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Review: Elizabeth’s Bedfellows, By Anna Whitelock

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    • Sex sells. The publishers must have thought this when offered Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: an Intimate History of the Queen’s Court. Whitelock’s book proposes to look at Elizabeth I’s reign through the bedchamber, her ornate rooms in her palaces, guarded by 30 women.
    • The many men who wanted to get close to Elizabeth had to penetrate this circle to reach her. Whitelock’s book should be full of sexual intrigue, thwarted desire, and jealousies. But the historian never quite throws off her academic inhibitions.
    • Dudley and Elizabeth stalked around each other for decades, jealous of each other’s romantic links, but parted only upon his death, over which she was inconsolable. This affair, even if never consummated, should provide dramatic tension for much of the book. But the pulse never races in the detail-laden prose.
    • The question of who would marry Elizabeth was a serious one. England was still riven by her father Henry VIII’s divorce from the Catholic Church, and with counterclaims for the throne from all corners, what was required from Elizabeth was a clear line of succession.
    • One cannot fault Whitelock for her meticulous research, but there is little mention of the Elizabethan culture of love, played in the miniatures of her lovers, in the sonneteers, and the depictions of the queen in Shakespeare – think Titania in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Elizabeth’s romantic adventures extended far beyond the bedchamber, into the popular pysche, and the inclusion of that could have lent some passion to an otherwise fairly dry history.

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Saving Southampton

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It’s not everyday that anyone can say that a real bombshell has landed in the Shakespeare authorship debate. And, as some of our readers may be aware, the term bombshell has been thrown around loosely by some Oxfordians in the past year in discussing their theories about how and why the authorship problem came to be. But now, with the discovery of a poem apparently written by the 3rd Earl of Southampton shortly after his conviction for treason in the Essex Rebellion in 1601, such a bombshell may indeed have landed, and it’s for real.

In the Winter 2011 issue of the journal English Literary Renaissance researcher Lara M Crowley has reported on this discovery in her article, Was Southampton A Poet? A Verse Letter to Queen Elizabeth. In the article she reports that she found this heretofore unknown poem in a folio of manuscript copies of miscellaneous verses, compiled sometime in the early 17th century.

My friend and colleague Hank Whittemore has already written several posts about this article on his blog during the past week. I invite readers to check out what Hank has to say about how this discovery fits perfectly with his Monument Theory about Shakespeare’s sonnets, particularly that Sonnets 27 to 126 were written to Southhampton while he was in the tower following his conviction and death sentence in the Essex rebellion. I do not wish to repeat here what Hank is posting on his blog about this discovery. However what I do want to do is call attention to what the author Lara Crowley has to say in her article about the Essex rebellion, Southampton’s death sentence and reprieve, and the all-important question of how it came to be that Southampton was not executed. In other words, who saved Southampton?

In the first paragraph of her article Crowley notes the key question. She writes,

 “Southampton was the only conspirator tried with Essex and both men were convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Essex was executed soon after, followed by several other participants, but, surprisingly, Southampton was spared .” (111)

When Crowley uses the word “surprisingly” she cuts right to the chase: why was Southampton not executed when most assuredly he should have been?

Just a few paragraphs later Crowley writes (after noting that it would seem unlikely that Robert Cecil would have interceded on Southampton’s behalf):

“It seems possible, even likely, that someone or something else influenced Elizabeth’s decision, making one wonder if, at his time of greatest need, Southampton — a ‘dere lover and cherisher of poets’ — composed what could be his lone surviving poem.” (112) 

The first part of the article is spent considering the question of whether this poem was actually written by the Earl of Southampton. She present strong evidence that indeed it was, evidence that includes the similarity in the language and arguments of the poem to the language and arguments used in Southampton’s letters to the Privy Council asking for mercy. This is tremendous supporting evidence for the Monument  Theory, for a key part of Whittemore’s argument has also been how much the language and argument of the Sonnets is similar to the language and arguments in these same Privy Council letters.

But it is towards the end of her article that Crowley, in a concluding section, really digs into this key point about “saving Southampton.” She notes, quite correctly, that what is missing for the years 1601-1603 is any record of who made the decision to spare Southampton, and why that decision was made (remember, the pardon was issued by King James — not Elizabeth — in April 1603). This section of the article (Section IV) is actually the longest section, running from pages 123-141, which is 19 pages in a 34 page-long article. It is in these pages that Crowley explores the question of whether it was Southampton’s writing alone (in either this poem or his Privy Council letters) that saved him, or, as she noted earlier, whether it was “someone or something else.”

To those of us who have been following this story for years this is extremely interesting, because Crowley arrives at the same conclusion that Hank Whittemore and I arrived at years ago — that there is no good reason for Southampton to have been spared, at least not based on the record handed down to us in history. The idea that Robert Cecil interceded to save Southampton out of sympathy alone is questionable, and Crowley herself does question it. She directly analyzes this historical notion that Cecil saved Southampton out of “sympathy,” and concludes that it is unlikely. In looking at Cecil’s letters to others about Southampton (letters in which he expressed some sympathy towards him), Crowley characterizes the letters as “self-serving,” and in talking about them as evidence she puts the word “evidence” in quotation marks, indicating her skepticism that these letters alone are proof that Cecil saved Southampton — or at least saved him out of “sympathy.” Especially revealing is this observation in a footnote:

” …while Cecil might have intervened for purely benevolent reasons, he likely expected some sort of compensation for his assistance, perhaps in the form of information, assurance of  position under James I, or even money. ” (138, fn69)

This is exactly what the Monument Theory proposes is being recorded and passed down to posterity in the Sonnets. The final couplet of Sonnet 120 is the key:

But that your trespass [i.e., your treason conviction] now becomes a fee,
Mine [my fee] ransoms yours, and yours [your fee] must ransom me.

In other words the Monument Theory proposes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, paid a ransom to Robert Cecil to save Southampton, and this couplet records that fact. And the ransom? Hank and I believe that the ransom payment was Oxford’s agreement to be consigned to oblivion for eternity (“My name be buried where my body is,” Sonnet 72), and to accept — and participate in as “40” — Cecil’s secret correspondence with Jame
s of Scotland, resulting in James’ peaceful accession to the English throne (“Incertainties now crown themselves assur’d,” Sonnet 107). The ransom deal most likely followed close upon a “great reckoning” in a “little room” (AYLI, III.ii). Crowley, in her ruminations on the key question of how Southampton was saved, gets very close to the same conclusion in so far as she believes that more than just sympathy must have been involved.

This is why, in my opinion, both the discovery of this poem and the article written about it constitute as close to a bombshell as anything I’ve encountered in 30 years of studying the Shakespeare authorship debate and considering that the Essex rebellion is at the center of it all.

Readers should visit both Hank Whittemore’s blog and his Shakespeare’s Monument website for further information on this new poem and an overview of the Monument Theory. Readers are also invited to read my essay Unveiling the Sonnets in which I present some of the historical background that is integral to the argument that the sonnets are telling us the story of how Edward de Vere (“Shake-speare”) sacrificed himself to save Southampton, which is why there came to be a Shakespeare authorship mystery.

Bill Boyle

Being Bess: On this Day in Elizabethan History…February 25th 1601

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    • Contemporaries outside of Essex’s circle of sycophants and modern scholars can agree that Essex’s allegations had no bearing; these were the rants of a madman nursing his wounded pride. And as I have explained in previous articles, everyone who knew Queen Elizabeth, especially those members of her inner circle, knew that no one persuaded to the queen to do anything against her own will. Queen Elizabeth was a pragmatist and a master politician, who heard endless points of view and deliberated for months, sometimes years before ever making a decision. No man could influence her without her permitting it.

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“True, Original Copies”: A Tale of a Shakespearean Paper Trail… or Two… or Three | Regina Buccola @ Roosevelt University

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    • I have noticed a curious set of coincidences related to the seemingly endless and boundless cultural preoccupation with not only Shakespeare but also with the Queen who ruled England for most of his life and the majority of his writing career, Elizabeth I.
    • I have begun to come to the conclusion that Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare maintain their cultural predominance precisely because of the co-dependent biographical lacuna they inhabit.  Not only is frustratingly little known about the personal lives of these two people, who lived in the same place at the same time, but what we do know about them seems to defy explanation, or belief.
    • Elizabeth deftly parried numerous marriage proposals from the crown heads of Europe, the appeals of her own Parliament that she marry and produce an heir, excommunication by the Pope along with exculpation for any Catholic who might find the opportunity to assassinate her heretic self,
    • Enter Shakespeare, pursued by a bear from the Warwickshire hills of Stratford-on-Avon to the seedy theater district of Southwark in London
    • Shakespeare’s plays made him and his theater company so successful that they were eventually able to afford the luxury of two theaters
    • Shakespeare was ultimately able to purchase a coat of arms for his father that enabled him to style himself the son of a gentleman (in other words, “old money”)
    • Who was this Queen, with the body of a weak and feeble woman, but the heart and stomach of a king – and a king of England, too?  Who was this man, who wrote such compelling lines for female characters meant to be played by boy actors and such racy Petrarchan sonnets about ménage a trois with a very un-Petrarchan “dark” lady and a winsome youth, “the master mistress of my passion”?  We don’t really know.
    • In fact, our lack of knowledge about these things makes us call into question the things that we do know: that the powerful, indomitable Queen remained single all of her life and vowed to die a virgin, and that the poet-playwright actually wrote the works attributed to him.
    • How did “gentle Shakespeare,” the unassuming “upstart crow” from the sleepy hamlet of Stratford write Hamlet, among other cultural touchstones?  To close the gap between our bookends, we must shelve the intertwined stories of Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Middleton.
    • Enter Thomas Middleton, “our other Shakespeare.”  Rather than issuing a challenge to Shakespeare’s primacy, or even authenticity, there is a paradoxical way in which the presence of an “other Shakespeare” from the same place and roughly the same time ought to reinforce our belief in the possibility of the true original Shakespeare.
    • Spoiler alert: if you’ve not yet seen Anonymous, and have it saved in your Netflix queue, I am about to give away a major plot point.
    • Elizabeth embodies, within herself, the Madonna/Whore complex.  Anonymous is no different; indeed, early in the film, Elizabeth shoves the randy Earl of Oxford into her throne, and mounts him.  For you see, in the words of Shakespeare, “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em” (Twelfth Night 2.5.126-127).
    • If you want to read a lively and witty refutation of every theory put forward in support of any alternative author of the tragedies, comedies and histories of William Shakespeare, allow me to suggest James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? If you want to read a fantastic review of Anonymous, enumerating every absurdity the film commits, allow me to suggest “10 Things I Hate About Anonymous: And the stupid Shakespearean birther cult behind it” by Ron Rosenbaum in Slate

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Review: Elizabeth Rex (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) | Chicago Theater Beat

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    • Findley’s character-driven drama riffs on two historical facts: Queen Elizabeth I sentenced her former lover to death for treason, and the night before his execution, the Virgin Queen attended a Shakespeare play. In Elizabeth Rex, Findley imagines said play as Much Ado About Nothing, and that Shakespeare (Kevin Gudahl) and his rogue band of actors are forced to take shelter in the royal stables due to rioting and an imposed curfew. In great need of distraction, the Queen herself (Diane D’Aquila) visits the actors – and ends up in an all-night battle of wits with Ned (Steven Sutcliffe), who plays the role of Beatrice in Much Ado and whose own looming death of syphilis has liberated him from the filters demanded by polite society.
    • The art of acting is all-consuming, with a constant dichotomy of connection (absorbing the audience in a moment) and distance (you’re not really your character – or are you?). No wonder the Queen seeks out Shakespeare’s troupe: she’s ultimately connected to the nation as she controls everyone’s fate, yet literally no one can touch her without permission. When one gives everything – in politics, in love or in art – what is left? As the smart and all-around superb Elizabeth Rex proves, the answer can be found in one word: more.

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The Nowhere Boy and the Never Writer

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As a longtime Oxfordian it has been an interesting experience to watch the build up to the Roland Emmerich film Anonymous. For the past year amid Oxfordian circles the greatest concern about this film has been that a major part of the plot would be focusing on the sexual escapades of Edward de Vere as Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth as his putative mother and lover. In other words, incest.

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth and Rhys Ifans
as Edward de Vere (aka “Shake-speare”) in Anonymous


Now that the film is out and the reviews are flooding in we can see that this concern was really misplaced. The greater shock remains that the authorship debate exists at all. If anyone doubts that, check out the review and the articles and op eds at the New York Times (Brantley, Shapiro, Marche). Outrage that this film was made at all is paramount. Outrage over incest barely makes a peep.

I have seen the film twice in the past month and it is a good film. I’ve had my own reservations about a director such as Roland Emmerich making this film, because I love going to films, and I have seen all his previous efforts. He is mostly a B-list director. He does not get great performances out of his actors. But as we Oxfordians have learned from our perspective about Shakespeare, when an artist becomes passionate about something in his life, his art reflects it. So it is with Anonymous. Most critics, even those who hate the authorship issue, acknowledge that this may be Emmerich’s best film. It’s too bad most of the negative reviews are reviewing the authorship debate and not the film.

Which brings me to the title of this post: the Nowhere Boy and the Never Writer. Last weekend I was watching a 2010 movie on cable TV — Nowhere Boy — a biopic about John Lennon. As someone who came of age in the 1960s I have vivid recollections of the impact of the Beatles on the popular culture scene. It transformed rock ‘n roll from outsider status to the cultural mainstream. And anyone who knows the history of the Beatles knows it was John Lennon who made it all happen. But what few people know is how John Lennon became John Lennon. This is what Nowhere Boy is all about, and it’s a revelation for anyone who loves the Beatles but wasn’t aware of John Lennon’s childhood and upbringing.

Let me quote from one of the reviews of Nowhere Boy to get an idea of what the story is all about:

“Because of his accomplishments as a musician and a peace activist and his senseless death, it’s easy to put John Lennon on a pedestal. The
truth is that Lennon couldn’t have written or co-written such captivating songs if his personal life wasn’t occasionally torrid. Opening on the 70th anniversary of the singer’s birth and the 30th anniversary of his murder, Nowhere Boy proves the flesh-and-blood Lennon is infinitely more fascinating than the saint.” (review by Dan Lybarger on Reel Reviews)


Ah, yes, the flesh and blood Lennon is infinitely more fascinating than the saint. Well, doesn’t that resonate with comments we have heard in the Shakespeare authorship debate lately? Leave our saint alone! And even more emphatically, leave our Virgin Queen alone!!

But the story that Nowhere Boy tells us is that it it was Lennon’s relationship with his birth mother, a woman he had been estranged from for almost 10 years and reconnected with as a teenager, that is at the heart of his story. John Lennon was raised by his mother’s sister, Aunt  Mimi, and so did not know his mother as the woman who raised him in his formative years. What the film shows, and his friends and biographers have confirmed over the years, is that Lennon’s teenage relationship with his mother Julia sometimes bordered on the relationship of lovers, not parent and child. That is what drew my attention as I watched Nowhere Boy —how this relationship was portrayed in the movie. More than once I said to myself, “Well, Julia can’t be his mother … look at how they’re carrying on.”

Aaron Johnson as John Lennon and Anne-Marie Duff
as his mother Julia in Nowhere Boy


But Julia was his mother, and she is the one who turned him on to rock ‘n roll. And she is the one who taught him to play the guitar. And as some of John’s friends, such as Peter Shotten, have recollected, Julia would often hang out with John and his friends like she was one of the boys.

There are some comments from fans of Lennon and the movie at Yahoo Answers under the heading “Do you think John Lennon was in love with his mother?” that give an intriguing sense of what this was all about:

QUESTION: John Lennon was many things. He had an affair with Brian Epstein. He would hang out at the transvestite bars in Hamburg. And he was in love with his own mother.
What?

Do you think that John Lennon was in love with his mother? Did John Lennon have an Oedipus Complex?

FIRST COMMENT:

It does happen, you know. He was raised by his mother’s older sister, his Aunt Mimi. Julia had abandoned John in the care of her sister when John was very young and married another man. His father had been a cook on a merchant ship and abandoned his young son John and his wife Julia. When John was a teenager, he reconnected with his mother. She was not that much older than John and had him quite young. The other boys, including Paul McCartney, remarked about how attractive John’s mother was. And she was very casual with the boys, very sexual and flirtatious, including her own son. She would smoke and drink with John and encourage his wild behavior.

I even heard a story in which Julia arranged for John to have his first sexual experience with a girl that she picked out for him and John and the girl made love in a spare room while the mother watched on from another room. After John and the girl finished making love, they all got drunk and she called people to come over to announce that John had earned his manhood. This scene was not shown in the movie “Nowhere Boy.”

However, in that movie, and in some of the books I have read about the Beatles, John and Julia were as close as a young man and an older woman can get. It was almost like a cougar-cub relationship.

By contrast, his adult guardian Mimi, was very strict. She was a traditional British matron who didn’t even allow John to cry in the house when his mother died. Mimi was very much the British lady who reserved her emotions. Her younger sister, John’s mother, Julia was known to drink at the pubs and would be the life of the party.

SECOND COMMENT:

I read in a book, I believe it was in a book written by Pete Shotten, who was an original member of the Quarrymen and a close friend of John Lennon, that his mother Julia arranged for him to have his first sexual experience with a girl. She watched him do it and then got drunk and celebrated her son’s loss of virginity with a neighborhood party. Julia and Mimi fought over John but the deflowering of John arranged by Julia was the last straw for Mimi who forbade John from seeing his mother after that. There was some legal thing because John was a minor that Mimi threatened to report Julia to the police about it. She didn’t but she threatened her sister with it.

There is no proof that Julia actually made love with John but she frequently hugged and kissed him much like an older woman lover. Some women who do not raise their sons do have affairs with the sons. It is not uncommon. John may have reminded Julia of Freddie when he was younger.

THIRD COMMENT

In the movie “Nowhere Boy” John and Julia are lying on the couch together, holding hands and touching each other. It definitely was not a parental sort of love going on.

I have heard stories about this from books and interviews. What is the source for John saying that he touched his mother in a sexual way? Was it Rolling Stone or Playboy?

Now all that I’m saying here is that this is mighty interesting for Oxfordians who have been dealing with the debate over whether the Virgin Queen Elizabeth was in fact Edward de Vere’s mother, and even more, whether she had a child with him. It is shocking. There is no doubt about it. But is it unthinkable? Well, given the history of the human race here on planet Earth, I’d say no. Statements about what is or isn’t “unthinkable” usually, in my estimation, just tell us something about the speaker’s own thinking, but nothing about life in the real world.

What Nowhere Boy accomplishes is to tell us something about how John Lennon became John Lennon. It resonated with me because after thirty years on the Shakespeare authorship beat I have come to realize that the authorship debate is all about understanding how Shakespeare became Shakespeare. That phrase is the subtitle of Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World. But of course Will in the World in the end tells us nothing to answer that question because, you know, he’s got the wrong guy. But the question itself is important. How and why does an artist become an artist? What makes him or her tick?

Charles Beauclerk tries to answer this question about how Shakespeare became Shakespeare in his 2010 book Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom. His point of view throughout is that Queen Elizabeth was Edward de Vere’s mother, and that the bizarre life-long circumstances of their relationship was at the center of both the Elizabethan Age and Shakespeare’s greatness. Centuries later it can never be proved, so we are left in limbo with a theory that makes sense of a lot of things about Shakespeare, yet is in itself shocking. However, if it is true, then little wonder that the mother of all cover-ups was called for to hide this mother-son saga.

Nowhere Boy ends with one of Lennon’s songs, Mother, playing as he slowly walks down a sidewalk, on his way to Hamburg, and then onto fame and fortune.  “You had me,” he sings, “But I never had you.” We have all the Beatle’s songs, and all the songs Lennon wrote after the breakup. And you can enjoy all these songs without knowing the circumstances of Lennon’s upbringing. No doubt about it. But knowing is so much better. It leads to understanding.