THIS STAR OF ENGLAND
Man of the Renaissance
by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn
LITTLE BY LITTLE AT FIRST, then, it would seem, with a rather startling completeness, the young Lord Oxford responded to the Queen’s blandishments. Naturally he was flattered: the position of prime favorite had exhilarating aspects. He was undoubtedly fascinated by Elizabeth’s cultivated mind and facile wit, which stimulated and fostered his own. We have his own testimony to her interest and pride in him, as well as to a great deal more:
Above the rest in court who gave thee grace?
Who made thee strive in honour to be best? —
this in the first sonnet he is known to have written.
It was the fashion for young courtiers to pay flirtatious homage to the Queen in graceful verses extolling her charms, in which she was addressed as Venus, Diana, Sylvia, Cynthia, the Moon goddess, and so on, or compared with them to her advantage; but Oxford’s were, even in the beginning, less artificial than those of the others. As Looney says, “It is always himself he is expressing.” This is not so much the case in the poem we shall now quote, which belongs among the very early ones, though even in the most formal there is usually some personal innuendo.
WHAT CUNNING CAN EXPRESS
What cunning can express
The favour of her face?
To whom in this distress,
I do appeal for grace.
A thousand Cupids fly
About her gentle eye.
From which each throws a dart,
That kindleth soft sweet fire:
Within my sighing heart,
Possessed by Desire.
No sweeter life I try,
Than in her love to die.
The lily in the field,
That glories in his white,
For pureness now must yield,
And render up his right.
Heaven pictured in her face,
Doth promise joy and grace.
Fair Cynthia’s silver light,
That beats on running streams,
Compares not with her white,
Whose hairs are all sun-beams;
So bright my Nymph doth shine,
As day unto my eyne.
With this there is a red,
Exceeds the Damask-rose;
Which in her cheeks is spread,
Whence every favour grows.
In sky there is no star,
But she surmounts it far.
When Phoebus from the bed
Of Thetis doth arise,
The morning blushing red,
In fair carnation wise;
He shows in my Nymph’s face,
As Queen of every grace.
This pleasant lily white,
This taint of roseate red;
This Cynthia’s silver light,
This sweet fair Dea spread;
These sunbeams in mine eye,
These beauties make me die.
The word “grace”—used in the sense of the first stanza suggests allusion to the Queen, even if there were no others. There are many similarities here to lines in Lucrece; while the “damask-rose, red and white” imagery remained a favorite with him, especially in relation to the Tudor Rose, Elizabeth. (Compare Sonnets 98, 99, 130, etc.)
The early sonnet we have spoken of before, Love Thy Choice, gives a rather clear idea of how things were going:
Who first did paint with colours pale thy face?
Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?
In such an atmosphere, easy was the progress from amorous dalliance to the intoxicating ardors of infatuation, real or imagined—perhaps a little of both. An emotional imaginative young man, with a marked intellectual bent, is always susceptible to the influence of a brilliant and accomplished woman: it is second nature for him to idealize the attraction, fancying it romantic love. And this woman, it must be remembered, was a queen.
The word presently reached Mary Stuart, and in a letter to Elizabeth she remarked that she had heard from “Bess of Hardwick,” the Countess of Shrewsbury, who had declared “que même le conte d’Oxford n’osoit se rappointer avecque sa femme, de peur de perdre la faveur qu’il esperoit recepvoir par vous fayre l’amour….” Since young Gilbert Talbot, a great letter-writer and an habitue of the court, was the son of the Countess of Shrewsbury, Mary’s information was probably accurate. It was he who had written that Lady Burghley was “jealous” of the Queen’s attentions to her son-in-law.
De Vere must have been exceedingly attractive at that time: clean-cut, rosy, and lithe, alert in body and mind, his “hawking eye” missing nothing. He had a remarkable power of expression: his words flowed copiously; he told rare tales which, under the spell of his magnetism, his auditors often implicitly believed—probably to his, and the Queen’s, secret amusement—and recalled later with bewilderment and doubt. At court, where everyone was nicknamed by Elizabeth, he was often referred to as Phoebus and, in the early days, Cupid, to match the classical titles of the Queen; when obstreperous, he was called the Boar—because of his cognizance, the Blue Boar—and Elizabeth called him her Turk.
[NOTE: Nina Green says this claim is an Oxmyth. The only support for this claim is on p.76 of Eva Turner Clark’s “The Man Who Was Shakespeare” where there is an excerpt from a letter from Hatton to the Queen:
“And therefore, upon yesternight’s words, I am driven to say to Your Majesty, either to satisfy wrong conceit, or to answer false report, that if the speech you used of your Turk did ever pass my pen or lips to any creature out of your Highness’ hearing but to my Lord of Burghley (with whom I have talked both of the man and the matter), I desire no less condemnation as a traitor, and no more pardon than his punishment. And further, if ever I spake or sent to the ambassadors of France, Spain or Scotland, or have accompanied, to my knowledge, any that confers with them, I do renounce all good from Your Majesty in earth, and all grace from God in heaven.”
Clark notes that Nicolas, the editor of Hatton’s letters, “supposes it to have been written in 1591, in November of which year Hatton died, but says it may have been written long before. An examination of the decade prior to Hatton’s death shows the letter far more applicable to events of 1581. The person referred to as her ‘Turk’ was the Earl of Oxford, a nickname the Queen frequently used for him. Hatton’s conferences with Lord Burghley with regard to the Earl, his mention of the several Ambassadors in connection with the ‘Turk’s’ trouble, his denial of communication with anyone away from the Queen’s presence except Lord Burghley (which seems doubtful when it is known that Hatton was carrying on a friendly correspondence at the time with Charles Arundel, a traitor who spent the rest of his life in the pay of Spain), all point to the period following Oxford’s charges against Howard, Arundel and Southwell, and their countercharges against him.”]
OXMYTHS AND STRATMYTHS ARE DISCUSSED IN DETAIL IN THESE FILES:
There is another poem of his—which evidently belongs to the early 1570’s, since after 1573 he never signed his verses with his own name again—labelled “Verses Ascribed to Queen Elizabeth,” but signed “E. of O.” It seems especially candid.
When I was fair and young then favour graced me;
Of many was I sought their mistress for to be.
But I did scorn them all, and answered them therefore,
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.
How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe;
How many sighing hearts I have no skill to show;
Yet I the prouder grew, and answered them therefore.
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.
Then spake fair Venus’ son, that proud victorious boy,
And said, you dainty dame, since that you be so coy,
I will so pluck your plumes that you shall say no more,
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.
When he had spake these words such change grew in my breast,
That neither night nor day I could take any rest.
Then lo! I did repent, that I had said before
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.
E. of O.
It is striking that, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a play especially personal to the author, this line occurs (V.4.40):
Therefore be gone, solicit me no more;
while The Rape of Lucrece (st. 12) has a phrase identical with the final one in the second line of the second stanza quoted above:
Which far exceeds his barren skill to show.
It has been an accepted fact that the Earl of Leicester was the love of Elizabeth’s life, and so he was, off and on, outlasting all rivals. But there is ample evidence that during the 1570’s she was seriously infatuated with the young Earl of Oxford. The two men would have appealed to different sides of the Queen’s complex nature: Leicester to the lusty, strong-minded woman of affairs, and Oxford to the poet in her, to the student with imagination, above all to what remained of the girl and of the youthfulness she clutched at with all the force of her stubborn will. Gloriana epitomized the age, that of her country’s renaissance, in her immense vitality, as well of the flesh as of the mind and spirit. She seems not to have been particularly robust physically, but she had a superb élan.
Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, before her accession to the throne, had gone through a desperate time together, when they were both imprisoned in the Tower. She afterwards spoke of his goodness to her then and of how “he never ceased his former kindness and service, and even sold his possessions to provide me with funds.” They had known each other since she was eight years old, he nine, and were congenial in many ways. One quality in especial they shared: an insatiable vanity; and they both had a capacity for duplicity, common in that day, but utterly foreign to Oxford’s nature. Bishop Quadra wrote King Philip about Lord Robert in 1559-60, “The fellow is ruining the country with his vanity.”
In 1560 Amy Robsart’s sudden and mysterious death had brought scandal to Dudley’s name. Although he was formally acquitted of complicity in his wife’s evident murder, the slur of suspicion remained, and with that the Queen could not afford to compromise. After this she always pretended that she would never have married him, saying that “she ever loved his virtues, but she could not take a subject for her husband.” But Elizabeth was a contradictory creature and would, in fact did, say anything that served her purpose at the moment. Everyone had expected her to marry Dudley during the early years of her reign, and the Spanish Ambassador, de Quadra—1559-63—was convinced that she would have done so, had it not been for Amy Robsart’s violent death. At one time he wrote his government that it was “a pretty business to treat with this woman who, I think, must have an hundred thousand devils in her body, in spite of her forever telling me, ‘I yearn to be a nun, and to pass my days in prayer in a cell.'”
In 1564, Elizabeth had elevated Robert Dudley to the Earldom. And Hume gives the following account:
When Dudley was on his knees … receiving the investiture of his Earldom, the Queen tickled his neck, and asked Melvil what he thought of him. Melvil [who had been sent to London to watch the interests of his mistress, Mary Stuart] gave a courtly answer, whereupon the Queen retorted that he liked that “long lad” better. [The “long lad,” Darnley.](1)
Sussex had mistrusted Leicester from the first and worked ceaselessly against the marriage. This was the cause of Leicester’s enduring enmity towards him.
An interesting sidelight on the subject of Elizabeth’s much-publicized virginity is furnished by a list of reasons Cecil drew up in 1566 stating why the Queen should marry her current suitor, the Catholic Archduke Charles, rather than Leicester. In this he showed clearly enough that he believed her to be fully capable of having children. And Leicester—who certainly ought to have known—did also when he wrote Walsingham, apropos of the Anjou match in 1571, “that we may live to see her bring forth of her own body, as may hereafter succeed her as well, in that happinesse, as in the enjoyning [sic] of her kingdom.” As late as 1579, the French Ambassador wrote the Queen Mother, “Not a woman or a physician who knows her who does not hold that there is no lady in the realm more fit for bearing children than she is.” (2) Ben Jonson is the man responsible for the statement that she had “a membrane” which made her incapable; but Ben Jonson, whom posterity seems to have considered honest simply because he was blunt, said much which was calculated to confuse and has, indeed, confused for a very long time the forthright and unsuspecting.
It is well worth noting that Leicester’s illegitimate son was born to Douglas Lady Sheffield, a widow, in 1573, which was the time of Elizabeth’s greatest intimacy with Oxford, though her favor remained at its peak for some years. An event which occurred not long after this was the birth of the Third Earl of Southampton.
Even with her most privileged favorites Gloriana was variable. She never failed to remind them that, though yielding her affections, she was yet supreme. She kept them tart, as nature keeps fruit in the spring, to prevent premature softening: she never forgot or allowed them to forget that she was their sovereign by Divine Right, with absolute power. The story is told how, not long after her recovery from smallpox—about 1562—she had instructed a sentry at the door of her apartments to admit no one; but Dudley, coming eagerly to report something to her, pushed the sentry aside. When the man explained this to the infuriated Queen, she burst out, in the hearing of many in the court, “God’s death! My Lord, I have wished you well, but my favour is not so confined to you that others shall not share it with you. I will have but one Mistress here and no Master!”
Of course she went much further than this. She did not hesitate when her vanity was piqued publicly to rebuke Leicester many years later, stripping him of his title of Lieutenant Governor of the Netherlands and humiliating him before the world. Nor did she hesitate to turn against Oxford when she was seized with jealously, although any verbal attacks she may have made upon him have been—along with most of the evidence of their long intimacy—deleted from the record with meticulous care. But he was proud and impetuous and would have retorted—did retort, we know, at times—without considering the consequences. The two men reacted to her in different ways, Leicester always more meekly, while the license Oxford took in his plays was amazing.
Several signed poems written by Lord Oxford during the early 70’s show how things were going. There were three “Desire” poems, of which the first begins:
The lively lark stretch’d forth her wing,
The messenger of Morning bright;
And with her cheerful voice did sing
The Day’s approach, discharging Night;
When that Aurora blushing red,
Descried the guilt of Thetis’ bed.
Compare R. and J.:
It was the lark, the herald of the morn.
The course of love did not run smooth, as is shown in the following:
LOVE AND ANTAGONISM
The trickling tears that fall along my cheeks,
The secret sighs that show my inward grief,
The present pains perforce that Love aye seeks,
Bid me renew my cares without relief;
In woeful song, in dole display,
The pensive heart for to betray (3)
Betray 3 thy grief, thy woeful hart with speed;
Resign thy voice to her that caused thee woe;
With irksome cries, bewail thy late done deed,
For she thou lov’st is sure thy mortal foe;
And help for thee there is none sure,
But still in pain thou must endure.
* * * * * * * *
She is my joy, she is my care and woe;
She is my pain, she is my ease therefore;
She is my death, she is my life also,
She is my salve, she is my wounded sore:
In fine, she hath the hand and knife,
That may both save and end my life.
And shall I live on earth to be her thrall?
And shall I live and serve her all in vain?
And kiss the steps that she lets fall,
And shall I pray the Gods to keep the pain
From her that is so cruel still?
No, no, on her work all your will.
And let her feel the power of all your might,
And let her have her most desire with speed,
And let her pine away both day and night,
And let her moan, and none lament her need;
And let all those that shall her see,
Despise her state and pity me.
That this is a realistic account of the state of the young Earl’s feelings at the time will be demonstrated by the course of events. Scores of unsigned poems in Elizabethan anthologies express this identical situation. Meanwhile, it is interesting to compare the last stanzas above with certain more famous ones. For instance, stanza 141, of Lucrece:
Let him have time to tear his curled hair,
Let him have time against himself to rave,
Let him have time of Time’s help to despair,
Let him have time to live a loathed slave,
Let him have time a beggar’s orts to crave,
And time to see one that by alms doth live,
Disdain to him, disdained scraps to give.
And again in 3 Henry VI (III.3.l86-9l):
Did I forget that by the House of York
My father came untimely to his death?
Did I let pass the abuse done to my niece?
Did I impale him with a regal crown?
Did I put Henry from his native right?
And am I guerdon’d at the last with shame?
See also in this same play II.5.26 et seq. and IV.3.34-8.
The Spanish Tragedy, attributed to Kyd—who may have had a hand in the revision, though it would have been a miracle for the son of a scrivener, educated in the Merchant Taylors school, to have written so courtly a drama, showing special knowledge of nobles in battle, actors in Italy, and other matters requiring unusual sophistication—The Spanish Tragedy, we say, has this metrically similar passage (II.1.3-8):
In time the savage bull sustains the yoke,
In time all haggard hawks will stoop to lure,
In time small wedges cleave the hardest oak,
In time the flint is pierc’d with softest shower,
And she in time will fall from her disdain,
And rue the suffrance of your friendly pain.
(The first line is quoted directly in Thomas Watson’s Hekatompathia, dedicated to Lord Oxford in 1582. The second line contains typically Oxfordian imagery.)
Kyd worked for several years under the patronage of the Earl of Oxford and spoke of him almost reverentially. It ought to be evident to students that the author of Hamlet, to say nothing of Henry V and Macbeth, was the principal author, the originator, of The Spanish Tragedy. In our opinion, Oxford, after having written an early version of the play, had needed an alibi for certain personal allusions and had turned it over to an apprentice to fill in, under his own careful supervision, and to complete. According to Andrew Lang, Kyd was identified as the author only by sarcastic hints from Nashe. Nothing is surer than that Nashe knew who the true author was. We should like to take The Spanish Tragedy, scene by scene, and demonstrate the unmistakable authorship.
To return to the signed poems—another written in distress during this period had later repercussions:
GRIEF OF MIND
What plague is greater than the grief of mind?
The grief of mind that eats in every vein;
In every vein that leaves such clots behind;
Such clots behind as breed such bitter pain;
So bitter pain that none shall ever find
What plague is greater than the grief of mind.
E. of Ox.
In one of the earliest plays, The Comedy of Errors, the following similar device is used (I.2.47-52):
She is so hot because the meat is cold;
The meat is cold because you come not home;
You come not home because you have no stomach;
You have no stomach, having broke your fast;
But we that know what ’tis to fast and pray,
Are penitent for your default today.
And again we find correspondences in The Spanish Tragedy (II.l.l25 et seq.):
First in his hand he brandished a sword,
And with that sword he fiercely waged war,
And in that war he gave me dangerous wounds,
And by those wounds he forced me to yield,
And by my yielding I became his slave;
Now in his mouth he carries pleasing words,
Which pleasing words do harbour sweet conceits,
Which sweet conceits are lim’d with sly deceits,
Which sly deceits smooth Bel-Imperia’s ears,
And through her ears dive down into her heart,
And in her heart set him where I should stand …
That there were times of disenchantment, when court-life—and, one may well believe, the Queen herself—palled upon the young poet, appears even so early as this in two stanzas of a little poem called Fortune and Love, which, comparatively immature though they are, show a state of mind characteristic of the author:
This discord it begot
Atheists, that honour not.
Nature thought good,
Fortune should ever dwell
In court where wits excel,
Love keep the wood.
So to the wood went I,
With love to live and lie,
Experience of my youth,
Made me think humble Truth
In deserts born.
With this compare Sonnet 66; the two poems are based upon the same sentiment: the disillusion of the courtier. Likewise “Under the greenwood tree” (A.Y.L.I.: II.5.)
Many years later—in 1627—was published a poem by Richard Niccols, called The Begger’s Ape. Written in 1607, it remained unpublished through what was called “the guilt of time.” It would have given great offence to the statesmen who were caricatured as the Fox and the Ape (the Cecils, father and son), as well as several others. The Oxe is obviously Oxford, who has left the court for the reasons given above. The poem says, in part:
The Oxe reply’d, (good Sir) you deeme amisse
For your conjecture goes astray in this,
Seeing Courtly favour is no cause that I
Seeme thus to beare my branched head so hie,
But humble thoughts, which wounded harts doe heale
In sweet content is cause of all weale,
Pale envy poyson to the Statesmans good
Nere gnawes my hart ne suckes my vitall blood,
Nor greedy Avarice of others shares
Disturbes my sweete content with boundless cares.
… … … … .
But sleeping till the morne secure of feares,
The Birds sing sweet Bon-jours about mine eares.(4)
Modern editors have no idea who the Oxe is, of course, but there can be no question of the identity. Lord Oxford retired from court in 1590 to live in the country.
He seems to have become disillusioned with women—or so he believed—very early. In the following poem, he was referring to himself and Leicester under the presence of conventional classical allusion.
If the reader is inclined to be skeptical, we crave his patience; corroboration will be forthcoming. The Earl of Oxford is always writing from his own emotional experience. He did so from the beginning to the end.
If women could be fair and yet not fond,
Or that their love were firm not fickle, still,
I would not marvel that they make men bond,
By service long to purchase their good will;
But when I see how frail those creatures are,
I muse that men forget themselves so far.
To mark the choice they make, and how they change,
How oft from Phoebus do they fly to Pan,
Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,
These gentle birds that fly from man to man;
Who would not scorn and shake them from the fist
And let them fly fair fools which way they list.
Yet for disport we fawn and flatter both,
To pass the time when nothing else can please,
And train them to our lure with subtle oath,
Till weary of their wiles, ourselves we ease;
And then we say when we their fancy try,
To play with fools, O what a fool was I.
Earle of Oxenforde.
“Frail” is a word this poet will often apply to women; it is natural for a man skilled in falconry to compare them to haggards. He does so in Othello (III.3.260-3):
… if I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings,
I’d whistle her off and let her down the wind,
To prey at fortune.
He uses the word again—though this is actually an earlier use, since it occurs in an earlier play—in The Taming of the Shrew (IV.l.l90-l, and IV.2.39):
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper’s call;
As I have lov’d this proud disdainful haggard.
We find it again in Twelfth Night and in Much Ado.
A striking instance of what looks on the surface like the Queen’s willingness to humble her Turk’s pride, but may be seen after thoughtful scrutiny to have been self-protection, occurred some time later, though still during the period of her infatuation and favor. We shall speak of this at another time. Suffice it to say now that, in 1573, under the title of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, Oxford had published an anthology of poems—his own, Christopher Hatton’s, ostensibly (though this seems to have been a fluke: they were rather by Oxford and aimed at Hatton), and some by Gascoigne—while Hatton and Gascoigne were absent on the Continent: this in the face of an unwritten law that courtiers’ verses should not be printed while they were alive. As Ward says, “It is a truism … that any man who has the hardihood to go against the customs of his day is met with opposition, envy, and even hatred.”
That Meritum petere, grave was Oxford’s posy would have been known at court (besides, he revealed this fact in one of the poems declared to contain his name in cipher; see and Fortunatus Infoelix, a variant of Hatton’s Felix Infortunatus. Gascoigne habitually used his own name in connection with his verses; not being a nobleman or a courtier, he had, as the editor breezily asserted, “never been dainty of his doings.” The young Earl, in his enthusiasm for this medium, and apparently having an irresistible compulsion to give expression to his experiences in verse, was not to be deterred by convention. Indeed, he was to flout custom again by allowing earlier verses signed with his initials to be published three years later in Edwards’s collection, The Paradise of Dainty Devices. However, he incurred the anger of Hatton, because certain poems, signed Si fortunatus infoelix, with a prose running-commentary (supposedly by one “G. T.”), revealed a love-affair concerning “Master F. I.” which, if any of it were true of him, Hatton would have wished to keep private. He had also undoubtedly provoked Gascoigne, since it is quite evident that, as editor, he had improved upon his friend’s verses, some of which were signed Ever or Never. It was all very ingenious and high-handed but carried out in a spirit of mischief.
The result was that, three years later, while Oxford was abroad, Gascoigne, through the maneuverings of Christopher Hatton, who was one of Elizabeth’s prime favorites, was created Poet Laureate; (5) and on the following day brought out a revised edition of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres under the title of The Posies of George Gascoigne. This version included the “wanton” story of “Master F. I.” and “Lady Elinor,” which was now called The Fable of Ferdinando Jeronimi and said to be actually “a translation of one of Bartello’s riding-tales,” though who Bartello was, the “translator” did not elucidate. That alteration and the inclusion of a long soldiering poem by Gascoigne constitute the only differences between The Posies of George Gascoigne and Oxford’s A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres.
We have made a close study of the verses in this collection signed with the posies, Si fortunatus infoelix, Spraeta tamen vivant, Fato non fortuna, and Ferenda Natura, as well as Meritum petere, grave, and we are convinced that they were all written by the Earl of Oxford himself and contain revelations of his intimacy with the Queen. So that it was not only for Hatton’s sake and to pay Oxford off for improving upon his own work that Gascoigne assumed full authorship, but chiefly to shield Elizabeth, since certainly no one would have suspected that she was his “false Cressid,” his “Cleopatra,” and his “cruel Dame.” (6)
Thus, in conferring the Laureateship upon Gascoigne, the Queen was not only rewarding him, she was rebuking the recalcitrant Oxford for writing too freely of private matters, as well as, it would seem, for making sport of the fatuous Hatton. The Earl was, of course, indignant and humiliated, and he was sore against his beloved friend, Gascoigne, upon whose amiable indulgence he had relied; but there was nothing he could do save write another poem about this latest cruelty on the part of his “deere Dame.”
Gascoigne, significantly using some of Oxford’s own phrases recurrent in the poems of the collection under the several posies mentioned above, addressed to the Queen the following allegorical statement, in which the word Metamorphosis meaningfully appears:
I will now rehearse unto your Majesty such a strange and cruel Metamorphosis as I think must needs move your noble mind unto compassion. There were two sworn brethren which long time served (Diana), called Deep Desire and Due Desert, and although it be very hard to part these two in sunder, yet it is said that she did long sithens convert Due Desert into yonder same Lawrell tree. The which may very well be so, considering the etymology of his name, for we see that the Lawrell branch is a token of triumph, in all Trophies, and given as a reward to all victors, a dignity for all degrees, consecrated and dedicate to Apollo and the Muses as a worthy flower, leaf, or branch, for their due deserts. (Original italics.) George Gascoigne to Queen Elizabeth, 1575
We take the meaning here to be that Gascoigne, Deep Desire, and Oxford, Due Desert, were sworn brothers who had served the Queen, in their poems as well as in arms. She had long since converted Due Desert into a laurel tree: an appropriate honor for men of “all degrees,” and especially for him, because the laurel is not only “a token of triumph” and a trophy of the victor (which Oxford had been in the field of poetry, as well as in the lists), it is also an evergreen, and thus connected with “the etymology of his name.” The name Ver (t) means green, and E. Vere’s name can be said to be E. Ver green. (This may seem far-fetched to us, but it was not to the Elizabethans, who constantly played on words in puns and anagrams, not confining themselves to English but frequently using Latin and French.) Gascoigne makes the point that although it is “a strange and cruel Metamorphosis,” nevertheless it is fair for him, Deep Desire, to have the Laureateship, since Due Desert has long since received the “Lawrel branch”: he has been recognized, that is to say, as the pre-eminent poet of England.
This was all very well, but the appointment was a great blow to Oxford, because it seemed to do honor to Gascoigne for having taken a mean advantage of him in his absence. He appears to have stormed about considerably, no doubt allowing the Queen to feel the lash of his anger. And inevitably he wrote a poem about his betrayal, two stanzas of which we quote:
SONG: THE FORSAKEN MAN
A crown of bays shall that man wear
That triumphs over me;
For black and tawny will I wear,
Which mourning colours be.
The more I followed one,
The more she fled away,
As Daphne did full long agone,
Apollo’s wishful prey.
The more my plaints I do resound
The less she pities me;
The more I sought, the less I found
That mine she meant to be.
Melpomene alas, with doleful tunes help than;
And sing Bis, woe worth on me forsaken man.
Then Daphne’s bays shall that man wear
That triumphs over me;
For black and tawny will I wear,
Which mourning colours be.
Drown me with trickling tears,
You wailful wights of woe;
Come help these hands to rend my hairs,
My rueful hap to shew.
On whom the scorching flame
Of love doth feed, you see;
Ah a lalalantida, my dear dame,
Hath thus tormented me.
At the time of this bitter outpouring he had become all too well aware that the game—of being Elizabeth’s slave—was not worth the candle. Ward’s point that Lord Oxford had coveted the Laureateship for himself seems to us not altogether well taken, since, if a nobleman were restrained from signing his verses, how could he so openly proclaim his connection with literature? It appears rather that Oxford was grief-stricken partly because Elizabeth (Daphne), whom he had followed so faithfully, was willing to “torment” and “forsake” him by crowning with bays the man who had defeated him by unfair means and carried off the spoils, and partly because he had lost all credit for the book he had gone to great pains to publish.
Before leaving The Forsaken Man, we must call attention to the analogy of lines 5-8 of the first stanza with two passages in The Midsummer Night’s Dream (I.l.l98-9; and II.l.l94, 200-2, and 230-1):
Hermia. The more I hate, the more he follows me.
Helena. The more I love, the more he hateth me;
Demetrius…. Hence! get thee gone, and follow me no more.
… … … … … . .do I not in plainest truth
Tell you I do not nor I cannot love you?
Helena…. And even for that do I love you the more.
* * * * * *
Run when you will, the story shall be changed;
Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase.
Oxford seems to have had a way of returning from time to time to his former vein and, as it were, mining it for new ore. But the original version of The Dream appeared very early, probably as a masque.
A man so sanguine and so sensitive as he soon found that he must learn to cloak his true feelings. He seems to have learned this lesson during his early days of intimacy with Elizabeth and to have made use of it in his subsequent relations with Burghley and others, very much as Hamlet would one day do. He speaks of this in one of his signed poems:
I AM NOT AS I SEEM TO BE
I am not as I seem to be,
For when I smile I am not glad;
A thrall, although you count me free,
I, most in mirth, most pensive sad;
I smile to hide my bitter spite
As Hannibal that saw in sight
His country soil with Carthage town,
By Roman force defaced down.
And Caesar that presented was,
With noble Pompey’s princely head,
As ’twere some judge to rule the case,
A flood of tears he seemed to shed;
Although indeed it sprung of joy;
Yet others thought it was annoy.
Thus contraries be used I find,
Of wise to cloak the covert mind.
I, Hannibal, that smile for grief;
And let you Caesar’s tears suffice;
The one that laughs at his mischief;
The other all for joys that cries.
I smile to see me scorned so,
You weep for joy to see me woe;
And 1, a heart by Love slain dead,
Present in place of Pompey’s head.
O cruel hap and hard estate,
That forceth me to love my foe;
Accursed be so foul a fate,
My choice for to prefix it so.
So long to fight with secret sore
And find no secret salve therefore;
Some purge their pain by plaint I find,
But I in vain do breathe my wind.
We feel no hesitancy in concluding that this poem was also aimed at Elizabeth. An extraordinary fact is that practically all of Lord Oxford’s work, from the beginning to the end of his career, was aimed at her, as we expect to demonstrate. She was certainly monopolizing his thought at this time: she was causing him to learn some hard lessons.
There are many other early verses, examples of which will be presented as occasion offers. Some of these were published in three anthologies during the 1570’5. Although A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres (1573) contained sixteen lyrics signed with Lord Oxford’s acknowledged posy, Meritum petere, grave—which also appeared on the titlepage where the name of the author is customarily given—many of the remaining poems in this collection are also, as we have said, patently his. Another anthology, The Paradise of Dainty Devices, contained seven early poems to which the initials, E. O., were signed. While not published until 1576, this collection was made by Richard Edwards, who died in 1566; thus some, at least, of these verses of Oxford’s would have been written in his ‘teens. In The Paradise of Dainty Devices and also in England’s Helicon, published in 1600, which contains early poems signed E. O., there are verses unmistakably characteristic of Oxford, signed with posies or other initials too, just as there are in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres. The same is true of at least five more Elizabethan anthologies, of which one, A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions (1578), seems, from subject-matter, style, and imagery, to be altogether the work of the young Earl. He had the abundance of genius, and such genius as has never appeared, before or since, in our modern world.
Mr. Looney collected all the verses published in the Miscellanies of the Fuller Worthies’ Library which were known to have been written by the Earl in a valuable and scholarly little book called The Poems of Edward de Vere. We should like to quote at length from his Introduction to this volume, but must be content to mention only a few points. He says, in part:
Although the imagery he [Oxford] employs reveals an intimacy with classical literature as well as a knowledge of the poems and lives of his fellows, his compositions are neither mere imitations or translations of the classics, nor, with one exception, the poem attributed to Queen Elizabeth, were they dramatic poses…. There may be exaggeration of expression—the natural result of a combination of intense feeling, large command of language, and comparative youthfulness—but the feeling is real, and the words are relevant. We make bold to say that he struck a note of realism not heard before in English poetry; such as was not heard again with the same clear ring, until the “Shakespeare” sonnets appeared with their challenging declaration, “I am that I am.”
As we have said, Looney remarks that “it is always himself he is expressing,” in contrast to the other court poets, the Sidney group—Sidney, Spenser, Greville, and Ralegh—who followed him within a few years, and those of the next decade: Daniel, Drayton, Marlowe, Thomas Campion, and Thomas Greene. Their verse often seems to be the expression of literary vanity, of a desire to write poetry without anything to communicate requiring the poetic form. He adds that it should, of course, be borne in mind that between the writing of “these effusions of a young poet” and the great verse of his maturity, Oxford “passed many years in a severe school of life, in contact with all the varied phases of the most energetic, dramatic and literary movement that England has ever known.” He reminds the reader that
even conventional forms and phrases were not conventional to the first men who employed them, and a study of dates will probably show how much of what ultimately became common stock actually had its source in the Earl of Oxford.
We believe the importance of this last statement cannot be overestimated. The dislocation of dates caused by the mistaken authorship of England’s greatest poetry and drama has vitiated much of the literary criticism and scholarly speculation lavished upon the Elizabethan and Jacobean age. The only poets affected by the stirrings of the literary renaissance who preceded Lord Oxford were the Earl of Surrey, Lord Sheffield, and Lord Vaux: Thomas Sackville’s writings having belonged to an earlier mode. Lord Vaux, who died in 156e, formed, according to Looney, the “connecting link” between Surrey’s and Oxford’s work, his influence upon the younger poet being definitely traceable—especially, we find, in several of the poems in The Paradise of Dainty Devices.
Hindsight may be easy, but it is difficult to understand how learned men could have supposed the greatest genius England ever produced could have been a borrower to the point of plagiarism from others. He was, on the contrary, a distinguished originator, a creator of the highest order known to the race of man.
The early verses, for most of which Elizabeth was his Muse, provided an outlet for Lord Oxford’s turbulent emotions and his growing knowledge of human inconstancy, while the scholarly impulses of his more mature intellect found expression in the generous patronage he extended to writers of serious works.
One of this number was Edmund Elviden, who dedicated The most excellent and pleasant Metaphoricall Historie of Peisistratus and Catanea to the Earl of Oxford, apologizing for having
boldly or rather impudently offered your honour this present rude and gross conceit … for your honour’s recreation and avoiding of tedious time, after your weighty affairs finished … sufficiently intending to satisfy the humour of your wise disposition.
That Lord Oxford, even before his twenty-first year, was encouraging studious authors, is attested in a letter from a friend, Thomas Bedingfield, accompanying his translation of Cardanus’ Comfort and dated four months before the Earl came of age:
My good Lord, I can give nothing more agreeable to your mind and fortune than the willing performance of such service as it shall please you to command me unto. And therefore rather to obey than to boast of my cunning, as a new sign of my old devotion, I do present the book your Lordship so long desired … because most faithfully I honour and love you…. A needless thing I know it is to comfort you, whom nature and fortune hath not only inured but rather upon whom they have bountifully bestowed their grace: notwithstanding sith you delight to see others acquitted by [of] cares, your Lordship shall not do amiss to read some part of Cardanus’ counsel; wherein considering the manifold miseries of others, you may rather esteem your own happy estate with increase of those noble and rare virtues which I know and rejoice to be in you. Sure I am it would have better beseemed me to have taken this travail in some discourse of arms (being your Lordship’s chief profession and mine also) than in philosopher’s skill to have busied myself; yet sith your pleasure was such, and your knowledge in either great, I do (as I will ever) most willingly obey you. And if any either through skill or curiosity do find fault with me, I trust notwithstanding for the respects aforesaid to be holden excused. From my lodging this first of January, 1571. (8)
Because of the pressure of other concerns Oxford did not publish this manuscript until 1573, when he began devoting all his time to literature. He did so then with a prefatory letter so ingratiating that it compensated for his acting against the author’s modest wishes. This was followed by a poem. The title-page read:
Cardanus’ Comforte, translated into Englishe. And published by commaundement of the right honourable the Earle of Oxenforde. Anno Domini 1573.
The letter and poem follow:
To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s Gentlemen Pensioners.
After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labour, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield to your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne toward you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind, of sundry and diverse arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections, or the merits of your studies; at the length I determined it were better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.
And because next to the sacred orders of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to have committed an unpardonable error to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests; and better I thought it were to displease one than to displease many; further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity, as may not with a little persuasion or reason be repaired again. And herein I am forced, like a good and politic captain, oftentimes to spoil and burn the corn of his own country, lest his enemies do thereof take advantage. For rather than so many of your countrymen should be deluded through my sinister means of your industry in studies (whereof you are bound in conscience to yield them an account) I am content to make spoil and havoc of your request, and that, that might have wrought greatly in me in this former respect, utterly to be of no effect or operation. And when you examine yourself, what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually employed in your bags, and never to be employed to your use? Wherefore have we this Latin proverb: Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter. What doth avail the vine unless another delighteth in the grape? What doth avail the rose unless another took pleasure in the smell? Why should this tree be accounted better than that tree but for the goodness of his fruit? Why should this rose be better esteemed than that rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other rose?
And so it is in all other things as well as in man. Why should this man be more esteemed than that man but for his virtue, through which every man desireth to be accounted of? Then you amongst men, I do not doubt, but will aspire to follow the virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornaments of virtue. And in mine opinion as it beautifieth a fair woman to be decked with pearls and precious stones, so much more it ornifieth a gentlemen to be furnished with glittering virtues.
Wherefore, considering the small harm I do to you, the great good I do to others, I prefer mine own intention to discover your volume, before your request to secret same; wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or physician, who although his patient in the extremity of his burning fever is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst or rather kill his languishing body; yet for the danger he doth evidently know by his science to ensue, denieth him the same. So you being sick of much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill 9 your works in the grave of oblivion: yet I, knowing the discommodities that shall redound to yourself thereby (and which is more unto your countrymen) as one that is willing to salve so great an inconvenience, am nothing dainty to deny your request.
Again we see, if our friends be dead we cannot show or declare our affection more than by erecting them of tombs, whereby when they be dead indeed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument. But with me behold it happeneth far better; for in your lifetime I shall erect you such a monument that, as I say, in your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone. And in your lifetime, again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life whereby I may declare my good will, though with your ill will, as yet that I do bear you in your life.
Thus earnestly desiring you in this one request of mine (as I would yield to you in a great many) not to repugn the setting forth of your proper studies, I bid you farewell. From my new country Muses of Wivenhoe, wishing you as you have begun, to proceed in these virtuous actions. For when all things else forsake us, virtue will ever abide with us, and when our bodies fall into the bowels of the earth, yet that shall mount with our minds into the highest heavens.
From your loving and assured friend,
The Earl of Oxford to the Reader of Bedingfield’s “Cardanus’ Comfort”
The labouring man that tills the fertile soil,
And reaps the harvest fruit, hath not indeed
The gain, but pain; but if for all his toil
He gets the straw, the lord will have the seed.
The manchet fine falls not unto his share;
On coarsest cheat his hungry stomach feeds.
The landlord doth possess the finest fare;
He pulls the flowers, the other plucks but weeds.
The mason poor that builds the lordly halls,
Dwells not in them; they are for high degree;
His cottage is compact in paper walls,
And not with brick or stone as others be.
The idle drone that labours not at all
Sucks up the sweet of honey from the bee;
Who worketh most to their share least doth fall,
With due desert reward will never be.
The swiftest hare unto the mastiff slow
Oft-times doth fall, to him as for a prey;
The greyhound thereby [thus?] doth miss his game we know
For which he made such speedy haste away.
So he that takes the pain to pen the book
Reaps not the gifts of golden goodly muse;
But those gain that, who on the work shall look,
And from the sour the sweet by skill shall choose;
For he that beats the bush the bird not gets
But who sits still and holdeth fast the nets.
In the letter to Bedingfield we see an exemplar of the noble knight of chivalry, for such Lord Oxford was. With him the highest goal was virtue. This letter reveals many things, above all a magnanimous spirit and a warm heart, consideration and perfect courtesy, the “large command of language,” of which Looney speaks, as well as an interest in and gift for metaphor. We have italicized a few phrases which have their counterparts in his later work; these, together with the ones in the poem, if there were only one or two, would not be especially significant, but the combination makes them strikingly so.
For instance, here we have a nobleman who keeps his prized belongings in chests (par. 2), such as we find in Sonnet 48, line 9:
Thee have I not lock’d up in any chest.
Then the attitude about erecting his friend “a monument,” expressed in the penultimate paragraph, is identical with that of the poet of the Sonnets, who promises the Fair Youth immortality in his verse: notably in Nos. 55, 81, and 107 He uses Ophelia’s phrase, “when you are dead and gone.” “I could not choose but” is a locution which occurs frequently in the plays: Ophelia says, “I cannot choose but weep.” A striking correspondence of thought and expression occurs in his elucidation of the Latin proverb quoted in paragraph 2 and a passage in Measure for Measure (I.l.32-40):
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Do not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
As if we had them not….
Now for the poem. The use of “pain” in stanza 1, line 3, and again in 6.1, is analogous to the last line of Sonnet 38:
If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but shine shall be the praise.
It occurs again in stanza XIV, lines 1l-l2, of The Passionate Pilgrim:
“Wander”, a word for shadows like myself,
Who take the pain, but cannot pluck the pelf;
while the rather unusual arrangement of words in the final, and curiously prophetic, lines of the poem is repeated in Hamlet (III.2.207-l0):
The great man down, you mark his favourite flies;
And poor advanc’d makes friends of enemies.
And hitherto doth love on fortune tend,
For who not needs shall never lack a friend.
It may be worth while to note that the epithet, “due desert,” which Gascoigne used in his statement to Queen Elizabeth in regard to the Laureateship, had appeared in this poem of Oxford’s in the same year that A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres was first published.
In 1573, Thomas Twyne dedicated to Lord Oxford his translation of The Breviary of Britain, in part as follows:
Regarding your honour to be among the rest a very fit person for it, in consideration that being, as yet, but in your flower and tender age and generally hoped and accounted of in time to become the chiefest stay of this your commonwealth and country you would receive into your safe tuition the written name and description of that Britain, which, as it is part of your native soil, so your duty biddeth you to defend and maintain it … bestowing such regard as you are accustomed to do on books of Geography, Histories, and other good learning, wherein I am privy your honour taketh singular delight … it were a foul shame to be inquisitive of the state of foreign lands and to be ignorant of our own. As your honour being already perfectly instructed is not now to learn at my hands … etc.
The Earl’s “new country Muses of Wivenhoe” was in Essex by the sea. Although his wife was with him there, it seems that the young couple did not live in conventional nuptial bliss, as we have seen, owing to the Queen’s monopoly of her favorite throughout the first years of his married life.
Lord Oxford began, in 1573, to keep rooms at the Savoy in London for himself and certain impecunious literary men. In The Memorials of the Savoy there is recorded an item of £10, l 1s. 8d. due “from Edward, Earl of Oxford,” for “part rent of two tenements.” He not only read manuscripts and encouraged their authors but paid for the publication of one and often for the livelihood of the other.
In 1574 he wrote his first play—the first, that is, which has survived in a recognizable form and title as his own, though certain internal evidence indicates that sketchy versions of The Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives, Troilus and Cressida, and others, had already appeared as masques or interludes. During the ensuing seven years he wrote nine more of those ultimately accepted as authentic (not including so-called apocryphal ones) which—albeit revised and improved from time to time, as his plays invariably were, in varying degrees, throughout his life—have come down to us with the fundamentals unaltered.
5. Ward states that, “although there was no official document appointing him to the office, any morte than there is in the case of Skelton (his predecessor), we know that the Queen was graciously pleased to receive his picture of himself crowned with laurel as a New Year’s gift on January 1st, 1576 still [in] the Royal Manuscripts in the British Museum.”
7. “Than” and “then” were frequently used interchangeably. It is interesting to find that the source of the curious expression “woe worth” is Medea’s curse upon Jason:
“Woe worth the mountaine that the mast bare
Which was the first cause of all my care.”
This taken from The Arte of English Poesie; p. 183.