The Sonnets of
Edward De Vere,
17th Earl of Oxford
As De Vere's most anguished expressions, couched in a symbolic code to conceal their dangerous meaning, the Sonnets should reveal more about their author, his struggles and experiences, than anything else in his work. But because no one has known much about the person since his contemporaries died, his poems are as clouded now as 400 years ago.
It is a logical certainty however that Shakspere, who would have been less than thirty when the Sonnets first became known in London in the early 1590's, could NOT familiarly proclaim to a seventeen-year-old noble,
Nor would the first publication of the Sonnets in 1609 contain in the dedication: "all happiness and that eternity promised by our ever-living poet." No one becomes worthy of the tribute 'ever-living' until he is not living, and Shakspere was alive and suing in Stratford then. Any other conclusion defies ordinary logic and rudimentary facts.
De Vere WAS dead and 'ever-living' contains his name. His son with Elizabeth I, Henry Wriothesley, got the Sonnets in print through the publishing connections that handled the other pseudonymous works. The informed aristocracy would know how to read the poems, in light of Robert Cecil, Lord Burghley's, choice of James as King instead of recognizing Wriothesley.
After the first edition, the government suppressed further publication. The book was mainly De Vere's (magisterially formed) diary meditations about Wriothesley's attempted ascension to the throne in 1601, his surrender, and his two-year imprisonment as his life hung in the balance for plotting sedition. De Vere saved him by promising Elizabeth that they would not seek his blood right to Kingship as her son. De Vere likewise promised quiescence to Cecil after Elizabeth died in 1603. Divorced from these facts, the 154 Sonnets survived but in a shroud of ambiguity. Owing to the research of Hank Whittemore, writer of 'The Monument', the political facts and artistic expressions make sense together.
With this revolutionary work, in addition to the other research by Oxfordian scholars, Western civilization's taboo-riddled thinking about "Shakespeare" seems to have been shaken, perhaps demolished. After all, one of world literature's greatest artists chronicled a little- or completely unknown episode in contemporary English history, involving him, his illegitimate son who had rights as the future King, and their intimate relation the Queen of England, and nobody had a clue for 400 years. Instead it was passed as a harmless book of verse for the teapot and shawl set? This was a triumph of Raison D'etat modern despots can only drool about.
At the outset, De Vere's poems to Wriothesley make sense as the private advice of a loving but desperately concerned father for the future of his royal son. Marrying Cecil's granddaughter increased Wriothesley's chances for becoming King. (That De Vere wanted him to marry his own half-sister, can be explained by De Vere's then doubting Elizabeth was really his.) The first group, up to Sonnet 20, is obviously written to the younger man, encouraging him to marry and by all means carry on his blood line. We have learned from court gossip of the time and from Henry Wriothesley's portrait which so strikingly resembles De Vere, that the De Vere-Tudor-Henry relation was an open secret. The marriage poems stand on their own though. They compare with The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the Song of Songs as a celebration of procreation amidst fleetly passing life, conjugal love being the only means we have as mortals to overcome time.
In Sonnet 20 De Vere for the first time mentions his youthful Prince's parents, though Sonnet 3 did say that he was "thy mother's glass". The tone changes. In the subterranean code of the Sonnets, he refers to his 'mistress' (his female superior) and to that mistress as 'a woman' who closely resembles the youth. He likewise refers to the youth as his 'master'. Since they are both nobility, the youth cannot be his social master, except through being a Prince by virtue of blood relation to De Vere's only mistress, the Queen. De Vere consistently referred to Elizabeth as his mistress, his incomparable superior.
The telling line is "Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,/ And by addition me of thee defeated, [deprived]/By adding one thing to my purpose nothing." Nature adds one thing, his birth, to De Vere's (and Elizabeth's) empty carnal purpose. Nature's saving grace was that he was born a boy, thus potentially carrying his parents' line forward, a royal's blood treasure to women's pleasure. Nature forgot, i.e., 'fell a-doting', that De Vere wasn't the lawful father, not having been King. But that could not make their son any less the kingdom's Prince. The same Nature, or fate, deprived him of his son, as an infant: "Alas, he was but one hour mine." occurs in a later Sonnet (33). History tells us the final deprivation, Wriothesley did not become King Henry IX. The Sonnets as an artistic/historical testament show the honor of that lineage trampled over by power. De Vere died within a year.
I came upon these ideas myself and thus invented a wheel that Hank Whittemore was already rolling an advanced model of ten miles down the road. His 'The Monument' makes the case in great detail that this secret relation among the three royals became a crisis in 1601, when Wriothesley took part in the Essex Rebellion to overthrow–his mother. His rash act put his life in danger. Elizabeth did not forgive sedition. The leader of the rebellion Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, heard his head thump in a wood bucket. It was only De Vere's pleadings to Elizabeth that saved their son's life. Instead, he was imprisoned in the Tower through the last years of the Queen's reign. When Elizabeth died, James I immediately freed him, because De Vere, 'the Great Oxford' in his words, had opposed the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, James' mother, in 1586-7.
De Vere pleaded with Wriothesley too–that he was doing all he could to deliver him, even though as chief of the queen's council he had condemned him to death. That seems to be the import of Sonnet 26. It loomed for a time that if and when Elizabeth died, Henry could be King. That hope collapsed and De Vere's spirit in the next poem, the beginning of the slow minor movement of the work. Thinking that he might fail to assist this sacred ascension, exhausted and seeking rest, and unable to sleep, De Vere writes his son in thought, through Sonnet 27, since he cannot see him in prison. His insomnia continues until he revives in Sonnet 29 and 30. Sonnet 31 contains one of the hidden code phrases embedded in the whole. "And thou–all they–hast all the all of me." takes its meaning from Wriothesley's motto, "All For One", that is, all the love he has ever received focusses now upon his son in a critical hour.
The one meditation brings on another, Sonnet 33, when he recalls his son as a newborn taken from him, never to be acknowledged. "My sun one early morn did shine,/With all-triumphant splendour on my brow;/But, out! alack! he was but one hour mine/ The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now." The region-cloud is the astral presence of the Queen, ruling all of England; 'region' phonetically resembling Regina, Queen. His son's repentance described in the next Sonnet cannot give "physic to my grief". But to him Henry's tears of remorse cleanse him of wrong. Immediately in Sonnet 35 De Vere encourages him, though beneath his mercy is the knowledge that the family's literal "civil war" is tearing him apart.
There ensues a group of his addresses to royalty, punctuated with personal thoughts of depression and fatigue brought by his life-or-death responsibility. He lives now only as an adjunct, so that "a part of all thy glory live", words spoken in faith that Henry will be rightfully delivered to that glory, made King. When his execution is commuted as indicated in Sonnet 42, De Vere refers to the Queenly gesture as love, though he himself feels they together "lay on me this cross". Nevertheless, in loving their son he wishes to think she loves and forgives him too.
In great part, the next poems promising immortality to his Prince, through the verse he writes, are self-consolation, though without religious consolation language. De Vere mystically felt that the truth written down took of Biblical holiness and shared in immortality through its scription. This is an idea embedded in virtually all religions, that the Word, truth, is immortal. Thus its sign is as well. Sonnet 55 in particular claims that sense of immortality: "Not marble, nor the gilded monument/ Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime;" and Sonnets 60 and 63 repeat the conviction. These thoughts in turn bring forth discourses on Time, Sonnets 64-5, perhaps the most profound on that subject in a modern language.
As in a symphony, Sonnets 71-4 carry forward from immortality to its counterpoint, mortality, then the variated counterpoint of poems having to do with a rival poet (Walter Raleigh) in Sonnets 79-86. But Sonnet 76 reiterates the importance of parents and heir. It is the midpoint of the volume of 154 Sonnets, the apex of "the monument" as explicitly described in Sonnet 81. Sonnet 76 contains all their mottos. "Every word doth almost tell my name" actually contains his name, Ever being a formation of Vere. He asks, "Why write I still all one, ever the same?". The answer is he is speaking of the other two and himself, keying what the whole Sonnet sequence is about. "All for One" is Wriothesley's motto. "Ever the Same" is Elizabeth's. Ever is an anagram of Vere. Another coded reference to the royal triangle is in Sonnet 105. The phrase "fair kind and true", varying to other words, to use De Vere's precise expression, form a trope. Ever the Same is fair; All For One is kind, i.e., one's own; true is VERitas.
Sonnet 107 refers to the death of Elizabeth: "The mortal moon hath her eclipse endur'd". Region-cloud and moon were her Nature metaphors. This meant there was no longer any authority to imprison Wriothesley. With the ascension of James I, he went free. But regardless of the political changes, De Vere declares his verse superior to any temporal events–that "tyrant's' crests and [monarchs'] tombs of brass" cannot match it. Brass represented temporal falsity. His son's Kingship, denied politically, will live on in verse, a true record of the usurpers' injustice towards their Majesty's sacred blood.
The next poems are final meditations concerning Wriothesley, until Sonnet 127, the beginning of the last section, usually referred to academically as the Dark Lady series. Elizabeth wore a dark wig the last years of her life. Her mood was dark. Her countenance projected dark hatred, perhaps from her perspective an emotion closer to wounded love. De Vere likewise hated her at times. He tried to resolve his own feelings later through the catharsis of art.
He composed an architectonic quality into the Sonnets. As the first poems had to do with their son's birth and future, these last are an extended elegy expressing what Elizabeth meant to him. It is like the "b" variation on the theme already covered in the body of the symphony, but transposed to the minor key introduced with the imprisonment Sonnets. They are not easy to read, rarely quoted. Sonnet 130's first line, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun" distinguishes her countenance from their son's. She was associated with Cynthia goddess of the moon. The English musician Sting made an apt allusion to this line in his album 'Nothing Like the Sun', referring, as De Vere did before him, to the moon that rules his life. There is a great deal of pain. The coda (Sonnets 153-4) flashes back his remembrance of their fresh love, love concealed during De Vere's life and, through political stealth, all the centuries since. With the Sonnets De Vere achieved an aesthetic if not a karmic resolution of their love.
Edward De Vere's work, the epitome of which are these Sonnets, exemplifies his personal struggle between the prudential realm about him and the artistic within. In the prudential realm, Knowledge serves expedient control, i.e., power, more than it does truth: factual, historical, and otherwise. We have seen prudential manipulation of Knowledge in the science of propaganda and mass control in the modern era.
On the other hand, in the artistic universe, Knowledge is a path to truth and truth is akin to the Platonic Form of Truth that temporal power cannot assail. "Shakespeare's" own phrase applies here: truth will out. The illusions and ambitions of men cannot alter fact, no matter how cleverly reformed, and fact is a subset of karma. Thus justice follows in time. Justice is due all. De Vere prayed for it to follow his creations and name after death.
I tend to reflect, upon reading these Sonnets, that De Vere's story is the untold saga of the Renaissance Man crushed on the ocean-rocks of power. His model for what Man is and could become is Castiglione's 'The Courtier', the cultivated and brave leader, not unlike the paradigm of another rich barbaric culture, Japan's Samurai warrior. 'The Courtier' lingers in literary obscurity. Rather, Machiavelli's 'The Prince' became in effect the Bible of the ruling classes of Western Europe.
It was De Vere's fate, constituting a parable of the age, to agonize in the transit between medieval and modern aspiration, to play in his own life a losing role in James I's succession, the first ascension of an English King arranged by the English mercantile elite. Thus ended the Medieval period. That he one of the central participants recorded his perspective in one of literature's great works makes the Sonnets doubly significant. Logically a whole scholastic industry should follow. But few have ever heard of such a thing, no matter how plausible.
I am satisfied to have established in these essays that the taboos against De Vere's genius and his importance in the era are intimately bound together with the contrived political myth about a villager who wrote and spoke like the highest royalty, in fact precisely as De Vere did from an early age to his last words.
Side by side with that disputed historical theme remains the eternal conflict between artistic conviction and prudential control, which is rooted in human nature, the left- and right- brains perhaps. The inner conflict therefore determines the essence of human history. For such reasons the Sonnets will be both refuge and record of the human heart, until language joins the silence.