While looking for typos in my proposed second book (I intend to publish digitally before Christmas 2014) explicating the Sonnets, erroneously ascribed to the Stratfordian, William Shakspere, but actually written by Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland (1576-1612), I revisited this sonnet, 121, significant for its historical veracity, attested by some indisputable anagrams. It is generally considered- particularly by captious Stratfordians - that one can prove anything by anagrams; but one cannot, for letters do not behave with the same predictability as numbers. Anagrams are very difficult to solve. The following analysis of sonnet 121 contains two historically significant anagrams, in lines 12 (20 letters) and 14 (12 letters) respectively. As a challenge, try to spot and solve them. The solutions appear in the particular line glosses.
TIS better to be vile than vile esteemed,And the iust pleasure lost, which is so deemed,
When not to be, receives reproach of being,
When not to be, receives reproach of being,
Not by our feeling, but by others seeing.
For why should others false adulterat eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies;
Which in their wils count bad what I think good?
Noe, I am that I am, and they that levell
At my abuses, reckon up their owne,
I may be straight though they them-selves be bevel
By their rancke thoughtes, my deedes must not be showne.
Unlesse this generall evill they maintaine,
All men are bad and in their badnesse raigne.
Necessary to explication of the poem is a memo about The School of Night. The following notes are taken from from various sources… (Judith Cook: Simon Forman, A Most Notorious Physician, Chatto and Windus, London, 2001): “... a loose club or gathering of scientists, mathematicians, astrologers, astronomers and writers, who met under the joint aegis of Sir Walter Ralegh and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, nicknamed ‘the Wizard Earl’. It was known as the School of Night… Rumours of what might lie behind Marlowe’s death (1593) added to the general climate of fear. Shortly afterwards Cecil announced that he would be setting up a formal inquisition to look into the School of Night, its membership and Ralegh’s involvement with it. Ralegh would always arouse strong feelings; he was described on the one hand as ‘the best hated man in the world in Court, City or country’ and on the other as ‘this beautiful daemon’. Whatever were the real reasons for setting up the inquisition, members of the School felt themselves to be under attack… There is, however, less mention of spirit-raising and meetings of inner circles at this time, possibly because in March 1594 Sir Robert Cecil finally set up his Inquisition into the activities of the School of Night. It was held at Cerne Abbas, close to Ralegh’s country home, the reason being that there had been complaints about the supposedly scandalous goings on at Sherborne Old Castle whenever the members of the School met there for a few days. Its main object was to examine the accusations made against Ralegh and his ‘damnable crew’. The statements of some of the witnesses who gave evidence bear a remarkable resemblance to what was alleged of Marlowe in Baines’s note: that Hariot denied the resurrection; that Thomas Allen, Lieutenant of Portsmouth Castle and a devout Catholic, had been seen to tear pages out of the Bible to dry tobacco on and had made lewd jokes about Moses and concubines; that Ralegh himself had instigated a blasphemous discussion on the nature of the soul and had invited Dr Dee along to perform experiments in alchemy and occultism [paper published by the Hakluyt Society 1848…]. DorothyWraight: (A.D. Wraight: Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn, Adam Hart (Publishers), London, 1993): “… the portrait of Tamburlaine may have been partly inspired by his (Marlowe’s) admiration for Sir Walter Raleigh…Perhaps it was Marlowe’s admiration for Raleigh that gave him the entrée to Raleigh’s ‘little academie’ or School of Night, for he puts into the mouth of Tamburlaine words that reflect the aspiring minds of these ardent seekers after knowledge infinite”. Samuel Schoenbaum (Shakespeare’s Lives, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991 (First published, 1971)): “on ... Frances Yates’s A Study of ‘LLL’ (1936)… She sees Shakespeare as setting out in life as a pedagogue; not, pace Aubrey, in a country grammar school but, rather, in some secret Catholic foundation like the one run by Swithin Wells at Monkton Farleigh. Alternatively, he may have served as a tutor in the house of a Catholic nobleman, Southampton - Dover Wilson’s suggestion – being a good bet. In any event Shakespeare early came within the Southampton ambience and met Essex and his two brilliant sisters, as well as Sidney’s relations and friends. Thereby hangs a topical tale. In LLL the dramatist sided with the Essex-Southampton faction against their political rival Ralegh, to whose set Chapman was poet-in-chief… So far Yates offers no startling insights. (Nothing so original as, for example, Janet Spens’s suggestion a few years earlier that in the original production Southampton acted the King, and Essex played Berowne [it was probably Rutland himself, the real author of the play]. But Yates goes on to propose that Sh. in this comedy defends Lady Penelope Rich – Essex’s sister and Sidney’s Stella – from indirect attacks, anti-Petrarchan in nature, made by the great Copernican and friend of Florio, Giordano Bruno, in his eroci furari. In LLL Berowne’s name [Beruno and Berowne: what was Sir Philip Sidney’s connection with Bruno? Elizabeth, his daughter, knew of the connection. Here is proof of Rutland’s authorship as Elizabeth was to become his Countess.] and some of his characteristics, especially his predilection for astronomical metaphors and his combination of anti-feminism with a high-minded philosophy of love, are deliberately intended to recall Bruno to the spectators [a private audience?]. Sh. also comes gallantly to the defence of Essex’s other sister, the unhappily mated Countess of Northumberland, lately defamed by her husband (a member of the School of Night) in an unpublished essay ‘On the Entertainment of a Mistress Being Inconsistent with the Pursuit of Learning’. Yates brought the manuscript to light at the Public Records Office. Both essay and play took their immediate inspiration from the Christmas 1594-5 Grays Inn Revels, which the Essex group planned against the Ralegh group. Sh., who attended the Revels along with the various partisan lords and their ladies, sided with the former [Essex, et al], Northumberland with the latter. Such condensed summary of the argument fails to do justice to Yates’s abstruse and eccentric scholarship. The upshot of it all reinforces her initial persuasion that LLL expresses ‘the spirit of aristocratic faction’. While no doubt congenial to those whose pulses quicken at mention of the haut monde [a cheap hit at the ‘snobbery’ of the heretic], this esoteric reading of the play must spring from a curious notion of the nature of drama [the late Professor Schoenbaum at his most evasive])”.
The heart of LR’s scorn here in 121 is that those who embrace the doctrine of original sin (Adam and Eve’s eating of the Forbidden Fruit, with loss of Eden) as granting carte blanche to project their own greater sins upon those committing lesser sins, are hypocrites – hence his scorn. But our beloved poet – after his confessions of promiscuous sexual ‘ranging’ of 110, 111, 117 et al – is on dubious ground. It seems that his vehement recriminations in this poem have been occasioned – despite his mitigating generalizations – by the animadversions of members of the School of Night (known antagonists of the Essex Circle – luninaries also Southampton and LR himself ), whom LR alludes to with anagrams which are inescapably cogent. Similarly he refers cryptically to detractors in ‘Wiltshire’, no doubt a reference to Wilton House, near Salisbury, the great stone house that the Earl of Pembroke’s grandfather had built; and it was here at Wilton House on the 2nd of December, 1603, that Shakespeare’s company acted for James Stuart the first play – As You Like It - he is known to have seen in England. The Earl of Pembroke was Rutland’s cousin, and therefore Pembroke’s mother, Mary, Countess of Pembroke, was his aunt, and Sir Philip Sidney his (Rutland’s) dead father-in-law (as Rutland had married his daughter, Elizabeth). William and Philip (Pembroke and Montgomery) were probably honouring a promise made to the Countess of Pembroke (if not to LR himself – more likely, as Mary was a supporter of classical drama and the unities) to supervise the publication of the collected plays of her nephew, Roger Manners, fifth Earl of Rutland. It is very revealing that LR should feel censure in Wilton House – those who ‘count bad what I think good’ – for they were relatives and admirers of his genius. It very likely accentuates the headlong nature of his sexual ranging. The conclusion is that his lifestyle at this period left him open to scorn and detraction; and in this poem he confronts his ‘enemies’. He still was under a cloud apropos the Essex Revolt, for much contumely was unfairly (unpack or the axe the threat) visited upon him when compelled to confess matter relating the plot and complotters – all this, plus a mountain of psychological pain and the very probable threat of early death from syphilis. The darkened mood of his post-1601 plays expresses his titanic struggles with suffering. Mercifully, for posterity, his therapy remained cathartic. There is abundant evidence throughout the Sonnets of our beloved poet’s conflicted condition; its attempted resolution their very raison d’être.
1 LR immediately confronts us with a paradox, depending upon the semantic acceptation of ‘better’, for the line (1) can mean: ‘It is braver to be sinful than to be judgemental of another’s sin’, or, ‘It is better to be actually vile (though innocent) than to be falsely contemned’. There are other variations commenting upon appearance and reality and the universal weakness of projecting our sins/ problems/ moods/ vagaries upon others – the basic theme(s) of the poem. In line 2-14 LR attempts an explanation.
2 When not to be when not to be vile/ vilely sinful. receives reproach of being actually being accorded the condemnation of vileness (being vilely sinful) whether deserved or not.
3 And the just pleasure lost and the pleasurable purpose negated. Adjective ‘just’ = upright, with phallic meaning: that, for LR, the (innocent) pleasure of anally receiving upright penis is tainted by stigmatization as deviant, which is so deemed
4 Not by our feeling ‘our feeling’ suggests the loving addressee (and upright buck), but who is he? but by others seeing implying ‘other critical eyes’ of those who would pollute innocent ‘feeling’ with their own contaminate lust.
5 others false adulterat eyes LR imputes hypocrisy to condemning critics who ‘perceive’ sinfulness in others while neglecting their own sin of adultery. Such people and their judgements are ‘false’. Adjective ‘adulterat’, lacking the usual terminal e, is – on OED’s evidence – rare; and it anagrams ‘dual treat’, which is what the bigot enjoys – his perceiving of sin in others while conceiving himself sinless.
6 salutation greeting; with suggestion of the avidity for schadenfreude (pleasure derived from another’s misfortune). my sportive blood (a) my sexual susceptibility; (b) my sexual ranging.
7 my frailties the temptation to heed my ‘sportive blood’ (6); and, perhaps, it is no coincidence that ‘frailties’ anagrams ‘tail fires’, defining the ardent anal weakness of our poet. frailer spies critics whose sexual vulnerabilities are greater (even) than mine.
8 their wils ‘will’ = sexual desire; libido. The phrase anagrams ‘Wiltshire’, and is a likely covert allusion to detractors there: see Hn. above and line 12n. below. His aunt by marriage, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, of Wilton House, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, was known to be a sportif afficionado of foreign Spas. count bad what I think good? indulge in sexual double-think, approving their own ‘adulterat’ libidos as excusable while condemning my ‘innocent’ ‘sportive blood’ (6). The critical comments upon the denizens of Wilton House rests on the anagram; but, often, it is the folk nearest to us who are the most censorious.
9 I am that I am (a) I cannot change my nature/ psychology/ the person Fortune has created; (b) I will not dance to a hypocrite’s tune. they that levell they that aim (a metaphor from the gunner’s projected aim)
10 At my abuses at the weaknesses (frailties (7)) of ‘my sportive blood’ (6). Line 9’s terminal ‘levell’ ends with double l, while 11’s ‘bevel’ presents no eye-rhyme, LR’s preference; and 9-10’s ‘levell/ At my abuses’ anagrams ‘evaluate by smells’ (suggestsing ‘levell’ a factitious flag), describing rottenness, the putridity of hypocrite’s prejudice. reckon up their owne by discharging their animadversions they project their sinfulness, their ‘dual-treat adulteries (see 5n.) upon me’.
11 The line probably presents a moral judgement under an heraldic metaphor, for a bevel is a zigzag upon a straight line: LR asserts that he is guilelessly direct (straight), neither abusing nor aspersing anyone, while his abusive ‘levellers’ are crooked (bevel): he is unabashedly ‘sportive’; his enemies are cheats, abusing themselves (and this self-abuse he wittily develops in a mordant couplet joke).
12-14 Apart from the anagrammatic reference to Wiltshire (from ‘their wils (8)), LR ’s animadversions have been general. In these lines he gives cryptic locus and ‘definite’ identities to his enemies. Line 12’s their rancke thoughtes anagrams ‘the treacherous knight’ (Sir Walter Ralegh; and 14’s all men are bad yields ‘damnable Earl’ (Northumberland), reprising Sir Robert Cccil’s allusion to Raleigh’s ‘damnable crew’; 12’s must not be shown anagrams ‘must show one bent’ (with play on 11’s ‘bevel’, the crooked hypocrisy of others false adulterat eyes (5): i.e. because they are crooked, they are programmed to project their warped thinking upon others. Line 13 is wittily sardonic for this generall evill (13) (with four ls) yields ‘all-night reveilles’, or, ‘all-night revellies’; and OED gives for revielle n. a. ‘A morning signal given to soldiers, usually by beat of drum or by bugle, to waken them and notify that it is time to rise’. The ironic joke is that they are kept sexually ‘risen’ all-night; and though the earliest OED quotation is 1644, LR’s usage – among a series of brilliant anagrams – seems very cogent: the wit and joke is very Rutlandian. [Unlesse this generall evill] they maintaine ‘maintaine’: n. OED Latin phrase manu tenere lit. ‘to hold in one's hand' (manu abl. of manus hand; tenere to hold); 12a To uphold... ‘Unlesse this all-night rising they uphold...’: LR disparages his calumniators not merely as wankers but as all-night afficionados. all men are bad anagrams ‘dammable Earl’, reprising Sir Robert Cecil’s aspersion of Raleigh’s ‘damnable crew’ (members of the School of Night). and in their badnesse raigne ‘badnesse’: decr. base ends. (‘ends’ = penises, but also purposes, aims). raigne: an extremely witty conflation of three meanings: ‘to rain’ (precipitation), ‘to reign’ (to predominate), ‘to raigne’, (which OED does not gloss as a verb; but our poet obviously extends the noun in the phrase, ‘running of the raines’: a genito-urinary discharge, as in gonorrhoea); and since the overall meaning of the couplet is that his detractors are contemptible specimens, there is the added irony that, despite their all-night upholding of their manhood risers, they cannot produce a healthy ejaculation, only a diseased discharge, our poet’s climactic answer to their obloquy; with an historico-evidential envoi: “So that all-night revellies they maintaine,/The damnable earl effects their base ends raigne”.