The Sonnets Revisited

Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Edward de Vere

It has been said that Shakespeare was first and foremost a poet and secondly a dramatist (A Companion to Shakespeare Studies-Cambridge University Press viz: George Rylands: “Shakespeare as a Poet”). Yet by the standards of other 16th century poets Shakespeare has in many respects been over-rated by critics and intellectuals for reasons which I will delineate in due course. Shakespeare’s poetry is largely epithetical, habitually repetitive in terms of themes or style, epigrammatic, in parts platitudinal and in other minute ways symbolic, euphuistic and metaphorical. Only a very small part of it is relevant to our time and a small percentage has a unique quality in terms of style and narrative content. Elizabethan poetry does age over time and becomes unfashionable or anachronistic. Only a small percentage of the population enjoys or appreciates a farming lifestyle of shepherds tending their flocks or youth disdaining sexual indulgence through to sexual ravishment in Tuscany. In my view his imaginative and historical dramas far exceed his rather tedious poetic style, indeed his best poetry can be found in his dramas partly because theatre lends itself to short, brilliant bursts of dialogue or soliloquy that evince a strong and definite emotional response from its’ audience rather than the poetic epics which tend to drag on endlessly repeating the same old personal expression of rejected and unrequited love, or the joys and tragedies of the poet’s personal experience. Shakespeare’s poetry in the dramas is extremely immersive and evokes a powerful emotional response from the participants through the spoken word, the narratives of his dramas are simple and easily assimilated into the imagination of the crowd. While his volumes of poetry such as Venus & Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, A Lover’s Complaint, The Passionate Pilgrim etc, were intended for an educated and enlightened group of well-heeled aristocrats and merchants who were acquainted with classical literature and who were well-read.

For the early part of his career as a poet Shakespeare emulated the courtier poets of his time such as Spenser, Gascoigne and Fletcher attempting to match or exceed them in proficiency and technique but without any real success. In the second part of his poetic career Shakespeare matched his skill, since he was undoubtedly provocative and competitive, with poets such as Sidney, Marlowe, Raleigh, Chapman, Jonson and Daniel, but yet again failing to exceed them although occasionally matching them. In the last and final phase of his career as a poet he floundered in his attempts to master or absorb the metaphysical styles of Donne and Marvel (ie: The Phoenix & the Turtle was one such attempt). With little hope or chance of real success, given his age and lack of experience he finally died leaving The Sonnets which were pirated and printed after his death in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe. In these we detect his “swan song” of a vulnerable and decrepit man unable to come to terms with his mortality, besotted by youth, suffering still from unrequited love, betrayed by his mistress, and acutely aware of the inevitable passage of TIME!

Though sycophantic academics have identified him wrongly as a man of his time, he himself finally realised he was out of time being far too long immured by the euphuistic movement he failed to plough new furrows; “far from the maddening crowd” and his true identity was best lost forever. As a paid propagandist for the Elizabethan Age his secret existence followed him to his grave and only recently has doubt been cast on his role in theatrical and poetic circles in London and abroad. His accolades are in reality undeserved wherein the reality of the so-called William Shakespeare (aka: Edward de Vere) was that being extremely privileged, very wealthy, and well-connected. But his own self-assurance through most of his life was such that he failed to lift the veil or remove the mask on the greatest literary myth ever foisted on the whole of humanity, even today. As a result we have been obliged to swallow in its’ entirety the idea that a relatively modest man of meagre standing, with little or no education from the rural Stratford-upon-Avon (Will Shagspere), indeed like the proverbial legend of Dick Whittington, left his bucolic existence as well as his wife and three children, and then overnight rose to the heights of literary excellence in the twinkling of an eye within the plague-ridden suburbs of London! This clichéd myth was already a popular theme played out in the dramas of the time in London and the provinces. It still exists today, having been exported to the United States, whereby most Americans believe in the American Dream that just about anyone, regardless of their status through hard work, diligence and self-belief can rise to the status of President. 

Walter Crane

In particular I found Sonnet #60 to have major faults or errors, for example in the opening line:

“Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore”.

Strictly speaking it contains an extra syllable which technically some analysts have judged that the word “towards” is actually monosyllabic ie: t’wards, although it is written as a bi-syllabic word which to the layman is confusing or ambiguous. According to the Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory it is called a “catch”, that is an unstressed syllable. However, in Sonnet #60 (which numerically is synonymous with 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour etc) I have been obliged to re-write entire lines in a form more relevant and meaningful to draw out the actual meaning or intention of the poet. Similar references to numbers can be found in Spenser’s “Amoretti”. The words “make towards” in the first line are in my view rather clumsy since W.S. clearly emulated Arthur Goldings’ own translation from Ovid’s Metamorphoses which describe the movement of the waves analogous to the passage of time and technically how waves as they roll towards the shoreline succeed each other, simultaneously pushing backwards and rolling forwards. Spoken by Pythagoras it proceeds as follows:

“In all the world there is not that that standeth at a stay. Things ebb and flow: and every shape is made to pass away. The time itself continually is fleeting like a brook nor lightsome time can tarry still. But look as every wave drives other forth, and that that comes behind both thrusteth and is thrust itself: even the times by kind.”

This philosophical sentiment is also found in the aphorism; “No man can step in the same river twice”. Now, if anyone who has watched this phenomenon and I have personally on Chesil beach in Dorset will appreciate it is a difficult thing to describe, especially in 14 lines of poetry and still exact its’ subtle meaning. However, I was curious to see how this could be arranged in the form of iambic pentameters. The poet could have substituted any number of adjectival words to fully describe the sequential crashing of waves, their assault onto a pebbled beach for example:

Like as the waves assault the shingled shore,
Like as the waves bombard the tattered shore,
Like as the waves o’erwhelm the passive shore,
Like as the waves erode the solemn shore,
Like as the waves engulf the temporal shore,
Like as the waves molest the weed-strewn shore,

My entire revision of Sonnet 60 proceeds as follows:

In my view any one of the above would have been more descriptive and relevant that the use of “make towards” or “pebbled” and thereby avoiding the extra syllable which is rather clumsy and inadequate. The whole issue of tidal thrust or perpetuity of flow is not adequately expressed and fails miserably in describing the dynamic movement found in waves. Why Shakespeare chose the term “make towards” to me is a mystery. Furthermore, the use of the word “Nativity”, while understandable in an astrological sense would in a modern contextual association make an indirect allusion to the Biblical story of Christ’s birth or bring to mind; “being born of the ocean”. The question is was that the poet’s intention?

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


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