Sunday, 10 February 2013
Hank Whittemore writes:
In putting up a blog about the new book Hamlet Made Simple and Other Essays by David P. Gontar, and quoting some of his favorable comments about my book The Monument, I overlooked the very next paragraph, which, in my view, is one of the most beautiful statements explaining why Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford would have chosen to use poetry — and in particular, the sonnet form — to embody the truth for posterity. The paragraph, following the author’s praise of The Monument as a means of understanding the Shakespearean sonnet sequence, is this:
“The challenge after studying Mr. Whittemore’s book will be, of course, not what the sonnets meant immediately to their author, but what they may be for us today. Secret messages serving a practical design could always have been conveyed by the use of ciphers rather than poetry. The choice of the latter is thus significant. It is the business of the cryptogram to transmit information, not to illuminate or inspire. By electing to employ the medium of poetry, which well the poet knew would be perused by later generations, strata of broader significance were entailed. Acquiring a firmer impression of the historical utility and import of the sonnets, then, wipes away some but not all of the readings that have been given over the past four centuries. The art of fathoming the sonnets will remain what it has been always, a navigation between the shores of literalism and transcendence.”
The way I’ve tried to describe this theme is that Oxford used the poetical lines of the Sonnets to create a double image, one in which, for example, “beauty” can mean everything it has always meant, and more, while simultaneously referring to Queen Elizabeth and/or her royal blood. Both images are at work and we need not eliminate one at the expense of the other.
One thing that intrigues me about this concept is that there’s nothing secret about “beauty” referring to the Queen; rather, we have been told over and over for at least a century and a half that the word “beauty” is to be taken literally, and only on the literal level, as referring to “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind,” as my Random House Dictionary puts it.
Could it be that “beauty’s Rose” in Sonnet 1 signifies not only a flower but, also, the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose? Could it be that “ever the same” in Sonnet 76 signifies not only what it usually means, but, also, Queen Elizabeth, given that “Ever the Same” was how Her Majesty herself wrote her motto Semper Eadem in English on her correspondence?
Of course it could be so. Furthermore, if the poet was Edward de Vere, who had enjoyed the highest favor of Elizabeth at the royal court, it could not have been otherwise; that is, the Earl of Oxford could not have written “ever the same” without deliberately referring to the Queen.
I am continuing to enjoy Mr. Gontar’s various essays, which are written with great care, precision and depth; and I highly recommend his book, especially to readers who like being surprised by new insights. I can say this already — after reading his title essay “Hamlet Made Simple,” I will never be able to view that great play in the same way as before; my conception of what’s going on in Hamlet has been forever altered.
Posted on 02/10/2013 4:31 AM by NER
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