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Your Cat is pleased to announce that The Shakespeare Code has received a STAGGERING…


……and is read in an OVERWHELMING….

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The Agents of The Code….

….including Stewart Trotter, F.S.C.

….have been hard at work at a GLOBE-SPANNING, TOP-SECRET PROJECT!!!

All will be revealed soon…

But our breaking News, to be announced next week….

…is not unrelated to the play ‘EDMUND IRONSIDE’


…..and not unrelated to its AUTHORSHIP!!!


‘Bye now!



It’s best to read ‘A Lover’s Complaint (V), Part 46  first.


The Young Woman, at the end of A Lover’s Complaint, finally admits that, though her lover was a monster of vanity, deceit and selfishness, his compromised charms…

…Would yet again betray the fore-betrayed

And new pervert a reconciled maid.

‘Fore-betrayed’ = ‘one who has been betrayed before’ i.e. the Young Woman herself. ‘Reconciled’ = (1) ‘restored to happiness, accepting’ and (2) ‘restored to the Roman Catholic faith’.

It is clear that Harry’s rejection of Shakespeare – on the birth of his son, James –  had led Shakespeare, like the Young Woman in the poem, to despair and nihilism.

This culminated in the writing of his bleak, Godless, masterpiece, King Lear’.

Shakespeare, in the play, was finally forced to confront the death of his son Hamnet in 1597…..

…… and the ‘death’ of his surrogate son, Harry, in 1605……

See: ‘Shakespeare’s Poison Pen Letter’. Part 41

But four years had passed since the baptism of baby James and the publication of the Sonnets. In preparing the poems for the printers, Shakespeare must have re-lived the circumstances of their composition. He wants his revenge on the now homophobic Harry – and also on Aemelia Basanno, whose satire on Shakespeare had been republished in a fifth edition as late as 1606.

But it is clear Shakespeare, like the Young Woman, was coming to terms with the past.

In A Lover’s Complaint, Shakespeare turns his love experiences into a drama in order to examine himself. The Young Woman  is the younger Shakespeare holding a dialogue with himself in the shape of the Older Man. The Young Woman’s conclusion – that she would go through it all again – is a ringing endorsement of the worth of life which Shakespeare must have shared.

The Young Woman is also ‘reconciled’ as Shakespeare, as we shall see from Sonnet 154. (146), is ‘reconciled’: he has returned to his earlier spirituality and he has returned to his Roman Catholic faith. His daughter, Susanna, though she married a Puritan Doctor in 1607, remained a practising Roman Catholic.

There is a corrupt second line to the Sonnet – it doesn’t scan – and some editors have taken it upon themselves to re-write it! The Shakespeare Code leaves it as it is…..

Shakespeare addresses his own soul in this Sonnet. – and is a continuation of the self-examination we find in A Lover’s Complaint.

Shakespeare argues that his soul is the centre of his being – but that the soul has allowed his ‘servant’ – Shakespeare’s body –  to take the control. Shakespeare is urging his soul to get back into the driving seat and take command of his physical desires.

Poor soul the centre of my sinful earth,

My sinful earth these rebel power powers that thee array

Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,

Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?

‘Poor soul’ = (1) ‘a soul which is to be pitied’ and (2) ‘a soul which has been impoverished’.

Shakespeare is saying that his soul is aiding and abetting the enemies of his spirituality that ‘array’ him.

‘Array’ = (1) ‘attack’ and (2) ‘robe’.

Shakespeare presents his body as his ‘sinful earth’. The ‘rebel powers’-  his physical appetites – persuade his soul to dress Shakespeare’s body in fine clothes and give him food and drink in excess. As Shakespeare has got fatter, his soul has got thinner.

Shakespeare is behaving like someone who, by painting the walls of his house in a garish, expensive way, wants to give the appearance of being rich while he is, in fact, drooping with hunger and want inside.

Why so large cost having so short a lease,

Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?

Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,

Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?

Shakespeare asks himself why he is spending so much money on a decaying old house that he only has a short lease on. Who stands to gain from the exercise? The worms that will eat his body? Is this the only purpose in life the body has?

Then soul live thou upon thy servant’s loss,

And let that pine to aggravate thy store;

Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross:

Within be fed, without be rich no more:

Shakespeare urges his soul to be nurtured by the things that he will deny his body. By losing physical weight, Shakespeare will be adding spiritual weight to his soul. Shakespeare can convert the hours he has wasted on earthly matters to spiritual ones – and so find favour with God. He will be spiritually nurtured if he drops his obsession with clothes, food, wine and sex.

‘Buy terms divine’ is a fascinating phrase. Shakespeare, as a Catholic, believes he can negotiate with Heaven and can actually ‘buy’ his way in – as Catholic Indulgences did in the Middle Ages. There is a suggestion, here, that Shakespeare gave money to the Catholic Church and supported the network of Recusants.

[The Anglicans at this time were followers of John Calvin….

……who believed that everything had been pre-determined by God and nothing about a man’s destiny could be changed].

So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,

And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Shakespeare will thus turn the tables on Death – which ‘feeds on men’  (destroys them) and instead feed on Death by becoming an immortal spirit that can never die.

There are many stories of Shakespeare’s heavy drinking back at Stratford-upon-Avon – and his Monument there certainly looks ‘robust enough.


But there can be no doubt that Shakespeare ends his sublime sequence of poems with a fervent return to the Old Faith.

And now, like Prospero, every third thought would be his grave….

© Stewart Trotter 1st January, 2019.

To read ‘The Dedication to the Sonnets Decoded’ click: HERE

A  Happy New Year to All the Shakespeare Code Followers –

…and especially our new Brothers and Sisters from China!

From Trixie the Cat!

‘Bye now….


It’s best to read ‘A Lover’s Complaint (IV) Part 45 first.

The Young Man in A Lover’s Complaint continues:

”Now all these hearts that do on mine depend,
Feeling it break, with bleeding groans they pine;
And supplicant their sighs to you extend,
To leave the battery that you make ‘gainst mine,
Lending soft audience to my sweet design,
And credent soul to that strong-bonded oath
That shall prefer and undertake my troth.’

Now all the people who are in love with me – feeling my heart break – groan in empathy and make you [the Young Woman] the object of their sighs, begging you stop your military attack on me. They are witnesses to my love plan and fully believe my promise to carry out my intentions of love.

‘This said, his watery eyes he did dismount,
Whose sights till then were levell’d on my face;
Each cheek a river running from a fount
With brinish current downward flow’d apace:
O, how the channel to the stream gave grace!
Who glazed with crystal gate the glowing roses
That flame through water which their hew encloses.

‘Dismount’ = ‘remove a gun from its mountings’

Having said this he stopped staring at me with eyes full of tears, which ran like a salty river down each of his cheeks. The channel gave added beauty to the stream: if you looked at his face, it was like watching roses through a crystal glass.

Note: Editors change ‘hew’ to ‘hue’ – not understanding that ‘hew’ = Henry Wriothesley Earl’. See Sonnet 19. (20):

A man in hew all Hews in his controlling

Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.

There ‘Hews ‘[Shakespeare’s spelling, capitalisation and italicising] = ‘Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton’.

‘O father, what a hell of witchcraft lies
In the small orb of one particular tear!
But with the inundation of the eyes
What rocky heart to water will not wear?
What breast so cold that is not warmed here?
O cleft effect! cold modesty, hot wrath,
Both fire from hence and chill extincture hath.

‘Cleft’ can also  = ‘pudend’. ‘Extincture’ = ‘extinction’.

The juxtaposition of ‘witchcraft’ and ‘orb’ suggests ‘witchball’ which was used to ward off evil spirits.

Father, there is massive power to bewitch in one solitary tear – but when there is a whole flood of them what heart is so rocky it won’t be worn down by them? What breast would not be warmed by this? It has a double effect. It warms up cold chastity and cools down hot anger – and destroys them both.

Shakespeare mentions Harry’s propensity to weep with love in Sonnet 72. (34)

Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds,

And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds.

Shakespeare, although he claims that his eyes are ‘unus’d to flow’, describes how weeping is part of his love-making to Harry in Sonnet 119. (120)

O that our night of woe might have remember’d

My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,

And soon to you, as you to me then tender’d

The humble salve which wounded bosoms fits!

Aemilia Lanyer mocks Harry’s habit of weeping in Willobie his Avisa in the figure of ‘H.W.’ = Henry Wriothesley.

‘If I do sometimes look awry/As loth to see your blobbered face/And loathe to hear a young man cry’.

A Lover’s Complaint continues:

‘For, lo, his passion, but an art of craft,
Even there resolved my reason into tears;
There my white stole of chastity I daff’d,
Shook off my sober guards and civil fears;
Appear to him, as he to me appears,
All melting; though our drops this difference bore,
His poison’d me, and mine did him restore.

‘Resolved’ = ‘dissolved’

‘Sober guards’ = (1) ‘moral protection’ (2) ‘abstemiousness’.

‘Civil fears’ = (1) ‘fear of behaving in a civilised way’ or (2) ‘fear of contravening Queen Elizabeth’s laws against ‘buggery’

‘All melting’ = (1) weeping (2) ejaculating seminal fluid.

‘Drops’ = (1) tears and (2) semen.

His passion was an artful, bogus one that transformed my rational mind into tears. There I took off my white dress of chastity, shook off my ‘sober guards and civil fears’ and appeared to him in same ‘melting’ state as he appeared to me – with this difference: his ‘drops’ poisoned me while mine made him better.

Shakespeare is actually saying that Harry’s life-fluid – his very essence – was toxic.

It also suggests that Harry’s semen was infected – and had infected Shakespeare.

‘In him a plenitude of subtle matter,
Applied to cautels, all strange forms receives,
Of burning blushes, or of weeping water,
Or sounding paleness; and he takes and leaves,
In either’s aptness, as it best deceives,
To blush at speeches rank to weep at woes,
Or to turn white and swoon at tragic shows.

‘Plenitude’ = ‘fullness, abundance’.

‘Subtle matter’=’particles, sometimes living, that fill the universe’. Shakespeare is implying that Harry could transform himself into anything.

Was, in fact, a shape-shifter.

‘Cautels’=’tricks or deceits’. ‘Sounding’=’swooning’.

He could shape his being into anything. He could create blushes and tears and a white, swooning face at will – and he chooses the appearance that will deceive his lovers the most into thinking he is a human being: to look embarrassed at rude speeches, to weep in sympathy when people are upset or to be overcome with emotion at plays.

‘That not a heart which in his level came
Could ‘scape the hail of his all-hurting aim,
Showing fair nature is both kind and tame;
And, veil’d in them, did win whom he would maim:
Against the thing he sought he would exclaim;
When he most burn’d in heart-wish’d luxury,
He preach’d pure maid, and praised cold chastity.


‘All-hurting’ = (1) ‘harming everyone’ and (2) arousing everyone erotically. Shakespeare uses hurt in this way in Sonnet 78. (94) ‘They that have power to hurt and will do none’.

‘The thing he sought’ can = ‘penis’. This implies that the young man attacked homosexuality when he wanted to practice it.


Not a single heart that came within his sights was free from his attack – psychic and sexual – which shows that good natured people are kind and trusting. The young man pretended to be kind and trusting and, hiding his true nature, he won over the people he wanted to injure. He pretended to dislike the thing he really wanted: and when he was at his most lecherous, he advocated virginity and praised people who were chaste.

This was Shakespeare’s own experience with Harry. He thought, initially, that Harry’s outward beauty mirrored his inner beauty uniquely.

In Sonnet 15. (14) he writes:

But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,

And constant stars in them I read such art

As truth and beauty shall together thrive

If from thy self, to store thou wouldst convert:

Or else of thee this I prognosticate,

Thy end is Truth’s and Beauty’s doom and date.

Shakespeare believes that in Harry, beauty and truth live side by side – and that unless Harry has a son, beauty’s union with truth will die when he does.

He states in Sonnet 67. (53):

Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit

Is poorly imitated after you;

On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,

And you in Grecian tires are painted new;

Prince Pyrocles – cross-dressed as the Amzon Warrior Zalmena – prepares to kill a lion. (From Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’).

Speak of the spring, and foison [abundance] of the year,

The one doth shadow of your beauty show,

The other as your bounty doth appear,

And you in every blessed shape we know.

In all external grace you have some part,

But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

Shakespeare is saying that other people – and even nature itself – share Harry’s beauty – but he is unique because of the moral ‘constancy’ he brings along with it.

In Sonnet 68.54. compares Harry’s truth as an adjunct to his beauty – like the odour that adds worth to the cultivated rose. 

Oh how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,

By that sweet ornament which truth doth give;

The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

For that sweet odour, which doth in it live:

This is in contrast to ‘canker to ‘canker blooms’ = ‘wild dog roses’ which look every bit as attractive as cultivated roses but have no scent.

Dog Roses

The Canker blooms have full as deep a dye

As the perfumed tincture of the Roses,

Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly,

When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:

But it is only the look of the dog-rose that is valued. No-one values them or collects them. They die alone and unloved.

But for their virtue only is their show,

They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade,

Die to themselves.

But it is a different case with cultivated roses. When they die they are distilled into perfume. It is the same case with Harry. When he starts to decline, his truth and honesty will have been preserved by Shakespeare’s verse.

Sweet Roses do not so,

Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:

And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,

When that shall vade, by verse distils your truth.

But, bit by bit, Shakespeare learns the truth about Harry – in exactly the same way the Young Woman learns the truth about her Lover. In Sonnet 74. (69) Shakespeare admits that the whole world is united in praising Harry’s external beauty:

Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view,

Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend:

All tongues (the voice of souls) give thee that due,

Utt’ring bare truth, even so as foes Commend.

But those very people who praised you, damn you as well, by penetrating your inner being. They do this by observing more than their eyes alone do.

Thy outward thus with outward praise is crown’d;

But those same tongues, that give thee so thine own,

In other accents do this praise confound

By seeing farther than the eye hath shown.

These people examine your mind, which they evaluate by observing your actions – and although they praised your beauty before, detect the stench of depravity in your nature.

They look into the beauty of thy mind,

And that, in guess, they measure by thy deeds;

Then churls their thoughts  (although their eyes were kind)

To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds.

The reason for this is that you ‘common grow’ i.e. associate with lower class gay men.

But why thy odour matcheth not thy show

The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.

In Sonnet 114.93 Shakespeare goes even further. He compares himself to a husband whose wife (Harry) is deceiving him but who keeps on supposing he is true:

So shall I live, supposing thou art true,

Like a deceived husband; so love’s face

May still seem love to me, though alter’d new,

Thy looks with me, thy heart in other place.

Shakespeare goes on to say that Harry is not like other people. Their faces reveal the inner workings of their mind and their history. But Harry is exempt from that. He looks beautiful and there is no outward sign of his inner depravity.

For there can live no hatred in thine eye,

Therefore in that I cannot know thy change;

In many’s looks, the false heart’s history

Is writ in moods, and frowns, and wrinkles strange;

But heaven in thy creation did decree

That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell,

What ere thy thoughts, or thy heart’s workings be,

Thy looks should nothing thence, but sweetness tell.

Shakespeare then compares Harry’s beauty to Eve’s apple. Satan had tempted Eve to eat of the ‘forbidden fruit’ by Satan. Now Harry’s beauty is a Satanic temptation for Shakespeare.

How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow,

If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!

This notion of Satanic possession is picked up by the Young Woman in A Lover’s Complaint:

‘Thus merely with the garment of a Grace
The naked and concealed fiend he cover’d;
That th’ unexperient gave the tempter place,
Which like a cherubin above them hover’d.
Who, young and simple, would not be so lover’d?
Ay me! I fell; and yet do question make
What I should do again for such a sake.

‘Unexperient’=’person without experience’

‘Lovered’ = ‘provided with a lover’.

With the appearance of an angel, he disguised the naked Satan within, so that people with little experience welcomed in the Devil himself – which took the appearance of a hovering cherub. Who, being young and simple, would turn down such a lover? I fell for this deception. But the question is – what would I do if I had known then what I know now?

In Sonnet 46. 144 Shakespeare has played with the idea of demonic possession. He compares Harry and Aemelia two spirits which tempt him. One is angelic – Harry – and the other devilish – the dark-skinned Aemelia.

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.

The evil spirit is trying to drag Shakespeare to Hell by seducing his lover – and is also trying to turn Harry into a demon.

To win me soon to hell my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.

By the time he gets to write A Lover’s Complaint he is convinced that Harry has turned into a demon.

But Shakespeare asks himself, in the figure of the Young Woman, what he would have done if he had known all this before about Harry – his venereal disease [‘eye’ = ‘penis’] his bogus emotions, his simulated love, his lack of spontaneity:

‘O, that infected moisture of his eye,
O, that false fire which in his cheek so glow’d,
O, that forced thunder from his heart did fly,
O, that sad breath his spongy lungs bestow’d,
O, all that borrow’d motion seeming owed,
Would yet again betray the fore-betray’d,
And new pervert a reconciled maid!’

And the answer is that he would have done it all again!

To read ‘Reconciliation’, Part 47, click: HERE



It’s best to read ‘A Lover’s Complaint (III)’ Part 44 first.

The young man continues:

”Look here, what tributes wounded fancies sent me,
Of paled pearls and rubies red as blood;
Figuring that they their passions likewise lent me
Of grief and blushes, aptly understood
In bloodless white and the encrimson’d mood;

Effects of terror and dear modesty,
Encamp’d in hearts, but fighting outwardly.

People who have fallen in love with me have sent me white pearls and red rubies which symbolised their feelings for me – fear and passion fighting with each other – internal emotions which the jewels outwardly symbolise.

‘Wounded fancies’ = ‘people that have been wounded by their love for me’.

”And, lo, behold these talents of their hair,
With twisted metal amorously impleach’d,
I have received from many a several fair,
Their kind acceptance weepingly beseech’d,
With the annexions of fair gems enrich’d,
And deep-brain’d sonnets that did amplify
Each stone’s dear nature, worth, and quality.

‘Talents’ = ‘talons’. ‘Impleache’d’= ‘entwined’. ‘Annexions’= ‘additions’.

Look at these locks of hair, wrapped around metal broaches which I have receive from beautiful people who begged me to accept them – along with the addition of beautiful jewels and complex sonnets which explained the particular qualities associated with the gems.

Shakespeare here keeps the sex of the young man’s admirers ambiguous. Harry himself, as we know from the Sonnets, received sexual attentions from men – especially from the Rival Poet, George Chapman. He doubtless sent Sonnets to Harry in the same way Shakespeare did – and they were certain to be ‘deep-brained’. Chapman saw himself as an intellectual embarked on ‘a deep search of knowledge ‘who mixed with other intellectuals like ‘deep-searching Northumberland’.

The 9th Earl of Northumberland, the Wizard Earl.

”The diamond,–why, ’twas beautiful and hard,
Whereto his invis’d properties did tend;
The deep-green emerald, in whose fresh regard
Weak sights their sickly radiance do amend;
The heaven-hued sapphire and the opal blend
With objects manifold: each several stone,
With wit well blazon’d, smiled or made some moan.

Note: None of the A Lover’s Complaint editors know what ‘invis’d’ means. The OED says that the word is ‘obsolete’ and ‘rare’ and makes a guess at ?Unseen.  invisible – from the Latin ‘invisus’.

John Kerrigan makes the point that the word exists nowhere else.

The fact is the verb form of the word – ‘invise’ does exist – even though the OED makes no mention of it. And it used by George Chapman….

The child-god’s graceful paradise
They jointly purpose to invise,
And lovely emulations rise,
In note of one another’s guise.

So, the meaning of ‘invise’ is ‘imagine, picture’.

This also a coded reference to Harry’s male lovers. When, in  writing about ‘his invis’d properties’ the his can mean ‘it’s’ [the diamond’s] properties – but it can also mean the personal qualities of Chapman himself.

By using a word peculiar to Chapman, Shakespeare is making a coded reference to his affair with Shakespeare.

So the young man is describing the properties of the jewels he was given by his admirers, male and female. They symbolise the qualities and emotions of the people who are giving the gifts. Diamonds for their strength and beauty, the emerald that enhances the sight, the sapphire that is blue like the sky and the opal that takes its radiance from colours around it. So the stones are living things, representing the qualities of the wooers and enhanced by the poems that come with them.

”Lo, all these trophies of affections hot,
Of pensived and subdued desires the tender,
Nature hath charged me that I hoard them not,
But yield them up where I myself must render,
That is, to you, my origin and ender;
For these, of force, must your oblations be,
Since I their altar, you enpatron me.

‘Pensived’ = ‘thought about’. ‘Subdued’ = ‘repressed’. ‘Origin and ender’ = ‘alpha and omega, beginning and end’ i.e. God himself.

‘Render’ = (1) To give up and (2) To rot like meat. Shakespeare also uses ‘render’ in this way in his ‘Poison Pen’ Sonnet to Harry 153 (126).

‘Oblation’ = ‘offering’. The word is used in the Anglican Communion Service. ‘Enpatron’ = ‘become my Patron Saint.

The young man says that that the jewels are the outward show of the love for the young man that the wooers have nurtured deep inside themselves. Dame Nature has commanded him to give them to the young woman, who is the God he worships. The young man has been the altar on which the gifts have been given, but the young woman is the Patron Saint of the altar.

”O, then, advance of yours that phraseless hand,
Whose white weighs down the airy scale of praise;
Take all these similes to your own command,
Hallow’d with sighs that burning lungs did raise;
What me your minister, for you obeys,
Works under you; and to your audit comes
Their distract parcels in combined sums.

‘Phraseless’ = ‘that which is beyond description’. ‘Similes’ = ‘comparisons made in the sonnets the lovers have written’.

‘Hallowed’ is a quote from the Lord’s Prayer which Shakespeare also uses in a context of love in Sonnet 149 (108):

like prayers divine

I must each day say ore the very same,

Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,

Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.

The young man says: Hold out your hand – whose white beauty cannot be matched by poetic words. Take all the far-fetched comparisons poets have made about me and make them your own. – the product of burning passion and sighs. I am your minister – and work only for you as my God. Take these mad gifts I have been given as part of estate.

Harry, to win Shakespeare’s love, had given him the gift of £1,000.

”Lo, this device was sent me from a nun,
Or sister sanctified, of holiest note;
Which late her noble suit in court did shun,
Whose rarest havings made the blossoms dote;
For she was sought by spirits of richest coat,
But kept cold distance, and did thence remove,
To spend her living in eternal love.

‘Device’ = (1) heraldic device (2) poem.

‘Nun’ = (1) ‘a member of a religious order’ and (2) ‘a courtesan’. The first example of ‘nun’ = ‘courtesan’ quoted by the O. E. D. was 1518. The word was also used this way by Ben Jonson and John Fletcher.

‘Noble suit’ = ‘wooing by a nobleman’. ‘Rarest havings’ = (1) unique possessions and (2) ‘unique physical endowments’. ‘Blossoms’ = ‘young men’. ‘Richest coat’ = ‘well off aristocrats’ [‘coat’=’coat of arms’] .’Eternal love’ = (1) ‘love of God’ or (2) ‘never-ending love-making.

So the passage is packed with double meanings, but can be roughly summarised as:

This present was sent to me by a nun/prostitute – or at least someone approaching the status of a nun/prostitute, who lately rejected the advances of a nobleman, whose ‘possessions’ made young men besotted with her. The richest aristocrats pursued her – but she chastely distanced herself from them and devoted herself to love.

This passage is a satirical attack on Aemilia Basanno/Lanyer – the Dark Lady of the Sonnets – who was a courtesan if not an outright prostitute. In the Comedy of Errors the Abbess is named ‘Aemilia’ – which is an in-joke. There is also a courtesan in the play who has lent a ring worth forty ducats to Antipholus and she says: ‘Forty ducats is too much to lose.’ This again in an in-joke. Aemilia was the mistress of old Lord Hunsdon…..

Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon.

….. who gave Aemilia £40 a year for her services.

So ‘the noble suit’ is Lord Hunsdon’s. She clearly did not shun him in real life – but in Willobie his Avisa – she casts herself as the chaste ‘Avisa’ – who shuns the advances of an old Nobleman. Aemilia had a religious conversion from Judaism to Christianity: so ‘eternal love’, can refer to this conversion. But it can also mean she made love to men all the time.

”But, O my sweet, what labour is’t to leave
The thing we have not, mastering what not strives,
Playing [Paling] the place which did no form receive,
Playing patient sports in unconstrained gyves?
She that her fame so to herself contrives,
The scars of battle ‘scapeth by the flight,
And makes her absence valiant, not her might.

‘Playing’ has been changed by one editor to ‘planing’ and by another to ‘paling’. The Shakespeare Code has accepted the latter.

‘Gyves’ = ‘constraints’.

It is no hardship to leave something we never possessed in the first place – exercising dominion over something that does not put up a fight, putting fences round a place that contains nothing, pretending to endure suffering when we are free to get up and go at any time. The woman who makes a name for being chaste escape the wounds of battle by fleeing from the fight and tries to make her absence from the struggle an act of bravery rather than joining in the fight itself.

”O, pardon me, in that my boast is true:
The accident which brought me to her eye
Upon the moment did her force subdue,
And now she would the caged cloister fly:
Religious love put out Religion’s eye:
Not to be tempted, would she be immured,
And now, to tempt, all liberty procured.

‘Religion’s eye’ = (1) ‘the way religion sees and judges things and (2) ‘religion’s aye’ = ‘yes’. Obeying and agreeing with the discipline of the order.

Please pardon my boasting because what I am telling you is true. I had an accidental meeting with her which destroyed her resolve. She now wishes to escape the oppression of the cloister. Erotic love – ecstatic like religion – had overthrown religious love. She had walled herself in to avoid temptation – now she breaks free so she can tempt others herself.

The Sonnets show how Aemilia seduced Harry when he was trying to advance Shakespeare’s own love-suit with her.

See Sonnet 38 (134)

”How mighty then you are, O, hear me tell!
The broken bosoms that to me belong
Have emptied all their fountains in my well,
And mine I pour your ocean all among:
I strong o’er them, and you o’er me being strong,
Must for your victory us all congest,
As compound love to physic your cold breast.

‘Fountains’ can = ‘the genital area’. ‘Congest’=’gather together’.

‘Compound’ = ‘a prescription using several ‘simples’. Up to Shakespeare’s time, herbs were used singly for healing. But it became fashionable to mix plants together into a prescription, as Chinese herbalists did. Shakespeare writes about this practice in Sonnet 85 (76) where he compares his simple, straightforward style of writing to the old-fashioned use of ‘simples’.

Think how powerful you must be, then. The waters of love that have cascaded into my well – and I pour my own love into your ocean of love. I had power over my former lovers, now you have power over me. To be a conqueror, you must gather us all together and turn us into a prescription to heal the coldness of your heart.

Shakespeare, in Sonnet 70 (31) imagines all his former lovers residing in Harry’s breast:

‘They bosom is endeared with all hearts/Which I by lacking have supposed dead.

”My parts had power to charm a sacred nun,
Who, disciplined, I [aye], dieted in grace,
Believed her eyes when they to assail begun,
All vows and consecrations giving place:
O most potential love! vow, bond, nor space,
In thee hath neither sting, knot, nor confine,
For thou art all, and all things else are thine.

‘Parts’ = (1) ‘accomplishments’ (2) ‘attractiveness’ (3) ‘penis’.

‘I’ has been amended by Kerrigan to ‘aye’ = ‘indeed’ and The Shakespeare Code has preferred this reading.

‘All things else’ can = ‘all penises’.

I was attractive enough to cast a spell over a religious nun, who had disciplined herself and subdued her passions to live in a state of grace. But when she saw me she abandoned all her vows and religious practices. Love is all powerful. Words, promises, locations have no control over you whatsoever. For you are everything and everything belongs to you.

The autobiographical power of this poem is revealed in the extraordinary use of words ‘sting, knot nor confine’ – completely idiosyncratic – and straight from Shakespeare’s heart.

The nun here also has it’s root in Chaucer’s Prioress who sported pendant with the words: ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’ – ‘Love conquers all’.

”When thou impressest, what are precepts worth
Of stale example? When thou wilt inflame,
How coldly those impediments stand forth
Of wealth, of filial fear, law, kindred, fame!
Love’s arms are peace, ‘gainst rule, ‘gainst sense,
‘gainst shame,
And sweetens, in the suffering pangs it bears,
The aloes of all forces, shocks, and fears.

‘Impressest’ = ‘make an impression on’.

When you, Love, assert your power over us, what tired old precepts from the past have any influence over us? When your flames of passion fill us, all the stumbling blocks disappear – like money, childhood duty, the laws of the land, family influence and the fame of the beloved. The great power of Love is the peace it brings in it wake and fights against custom, common sense and guilt. It sweetens the pain it brings with it and the bitter herbs of ‘forces, shocks and fears’.

To read ‘A Lover’s Complaint (V), Part 46, click: HERE


It’s best to read ‘A Lover’s Complaint (II)’ Part 43 first.

A Lover’s Complaint continued.

The young woman speaks:

‘Yet did I not, as some my equals did,
Demand of him, nor being desired yielded;
Finding myself in honour so forbid,
With safest distance I mine honour shielded:
Experience for me many bulwarks builded
Of proofs new-bleeding, which remain’d the foil
Of this false jewel, and his amorous spoil.’

‘Foil’ = ‘settings for a jewel’.

But unlike some of my contemporaries I did not try to seduce him – nor did I succumb to his sexual approaches. Honour stopped me from doing it. I kept my distance from him and so retained my honour. Also my experience of those he had seduced and destroyed were a defence for me. They were like a setting which shows off the beauty of a jewel – or animals that had been hunted and killed.

Shakespeare here is talking of his own situation. His ‘equal’ was Christopher Marlowe……

……who had attempted to seduce Harry by writing Hero and Leander with a flattering description of Leander/Harry:

‘Some swore he was a maid in man’s attire,

For in his looks were all that men desire,

A pleasant smiling cheek, a speaking eye,

A brow for love to banquet royally;

And such as knew he was a man, would say,

“Leander, thou art made for amorous play.

Why art thou not in love, and loved of all?

Though thou be fair, yet be not thine own thrall.’

Harry loved dressing as a girl – as we can see from this painting……

Also Shakespeare himself describes Harry in drag in Sonnet 67 (53):

Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit

Is poorly imitated after you;

On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,

And you in Grecian tires are painted new…

Marlowe also describes Leander/Harry’s….

‘……dangling tresses, that were never shorn,

Had they been cut, and unto Colchos borne,

Would have allured the vent’rous youth of Greece

To hazard more than for the golden fleece.’

In the poem a gay Old King Neptune tries to seduce Leander/Harry while he is swimming the Hellespont.

Shakespeare – like the young woman – was bound by ‘honour’ not to sleep with Harry. He was employed his mother – Countess Mary – to try to get Harry interested in women – by writing sonnets and Love’s Labour’s Lost – a great paean to heterosexual love.

Also Shakespeare had the example of Aemilia Bassano – the Dark Lady of the Sonnets – whom Harry abandoned when she fell pregnant. She was the proof ‘new-bleeding’ – new-bleeding from (1) heartache and (2) having given birth to a son in 1593 whom she named Henry.

‘But, ah, who ever shunn’d by precedent
The destined ill she must herself assay?
Or forced examples, ‘gainst her own content,
To put the by-past perils in her way?
Counsel may stop awhile what will not stay;
For when we rage, advice is often seen
By blunting us to make our wits more keen.

‘Assay’ = ‘test out by experience’.

But who ever allowed what had happened to others in the past to deflect them from the destiny they must experience for themselves? Advice might stop us for a little while but cannot have a lasting impression on us. If we are sexually excited, advice to desist often makes us more determined and resourceful to get our way.

With ‘blunting’ Shakespeare plays again on the name of Harry’s great friend, Charles Blount, [pronounced ‘blunt’] 6th Baron Mountjoy,….

…….as he does in Sonnets 49 (19), 83 (105), 109 (52), 116 (56) and 143 (115)

‘Nor gives it satisfaction to our blood,
That we must curb it upon others’ proof;
To be forbod the sweets that seem so good,
For fear of harms that preach in our behoof.
O appetite, from judgment stand aloof!
The one a palate hath that needs will taste,
Though Reason weep, and cry, ‘It is thy last.’

This is very similar to the argument in Sonnet 43 (129) : ‘Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame’ in which Shakespeare catalogues the horror of being seized by physical passion: but concludes that sex is so attractive no-one can resist it.

‘All this the world well knows, yet none knows well/To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.’

‘For further I could say ‘This man’s untrue,’
And knew the patterns of his foul beguiling;
Heard where his plants in others’ orchards grew,
Saw how deceits were gilded in his smiling;
Knew vows were ever brokers to defiling;
Thought characters and words merely but art,
And bastards of his foul adulterate heart.

‘Adulterate heart’ = (1) A heart set on adultery and (2) A heart that has been debased. (adulterated)

The young woman admits she knew her seducer’s history: heard how he had made married women pregnant – and how his smiles were false, seductive and guileful. His promises were simply a means to seduce others – and what he wrote and what he said were completely bogus – the products of his evil, corrupted nature.

The ‘plants’ which grew ‘in others orchards’ is a reference again to Harry’s affair with Amelia. When she became pregnant, she was married off, on 18th October 1592, ‘for colour’ – to a ‘minstrel’ Alphonse Lanier.

The imagery orchards and fertility echoes the imagery of Sonnet 17 (16) to Harry, written for his 17th Birthday in 1590:

‘And many maiden gardens yet unset,/With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers.’

‘And long upon these terms I held my city,
Till thus he gan besiege me: ‘Gentle maid,
Have of my suffering youth some feeling pity,
And be not of my holy vows afraid:
That’s to ye sworn to none was ever said;
For feasts of love I have been call’d unto,
Till now did ne’er invite, nor never woo.’

The young woman says that she resisted the seducer’s advances for a long time – like a city under siege. The young man asked her to pity him and claimed that his vows were holy ones. He said that what he was saying to her was the first time he had spoken like this to anyone. He had been invited to make love to others – but had never before wooed a woman.

Here there is again a fusion between Shakespeare and Harry. When Shakespeare was wooing Anne Hathaway, he managed to gain her pity for his love-suit. See Sonnet 1 (145)

Also the young man’s use of the word ‘holy vows’ echoes Shakespeare’s use of religious imagery in describing his love for Harry. In Sonnet 70 (31) Shakespeare writes:

How many a holy and obsequious tear

Hath dear religious love stol’n from mine eye

Shakespeare, in Sonnet 149 (108), even quotes the language of the Lord’s Payer when he describes his love for Harry:

like prayers divine

I must each day say ore the very same

Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,

Even as when I first  I hallowed thy fair name.

And in Sonnet 152 (124) Shakespeare fuses sex and religion by turning the obelisk outside St. Peter’s – the last thing St. Peter was said to have seen before he was crucified, and consequently sacred to Catholics – into a phallic symbol of his love for Harry.

See: Shakespeare in Italy.

”All my offences that abroad you see
Are errors of the blood, none of the mind;
Love made them not: with acture they may be,
Where neither party is nor true nor kind:

They sought their shame that so their shame did find;
And so much less of shame in me remains,
By how much of me their reproach contains.’

‘With acture they may be’ = ‘they may be enacted’.

The young man claims that all the sexual sins I have committed were instinctive – not calculated. They were not born out of love: in fact good sex can occur with people who lie and are cruel. He blames women for shamelessly making love to him – and asserts the more they blame him, the more innocent he is.

There is here another ‘fusion’ of Harry with Shakespeare. In Sonnet 120 (121) Shakespeare defends his own gay sexuality with the same bravura as the young man:

For why should others’ false adulterate eyes

Give salutation to my sportive blood?

Or on my frailties why are frailer spies

Which in their wills count bad what I think good?

No, I am that I am, and they that level

At my abuses reckon up their own;

I may be straight, though they them-selves be bevel:

By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown.

‘I am that I am’ is a quotation from Exodus 3. 14 in the Geneva translation which Shakespeare used. It is God describing himself to Moses. So Shakespeare, here, is obliquely comparing himself to God.

‘Nor true nor kind’ is also reminiscent of Sonnet 84 (105) where Shakespeare writes to Harry:

Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,

Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words,

And in this change is my invention spent.

Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.

Fair, kind, and true, have often liv’d alone,

Which three till now, never kept seat in one.

A Lover’s Complaint (cont)

”Among the many that mine eyes have seen,
Not one whose flame my heart so much as warm’d,
Or my affection put to the smallest teen,
Or any of my leisures ever charm’d:
Harm have I done to them, but ne’er was harm’d;
Kept hearts in liveries, but mine own was free,
And reign’d, commanding in his monarchy.

‘Teen’ = ‘injury’. ‘Harm’ = ‘injure with love’.

The young man describes how of all the people he has seen, not a single one has excited his passions. He has sexually ‘injured’ others – but has never been injured himself. Other people’s hearts were his servants – but he has never been injured himself. His heart has been an unchallenged emperor.

In Sonnet 78 (94) Shakespeare advises Harry NOT to arouse others sexually with the same hurt/harm idea:

They that have power to hurt, and will do none.

So the young man is doing the opposite of Shakespeare advised Harry not to do: he callously exploits his good looks.

Also, when Shakespeare was in Harry’s entourage, he would literally have worn the Southampton Family livery.

To read ‘A Lover’s Complaint (IV), Part 45, please click: HERE


It’s best to read ‘A Lover’s Complaint (I)’ Part 42  first

A Lover’s Complaint (continued)

The young woman – who represents the younger Shakespeare – explains to the ‘reverend man that grazed his cattle nigh’ – who represents the older Shakespeare, examining his younger self.

‘But, woe is me! too early I attended
A youthful suit–it was to gain my grace
Of one by nature’s outwards so commended,
That maidens’ eyes stuck over all his face:
Love lack’d a dwelling, and made him her place;
And when in his fair parts she did abide,
She was new lodged and newly deified.

‘Grace’ = ‘sexual favours’.

The young woman confesses she was far too young when she was wooed by a young man who wanted to go to bed with her – a youth so handsome that every woman’s gaze was fixed on him. Love needed somewhere to live – so chose the young man as her habitation and so Love became all the more powerful as a Goddess.

This echoes Shakespeare’s Sonnets about Harry.

Sonnet 19. (20):

A man in hew all Hews in his controlling,

Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.

[Hews is a coded reference to Harry’s initials and his title: Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton]

It is also reminiscent of Shakespeare’s description of Harry in Sonnet 114 (93) when he talks about Love dwelling in Harry’s face.

‘But heaven in thy creation did decree/That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell’.

‘His browny locks did hang in crooked curls;
And every light occasion of the wind
Upon his lips their silken parcels hurls.
What’s sweet to do, to do will aptly find:
Each eye that saw him did enchant the mind,
For on his visage was in little drawn
What largeness thinks in Paradise was sawn.

‘Sawn’ = ‘seen’.

His long brown hair would be blown onto his lips by the wind – and everyone who saw him was enchanted by him: his face seemed Paradise in miniature.

This is very similar to the description of the beautiful young knight, Musidorus, in Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia:

‘His fair auburn hair which he ware at great length and gave at that time a delightful show with being stirred up and down with the breath of a gentle wind’.

Harry hero-worshipped Sidney and based his own appearance on the two handsome young princes in ‘Arcadia’.

Also, in All’s Well that Ends Well, Helena – who also represents Shakespeare’s younger self – talks of Bertram’s/Harry’s ‘curls’.


‘Small show of man was yet upon his chin;
His phoenix down began but to appear
Like unshorn velvet on that termless skin
Whose bare out-bragg’d the web it seem’d to wear:
Yet show’d his visage by that cost more dear;
And nice affections wavering stood in doubt
If best were as it was, or best without.

He only had a tiny show of facial hair – and the woman/Shakespeare compares it to phoenix-feathers. 

Note: Shakespeare has already likened Harry to the fabulous Phoenix Bird in The Phoenix and the Turtle.

The bareness of his chin highlighted the stubble – and people argued as to which was more attractive – the young man with hair or without.

Harry also was famous, in his youth, for his small show of facial hair:

Between 22nd – 28th September, 1592, Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford with Harry in attendance. John Sanford afterwards wrote of him in Latin: ‘There was present no one more comely, no young man more outstanding in learning , although his mouth scarcely yet blooms with tender down’.

‘His qualities were beauteous as his form,
For maiden-tongued he was, and thereof free;
Yet, if men moved him, was he such a storm
As oft ‘twixt March and April is to see,
When winds breathe sweet, untidy though they be.
His rudeness so with his authoriz’d youth
Did livery falseness in a pride of truth.

‘Free’ = ‘generous’. ‘Authoriz’d’ = ‘granted allowances’. [The stress should be on ‘thor’]. ‘Livery’ = ‘dress up’.

He was as morally beautiful (or seemed to be) as he was physically beautiful for he had the pure, soft speech of a girl – and was generous and liberal. But he could get angry with people – but it was like the ‘rough winds’ of early spring and, consequently, still sweet. However, what he was doing was masking his deceitfulness with a show of truth.

These are similar to Shakespeare’s observations of Harry. In Sonnet 75. (70) Shakespeare writes:

If some suspect of ill maskt not thy show,/Then thou alone kingdoms of hearts should’st owe.

And in Sonnet 114 (93) Shakespeare writes:

But heaven in thy creation did decree/That in they face sweet love should ever dwell/What ere thy thoughts, or thy heart’s workings be/Thy looks should nothing thence, but sweetness tell.’

‘Well could he ride, and often men would say
‘That horse his mettle from his rider takes:
Proud of subjection, noble by the sway,
What rounds, what bounds, what course, what stop
he makes!’
And controversy hence a question takes,
Whether the horse by him became his deed,
Or he his manage by the well-doing steed.

He was a great horseman. Some people say the horse takes its qualities from the horseman – others that the horseman takes his qualities from the horse.

‘But quickly on this side the verdict went:
His real habitude gave life and grace
To appertainings and to ornament,
Accomplish’d in himself, not in his case:
All aids, themselves made fairer by their place,
Came for additions; yet their purposed trim
Pieced not his grace, but were all graced by him.

‘Appertainings’ = ‘belongings’. ‘Case’ = ‘outward clothing’. ‘Trim’ = ‘trappings’.

But all were finally of the opinion that it was the young man’s inner qualities that made him attractive, not his outward dress. External ornamentations helped, but they took their beauty from the young man rather than gave it to him.

‘So on the tip of his subduing tongue
All kinds of arguments and question deep,
All replication prompt, and reason strong,
For his advantage still did wake and sleep:
To make the weeper laugh, the laugher weep,
He had the dialect and different skill,
Catching all passions in his craft of will:

So his conversation was skilfully manipulative. He could argue any case and tailored his conversations to the needs of his hearers. So he managed to master people of every sort of persuasion by his cunning arts.

This is reminiscent of Harry’s manipulative behaviour in his love-triangle with Shakespeare and Amelia Bassano – the Dark Lady’ of the Sonnets. Harry wanted Shakespeare to be his lover – but Harry wanted to be loyal to Harry’s mother – Mary Second, Countess of Southampton….


(1) She was Shakespeare’s employer and

(2) Shakespeare’s brief had been to ‘heterosexualise’ Harry with the seventeen ‘Birthday Sonnets’

See: The Birthday Sonnets.

To gain Shakespeare’s love, Harry seduced Amelia when Shakespeare asked Harry to plead his love cause with her.

At this stage, Harry was not interested in women at all!

Shakespeare refers to this in Sonnet 41 (40) when he criticises Harry for stealing his mistress:

But yet be blam’d, if thou this self deceivest

By wilful taste of what they self refusest

‘Self’ here, as we have seen, can = ‘penis’. Shakespeare is indicating that by bedding Amelia, Harry is going against his natural gay instincts. he is being emotionally manipulative – just as the male lover in A Lover’s Complaint is.

‘That he did in the general bosom reign
Of young, of old; and sexes both enchanted,
To dwell with him in thoughts, or to remain
In personal duty, following where he haunted:
Consents bewitch’d, ere he desire, have granted;
And dialogued for him what he would say,
Ask’d their own wills, and made their wills obey.

Everyone was in love with him no matter what their ages. He enchanted both sexes: they thought about him or LITERALLY followed him about. People submitted to him sexually before he even asked them to go to bed with him. They anticipated what he would say – and said it themselves – and forced their genitals (‘their wills’) to comply with what he wanted.

This is very similar to Shakespeare’s description of Harry in Sonnet 19. (20)

‘Which steals men’s eyes and women’s soul amazeth’.

Also in Sonnet 117 (57) Shakespeare describes Harry in exactly the same tones as the besotted people described in this stanza:

Being your slave, what should I do but tend

Upon the hours, and times of your desire?

I have no precious time at all to spend,

Nor services to do, till you require.

Nor dare I chide the world without end hour

Whilst I (my sovereign) watch the clock for you,

Nor think the bitterness of absence sour

When you have bid your servant once adieu.

Nor dare I question with my jealous thought,

Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,

But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought

Save, where you are, how happy you make those.

So true a fool is love, that in your Will,

(Though you do any thing) he thinks no ill.


A Lover’s Complaint continued.

‘Many there were that did his picture get,
To serve their eyes, and in it put their mind;
Like fools that in th’ imagination set
The goodly objects which abroad they find
Of lands and mansions, theirs in thought assign’d;
And labouring in moe pleasures to bestow them
Than the true gouty landlord which doth owe them:

‘Moe’ = ‘more’.

Many people had miniatures and portraits of the young man to (1) Please their sight (2) Masturbate over. ‘Eyes’ can = ‘testicles’. Or please their minds, thinking about the young man in his absence.

These people are like idiots who see gardens and stately homes and imagine they own them and work, in their imagination to improve them more than the true gout-ridden owners.

Shakespeare here is describing himself!

We know from Sonnet 103 (46) that Harry gave Shakespeare a miniature of himself that Shakespeare took on tour with him.

Shakespeare also thought he ‘owned’ his lover, Harry and sought to improve his character – much more than Harry himself – who had suffered from ‘swelling in the legs’ in his imprisonment in the Tower and so was ‘gouty’.

‘So many have, that never touch’d his hand,
Sweetly supposed them mistress of his heart.
My woeful self, that did in freedom stand,
And was my own fee-simple, not in part,
What with his art in youth, and youth in art,
Threw my affections in his charmed power,
Reserved the stalk and gave him all my flower.

‘Fee-simple’ = ‘my absolute possession’ – a legal term about land.

Many people, who never even touched the young man, thought he was in love with them. I, who was completely free and my own mistress, because of his manipulation (1) As a young man and (2) As one who was only beginning to be a manipulator, succumbed to his magic and gave him my virginity.

Shakespeare is here talking openly about his relation ship with Harry. He his ‘freedom’ when he first met Harry. He had started to forge a career in the theatre – howbeit poorly paid and tough – by leading Lord Strange’s Company in Lancashire. But he was enchanted by Harry – and allowed him to dominate him emotionally and physically. He allowed himself to be the passive partner in the relationship in every sense of the word. The image of the ‘flower’ being taken suggests that Shakespeare could be the passive partner in the relationship.

This idea is confirmed by Sonnet 106 (50):

My grief lies onwards and my joy behind

And Sonnet 70 (31):

And they, all they, hast all the all of me

And Sonnet 43 (129)

Before a joy propos’d, behind a dream.

To read ‘A Lover’s Complaint (III), Part 44, please click: HERE





It’s best to read Part 41 – Shakespeare’s Poison Pen first.

The volume of Shakespeare’s Sonnets concludes with an eleven page poem entitled A Lover’s Complaint.

To understand the meaning and significance of this poem, we must examine what happened after Shakespeare sent his ‘poison pen’ Sonnet 153 (126) to Harry Southampton in 1605.

Harry’s rejection of his lover, Shakespeare, led to rage and despair. To madness even.

Shakespeare had lost his own son, Hamnet, in 1596 – now, nearly a decade later, he had lost his surrogate son, Harry.

[See Sonnet 132 (37) in which he describes the death of Hamnet as ‘fortune’s dearest spite’ and adopts Harry as a replacement son.]

On top of this, Amelia Lanyer – the ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets – kept re-printing her satire against Shakespeare and Harry  – Wiollobie his Avisa – which kept Shakespeare’s ‘friendship’ with Harry alive in the public mind.

She had satirised how W.S. ‘An Old Player’ had attempted to seduce her in the figure of her persona ‘Avisa’- but had been rebutted.

‘Old Player’ refers 

(1) To the fact that, even though he was only in his 30s when he had his ‘liaison’ with Amelia, his baldness had made him look like an old man, and

(2) He was vastly experienced in love-making – with a suggestion also he was bisexual.

Amelia/Avisa also claims a  preposterous inadequate, Henrico Willebego ( also referred to as H.W. = Henry Wriothesley) had been rebutted in the same way.

Also ‘Willebego’ = ‘Williebegging’ (1) Begging for Will (2) Begging for Shakespeare’s penis.

H.W. is also described as ‘Italo-Hispalensis’ – in reference to Harry and Shakespeare’s ‘secret’ journey to Spain and Italy in 1593.

See: Shakespeare in Italy.

All of Shakespeare’s dark passion erupted in his brutal masterpiece King Lear – which deals with rejection, female cruelty and the death of children.

Shakespeare even changed the happy ending of the old play to have Cordelia die and be carried dead in the arms of her father. Shakespeare was finally facing the death of his son.

And in Shakespeare’s original ending, the old King wills himself to death – in the way Shakespeare has wished for ‘restful death’ in Sonnet 127 (37)

See: Shakespeare’s Original Ending to ‘King Lear’.

But there were compensations. On 3rd March 1606, William Davenant, Shakespeare’s illegitimate son…..

……was baptised. And on 5th June 1607, his daughter. Susanna, married the doctor John Hall – a man Shakespeare liked and often travelled to London with.

On top of that, the couple presented him with a granddaughter, Elizabeth, who was baptised on 21st Feb. 1608, and who was to be a beneficiary from Shakespeare’s will.

Shakespeare moved out of his mad, despairing phase – but still wanted revenge on his past lovers. He had even waited fifteen years to get his revenge on Sir Thomas Lucy for whipping him for poaching his deer.

By 1609, Harry had become an establishment figure – and was heading a venture in the Americas. Now was the time to attack him and publish the Sonnets.

There would be a double effect. Harry would be embarrassed – and the greatness of Shakespeare’s private poetry revealed. 

But Shakespeare also feels the need to objectify his experience: to look at the fatal love triangle, in which he became entangled, from the outside. 

How could he have possibly fallen in love with Amelia, an ambitious, promiscuous courtesan who treated him with nothing but contempt and Harry, a borderline psychopath and ingrate?

Shakespeare starts his self-examination by re-writing Love’s Labour’s Won as All’s Well that Ends Well – turning Bertram into a selfish, obnoxious young man and himself into a woman –  Helena – who adores Bertram, in spite of the facts.

See: Why did Shakespeare write ‘All’s Well that Ends Well’?

Shakespeare does the same sort of thing with A Lover’s Complaint – a longish poem which concludes his Sonnet Sequence. In this, Shakespeare splits himself in two – as his older self, an experienced man who has seen life and his younger self, a young woman who has been jilted by her lover. It is her ‘Complaint’ that is the basis for the story.

A Lover’s Complaint

FROM off a hill whose concave womb reworded
A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
My spirits to attend this double voice accorded,
And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,
Storming her world with sorrow’s wind and rain.

‘Plaintful’ = ‘full of complints. ‘Fickle’ = ‘changeable’.

An older man (Shakespeare 1) hears the echo of the voice of a young distraught woman (Shakespeare 2) tearing up papers and destroying love-rings. Shakespeare must have been tempted to tear up his compromising love sonnets himself: they revealed him to be gay (at a time when ‘buggery’ still carried the death penalty) and adulterous

Upon her head a platted hive of straw,
Which fortified her visage from the sun,
Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw
The carcass of beauty spent and done:
Time had not scythed all that youth begun,
Nor youth all quit; but, spite of heaven’s fell rage,
Some beauty peep’d through lattice of sear’d age.

‘Hive’ = ‘hat’.

She wears a straw hat to shield her face from the sun – and on her face could be detected some vestiges of beauty saved from the ravages of time. Shakespeare, too, claims in Sonnet 132 (73) that he has pre-maturely aged.

Oft did she heave her napkin to her eyne,
Which on it had conceited characters,
Laundering the silken figures in the brine
That season’d woe had pelleted in tears,
And often reading what contents it bears;
As often shrieking undistinguish’d woe,
In clamours of all size, both high and low.

She had a handkerchief with embroidered words and figures with which she dabbed her eyes and which her tears drowned. She would look at the symbols on her handkerchief and cry out in misery.

This is a picture of Shakespeare’s grief at being rejected by Harry.

Sometimes her levell’d eyes their carriage ride,
As they did battery to the spheres [planets] intend;
Sometime diverted their poor balls are tied
To the orbed earth; sometimes they do extend
Their view right on; anon their gazes lend
To every place at once, and, nowhere fix’d,
The mind and sight distractedly commix’d.

‘Levell’d eyes’ = ‘aimed like a gun’.

Sometimes she looks up to the sky, sometimes down to the earth and sometimes all over the place – such was her disturbed state of mind.

This echoes the frantic state of mind in which Shakespeare wrote King Lear.

Her hair, nor loose nor tied in formal plat,
Proclaim’d in her a careless hand of pride
For some, untuck’d, descended her sheaved hat,
Hanging her pale and pined cheek beside;
Some in her threaden fillet [ribbon] still did bide,
And true to bondage would not break from thence,
Though slackly braided in loose negligence.

She wears her hair half up and half down and her tresses sometimes cascade down her cheek with an art that conceals art.

This ‘artfulness’ with her hair is very like Harry’s own obsession with his own hair. Shakespeare begins to fuse himself and his old lover. These references multiply as the poem progresses – and echo the theme that Harry and he are the same person – a theme which runs right through the Sonnets – and takes its origin from the Southampton family crest – ‘Ung par tout’ = ‘all for one’ or ‘all is one’.

[See Sonnets 9 (8), 47 (42), 70 (31), 84 (105), 108 (39) and 136 (36).]

A thousand favours from a maund she drew
Of amber, crystal, and of beaded jet,
Which one by one she in a river threw,
Upon whose weeping margent she was set;
Like usury, applying wet to wet,
Or monarch’s hands that let not bounty fall
Where want cries some, but where excess begs all.

‘Favours’ = ‘love gifts’. ‘Maund’ = ‘pallet’. ‘Margent’ = ‘bank’. ‘Usury’ = ‘money-lending’

The woman throws her love-gifts into the river which she weeps into – the way money-lenders lend money to those who are already rich and the way Kings give money to people already rich rather than to beggars who need it.

This is reminiscent of King Lear who says:

Take physic, pomp

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel

That thou may’st shake the superflux to them

And show the heavens more just.

The young woman is throwing the valuable gifts she has received from her lover into the river. Shakespeare also received valuable gifts from Harry – jewels, horses and a gift of £1,000 – at least £500,000 in today’s money.

[Note: Shakespeare mentions his jewels in Sonnet 105 (48) and his horse in the Touring Sonnets – see: Part 33. Shakespeare on Tour Again.]

Of folded schedules had she many a one,
Which she perused, sigh’d, tore, and gave the flood;
Crack’d many a ring of posied gold and bone
Bidding them find their sepulchres in mud;
Found yet moe letters sadly penn’d in blood,
With sleided silk feat and affectedly
Enswathed,  and seal’d to curious secrecy.

‘Schedules’ = ‘papers’. ‘Moe’ = ‘more’. ‘Sleided’ = ‘cut’. ‘Enswathed’ = ‘cunningly warpped up’. ‘Sealed to curious secrecy’ = ‘to keep their contents from prying eyes’.

The woman tears up letters which she has received and throws them into the river. She destroys her rings – but then finds letters penned in blood which have been ingeniously wrapped in strips of silk so they cannot be opened and read by strangers.

This gives us insight into how Shakespeare sent his secret, erotic, sonnets to Harry – when he was away from him – in a way that kept them private. Shakespeare might also have written some of them in his own blood – especially Sonnet 126 (116) in which he tells Harry he will love him for ever:

If this be error and upon me prov’d

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Shakespeare must also have been tempted to destroy the incriminating sonnets he himself had written.

These often bathed she in her fluxive eyes,
And often kiss’d, and often ‘gan to tear:
Cried ‘O false blood, thou register of lies,
What unapproved witness dost thou bear!
Ink would have seem’d more black and damned here!’
This said, in top of rage the lines she rents,
Big discontent so breaking their contents.

‘Fluxive’ = ‘flowing’.

She often bathed the papers in her tears, sometimes kissing them and sometimes tearing them to pieces. She accused them of being full of lies, and the blood, with which they are written, bearing false witness. Black ink, suggesting damnation, would have been more appropriate.

Shakespeare here is admitting his ambivalence in his feelings to Harry – hatred mixed with love.

A reverend man that grazed his cattle nigh–
Sometime a blusterer, that the ruffle knew
Of court, of city, and had let go by
The swiftest hours, observed as they flew
Towards this afflicted fancy fastly drew,
And, privileged by age, desires to know
In brief the grounds and motives of her woe.

‘Blusterer’ = ‘boaster’. Thomas Nashe – in his satires against Shakespeare – often portrays him as arrogant and over-wheening – especially when he was touring with Lord Strange’s company.

‘Ruffle’ = ”quarelling’. ‘Fastly’ = ‘quickly’.

The older figure of the listener – who has experienced the hustle and bustle of life in the court and the city and observed and experienced ‘life in the fast lane’ – quickly approaches the woman to hear her story.

Old Shakespeare lends a sympathetic ear to Young Shakespeare.

So slides he down upon his grained bat,
And comely-distant sits he by her side;
When he again desires her, being sat,
Her grievance with his hearing to divide:
If that from him there may be aught applied
Which may her suffering ecstasy assuage,
‘Tis promised in the charity of age.

‘Ecstasy’ = ‘madness’.

He sits at an appropriate distance from the young woman and invites her to share her story with him in the hopes he can relieve her madness – something the older people can do to younger people.

Shakespeare here is trying to acknowledge and understand his own madness when Harry rejected him.

‘Father,’ she says, ‘though in me you behold
The injury of many a blasting hour,
Let it not tell your judgment I am old;
Not age, but sorrow, over me hath power:
I might as yet have been a spreading flower,
Fresh to myself, If I had self-applied
Love to myself and to no love beside.

The young woman tells the old man that she may look old but that she is in fact young. It is sorrow that has pre-maturely aged her – a sorrow she could have avoided if she had kept her love for herself and not given it to somebody else.

This is reminiscent of Sonnet 78 (94):

The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet

Though to itself it only live and die

But if that flower with base infection meet

The basest weed outbraves his dignity.’

Shakespeare is blaming his pre-mature aging on the stress of his affair with Harry. He refers to his hair falling out in Sonnet 132 (73), likening himself to a tree which has lost its leaves…

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

‘A Lover’s Complaint (II) will follow shortly.