The 1609 Quarto
both a "Living Record"
and a "Monument"
Perhaps the most startling insight to come out of The Monument is how all the pieces of the sonnet puzzle come together, including the publication of the 1609 Quarto. The idea that this 1609 edition was unauthorized and pirated, and that it contains numerous errors, can now be seen to be far off the mark.
Indeed, many commentators over the years (see Traditional Commentary on the Sonnets) have suspected that there was much more to the 1609 Quarto than just a bunch of stolen sonnets thrown together by an opportunistic publisher looking to make a quick buck. But with the Monument solution in place, anyone can now see that both story and structure work in concert with each other.
Biography and Autobiography = the Story
Many have suspected that the Sonnets of William Shakespeare were an autobiographical document, but one with which no known biography could be aligned. Nothing in the Sonnets can be linked to any specific circumstance or event in the life of William of Stratford, the man traditionally thought to be the great poet-dramatist -- and this situation was significant in giving rise to the Shakespeare Authorship Question in the first place, a question that has continued ever since serious study of the Sonnets began in the late 1700's.
"This autobiography is written by a foreign man in a foreign tongue, which can never be translated." -- T. S. Eliot, 1926
"The real problem of the Sonnets is to find out who 'Shake-speare' was. That done, it might be possible to make the crooked straight and the rough places plane -- but not till then! … It has sometimes been said that if we could only know who wrote the Sonnets, we should know the true Shakespeare." -- Sir George Greenwood, 1908
The Monument now alters the paradigm and, in the process, solves the Authorship Mystery once and for all. The known biographies of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and Henry Wriosthesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, in the 1590s -- culminating in the disasterous Essex Rebellion (a rebellion which was all about the succession to the English Throne) -- provide a wealth of detail and historical circumstances. Add to these facts a theory that perhaps both de Vere (The Poet) and Southampton (the Fair Youth) had their own stake in the succession crisis, and suddenly everything begins to make sense.
Thus, the Monument postulates that the Sonnets of William Shakespeare were created by a father (Edward de Vere, the Poet) for his unacknowledged royal son (Henry Wriosthesley, the Fair Youth):
As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortune's dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth. (Sonnet 37)
This "monument" of verse was written and constructed by Edward de Vere to preserve the memory of Henry Wriothesley as his unacknowledged natural son by Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) and, therefore, a Prince with "true rights" to succeed her as King Henry IX:
So should my papers, yellowed with their age,
Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be termed a Poet's rage,
And stretched meter of an Antique song. (Sonnet 17)
Oxford blamed himself for having brought his royal son into the world without giving him the chance to become who he was:
Yet this abundant issue seemed to me
But hope of Orphans, and un-fathered fruit. (Sonnet 97)
The Queen, who was Beauty and Fortune, had made their son a royal ward or "child of state" raised as Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Although deprived of his true stature, he had not been "un-fathered" or made into a publicly known royal bastard:
If my dear love were but the child of state,
It might for fortune's bastard be un-fathered. (Sonnet 124)
The imperial frown of Queen Elizabeth I, who was also Beauty, cast its dark shadow upon Southampton, turning him from "fair" or royal to "black" bastardy and with no chance to be her "successive heir" to the throne:
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 slandered by a bastard shame. (Sonnet 127)
(Within the traditional paradigm, these lines of Sonnet 127 refer to dark-eyed brunettes gaining favor over blondes who use cosmetics! The Folger Library edition paraphrases the lines this way: "Dark coloring once was not accounted beautiful, at least it was not so called; but now darkness is acknowledged to possess beauty, and beauty itself is called a counterfeit.")
The Womb in which to Grow His Son
It may sound strange to us, even farfetched, but Oxford actually thought of this sonnet sequence as a “womb” in which, as both father and poet, he would give Southampton a kind of rebirth and growth that would result in the “living” record of him.
Oxford has taken great care to make sure readers in the future will be able to comprehend his purpose and subject matter, which explains why, all through the Fair Youth sequence (1-126), the sonnets are self-referencing.
The central verse, Sonnet 76, begins with “my verse” as a womb that has become “barren” –
Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
In line 8 of Sonnet 76 he speaks of the “birth” of the words -
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed
Editor Stephen Booth observes: “The conjunction of verse and barren anticipates the introduction in line 8 of the traditional idea of poems and poets’ children.”
Oxford in Sonnet 17 tells us that “my verse” serves as a “tomb” in which to “hide” or conceal Southampton within the lines of poetry wherein he is never actually named:
Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were filled with your most high deserts?
Though yet heaven knows it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life, and shows not half your parts
But the “tomb” also serves as a “womb” in which Oxford’s thoughts about Southampton are able to “grow” his son, as he states in Sonnet 86:
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew
Later in Sonnet 115 he is continuing the same process:
To give full growth to that which still doth grow
And in Sonnet 126, the final verse of the Fair Youth Series, he confirms that his purpose has been to recreate his son’s life and growth:
O Thou my lovely Boy who in thy power
Dost hold time’s fickle glass, his sickle hour,
Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st
Thy lovers withering as thy sweet self grow’st.
He has grown by Time or the ever-waning of the Moon-goddess Elizabeth, who has physically died and become, here at the end of this living record, the “sovereign mistress over wrack.”
Among other references to his son’s birth and growth are these:
O then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
“Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought
To march in ranks of better equipage.” (Sonnet 32)
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow (Sonnet 83)
And ruined love when it is built anew
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater (Sonnet 119)
The "Living Record" is embodied in the Structure
The monument contains the "living record" of Southampton in the form of a diary or chronicle -- an unofficial but truthful record of real events as they unfolded in real time, resulting in a personal masterpiece that is also a genuine historical and political document for the eyes of posterity:
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme!
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall Statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth!Your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes. (Sonnet 55)
This living record is laid out like chapters in a book, with a carefully designed structure holding all the parts together.
The 100-Sonnet Center
The elegant structure contains precisely 100 consecutive sonnets (27-126) at the exact center of the main structure of one hundred and fifty-two sonnets:
1---------26 27------------------126 127---------152
(26 sonnets) (100 sonnets) (26 sonnets)
This is the heart of the living record, which begins with Sonnet 27 upon the Essex Rebellion of February 8, 1601, when Essex and Southampton were imprisoned in the Tower as traitors to the crown. This 100-Sonnet Center is clearly modeled on other Elizabethan poetry cycles of 100 poems (such as The Passionate Century of Love by Thomas Watson, dedicated to Oxford).
This unique central sequence (Sonnets 27-126) is a dramatic narrative covering the Essex Rebellion of 1601 to the Queen's funeral of 1603, containing ten chapters of ten sonnets apiece:
The Ten Chapters of the 100 Sonnet Center
The prison years of Southampton
1. THE CRIME Sonnets 27 - 36 February 8 - 17, 1601
2. THE TRIAL Sonnets 37 - 46 February 18 - 27, 1601
3. THE PLEA Sonnets 47 - 56 February 28 - March 9, 1601
4. THE REPRIEVE Sonnets 57 - 66 March 10 - 19, 1601
5. THE PENANCE Sonnets 67 - 76 March 20 - 29, 1601
6. THE SACRIFICE Sonnets 77 - 86 March 30 - April 8, 1601
7. THE TEACHING Sonnets 87 - 96 April 1601 - January 1602
8. THE PROPHECY Sonnets 97 - 106 February 8, 1602 - April 9, 1603
The final days of the Tudor Dynasty
9. THE CONTRACT Sonnets 107 - 116 April 10 - 19, 1603
10. THE OBLATION Sonnets 117 - 126 April 20 - 28 + Farewell Envoy
Incredibly, at the center of this 100 sonnet center the poet then tells the reader exactly what he is up to, using the structure to reveal his invention (see The Structure of the 1609 Quarto for more detail).
Two unique instructional verses (Sonnets 76-77) are at the midpoint of the central 100-sonnet sequence:
(50 sonnets) (50 sonnets)
The "invention" or special language is explained in Sonnet 76, where Oxford testifies that he uses the "noted weed" or familiar costume of poetry to conceal yet reveal his dangerous truth:
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed? (Sonnet 76)
He focuses on a single topic:
O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument. (Sonnet 76)
But the Poet is actually engaged in "dresssing old words new" to convey one image on the surface and, simultaneously, unfolding the progress of this single story:
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent. (Sonnet 76)
The Time Line
The timeline of the Fair Youth series (1-126) is literally the ever-dwindling time left in the life and reign of Elizabeth I, leading to England's inevitable date with the royal succession (This is also the subject of the "Shakespeare" history plays that began appearing on the popular stage in the 1590s...)
1590 1600 1601 1603
The dramatic narrative continues through the death of Queen Elizabeth on March 24, 1603, when the victorious, all-powerful Secretary Robert Cecil continued to hold Henry Wriothesley in the Tower until King James of Scotland was proclaimed King James I of England.
Sonnet 107 is the dramatic climax of the entire narrative, marking Southampton's release from the Tower of London on April 10, 1603, after he had been "supposed as forfeit to a confined doom."
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,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom. (Sonnet 107)
Oxford now uses one sonnet per day until Sonnet 125 -- marking Queen Elizabeth's funeral procession procession on April 28, 1603, when noblemen "bore the canopy" over her effigy and coffin from London to Westminster Abbey:
Were't ought to me I bore the canopy,
He closes with Sonnet 126, which concludes the 100-sonnet center and the chronology of what we may now recognize as a dynastic diary that has been leading, all along, to the continuation or collapse of the House of Tudor.
Thou my lovely Boy, who in thy power... (Sonnet 126)
In the traditional view, the Sonnets appear to record a "love triangle" involving the poet known as "Shakespeare" with his young friend ("the Fair Youth") and his treacherous mistress ("the Dark Lady"), who steals the younger man away.
But this is just the fictional story on the surface. The Sonnets are non-fiction disguised as fiction. In fact the verses are arranged to preserve a record of the truth about the political struggle during the final years of Elizabeth I -- when Secretary Robert Cecil held Southampton hostage in the Tower until after the Queen's death and the succession of King James.
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was the Hamlet-like nobleman who had used "Shakespeare" to support the political goals of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, his unacknowledged son by the Queen. Edward de Vere introduced "Shakespeare" by dedicating "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece" to Southampton, uniquely linking him to the warrior-like name.
On the eve of the Essex Rebellion of 1601, he allowed "Richard II" to be staged to rouse emotions in support of a palace coup against Secretary Cecil:
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare... (Sonnet 35)
When the Rebellion failed, Oxford was forced to sit in judgment of his son at the trial and vote to condemn him to death for treason. Behind the scenes, however, he labored mightily to save him from execution and gain his freedom:
Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,
And 'gainst my self a lawful plea commence. (Sonnet 35)
Oxford and Southampton paid "ransom" by agreeing to remain silent about Southampton's claim to the throne. Cecil held Southampton hostage in the Tower for two years, until the Queen died and James was proclaimed King.
The winners of this struggle got to write the "official" history, but Oxford defiantly built a "monument" of verse to preserve "the living record" of Henry Wriothesley for posterity. But for this "monument" to have any purpose or meaning, it had to be published. Hence the 1609 quarto.
The central story begins on February 8, 1601, when Southampton was arrested for his lead role in the Essex Rebellion and was imprisoned as a traitor in the Tower of London ... and it ends immediately following the funeral of Queen Elizabeth I on April 28, 1603, when the Tudor dynasty was officially over.
Edward de Vere's death was recorded on June 24, 1604, when Southampton was arrested again and returned to the Tower for questioning overnight. His papers were seized, but the manuscript of SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS escaped the authorities. The little book containing 154 consecutive verses was printed for the first time in 1609 -- but there is no record that anyone in contemporary England ever read the quarto-size volume or even knew it existed. (A note referring to a book of Shakespeare's Sonnets in the papers of actor Edward Alleyn "is almost certainly a forgery by John Payne Collier," writes editor Katherine Duncan-Jones in the Arden edition of the Sonnets, 1997, p. 7.)
The Shakespeare name in the cover title was hyphenated, indicating a pseudonym. The space between the two lines ordinarily would have contained "By William Shakespeare," but it was left blank to indicate the real author was unidentified.
The Sonnets went underground for more than a century until 1711, when a surviving copy was reproduced. By then the tradition of "Shakespeare" had grown to the magnitude of legend, so the true meaning of the Sonnets was obscured.
In 1817, more than two centuries after the first printing, Nathan Drake was first to point to Southampton as the Fair Youth for whom the Poet built the monument, sacrificing his own identity (in the eyes of his contemporaries in "this world") at the same time:
Or I shall live your Epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten,
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die!
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
You still shall live (such virtue hath my Pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men. (Sonnet 81)