The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0325  Tuesday, 6 December 2011


[1] From:         Brian Nugent <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 5, 2011 11:11:52 PM EST

     Subject:      Re: Bio Sonnets 


[2] From:         Ian Steere <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 6, 2011 4:14:32 AM EST

     Subject:      Biography in the Sonnets 




From:         Brian Nugent <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 5, 2011 11:11:52 PM EST

Subject:      Re: Bio Sonnets


To Ian Sterne: 


What you are saying then, among other things, is that Wriothesley occurs as a code in Sonnet 17, specifically as: "But 'W'e'R'e some ch'I'lde 'O'f yours alive 'TH'at tim'E', You 'S'hould 'L'iv'E' twise in it, and in m'Y' rime", as capitalised in the Quarto. 

( http://realshakespeare.com/WriothesleysTomb.aspx )


Speaking for myself I agree that some type of code is possible in Shakespeare but for me it would only be a simple easy to understand thing, i.e. a code only in the sense that non insiders would not quite grasp what is meant, e.g. using 'Romans' and 'Roman' to refer to Catholicism. I don't think he would use a codebook type code because his protection here would be to say to any government inquisitor that it only means x or y as in its plain meaning, if the latter could pull an explicit code out of it he could more easily get into trouble. So we will have to agree to disagree here, I think the code you are talking about is possible but unlikely to be there.


As an example of the use of these kinds of Tudor code words there is this extract from an interrogation of an Irish servant who was asked to describe the alleged participation of his master in a rebellion in 1581. He describes here two bits of correspondence between these two aristocratic brothers, who were definitely not sheepherders or stone masons but certainly Catholics, and it’s obviously understood that the correspondence had a hidden meaning:  


"the Baron Delvin wrote a letter to the said William of this tenor viz: "Let the poor man enjoy his sheep, or else you do him great wrong." 


This letter William answered in this sort viz: "if it had been a sheep that had been scabbed, it had been better he should have perished, than the whole flock."


Another letter at the same time the said William showed to the examinant, containing this matter:


"the work I have taken in hand, I cannot as yet go through with it, for that neither the stones nor mason are ready, nor lime burnt. And therefore we must wait a time." This was written with William his own hand."


(Statement written in Dublin Castle 5th Feb 1581/2 PRONI D/3835/A/5/14.)


The latter means obviously that he is not ready with military preparations just yet, and the earlier letters would be in regard to whether William should give himself up or not. As you can see the preferred, and practical, type of code that Catholics or rebels would use is just to have hidden but simple meanings behind plain looking words.


To Duncan Salkeld: 


"Unfortunately, Brian Nugent digs his hole deeper. Some acquaintance with early modern use of the term 'mistress', and how Elizabeth was referred to at the time, would assist him."


For my pains I am only too well acquainted with Tudor documents and cannot understand why people would assume 'mistress' has its modern meaning in the Sonnets. Here are a few bits from the State Papers of the time for example:


[In this case referring to the Queen of Scots:]


"and so began to tell him that if the Scots offered due submission to the French King and their Queen, the Queen, their mistress, would give her word and promise to the King, whereby he might assure the French King that the Scots should forthwith acknowledge their submission without further compulsion, and if any should refuse the same, the Queen would assist the French King and his wife."


(Joseph Stevenson ed., Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth...1560-1561 (London, 1865), (May, 1560), p.59-69.)


"Amongst the rest which desired to see his Majesty, I was one; to whom he said "I am sure the Queen, your mistress, will be sorry for this, but I hope it shall quickly be healed, and so I pray write unto her from me." "


(Richard Bruce Wernham, Calendar of state papers, foreign series, of the reign of Elizabeth...1589 (London, 1950) vol 23, p.394.)


[I would say this is also a reference to the Queen:]


"Fra. Flower to Sir John Conway. Knows him to be now and ever his good friend. As to the sweet one who would speak with him, is at home any hour to-morrow Sir John will appoint, for his sake only, as he is now weaned from daily beauty, and become a lover of men more than of women, his incomparable mistress excepted.


[Referring to the succession of Queen Elizabeth:]


When Roulston returned, Stanley said he must do service with a lady; being asked by D. Stillington who the lady was, he said it was Arabella who kept with the Earl of Shrewsbury, and whom they most certainly would proclaim Queen, if her mistress should happen to die, the rather as they might still rule after their own designments under a woman's government, and if they had her, most of their fears would be passed, for any that would hinder them in England;"


(Mary Anne Everett Green ed., Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series...1591-1594 (London, 1867), (Feb 1591) p.11 and (1592), p.260.)


[I quote this at length to show that it is referring to the Queen, it’s apparently a document prepared by the secretary, Reynolds, of the Earl of Essex:]


"This messenger, expressing the force of his master's affection, solicits your Majesty's love; but he proves that no love is worthy of your entertainment. Love is an empty trade, a dream, an intoxication, and he who seeks another self loses himself. Love condemns itself; for all other professors are faithful to themselves. The scholar, the usurer, the soldier, the lawyer, the painter, all laud their several callings, and none complain so much against those who most stand in their way as do lovers sigainst love, comparing it to the pains of purgatory or martyrdom. If they know what they say, they should be believed; if not, what is to be thought of their condition? 


If it is said that sometimes their purgatory becomes paradise, and their mistress's eyes, which were those of a basilisk, become stars; how can such contrary extremes be believed? The root of love is admiration, which is a weakness; its season is youth, which is consecrated to vanity; it has no maturity, being never satisfied and soon weary.


The hurt that our State should seek to do him is to intercept his treasure, whereby we shall cut his sinews, and make war upon him with his own money, and beat him, or at least discontinue him by sea, whereby Her Majesty shall be both secured from his invasions, and become mistress of the sea, which is the greatness that the Queen of an island should most aspire to.


some three leagues off the shore, we made boards off to sea, and in again with the shore, giving the enemy a fair sight of us, that if their hearts served them, they might come out to us, who were so confident in the fortune and favour of our great mistress, that we attended them until Thursday, when I received directions from our General to bear up for our coast, which obeying, I brought the fleet into Plymouth on Sunday, 31 July.


[This is sent to the Earl of Essex and refers to his Queen and the Spanish King:]


I see their base cogitations will hinder you from that which you desire, namely, to try the cause of your mistress with the army of their master."

(Mary Anne Everett Green ed., Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series...1595-1597 (London, 1869), (1595) p.133, (1596), p.232, (1597), p.481 and p.488.)



From:         Ian Steere <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 6, 2011 4:14:32 AM EST

Subject:      Biography in the Sonnets


John Kennedy has offered words to the effect of bah, humbug, blah, blah, snort, snort.


Facing deployment of such detail and logic, I concede that I have little chance of successful debate.


However, here goes.


John, in your skim for qualifying verbiage you must have noticed two early sections headed "The Oddities of Shakespeare's Sonnets" and "The Fair Friend". These form the bedrock of the article's thesis - that the Sonnets contain biography of Shakespeare's relationship with Wriothesley. The succeeding sections test for evidence at odds with this thesis. They show that there is none, albeit sometimes using reasoned scenarios to demonstrate this condition. Indeed, they tend to reinforce the thesis (and in the process produce a number of sidelines, which some should find interesting).


However, let us focus on the two bedrock sections. If you will identify the evidence or logic which upsets you (preferably without belchings of hot air) I will try to respond appropriately.


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