Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code…….

This the second of the streamed interval talks the Code gave…….

……. in conjunction with…

It covers ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and touches on William Shakespeare’s other Last Plays……

…….his final reflections on life.

To do this adequately, we must first study his life itself……

Stewart Trotter has constructed this from his study – and chronological re-ordering – of Shakespeare’s Sonnets…

‘The Winter’s Tale’

Simon Forman……

………the Elizabethan/Jacobean Astrologer who counted William Shakespeare’s Dark Lady amongst his clients, and who predicted the exact day of his own death – saw ‘The Winter’s Tale’ at the Globe on 15th May, 1611. His account in his journal is the first mention we have of the play.

Shakespeare was 47 at the time and living more in Stratford-upon-Avon than London. He was editing his plays for publication and, according to local gossip, drinking so heavily he would sometimes pass out.

He was also writing what turned out to be his last plays – and processing all that had happened to him in his life.

And Titchfield had given him a lot to process…..

We believe the Roman Catholic Shakespeare joined the Roman Catholic Southampton family in 1590 as ‘fac totum’ to Mary, the widowed Second Countess of Southampton….

…….teaching at the local grammar school and tutoring Mary’s teenage son, Harry.

Lord Burghley – Harry’s guardian……

……soon replaced Shakespeare with John Florio….

…….a language teacher and scholar – but also, according to Frances Yates, a Protestant spy.

Mary countered by commissioning Shakespeare to write seventeen sonnets for her son’s seventeenth birthday, urging him to take an interest in women….

Harry Southampton

Instead, gay Harry took an interest in Shakespeare…..

But Shakespeare was married with a wife, Anne, and three children (Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith) in Stratford.

As a teenager, he had wooed his older wife with ballads……

……but had later been forced to flee to London after stealing deer from Sir Thomas Lucy…

……and writing a libellous poem about him which he hung on the gates of his park.

A Catholic network sheltered Shakespeare in Westminster, where he worked as a lawyer’s clerk. In the evening he collaborated on plays with Thomas Kyd – early versions of ‘Hamlet’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Henry V’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

Shakespeare then toured the Midlands with Lord Strange’s company…..

……supplying them with Biblical and Morality plays.

But when the company returned London, Shakespeare quarrelled violently with the Mayor and was flung into the City’s Counter Prison.

Once more the Catholic network saved him – with the Titchfield appointment.

Shakespeare had been introduced to London gay life by Christopher Marlowe…..

……..exactly the same age and background as Shakespeare, but with all then arrogant advantage of a Cambridge degree.

Shakespeare determined – out of loyalty to Mary Southampton, to keep his love for her son Harry chaste.

Harry, however, had other ideas…..

Shakespeare continued to write sonnets, but now they were for his own purposes, as messages, letters, recitations and sometimes private reflections.

It is from these we can reconstruct the events of his life up to 1609 – the date of their publication, two years before’The Winter’s Tale’.

The Dark Lady – Aemelia Basanno – musician and young mistress of the Queen’s cousin old Lord Hunsdon…..

This miniature might be Aemilia, but we can’t be certain.

– visited Titchfield in 1591 as part of the Queen’s Progress to Hampshire. She stayed on, ostensibly to avoid the London plague and to be a companion to Countess Mary.

In reality she had set her cap at the handsome, and soon-to-be-rich, Lord Harry.

Shakespeare fell desperately in love with her and cast her as the sexy, dark-skinned coquette, Rosaline, in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ ……

……a play commissioned, we believe by Countess Mary – which celebrates heterosexual love, in the hope that some of it might rub off on young Harry.

Astrologer Forman – who had no professional scruples at all in his dealings with his female clients – later attempted to make love to Aemilia. She allowed him to feel…

all parts of her body willingly [and] kiss her often [but]she would not do in any wise.

Poor Shakespeare didn’t even get as far as that.

She had no interest in a prematurely balding, penniless hack…….

Aemelia pointedly looked in the opposite direction any time Shakespeare appeared. Especially if Lord Harry was around.

In desperation, Shakespeare asked Harry to plead his love-cause with her – just as Count Orsino asks his page ‘Caesario’ to woo Olivia for him in ‘Twelfth Night’

Aemilia pounced and Harry complied. He wanted to pay Shakespeare back for rejecting his advances.

Shakespeare, in an agony of jealousy, went on tour again with Lord Strange’s Men. He wrote sonnet letters every day to Lord Harry until it finally dawned on him that he was more in love with the young man than the young woman.

Aemilia, meanwhile, became pregnant and was married off to…

‘a minstrel’ –

Alfonso Lanyer – ‘for colour’ – that is, to save everyone’s reputations. She took her revenge by publishing an anonymous attack on the balding Shakespeare as….

the old player

……and on the ‘blobbering’ Harry as…..

Mr. H.W.

..that is Mr. Henry Wriothesley…..

…….pronounced ‘Rosely’ as we know from the Titchfield Parish Register.

But Shakespeare was now free to declare his love for the young man – which he did in the greatest love sonnet of all time….

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

He promised Harry he would make him immortal because his poem would be immortal.

The wily Countess of Mary, of course, found out. She herself had fallen in love with….

a common person

,…..which had led to her rejection by her late husband and her son. Shakespeare used this in his defence.

Mary’s love crossed boundaries of class. Shakespeare’s love crossed boundaries of sex.

Mary finally gave her blessing to the union. In the Spring of 1593, Shakespeare and Harry travelled across Europe to Italy – to celebrate their love and to spy for Harry’s friend, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex.

This brush with Italy, as we shall see, was to transform Shakespeare’s life and art.

Shakespeare was already involved in politics. With his collaborator, little Tom Nashe….

…he had written plays about the English Civil War – which we now call ‘The Wars of the Roses’ – at the request of the Countess of Southampton and her neighbour, the Countess of Pembroke…..

The two Marys, who hated Elizabeth, wanted the world to know what would happen if the Queen died without naming her heir.

Now, as the Earl of Essex rose in power, Shakespeare and Harry’s involvement in politics became more intense.

Essex was the Queen’s lover – but he planned to ‘unthrone’ her. He commissioned Shakespeare to write a play which exposed Elizabeth’s vacillations and weakness – ‘Richard II’ which was played as a piece of agitprop in the streets and private house of London.

The Queen got the point. She later said to the scholar William Lambarde….

I am Richard the Second – know ye not that?

Shakespeare and Harry’s relationship wasn’t all plain sailing. Harry had a penchant for lower class men – which Shakespeare predicted would lead him into political trouble…..

Shakespeare was often away on tour – a traditional time in theatre for….

playing away from home

…in every sense of the word. Also we know from John Aubrey that Shakespeare returned to Stratford in the summer months to be with his family…..

….but he hid himself away to write long, narrative poems and love sonnets to Harry.

By 1595 it was time for Harry, who had come of age, to go to Queen Elizabeth’s Court.

Here the strangest of things happened.

He fell in love with Elizabeth Vernon – a poor cousin of the Earl of Essex.

Shakespeare realised this was good for Harry and the Southampton line. He himself was, after all, a married man with children.

So he wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to encourage the match…..

…… and played the character of Mercutio to express his own, angst-ridden ambivalence.

Harold Perrineau as Mercutio in Baz Luhrman’s thrilling film version of ‘Romeo +Juliet’

But Shakespeare believed he had a spiritual affinity with Harry. It was a….

marriage of true minds…

……which would survive Harry’s new relationship – which it did for many years, even when Elizabeth gave birth to two daughters.

But, in 1596, tragedy was to enter Shakespeare’s private life.

His son, Hamnet, twin to Judith, died in 1596.

We do not even know if Shakespeare, whose company was about to open at the new Swan Theatre, was able to attend the funeral….

The Swan Theatre – with an early version of ‘Twelfth Night’ in performance.

Bodies on those days were buried with speed.

Shakespeare went off the rails with grief and had to be bound over to keep the peace.

His one consolation was that Harry was now his surrogate son.

Politics now took over. Elizabeth appointed Essex to put down the Irish rebel Tyrone, and, going against the Queen’s wishes, he made Harry his General of Horse.

Essex’s plan was to defeat the Irish, lead his victorious army back to England, join up with King James VI at the Scottish border, then march to London and push Elizabeth from the throne.

To this end, Essex commissioned Shakespeare to write ‘Henry V’, to draw parallels between himself and the brave Agincourt King…..

…….and ‘Macbeth’ – to convince the Scottish King that he had a pre-destined right to the English throne and it was correct to invade a foreign country in the thrall of tyranny.

But there were two problems:

(1) The Irish campaign proved a disaster and

(2) King James had no intention of invading England.

Elizabeth by now was an old woman.

James believed he simply had to wait for her to die in order to succeed.

Shakespeare and Nashe rapidly back-tracked: they wrote ‘Julius Caesar’ to expose the folly of rebellion…….

….and ‘Troilus and Cressida’ to expose the folly of war.

But it was too late.

Essex deserted his post, returned to England was clapped under house arrest.

Half of his entourage wanted to appease the Queen.

But the other half put on a performance of ‘Richard II’ at the Globe to stir the citizens of London to rebellion.

It was time for Shakespeare to get out of town.

We believe that he fled to the Court of the gay-friendly King James.

Both James and Shakespeare had written poems which compared their male lovers to the fabulous, exotic Phoenix bird.

While Shakespeare bonded with the King, Essex had his head cut off…..

…and Harry, whose gay promiscuity in Ireland was brought up at his trial, was thrown into the Tower of London for life.

But two years later, Queen Elizabeth died. Everything turned round.

James became King of England as well as Scotland, and Harry, as his champion, was now his hero.

Shakespeare was asked to head up James’s new company of player, the King’s men – and wear the King’s scarlet livery.

Harry fully expected to become James’s new lover. But the King preferred younger men. Harry, ravaged by disease, had also lost his looks.

Yes! That’s me, folks. Trixie the Cat!

Shakepeare, however, loved him in the way he had always loved him.

He compared this love to the eternal, holy strength of the obelisk outside St. Peter’s that both men had seen on their trip to Rome.

This obelisk – re-erected in 1586 – was thought to be the last thing St. Peter saw before he was crucified.

But things started to decline. James did not keep his promise to give freedom of worship to Catholics and Southampton, to please him, renounced his Roman Catholic faith.

But in March, 1605, Shakespeare’s world fell apart. Elizabeth, 3rd Countess of Southampton……

…. finally presented Harry with a little son, James, named after the King.

Harry wanted him to become a brave and fearless soldier. He felt his gay side had to go. And with it, William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare replied with a vicious poem – at twelve lines not even a full sonnet – stating that Harry’s neglect had left him….


…..but that Harry himself – from whom he withdrew his promise of immortality – was destined to rot and decay in a grave.

The brackets represent a gaping grave.

Shakespeare’s mental torment was compounded by the Gunpowder Plot.

Shakespeare had to face the fact that his co-religionists…..

…..including Guy Fawkes….

….who had worked for Mary Southampton’s father at Cowdray – were prepared to slaughter the whole family of his benefactor and friend, King James.

Not to mention the entire nobility of England.

Shakespeare suffered a breakdown.

He poured all his nihilistic despair into ‘King Lear’ – in which the old King – in a Godless, hostile universe – carries the hanged corpse of his daughter in his arms.

Shakespeare had lost his real son – and now he had lost his surrogate one as well.

But already…

great creating nature

…..in the words of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ – had started her work….

When Shakespeare travelled between London and Stratford, he used to stay the night at Oxford, where John Davenant, a fan of Shakespeare’s writing, owned a tavern.

John loved his beautiful wife, Jennet, but couldn’t give her children. So he asked Shakespeare to sleep with her. Exactly a year after the birth of Harry’s son, Shakespeare had his own son as well.

The Davenants christened him William – and made Shakespeare his Godfather.

Shakespeare’s mother, Mary, died in September, 1608. We believe that the Old Shepherd’s description of his caring, hospitable late wife is a tribute to her.

Also Shakespeare’s beloved daughter, Susanna, had presented her father with a granddaughter, Elizabeth, earlier in the year.

Shakespeare clearly felt the need to be nearer his family. A Stratford legal document for the following year describes him as…

nuper in curia domini Jacobi

……’recently at the Court of King James’.

This meant he was now in Stratford.

Shakespeare was to take one final act of revenge on Southampton. He published all his sonnets to him and Aemelia. He made sure everyone knew who the recipient was in a coded dedication. He called the deicatee…

Mr. W. H.

….a variation on the Dark Lady’s….

Mr. H. W.

But he included a sonnet – probably the latest – completely unlike any of the others – a religious one, addressed to his own soul. He questions why he has spent so much time and money on his clothes and body (he had grown fat)…..

…..and so little on his spirit. He determines to make up for this neglect. He wants his soul to feed on death. That way he can destroy death itself.

We believe that in his last plays – ‘Cymbeline’, ‘The Tempest’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and even ‘Henry VIII’ – Shakespeare goes on a spiritual journey.

In the words of Matthew Arnold, he attempts to….

See life steadily and to see it whole.

By this stage in his life, he knows that he is capable of all the sins that characters in the plays commit – and that murderous, destructive actions – even his own – spring from lack of self-knowledge.

Even historical figures who, in Shakespeare’s life, were regarded as enemies, in his art become friends – even Henry VIII…

…even Anne Bullen……

…..and even the corrupt Cardinal Wolsey…….

little wanton boys that swim on bladders

This many summers in a sea of glory

But far beyond their depth….

When Cromwell asks Wolsey how he does, he replies:

Why well

Never so truly, I know myself now…

Prospero in ‘The Tempest’ says of Caliban…

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.

Shakespeare acknowledges his own things of darkness as well. We know from the Sonnets he had all the thirst for power and fame that Wolsey had – and all the twisted sexual jealousies of Leontes….

Like Autolycus……

……Shakespeare wrote ballads and stole things when he was young. And when he was older, he continued to steal plots from other authors – especially Italian ones. He could well have been thinking of himself when he described the pedlar as a….

snapper up of unconsidered trifles..

Shakespeare also knows we are led by powers we do not understand.

Some ill planet reigns

….is the way Hermione describes her husband’s jealousy. But Shakespeare’s perceptions were way ahead of his time.

Now we might describe these powers as ‘the Unconscious’. Leontes and Polixenes enjoyed a boyhood love whose innocence they insist on – perhaps over insist on.

Was there an early glimmering of sexual love as well? As there was between Shakespeare and Harry first met?

Does Leontes, on meeting Leontes again, project these taboo feelings onto his wife?

What form does Shakespeare’s spirituality take in ‘The Winter’s Tale’?

Time plays a part – but it’s not everything. It is perceived differently by different people.

Nature plays a part – but again, it’s not everything. She can be destructive as well as creative – producing storms and death as fast as she produces new born babies.

Christ is mentioned, obliquely, in the play as…

the Best

……but we are not in a Christian universe. God does not involve Himself in our lives. He is a remote figure – an Oracle – who can be consulted but who stays passive.

He leaves active religion to people like Paulina who take on themselves all the spiritual responsibility for another’s soul that the old Father Confessors did – and on the whole they do it very well.

Shakespeare ultimately concludes humankind is decent, wants the best for others and is more than ready to speak truth to power.

When he lays out Sicilia and Bohemia, Shakespeare has, consciously or unconsciously, Titchfield and Stratford in mind.

We know the Sicilian Court is sophisticated because the language the people speak is sophisticated – fractured, almost, to the point of repression.

Whereas sex and feasting in Bohemia are openly enjoyed and the culture of ballad singing is a deep and natural one.

Perdita is given ravishing language as she describes the different flowers for the different seasons.

Central to Shakespeare’s examination of his own life is the passage on grating.

Perdita refuses to grow carnations and gillyvors in her rustic garden.

They are created artificially so she calls them…

nature’s bastards.

As Polixenes says in their defence……

We marry

A gentler scion to the wildest stock,

And maker conceive a bark of baser kind

By bud of noble race.

Harry Southampton had been the gentler, Titchfield scion and Shakespeare the wildest Stratford stock. Had this produced a bastard or not?

Perhaps Shakespeare himself could not answer the question.

Like Autolycus, he was a nobleman when he wore aristocratic clothes, and a countryman when he wore rustic clothes.

The problem of his identity was compounded by his profession of actor – with so many costumes to wear.

It is the final, sublime scene – when the statue of Hermione comes to life….

……that never fails to move the audience to tears.

What was Shakespeare thinking of?

We know that the Second Earl of Southampton had accused his wife of adultery and rejected her. But that had all happened more than a decade before Shakespeare came to Titchfield, and Mary Southampton had died four years before.

Isn’t it more likely that Shakespeare was thinking of his own life?

Isn’t the statue of his wife, Anne?

He had rejected her for Harry, and his own son, Hamnet had died, as Mamillius dies…

We like to think that, back in Stratford, Shakespeare had finally begun to realise Anne’s true worth – her tolerance, acceptance and patience.

And that he willed her his second bed because, unlike the first – the guest bed….

…it was the one they were finally sleeping in together.

Read Full Post »


Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code….

It is now some time since I had the pleasure of addressing you all, but Your Cat has not been idle……

Nor has our Chief Agent – Stewart Trotter…..

(No Image Available)

We have been at work on a spectacular production which, at the moment, is hush-hush……


In the meantime, The Shakespeare Code has joined forces with…….

…….which performs the plays of William Shakespeare every summer in the Great Barn….

……under the auspices of its renowned Artistic Director Kevin Fraser…..

This season, The Shakespeare Code has provided streamed interval talks for three of the Shakespeare productions –

‘The Comedy of Error’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’……

…..and over the next three posts, we shall give you the texts of all three talks. The series is entitled –


……and we start with……


It is our belief that ‘The Comedy of Errors’  was first performed in the Great Hall of Place House, Titchfield, during the Christmas period of 1591/2, as an entertainment for family and friends.

There are references in the play to the cold weather and when Adriana invites her supposed ‘husband’ to dine with her ‘above’, the Minstrels Gallery of the Hall would be an ideal setting.

There was already a tradition of Christmas entertainments. The highly cultured, and devoutly Catholic, first Countess of Southampton, Jane, was described in 1538 as….

merry as can be with Christmas plays and masques….

And her husband, Thomas Wriothesley, the first Earl of Southampton was a keen amateur actor at Cambridge.

Photo by Ross Underwood.

We believe William Shakespeare, as a fellow-Catholic, had joined the Southampton entourage in the Spring of 1590, hired by the widowed 2nd Countess of Southampton, Mary.

He was to be a tutor and friend to her sixteen year old son, Harry……..

Henry Wriothesley on the Southampton tomb at St. Peter’s,Titchfield. (1594)Photo: Ross Underwood.

……and work as a schoolteacher for the local children in the schoolroom, still standing, opposite the gates of Place House.

Lord Burghley, the Secretary of State, who was Harry’s Guardian, became suspicious that Catholics were grouping together, and placed John Florio in the household as a spy.


He replaced Shakespeare as the schoolmaster and Shakespeare took his revenge by satirising Florio as the pompous, voluble schoolmaster Holofernes in the play ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost – also premiered at Place House two years later.

Mary kept Shakespeare busy, though, by commissioning him to write seventeen sonnets for Harry’s seventeenth birthday in 1590 which urge him to take an interest in girls and marriage. She also commissioned plays from Shakespeare – as did another Mary, the Countess of Pembroke, at nearby Wilton.

The Countess of Pembroke was a Protestant, but the two women were united in their hatred for Queen Elizabeth – Mary Southampton because she persecuted Catholics and Mary Pembroke because she had destroyed the military career of her brother, Sir Philip Sidney.

Queen Elizabeth refused to name her successor – so the two Marys wanted historical plays to show the horror of the Civil War which would result. For this the country-educated Shakespeare needed help…. 

The idiosyncratic phrase….

A rag of money

……appears in ‘The Comedy of Errors’ It also appears in Thomas Nashe’s pamphlet, ‘Four Letters Confuted’. Scholars have argued for years whether Nashe stole from Shakespeare or Shakespeare stole from Nashe. The truth is neither stole from the other.  They collaborated. Shakespeare wrote the poetry and Nashe – gat-toothed, smooth chinned and tiny like a child – wrote the jokes.

Nashe thomas

In the autumn of 1591, Queen Elizabeth herself made one of her terrifying visits to the area. She lodged, first at Cowdray Castle – the home of Mary’s father, Lord Montague…….

…..then at Place House with the Southamptons. Both families were forced to vacate their homes so Elizabeth could lodge there and her soldiers smash up the wainscot in their search for ‘Papist trash’ – rosaries, crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary.  We know for certain Lord Montague celebrated illegal Latin Masses – so it is highly probable that his daughter did the same – and that both were in mortal danger.

Queen Elizabeth repaid father and daughter’s hospitality by tightening the rules against Catholics and by hanging one of Mary Southampton’s best friends – Swithin Wells – outside her London home in Holborn on 10th December.

Wells had also been a Titchfield schoolmaster. He had recruited young men to train as Catholic Priests. He had described Queen Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, as a cow….

So, when Mary Southampton commissioned a 1591 Christmas entertainment from Shakespeare and Nashe, they felt obliged to acknowledge this sad, harrowing, family event. That is why ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – unlike the source play by Plautus – starts with the looming threat of the execution of Egeon, the Merchant from Syracuse.

But Christmas for the Elizabethans wasn’t all jollity in any case.  It lasted the full Twelve Days from Christmas Day to Epiphany and the arrival of the Three Wise Men. On Christmas Day itself, Queen Elizabeth would often retire from company to pray.

‘The Comedy of Errors’ was probably performed on the 28th December, Holy Innocents Day, which commemorated King Herod’s slaughter of the little children.

So while we acknowledge Shakespeare and Nashe wrote a lively, often hilarious comedy about two identical pairs of twins (Mary Southampton herself had a twin brother, Anthony Browne who lived at West Horsley) we believe it is also a deeply Christian – and indeed Roman Catholic – work.

The writers set the play in Ephesus – unlike Plautus, who set it in Epidamnum. Ephesus was well known to a Christian audience as the place where St. Paul went to convert the inhabitants to Christianity – but found the country full of magicians, witches and conjurers.

He ordered the Ephesian Christians, in a famous letter, to be kind to one another. Husbands should honour their wives and wives should honour and obey their husbands. Slaves should work hard for their masters and masters should treat their slaves with respect. If these Christian directives are not followed, Satan and the forces of darkness would triumph.

This is what seems to happen in the play. As the ‘errors’ pile up, wives insult their husbands, husbands cheat on their wives, masters savagely beat their slaves and former friends act with horror and violence as they seem to lose their money and their property. When ‘Antipholus’ is declared possessed, it looks as though Satan really has taken over Ephesus.

All of this, of course, is instantly resolved when the mistaken identities are sorted out. But for many Catholics, Ephesus in its state of dark delusion, represented Elizabeth’s Protestant England.  The Jesuits believed – or at least said they believed – that the kingdom had been taken over by Satan when Henry VIII…..

……married Anne Boleyn……

…….whom many recusants believed to be his illegitimate daughter. And when Elizabeth came to the throne, many thought it was against Paul’s teaching for a woman to rule both a country and her male lovers – and positively blasphemous for her to declare herself ‘Head’ of the English church.  In the end, she settled for ‘Supreme Governor’.

What made the play even more immediate to its first audience was its topography. In those days the sea wall hadn’t been built at Titchfield Haven – so Titchfield really was like the Bay of Ephesus – with ships docking all the time, and countless pubs and prostitutes.

Note: ‘Titchfield Bay’

An Abbey features prominently in the play and the whole audience would know Place House had originally been a French Premonstratension Abbey before it was dissolved by King Henry. Jane Southampton, the formidable First Countess…..

Photo by Ross Underwood

……found it sacrilegious that the Abbey chapel was converted into a Master Bedroom. So they converted the Chapter House to her own private chapel.

The writers take the characters in the play on an extraordinary SPIRITUAL journey. People don’t know if they are in heaven or hell, or alive or dead. Lost brothers, husbands and wives feel they are drops bound together in a vast sea – but a sea that threatens to overwhelm them.

They all have to lose themselves and their loves – have false identities thrown upon them – before they can find their true selves and their true loves.  This is pure Catholic mysticism, as far removed from Elizabeth’s Calvinism – where everything had been predetermined by God – as could possibly be. 

There is blatant Catholic flag-waving in the play when Dromio of Syracuse says:

Oh my beads! O cross me for a sinner.

If rosary beads had been found by Queen Elizabeth’s soldiers at Titchfield, the Southamptons would have been in big trouble. But Shakespeare reaches out to fellow Catholics in the play with an even more daring piece of code.

Antipholus of Syracuse, when he falls in love with Adriana’s sister, Luciana, describes her as

our earth’s wonder, more than earth divine.

Scholars have taken this to be a compliment to Queen Elizabeth.  But Antipholus goes on to describe Luciana as a….

sweet mermaid…..

……and he asks her to…..

spread o’er the waves her golden hair

A compliment to a Queen is intended, but to a dead, Scottish, Catholic Queen who also had golden coloured hair – Mary Queen of Scots….

by Unknown artist,painting,circa 1560-1592

…….whose personal symbol was the mermaid.

In the will she made before her confinement in 1566, she left her lover, the Earl of Bothwell…..

a miniature figurine of a mermaid set in diamonds, holding a mirror and a ruby comb

The following year, Bothwell (whose heraldic crest was the hare) was accused of killing Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley.

Mary was lampooned in a poster as a crowned, bare-breasted mermaid, with her hair falling down to her shoulders, defending her lover with a whip.

Later that year, Mary was imprisoned in the Black Turnpike in Edinburgh, ostensibly to save her from the mobs who were baying for her blood.

On 16th June she appeared at her window ‘with her bodice undone, her breasts exposed and her tangled hair loose, and with ‘piteous lamentations’ made a distraught appeal for help from the citizens who had gathered below’. Even the dour Scottish Calvinist John Knox……

………(who had compared Mary Queen of Scots to Jezebel) had to admit she possessed ‘some enchantment whereby men are bewitched’.

Antipholus of Syracuse also finds Luciana’s presence ‘enchanting’ and says:

Sing, siren for thyself and I will dote;

Spread o’er the silver waves thy golden hairs

And as a bed I’ll take thee and there lie

And in that glorious supposition think

He gains by death that hath such means to die;

Let love, being light, be drowned if she sink

This is a tribute to the erotic, feminine, beauty of Mary Queen of Scots as well as Luciana.

‘Die’ for the Elizabethans was ambiguous – it could mean death or orgasm – both are here implied.  To have made love to Mary would have been bliss for a man: but to have died for her would have been bliss as well. Shakespeare here is referring to the death of hundreds of Northern Catholics in the rebellion against Elizabeth in 1569.

A plot had been hatched to spring Mary Queen of Scots from Tutbury and base her and her forces at nearby Arundel Castle……

– and the plot had largely been hatched at Place House.

So who performed the play? It is our belief that it was a mixture of professional players and aristocratic amateurs. It was customary for women to perform in private entertainments even if actresses were banned from the public stages.

Luciana would most probably have been played by the beautiful Penelope Rich……

…..the muse of Sir Philip Sidney, the great friend of the Southampton family and blessed with her famously golden hair.

Antipholus of Syracuse would have been a great, poetic part for William Shakespeare – and there are many references to his famously bald pate!  And little Nashe would have made a stunning Dromio of Syracuse. Dromio says:

I am an ape

And in ‘Strange News’ Nashe writes:

I was a little ape at Cambridge

The Courtesan in the play is flatteringly described as:

of excellent discourse,

Pretty and witty: wild, and yet too, gentle

We believe that there WAS a courtesan staying at Place House – Aemelia Bassano – who was the mistress of the Queen’s cousin, old Lord Hunsdon, who paid her forty pounds a year for her services.

She – with her family of musicians – Sephardic Jews originally from Morocco – had played on the Queen’s Progress to Cowdray and Titchfield – and had stayed on at Titchfield because the plague was raging in London.

In the 1970s A. L. Rowse identified her as the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. He was derided at the time, but more and more scholars are concluding that he was right.

We believe that Aemilia played the Courtesan – and would have raised a big laugh when she declares: ‘Forty ducats is too much to lose’.

Forty ducats is too much to lose.

The Abbess would have made an excellent part for Mary Southampton – warm, and strong and healing, who finally is re-united with her husband. Catholics believed there was traffic between the living and the dead and many of Shakespeare’s plays, like ‘Hamlet’, advance the belief. The Abbess has ‘lost’ her husband and Mary has ‘lost’ hers – both in life and in death. The Second Earl of Southampton……

Photo: Ross Underwood

……had accused her of infidelity with a ‘common person’ and thrown her out of Place House. Shakespeare wanted to suggest a reconciliation between the two souls – one dead and one still living – by his ‘most potent art’. The Abbess and Egeon meet and their relationship is restored.

The same, Shakespeare implies, will happen to the 2nd Countess and the 2nd Earl when they meet in heaven. 

But, even here, Shakespeare can’t resist a bawdy joke. Brothels were called ‘nunneries’ in Elizabethan days – as in ‘Get thee to a nunnery’ – and ‘nuns’ were (and still are in some people’s minds) prostitutes. The Abbess’s name turns out to be Aemilia, spelt (in the First Folio at least if not the Arden edition) in the same unusual way as Aemilia Bassano.

Scholars have long thought that the part of Pinch was played by John Sinclo – a character actor with a scrawny body and comically ugly face – and it has been assumed that the part was created specially for him.

But there is a puzzle. Why is Pinch called ‘a schoolmaster’ in the stage directions when there is no reference to his profession in the play?

A new study of John Florio – ‘Italus Ore, Anglus Pectore’ – by an Italian Academic, Carla Rossi – has unwittingly thrown up the answer.  Pinch in the play is described as having a ‘saffron face’ – which scholars – if they comment at all – have taken to be his skin colouring.

But Rossi, working on the Italian community in Elizabethan London, shows that when Florio returned to England at the age of 19 (his Protestant father – a convert from both Judaism AND Catholicism – had fled the persecution of Mary Tudor’s reign) he not only worked as an Italian teacher in London – he became a servant and apprentice to Michel Baynard and Gaspari Gatti – both of them silk dyers.

Saffron, of course, is used in the dyeing process and in Sonnet 111 Shakespeare describes how having to work in the theatre has ‘stained him’ in the way a dyer’s hands are stained:

Almost my nature is subd’ud

To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.

If a dyer’s hands are stained, then why not his face as well? We’ve all been made very aware by the Covid Pandemic how often we touch our faces.

Frances Yates, the great Florio scholar, shows that Florio gives his address as ‘Woster House’ – but she is unaware of the implications. Worcester House is right by the Thames (needed for water) in the parish of St. James, Garlickhythe in the heart of silk-dyeing trade

But the plot thickens! In the 1580s, before he came to Titchfield, Yates tells us he acquired a house in Shoe Lane in the parish of St. Andrews, Holborn, opposite Saffron Hill.  

Now we don’t know if it was called ‘Saffron Hill’ in Shakespeare’s day as it is not named on the famous contemporary ‘Agas map’. But John Stow later called it ‘Gold Lane’ and it is clear saffron was grown there. The Fleet River also ran nearby, in case Florio wanted to do a bit of dyeing. Dyers often worked from home.

So Pinch’s occupation as ‘schoolmaster’ didn’t need to be mentioned in the text. Everyone would have recognised who he was from his clothes and appearance. And like Holofernese, the schoolmaster in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, his face and physique is the butt of many cruel jokes. Antipholus of Ephesus describes Pinch as:

A hungry lean-fac’d villain

A mere anatomy, a mounterbank

A thread-bare juggler and a fortune teller

A needy hollow-eyed sharp-looking wretch…

Yates quotes John Eliot in his ‘Fruits’ describing Florio directly as:

an Italian Harlequin…He is crump-shouldered and crooked and hath a hawk’s nose.

But why is a schoolmaster conducting an exorcism? And why is the office sent up if we are in a Roman Catholic milieu?

Well, the simple fact is neither of the Antipholi is possessed – Pinch simply mis-diagnoses. And Pinch is not a priest. In the Catholic world, only priests can perform exorcisms, and specialised priests at that. In Elizabethan England, Protestant ‘conjurers’ like John Dee were allowed to perform this ceremony for the simple reason they spoke the language of ghosts – Latin.

Pinch ends up bound to a chair with his beard ‘sing’d off with brands of fire and ‘great pails of puddled mire’ thrown over him’ to quench [his] hair.’ Dromio of Ephesus meanwhile ‘nicks’ his hair with scissors to give him the haircut of a fool – which was identical to the haircut of a monk. There is a real danger that between the two of them, Antipholus of Ephesus and his man, will….

Kill the conjurer….

A present day audience might well find this brutal rather than funny. But we believe that the original audience would have thought that Pinch, an un-ordained interloper – and in real life a spy for Lord Burghley – had only been given his due.

The play went on to be performed, with professional actors and boys replacing the aristocratic women. The first performance we know of was at Gray’s Inn – the Inn of Court to which Harry, 3rd Earl of Southampton belonged – and just by Southampton House in Holborn – again on Holy Innocents’ Day, 28th December, 1594.

It was a night of chaos and confusion and the actors, which probably included Shakespeare, were dismissed as:

base and common fellows

The next performance we know about was ten years later for King James – again on Holy Innocents’ Day in 1604. Shakespeare was writing his plays at this time initially for aristocrats – royalty even.

They seemed to bring the best out of him – so we should be eternally grateful for the patronage he received at Titchfield.

© Stewart Trotter June 2021.

Read Full Post »

Sadly, Ken Groves – the President of the Titchfield History Society – recently died.

But at his Memorial in Titchfield’s Great Barn, it was revealed he had just finished a book, The Trio and William Shakespeare’s Erudition (August, 2019) which has been published posthumously.

The trio referred to is Shakespeare himself……

….Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton……


……and the lexicographer and writer John Florio.

Ken’s book covers the same ground as my own book, Love’s Labour’s Found – published seventeen years ago in 2002.

Indeed, Ken read my book in manuscript in 1999 and shared his genealogical charts with me, a kindness I acknowledged.

Ken’s book revisits the ideas I put forward in mine – that Love’s Labour’s Lost was first performed at Titchfield, that Shakespeare worked, wrote and taught there and formed a close friendship with Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.

But there are important differences in Ken’s use of this material.

I would, of course, have much preferred to have debated with Ken himself, but the best I can do is offer a detailed response to the most contentious of his points over several Posts.

Ken writes:

It is well known that by far the most important member of the Wriothesley family was Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl [of Southampton].

HW, as Ken calls Henry Wriothesley, fought gallantly as a soldier, especially in Ireland where he led ‘a very brave charge’ on 15th April 1599. But he fell out of favour with Queen Elizabeth, first, when he married without her permission and, second, when he rebelled against her.  He was released from the Tower by King James when he acceded to the throne of England in 1603 and, according to Anthony Weldon (1583-1648) ‘there was an apparition of Southampton being a favourite to his Majesty’.

The Third Earl of Southampton in the Tower of London.

But James preferred younger men as his lovers and Robert Cecil, James’s right hand man, was HW’s sworn enemy. So HW never achieved high office beyond the Governorship of the Isle of Wight and the Lord Lieutenancy of Hampshire – a position which he shared.

His grandfather, Thomas Wriothesley, on the other hand, was Henry VIII’s Ambassador to Brussels, Secretary to the Privy Council and Lord Chancellor.

Photo by Ross Underwood.

It was said of him that in 1542 that he ‘governed almost everything in England’. HW never came anywhere near that sort of power. His ‘importance’ comes from his relationship with Shakespeare.

Ken writes:

However it is obvious, by the actions of Henry Wriothesley the 3rd Earl and his mother Mary Browne, the 2nd Countess [of Southampton], in the mature periods of their lives, that they were not sympathetic to Catholicism

One of the reasons both HW and his friend the Earl of Essex rebelled against the Queen in 1601 was to ensure freedom of worship for Roman Catholics. According to the Venetian Ambassador, HW remained a Catholic up to 1603 (when HW was 30) and only renounced his Roman Catholicism to please the James, who declared himself Head of the Anglican Church.

On 26th February, 1605, John Chamberlain wrote to his friend Winwood: ‘eight or ten days since [ago] there were above £200 worth of popish books taken about Southampton House and burnt in St. Paul’s Churchyard’. Clearly James was unconvinced by the sincerity of HW’s conversion.

Mary Southampton, HW’s mother, was an active recusant……

….as  was her father Lord Montague, England’s leading Catholic, who celebrated the illegal Latin Mass right to the end of his life.


Her husband, Henry, 2nd Earl of Southampton, was an equally devout Catholic.

Photo by Ross Underwood.

Ken describes him as:

 ‘feeble minded’, ‘a demented Papist’ and even ‘mad’ –

…..but there is no evidence at all for this. Like many Catholics, he was in a dilemma: he had sworn to Queen Elizabeth’s Act of Supremacy in 1563 but Pope Pius V’s Bull of 1570, ‘Regnans in Excelsis’, excommunicated the Queen and forbade Catholics to obey her. He met Bishop Ross to discuss the matter and said he would prefer: t

to lose all that he had’ than be troubled ‘by a continual fear of conscience’.

Ross confessed, under torture, that he had spoken to the 2nd Earl on the Lambeth marshes – so the Earl was imprisoned from October 1571 to May 1573. Then when the martyr to be, Edmund Campion, came to England in 1580, the 2nd Earl arranged, through a highly complex network of Catholics, to meet him.  But Campion was seized, tortured and confessed to the proposed meeting, so the 2nd Earl was examined….

what Jesuits or priests he had known, where they have been harboured and by whom relieved, what letters or messages he hath received or sent unto them, and where they remain.

Two months later, at the age of 36, the 2nd Earl was dead.

We know from the English Catholic Cardinal, William Allen, that even when Lord Burghley became HW’s guardian….

…….Mary made sure her son still was ‘under Catholic masters’.

Like her husband, Mary also risked imprisonment for her faith. On 14th August, 1586, when Mary was 34, the Privy Council questioned suspected recusants about ‘their knowledge of Swithin Wells and others who were entertained in his mistress’s house.’ [i.e. Southampton House, the family’s London residence, outside the city walls in Holborn].

Wells – a great friend of Mary’s…….


Swithin Wells, later made a Saint.

……was finally hanged outside Southampton House in 1591 in an attempt to intimidate her.  But Charlotte Stopes, HW’s biographer, states that three years later – in May 1594 – ‘many priests sought refuge’ at Southampton House and concludes that Mary must have been in residence.

The fact that Mary married a Protestant, Sir Thomas Heneage, in 1594, does not mean, as Ken suggests, that she changed her faith. In fact in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which the Shakespeare Code believes was written to celebrate the marriage, Shakespeare manages to work in a compliment to the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots.

Oberon says to Puck:

……….Thou rememb’rest

Since once I sat upon a promontory,

And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back

Uttering such sweet and harmonious breath

That the rude sea grew civil at her song

And certain stars shot madly from their spheres

To hear the sea-maid’s music’

‘The Mermaid’ here is a reference to Mary Queen of Scots, beloved of Catholics, whose symbol was the mermaid.

E. Cobham Brewer wrote in 1870:


(1) The Mermaid and sea-maid, that is Mary Queen of Scots (2) On the Dolphin’s back, she married to Dolphin or Dauphin of France (3) the rude sea grew civil, the Scotch rebels (4)certain stars, the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Westmoreland and the Duke of Norfolk (5) shot madly from their spheres, that is, revolted from Queen Elizabeth, bewitched by the sea-maids sweetness.

Ken writes:

HW’s guardian, Lord Burghley, ‘tolerated Catholicism, provided that it was practised only in secure privacy’.

Toleration of Catholicism was the State’s official policy – but the reality was different. In 1583 the Jesuit Edward Rishton wrote that Elizabeth (and, by association, Burghley) ‘pretended to a moderation to mask their true intentions’ and in the same year Allen wrote that Catholics lived ‘in such slavery that they detest the Queen’.

Catholics were not safe in their own houses. On 10th August, 1578, Queen Elizabeth stayed with a Mr Rookwood at Thetford.  A statue of the Virgin Mary was found in the house which Elizabeth ordered to be burnt. Rookwood was later arrested and put in Norwich gaol until his death 20 years later. In all 22 Catholic recusants were admitted to jail after her visit.

When the 2nd Earl of Southampton died, the Privy Council ordered the Recorder to raid Southampton House, apprehend anyone who was practising against the State and search for ‘books, letters and ornaments for massing’.

When the Queen visited rich subjects on her Progresses, she would take over their homes for Privy Council meetings and her soldiers would smash up the wainscot, searching for Priest Holes.  During The Queen’s 1591 visit to Cowdray – the home of Lord Montague…..

…her Privy Council actually drew up Anti-Catholic legislation in his house: anyone aiding or abetting Jesuits would be thrown into prison. This proclamation was written by Burghley, but issued under Elizabeth’s name.

Ken writes:

‘almost all of his [HW’s] friends were Protestants’.

This is something we cannot possibly know as people kept their Catholic faith secret. In fact, William Allen, in 1583, estimated that two thirds of the English were Catholics but were frightened to make public confession of their faith.

What we do know is that many of HW’s Protestant friends, like Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, favoured freedom of worship for Catholics. Essex even held Latin Masses at his London home for recusants.

Essex House in London

The fact that HW fought against Spanish Catholics does not, as Ken suggests, make him anti-Catholic. Even Lord Montague raised a force to fight the Armada. Catholics hated the Spanish just as much as other Englishmen did.

Ken writes:

there is not one scrap of historical evidence to identify his [HW’s] name with any man (fair youth) who is part of the brilliant verses’ [of Shakespeare’s Sonnets]

This is such a heady claim, I shall devote the whole of my next Post to discussing it!


Read Full Post »

Brothers and Sisters of The Shakespeare Code….

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


……and is read in an OVERWHELMING….

200 Countries!!!

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!



Read Full Post »

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….

Read Full Post »


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



Read Full Post »

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


Read Full Post »

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


Read Full Post »

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





Read Full Post »

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.


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »