The Latest Stratfordian Assault on the Integrity of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Sequence: Part Two

Waiting for the arrival of my copy of the new Edmondson-Wells book about Shakespeare’s sonnets, I already know what to expect.

All the Sonnets of Shakespeare will further spread the falsity that SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS, the one hundred and fifty-four consecutively numbered sonnets printed in 1609, can be manipulated at will. It will present the carefully constructed sequence as an ever-expanding dreamscape of Stratfordian faith, much like the mythological Hydra that grows two heads for each one lost.

Stanley Wells & Paul Edmondson

Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson will also offer the mistaken notion that the Sonnets are only love poems, even though the heart of the sequence contains dozens of references to law, politics, government, state power, trials, prison, crime, revolt and death.

The Shakespearean sonnets may be filled with romantic and sexually erotic words or phrases, but those other, far more important terms are also right there on the printed page; for example: “Sessions, summon, ransom, fault, trespass, adverse party, advocate, liberty, offenders, defendant, plea deny, verdict, locked up, lawful reasons, guard, allege, bloody, offense, up-locked, imprisoned, absence of your liberty, pardon, crime, gates of steel, suspect, fell arrest, bail, dead, knife, attaint, confine, releasing, misprision, judgment, attainted, defense, purposed overthrow, term of life, revolt…”

Those words, too, are on the surface, but our gentlemen scholars of unbounded fancy must view them as “metaphors” when, in fact, they can be related to recorded events from the Essex Rebellion of 1601 to the end of the Tudor Dynasty in 1603.  The hundred sonnets between nos. 27 and 126 can be placed as stencils over the lives of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton and Queen Elizabeth of England during that period, resulting in a true story or “living record” of the younger earl preserved for posterity:

When wasteful war shall Statues overturn,

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.     (55, 5-8)

Here are two samples of what appears to be sexually charged writing in the sonnets that can be looked at from more than one perspective:

(1) Sonnets 151 and 152 to the Dark Lady

During a recent interview with Wells, preserved on You Tube, the former president of the Birthplace Trust mentions lines of Sonnet 151:

For thou betraying me, I do betray

My nobler parts to my gross body’s treason;

My soul doth tell my body that he may

Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,

But rising at thy name doth point out thee,

As his triumphant prize; proud of this pride,

He is contented thy poor drudge to be,

To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.

No want of conscience hold it that I call

Her love, for whose dear love I rise and fall.

Without any subtext, these lines are graphically sexual. They occur near the end of the Dark Lady series, which Wells and Edmondson have tossed to the wayside; nonetheless, those two gentlemen are correct to see them as filled with blatant sexual imagery. For example, the word “pride” – indicating the author’s penis, rising and falling before the beloved, who has betrayed him. Oxfordians can agree with this obvious expression of “triumph” and betrayal in the myriad ways of love and physical attraction. Given such happy harmony between Stratfordians and Oxfordians, the authorship question is almost forgotten.

In this case, however, if an Elizabethan courtier is writing the above couplet, he cannot help but also think of lines written by Edmund Spenser in Mother Hubbard’s Tale:

Save that which common is, and known to all,

That Courtiers as the tide do rise and fall.     (614)

Courtiers of Elizabeth undoubtedly joked that way about themselves. Seeking the patronage of their Sovereign Mistress, that radiant, sexually flirtatious female monarch, they approached her as [literally] servants rising and falling in supplication. They must have joked ruefully about their virtual helplessness as they waited upon her absolute royal power to raise or lower them with a flick of her long, slender finger.

Such was also the case with Edward de Vere in relation to his Queen in Sonnet 151, and, too, as he concludes the Dark Lady series in Sonnet 152, telling her:

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.         (152, 7-14)

I look forward to seeing how Wells and Edmondson deal with those lines in terms of the Stratfordian imagination, but it seems clear the Poet (Oxford) is expressing a deeply heartbreaking and bitter loss of “faith” in this woman for whom he has sworn falsely, perjuring himself and betraying his own knowledge of the “truth” by lying for her.

This is a far cry from the spirited, idealistic young courtier, writing as “Earle of Oxenforde” in his early “Shakespearean” sonnet about the Queen, asking himself:

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?

Elizabeth was the one who made him “strive in honor to be best.” She was the only woman “above the rest in Court” who could have compelled him to serve her with “constant truth,” regardless of the consequences. In the early 1570s, when that sonnet was written, did Oxford have a sexual relationship with the Queen? If so, was he still suffering the consequences as expressed decades later in Sonnet 152?

(2) Sonnet 52 to the Fair Youth

This verse to the Earl of Southampton can be viewed entirely in terms of its possible sexual imagery, leading up to “pride” again, for penis, followed by the image of him being “had” by the Poet (with some words emphasized, for reasons to become clear):

So am I as the rich, whose blessed key

Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,

The which he will not every hour survey,

For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.

Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,

Since seldom coming in the long year set,

Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,

Or captain jewels in the carcanet.

So is the time that keeps you as my chest,

Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,

To make some special instant special blest

By new unfolding his imprisoned pride.

Blessed are you, whose worthiness gives scope,

Being had, to triumph, being lacked, to hope.

We can readily interpret the imagery as sexual. Now, also, let’s look at part of a speech by the King in 1 Henry IV, addressing his son Harry, or Prince Hal, the future Henry V. In this case, certain words or forms of words – keep, robe, seldom, feast, rareness, solemnity – are used within an entirely different context, that is, in this history play the father is speaking to his royal son, explaining how he gained his subjects’ adoration by limiting his public appearances:

Thus did I keep my person fresh and new,

My presence, like a robe pontifical,

Ne’er seen but wondered at; and so my state,

Seldom but sumptuous, showed like a feast,

And won by rareness such solemnity.   (3.2.53-59)

Those words of Henry IV need no other context than that of this play of royal history; the same words within the sonnet, however, are delivered without any such frame of reference. The sexual context may appear obvious, but Wells and Edmondson want us to believe it’s the only context.

Might Edward de Vere have written the entire numerical sequence of the Sonnets within another, much more important  framework as well? One worthy to outlive “marble” and “the gilded monument(s) of Princes”? If he also wrote those lines to record the historical circumstances and events of political power and danger that both he and Henry Wriothesley faced, the Oxfordian case will prevail just as soon as readers are able to see it — regardless of any and all Stratfordian fantasies.

A New Stratfordian Attempt to Destroy the Integrity (and Testimony) of the Sonnets

PART ONE

Most believers in William Shakspere of Stratford as the author known as “Shakespeare,” along with those who conclude he was Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, understand that the poems, plays and sonnets are filled with sexual innuendo, that is, double entendres or language with two meanings. Members of both camps agree that “Shakespeare” the man was probably bisexual, although the term was then unknown.

In addition, Shakespeare lovers generally recognize that the Sonnets as printed in 1609 come closest to revealing the author’s person and why, as he confesses, “My name be buried where my body is, and live no more to shame nor me nor you” (72). Many Oxfordians realize that once we discover how the Sonnets use the language of romantic and erotic love to preserve a more important story, the Stratfordian myth will automatically be shattered.

When J. Thomas Looney presented evidence in 1920 that “Shakespeare” was the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, close to the absolute monarch and her powerful chief minister, he stood the traditional image of the author on its head. In a single breath he identified the poet-dramatist as the antithesis of a commoner and confirmed that the “authorship question” is inextricably bound up with Elizabethan court politics and royal government.

Whatever the circumstances that caused Oxford to agree with the posthumous burial of his identity, they are alive within this very same sonnet sequence, which seeks to ensure the eternal fame of Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton:

‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom. (55)

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.  (81)

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tryants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.  (107)

In that couplet of Sonnet 107 he is glancing at the recently deceased Queen, whose body is set to be borne on 28 April 1603 to Westminster Abbey, where her coffin will rest in the shadow of the great brass tomb of her grandfather, Henry VII of England. And yes, Oxford is saying that Elizabeth Tudor was a tyrant.

“If we suppose that ‘Shakespeare,’ whoever he may have been, retained in 1603 the feelings he had expressed for Southampton in 1593 and 1594,” Looney argues, “it is impossible to think of him writing panegyrics on Queen Elizabeth whilst his friend was being kept in prison … Oxford’s experience as a whole [would] indispose him to join in any chorus of lamentation or of praise.”

Looney agrees that 107 celebrates Southampton’s release from the Tower by King James on 10 April, following the Queen’s death on 24 March and the unexpectedly peaceful succession. He also proposes that 125 is “the Earl of Oxford’s expression of his private feelings relative to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral” and “may be taken as his last sonnet” (given that 126 is the envoi of the series). In other words, the schoolmaster recognized that 107 and 125 each express Oxford’s glaringly opposite attitudes toward Southampton and Elizabeth. He refers, for example, to these lines of 125:

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?   (125)

This sentiment is “strongly suggestive of an allusion to royalty,” Looney writes, “and is exactly descriptive of what Oxford represents Elizabeth’s treatment of himself to have been.”

No such links to the royal court trouble Stratfordian leaders, however; only one thing frightens them, consciously or otherwise: the prospect of Oxfordians demonstrating that the sonnet sequence of 1609 contains a story that is both cohesive and based on specific events in the life of Edward de Vere, Henry Wriothesley and the Queen of England.

Over the past century since “Shakespeare” Identified was published, however, they have been confident (again, knowingly or not) that no such demonstration will appear. They have no problem with Looney’s statement that the Sonnets “reflect at once the soul and the circumstances” of the Earl of Oxford – no problem, just so long as such reflections appear to remain free of any overall coherent narrative linked to the contemporary history.

The goal of this Stratfordian game is to be able to keep on playing it.

Nor are they bothered that Oxford undoubtedly led a lusty sexual life, with both male and female partners, while trying to pull England out of the Dark Ages into the bright freedoms of the waning European renaissance. Most Oxfordians agree the Sonnets are drenched in the language of eroticism and bisexuality; but even that is no cause for Stratfordians to worry, so long as no true story within the 1609 sonnet sequence – one based on the record of actual persons, situations and events – comes to the surface.

If Oxford was bisexual, which the evidence suggests he was, Stratfordians can say the same about their champion – because, after all, the biographical fantasy of William Shakspere as “Shakespeare” allows for anything. So long as neither side discerns a coherent narrative in those deeply personal sonnets, it’s a draw; and the title, according to custom and convention, stays with the reigning champ.

The chieftains of tradition will continue to prevail, despite overwhelming evidence of Oxford’s authorship, so long as the 1609 sequence remains an unfathomable free-for-all. They will prevail because the 154 consecutively numbered sonnets – so profoundly autobiographical, so obviously arranged in order with careful connectivity – are still viewed (by Stratfordians and possibly by most Oxfordians) as loosely related little poems that can be rearranged at will and, therefore, remain supposedly ripe for any interpretation at all.

The unspoken Stratfordian fear of a real-life Oxfordian story within the Sonnets, one supported by a genuine historical context, nonetheless persists; and the latest demonstration of this underlying dread is now upon us, in the form of a new book by Sir Stanley Wells and Dr. Paul Edmondson. This latest blast from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust represents what may be the most direct assault on the cohesion of the Sonnets ever launched. Here, finally, is a frontal attempt to completely shatter the integrity of the numerical sequence and, thereby, remove any possible semblance of a recorded story.

Welcome to All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, which includes additional poetry from the plays, adding up to 182 verses arranged according to the chronological order in which the authors believe they were written. “We’ve removed the story which has plagued the sonnets for centuries about the so-called Fair Youth and the Dark Lady,” Edmondson told BBC Radio, “because it was never there. It was an eighteenth-century invention.” This new arrangement of the sonnets “in their probable order of composition” now “exposes them as free poems laden with Shakespeare’s personality.”

Free poems!

Stephen Greenblatt, who has admitted that his Will in the World was not a genuine “life” of Shakespeare but, rather, a historical novel, praises Wells and Edmondson for “jettisoning the order in which the sonnets appeared in print” because the result is “radical and unsettling.” The creators of this newly invented arrangement may imagine they have finally removed the specter of an Oxfordian story from the 1609 sequence; as the blurb from Greenblatt suggests, they will be applauding themselves for appearing to have slain that lurking dragon.

But Oxford’s more important true story is not going anywhere. It continues to exist right there, forever embedded within the familiar costume of the romantic and erotic poetical language, and one day it will be widely recognized as “the living record” (55) of Southampton preserved within a “monument” (81, 107) of verse for posterity – that is, for us.

(PART TWO will be posted next week.)

The Bard’s Use of Heraldry: Re-Posting Reason No. 62 of 100 Reasons “Shakespeare” was the Earl of Oxford

Two books devoted entirely to Shakespeare’s knowledge and treatment of heraldry are The Heraldry of Shakespeare: A Commentary with Annotations (1930) by Guy Cadogan Rothery and Shakespeare’s Heraldry (1950) by Charles Wilfred Scott-Giles. They show that the Bard knew a great deal about coats of arms, blazons, charges, fields, escutcheons (shields), crests, badges, hatchments (panels), gules (red markings or tinctures) and much more.

But it’s not simply that Shakespeare has considerable knowledge about heraldry; it’s that such knowledge is an integral part of his thought process.  He uses heraldic terms in spontaneous, natural ways, often metaphorically, making his descriptions more vivid while stirring and enriching our emotions.

Take, for example, the word badge, which in heraldry is an emblem indicating allegiance to some family or property.  Shakespeare uses it  literally, of course, but also metaphorically:  Falstaff in 2 Henry IV  speaks of “the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice” (4.3); Ferdinand in Love’s Labour’s Lost cries out, “Black is the badge of hell” (4.3); Lysander in in A Midsummer Night’s Dream talks about “bearing the badge of faith” (3.2); Tamora in Titus Andronicus declares, “Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge” (1.1);  and in Sonnet 44 the poet refers to “heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.”

Surely this author was “one of the wolfish earls,” as Walt Whitman perceived, a proud nobleman for whom hereditary titles, shields and symbols were everyday aspects of his environment.  From early boyhood, Edward de Vere had been steeped in the history of his line dating back five hundred years to William the Conqueror; the heraldry of his ancestors, as well as that of other noble families, became interwoven with his vocabulary.

Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream extends the metaphor of two bodies sharing the same heart by presenting the image of a husband and wife’s impaled arms:  “So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart; two of the first, like coats in heraldry, due but to one and crowned with one crest” (3.2)

Another example of “Shakespeare” thinking and writing in heraldic terms occurs in the opening scene of 1 Henry VI, at the funeral of Henry V at Westminster Abbey.  A messenger warns the English against taking recent victories for granted by describing setbacks in France as the cropping (cutting-out) of the French quarters in the royal arms of England:

“Awake, awake, English nobility!  Let not sloth dim your honors new-begot:  cropped are the flower-de-luces in your arms!  Of England’s coat one half is cut away!”

England’s coat of arms presented flower-de-luces or fleur-de-lis, the emblem of French royalty, quartered with Britain’s symbolic lions.  Cropping the two French quarters would cut away half the English arms – a vivid description of England’s losses in France.

Royal arms used by Henry IV up to Elizabeth I – English lions quartered with French fleur-de-lis

“The Vere arms changed repeatedly over many generations,” the late researcher Robert Brazil noted, adding that details of Oxford’s arms had “numerous documented precedents” consisting not only of drawings but also the “blazonry” or descriptions of shields in precise heraldic language, using only words.  “Through the science of blazon, infinitely complex visual material is described in such a precise way that one can accurately reproduce full color arms with dozens of complex coats, based on the words of the blazon alone.”

At the Vere seat of Castle Hedingham, the young earl necessarily studied the seals and tombs of his ancestors.  He, after all, was a child of the waning feudal aristocracy, set to inherit the title of Lord Great Chamberlain of England. To assert the rights and rankings of his Vere identity, he needed exact knowledge of his family’s heraldry and to “blazon” or describe it in words through the five centuries of its history.

“Shakespeare” uses “blazon” just as we might expect it to be employed by de Vere, that is, as a natural enrichment of language.  Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor employs the word in a burst of heraldic imagery:

“About, about; search Windsor Castle, elves, within and out … Each fair installment, coat, and several crest, with loyal blazon, evermore be blest!” (5.5)

A coat-of arms used by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford

Oxford knew Windsor Castle well; he is recorded as staying there several times. At nineteen he lodged in a hired room in the town of Windsor while recovering from illness.

Mistress Quickly refers to each “installment” in the castle, that is, each place where an individual knight is installed. The knight’s “coat” was on a stall-plate nailed to the back of the stall and the “crest” was a figure or device originally borne by a knight on his helmet.

From the same pen we find “blazon” in a variety of metaphorical contexts:

“I’faith, lady, I think your blazon to be true” – Much Ado About Nothing (2.1)

“Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit do give thee five-fold blazon” – Twelfth Night (1.5)

“But this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood” – Hamlet (1.5)

In Sonnet 106 the poet uses “blazon” in the context of accounts of medieval chivalry, writing of “beauty making beautiful old rhyme / In praise of Ladies dead and lovely Knights,” followed by: “Then in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,/ Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,/ I see their antique Pen would have expressed/ Even such a beauty as you master now.”

In Hamlet the prince tells the players that a speech he “chiefly loved” was the one that Virgil’s Aeneas delivers to Dido, Queen of Carthage, about the fall of Troy.  Before the first player can begin to recite it, however, Hamlet delivers thirteen lines from memory — describing how Pyrrhus, son of the Greek hero Achilles, had black arms while hiding inside the Trojan horse; but then his arms became drenched in the red blood of whole families that were slaughtered.

The story had even greater impact upon aristocratic members of the audience who knew the bloody tale was being told in the context of heraldic terms, such as “sable arms” (the black device displayed on Pyrrhus’ shield); “gules” (red); and “tricked” (decorated), not to mention that Pryrrhus’ arms, covered with red blood, are “smeared with heraldry”: (+see below)

The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,

Black as his purpose, did the night resemble

When he lay couched in the ominous horse,

Hath now this dread and black complexion smeared

With heraldry more dismal.   Head to foot

Now is he total gules, horridly tricked

With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons…(Hamlet, 2.2)

Even Lucrece (1594), the second publication as by “Shakespeare,” is filled with heraldic imagery:

But Beauty, in that white entitled

From Venus’ doves, doth challenge that fair field...

This heraldry in Lucrece’s face was seen… (Stanzas 9 & 10, emphases added)

(“Challenge”: lay claim to; “field”: the surface of a heraldic shield on which figures or colors are displayed, but also evoking a battlefield)

book of shakespeare's heraldryBrazil notes that previous earls of Oxford had employed a special greyhound as a heraldic symbol, but that Edward had stopped using it; in the opening scene of Merry Wives, which begins and ends with humorous dialogue involving heraldry, there’s a line (unrelated to anything else) about a “fallow” greyhound, one that is no longer used:

Page:  I am glad to see you, good Master Slender.

Slender: How does your fallow greyhound, sir?

In this “throwaway” exchange, is de Vere, pointing to his own heraldic history?

+ Earl Showerman writes: “The source of of the term ‘pyrrhic victory’ is historical not mythopoetic. King Pyrrhus of Epirus defeated the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC, but the victory cost him so dearly he had to withdraw his invasion of Italy because the Romans were quickly resupplied with fresh troops. Pyrrhus in Homer is of the same nature, to be sure, and his sin of slaughtering Priam at the family shrine was the primary cause of the difficulties incurred by all the Greeks in getting home from Troy.”

(This post is now No. 64 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, as edited by Alex McNeil with other editorial help from Brian Bechtold.)

 

Re-Posting No. 61 of One Hundred Reasons “Shakespeare” was the Earl of Oxford: The Sea & Seamanship

Lt. Commander Alexander Falconer, a naval officer during World War II and a professional sailor steeped in the history of seamanship and navigation, published two books that were largely ignored at the time: Shakespeare and the Sea (1964) and A Glossary of Shakespeare’s Sea and Naval Terms including Gunnery (1965). Falconer brings firsthand knowledge and experience to an investigation of Shakespeare’s use of seafaring terms and situations involving the sea.  He concludes that the poet-dramatist possessed detailed, accurate knowledge of naval matters and was well informed about storms, shipwrecks, pirates, voyages of exploration, and navigation:

Falconer notes that in the opening scene of The Tempest, when the ship is wrecked in a storm, Shakespeare took care for details. He “worked out a series of maneuvers” and “made exact use of the professional language of seamanship.”

When the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a “shipwreck trilogy” of Shakespeare plays (The Tempest, Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors), Charles Spencer of The Telegraph observed that “although there were books on navigation in Shakespeare’s time, nothing on seamanship was published until later.”  Indeed, Falconer believed the Bard’s knowledge in this area could not have come from books alone.

“Most current scholarship fails to note the sophistication of Shakespeare’s maritime imagination,” writes Dan Brayton in Shakespeare’s Ocean (2012), noting “the extraordinary degree [in the poems and plays] to which human lives are connected with the sea, or the remarkable specificity of his descriptions of marine phenomena.”

The author’s exact use of naval and maritime language, along with his intimate knowledge of the sea and seamanship, cannot be explained by anything in the documented life of the man from Stratford.  It is sheer fantasy to think he might have been a sailor during his “lost” years, and the same goes for supposing he was a schoolteacher or a law clerk. Meanwhile scholars generally fail to notice the Bard’s experience at sea because they know the Stratford man never once left dry land. When one assumes that it’s impossible for something to exist, it becomes quite easy — even necessary — to ignore it.

“Closed minds automatically blockade new information which conflicts with their own beliefs, preventing highly persuasive evidence from entering their brains for evaluation,” writes Paul Altrocchi, adding, “Oxfordians believe with conviction that Stratfordianism represents a classic example of the common human tendency to stick tenaciously with conventional wisdom, preventing much more logical and coherent newer theories and facts from being given a fair hearing.”

When we turn to the life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, however, there is no need to “imagine” his experience with the sea and, importantly, there is no longer any reason to ignore the vast knowledge of the sea to be found in the poems and plays.

Oxford was twenty-two in September 1572 when he wrote to Burghley, in reaction to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in France, offering to help defend England in any way he could.  “If there be any setting forth to sea, to which service I bear most affection,” he wrote, “I shall desire your Lordship to give me and get me that favor…”

Eventually the earl traveled extensively by ship or boat.  He crossed the Channel to France in 1575 and took many trips on canals and other waterways between Italian cities, with Venice as his home base.

In the autumn of 1575 it was reported that Oxford had hurt his knee in a Venetian galley. While returning to England in April 1576, he was captured by pirates in the Channel and nearly killed.

Martin Frobisher (1536/9-1594)

Martin Frobisher
(1536/9-1594)

In 1585 he crossed by ship over to the Netherlands on a military mission; this time pirates stopped the vessel that was returning his belongings to England and apparently stole everything on board.  Earlier the earl had invested (disastrously) in Martin Frobisher’s voyages to discover the Northwest Passage to China, which involved varied and challenging aspects of navigation.  He was well acquainted with Dr. John Dee, who was intimately involved in developing Frobisher’s navigational routes.

In June 1588, with the Spanish Armada on its way, Oxford was one of many nobles who sought to rent or hire a ship to enter the fight.

In the following year, a poem, apparently by Oxford’s secretary Lyly, envisioned the earl standing on the hatch-cover of a ship, literally breathing fire instilled within him by Pallas, the spear-shaker:

De Vere … like warlike Mars upon the hatches stands.

His tusked Boar ‘gan foam for inward ire

While Pallas filled his breast with fire.

Shakespeare and the Sea was reviewed in the autumn 1965 edition of the Shakesperean Authorship Review by I.L.M. McGeoch, who writes: “Professor Falconer points out that whereas many educated Elizabethans understood the art of navigation – in those happy days art was science, and science was art – only those who actually served at sea could acquire a profound knowledge of the practice of seamanship and the correct meaning and use of the terms proper to the working of ships.  That Shakespeare possessed such a profound knowledge is instanced many times.”

As an excellent example of “inspired accuracy of allusion seasoned with wit,” he offers a line from King John (4.2): “And like a shifted wind unto a sail, it makes the course of thoughts to fetch about,” and further observes:

“Tacking is to bring a ship’s head to lie the other way,” McGeoch noted.  “True.  And ‘to fetch about’ is synonymous with ‘to tack’; but subtler still is the reference to ‘course,’ which is not only the direction in which a ship is heading, but also the name given to the principal sail on any mast of a square-rigged ship.  The essence of tacking, therefore, is to bring the wind onto the other side of the sail, or ‘course,’ and the necessary re-trimming of the sail is assisted by the wind blowing upon it from the side appropriate to the new tack.”

“Not knowing that Edward de Vere wrote the great plays of Shakespeare makes it impossible to understand many of the allusions and subtleties within every play,” Dr. Altrocchi writes, adding that this impossibility “deprives the audience of much of a play’s texture.”

[This reason is now Number 60 in the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil, to whom I am always grateful, and given additional editorial assistance from Brian Bechtold.]

Re-posting No. 60 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth”

The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, although not printed until 1598, was part of the wartime repertoire of the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s. Written by an obviously youthful (and anonymous) dramatist, the play also serves as a template or blueprint for the later Shakespearean trilogy 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V.

agincourt-3Virtually everything in Famous Victories is repeated, in a refined and expanded form, in the Shakespeare plays printed in the latter 1590s. From that, traditional scholars conclude that Shakespeare was a shameless plagiarist.  But isn’t it far more likely that the real “Shakespeare” wrote Famous Victories at a younger age, later re-working it to create his Henry trilogy?

Dr. Seymour Pitcher, a Stratfordian professor of English literature at the State University of New York, published a book in 1961 entitled The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of “The Famous Victories,” declaring that this youthful work “is not at all unworthy of Shakespeare as a spirited and genial apprentice dramatist.”

agincourt2The play is “a clatter of events, its quick narrative interspersed with light and raucous comedy.  Comical-historical it surely is, but, in its hybrid form, sufficiently self-consistent in tone.  Sketchy and sometimes banal, it is gusty and flaunting.  At best, it has poignancy in characterization and phrase.  How else should we expect Shakespeare to have begun?”

Dr. Pitcher suggests this must have been the Bard’s first play, written during his early twenties. Many Oxfordians would agree, although Ramon Jiminez has concluded that Edward de Vere may have written Famous Victories even earlier, in his teens.

Whatever the case, there is no evidence that Shakspere of Stratford could have penned Famous Victories in his twenties (or at any other time); but the young Earl of Oxford was uniquely qualified to have written it.

B.M. Ward concludes that Oxford wrote Famous Victories at age twenty-four in 1574.  One reason is that the play comically refers to the involvement of Prince Hal (the future Henry V) in a robbery on Gad’s Hill, just a year after Oxford’s own men had been involved in such a robbery (or prank) in the very same place.  Ward believes that the earl presented the play at court before Queen Elizabeth during the Christmas season of 1574.

famousvictorieshenry5titlepage.jpg“One can scarcely read The Famous Victories and not see in the skimpy little prose-play an early, comparatively amateurish exercise on the themes that would later come to magnificent flower in the Shakespearean dramas,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. writes, citing a speech in Famous Victories by the newly crowned Henry the Fifth in response to the belittling gift from the French Dauphin of tennis balls:

My Lord Prince Dauphin is very pleasant with me!  But tell him instead of balls of leather we will toss him balls of brass and iron – yea, such balls as never were tossed in France…”

This same early material, reworked in the Shakespearean play Henry V, becomes a masterful speech by the king that begins:

We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us:

His present and your pains we thank you for:

When we have match’d our rackets to these balls,

We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set

Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard… (1.2)

A prominent character in Famous Victories is Richard de Vere, 11th Earl of Oxford (1385-1417), but in 1 & 2 Henry IV and Henry V by “Shakespeare” that same earl disappears. Ogburn Jr. notes that this “initial inflation and later eradication of Oxford’s part” in the play is a telltale sign of something important.  Once the author is viewed as de Vere, the explanation for Richard de Vere’s disappearance from the play is clear: to continue to give such prominence to an ancestor would jeopardize Edward de Vere’s anonymity.

Note: This Reason is now No. 40 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, as edited by Alex McNeil.

 

Re-Posting No. 59 of “100 Reasons Shake-speare” Was The Earl of Oxford (As Edited for Publication)

“It is almost certain that William Shakespeare modeled the character of Prospero in The Tempest on the career of John Dee, the Elizabethan magus.” Britannica Online Encyclopedia

“Queen Elizabeth’s philosopher, the white magician Doctor Dee, is defended in Prospero, the good and learned conjurer, who had managed to transport his valuable library to the island.” – Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age

Dr. John Dee (1527-1608)

Dr. John Dee
(1527-1608)

The mathematician and astrologer Dr. John Dee was enlisted by Elizabeth Tudor to name a day and time for her coronation when the stars would be favorable (15 January 1558/59 was the selected date), after which he became a scientific and medical adviser to the queen.  A natural philosopher and student of the occult, his name is also associated with astronomy, alchemy and other forms of “secret” experimentation.  He became a celebrated leader of the Elizabethan renaissance, helping to expand the boundaries of knowledge on all fronts.  With degrees from Cambridge and studies under the top cartographers in Europe, Dee led the navigational planning for several English voyages of exploration.

Defending against charges of witchcraft and sorcery, he listed many who had helped him, citing in particular “the honorable the Earl of Oxford, his favorable letters, anno 1570,” when twenty-year-old de Vere Lord Oxford was about to become the highest-ranking earl at the court of Elizabeth, who would quickly elevate him to the status of royal favorite.

“We may conjecture that it was in 1570 that Oxford studied astrology under Dr. Dee,” B.M. Ward writes.  “We shall meet these two [Dee and Oxford] again later, working together as ‘adventurers’ or speculators in Martin Frobisher’s attempts to find a North-West Passage to China and the East Indies.”

Dr. John Dee and Queen Elizabeth

Dr. John Dee and Queen Elizabeth

Oxford’s links to Dr. Dee, along with his deep interest in all aspects of the astrologer’s work, are yet another piece of evidence pointing to his authorship of the works attributed to William Shakespeare.

In 1584 a Frenchman and member of Oxford’s household, John Soowthern, dedicated to the earl a pamphlet of poems entitled Pandora.  His tribute asserted that Oxford’s knowledge of the “seven turning flames of the sky” (the sun, moon and the visible planets, through astrology) was unrivaled; that his reading of “the antique” (a noun referring to classical and ancient history) was unsurpassed; that he had “greater knowledge” of “the tongues” (languages) than anyone; and that his understanding of “sounds” that helped lead students to the love of music was “sooner” (quicker) than anyone else’s:

For who marketh better than he

The seven turning flames of the sky?

Or hath read more of the antique;

Hath greater knowledge of the tongues?

Or understandeth sooner the sounds

Of the learner to love music?

Prospero as played by Michael Winters

Prospero as played by Michael Winters

This might as well be a description of the man who wrote The Tempest!  It’s a description of an extraordinarily knowledgeable man, which fits “Shakespeare” perfectly; it’s no coincidence that scholars have not only seen Prospero as based on Dee, but, also, viewed Prospero as the dramatist’s self-portrait.  Once that window opens, however, the evidence leads to Prospero and “Shakespeare” in the person of Edward de Vere.

Oxford’s familiarity with “planetary influences” is “probably attributable to acquaintance with Dee,” writes Ogburn Jr., “as is likewise the knowledge of astronomy claimed by the poet of The Sonnets.” In regard to the latter, here are some examples of the poet’s easy, personal identification with both astronomy and alchemy:

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,

And yet methinks I have Astronomy – Sonnet 14

Or whether shall I say mine eye saith true,

And that your love taught it this Alchemy? – Sonnet 114

Dr. Dee got into trouble when his delving into the supernatural led to necromancy, the magic or “black art” practiced by witches or sorcerers who allegedly communicated with the dead by conjuring their spirits.  Stratfordian scholar Alan Nelson, in his deliberately negative biography of Oxford, Monstrous Adversary, includes an entire chapter titled “Necromancer” detailing charges by the earl’s enemies that he had engaged in various conjurations, such as that he had “copulation with a female spirit in Sir George Howard’s house at Greenwich.”

Christopher Plummer as Prospero

Christopher Plummer as Prospero

The irony of Nelson’s charge is that it not only serves to portray Oxford as similar to both John Dee and Prospero, but aligns him with the authors of what Nelson himself calls “a long string of necromantic stage-plays” starting in the 1570s.  One such play was John a Kent by Anthony Munday, who was Oxford’s servant; another was Friar Bacon and Friar Bungary by Robert Greene, who dedicated Greene’s Card of Fancy in 1584 to Oxford, calling him “a worthy favorer and fosterer of learning” who had “forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.”

In 1577 both Oxford and Dr. Dee became “adventurers” or financiers of Martin Frobisher’s third expedition to find a sea route along the northern coast of America to Cathay (China) – the fabled Northwest Passage.  In fact Oxford was the largest single investor, sinking three thousand pounds, only to lose it all, which may explain Prince Hamlet’s metaphor: “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw,” i.e., he’s mad only on certain occasions, the way he was when he invested so much in that expedition to the Northwest.

One of Dr. Dee's charts of his own birth, found among his papers

One of Dr. Dee’s charts of his own birth, found among his papers

A play before the queen by the Paul’s Boys on 9 December 1577 appears to have been a version of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, in which the character of Lord Cerimon seems to be a blend of Oxford (one who prefers honor and wisdom to his noble rank and wealth) and Dee (whose “secret arts” included alleged knowledge of properties within metals and stones):

‘Tis known I ever

Have studied physic, through which secret art

By turning o’er authorities, I have,

Together with my practice, made familiar

To me and to my aid the blest infusions

That dwells in vegetives, in metals, stones…(3.2)

Through an Oxfordian lens, The Tempest probably originated in the bleak period between Christmas 1580 and June 1583, when the queen had banished Oxford from court, in effect exiling him (unfairly, just as Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, suffers in the play).  But Oxford would have revised and added scenes over the next two decades, especially near the end of his life in 1604, when the greatest writer of the English language makes his final exit through Prospero — begging us to forgive him for his faults, to pray for him and to set him free from the prison of his coming oblivion:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own…

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please.  Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free. (Epilogue)

 

Note: This updated version appears as No. 81 (“The Tempest”) in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with other editorial assistance by Brian Bechtold.

Literary Mysteries – Who was Shakespeare?

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Literary Mysteries – Who was Shakespeare?

 

Oxford in “Shakespeare Quarterly”: The Dutton Brothers & The Queen’s Men

In the throes of a pandemic comes the Spring 2019 issue of the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Quarterly, delayed by problems in manufacturing; but no matter: a quick look at the contents page indicates that one of its articles undoubtedly mentions Edward de Vere.

Matthew Steggle, a Professor of Early Modern English Literature at the University of Bristol, UK, offers a well-researched piece titled “John and Laurence Dutton, Leaders of the Queen’s Men,” unwittingly supplying more evidence that mainstream scholars are inexorably moving “Shakespeare” and the Earl of Oxford closer together. How long will it be before they realize that the two were one and the same?

In addition to supplying new information about the Dutton brothers, Steggle includes the known history that in 1580 they moved with the rest of Warwick’s actors to Oxford’s company; and that “it was as one of Oxford’s Men that Laurence became involved in a brawl at the Theatre in April of that year.” Then in 1583, John Dutton was moved from Oxford’s Men to the newly formed Queen’s Men as one of the company’s founding players

The Queen’s Men soon dominated performances at Elizabeth’s court and began relentlessly touring the country. Steggle reports that the Duttons performed both at court and on tour for the company during that decade; and “between 1588 and 1593 they were co-leaders of the Queen’s Men, the most significant theatre company of its era.” It appears the brothers “were in charge of that company when it produced many of the best-known of its nine surviving plays. And if as is widely thought, Shakespeare was involved with the Queen’s Men in some way in his early career, then he would have had to work with the Duttons.”

I have placed that last sentence in italics to highlight how this conjecture (that Will Shakspere may have spent his “lost years” with the Queen’s Men) is now “widely thought” by current scholars to be true. If past practices are followed, it will not be long before the conjecture is offered to the world as fact.

We have seen this coming ever since Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean published their seminal work The Queen’s Men and Their Plays in 1998, stating: “The plots of no fewer than six of Shakespeare’s known plays are closely related to the plots of plays performed by the Queen’s Men.” They suggest, therefore, that the great author may have acted in those histories in the 1580s and memorized their lines, enabling him to plagiarize them for his own versions in the 1590s!  The young man from Stratford-upon-Avon also may have collaborated on those early plays for the Queen’s Men! After all, how else could he come up with the same plots with similar scenes and even dialogue?

ln his 1928 documentary biography of Oxford, B.M. Ward called attention to the earl’s association with the Dutton brothers. In 1583, when John Dutton was moved into the Queen’s Men, the company made its first court appearance in that Christmas season.  “On January 1st a performance was given by Oxford’s Men,” Ward writes, “and as John Lyly [the earl’s secretary] appears in the Chamber Accounts as payee for the company on that date, there is every reason to believe, with Edmund Chambers, that the play acted was Lyly’s Campaspe. On March 3rd both Oxford’s and the Queen’s men performed; once again Lyly was payee for Oxford’s, and Sir Edmund confidently conjectures that the play acted was Sapho and Phao.”

“It seems unreasonable to suppose that two plays were presented on this day,” Ward continues (with my emphasis). “The most likely solution, therefore, would be that the two companies were amalgamated and rehearsed by Lord Oxford’s private secretary John Lyly, the author of the play. No other adult companies besides these two appeared at Court during this season.”

Ward suggests that Oxford “loaned” Lyly as stage manager and coach for Elizabeth’s new company. Lyly continued in Oxford’s service through the 1580s while also maintaining some “unofficial capacity” with the Queen’s Men. All of this brings Oxford into contact with that same company and its early versions of Shakespeare’s history plays.

Added to this picture is Elizabeth’s grant to Oxford, in 1586, at the height of wartime preparations for the Spanish Armada. The grant consisted of one thousand pounds per year, paid according to the same formula used to provide funds for Secretary Francis Walsingham and his secret service. Among Walsingham’s activities was use of the Queen’s Men for patriotic propaganda and the enlistment of its actors as informants, reporting on what they saw and heard around the English countryside while on tour.

As the Shakespeare scholars make their way down the biographical timeline of Will Shakspere, back down into the 1580s, they keep bumping into Edward de Vere and his associates such as Anthony Munday and Thomas Watson, among other writers including those working with the earl at Fisher’s Folly; and they also keep bumping into those early versions of the Shakespearean history plays. Dare they suggest he collaborated on, say, The Troublesome Reign of King John or The True Tragedy of Richard III?  Once out on a long limb, there is little choice but to keep crawling farther out until it breaks; and when it does, they will fall straight down to where Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the true author of those plays (both early and later versions) has been waiting.

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Note: Here is what our mainstream brethren might read to see the latest scholarship on this issue from a point of view other than their own: the splendid work of Ramon Jimenez published in 2018:

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“After the Rebellion” — Hank Whittemore at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) conference at Shakespeare’s Globe – November 2019

After the Rebellion: “Shakespeare’s” Final Tragedy and His Triumphant Rebirth

[Following is my talk at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) conference at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on 24 November 2019. The text has been adjusted for print and slightly expanded for greater clarity.]

Some years ago, I was on a train heading down to New York City and found myself sitting next to a distinguished looking gentleman who turned out to be an architect who also loved literature and drama. We began talking and he asked me about myself and, at some point, I mentioned I’m one of those folks looking for the “real” Shakespeare. He turned and looked at me with intensity and put up his finger, and I flinched. Who knows what this topic is going to bring out in people!

“Look,” he said, “there are two things you have to know about Shakespeare, whoever he was. One, he uses words to stimulate the muscle of your visual cortex, so it throws images on the screen of your mind.” He mentioned some examples, such as Horatio in Hamlet describing the dawn as a knight in rusted armour, climbing up “o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.”

“The second thing you need to know,” he said, “is that Shakespeare is a storyteller. And his greatest stories are tragic. Therefore, just identifying the real author will not be good enough. What you need to do is find that tragic story.”

We talked a lot more … the authorship question was new for him and he thought the whole idea of this mystery must be deeply sad and tragic. He was thinking about how this great author’s identity could have been obliterated. He considered it would have been a form of murder, or suicide, in the face of some powerful force against him.

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

Well, as many of you know, I’m convinced the true voice of the author is that of Edward de Vere, Lord Oxford, and that he provided the unifying vision of the individual artist that we know as “Shakespeare.” And, too, that it’s in the Sonnets where we find his most directly personal voice.

Oxford’s death or disappearance in June 1604 was followed soon upon by publication of the full-length second quarto of Hamlet; and in that great tragedy, the protagonist, the most autobiographical of all Shakespearean characters, cries out to his friend: “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name!  Things standing thus unknown shall I leave behind me!” Then he begs Horatio to “tell my story” — his tragic story that remains unknown to the world; and that sounds like what my friend on the train was talking about.

Well, the focus of our gathering here at Shakespeare’s Globe is the failed Essex Rebellion led by the earls of Essex and Southampton – an event which, I submit, is the inciting incident of the tragic story of the Shakespearean author’s posthumous loss of identity. In this view the rebellion is not the end of the story, but, rather, the beginning of de Vere’s final evaporation behind the pen name; and this perspective sheds light on a crucial legal story that I want to share with you.

I also hope to show that Oxford countered this loss of identity with a super-human effort to create, in the Sonnets, his final masterwork – to preserve his final story and prevail in death, thereby creating his own resurrection and ultimate triumph.

This final story takes place during the two years and two months following the failure of the so-called rebellion — a period which, I suggest, is the true historical time frame and all-important context for Oxford’s posthumous disappearance as the author. This was a dark time when Southampton languished in the Tower as a convicted traitor; when the condemned Earl of Essex wrote a long poem to Queen Elizabeth from his prison room, during the four days before his execution; and when Southampton also wrote a long poem to her Majesty from his Tower room, begging for mercy – a poem discovered less than a decade ago. (“Was Southampton a Poet? A Verse Letter to Queen Elizabeth” by Lara M. Crowley, English Literary Renaissance, 2011.)

I agree with Ms. Crowley that these poems by the earls are more accurately called “verse letters” of communication with the queen; and clearly the Sonnets are verse letters as well.

First the prologue: the Shakespeare pseudonym making its grand entrance just eight years before the rebellion, in 1593, when things are heating up to determine control of succession to Elizabeth – who, by refusing to name anyone, is putting the country in danger of civil war around the throne when she dies. The Essex faction is up against the entrenched power of William Cecil Lord Burghley and his rapidly rising son Robert Cecil, the cunning hunchback seething with resentment toward those nobles whom he views as so unfairly fortunate by their birth alone. The goal of the Essex faction is to prevent the Cecils from continuing their power into the next reign; but I don’t need to tell you that Robert Cecil is going to win this game. He is going to outwit and outmaneuver those spoiled, arrogant noblemen.

(Consider this strikingly blunt comment about Robert Cecil from the Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900: “Life was to him a game which he was playing for high stakes, and men and women were only pieces upon the board, set there to be swept off by one side or the other or allowed to stand so long only as the risk of letting them remain there was not too great.”)

Now in 1593 the previously unknown author William Shakespeare (without any prior history of written work) suddenly appears on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Southampton. “Shakespeare” is on the side of those same young lords heading toward their tragic end game, which is also the end game to determine the future course of England.

A year later, in the 1594 dedication of Lucrece to Southampton, the same author confirms where he stands with an extraordinary public promise: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end …What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.” This from a great author with a vast storehouse of 25,000 words from which he can choose, who never needs to repeat any word twice, much less three times in a single sentence.

It’s a pen name, saying, in effect: “All the writings I have done so far (i.e., the two narrative poems), and all the writings I am going to do in the future, published under this name, are for you and in your support. These written works are, and will be, yours … yours … yours.”

Once Burghley dies in 1598 and Principal Secretary Cecil takes over, the gloves come off with the first issuance of plays under the pseudonym, among them Richard III with “Shake-speare” hyphenated as if to emphasize the image of a writer “shaking the spear” of his pen. This play of royal history contains a mirror image of the hunchbacked Cecil, an allegorical portrait of him as an evil monster, and a shockingly obvious attack on him that the secretary cannot, will not, ever forgive. He will bide his time, keeping a steady course, until he gets revenge.

In the next year, 1599, it appears that “Shakespeare” in the chorus of Henry V is publicly cheering for Essex’s success on the Irish military campaign, in which Southampton is also a leader. The playwright predicts that “the general of our gracious Empress” will return with “rebellion broached on his sword,” but the effort to crush the revolt is doomed – in no small part because Cecil has prevented the earls from receiving the needed assistance.

That fall back in London, Essex is in deep trouble with the queen and her council, under Cecil’s pressure against him. Meanwhile Southampton spends much of his time attending politically instructive plays at the Curtain such as Julius Caesar by “Shakespeare,” who, for the public audience, is creating an allegorical road map toward avoiding civil war and achieving a peaceful royal succession.

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

Events are moving fast, tensions are building, as the aging queen falls increasingly under Cecil’s influence. In January 1601 Southampton is attacked in the street by Lord Gray and his party on behalf of Cecil and Raleigh; the earl draws his sword and fights them off with the help of his houseboy, who joins in the fray and has one of his hands lopped off. As far as Essex and Southampton are concerned, they are in mortal danger and can no longer delay taking action.

In the first week of February, Southampton takes charge of planning to finally gain access to the queen at Whitehall. They plot to hold Cecil captive so Essex and Southampton can be in her Majesty’s presence and convince her to call a Parliament on succession – to finally name someone, even give up her crown, avoid civil war, and remove Cecil in the bargain.

Preparing for this confrontation with the queen, the conspirators on Sunday 7 February 1601 attend a special performance of Richard II with a deposition scene of the king handing over his crown. In this newly revised play, Oxford demonstrates to the Essex faction how it might be possible to confront Elizabeth with rational arguments and persuade her to do the same – without, most importantly, violating the laws of God or man.

Of course, the play is viewed allegorically, making it easy for Cecil to incite the queen’s fear and anger; and Elizabeth well understood, as she later exclaimed: “I am Richard Second, know ye not that!”

More immediately, however, the cunning Cecil uses this special performance to summon Essex to the palace that night for questioning; and his calculated move predictably causes the earl to panic. The next morning, at Essex House, his followers are clamoring in the courtyard amid an atmosphere of chaos. The subsequent events predictably end in disaster; that night, both Essex and Southampton surrender up their swords and are taken through Traitors Gate into the Tower of London, facing charges of high treason against the crown and virtually certain execution.

Eleven days later, at their joint trial in Westminster Hall, are two of the future leading candidates for the authorship of the “Shakespeare” works:  Sir Francis Bacon, viciously prosecuting; and Lord Oxford, having come out of retirement to sit as highest ranking earl on the tribunal of peers sitting in judgment. The accused earls will both be found guilty and sentenced to death; Essex will be executed six days later, but Southampton will find himself in perpetual confinement.

Now all authorized publications of as-yet-unprinted Shakespeare plays have abruptly ceased; aside from the full Hamlet in 1604, there will be no more newly printed authorized plays for nearly two decades; but my theme here is that the rebellion is not the end of author’s tragic story, it’s the beginning.

Southampton in the Tower: 8 February 1601 – 10 April 1603

In the normal telling it’s the conclusion: Southampton remains in the Tower while Cecil, under terrible tension, works desperately and even treasonously to communicate in secret with King James in Scotland. In that traditional history, Shakespeare writes few if any sonnets to Southampton all during the twenty-six months of his imprisonment. Then, upon Henry Wriothesley’s release from the Tower by King James on 10 April 1603, the author suddenly exclaims in Sonnet 107 that “my true love” had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” but is now free; and, therefore, “my love looks fresh” – once again, offering the young earl his endless love, devotion and commitment.

Was Shakespeare a hypocrite?  His true love in the prison and he writes maybe a few private sonnets to or about him, or none at all, only to jump back on the bandwagon when Southampton is liberated? Well, I don’t think he could have been hypocritical.

Thinking about my friend on the train describing Shakespeare as a masterful storyteller, I recall the diagram of the most basic structure of a story, the way my English teacher drew it on the blackboard. In that light, if Sonnet 107 at the climax celebrates Southampton getting out of the Tower, in 1603, how could we care about that event unless the author has already established when he was put in the Tower two years earlier, back in 1601? In the framework of such a story, certainly Southampton’s entrance into the prison fortress is the inciting incident that finally reaches the climactic turning point later, in 1603.

Why would we care about Southampton getting out of the Tower if we didn’t know, in the first place, that he was in there?  Well, if we climb back down the consecutively numbered sonnets, we can see that the usual view is wrong. A journey “back down the ladder” of sonnets takes us through a long series of darkness, despair, prison, trial, legal words related to crime, guilt, death – all the way back down to where this great wave of darkness and suffering first appears; and then it becomes clear that literally dozens and dozens of sonnets have been leading up to the climax.

The author did not abandon Southampton; he never stopped writing to or about him; and in this context – the context of the prison years – those legal words are no longer metaphorical; rather, they are real, and carefully accurate: real words applied to real life, when the author is steeling himself against the worst outcome for the young earl.

Now I hope you’ll to indulge me for less than ninety seconds, as we take a quick “fly-over” to view these words from the high point of Sonnet 107 back downward; and this is just a sampling of those dark and legal words as we climb back down to where they begin at Sonnet 27:

(Sonnets 106-96): Confined doom, Wasted time, weak, mournful, despair, death, dark days, decease, fault;

(Sonnets 92-87): Term of life, thy revolt, sorrow, woe, fault, offence, night, attainted, misprision, judgment;

(Sonnets 86-77): Tomb, dead, confine, immured, attaint, decayed, waste, graves; (74-66): Fell arrest, bail, death, buried, blamed, suspect, died, dead, for restful death I cry;  

(Sonnets 65-57): Plea, gates of steel, drained his blood, shadows, for thee watch I, imprisoned, pardon, crime, watch the clock for you;

(Sonnets 55-51): Death, judgment, die, deaths, shadows, shadow, up-locked, imprisoned, offence, excuse;

(Sonnets 50-46): Heavy, bloody, grief, lawful reasons, allege, bars, locked up, thyself away, defendant, plea deny, verdict;

(Sonnets 43-38): Shadow, grief, waiting, blame, forgive, grief, absence, torment, pain;

(Sonnets 37-33): Shadow, confess, guilt, trespass, fault, lawful plea, offender’s sorrow, ransom, basest clouds;

(Sonnets 32-27): If thou survive, dead, grieve, buried, death’s dateless night, disgrace, outcast, hung in ghastly night…

That’s just a sampling of the “dark” words and legal terminology in the eighty sonnets from the climax of Sonnet 107 all the way back down to number 27, in which the author tries to sleep that night in the darkness, but his mind travels instead to Southampton in the Tower. He can imagine the earl up there in a window, like “a jewel hung in ghastly night.” In the dictionary “ghastly” is “frightful, dreadful, horrible,” as in “a ghastly murder” – or, we can be sure, like the ghastly torture of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

SONNET 27 on the night of the failed Rebellion on the Eighth of February 1601, where the story begins:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travail tired.

But then begins a journey in my head,

To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired.

For then my thoughts (from far where I abide),

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,

Looking on darkness, which the blind do see.

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,

For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Southampton entering the Tower as a prisoner is the first of many recorded, factual events. The overall circumstance is that he’s accused of a crime; and sure enough, in this diary of verse letters, Oxford calls it by name:

“To you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

“How much I suffered in your crime.” – Sonnet 120

In this case, the crime is that of treason, the most serious offence Southampton could have committed. It would almost cost him his life and cause the author of the Sonnets to descend into darkness and despair and finally to disappear. So, now, from Sonnet 27 forward, we have what might be called the “foundational tracks” of his personal story. These tracks during Southampton’s more than two years in prison are on the record; Oxford knows they are events that will be indelibly stamped upon English history.

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford served as highest-ranking nobleman on the tribunal at the February 19, 1601 treason trial of Essex and Southampton — as indicated by a contemporary notice of the event

FEBRUARY 11, 1601: The twenty-five peers, Oxford among them, are “summoned” to serve on the tribunal at the “sessions” or treason trial; and in Sonnet 30 the author writes: “When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought, I summon up remembrance of things past.” Yes, it’s poetry, but I suggest there’s a “second intention,” which is actually the primary context – and, as you have probably noticed, that’s the most important word of this talk: context.

FEBRUARY 19, 1601: The trial of Essex and Southampton is held on this day at Westminster Hall. Bacon prosecutes; Oxford sits with the peers, who come to a foregone unanimous conclusion: both earls are found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed.

Oxford, reacting to the tragedy, addresses Southampton in Sonnet 38 and wonders in sorrow: “How can my Muse want subject to invent/ While thou dost breathe? … The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.” In Sonnet 46 he glances back at the recent trial: “And by their verdict is determined…”

FEBRUARY 25, 1601: Essex is executed on the Tower Green by beheading; and the poet writes in Sonnet 44, referring to Southampton and himself, about their “heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.”

MARCH 5, 1601: The treason trial of five conspirators; all convicted and condemned to death; and Oxford writes to Southampton in Sonnet 57: “I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you.”

MARCH 13, 1601: Gelly Merrick & Henry Cuffe are hanged, drawn and quartered. “For thee watch I,” Oxford writes to Southampton in Sonnet 61; and in Sonnet 63 he sets down his fears that Wriothesley will face the executioner’s axe – using a double image that combines both universal time/age and specific words such as “knife” and “cut” and “life” related to beheading:

For such a time do I now fortify

Against confounding Age’s cruel knife,

That he shall never cut from memory

My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.

MARCH 18, 1601: Charles Danvers & Christopher Blount are publicly beheaded, leaving Southampton as the only one with the death sentence hanging over him; and the author writes Sonnet 66 as a virtual suicide note, listing reasons he wishes to die:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry …

Tired with all these, from these I would be gone,

Save that to die, I leave my love alone.

He would prefer to kill himself, but will not commit suicide while Southampton remains alive and “alone” in the Tower. In that same virtual suicide note, he complains about “strength by limping sway disabled,” and John Dover Wilson (in his Cambridge edition of the Sonnets in 1969) finds it “tempting to suspect a glance at the control of the state by the limping Robert Cecil.” Well, as my friend on the train might say, it’s not only tempting, it “stimulates the muscle of our visual cortex” to create an image of Cecil swaying and limping toward his “disabling” or destruction of the earls.

“And captive good attending Captain Ill,” Oxford adds. Southampton, the captive prisoner, is at the mercy of Captain Ill, echoing Cecil, the captain in command of the situation.

Early the next morning, crowds wait on Tower Hill for the spectacle of Southampton being executed, but they’re disappointed because, without official explanation, the scaffold is taken down. The earl’s life has been spared. His sentence is quietly reduced to perpetual confinement. He becomes a nobody, stripped of all lands and titles, and is now “Mr. Henry Wriothesley,” a commoner, and even “the late earl” – a dead man in the eyes of the law; and therefore, in Sonnet 67:  “Ah, wherefore with infection should he live … Why should he live …?” And in Sonnet 69: “Thou dost common grow…”

Is Cecil is holding him hostage in the Tower? If so, the key must be Oxford himself and Cecil’s need to remove all future trace of him as the author calling himself Shakespeare, the poet-dramatist who devoted his work to Southampton, and, too, who had depicted Cecil as the monstrous ruler Richard the Third.

In number 87 of this diary of verse letters, Oxford supplies the legal mechanism by which Southampton’s life was spared:

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,

Comes home again, on better judgment making

“Misprision of Treason” is literally a “better judgment” or verdict, a reduction of the crime of treason. This special judgment is a kind of plea bargain, used by Tudor monarchs to gain information in exchange for a lesser verdict. It means Southampton was supposedly ignorant of the law; he knew about the plot but didn’t really participate and failed to report it; he expresses true sorrow or repentance; and it gives him the possibility of future liberation and even a royal pardon, so he cannot be retried for the same offence.

Oxford supplies a crucial account of how this better legal judgment for Southampton was obtained. Soon after Sonnet 27 on the night of the failed rebellion, anticipating the trial, he promises Southampton in Sonnet 35 that “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,” or as editor Katherine Duncan-Jones reads the line: “Your legal opponent is also your legal defender.”

Oxford has no choice but to join the other peers on the tribunal, in effect acting as Southampton’s “adverse party,” forced to vote with them to condemn him to death; but he also vows to work (privately, behind the scenes) as the earl’s “Advocate” or defense attorney, trying to save his life.

He must make a deal with Cecil, his former brother-in-law; and as he records in the Sonnets, there is a kind of prisoner exchange, that is, Oxford offers his life in exchange for Southampton’s reprieve from execution and possible future liberation. The younger earl is in fact spared from execution, without any official word, but he must remain in confinement until the monarch decides to release him and perhaps grant him a pardon.

Oxford instructs him on the law (and the plea deal), adding in Sonnet 58, “To you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime,” that is, “Your life is in your own hands, young man.”

The monarch who may give him a pardon, however, will not be Elizabeth, who is much too angry and fearful. Cecil must succeed in bringing James to the English throne; only then will Cecil can he continue in his position of power, and only then might Southampton get out alive. Therefore, to save Southampton, Oxford must agree to help Cecil make James the King of England. (And to that end, perhaps Edward de Vere is the unidentified “40” in the Secretary’s secret correspondence with the Scottish king).

Also in Sonnet 35, Oxford blames himself for “authorizing” the crime as author of Richard II and depicting Elizabeth “with compare” as that historical king; as Duncan-Jones explains, “authorizing” is “used here in a legal sense for sanctioning or justifying, with a further play on ‘author’ as composer or writer.”

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authorizing thy trespass with compare…

Oxford is guilty not only for writing Richard II with its deposition scene, but, also, for allowing the Chamberlain’s Men to give the special performance of his play that Cecil then used to trigger the whole debacle. The actors are called in for questioning, but not the author, even though he had played a crucial role in the crime. In fact, he himself could possibly be charged with Treason by Words, if the queen chose to believe that Richard II depicts her as a tyrant. Oxford, too, could be executed.

More important to Cecil, however, was being able to ensure that Oxford, his former brother-in-law, could not be linked to the portrait of him in Richard Third (or, for example, that Oxford could not be linked to portraits of Burghley in the quartos of Hamlet). Instead of Oxford himself being physically executed, his identity could be obliterated beyond his death — forever — behind the Shakespeare pen name. Oxford could agree to that (and to ensuring that no one who know the truth will ever reveal it), if it means saving Southampton; and therefore, an essential part of the plea deal is his self-sacrifice.

In Sonnet 35 he records his acceptance of posthumous disappearance: “And ‘gainst myself a lawful plea commence” – a legal plea bargain, directed against himself. At the same time, Southampton must agree to his own guilt and confess that he never meant to commit treason; and so, for example, he writes to the Privy Council from his prison room: “My soul is heavy and troubled for my offences … My heart was free from any pre-meditate treason against my sovereign….”

Oxford refers in Sonnet 34 to the younger earl’s need to repent, while he himself must take on a Christlike role:

Though thou repent yet I have still the loss,

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence’s cross …

In his poem to the queen, Southampton begs for mercy:

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,

For my tears have already worn these stones.

His tears of repentance are “riches” to be paid, the way other noble prisoners are able to use actual money to purchase their freedom. Oxford reminds him in Sonnet 34 that his tears of repentance are a form of “ransom” for his life and possible liberty:

Ah but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds (sheds),

And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

The price also includes total separation from each other – in life, on the record, in future history. Oxford had linked Southampton to the pen name; the earl and the famous pseudonym went together; therefore, now Oxford must agree to de-link himself from not only “Shakespeare,” but, also, from Southampton. The two of them must be “twain” or apart, one from the other, as Oxford tells Southampton in Sonnet 36:

Let me confess that we two must be twain …

I may not ever-more acknowledge thee…

The author, a legal expert, finds in Sonnet 49 another way to phrase the same legal bargain behind the scenes:

And this my hand against myself uprear,

To guard the lawful reasons on thy part.

To leave poor me, thou hast the strength of laws…

The dark time continues, no one knowing the outcome.

FEBRUARY 8, 1602: First anniversary of the failed Rebellion: Southampton has spent one full year in prison, as Oxford records in Sonnet 97:

How like a winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

“Fleeting” is a deliberate play on the Fleet Prison to emphasize Southampton’s continuing confinement.

FEBRUARY 8, 1603: Second anniversary, marking two years or “three winters cold” in the Tower as indicated in Sonnet 104, covering the three Februaries of 1601, 1602 and 1603.

MARCH 24, 1603: Queen Elizabeth, the “mortal Moon,” dies in her sleep and those “sad Augurs” who predicted civil war are proved wrong. Cecil quickly proclaims King James of Scotland as James I of England, and the new monarch, who uses “Olives” to symbolize peace, quickly sends ahead the order for Southampton’s release. On April 10, 1603, after all the uncertainties are crowned with assurance, and after Southampton was “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” he walks out of the Tower as a free man and Oxford records this amazing climax of his recorded story in Sonnet 107:

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul

Of the wide world dreaming on things to come

Can yet the lease of my true love control,

Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom!

The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured,

And the sad Augurs mock their own presage,

Incertainties now crown themselves assured,

And peace proclaims Olives of endless age.

Now with the drops of this most balmy time,

My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,

Since ‘spite of him I’ll live in this poor rhyme,

While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes.

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

How very confident de Vere is that these “verse letters” are going to comprise a “monument” for Southampton that will outlive the crests of tyrants and the brass tombs of kings! As Oxford promised him in Sonnet 81:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read…

And now, proceeding from the climax of number 107, the story’s resolution unfolds in nineteen days covered by exactly nineteen sonnets, advancing with increasing power and grandeur to the funeral procession bearing the coffin and effigy of Elizabeth under a canopy, on April 28, 1603, marked by Sonnet 125, the official end of the Tudor dynasty, followed immediately by the author’s envoy of farewell to “Oh thou my lovely Boy.”

The result is a self-contained series of the 80 prison sonnets plus the 20 sonnets of resolution, exactly 100 sonnets or a “century” of them – mirroring Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love (1582), the 100 consecutively numbered sonnets attributed to Thomas Watson and dedicated to Oxford. The “century” within SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS is the central sequence of his monument for Southampton.

The younger earl will live on, but the author will disappear. Oxford consistently expresses this sacrifice of one life for the other — the exchange of his life or identity as “Shakespeare” for Southampton’s life as a free man:

When I, perhaps compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse. (Sonnet 71)

(When I am dead, you will continue without acknowledging me.)

My name be buried where my body is

And live no more to shame nor me nor you. (Sonnet 72)

(My identity will disappear, leaving you to flourish)

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

Though I, once gone, to all the world must die. (Sonnet 81)

(You are forever tied to “Shakespeare,” while I must disappear.)

In effect, these lines of the Sonnets comprise Edward de Vere’s own version of Hamlet’s cry for his wounded name. It’s a tragic story, but also the basic answer to the Shakespeare Authorship Question, delivered to posterity by the author himself — as he talks about his “poor name” or “name” to be “buried” and stating that he himself must die – not just in the physical sense, of course, but to “all the world.” He disconnects himself from “Shakespeare” and, therefore, from Southampton, ensuring that his own identity will disappear … but not forever!

In fact, Oxford is counting on these very sonnets to “tell my story,” as Hamlet begs his friend Horatio.  Back in Sonnet 55, when Southampton’s fate was by no means certain, Oxford vowed to create “the living record of your memory,” adding:

’Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth! Your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

In this way he will triumph over Time and defeat the false “registers” or “records” upon which the future writers of history will rely. He himself will prevail in these sonnets, which will be printed in 1609 only to be quickly suppressed and driven underground, until the quarto’s reappearance more than a full century later. And so he defeats Time and Cecil and even Death, as expressed in Sonnet 107: “I’ll live in this poor rhyme.”

He draws his breath in pain, to tell his story.  The “monument” of the Sonnets is his ultimate triumph, as expressed in Sonnet 123:

No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!

Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange:

They are but dressings of a former sight.

Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire

What thou dost foist upon us that is old,

And rather make them borne to our desire

Than think that we before have heard them told.

Thy registers and thee I both defy –

Not wond’ring at the present, nor the past,

For thy records and what we see doth lie,

Made more or less by thy continual haste.

This I do vow, and this shall ever be:

I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

 

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