Deconstructing Sonnet 107

My friend Hank Whittemore, with whom I differ on several key points, has asked about my take on the problematic Sonnet 107.

Over the four centuries that English speakers have been discussing Shakespeare, there have been many battles over the Sonnets, who they were written for, when they were written, and whether or not they were about something real or were just a literary exercise.  Although beautiful and important, I’ve tended to steer clear of discussing them partly because they’re so short on facts that nothing can be proven and, largely for that reason, because they’ve given rise to so many bizarre interpretations.

Then in 1999 I found myself preparing for an SOS Society conference where the Sonnets were a focal point, so I devoted several weeks to reading everything I could find on the subject going back to the 19th century. (An article I wrote later expanding on that lecture, The Story of the Sonnets, provides a good deal more detail for those who are interested.  There’s also a  Sonnets bibliography with comments on the books I found of most interest.)

Traditions of sonnet cycles

Some years ago I got into a fight with the usual coneheads on Hardy Cook’s listserv,  who eagerly pounced on my statement that the best writing comes from experience,  from enduring the emotions and insights that come from Life itself.  Isn’t this what Keats means with “truth is beauty, beauty truth, that is all ye know and all ye need to know”?  Keats was speaking to fellow artists and philosophers, of course––who else bothers about the relationship between Truth and Beauty?  Certainly not the coneheads that were dominating SHAKSPER.

Believing that most if not all the plays (the good ones) were written out of Oxford’s own experiences and emotions, of course I believe that the Sonnets were as well; that is, they were written at a time when he was going through experiences like those described in the Sonnets. That others in like case over the centuries have found solace in Shakespeare’s Sonnets attests to their power, a power that comes from how accurately, and with a thousand subtle details, they describe experiences common to many readers, which is, of course, why they’ve remained in print for centuries, and why we need to look to common experiences for reasons why he wrote them.

It was Petrarch who introduced sonnets to the West.  My guess is that like other sweets: stringed instruments, perfume, sugar, and Courtly Love, they originated in Persia (Iran), migrating to Italy via the cultural transfer from the Middle East to Venice in the 14th century.  Traditionally a sonnet cycle is a narrative of sorts, describing day by day, hour by hour, verse by verse, the progress of a passion from its dizzying enception to its final spasm.  We call these sonnets love poems in English, but the term the Elizabethans preferred was passion.

Love is too limiting a term for an experience that contains so many feelings, some anything but sweet––loneliness, loss, jealousy, envy, hurt feelings, remorse, disgust, even hate.  Poems written after the things they describe are over differ from those written as they happen.  Sonnet cycles, when they are genuine, are like raw footage, unedited, pungent, detailed, revealing themes through a process of repetition and insight  that’s closer to life itself than the reflection of life we call memoirs.

It’s part of the tradition of the sonnet cycle that the poet doesn’t reveal the true identity of the beloved.  An offshoot of the Courtly Love tradition, Petrarchan sonnets echo the yearning of a chivalrous knight for the beautiful but chaste wife of his lord.  Bound to him by oaths of fealty, this Courtly Love trope adds a further bond between lord and vassal, whose sacred passion for the lady can never fade because it’s never fulfilled; (the role the Virgin Queen demanded from her favorites).  Such poems are proofs of that love (“oblations, poor but free”), but only the lady herself is to know who is meant by “Stella,” or “Diana,” or “Phillis,” or “Caelica.”  For the Poet to let slip anything that reveals the source of his passion is to betray his Muse, another kind of romantic pose, but still one of great artistic authority by Oxford’s time.

And because, as a narrative in verse, a sonnet cycle is meant to follow such a passion as it unfolds, I believe that, following Oxford’s death, those published his sonnets saw to it that (for the most part) they were published in the order he intended.  Whoever had control of Oxford’s literary estate would have had great respect for it as literature.  Notions that when he died he was careless about leaving his papers where just anyone, including family members who cared more about their image than they did literature, might have gotten hold of them, shows a lack of understanding of how great artists feel about their work.  Having promised that he was going to leave a portrait of the Fair Youth for posterity to admire, he would certainly not have played fast and loose with their vehicle.  Whoever got his papers also got strict instructions on what to do with them.  This is simply common sense.

Oxford may have given up on Southampton himself (all passions must come to some kind of end), but he would never have given up on the poems that his love for him brought forth.  As he says in his farewell Sonnet, #126, Nature who has been so kind to Southampton, allowing him to keep his good looks well into his maturity, will have to cash him in sooner or later: “She may detain, but still not keep her treasure;/ Her audit, though delayed, answered must be,/ And her quietus is to render thee.”  In time the Fair Youth will cease to be both a youth and fair, but, as their author well knows, if properly published, the love poems he inspired will never lose either their beauty or their truth.

A great deal has been made of the fact that Shakespeare’s muse was a boy, not a lady.  To the shame-based society that the Reformation made of the English, that’s been an awful shocker.  However, if we pay attention to the poems it seems clear that the Poet’s desire is less sexual than emotional, the desire of a man for a son (Oxford was without an heir when he began writing them), and most important to an artist, for a muse whose charisma is potent enough to inspire his art.  Unfulfilled desire is the force that keeps it going.  It’s the number one Rule of Romance: fulfill the desire and the magic ends.  The question here being, desire for what?  My answer: a son-in-law whom he could love as though he were his own and, not least, a theater patron with solid credit.

Dating the sonnets

Back in 1999, I spent a good deal of time back seeking genuine scholarship on the dating of the Sonnets. I finally found it in a book titled Elizabethan Sonnet Themes and the Dating of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (AMS 1962, 1973). The author, Claes Schaar (writing for a Danish press, and so less constrained by hometown anxieties over identities), sticks strictly to the protocols of literary dating.  Basing his conclusions on the work of two scholars, one a German (pub 1884), the other an American (pub 1916) who apparently had no knowledge of his German predecessor (190).  Since these groundbreakers there have been others, all with similar results.

Ignoring the Stratford biography or any consideration of who the principles might have been, by comparing the language to that of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, the only works by Shakespeare whose dates are solid, they place most or all of the Sonnets somewhere in the early 1590s: “. . . the vast majority of the sonnets we have examined seem thus to have been written between 1591-92 and 1594-95” (Shaar 185).  Their findings are corroborated by other scholars replicating their efforts, one being G.P.V. Akrigg, Southampton’s biographer, who gives an impressive list of scholars who agree that their language also places them close to the Folio versions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet, which have been dated, by topical references and by language similarities to the two dated narrative poems, in the early 1590s (203).

Sonnet 107

All of this is by way of introducing Sonnet 107, which, although not considered one of his greatest, has probably caused the most discussion since it alone seems bent on revealing everything that he was so careful to hide in the other 125.  Not only does it go out of its way to identify the Fair Youth as the Earl of Southampton and to locate him, and by extension the surrounding sonnets, to 1603 when he was released from the Tower by King James, it’s also written in a different style.

As Schaar explains, most of the sonnets were written close in time, one after another.  Schaar et al see two bursts: 1591-92, and 1594-95.   These dates fit perfectly with what we know of Southampton, who really was a boy, that is, a teenager, in the early 1590s.  This scenario fits the first 17, the so-called marriage or procreation sonnets, with a known event, Burghley’s effort to get Southampton married to Oxford’s daughter, Elizabeth Vere.  In fact, the entire cycle fits perfectly with the biographies of Oxford (the Poet), Southampton (the Fair Youth), Essex (the Rival Poet) and Emilia Bassano (the Dark Lady).

All but a very few of the sonnets, including those that come just before and just after 107, are end-stopped throughout, that is, the expression of each thought is compressed into a phrase that pauses at the end of a line.  There are a very few (I counted four) in which enjambment  carries the thought  over from the first to the second line, though the basic iambic rhythm remains.  This style is one of the things that places the Sonnets early in Shakespeare’s career, as later he became much more relaxed about meter and enjambment.

But in 107 the opening expression ranges across not just two, or even three, but the entire first four lines!  Most unusually, the iambic rhythm is gone from those lines!  It’s a good strong poem, but located as it is surrounded by sonnets of a diffrent style, it sounds like someone else wrote it.  Frankly, it sounds like John Donne.  I’m not saying he wrote it, but that’s who it sounds like. So there are two big things that make this poem stand out in contrast to the rest of the sonnets, a violation of the tradition of secrecy, and also of a pattern adhered to throughout the entire rest of the cycle.

Cherchez le editor

My guess is that whoever published the poems inserted 107 for the very reason that it’s assumed such importance today, because it identifies the Fair Youth and it also locates the cycle at a particular point in time.  Since the author took obvious pains not to identify persons or events, this would have to have been done by the editor who prepared them for publication, and who probably was in harmony with the publisher.

I can’t say for certain who might have been Oxford’s literary executor, but a very good candidate would be William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who, by 1603, when Oxford was approaching the end of his life, was better-situated than anyone else to protect the poet’s valuable papers from those who might be anxious to see them disappear.  And who better to prepare them for the press than Pembroke’s own mother, Mary Sidney, who was probably already preparing another elegant edition of her brother’s works.  This scenario also helps to identify the Sonnets’ dedicatee, the mysterious “Master W.H.”

Why would the Pembrokes wish to make clear what Shakespeare had left ambiguous?

I can’t answer that, but I can point to something similar that occured in 1598 with the third edition of Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, edited and published by Mary, in which she included his sonnet cycle of the 1580s, Astrophil and Stella. She also included, for the first time, a sonnet that hadn’t been in any previous edition or in any of the manuscript versions that predated their publication in print back in 1591.  This sonnet, numbered 37, is the one that identifies Stella as Penelope Devereux.

It’s often assumed that #37 was left out of the cycle at first because it identified Stella, though that doesn’t explain why it then became necessary to make the identification.  True, by 1598 Penelope, though married, was openly living with her lover, Sir Charles Blount, Ld Mountjoy, so by then she had little reputation left to lose.  Even so, why stir the pot?  Could it be to direct suspicion away from Mary, who was suffering from the ususal rumors that followed women of celebrity, in her case that she and Philip had been lovers, that Stella was Mary, and that her brother was her son’s true father (Aubrey, Brief Lives, 140)?

That Mary (and her sons) might want to direct suspicion away from herself as the object of what could be seen as a shameful incestuous passion on Philip’s part would be altogether understandable, or that Penelope Devereux, already into her scandalous relationship with Mountjoy, would be willing to let her name be used to protect Mary  (Sidney makes it clear that the lust was all on his side, that Stella remained pure) is not only the stuff of romance, it’s the stuff of real life, that is, the real lives of romantic poets, who tend to take big emotional risks, much as astronauts, firemen and bullfighters take physical risks.

There was a close bond between the Devereux siblings and the Sidneys.  Philip and Mary were the children of Mary Dudley, sister of the Earl of Leicester.  Throughout the years while Leicester was hoping to marry Queen Elizabeth, Philip played the role of his uncle’s heir.  When Leicester finally gave up and married Lettice Knollys, widow of the 2nd Earl of Essex and mother of Robert and Penelope, Philip was forced to pass on the role of his uncle’s heir to Robert Devereux,Leicester’s new stepson.  As Philip lay dying of wounds in 1586 (suffered under his uncle’s command), he honored this rather mystical bond by ceremoniously handing on his sword to Essex, a bond that Essex then honored by marrying Philip’s widow.  (It was this sort of chivalrous behavior that made his friends love Essex.)  This bond between Essex and the saintly Philip then extended to their sisters, Mary Sidney and Penelope Devereux.

Why Oxford wrote the Sonnets

There was nothing improper about the way it started.  A marriage deal was in the works to unite his daughter and Burghley’s ward, the young Earl of Southampton, so the first 17 sonnets were written in the kind of passionate terms that fathers of marriagable daughters did back then.  (See Burghley’s wooing of the saintly Philip in letters to Sir Henry Sidney.)  Not every father could put such sentiments into verse, but as with all such social conventions, those who could certainly would.  So that’s all that was at stake with the first group, known as the marriage or procreation sonnets, in which he simply urges the youth to marry, coyly playing on his teenage narcissism.  That there were 17 in the first group suggests that they were nicely copied and bound as a gift for Southampton on his 17th birthday, Oct. 6, 1590.

With the 18th sonnet the tone changes abruptly.  What was fatherly affection fast becomes something much more personal and intimate.  So what happened?

When Oxford met Southampton, probably after the gift of the sonnets brought them together, he was at what may have been the lowest point in his life.  Now in his 40s, suddenly feeling “beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,” the boy must have represented all the things that he felt he’d lost or never had: his own vanishing youth, the son and heir he never had, the beloved friend he lost “in death’s dark night” when Rutland died in 1587, and not least, the angel he so desperately needed to continue to stage plays.

To the 17-year-old youth, Oxford may have seemed what he too had lost or maybe never had, a loving father, and one besides with the kind of access to backstage at the theater that teenagers dream of.  Teenagers need love and will respond to it wherever they find it.  Had this occured when Oxford was not at such loose ends the moment might have passed, but things being what they were, it threw him for a loop, as they say, and as was his habit, he turned for solace to pen and ink.

My guess is that at some point, for Oxford the passion became less about Southampton and more about the poetry.  My God, this was it!  This was what he’d been striving for!  This was what Sidney meant so long ago when he began his own sonnet cycle by quoting his Muse: “Fool, look in thy heart and write!”  The exhilaration, the loneliness, the jealousy, the empty hours, all were grist for his poet’s mill.  The original emotion became less important than how to express it.

The passion passed, as all things must, but like a beautiful shell on a beach after a great wave rushes back to sea, it left something precious in its wake, the language of Shakespeare.  For it was in the crucible of his love for Southampton and the combined happiness and pain it brought him, that he found the voice he’d been seeking through all the years of translating and listening and experimenting, the language we speak today, the language of modern English.


A different take on Sonnet 107 can be found in an article by Eric Miller, a poet and independent scholar from California, published in The Oxfordian, vol 9, 2005.


For comments click here.

14 thoughts on “Deconstructing Sonnet 107

  1. Hi Stephanie, thanks for including Eric Miller’s essay, which seems to make much sense to me.

  2. Hi Stephanie and Readers,

    Thanks for including reference to my own “take” on Sonnet 107 at the end of yours—showing that you can be generous and tolerant of other points of view. This I know as it is to you I owe thanks for serving as editor and publisher of my own “Dating Sonnet 107” – which is at extreme odds with yours. Certainly, two views can hardly be further apart—unless it be my own and your friend’s Hank Whittemore’s. I hope Hank chimes in.

    Though your article is entitled “Deconstructing Sonnet 107”, you deal very little with that subject. From my point of view you, and most all commentators on the subject of the Sonnets in general and 107, in particular, assume orthodoxy inherited from the Stratfordians which I find peculiarly lacking in critical thinking or proof. The authorities you adduce to buttress your remarks are all dyed-in-the-wool Stratfordians “scholars” who make (or made) their living by pretending to a knowledge they do not possess, but in accordance with the orthodoxy of their guilds.

    For instance, there is no evidence, at all, that any Sonnet was written to or about Southampton. That is a fact. Moreover it is a fact, that there is no evidence that “the” Fair Youth was a single person instead of a number of homoerotic young boys that Oxford had an attraction to over a period of decades. This point was recently conceded to by Stephan Greenblatt in his Will in the World (2004). You state “Ignoring the Stratford biography or any consideration of who the principals might have been. . . the only dates that are solid, they [the Orthodoxy] place most all of the Sonnets somewhere in the early 1990’s. . .” And you continue with the comment that “Their findings [the Stratfordians] are corroborated by other scholars [also Stratfordians] replicating their efforts. . .”

    You then go on to opine, finally, about 107, that it “Not only goes out of its way to identify the Fair Youth as the Earl of Southampton, who really was a boy, that is, a teenager, in the early 1590’s.” You have, with that remark, only confirmed a previous conviction inherited (at quite a late date, I might add) from Stratfordians and totally lacking evidence. In law the statement itself would not be admissible as it lacks “a foundation in fact.”

    I’ll stop. You get the gist. I have read the Sonnets, over the last 50 years, probably a hundred times. And I can confirm, by the way, that you make some good remarks about the way a lot of sonnets are written by Sonneteers. And thanks to your reader who commended my efforts through your referral.

  3. Responding to Eric Miller:

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the Stratford bath, Eric. Orthodox Shakespeareans and Stratfordians are not ipso facto one and the same. Without the work of scores of orthodox scholars, authorship scholars would have little to work with. Where would we be without E.K. Chambers, T.W. Baldwin, Caroline Spurgeon, Lily B. Campbell, and so many others? Not all orthodox scholars allow the Stratford story to affect their conclusions and some of those who do have done useful work that’s easily separated from a Stratford interpretation.

    As I tried to make clear, I go by the Shaar book not only for his impressively detailed scholarship, but also because neither he nor those he cited were using the Stratford story as a frame of reference. If you read the book you would see this. The evidence they offer for the dating is totally unconnected to the Stratford story, and it’s totally convincing, to me at least. Had the dating suggested someone other than Southampton, my scenario would have been altered to fit what I saw as facts that can’t be ignored. “If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

    As for Southampton as the Fair Youth, I have to say, as I do whenever challenged on something I claim as fact, if not Southampton, then who? I agree with Southampton as the Fair Youth because so many facts that we have about Oxford fit perfectly with this identification. That Oxford had a daughter whom his father-in-law was trying to get married to Southampton is one of those sets of likelihoods that when connected end by validating each other. Facts, real facts, don’t stand alone. If a fact is missing for some reason, we are perfectly justified in assuming it’s true if it fits neatly with those facts we have.

    When you claim a series of lovers you are posing an anomaly in a tradition that Shakespeare, like Tasso, Sidney and all the great sonneteers, followed, which was to document a particular passion from start to finish. Oxford did publish a number of other sonnets, which we can be sure were not all written about the same person, or about a particular sequence of events and feelings with that person, for had they been they would have been published in the traditional way as a cycle.

    So, as you see, much argument over the Sonnets. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be seen as a part of the true story. What it does mean is that, because they are so lacking in self-evident facts, they can’t be used as a bearing wall for a particular theory, even my own.

  4. Responding to hopkinshughes

    I agree with at least part of your last statement, i.e., that whatever arguments over the Sonnets doesn’t mean that the Sonnets themselves can’t be seen as a true story. I believe the Sonnets can be seen as a true story–much of it, if not most of it. But, I don’t think we have the same “true story” in mind.

    I am certainly motivated by what you say endorsing Shaar’s book. You are correct that I have not read that book and shall soon remedy that oversight. I’ve read so many on this subject, but, granted not that and so I will definitely do so. If I am convinced that Shaar’s book has convinced me of your point of view I’ll let you know.


  5. Dear Stephanie –

    Thanks for writing up this informative blog entry about the Shakespeare sonnets and Sonnet 107 in particular. As usual you’ve provided your readers with important information and insights. Yes, we differ on key points, but I’m glad to see several areas where we’ve come to the same conclusion. Let me first list them:

    We agree that most of the Shakespeare works come from Oxford’s own experiences and emotions. Not to say the plays are “autobiographical” in the strict sense, but that, as you say, the emotions and insights come from the circumstances, relationships and events of his particular life, along with other elements ranging from the classics to flights of pure fancy.

    Perhaps we agree that the sonnets represent his most directly autobiographical writings under the Shakespeare name, in that he uses “I” presumably to speak for himself about the specific circumstances and events in which he was involved, with specific individuals being addressed and described.

    We agree that Edward de Vere 17th earl of Oxford is the author.

    We agree that Henry Wriothesley 3rd earl of Southampton is the younger man known to us traditionally as the friend or fair youth.

    We agree that the sonnets were published in the order that Oxford intended. You feel it’s the case “for the most part” while I feel the arrangement is exactly what he intended.

    It seems clear, you say, that “the Poet’s desire is less sexual than emotional, the desire of a man for a son,” and I agree but for different reasons. I think we can temporarily leave aside our different views of the relationship between Oxford (b. 1550) and Southampton
    (b. 1573) and continue to explore Sonnet 107 together.

    SONNETS 1-17: 1590
    We agree that Oxford wrote the first seventeen sonnets to urge Southampton into a marriage with his daughter Elizabeth Vere, granddaughter of Southampton’s guardian William Cecil Lord Burghley.

    SONNET 107: 1603
    We agree – and most scholars have felt the same – that Sonnet 107 is referring to the release of Southampton from the Tower by King James on April 10, 1603 – after two years and two months in the prison.

    These are some of the places where we agree, even though we differ greatly about what was actually going on. I’m intrigued by certain statements you make:

    You ask aloud what desire [motive] could have kept Oxford writing to Southampton: “My answer,” you write, is “a simpatico-son-in-law and a theater patron with solid credit.”

    Well, I disagree – and I’d ask you how you explain the urgency and stridency of those first seventeen sonnets to the seventeen-year-old earl. The lecturing tone, the paternal tone, the desperation – “Make thee another self for love of me” – would seem equivalent to the proverbial smashing of a gnat with a sledgehammer. Also, in my view the idea that Oxford wrote any of these intensely felt sonnets in order to gain patronage for his writing, is simply not credible. I feel it cheapens Oxford’s character not to mention the sonnets themselves.

    SONNET 107
    To me it’s ironic, Stephanie, that you land on this climactic verse only to decide that it’s really not so good and even that it “sounds like someone else wrote it.” I don’t think most sonnet experts would agree with that. Robert Giroux, for example, felt that the first four lines are by a mature poet at the very top of his game. Here again, my feeling is that this is a way for you to avoid coming to terms with the circumstances behind the writing.

    Let me ask some questions:

    Do you really feel Oxford did not write Sonnet 107? If so, we should stop this discussion right away. (That’s a joke, but it does have some truth in it, eh?)

    If Oxford exulted that Southampton had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” but now the “mortal Moon” is dead and “my love looks fresh” (out of the Tower, for one thing), don’t you think he would have written a sonnet in reaction to Southampton’s tragic involvement in the Essex Rebellion?

    If he writes about the younger earl’s liberation of 1603, wouldn’t he have written about his arrest and incarceration in 1601?

    Do you think any of the sonnets placed earlier than 107 are about Southampton’s imprisonment?

    Do you think Oxford abandoned Southampton (in terms of writing to him) all during his prison time, only to wax eloquent over his release?

    Why, in Sonnet 107, while expressing joy over Southampton’s freedom, would Oxford directly mention Elizabeth – the Moon – and refer to her indirectly as a tyrant? Many scholars feel the couplet refers to the late queen as a tyrant:

    And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
    When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

    Why would Oxford promise Southampton a monument (“in this” or in this sonnet or these sonnets) and, in the same breath, refer to the crests and tombs of kings?

    The final line appears to refer to the great brass tomb of Henry VII, grandfather of Elizabeth and founder of the Tudor dynasty, and she is being laid to rest temporarily in the shadow of that tomb. What is the connection between Southampton and Elizabeth that would cause Oxford to write these bitter lines?

    I’m no expert on stylistics and various attempts to date the sonnets or any other writings of that era, but I do know that I’m skeptical in many areas. For example, it’s assumed that if Oxford wrote a play in 1593 and then wrote a sonnet with similar words or stylistic and rhetorical elements, he must have written the sonnet around the same time period. I say this is not very scientific and has very little validity if any. But that’s another discussion.

    I’ll stop here for now. Thanks for the discussion.


    1. Hank,

      Of course we agree on many things, the earth is round, etc., but with regard to interpreting the Sonnets, it’s what we don’t agree on that matters. In your response to Eric Miller you state that your theory “answers all the questions.” In fact it doesn’t answer the number one question: why he wrote the sonnets in the first place. Your hypothesis, if I understand it correctly, is that he wrote them out of sorrow that he could do nothing to help his son, Southampton, achieve his rightful place, namely the throne of England, an hypothesis necessarily based on another hypothesis, that Elizabeth had sex with Oxford, neither of them with any support that I can see (after years of research) from history, psychology, or literature.

      To be blunt, without Oxford’s sperm getting together with Elizabeth’s egg there’s no Prince Tudor and therefore no reason to write 126 poems on the subject. No research has ever turned up any evidence that such an event (sperm meets egg) ever took place. In fact, as I detail in several pages here, all the evidence is of a woman who did not dare, for many, many perfectly understandable reasons, to have sex with anyone, including the man she was most in love with in her “hot youth,” Robert Dudley. No sex = no Prince Tudor; no Prince Tudor = no need for any scenario that sees the sonnets as based on dynastic politics.

      If you have any interest in dealing with the reasons why she could not possibly have allowed a pregnancy to take place, I’ve gone into some detail on several pages, beginning with “This Queen hates marriage.”

      As for where Sonnet 107 fits into the picture, quite honestly I don’t know. I offered some thoughts, but as I’ve said over and over, for me the Sonnets are simply too devoid of solid fact and too succeptible to fantasizing to use as a starting point for a reasonable scenario. I seek a scenario for the entire period, not just the Essex rebellion, which as far as I can see hardly needs an explanation beyond what history provides. There are plenty of reasons why Essex behaved as he did without adding this into the equation. It’s not necessary and there’s no evidence for it. But even if there were some validity to it, it’s simply not possible unless Elizabeth had sex with Oxford. If you have proof that she did, let’s have it. If not, what’s the point of taking it any further?

  6. I read Hank’s remarks and as he seems to be asking questions only of Stephanie, I’ll not comment on that. I would note, however, for the record, so to speak, the following:

    Hank’s half-serious (or more?) remark that if you didn’t believe Oxford wrote Sonnet 107, that’s the end of the discussion. Unless I am mistaken, what I know of Hanks’ book, The Monument, his monument (to my view a “house of cards,) collapses at the first shiver of the still air–any doubt whatsoever about Hank’s incredible assumption built on assumption–all assumptions of course confirming his “monumental” work.

    Typical of Hank’s “style of reasoning” is that each of his assumptions “proves” his other assumptions–whereas there are no facts for his needed 107 Sonnet linkpin. But since Hank “rewrites” the Sonnets to his satisfaction, that’s no problem to him–but the end of the discussion to anyone who doubts his bizzare “paradigm facts.”

    No wonder he doesn’t even mention my comments–which certainly opens a Pandora’s box as to at least a slight “doubt” as to the provenance of Sonnet 107.

    Eric Miller

    1. I hadn’t read Eric’s comment before writing my initial reply to Stephanie. One thing at a time seems best. I’ll read it soon, Eric, but let me react here to your comment above.

      First, my assumption of Sonnet 107 as written by Oxford in reaction to Southampton’s liberation in spring 1603 — you’re right, an assumption, or hypothesis, built upon a variety of evidence linking the sonnets to Southampton. His motto is spread throughout the fair youth verses 1-126; the marriage sonnets fit the Burghley proposal for Southampton to marry Elizabeth Vere; the link between Sonnet 26 and other sonnets to the dedication of “Lucrece” to Southampton; and yes, the strong support for the 1603 dating of Sonnet 107 in connectioin with Southampton. Have you read Kerrigan’s analysis of this verse in favor of the 1603 dating? Have you seen Blakemore’s assertion that Kerrigan’s take might as well be Q.E.D.?

      But still, yes, an assumption or hypothesis. That is where you begin on the path to a theory. A good theory is built upon many assumptions or hypotheses, one upon another, and yes, it could be a house of cards that comes crashing down. That would be true of any other theory, its precarious nature. In the case of the Monument theory it has not collapsed; it has yielded genuine information about the history and the history, in turn, has informed the sonnets. It answers all the questions. Ask a question about the sonents and you will receive an answer — try it — and these answers all fit together in harmony, one reinforcing the other.

      I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “proof” or “proves” in my attempts to describe the Monument theory. I don’t claim proof, though it’s tempting. I do claim the development of a comprehensive theory. I do claim, importantly, a coherent explanation for everything in the sonnets.

      My joke about ending the discussion of why Oxford wrote Sonnet 107 was based on the fact that, if Stephanie denies that Oxford wrote it in the first place, what are we supposed to talk about?

      Now, Eric, I’ll read your comment. Have patience, sir. I do not claim to be right or to have proof and I do not mean to downgrade your work. I present my theory, you present yours, and we’ll see if anybody out there listens to either of us.


  7. Stephanie –

    First of all it does matter that we agree on many things, including that Oxford was the author of the Shakespeare works — something that has not yet been proved as fact. Ninety-nine percent of the world, probably 99.9 percent, disagrees with our position on the authorship. So the fact that we agree on it is significant.

    Second, you say the Monument theory doesn’t answer why Oxford wrote the sonnets. Well, it appears to me that you haven’t paid close attention to my work and have decided to comment on it based only on your opinion that there was no Tudor prince. Yet so far I’ve not mentioned that subject in my reply to your blog about Sonnet 107. I asked you several substantive questions and you chose to avoid answering any of them.

    My position is that Oxford wrote the Sonnets as an attempt to leave behind, for posterity, the truth about why he had to bury his own name behind the pen name or mask of Shakespeare. Not only why he adopted the pen name in 1593, but why he agree to have his authorship identity hidden from his own contemporary world and for at least the next few or several generations. The sonnets are filled with indications that this is the subject matter. And the vehicle by which he hopes to send this message to posterity is the “monument” of the sonnets, which he mentions in Sonnets 81 and 107 as well as indicates in 18 and 55 and elsewhere. “My name be buried where my body is” – Sonnet 72. And so on.

    And yes, the Monument theory has an answer for any question about the sonnets you could ask. You may disagree with any given answer, but the theory does supply it, and it supplies each answer in complete harmony with (and support of) all the others.

    The Monument theory offers a great many insights and observations about the Sonnets that do not require discussion of a Prince Tudor; that is simply one explanation of why Oxford would want to build a monument for “eyes not yet created” (81) or “even in the eyes of all posterity” (55). I believe the royal theme is the best one, but many other elements of the Monument theory are of great value in and of themselves. I think you haven’t looked at any of them, and if you did, it seems you’ve gotten stuck on being against the Prince Tudor explanation to the extent that you “see no point in going any further.”

    You’re taking your marbles and going home?

    Let me take just one insight that presented itself in my work — the identity of the so-called Rival Poet. Traditional thinking has been that in fact the “rival” is a real-life individual, a contemporary writer (whom you think is Essex). That image is so strongly ingrained that it comes as a shock and a joke to be told that the “rival” is in fact Oxford’s own pen name, Shakespeare, which he had attached to Southampton publicly by the two dedications to him. It may take a very long time for some or most Oxfordians to see the logic of it — even when J. Thomas Looney, identifying Oxford in 1920, declared without doubt that Oxford refers to his pen name on the dedications in writing in Sonnet 82 the lines:

    The dedicated words which writers use
    Of their fair subject, blessing every book.

    Meanwhile I want to express my admiration for Eric Miller’s work. I disagree with his conclusions, but I do think it’s very good works on different levels. I encourage people to read Eric’s work and judge for themselves.

    Eric cites seven potentially topical references in Sonnet 107. Here they are, with my answers:
    1. prophecies mocked – prophecies of Southampton in prison for life, prophecies of civil war around succession
    2. confined doom – Southampton’s imprisonment
    3. mortal moon eclipsed – Elizabeth’s mortal body has succumbed, but her eternal self as divine monarch has endured
    4. sad augurs – those who predicted civil war
    5. olives of endless age – glancing at the olive branches strewn before James, who comes to the throne in peace
    6. balmy time – the “balm” of annointed kings, a balmy time indeed
    7. ? (I don’t see this one)

    “It’s true that Sonnet 107 fits better with the events of 1603 than with most other scenarios,” Eric Miller writes, but then he makes a mighty effort to go against this fit.

    The “sad augurs” who “mock their own presage” were those who predicted chaos and civil war; and in fact the poetical sentence continues until “peace proclaims Olives of endless age.” How could it be clearer? The death of the Queen’s mortal body did not usher in a time of civil chaos and fighting; it resulted in peace.

    Nonetheless I’ll continue to study Eric’s suggested 1583 date — not because I agree with it, but because he had carried out some genuine scholarship that is inherently valuable. And my Monument theory does allow for the possibility, even probability, that some of the sonnets were written initially at an early date and then finally revised in 1603-04,as Katherine Duncan-Jones suggests.

    I’m choosing not to respond to your most recent comment, Eric. I disagree with your description of my work,but you’re certainly entitled to express it.


  8. Hank,

    If you can’t get the door open, what does it matter what’s in the house?

    It’s true that for many years I haven’t paid close attention, not only to your work, but to anything that’s based on Elizabeth giving birth to illegitimate children. There may be value in what you write, but because it’s based on an historical and psychological impossibility it’s not only not going to advance the argument for Oxford’s authorship, if it gets too much publicity it’s going to torpedo it.

    We need the English academics to get interested in the authorship question. Why? Because they have the resources to go to the source, the PRO and the household archives that Stratfordians have been combing for centuries. If Oxford wrote the Shakespeare canon, there’s bound to be evidence that we don’t have the time or the resources to access. And it is the historians we need to get interested, because this is far more an issue of history than it is of literature. The English Departments really don’t give a hoot who wrote Shakespeare; all they care about is the text. Once the historians have revamped the biography, the English departments will simply adopt it as though there was never a problem.

    If the History Departments get the idea that the Oxfordian thesis is based on the notion that the great English Queen was a trollop, they will throw the baby out with the bath quicker than you can say Jack Robinson (no pun intended). Right now my only hope is that they’ll have sense enough to regard anything based on the Sonnets as nothing more than the kind of fantasizing that Shakespeare buffs have been doing for centuries. Is that what you want?

    I can only say that I wish like anything that you, and many others, would use your talent and energy to back a scenario that can further the effort to get the historians involved instead of this thing that can only backfire on all of us.

    If you want to have a genuine discussion, read what I’ve written about Elizabeth, and then explain how someone in her political position, with her emotional baggage, with not only her power but her very life at stake, would run the risk of getting pregnant. Once you’ve explained that I’ll be more than willing to move on to other issues.

  9. Stephanie,

    A question re the following: I have no case to make about sonnet dating, but I’m not sure about the methodology of your cited experts. How can scholars date the Sonnets with only 2 publications from a single time (1593-4) against which to compare them? Wouldn’t they need an author’s publications from 1570, 1580 and 1600 (and 1610, if he had any) against which to compare the language to find subtle differences in the author’s compositions? The same goes for LLL and R&J. If the author’s language didn’t change much over ten years, they could be a decade off. Some Oxfordians think that LLL and R&J began much earlier than the early 1590s. These sonnet daters are relying on Stratfordian dating, which could be off again by ten years. I don’t see, then, how their conclusions are valid, much less definitive.

    Bob Prechter

    From the post: Ignoring the Stratford biography or any consideration of who the principles might have been, by comparing the language to that of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, the only works by Shakespeare whose dates are solid, they place most or all of the Sonnets somewhere in the early 1590s: “. . . the vast majority of the sonnets we have examined seem thus to have been written between 1591-92 and 1594-95” (Shaar 185). Their findings are corroborated by other scholars replicating their efforts, one being G.P.V. Akrigg, Southampton’s biographer, who gives an impressive list of scholars who agree that their language also places them close to the Folio versions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet, which have been dated, by topical references and by language similarities to the two dated narrative poems, in the early 1590s (203).

  10. Bob, this gets into details that are best sorted out by reading Schaar. If you would do that I would be delighted to go through it myself again and discuss it here, but it’s too detailed to condense. Briefly, as you surely know, there simply isn’t anything by Shakespeare that can be absolutely dated to any other time period. Many factors suggest that Shakespeare’s style developed and changed over time, but without firm dates of course this remains in the realm of conjecture, along with 99 percent of everything else we discuss. What is convincing to me is that the study has been replicated more than once, once by a scholar unaware that it had been done by someone else who got very similar results, and that it was done without reference to the Stratford biography.

  11. Katherine Duncan-Jones wrote in the 1997 Arden edition of the Sonnets which she edited:

    “Recent stylometric studies … point to 1603-4 as a plausible time for the composition or completion of most of the ‘fair youth’ sonnets after 1-17…” (p. 10)

    “Like internal evidence, external reference points to 1603-4 as initiating an intense period of writing (and perhaps revising)…” (p 28)

    I have found that sonnets 107-126 carry a very large number of links with the 1604 text of “Hamlet” as though the author had both texts side by side at that point — and Oxford’s recorded death on June 24, 1604 fits the idea that he labored virtually up to the end of his life.

    My take is that sonnets 1-26 were written during the 1590’s and that 153 was written in the 1570’s, perhaps with 154, although the latter appears to be more mature. Sonnts 27-126 may have had earlier drafts, in other contexts, but ultimately written/revised to fit within the time frame of 1601-1603. The dark lady sonnets 138 and 144 appeared in Passionate Pilgrim in 1599 but were revised for the 1609 quarto; the other dark lady sonnets between 127 and 152, in my view, were written and/or revised to correspond with the time frame between the rebellion of Feb 8, 1601 and very soon after the queen’s death on March 24, 1603.

    In the fair youth sonnets, 105 would mark the queen’s death and 106 would mark the final night Southampton spent in prison – April 9, 1603. No 106 starts out “When in the Chronicle of wasted time,” clearly marking the end of a sequence, and placed right before the triumphant 107 announcing Southampton’s liberation after having been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.”

    Stylistic studies are not to be taken as gospel, to understate the case. Oxford used the same terminology as a young man that we find in the sonnets long afterward. The lines grow in maturity, but, for example, by the 1570’s he is writing “In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” (in a sonnet about the Queen) and in sonnet 152 ending the dark lady series we find, “Thy love, thy truth, thy constancy.”

    Sounds to me as though he kept building upon the same themes throughout his life.

    Best wishes to all,

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