THIS STAR OF ENGLAND
Man of the Renaissance
by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn
THE PLAY, Hamlet, is the keystone of Oxford’s whole dramatic edifice. It is the open-sesame to the personality and the method of the artist, the revelation of the soul of the man. Here, more than in any other drama, we are given Lord Oxford’s attitude—as of 1583 and ’84—towards the persons nearest him, and never do we receive a clearer exposition of his unhappy relationship with Anne Cecil than we do in Hamlet’s with Ophelia. “I did love thee once,” he tells her (III.1.115), though he immediately contradicts himself, so that she will put no dependence in him. And he assures Laertes (V.1.276-8):
I lov’d Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
Could not. . . make up my sum.
Both these statements are true. For apparently Oxford had loved Anne, and he would love her again, with a self-torturing remorse, after her death; but when he was with her, although she appealed to something within him, he could not spontaneously love her, because he could never altogether trust her; and here he shows us why. She was—or so he was bound to believe—her father’s daughter primarily, really his creature; and he himself could not have the whole-souled relationship with her which his ardent nature demanded, so long as this was the case. It was sad for Ophelia—for Anne—because she was powerless to forswear her allegiance to her father—as Desdemona did, for instance, in the play Oxford returned to and partially re-wrote, in a spirit of self-castigation.
That she admired him and looked up to him he realizes.
Ophelia. O! what a noble mind is here o’erthrown:
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword;
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observ’d of all observers, quite, quite down! (1) (III.1.153-7.)
But he cannot believe that she entirely loves him. All she says about that is:
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck’d the honey of his music vows. (158-9.)
Perhaps he cannot believe that she is capable of deep, single-hearted love for her husband. This may have been the “defect in her,” which. “did quarrel with the noblest grace she ow’d.” In a word, he may have found her shallow; and this romantic idealist was, as we have said before, the last man in the world to be married to a shallow woman. He must have been obliged to mask his purposes from Anne as Hamlet did his from Ophelia, and for the same reasons, and, indeed, as he “put an antic disposition on” in his conversation with Polonius. (II.2.172 et seq.)
However, he has no illusions about his own faults. Hamlet says (III.1.122-9):
I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between heaven and earth? We are arrant knaves all; believe none of us.
Could there, incidentally, be a plainer statement than this that he dramatizes his “offences”? He uses his “thoughts to put them in,” his “imagination to give them shape”—which is to say, dramatic form and significance—and his “time to act them in,” which he sometimes literally did, while on other occasions, like Hamlet, directing his players to do so.
Anne was “the sweet little Countess of Oxford.” Ophelia is called “sweet Ophelia,” and “pretty Ophelia.” “Sweets to the sweet,” says the Queen; “farewell! . . . sweet maid.” And Laertes exclaims in a kind of sorrowful exasperation:
Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,
She turns to favour and to prettiness. (IV.5.186-7.)
So she seems to have done in life. Anne’s letters which survive show this tendency, and so do her Epitaphs upon her infant son. But she does seem “sweet,” or at any rate, pliant; and thus she is piteous, as Ophelia is piteous.
Hamlet speaks of being “proud, revengeful, ambitious.” Oxford was all of these. It was his pride which impelled him to leave his wife, pride in his good name, which he felt she had, like Mariana in Measure for Measure,caused to be “disvalu’d in levity,” making their personal catastrophe “the fable of the world.” He must have been lacerated with humiliation by the story which had been bandied about the court, that Burghley had tricked him into sleeping with his wife when he believed himself keeping a rendezvous with another woman. Hamlet warns Ophelia (III.1.137-8):
. . . be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.
We are tempted to interrupt our argument here to quote an ingenious, fantastic, but highly provocative theory set forth by Mr. Phillips, or at least the part of it which seems most credible to us, which describes Ophelia’s father as
a gnome-a little man with a white beard, or, indeed a Polonius: that is, an inhabitant of Polyne (Poland) [See Weekly: Etymological Dictionary], which is a Russian word, meaning “open water among polar ice”—an ice-devil of some kind, like Angelo. . . “a man whose blood is very snow-broth,” who was “not made by man and woman after this downright way of creation” (M. tor M.: IlI.2). That is why the earth does not cry to heaven (as did the blood of Abel); but heaven to earth for news of him, because he was of the earth; and why his magical body immediately relapsed into that of which it was made. And as from the earth springs water, so from him sprang an elemental of the water— Ophelia, an Undine—one who was truly “native and indued unto that element. . ,” “. . . Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,” said Laertes, “And therefore I forbid my tears;” for there was no need to weep for a water-sprite. But had her human body lain in the grave, how could he have leapt upon it? What lay there was not human—”no man, nor woman neither,” as the grave-digger knew—but a “nymph.” (This is the first word Hamlet spoke to her—III.1.88.) (2)
That this was all present in the dramatist’s mind we are impelled to believe. It will be recalled that Russia had sent an Ambassador to England during 1583, and he had doubtless piqued Lord Oxford’s appetite for ideas no less than for the caviare Hamlet mentions. It is noteworthy that Poland is talked of in the play, in respect to young Fortinbras’s campaign; while of “the little patch of ground” he seeks, Hamlet says:
Why, then the Polack never will defend it. (IV.4.23.)
And in the very beginning, Horatio tells Marcellus how Hamlet.the King “smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.” (I.1.63.)
So that this definition of Polonius as an “ice-devil of some kind” could well have been in Oxford’s mind, and it must have afforded him considerable glee thus subtly, by changing Pondus to Polonius, to characterize the Lord Treasurer as cold-blooded, as well he knew the old man was. One of Elizabeth’s nicknames for him was Spirit; and in a letter—significantly, of May 8, 1583—she wrote: “Sir Spirit, I doubt I do nickname you, for those of your kind, they say, have no sense. , .” (3) meaning, of course, sensation, or feeling. There was indeed something inhuman about Burghley.
The nymph-classification for Ophelia may also have struck Oxford as peculiarly juste, for he surely intended to portray her as emotionally immature, if not actually cold-blooded, like her father. There is an abundance of symbolism in Hamlet, and no one can say with any positiveness where to draw the line.
Hamlet chides Ophelia for artifices which were common at court (III.l.144 et seq.):
I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another; you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nickname God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance.
But much of this diatribe is aimed at Queen Elizabeth, of whom each allegation was true. She certainly nicknamed God’s creatures: Hatton, her Sheep, or Lyddes; Simier, her monkey or ape; Alençon, her Moor or frog; Burghley, Spirit, or Leviathan; Oxford, her Turk; Ralegh, Water; Leicester, Sweet Robin, (4) and so on; and she painted her face thickly, by now may have begun wearing a wig (referred to in Sonnet 68), and was absurdly coquettish.
Hamlet was sick of artifice and deceit. (Note Polonius’s deprecating assurance, “For I will use no art.”)
Go to [he shouts], I’ll no more on’t; it hath made me mad. I say we will have no more marriages; those that are married already, all but one, shall live. . . .
This cry becomes all the more poignant when one realizes that the Earl of Oxford considered that he was really married to the Queen. It may be of course that poor bewildered Anne had been trying out new and fashionable wiles, perhaps imitating the Queen, in order to hold her incalculable husband. For all her seeming childishness, Ophelia is astonishingly worldly-wise in her advice to Laertes before he leaves for France.
But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And reeks not his own rede. (I.3.46-51.)
And as soon as her mind becomes deranged and repressions are released, she is positively bawdy.
Lord Oxford must often, while he sat writing beside a window, have watched Anne wandering through the gardens at Theobalds gathering flowers here and there, perhaps singing to herself as she brought them into the house. He may have seen her moving among the daffodils
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty,
hair and skirts blowing in the breeze, looking childish and distrait. The demon of his genius which inflamed his imagination could fire it with strange fancies.
He had been back with his wife for less than three years now, and evidently she had got on his nerves badly, if we are to judge by Hamlet’s attitude toward Ophelia.
When the King is plotting with Polonius to eavesdrop at their encounter, he requests the Queen to leave them too,
For we have closely sent for Hamlet hither,
That he, as ’twere by accident, may here
Affront Ophelia. (III.1.29-31.)
While the word “affront” was frequently used in that day for “confront,” it would appear that Oxford intended the double meaning, for Hamlet proceeds to affront Ophelia straightway.
But is not this because he straightway suspects her of trickery? He certainly does before the scene is over.
When the play is presented upon the stage, the set for this scene is usually the oratory in the castle, the same one in which the King is praying when Hamlet comes upon him unawares. (III.3.) Hamlet greets Ophelia:
Nymph, in thy orisons,
Be all my sins remember’d. (III.1.89-90.)
It is a point of special interest that one of the notable features of Cecil House was a handsome oratory, and Oxford would undoubtedly have seen Anne at her orisons here quite as often as he had caught sight of her roaming through the garden.
Hamlet seems to wish to love Ophelia, but he continues to “affront” her because her behavior has made him mad. Being the playwright himself—that is, being Oxford—Hamlet knew that she was obeying her father’s orders when she hovered, with such seeming innocence, at prayer in the oratory of the castle. (For all we know, this scene may have been taken directly from life; many others were.)
Polonius. Read on this book;
That show of such an exercise may colour
Your loneliness. (III.1.44-6.)
And meekly she obeys. Not only that: she tells Hamlet that her father is at home. For a man who made a fetish of truth, this lie was unforgivable.
There have been interesting comments made by Admiral Holland and the erudite Mr. Phillips upon Ophelia’s songs, some of which we shall quote. One may not agree with every interpretation, but that the songs are all meaningful, who can gainsay? It must be remembered that the Elizabethans had fantastical minds. They were at once simpler and more sophisticated than we are, and those who were cultured were far more scholarly.
You must sing down-a-down,
And you call him a-down-a.
O how the wheel becomes it! It is the false steward that stole his master’s daughter. . . . O! you must wear your rue with a difference. (IV.5.169-82.)
Admiral Holland believes that these lines, although they can be explained by one incident, are full of double meanings, and that comparison with a passage from Cymbeline will persuade the reader that his interpretation of this Elizabethan pun is justified. In Cymbeline, a soothsayer, asked “to declare the meaning” of “a piece of tender air,” explains (V.5.446-52):
The piece of tender air, thy virtuous daughter,
Which we call ‘mollis aer;’ and ‘moIlis aer’
We term it ‘mulier;’ which ‘mulier,’ I divine,
Is this most constant wife; who, even now,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Unknown to you, unsought, were clipp’d about
With this most tender air.
Admiral Holland writes:
He therefore transforms a piece of tender air into a wife by means of a pun in another language (Latin). One of the lines to be discussed fol- lows this reasoning, but in another language (French); another line has a somewhat different method, but the same language (Latin.)
From March to June 1583 . . . the Earl of Leicester, Master of the Horse, was trying to arrange a marriage between his stepdaughter, Dorothy Devereux, and James Stewart, King of Scotland. Here, therefore, we have the Master, the daughter, and the true Steward—Steward turning out to be a name and not a profession.
In July 1583, Thomas Perrott, who I think had also some office in the Royal Household, entirely upset Leicester’s plans by usurping to himself the position intended for the King of Scotland, for he eloped with Dorothy Devereux. He, therefore, is “the false steward,” and this itself would be enough to explain the third line, but. . . [the dramatist] intended that there should be no uncertainty as to what he was referring to, so he precedes the line by the remark, “O how the wheel becomes it.” If Perrott or Parrott, as the family name was sometimes spelt, is pronounced in a somewhat Italian manner, we get Parrotta or Par-rota, which in Latin means a fit wheel-hence “how the wheel becomes it.” [Becomes too is used in a double sense.] But to make this quite clear, he also introduces a line expressive of rhythm and says: “You must sing down-a-down,” the rhythm of Devereux, and “you call HIM a-down-a, the rhythm of Par-rota, and the baffling “him” is now explained. Having thus introduced the bridegroom’s name by punning references, he turns his attention to the bride’s name and says, “You must wear your rue with a difference.” Rue with a difference is different rue, in French is divers rue, which gives the French, or Norman, name of Devereux. (5)
Now for Phillips, who records that
on or before August 29, 1598, the body of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who had died on August 4th, was conveyed privately and secretly to Stamford, where it was buried on that day, the 29th. On the same day (after lying in state for six days in Westminster Abbey) a coffin, not containing his body (for that was now at Stamford) was given a magnificent funeral, which was attended by more than two hundred and fifty mourners, who did not know that they were burying a mere sham, but were sure that they were burying the body of the great Burghley. Why he was not buried in the Abbey, as befitted his position and achievements, in company with his wife and children, who can say? Why it was necessary to convey him to Stamford “privately and secretly”— that is in hugger-mugger—and so to deceive the public who attended his funeral, it would be difficult to conceive, were it not as characteristic of him as the most characteristic actions of his life. But secretly conveyed he was. . . .
So . . . was laid out of sight that little gnome-like, white-bearded genius who had had such a great labour to do for England and the true religion; and among his well-won laurels we may place some fresher leaves-the plays of Shakespeare; for he was as helpful to their invention and perfection as Satan to the perfection of the saints. (6)
Grief-stricken Ophelia sings (IV.5):
How should I your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff
And his sandal shoon. (23-6.)
The reference, while it would superficially seem to be to a pilgrim, with cockle-shell hat and staff in hand, is patently to Burghley. The Oxford Dictionary gives the meaning for the verb, cockle, as (Make to) bulge, and curl up, pucker; and the hat Burghley wears in his portraits bulges widely above the brim and is pleated, or puckered. As for his staff, that is another familiar appurtenance, as it was Shylock’s also. We have no information about his shoes, but for a man who slipped quietly about and eavesdropped behind the arras, soft sandals would have been, it would seem, de rigueur.
His beard was white as snow,
All flaxen was his poll. (193-4.)
The songs pertaining to Polonius’s funeral, as well as the King’s distress that he had
. . . done but greenly
In hugger-mugger to inter him (IV.5.82-3),
necessarily belong to a late revision of the play, since the whole affair is clarified and given point by the peculiar circumstances of Burghley’s funeral.
He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone. (29-32.)
Such would not have been the case in Westminster Abbey, though it would have been in Stamford, had he been buried in the churchyard; and the same is true of
Larded with sweet flowers;
Which bewept to the grave did not go
With true love showers. (38-40.)
It is especially to be noted that the word “not” has been deleted by some editors; but it was written—of course purposely—”did not go,” and so appeared in the original. (7)
Inconsequentially, so it would appear, Ophelia remarks,
They say the owl was a baker’s daughter. Lord! we know what we are, but know not what we may be. . . .
King. Conceit upon her father. (42-6.)
Here we have another allusion susceptible alike of an obvious meaning and of one more recondite; and since the Earl of Oxford was the last person ever to be taken simply at face-value in his allusive passages, we shall do well to touch upon both.
There is a legend to the effect that once when Christ asked a baker for dough, the baker’s daughter disapproved of her father’s generosity and took some away from the lump he had offered. But when the remainder was baked in the oven, it swelled to a disproportionately large loaf, and the baker’s stingy daughter turned into an owl. But there is a classical legend of King Nycteus’s daughter, the sister of Antiopa, who was changed into an owl, for a reason which corresponds with the riddle in Pericles.
Conceit upon her father,
mutters the King significantly. And Ophelia continues,
Pray you, let’s have no words of this; but when they ask you what itmeans, say you this.
Then follows the Saint Valentine’s Day song, rather shocking for a “sweet” young girl like Ophelia. Although we do not pretend to understand who declined to marry whom because a maid was too free with her pre-marital favors, it may be pertinent to recall that the Cecil-Oxford nuptials did not take place on the day first announced, in spite of the Queen’s arrival at Theobalds for the occasion, but whether through the defection of the bridegroom or for what other cause is not recorded—except in the plays. In All’s Well, Bertram ran away. There is, however, an allusion which may parallel this one in an early poem, “A Lady being wronged by false suspect.” (8)
Hamlet’s cryptic remark to Polonius (II.2.181-5) doubtless alludes to all this. After speaking of the sun’s breeding maggots, he suddenly demands:
Have you a daughter?
But it is a rhetorical question: he knows the answer well enough.
Let her not walk i’ the sun: conception is a blessing; but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to ‘t.
The faint dark hint appears again. Burghley would never have forgiven Oxford this. But then Oxford never could forgive Burghley.
After distributing her bits of flowers, Ophelia says the violets
withered all when my father died. They say he made a good end—
Then she breaks off and croons,
For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy. (IV.5.185.)
Since Sweet Robin was Elizabeth’s name for Leicester, it may be that Ophelia-Anne was in her distraction imitating the Queen. Or it may simply be that Oxford means to keep Leicester constantly in the foreground, to present him so fulsomely to Elizabeth that she will be satiated—quite as Hamlet presents Claudius to the Queen when he has her cornered:
Leave wringing of your hands: peace! sit you down,
And let me wring your heart; for so I shall
If it be made of penetrable stuff,
If damned custom have not brass’d it so
That it is pi’oof and bulwark against sense. (III.4.34-8.)
The matter—and the manner—of Ophelia’s death we find almost purely symbolic. In fact, Ophelia herself seems an unreal, wraithlike creature who drifts into and out of Hamlet’s life without ever giving him much illusion of reality. As Oxford probably felt that he never actually possessed Anne, so we feel Hamlet was baffled by the elusive quality of Ophelia. She was never so real to him as after her death, when her memory, or the idea of her, tormented him with a sense of anguish and guilt. And this statement applies to both the Earl and the Prince. Moreover, never was the dramatist more thoroughly Elizabethan in his literary mysticism than in the circumstance of Ophelia’s drowning. We cannot but suspect that she did not actually drown after the downright human way of strangulation, for she seems to have offered no resistance, to have made no effort to help herself, although even in madness self-preservation is a compelling instinct, and she had not wilfully thrown herself into the water but had slipped when reaching to hang a garland on the bough of the willow. (Significant word here, as it is in Othello.)
The Queen, on her part, seems to have made not the slightest effort to save her, or even to call for help. (9) She relates in such full detail what has happened that she must have seen it all at fairly close range:
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come,
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, (10)
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the. pendant boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indu’d
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death. (IV.7.166-83.)
So she was a nymph, “mermaid-like. . . a creature native and indu’d” to the watery element; hence she drowned quite naturally, returning to the source of her being, while among the little garland of weeds she had gathered were “dead men’s fingers,” as she, “a cold maid,” would have called them. This is all unmistakably symbolic. But there is more too. For Ver is punned on for wyll or brook; and “willow” is wyll O.
When we say the inference may be that the nymph’s—Anne’s—life was suffused, overwhelmed, destroyed in the Vere flood, which was too deep for her childishly to float upon, so that perforce she went under, we have been as definite as one should attempt to be in the matter of a poetic concept. One can feel as much as one has imagination to perceive in all this, but it is too delicate an imagery for the medium of commonplace words.
As for the Queen, however, she watched Ophelia drowning as Elizabeth had watched Anne being overweighed by her own sovereign claims upon the young husband: she had seen Anne founder, reach out for her mainstay, trying to be good, singing no doubt, appearing wistfully at court, going home again—”Good-night, ladies; good- night, sweet ladies” —returning to appeal to the “beauteous majesty” of England—as Ophelia brings her troubles to the Queen here, inquiring,
Where is the beauteous majesty of Denmark?—
but standing apart and seeing her engulfed, muted, borne down, while perhaps, indeed, gloating a little.
In Hamlet, as in Troilus and Cressida, the dramatist has not hampered himself with a realistic treatment of time. He is conveying the truth about himself and Anne, as well as about himself and Elizabeth, during thirteen or fourteen years of his relationship with the two. The Queen, reporting Ophelia’s death, which resulted from her piteous effort to preserve her “coronet weeds”—implying that Anne’s countess’s coronet had been a mockery to her—and of her falling into the “weeping brook,” as if the element in which she had been drowned, Vere, had sorrowed, “weeping,” for her, which was of course the case—the Queen, then, as we say, is speaking in the 1570’s, while Hamlet, when he leaps into Ophelia’s grave, is actually about thirty-four. For Anne-Ophelia has died to him when, after her father has proved himself irremediably double-hearted, she has helplessly shown herself her father’s daughter more than his own wife. He Joved her, but he could not trust her: The gulf which separated her father and her husband was too wide for her to span. When her husband, or lover, had retaliated upon her crafty father, pinioning him for all time as a specimen of the suave, hypocritical busybody, it had unsettled her wits.
Anne was not of the caliber, had not the mental or emotional stamina, to be the wife of this tempestuous genius. He had a vast capacity for understanding human beings and for recording what he perceived in words so inspired that he really re-created them in an intenser medium than that of casual life, so that they stood forth in a pitiless spiritual glare, every trait revealed and accented. His genius, which has been a glory to his ungrateful country and a source of enrichment to countless lives throughout the world, was to the man himself, in many ways, a curse. But as the Greeks discovered many centuries ago, “Nothing vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse.”
Burghley made the Philistine’s age-old mistake of underestimating the poet, Edward de Vere, of expecting him to be circumspect, provident, and conventional. Perhaps they all made this mistake except the Queen and Southampton. Burghley would undoubtedly have destroyed the works as he effaced the man. But Elizabeth, for all her vanity, selfishness, and jealousy for her reputation, knew that the works must live.
4 In Sir Walter Ralegh (p. 37), Hume relates this story: Heneage wrote Hatton, in 1582, in answer to an appeal Hatton had made through him, that the Queen said, “‘Pecora campi (Hatton) was so dear unto her, that she had bounded her banks so sure, as no water (Walter Ralegh) nor floods should ever overthrow them. . . . You should remember she was a shepherd, and then you might think how dear her sheep was unto her. . . To conclude, water had been more welcome than were fit for so cold a season. . . . Three years later. . . the Queen again (re)assured Hatton.”
We may be sure Oxford had seen all such letters. And though Hume did not suspect that by “floods” she meant “springs” or tempestuous Vers, Oxford of course knew well enough.
6 Ld. B. in Sh.; pp. 151-2. Corroborated by Peck’s Desiderata Curiosa; vol. I, p. 42.
Hume’s account in The Gr. Ld. B. states, in a footnote (p. 496) that “After the funeral at Westminster Abbey, the body was carried in great state to Stamford and buried at St. Martin’s Church, in accordance with the will.” But although he refers the reader to S.P.Dom., Aug. 29, 1598, for what he calls the “funeral arrangements,” Hume is so inordinately partial to Burghley–to the point of infatuation–and often so superficial in his reading of the records, as well as in his judgment, that we merely repeat this dictum for what it is worth. He deliberately ignores certain records and even misstates facts, in order consistently to picture the Earl of Oxford as a constant trial to the Lord Treasurer. In this he simply followed the deliberate policy of his paragon. Comparison of Hume’s account of Burghley with that of other historians causes one to share Goethe’s opinion: “Not everything that history offers us has actually happened. And what has actually happened has not happened the way it is presented, and what we know to have happened is only a very small part of what actually happened.”
For our part, we’ll take the poet’s word, in the matter of Burghley’s burial.
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