THE 154 SONNETS
Sonnets 38 - 56 seem to be a set, one which is not helpful to us in providing
clues. But so that you can better judge for yourself I have included a few
quoted lines and my comments on each of these sonnets. They are sexual love
sonnets, of which 41, 42, 53 and 54 are to a male person. Quite possibly all of
them are to one or more male lovers. None of this particularly advances our
enquiry. The theme seems to be gradual awareness of the infidelity of the loved
male who develops an affair with the poet's female mistress. The only
information we glean from this is that the poet is homosexual and also had
sexual relations with women. But we knew that already, if the poet is de Vere.
How can my Muse want subject to invent
While thou dost breathe...
No mention of the age of, or which sex, or love for, whoever this is about.
...thou art all the better part of me...
...our dear love lose name of single one
It's better for us to stay divided, the poet says; otherwise, he's praising
Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all...
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,...
The words 'love' 'loves' or 'love's' appear 10 times in these 14 lines. The last
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites, yet we must not be foes.
Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits...
...thou mightst my seat forbear,...
..thou art forc'd to break a twofold truth, -
Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
Thine, by thy beauty being false to me.
So this poem is probably connected with the previous one. This is to a male, not
a female. The 'seat' reference may suggest homosexuality here.
That thou hast her, it is not all my grief
And yet it may be said I lov'd her dearly,
That she hath thee, is of my wailing chief,
A loss in love that touches me more nearly...
It's obviously written to a male, but we don't know who, and we don't know
whether the female is wife, daughter, mistress, or Queen. The poet is more
concerned with the breach of trust by the male than that by the female.
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
If the dull substance of my flesh were thought
Injurious distance should not stop my way,
For then, despite of space, I would be brought
From limits far remote, where thou dost stay...
I must attend time's leisure with my moan,
Receiving nought by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either's woe.
It's interesting that de Vere uses 'moan' in some of his poems ridiculed as
amateurish by his detractors, but this is by Shakespeare.
Of thy fair health...
Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
How to divide the conquest of thy sight,
This develops with legal terminology: plead, defendant, plea, appearance, title,
impannelled, tenants, verdict, moiety, part, due, right.
It's not the first time we've met the word 'tenants' in this poet's legal
It so happens that de Vere, who studied law, had occasional correspondence
regarding legal remedies for unsatisfactory tenants in his estates.
The eye and heart imagery is continued, linking the two poems about 'my love'
...thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,
Thou, best of dearest and mine only care,
...thou wilt be stol'n, I fear
For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear.
Doubt about his love's faithfulness has entered the poet's mind in the previous
poem, and in this poem
Against that time, if ever that time come
When I shall see thee frown on my defects...
To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
Since why to love I can allege no cause.
The poet is going away from his 'friend.' "The beast that bears me' 'plods
and the last line
My grief lies onward, and my joy behind.
If this is about his male love, the last three words may be a double entendre.
This next poem is apparently connected to #50,
From where thou art why should I haste me thence?
Blessed are you, whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had, to triumph, being lack'd to hope.
This seems to describe sexual gratification, or lack of it. Taken as part of a set,
It would appear to be to the homosexual lover. If the poet is de Vere, no
wonder these sonnets were published with a pseudonym, after his death.
What is your substance, whereof are you made
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you; ,,,
In all external grace you have some part,
But you, like none, none you, for constant heart.
Another poem to a male. More shadows, and now in the millions. In
Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 5, Scene 1, the last
speech in the play is by Puck. It begins
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear.
Some Oxfordians have suggested that de Vere acted at court in the comedies,
which were his, and that he enjoyed playing the part of Puck. He was
apparently of small stature.
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall vade, by verse distils your truth.
Another poem to a male.
Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time. ...
So, till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.
As we already know, this poet is no shrinking violet when it comes to
evaluating his own work. Most writers think highly of their work, and struggle
to have it published, but this writer states his immortality as a fact. If de Vere
is the poet, his haughty, contemptuous, self-opinionated conceit certainly fits.
This may be an appropriate place to look at a verse, part of a set, by Michael
Drayton, another Elizabethan poet (1563-1631). Here is the complete sonnet:
Whilst that my pen strives to eternize thee,
Age rules my lines with wrinkles in my face,
Where in the map of all my misery
Is modelled out the world of my disgrace.
Whilst in despite of tyrannizing times,
Medea-like I make thee young again,
Proudly thou scorn'st my world-outwearing rhymes,
And murder'st virtue with thy coy disdain;
And though in youth my youth untimely perish,
To keep thee from oblivion and the grave,
Ensuing ages yet my rhymes shall cherish,
Where I entombed my better part shall save;
And though this earthly body fade and die,
My name shall mount upon eternity.
And while we're quoting Drayton, here are the first 4 lines of the next but one
verse, sonnet 12 of his,
Why should your fair eyes with such sovereign grace
Disperse their rays on every vulgar spirit,
Whilst I in darkness in the self-same place
Get not one glance to recompense my merit!
Drayton was as a youth a page in the household of Sir Henry Goodeere, who is
also credited with arranging the youth's education. The youth became a poet
with a long record of published works, and apparently some plays, now lost.
It's interesting that he writes about disgrace, wrinkles, sovereign, ensuing ages
cherishing his rhymes; a surprising parallel to Shakespeare's own statements.
But now back to Shakespeare,
Sweet love, renew thy force, be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite
Sonnets 57 - 61 seem to be another small set. If written by de Vere, these could
be to his Queen, written during the two or more years that he was banished
from court, or perhaps it's the male lover again. What do you think?
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and time of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require. ...
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose, ...
So true a fool is love that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.
Is there a conceit on 'your will' there?
This seems to be a continuation of #57.
That god forbid that made me first your slave ...
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will ...
I am to wait ...
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.
The last line of 57 and 58 have the same meaning, and use the word 'ill'.
Since this poet seems to compose from experience, not imagination, he is
probably a courtier. It seems to me he's either writing to the Queen, or using
that experience as a metaphor to write about his male lover.
...O! that the record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in an antique book...
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composed wonder of your frame; ...
The poet probably means 500 courses of the earth around the sun (years).
The first two and last two lines
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore
So do our minutes hasten to their end; ...
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
'Like as' is considered grossly ungrammatical today, but Queen Elizabeth also
used the phrase in her writing. Rules of grammar must have been less onerous
in those days. Here the poet is not quite so conceited about the immortality of
... Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken,
While shadows, like to thee, do mock my sight? ...
O, no! thy love, though much, is not so great:
It is my love that keeps mine eye awake; ...
For thee watch I whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
From me far off, with others all too near.
Shadows, again. This time as 'shades' or 'spirits.' If this is de Vere to his
Queen it shows a somewhat intimate relationship. But she was used to and even
encouraged, professions of love from her male courtiers. Here's part of a poem
by Sir Waler Ralegh to the Queen. He calls it The Ocean to Cynthia (the
Queen was generally referred to poetically as 'Cynthia"). It's a rather long
poem - about 14 pages - so here are a few relevant excerpts, starting with the
first two lines:
Sufficeth it to you, my joys interred,
In simple words that I my woes complain, ...
Her regal looks my rigorous sighs suppressed;
Small drops of joy sweetened great worlds of woe;
One gladsome day a thousand cares redressed,
When Love defends, what fortune overthrows?
When she did well, what did there else amiss?
When she did ill, what empires could have pleased?
No other power effecting woe or bliss,
She gave, she took, she wounded, she appeased.
. . . . .
The honour of her love, love still devising,
Wounding my mind with contrary conceit, ...
So my forsaken heart, my withered mind,
Widow of all the joys it once possessed,
My hopes clean out of sight with forced wind,
To kingdoms strange, to lands far-off, addressed,
Alone, forsaken, friendless, on the shore,
With many wounds, with death's cold pangs embraced,
Writes in the dust, as one that could no more, ...
(And so on).
Now, I suggest, we have a new set, sonnets 62 - 66, concerned with ageing, and
the first poem may be important to our inquiry. It's given here in full
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp'd with tann'd antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read,
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
'Tis thee, myself, - that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.
This is supreme narcissism: 'I all other in all worths surmount.' The poet tells
us that self-love possesses him completely. None of this is in the past tense,
though he is older now and his mirror shows him the ravages of time on his
face. We are left uncertain whether the 'thee, myself'' is his (male) love, or his
alter ego, (his literary self) or even perhaps, for once, a legitimate young son.
Most writers are buoyed by self confidence, interspersed with despair. This
sonnet might fit any number of Elizabethan poets. But no other poets in the
Oxford 16th c. anthology have such forthright admission of self praise.
It does not eliminate de Vere, though. The face and demeanour shown by
Marcus Gheeraedts, a Dutch painter, in the portrait of de Vere dated to about
1586 (when de Vere was 36) has the essence of supercilious nobility,
condescension towards others as beneath him, just as described in sonnet 62.
This is the man who, at age 12, becoming a ward of the crown at the death of
his father, the 16th Earl of Oxford, rode to London accompanied by 140
retainers on horseback, all in black, when he was about to commence his time
as a ward, with Cecil as his wardmaster. De Vere, a mere 12 year old, was
making it clear that he was the 17th Earl of Oxford, and Cecil, secretary and
chief minister to Elizabeth, was a mere commoner, and beneath him.
This poem seems to flow on from #62. It begins
Against my love shall be, as I am now
With Time's injurious hand crush'd and o'erworn,
When hours have drain'd his blood and fill'd his brow
With lines and wrinkles, ...
...confounding age's cruel knife...
...shall never cut from memory
My sweet love's beauty, though my lover's life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.
So the poet is now crushed and overworn by the injuries of Time. This poem is
to a male, not a female. And not to a son, as you don't call a son your lover,
unless there's an incestuous relationship.
When I have seen by Time's fell hand defac'd
The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-raz'd...
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate--
That Time will come and take my love away...
These are the reflections of a poet no longer young. It continues on from #63.
We just don't know which of his loves he's writing about. And he continues this
theme in the next sonnet:
...O! how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
... unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
He's still not told us who he's writing about.
At last we now have a sonnet which is informative about his life, whoever this
poet may be. Here is the poem in full:
Tir'd with all these, for restful death I cry
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needing nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily foresworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced.
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly-- doctor-like-- controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir'd with all these, from these I would be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
What Elizabethan poet could have written this about his own life? Only two
come to mind immediately, Sir Walter Ralegh, and de Vere; both wrote in
their own names in this way. Ralegh we may need to consider later, but at
present we're looking at de Vere as a candidate for Shakespeare. There are
strong similarities to his known life:
- he thought of himself as a beggar, having sold off many of his estates and
importuned the Queen and Burghley for replacement with profitable
- forsworn means to swear falsely, and apparently this he later came to believe
was what he had done about the purest faith of his wife Anne Cecil.
- he shamefully misplaced his own gilded honour by virtually keeping Anne
Cecil pregnant until her death at age 32, 10 days after her last childbirth. This
was shameful treatment and he knew it, particularly since he seems to have
been indulging in a passionate homosexual relationship at the same time.
- the maiden virtue he rudely strumpeted (turned into a prostitute) is
somewhat of an exaggeration of his behaviour with Anne Vavasour, who bore
him apparently her first child, but her he could not marry as he already had a
- he brought disgrace on himself wrongfully, and others did also, his older
sister with her bastardy claim, and Howard et al with their list of charges
including pederasty, or homosexuality with young boys. Later, he turned down
the command at Harwich as beneath him at a time when England was in great
peril from the overwhelming power of Spain. This he must have realized later,
was unforgivable. - this poet has a debilitating limp causing him to sway as he
walks. How many Elizabethan poets had such an affliction? So far, the only one
I've found is de Vere, who writes about it more than once, as quoted earlier. I
don't know of another lame poet until Lord Byron (1788 - 1824.)
The remaining items on the poet's list would probably apply to most writers of
that time. It's interesting to find yet another long series of repetitions by
Shakespeare, decried as amateurish by detractors of de Vere when used by
him in his poems.
But at the end of it all, we still don't know who 'my love' is in the poem.
Sonnet 66 certainly fits de Vere's profile well, but we must be careful not to
assume it means he is Shakespeare, based on this evidence. What we have just
looked at by Michael Drayton and Sir Walter Ralegh warns us against that.
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