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.

 

/////

 

 

 

 

The Earl of Southampton: Re-posting No. 28 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

One of the most compelling reasons to believe Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is the central role in the Shakespeare story played by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593, as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis, a 1200-line poem that the poet called “the first heir of my invention” in his dedication. The second appearance of “William Shakespeare” in print came a year later, with the publication of an 1800-line poem, Lucrece, again dedicated to Southampton.

The Lucrece dedication was an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the twenty-year-old earl:

“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 … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked himself to Southampton for all time.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that the Fair Youth of Shake-speares Sonnets, the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered poems printed in 1609, is also Southampton, even though he is not identified by name. Most further agree that, in the first seventeen sonnets, the poet is urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”

“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in 1984, “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer [1922] spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”

“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

  • De Vere became the first royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in 1562, under the guardianship of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), and in 1571 he entered into an arranged marriage with the chief minister’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil.
  • Henry Wriothesley became the eighth and last child of state as a boy in 1581-82, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted intense pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Cecil’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter, making the elder earl, in fact, the prospective father-in-law. Scholars generally agree that in the seventeen “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare’s tone sounds much like that of a prospective father-in-law or father urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him, although the poet never identifies or describes any specific young woman.

Lady Elizabeth Vere, who married William Stanley Earl of Derby in 1595

J. Dover Wilson writes in 1964: “What man in the whole world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married?”

Obviously, de Vere and Wriothesley both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome of this marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England, who must have had the full blessing of his sovereign Mistress.

Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”

The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”

A Notice of the Essex-Southampton Trial of Feb. 19, 1600 (1601) with Edward de Vere given prominence as a judge on the tribunal

By the time Southampton came to court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford had removed himself from active attendance. It seems that the two shared some kind of hidden story that tied them together:

= As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother. Even though their respective biological mothers were alive when their fathers died, under English law they became wards of the state, and the queen became their mother in a legal sense.

= Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.

= Oxford in the early 1590s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.

= After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford sat as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal for the treason trial of Essex and Southampton.

= The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict; there is evidence that Oxford then worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual liberation, as in Sonnet 35: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate.”

= On the night of Oxford’s recorded death on 24 June 1604, agents of the Crown arrested Southampton and returned him to the Tower, where he was interrogated all night until his release the following day.

= Henry Wriothesley and Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford (born in February 1593 to Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham) became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.” As members of the House of Lords, they often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for doing so.

On the eve of the failed rebellion led by Essex and Southampton in 1601, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s royal history play Richard II at the Globe; many historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself secured permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its scene of the deposing of the king. On the other hand, it is possible that Robert Cecil himself arranged for it, so he could then summon Essex to court and trigger the rebellion, which had actually been scheduled for a week later.

Once the rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of 8 February 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased for several years.

After Southampton was released on 10 April 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

Upon Oxford’s death in virtual obscurity, recorded as occurring on 24 June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published.

As part of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations surrounding the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival. In the days before and after the wedding, seven performances of the Bard’s plays were given. (The royal performances appear to be a memorial tribute to the playwright, rather than a tribute to a living author.) One performance was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, for King James and Queen Anne, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

After Hamlet in 1604 all publications again ceased, for four years. (King Lear was printed in 1608; Troilus and Cressida was issued in two editions during 1608-09; and Pericles appeared in 1609.) Then the silence resumed, for thirteen more years, until a quarto of Othello appeared in 1622; and finally the First Folio of thirty-six Shakespeare plays was published in 1623. Fully half of these stage works were printed for the first time; the folio included none of the Shakespeare poetry, nor any mention of Southampton or the Sonnets.

The connections between Oxford and Southampton are numerous and significant; the link between the two earls is crucial for the quest to determine the real Shakespeare.

[This post is now Reason 53 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with editorial assistance from Brian Bechtold.]

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 Dark Lady is Identified in the Sonnets as Elizabeth I of England – (1)

Elizabeth I 1533 - 1603

Elizabeth I
1533 – 1603

The Shakespeare sonnets involve three real-life individuals: the author, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford; the friend, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton; and the dark lady, Queen Elizabeth I of England.  There is a fourth character [the “rival poet”] who is not a person but, rather, Oxford’s pen name — “Shakespeare” — which he can attach publicly to Southampton while he himself must remain silent.

Oxfordians have had many candidates for the Dark Lady, but this is only because some continue to view the Sonnets as recording a “love” story rather than a political story involving Southampton’s role in the “succession crisis,” which led to his death sentence as a traitor followed by the Queen’s sparing of his life, and, after a confinement of more than two years in the Tower, his release and pardon by King James. Once this context of the Sonnets is perceived, it becomes immediately clear that the so-called dark lady must be Elizabeth, who was only “dark” or “black” because of her negative view of Southampton — her imperial “frown” that cast its shadow of shame and disgrace upon him.

Once Elizabeth is recognized as the treacherous, powerful female of the Sonnets, she can be seen being identified throughout the  sequence of Sonnets 1 to 154. Following are just two examples, rooted in documents of the time:

Elizabeth to Leicester July 19, 1586 CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

Elizabeth to Leicester
July 19, 1586
CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

“EVER THE SAME”

In Sonnet 76 the author states by way of a rhetorical question that he writes in all these lines of the sequence “still” or always “all” about just “one” topic, which is “ever the same” – the Queen’s recognized motto, Semper Eadem, which she occasionally signed in English as “ever the same.”

“Why write I still all one, ever the same…”

A good example is provided by a letter from “E. R.” (Elizabeth Regina) written on July 19, 1586 to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was acting as her lieutenant general in the Low Countries, signed, “As you know, ever the same, E.R.”  [See Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Beth Rose: Elizabeth I: Collected Works, University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 283]

If in fact Edward de Vere is writing these words, it’s a given he’s quite aware of referring to the Queen by means of her motto. Oxford knew many things about his sovereign mistress, without question, and was incapable of using her motto without doing so deliberately.  He was recording her presence in the Sonnets and it was intentional.

Marigold Flower

Marigold Flower

“THE MARIGOLD”

In Sonnet 25 he refers quite explicitly to her Majesty as one of the “Great Princes” who can remove all glory from her favored subjects by a simple “frown” of royal disapproval – and in the process he brings in the Queen’s own flower, the marigold, again identifying her without question. (Oxford’s personal secretary John Lyly wrote in Euphues his England, dedicated to Oxford in 1580, about Elizabeth:  “She useth the marigold for her flower, which at the rising of the sunne openeth his leaves, and at the setting shutteth them…”)

“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…”

To be continued…

“Shakespeare” the Pen Name was Political!

During the first forty years of his life, Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford wrote highly successful “comedies” staged at the Elizabethan royal court.  He wrote elegant prose as well as poetry and, too, helped save the Blackfriars playhouse while actively patronizing play companies and writers.  Only after turning forty-three in 1593 did he adopt “Shakespeare” — a pen name to which, via the dedications of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, he deliberately and boldly linked nineteen-year-old Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" in 1593 to Southampton with first printing of the Shakespeare name

Dedication of “Venus and Adonis” in 1593 to Southampton with first printing of the Shakespeare name

Southampton is the only individual to whom “Shakespeare” dedicated his work.

This is the starting point for any theory that Oxford deliberately used “William Shakespeare” as the printed signature to those dedications.  It means the Earl got along for more than four decades writing anonymously or under fictional names or the names of real individuals.  Then, in the early 1590s, just when the power struggle over control of the succession to Elizabeth on the English throne had begun in earnest, and when Southampton was coming of age at court, Oxford used this military-sounding name to conjure the image of a poet shaking the spear of his pen on the dedicatee’s behalf.

In the first dedication he referred to “the world’s hopeful expectation” for Southampton, echoing the king’s image of his son Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV (3.2.36) as “the hope and expectation of thy time” — that is, as the future Henry the Fifth of England.

In the second dedication he issued an extraordinary pledge to Southampton:  “What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.”

Here is the big dividing line for Oxfordians who wish to persuade others that Edward de Vere wrote the Shakespeare works:

Why did he use this particular pen name?

Why did he choose to adopt it on his published poems?

Why did he link it to Henry Wriothesley?

Why did he introduce the pen name in 1593 and not before?

What did he mean when he wrote that “what I have to do is yours”?

"Lucrece" Dedication 1594

“Lucrece” Dedication
1594

Was he publicly thanking the younger Earl for his financial help?  (No.)

Was he making this public proclamation to a real or prospective lover?  (No.)

There is only one correct answer — not to mention the only one that will enable Oxford’s proponents to persuade the world that he was the author.

The answer involves politics, policy and power, within the historical context of 1593 and the contemporary history that led to the succession of a foreigner, King James of Scotland, in the same way that Fortinbras of Norway arrives to claim the throne of Denmark in place of the true prince.

Oxford’s intentions were political.  He was publicly taking Southampton’s side in the deadly political end game of the Tudor dynasty.  He was putting the weight and influence of his writings as “Shakespeare” behind Southampton and his political goals … to avoid for England the tragic ending that he rendered in Hamlet.

He would continue to use “Shakespeare” in Southampton’s support until February 7, 1601, when conspirators of the coming Essex Rebellion, led by Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex and Southampton, enlisted the Lord Chamberlain’s men to play Richard II at the Globe.  Whatever the Essex camp hoped to gain by this special performance of a play dramatizing the deposition of a king, clearly their motive was political and clearly “Shakespeare” was involved.

“I am Richard the Second,” the Queen reportedly said six months after the failed Rebellion of February 8, 1601 had led to the destruction and execution of Essex and to Southampton’s death sentence followed by perpetual imprisonment.

The reason why Oxford’s authorship had to be covered up in the decades that followed?  The answer is that those in power feared that Southampton’s claim as Henry IX of England would be revealed, leading to a rising against James followed by civil war.

“Shakespeare” was political.

The Earl of Oxford, Man of the Theater – Part Three of Reason 66 Why he was “Shakespeare”

Taking an “aerial view” of Edward de Vere’s connections to the stage reveals a map of the terrain with a single major thoroughfare running through the landscape.  This unbroken line consists of the life spans of the three major acting companies linked one to the other in three successive chapters:

Chapter One: Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1573-1583)

Chapter Two: Queen Elizabeth’s Men (1583-1593)

Chapter Three: Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1594-1603)

actorsUpon the death of Queen Elizabeth on March 24, 1603 and the succession of King James, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men.   Here is the basic story up to 1603 according to the three chapters:

Chapter One: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1573-1583)

During the 1570’s until 1583 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men under the Earl of Sussex brought play after play to the royal court, indicated by the keepers of the records.  Many of these were identified by Eva Turner Clarke in 1931 as early versions of dramatic works destined to be revised and issued, under new titles, as the works of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s.

Ms. Clarke supported her identifications with extraordinary scholarship, linking events of contemporary history to characters and scenes in the Shakespeare plays.  She often noticed the different stages of revision within a given play – the way archaeologists can “read history” by the fossils or the rings within a tree trunk.  Given Edward de Vere’s intense involvement with writers and play companies, along with his great friendship with Lord Sussex, I believe that Ms. Clarke must have been largely correct: many of the first versions of future “Shakespeare” plays were initially performed for Elizabeth at Court by the Lord Chamberlain’s men under Sussex.

Chapter Two: Queen Elizabeth’s Men (1583-1593)    

Sussex died in June 1583 and that fall the Queen’s Men were formed with a dozen of the best actors from the different other companies.  Oxford lent his secretary John Lyly as stage manager and coach for performances at court; but then the Queen’s Men, often with two separate troupes, traveled around the countryside – often performing plays of royal history, geared to rousing patriotic fervor as England prepared for invasion by Philip of Spain and his armada.

Early version of Shakespeare's play of King John, performed by the Queen's Men in the 1580's

Early version of Shakespeare’s play of King John, performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s

Now that scholars are becoming more aware that early versions of Shakespearean history plays were performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s, with titles that would remain quite similar, the next logical step is to see that Edward de Vere – despite his involvement in companies under his own name – was actively behind first the Chamberlain’s Men under Sussex and then behind the Queen’s Men under the patronage of Her Majesty and Francis Walsingham of the secret service.

[Oxford’s extraordinary annual grant of a thousand pounds, begun in June 1586, was drawn from the government treasury with the same formula used for the secret service, bringing him into close alignment with the Queen’s Men from that angle as well.]

Chapter Three: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1594-1603)

The new Lord Chamberlain’s company gave its first performances at court in the Christmas season of 1594.  It would become known to us as “Shakespeare’s Company,” given that its actors gave the initial performances of the vast majority of the Shakespearean plays.

In government records for March 1595, actors Richard Burbage and Will Kempe along with “William Shakespeare” are listed as payees of the new Chamberlain’s Men — collecting payment for those court performances the previous December.  The inclusion of “Shakespeare” in that record is highly suspicious, however, since the name had just been introduced as a poet in the dedications of Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594) to Southampton, and because the name would never again be listed a payee for the Chamberlain’s Men.

The playhouse known as the Curtain

The playhouse known as the Curtain

[After the succession of 1603 and the creation of the King’s Men, we have another story.  I believe that once King James took the throne, with Robert Cecil retaining his power behind the monarch, the government made a feeble attempt to indicate Shakespeare as an actor with the company.]

The Lord Chamberlain was Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, followed by his son George Carey, Lord Hunsdon – but these were nominal figures when it came to the running of the company.  The logical conclusion is that Oxford himself was the guiding hand of “Shakespeare’s Company” – not because of his title of Lord Great Chamberlain, but, rather, because this new group was an extension of the previous companies, first under Chamberlain Sussex and then the Queen’s Men, with Oxford having used them as the primary vehicles for his plays.

This perspective on the history requires taking that aerial view and connecting the dots to see the larger picture – which is, to put it simply, that Edward de Vere was the guiding hand behind the three great acting companies of the Elizabethan reign, all three of which were linked together to produce (1) the renaissance of English literature and drama in the 1570’s and 1580’s, followed by (2) the phenomenon of the Shakespeare works in the 1590’s.

Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s, put on some of the most dangerously political plays of the reign, yet it never got in trouble with officialdom.  Quite obviously it was receiving protection from on high.  In the 1590’s the government was moving rapidly to take control of the theater – by limiting the play companies in London to two, by restricting the use of playhouses for the drama to two, and by exercising increasingly heavy censorship that led, for example, to the bonfire of books in 1599.

It was Shakespeare’s company, also, that performed Richard II at the Globe on February 7, 1601, for conspirators of the Essex Rebellion, which erupted the following morning – yet the actors were let go after cursory questioning and the author was never summoned at all.

globe more

Meanwhile Oxford had withdrawn entirely from court life after 1590.  Remarrying in 1591, he and his new Countess (Elizabeth Trentham) moved to the village of Stoke Newington, just north of Shoreditch – the center of the London theater scene, where the Curtain playhouse would become the premier venue of Shakespeare’s Company.

“Thus we see him moving quite close to the ‘Shakespeare’ work, but never in it,” J.T. Looney wrote in 1920, describing a man who had become virtually invisible – and yet a man who, in the view here, was singularly responsible for the eruption of the Shakespearean plays in public performance, igniting the explosion of theatrical activity that remains a grand chapter, perhaps the grandest of all, in the history of the stage.

Edward de Vere emerged briefly from his retirement to serve as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal at the trial of Essex and Southampton on February 19, 1601.  He had no choice but to join the twenty-four other peers in finding both earls guilty of high treason and condemning them to death.  Essex was beheaded six days later; but Southampton, the “fair youth” of the Shakespeare sonnets, unofficially had his sentence reduced to life in prison and, two years later, in April 1603, King James granted him his freedom with a royal pardon.

Meanwhile the adult acting troupe under Oxford’s own name, which was mainly a touring group, had merged with Worcester’s company in 1602.  Even the aging Queen Elizabeth became involved in this new, expanded company, and ordered the Lord Mayor of London to allow them to play at their favorite Boar’s Head tavern.  “In August of that year the united company was acting at the Rose under Henslowe,” wrote B.M. Ward in 1928, “and among the actors we find the names of William Kempe and Thomas Haywood, the playwright.”

Will Kempe!  This was the same man listed back in 1595 as a payee of the new Lord Chamberlain’s Men, with Richard Burbage and “William Shakespeare” — and now as the Elizabethan reign draws to its close, Kempe is acting in the company patronized by the earls of Worchester and … Oxford!

I’d say that’s a fitting way to conclude this attempt to “connect the dots” and glimpse a larger picture.  All along, just beneath the surface, or standing in the wings, we find the figure of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a man of the theater all his life.

“Last Will. & Testament” to be Launched in the United Kingdom

First Folio Pictures has announced that the Shakespeare authorship documentary Last Will. & Testament is scheduled to air in the United Kingdom on Saturday 21 April 2012 at 8:00pm on Sky Arts 2 HD.  Congratulations, folks!  Special hoorays for producer-directors Lisa Wilson and Laura Wilson Matthias … and Aaron Boyd!

Here’s some of the promotional copy:

Was Will Shakspere, the grain dealer from Stratford, really the literary icon we celebrate today?

The traditional story of a Stratford merchant writing for the London stage has held sway for centuries, but questions over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and poems have persisted. 

Why is there no definitive evidence of authorship that dates from his lifetime? And why are there discrepancies between the alleged author’s life and the content of his work? 

Writers and critics, actors and scholars, including Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Leslie Howard, and Derek Jacobi, have struggled to reconcile England’s ‘Star of Poets’ with the glove maker’s son from Stratford. 

In Last Will. & Testament Sir Derek Jacobi leads a host of actors, academics and historians on a hunt for the truth: who was William Shakespeare?

Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,

To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light.

– William Shakespeare

The Rape of Lucrece 

Act One explores the orthodox story of William “Shakspere” of Stratford and the long-standing views held by academia.

Act Two is a testament to an alternative Shakespeare – one presented to the world in the literary works themselves and in the testimony of his most insightful doubters.

Act Three weaves together the major historical events of the late Tudor era, including the crisis of succession and the Essex revolt.

Contributors

Sir Derek Jacobi, Actor
Charles Beauclerk, Author of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom
Prof. Roger Stritmatter, PhD, Coppin State University
Vanessa Redgrave, Actor
Prof. Jonathan Bate, CBE, Oxford University
Prof. Stanley Wells, CBE, Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Diana Price, Author of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem
Assoc. Prof. Michael Delahoyde, Washington State University
Dr William Leahy, Brunel University
Prof. Daniel Wright, Director – Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre, Concordia University
Mark Rylance, Actor
Bill Boyle, librarian at New England Shakespeare Oxford Library
Jon Culverhouse, Curator of Collections & Conservation at Burghley House
G. J. Meyer, Author of The Tudors
Michael Cecil, 8th Marquess of Exeter (descendant of Elizabethan statesman William Cecil, Lord Burghley)
Hank Whittemore, Author of The Monument – a 900-page edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets

Post No. 2 on the Southampton Tower Poem and How It Sheds Light on the Double Image of the Sonnets

The discovery that the Earl of Southampton wrote a “verse letter” to Queen Elizabeth from the Tower, after being convicted of treason on 19 February 1601 and sentenced to death, sheds light on various aspects of the Monument theory of Shakespeare’s sonnets — perhaps the most important aspect being a view of the Sonnets as a genuine historical document in the same way that the Southampton Tower Poem is not only a literary work, but, simultaneously, part of the contemporary biographical record.

A Famous Double-Image: every line drawn in service of both the Old Hag and the Young Woman

Within this view is the idea that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford created the Sonnets to contain a DOUBLE IMAGE: on the one hand, the individual sonnets are romantic love poems; on the other hand, Oxford was recording high-stakes events (for posterity) by means of addressing Southampton (the fair youth) and Elizabeth (the dark lady) in a series of thinly disguised “verse-letters” such as the one Southampton wrote to the Queen.  Equally important is that both Oxford and Southampton were writing within the same real-life context of time and circumstance: the plight of the younger earl in the Tower, where he suffered the “disgrace” and “shame” of a traitor who initially faced execution and then lifelong imprisonment as a dead man in the eyes of the law.

[The Shakespeare verses arranged to correspond with the 1601-1603 context are the Fair Youth Sonnets 27-126 and the Dark Lady Sonnets 127-152]

A Woman's Face - or Flowers & Butterfly

This method of writing on two levels at once is similar to the art of double-image drawing.  Take, for example, the familiar picture that depicts both an Old Hag and a Young Woman.  Whether we see one or the other image depends on our prior assumptions — basically, what we’ve been told about the picture before viewing it.  If we’ve been told it’s a picture of the Old Hag, that is the image we’ll see; and we’ll go right on seeing her forever, unless our perspective changes.  Meanwhile, of course, the Young Woman is also right there in front of us.

The picture itself never changes; that always stays the same.  What can change, however, is the perspective of an individual viewer.  When we look at the drawing from a different angle, based on new information, the Old Hag suddenly disappears and the Young Woman replaces her — as if by magic.

The trick of double-image drawing is that the artist uses every line in service of both images at once; and Oxford reveals in Sonnet 76 that he’s doing the same thing, except that instead of every line he’s using “every word” to create his double image:

Why write I still all one, ever the same,

And keep invention in a noted weed,   

That every word doth almost tell my name…

A Sax Player & a Woman's Face

A major difference between the Southampton Tower Poem and the Shakespeare sonnets is that we already know the real-life “context” of the former.  We know a lot about who, where, what, when and even how and why.  In the case of the Sonnets, however, we were never given the real-life context; in fact, scholars have been saddled with the wrong author!   Therefore the very same words (related to the law, crime, prison, etc.) in the lines of the Sonnets have been overlooked or dismissed as metaphorical and no more.

Some significant words in the Southampton poem that are also used in the Sonnets include: Blood, Buried, Cancel, Condemned, Crimes, Dead, Die, Faults, Favor, Grave, Grief, Ill, Liberty, Loss, Mercy, Offenses, Pardon, Power, Princes, Prison, Sorrow, Stain, Tears, Tombs. In Southampton’s poem these words fit snugly into the real-life context of his death sentence and, therefore, their meaning is literal and even obvious to us.  But the very same words in the Sonnets, viewed within the context of romantic love poems, tend to be ignored:

Sonnet 63: When hours have drained his blood

Sonnet 31: Thou art the grave where buried love doth live

Sonnet 30: And weep afresh love’s long-since cancelled woe

Sonnet 99: The Lily I condemned for thy hand

Sonnet 120: To weigh how once I suffered in your crime

Sonnet 68: Before the golden tresses of the dead

Sonnet 68: When beauty lived and died as flowers do now

Sonnet 35: All men make faults

Queen Elizabeth suffering her Final Torments

Sonnet 28: And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger

Sonnet 34: And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds

Sonnet 58: The imprisoned absence of your liberty

Sonnet 34: Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss

Sonnet 145: Straight in her heart did mercy come

Sonnet 34: The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief/ to him that bears the strong offense’s cross.

Sonnet 58: To you it doth belong/ yourself to pardon of self-doing crime

Sonnet 94: They that have power to hurt, and will do none

Sonnet 133: Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward/ but then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail

Sonnet 28: But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer

Sonnet 33: Clouds and eclipses stain both Moon and Sunne

Sonnet 34: Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds

Sonnet 83: When others would give life and bring a tomb

To repeat my view as expressed in The Monument: Oxford’s writing of the Sonnets uses a double image, which, on a level that usually goes uncrecognized, is equivalent to Southampton’s use of poetry for political pleading.

Try this one!

The Sonnets also contain a “double image” in terms of authorship.  On the one hand, Oxford himself is the speaker; on the other hand, readers holding the traditional or orthodox viewpoint are under the impression that “Shakespeare” is the speaker.  Oxford reveals this double-image of authorship, speaking of both himself and his pen name in Sonnet 83:

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes

Than both your poets can in praise devise.

(In the traditional view, the two poets must be Shakespeare and some “rival” such as Raleigh or Chapman or Essex.  I must report that even most Oxfordians remain trapped within this context of the double-image of authorship; that is, they view the speaker as Oxford in relation to a real-life “rival poet” rather than to his pen name “Shakespeare.”  The actual double-image of authorship, with Oxford-“Shakespeare” as the two poets, is still difficult for many Oxfordians to see.  In my opinion, of course!)

I’ll be following up with more posts covering other aspects of this remarkable discovery, including the overwhelming evidence that the attribution to Southampton is correct.  As stated in the first blog post on the Southampton Tower Poem, it was found by Lara Crowley, assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University, and reported (with text of the poem) in the Winter 2011 edition of English Literary Renaissance.  Professor Crowley’s article includes her transcription of the text discovered in the miscellany Manuscript Stowe 962 in the British Library.  The poem is not in Southampton’s handwriting, but apparently it was copied from the original or as he dictated it in his Tower prison room.

New Support for the Monument Theory of the Sonnets: Discovery of a Poem Begging Queen Elizabeth for Mercy: by the Earl of Southampton, while in the Tower during February-March 1601, when Facing Execution

New support for the Monument theory of the Sonnets has come from the discovery in the British Library of a 74-line poem by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, written in the Tower of London while he awaited execution for his role in the Essex rising of 8 February 1601.   In this unique scribal copy of a “verse letter,” Southampton pleads with Queen Elizabeth for mercy.

My thanks to the scholar Ricardo Mena for passing on this discovery, reported by Lara Crowley, Assistant Professor of English at Texas Tech University, in the winter 2011 edition of English Literary Renaissance.  The poem, entitled “The Earle of Southampton prisoner, and condemned. To Queen Elizabeth,” was found in BL Manuscript Stowe 962, which contains 254 miscellaneous folios prepared mainly in the 1620’s and 1630’s.

The “high level of accuracy” of attributions in the manuscript “enhances the likelihood” that the  ascription to Southampton “proves accurate as well,” Professor Crowley writes, adding that this “heartfelt” plea to Elizabeth points to a familiarity with “specific, intimate details” of the earl’s career and health and even writing style.  “Multiple references” identify Southampton as appealing to the Queen for a pardon.

The Monument theory holds that Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford arranged the Sonnets to record that he worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his freedom with a royal pardon.  The theory claims that part of the price Oxford paid, forced upon him by Secretary Robert Cecil, was the permanent destruction of his identity as author of the “Shakespeare” works (“My name be buried where my body is” – Sonnet 72).

Professor Crowley offers some speculations which, when viewing Oxford-Shakespeare as helping Southampton, are striking:

“It seems possible, even likely, that someone or something else influenced Elizabeth’s decision, making one wonder if, at his time of greatest need, Southampton – a ‘dere lover and cherisher’ of poets * – composed what could be his lone surviving poem … One possibility is that the poem was composed in 1601 to mollify the Queen, but by a more practiced poet who composed the verses for Southampton to offer Elizabeth as his own … Yet the notion that Shakespeare, or any other poet, provided Southampton with the poem proves improbable.  Access to the earl early in his imprisonment was restricted …”

[*Thomas Nashe, in his dedication of The Unfortunate Traveler, 1594, to Southampton]

The Monument theory is supported in a number of other ways; for one, we may now claim that all three earls – Oxford, Essex and Southampton – wrote verse in relation to this same situation of English political history:

Oxford: If he was the author of the Sonnets, then at the very least he wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating Southampton’s liberation by King James in April 1603, after the death of the Queen as “the mortal Moon” a few weeks earlier.

Essex: During his final four days in the Tower before he was executed on 25 February 1601, he wrote a 384-line poem to Elizabeth entitled The Passion of a Discontented Mind.

Southampton: Here we have Southampton, the fair youth of the Sonnets, also in the Tower with expectation of execution, writing a 74-line poem to the Queen in February or March 1601, pleading for her mercy and a pardon.

A remarkable aspect of Southampton’s verse epistle is how close he comes to a theme Oxford expressed in a letter to Cecil on 7 May 1603, alluding to a monarch’s ability to offer Christ-like mercy and forgiveness: “Nothing adorns a king more than justice, nor in anything doth a king more resemble God than in justice, which is the head of all virtue, and he that is endued therewith hath all the rest.”

More than two years earlier, Southampton wrote in his poem to Elizabeth from the Tower:

If faults were not, how could great Princes then

Approach so near God, in pardoning men?

Wisdom and valor, common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice…

Southampton had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” as Oxford writes in Sonnet 107 of the Fair Youth Series; and in Sonnet 145 of the Dark Lady Series, as I see it, he describes Elizabeth’s decision to spare Southampton this way:

Straight in her heart did mercy come,

Chiding that tongue that ever sweet

Was used in giving gentle doom…

The phrase “Great Princes” used by Southampton also appears in Sonnet 25: “Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread…”

At one point Southampton writes that “prisons are living men’s tombs” and that “there I am buried quick” – recalling Sonnet 31, which in the Monument theory corresponds to 12 February 1601:  “Thou art the grave where buried love doth live…”

He refers to himself as “dead in law,” reflecting his status in the Tower as “the late earl,” who has become legally dead.

He mentions his “legs’ strength decayed,” reflecting the fact that, while in the Tower at this early stage, he was suffering from a “quartern ague” that caused a dangerous “swelling in his legs and other parts,” as the Council reported to Sir John Peyton, Lieutenant of the Tower.

At one point near the end of the poem, he reveals his terror and dwindling hope for mercy:

Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;

And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear…

Southampton uses many words in his poem that also appear in the Sonnets, among them the following forty-seven words:  Blood, Buried, Cancel, Cheeks, Chest, Condemned, Countenance, Crimes, Dear, Dead, Die, Eyes, Faults, Favor, Furrows, Grace, Grave, Grief, Groans, Ill, Lamed, Liberty, Light, Loss, Mercy, Offend, Offenses, Pardon, Parts, Power, Princes, Prison, Prisoners, Proceed, Rain, Religious, Sacred, Sorrow, Stain, Stone, Tears, Tombs, True, Vial, Worm, Worthy, Wrinkles.

A number of these words are related literally to Southampton’s situation: Condemned, Crimes, Faults, Liberty, Mercy, Offend, Offenses, Pardon, Prison, Prisoners – more evidence, in my view, that Oxford uses the same words in the Sonnets to refer to Southampton’s plight in the same circumstances.

There is much more about this discovery to be examined here, in future posts; but meanwhile, here is the text of Southampton’s poem, based on Professor Crowley’s transcription from secretary hand and put into (mostly) modern spelling/punctuation for readers of this blog:

The Earl of Southampton Prisoner, and Condemned, to Queen Elizabeth:

Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee

But with new merits, I beg liberty

To cancel old offenses; let grace so

(As oil all liquor else will overflow)

Swim above all my crimes.  In lawn, a stain

Well taken forth may be made serve again.

Perseverance in ill is all the ill.  The horses may,

That stumbled in the morn, go well all day.

If faults were not, how could great Princes then

Approach so near God, in pardoning me?

Wisdom and valor, common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice, and will,

Like a true blood-stone, keep their bleeding still.

Where faults weigh down the scale, one grain of this

Will make it wise, until the beam it kiss.

Had I the leprosy of Naaman,

Your mercy hath the same effects as [the river] Jordan.

As surgeons cut and take from the sound part

That which is rotten, and beyond all art

Of healing, see (which time hath since revealed),

Limbs have been cut which might else have been healed.

While I yet breathe, and sense and motion have

(For this a prison differs from a grave),

Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go

As one may, sith say the dead walk so.

There I am buried quick: hence one may draw

I am religious because dead in law.

One of the old Anchorites, by me may be expressed:

A vial hath more room laid in a chest:

Prisoners condemned, like fish within shells lie

Cleaving to walls, which when they’re opened, die:

So they, when taken forth, unless a pardon

(As a worm takes a bullet from a gun)

Take them from thence, and so deceive the sprights [spirits]

Of people, curious after rueful sights.

Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been

On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:

My face which grief plowed, and mine eyes when they

Stand full like two nine-holes, where at boys play

And so their fires went out like Iron hot

And put into the forge, and then is not

And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie

Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry:

Mine arms like hammers to an anvil go

Upon my breast: now lamed with beating so

Stand as clock-hammers, which strike once an hour

Without such intermission they want power.

I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed

Like one, whose stock being spent give over trade.

And I with eating do no more ingross

Than one that plays small game after great loss

Is like to get his own: or then a pit

With shovels emptied, and hath spoons to fill it.

And so sleep visits me, when night’s half spent

As one, that means nothing but complement.

Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;

And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear:

With less than half these miseries, a man

Might have twice shot the Straits of Magellan

Better go ten such voyages than once offend

The Majesty of a Prince, where all things end

And begin: why whose sacred prerogative

He as he list, we as we ought live.

All mankind lives to serve a few: the throne

(To which all bow) is sewed to by each one.

Life, which I now beg, wer’t to proceed

From else whoso’er, I’d first choose to bleed

But now, the cause, why life I do Implore

Is that I think you [Elizabeth] worthy to give more.

The light of your countenance, and that same

Morning of the Court favor, where at all aim,

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,

For my tears have already worn these stones.

[As mentioned, there’s more commentary on this to be posted here in the future.]

The Table of Contents for “Twelve Years in the Life…”

Some readers have requested that I post the Table of Contents for my new book Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare, a chronological collection of seventeen columns focusing on a dozen separate years in the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550).

TWELVE YEARS IN THE LIFE … TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. 1564: The Education of Young Shakespeare
  2. 1572: Politics of Massacres, Need for Intelligence
  3. 1577: The Art of Navigation
  4. 1580: The Year of Living Dangerously
  5. 1581: Reckonings and Reconciliation
  6. 1586 (P. 1): “Buy a thousand pound, buy a rope”
  7. 1586 (P. 2): Preparations for War
  8. 1589: The Metamorphosis Begins
  9. 1593: Oxford’s Metamorphoses
  10. 1597: Island Voyages and Isle of Dogs
  11. 1601 (Pt. 1): “Authorizing thy trespass…”
  12. 1601 (Pt. 2): “I watch the clock for you”
  13. 1601 (Pt. 3): “On better judgment making”
  14. 1601 (Pt. 4): “Three winters cold”
  15. 1603: “Your trespass now becomes a fee”
  16. 1604 (Pt. 1): “Our revels now are ended”
  17. 1604 (Pt. 2): The Rest of the Story 

The columns were published in Shakespeare Matters, the newsletter of the Shakespeare Fellowship, and I had never planned to collect them; however, it occurred to editor Billy Boyle and me that we had created a special kind of biography without realizing it.

Because of the focus on individual years in Oxford’s life, arranged in chronological sequence, there’s a new clarity — which, it seems to me, creates some enjoyable reading while lending new insights into Oxford’s life in relation to the “Shakespeare” phenomenon.

In another post soon I’ll post up the Table again with a short paragraph of description for each chapter.

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