THE 154 SONNETS: PART 7
Now that we've established that Edward de Vere is 'Shakespeare' because the
two profiles fit perfectly, and no other Elizabethan who could have borne the
canopy does fit, we'll review the remaining sonnets assuming them to be
written by de Vere.
O Thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold Time's fickle glass, his sickle hour,...
I suggest this is written to his legitimate son, Henry, born of Elizabeth
Trentham. This means it would have been written after the boy's birth in 1593
and before de Vere's death in 1604. Henry later became the 18th Earl of
It's not a sonnet, although included with them. A sonnet has 14 lines, rhyming
abab,cdcd, efef,gg. This poem is 12 lines and rhymes aa,bb,cc,dd,ee,ff. So those
who say there's a couplet missing in this sonnet are mistaken. It never was a
sonnet, and is complete as it stands.
In the old age black was not counted fair
Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
But now is black beauty's successive heir,
And beauty slander'd with a bastard's shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature's power,
Fairing the foul with Art's false borrow'd face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profan'd , if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' brows are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland'ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
This is an important poem. We discussed it in chapter 23. It tells us the poet
has a mistress, It tells us her brows are raven black, which means her hair is
raven black. Her eyes match, probably dark brown eyes. As a social comment
the poet tells us that 'now' in his day people apply cosmetics 'fairing the foul
with Art's false borrow'd face.' There is a conceit in the last line - everyone
says now that beauty should be artificially created, and/or everyone says
beauty should look like his mistress.
But there's more to it than that. The whole poem is a conceit. It's a play on his
generalized statement that the current use of cosmetics to improve appearance
means beauty has no name now, is a bastard, and beauty is profaned and living
in disgrace. If we don't know who the poet is, we say 'oh, well, it's the dark
lady of the sonnets he's writing about and the poem is a general criticism of the
over-use of cosmetics.'
As the poet is de Vere, this is a very significant poem, with an account of
his personal experience blended poetically into a general comment. The
specifics are that he has a mistress, she has jet black hair, she has been
slander'd with a bastard's shame, that is, had an illegitimate child. He doesn't
say caused by him, but it's implied as she's his mistress - present tense. Her
eyes shine like mourners, and every tongue is talking about her.
This is the Anne Vavasour incident, and the sonnet was probably written while
the three of them were in the Tower, or soon afterwards.
How oft when thou, my music, music play'st
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers, when thou gently sway'st...
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand...
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.
This is presumably written to a female, someone who plays proficiently on the
virginal(s), the earliest harpsichord with only one string per note and a short
keyboard. Here's what B. M. Ward has to say (The Seventeenth Earl of
Oxford 1550-1604, from contemporary records; London, Murray, 1928, page
...he expressed his feelings against Sir Walter Ralegh, whose share in bringing
about Essex's downfall was notorious, in a pun that has gone down to history.
The Queen was in the Privy Chamber playing on the virginals when news was
brought that the sentence against Essex had been carried into execution. Her
Majesty continued to play; and Lord Oxford, as if in reference to the notes - or
'jacks' as they were called - dancing up and down beneath her fingers glanced at
Sir Walter and said bitterly: 'When Jacks start up, heads go down."
Once again we find Shakespeare and de Vere linked in some way. In this case
using a word not commonly found elsewhere in Elizabethan poetry. In fact I
have not found any reference to 'jacks' by any other poet or playwright. If you
know of one and cite the reference, I'll be glad to list it here.
It appears that this sonnet is written to the Queen.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjur'd, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,...
All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
To show the heaven that leads men to this hell.
This appears to be a reflection on events soon after the Vavasour incident and
the imprisonment and effectual banishment of de Vere from court. It may be
that great poetry is born of the suffering of a wilful spirit. De Vere apparently
had these feelings after this painful incident in his life, and was led on to write
the long poem The Rape of Lucrece, where he expands the feelings involved in
public sexual disgrace.
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red than her lips' red
If snow be white. why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head...
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks...
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:...
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
(Dun = poetically, dark or dusky)
(belied = give a false notion of, fail to justify)
Black haired Anne Vavasour bewitched hin into disgrace. He knew it would
happen, and expresses his disgust with her physically, but yet he could not
resist her hold on him. He is fatally attracted to her though he knows she is not
a nice person and his poetic soul describes her for what she really is.
Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art
As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;
For well thou know'st to my dear doting heart
thou art the fairest and most precious jewel.
Yet, in good faith, some say that thee behold,
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan:...
Thy black is fairest in my judgement's place.
In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,
And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds.
Apparently another in the set about Anne Vavasour.
More of the same, ending
Then will I swear beauty herself is black,
And all they foul that thy complexion lack.
Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!
Is't not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet'st friend must be?
Now a complication arises, - if it's part of the same set, which it seems to be, -
this black haired siren has turned her attention from the poet to his male
sexual partner and taken him and herself away from the poet. O, what a
tangled web we weave.
This is a significant poem, we'd better look at the whole sonnet:
So now I have confess'd that he is thine
And I myself am mortgag'd to thy will,
Thou wilt restore, to be my comfort still:
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous and he is kind;
He learn'd but surety-like to write for me,
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer, that putt'st forth all to use,
And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
Him have I lost, thou hast both him and me:
He pays the whole, and yet I am not free.
If we didn't know the poet was de Vere, I suggest we'd be totally lost here. But
as we know the poet I think we can fathom out this poem. First, the addressee
is Anne Vavasour, and the poem is part of the same set. He has nothing good to
say about her; she has entangled him hopelessly. Next, we have a clue as to the
male friend of de Vere, who she has also bewitched. All this is taking place in
the 1580s. This male person is a friend, is kind, and he learned to write for de
Vere. Little did I think that when writing chapter 8 on de Vere and quoting the
December 1584 agreement between him and John Lyly, (who was his secretary
for many years, and Lyly himself a very successful prose and play writer), that
one of Shakespeare's sonnets would speak of 'that bond that him as fast doth
bind' and that 'he learned to write for me.' Some Stratfordian scholars have
commented that even Shakespeare's work shows the influence of John Lyly's
Euphues and his style. Now we know why.
The practical reason for this literary influence is that Lyly worked for a
decade or so for de Vere, running the Blackfriars theatre for him, which de
Vere had leased, managing de Vere's company of players, and taking the plays
of de Vere to Court for performance, particularly when de Vere was
effectively banished during the early 1580s. Lyly was also writing his own
plays, such as Sapho and Phao, and Campaspe (1584). Lyly ceased writing
plays after he left de Vere's service. Probably de Vere helped Lyly with the
action of some of his plays, and Lyly polished some of de Vere's plays to a
higher form of excellence. In this sonnet we're actually told the friend 'learn'd
but surety-like to write for me..' Lyly's style was more fluent and less abrupt
than de Vere's at this stage in de Vere's life.
This affair with Anne Vavasour would have been a pre-marital or
extra-marital affair for John Lyly, as he is said to have married a Yorkshire
heiress, Beatrice Browne, in 1583. Lyly, born in 1554, was about 4 years
younger than de Vere.
Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will
And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus;
This poem was quoted in full and discussed in chapter 10, where the
explanation precedes the poem. We can see here it's part of the Anne Vavasour
Continuing the double entendre references to Will, the word is mentioned 6
times and 'Wills' once in this poem. Here's the whole sonnet:
If thy soul check thee that I come so near
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy 'Will'
And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there,
Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
'Will' will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove
Among a number one is reckon'd none:
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy store's account I one must be;
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lov'st me, - for my name is 'Will.'
It was explained in chapter 10 what the imagery is here. This poem does not
tell us that the poet's real first name is Will, as Stratfordians claim. To the
contrary, it's a love-name for sexual purposes and would be something
different from his real name, whoever the poet was, and whatever his real
name was. The poem also tells us that his mistress could hold him internally,
which not every female can do.
The Anne Vavasour set continues:
Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes
That they behold, and see not what they see? ...
To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
In things right true my heart and eyes have err'd
The poet is coming out of his sensual infatuation with his raven haired
mistress. And that, I suggest, is the last of the set of 10 consecutive sonnets
relating to her.
When my love swears that she is made of truth
This is a repeat of the poem forming part of The Passionate Pilgrim. We
discussed it there, in chapter 13. Now we know that it's most probably written
to Elizabeth Trentham.
O! Call not me to justify the wrong
That thy unkindness lays upon my heart;
Wound me not with thine eye, but with thy tongue
Use power with power, and slay me not by art. ...
... ah! my love well knows
Her pretty looks have been my enemies;
And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
That they elsewhere might dart their injuries:...
Pretty in Elizabethan usage here may not mean 'daintily beautiful,' but more
in the sense of 'invitingly' or 'encouraging.'
As the poet is de Vere I suggest this was for the Queen, shortly after his
disgrace and the accusations of Howard and Arundel.
Be wise as thou art cruel, do not press
My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain; ...
Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
Bear thine eyes straight, thou thy proud heart go wide.
This, I suggest, is another poem to the Queen, after the accusations against de
Vere, which included claiming he made damaging and disparaging statements
about the Queen, hence 'belied.'
In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise, ...
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.
This seems to follow the line of thought in #137 which also refers to plague and
In things right true mine heart and eyes have err'd,
And to this false plague are they now transferr'd.
It's more about Anne Vavasour; he makes it clear it wasn't love that drew him
to her, but sexual enticement which overcame his common sense and
Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate
Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving:
O! but with mine compare thou thine own state, ...
...seal'd false bonds of love as oft as mine,...
Be it lawful I love thee, as thou lov'st those
Whom thine eyes woo as mine importune thee...
This has to be de Vere to the Queen who robbed Anne Cecil by keeping de
Vere at Court day after day, although the Queen made encouraging eyes to
other young courtiers as well. Whether or not she had sex with them we don't
know, bu she may well have merely sexually teased them to get their devotion,
yet keeping herself aloof if they were too forward. We saw evidence for this in
Ralegh's poems, with one to the Queen (chapter 21).
Lo. as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feather'd creatures broke away,...
So runn'st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I thy babe chase thee afar behind; ...
So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will, ( Will in italics)
If thou turn back, and my loud crying still.
Another 'Will' poem, and so, to Anne Vavasour. Whoever put these poems
together did so in a very random order.
Two loves I have of comfort and despair
This is the second poem in The Passionate Pilgrim, and we discussed it there.
It's another in the Anne Vavasour series, and we can reasonably surmise now
that the friend is John Lyly. She's 'wooing his purity with her foul pride' and
de Vere can only suspect the worst
Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
Those lips that Love's own hand did make
Breath'd forth the sound that said 'I hate,' ...
"I hate" from hate away she threw,
And sav'd my life , saying- 'Not you.'
De Vere and the Queen again, presumably during his time of troubles.
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth
Fool'd by these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend? ...
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.
In this rather lugubrious sonnet de Vere explains how he came to give up the
costly and elaborate life of a courtier, instead 'within be fed' presumably with
literature. writers and playwrights.
My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me....
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly express'd;
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
De Vere never has a good word to say about Anne Vavasour now that she's
undone both of them by her forwardness. He should remember he could have
O me! what eyes hath Love put in my head
Which have no correspondence with true sight;
Or, if they have, where is my judgement fled,
That censures falsely what they see aright?
If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so? ...
O cunning Love! with tears thou keep'st me blind,
Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find.
This seems to be more of the same about Anne Vavasour.
Canst thou, O cruel! say I love thee not
When I against myself with thee partake? ...
Who hateth thee that I do call my friend?
On whom frown'st thou that I do fawn upon? ...
What merit do I in myself respect,
That is so proud thy service to despise,
When all my best doth worship thy defect,
Commanded by the motion of thine eyes?
But, love, hate on, for now I know thy mind;
Those that can see thou lov'st, and I am blind.
This is part of the eyes-hate series, and with words such as frowning, fawn
upon, thy service, hate, it suggests de Vere is writing to the Queen soon after
her rage over the Anne Vavasour affair. There must have been many different
kinds of eye contact between various people and her and others in Elizabeth's
court. Shakespeare is not the only poet to comment on social eye contact,
Here's T. S. Eliot writing in the early 20th century poem The Love Song of J.
For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a further room
So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all -
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall
Then how shall I begin
To spit out all the butt ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
Eliot is commenting on experience with a social malaise; Shakespeare is
speaking directly to one specific individual in each sonnet. Our problem with
him is to know who he is writing about. But now we know it has to be de Vere,
the problem is much simplified. There seem to be but 4 significant women in
his life: Anne Cecil, Anne Vavasour, the Queen, and Elizabeth Trentham.
What he has to say to each is vastly different.
O! from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight, ...
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
The sonnet continues this way to the end, the penultimate line refers to 'thy
unworthiness.' It's more of the reproachful or accusatory attitude to this
person, who we take to be Anne Vavasour again, and written in the early
Love is too young to know what conscience is, ...
Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,
Less guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove:
For thou, betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body's treason;
My soul doth tell my body that he may
Triumph in love;
flesh stays no further reason,
But, rising at thy name doth point out thee
As his triumphant prize, Proud of this pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side,
No want of conscience hold it that I call
Her 'love' for whose dear love I rise and fall.
Never let it be said that this poet is not erotic when he wants to be. This has to
be Anne Vavasour again, I suggest.
Did de Vere really give these poems to Anne Vavasour? They were either both
in the Tower or the relationship was already over when he did, I would think.
Here's the next in this series (in full)
In loving thee thou know'st I am forsworn
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing.
But why of two oaths' breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjur'd most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost:
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see;
For I have sworn thee fair; more perjur'd I,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie!
Apparently Anne Vavasour broke two oaths, one as a Maid of Honour to the
Queen by becoming pregnant, and then by leaving de Vere for his male friend.
This poem, and the next, the last of the sonnets, are apparently very similar
attempts to say the same thing. One or other is presumably a re-write. It's a
somewhat typical Elizabethan conceit. Cupid lay down beside his brand of fire
and fell asleep. One of Diana's maiden's found the brand and quickly steeped it
in a fountain of water, that ever after has had a lively heat which men resort to
for curing their ills. But with this brand of Cupid's new fired at 'my mistress'
eye' Cupid now touched the poet, who sick with love went to the 'bath' for a
cure, but no such luck, the cure lies in his mistress' eyes.
My synopsis took 82 words, the poem itself has only 112. It would seem the
sonnet(s) fall into the Anne Vavasour category, as the mistress. Through the
centuries the waters at Bath, in the west of England, have been much resorted
to for their medicinal effects. While de Vere was still a favourite and was with
her on this occasion, the Queen went on a progress which included Bristol, with
Bath nearby, so it's probable they 'took the waters of Bath,' and these last
two poems suggest the Anne Vavasour affair was already under way at this
This concludes our review of Shakespeare's poems. They have been helpful,
-particularly the 154 sonnets - in providing sufficient clues as to the person
who was Shakespeare to enable us to identify him as de Vere. If we had not
known who Shakespeare was, we would have had no idea who sonnets 126 - 154
were addressed to, or what the poet was talking about. As it is, with de Vere as
Shakespeare, we have found a reasonable and logical explanation for every one
Now we have to look at various objections, because either they are valid, and
de Vere somehow is not Shakespeare after all, or the objections are mistaken.
We hope to find the solution to that problem commencing in the next chapter.
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