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…

“The Plea Bargain for Southampton’s Life” – The Living Record, Chapter 43

One of the big questions about the Shakespeare sonnets is whether they are arranged by the author to create an ongoing chronicle, in the form of a diary of private letters; and the resounding answer of the Monument Theory is … Yes!

A Contemporary Report of the Essex-Southampton trial, showing Edward de Vere as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal

A Contemporary Report of the Essex-Southampton trial, showing Edward de Vere as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal

My aim is to demonstrate this answer until, at some point, it becomes self-evident.

The first forty sonnets of the 100-sonnet central sequence are within four chapters of ten sonnets each, covering forty days from the night of the failed Essex Rebellion of February 8, 1601.  Oxford is writing to and about Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, who remains in his Tower prison room as a convicted traitor who is expected to die by execution:

THE CRIME – sonnets 27-36 – February 8 – 17, 1601

THE TRIAL – sonnets 37-46 –  February 18 – 27, 1601

THE PLEA  –  sonnets 47-56  – February 28 – March 9, 1601

REPRIEVE  – sonnets 57-66  – March 10 – 19, 1601

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

CHAPTER THREE – THE PLEA

(Oxford is trying to solidify a “league” or plea bargain with Secretary Robert Cecil on behalf of Southampton, his son by the Queen and her rightful successor by blood.  The prince is “locked up” in the Tower while Oxford is desperately putting forth “the lawful reasons” for the Queen to excuse her son and spare his life.  [His dealings are actually with Cecil, who needs to bring James of Scotland to the throne upon Elizabeth’s death; otherwise, he will lose all his power and most likely his life.] To that end Oxford visits the Tower and personally tries to persuade Southampton to forfeit any claim as Elizabeth’s natural heir.  Oxford’s “grief lies onward” as he rides away from “where thou art” in the prison, while “strange shadows on you tend” — the shadows of disgrace and coming death, during “this sad interim” between the tragedy of the rebellion and whatever the outcome will be.)

Son 47 – Feb 28 – “A League is Took”
Son 48 – Mar 1    – “Locked Up”
Son 49 – Mar 2  – “Lawful Reasons”
Son 50 – Mar 3  – “My Grief Lies Onward”
Son 51 – Mar 4  – “Where Thou Art”
Son 52 – Mar 5  – “Up-Locked”
Son 53 – Mar 6  – “Strange Shadows on You”
Son 54 – Mar 7  – “Sweet Deaths”
Son 55 – Mar 8  – “‘Gainst Death”
Son 56 – Mar 9  – “This Sad Interim”

Tower of London

Tower of London

Has anyone had any other plausible explanation for the torrent of legal terms and “dark” imagery in these sonnets, along with the author’s emotional turmoil and insistence that the beloved younger man is “away” and “locked up”?

The ten sonnets of this chapter are packed with such images and expressions:

“Thy self away … bars [locks, barricades] … my greatest grief … locked up … closure [walls] … to guard the lawful reasons on thy part … the strength of laws … I can allege no cause … tired with my woe … my grief lies onward and my joy behind … excuse … offence … where thou art … excuse … excuse … key … up-locked … imprisoned … millions of strange shadows on you tend … die to themselves … sweet deaths … death and all-oblivious enmity … the ending doom … the judgment … perpetual dullness … this sad interim …”

We’ll take up the story as it proceeds through Sonnets 47-56, with Oxford desperately seeking a [legal] remedy for 27-year-old Southampton before it’s too late.  These sonnets reflect the very real suspense that was building and building within 50-year-old Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, as he labored behind the scenes and set down this “living record” of his royal son for “the eyes of all posterity that wear this world out to the ending doom.”  [Sonnet 55, lines 11-12]

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