We saw in chapter 10 that various plays followed in quick succession after the publication of the Venus and Lucrece poems. It was not until 16 years later that the 154 sonnets and The Lover's Complaint were published (1609). Various other poems had been published in the intervening period. We're told that Shakespeare was known more for his poetry than his plays during his lifetime.

Rather than follow strict chronological order and move back and forth between poems and plays, and because poems are more personal than plays and may reveal more about the poet, I propose to continue reviewing the poems first, ending with the 154 sonnets, and then begin looking at the plays. We cannot reproduce all the entire poems here, but will give quotations of lines that seem relevant to our overall purpose, which is an investigative attempt to identify the poet Shakespeare.

If we can find evidence in the poems that show de Vere could not be the poet, then we will be spared further consideration of his case and will need to look elsewhere, perhaps, say, at the Earl of Derby. But this has not happened yet, and may not happen; it's still too early to tell.


This consists of various styles and sizes of poems. They appear to have been written at different stages in the life of the poet and not printed in order of composition. The first poem is a sonnet. I believe it has significance for us. Here it is in full:

WHEN my love swears that she is made of truth,

I do believe her, though I know she lies,

That she might think me some untutor'd youth,

Unskilful in the world's false forgeries.

Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,

Although I know my years be past the best,

I smiling credit her false-speaking tongue,

Outfacing faults in love with love's ill rest.

But wherefore says my love that she is young?

And wherefor say not I that I am old?

O! love's best habit is a soothing tongue,

And age, in love, loves not to have years told.

Therefore I'll lie with love, and love with me,

Since that our faults in love thus smother'd be.

This poet uses the word 'love' 10 times in 14 lines. He's in love with this woman, and she with him. I find this a beautiful poem, a poem of reconciliation with advancing years. He is no longer young and he asks why his love says she is young. He doesn't say she isn't, but implies as much. But they are in love together and that subdues the harsher reality of life.

If it's de Vere's poem, he died 5 years after it was published. This is not a poem about Anne Cecil, or Anne Vavasour, or even the Queen. He explains his relationship with the Queen in another poem we'll look at later in this chapter. This first poem would be about his marriage to Elizabeth Trentham. If so, it shows her influence on his life. This is the first and only woman he has chosen for a wife, and the choice seems admirable. He was 41 or 42 when he married her, and 49 when this was published as the work of William Shakespeare. This is the woman who put in her will she wanted to be buried as close to her husband as possible.

We will meet this poem again, #138 of the 154 sonnets.

The next poem, a sonnet, is from a much younger stage in the poet's life. If it's de Vere he was about 30. Here are some excerpts

TWO loves I have...

My better angel is a man, right fair,

My worser spirit a woman, colour'd ill.

To win me soon to hell, my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt a saint to be a devil....

The truth I shall not know, but live in doubt,...

This is an unhappy and unsavoury situation. His evil temptress, his mistress, seems to be going after his male, homosexual, youthful companion. He'll never know the truth about what's happening.

Whoever the male companion is, Southampton, as many suggest, or someone else, there seems little doubt that the woman is Anne Vavasour, if the poet is de Vere.. She is ruining his life, and he knows it, but can't break away from her. There is no love here, only sex.

We will meet this poem again, #144 of the 154 sonnets.

The next poem in the series, also a sonnet, is a Venus-Adonis poem. But she's called Cytherea, another name for Venus, and he young Adonis. She's 'beauty's queen'. So, again assuming for now it's de Vere, he's telling us directly of his fateful encounter with his Queen when he was about 26. It's much more specific than the long Venus poem:

Did court the lad with many a lovely look...

She show'd him favours to allure his eye;

To win his heart she touch'd him here and there,-

Touches so soft still conquer chastity...

The tender nibbler would not touch the bait...

Then fell she on her back, fair queen...

He rose and ran away...

The next poem, a sonnet, seems to be about the Queen, but is not a love poem. For the poet 'to thee I'll constant prove' is a thought strong as oak, but like a supple bush for her. He talks of books, knowledge, and art. She's celestial, but can have lightning in her eyes and dreadful thunder in her voice when angry; when not, it's music. This, if de Vere, is probably after the re-admission to court subsequent to the Vavasour affair and Tower imprisonment. It's a useful outline of his relationship with the Queen.

Now comes another sonnet about the Queen. She's Cytherea again, sitting under an osier (willow) by a brook which she knows Adonis uses to swim in. She's hotter for his approach than the day. He comes, strips 'stark naked' for his swim, sees 'this queen', jumps quickly into the water. It ends

O Jove,' quoth she, 'why was not I a flood?'

I don't know whether you're with me on this, but it's beginning to seem to me that the more we read of this poet's work, the more we find he is expressing his pent up feelings about some of his major real life incidents. This little sonnet may well be describing one of them. If the Queen was lecherous, this was a serious problem. You dare not brush off your Queen too brusquely, but you dare not get her pregnant; you could lose your head in an instant, literally, on some pretext.

Next comes a three stanza poem, 6 lines in each. 'Fair is my love, but not so fair as fickle'. 'Mild as a dove', brittle as glass, 'softer than wax, and yet as iron, rusty', 'a lily pale' 'nor none falser'.

Her lips to mine how often hath she join'd

Between each kiss her oaths of true love swearing!....

Yet in the midst of all her pure protestings,

Her faith, her oaths, her tears, and all were jestings.

Was this a lover, or a lecher whether?

Bad in the best, though excellent in neither.

If the poet is de Vere, as a young man he indeed had a real problem with his older Queen.

We can use this line of reasoning, for the 'Queen poem' that follows next, a sonnet. He explains what draws and holds them together. She loves music, and Dowland, composer for the lute,'whose heavenly touch' is mentioned; he loves poetry, and Spenser is mentioned for his 'deep conceits'. Their kindred worlds of art meet in songs with lute accompaniment. Even in our modern times John Dowland is still considered unsurpassed for skill and expressiveness in this genre.

There follows another explicit Queen poem. Apparently he did not tell the half of it in his long (and published earlier) Venus poem. Here, (and the second line has dots only, is either missing or blanked out in the version I have) the 'queen of love', the 'silly queen' 'forbade the boy he should not pass these grounds.' She said once I saw a sweet youth in these brakes (large ferns) 'wounded by a boar' 'deep in the thigh' 'see, in my thigh' 'she showed hers', 'he saw more wounds than one, and blushing fled.' Really!

This must have been a difficult one sided affair for de Vere, if he was the poet.

Next we have a poem with two stanzas, 6 lines each. 'Sweet rose' 'fair flower' 'untimely plucked' 'killed too soon by death's sharp sting.'

I weep for thee, and yet no cause I have;

For why thou left'st me nothing in thy will:

Yet she left him more than he asked for, because he asked nothing of her, but

O yes, dear friend, I pardon crave of thee,

Thy discontent thou didst bequeath to me.

If this is de Vere, it's a plain, truthful statement of his relationship with his wife, Anne Cecil. She's a friend, not a love. He tells us she left him nothing, except her 'discontent'. By now he realizes she was almost certainly innocent of infidelity and wrongly accused. That's a lifetime bequest for him to live with. The dating fits. These poems were published 11 years after her death.

Next we're back to the Queen again. This time they're Venus and young Adonis, sitting together 'under a myrtle shade.' We've previously found likelihood that the god Mars is the Earl of Leicester, the Queen's warrior and lifetime lover. Here, she shows the youth how 'Mars' 'embraced me', then how he 'unlaced me' next how he 'seized on my lips,' but 'away he skips' 'and would not take her meaning nor her pleasure.'

The 12th poem in the series has 12 lines

Crabbed age and youth cannot live together...

Youth is nimble, age is lame:...

O! my love, my love is young...

'Crabbed' is morose, irritable. I believe this, again, if de Vere, is a truthful account of his experience with his only legitimate son, by Elizabeth Trentham, when the three of them lived together during the 1590s and on until 1604 when de Vere died. Living with this young child in the same residence must have been a test of his resilience. His son was apparently quite a handful, and we know from correspondence with Burghley during this period of his life that de Vere described himself as 'lame.'.

Next we have another disjointed piece, also 12 lines, in 2 stanzas. No one is named specifically but it seems to me to be from an earlier period, and referring to the Queen.

Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good...

So beauty blemish'd once's for ever lost

In spite of physic, painting, pain, and cost.

The Queen, 17 years older than de Vere, had contracted smallpox. She recovered, but it pock-marked her for life. There are apparently reports of her on-going attempts to improve her looks, as the poem says.

Now comes another Queen poem. It takes 5 stanzas of 6 lines each to say what he has to say. That's assuming, as we're doing here with these poems, that it's de Vere writing them. I suggest he's describing how it felt when he had an icy interview with the Queen, and was banished from Court after the Vavasour incident

She bade good night that kept my rest away;

And daff'd me to a cabin hung'd with care,

To descant on the doubts of my decay.

Yet at my parting sweetly did she smile.

In scorn or friendship, nill I construe whether:

'T may be, she joy'd to jest at my exile,

The poem tells us she said 'farewell, and come again tomorrow.' If this is how she ended the interview, what the Queen said, in the way she said it, in our modern idiom would be like our 'Don't call me, I'll call you.' He tells us 'while Philomena sits and sings, I sit and mark' and now for him 'each minute seems a moon.' This exile from Court banned him from the centre of his life. There he had his tournament successes, the performance of his plays, the music and poetry shared with the Queen, the glamour, and companionship of a clever, articulate, loving, imperious, unpredictable, and royal wanton friend, all gone, for life, for all he then knew. And this because he did the unpardonable thing in getting one of her maids of honour pregnant.


This part begins with a poem in 4 stanzas. Here's the first which sets out the theme

It was a lordling's daughter, the fairest one of three,

That liked of her master as well as well might be,

Till looking on an Englishman, the fair'st that eye could see,

Her fancy fell a turning.

The fit to de Vere's life is if it's the eldest of his three daughters by his wife, Anne Cecil. He would have to be old enough for his eldest, Elizabeth, to be of, or close to, marriageable age which makes it not earlier than about 1590. The stanzas explain that she was torn between two loves, to the master and to a gallant knight. 'But one must be 'refused' and 'of the two the trusty knight was wounded with disdain.' 'The learned man hath got the lady gay.' For whatever reason, the 'learned man,' successfully dissuaded her from the attachment. It's not a good fit for de Vere because he handed his 3 daughters over to Burghley after Anne Cecil's death in 1588. Burghley didn't die until 1598. The word 'master' is an equivocal term in the circumstances. The poem might be referring to Burghley. He was a 'learned man', elected Chancellor of Cambridge university in 1560. As to Elizabeth, (born 1575) apparently a marriage with the Earl of Northumberland was proposed, but she refused. Then one with the Earl of Southampton was proposed, but either she or he or both refused.

It appears that at about age 18 or 19 she was in love with William Stanley, 2nd son of the Earl of Derby. It seems he reciprocated her feelings, but neither Burghley nor de Vere would agree to such a marriage which was beneath her. Fortunately for the youngsters the 1st son died. But his widow was still with child. They had to wait for the birth to see if it was a male heir. But it was a female. So the young lovers, if that's what they were, could and did marry with great Court ceremony. Even more fortunately, she became not just Countess of Derby but the wife of the richest man in England, and a literary one who later became friends with de Vere.

This Elizabethan matter of precedence is something quite foreign to us, we who like to think we live in a democratic age. And titles have even become absorbed into first names: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines. The present Queen of England gave, in the late 20th century, the title of Earl of Wessex to Edward, youngest member of the Royal family, at his wedding. Wessex in fact no longer exists, has not existed for over 900 years, although Essex, Middlesex and Sussex still do, as administrative counties. Wessex was founded by Cedric and Cynric in about 519 AD. It was a kingdom of West Saxons in south England. Alfred the Great was king of Wessex, largest of the 4 Saxon kingdoms. Then the Danes, Norsemen, began invading east England and Canute, a Dane, became King of England. By then Wessex had become a mere earldom. Godwine, a favourite of Canute was earl of Wessex. Even this was swept away by the 'reforms' of William the Conqueror after 1066, and Wessex ceased to exist as an organizational reality.

In the Elizabethan age feudal precedence was still close at hand. De Vere had a long line of 16 earls of Oxford behind him, back to the days of the Norman Conquest. He had the highest precedence in the land, next after the Marquis of Winchester to that of the Monarch herself. Even Lord Burghley was very careful and polite in his correspondence with this great Earl. Burghley was just a nouveau riche, a mere Cecil, by birth, not of the nobility. Commoners who corresponded with the great Earl of Oxford practically grovelled when they wrote to him. To incur his 'mislike' or displeasure was something to be feared even though the feudal age had by then passed away. He was known to have, and felt to have, great power and influence. That's why the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth to William Stanley as a mere 2nd son was unthinkable, until by chance Stanley became the hereditary Earl of Derby, just at the right time.

Back now to the little 'lordling' poem. If de Vere wrote it, in his usual forthright way he's telling us what happened before his eldest daughter became enamoured of William Stanley. She was a maid of honour to the Queen, so presumably had met most young courtiers of her day. The poem tells us something that history has apparently not preserved for us. She fell in love with a young 'gallant knight.' This is not nobility, and of course would not be an acceptable match for her. Older and wiser counsel prevailed, the poem tells us, and she obeyed her 'master's' advice or instructions, and abandoned further interest in the object of her attention.

Next is an 18 line 4 feet a line poem. If de Vere's, it is probably later than the Vavasour incident and its aftermath, when he apparently made a 'vow' to the Queen never to do such a thing again in return for being re-instated at Court. This little poem describes how he

Spied a blossom passing fair,

playing in the wanton air:...

'Air,' quoth he, 'thy cheeks may blow;

Air, would I might triumph so!

But, alas! my hand hath sworn

Ne'er to pluck thee from thy thorn:..'

Obviously, a reluctantly missed opportunity, as he had given his word. The loss seems to have brought forth the next poem, where he feels very sorry for himself. It has 54 very short, and very repetitive lines. This now is 'Shakespeare' being repetitive, not de Vere, unless we attribute it to him.

...All is amiss:

Love's denying...

Causer of this.

All my merry jigs are quite forgot,

All my lady's love is lost, God wot:

Where her faith was firmly fix'd in love,

There a nay is placed without remove.

One silly cross

Wrought all my loss;...

Poor Corydon

Must live alone;

Other help for him I see that there is none.

Corydon is a silly, love sick young lover mentioned by Virgil, the Roman poet 70-19 BC. For de Vere this would be the effect of the Vavasour affair on his relationship with the Queen during his banishment from Court life.

The next, the 19th poem in the series, is of 9 stanzas, 6 lines each. It's a general commentary, giving advice to lovers.

The wiles and guiles that women work,

Dissembled with an outward show,

The tricks and toys that in them lurk,...

His advice: don't take no for an answer.

The 20th poem is famous for its first two lines

Live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove

There are 4 four-line stanzas, describing the bucolic pleasures, followed by LOVE'S ANSWER in 4 lines

If that the world and love were young,

And truth in every shepherd's tongue,

These pretty pleasures might me move

To live with thee and be thy love.

One can only speculate as to whether the 'answer' was tacked on to an early poem later in the poet's life. That's if 'poem' 20 is by Shakespeare. But is it? The attribution I have followed here is from:

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 - The Passionate Pilgrim

Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

However, The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse

Chosen by E. K. Chambers; Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1932

has an entirely different ascription. Page 461, poem #265 is included under the heading Christopher Marlowe. The wording is identical to poem #20 above, except that the first line begins with the word 'Come' ; the third stanza begins with 'And' instead of 'There' ; an additional stanza follows it:

A gown made of the finest wool

Which from our pretty lambs we pull;

Fair lined slippers for the cold,

With buckles of the purest gold;

the last line of the next stanza begins with 'Come' instead of 'Then' and an additional stanza ends the poem

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing

For thy delight each May morning:

If these delights thy mind may move,

Then live with me and be my love.

The Passionate Pilgrim, 1599

England'sHelicon, 1600.

Underneath this begins a series of poems headed: Sir Walter Ralegh c. 1552-1618.

The first in the series, page 462, #266 is headed

Answer to Marlowe

If all the world and love were young,

And truth in every shepherd's tongue,

These pretty pleasures might me move

To live with thee and be thy love.

Five more stanzas follow, here's the first line of each of the next 4:

Time drives the flocks from field to fold...

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields...

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy bed of roses,...

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,...

And here's the last stanza in full

But could youth last and love still breed,

Had joys no date nor age no need,

Then these delights my mind might move

To live with thee and be thy love.

England's Helicon, 1600.

I have no idea as to what is going on here. Is there difference among scholars as to who wrote what here? Or did Marlowe make changes to Shakespeare's poem, and Ralegh reply to the changed poem? Perhaps someone can enlighten me. If the authorship of various poems is so much in doubt that professional scholars disagree so dogmatically, it makes an investigation into Shakespeare's work much more difficult.

The last poem in the Virginia grouping, on which I've relied, has 58 continuous lines. It begins happily enough. The poet, in the 'merry month of May' is 'sitting in a pleasant shade' watching birds singing, beasts leaping, trees and plants growing, everything seems cheerful, but the mood soon shifts to the nightingale and then the poet's sorrow for the mournful state of both of them. Now, I suggest, comes the core of this poem, and why it was written:

line 29

While as fickle Fortune smiled,

Thou and I were both beguiled.

Every one that flatters thee

Is no friend in misery....

Every man will be thy friend

Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;

But if store of crowns be scant,

No man will supply thy want.

If that one be prodigal,

Bountiful they will him call,

And with such-like flattering,

'Pity but he were a king.'

All this could well be de Vere. He was very close to kingship by birth.

The poem continues: if he's addicted to a vice, he'll be enticed in it; if to women, they'll have them for him.

But if Fortune once do frown,

Then farewell his great renown

They that fawned on him before

Use his company no more.

The poet then relates how

He that is thy friend indeed,

He will help thee in thy need:

The poet describes how the friend will go sympathetically through the same emotions as the victim does

These are certain signs to know

Faithful friend from flattering foe.

We should perhaps note the last line has five words each beginning with 'f.' This type of 'conceit' was criticized severely in de Vere by a Stratfordian, as amateurish, but is here undoubtedly used in the same way by 'Shakespeare.'

The poem fits de Vere's unhappy life perfectly. If de Vere is the poet, we know he was a spendthrift, and here he's telling us in his usual direct way what happened when he became a relatively poor man through his own behaviour. However, the poem may not be by 'Shakespeare,' or by de Vere. We've relied on the University of Virginia Library here, but the Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse shows the poem as #371 on page 726 attributed to Richard Barnfield. The notes say of #370

The ascription to Barnfield rests on the fact that a version in England's Helicon (1600) is followed by #371 which is certainly his, with the heading 'Another of the same Sheepheards.' Both poems are among the 'Sonnets To sundry notes of Musicke' appended to 'The Passionate Pilgrim.'

The note on poems #398 and #399 in this Oxford collection (both shown as Anonymous) says

These are printed as Shakespeare's in The Passionate Pilgrim (1599) but the ascriptions of that book carry little or no authority.

Richard Barnfield (1574 - 1620) published The Affectionate Shepheard, a long pastoral poem with some eroticism. His next book, Cynthia, also contained erotic sonnets. Could Barnfield have been Shakespeare? If Henry 6th, parts 1, 2 and 3, and Titus Andronicus, were written by Shakespeare and if they were first performed during 1589 - 1591 as we're told by some scholars, this would have been the work of a 15 - 17 year old Barnfield which seems to rule him out as a possible Shakespeare. Further, there seems to be no evidence that Barnfield wrote plays.

We've now looked at a series of miscellaneous poems, including The Passionate Pilgrim. So far we've found reasonable evidence that could relate to de Vere as the potential author, and nothing that appears to exclude him. He is still a (somewhat persistent) candidate.

There are two more sundry poems to consider: A Lover's Complaint and The Phoenix and the Turtle. As the first is a long poem and the other is complex, I suggest we end here and look at them both in the next chapter.

To Chapter 12 To Chapter 14

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