THE 154 SONNETS
We are now almost two thirds through our review of the sonnets, but have yet
to find a convincing clue as to the singular identity of the poet, so we must look
for better success in the remaining 55 sonnets.
Sonnets 100 to 108, if by our first candidate, de Vere, would have been, I
suggest, to his wife Elizabeth Trentham and to his son by her, Henry, in what I
would call the Family set.
Where art thou Muse, that thou forget'st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might? ...
Rise, resty Muse, my love's sweet face survey,
If Time have any wrinkle graven there,
If any, be a satire to decay, ...
The poet is much older in this set of sonnets. He is concerned that his Muse, or
poetic ability, through idleness or possibly because of lack of sensual love to
write about, is forgetful or 'resty.' As Time may have created wrinkles on his
love's face, if the poet is de Vere, the poem may be about Elizabeth Trentham
for whom he apparently had great affectionate love.
Continuing from 100 the Muse is now 'truant.' The poet is anticipating Keats
(somewhat less grammatically) by about 250 years when he says
Both truth and beauty on my love depends;
So dost thou too, and therein dignified:
Make answer, Muse: wilt thou not haply say,
'Truth needs no colour, with his colour fix'd, ...
... for't lies in thee
To make him much outlive a gilded tomb
And to be prais'd of ages yet to be.
Then do thy office, Muse, I teach thee how
To make him seem long hence as he shows now.
The 'his' 'he' and 'him' may refer to Truth personified, but the last two lines
imply it's to a male person. My own impression is that this is an older poet
speaking, and so it seems to be to his young son Henry, who now 'shows' truth
We also note the word 'office' connected with his Muse. No one has yet found
out what 'office' it was that de Vere in his correspondence with Burghley
complained was being impeded to his and the Queen's detriment. Nor do we
know what 'office' he undertook for his £1000 a year stipend for life. Although
today we think of 'an office' as a place of work, an older meaning was the duty
attached to one's position, or a task including a ceremonial duty. In that sense
being a Poet Laureate is an Office.
This seems to follow on in the same mood and age of the poet
My love is strengthen'd, though more weak in seeming
I love not less, though less the show appear: ...
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays; ...
Not that the summer is less pleasant now ...
... sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore, ... I sometime hold my tongue,
Because I would not dull you with my song.
This seems to be an affectionate love poem to a kindred spirit, not an
adorational Queen type poem, nor a lascivious fair youth homosexual poem.
That's why, if the poet is de Vere, I suggest it's to Elizabeth Trentham. This
would then be a mid or late 1590s poem.
More in this series, beginning
Alack! what poverty my Muse brings forth ...
O! blame me not, if I no more can write!
Look in your glass, and there appears a face
That over-goes my blunt invention quite, ...
...your graces and your gifts to tell, ...
Another affectionate poem.
Still more in the series. Brilliant though this poet is, he doesn't seem to know
that great poetry isn't born of happiness and contentment.
To me, fair friend, you never can be old
For as you were when first your eye I ey'd,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers' pride, ...
Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv'd,
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand, ...
If I'm on the right lines here, and let's say it's de Vere to Elizabeth Trentham,
then the dating would be about 1594-5.
The series, I suggest, continues:
Let not my love be call'd idolatry
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence; ...
'Fair , kind, and true,' is all my argument,
'Fair, kind, and true,' varying to other words; ...
This is affectionate love again.
When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rime,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights, ...
They had not skill enough your worth to sing: ...
Another affectionate poem in the same style and series, I suggest, and to the
same person. I think we should note in passing that most people would say
'lovely ladies and dead knights,' but this poet, with his homosexual tendencies,
says 'ladies dead and lovely knights,'
Apparently yet another poem by this now mature poet, in the same series:
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Suppos'd as forfeit to a confin'd doom. ...
Incertainties now crown themselves assur'd,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes, ...
The 'prophetic soul' is echoed in Hamlet, or vice-versa, when the ghost of
Hamlet's father, the deceased king, tells Hamlet his father's brother, now
king, poisoned him, Hamlet saying "O my prophetic soul, my uncle.' (Act 1,
scene 5, line 40). This suggest the final revision of the play took place about the
same time as this sonnet was composed. The references to 'crown themselves'
and 'peace' suggests the year 1603-4 because James 1st became king in 1603
and made peace with Spain. Death is certainly close by for the poet. He dies (if
it's de Vere) in 1604. And in 1603-4 de Vere's wife Elizabeth Trentham would
still 'look fresh' as she lived to 1612.
What's in the brain, that ink may character
Which hath not figur'd to thee my true spirit?
What's new to speak, what new to register,
That may express my love, or thy dear merit?
Nothing, sweet boy; but yet, like prayers divine,
I must each day say o'er the very same;
Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine, ...
...eternal love ...
Weighs not the dust and injury of age, ...
If by de Vere this would be part of the 'family set,' to his son Henry, dating
between 1595 and de Vere's death in 1604.
O! never say that I was false of heart
Though absence seem'd my flame to qualify
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love: if I have rang'd,
Like him that travels, I return again; ...
Never believe, though in my nature reign'd,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stain'd,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all.
This may be the last of the 'family set' if by de Vere. But whoever this poet is,
these sonnets and those that follow seem to be very mature poems in which the
poet is reviewing his life and realizes only too well how he has over the years
tried the patience of those nearest and dearest to him. The 'all frailties' line
may be implicitly acknowledging his sexual interest in young males as well as
females. We could call this and the following poems a Mea Culpa set (or, It's
my fault, or I'm to blame, or perhaps better, I blame myself). The next few
poems continue this theme:
Alas! 'tis true I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view,
Gor'd mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new,
Most true it is that I have look'd on truth
Askance and strangely, but, by all above, ...
... worse essays prov'd thee my best of love.
Now all is done, save what shall have no end:
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confin'd.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most loving breast.
'A god in love', so this is to a male, and the homosexual implication is perhaps
confirmed by the word 'grind,' a somewhat vulgar expression for sexual
activity. But 'next my heaven' suggests he now has a stronger love, perhaps a
female, and if de Vere perhaps his 2nd wife. All these 'perhaps' don't really
affect our inquiry. We're really only peripherally interested in seeing that de
Vere would fit what the poet is talking about. Our principal interest is in clues
as to this poet's identity, and that he has managed to conceal so far. Using the
word 'motley' the poet admits he has made a public clown, or fool, of himself.
O! For my sake do you with Fortune chide
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu'd
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renew'd;
Whilst like a willing patient I will drink
Potions of eisel 'gainst my strong infection; ...
The poet continues his self-recrimination and reflection on his life and habits.
The public means may refer to his £1000 a year from the Queen, (if de Vere)
and it appears the consequent necessity of producing works for public view.
His name receiving a brand could be referring to the reason for his using a
pseudonym, using 'hand' in his metaphor cleverly implicates his writing as ' to
what it works in.' 'Eisel' is vinegar.
Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow? ...
You are my all-the-world and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue; ...
The poet is not telling us who this other person is. The poet seems younger in
the poems in this set, his improprieties appear to be more in the immediate
past. If the poet is de Vere, The mention of public means in 111 and now
respect for this person's tongue suggests they were probably addressed to the
Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind ...
For if it see the rud'st or gentlest sight, ...
The crow or dove, it shapes them to your feature:
Incapable of more, replete with you,
My most true mind thus maketh mine untrue.
We note more 'true' and 'untrue.' This could be a younger de Vere to his
Queen. But none of this conjecture furthers our inquiry, except to find that de
Vere is still a possible candidate for Shakespeare.
Or whether doth my mind, being crown'd with you
Drink up the monarch's plague, this flattery?
And that your love taught it this alchymy, ...
...'tis flattery in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up ...
As we continue to review this poet's work I become more and more convinced
that he's as true telling as he says he is, and that he speaks from personal
experiences in his daily life, lives in a close circle of high-born friends, and uses
words appropriate to the person addressed. But those people he met with and
dealt with from day to day included some of the greatest names in his nation's
history. So, here: crown'd, monarch, kingly, tell us that it's to the monarch,
and he, with his 'great mind,' is a near miss for a king. But what we need is
proof, not conjectured conviction. Spelling was very lax in those days,
incertainties in an earlier poem would be uncertainties today and we spell
This seems to continue in the same series, beginning:
Those lines that I before have writ do lie
Even those that said I could not love you dearer: ...
But reckoning Time, whose million'd accidents
Creep in 'twixt vows, and change decrees of kings, ...
The imagery is as for 114: kings, crowning. And here we have a statement that
there was some kind of vowing between the poet and his Queen, if my analysis
as to what is going on here is correct.
Apparently in the same set, the opening line is famous. It also reinforces the
conclusion that there was some kind of marriage vowing between these two,
but not physical or solemnized by church or state ceremony:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
This fine poem came from the depths of his soul, and was fit for a great Queen
to cherish. But even here we have the same identifiers: true, and alliteration in
'sickle's compass come.' And I"m churlish enough to think 'writ' should more
properly have been 'wrote.' The poem reinforces what we found elsewhere,
when the poet referred to the relationship between the Phoenix and the Turtle
as 'married chastity.'
The same set continues:
Accuse me thus that I have scanted all
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchas'd right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.
Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate;
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your waken'd hate;
Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love.
On the basis that this poet suits his metaphors to his addressee, the words
'frown' 'waken'd hate' and 'virtue,' indicate the poem (if by de Vere) is to the
Queen shortly after his various improper escapades in the early 1580s.
More of the Mea Culpa set, but this time it seems from a later date:
Like as, to make our appetites more keen
With eager compounds we our palate urge,
As, to prevent our maladies unseen,
We sicken to shun sickness when we purge,
Even so, being full of your ne'er-cloying sweetness,
To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding;
And, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness
To be diseas'd, ere that there was true needing.
Thus policy in love, to anticipate
The ills that were not, grew to faults assur'd, ...
There's a touch of alliteration in line 4. There's probably a pun on welfare,
meaning both good health and state hand-out to him; the truth-telling poet is
drawing on his experience with slow-developing chronic disease (syphilis) to
illustrate his behaviour in relation to the affection the Queen once had for him.
All this being based on the supposition that de Vere is the poet. But whoever
the poet is he appears to be diseased, took purges or medicine for it before
really necessary in an attempt to get rid of the disease, but then he had the
disease plus the sickness brought on by the supposed cure. This sounds very
familiar. The modern equivalent would be chemo-therapy and radiation to
cure disease which leaves the patient bald and sicker than before, the cancer
still rising up again to kill the patient.
More on his disease:
What potions have I drunk of Siren tears
Distill'd from limbecks foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win!
What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
Whilst it hath thought itself so blessed never!
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted,
In the distraction of this madding fever!
A limbeck was an apparatus used in distillery. The state of his eyes we found
to be a symptom of advancing syphilis, when we were discussing the poet's
Troilus and Cressida. Here it's given as a fact that his eyes have been affected.
If this is de Vere, and it fits, the Siren is probably Anne Vavasour. He seems
by the eyesight and fever problem to be describing the grip that syphilis now
has on him. He says the benefit of all this is that he returns to his true love a
wiser man. This would appear to be the Queen.
The last few sonnets seem to come together here and we can surmise that if de
Vere wrote them, they're to the Queen:
That you were once unkind befriends me now
And for that sorrow, which I then did feel,
Needs must I under my transgression bow, ...
For if you were by my unkindness shaken,
As I by yours, you've passed a hell of time; ...
But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me.
He betrayed her love and affection by getting Anne Vavasour pregnant, she
responded by unofficially banishing him from Court, and by putting all three
of them in the Tower. More than that, she was making a play for a French
marriage with the Duke of Anjou. Perhaps the 'vow' the poet has described
between them was that though they could not marry each other, they vowed not
to marry anyone else, nor to have any other love affairs, That putative de Vere
scenario certainly fits sonnet 120.
Another in the Mea Culpa series:
'Tis better to be vile than vile esteem'd ...
For why should others' false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No, I am that I am, and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own:
I may be straight though they themselves be bevel; ...
The phrase 'I am that I am' is to be found in the Bible, Exodus 3, verse 14. The
translation is from the 'King James Version'. That version dates from 1611,
but the sonnets were published in 1609. The poet probably himself translated it
from the Greek Septuagint or Latin Vulgate editions.
As to its sentiment, this could have been written by Bacon, Greene, Marlowe,
Ralegh, or de Vere. 'Sportive blood' tells us it's related to sexual activity,
which eliminates Bacon (his problem was a charge of bribery). Greene was
dissolute, but not vile (Note 1). Marlowe had religious problems. Ralegh's
problems were political. The contemporary that fits is de Vere, smarting from
the accusations of Howard and Arundel, who accused him of homosexuality
with boys. That was regarded as vile. If it is de Vere writing, he may have
written this as self-justification, to the Queen, to defend himself against the
attacks of his former friends.
This seems to be the last in the series I've called the Mea Culopa set.
Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain ...
Of thee, thy record never can be miss'd ...
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;
Therefore to give them from me was I bold, ...
To keep an adjunct to remember thee
Were to import forgetfulness in me.
A table was a slab of wood, stone, and/or the matter written on it.
Someone's dear love didn't need something set down in writing to remind the
poet of her/him, and so the poet gave it away.
No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change ...
Thy registers and thee I both defy, ...
This I do vow, and this shall ever be;
I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.
Here we have 'ever' and 'true' again, the two tell-tale markers for de Vere.
This certainly points the poem in the direction of de Vere. It may have been
written to the Queen. Despite the vicissitudes of his life, he vows to be ever
true. De Vere was certainly totally devoted to and admiring of the Queen with
unusual loyalty, from what we know of his life.
In the next sonnet the poet seems to confirm what we have just said. Here it is
If my dear love were but the child of state
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfather'd,
As subject to Time's love or to Time's hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gather'd.
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled discontent,
Whereto the inviting time our fashion calls:
It fears not policy, that heretic,
Which works on leases of short-number'd hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it not grows with heat, nor drowns with showers.
To this I witness call the fools of time,
Which die for goodness, who have liv'd for crime.
With this true telling poet the clues seem to be "state,' 'smiling pomp,' 'policy,'
and 'politic.' It seems the poet drew on his experience near the centre of power in
the court as a proximate observer. He has witnessed suffering in smiling pomp,
the blow falling on thralled discontent, the fashions at court. If de Vere is the
poet, it certainly fits his experience as we know it, and makes more sense if the
poem is to the Queen than if the poet is some obscure person writing from
imagination to some equally obscure love.
Were't aught to me I bore the canopy
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which prove more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all and more by paying too much rent,
For compound sweet foregoing simple savour
Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?
No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mix'd with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee.
Hence, thou suborn'd informer! a true soul
When most impeach'd stands least in thy control.
At last, after reviewing all the other ascribed poems of Shakespeare, and 124
of the sonnets, we come to this one. Finally, the poet has tripped up. He has
given us a clue so direct that now we will find out who he is. The first line tells
us that. This is no ordinary canopy. It's not 'a canopy.' It's a particular
canopy, 'the canopy.' It's so particular that the poet uses the word 'honouring' in
describing the act of actually bearing or carrying this particular canopy. There
was only one canopy that merited this description in Elizabethan times. It was
the canopy held over the Queen on ceremonial state occasions. Stratfordians
and Oxfordians agree it's the state canopy of Queen Elizabeth.
The argument of some Stratfordians is that the first line means that this poet
was not a courtier and did not bear the canopy. This simply will not do. The
words are there for us all to see:
"I bore the canopy"
This is not subjunctive or conditional wording. It's stated as a fact by the true
telling poet. The poet tells us he has actually performed this ceremonial task -
carrying the canopy for the Queen. This is what Shakespeare tells us he has
done. We can make one immediate positive deduction from this. Shakespeare
was a nobleman in the inner circle at the court of Queen Elizabeth. Not any
nobleman, but only a very few were privileged to be that close to the Queen in
public, a centuries old tradition for security purposes. We have at last reduced
our opening statement that it's said there are 60 candidates for Shakespeare to
a very small number, six at most. We must go carefully here, and search out as
thoroughly as possible who these noblemen might be. And that will need a
When I was a young navy officer I went ashore to a base for a course in the
latest navigation equipment, as navigation was my specialty. At the base I
shared a room with another officer. He went into town each evening, returning
in the early morning hours. After a few days of this I found him one morning
vomiting blood. "My God" I said, "you should go to the sick bay." "It's all
right," he said "Don't worry about me. It's a long story. My father was a
clergyman. I know what I'm doing."
By this I understood him to mean by the way he said it that because he had
such a restricted childhood he broke out wildly when he became of age, that he
knew now he had ruined his life and was destroying his body but it was too late
to turn back.
From what I've read of Greene's life and work, he was in a similar situation,
dying at age 32, brilliant but completely dissolute and penniless. There's no
self-pity here. This is not vile, it's self-destructive.
The poet we're looking at in these sonnets says he's been esteemed vile. He also
has a tendency to self-pity.
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