Towering Defiance of Time and the Official Record: “Thy Registers and Thee I Both Defy!”

The real story of the Shakespeare sonnets is that of one man howling in defiance of obliteration — the burial of his truth, the blotting out of his identity.  The man is Edward, Earl of Oxford, raging against the agents of his destruction and promising to overcome them by preserving the truth in this “monument” of verse for posterity.

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
You still shall live! – such virtue hath my pen –
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men – 81

Speaking of defiance -- Oxford used this "crown signature" from 1569 until the Queen died in 1603 and James succeeded her, when he ceased to use it.

In a real way Oxford becomes a Christ figure who, in the course of the sequence, undergoes death and resurrection:

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence’s loss [cross] – 34

[Henry, Earl of Southampton’s sorrow for his role in the Essex Rebellion offers little relief to Oxford, who has agreed to suffer the consequences for him.]

And both for my sake lay on me this cross – 42

[Both Southampton and Queen Elizabeth, who holds him in her Tower prison, are causing Oxford to suffer]

Of him, myself, and thee, I am forsaken,
A torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed – 133

[They comprise a royal, dynastic family triangle; because Southampton has committed treason, all three of them are doomed.]

The 1609 dedication of the Sonnets (the inscription on the Monument) to "Mr. W. H." - a reversal of Lord Henry Wriothesley, reflecting his lowly status as "Mr." while in the Tower - from "our ever-living (deceased) poet" -

Oxford is volunteering to take on the burden of the guilt:

So shall those blots that do with me remain
Without thy help be borne by me alone – 36

If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise – 38

[All praise will go to Southampton while Oxford disappears from view.]

To play the watchman ever for thy sake – 61

[He will save Southampton’s life and secure his freedom.]

And art made tongue-tied by authority – 66

[Oxford’s ability to speak directly through these private sonnets has been nullified by official decree; his art has been “tongue-tied” or silenced by the crown, in the person of Sir Robert Cecil, who now runs the Elizabethan government in its final years heading to an uncertain succession.

[He is using a special language, however, allowing him to speak here indirectly.  (“That every word doth almost tell my name” – 76) In effect, his words carry a double image, simultaneously conveying two (or more) meanings.]

He is fading away:

When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
Do not such much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay – 71

After my death, love, forget me quite…
My name be buried where my body is – 72

My spirit is thine, the better part of me – 74

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die – 81

The 1594 dedication of "Lucrece" to Southampton -- by "Shakespeare" the pen name and so-called rival poet of the sonnets...

The agent of Oxford’s obliteration is his own pen name, “William Shakespeare,” which he had used to dedicate his first works, Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594, to Southampton [the only one to whom “Shakespeare” dedicated anything]; and now that mask is being glued to Oxford’s face:

Was it his [“Shakespeare’s”] spirit by spirits taught to write
Above a mortal pitch that struck me [Oxford] dead? – 86

The more that “Shakespeare” is seen to be praising Southampton, the less visible Oxford becomes:

When your [Southampton’s] countenance filled up his line,
Then lacked I matter, that enfeebled mine – 86

After Southampton’s liberation by King James on April 10, 1603, a climactic event celebrated by Sonnet 107, his defiance grows into a roar by an amazing compression of words, a literary feat that may well have no equal.  I would urge all to read over the final Sonnets of the “fair youth” sequence from 107 to 126.  Let’s just close with Sonnet 123, in which Edward de Vere tells Time itself, “Thy registers and thee I both defy!” — that is, he defies the official history to be written by the winners [Cecil]; he defies it and will be “true” [indicating his own identity, through his motto Nothing Truer Than Truth] despite all that has crushed him:

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
Then 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 day is coming sooner than later when students will be given the opportunity to appreciate the greatness of these sonnets.  Within the traditional paradigm there has been no possibility for such appreciation; the best that can be taught is the value of the poet’s rhetorical skills, as he puts forth his universal themes, while the severe limitations of Stratfordian authorship dictate that the genuine human drama remains unseen.

Well, it will be seen!  And then there will be new life in the classroom, new excitement in the lecture hall, and a kind of Shakespearean renaissance — as we crawl out of the long dark tunnel of tradition into the bright light of truth.

“This Sad Interim” – Sonnet 56 – The Living Record of Southampton as His Execution Nears

Southampton, a Convicted Traitor in the Tower of London, held hostage untill after the death of Queen Elizabeth on March 24, 1603 and the official proclamation by the English nobility of James of Scotland as King of England

Sonnet 56
This Sad Interim
9 March 1601

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) records his deep sadness after meeting with Henry Wriothseley, Earl of Southampton in the Tower, when he had to inform his royal son of the bittersweet bargain with Robert Cecil (1663-1612) as the only way to gain a reprieve from his execution.  His reference to the Ocean (the sea of royal blood) is an overt homage to Southampton (1573-1624)*  as a prince or king.  He urges Henry Wriothesley to go along with the bargain to save his life.
(* Officially his birth date is October 6, 1573, but the Sonnets indicate he was born in May or early June 1574.)

Sonnet 56

Sweet love, renew thy force!  Be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but today by feeding is allayed,
Tomorrow sharpened in his former might.

So love be thou, although today thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fullness,
Tomorrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of Love with a perpetual dullness.

Let this sad Interim like the Ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;

As call it winter, which being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wished, more rare.

I have thought to include my “translation” of this sonnet from THE MONUMENT.   Call it a paraphrase, if you want.  The point is not at all to take away from the many other meanings, reverberations, allusions and uses of rhetoric.  The translation represents an attempt to suggest one side of a double image — the important side, which has been overlooked for centuries, because we have been directed (programmed, accustomed) to seeing only the side that appears to be strictly the poetry of love and no more.

Translation – Sonnet 56

Royal son, regain your power!  Be it not said
That you should be less strong than my purpose,
Which is but allayed today by my will
But tomorrow return to your former strength!

So, royal son, be the same.  While today you
Bring yourself back to physical health,
Tomorrow be a royal prince again.  Do not kill
The essence of your blood with imprisonment.

Let this sad time [in prison] be like royal waters
Separating a king from his subjects, but
Brings them together again, so when all see
The return of royal blood, it will be seen freshly.

Call this a dark time, which filled with royalty,
Makes your golden time thrice more desired and rare.

SWEET LOVE = royal prince; royal son; “Good night, sweet prince” – Hamlet, 5.2.366; THY FORCE = your royal power and strength; validity, as in “our late edict shall strongly stand in force” – Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1.1.11; your will to live

EDGE = the cutting side of a blade, echoing the “edge” of the executioner’s axe; “But bears it out even to the edge of doom” – Sonnet 116, line 12; keenness, desire, royal will; “with spirit of honor edged more sharper than your swords” – Henry V, 3.5.38; APPETITE = your desire to live; i.e., Oxford is urging his son to go along with the bargain being made for his life, appealing to his desire to live and eventually be freed from prison

BY FEEDING = by being put out to pasture, so to speak; “Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly” – Macbeth, 3.2.18-19; ALLAYED = postponed (with ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One)

TOMORROW = “Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind” – Sonnet 105, line 5; FORMER MIGHT = former royal power; “O’er-charged with burden of mine own love’s might” – Sonnet 23, line 8; “Thy pyramids built up with newer might” – Sonnet 123, line 2; “England shall give him office, honour, might” – 2 Henry IV, 4.5.129; “the might of it” – i.e., the might and power of the crown, 2 Henry IV, 4.5.173

Secretary Robert Cecil is holding Southampton, the rightful Prince and Heir, in the Tower -- while he carries on a dangerous correspondence with King James of Scotland, secretly engineering his succession behind Elizabeth's back

SO LOVE BE THOU = so, royal son, be your royal self, since you are you; “This is I, Hamlet the Dane!” – Hamlet, 5.1.255; “But he that writes of you, if he can tell/ That you are you, so dignifies his story” – Sonnet 84, lines 7-8; act like the king you are, and go along with this decision to save your life; in giving up the throne, you help England avoid civil war, and you will gain your life and freedom

HUNGRY EYES = royal eyes wanting to be who he is; WINK WITH FULLNESS = close or shut because of the power of the sun or royal light; echoing the “winking” of Southampton’s royal eyes or stars or suns;

TOMORROW SEE AGAIN = stay alive and use your kingly eyes once more; KILL = destroy; echoing the execution of Southampton, still a possibility, with Oxford urging his son to accept the terms of the “ransom” and, thereby, to save himself from being killed.

THE SPIRIT OF LOVE = the sacredness of your royal blood (which is the essential and vital part of you); “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame” – Sonnet 128, line 1, to Elizabeth, referring to her waste of Southampton’s “spirit of love” or royal blood; Essex in 1597 wrote to Elizabeth thanking her for her “sweet letters, indited by the Spirit of spirits”; PERPETUAL DULLNESS = eternal shame; perpetual confinement in the Tower; eternal death

THIS SAD INTERIM = this sorrowful time of your imprisonment (which hopefully is only temporary); OCEAN = kingly; royal blood

“Here, then, we have Shakespeare typifying his Friend variously as a sun, a god, an ocean or a sea: three familiar metaphors which he and his contemporaries use to represent a sovereign prince or king” – Leslie Hotson, Mr. W. H., 1965

“Even to our Ocean, to our great King John” – King John, 5.4.57; “The tide of blood in me … shall mingle with the state of floods and flow henceforth in formal majesty” – 2 Henry IV, 5.2.129; “A substitute shines brightly as a king, until a king be by, and then his state empties itself, as doth an inland brook into the main of waters” – Merchant of Venice, 5.1.94-97; poets alluded to Elizabeth as “Cynthia, Queen of Seas and Lands” – Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth, 52; “Thou art, quoth she, a sea, a sovereign king;/ And lo, there falls into thy boundless flood/ Black lust, dishonour, shame” – Lucrece, line 652

King James I of England

CONTRACTED NEW = come together again; “But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes” – Sonnet 1, line 5; Oxford and his royal son, envisioned as newly contracted

COME DAILY = like these verses written daily; echoing the day-by-day experience of his son in prison; like the tide coming daily to the banks of these “pyramids” or sonnets, as in “No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!  Thy pyramids built up with newer might/ To me are nothing novel, nothing strange” – Sonnet 123, lines 1-3; “Thus they do, sir; they take the flow of the Nile by certain scales in the pyramid” – Antony and Cleopatra, 2.7.17-18

RETURN OF LOVE = return of royal blood; i.e., when Southampton finally emerges from the Tower, he will be alive and so will his “love” or royal blood still live; BLEST = full of Southampton’s royal and divine blessings; “the blessed sun of heaven” – Falstaff of Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV, 2.4.403

WINTER = the present time, early March of 1601; this miserable time of your imprisonment and possible death; “How like a Winter hath my absence been/ From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year” – Sonnet 97, lines 1-2, corresponding with February 8, 1602; “Three winters cold … /Since first I saw you fresh” – Sonnet 104, lines 3-8, corresponding to February 8, 1603, the third winter of Southampton’s confinement; i.e., this entire time of your confinement is a winter; FULL OF CARE = full of Oxford’s care for him, to save his life; “Thou best of dearest, and mine only care” – Sonnet 48, line 7

SUMMER’S WELCOME = the welcoming of the golden time of the king, of Southampton as prince, his return to freedom; “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day … And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date … But thy eternal Summer shall not fade” – Sonnet 18, lines 1, 4, 9; THRICE = related to the Trinity and also to the previously potential royal family (which is no longer possible) of Elizabeth and Oxford and Southampton; MORE RARE = more royal; “Beauty, Truth, and Rarity,/ Grace in all simplicity” – the royal family of Elizabeth, Oxford and Southampton in The Phoenix and Turtle, by “William Shake-speare,” 1601, 53-5

A Bargain for Southampton’s Life – “The Living Record” – Chapter 44

Sonnet 47 – February 28, 1601

Three days after the execution of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, this sonnet resolves the struggle between Oxford’s eye (mind) and heart (emotions) described in the previous verse — the struggle between his duty to the state, having to vote for a guilty verdict against both Essex and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton … and then to work behind the scenes for the latter, his son by the Queen, in order to hopefully save his life.

The Earl of Essex, beheaded at the Tower Green on February 25, 1601

The Earl of Essex, beheaded at the Tower Green on February 25, 1601

Oxford records that a “league” or bargain with Secretary Robert Cecil has been struck in order to spare Southampton from execution. The ransom price, however, will be Southampton’s relinquishment of any claim to the throne. Meanwhile Oxford writes to record again that the image of his imprisoned royal son is always with him:\

Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,

(“You peers, continue this united league” – Richard III, 2.1.2)

And each doth good turns now unto the other;

When that mine eye is famished for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,
With my love’s picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart:
An other time mine eye is my heart’s guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part.

(“The pleasure that some fathers feed upon is my strict fast – I mean my children’s looks, and therein fasting hast thou made me gaunt” – Richard II, 2.1.79-81;  “And so my state … show’d like a feast” – the king in 1 Henry IV, 3.2.53-59)

So either by thy picture or my love,
Thy self away, art present still with me:
For thou no further than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them, and they with thee;
Or if they sleep, thy picture in my sight
Awakes my heart to heart’s and eye’s delight.

Are these sonnets referring to Southampton being “away” in the Tower?  Look at these references:

“Things removed” – Sonnet 31, line 8
“O absence” – Sonnet 39, line 9
“When I am sometime absent from thy heart” – Sonnet 41, line 2
“Where thou art” – Sonnet 41, line 12
“Injurious distance” – Sonnet 44, line 1
“Where thou dost stay” – Sonnet 44, line 4
“Removed from thee” – Sonnet 44, line 6
“Present-absent” – Sonnet 45, line 4
“Where thou art” – Sonnet 51, line 3
“The bitterness of absence” – Sonnet 57, line 6
“Where you may be” – Sonnet 57, line 10
“Where you are” – Sonnet 57, line 12
“The imprisoned absence of your liberty” – Sonnet 58, line 6
“Where you list” – Sonnet 58, line 9
“Thou dost wake elsewhere” – Sonnet 61, line 12
“All away” – Sonnet 75, line 14
“Be absent from thy walks” – Sonnet 89, line 9
“How like a Winter hath my absence been/ From thee” – Sonnet 97, line 1
“This time removed” – Sonnet 97, line 5
“And thou away” – Sonnet 97, line 12
“You away” – Sonnet 98, line 13

King James VI of Scotland, for whom Robert Cecil is now working, behind Queen Elizabeth's back, in order to engineer his succession (with Southampton being held hostage in the Tower until James can be proclaimed King of England)

King James VI of Scotland, for whom Robert Cecil is now working, behind Queen Elizabeth's back, in order to engineer his succession (with Southampton being held hostage in the Tower until James can be proclaimed King of England)

To be continued…

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