIR CASE.  There is no evidence for that claim and all the evidence we do have is on the positive side.

Oxford used “Shakespeare” and the dedictions and the narrative poems to call attention to Southampton in a POSITIVE way.

After Burghley’s death in 1598, Oxford’s revisions of his own plays began to have the Shakespeare name on them as well; and there is some evidence that he used these plays to call positive attention to the Essex faction, of which Southampton was a leader.   On its face the conspirators of the 1601 Essex rebellion (and Southampton as leader of its planning) used Richard II by Shakespeare in a positively intentioned way against the power of Secretary Robert Cecil to control the coming succession.

It emerges, therefore, that Oxford’s writing life had two phases:

(1) during the 1560’s, 1570’s and 1580’s, he wrote under various names or anonymously in the service of England under Elizabeth, as court play producer and writer, as head of a team of writers, developing an English cultural identity, rousing unity in the face of threats from within and without; and

(2) from 1593, after Southampton had rejected a Cecil alliance through marriage, when Oxford supported him as “Shakespeare” and, therefore, TURNED AGAINST the Cecil-run government … and after Burghley’s death, with escalation of this struggle culminating in the utterly failed rebellion.

After the abortive revolt and during 1601-1603, it was Robert’s Cecil’s single minded, nerve-wracking task to engineer the succession of James without Elizabeth learning of the secret correspondence with that monarch.  Cecil could not afford any opposition, much less civil war.  If he failed in this endeavor he was a dead man.  He needed all the help and support he could get.

He killed Essex quickly, as his father had killed the Duke of Norfolk in 1572 and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots in 1587, because these Catholic figures had stood in the way of the continuing Protestant reformation.  Cecil wrote a letter saying he probably could not avoid the Southampton execution — and I think this was part of his own setup for taking credit later on, as the man who got the Queen to spare Southampton’s life.  (In fact it was Cecil himself who decided Southampton should be spared, not because of affection or pity but so he could hold him hostage in the Tower until after King James was safely and securely on the throne.)

As the Oxfordian researcher Nina Green has suggested, Oxford may well have been “40” in the secret correspondence with James; and I recommend G. P. V. Akrigg’s book of James’ letters* including the one to “40”, promising to deal with him “secretly” and “honsestly” and only through Cecil.

*(The Letters of King James VI and I)

King James VI of Scotland & King James I of England

Both Cecil and James needed Oxford’s support, on various levels, and the perpetual confinement of Southampton — as the base commoner “Mr. Henry Wriothesley,” or “the late earl” in legal terms — was a way of securing Oxford’s agreement to help.

If we believe Oxford was Shakespeare, and if we believe he had told the truth publicly to Southampton that “the love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end,” and that “what I have to do is yours,” then we must conclude that Oxford did whatever he could do to ensure that, if he did help James become king and helped Cecil to regain his power, then Southampton would be released with a royal pardon and all his lands and titles restored.

Sir Robert Cecil, Principal Secretary to Elizabeth

These things did result and they have not been explained by conventional history.

But it’s explainable if all those remarkable rewards were in return for Southampton’s pledge to cause no trouble for a peaceful succession.  Oxford and Southampton both had potential disruptive moves to make, moves they did not make.  And they did not make such moves despite the fact that in no way did any of these English nobles really want James on their throne.   And in any case, legally he had no claim because he’d been born on foreign soil.

And it’s here that we have the Sonnets with Oxford’s expressions of fear for Southampton’s life, and his pledge that “my name be BURIED,” not just hidden behind a pen name, but really buried and that he would “die” not onlyphysically, which was a given, but die “to all the world,” that is, his identity would die and be buried.

In his place would be “Shakespeare” the pen name (the so-called Rival Poet) which was the “better spirit” that “doth use your name, and in the praise thereof makes me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.”

This is no routine anonymity as before, but, now, obliteration to “all the world” in terms of his writing and his positive intentions toward Southampton.  And in the sonnets he tells Southampton, “When I perhaps compounded am with clay, do not so much as my poor name rehearse.”

So if we choose to take him seriously as speaking to Southampton under these conditions, then here is the correct answer to the authorship question in terms of “why” — why his name was buried: because he had promised this self-obliteration in order to avoid another civil war in England, to bring about a peaceful succession, and to save the life and future of  Southampton.

All of which was accomplished.

“To all the world” meant to contemporary generations and the next two or three as well.  The sonnets become a “monument” for posterity.  All we need to do is read sonnets 55 and 81 for that theme.  And in 107, the climax of the story, he celebrates all these bittersweet results at once, ending with yet another pledge that this will be Southampton’s monument that will outlast all other kinds of tombs.  And even he, Oxford, “will live in this poor
rhyme,” that is, he will cheat death in the end through these sonnets.

So the Sonnets were not published to be sold, and not printed for commercial reasons.  They were printed in hopes that they would survive until some future time when “all the breathers of this world are dead.”  (81)

The Sonnets are nonfiction dressed as fiction — a statement I make for the Sonnets, uniquely so, NOT for all the other Shakespeare works — and I believe we Oxfordians would do well to emphasize that we do NOT contend that the plays are autobiographical in the strictest sense.  They are works of the imagination, fiction, with many autobiographical elements and, since this is a case of hidden authorship, Oxford undoubtedly inserted clues to his presence.

But as Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the rich are different than you and me, so we can say that the Sonnets are different than the poems and plays.  The Sonnets, unlike the plays of Hamlet and Othello, are written with the personal pronoun “I” in reference to the author himself.

Oxford’s agreement to bury his name and identity was different after the rebellion of 1601 than it had been in 1593 when he first used the Shakespeare pen name.   After 1601, he was pledging to take another huge step, not one he had committed to before:

“Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write above a mortal pitch,” he asks about “Shakespeare” in Sonnet 86, “that struck me dead?”

He had agreed to be “tongue-tied” by “authority” or officialdom.  The government which he had worked so hard to help, even to the point of testifying against his Catholic cousins — that same government was the cause of his demise.  A terribly sad, ironic story — but a much more dynamic one, and a more accurate one, I contend, than the one we Oxfordians have been trying to communicate over the past ninety years.

I say it’s time to move the authorship debate forward by putting forth the far more powerful, and human, story that is both personal and political — necessarily political, given that our candidate for “Shakespeare” was in fact the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, highest-ranking earl of the realm and — despite his Hamlet-like eccentricities, his Shakespeare-like multiple personalities — an extraordinary figure at the very center of the Elizabethan royal court, within the context of the Anglo-Spanish War that officially spanned the two decades from 1584 to 1604, when England was always a nation struggling to survive as well as grow.

“I, My Sovereign, Watch the Clock for You” – The Living Record – Chapter 52 – The Execution of Southampton Draws Near

DAY THIRTY-ONE FOR SOUTHAMPTON IN THE TOWER
THE TIME OF HIS EXECUTION IS ALMOST UPON US
Sonnet 57
I, My Sovereign, Watch the Clock for You
10 March 1601

Crowds of London citizens have been gathering in the mornings for the expected execution of Southampton.  Meanwhile Oxford addresses his royal son directly as “my sovereign” and states his duty as his “slave” or “servant” (vassal in service to his Majesty the Prince) to “watch the clock for you.”  In the ending couplet, Oxford records the fact that the bargain for his son’s life will include his own obliteration from the official record as the author of the works attributed to Will Shakespeare.  Oxford’s popular pen name is his gift to Southampton, who therefore has both a “Will” and a royal will.

A beheading on Tower Hill

This sonnet begins the fourth chapter of ten sonnets apiece, a chapter ending with Sonnet 66, the fortieth sonnet on the fortieth day after the night of the Rebellion when Southampton was imprisoned.

Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do till you require.

Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour
Whilst I (my sovereign) watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu.

Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But like a sad slave stay and think of nought
Save where you are how happy you make those.

So true a fool is love that in your Will
(Though you do any thing) he thinks no ill.

The Tower

1 BEING YOUR SLAVE, WHAT SHOULD I DO BUT TEND

SLAVE = servant to a prince or king, as in “your servant” in line 8 below; same as one who serves “in vassalage” as in “Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage/ Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit” – Sonnet 26, line 1; “Thou factious Duke of York, descend my throne, and kneel for grace and mercy at my feet: I am thy sovereign.” – 3 Henry VI, 1.1.74-76; “Be humble to us, call my sovereign yours, and do him homage as obedient subjects” – 1 Henry VI, 4.2.6-7; “Myself I throw, dread sovereign, at thy foot.  My life thou shalt command” – Richard II, 1.1.165-166

It is the curse of kings to be attended
By slaves that take their humours for a warrant
King John, 4.2.208-209

That God forbid, that made me first your slave
Sonnet 58, line 1

TEND = “That millions of strange shadows on you tend” – Sonnet 53, line 2; “Who didst thou leave to tend his Majesty?” – King John, 5.6.32; “The summer still doth tend upon my state” – Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 3.1.147; “Where twice so many have a command to tend you” – to the King in King Lear, 2.2.453-454; “Tend me tonight” – Antony & Cleopatra, 4.2.24); “The which attending from the Court, I will take my leave of your Lordship” – Oxford to Burghley, July 1581

Dedication of "Lucrece" in 1594 to Southampton

2 UPON THE HOURS AND TIMES OF YOUR DESIRE?

HOURS AND TIMES = the time being reflected in these sonnets, related to the ever-waning life of Elizabeth; UPON THE HOURS AND TIMES OF YOUR DESIRE = the times chosen by your royal will; “When was the hour I ever contradicted your desire, or made it not mine too?” – Queen Katharine pleads with the king for mercy, Henry VIII, 2.4.26-27

3 I HAVE NO PRECIOUS TIME AT ALL TO SPEND,

PRECIOUS = royal; “Tend’ring the precious safety of my prince” – Richard II, 1.1.32; “Then can I drown an eye (unused to flow)/ For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night” – Sonnet 30, lines 5-6; TIME = repeated from the previous line, emphasizing the importance of this ongoing time, now leading to the possible execution of Southampton; ALL = Southampton, his motto One for All, All for One

4 NOR SERVICES TO DO TILL YOU REQUIRE.

SERVICES = duties in service to him as prince; (“my duteous service” – Richard III, 2.1.64; “A boon, my sovereign, for my service done” – Richard III, 2.1.96; “Commend my service to my sovereign” – Henry V, 4.6.23; “My gracious lord, I tender you my service” – Richard II, 2.3.41; “To faithful service of your Majesty” – Richard II, 3.3.118; “Then hear me, gracious sovereign, and you peers that owe yourselves, your lives and services, to this imperial throne” – Henry V, 1.2.33-35; “So service shall with steeled sinews toil, and labour shall refresh itself with hope to do Your Grace incessant services – Henry V, 2.2.36-39; “We shall present our services to a fine new prince” – The Winter’s Tale, 2.117; “Beseech your Highness, give us better credit; we have always truly served you, and beseech you so to esteem of us, and on our knees we beg, as recompense of our dear services” – The Winter’s Tale, 2.3.146-149, i.e., in service or slavery

And happily may your sweet self put on
The lineal state and glory of the land!
To whom, with all submission, on my knee
I do bequeath my faithful services
And true subjection everlastingly
King John, 5.7.101-105
(The Bastard to Prince Henry, son of now-deceased King John)

The White Tower - where Southampton is confined

“I serve Her Majesty” – Oxford to Burghley, October 30, 1584

TILL YOU REQUIRE = until you, my sovereign, command me; “The gods require our thanks” – Timon of Athens, 3.6.67-68

5 NOR DARE I CHIDE THE WORLD WITHOUT END HOUR

CHIDE = rebuke, scold, quarrel with; “A thing like death to chide away this shame” – Romeo and Juliet, 4.1.74; THE WORLD WITHOUT END HOUR = eternity; (“As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end” – Morning Prayer Service); END HOUR = perhaps a play on “endower” – i.e., Henry Wriothesley, if he is not the King, can no longer “endow” the Tudor dynasty; he was “the world’s fresh ornament” in Sonnet 1, line 9, but now “the world” will be “without” him as its “endower.”

6 WHILST I (MY SOVEREIGN) WATCH THE CLOCK FOR YOU.

MY SOVEREIGN = Oxford speaking to his royal son as his prince or king; “The purest spring is not so free from mud as I am clear from treason to my sovereign” – 2 Henry VI, 3.2; “Comfort, my sovereign!  Gracious Henry, comfort!” – 2 Henry VI, 3.2.37; “Good morrow to my sovereign King and Queen!” – Richard III, 2.1.47; “A boon, my sovereign, for my service done” – to the King in Richard III, 2.1.96; “My gracious sovereign, my most loving liege” – Richard II, 1.1.21; “The King, thy sovereign” – 1 Henry VI, 3.1.25; “Be humble to us, call my sovereign yours and do him homage as obedient subjects” – 1 Henry VI, 4.2.6-7

WATCH THE CLOCK FOR YOU = Remain vigilant while the time leads to the hour when you may be executed; keep recording this time in these verses; wait with mounting anxiety over your impending execution; “To play the watchman ever for thy sake” – Sonnet 61, line 12; “so vexed with watching and with tears” – Sonnet 148, line 10; “The special watchmen of our
English weal” – 1 Henry VI, 3.1.66; “For sleeping England long time have I watched” – Richard II, 2.1.77; “What watchful cares do interpose themselves betwixt your eyes and night?” – Julius Caesar, 2.1.98-99; stand guard for you and your blood; “To guard a title that was rich before” – King John, 4.2.10

7 NOR THINK THE BITTERNESS OF ABSENCE SOUR,

BITTERNESS OF ABSENCE = the pain of your absence of liberty, of your absence from me, of your absence from the rest of England, being in the Tower; “Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty” – Sonnet 58, line 6; “O absence, what a torment” – Sonnet 39, line 9; “From you have I been absent” – Sonnet 98, line 1; “I will acquaintance strangle and look strange,/ Be absent from thy walks” – Sonnet 89, lines 8-9, referring to the “walks” he shared with
Southampton on the roof of his prison quarters within the Tower fortress; SOUR = hurtful

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" in 1593 to Southampton, who is "the world's hopeful expectation," just as he is "the world's fresh ornament" in Sonnet 1

8 WHEN YOU HAVE BID YOUR SERVANT ONCE ADIEU.

YOUR SERVANT = your Majesty’s loyal and faithful servant; “Servant in arms to Harry King of England” – 1 Henry VI, 4.2.4; “Fit counselor and servant for a prince” – Pericles, 1.2.63; “The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever” – Horatio to the Prince in Hamlet, 1.2.162

9 NOR DARE I QUESTION WITH MY JEALOUS THOUGHT

DARE = Oxford speaking of his need to remain silent or be charged with treason for proclaiming his son’s right to the throne; “Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,/ Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me” – Sonnet 26, lines 13-14; JEALOUS = (“Vehement in feeling, as in wrath, desire, or devotion … Zealous or solicitous for the preservation or well-being of something possessed or esteemed; vigilant or careful in guarding” – OED); “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of Host” – Geneva Bible, 1560, 1 Kings 19.10

10 WHERE YOU MAY BE, OR YOUR AFFAIRS SUPPOSE,

WHERE YOU MAY BE = within the Tower; YOUR AFFAIRS = you affairs of state; “What one has to do … business” – OED; “But what is your affair in Elsinore?” – Hamlet, 1.2.174; “So I thrive in my dangerous affairs” – the King in Richard III, 4.4.398; “To treat of high affairs touching that time” – King John, 1.1.101; to Queen Elizabeth: “To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side” – Sonnet 151, line 12

11 BUT LIKE A SAD SLAVE STAY AND THINK OF NOUGHT

SAD SLAVE = unhappy servant; SLAVE = “a person who is absolutely subject to the will of another” – Schmidt; repeated from line 1; NOUGHT = nothing; an image of Southampton as “none” (the opposite of “one”) and “nothing” or a “nobody” in the prison; Oxford must think of “nothing” and so he may think of his son, who is “nothing” in the eyes of authority

12 SAVE WHERE YOU ARE HOW HAPPY YOU MAKE THOSE.

Except how happy you make those who are in your royal presence, i.e., those other criminals or traitors in the Tower; SAVE = except; WHERE YOU ARE = in the Tower; HAPPY = (“Health to my sovereign, and new happiness” – 2 Henry IV, 4.4.); THOSE = the other prisoners (and even the guards) in the Tower

Elizabeth

13  SO TRUE A FOOL IS LOVE THAT IN YOUR WILL

TRUE = Oxford, his motto Nothing Truer than Truth; FOOL = Oxford had pictured himself as a Jester or “allowed fool” at Court (allowed by the Queen), who wrote “comedies” laced with political satire and appeared to make a fool of himself; IN LOVE = in service of the royal blood; YOUR WILL = your royal will, with a play on “Will” Shakespeare, the pseudonym Oxford created in order to publicly support his son

14 (THOUGH YOU DO ANY THING) HE THINKS NO ILL.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

HE = love, i.e., royal blood can do no ill; also Oxford, as loving father; NO ILL = as opposed to the “ill deeds” of the Rebellion, i.e., Southampton must repent (and forfeit the crown) and this act, with Oxford’s sacrifice of his own identity, will “ransom all ill deeds” – Sonnet 34, line 14; perhaps a play on “illegitimate”, i.e., Oxford still “thinks no ill” or thinks his son is not illegitimate; “If some suspect of ill masked not thy show” – Sonnet 70, line 13, referring to Southampton as a “suspect traitor” who has been convicted
and is now in the Tower facing execution

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, in the Tower (8 Feb 1601 - 10 April 1603) - being held here until Robert Cecil engineers the succession of King James

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