More of the Earl of Oxford’s Poetry to Queen Elizabeth – Part 2 of 2


An allegorical portrait of Elizabeth I painted after 1620

An allegorical portrait of Elizabeth I painted after 1620

The evidence is overwhelming that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford used most if not all of his early signed poetry to express his feelings about Queen Elizabeth and his relationship to her.  For example, in one of his signed poems in The Paradise of Dainty Devices of 1576 (“I am not as I seem to be”), he strikes a note that will turn up again and again in the so-called Dark Lady sonnets — which, I suggest, are also to and/or about that contradictory female monarch to whom he was utterly devoted but, in the end, to whom he bitterly complained in Sonnet 152 with his final words:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost.

For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,

Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,

And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,

Or made them swear against the thing they see.

For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,

To swear against the truth so foul a lie.

In his final words to the Queen, having lost “all my honest faith” in her promises to him, Oxford complains about being forced to “swear against the truth” by swearing “so foul a lie” for her sake – to pretend to see and think and feel in one way while seeing and thinking and feeling in the opposite way. Given that his own motto was “Nothing Truer than Truth,” and that in the Sonnets he is represented as Truth, he is clearly recording (not long before Elizabeth’s death on March 24, 1603) that because of her he has sworn against himself – a terribly tragic view of his own life.  (See The Monument, my edition of the Sonnets, for a full treatment of Elizabeth as so-called Dark Lady.)

The very first line of Oxford’s youthful poem (i.e., first published before 1576, when he was twenty-six) – “I am not as I seem to be/ For when I smile, I am not glad” – is an early expression of the emotional double-bind in which Elizabeth had forced him to exist.

I am not as I seem to be,

For when I smile I am not glad;

A thrall, although you count me free,

I, most in mirth, most pensive sad.

I smile to shade my bitter spite…

He is a “thrall” – a subject in bondage to her Majesty, as when he complains in Sonnet 149 of being “Commanded by the motion of thine eyes” (a power over him of which only his sovereign Mistress was capable); and in Sonnet 154, the second and final verse of the Bath epilogue about a much earlier time (August 1574), he calls himself “my Mistress’ thrall.”

In that same youthful poem to/about the Queen is a more potent foreshadowing of his much-later Dark Lady sonnets to Elizabeth:

O cruel hap and hard estate,

That forceth me to love my foe…

The Dark Lady sonnets are filled with the same theme – that because she holds such power over him and because he owes her his unquestioning service, he is forced to remain loyal to her and obey her commands, even though she has become his “foe” or enemy. Because of his “love” for her, as the servant of his sovereign, he is forced to act against his own interests. He opens Sonnet 149 with this theme, speaking to Elizabeth and saying, in effect, that he is so devoted to her that he joins with her against himself:

Canst thou, O cruel, say I love thee not

When I against myself with thee partake?

In an earlier time, by at least 1573, Oxford had written a sonnet to the Queen in the so-called “Shakespearean” sonnet form, asking himself rhetorical questions all pointing to her:

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

Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?

Who made thee strive in honor to be best?

In constant truth to bide so firm and sure,

To scorn the world regarding but thy friends?

In Sonnet 150 to Elizabeth, however, near the end of her life, he roared back by turning those lines inside-out:

Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,

The more I hear and see just cause of hate?

In another early poem by Oxford published in Paradise of 1576, the seeds of agony to be expressed much later in the Dark Lady sonnets are all too apparent:

She is my joy, she is my care and woe;

She is my pain, she is my ease therefore;

She is my death, she is my life also,

She is my salve, she is my wounded sore:

In fine, she hath the hand and knife,

That may both save and end my life.

And shall I live on earth to be her thrall’

[Again he’s the “thrall” of the Queen, held in servitude to her; italics here and below are my emphases]

And shall I live and serve her all in vain?

The answer, years later, will be yes – yes, it was all in vain to think that, by continuing to serve her (and to lie for her), she would come to her senses and acknowledge Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, as her son and successive heir to the throne.  (Whether, in the end, Oxford expected that he himself could be acknowledged as Southampton’s natural father is another matter.)

I am not as I seem to be,

For when I smile I am not glad;

A thrall, although you count me free,

I, most in mirth, most pensive sad.

I smile to shade my bitter spite

As Hannibal that saw in sight
His country soil with Carthage town,

By Roman force defaced down.

And Caesar that presented was,

With noble Pompey’s princely head;

As ’twere some judge to rule the case,

A flood of tears he seemed to shed;
Although indeed it sprung of joy;

Yet others thought it was annoy.

Thus contraries be used I find,

Of wise to cloak the covert mind

I, Hannibal that smile for grief;

And let you Csesar’s tears suffice;
The one that laughs at his mischief;

The other all for joy that cries.

I smile to see me scorned so,

You weep for joy to see me woe;

And I, a heart by Love slain dead,

Present in place of Pompey s head.

O cruel hap and hard estate,

That forceth me to love my foe;

Accursed be so foul a fate,

My choice for to prefix it so.

So long to fight with secret sore

And find no secret salve therefore;
Some purge their pain by plaint I find,

But I in vain do breathe my wind.



The trickling tears that fall along my cheeks,

The secret sighs that show my inward grief,

The present pains perforce that Love aye seeks,

Bid me renew my cares without relief;

In woeful song, in dole display,

My pensive heart for to betray.


Betray thy grief, thy woeful heart with speed;

Resign thy voice to her that caused thee woe;

With irksome cries, bewail thy late done deed,

For she thou lov’st is sure thy mortal foe;

And help for thee there is none sure,

But still in pain thou must endure.


The stricken deer hath help to heal his wound,

The haggard hawk with toil is made full tame;

The strongest tower, the cannon lays on ground,

The wisest wit that ever had the fame,

Was thrall to Love by Cupid’s slights;

Then weigh my cause with equal wights.


She is my joy, she is my care and woe;

She is my pain, she is my ease therefore;

She is my death, she is my life also,

She is my salve, she is my wounded sore:

In fine, she hath the hand and knife,

That may both save and end my life.

x – (See Note below on his use of “anaphora”)


And shall I live on earth to be her thrall’?

And shall I live and serve her all in vain?

And kiss the steps that she lets fall,

And shall I pray the Gods to keep the pain

From her that is so cruel still?

No, no, on her work all your will.


And let her feel the power of all your might,

And let her have her most desire with speed,

And let her pine away both day and night,

And let her moan, and none lament her need;

And let all those that shall her see,

Despise her state and pity me.


x – It was Stephanie Caruana and Elisabeth Sears who alerted me in their 99-page pamphlet Oxford’s Revenge (1989), still an important work for Shakespeare authorship studies, about Edward de Vere’s early use of “anaphora” – the repetition of a word or words at the beginning of two or more successive lines, as exhibited in the poem above – and, of course, his use of “anaphora” within the works attributed to Shakespeare, such as Sonnet 66, which itself expresses his inability to speak his mind openly and honestly (“tongue-tied by authority … simple Truth miscalled Simplicity”):

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry:

As to behold desert a beggar born,

And needy Nothing trimmed in jollity,

And purest faith unhappily forsworn,

And gilded honor shamefully misplaced,

And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,

And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,

And strength by limping sway disabled,

And art made tongue-tied by authority,

And Folly (Doctor-like) controlling skill,

And simple Truth miscalled Simplicity,

And captive-good attending Captain ill.

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

Save that to die, I leave my love alone.

(He would kill himself, except that he would be leaving Southampton, his beloved son, “alone” in the Tower.)

Announcing the Release of “Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare,” the Collected Columns about Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford for “Shakespeare Matters” by Hank Whittemore

Today I’m pleased to announce a new collection of my “A Year in the Life” columns for Shakespeare Matters, the newsletter of the Shakespeare Fellowship, now available on

The columns were written from 2001 to 2005 under the editorial guidance of William Boyle, who also edited the new book and supplied its introduction.  Now they are collected in chronological order as Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare – that is, a dozen years in the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, in relation to the works attributed to Shakespeare.

Because some years in Oxford’s life required more than one column, the collection has seventeen chapters plus a postscript.  I found the columns extremely rewarding to write, in terms of doing the research and gathering information within the specific time periods:  1564, 1572, 1577, 1580, 1581, 1586, 1589, 1593, 1597, 1601, 1603 and 1604. Often the process seemed like that of a detective – bringing together different pieces of the puzzle to form a new or clearer picture.

Part of the Drawing for the Title Page of John Dee's "Perfect Art of Navigation" (1577) - Without the Fourth Figure

On the cover is part of the title page of General and Rare Memorials Pertaining to the Perfect Art of Navigation (1577), a limited-edition book for the royal court by John Dee – a drawing that shows Queen Elizabeth at the helm of the Ship of State, with three others on board – presumably William Cecil Lord Burghley, her Majesty’s chief minister; Sir Francis Walsingham, in charge of England’s new secret service; and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, formerly the queen’s lover and still her friend.

(You can click on any of these images and view larger – and clearer – versions of them.)

In the draft drawing, reprinted for "Oxford's Revenge" (1989), the fourth figure ("the young courtier") appears to the left of the other three

A draft version of the same drawing was used by Stephanie Caruana and Elisabeth (Betty) Sears for the cover of their privately printed 99-page pamphlet Oxford’s Revenge : “Shakespeare’s” Dramatic Development from Agamemnon to Hamlet (1989; currently out of print); and on that drawing was a fourth figure on board the Ship of State – a young courtier, with a feather in his cap, looking very much like the young courtier Edward de Vere, who was twenty-seven in 1577.  How curious that when the Dee book was published the fourth figure in the draft drawing had disappeared!

I’ll be posting more information about the book in these coming days.

In the meantime, any editor or reviewer or commentator who would like to have a “review copy” sent to her or him, please contact me at

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