“Ever or Never” = “To Be or Not To Be”

I think we’ve established that Oxford used the pen name “Ever or Never” from at least 1573 onward.  It is certain that he played upon “ever” in his “echo” poem:  “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?  Vere.”

The phrase “ever or never” is not just wordplay, however; it also expresses a deep Shakespearean theme — to act or not to act, recalling Hamlet; to speak truth or to lie, recalling the poet’s final words in the Sonnets to the dark lady (Queen Elizabeth), accusing her of forcing him to undermine his own identity and being:  “To swear against the truth so foul a lie.”  If the character of Hamlet speaks with his creator’s voice, he is expressing that author’s own predicament; and if it’s Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, then he was expressing a certain bitter contempt for himself, a loathing of himself for failing to speak the truth of his relationship with Queen Elizabeth and then of Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton as their son and heir to her throne.  The theme of “never” involves the need to keep silent (or tell lies) and stay hidden, as in the following (with my emphases):

Hamlet:  “But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue!”

Sonnet 72:  “My name be buried where my body is”

Hamlet:  “Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, and can say nothing.”

Sonnet 147:  “My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.”

Oxford:  “So long to fight with secret sore,/ And find no secret salve therefore.”

Oxford:  “The trickling tears, that fall along my cheeks,/ The secret sighs, that show my inward grief.”

Hamlet’s predicament is perhaps the ultimate expression of this terrible inner conflict — to live or to die, to speak truth or not to speak truth, to act or not to act, to seize the day and determine the course of his nation’s future or do nothing and, instead, fall into eternal darkness and silence so that “enterprises of great pith and moment/ With this regard their currents turn awry/ And lose the name of action.”

There is a gigantic story beneath the surface of the Sonnets and of Hamlet and of the life of Edward de Vere …

The story began early in his life, expressed as “Ever or Never,” and reached its most universal expression in “To Be or Not To Be.”

%d bloggers like this: