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.

“Do Not So Much as My Poor Name Rehearse … My Name Be Buried” — An Answer to “Why” the Earl of Oxford Used the “Shakespeare” Pen Name

On one of our Internet-based forums discussing the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the “Shakespeare” poems and plays, I recently found my thoughts pouring onto the paper about Oxford’s use of the pen name.  Here’s an edited version:

In my view we Oxfordians make a big mistake by trying to explain “Shakespeare” in conventional authorship terms, that is, by saying Oxford  used the pen name “because he was a nobleman who loved to write poems and plays, but, because it was a disgrace for a noble to take credit for such writing, he adopted a pen name.”

A Portrait of "The Two Henries" circa 1619 -- demonstrating the close tie between Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, and Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, son of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

I think we Oxfordians also make a mistake saying Oxford used the pen name “because he had lampooned highly placed figures such as William Cecil, Lord Burghley, chief minister to Queen Elizabeth, and exposing his own identity meant exposing them as well.”

The story is much bigger than that.

The fact is Oxford had published songs or poems under his own name, publicly, in the collection Paradyse of Dainty Devices of 1576; and he had advertised his writing earlier in his prefaces to The Courtier of 1572 and Cardanus Comforte of 1573. He had used names of living or deceased persons and fictional names.  He had written anonymously, too.

He had done this through his most productive years in his twenties and thirties, and not until age forty-three in 1593 did he adopt the Shakespeare pen name.

I say we Oxfordians might acknowledge the obvious, that Edward de Vere’s s adoption of “Shakespeare” on Venus and Adonis in 1593 and Lucrece in 1594 was different than all the other cases.  In this instance he linked the pen name by dedication to a person, that is, to Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton.  It’s clear that in this case Oxford’s motive in using the pen name  “Shakespeare” was TO CALL ATTENTION TO THE EARL OF  SOUTHAMPTON PUBLICLY, which he did with dedications to him on those two sure-fire bestsellers.

The Earl of Oxford's initials E.O. are on the cover page of The Paradyse of Dainty Devices, 1576, with Edward de Vere's early poems and songs among the collection

We Oxfordians would do well to acknowledge that the case for Venus and Adonis and Lucrece as somehow “anti”-Southampton has NOT been made.  Those who have claimed that either the dedications or the poems carried negative intentions toward Southampton have FAILED TO MAKE THEIR CASE.  There is no evidence for that claim and all the evidence we do have is on the positive side.

Oxford used “Shakespeare” and the dedictions and the narrative poems to call attention to Southampton in a POSITIVE way.

After Burghley’s death in 1598, Oxford’s revisions of his own plays began to have the Shakespeare name on them as well; and there is some evidence that he used these plays to call positive attention to the Essex faction, of which Southampton was a leader.   On its face the conspirators of the 1601 Essex rebellion (and Southampton as leader of its planning) used Richard II by Shakespeare in a positively intentioned way against the power of Secretary Robert Cecil to control the coming succession.

It emerges, therefore, that Oxford’s writing life had two phases:

(1) during the 1560’s, 1570’s and 1580’s, he wrote under various names or anonymously in the service of England under Elizabeth, as court play producer and writer, as head of a team of writers, developing an English cultural identity, rousing unity in the face of threats from within and without; and

(2) from 1593, after Southampton had rejected a Cecil alliance through marriage, when Oxford supported him as “Shakespeare” and, therefore, TURNED AGAINST the Cecil-run government … and after Burghley’s death, with escalation of this struggle culminating in the utterly failed rebellion.

After the abortive revolt and during 1601-1603, it was Robert’s Cecil’s single minded, nerve-wracking task to engineer the succession of James without Elizabeth learning of the secret correspondence with that monarch.  Cecil could not afford any opposition, much less civil war.  If he failed in this endeavor he was a dead man.  He needed all the help and support he could get.

He killed Essex quickly, as his father had killed the Duke of Norfolk in 1572 and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots in 1587, because these Catholic figures had stood in the way of the continuing Protestant reformation.  Cecil wrote a letter saying he probably could not avoid the Southampton execution — and I think this was part of his own setup for taking credit later on, as the man who got the Queen to spare Southampton’s life.  (In fact it was Cecil himself who decided Southampton should be spared, not because of affection or pity but so he could hold him hostage in the Tower until after King James was safely and securely on the throne.)

As the Oxfordian researcher Nina Green has suggested, Oxford may well have been “40” in the secret correspondence with James; and I recommend G. P. V. Akrigg’s book of James’ letters* including the one to “40”, promising to deal with him “secretly” and “honsestly” and only through Cecil.

*(The Letters of King James VI and I)

King James VI of Scotland & King James I of England

Both Cecil and James needed Oxford’s support, on various levels, and the perpetual confinement of Southampton — as the base commoner “Mr. Henry Wriothesley,” or “the late earl” in legal terms — was a way of securing Oxford’s agreement to help.

If we believe Oxford was Shakespeare, and if we believe he had told the truth publicly to Southampton that “the love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end,” and that “what I have to do is yours,” then we must conclude that Oxford did whatever he could do to ensure that, if he did help James become king and helped Cecil to regain his power, then Southampton would be released with a royal pardon and all his lands and titles restored.

Sir Robert Cecil, Principal Secretary to Elizabeth

These things did result and they have not been explained by conventional history.

But it’s explainable if all those remarkable rewards were in return for Southampton’s pledge to cause no trouble for a peaceful succession.  Oxford and Southampton both had potential disruptive moves to make, moves they did not make.  And they did not make such moves despite the fact that in no way did any of these English nobles really want James on their throne.   And in any case, legally he had no claim because he’d been born on foreign soil.

And it’s here that we have the Sonnets with Oxford’s expressions of fear for Southampton’s life, and his pledge that “my name be BURIED,” not just hidden behind a pen name, but really buried and that he would “die” not onlyphysically, which was a given, but die “to all the world,” that is, his identity would die and be buried.

In his place would be “Shakespeare” the pen name (the so-called Rival Poet) which was the “better spirit” that “doth use your name, and in the praise thereof makes me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.”

This is no routine anonymity as before, but, now, obliteration to “all the world” in terms of his writing and his positive intentions toward Southampton.  And in the sonnets he tells Southampton, “When I perhaps compounded am with clay, do not so much as my poor name rehearse.”

So if we choose to take him seriously as speaking to Southampton under these conditions, then here is the correct answer to the authorship question in terms of “why” — why his name was buried: because he had promised this self-obliteration in order to avoid another civil war in England, to bring about a peaceful succession, and to save the life and future of  Southampton.

All of which was accomplished.

“To all the world” meant to contemporary generations and the next two or three as well.  The sonnets become a “monument” for posterity.  All we need to do is read sonnets 55 and 81 for that theme.  And in 107, the climax of the story, he celebrates all these bittersweet results at once, ending with yet another pledge that this will be Southampton’s monument that will outlast all other kinds of tombs.  And even he, Oxford, “will live in this poor
rhyme,” that is, he will cheat death in the end through these sonnets.

So the Sonnets were not published to be sold, and not printed for commercial reasons.  They were printed in hopes that they would survive until some future time when “all the breathers of this world are dead.”  (81)

The Sonnets are nonfiction dressed as fiction — a statement I make for the Sonnets, uniquely so, NOT for all the other Shakespeare works — and I believe we Oxfordians would do well to emphasize that we do NOT contend that the plays are autobiographical in the strictest sense.  They are works of the imagination, fiction, with many autobiographical elements and, since this is a case of hidden authorship, Oxford undoubtedly inserted clues to his presence.

But as Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the rich are different than you and me, so we can say that the Sonnets are different than the poems and plays.  The Sonnets, unlike the plays of Hamlet and Othello, are written with the personal pronoun “I” in reference to the author himself.

Oxford’s agreement to bury his name and identity was different after the rebellion of 1601 than it had been in 1593 when he first used the Shakespeare pen name.   After 1601, he was pledging to take another huge step, not one he had committed to before:

“Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write above a mortal pitch,” he asks about “Shakespeare” in Sonnet 86, “that struck me dead?”

He had agreed to be “tongue-tied” by “authority” or officialdom.  The government which he had worked so hard to help, even to the point of testifying against his Catholic cousins — that same government was the cause of his demise.  A terribly sad, ironic story — but a much more dynamic one, and a more accurate one, I contend, than the one we Oxfordians have been trying to communicate over the past ninety years.

I say it’s time to move the authorship debate forward by putting forth the far more powerful, and human, story that is both personal and political — necessarily political, given that our candidate for “Shakespeare” was in fact the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, highest-ranking earl of the realm and — despite his Hamlet-like eccentricities, his Shakespeare-like multiple personalities — an extraordinary figure at the very center of the Elizabethan royal court, within the context of the Anglo-Spanish War that officially spanned the two decades from 1584 to 1604, when England was always a nation struggling to survive as well as grow.

“‘Gainst Death and All-Oblivious Enmity Shall You Pace Forth!” – Sonnet 55 – The Living Record – Chapter 50 – Words to a Prince

Sonnet 55
The Living Record of Your Memory
8 March 1601

“This is a continuation of Sonnet 54” – Dowden, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, 1881

Southampton in the Tower 1601-1603: Is he not presenting himself here as a prince?

With his son still facing execution, Oxford vows to create “the living record” of Southampton to be preserved “in the eyes of all posterity.” Along with Sonnet 81, this verse is a declaration of his utter commitment to making sure the truth about Henry Wriothesley will be known by future generations.  The “living record” of him (the story of his royal life until the fate of the Tudor dynasty is sealed) will be preserved for future readers within the tomb of the monument.  The tomb contains a womb of verse in which he is still “living” and growing in real time with this diary, the outcome of which remains

(“This is clearly addressed to a prince” – Ogburn & Ogburn, This Star of England, 1952 – and I hereby add my complete agreement.  In fact we can hear Oxford in the first two lines saying, in effect, that his son – Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton – is a prince who will have a monument outliving those built for all OTHER princes.)
Not marble nor the gilded monument(s)
Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues over-turn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.

‘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.

So till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.


GILDED MONUMENT(S) = gilded tombs of English monarchs, many made of marble; most modern editors emend “monument” to the plural, but in fact Oxford used the singular on other occasions:

“Again we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more than by erecting them of tombs: Whereby when they be dead indeed, yet make we them live, as it were, again through their monument.  But with me behold it happeneth far better, for in your lifetime I shall erect you such a monument that, as I say, in your lifetime, you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone.  And in your lifetime, again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life whereby I may declare my goodwill…”
Oxford’s Prefatory Letter to Cardanus’ Comfort, 1573

A beheading on Tower Hill

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read        Sonnet 81, lines 9-10

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ creats and tombs of brass are spent    Sonnet 107, lines 13-14

Ever belov’d and loving may his rule be;
And when old time shall lead him to his end,
Goodness and he fill up one monument!        Henry VIII, 2.1.92-94

This grave shall have a living monument.     Hamlet, 5.1.297


PRINCES = Kings or Queens, including Elizabeth, who referred to herself as Prince of England; THIS POWERFUL RHYME = this monument of the Sonnets, which contains your “power” as a prince or king: “O Thou my lovely Boy, who in thy power” – Sonnet 126, line 1; “The King with mighty and quick-raised power” – 1 Henry IV, 4.4.12


YOU SHALL SHINE = like a king; “Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine” – Sonnet 33, line 9; MORE BRIGHT = more royally; “A substitute shines brightly as a king” – Merchant of Venice, 5.1.94 “Yet looks he like a king; behold, his eye, as bright as is the eagle’s, lightens forth controlling majesty” – Richard II, 3.3.68-70; “Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine, his honour and the greatness of his name shall be” – Henry VIII, 5.5.50-52, Cranmer, speaking of a future son and royal heir of Queen Elizabeth (in a passage that has been thought to refer to King James, but the context of the speech clearly refers to an “heir” to arise from the Queen’s blood and ashes; IN THESE CONTENTS = in what is contained in these private verses written according to time; “The phrase carries a suggestion of ‘in this coffin’” – Booth; “That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,/ Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew” – Sonnet 86, lines 3-4; “Within thine own bud buriest thy content” – Sonnet 1, line 11, i.e., his substance or royal blood


THAN UNSWEPT STONE, etc. = than stones that crumble in the course of time; “I will not ruinate my father’s house, who gave his blood to lime the stones together” – 3 Henry VI, 5.1.85-86; SLUTTISH = unclean, nasty; TIME = the ongoing withering of Elizabeth’s mortal life, i.e., mortal time


WHEN WASTEFUL, etc. = when destructive wars overturn the statues of defeated kings


BROILS = conflicts, disorders, wars; alluding to possible civil war over the throne; and to avoid such calamity for England he is counseling his royal son to renounce the crown


NOR/NOR = neither/nor; “Now have I brought a work to end which neither Jove’s fierce wrath/ Nor sword, nor fire, nor fretting age with all the force it hath/ Are able to abolish quite” – Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XV, 984-986, as translated (1567) by Arthur Golding, uncle of Edward de Vere, who may have produced the translation himself


The Sonnets are to become the living record of Southampton, for posterity; the verses are the womb in which he is reborn and grows; this diary, which is recording his life in real time and preserving it for future generations; LIVING = the dynamic nature of these verses, which are being written in relation to the calendar of the reign, i.e., the diary is aimed at the royal succession upon the death of the Queen, but exactly when she will die is unknown; (in fact she will die when Southampton is still in the Tower and James of Scotland will succeed to the throne, so the diary will continue until Elizabeth’s funeral, marking the official end of her Tudor dynasty); “Save men’s opinions and my living blood” – Richard II, 3.1.26


ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One; ALL OBLIVIOUS = forgetful of you; “So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and ensevel your works in the grave of oblivion” – Oxford’s Prefatory Letter to Cardanus Comfort, 1573, addressed to translator Thomas Bedingfield; ENMITY = contempt for you and your royal blood


SHALL = echoing “all” for Southampton; PACE = step, march, walk; echoing the stately, formal pace of a king, in majesty; SHALL YOU PACE FORTH = shall you emerge in glory as king; FORTH = as in “setting forth” in the 1609 dedication of the Sonnets; FORTH = “out from confinement or indistinction into open view” – Schmidt; “Caesar shall forth” – Julius Caesar, 2.2.10; “an hour before the worshipped sun peered forth the golden window of the east” – Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.118-119; also, to bring forth is to beget, procreate; YOUR PRAISE = recognition and praise of you as king; “The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise” – Sonnet 38, line 14, upon the trial when Southampton was convicted of high treason and condemned to death; STILL = always, eternally; FIND ROOM = find the place where your throne is; ROOM = room to be who he is; freedom from imprisonment and freedom from censorship or obliteration of his identity as prince; “Grief fills the room up of my absent child” – King John, 3.3.93; “To take their rooms ere I can plant myself” – 3 Henry VI, 3.2.132


EVEN IN THE EYES = in the very eyes of subjects; ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One; ALL POSTERITY = the entire world in generations to come; descendants; succeeding generations, future times; “Now that Henry’s dead, posterity, await for wretched years” – 1 Henry VI, 1.1.47-48; “Methinks the truth should live from age to age, as ‘twere retailed to all posterity” – Richard III, 3.1.76-77; “Beauty, Truth and Rarity,/ Grace in all simplicity,/ Here in cinders lie./ Death is now the Phoenix nest,/ And the Turtle’s loyal breast/ To eternity doth rest./ Leaving no posterity,/ ‘Twas not their infirmity,/ It was married chastity” – The Phoenix and Turtle, 1601, as by “William Shake-Speare”, lines 53-61

The father, all whose joy is nothing else
But fair posterity                The Winter’s Tale, 4.4.410-411


That continue to the end of the world; “And we’ll wear out in a walled prison packs and sects of great ones that ebb and flow by the moon” – King Lear, 5.3.17-19, glancing at Elizabeth, the Moon goddess; also Southampton is “the world” itself, as Gloucester depicts the King: “O ruined piece of nature, this great world shall so wear out to naught” – King Lear, 4.6.130-31; ENDING DOOM = the Last Judgment; end of the Tudor Rose dynasty; “Thy end is Truth’s and Beauty’s doom and date” – Sonnet 14, line 14; echoing the possibility that Southampton will be executed and/or left in prison for life; “Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” – Sonnet 107, line 1

“And all the world shall never/ Be able for to quench my name” – Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XV, 990-991, translated by Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding (1567) or by the young earl himself


TILL THE JUDGMENT = the rendering of you (the Audit of Southampton’s royal blood, in the future, to be forecast in the envoy, when nature’s final accounting “though delayed, answered must be, and her Quietus is to render thee” – Sonnet 126, lines 11-12); as opposed to the judgment of the tribunal at the trial; “So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,/ Comes home again, on better judgment making” – Sonnet 87, lines 11-12, when the judgment has been changed for the better from treason to misprision of treason; “His royal self in judgment comes to hear the cause betwixt her and this great offender” – Henry VIII, 5.2.154-155; THAT YOURSELF ARISE = that you ascend to the throne, rising like the sun, in the eyes of people in the future, i.e., in posterity; (“Till the decree of the judgment-day that you arise from the dead” – Dowden); a Christ-like Resurrection of the royal son or Sunne: “Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine” – Sonnet 33, line 9; “For as the Sun is daily new and old” – Sonnet 76, line 14


YOU LIVE IN THIS = you continue to live in this monument of verse, growing in the womb of its tomb, by time recorded in this diary; you and your life and your blood are preserved; THIS = this verse; “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” – Sonnet 18, lines 13-14; AND DWELL IN LOVERS’ EYES = and live in the eyes of your parents and all others who will appear, as subjects and friends, to adore you as king; “I tell thee, fellow, thy general is my lover” – Menenius Agrippa in Coriolanus, 5.2.14; IN LOVERS’ EYES = “You will be read by persons who will love you, though dead, as men love you in life” – Tucker.

Leslie Hotson observes in Mr. W. H., 1965, that the image of the Fair Youth is that of a “Sun” and a “God” and an “Ocean.”   And he states:

“It is well known that, following a general Renaissance practice drawn from antiquity, kings commonly figured as earthly ‘suns’ in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries … ‘Gods on earth’ was proverbially used of kings as far back as Menander, and is frequent in Shakespeare … ‘Ocean’ or ‘sea’ as a figure for ‘king’ is often found in Shakespeare and his fellow-writers.

“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 … Whatever may be meant by it here in the Sonnets, the Shakespearean and Elizabethan element common to the three is certainly king, and the metaphors exhibit a consistency of reference.”

He finds various usages in the Sonnets of succession, heir and issue, noting that these are terms that the same author “elsewhere applies to the paramount problems of royalty.” He notes that in Sonnet 9 “his Friend dying a bachelor without issue will leave the world his widow, contrasted by the poet with every private widow – that is, the widow of ‘a private man’ as distinguished from a ruler, a king.

Hotson reads  Sonnet 14 in which “again Shakespeare presents his friend as a prince” whose fortune he is unable to foretell.   He also notes the poet’s direct usage of sovereign and king to describe the Fair Youth.

This “sustained and unmistakable” royal language in the Sonnets, writes Hotson, makes it obvious that “what he sets before us” is an array of powers “peculiar to a king: power to grant charters of privilege and letters patent, power to pardon crimes – in short, the exclusively royal prerogative.”  And in other verses we “need no reminder that it was to the king, and to no mortal but the king, that his dutiful subjects and vassals offered oblations; similarly, that it was only to the monarch or ruling magistrate that embassies were directed.”

Hotson notes the poet’s use of largess and bounty, writing: “Of the first it is significant to note that in his other works Shakespeare applies largess only to the gifts or donatives of kings.  As for bounty, the poet’s attribution of this grace to kings, while not exclusive, is characteristic … In the same way we recognize grace, state, and glory typically in Shakespeare’s kings.”

And finally he points to the explicit usages in the Sonnets of king and kingdoms.

“Clearly these consenting terms … cannot be dismissed as scattered surface-ornament.  They are intrinsic.  What is more, they intensify each other.  By direct address, by varied metaphor, and by multifarious allusion, the description of the Friend communicated is always one: monarch, sovereign prince, king.

Of course Hotson was unable to find such a prince — a convincing one, at any rate; and the reason, I would argue, is that he was looking at the sonnets (and at the contemporary history) with the wrong author in mind!

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